Cavalry (from French cavalerie, cf. cheval 'horse') or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest (after infantry and chariotry) and the most mobile of the combat arms. A soldier in the cavalry is known by a number of designations such as cavalryman, horseman or trooper.
The designation of cavalry was not usually given to any military force that used other animals, such as camels or mules. Infantry who moved on horseback, but dismounted to fight on foot, were known in the 17th and early 18th centuries as dragoons, a class of mounted infantry which later evolved into cavalry proper while retaining their historic title.
From earliest times cavalry had the advantage of improved mobility, making it an
instrument which multiplied the fighting value of even the smallest forces, allowing them to outflank and avoid, to surprise and overpower, to retreat and escape according to the requirements of the moment.
A man fighting from horseback also had the advantages of greater height, speed, and inertial mass over an opponent on foot. Another element of horse mounted warfare is the psychological impact a mounted soldier can inflict on an opponent.
The mobility and shock value of the cavalry was greatly appreciated and exploited in armed forces in the Ancient and Middle Ages; some forces were mostly cavalry, particularly in nomadic societies of Asia, notably the Mongol armies. In Europe cavalry became increasingly armoured (heavy), and eventually became known for the mounted knights. During the 17th century cavalry in Europe lost most of its armor, ineffective against the muskets and cannon which were coming into use, and by the mid-19th century armor had mainly fallen into disuse, although some regiments retained a small thickened cuirass that offered protection against lances and sabres and some protection against shot.
In the period between the World Wars, many cavalry units were converted into motorised infantry and mechanised infantry units, or reformed as tank troops. However some cavalry still served during the Second World War, notably in the Red Army, Italian Royal Army and the Polish Army. Most cavalry units that are horse-mounted in modern armies serve in purely ceremonial roles, or as mounted infantry in difficult terrain such as mountains or heavily forested areas. Modern usage of the term refers to specialist units equipped with tanks ("armored cavalry") or planes ("air cavalry").
Famous quotes containing the word cavalry:
“To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter I know,
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe.”
—Emily Dickinson (18301886)