From the Notebook: Cavalry Charging Infantry
Written by
Categories: Modern

From the Notebook: Cavalry Charging Infantry

Before grad school I used to scour databases and the University of Victoria library for things to read on warfare before the 18th century. One of the pieces I noted down for later use goes as follows:

In December 1522, some enslaved Africans on Hispaniola killed their overseers and marched on other plantations.  The Spaniards assembled a force of cavalry and attacked them at dawn.  “The Jolofs, upon seeing the advancing Spanish cavalry gathered together, ‘with a great shout, formed a squadron, awaiting the cavalry.’  The Spanish force charged the squadron and tore through it, causing some casualties, but the rebels, for all this, kept their order and threw ‘many stones, clubs, and javelins’ at the horsemen.  The Spanish wheeled about to attack the rebels in the rear and found them having re-formed to await the second attack.  It was only after the second charge had passed through them that the squadron broke ranks and fled to the hills and forests, leaving six of their number dead on the field and wounding one of the Spaniards seriously.”  See Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedoy Valdes, Historia General y natural des Indias (ca. 1532, several modern editions) book 4 chapter 4.  The original Spanish seems to suggest that there were twelve horsemen and an unknown number of slaves.

Notes on John K. Thornton, Warfare in Atlantic Africa 1500-1800 (Routledge: London, 1999) p. 141

You can find the Spanish source at The Spanish are called jinetes and armed with daragas and lanças which I think are lances (probably light lancegays not heavy jousting lances) and targes (probably the heart-shaped adarga from North Africa). I may edit this post one day to add more of the Spanish text but its not a language I can truly read.

I still have not had a chance to use this passage in print, and I don’t trust the notes app I used to keep things like this in, so I will post it here (too late for Juneteenth sorry!) For some reason, this has not been brought into discussions of what happened when cavalry charged into infantry. Xenophon’s description of Tissaphernes’ charge at the Battle of Cunaxa is similar in many ways. It also has gente “nation, army” which is another of my hobby-horses.

(scheduled 30 June 2023)

paypal logo
patreon logo

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.