Crossed sabers originally made their appearance as an Army insignia in 1851, when they were first authorized for wear by Dragoon officers (regulations specified they were to be an embroidered item worn on the Dragoon’s tall cap called a shako). When the first two Cavalry regiments were authorized in 1855, they were provided with distinctive caps adorned with regimental numbers rather than branch insignia.

With the introduction of a new hat across all branches of the Army in 1858, both Dragoon and Cavalry officers wore crossed sabers on them, with the branches being distinguished by the orientation of the sabers: the Dragoon insignia’s sabers were positioned edge up, Cavalry’s edge down. A few months after these instructions were issued, the Army altered the regulations to specify that all saber insignias would be displayed edge up, and the two branches would be identified by the location of regimental numbers. Dragoon officers would place their regimental numbers above the intersection of the sabers, Cavalry officers below.

These types of minor, almost nit-picky distinctions probably did not do much in the way of promoting a sense of camaraderie or branch pride, but the merging of all horse-mounted forces into the Cavalry branch in 1861 made it a moot point. While the equipment utilized by Cavalry forces changed over the next ninety years to reflect new technologies and battlefield realities, crossed sabers meant only one thing: Cavalry.

The passage of the Army Organization Act of 1950 brought the Cavalry branch to an end as an independent force by merging it with the Armored Forces branch to create the Armor branch. Of course, the various missions carried out by Cavalry—reconnaissance, security, escort, and combat—still remained. In the 1960s, the concept of an Air Assault division was introduced during the Vietnam War and dubbed “Air Cavalry,” and eventually the notion of Armored Cavalry evolved into today’s Brigade Combat Team (or, more precisely, Armored Brigade Combat Team).

Today, there is just one active-duty division that retains the Cavalry designation (the 1st Cavalry Division), but the Cavalry’s influence on Armor and Aviation units is honored by the fact that both officers and enlisted personnel may be granted approval to wear the famed Cavalry insignia.

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