U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment "Garryowen"
The 7th Cavalry spearheaded the advance on Baghdad by the 3rd (Mechanized) Infantry Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom in March, 2003. Today's "cavalry" doesn't ride horses, but this regiment is the descendant of the horse troopers wiped out at the Little Big Horn.
In 1867, the Irish quickstep tune Garry Owen (named after a town in Limerick County, Ireland) became the official song of the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. As the story goes, one of the troopers of the 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer was an Irishman who got drunk and sang the song. Custer heard it, thought that made an excellent marching song, and directed that it be adopted as the regimental "air" soon after Custer arrived at Fort Riley, Kansas to take over command of the regiment.
The evolution of a modern U.S. "cavalry" unit
"Cavalry" traditionally meant soldiers on horseback. The 7th Cavalry was created during a period in military history when cavalry had ceased to be a primary offensive unit. Early small arms and cannon, the primary offensive weapons, were only effective in massed units, due to poor range and accuracy. Muzzle-loaded muskets required elaborate drills to load and reload, actions which could not be performed on horseback. Thus, "cavalry" had come to mean lightly armed soldiers who could move quickly, and thus perform scouting and reconnaissance operations.
In 1866, U.S. Army cavalry troopers carried only .45 Colt revolvers, and in 1873, during the Indian Wars, they received Springfield carbines. These are the arms with which Custer's troopers faced the assembled multitude of the Sioux, Comanche and Kiowa nations, during which General George Armstrong Custer and Troops C, E, F, I, and L of the 7th Cavalry were wiped out in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. At the end of these wars, the cavalry executed Sitting Bull "trying to escape" and slaughtered over 200 men, women and children in the massacre at Wounded Knee.
Motorized vehicles replaced the horses, but the concept of a "cavalry" unit has survived in the United States Army as a fast-moving unit intended for forward deployment and reconnaissance. It was as a motorized unit that the 7th participated in the so-called Punitive Expedition in 1916-1917, attempting to capture Pancho Villa in northern Mexico.
The 7th Cavalry still had horses, however, right up until World War II, when in 1943 it was sent to the Pacific Theater as a dismounted infantry unit.
During the Korean War, the 7th Cavalry participated in the UN breakout following the Inchon landing. The 7th rounded up 2,000 prisoners, and in one of the ironic moments of the war, the "troopers" captured a small North Korean cavalry unit and all its horses. The troopers were the first to enter Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on October 19, 1950, just before the Chinese intervention.
The 1st Cav, (First Cavalry Division) of which the 7th Cavalry regiment was a component, was one of the first U.S. army divisions to arrive in Vietnam and the last to leave. During the Vietnam War, the cavalry became "Sky Troopers", using helicopters. The helicopter became a key offensive component of the unit with the arrival of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunship.
Roninspoon informs me this was the unit lead by Mel Gibson ... er, Lt. Gen. Hal Moore in the film We Were Soldiers based upon the true story featured in the novel We Were Soldiers Once... and Young by General Moore and Joe Galloway.
7th Cavalry in the 21st Century
Since Vietnam, the main battle tank has evolved to the point were it can keep up with the fastest scouting operations. Thus, cavalry in the 21st Century has fearsome amounts of firepower. Today, a squadron of the 7th Cavalry consists of 27 M3A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 27 M1A2 Abrams tanks, and 16 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
Cavalry are now, once again, heavy shock troops, the likes of which have not been seen in the history of warfare since the crossbow made the armored knight obsolete.
- lots of late-night television