Frequently Asked Questions
Reviewed October 2015
These questions are a compilation of those we hear most often from visitors to our living history demonstrations and to our camps. Feel free to contact us if you have a question that isn't answered here.
Where is your unit located?
We don’t maintain a physical location; our members come together for events and for our yearly corporate meeting. Our members are from several states, mostly Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Some, particularly active duty military, are in even farther-flung locations including the western U.S. and sometimes overseas.
Are you always Federal?
No, we also portray the 9th Virginia Cavalry Co. D and do so annually at the Yorktown National Park Civil War Weekend, usually held on Memorial Day weekend. Other opportunities to portray Confederate Cavalry are limited, mainly because Confederate portrayals are very popular in the reenacting community while Federal Cavalry impressions are less common. We can “galvanize” (put on gray coats at an event if more Confederate riders are needed), but this is rarely needed.
Are you all military veterans or somehow connected with the U.S. military?
Many of our members are active duty military, former military, reserve or retired; most Services are represented. However our unit also includes people from all walks of life. Our ranks include builders, lawyers, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, civil servants, educators, college professors and undertakers.
Must I own my own horse?
In most cases, to portray a mounted trooper you must own a horse since the unit does not actively maintain extra horses. On a case-by-case basis and depending on availability, you might be able to borrow or rent a horse from one of our members who owns an extra mount trained for reenacting. This is done in a private agreement made between the horse owner and the person wishing to ride the horse.
What kind of horse does the unit require?
The Federal Cavalry bought horses of "hardy colors, between 15 and 17 hands high". For purposes of uniformity and concealment, hardy colors were considered solid-colored and the occasional gray. Our unit doesn't have height or breed requirements. For our Federal Cavalry impressions, which are the majority of our events, we prefer solid colors. We do not accept paints, piebalds, appaloosas, etc. The hobby does not allow stallions in the ranks.
Do you teach members how to ride?
We have members who might agree to give riding lessons on an individual basis, but the unit itself does not teach basic riding skills. We do, however, conduct both formal and informal mounted drill and tactics. We don’t expect anyone to be expert horsemen, though participation in this hobby and learning these drills requires members to have a reasonable knowledge of riding and horsemanship.
Are women allowed to participate as troopers?
Yes, some of our better riders are women portraying male troopers. We ask that women make all effort to conceal their gender if participating as a combatant since regulations at the time forbade females from serving in the military… though several hundred were identified and documented through various sources as having served in combat in male disguise, with a presumably unknown additional number of women who were never discovered.
Are there family activities?
We are a family-friendly outfit and encourage family participation. Numerous troopers have brought their families to events, complete with kids of all ages. Families support our impression of Civil War camp life, and the kids usually have a great time in a non-electronic-device-centric outdoor weekend.
Are you paid to do this?
This is an all-volunteer hobby. The most compensation we receive is hay and water for our horses, and an occasional diner in the field provided by the event organizers or the National Park Service. We occasionally receive a small "bounty" from public event organizers as a way to encourage participation, which we most often donate to the unit fund.
How often do you take part in reenactments?
As a unit, we generally vote to support a dozen or so events each year that include battle reenactments, living histories, and campaign/tactical events. However there are numerous events throughout the U.S., many of which are held on historic locations. Our members may attend any they please, as often as they desire, in company with other units or independently.
How do I join your unit?
See Join the Cavalry! for more information on how to join our unit.
Can I join as an officer or a non-commissioned officer?
Members join as troopers. See Join the Cavalry! for more information on how we select our leadership.
Will you come to my school or organization to do a cavalry presentation?
Many of us enjoy doing school presentations. Our challenge is finding time to do so during the workweek, and the distances we often have to travel to the school or organization’s location. Some schools our members work with offer a small bounty to help offset the cost of fuel or that’s donated to the unit fund. Contact us if you’re interested in having a Civil War Cavalry presentation at your school, and we’ll see if we can support it.
I belong to a different Civil War Cavalry reenacting unit, but my unit isn’t participating in an event where you’ll be. Can I ride with your unit?
To ride with us we ask that you contact us in advance of the event so we can coordinate your participation. You'll be required to ride in the uniform and equipment of a 2nd U.S. Cavalry trooper. We expect you to register yourself (and family members if you’re bringing them) for the event and pay any fees required by the event organizers, and to sign our unit's release of liability. If you picket your horse our our line, we ask that you remain in camp overnight to help with picket duty. We ask also that you adhere to our time schedule, allow our leadership to inspect your weapons before you take to the field, and that you ride in a safe, competent and professional manner that’s in keeping with our impression. Our field leadership reserves the right, at any time, to disallow participation or remove any individual that doesn’t adhere to these requests.
I already belong to a mounted reenacting unit that portrays a different time period. Can I join your unit and still ride with my current company?
Certainly, you may belong to as many reenacting organizations as you like, of any era you might be interested in. We ask that if you become a member of our unit and take part in an event we attend, you ride with us.
Are your weapons real?
Yes, our weapons are real and entirely functional. Unlike the troopers we portray, we don’t sharpen our saber blades and we fire only blank charges from our pistols and carbines. Nonetheless, our weapons can cause serious injury if improperly handled so we devote a great deal of effort to ensure we gain and maintain the ability to use them safely.
Are your weapons Civil War originals?
The unit discourages use of original weapons because a 150+ year-old weapon could fail; this risks injury to members and others in the vicinity. Also, original weapons are irreplaceable artifacts that increase in scarcity and historical significance with each passing year. We do however require that our members carry reproductions of the weapons that were used by the cavalry of the era. Some manufacturers produce copies that are so well made and accurate that their parts are interchangeable with the originals.
Is that saddle comfortable?
In keeping with U.S. Army tradition, the 1859 McClellan was not specifically designed for human comfort. However, again in keeping with U.S. Army tradition, it’s well designed for the required task. The saddle is durable, lightweight, fits the horse well, and can accommodate the attachment of a variety of equipment and essentials needed by a cavalry trooper in battle and on campaign. In practice, once you get used to it, the McClellan can be quite comfortable and very practical; many of us have adopted it as our regular riding gear. Several modern long-distance saddles use the basic McClellan design substituting leather, wood and metal with more lightweight, flexible materials.
A number of your troopers appear to be older folks. Was this also true in the 1860s?
Statistics for Federal troops, the only reasonably reliable source, indicate the average soldier's age to be just under 26. This reflects the fact that, similar to the modern U.S. Army, the majority of troops were short-term volunteers who tended to be younger. Much of the leadership, and certainly the small core of Regular troops, included significant numbers of experienced, mature men. Anecdotal evidence indicates that senior enlisted members 40 and 50 years of age, and even more so for Regular officers, were common. Some of these members learned their profession in Mexico, served throughout the Civil War, then fought in the Plains Indian Wars, a period exceeding 30 years. The grizzled veteran, a savvy old Senior Private or NCO, was a staple among barracks lore of the time. This said, the ranks of pre-modern cavalry formations would have been comprised primarily of younger troopers whereas our formations are comprised of persons interested in Civil War history and who have the time, the means, and the horse to portray it.
Is that wool uniform hot? Did the soldiers of the time suffer from the heat?
Yes, it's hot. It was for them too but in the 1860’s they had no expectation of getting cool. Nor do we, since for the duration of the event most of us live in a tent and experience weather conditions as they are without modern climate control. The best they (and we) could achieve was shade and a breeze. Nonetheless, heat injuries and exhaustion factored into the outcome of numerous battles, Gettysburg in particular. Our unit takes precautions for the heat, ensuring that troopers and horses are well hydrated and have access to water on a frequent basis.
Why did they wear wool when cotton was available?
Wool was the traditional military uniform of the period largely because of its extreme durability as opposed to cotton, which wore very quickly. Wool also doesn’t ignite as easily as cotton – important when working with black powder weapons. Furthermore, armies of the time were far less concerned about enduring summer heat than surviving winter's cold. As a hollow fiber, wool is an excellent insulator, even when wet.