Friday, March 11, 2011

Fiddler's Green: David S. Gordon

I recently received a request to check into David Stuart Gordon, and unearthed a very interesting cavalryman’s career.

David Stuart Gordon was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania on May 23, 1832, four years to the day before the birth of the regiment in which he would spend the majority of his career. Prior to the war, he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he worked as a merchant and the city auditor.

After Lincoln was elected president, Senator James H. Lane of Kansas offered him a bodyguard of men from Kansas to protect him during his trip to Washington. Lincoln declined the offer, but Lane sent the men to Washington anyway. They organized themselves as a company known as the “Frontier Guard,” and established their headquarters at the Willard Hotel. Senator Lane was the company’s captain, and David S. Gordon was its first sergeant. Four days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, the company was asked by the Secretary of War to secure the White House. The company remained on duty there for several weeks before they were honorably discharged.

It is not surprising, then, that Gordon was in the first round of civilian appointments of officers to replace resignations in the regular army’s regiments. Senator Lane likely had something to do with this, since he was appointed to the Army from Kansas and not his native Pennsylvania. He was appointed second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on April 26, 1861, and accepted the appointment the next day. Companies from the regiment were at that time arriving at Carlisle Barracks, PA from their evacuation of Texas. As soon as the first companies were refitted, they were dispatched to Washington, D.C. to defend the capitol. Gordon joined them when they reached Washington. He does not appear on the regiment’s muster rolls in April, May or June 1861.

On May 31, 1861, he accompanied Lt. Charles Tompkins and his company on a raid to Fairfax Courthouse (see here for details). Following the raid, and probably as a result of the hubbub surrounding it, Lt. Gordon was appointed an aide de camp to General Keyes. He was captured while serving in this position on July 21, 1861, during the battle of Bull Run.

Gordon was quite well-travelled as a prisoner, as the Confederate government struggled to establish a system for handling prisoners of war. Initially sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, he was subsequently incarcerated at Castle Pinckney, Charleston, SC; Columbia jail, SC; and Salisbury, NC. He was not exchanged until August 1862.

In the meantime, the U.S. cavalry regiments were redesignated the month after Bull Run. The 2nd Cavalry became the 5th Cavalry, and the 2nd Dragoons became the 2nd Cavalry. So Gordon emerged from captivity to service in a new regiment of the same name. Such was the confusion over which regiment Gordon was assigned to that he appears in George Price’s Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry only in Charles Tompkins’ entry. He served for several months as the inspector of the U.S. Army’s Parole Camp at Annapolis, MD before joining the regiment just before the battle of Fredericksburg.

Following the battle of Fredericksburg, Lt. Gordon was assigned to the staff of General Schenk, commander of the Middle Department at Baltimore, MD. He served as an acting assistant adjutant general to General Schenk through the Gettysburg campaign. On April 25, 1863, he was promoted to captain in the 2nd US Cavalry, and on paper assigned to Company D, though still listed on detached service. He received a brevet to major, U.S. Army for gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Gettysburg.

He rejoined his regiment during the pursuit from Gettysburg, seeing action at Manassas Gap, Rappahannock Station, and Culpeper Courthouse.

In 1864 he served with regiment during the Wilderness campaign and Sheridan’s two raids. He commanded the regiment on the second day of the battle of Trevillian Station when Capt. T.F. Rodenbough was seriously wounded on June 11. He commanded the regiment through the battle of Deep Bottom on July 27-28, 1864, and during the majority of the Shenandoah campaign from August to October 1864.

In late October he was assigned to Carlisle Barracks for recruiting duty, as were officers from all the regular cavalry regiments. He was further assigned to Cincinnati, OH, where he recruited for his regiment from October 1864 to January 1865.

His regiment did not participate in the Appomattox campaign, and as the senior officer present he assumed command when he rejoined it at Point of Rocks, MD from March to November 1865.

At that point the majority of the brevetted officers returned from duty with volunteer regiments, and Gordon made the long slide down to once again commanding his Company D. The regiment was assigned to duty on the frontier In November, and began the long march to Fort Leavenworth, KS. Once the regiment reached Kansas, Gordon and Company D were further assigned to Fort Lyon, CO, where they remained until October 1866.

The 2nd US Cavalry was reassigned to the Department of the Platte under pre-war commander Philip St. George Cooke at the end of the year, and the regiment’s companies were reassigned to forts in what is today Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Capt. Gordon and his company spent only a few weeks at their new post of Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory when they once again received marching orders. Following news of the Fetterman massacre, a column of infantry and cavalry was dispatched to the relief of Fort Kearney in January 1867. Gordon commanded a squadron of his own company and Company L in support of four companies of the 10th Infantry. An impromptu winter march across Nebraska must have been a challenging mission. Once they reached the fort, the majority of the column returned to Fort Laramie, but Gordon and his company garrisoned the fort until it was closed the following July.
Gordon’s next post was Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming Territory, where he and his company served from August 1868 to May 1869. During this period his service is described as “engaged with hostile Indians and escorting mail and government trains.” Gordon later published an account of this expedition in the Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States in 1911.

Gordon’s company conducted an extended scouting expedition of the Wind River valley from May to September 1869, engaged multiple times with hostile Indians before moving to Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory in October. They were engaged in the affair at Miner’s Delight, WT on May 4, 1870, but I could not locate any information on said affair. They were then assigned to Camp Douglass, WT, where they spent the next five years.

At this point Gordon’s career becomes very cloudy. He was steadily promoted, so it’s unlikely any seriously untoward happened at Miner’s Delight, but there is no mention of further postings. He was promoted in the regiment to major on June 25, 1877 and lieutenant colonel on November 20, 1889.

In 1892, he was assigned to command Fort Myer, Washington, D.C. He finally left his regiment on July 28, 1896, when he was promoted to colonel and command of the 6th U.S. Cavalry. Gordon was promoted to brigadier general upon his retirement on May 23, 1896.

Brigadier General David S. Gordon died on January 30, 1930, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Gordon, David S. "The Relief of Fort Phil Kearny," Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, Volume 49, September-October 1911, pages 280-284.
Henry, Volume 1, page 153
Heitman, page 465
Lambert, Joseph. One Hundred Years With the Second Cavalry. San Antonio: Newton Publishing Company, 1999.
New York Times articles, December 29, 1895 and January 28, 1912.
Price, George F. Across the Continent with the Fifth Cavalry. New York: Antiquarian Press, Ltd, 1935.
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Speer, John. The Life of General James H. Lane.


jtuttle said...

This is an interesting article. I would be interested in finding out who requested you look into David S Gordon. I have some information about his service in the military that is not mentioned here. My family is very interested in finding out more about him, as we are direct descendents.

Don said...

Unfortunately, in the scramble to finish a book manuscript, I don't recall who asked me to look into him. I'd be very interested to see any additional wartime information that you have on him that isn't listed here.

Anonymous said...

jtuttle, My name is Kelly Reynard, I ran across David S. Gordon's amazing story during a search for my acestors role in the civil war. D.S. Gordon is my Half 2nd Great Grand Uncle. I am very interested in any information you may share. My email address is Thank you!