Here we include a nice sketch of the Old Second's elder brother, the old First Dragoons. This brief history provides good insight into the history of the Second, as they served together during the American Civil War from early 1862 through the end of 1864. Note also the frontier service, common to all regulars before and after the eastern conflict.
History of the 1st U.S. Cavalry.
THE FIRST REGIMENT OF CAVALRY.
By CAPT. R. P. PAGE WAINWRIGHT, 1ST U. S. CAVALRY.
The headquarters of the regiment [had been] established at Fort Tejon, California, in December, 1856, with Companies H and I. At this time Companies B, D, G and K were at Camp Moore, N. M.; C at Fort Yamhill, Oregon; E at Fort Walla Walla, Wash.; F at San Diego, Cal.; and A en route to Benicia Barracks, California.
From this time until the year 1861 scoutings and skirmishes with the Indians were almost incessant, and portions of the regiment were always found where the fighting was going on. Four companies were present with Chandler’s expedition against the Navajos and Apaches in March and April, 1856. In 1856 two companies took part in numerous Indian skirmishes in Oregon and Washington; one was with Wright’s expedition to the Walla Walla country in April, and to the Yakima country in June; later in the year it was out with Colonel Steptoe.
In May, 1858, Companies C, E and H formed part of Steptoe’s expedition northward to the British line which, on the 17th of May, met a force of about 800 Spokane and other hostile Indians and was driven back.
In August of the same year Companies C, E, H and I were with Wright’s column, which administered a severe thrashing, September 1, to the Indians who had fought Steptoe.
Company D was in the field in Arizona in 1858, and E in Oregon in 1859.
Colonel Fauntleroy resigned May 13, 1861, and was succeeded by Colonel B. S. Beall. By the Act of August 3 of this year the designation of the regiment was changed to “First Regiment of Cavalry.”
During the months of November and December the regiment, excepting Companies D and G, was transferred from the Pacific coast to Washington, D. C., arriving at Camp Sprague, near that city, by the end of January, 1862.
At this time Companies D and G were at Camp San Christoval, N. M. They had abandoned and destroyed Forts Breckenridge and Buchanan and had taken station at Fort Craig. In January, 1862, they were General Canby’s escort. Company D was engaged in a skirmish with rebels near Fort Craig, February 19, 1862, and the two companies took part in the battle of Valverde, February 21. Company D took part in the engagements at Pigeon’s Ranch, March 30; Albuquerque, April 25; and Peralto, April 27, 1862.
In June, 1863, the two companies were broken up, the officers and noncommissioned officers being transferred to Carlisle Barracks, where the companies were reorganized, joining the regiment at Camp Buford, Md., in October, 1863.
Colonel Beall was retired February 1-, 1862, and was succeeded by Colonel George A. H. Blake, Major Wm. N. Grier of the Second succeeding him as lieutenant colonel of the First.
The regiment, now under the command of Colonel Grier, was attached to the 2d Brigade, Cavalry Reserve, Army of the Potomac, Colonel Blake commanding the brigade.
It will be impossible to give in detail the part taken by the regiment in all the battles and engagements in which it participated during the Rebellion. Only the names of battles are given, with the casualties and such short descriptions as may seem of interest.
At Williamsburg, May 4, 1862, a portion of the enemy’s cavalry was repulsed by a brilliant charge of a squadron of the regiment commanded by Captain B. F. Davis. A rebel standard was captured; 13 casualties. At Gaines’ Mill, June 27, Lieutenant Robert Allen was dangerously wounded; casualties, 26. The regiment was present at Malvern Hill, July 1; Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863 (loss ten men); and Stoneman’s Raid in April and May. At the battle of Beverly Ford, June 9, 1863, the gallant Captain B. F. Davis was killed while in command of the 8th N. Y. Cavalry. At Upperville, June 23, the regiment met the “Jeff Davis” Legion and the 1st and 2d North Carolina regiments in a charge. The regiment suffered severely, Lieutenants Fisher and Moulton being wounded and captured, and 51 men killed, wounded and missing, a large proportion of the wounded being disabled by the sabre.
At Gettysburg, July 1 and 3, Lieutenant Trimble was wounded, and the loss was 15 men. The regiment lost two men at Williamsport and on July 6 charged the enemy on the pike road to within half a mile of Funkstown, capturing an officer and 13 men, and driving the enemy within their lines. The regiment was engaged near Boonsboro, July 7, 8 and 9, losing 14 men. At Brandy Station, August I, it repulsed the enemy in four charges, losing If men. With the Reserve Brigade it was then ordered to Washington to remount and equip. Camp Buford was established, where the brigade remained about a month when it was again ordered to the front.
The First Cavalry was engaged at Manassas junction and at Catlett’s Station, November 5; Culpeper, November 8; Stephensburg, November 26, and Mine River. A cantonment having been established at Mitchell’s Station the regiment was employed during the winter doing picket duty along the line of the Rapidan.
A reconnaissance to the left of the enemy’s line was made, February 6, 1864, by the 1st Division, Cavalry Corps, the First Cavalry leading the advance. Sharp skirmishes took place near the crossing of Robinson River at Hume’s Ford on the 6th and 7th. On the 6th the regiment charged the enemy, driving him from the ford and capturing four prisoners, and continued the pursuit to within two miles of Barnett’s Ford on the Rapidan. On the morning of the 7th the regiment, again in the advance, encountered the enemy in force at the ford. One squadron,—G and M Companies under Capt. Fielner,—made a charge to gain possession of the ford, but was met by a heavy fire from infantry in strong position on the opposite side of the river and was recalled with loss of two men and six horses wounded. On the 27th General Custer started on his raid to Charlottesville, and on the 28th, the First Cavalry being in the advance, the enemy were encountered in their camp near Charlottesville from which they were driven and the camp partially destroyed. On the return march the Rosanna bridge was destroyed by the pioneers of the regiment under Lieutenant Ogden. On March 1st, shortly after leaving Standardsville, the enemy charged the 5th Cavalry, which regiment, supported by the First, returned the charge, capturing 25 rebels and killing or wounding several of them.
On General Sheridan’s taking command of the Cavalry Corps the First Cavalry, commanded by Captain N. B. Sweitzer, was attached to Merritt’s Reserve or Regular Brigade, Torbert’s Division, and in the preparation for the Wilderness campaign the regiment was employed in picketing the Rapidan, taking part in the battles of Todd’s Tavern, May 7, and Spottsylvania Court House, May 8, during the first of which six out of the 16 officers on duty with the regiment,—Captain Sumner and Lieutenants Hall, Hoyer, Pennock, Ward and Carr,—were wounded. During the two days fighting ten men were killed.
The regiment accompanied Sheridan on his raid around Richmond and took part in the following engagements; Beaver Dam Station, May 10; Yellow Tavern, May ii: Meadow Bridge, May 12; Mechanicsville, May 12; Tunstall’s Station, May 14; Hawe’s Shop, May 28; and Old Church, May 30.
At the battle of Cold Harbor, June 1, Captain Samuel McKee was mortally wounded and died on the 3d. Lieutenant Pennock was shot through both eyes, two men were killed and four wounded. The regiment accompanied General Sheridan on the Trevillian raid, and was present at the battle of Trevillian Station, June 11 and 12, on which days it suffered severely, losing Lieutenants Ogden and Nichols killed, and Captain Dunkelberger wounded. Three men were killed and 29 wounded or missing. The regiment was engaged in daily skirmishing during the return march to White House Landing, and was engaged with the enemy at that point on June 17, at the Chickahominy River on the 18th, and at the battle of Darby’s Farm, June 28. At the battle of Deep Bottom, July 28, where the Regular Brigade, fighting on foot, routed a brigade of Confederate cavalry, a battle flag was captured by the First Cavalry.
On July 31, the 1st Division marched to City Point, embarked the next day, and was transported to Washington to assist in repelling the threatened attack of General Early. The regiment disembarked at Giesboro Point with its division, August 3, and went into camp near Washington.
On August 5th the movement to Harper’s Ferry was taken up, the 1st Division being ordered to the Shenandoah Valley under Sheridan. Harper’s Ferry was reached on the 8th and the division moved on the Halltown road and camped. General Sheridan having formed his cavalry into a corps under General Torbert, General Merritt succeeded to the command of the division, and Colonel Alfred Gibbs to that of the brigade.
On August 10th a reconnaissance was made by the Reserve Brigade in the direction of Winchester, and the enemy’s cavalry was engaged and routed. From this day until the close of Sheridan’s operations in the valley, the regiment was engaged in almost daily fighting, and took part in all the important battles except Fisher’s Hill, where it was otherwise employed as will be seen hereafter.
The enemy’s cavalry was engaged, August 11, and driven several miles towards Newtown, but our cavalry became opposed to a heavy force of infantry and the entire First Division was put in on foot. The 1st Cavalry charged across an open plowed field and drove the enemy from the timber beyond, but were in turn repulsed by a heavy flank fire and compelled to take refuge behind rail barricades, which they held until dark in spite of persistent and repeated efforts of the enemy to dislodge them. Lieutenant Harris was wounded in this affair.
On August 13, Lieutenant J. S. Walker, the commissary of the regiment was killed by Mosby’s guerrillas near Charleston, Va., while going to Harper’s Ferry in the discharge of his duties. About this time also the regimental trains of the Reserve Brigade were captured and destroyed by Mosby. These trains contained the regimental and company records and the personal effects of officers. Several of the wagons belonging to the regiment were saved and with them some of the records. From August 16th until the 20th, the First Cavalry was employed, together with the whole of the 1st Division, in the destruction of all wheat and forage, and the seizure of all horses, cattle, sheep and hogs, accessible in the valley.
The 1st Division was engaged with Early’s infantry near Charleston on the 21st, and on the 25th the 1st and 3d Divisions marched in the direction of Leetown, near which place a strong force of the enemy’s infantry was encountered and defeated with the loss of many prisoners. On the 28th the Division marched again in the direction of Leetown, the Reserve Brigade leading, with the First Cavalry in advance. The Rebel cavalry was found in force beyond Leetown and a severe fight followed. Two squadrons of the First were deployed to the left and right of the pike and a third held in reserve. The deployed squadrons were driven back and the reserve squadron was moved into the pike in columns of fours and in that formation charged with the sabre. The enemy’s cavalry, a full brigade, charged with the pistol, and, just before the two bodies met, slackened speed to deliver their fire, when Hoyer’s squadron struck them at full charging gait and sent them flying to the rear. Our loss was ten or twelve men wounded with the pistol and the gallant Hover killed. He was shot through the body while leading the charge and died in an hour. The command of the squadron then fell to Lieutenant Moses Harris, and at about this time Captain E. M. Baker succeeded Captain Sweitzer in command of the regiment.
From the 5th of September until the 19th the First was employed on picket duty along the Opequan and in harassing the enemy, —an arduous duty, with constant skirmishing and attendant casualties. Colonel C. R. Lowell, 2d Mass. Cavalry, “The bravest of the brave,” now succeeded to the command of the Reserve Brigade, and the period of his command is described as the most brilliant in its history.
The First took part in the memorable charge of the Reserve Brigade at the battle of Winchester, September 19, and, in conjunction with the 2d Cavalry, captured two stands of colors and some 200 prisoners. The casualties of the regiment were 37 killed, wounded and missing, including Lieutenant McGregor wounded.
The battle of Fisher’s Hill was fought and won September 22, 1864. On this day General Torbert, having been ordered to proceed with Merritt’s and Devin’s Divisions through the Luray Valley to fall upon Early’s retreating army at New Market, in the event of his defeat at Fisher’s Hill, found the forces of the rebel General Wickham strongly entrenched near Milford. Torbert’s failure to dislodge Wickham and Sheridan’s disappointment over the failure of his plan to capture, the whole of Early’s army are matters of history.
On the morning of the 23d the ambulance train was attacked by some of Mosby’s guerrillas near Front Royal, who were then chased by the First and Second Cavalry and a number killed and ten or twelve captured. Lieutenant McMasters of the Second was cruelly murdered, after capture, by the guerrillas, in retaliation for which several of those captured were hung.
Learning on the 23d of the victory at Fisher’s Hill, Torbert returned with his command to Milford during the night, and finding the enemy’s strong position abandoned pushed on until the enemy’s cavalry was encountered near Luray early on the morning of the 24th and signally routed, narrowly escaping destruction. The First Cavalry took part in this engagement, and, September 28, in the action at Waynesboro, in which it met with a loss of 18 killed, wounded and missing.
General Sheridan having decided to withdraw his army to a defensible position nearer to his base of supplies in the northern end of the valley, commenced the retrograde movement on the 6th of October. General Rosser becoming emboldened by Sheridan’s apparent retreat, took the initiative and so annoyed Sheridan that he determined to punish him, and the memorable battle of Tom’s Brook, or “Woodstock Races,” took place on the 9th. The entire management of the affair was given to General Torbet, and how well he redeemed himself for his failure in the Luray Valley by the ignominious rout of Rosser and Lomax is well known. The 1st Cavalry led the advance of the Reserve Brigade during the charge on the pike against Lomax’s cavalry, from Tom’s Brook to Edinborough—18 miles. The chase was continued by the 2d Brigade to Mount Jackson, 8 miles further on. The First Cavalry captured 4 guns, 4 wagons, and a number of prisoners, with a loss of two men “missing in action.” It is related that some of the guns here captured were quite new, and had been marked “For General P. H. Sheridan, care of Jubal Early.”
The First Cavalry played an important part in the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864. After the surprise and defeat of Wright in the morning a position was taken about one mile north of Middletown, which was held by the divisions of Merritt and Custer until Sheridan came up with that portion of his army which he had met flying to the rear, a defeated and demoralized mob. The First Cavalry was formed, one squadron to the left, the other to the right, of the Valley pike, dismounted, behind stone walls, the third squadron being held in reserve. This position was held with the greatest difficulty, the advanced squadron, commanded by Harris, being subjected to an enfilading fire. The personal example however, of the brigade, regimental, and squadron commanders, kept the men up to their places until the return of the Sixth Corps when the squadrons were mounted and joined in the pursuit of Early’s beaten forces, which was continued on the 21st and 22d as far as Mount Jackson.
The regiment now returned to Middletown and during the fall and winter was engaged in numerous skirmishes and took part in Merritt’s raid to, the Loudon Valley and Torbert’s raid to Gordonsville. In December the regiment was assigned to duty at the headquarters of the Cavalry Corps in Winchester.
On the 27th of February, 1865, General Sheridan commenced his last expedition through the Shenandoah Valley, having for his object the destruction of the Va. Central R. R, and the James River Canal, and the capture of Lynchburg. Sheridan took only the Cavalry Corps and a portion of his artillery. The regiment was present with the Reserve Brigade and took part in the battle of Waynesboro, March 2, where the remnant of Early’s army was captured. It was also engaged in many skirmishes during the march from Charlottesville to White House Landing while destroying locks and the embankment of the James River Canal, railroads and rebel supplies, and arrived at White House Landing March 17, taking part in the engagement of that day.
On the 27th of March Captain Baker was relieved from command of the regiment by Captain R. S. C. Lord.
The First Cavalry was present and took part in all the battles and daily skirmishes of the Cavalry Corps until the close of the war. On March 30th it was in the engagement on White Oak Road; March 31, at Dinwiddie Court House; April 1, at Five Forks. Here the regiment made a brilliant charge on an entrenched position of the enemy, which was carried and 200 prisoners captured. April 2, in the engagement near Southside R. R.; April 6, at the battle of Sailor’s Creek; and April 9, at Appomatox,—the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the surrender the regiment returned to Petersburg where it remained in camp until April 24, when it marched with the Cavalry Corps towards North Carolina for the proposed junction with Sherman. On the surrender of Johnston’s army the Corps returned to Petersburg and, the regiment, escorting General Sheridan, left for Washington May 8, arriving May 16, and taking part in the “Great Review.”
In the same month the regiment was ordered to Louisiana, arriving at New Orleans May 31 and remaining in that city or its immediate vicinity until December 29 when it embarked for California via the Isthmus of Panama. It took post at the Presidio of San Francisco January 22, Companies A, G and K going February 5 to Drum Barracks, where Companies C, D and E, followed them February 17, Company L going to Sacramento. In June of the same year regimental headquarters went to Fort Vancouver, W. T., and the several companies had been distributed through Oregon, Washington Territory, Idaho, California, Nevada and Arizona, no two being at the same station.
Owing to the vast extent of country guarded by the regiment its service for many years following was very arduous. Scouting for Indians and escort duty of various kinds were incessant. Hardly a regimental return fails to record some expedition or report some Indian fight. It will be impossible within the limits to which this sketch is confined to give more than their dates and localities.