History of the Second United States Cavalry

Part 3: 1846-1848, The War with Mexico

As early as May 1844, troops comprising the "corps of observation" gathered at Fort Jesup (home of the 2nd Dragoons) under General Zachary Taylor.  This force made ready for the expected annexation of Texas by the United States.  Upon the passage of the needed resolutions in Congress (Feb 1845), and consent received from the Texas legislature (June 1845) General Taylor received orders to move.  Most of the force would assemble at New Orleans and from there take ship to Texas.  Seven companies (all but A, G, and I) of the Second Dragoons would travel overland to Corpus Christi and await the arrival of the other forces. The Dragoons left Fort Jesup on July 25, and, arriving in Corpus Christi on August 27, travelled 501 1/2 miles in 33 days including 8 days of rest.  That's an average 20 miles every day while on the march.  Each days' march started at three A.M. or earlier and finished before the hottest temperatures.  Three men died of heat related ailments, through having to lead their horses due to saddle sores.  Over sixty horses were disabled in this way during the first six days.  An officer's report attributes the problem to a new "miserable" saddle design.  Near the end of the march, when they thought that Corpus Christi might be under Mexican attack, the list of 50 sick men suddenly evaporated to none.

The remaining companies began their trek from Fort Washita towards San Antonio and Austin about this same time. On March 8 1845, the army broke camp at Corpus Christi and headed for the border, arriving on the Rio Grande opposite Matamoras.  First blood was drawn on April 25th, when two squadrons under May and Thornton marched out to reconnoiter Mexican movements.  Thornton's command ran into a larger force of 500 Mexicans near La Rosia, and became surrounded. Lt. George T. Mason and eight enlisted men were killed, along with 2 enlisted wounded.  Captains Thornton and Hardee, Lt. Kane, and 46 enlisted became captives. General Taylor announced that "hostilities may now be considered to have commenced".  He requested a additional volunteer force of 5,000 men.

Our regimental history uses up 70 pages dealing with the war and the 2nd Dragoons involvement.  Here's the list of engagements for the regiment from April 25, 1846 through November 2, 1847:

La Rosia, Palo Alto, Resaca De La Palma, Matamoras, Monterey, Santa Rosa, Buena Vista, Medelin, Antigua, Cerro Gordo, Santa Fe, Puebla, La Hoya, San Juan De Los Llanos, Contreras, San Antonio, San Augustin, Cherubusco, Molino Del Rey, Chapultepec, City of Mexico, and Agua Fria.

At Resaca De La Palma (5/9/46), Captain May, leading companies B, D, E, H, and K charged the Mexican batteries, routing the gun crews and capturing General La Vega.  Prior to the charge, May uttered what would become a regimental motto, "Remember your regiment and follow your officers".

These batteries effectively checked the American advance.  General Taylor's official report says, "Perceiving that no decisive advantage could be gained until this this artillery was silenced, I ordered Capt. May to charge the batteries with his squadron of dragoons. This was gallantly and effectually executed, the enemy was driven from his guns, and General La Vega, who remained alone at one of the batteries, was taken prisoner".

 

Capt. May's own reports says in part, "I received orders to report, with my squadron, to the General. I did so, and was ordered by the General to charge the enemy's batteries and drive them from their pieces, which was rapidly executed, with the loss of Lieutenant Inge, seven privates, and eighteen horses killed, and Sergeant Muley, nine privates, and ten horses wounded. Lieutenant Sackett and Sergeant Story, in the front, by my side, had their horses killed under them, and Lieutenant Inge was gallantly leading his platoon when he fell. We charged entirely through the enemy's batteries of seven pieces - Captain Graham, accompanied by Lieutenants Winship and Pleasonton, leading the charge against the pieces on the left of the road, and myself, accompanied by Lieutenants Inge, Stevens, and Sackett, those on the direct road - and gained the rising ground on the opposite side of the ravine. The charge was made under a heavy fire of the enemy's batteries, which accounts for my great loss. After gaining the rising ground in the rear, I could rally but six men. With these I charged their gunners, who had regained their pieces, drove them off, and took prisoner General Vega, whom I found gallantly fighting in person at his battery.

...I cannot speak in terms of sufficient praise of the steadiness and gallantry of the officers and men of my command. They all behaved with the spirit of courage and noble daring which distinguished the whole army in this memorable action, and achieved the most brilliant victory of the age".

Colonel Twiggs, commanding the army's right wing comments, "After the unsurpassed, in not unequalled, charge of Captain May's squadron, the enemy were unable to fire a piece..."

An anecdotal comment in Rodenbough's book tells us that after Lt. Inge's horse was killed from under him, throwing him into a water hole and knocking Lt. Sacket down as well, Sacket took a horse from a Mexican dragoon and a sword from a Mexican officer and rejoined the fight.  After wards he is reported to have returned the sword to it's owner.

A Sergeant Furey (yes, really) remarks that, "Corporal McCauley of D troop (formerly a sword master at West Point), with six men, charged through the Mexican battery and nearly to Fort Brown. A platoon of the enemy's lancers opposed them. Placing himself at the head of his little band, all well mounted - the corporal dashed at the already demoralized enemy, cut down their Lieutenant, wounded a sergeant of lancers, and caused the rest to fly in confusion, and with the loss of three men made his way safely back to our lines".

The retelling of this piece of history also includes one of the many reported instances where horses returned to their place in line after being wounded and losing their riders.  In this case, some horses were wounded by artillery fire and had their saddles and bridles removed by the men. Sergeant McCauley says, "but it was almost impossible to keep the wounded horses out of the ranks. One of these poor animals actually took his place several times in the set of fours he belonged to, and could hardly be driven away".

Here is where we remember, again, that the horse in so many ways is a true hero and object of real tragedy in the mounted service.

As a bonus to the regiment, the victory at Resaca De La Palma precipitated the release of Captain Thornton and his group of fellow prisoners. Capt. Thornton would be later killed at Molina Del Rey.

The regiment seemed to be at every major event in the war, skirmishing, scouting, screening, pursuing, and fighting.  We cannot recall every act since space demands brevity, and our main focus will be the later period of the 1860's. Just a few more items and we'll close this chapter.

Notes from the Second Cavalry Association:

Another hero of the Mexican war was Sergeant Jack Miller, whose small patrol was ambushed by a force five times its number near Monclova in November 1847. The dragoons were going for their carbines when Miller shouted: "No firing, men! If 20 dragoons can't whip 100 Mexicans with the saber, I'll join the Doughboys and cart a fence rail all my life." The Dragoons charged and killed six Mexicans, wounded thirteen, and captured seventy. Casualties in Miller's unit were limited to only one man wounded and three mounts lightly scratched.

On 29 June 1846, Colonel Twiggs, the First Colonel of the Regiment, recently promoted to Brigadier General after ten years in command, passed command of the Regiment to his successor, Colonel Harney. Harney remained in command for the duration of the Mexican War. Congress later awarded Twiggs a sword with a jeweled hilt and a gold scabbard as a tribute to his gallantry at Monterey. The Regimentís service proved invaluable in every major campaign of the war, and it is one of perhaps two regiments in the Army to have had elements participate in every battle. The Regiment added 14 green and gray campaign streamers to the Regimental standard during the war with Mexico.

Company A became the first American force to enter Vera Cruz upon it's capture.  The regiment appears in numerous reports and correspondences, always referred to in positive, enviable terms. The regiment's last recorded action occurred on November 2d, 1847 near Agua Fria along the road from Monterey to Camargo. Lieutenant Reuben Campbell and a body of 23 other 2d Dragoons and Texas Rangers were attacked by a guerilla band under Martinez, or "La Mancho", numbering about 150. The small band of Americans fought off the guerillas in more than an hour of skirmishing, suffering three killed, 9 wounded and several horses wounded, while visiting upon the enemy 6 killed, including their leader, and a large number wounded.

In all, the regiment's casualties for the war numbered 37 killed, 73 wounded, and 60 missing along with 51 horses killed and 66 wounded.

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