For most of this decade, the Regular Army's organizational structure consisted of five regiments of artillery, ten regiments of cavalry, and twenty-five regiments of infantry. In March 1898, two more artillery regiments were authorized, and the outbreak of the Spanish-American War would bring additional changes to the Army's organization and missions. Since the end of the Civil War, the infantry and cavalry regiments had been engaged in numerous campaigns against the Native American (Indian) tribes. Units were seldom at authorized strength, and, for the most part, the soldiers served as relatively small detachments (of companies or troops), at posts scattered throughout the nation's vast western states and territories. A reduced threat from Indians allowed the Army to begin reducing the number of garrisoned posts and this in turn allowed more companies to serve together at the same post. The Army began pushing for Congress to adopt a three battalion organization (each with four companies) for each of its infantry regiments, but these regiments continued to be authorized only eight manned companies (Companies I and K were at zero-strength), with only 46 privates in each company.
The average soldier faced long patrols, supply problems, and other hardships. Of the roughly 2,100 officers and 26,000 enlisted men in the Army on 1 Apr 1898, almost 900 officers and 13,000 enlisted were infantry, and another 400 officers and 6,000 enlisted were assigned to the cavalry. The majority of the artillery branch (totaling nearly 300 officers and 4,500 enlisted) were stationed at established fortifications along the nation's coastline and these soldiers seem to have fared better, which probably contributed to their ability to maintain authorized organization. During this period artillery batteries served both field and coast defense guns, and were expected to serve as infantry to defend fixed positions as needed. The remaining 500 officers and 2,500 enlisted were on miscellaneous duty or comprised general officers and staff.
The Cavalry as a Constabulary Force:
Organization and Equipment (1890 to 1898)
- The cavalry fought its last major Indian engagement at Wounded Knee during the winter of 1890-91.
- The cavalry was organized into ten regiments. Regimental squadrons and troops were widely scattered in order to garrison numerous posts. For example, in 1882, cavalry troops garrisoned 55 posts throughout "Indian country."
- Thanks to its mobility, the cavalry was viewed as the Army's primary force for combating the Indians and troopers were always in short supply. Prior to 1890, cavalry troops had an authorized strength of 100 enlisted men (which came at the expense of infantry strength when Congress cut the enlisted authorization from 30,000 to 25,000 in 1876), but few units ever reached or maintained authorized strength. With the end of the Indian threat cavalry strength was reduced with the inactivation of Troops L and M in each regiment, and the remaining troops were authorized only 44 privates. Beginning in 1891, part of these losses was restored when the Army authorized the first eight cavalry regiments to bring back Troop L using Indian troopers. There were numerous problems, however, and by 1897 the last of the experimental Indian troops was gone.
- During this period the Army adopted the .30-caliber Krag-Jorgensen as its new shoulder arm to replace the single-shot .45-caliber Springfield carbines. The Army was still converting its armories by 1898, but there were enough Krag-Jorgensen carbines in the supply system to equip all ten Regular Army cavalry regiments.
- By 1898, conditions in the cavalry were improving. New Congressional authorization [dated 26 Apr 98] called for the reactivation of Troops L and M in each regiment. The strength of each troop was also increased with an additional officer, noncommissioned officers, and 34 privates to bring the troop's authorized strength to 104 (and a regiment's to 1,262 officers and men).
Prepared by DAMH-FPO / Apr 2000