The Terrible Black Horse Cavalry
Distinguished Troop proved to be a strong asset for the Confederate army.
The Black Horse Cavalry made quite an impression during the Union retreat following the First Battle of Bull Run.
The scene was depicted through an anonymous quote published in the Richmond Inquirer. “I overheard one of the men sitting on the doorstep of the house describing the charge of the Black Horse Cavalry, part of which, I believe is Captain Scott’s Fauquier cavalry. He said they advanced in a wedge form, then opened, disclosing a battery which fired upon his regiment, and then the cavalry charged upon the regiment, hemming it in on all sides; and, cutting right and left with tremendous blows, each blow powerful enough to take off a man’s head. He said he never wished to see such a charge again.”
The Terrible Black Horse Cavalry, initially formed as a volunteer company in 1859, was first acknowledged after escorting John Brown to the gallows in December of 1859. Their fame spread as they fought alongside the Army of Northern Virginia in every battle of the Civil War. They were held in high esteem by a number of generals, including Joseph Johnston, Stonewall Jackson and JEB Stuart. Stuart, commander in charge of all Confederate cavalry, considered them to be his best troop.
“They so familiarized themselves with the county in which they operated, that they kept the enemy continuously speculating on their movements by checkmating them at every point in the game of war,” reported the Richmond Times on February 23, 1896.
The superiority of Confederate cavalry troops over Union cavalry troops was evident during the beginning of the Civil War. Horseback riding was much more common in the south due to a lack of roads, requiring more families to own and ride horses. There was little competition between the Confederate and Union cavalries until the March 17, 1863 Kelly’s Ford Cavalry engagement, when Union cavalry gained the experience, training and equipment necessary to stand their ground. Until that point Confederate cavalry troops like the Black Horse Cavalry were difficult to defeat.
The troops first captain, Colonel John Scott, characterized Black Horse members as “young gentlemen of the first respectability, either themselves planters or sons of planters.” Three brigadier generals as well as many post-war elected officials launched their careers as Black Horse Cavalry members.
Black Horse Cavalry re-enactor Ed Dandar appreciates the hard work and skill that was required of a 19th century cavalryman. Due to unique challenges of the position, it typically took about two years of practice for a cavalryman to perfect his skills. “Running the heads” at a full gallop sharpened pistol shooting skills and saber techniques that enabled the trooper to practice military skills while synchronizing movements with his horse. After 8 years of practice Dandar and his horse Rocky, along with other Black Horse members, demonstrate these exercises to the public.
Today’s Living Historian’s Black Horse Cavalry members share a love of horses and 19th century history. The troop strives to portray history in an authentic light, passing on historical truths to younger generations. Thirty one members participate in Civil War re-enactments, speak at school engagements and schedule numerous events around the region to accomplish their mission.
The Black Horse Cavalry will make several appearances during the upcoming sesquicentennial events, including a 10 mile ride from Brentsville to the Manassas Museum on April 30th. The troop will participate in the re-enactment of the Battle of Newmarket on May 14th and participate in the Manassas parade on June 4th. See for yourself the power, strength and awe of the Black Horse Cavalry.