Sunday, January 13, 2008

Introducing the 6th US Cavalry, Part I

Since readers will be seeing a lot on these folks this year, it seemed appropriate to have something of an introduction to the regiment before we start following them through 1862. Their annual return for 1861 was posted last month, so these next few posts will trace the creation of the regiment and the assignment of its initial officers up to the beginning of 1862.

The 6th US Cavalry was a unique regiment during the Civil War for many reasons. It was the only cavalry regiment added to the regular army during the war. The selection of its officers was conducted differently than that of its sister regiments when they were created. The largest of the regular cavalry regiments when active campaigning started in 1862, it was the smallest at war's end, with only 2 officers and 62 enlisted men present for duty on the April 1865 muster rolls.

On May 3, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation which directed the addition to the regular army of one regiment of cavalry, one of artillery, and eight of infantry. The following day, the Adjutant General's Office issued General Order No. 16, which laid out the plan of organization for the new regiments.

According to the plan, the new cavalry regiment would be organized into three battalions. Each battalion would be composed of two squadrons of two companies each. Thus the new regiment would would 12 companies, designated A through M, two more than the existing regiments.

The same order also provided that two-thirds of the company officers (captains and lieutenants) should be appointed in the same manner as other new regiments in the regular army, and the remaining third would be taken from noncommissioned officers already in the army. These sergeants would be recommended by the colonel of the regiment, and approved by the general commanding the brigade in which the regiment was serving.

Previously, company officers for new regiments were appointed nearly evenly from already serving officers and civilians. This new provision enabled the regiment to initially develop more quickly and train more effectively than other new cavalry regiments. The 6th Cavalry began its existence with a number of lieutenants across the regiment already thoroughly trained in company-level drill and administration, as well as active campaigning experience, something other new cavalry regiments sorely lacked during the first months of their existence.

The Adjutant General's Office announced the organization of the Third Regiment of Cavalry in General Order No. 33, on June 18, 1861. It joined five other mounted regiments: the 1st and 2nd Dragoons, the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, and the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments, in order of seniority. This order also listed the initial contingent of assigned officers and directed the regiment's colonel to assign the officers to battalions and companies. Recruiting was directed to commence at once, from the regiment's assigned headquarters of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

On August 3, 1861, in an attempt to simplify regimental designations, Congress ordered that the six mounted regiments would all henceforth be designated as cavalry, and renumbered in order of seniority. The 3rd Cavalry, as the most junior regiment, became the 6th US Cavalry.


Anonymous said...

Is this the very same 6th that got smashed by the Laurel brigade on July 3rd 1863 at Gettysburg?

Don said...

No, but it is the same 6th that was smashed on July 3rd at Fairfield. 8^) Then again on the 7th at Funkstown, MD. They had a really bad week. I haven't had time to check late '63 and the battles of '64 to see if there was a rematch.

Anonymous said...

Sorry mate, I am a Scottish Australian and I include Gettysburg and Fairfield as being part of the overall big dance. I should seperate them. Starr was in command was he not? I read an interesting article where the survivors went back around 1910 and put up a commemorative stone at a home that was a field hospital after Fairfield.

Don said...


Not a problem, they're pretty close geographically. Major Paddy Starr was indeed in command at Fairfield. JD Petruzzi has an excellent biography of him potsed on his blog "Hoofbeats and Cold Steel." He also had an excellent article published on the battle last year, which may be the one you read. I can't remember which magazine it was in, I think "America's Civil War."

Congratulations and welcome, Australia makes you the visitor from farthest afield so far in this blog's young existence!

Anonymous said...

Thanks mate, I think it may be the same article you are referring to. I have a subscription to the ACW mag which keeps me updated with the latest theories etc regarding the war. That's the thing I love about history, it is always changing and evolving as new evidence surfaces.

In regards to the 6th, they seem to have had a pretty unfortunate time of it, what with nearly getting wiped out at Fairfield, then getting hit at Funkstown and I read someweher else that they got shot up pretty bad by one of their own regiments a few months about your bad luck brigade.

If you can find any information on Jenkins' Brigade: with a special focus on Milton Ferguson I would be really grateful.

BG Albert G. Jenkins (wounded)
Col Milton J. Ferguson

16th Virginia: Col Milton J. Ferguson

Keep up the good work :)

Don said...

I'll see what I can do. It's pretty hectic right now, give me a couple of weeks. if you haven't seen anything by, say, February 1st, remind me.

Anonymous said...

no worries mate