The other day, I was asked a couple of interesting questions. One question was whom do I think was the best Union cavalry commander, and as a subset of that question, where did I think that George Armstrong Custer fit into that calculation. The person who asked my opinion actually suggested that Custer has been underrated by historians. I answered the question about the best commander as I always do when asked to answer such questions, which was to identify John Buford as the best. I cited to John Gibbon’s assessment of Buford–he wrote, “John Buford was the finest cavalryman I ever saw”–and said that was good enough for me.
The Custer question opened up a real can of worms that I’ve spent some time considering over the years. At one point, I was asked to write a bio of Custer, and I initially refused. I eventually agreed, but once I got into it, I realized that not only was my heart NOT in the project, after Jeff Wert’s excellent, balanced, and fair bio of Custer, I realized that I had nothing to add, and eventually terminated the project. However, researching it and beginning to write it really forced me to sit back and take stock of this guy whom I had little positive to say about.
Personally, I would NEVER use the word underrated to describe Custer.
My thoughts on Custer have been a long, strange trip. For most of my adult life, most of my thoughts on Custer were seriously prejudiced by the end he met at Little Big Horn. I adhered to the theory that he was reckless and careless about the well being of his men. It bothered me a great deal that Custer had not paid his dues like Buford, George Stoneman, Alfred Pleasonton, David M. Gregg, and the others had. It also bothered me a great deal that this flamboyant man child got the press and attention that he got and that quiet competent professionals like Buford and Gregg did not ever receive. Consequently, I pretty much dismissed him out of hand as a poseur. Eventually, I realized that that was unfair and wrong.
My research into various projects forced me to study Custer’s career in the Civil War. Much ado has been made about his exploits–read my friend Greg Urwin’s Custer Victorious:The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer if you need an example of why I would never consider him underrated–and in most instances, rightfully so. He put up a real stinker at Trevilian Station, but other than that, his career in the Civil War was marked by tremendous luck that landed him in the right place at the right time, and some real talent at leading men.
Custer had a lot of real problems. Because he had never commanded much of anything when he was promoted to general, he had not come up through the ranks like his predecessors like Buford, Gregg, and even Merritt (who, as a brand new second lieutenant right out of West Point, served in the same company with, and under the direct command of, Capt. John Buford, and who was very much Buford’s protege and greatest legacy to the Union cavalry). Consequently, he had little skill for and no experience whatsoever with the traditional roles of cavalry: scouting, screening and reconnaissance. He also was a political naif when it came to Army politics, not ever really having had to deal with them. In many ways, he was as Lee allegedly described John Bell Hood: all of the lion and none of the fox.
In 1864, when Sheridan took command, his style and Custer’s meshed nicely, and Custer became his go-to guy. And, with the exception of his lackluster performance at Trevilian Station, it’s pretty difficult to argue with his record. He was pretty much the ultimate hussar, as opposed to John Buford, who was the ultimate dragoon.
But, let’s make no mistake about it. It’s not a fair or appropriate comparison to compare someone who spent most of the war as a brigade commander with someone like, say, Gregg or Merritt, both of whom commanded the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps at some point during the war and both of whom made their fame as division commanders. There’s a quantum difference between commanding a brigade and a division, and an even greater expanse between commanding a division and a corps.
And so, my thoughts about Custer have come full circle. I am now able to see him clearly–both his good and bad points. At times, he was the reckless clod who charged blindly into whatever lay in front of him without doing any scouting. He had absolutely no skill or talent for the traditional role of cavalry whatsoever. But he was a fighter–of that, there can be no doubt. And he was an inspirational leader whose men loved him for his willingness to lead from the front. Most of all, he was lucky. And his luck finally ran out one hot, dusty day in June 1876.
In the pantheon of Union cavalry greats, I would place him well below the likes of Wesley Merritt or Custer’s West Point classmate and rival, James Harrison Wilson. Why? Because Merritt and Wilson both had the skill and talent to be corps commanders, whereas Custer had neither the experience nor the political skill to be anything more than an outstanding brigade commander and a reasonably good division commander. I also would place Buford ahead of him, because Buford had no peer in the Union army as an intelligence gatherer who was also a ferocious fighter. And finally, I would place David Gregg ahead of him. At the end of the day, it was Gregg whom Sheridan relied upon most heavily in 1864 because Gregg was steady, experienced, and competent.
There are others whom I admire greatly. Robert H. G. Minty was probably the best Union cavalry brigade commander of all of them. Thomas C. Devin was terribly competent, terribly reliable, and deserving of the nickname “Buford’s Hard Hitter,” which pretty much speaks for itself. William Woods Averell deserves much better than he gets historically; much of the historical treatment of his career in the Civil War is terribly unfair. Averell certainly had his issues, but there was no better raider than him in the Union services, and his men adored him. George D. Bayard is the great unknown. After Stoneman, he outranked EVERYONE in the Union cavalry, and had he not received a mortal wound at Fredericksburg, he would have been next in line to command the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps when Stoneman left the AoP for medical leave in May 1863. Bayard was young, competent, and aggressive, if unpopular with the men for being a terrible martinet, and he would have been a VERY different sort of leader than Alf Pleasonton, who was the ultimate lead-from-the-rear kind of guy. I’m not normally much of one for “what-if’s”–there was enough that actually happened to keep me interested, not speculation–but that’s a tantalizing one.
Given that a number of my books have dealt with the Michigan Cavalry Brigade–including my current project–I’ve had to really study Custer’s tenure in command of the MCB in great detail. There can be no doubt that the men who followed him loved him unconditionally. It’s clear that he was inspirational leader of very real skill. He was nothing if not aggressive–too much so at times–and he was a fighter. His poor grasp of army politics nearly cost him his career in the post-war army, and his poor treatment of those who served under him earned him the eternal hatred of some of his officers. But, it is very difficult to argue with his record of success. And in the end, that’s what really matters.
He will never be my favorite, but I have come to respect him, and I have made peace with my relationship with him.Scridb filter
It’s been too long since my last profile of a forgotten cavalryman. I’ve been meaning to do this one for a long time, but my regular readers know that events have intervened, preventing me from being as productive as I might otherwise want. However, it’s time to change that situation. Today, we profile Col. Othniel De Forest, who commanded the 5th New York Cavalry for the first half of the Civil War. De Forest is more notable for the odd end to his military career than for his exploits in the field.
Othniel De Forest was born in New York City on August 13, 1826. He came from a family of Dutch poltroons who helped to settle New York. His father was Charles De Forest, of Connecticut, and Catherine Burlock, of New York City. Othniel had three brothers, David, Alfred, Linson, and a sister named Kate. David and Othniel both attended a private boarding school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania named Nazareth Hall. Nazareth Hall was the central boarding school for sons of Moravian parents. Later it attained wide fame as a “classical academy.” This eventually led to the founding in 1807, of Moravian College and Theological Seminary, located in Bethlehem. In 1843, 17-year-old Othniel enrolled at Yale University, and graduated in 1847.
After graduation, he returned to New York City and took a job as a stockbroker, a position that made him a prosperous man who was well-known in the social and political circles of New York. He married Francis R. Nevins in 1851, and the couple had three children of their own, William (born 1855), Rebecca (born 1857), and Othniel (born 1862). Interestingly, the entire De Forest family—all of Othniel’s siblings and his parents—all resided in the same building in New York City. De Forest also maintained a residence in Philadelphia, presumably for professional reasons.
In 1861, with the coming of war, De Forest was involved in recruiting several units for the State of New York. In July 1861 he received authority from Secretary of War Simon Cameron to raise a regiment of cavalry, and subsequently to raise a brigade. He succeeded in organizing two regiments and a part of a third, when the Government determined to raise no more Cavalry. These two regiments were the 5th and 6th N. Y. Cavalry Regiments, which were also known as the 1st and 2nd “Ira Harris Guards” in honor of the powerful New York Senator Ira Harris, who was the patron of these units. In 1862, he raised another regiment that became the 12th New York.
On July 26, 1861, the 35-year-old De Forest was mustered in as the colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry. De Forest had no prior military training or experience, and had to learn the hard trade of being a cavalryman. His younger brother Linson also enlisted in the 5th New York, and was commissioned as a lieutenant. De Forest and the 5th New York served in Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, prompting Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks to write of De Forest, “As an officer, then and there, he showed much ability, and I do not hesitate to recommend him to the favor of the Dep’t.”
The 5th New York Cavalry then became a mainstay of a cavalry brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford during the Second Bull Run Campaign of the summer of 1862. When the Army of Virginia was dissolved after the debacle at Chantilly on September 1, 1862, Buford’s brigade was assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C.
During the winter of 1862-1863, De Forest became commander of the 3rd Brigade, Cavalry Division, 22nd Army Corps, Department of Washington. He held this command from April 7-June 26, 1863. This brigade was primarily engaged in pursuing and fighting the guerrillas of Maj. John Singleton Mosby and his 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry. On June 26, 1863, De Forest left the regiment with an illness that kept him from active duty at the Battle of Gettysburg.
While De Forest was ill, the division was reassigned as the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. The 5th New York was part of the 1st Brigade. On June 28, a staff officer, Capt. Elon J. Farnsworth, was promoted to brigadier general, and assumed command of the brigade. Farnsworth’s Brigade, and the 5th New York in particular, bore the brunt of the fighting at the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover. It also participated in the July 2 engagement at Hunterstown. Farnsworth fell while leading a futile charge against Confederate infantry and artillery on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Col. Nathaniel P. Richmond of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry assumed command of the brigade until De Forest returned to duty on July 10.
When De Forest returned to duty on July 10, he assumed command of the brigade, which consisted of the 1st West Virginia, the 5th New York, the 1st Vermont, and the 18th Pennsylvania. He retained command of the brigade into the winter of 1863-1864, but then it all went bad. On March 29, 1864, De Forest was dismissed from the service for “presenting false and fraudulent accounts against the government” after a court martial.
The shamed former brigade commander returned home to New York and attempted to resume his former successful career as a stockbroker, but he never recovered from the ignominious ending to his once-promising military career. On December 16, 1864, after what was described as a “brief illness,” De Forest died of “congestion of the brain” at the young age of 37. He was buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Oddly, the dismissal was revoked March 14, 1866, and De Forest was posthumously restored to his rank as colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry to date to September 3, 1864, when his term of service would have expired.
Here’s to Colonel Othniel De Forest, forgotten cavalryman whose tarnished career ended up being not quite so tarnished after all. I really want to get to the bottom of this mystery about why De Forest was cashiered from the army, and, more importantly, why the dismissal was revoked posthumously. I will report back when I know more….Scridb filter
On December 16, 1863, the United States Army lost its best cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. John Buford, who died of typhoid fever in the rented house of his fellow horse soldier, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, in Washington, D.C. Buford’s dear friend Maj. Gen. John Gibbon once said that “John Buford was the finest cavalryman I ever saw.” He died in the arms of his staff officer and surrogate son, Capt. Myles W. Keogh (who later died with Custer at the Little Big Horn). The Union’s loss was enormous, almost unimaginable.
Buford was promoted to major general–a long overdue promotion that had long been sought on his behalf–on his deathbed the day he died. In a moment of lucidity, he said, “too late.” And sadly, it was. His final words, as befit the finest cavalryman in the army, were “Put guard on all the roads, and don’t let the men run back to the rear.”
This was the obituary of Buford that ran in the New York Times the next day:
Major-Gen. JOHN BUFORD, who died at Washington yesterday, was a graduate of the West Point Military Academy, and in the Regular army held the rank of Major in the Inspector-General’s Department. He was appointed Brigadier-General of Volunteers on the 27th of July, 1862, and assigned to the command of a cavalry brigade under Gen. POPE, in his Virginia campaign of that year. When that army was merged with the Army of the Potomac, Gen. BUFORD was assigned to the command of the regular cavalry brigade, which he held until the formation of the cavalry corps into three divisions, when he was placed in command of the First division, and served throughout the severe campaigns of the past ten months with the most distinguished gallantry. He was considered the best field cavalry commander in the service, and was noted for his coolness and judgment under fire. He was about forty years of age, of full habit a man of generous nature and warm impulses. Before his death the President rewarded him with the commission of Major-General. The country has lost a noble spirit and a brave defender.
Several weeks ago, I did a post titled “Threads”, which dealt with the family linkages between Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, Revolutionary War hero, his grandson, Col. George S. Patton of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, who was mortally wounded during the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, and Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., the great World War II hero, who was the grandson of the Civil War officer. In that post, I promised I would pull a few more threads regarding General Patton, who is one of my favorites.
Adna Romanza Chaffee was born in Orwell, Ohio on April 14, 1842. In July 1861, Chaffee, only 19 years old, enlisted in the newly-formed 6th U. S. Cavalry as a private. In early 1862, he was promoted to sergeant, and to first sergeant in September 1862. As a reward for his good service, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arranged for him to be appointed second lieutenant in April 1863. Although only 21 years old, he was in command of a company of the 6th U. S. by the time of the Battle of Gettysburg that summer.
On July 3, 1863, the 6th U. S. Cavalry was sent on an expedition to Fairfield, Pennsylvania. There, the 6th U. S. took an entire brigade of Confederate cavalry, and was thrashed. Chaffee was wounded and captured that afternoon. The Confederates tried to parole Chaffee, but he refused a parole in the field, obeying a recent War Department directive that the men of the 6th U. S. not give their paroles if captured. The frustrated Confederates, concerned that they could not manage their large haul of prisoners, simply left Chaffee behind with the other wounded. Chaffee was found laying on the ground in the orchard, being tended to by one of his men, a “neatly cut crimson edged hole in his blue pantaloons over the front part of his thigh. He was quite cheerful.” As a reward for his gallantry in the fighting and for his steadfast refusal to give his parole, Chaffee was brevetted to first lieutenant, effective July 3, 1863. He recovered from his wound and returned to duty with the 6th U. S. in early September 1863. He suffered a second combat wound, and was promoted to first lieutenant in February 1865.
He remained in the Regular Army after the war, and was promoted to captain. He spent 30 years fighting Indians in the west and southwest. In July 1888, he was promoted to major and was transferred to the one of the so-called “Buffalo Soldier” units, the 9th U. S. Cavalry. In 1897, he was promoted to colonel and assumed command of the 3rd U. S. Cavalry. He was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers in the Spanish-American War, and then to major general of volunteers after the American victory at El Caney, Cuba, in July 1898. From 1898-1900, he served as chief of staff to the military governor of Cuba, Gen. Leonard Wood.
When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China in 1900, Chaffee was sent to Peking as commander of the U. S. Army’s China Relief Expedition. He played a major role in putting down the rebellion and then was promoted to major general in the Regular Army in 1901 in recognition of those accomplishments. He served as military governor of the Philippines for a few months, and then assumed command of the Department of the East, a position he held until 1903. In 1904, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became chief of staff of the United States Army, a position he held for a bit over two years. He was one of two old horse cavalrymen to rise from the rank of private to serve as chief of staff of the Army (a profile of the other officer to go from private of cavalry to chief of staff of the army can be found here). Chaffee retired in February 1906 and died on November 1, 1914. He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
His son, Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr., was born in Junction City, Kansas on September 23, 1884. He graduated from West Point in 1906, and was appointed a lieutenant of cavalry, following in his famous father’s footsteps. Chaffee soon became known as the best horseman in the army. In World War I, he was an infantry major, serving in the IV Corps during the St. Mihiel offensive and then as a colonel in the III Corps during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the war ended, he reverted to his Regular Army rank of captain of cavalry and became an instructor at the General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
During the 1920’s, with the help of a young horse cavalryman who had commanded armor during World War I–Capt. George S. Patton, Jr.–helped to develop tank doctrine and tactics. In 1927, he predicted that mechanized armies would dominate the next war and helped to develop the U. S. Army’s first true armored force. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in 1931, and continued to work on the development of the U. S. Army’s armored forces and capabilities. He soon became the leading advocate for American armored forces.
In 1938, he assumed command of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized), the U. S. Army’s only armored force. He worked tirelessly for the further development and advancement of armored forces, and his predictions proved true when France surrendered after the German blitzkrieg in 1940.
After the collapse of France, Chaffee finally convinced Congress that the United States needed to develop an effective armored force very quickly. Congress authorized the creation of the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions in 1940, and Chaffee was promoted to major general and was given command of this force. Unfortunately, Chaffee was quite ill. He died of cancer at the young age of 56 on August 22, 1941, just before the United States was forced to enter World War II, and is remembered as the father of the U. S. Army’s armored force. The M24 Chaffee light tank was named in his honor.
In the 1920’s, George S. Patton, Jr., an old horse cavalryman who designed the U. S. Army’s last cavalry saber, also tirelessly worked to advance the cause of armor. He had successfully commander light tanks during World War I, and saw the potential of tanks as a decisive battlefield weapon. He unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to fund an armored force and wrote articles on tactics that were published in the Journal of the United States Cavalry Association, a professional journal for Regular Army cavalrymen.
In July 1940, Patton–now a colonel–was given command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. He became assistant division commander the following October, and was promoted to brigadier general on October 2, 1940. He served as acting division command from November 1940 to April 1941, and was promoted to major general and given command of the 2nd Armored Division a few days later. Were Chaffee still alive in 1941, he undoubtedly would have been given command of the I Armored Corps when it was formed. However, his premature death opened that slot for George S. Patton, Jr. and he was promoted to major general and appointed to command the I Armored Corps. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, armor serves most of the traditional roles of horse cavalry: scouting, screening, and reconnaissance, and many armored units are actually designated as cavalry units. It has a great legacy for doing so, with direct links to some of the greatest horse cavalrymen of the post-Civil War era of the United States Army. As you will see from the image at the beginning of this paragraph, the traditional crossed sabers logo of the cavalry has been amended to reflect the direct link between horse cavalry and armored service in the modern army.
If you pull the various threads, you find a direct connection between the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps and the legendary commander of the Third Army, George S. Patton, Jr. That direct connection flows through two great horse soldiers, Adna Romanza Chaffee and his son, Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr.Scridb filter
Jim Lamason went to the New Jersey State Archives for me to look for information on the role of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry’s role in the fighting on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg for the new edition of Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863 being published by Savas Beatie later this spring. Unfortunately, Jim didn’t find anything useful there, but he did locate a report of the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station penned by Maj. Hugh Janeway, in temporary command of the regiment at the time, to the Governor of New Jersey. This report is different from the one in the Official Records, so I thought I would share it here. That’s Janeway in the photograph.
Headquarters 1st N.J. Cav.
June 10, 1863
To His Excellency, Joel Parker
Governor of the State of New Jersey
I have the honor to report that the Regiment has been engaged in another very severe cavalry fight. On the 8th inst. the Division broke camp at Warrenton Junction and marched to Kelly’s Ford where we bivouacked for the night. The next day (the 9th inst.) at 3 a.m. we crossed the river and moved on Brandy Station. As is normal in times of danger we were in the advance. Meanwhile Genl Buford was fighting hard opposite Rappahannock Station. The object of our movement was to turn the right flank of the Rebels. Col. Wyndham was in command of the 2d Brigade composed of the 1st N. Jersey 1st Md. and the 1st Pa Cavalry and the command of our Regt. devolved upon Lt. Col. Brodrick. Capt. Yorke of Co. I had the advance guard composed of Cos. C & I– he moved his men so carefully that he captured every vidette in the road so that the first intimation that the enemy had of our being in their rear was by seeing the head of our column debouch from the woods.
Col Wyndham moved his troops with such celerity that we were upon them almost before they were aware of our vicinity. The fight lasted four hours and was a continual inception of the most brilliant charges ever made. Every officer behaved with the utmost bravery, coolness and it is impossible for men to behave better than did ours–they proved themselves well worthy of the State from which they come. More cannot be said in their praise.
Lt. Col. Brodrick and Major Shelmire were both wounded and taken while leading one of the numerous charges–accounts of the nature of their capture are so conflicting that I defer sending any statement regarding it till I learn something definite but that they both behaved with the greatest daring and gallantry there can be no question.
Capt. Sawyer Co. K and Lt. Crocker Co. H are also prisoners but not thought to be wounded. Capt. Lucas Co. F Capt. Maulsbury and Adjt Kitchen while in the thickest of the fray had their horses shot out under them–that of Adjt Kitchen fell dead carrying him along with it–his escape seems almost miraculous. When the order was given to retire our Regt covered the rear. I am told that Genl Gregg expressed the greatest satisfaction at the conduct of the Regt. Towards the close of the engagement Col. Wyndham recd a bullet wound in the calf of the leg but we are thankful to know that it will not prove dangerous–he kept the field for sometime after being hit but was finally obliged to give up–he goes to Washington today. We hope he will soon return as he can ill be spared from his command. He also paid the Regt the highest compliments for its steady and dashing charges.
The fight was hand to hand throughout. We had in the engagement four Field officers, 14 line officers and 281 enlisted men. Our loss in killed wounded and missing is at present 3 Field officers 2 line officers and 52 enlisted. This of itself speaks volumes for the bravery of the Regt. The morale of the Regt has been greatly benefitted by yesterday’s work and I am confident that the men will fight better now than ever. Major Beaumont will probably soon return from his present command to assume that of the Regt and will be able to collect further accounts of the capture and wounds of the missing officers than I am now able to do.
I have the honor to be Governor
Your obdt servt
Hugh H. Janeway
Major Comdg 1st New Jersey Cavalry
Here are a few notes on this report.
Col. Sir Percy Wyndham, the regimental colonel, was in command of the brigade at the Battle of Brandy Station. He was, as Janeway pointed out, wounded in the leg in the melee, and he never commanded troops in the Army of the Potomac again. For my biographical sketch of Sir Percy, click here.
Lt. Col. Virgil Brodrick and Maj. John Shelmire were both mortally wounded in the melee, and both died on the field. Both are buried in the National Cemetery in Culpeper. Capt. Henry W. Sawyer was indeed badly wounded, which led to his capture, meaning that Janeway’s information was incorrect. Sawyer ended up being the center of quite a drama that is the subject of an article I’ve written that will appear in Civil War Times Illustrated later this year.
Thus, the 1st New Jersey Cavalry lost its colonel, lieutenant colonel, senior major, and a squadron commander that day. The regimental command structure was devastated in the fighting at Brandy Station. Janeway was killed in action less than a week before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. It seems a shame to die so close to the end.
Thanks to Jim Lamason for getting this for me.Scridb filter
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.
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
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
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
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