Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Since we’re celebrating Memorial Day today, it seems appropriate to post about those who lost their lives in the regular cavalry regiments during the Civil War. Who knows, someday I might even find all of their names someday.

The 1st US Cavalry lost 9 officers and 73 enlisted men killed and died of wounds, for a total of 82. Another 93, 2 officers and 91 enlisted men, died of disease, accidents or in prison. Total deaths were 175, the most of any of the six regiments. I found this surprising, since they missed all of the fighting in 1861 and had no exceedingly high casualty engagements such as Gaines’ Mill or Fairfield.

The 2nd US Cavalry lost 5 officers and 73 enlisted men killed and died of wounds, for a total of 78. Another 95 personnel, 3 officers and 92 enlisted men, died of disease, accidents or in prison. Total deaths were 173, second among the six.

The 3rd US Cavalry lost 2 officers and 30 enlisted men killed and died of wounds, for a total of 32. Another 108 personnel were lost due to disease, accidents and prison deaths. Total deaths were 140, the lowest of the six regiments. This is easily explained, given that they had the fewest engagements of the six regiments during the war.

The 4th US Cavalry lost 3 officers and 59 enlisted men killed and died of wounds, for a total of 62. One additional officer and 108 enlisted men died due to disease, accident or prison, for a total of 109. Total deaths were 171, third among the regiments. I’d expected this total to be higher since they had elements in major battles in both theaters before the regiment was consolidated in the western theater following Antietam.

The 5th US Cavalry lost 7 officers and 60 enlisted men killed or died of wounds, for a total of 67. Another 2 officers and 90 enlisted men died due to disease, accidents or in prison. Total deaths were 159, again lower than I’d expected due to the losses at Gaines’ Mill alone.

The 6th US Cavalry lost 2 officers and 50 enlisted men killed or died of wounds, for a total of 52. They lost an additional 107, one officer and 106 enlisted men, to disease, accidents or prison deaths. Again, these numbers were lower than I’d expected, given losses at Fairfield and Funkstown.

Totals for all regiments were 28 officers and 345 enlisted men killed or died of wounds, for a total of 373. 12 officers and 592 enlisted men died of disease, accident or prison, for a total of 977. Again, these numbers seem somewhat low, but only include deaths, not total casualties.

Sources for this information include Haskin and Rodenbough's 1896 The Army of the United States and Fox's Regimental Losses of the Civil War.

5th Cavalry at Hanover Court House – May 28th

The day after the battle, Captain James E. Harrison’s squadron (Companies B and E) continued to round up prisoners from the battle. Accompanied by Brigadier General Emory’s aide de camp, Lieutenant Elbert, Harrison brought in two entire companies of the 28th North Carolina Infantry with their arms and ammunition. In his report, Harrison claims a total of 99 prisoners, including two captains, a lieutenant and 96 privates.

Given this similarity to yesterday’s post, I had to go back to the OR and verify the numbers and that they were actually from different squadrons on different days.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Regular Cavalry Officer Database

After looking over my references and notes for a couple of days, I've decided I may be able to at least partially rectify the lack of information on Regular cavalry officers during the war. Despite the number of posts about the 2nd/5th Cavalry over the last month or so, I've really been trying to learn more about the 6th US Cavalry. I like the idea of being able to follow a regular unit from its inception throughout the course of the war. So we'll start this project with the 6th.

I'm not sure of the best way to format it, but for now will rely on a simple alphabetic listing in a word document. I'd love to hear any recommendations from out there on possible better ways to manage this. I suppose as I'm able to flesh it out I'll have to find a website for it as well, since I don't think blogger does attached web pages.

This will not replace my habitual Fiddler's Green posts, but does serve as fair warning that there may be a 6th Cav flavor to it at times.

5th Cavalry at Hanover Court House – May 27th

Two squadrons of the 5th US Cavalry were active at the battle of Hanover Court House on May 27, 1862 --- one before and during the battle and one following it. For those interested in the battle in depth, I recommend Michael Hardy’s excellent work on the battle, found here.

Prior to the battle, Captain Abraham K. Arnold’s squadron of Companies I and K, were sent to reconnoiter the road from Hanover Court House to Ashland. They found the Confederates advancing in force and returned to the Union main body without pursuit. Upon their return, they were ordered to take position on the left side of the Union line of battle. Arnold later moved his squadron to the right following enemy attacks to his front and left. His squadron was under fire throughout the battle, losing two men and several horses. Privates Leo Hentz and James Lason of Company I were killed, and four horses were wounded in Company K. The squadron took nine prisoners during the battle.

Following the repulse of the attacking Confederates, Captain William B. Royall’s squadron of Companies C and A was ordered forward as far as possible on the main road leading from the battlefield to Hanover Court House. The squadron proceeded about a mile past the courthouse, capturing five prisoners, before waiting for the rest of the regiment to arrive. After they were joined by the regiment, they were deployed to the right side of the road as skirmishers. A short time after the advance resumed, they discovered a large body of Confederate infantry in a wheat field. They quickly surrounded and captured 73 men, including a major, two captains and a lieutenant.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Last words on the death of Hilly Carter

The letter from Fitzhugh Lee was forwarded with a covering note from General Robert E. Lee, also a cousin of Hill Carter on his mother’s side.

“My Dear Cousin Hill,

“Upon my return from Richmond yesterday, I found the enclosed letter from my nephew, Fitz Lee. He says, it has been a long time since he felt called upon to write such a letter, & fears it may only serve to renew the sad remembrance of your loss. I fear your bereavement is ever present to you & hope the knowledge of how your noble son was appreciated & admired, may mitigate the anguish at his death. The only consolation I have is in the belief that a merciful God takes us at such a time & in such a manner as is best for us & to His will I humbly bow. May He give you, his dear mother, sisters & brothers strength to bear your heavy affliction. I know well how all of you loved him who has gone. What present joy & future hope he gave you. I cannot express to you the pleasure that he and others of my kinsmen in the Army afford me, as I contemplate their course, so young, so self-denying, so devoted to their country, so modest & so bold. What comfort to think of them at peace, & rest! Yet what anguish does the knowledge of their absence cause!”

“With warmest love to all at Shirley
“Believe me your affectionate cousin
“R.E. Lee”

That Lee should take the time to pen this says a great deal about him and how he viewed this part of his family. I wish I could have found a picture of carter to go with the posts. Thanks again to Frank Carpenter for bringing these letters to my attention. To any who haven't visited Shirley plantation, it's well worth a visit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More on the death of Lt. "Hilly" Carter, 3rd VA Cavalry

I was delighted to receive an envelope in the mail yesterday from Frank Carpenter containing copies of the letters of condolence from Fitzhugh Lee and Robert E. Lee to their cousin, Hill Carter, on the death of his son. After the battle of Chancellorsville, his body was brought home to Shirley by his brother Charles. Fitzhugh Lee’s letter, dated May 15th, follows. The bold-faced words were underlined in the letter.

“My dear Cousin Hill,

“May I be permitted at the risk of encroaching upon the sanctity of domestic grief to mingle my humble sympathy & express my deep grief at the irreparable loss you have sustained. I have been poor Hills comdg officer for a long time & through the many trying scenes of the campaign in his native state, whilst my affection for him & pride in him overleaping ties of blood, cause me to claim the privilege & even make it a mournful pleasure to tell you, his Father, how your glorious boy died.

“On Friday, May 1st Col Owens with a portion of his Regt (3rd VA) was ordered to report to Gen. Mahone Comdg: the advance of Andersons division upon the old turnpike road leading from Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville. Gen. Mahone asked Col. Owens to ‘send me one of your most reliable Lieutenants & ten men to go ahead of my infantry skirmishers & find the enemy.’ It was a delicate & hazardous position – Mounted men preceding in a wooded country Infantry skirmishers, to find & report the enemy’s position. I need not pause to tell you how he executed it, or with what cheerful alacrity he obeyed the summons. ‘One of your most reliable Lieuts,’ meant with Col. Owens & was understood by the whole regiment to be Hill Carter & of course he was at once detailed. Proceeding but a short distance he soon met with a large body of the enemy’s Infantry skirmishers & the fire became very hot. Not receiving any orders from General Mahone, his own horse killed, one of his gallant little band wounded, several others having their clothes shot through, he very properly ordered them to fall back in the rear of our advancing line of skirmishers. He, however, seized a carbine, rushed forward again with the advance & fought most enthusiasticlly and with an ardor & bravery that has no parallel in my experience; until struck with three balls, one of which proved mortal. This was about one P.M. & he expired the next day at eleven A.M. He died gloriously, was perfectly resigned & expressed a sincere Christian faith. It is superfluous for me to mention his numerous brave deeds, whilst under my command. “Boonesboro” & “Kellysford” alone would make him immortal. Could you have seen him Sir, fighting with the enthusiasm of his nature & his glorious death for his beloved country, affliction would be esier to bear. In the language of his Colonel in reporting his death to me, ‘it is no disparagement to my other officers to say, his loss is irreparable.’ “

“With the highest respect & affection,
“I am yours most truly
“Fitz Lee”

Monday, May 21, 2007

An Odd Gap in the CWSS

I've made an odd discovery over the last few days doing some online research and muster roll verification. It seems that regular army officers are not included in the National Park Service's CWSS database site.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is a computerized database containing very basic facts about servicemen who served on both sides during the Civil War. The initial focus of the CWSS was the Names Index Project, a project to enter names and other basic information from 6.3 million soldier records in the National Archives. It is a truly massive undertaking which has made an enormous amount of data available to researchers on the web. In my case, they have made available each and every name listed on muster rolls of the six regular army cavalry regiments during the war. There are multiple entries for those who changed companies, reenlisted, had their names misspelled, etc, but those are pretty easy to sift through. The amount of information there is pretty amazing.

What aren't there are the names of regular army officers. I'm not sure why this is, but will email the site later today and ask. Officers for volunteer units are there, so it's not just "an officer thing." No Rodenbough, Starr, Custer or Merritt. No John Buford. Gamble and Devin are both there as colonels and lieutenant colonels of their regiments.

This is not for a moment to say that the CWSS isn't a very valuable and amazing resource, but I found it curious.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saving Fleetwood Heights

In the front of the excellent July issue of America’s Civil War magazine that is currently in book stores is a letter from the vice president of the Brandy Station Foundation, Mr. Edwin F. Gentry. Given that this was definitely the largest cavalry battle of the war, mentioning it here seems wholly appropriate. While ACW definitely reaches more readers than this blog, I’ll summarize his letter below in case some of you may have missed it.

The Brandy Station Foundation is currently in the midst of a very urgent campaign to save significant portions of the Brandy Station battlefield. The majority of this land is on the ridge once known as Fleetwood Heights, scene of very severe fighting during the battle. It is literally in the heart of the battlefield.

I had intended to add some comments about the importance of battlefield preservation, but I think JD's post from yesterday says it better than I could.

To quote from Mr. Gentry’s letter: “A vast portion of the crest and eastern slope and the plain adjoining the eastern slope of Fleetwood Heights has just come on the market for sale to the highest bidder. Also offered at this time to the Foundation is significant acreage (2-4 acres) on the crest of Fleetwood Heights together with a brick residence. The total asking price of all of the land, with improvements, approaches $5 million (about $40,000 per acre for the approximately 100 acres of unimproved land).”

The Brandy Station Foundation, though a group of incredibly dedicated volunteers, is not a large organization. This is a wonderful group of people who have done a tremendous job of preserving the battlefield and lore of Brandy Station. Obviously, they are not going to be able to raise this kind of money locally. They’re working strategies at the state and national levels to assist with funding, but every little bit helps. Please help me spread the word.

Contact information for the Foundation:
Brandy Station Foundation, PO Box 165, Brandy Station, VA 22714

Friday, May 18, 2007

Regulars or Not?

Chris Swift's comment to my last post raised another question in my mind --- were the regiments of colored troops raised during the war considered regular units or volunteers?

I believe they were considered volunteers, as they weren't constituted as part of the regular army and weren't intended to exist past the end of the war. They were designated USCT regiments because they weren't raised in specific states. In the case of the cavalry, after the war many of the soldiers of the USCT cavalry units joined the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments when they formed.

I really hadn't considered this until Chris pointed out that the 1st Vermont Cavalry, while raised in Vermont, was actually a federal and not a state unit. Thanks for the insight, Chris.

Is this significant? It certainly could be, since if they're regulars the units in the scope of this blog just doubled.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fiddler’s Green: Charles H. Tompkins

Charles H. Tompkins was born on September 12, 1830, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He entered the United States Military Academy in July 1847, but resigned on June 23, 1849 for unknown reasons. He then pursued business interests for the next seven years.

He enlisted as a private in the First Dragoons on January 21, 1856, and was assigned to Company F. He was subsequently promoted to corporal and then sergeant within the same company, where he served until January 10, 1861 when his enlistment ended. He was recognized for his performance in a battle with hostile Indians near Pyramid Lake, Nevada on July 2, 1860.

Tompkins was appointed a second lieutenant in Company D, 2nd Cavalry from New York on March 23, 1861. He joined the regiment at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania on March 30th. He was transferred to Washington DC, where he served as an assistant instructor in a cavalry school for officers appointed directly from civil life until May 3rd. He was promoted to first lieutenant of Company B on April 30, 1861, vice the resigned 1stLt Walter Jenifer of Jenifer saddle fame.

On May 3, 1861, Tompkins crossed the Potomac with his company and established a cavalry camp at Ball’s Crossroads. On May 24th, he advanced up the Leesburg road towards the Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad, where his company captured a passenger train. No shots were fired, and the passengers were released later that afternoon.
The following week, he led his men on a scouting mission to Fairfax Court House that became the first skirmish of the war in northern Virginia. Tompkins led his company, numbering approximately 50 men, on a scouting mission on the night of May 30th to reconnoiter in the vicinity of Fairfax Court House. They departed their camp after 10pm, and approached the town approximately 3am. They were able to surprise and capture the Confederate pickets before entering the town.
Unbeknownst to Tompkins, Fairfax at the time was home to three companies of Confederate soldiers under the command of LtCol Richard S. Ewell (also late of the 1st Dragoons, but I’ve been unable to prove whether or not they knew of each other). A charge by Company B initially drove a company of mounted rifles from town, with the Union cavalrymen passing completely through the town before turning. The other two companies arrived as they passed back through the town, and a brief skirmish took place. Outnumbered, Tompkins made the decision to retreat, and was able to outrace his pursuit. Two horses were reportedly shot out from under Tompkins, and he injured his foot when the second one fell on him.

The raid created a good deal of fame for Tompkins, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor on November 13, 1893. The citation read that he “twice charged through the enemy’s lines and, taking a carbine from an enlisted man, shot the enemy’s captain.” He was also presented the sword pictured below.

He fought with his company during the Manassas campaign, following which he was commended by his brigade commander for conspicuous gallantry. Following the battle, he served for a time as an acting assistant adjutant general for Brig Gen Stoneman and an inspector of cavalry before his appointment as the regimental quartermaster for the 2nd Cavalry on August 3, 1861.
He served with his regiment in the defenses of Washington until November 13, 1861, when he was appointed an assistant quartermaster, with the rank of Captain. He served as Colonel of the 1st Vermont Cavalry from April 24th to September 9, 1862 after their initial commander was killed in battle. He participated with his regiment in the battles and engagements of the Shenandoah Valley and Second Bull Run campaigns.

He vacated his regimental commission on July 17th, and resigned from volunteer service on September 9, 1862 following the Antietam campaign to return to staff duty, where he served throughout the remainder of the war.

Recognition came fast and furious for Tompkins toward the end of the war. He was recommended for appointment as a Brigadier General of Volunteers for conspicuous services at the battle of Cedar Creek. On March 13, 1865, he received brevets for major (for gallant conduct at Fairfax Court House), lieutenant colonel (for meritorious services in the campaigns of Banks and McDowell in 1862 and 1863), colonel (for meritorious services in the quartermaster’s department 1863-1865) and brigadier general (for faithful and meritorious services during the war of the rebellion). This was incidentally later known as a black day for career army officers, as the majority of the brevets for regular officers for wartime service all dated from this day.
Following President Lincoln’s assassination, he too was assigned to the military commission which tried the conspirators. He served as one of the nine officers assigned to the commission until they reached their verdict on June 29, 1865.

Tompkins served the remainder of his career in the quartermaster department. He was appointed lieutenant colonel and quartermaster of volunteers from July 1, 1865 to June 11, 1866 and colonel and quartermaster of volunteers from June 13, 1866 to January 1, 1867. He was appointed deputy quartermaster general, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, on July 29, 1866.
From 1866 to 1881, he served as a depot quartermaster in Washington DC, and chief quartermaster of the 5th Military District and the Departments of Alaska, Arizona, and Texas, the Division of the South, and the Department of Dakota. Tompkins apparently received this slew of different assignments, nearly all at hardship postings on the frontier, as a result of an altercation with General Grant over misappropriated government equipment. Tompkins survived the various postings in good order, however, and was promoted to Assistant Quartermaster-General, with the rank of Colonel, on January 24, 1881.
He served as the chief quartermaster of the Military District of the Missouri at Chicago, Illinois from February 1881 to May 1886. Tompkins then served as the chief quartermaster of the Division of the Atlantic, with headquarters on Governor’s Island, New York harbor, from 1886 to 1888.
Charles Tompkins married Augusta Root Hobbie on December 17, 1862 at St George’s Church in New York. They had seven children, four of whom reached maturity. The eldest, Selah Reeve Hobbie (“Tommy”) Tompkins, grew up to become Colonel of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. His second son, Frank, also served as a career army officer.

Tompkins retired at his own request on September 12, 1894. He fractured his left leg in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 11, 1914. The wound didn’t heal properly, and he died on January 18, 1915 in Washington DC of a chronic septic infection. He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington DC.

Sources for this biography include Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry by George Price, Colonel Tommy Tompkins by John M. Carroll, and A History of the United States Cavalry by Albert Brackett.

The author is indebted to Mr Frank Wagner, who contributed a wealth of information and the pictures included in this post from his private collection.

Largest Cavalry Charge of the War?

Mike Burleson asked a great question the other day, and I will confess that I've been unable to answer it.

"What was the name of the Western Theater battle which is called the largest cavalry charge of the war? I saw a documentary on the History Channel once, and can't recall the name. I'm thinking Confed General Sterling Price participated but not sure."

I've looked a good bit through my references, and I haven't been able to definitively identify the battle that Mike is referring to. From my readings, the largest cavalry charge of the war was during the Battle of Opequon (or Third Battle of Winchester), when two divisions of Union cavalry under Merritt and Averell crushed Early's left flank.

Admittedly, the Western Theater isn't one of my strong suits as yet. Perhaps Wilson's charge at the Battle of Selma? I thought most of his forces, though cavalry and mounted infantry, were dismounted during that fight.

I do know that there are some smart folks on the Western Theater who occasionally read this blog, however. Ladies and gentlemen?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shirley Mystery Solved

I was delighted this morning to have a visit from Frank Carpenter, one of the tour guides at Shirley Plantation, who was assisting me in solving a small mystery there from my reading (found here). He’d lost my business card and actually went to the trouble of hunting down my office.

He informed me that the wounded Confederate officer encountered at Shirley by Lieutenants Sanford and Sumner was one of Hill Carter’s sons, Bernard Hill (“Hilly”) Carter, Jr. According to family history, he’d been wounded during the battle of Gaines’ Mill. My curiosity piqued, I sat down and did a little research on Mr. Carter.

Bernard Hill Carter, Jr. initially studied at Eastern View in Fauquier County under Robert L. Randolph, then attended the Episcopal High School of Virginia. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1855. He attended the Theological Seminary of Virginia, but did not complete his studies there.

Hilly enlisted in the Charles City Troop or Charles City Light Dragoons as they were also known, as a private on May 18, 1861 at Charles City Court House. This troop later became Company D, 3rd Virginia Cavalry. His occupation, unsurprisingly enough, is listed as farmer, and he was 25 at the time of his enlistment. In July he was promoted to Corporal, and in January 1862 to Second Lieutenant.

After his encounter with Sanford, Carter was severely wounded and captured in a skirmish at Boonsboro, Maryland on September 15, 1862. His regiment, together with the 4th and 9th Virginia Cavalry, served as the rearguard during the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat from South Mountain. They were closely pressed 8th Illinois Cavalry, and there was fighting in the streets of the village. He was paroled on October 3rd and exchanged November 2nd of the same year.

Carter was very active during the battle of Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863, where his horse was killed during the battle. According to Fitz Lee’s report in the OR, “First Lieut. [Bernard] Hill Carter, jr., was very conspicuous in his behavior.” (OR, Ser I, Vol 25, pt 1, pg 61). JEB Stuart’s official report on the battle adds that carter’s “individual prowess attracted my personal attention and remarks.” (Ibid, pg 59).

Unfortunately, Carter didn’t survive the war. He was killed only a month and half later, during the battle of Chancellorsville. Lieut. Col. William R. Carter of the 3rd Virginia recorded in his diary for May 2nd, “Lt. B. Hill Carter, company D, was wounded yesterday near Loar church on the turnpike & died today.” (Carter, Sabres, Saddles and Spurs, pg 60). The regiment was detailed on May 1st to screen the front and both flanks of Anderson’s division.

After Carter’s death, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter offering sympathy to his father. I hope to have a copy of this sometime next week. And I’ll definitely have to try to find Loar church on my next visit to Chancellorsville.

It’s nice to actually get to the bottom of one of these little mysteries. Many thanks again to Frank Carpenter for all of his help!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Another Trip to Iraq for the 2nd and 3rd Cavalry

Received this through the association this afternoon. Since the 2nd and 3rd are two of the Army's remaining three cavalry regiments, I thought it still relevant to the theme of the blog. Both are still on continuous active service since before the Civil War, though they look a great deal differently today. The 2nd Cavalry has been relatively fortunate thus far, this is only their second trip to Iraq vice the third for the 3rd Cavalry. Godspeed and best of luck to the troopers of both regiments.

2nd Cavalry, Vilseck, Germany, Alerted for Deployment to Iraq From the New York Times (Electronic) 9 May 2007

WASHINGTON, May 8 - The Pentagon said Tuesday that it had informed an additional 35,000 soldiers that they were likely to be heading to Iraq by December, a move that would allow the Army to maintain heightened American troop levels into next year.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the decision to alert the 10 Army brigades scheduled to deploy between August and December did not mean that the Bush administration had decided to extend the current reinforcement, a buildup of about 30,000 troops that is expected to be completed in June. A decision on that issue will be made in September, officials said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other officials have made clear that reversing the American troop buildup was among the steps that could be taken by the end of the summer if Iraq's government failed to make progress on legislation aimed at achieving reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Arabs.

At the same time, some military officials have argued privately that it will be necessary to prolong the higher troop levels into next year in order to have any permanent effect on security.
Overall American force levels in Iraq will reach close to 160,000 when all the additional units ordered to Iraq by President Bush arrive this summer. Only three of the five additional Army brigades ordered to Iraq are now in place, with the final two scheduled to arrive over the next two months.

Mr. Whitman said a reduction of that force later this year remained a possibility. The Pentagon "has been very clear that a decision about the duration of the surge will depend on conditions on the ground," he said.

The replacement troops announced Tuesday would go to Iraq under the new Pentagon policy of sending units for 15 months at a time, though Mr. Whitman added that shorter tours were also possible if security conditions improved.

The 10 brigades identified by the Pentagon on Tuesday for deployment are the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment from Vilseck, Germany; the Fourth Brigade, Third Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Ga.; the First, Second and Third Brigades of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.; the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood, Tex.; the Second Brigade, First Armored Division, from Baumholder, Germany; the Fourth Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, from Fort Polk, La.; the Second Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and the First Brigade, Fourth Infantry Division, from Fort Hood, Tex.

A brigade has about 3,500 soldiers.

President Bush earlier this month vetoed an effort by the Democrat-controlled Congress to force the beginning of a phased withdrawal of American forces beginning as early as Oct. 1. But his new strategy of sending more troops has intensified the strain on the Army, leaving few combat-ready units in reserve and forcing the Army to turn increasingly to National Guard forces.

If the higher troop levels continue into 2008, the next combat units sent to Iraq are likely to be from the National Guard, officials have said.

The Army also said that close to 1,000 more support troops from the U.S. Army Reserves would deploy in August.

2nd Cavalry Association Wishes Our Brethen Godspeed and Come Home Safe! To all the men and women of the 2d Stryker Regiment your association stands behind you and your families with support and encouragement in the difficult days ahead. Do not hesitate to call on us at any time. Godspeed to you all,

The Members of the 2d Cavalry Association

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Charge at Dug Springs --- Differing Views

On August 4, 1861, less than a week before the battle of Wilson’s Creek, there was a skirmish at Dug Springs, Missouri between Union forces under the command of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon and Confederate Missouri State Guard forces under Brigadier General James Rains. At some point during the skirmish, a charge by Captain David S. Stanley’s troop of the 1st Cavalry routed an advancing enemy force of infantry. Exactly what the circumstances of the charge were varying according to the view of the witness.

According to Lyon’s official report, “The rebels’ advance perceived my halt, and being mostly mounted, became bold, and threatened me at various points, though in small force --- though about 1,000 infantry advanced pretty well forward at one time under an advance of cavalry force. My advance guards of infantry opened fire upon them, and without orders from me, by a spontaneous emotion, the advance guard of my cavalry charged and drove back the rebels, but lost 4 killed and 5 wounded. Cavalry again advanced, but were driven back by my artillery, under Captain Totten.” (OR, Ser I, Vol 3, pg 47)

Captain Frederick Steele, 2nd US Infantry, commander of Lyon’s advance guard, had this to say in his report. “We then advanced upon the enemy, driving him rapidly back. Captain Stanley, with his troop, took position on a commanding spur on our left and front, to prevent our flank from being turned. The enemy was now in complete rout, a part of Captain Stanley’s troop having gallantly charged and cut through his line.” (Ibid, pg 49)

We also have two other eyewitness accounts of the charge. Second Lieutenant George B. Sanford of the 1st Dragoons was attached to the column en route to his first unit. This skirmish was his first in uniform, and he describes the charge like this:

“The fighting was quite sharp for some time, but the enemy fell back as we advanced, and at one time a very gallant charge was made by a party of “C” troop 1st Cavalry under Lieut. Kelly. He mistook the trumpet call to halt for the signal to charge and dashed into the enemy’s lines completely routing them at that point, though nearly all his own men were killed or wounded. The rest of “C” troop under Capt. Stanley afterwards Maj. Gen. Stanley and my own troop both under command of Capt. Elliott then moved to the front in support, and the enemy fell back.” (Sanford, Fighting Rebels and Redskins, pg 129)

An unknown correspondent from the Herald is quoted in the Harper’s Weekly article reporting the skirmish as follows:

“Captain Steele was still on the left, and a body of nearly eight hundred infantry, with a few mounted men, came forward on the enemy’s right with the evident intention of engaging and surrounding the Captain’s two companies. Company C, of First cavalry, was in the rear (lately front), near Captain Steele and Lieutenant M.J. Kelly, with twenty men from this company, made a Balaklava charge right in the face of the bullets and bayonets of the whole rebel infantry. Four of the twenty were killed and six were wounded, but they succeeded in breaking the infantry and putting them to flight. Four horses were wounded so badly that it was necessary to kill them --- one receiving nine, and another eleven rifle balls. One of the men – Sergeant Sullivan – received three terrible, though not fatal wounds. As he was falling from his horse he waved his saber, and shouted “Hurrah for the old Stars and Stripes!” When brought to camp he seemed to forget his wounds in his joy at having struck a blow for the Union. One of the enemy’s wounded inquired of Lieutenant Kelly, with great earnestness,
‘Are your cavalry men or devils!’
The lieutenant replied that it was possible they might be a composition of both.
‘Well,’ said the man, ‘we can’t stand such a charge as that. You can whip us all out if you’ve got a decent army of such soldiers.’ “

Which of these are correct and which aren’t? It’s impossible to know for sure, but at least parts of all of them. A footnote in the OR describes Stanley’s losses as 4 killed and 6 wounded, of 42 engaged, or a loss of 25%. According to Sanford and the reporter, only 20 made the charge, so the actual loss would be 50%. One of the men under Lieutenant Kelly, a Corporal Elbridge Roys, received a commission in the regiment the following year for his conduct during the charge. He was later killed in action near Selma, Alabama in 1865.

I believe Sanford’s account that the cause of the charge was a misunderstood bugle call. I can’t think of another reason why only part of the company would charge. It’s doubtful that it was reported that way by Captain Stanley in his official report, however, which is likely where the “spontaneous emotion” mentioned in Lyon’s report comes from.

As to the results of the charge, I again tend to favor Sanford’s account. It was late in the day at the time of the charge. While the charge probably stopped the infantry’s advance temporarily, I doubt any 20 men and horses would be enough to rout 800. Receiving such a charge and then seeing more cavalry and infantry advancing through the dusk probably led to their hasty retreat.

The reporter’s account is sufficiently vivid, and my Harper’s Weekly’s circulation large enough, that it’s small wonder that there was a perception that a cavalry charge could rout infantry. Such charges had succeeded in combat against Indians on several occasions in the experience of cavalrymen returning from the frontier. Only time and blood would dispel this perception.

Monday, May 7, 2007

More on muster rolls

My apologies for the lack of entries over the weekend. The long-awaited muster rolls have arrived, which has proved a mixed blessing. Several hours and a good bit of eyestrain later, I at least have a good idea what’s on one of the rolls.

First of all, let it be said that microfilm is not a user-friendly medium. I’m not for a second saying that I don’t appreciate the efforts of those who went to the trouble to save countless original documents that have probably rotted away by now. But it will be a very happy day when/ if these things are digitized. I spoke with a representative at NARA before I ordered them, and this is the only medium through which they’ll be available for the foreseeable future. They’re not yet on the digitization schedule for the archives.

The biggest part of the problem is finding a microfilm reader that works. Several of the local libraries that I visited didn’t. Not entirely their fault --- library budgets are limited, and one librarian politely pointed out no one had asked about theirs in a couple of years. Two of those I did find operated too poorly to make legible prints.

Additionally, the machines, or at least those that I’ve located so far, print letter size paper. The rolls are on two pieces of 18x24” paper, and often need to be blown up to be legible. The smallest so far has been 5 copies, the largest (6th Cavalry in July 1863) is 18.

This very far from a tale of woe, however. There is great info on these rolls. Quality, primary source information that provide great snapshots of the units as well as running totals of nearly every category in a regiment.

On the first sheet are all of the following totals for each month by company and for the regiment:

Present (commissioned and enlisted, by category, for duty, extra duty, sick, in
arrest, etc)
Absent (commissioned and enlisted, detached, with leave, without leave, sick, in
arrest, etc)
* no idea why there are columns for sick and in arrest in both present and absent
Present and Absent (numbers by rank by company of who's assigned to the
Gains (enlisted categories by company include: recruits thru depot, enlisted in
regiment, re-enlisted, from missing in action, from desertion, by transfer)
Losses (expiration of service, died in action, died of disease, missing in action,
deserted, transferred, discharged by court martial)
Memoranda (columns by company for wounded in action, recruits requested,
serviceable and unserviceable horses and horses lost in action)

Then there are two large narrative entries. The first is for enlisted men on 'extra' duty, which are all the folks assigned as teamsters, blacksmiths, orderlies, hospital stewards, etc by name and company. The second is absent enlisted men, accounted for by name, rank and company. (the June and July 1863 muster rolls have continuation pages that list every trooper missing and wounded in the Gettysburg campaign, it's very sobering to look at). Below this on many months is a Remarks section where the adjutant makes comments about the regiment's service during that month. Thankfully, penmanship was still a virtue at this time, but the comments are still often difficult to make out.

On a separate page, the commissioned officers of the regiment are accounted for by name, rank and company. These get interesting. One can see, for example, that only 13 officers were present with the regiment on June 5th (four days before Brandy Station) and where the rest of them were (the majority on a general's staff, commanding a volunteer regiment, or serving as a general of volunteers). On the other half of this page are the entries for alterations since the previous return among enlisted men, which becomes one of the continuation sheets for casualties during months of heavy fighting.

All in all, lots of neat info in there, it's just hard to access (I now know where every inoperative microfilm reader is in a 20 mile radius), hard to print, and hard to read the handwriting. But it’s definitely worth the effort.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Cavalry Lessons Not Learned

Eric Wittenberg has posted a multi-segment analysis of the battle of Chancellorsville and its effects the past couple of nights on the anniversary of the battle. As usual, the posts made me think a bit. One of things he mentioned in last night’s post struck a chord with me, and I decided to explore it further.

When discussing the effects of Hooker’s use (see also, ‘improper use’ or ‘failure to use’) of cavalry at Chancellorsville, Eric notes, “Incredibly, the Union high command never learned a lesson from this failure–Grant did exactly the same thing on almost the same ground a year and a couple of days later when he sent Sheridan off on a raid toward Richmond with the entire Cavalry Corps, with pretty much the same results.”

I would submit that one of the primary reasons why the army didn’t capture the lesson of sending all of the cavalry away from the main body of the army was that the cavalry wasn’t interested in capturing the lesson.

They wanted to go on Stoneman’s raid and take the fight to the enemy. “They” in this case meaning the senior cavalry leaders of the Army of the Potomac, not just Stoneman. They also thought that they had rendered good service upon their return. Granted, it did more for their confidence than any real, tangible damage to the enemy, but that was a result. As I read through old accounts and unit histories of the battle and raid, rarely do I see anyone from the cavalry say, “We should have been there” or “Things would have been different had we been there.” So in the eyes of the division and brigade commanders I don’t think the lesson was there to be captured.

The following year, on the eve of the battle of the Wilderness, the army was again abandoned by its cavalry as Sheridan set off to decisively engage Stuart’s cavalry. Again, the cavalry wanted to be on the raid. I don’t think Sheridan was wrong in thinking that taking Stuart’s cavalry out of the area would hamper Lee and help Grant. I think he could have left Grant with a brigade or two of cavalry, though, and allowed him to better cover the army’s flanks. But it’s not simply a case of blaming Sheridan. Everything that I’ve read indicates that all of the senior cavalry leaders favored the raid and were focused on taking the fight to Stuart’s cavalry. And the raid was largely successful.

The fault ultimately lies with the commanding general, as always. It was his choice whether he wanted to use his cavalry offensively or defensively. In both cases, the general commanding the army granted them permission to leave. The people who should have raised the issue to the army leaders, however, were interested in doing something else. In both cases, senior cavalry leaders and advisors wanted to raid and take the fight to the enemy instead of performing their primary mission of reconnaissance and security for the army.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Starr's Classics Republished This Fall

I noticed last night that Stephen Starr's classic three volume series on the Union cavalry, The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, will be republished in September. All three volumes will be republished in a paperback format. Those interested in pre-ordering can check the Amazon listing here.

This is great news for cavalry enthusiasts, as previous editions of Starr's books have become increasingly difficult to find. It is a wonderful reference, though I didn't see anything in the listings about revisions, additions or new information.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Horses of a Different Color

Most of the fun of combing through shelves of binders and books of research and memoirs is finding new information that one hadn’t known before. Quite often in my case, it also involves realizing that something I thought to be true simply isn’t so. On this particular occasion, it happens to concern some of my thoughts on cavalry mounts during the war.

In a post back in March (found here, to save those interested in reviewing it), I scoffed at the idea that companies and squadrons in a functioning cavalry unit during hostilities would be concerned with obtaining horses of the same color. It simply seemed frivolous given the difficulties of keeping troopers mounted and in the fight. Subsequent incidental research (I didn’t go looking for it, it just kept hitting me in the face during reading) has since shown me the error of my ways.

When the 2nd Cavalry Regiment formed in 1855, it was mounted very well by the standards of the time, with the highest price per mount yet seen in the US Army. Many of these mounts were well-bred Kentucky and Tennessee horses. Despite the fact that the regiment was headed for Texas to fight Comanches immediately after it was formed, all companies were mounted on horses of the same color. Company A was mounted on grays, Companies B and E on sorrels, Companies C, D, F and I on bays, Companies G and H on browns, and Company K on roans (Arnold, Jeff Davis’ Own).

This is relatively logical, I thought. They were just forming the unit, and were not yet in combat, so I suppose matching mounts would be consistent with good order and discipline, etc. But when the same regiment reached Carlisle Barracks after leaving Texas in 1861, something similar occurred again. According to then-Captain Richard W. Johnson in his memoirs, “When enough (horses) had been received they were distributed among the companies, as far as possible making the color in each company uniform.” (Johnson, A Soldier’s Reminiscences, pg 160) Since they were the only cavalry in the area at the time, they should have had their pick of what was available.

Nor was this limited to the 2nd Cavalry. According to George Sanford, when the 1st Cavalry Regiment remounted at Giesborough Point following the Gettysburg campaign, “a capital mount was secured, each battalion of four troops receiving horses of one color. One battalion was bay, one black, and one chestnut. The trumpeters and band rode grey horses.” (Sanford, Fighting Rebels and Redskins, pg 211)

I’m sure this is not to say that a trooper wouldn’t be accepted back into his company if he showed up with the wrong-colored remount, but I did think it interesting that the attempt was made.