Category:

Union Cavalry

From General August V. Kautz’s war-time manual, Customs of Service for Officers of the Army, we have Kautz’s list of the qualifications required for a good cavalry commander. As Kautz himself was a cavalryman, this makes for an interesting list.

687. CAVALRY.—A Cavalry Commander requires peculiar qualifications, that are far more rare than for any other arm of the service. He should, first of all, be young, and of fine physical qualities, capable of enduring great fatigue. He should be quick of thought and decision, without being rash; he should be able to form his plans rapidly and clearly, and execute with confidence.

688. He should be devoted to this branch of the service, passionately fond of the horse, unremitting in his care and attention to his command, watching over men and horses, and jealous of their abuse, guarding and protecting them, so that they may be in the best possible condition for the moment of action. When that moment arrives, he should receive it confidently, and should “go in” with a method akin to rashness, counting only on success, and regardless of the cost.

689. The capacity to go from place to place, independent of guides, or with the aid of a map only (that innate knowledge of locality so rarely found), is an essential of the first importance to a Cavalry Commander. He must not be easily misled, and be able to know intuitively whether he is going right or wrong. The whole object of an expedition may fail by a want of capacity to go by the shortest and most available route to the destination; for the main merit of Cavalry is its rapidity of movement, made available by distancing the enemy in seizing a weak point before he can protect it.

690. The improvements in firearms have produced some modifications in the use of Cavalry. It is seldom that Cavalry can approach near enough to charge without being exposed to a destructive fire at long range. The opportunities for the use of the sabre are much more rare; the nature of our country is such that a weaker force can always avoid a stronger mounted force by seeking a wood, or a fence, or a stream, for cover, from which, with the long ranged arm, it can constantly harass its mounted foe as far as it can be seen.

691. This facility to take cover against Cavalry at any time renders it necessary for the Cavalry to be provided with a carbine of long range, so that the horses may be left in rear, and the Cavalry dismount, and act temporarily as Infantry, to overcome obstacles insurmountable for Cavalry; or having availed itself of the rapid movement of the horses to seize a strategic point, that the Cavalry may dismount and hold it like entrenched Infantry; for pure Cavalry cannot hold positions on the defensive—it must either fight to win or run away.

692. In an open country unobstructed by fences, hedges, ravines, or woods, Cavalry is of great service to watch the enemy, to pick up stragglers, carry intelligence, and to harass the enemy. But its chances for charging depend upon the character of the foe, and the nature of their arms. Infantry indifferent in discipline, armed with short range guns, are still assailable by good Cavalry; and good Infantry will cause severe loss to Cavalry, even where successfully attacked; but even the best of Infantry may be surprised and taken unawares.

693. The great merit of Cavalry consists in its celerity of movement; but this does not mean that the horse should be kept constantly at a dashing pace. On the contrary, the habitual gait of Cavalry is a walk. It is only when confronted with the enemy, and where celerity of movement is necessary to be exercised for very short periods to gain definite results, that it is justifiable to urge the horse to greater speed than a walk; then to decide definitely, and execute with rapidity, is the province of the Cavalry leader.

694. It is better on an extended march to keep up a continuous walk for twenty-four hours, than to double the speed and make the same distance in twelve hours. The best horses would fail in the latter case, whilst most horses could do the former without injury. The load which a Cavalry horse must carry defeats any comparison with the saddle horse of the civilian; the equipments that are attached to the saddle, the sabre on one side, and the carbine on the other, the picket rope and pin, the halter, the nose-bag and forage-bag, the haversack and canteen, and often other things disposed about the horse and the men, may all be carried very conveniently at a walk by the horse, but when urged at a trot, or a gallop, are very serious obstacles, and a few miles at those gaits without interruption will soon end his usefulness, even on the best of roads.

695. A march should be conducted, as follows: the column should move out by fours, if possible; otherwise by twos, or by file; but each squadron should regulate its own march; the leading files of each squadron should keep the required gait, which should be a walk on all ordinary marches; squadrons regulate their distances by increasing or slowing the walk gradually; rear files rushing forward at a trot, or gallop, thus crowding on the heels of the horses in front, and then halting suddenly for room to go on, is a great injury to the horses, and an evidence of very bad Cavalry.

696. The Captain or Commander of the squadron should march in rear of his squadron, so as to control the disposition the men have to leave the column on the slightest pretext; none should be allowed to leave, except in cases of absolute necessity, and then the Captain (who should be provided with written permits) should give the proper authority, and it should be required of each man to report his return; otherwise the men will be constantly falling out, and once out of the column and away from the officer, they are liable to commit depredations, or they break their horses down in riding from house to house, or place to place, in search of anything or nothing, with that want of consideration often found among soldiers.

697. Halts need not be frequent, two or three in a day’s march are quite sufficient. Sometimes the obstacles to be passed render halts necessary; and whenever they occur, if only for a few moments, the men should dismount; at such times a few mouthfuls of grass or other food is very refreshing to the horse. The opportunity to water the horses should always be considered and ordered in advance, and should be counted as a halt or rest. On a forced march the horses should not be halted, but they should be relieved fifteen minutes every hour, by dismounting the men, and requiring them to march. For a march of a day more, the walk is the most rapid gait, the Cavalry will go farther in less time, and be in better condition at that gait than any other; the time must be saved by making fewer halts, and marching more hours.

698. On campaigns, the Cavalry is often improperly used. It is a great expense to the Government, although no doubt a great comfort to the Commander of an Army, if he can surround his command with a cordon of Mounted Sentinels, five or six miles out in front of his Infantry pickets; but he can have little knowledge in the use of this auxiliary arm, when he wastes his horse-flesh in so reckless and improvident a manner.

699. The proper place for the Cavalry of an Army is in reserve, so that it may be available in the shortest possible time. If it is out on picket, and widely scattered, the concentration of it fatigues and delays it, and it goes upon the expedition half broken down, and behind time. The rule is never to use the Cavalry where Infantry will do as well or better, and particularly not for picket duty. Infantry is far better for this duty, and only sufficient Cavalry should be used to act as couriers, and to patrol the principal avenues of approach, in connection with the Infantry.

700. Cavalry should not be used as Infantry. Dismounting the men and sending the horses to the rear for days, or even hours, thus separating the two, is a violation of this rule; but it may sometimes be necessary, as when a Cavalry column is pushed forward rapidly to seize a point that can only be held by dismounting; but in such a case Infantry should always be sent as soon as possible to take the place of the dismounted Cavalry. Men and horses cannot be separated any length of time without a proportionate injury to the latter.

701. The embarrassing feature of Cavalry is forage; the horses must be fed, and the feed cannot be transported any great distance, without superior facilities for transportation. In an agricultural district, however, a Cavalry column of almost any size moving through the country will find sufficient to subsist the horses, if a proper system of foraging is adopted. This requires the utmost vigilance. Loosely conducted, it is exceedingly demoralizing and furnishes opportunities for every kind of excesses; especial care should be taken where it may be the policy to conciliate the inhabitants.

702. Recent improvements in arms and equipments have made it necessary that the greater portion of our Cavalry should be armed with repeating carbines and metallic percussion cartridges. The sabre may be dispensed with altogether, or if forming part of the equipment, should be strapped to the saddle. Such a force is almost as formidable as Infantry, and its principal use is to surprise and capture strategic points, and hold them until they can be occupied by the Infantry; they act as skirmishers or flankers to the army when advancing, or retreating. They go into action generally dismounted, and their horses are used only as a means of transportation. Such Cavalry is of special value in a wooded or broken country, where the horses may be covered, and the character of the troops thus concealed from the enemy.

703. Cavalry lightly equipped with sabre and pistol, and used mainly for couriers for carrying intelligence, and watching the enemy, in connection with the Infantry pickets, has not lost its value in this respect, and should be supplied to the Army in proportion to its necessities. The signal branch of the service might be economically united with this arm. But the value of the horse as derived from the force and shock of a charge is fast passing away; as a means of pursuit, of transportation, and rapid movement, he has rather gained than lost in value.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Brig. Gen. William W. Averell left behind this excellent description of the traditional role of cavalry:

Reliable information of the enemy’s position or movements, which is absolutely necessary to the commander of an army to successfully conduct a campaign, must be largely furnished by the cavalry. The duty of the cavalry when an engagement is imminent is specially imperative—to keep in touch with the enemy and observe and carefully note, with time of day or night, every slightest indication and report it promptly to the commander of the army. On the march, cavalry forms in advance, flank and rear guards and supplies escorts, couriers and guides. Cavalry should extend well away from the main body on the march like antennae to mask its movements and to discover any movement of the enemy.

Cavalry should never hug the army on the march, especially in a thickly wooded country, because the horses being restricted to the roads, the slightest obstacle in advance is liable to cause a blockade against the march of infantry. Moreover, in camp it furnishes outposts, vedettes and scouts. In battle it attacks the enemy’s flanks and rear, and above all other duties in battle, it secures the fruits of victory by vigorous and unrelenting pursuit. In defeat it screens the withdrawal of the army and by its fortitude and activity baffles the enemy. In addition to these active military duties of the cavalry, it receives flags of truce, interrogates spies, deserters and prisoners, makes and improves topographical maps, destroys and builds bridges, obstructs and opens communications, and obtains or destroys forage and supplies.

Good stuff.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

It’s been quite a while since I’ve profiled a forgotten cavalryman, so I thought now would be a good time to do one. Tonight’s profile is of Col. Nathaniel P. Richmond of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry.

Nathaniel P. Richmond was born in Indianapolis on July 26, 1833. His father Ansel was from New York, and had his family roots in New England. He was a member of a prominent law firm, and served as the clerk of courts. His mother, Elizabeth S. Pendleton Richmond, was an Ohio native with Virginia roots who was a cousin of President James Madison.

At age 17, Nathaniel entered Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, but he did not complete his course of study due to ill health that compelled him to leave the university at the end of his sophomore year. In the hope of regaining his health, he set off on a cross-country journey through Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and on to Oregon. He remained in Oregon for about three years, working odd jobs and exploring the northwestern territories. He then went to California, embarking on a long voyage home. After crossing the isthmus of Nicaragua, he embarked on a different ship to finish the trip home, arriving on March 11, 1852, four years after he began his grand journey.

He was apprenticed to a law firm in Kokomo, Indiana, and upon completing his studies, was admitted to the bar in 1856. When one of the partners in the law firm retired the next year, Richmond took his place from 1857-1860. In 1860, he was appointed a special collecting agent for an Indianapolis firm, a position he held until the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861. On January 19, 1858, he married Miss Mary Kennedy, and the couple had four children, two of whom died in infancy. The two surviving children were William, born on December 25, 1864, and Glenn, born on May 17, 1866.

That April, he joined a company of Indiana troops as a second lieutenant in Co. E, 13th Indiana Infantry. Richmond served as an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans in what later became West Virginia in the early days of the war. In August 1861, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, which later became known as the 1st West Virginia Cavalry.

During the spring of 1862, the 1st West Virginia Cavalry served in the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont. He was promoted to colonel in August 1862, after his unit, the 5th New York Cavalry, the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and the 1st Vermont Cavalry were brigaded together under the command of Brig. Gen. John Buford, and was attached to Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia.

He and his troopers served with distinction during the Second Bull Run Campaign. Buford’s brigade fought a hard rear guard action against Confederate cavalry at the Lewis Ford during the closing engagements of the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862, and Richmond’s regiment was in the thick of that fighting. One of his officers wrote of him:

I will just speak of one engagement which will at once prove the fighting qualities of Colonel Richmond. On the 21st of August our pickets were driven in from the posts at Kelley’s Ford on the Rappahannock. Colonel Richmond received an order to proceed with his regiment, and find, if possible, the position and number of the enemy. At noon we crossed the river and found the enemy’s pickets and skirmishers in force. Considering that but child’s play we drove them before us with ease. Our regiment was ordered to take the center and advance cautiously through the woods. On emerging therefrom, we received a heavy volley from the advance regiment of a brigade, which we found drawn up in line of battle; a charge was ordered, and through clouds of smoke and fire, we dashed upon the brigade. The gallant Colonel, at the head of his men, raising himself in the saddle and flourishing his saber, cries out “Come on my bully boys” and in a moment they were lost in the smoke. The incessant firing, and clashing of sabers parrying the thrusted bayonet, the almost demon-like cheering of our men, formed a scene beautifully grand. The rebels retreated, and we were ordered to fall back to an open field beyond the road. Colonel Richmond was covered with blood from head to foot. Two noble fellows who were at his side had been shot, and their life;s blood was still warm on his clothes. The gallant charge of this regiment at Bull Run, when the left wing under McDowell was being turned, has elicited great praise. It has been said that the First Virginia Cavalry, by keeping the enemy back, saved ten thousand of McDowell’s infantry.

Richmond assumed command of the brigade during the winter of 1862-1863 after Buford became chief of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. This brigade was a part of the cavalry division assigned to the defenses of Washington, DC, commanded by Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel. He had contracted a chronic case of the piles during the Second Bull Run Campaign, and took disability leave for a time in an effort to recover. This problem plagued him for the rest of his life.

In mid-June 1863, this division became the Army of the Potomac’s Third Cavalry Division, and Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick replaced Stahel. On June 28, 1863, Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth took command of the brigade, serving with valor for just five days. The 1st West Virginia fought hard during the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover, and then Richmond led it in both mounted and dismounted attacks during the Battle of Gettysburg. Farnsworth died at the head of his troops, leading a suicidal cavalry charge against Confederate infantry and artillery at Gettysburg on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. As the ranking regimental colonel, Richmond assumed command of the brigade, leading it through the pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the days after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Richmond served effectively as brigade commander, leading it in combat at Monterey Pass, Smithsburg, Hagerstown, and Falling Waters. When Col. Othniel de Forest of the 5th New York Cavalry returned to duty after missing the Battle of Gettysburg due to illness, Richmond returned to regimental command of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry. “He has won an enviable distinction as a cavalry officer,” noted a fellow horse soldier, “he led a brigade through the battles at Gettysburg and lately in our movements, and has been made chairman of the board of inspection of cavalry.”

He returned to duty in the field, leading his regiment during the extended cavalry campaigning that occupied most of the fall of 1863. His horse was shot out from under him during a heavy skirmish at Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan River on October 11, 1863, and the beast fell on Richmond, who badly injured his right hip and the small of his back. He took leave of absence and went to Culpeper Court House to recuperate, but got no better; indeed, these injuries caused him partial disability for the rest of his life. Consequently, he resigned his commission for health reasons in the spring of 1864 and went home. Then, in the spring of 1865, he unexpectedly received a commission as a colonel in the Veteran Reserve Corps, and was assigned to duty as superintendent of recruiting service for that corps for the State of Indiana. With the war over, he resigned his commission in August 1865.

Richmond then entered Republican politics in his home state of Indiana. From the time that he came home in 1864 through 1868, he represented his district in the Indiana State Senate. He was elected to city council in 1869 and then again 1871-1872, and in 1873 was elected mayor of Kokomo. “He possesses energy, courage, self-reliance, quick perception and decision, all the qualities that make the successful military officer and the leader in civil affairs,” noted a biographer, “yet with these is united a modest estimation of self that is a ‘candle to his merit,’ revealing more clearly the genuine virtues of his character.”

After ending his political career, Richmond worked as a lawyer and gentleman farmer near Kokomo. In 1882, he retired and moved to Malvern, Arkansas, in Hot Springs County, where he enjoyed the healing powers of the spa there. Richmond lived until the ripe old age of 85. He died on June 28, 1919, just a few weeks before his 86th birthday. He was buried in Crown Point Cemetery in Kokomo.

Here’s to Col. Nathaniel P. Richmond of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry, a fine soldier who did his duty and did it well.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Time for another profile of a completely forgotten cavalryman.

Richard S. C. Lord was born in 1832 on his father’s farm near Bellefontaine, Ohio. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy from Ohio in 1852, and graduated 40th out of 47 in the class of 1856. The class of 1856 also included future Civil War cavalry generals Fitzhugh Lee, Lunsford L. Lomax, George D. Bayard and James Forsyth. He and some of his classmates purchased the Patagonia silver mine in Arizona, but sold his interest in 1859 when his company departed Arizona for Ft. Fillmore.

He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1856 and joined the infantry. He served garrison duty at the Newport Barracks in Kentucky 1856-1857 and then at the Carlisle Barracks. While serving at Newport, he was promoted to second lieutenant in the 3rd Artillery.

On June 22, 1857, he was transferred to the 1st Dragoons and did frontier duty at Ft. Buchanan, New Mexico. In 1859, he alternated between Ft. Buchanan and Ft. Fillmore, often doing scouting duty and fighting a skirmish with Apache Indians near Camp Calabassee, New Mexico on August 26, 1860. He was assigned to Ft. Breckinridge, Utah not longer after and served there 1860-1861. On April 23, 1861, he was promoted to first lieutenant.

Lord returned to New Mexico in June 1861 and was promoted to captain on October 26, 1861. While commanding a company of the 1st U. S. Cavalry (as the 1st Dragoons were now known), he was engaged in the February 21, 1862 Battle of Valverde and in an action at Apache Canyon March 7-8, 1862. The conduct of his company at Valverde was criticized, and Lord underwent a court of inquiry that eventually exonerated his conduct there. He was then transferred east, and assumed command of the 1st U. S. Cavalry as its senior captain.

He led the 1st U. S. during the May 1863 Stoneman Raid, at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, and during the Gettysburg Campaign (at Upperville on June 21, at Gettysburg July 3, and in several of the battles during the retreat. He received a brevet to major for gallant and meritorious services during the Gettysburg Campaign, to date to July 7, 1863.

While skirmishing at Funkstown on July 9, 1863, Lord was seriously wounded, and had to leave the army. He was on disability leave from July 10-September 3, 1863. When he returned to duty, he served as assistant at the newly-formed Cavalry Bureau in Washington, DC. On February 25, 1865, he returned to command the 1st U. S., and led it in the war in the east’s final campaigns, including the April 1, 1865 Battle of Five Forks, for which he received a brevet to lieutenant colonel.

After the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, the 1st U. S. became Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s escort, and accompanied Sheridan to New Orleans from June-September 1865. Lord was on recruiting duty from October 1865 to March 1866, and then was assigned to the Drum Barracks in Los Angeles, California from March to June 1866. Unfortunately, Lord had contracted tuberculosis some time during his service in the Civil War, and by June 1866, the disease had reached terminal status and he was gravely ill. He went east to appear before a retirement board, but was too ill.

Lord left the Army on sick leave on June 15, 1866, and died of the tuberculosis at his father’s home in Bellefontaine in October 16, 1866 ten days shy of his 34th birthday. He was buried in the Bellefontaine City Cemetery in his home town. His only child, Richard Stanton Lord, died the following year at age 3. Nothing is known of his wife.

I have never seen an image of Richard S. C. Lord, which is why there’s not one included here. However, Lord is one of those professional soldiers who left his mark, albeit anonymously, on the Civil War by honorably doing his duty well. He’s buried just over an hour from here, and when the winter breaks, I’m planning on visiting his grave to pay my respects.

Here’s to Richard S. C. Lord, completely forgotten Civil War cavalryman.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

I’m going to profile a forgotten horse artillerist today. Today’s profile is of Maj. Gen. William Montrose Graham.

William Montrose Graham was born in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 1834, the son of James Duncan and Charlotte (Meade) Graham. His mother was a sister of George Gordon Meade. His father was a member of the West Point class of 1817, and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He was a distinguished and gifted topographical and civil engineer who died in 1865. His uncle and namesake, Col. William Montrose Graham, was killed during the Mexican-American War while commanding the 11th U.S. Infantry at Molino del Rey.

William M. Graham was appointed a second lieutenant of the 1st U. S. Artillery on June 7, 1855. He was promoted to first lieutenant on March 1, 1861, and to captain on October 26, 1861. For much of the Civil War, he commanded Battery K, 1st U. S. Artillery, which was a horse artillery battery. He was brevetted major July 1, 1862 for his service during the Peninsula Campaign, he was brevetted lieutenant colonel September 17, 1862 for his service at Antietam, to colonel July 3, 1863 for his service at the Battle of Gettysburg, and to brigadier general March 17, 1865 for gallant and meritorious service throughout the Civil War.

He was appointed colonel of the 2nd District of Columbia Volunteers on April 7, 1865, and mustered out of the volunteer service on September 12, 1865. When he mustered out of the volunteer service, he returned to the Regular Army. He was promoted to major of the 4th U. S. Artillery on July 18, 1879 and to lieutenant colonel of the 1st Artillery on August 10, 1887. He was transferred to the the 5th Artillery on July 18, 1879, and was then promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 1st Artillery on August 10, 1887.

Graham was transferred to the 5th Artillery on May 1, 1890 and was then commissioned colonel of the 5th Artillery on July 1, 1891. On May 26, 1897, he was promoted to brigadier general. He retired from active service in the Regular Army on his 64th birthday, September 28, 1898. At the beginning of the Spanish-American War, he was commissioned major general of volunteers. He was ordered to Camp Russell A. Alger, located at Falls Church, VA, to take charge of the organization of the Second Army Corps, U. S. Volunteers, which was mobilized to a strength of 30,000. In August, 1898, he was transferred to Camp George Gordon Meade, near Middletown, PA, where he was honorably discharged from the volunteer service on November 30, 1898.

Graham was married to Mary Brewerton Ricketts, the sister of his fellow artillerist, Maj. Gen. James Brewerton Ricketts. They had several children, including Lt. William Montrose Graham, who served as a lieutenant in the 12th U.S. Cavalry. Two of his daughters married naval officers.

He died on January 1, 1916 at the age of 82 at his daughter’s home near Annapolis, Maryland, after a short bout with pneumonia. He was buried in Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery near his parents. His son William joined him there in 1918.

William Graham was one of those exceptional Regular Army artillerists that made the Army of the Potomac’s horse artillery a force to be reckoned with. Graham was a dedicated professional soldier who made a real difference on the battlefields where his gunner fought.

Here’s to William Montrose Graham, forgotten horse artillerist.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

It’s been a LONG time since I last profiled a forgotten cavalryman, so here goes…

Julius MasonJulius Wilmot Mason was born in Towanda, Pennsylvania on January 19, 1835. He was named for his father’s law partner, David Wilmot, who later became a U.S. Senator and the founder of the Republican Party.

He graduated from the Kentucky Military Institute in June 1857 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He then enrolled in Shelby College, also in Kentucky, as a resident graduate. He studied there for a year, and then received a master’s degree in engineering from the Kentucky Military Institute in 1859. He took a job as a division engineer with the Brooklyn Water Works, and was employed there when the Civil War broke out in April 1861. He also served as a militia officer in New York prior to the Civil War.

Answering President Lincoln’s initial call for volunteers, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the 5th U. S. Cavalry on April 26, 1861. Mason had had plenty of military training while a student at the Kentucky Military Institute, and the ranks of the Regular cavalry regiments were badly depleted by the departure of Southern officers and the assignment of Regular officers to command volunteer regiments. The 5th U. S. Cavalry, in particular, had been badly hit, losing, among others, Col. Albert S. Johnston, Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, Maj. William J. Hardee, Capts. Earl Van Dorn and Edmund Kirby Smith, and Lts. John Bell Hood and Fitzhugh Lee to the Confederacy.

He joined the regiment at Washington, D.C. on May 15, 1861, and served at the U. S. Treasury until June 4, when he joined his company for the First Bull Run Campaign. He fought at First Bull Run, where he drew praise for his “daring intrepidity”, and was promoted to first lieutenant on June 1, 1861. He served in the defenses of Washington during the winter of 1861-1862, and was promoted to captain on December 6, 1862.

Mason and the 5th U. S. actively participated in McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign, participating the siege of Yorktown. However, Mason contracted typhoid fever shortly after the siege of Yorktown, and was hospitalized at Chesapeake Hospital in Hampton, Virginia for the better part of two months, meaning that he missed the Seven Days Battles and did not participate in the 5th U. S. Cavalry’s ill-fated mounted charge against Confederate infantry at the Battle of Gaine’s Mill. He rejoined his regiment at Harrison’s Landing in July and served with the regiment as a rear guard during the evacuation of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula.

The Regulars served under McClellan’s command during the 1862 Maryland Campaign, and Mason was engaged in skirmishing at the September 14, 1862 Battle of South Mountain, again in skirmishing at the Middle Bridge during the September 17 Battle of Antietam, and in the September 20 fight at Shepherdstown Ford on the Potomac River. He served at St. James College, near Williamsport, Maryland during November, and then participated in a December 1862 reconnaissance near Falmouth, Virginia.

When the Army of the Potomac went into its winter encampment near Falmouth after its defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Mason spent the winter on picket and court-martial duty. He briefly commanded the regiment for a few days in March, and then returned to company command for the May 1863 Stoneman Raid simultaneous with the Battle of Chancellorsville. He commanded a squadron that served as the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps’ advance guard at the beginning of the raid, and crossed the Rapidan River at Blind Ford, just below the junction of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. While his squadron was isolated from the main body, he captured nearly the entire complement of men assigned to a Confederate battery, and was only prevented from taking the guns by the arrival of the 13th Virginia Cavalry. Mason held his position at Blind Ford until the rest of the Cavalry Corps crossed the river at Raccoon Ford, five miles above Blind Ford. As the regimental historian of the 5th U. S. Cavalry put it, “This was one of the most gallant dashes made by any part of the regiment during the war.”

Mason then participated in the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, where he earned a brevet to major, to date from June 9, 1863, for gallant and meritorious services. When Capt. James E. Harrison suffered a debilitating sunstroke just after Brandy Station, Mason assumed command of the 5th U. S., and led it during the June 17, 1863 Battle of Aldie and the June 19 Battle of Upperville, and then in the fighting on South Cavalry Field at Gettysburg on July 3. He remained in command of the regiment throughout the retreat from Gettysburg, and again earned a brevet–this time to lieutenant colonel–for gallant and meritorious service at the August 1, 1863 fight at Brandy Station. He led his regiment through the Bristoe Station and Mine Run commands.

In March 1864, he was selected to command the bodyguard for Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (consisting of Cos. B, F, and K, of the 5th U. S. Cavalry, as well as detachments from Cos. C and D), and served in this important role until the end of the Civil War. He led Cos. B, F, and K in raids on the Petersburg and Weldon Railroads in August 1864 and through Surry County, Virginia in October 1864. He accompanied army headquarters to Washington in May 1865, and continued to serve with Grant until August 12, 1866.

He was then selected for recruiting service in Carlisle and Philadelphia until April 14, 1867, when he rejoined his company in Washington. He commanded General Grant’s escort until he inaugurated as President of the United States in January 1868. He then served in the same position for Gen. William T. Sherman until March 31, 1870, when he was transferred to frontier service.

He arrived at Fort David Russell in Russell, Wyoming on April 29, 1870, and served there until December 12, 1871, when he and a detachment of the regiment moved to Arizona. He arrived at Fort Hualpai from February 27, 1872 and served in the Apache Campaign of 1872, participating in skirmishes in the Big Canyon of Bill Williams’ Fork on July 5, 1872. He then won the first significant victory of the campaign at Muchos Canyons, near the headwaters of the North Branch of the Big Sandy River on September 25, when he commanded Cos. B, C, and K of the regiment and a detachment of Hualpai scouts. He was also engaged in skirmishes near the Santa Maria on October 24 and at Sycamore Crek on October 25.

Unfortunately, Mason became debilitated with what was diagnosed as inflammatory rheumatism and had to take medical leave and seek a change of climate. He rejoined the regiment at Fort Hualpai on July 15, 1873 and then marched his company to Camp Verde, where he served until May 3, 1875. During this time, he did detached service at Los Angles and as special Indian agent of the Rio Verde Agency after the regular agent went “violently insane”. He then participated in surveying the Fort Lowell Reservation.

Mason was twice nominated to be a brevet colonel to date from September 15, 1872, for gallant conduct in the engagement with the Apaches at Muchos Canyons, but the U.S. Senate never approved the brevet.

In May 1875, he marched Cos. A, E, and K to Fort Hays, where he served until September 19. He then marched to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he served until May 19, 1876. He then served in the campaign against the Sioux, including in the Custer relief expedition in June 1876. He commanded the pursuit of the Sioux near the South Branch of the Cheyenne River and in the skirmish at War Bonnet, Wyoming. He was promoted to major of the 3rd Cavalry on July 1, 1876, but remained in command of a battalion of five companies of the 5th Cavalry during the operations at the Little Big Horn and the Yellowstone expedition, and was engaged in the skirmish at Slim Buttes, Dakota Territories.

When the expedition disbanded at Fort Robinson, Nebraska in October 1876, he joined the 3rd Cavalry and was assigned to command Fort Robinson. He retained that command until February 1877, when he was assigned to Fort Laramie. He served at Fort Laramie from April 1877 to August 1878, and commanded Fort Fetterman from February to November 1879, during which time he supervised the construction of a bridge across the North Platte River. He relinquished a leave of absence during the winter of 1880 at the request of the department command for the purpose of superintending the construction of bridges across the Snake and Bear Rivers between Rawlins, Wyoming and Ute Agency on the White River in Colorado, and upon successful completion of these duties, took command of Fort Washakie, Wyoming until May 1882. In May 1882, he and his regiment were transferred to Arizona and participated in a campaign against hostile Apaches until the fall of 1882. He was then assigned to command Fort Huachuca, where he died of “apoplexy” on December 20, 1882. Mason was buried in the post cemetery at Fort Huachuca. He is one of three former post commanders buried there.

He married 21-year-old Mary E. Dunham on December 19, 1860 at the Jamaica M. E. Church in Jamaica, Long Island. They had a son, Julius Addison Mason, born in Towanda in 1861. Mary outlived her husband and died in 1893. Julius Addison Mason died in 1914.

Here’s to forgotten cavalryman Julius W. Mason, who served his country well and faithfully for 21 years and died while still in the service of his country. Thanks to Carolyn Mason Buseman, the great-granddaughter of Julius W. Mason, for filling in some family details for me.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Here is another installment in my infrequent profiles of Civil War cavalrymen. This particular soldier has a fascinating tale.

Henry Washington SawyerHenry Washington Sawyer was born in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on May 16, 1829. He received a common school education in Lehigh County and then learned the carpenter’s trade. In 1848, he moved to Cape May, New Jersey, where he worked as a carpenter until the outbreak of the Civil War. He married and had three children.

When President Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers on April 15, 1861, Sawyer was among the first to offer his services to New Jersey Gov. Charles S. Olden at Trenton. However, there was no organization for troops ready for muster-in yet, and because secessionists had interrupted mail and telegraphic communication with Washington, Governor Olden sent Sawyer to Washington to deliver important dispatches to Secretary of War Simon Cameron.

On April 18, 1861, he enlisted as a private in a three-month regiment, the 25th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the first volunteer troops to arrive in the national capitol. The 25th Pennsylvania was engaged in barricading and guarding the Capitol until the arrival of the 6th Massachusetts and 7th New York regiments. At midnight on April 19, he was chosen to be one of the guards to protect the Capitol, there being but one company of regular cavalry in Washington. On the 20th, five companies of Pennsylvania three-months’ men arrived, to one of which Sawyer was attached as private. In recognition of this service, Sawyer received a special medal from the Pennsylvania legislature. He was promoted to sergeant on May 14, 1861, and was then discharged on July 23, 1861 at the end of his three-month term of enlistment.

With the assistance of Governor Olden, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in Company D of Halsted’s Cavalry Regiment, an independent organization raised under the provisions of an Act of Congress approved on July 22, 1861. By order of the War Department of February 19, 1862, this unit was re-designated the 1st Regiment, Cavalry, New Jersey Volunteers, which proved to be one of the finest fighting units of the American Civil War. It was involved in 97 different engagements during the Civil War. On August 20, 1861, Sawyer was mustered in at Trenton, and shortly after proceeded to Washington, D.C. with his regiment. When his company’s first lieutenant resigned his commission, Sawyer was promoted to first lieutenant on Aril 7, 1862, and was promoted again, this time to captain of Company K, on September 8, 1862, when Capt. Virgil Brodrick was promoted to major.

Sawyer was wounded in 1862 at Woodstock, Va. when his horse was shot out from under him. The dying beast fell on Sawyer’s right leg. He later developed “extosis of the bone” in his thigh as the femur had sharp edges protruding from it. Sawyer was in constant pain and limped for the rest of his life.

On October 31, 1862, at Aldie, Va., Sawyer was wounded again. He led a small group on a reconnaissance mission. About 1,500 Southern cavalrymen attacked them. Sawyer stayed behind to cover his men’s escape, but was shot in the stomach. Sawyer somehow survived. The bullet had lodged near his spine, and the Army surgeons were afraid to remove it. He was sent home to recover, where civilian surgeons successfully removed the bullet.

Sawyer’s regiment, the 1st New Jersey Cavalry, was heavily engaged at the Battle of Brandy Station. Sawyer received two serious wounds in the fighting for Fleetwood Hill, one of which passed clear through his thigh, and the other struck his right cheek and then passed out the back of his neck on the left side of his spine. Despite these two serious wounds, Sawyer remained in the saddle until his horse was shot. The mortally wounded beast sprang into the air and fell dead, throwing Sawyer with so much force that it knocked him senseless. When he recovered consciousness Captain Sawyer saw Lieutenant Colonel Broderick lying near, and crawled up to him, but on examination found that he was dead. A short distance further on he saw Major Shellmire, while all around him were men of his own or other companies, either killed or wounded. While by the side of Colonel Broderick, Captain Sawyer was seen by two rebel soldiers, who took him prisoner, and, after washing the blood from his face with water from a neighboring ditch, conveyed him to the rear.

He was treated at a home in Culpeper, and his two combat wounds from Brandy Station were declared “very dangerous, if not mortal.” However, he recovered enough to be transported from Culpeper to Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison, “only to face the horrible fate which this heroic captain wished he had escaped by death through the bullet he had previously received through his head in battle.”

On April 9 1863, Federal soldiers arrested Confederate Capts. William F. Corbin and T. G. McGraw near Rouse’s Mills, Kentucky. They were tried before a military commission convened by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio, and were convicted of being spies and recruiting within Federal lines. On May 15, Corbin and McGraw were executed at the prisoner of war camp at Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio.

When Col. Robert Ould, the Confederate agent for the exchange of prisoners of war, learned of these executions through the press, he informed his Union counterpart, Lt. Col. William H. Ludlow, that the Confederate authorities had ordered two Union captains in their custody to be selected for execution in retaliation for this perceived barbarity. On May 25, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Ludlow informed Ould that Captains Corbin and McGraw were being executed as being spies, and “that if he proposed to select brave and honorable officers who had been captured in fair open fight on the battlefield and barbarously put to death in just retribution for the punishment of spies, he gave him formal notice that the United States Government would exercise their discretion in selecting such persons as they thought best for the purpose of count retaliation.” Ludlow had already received notice that the Confederates had condemned Capt. Samuel McKee of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry and a Lieutenant Shepherd, as the two officers to be executed. However, some influential politicians intervened with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and the two men were spared.

Brig. Gen. John H. Winder, who commanded the Department of Henrico, Virginia, issued Special Orders No. 160 on July 6, 1863, ordering Capt. Thomas P. Turner, the commandant of Libby Prison, to select by lot two captains from among the prisoners to be shot in retaliation for the deaths of Corbin and McGraw. Turner summoned all of the seventy-five Union captains being held in Libby Prison, and announced, “Gentlemen, it is my painful duty to communicate to you an order I have received from General Winder, which I will read.”

After reading the order, Turner had them men formed into a hollow square, in the center of which was placed a table. The names of all of the Union captains were written on slips of paper, carefully folded up, and then placed in a box. The first two names drawn would be the two men shot. He gave the officers the choice of who would draw the names, but nobody came forward. Instead, Sawyer suggested a chaplain of the U.S. Army. Three chaplains were called down, and Rev. Joseph T. Brown, of the 6th Maryland Infantry drew the first name, which was Sawyer’s. The second name drawn as that of Capt. John M. Flinn of the 51st Indiana Infantry. “When the names were read out,” reported the Richmond Dispatch, “Sawyer heard it with no apparent emotion, remarking that some one had to be drawn, and he could stand it as well as any one else. Flynn was very white and depressed.” The two men were placed in solitary confinement to await their execution. No date for the execution was set.

Sawyer realized that if he could bring his plight to the attention of the Federal government, something might be done to save his life. He asked for, and received, permission to write to his wife. Sawyer penned a lengthy letter to his wife explaining the fate that awaited him:

Richmond, Va., July 6th, 1863.

My Dear Wife: I am under the necessity of informing you that my prospects look dark.

This morning all the captains now prisoners at the Libby Military Prison drew lots for two to be executed. It fell to my lot. Myself and Captain Flynn, of the Fifty-first Indiana Infantry, will be executed for two captains executed by Burnside.

The Provost- General, J. H. Winder, assures me that the Secretary of War of the Southern Confederacy will permit yourself and my dear children to visit me before I am executed. You will be permitted to bring an attendant. Captain Whillidin, or Uncle W. W. Ware, or Dan, had better come with you. My situation is hard to be borne, and I cannot think of dying without seeing you and the children. You will be allowed to return without molestation to your home. I am resigned to whatever is in store for me, with the consolation that I die without having committed any crime. I have no trial, no jury, nor am I charged with any crime, but it fell to my lot. You will proceed to Washington. My government will give you transportation for Fortress Monroe, and you will get here by a flag of truce,and return the same way. Bring with you a shirt for me.

It will be necessary for you to preserve this letter to bring evidence at Washington of my condition. My pay is due me from the 1st of March, which you are entitled to. Captain B– owes me fifty dollars, money lent to him when he went on a furlough. You will write to him at once, and he will send it to you.

My dear wife, the fortune of war has put me in this position. If I must die, a sacrifice to my country, with God’s will I must submit; only let me see you once more, and I will die becoming a man and an officer; but, for God’s sake, do not disappoint me. Write to me as soon as you get this, and go to Captain Whilldin; he will advise you what to do.

I have done nothing to deserve this penalty. But you must submit to your fate. It will be no disgrace to myself, you or the children; but you may point with pride and say: “I give my husband;” my children will have the consolation to say: “I was made an orphan for my country.”

God will provide for you; never fear. Oh! it is hard to leave you thus. I wish the ball that passed through my head in the last battle would have done its work; but it was not to be so. My mind is somewhat influenced, for it has come so suddenly on me. Write to me as soon as you get this; leave your letter open, and I will get it. Direct my name and rank, by way of Fortress Monroe.

Farewell! farewell!! and I hope it is all for the best. I remain yours until death,

H. W. Sawyer, Captain First New Jersey Cavalry.

Upon completing his letter, Sawyer burst into tears at the thought of leaving his wife and children behind.

Sawyer and Flinn were placed in close confinement in an underground dungeon and fed only corn bread and water, their clothing molding in the dank, damp dungeon. The vault was only about six feet wide, and had no place for light or air, except a hole about six inches-square cut in the door. A sentry constantly stood duty in front of this door, whose duty it was to challenge the inmates once in each half hour and receive a reply. This, of course, rendered it impossible for both the inmates to sleep at one time. Sleep would have been impossible anyway. One of the two had remain awake to keep away the rats, which swarmed in the cell, off his comrade. The two men understandably grew deeply depressed as they awaited their cold fate, unaware of the efforts being undertaken to save their lives.

On July 11, the two officers penned a letter to Winder, pleading for their lives. “You are aware in obedience to your order we were by lot selected from among the Federal captains for execution,” they wrote. “No crime is charged against us, nor have we been guilty of any. It seems our lives are demanded as a measure of retaliation on our Government for the execution of two persons in Burnside’s department of our army. Of these persons we know nothing, nor of the circumstances attending them. We never had any connection with that part of the army.” They suggested that they should only be held for events that occurred in their theater of the war and suggested that Winder instead consider several officers from the Western Theater. They concluded by pleading, “Innocent as we are of any offense against the rules of war, in the name of humanity we ask you if our lives are to be exacted for the alleged offense of other men in other departments of the army than that in which we served?”

In the interim, Colonel Ludlum, who was an astute observer, wrote to recommend a course of action to save the lives of Sawyer and Flinn. “I respectfully and earnestly recommend that two Confederate officers in our hands be immediately selected for execution in retaliation for the threatened one of Sawyer and Flinn, and that I be authorized to communicate their names to the Confederate authorities, with the proper notice.” This wise suggestion provided the basis for a strategy that saved the lives of the two unfortunate captains.

Upon learning her husband’s fate, a horrified Mrs. Sawyer hastened to Washington, D.C. to present the case to President Abraham Lincoln. She traveled with a friend, Capt. W. Whelden, and Representative J. T. Nixons of New Jersey, and met with the President on July 14. Lincoln immediately ordered Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the commanding general of the U.S. Army, to send the following communication to Lieutenant Colonel Ludlow at Fortress Monroe, Virginia:

Washington, July 15, 1863

Colonel Ludlow, Agent for Exchange of Prisoners of War:

The President directs that you immediately place General W. H. F. Lee and another officer selected by you not below the rank of captain, prisoners of war, in close confinement and under strong guard, and that you notify Mr. R. Ould, Confederate agent for exchange and prisoners of war, that if Capt. H. W. Sawyer, First New Jersey Volunteer Cavalry, and Capt. John M. Flinn, Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, or any other officers or men in the service of the United States not guilty of crimes punishable with death by the laws of war, shall be executed by the enemy, the aforementioned prisoners will be immediately hung in retaliation. It is also directed that immediately on receiving official or other authentic information of the execution of Captain Sawyer and Captain Flinn, you will proceed to hang General Lee and the other rebel officer designated as hereinabove directed, and that you notify Robert Ould, Esq., of said proceeding, and assure him that the Government of the United States will proceed to retaliate for every similar barbarous violation of the laws of civilized war.

H. W. Halleck,
General-in-Chief

Like Henry Sawyer, Brig. Gen. W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee, the second son of Gen. Robert E. Lee, received two serious combat wounds at Brandy Station. One was a saber cut, and the other, more serious, was a gunshot wound to the leg that narrowly missed the tibia and the main artery. He was taken to Hickory Hill, the Wickham family home, in Hanover County, Virginia, to recuperate. A task force of more than 1,000 Federal cavalrymen, stationed near Yorktown, Virginia, raided deep into Hanover County and seized Rooney Lee from his father-in-law’s house on June 26, 1863. Col. Samuel P. Spear of the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, commander of the task force, whom Lee knew from the pre-war Regular Army, refused Lee’s request to be paroled, and the Confederate general became a prisoner of war. He was taken to Fortress Monroe and held there, and soon became a pawn in the great game of human chess that also involved Henry Sawyer.

Immediately after receiving this telegram, Ludlow had Rooney Lee placed in close confinement in a dungeon at Fortress Monroe, where Capt. Robert H. Tyler of the 8th Virginia Infantry, a prisoner of war being held in Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D. C., drawn by lot, joined him the next day. This action saved the lives of Sawyer and Flinn. Ludlow then informed Ould what had occurred, and what the new policy of the United States Government would be. As one Union officer commented that the Union high command had rightly surmised “that the influential connection of these two officers in the Confederacy would prevent the threatened execution of the Union captains who had drawn their death warrants in the dreadful lottery in which they had been compelled to take tickets.”

After remaining in the dungeon until August 16, 1863, they were relieved and placed back in with the general prisoner population on the same footing as the other prisoners, even though the Richmond newspapers continued to claim that the two Yankee captains would be executed.

On November 13, Lee was transferred to Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor. Captain Tyler joined him there a month later. Finally, in February 1864, the Confederate authorities proposed an exchange that was acceptable. Lee and Tyler were to be exchanged for Brig. Gen. Neal Dow of Maine, who was the highest-ranking Union officer in captivity, Sawyer, and Flinn. Lee and Tyler were transferred back to Fortress Monroe in anticipation of their exchange. Finally, on March 14, the exchange was completed, and the prisoners returned to their respective commands.

“The satisfaction with which Captain Sawyer once more walked forth a free man, and found shelter under the Old Flag, was such as only a man coming from death unto life–from dismal bondage into joyous and perfect liberty–can ever experience, and none other, certainly, can appreciate,” noted Dr. C. E. Godfrey, an early biographer of Sawyer.

Upon the recommendation of Col. Sir Percy Wyndham, Sawyer was commissioned major of his regiment on March 22, 1864, to date to October 12, 1863, and received his commission from Gov. Joel Parker that day in the State House at Trenton. He then proceeded to his home in Cape May on furlough. He was mustered in as major at Washington, D.C. on August 31, 1864, and immediately re-joined his command, with which he continued until the regiment was mustered-out and honorably discharged at the close of the war at Vienna, Virginia, on May 24, 1865. He suffered two more minor combat wounds at the Second Battle of Kernstown, Va. After his recovery he was stationed at U. S. Cavalry Headquarters in Washington, D. C. as an inspector of horses.

After the close of the war he was breveted lieutenant-colonel by United States Commission, and remained in that position until September, 1865, when the regiment was discharged. At the close of the Civil War, the ranks of the Regular Army being recruited up, he was offered by Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, having been recommended by a division officer, a lieutenantcy in the regular army, which position he declined. During the time that he was in the field he received six combat wounds, two of which were of a serious character. One ball he carried in his body until he died.

Major Sawyer immediately returned to his home in Cape May, and in 1867, became proprietor of the Ocean House in that lovely summer resort town. He operated the Ocean House until April 1873, when he moved to Wilmington, Delaware and became proprietor of the Clayton House. In 1876, he returned to Cape May and built the Chalfonte Hotel, which he owned and operated for many years. He was for a number of years a member of the Cape May city council, and was at one time Superintendent of the United States Life Saving Service for the coast of New Jersey. He was also a member of the New Jersey State Sinking Fund Commission from 1888 to 1891. He died suddenly of heart failure at Cape May on October 16, 1893, and was buried in Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery in Cape May.

Here’s to forgotten cavalryman Henry Washington Sawyer, a pawn in the great game of politics that underlay the American Civil War.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

146 years ago today, the Union cavalry, supported by Col. Strong Vincent’s infantry brigade of the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps, defeated Jeb Stuart’s cavalry at the Battle of Upperville. Upperville is significant for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it represents the first time that the Union cavalry defeated Stuart’s men on the field of battle and held the battlefield at the end of the day. As they had at Brandy Station 12 days earlier, John Buford’s Federal division and William E. “Grumble” Jones’ Confederate brigade bore the brunt of the day’s fighting. Late in the day, a combined assault by Buford and David Gregg, supported by Vincent’s infantry, shattered Stuart’s lines at Upperville and sent his troopers flying from the field for the first time.

They fell back to the mouth of Chester Gap, the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, and the support of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps infantry beyond. Fortunately for Stuart and the Confederates, the Federals did not press their advantage and did not discover the presence of the main body of Longstreet’s corps beyond (although Alfred Pleasonton later lied and claimed that he had). The Confederate infantry would have driven the Yankee horsemen off, of course, but they would have gained useful intelligence about the whereabouts of the main body of Lee’s army.

In addition, Stuart lost his favorite aide, the giant Prussian mercenary Maj. Augustus Heros von Borcke, badly wounded in the neck during the final assault by Gregg’s troopers. von Borcke’s wound was thought mortal–although he recovered from it–and it ended his active participation in the American Civil War. It was a serious loss for Stuart, who was very fond of the outgoing, fun-loving German. Stuart himself barely escaped; he reported to his wife Flora that some of Buford’s Regulars of the 1st U.S. Cavalry had been gunning for him but had missed.

However, as he had since Brandy Station, and particularly at Aldie and Middleburg on June 17 and 19, respectively, Stuart managed to keep the active and diligent Union cavalry from locating the body of the Army of Northern Virginia as it advanced down the Shenandoah Valley toward the Potomac River and Maryland. Thus, even though Upperville was a tactical defeat for Stuart’s horsemen–their first at the hands of the Federal cavalry–it remained a strategic victory.

The next day, June 22, Stuart received the orders that led to his eight-day raid during the Gettysburg Campaign, triggering a controversy which still rages to this day. Thus, the Battle of Upperville is worthy of commemoration for a variety of reasons. Here’s to the cavalrymen of both sides who fought there 146 years ago today.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Time for another of my infrequent profiles of forgotten cavalrymen. Tonight, we feature Colonel John Beardsley of the 9th New York Cavalry, a scoundrel if ever there was one. He’s one that probably should remain forgotten.

Colonel John BeardsleyBorn on October 12, 1816, in Fairfield, Herkimer County, New York, John Beardsley was appointed to the United States Military Academy in 1837. He graduated 17th in the class of 1841, which included such future luminaries as John Reynolds, Robert Garnett, Richard Garnett, Don Carlos Buell, Nathaniel Lyon and Israel Richardson, all of whom would become generals in the Civil War.

Upon graduation, Beardsley joined the 8th Infantry. Beardsley served in the Seminole War in Florida from 1841-42, and in Mexico. In 1846 with the 8th Infantry, Beardsley participated in the Battle of Palo Alto and in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. On June 18, Beardsley was promoted to first lieutenant.

The 8th Infantry was assigned to serve with the expeditionary force of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott, then preparing for an amphibious landing at Vera Cruz. When the invasion began, the 8th Infantry participated in the Siege of Vera Cruz and in the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where their division played an important role in the rout of the Mexican forces. Fighting alongside his comrade in the 8th Infantry, Lt. James Longstreet, Beardsley fought in the Battle of Churusbusco and at the Battle of Molino del Rey, where he was severely wounded in action while leading an assault on the Mexican works.

His conduct at Molino del Rey caught the eye of his superiors, and Beardsley received a brevet to captain for gallant and meritorious service. It took him more than a year to recover from his wound, and he did not return to active duty until 1849, when he was promoted to Captain and company command in the 8th Infantry. After several more garrison assignments, and as a result of visual impairment and lingering problems resulting from his combat wound, Capt. John Beardsley resigned his commission on December 31, 1853, thus ending a twelve year career in the Regular Army marked by regular promotions and meritorious service.

The decorated war hero returned home to New York and took up a career in farming. He led a quiet life on his farm near Athens, New York until the storm clouds of Civil War gathered in 1861. In October of that year, the governor of New York appointed Beardsley as colonel of the 9th New York Cavalry, and gave him the task of recruiting, arming, and training the regiment. His commission was dated November 21, 1861. Interestingly, Beardsley brought two servants with him, Horace, a tall (5’8″) black man with black eyes and hair, and Kip, a dark complexioned male. Due to administrative problems, Beardsley’s command did not receive mounts until the spring of 1862, and had a troubled early history. At one point, while Beardsley struggled to train his demoralized recruits in the tactics of fighting on foot, a proposal was made to either disband the unit, or to assign its men to various artillery batteries. Elements of the 9th New York served with various artillery batteries and infantry regiments during the Peninsula Campaign. Finally, the regiment’s men rebelled and refused to serve with the artillery or infantry any longer. As a result of the near mutiny, Maj. Gen. George McClellan ordered the unit sent north to be mustered out of service in May 1862.

Put aboard ships, the New Yorkers expected to be mustered out of service upon their arrival in Washington, D.C. Instead, the men of the regiment went into camp and were surprised when orders for the regiment to be mounted arrived on June 21, 1862. The newly mounted troopers moved to the front in July 1862, joining Pope’s newly-formed Army of Virginia. Col. Beardsley reported to Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, who assigned Beardsley to command a brigade of cavalry consisting of the 4th New York, 9th New York, 6th Ohio, and 1st Maryland. Given his background as a West Pointer, and his previous record of valor, John Beardsley seemed to be as good a choice to command a brigade of cavalry as Brig. Gens. John Buford and George D. Bayard, who commanded the other two brigades assigned to Pope’s army.

Buford and Bayard did outstanding service during what became the Second Manassas Campaign, prompting Pope to praise their service lavishly. However, the official reports are devoid of mentions of either Beardsley or his brigade. The brigade played a limited role in the campaign, its principal contribution being the capture of the Waterloo Bridge, near Warrenton, Virginia, on August 25. Elements of the brigade served with Buford’s troopers on August 30, participating in the short but fierce cavalry fight at the Lewis Ford, in the closing engagement of the Second Battle of Bull Run.

The rest of Beardsley’s command was assigned the hopeless task of trying to stem the stampede to the rear after Beardsley’s old comrade in arms, Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, launched his massive counterattack against the Union left on the afternoon of August 30. Thereafter, Beardsley ordered his men to form line of battle (in a single rank) to the east of Henry House Hill, astride the Warrenton Turnpike, to cover the retreat of the army. Beardsley’s brigade eventually followed the broken army off the field.

Beardsley’s report on the conduct of his brigade during the campaign is brief and cursory. His summary of the action ends by stating, “It would be difficult to enumerate all the duties which my brigade performed. It could not have done more. Without transportation, without supplies, almost constantly in the saddle day and night, frequently engaged with the enemy, they bore all without a murmur.”

Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, Beardsley’s immediate superior, wrote only, “…the commanders of our small cavalry force have assisted me under all circumstances cheerfully and to the utmost of their ability…” Sigel’s failure to recognize Beardsley as the commander of his cavalry forces, and his insistence upon referring to all of the cavalry officers under his command perhaps demonstrates the corps commander’s displeasure with the brigade commander’s performance.

After the ignominious defeat at Second Manassas, Beardsley’s brigade returned to Washington, D.C. with the 11th Corps, where the unit served in the city’s defenses during the Antietam Campaign. Beardsley and his brigade rejoined the reconstituted Army of the Potomac in November. Sometime in late 1862, Col. Beardsley was put in command of the cavalry Convalescent’s Camp near Hal’s Farm in northern Virginia, where he remained until late February 1863. On February 24, 1863, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck sent a curious order to the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Major General Joseph Hooker. Halleck, via his Assistant Adjutant General James Barnett Fry, directed Hooker’s attention to the Convalescent Camp under the command of Colonel Beardsley, and instructed Hooker to issue the necessary orders for Colonel Beardsley to join his proper command, the 9th New York Cavalry. Why would the apparently low profile assignment of a relatively unknown colonel attract the time of the General-in-Chief of all federal armies, his able A.A.G. (who was described by Ulysses S. Grant as one of the best staff officers in the army ) and the recently appointed commander of the government’s principal army (Hooker was appointed in early February 1863)?

Fry’s order generated a brief and furious reaction. On March 10, 1863, Major Charles McLean Knox of the 9th New York Cavalry preferred court martial charges against Colonel Beardsley claiming disloyalty, cowardice and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman resulting from a series of incidents occurring between August 6 and November 4, 1862. Major Knox alleged that Beardsley proclaimed, in the presence of enlisted men of his command, on August 6, that “we have no government that we are fighting for – no government; Congress is a mean, abolition faction; the Constitution is broken – we have no Constitution; the abolitionists of the North brought on this war; the Republicans are abolitionists.” Similarly, Beardsley allegedly said, “I would rather fight under Lee than under an abolition leader” on September 12 when he was informed that General Robert E. Lee had invited the conservative portion of the North to join Lee in putting down the administration in Washington.

Major Knox preferred more serious military charges regarding Colonel Beardsley’s actions in the face of the enemy. Knox alleged that Beardsley left his command while it was skirmishing with the enemy on September 1, 1862, when the brigade was serving as the army’s rear guard near Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia. Knox similarly alleged that, on November 4, 1862, during the 11th Corps advance from Centerville, Virginia toward Warrrenton, near New Baltimore, Beardsley precipitately retreated when his command first encountered enemy resistance, with Beardsley “manifest[ing] trepidation and fear . . . placed himself at the head of the retreating column and finally ordered the column to trot . . .” Knox pointed out that 40 men of the 9th New York Cavalry stopped the enemy advanced and drove the Rebels back to New Baltimore while Beardsley conducted his retreat.

Knox’s most serious charge related to Beardsley’s conduct on the battlefield at Second Manassas. Knox alleged that on August 30, 1862, Beardsley publicly berated Lt. Col. William Sackett, commanding Beardsley’s own 9th New York Cavalry, while Sackett tried to form line of battle “to stop a stampede that had commenced on the battlefield.” Beardsley allegedly interrupted Sackett’s dispositions of the troops, stating “[w]hat in Hell are you doing with the Regiment there – bring it around here – bring it here, I tell you – by file, march – trot – march – by God, you do not know how to handle a Regiment – I will put someone in command of it that does know how to form a line”. Remember, Beardsley was a career infantry officer whose cavalry regiment had received horses only a little over two months previous to this event. Knox believed that Beardsley’s words and actions indicated that Beardsley “was too much excited to know what he was doing.” Knox went on to allege that Beardsley then left the 9th New York and went to the rear, leaving the command under fire without orders. Lt. Col. Sackett kept his command in place until no more stragglers came his way, and then retired the regiment across Bull Run until he found Colonel Beardsley, from whom Sackett requested instructions. Knox alleged that Beardsley told Sackett to form on one side of the road, but then ordered the 9th New York to the other side of the road while retreating artillery was passing on the road. Knox inferred that Beardsley used the subsequent chaos in the road to abandon his command once again, and that he then rode off to Centerville, leaving the 9th New York formed without orders.

Finally, Knox alleged that Beardsley arrested Lt. Col. Sackett on September 8, 1862 while Beardsley was under the influence of alcohol. He averred that the inebriated colonel berated Sackett in an abusive and ungentlemanly manner. This episode involved a matter in which Beardsley never preferred charges against Lt. Col. Sackett.

Some support for Major Knox’s charges can be found. Lt. Col. Charles Wetschky of the 1st Maryland Cavalry stated in his official report dated September 17, 1862 that, on August 30, his command was ordered to stop stragglers until Colonel Beardsley subsequently ordered the 1st Maryland to form a line of battle on the right of the retreating column. Lt. Col. Wetschky stated that the line was promptly shelled by artillery, causing Beardsley to pull the line back behind a hill. Beardsley then ordered the 1st Maryland to remain in position until it received further orders. Wetschky reported that “the regiment was left without orders until the bridge over Bull Run had been nearly destroyed, when the officer in charge of the party who were ordered to destroy [the bridge] sent a message for the cavalry to come up in great haste – that he had just discovered that they were still in the rear.”

The report of Colonel William Lloyd of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, Beardsley’s final regiment, dated September 13, 1862, recites a consistent story of being formed to stop straggling infantry, and then being shelled by artillery while in position. Lloyd then states “[w]e were shortly thereafter ordered to withdraw, and with the brigade, conducted by Colonel Beardsley, we moved on toward Centerville with the then retreating army.” Is this a clever use of the passive voice, indicating that Beardsley was present during the retreat but that he did not give the order to withdraw from the battlefield proper?

Major Knox’s charges were sent to the 1st Cavalry Division on March 10, 1863. On March 12, Brig. General Alfred Pleasonton forwarded the charges to the Cavalry Corps. Pleasonton’s endorsement stated that “Colonel Beardsley . . . is not a proper officer to command a brigade, to which his rank entitles him and from the gravity of these charges, it would evidently be of advantage to the service if he was out of it.” The speed at which Pleasonton’s headquarters forwarded Major Knox’s charges seems to indicate that no deliberation was required before deciding that Beardsley should be removed from command as the spring campaigning season got underway.

Beardsley must have realized that he had little chance of retaining his command. He resigned as Colonel of the 9th New York Cavalry on March 14, 1863, and his resignation was speedily accepted by divisional headquarters and sent to the Cavalry Corps on March 16. Corps headquarters was obviously forewarned of the issue, because Colonel Beardsley’s resignation was accepted a mere one day later. Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Cavalry Corps, took time out of his busy schedule (the Battle of Kelly’s Ford was fought between Federal and Confederate cavalry on March 17, as blue clad horse soldiers forces under Brig. Gen. William W. Averell sallied south of the Rappahannock) to accept Beardsley’s resignation with the following endorsement: “Respectfully forwarded with the recommendation as strong as English language can express that it be excepted [sic].”

Even more remarkable than the events surrounding Beardsley’s resignation are the efforts made by many people to sweep these ugly incidents under the rug. Instead of elaborating on the reasons why Beardsley left the service, the regimental history of the 9th New York states only, “March 9….Col. Beardsley…rejoined the regiment…June 4, Lieut. Col. Sackett returned from Washington with a Colonel’s commission for himself and a Lieut. Colonel’s commission for Maj. Nichols. Col. Beardsley had resigned.” There were no other references to Beardsley in the balance of the 9th New York’s fine regimental history. An obituary of Beardsley that appeared in a West Point alumni publication simply stated, “Immediately after [Second Bull Run], he came back to the Regiment and assumed command and remained with it until he resigned his commission at Acquier (sic) Creek, on the Potomac, April 8, 1863.” There were no other references to the circumstances underlying the resignation stated.

Beardsley returned to New York, where he resided for the rest of his life. In the years after the war, he worked as a farmer and as a trust agent. He died in Athens, New York on February 18, 1906, and was buried in Athens Rural Cemetery. Despite the disgrace that marked the end of his military career, the obituary that appeared in a West Point alumni publication stated, “Colonel Beardsley was highly respected by all who knew him for his excellent qualities of mind and heart.” The cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the end of Beardsley’s career with the 9th New York Cavalry was complete. It is, perhaps, without precedent in American history that a West Pointer with such a distinguished pre-war service record would have his career end so ignominiously, followed by so extensive an effort to sweep the incident under the rug.

What happened to John Beardsley on August 30, 1862 that turned the hero of Molino del Rey into a brigade commander who reportedly shied away from combat and apparently abandoned his troops under fire? Perhaps the sight of the Union army being pushed off the plains of Manassas for the second time in 14 months, combined with Beardsley’s obvious contempt for the Republican administration, broke his will resist. Beardsley’s position, at the rear of the army, with all the normal incidents of tales of woe and defeat compounded by the very real success of Longstreet’s attack, could only lead an experienced soldier to the conclusion that John Pope, the Republicans’ hand-picked savior of the East, had badly mismanaged his command. Alternatively, Beardsley could be yet another anti-Pope Democratic old Army officer who fell before Edwin Stanton’s winnowing of the officers corps, as most poignantly exemplified by the Fitz John Porter court martial. This alternative may provide a reason for the involvement of Halleck in this affair.

Thus ends the strange saga of Colonel John Beardsley. A Civil War career that began with such great promise ended with secrecy and cover-up. Perhaps he should have remained a forgotten cavalryman.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

This is a profile of a forgotten cavalryman that I’ve wanted to do for some time. I owe Ranger John Hoptak a big debt of gratitude for passing along the missing material that I’ve long wanted but have been unable to obtain. Thanks, John.

Lt. Col. Charles Jarvis WhitingForty-seven year-old Maj. Charles Jarvis Whiting of the 5th U.S. Cavalry led the Reserve Brigade. Whiting was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts on November 28, 1814 and was raised in Castine, Maine, and from the time of his childhood, his overarching ambition was to become a West Point cadet. When he received his appointment, he made the trip to West Point and was turned away for being too short. He spent the next year hanging from trees with a brick tied to each foot, hoping to stretch himself enough to meet the height requirement. He returned to the Academy the next year and was admitted. He graduated fourth in the Class of 1835.

He was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery and served engineering duty during the Seminole War in Florida. He resigned his commission on May 31, 1836 to become a railroad surveyor in the Florida panhandle. In 1838, he served as the assistant engineer for the survey of the Mississippi River delta. He then settled in Maine, where he established, and served as headmaster of, the Military and Classical Academy in Ellsworth, which a promising young student named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain attended. He married in June 1841, and had a daughter. His wife died in 1847, leaving Whiting a 33-year-old widower with an infant daughter, Anna Waterman Whiting. His wife’s family raised Anna, for the Army was no place for an infant.

After teaching for six years and with his wife dead, Whiting surveyed the boundary between the United States and Mexico that was established by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Whiting then settled in San Jose, California, where he farmed and surveyed. For the years 1850-1851, he served as Surveyor-General of California.

When the size of the Regular Army was increased in 1855, a new regiment of light cavalry was formed. On March 3, 1855, Whiting was commissioned a captain in the newly formed 2nd U.S. Cavalry (which was re-designated as the 5th U. S. Cavalry in 1861). He saw extensive action in the west, fighting against Comanche Indians on several occasions, and earning praise for his valor in combat. The New Englander was known as an ambitious martinet who was eager to advance his own career. The coming of Civil War gave him that opportunity.

In March 1861, at the height of the secession crisis, Whiting was stationed at Fort Inge in Texas. When Texas left the Union, he and other loyal officers were stranded there. Whiting and Capts. George Stoneman and James Oakes met to discuss how to escape. They pondered the possibility of trying to escape to the Jefferson Barracks via the Indian country. However, they had insufficient supplies and no transportation, so they abandoned the plan. Stoneman and Whiting eventually found their way back to Washington, D. C. on a steamboat. Whiting was assigned to teach new recruits basic cavalry tactics at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. He also took a brief furlough to return home to Maine to marry Phebe Whitney, the younger sister of his brother’s wife.

A veteran officer like Whiting was needed at the front, and he was immediately called to rejoin his regiment, which was assigned to the defenses of Washington and in Patterson’s Valley Campaign of 1861. During that campaign, he demonstrated a personality trait that cost him dearly two years later. “It is said when he was ordered, at Falling Waters, to proceed with a squadron in search of a militia regiment which had become detached from the army, that he never ceased during the entire movement, to express his opinion of militia in general and of the politicians who were responsible for the war,” duly recorded the historian of the 5th U. S. Cavalry.

Whiting then served in McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign of 1862. He led the 5th U.S. Cavalry in its ill-fated sabre charge against Confederate infantry at Gaines Mill in June 1862, and was captured when his horse was shot out from under him. An account of this charge reads: “Only the cavalry and a part of the artillery remained on this part of the field. A brigade of Texans, broken by their long advance, under the lead of the hardest fighter in all the Southern armies, come running on with wild yells, and they were a hundred yards from the guns. It was then that the cavalry commander ordered Capt. Charles J. Whiting, with his regiment to charge. No one had blundered; it was the supreme moment for cavalry, the opportunity that comes so seldom on the modern field of war, the test of discipline, hardihood and nerve. Right well was the task performed. The 220 troopers of the Fifth Cavalry struck Longstreet’s veterans squire in the face. Whiting, his horse killed under him, fell stunned at the foot of the Fourth Texas Infantry.”

After spending a month in Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison, he was sent north to Washington under parole and then was exchanged for another captain and promoted to major. Whiting commanded the 5th U. S. Cavalry throughout the fall and winter of 1862-1863 and participated in the Maryland Campaign and also in the Battle of Fredericksburg, although the role of the cavalry was extremely limited in the great December battle. Whiting also led his regiment in the 1863 Stoneman Raid that occurred during the Chancellorsville Campaign.

Although he was one of the oldest serving officers in the Regular cavalry, Whiting assumed command of the Reserve Brigade in June 1863 when Buford took command of the 1st Division. His brigade consisted of the U.S. Army Regular cavalry units assigned to the Army of the Potomac, the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th U. S. Cavalry, and the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (also known as Rush’s Lancers). His tenure in brigade command was brief, lasting only a couple of weeks.

Whiting led the Reserve Brigade during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station. The major gave the 2nd U.S. Cavalry orders that conflicted with orders from Buford, and the Regulars failed to join in a charge to rescue the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which had charged all of the Confederate horse artillery near St. James Church, infuriating Buford. Shortly after Brandy Station, Whiting was relieved of his command and sent to the Draft Rendezvous at Fort Preble in Portland, Maine. Unexpectedly, while serving in Maine, Major Whiting was “dishonorably dismissed from the service on November 5, 1863 for disloyalty and for using contemptuous and disrespectful words against the President of the United States.”

A letter found in Whiting’s pension file at the National Archives lends a great deal of insight into why he was cashiered. The letter states that Whiting’s hotel room in Portland faced the public square and had a balcony. “A mass meeting of Republicans was announced for a certain evening to take place, at which General [Benjamin F.] Butler was to speak. The local committee called upon the Major, as the story goes, and asked him if he had any objection to General Butler hopping through his room in order to address the gathering outside the balcony. The Major replied, ‘by no means,’ and peevishly added, permitted he could have time to ‘lock up his spoons.’ The Committee was incensed and informed General Butler and the Maj. was removed from the service.” Whiting returned to the family home in Castine to ponder his future.

After the end of the Civil War, the expanded Army had a real need for experienced officers to command troops on the western frontier. In May 1866, President Andrew Johnson reinstated Whiting to duty as Major of the 3rd Cavalry, with his records stating “the disability of holding a commission by reason of said dismissal was removed by the President of the United States.” Whiting assumed command of Fort Marcy in New Mexico. He then assumed command of Fort Union, New Mexico.

During July 1867, a party of Navajos at Bosque Redondo reservation, believed to have stolen livestock in their possession, fought back when troops attempted to recover the livestock. Six soldiers died in the exchange. Major Whiting led troopers of the 3rd Cavalry from Fort Union “to quell the present outbreak and prevent the occurrence of any future troubles with those Indians.” By the time Whiting arrived, the outbreak of violence had been quelled, and he and his troopers returned to Fort Union. Whiting later headed a board of officers that investigated the incident at Bosque Redondo, and he was appointed commander of Fort Sumner when the board determined that the former post commander had provoked the Indians.

In May 1869, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and transferred to the 6th Cavalry. He was assigned to command the Army post at Greenville, Texas, where his troopers were to keep the peace between feuding former Confederates and former Union soldiers.

In 1870, he took command of Fort Griffin in Abilene, Texas, which was responsible for protecting travelers from raiding Kiowas and Comanches. After five months there, he was transferred to the supernumerary list on December 15, 1870. On January 1, 1871, at the age of 56, he was honorably mustered out of the service. He packed his belongings and headed home to Castine. He and his wife lived out the rest of their lives there, supported by an Army pension. As he got older, the old injury to his back at Gaine’s Mill gave him more and more trouble and pain. After 20 years of peaceful retirement, Whiting died on New Year’s Day 1890 at the age of 75. He was buried in Castine.

Whiting spent nearly 30 years in the Regular Army, all in the mounted service. His service was honorable, and he was a good soldier who deserved a better fate than being cashiered from the Army. Here’s to Charles Jarvis Whiting, forgotten cavalryman.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress