Northern Illinois University Press

Men on Iron Ponies

The Death and Rebirth of the Modern U.S. Cavalry

Matthew Darlington Morton

“Cavalryman Matt Morton knows that gathering battlefield intelli-gence means being ready to fight for it. Historian Matt Morton portrays in vivid images the decades-long struggle—political, often petty—between the horse cavalry traditionalists and the reformist advocates of mechanization to achieve that essential capability.”—Colonel Matthew Moten, Ph.D., Professor and Acting Head, Department of History, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York

“A coherent, intelligent study of the cavalry branch’s flawed efforts to grapple with the problems of mechanization during the interwar period. It will make a major contribution to the literature on innovation during this period.” —Dr. Williamson Murray, Ohio State University

“The definitive history of mechanized cavalry in WWII. This is a model work of its kind, one I would be proud to have written.” —Dennis Showalter, Colorado College, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century

“Morton’s book shines when his active duty experience informs his analysis of the linkages between prewar doctrine, organization, and equipment.” —Military History

At the end of World War I, the United States Army maintained a horse-mounted cavalry from a bygone era. From the end of World War I until well into World War II, senior leaders remained convinced that traditional cavalry units were useful in reconnaissance, and horses retained a leading role. Months into World War II, the true believers in the utility of the horses had their hopes shattered as the last horse cavalry units either dismounted to fight as infantry or traded their oat-eating horses for gasoline-guzzling “iron ponies.” The horse belonged to the past; the armored truck was the way of the future.

Matthew Darlington Morton has examined myriad official records, personal papers, doctrine, and professional discourse from an era of intense debate about the future of the U.S. Cavalry. He has captured the emotion of the conflict that ultimately tore the branch apart by examining the views of famous men such as George S. Patton Jr. and Lesley J. McNair. More importantly, Morton brings new light to lesser-known figures such as John K. Herr and William S. Biddle, who played important roles in shaping the future of the U.S. Cavalry.

At the heart of the book are questions about how to train and organize for a possible future war, while retaining flexibility to deal with war as it actually happens. Morton shows how intense debate about the nature of the next war impacted the organization and doctrine that the reformed U.S. Cavalry would employ on the battlefields of World War II. Leaders confronted tough questions: What would the nature of the next war be? What kind of doctrine would lend itself to future battlefields? What kind of organization would best fulfill doctrinal objectives, and what kind of equipment should that organization have? The same challenges face Army leaders today as they contemplate the nature of the next war.

ISBN 978-0-87580-397-5
2009, $35.00
Cloth, 300 pages, 11 illus.

ISBN 978-0-87580-794-2
November 2018, $25.00 t
Paper, 6x9, 300 pages, 2 illus.

Matthew Darlington Morton is a colonel in the United States Army who earned his PhD at Florida State University. He taught military history at West Point, served on the faculty of the Marshall Center, and was a Senior Fellow on the Chief of Staff of the United States Army’s Operation Iraqi Freedom research team. Colonel Morton’s most recent operational assignment was as the Director of Future Plans and Policy, USARCENT, Patton’s Own Third Army.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Lessons of World War I: Realization to Implementation
Chapter 2: The 1930s
Chapter 3: The Big Maneuvers and War
Chapter 4: War in the Mediterranean
Chapter 5: D-Day to VE-Day: Cavalry Groups across Europe
Chapter 6: The Last Cavalry War
Selected Bibliography

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-397-5
cloth $35.00
ISBN: 78-0-87580-794-2
paper $25.00