Thursday, April 26, 2007

Road to War: 2nd Cavalry

The Second Detachment

By the time the first detachment set sail, the second detachment was already on its way to Indianola. Company K departed Camp Wood, about 40 miles north of present day Uvalde, on March 15, 1861. Captain Charles J. Whiting, who would command the regiment during its ill-fated charge at Gaines’ Mill the following year, commanded the company. Captain James Oakes followed from Fort Inge on the 19th with Company C.

The final and most spirited departure was conducted by Captain Richard W. Johnson and his command. As the senior company commander at the post, he led the evacuation of regimental headquarters at Fort Mason, 80 miles from San Antonio, on March 29th. His command consisted of the regimental band as well as Companies A and F. Relations between the cavalrymen and state forces had become increasingly strained and acrimonious as the time for the command’s departure approached, to the point of couriers being searched and detained. As a result, Captain Johnson chose to turn a blind eye when some of his troopers torched the fort after the command’s departure.

When the command reached San Antonio, Johnson decided that the regiment wouldn’t leave without making a final statement. Ignoring the presence of armed state forces in the city and the state flag flying over former department headquarters at the Alamo, they paraded through the streets of the city with regimental standard and company guidons flying and the band playing patriotic tunes. No violence occurred, and loyal citizens presented them with a large American flag as they exited the city.

They reached Goliad the next day, where they reportedly cut down a state flag and cut it into mule harness streamers. Their march continued to Green Lake, traveling near but not with a company of the 8th Infantry. Each night, the infantry company would pass Johnson’s column before halting for the night. On the final night of the march before reaching Green Lake, Johnson resolved to arrive first. He departed his camp at 3am and arrived at Green Lake several hours before them. As luck would have it, there was a ship waiting at Indianola and his command was ordered forward while the infantry company remained at Green Lake.

The steamship Empire City was too large to enter the port at Indianola, so the troopers and their families were forced to use a smaller boat to ferry them out to the ship. The ship, with the entire second detachment aboard under the command of Captain Whiting, sailed the next day. They stopped briefly in Havana, where they learned of Fort Sumter’s surrender on April 14th, before arriving in New York on April 20th. They moved by train from New York to Carlisle Barracks, where the companies reported for duty on April 27th.

The day after the Empire City departed, state forces under the command of former major of the regiment Earl Van Dorn seized the port. They captured the Star of the West, the same ship that had attempted to resupply Fort Sumter, and several companies of soldiers from the 8th Infantry waiting to embark on her.

Resignations and absences continued to take their toll. Only 13 of the regiment’s officers accompanied the regiment out of Texas. Among them were captains Palmer, Whiting, Stoneman, Brackett and Johnson, as well as lieutenants Jenifer, Royall, Chambliss, Lowe, Harrison, Kimmel, Arnold and Porter.

The vast majority of the enlisted men remained with the regiment, despite generous offers of good pay and large bounties for joining state units. Desertion rates for this period were no higher than for the year before. I suspect that this was due to the large number of immigrants in the regiment. Secession and states rights would have been an abstract concept, while the regiment was both home and family to them.