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History of the Second United States Cavalry

Part 6: 1865 to 1898, Back to the Frontier

(editors note: this period of American history is again particularly difficult, considering the tragedy suffered by the American Natives at the hands of the ever growing immigrant population from around the world.  Soldiers are the tools of their society.  Society sometimes makes grave errors in using their soldiers.  Thank God we are a democracy founded upon, and growing ever successful at living by principles that minimize these errors.)

More notes from the Second Cavalry Association

The Indian Campaigns

With the end of the Civil War, the Second Cavalry Regiment returned to the western frontier and its campaign against the Indians, who had grown bold in the absence of "the long knives." The Regiment was scattered over several states and territories, with often only a single troop occupying a post.

On 15 May 1870, Sergeant Patrick Leonard and four men from C Troop were searching the Little Blue River in Nebraska for stray horses when a war party of about 50 Indians suddenly surrounded the detachment. Quickly racing for cover, Leonard dismounted his men and discovered that, in the rush for cover, Private Thomas Hubbard and two mounts had been wounded. The Indians charged twice and the troopers repelled them, with one Indian killed and three wounded. Leonard then slaughtered the two wounded horses to form a breastwork just in time to repulse a third attack in which the cavalrymen killed two more Indians and wounded four others. Within the hour, the Indians retreated. Leonard had to withdraw his patrol on foot because the Indians had killed all the horses during the attack. Leonard then took a settler's family of two women and a child under his charge. While moving to the next settlement, the Indians did not renew their attack. Leonard safely arrived at C Company's bivouac at 2300 hours with his entire patrol and the civilians relatively secure.

For gallantry in action, Leonard and Privates Canfield, Himmelsback, Hubbard, and Thompson were awarded the Medal of Honor. This has long been considered Leonard's second medal, since he won his first when he was a corporal in the 23rd Infantry. The Medal of Honor Historical Society, in a 1985 publication, revealed that there were in fact two Sergeant Patrick Leonards. Only through a review of their widows' petitions for benefits did the society discover different middle names and backgrounds. The annual Regimental award for the most outstanding junior NCO is named in honor of the Sergeants Leonard.

One battalion of the Second Regiment nearly joined Custer before his last stand. In June 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer of the Seventh Cavalry was offered the use of the "Montana Battalion" of the Second Regiment, but he declined the offer. On 25 June Custer stumbled into a force of 5000 Sioux warriors who killed every officer, soldier, and civilian in Custer's wing of the Seventh Cavalry. Two days later, the Montana Battalion discovered the evidence of Custer's fate.

By April 1877, most of the cavalry Regiments of the United States was engaged in warfare with several small bands of Indians. The Cheyenne surrendered in December. Although Sitting Bull escaped into Canada, Crazy Horse surrendered in April of 1878. This left only a chief named Lame Deer and his warriors on soil claimed by the U.S. government, but the U.S. Cavalry, including the "Montana Battalion" of the Second Cavalry, was in pursuit. Marching day and night with only short breaks, the cavalrymen reached the area of an Indian encampment near Little Muddy Creek, Montana, on 6 May.

At 0100 hours, 7 May 1877, after only a few hours' rest, the troopers broke camp and marched for the remainder of the night. At dawn they surprised Lame Deer's warriors. Company H charged through the village and stampeded the horses, and then the other cavalry troops charged, thoroughly routing the Indians. The village was one of the richest Indian encampments ever captured. The soldiers found many artifacts of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, including uniforms, guidons, and weapons. At the height of the battle, Private William Leonard became isolated from his command and defended himself for over two hours against the Indians from a position behind a rock before he was rescued. For gallantry in action, Privates William Leonard of L Troop and Samuel D. Phillips of H Troop were awarded the Medal of Honor.

In August 1877, elements of the First and Second U.S. Cavalry had been following Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians for almost two weeks. Suddenly, the Indians turned back on their pursuers at Camas Meadows in Idaho and disrupted the chase before escaping into Montana through what is now Yellowstone Park.

General O. O. Howard, who would later accept the surrender of Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce band, ordered L Troop of the Second Cavalry back to Fort Ellis for provisions on 25 August. From there, they would later join Howard. On 18 September, a force of approximately six hundred men, including Troops F, G, and H of the "Montana Battalion" of the Second Cavalry marched northwest in an effort to prevent the Indians from reaching Canadian territory and discovered that Chief Joseph had made camp on Eagle Creek along the eastern part of the Bear Paw Mountains. Three troops of the Second Cavalry were immediately dispatched to attack the Indians' rear and drive away their pony herd. In the meantime, the Seventh Cavalry attacked the Indian positions but were repulsed. Another assault – this one with the aid of infantry – also failed.

White Bird and several other Indian Chiefs were making a run for Canada with the pony herd when Lieutenant Edward J. McClernand and Company G caught up to them. In a brief engagement, McClernand captured the Indians and the pony herd intact. For his skill and boldness, McClernand was awarded the Medal of Honor. It became apparent that the Nez Perce would only be starved out of their entrenchments. After a four-day siege, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Howard on 4 October 1877.

During the Nez Perce campaign, Captain Norwood’s L Troop of the "Montana Battalion" was part of a force under General Howard. On 20 August 1877, the Nez Perce turned on their pursuers, driving off their pack train and managing to escape with it. Dangerously low on supplies, Howard dispatched L Troop and an additional two troops of the First Cavalry to recover the supplies. After eight miles of hard riding, the detachment overtook the Indians, and heavy fighting ensued. Corporal Garland, although wounded in the hip and unable to stand, continued to direct his men until the Indians withdrew. For gallantry and bravery in action, four men of L Troop received the Medal of Honor: First Sergeant Wilkers, Corporal Garland, Farrier Jones and Private Clark. The annual regimental award for the most outstanding trooper is named in honor of Farrier Jones. The farrier was a cavalry unit's combination medic, veterinarian, and blacksmith.

In the autumn of 1878, Second Cavalry elements were attached to two newly established forts in the Department of Dakota named Fort Custer and Fort McKeogh. The dragoons spent most of this year waiting for Sitting Bull to return from Canada. It was also a year without pay for the cavalry, as Congress had failed to appropriate pay for the Army.

As winter approached, the Cheyenne Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf led their bands from the reservations in Oklahoma, moving north towards Canada. U.S. soldiers intercepted Dull Knife and the Indian chief surrendered at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.

A month later, however, Little Wolf and his band of Indians reached Wyoming and fled into the Sand Hills. Lieutenant William P. Clark, who had developed a special rapport with the Indians, was sent after Little Wolf with troops E and I of the Second Cavalry. On 25 March 1879, Clark located Little Wolf's encampment at Box Elder Creek, Montana. After negotiations, Clark persuaded the chief and his band to return under escort to Fort McKeogh. The Army enlisted several of them as scouts, allowing them to stay in the north.

On 5 April, during the march back to Fort McKeogh, a small band of Indians escaped and attacked two soldiers. Sergeant Glover and ten men in his charge from Company B, Second Cavalry, charged the Indians and, though outnumbered, surrounded them forced them to surrender. For gallantry in action, Sergeant Glover was awarded the Medal of Honor.

In the winter of 1886, the Regiment was kept busy by groups of Indians who were following the buffalo herds south from Canada and occasionally attacking settlers and stealing their stock. During the summer and fall, most of these bands surrendered at Fort McKeogh, Montana. At this time, the only large group of Indians on the northern plains who had not been placed on a reservation was Sitting Bull’s band of Sioux Indians in Canada.

In early March 1887, a large band of Sioux crossed the border into Montana without warning. C Troop from Camp Stambaugh, Wyoming, and E Troop from Fort Sanders, Wyoming, were quickly dispatched into Montana. The Second Cavalry pursued the Sioux for over 150 miles, finally surprising their camp at O'Fallon's Creek, Montana. In fierce fighting, the cavalry killed many braves and killed or captured 46 horses. It was this loss of horses that forced the band to break up and flee back toward Canada.

Captain Eli L. Huggins was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action at O'Fallon's Creek, where he surprised the Indians in their stronghold and boldly fought them with great courage. Captain Huggins became the 12th Colonel of the Regiment. The annual Regimental award for the most outstanding junior officer is named in honor of Huggins.

Second Lieutenant Lloyd M. Brett was awarded the Medal of Honor for his fearless conduct and dashing bravery in scattering the Indians' pony herd. Brett became the commander of the Third Cavalry Regiment in 1927. For actions against the Indians, the Regiment earned 13 more red and black battle streamers, while troopers of the Regiment earned 15 medals of honor.