History of the Second United States Cavalry
Letter to a Fourth Grader
Dearest young friend,
I was pleased to receive your letter of inquiry asking about our experiences in the late war. I hope to answer your questions as fully truthfully as possible.
What is your name?
William Drown, Chief Trumpeter - 2nd United States Cavalry
Where did you live during the Civil War? My family home was in Pennsylvania, but I was in the Army for 10 years before the war out in the Indian lands and territories of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. Of course most of the soldiers were working at home before the war and volunteered for the service because the war came.
What Battles did you fight in and which was the most important battle?
My regiment was in many small fights and several large battles after we arrived here in the east. We went to the Virginia Peninsula with General McClellan in the spring and summer of 1862. We went with him to the great battle of Antietam in Maryland that September and acted as the Army's police. We call it the Provost Marshall and it kept us busy keeping soldiers from running away from the battle and also taking prisoners from the Rebel army whom our Army had captured. Four of our companies served at the battle of Fredericksburg Virginia in December that same year, and Sergeant Hagan is getting the Medal of Honor for his courage commanding the last of our army's troops to leave the battlefield.
We fought at Brandy Station Virginia against the Rebel Cavalry in June 1863. There were 10,000 of our boys and horses and about the same number of the enemy. Our boys did a fine job and we were real proud when the day was over. We lost Captain Canfield killed that day, and 4 officers and 21 men wounded. 6 of our boys were captured by the enemy and 45 of our horses were killed or wounded badly.
We marched through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to the great battle at Gettysburg in July 1863. We had several small fights along the way while guarding the army's route of march. That's some of the work we in the Cavalry do quite often. We fought at Gettysburg on the last day of the great battle (it was 3 days long) but didn't change things much. We then followed the Rebel army all the way back through Maryland and Virginia. They were defeated at Gettysburg but still had a lot of fight left in them. We fought several small battles on this return trip. By the way, our horses were all worn out and very many were left beside the roads too sick or worn to go any further. It's always like that in the Cavalry and Artillery. Many men had to walk long marches before they got new horses.
We fought yet again in May 1864 in the Wilderness of Virginia and kept fighting, it seems like, all that year. I remember battles at Todd's Tavern and Yellow Tavern (while the rest of the Army fought at the big battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse). We then went to Meadow Bridge, Hawes Shop, Hanover Courthouse, Old Church, and Cold Harbor - all small places on the map where many, many men, boys, and horses struggled.
We fought in 13 more battles before 1864 was over. One of the biggest was Trevilian's Station, where we lost 8 good men killed, 36 more wounded, and 3 captured. At Winchester we charged the enemy fortifications and lost 2 more killed, 16 wounded, and 6 more captured. Finally, at Cedar Creek in October we kicked the Rebels out of the Shenandoah Valley for good but lost the last two Officers serving with us, both wounded.
After all that it is so hard to say which of the fights was most important. I guess Gettysburg was by far the biggest and maybe that makes it more important. I suppose others must decide such things.
How old are you now and how old were you when you first started fighting?
Most of the soldiers in the Army were younger than I - for I had been in the Army for 10 years already. They were mostly 20 or 25 or so. I was 28 when the war got started and 33 when it finished.
What did you eat while you were in the Civil War?
Well the army gave us soft bread, fresh meat, rice, corn, and beans when we stayed in camp. But when we were on the march we had little except hard crackers, we call it Hard Tack, and very salty cured meats. Of course, we always had coffee, and the boys seemed like they'd go anywhere or do anything as long as the coffee could be boiled up whenever we stopped for a rest.
Did you feel like family to the other solders?
Well I guess the men and boys got to be like that, especially after we were all gathered together during the war. We started out to do our duty like brave men, but we ended up staying on to finish the job because of the men next to us. We just had to stand next to them and see it through together, like we were all brothers.
Did you miss your ma and pa at all?
I sure did, at least when I was first in the Army and far out west. When I got back east for the war I got to see them a couple of times. My dad took sick while I was away and died. I didn't get home to see my dear mother for another 3 months after that. And then I only had six days before going back to the Regiment.
What year did you start fighting and what year did you get to go home?
Well most of the soldiers started out in 1861 or 1862 and then got to go home in 1865. Of course, my being in the regular Army since 1852 meant I had been in for nearly 10 years before the war. I finally got out for awhile in 1867.
Was being in the Civil War fun at all?
We all had a great deal of fun marching and camping with our brothers in arms. It's always the part we remember best. And of course we miss the fellows who died terribly. I particularly miss Michael Lawless, who came from Ireland, joined the Regiment in 1858, and got to be an Officer in 1863. He was killed at Trevilian's Station June 11, 1864. He was a good Irishman, if I ever saw one.
What job did you have before the Civil War and after?
My family has a farm and that's where I worked as a boy and young man. My dad and I argued so I ran off and joined the Army. I sure miss him too.
I hope my little story didn't get too long for you. Perhaps your school mates will enjoy some of the things I told you. I hope you get a chance to see me and my friends and our horses some time.
Most Humbly, Your Servant
Chief Trumpeter William Drown, Retired.
2nd United States Cavalry