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