A 5 inch by 7 inch sepia portrait of a horse mounted officer (possibly Lt Carruthers) in South Africa 1899.
The horses in the South African war were among the last to engage in war the way it had been fought for more than 2,000 years. The role of the military horse was changing and growing increasingly controversial. As an instrument of combat, the horse had already begun its slow and inexorable slide into obsolescence. Horses did not immediately become a military anachronism; the development of field artillery in fact rendered horses vital for logistical purposes. Cavalry, too, remained tactically relevant by shedding their heavy armor plate, adding pistols and carbines to their weaponry, and working in concert with artillery and musketeers. But this change of tactics removed the mounted warrior from his preeminent position on the battlefield. Traditionally, the British cavalry had been trained to ride “knee to knee” at a gallop and in so doing cut a swath through the enemy (Marquess of Anglesey, 1973-1994). Even before the South African war, however, there was growing debate over whether to preserve the use of blade weaponry, the arme blanche (steel-bladed weapon), or move to firearms in mounted warfare. Military traditionalists supported the continued use of the arme blanche, incorporated with the mass cavalry charge, believing in the traditional cavalry principle that the best weapon is a man on a horse. This traditional approach was to prove ineffective, however, against Boer commandos made up of adaptable, experienced horsemen fighting in familiar environs. By using their greater mobility, Boer commandos could simply circumvent old-fashioned, large- scale mounted cavalry assaults.