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Classic Cavalry Tactics at Gettysburg

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Classic Cavalry Tactics at Gettysburg

John Buford’s accomplishments during the battle of Gettysburg were indicative to his entire makeup, personal characteristics, courage, steadfastness and perseverance. At the beginning of the Civil War, John Buford was a captain in the 2nd Dragoon Regiment. He was promoted to major in 1861, and by 1862 he was promoted to brigadier. But it was during the battle of Gettysburg that Buford gained his notoriety. General Buford knew the significance of mounted and dismounted cavalry tactics and the importance of a close fight. The classic cavalry tactics used today mimic those used by General John Buford during the battle of Gettysburg, over 150 years ago.

Although not necessarily written in doctrine at the time, Buford understood his commanders’ security guidance of focus, tempo, engagement/disengagement criteria, and displacement criteria. General Pleasanton’s focus (as dictated to by General Meade) was to gain and maintain contact with the enemy with cavalry forces in order to deliver timely and accurate reporting of battlefield intelligence. The tempo was to maximize time, and preserve his forces while placing the enemy in unfavorable positions. Buford knew that General Meade’s engagement criteria were to engage the enemy’s smallest forces without becoming decisively engaged. Buford also unequivocally understood that his displacement criteria were to “hold the ground under at all costs.”

Security operations can be categorized by the degree of security provided and the combat power required for the mission. Security operations can be performed in the form of a screen, guard, cover, or area security. Buford’s mission was a screening operation in order to gain information and provide early warning. Reconnaissance is part of a screen mission and General Pleasanton relayed Meade’s intent for Buford’s division to gather reliable information by pulling intelligence from the battlefield. Meade needed this intelligence in order to develop a coarse of action (COA) against Lee’s army. This is why he did not want Buford to decisively engage an overwhelming force until the conditions were set for the battle.

As Buford’s forces neared Gettysburg on 29 June 1863, he knew his primary mission of pulling intelligence. However, as Buford gained situational awareness on Lee’s army being in such close proximity, an engagement was inevitable. Although the main body Buford was oriented on was moving into position, his area of operation was stationary and it was his mission to help set the conditions for the main body attack. He sent out a series of 3-4 man videttes as listening posts/outposts in order to provide early warning and intelligence collection.

After gaining intelligence on the enemy, Buford rapidly sent up a report to Pleasanton stating that A.P. Hill’s element (consisting of Anderson, Heth, and Pender) was massing on Gettysburg. A.P. Hill has sent out his advance guard



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