Cavalry tactics have evolved from the lance to the gun. Generally, the cavalry was armed with a couple of saddle guns. These were single-shot and smoothbore for short range engagements. The other weapon was the sabre or curved sword favored by horsemen from the time of the early iron age.
Spencer Repeating Rifles & More
During the Civil War some new wrinkles that affected the mounted soldier were introduced. The breech loaded Sharps cavalry carbine, Model 1859 and the Spencer repeating metallic cartridge carbine. These were game changers as the cavalryman could reload from horse back. But the primary weapon on both sides was the revolver.
Dragoon Weapon, .44 New Army & LeMat Revolver
Colt introduced the Dragoon in 1848, to replace the Colt Walker, a bemouth of a handgun capable of holding 60 grains of black powder behind a .454 caliber ball (50 grains was the factory recommended load), the Walker was the collaboration between Colt and Texas Ranger Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker. The Walker was the magnum of the black powder era, and a favorite of the Texas Rangers, who carried Colt Patterson .36 caliber 5 shot revolver prior. The Dragoon was a popular pistol until the introduction of the .44 caliber New Army, the primary weapon of officers and cavalry on both sides. The southern officers obtained the LeMat revolver in limited numbers. It had a .42 caliber barrel served by the 9-round cylinder and a 20-gauge single shot barrel underneath.
Colt Peacemaker, Civilian Frontier, Mauser C96 & More
Cavalry side arm evolved to the cartridge guns with the .45 caliber Colt Peacemaker and civilian Frontier models.
Cavalry tactics included a charge, firing the handguns, passing through a disrupted and confused enemy to the other side reloading and repeating the process. These tactics survived up to the early 20th century. The Mauser Broom Handle pistol Model C96 introduced in 1896 and exhibited and proved the idea of a reliable combat semi-automatic handgun for the military. In production until 1937 the weapon was a mainstay of the Chinese Warlords of the early 1900’s. Many were locally produced unlicensed copies. In 1909 the German military adopted the Luger in 9mm, the 9mm Parabellum (meaning ‘for war’) was introduced and the worlds militaries have preferred auto loaders since that time.
Big Bore Revolvers
The US has always exhibited a preference for large bore handguns. Colt introduced the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol or ACP cartridge around 1906. The US cavalry was looking for a new handgun, that would be adopted service wide, but was originally designed for the mounted soldier. John Browning, a prolific gun designer and major contributor to the Winchester line of lever-action guns. Browning gave us the 1917 water cooled .30 caliber machine-gun and the venerable and still active “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber machine-gun still fighting around the world today.
Browning produced a semi-auto, 7 shot single action self-loading pistol model 1911 with over 2.7 million produced under military contracts and is currently in production by a plethora of manufactures. Its magazine loading design made it easy to load from horse back. The hand-to-hand loading through the butt of the gun made it practical and easily performed reloading in low light conditions as well. Few self-respecting hand gunners don’t have at least a single 1911 in their battery, even if it is not their favorite. Special operators still carry the gun today, and many believe that the decision to go to the 9mm was more of a political decision (NATO) than a practical decision and not a popular one besides. With military jacketed ball ammo, the 9mm is not as effective as the .45 ball ammo. The jacketed .45 ball ammo may not expand, but it’s not going to get any smaller on impact either. The Browning designed action led to many variations, indeed the design is the basis of many modern designs, being recoil operated with the barrel floating in the slide and unlocking during recoil. All modern pistols are recoil or blow-back operated. Very, very few gas operated pistols, with even fewer being commercially or militarily successful. Given the current popularity and the dominance in handgun competition the 1911 has many more years of service in the future. At 107 years old the 1911 is not going to leave us soon.