Reenactors Radio – Bill Schurmann of Company I, Second US Cavalry

Reenactors Radio – Bill Schurmann of Company I, Second US Cavalry

 

Unit History

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A Brief History of Company I, Second US CavalryThe Second United States Cavalry Regiment has a long and illustrious history, and today it is one of the oldest continuously serving units in the United States Army. The Second Cavalry began life as the Second Regiment of US Dragoons by Congressional Order on May 23, 1836. Today, the men ride Abrams tanks and Bradley AFV’s, and are known as the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Lt Colonel W.J. Schurmann Squadron Commander

Lt Colonel W.J. Schurmann
Squadron Commander

We quote the following, written in 1875 by one its former commanding officers, General Theophilus Rodenbaugh:
“For nearly half a century the Second Regiment United States Dragoons and its successor, the Second Cavalry has been closely identified with the growth and glory of the nation, and fills an honorable place in its history. Its colors have been borne with credit from the deadly swamps and burning sun of Florida to the snow capped peaks and grand canyons of Montana; from the Potomac to the Rio Grande; from the Arkansas to the Platte. No other public servants have more faithfully, cheerfully, and thoroughly performed their duty than the officers and soldiers of this proud and gallant corps. No matter if that duty lay in hunting the crafty Seminole through the almost trackless waste of the Everglades, or in the capture of a Mexican battery; the pursuit of Apaches among the defiles of the Rocky Mountains, or the prevention of civil war in Kansas; a march to Utah in midwinter, or watching the prophet in Salt Lake City; campaigning with McClellan on the Chickahominy, or with Meade upon the Rappahannock; raiding with Stoneman on the Peninsula or charging with Sheridan in the Shenandoah.”

This narrative could go on, but be it enough to say that the Second Cavalry Regiment’s service goes far beyond our Civil War, and we would like to report that the Regiment is today alive and well in its quarters at Fort Polk, Louisiana. As far as General Rodenbaugh’s narrative is concerned, if we take “campaigning with McClellan” out of the narrative, Company I of the Second was in the thick of our nation’s history for their first thirty years of existence, though the boys of Company I came to the Civil War a bit late, in December of 1862.

When the war commenced in April, 1861, Company I found itself campaigning with Company G of the Second in Taos, New Mexico, where they had the unpleasant duty of trying to pacify the Apaches, a thankless task that was not accomplished until the 1890s. Prior to this, the company found itself at war with the Seminoles in the 1830s and early 40s, then assigned to Fort Jesup in Louisiana until the hostilities with Mexico.

The Second Dragoons’ first commanding officer was David E. Twiggs, with Major William Harney as his Lieutenant Colonel, or second in command. Major Harney was to lead the Regiment in Mexico, and well into the 1850s established an illustrious record for himself and the Regiment. Company I’s first commanding officer was Captain Benjamin L. Beall, a native of Washington D.C.
In 1843, Companies H and I were assigned to garrison the new base at Fort Washita, built at the confluence of the Red and Washita Rivers in present day Oklahoma, in the area of the Chickasaw Indian tribe. The mission of the Squadron Companies H and I was to protect the Chickasaws from the predatory Indians of the Southwest, the Kiowas and Comanches, who regularly raided into this area.

In 1846, the Regiment was assembled in New Orleans, and was assigned to General Zachary Taylor’s “Army of Occupation” in Corpus Christi. The Second acted as the eyes of General Taylor’s army, and penetrated what was then Mexico in “tours of observation.” The War with Mexico formed a special chapter for the Second Dragoons, and let it suffice to recount the battles they distinguished themselves in: La Rosaria, Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Matamoras, Monterey, and the Pass of Santa Rosa.

During this time, Company I, along with Company A, under command of now Major Beall, were fighting Indians and keeping Taylor’s supply route open from raids by the Indians and the Mexican cavalry. They rejoined the Regiment in August. At this time, Colonel Harney took over as Regimental Commander. Company I was detached to service with General Wool, and rode to San Antonio, then into Chihuahua, Mexico. The operation was then abandoned, and Wool’s men rejoined Taylor. The Battle of Buena Vista was then fought.

In February 1847, Company I joined General Scott in Vera Cruz. The Second Dragoons were the first American troops to set foot within the walls of Vera Cruz. The Second then literally led the movement to Mexico City, fighting in the battles of Cerro Gordo, El Molino Del Rey, Cherubasco, and the fight for Mexico City. The war ended in May 1848, and the Second Dragoons went home. One company went to the New Mexico Territory, while the bulk of the Regiment went to Texas, and fought engagements with the Comanches and Kiowas, the Kickapoo and the Lipans, along with the Apache, and also protected the frontier from incursions by Mexican bandits.

In August 1853, Company I found itself stationed at Clear Fork on the Brazos under the command of Captain Henry Sibley. In 1854, the Company, still under Captain Sibley, was quartered at Fort Belknap; then, in August 1855, the Company made a month long march to Fort Riley, Kansas, where Companies A, B, C, F, G, and I were concentrated, under Major Enoch Steen. To give you an idea of what the strength of the six companies was, the following figures are available: 213 men, 228 horses, and 40 mules. Transportation consisted of 76 wagons, 428 mules, and 4 horses.
These units continued to operate against hostile Indians on the Kansas and Nebraska frontier until June 1857, when most of the Regiment was trying to suppress the disturbances in “bloody Kansas.” In 1858, the Regiment left Kansas to suppress the Mormon Rebellion in Utah, and the unit was stationed at Camp Douglas. They also fought several battles with the Ute Indians, a precursor of things to come. In October 1860, part of the Regiment moved against the hostile Navajos, with Company G and company I actively fighting the Navajos in September and October of 1860. The year 1861 dawned, and found Company I in Taos, New Mexico, fighting Apaches.

The Second Dragoons, with the exception of Companies C, G, and I, arrived at Cantonment Holt in Washington D.C. on or before December 23, 1861. Company G, trying to get back east, found itself fighting in the battle of Val Verde, New Mexico, in 1862. Company I was in Taos, and found that both its commander, Henry Sibley, and the second in command, John Pegram, “went South,” and left the Company in the command of Lieutenant C.J. Walker.

In October, 1861, the Company left for Fort Union, New Mexico for refitting, and arrived in Fort Garland, Colorado Territory on October 9, 1861. The Utes went on the warpath while Company I waited for relief by the Kansas militia, forcing them to remain at Fort Garland to combat the Indian menace to the settlers of the region. Here, Company I remained until September 1862, when it started east to join its brothers, arriving in Washington on November 23, 1862. Company I were referred to as the “dusty New Mexicans” by their fellow Dragoons.

We have found a historical note: it seems that of the 52 enlisted men on the Company rolls in December 1862, 26 were armed with Sharps carbines, and 26 with Smith carbines, a situation not unlike our present company.

After a period of remounting and refitting, Company I joined the newly named Second Cavalry Regiment, losing their title of Dragoons, a change that bothered many of the old regulars. But they had little time to fret about names, as the 1863 campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia was about to commence. The Second Cavalry was assigned to the Reserve or Third Brigade of General Gregg’s Cavalry Division, and began serving with their older brother Regiment, the First Cavalry, and its new younger brother, the newly formed Sixth Cavalry.

The Second took part in “Stoneman’s Raid,” the first Union Cavalry raid of any real size since the war began. The Second was also involved in the battle of Beverly Ford in early June of 1863. After that battle, with General Lee moving north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, the Second Cavalry rode and fought almost every day in June, with several sharp fights occurring on the Confederates’ right flank moving north. They were present at Gettysburg though they did not fight in the main battle, and skirmished on the right flank near Culp’s Hill on July 3rd.

In 1864, the Regiment moved south with the Army of the Potomac, the Union Cavalry now commanded by General Phil Sheridan. Sheridan, after a tumultuous argument with General Meade over cavalry tactics, took the Union Cavalry Divisions and fought Jeb Stuart to a standstill at Yellow Tavern. Stuart was mortally wounded, and Sheridan and his Union troopers were left in command of the field. Sheridan stayed out for sixteen days, and while not seemingly accomplishing much, he was honing the Union Cavalry into fighting shape. In the future, the Union Cavalry would become the stars of the Army of the Potomac.

In July of 1864, the Regiment participated in a spirited fight at Deep Bottom, where the Second, with the Fifth Cavalry, lay low as dismounted skirmishers, and fired into a Rebel Brigade moving toward them. They were pushed back, but were later reinforced by the First US Cavalry and Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, who put a fearful fire into the Rebel infantry. A quote from the battle: “A few volleys from our carbines make the line of rebel infantry waver, and in an instant the cry is heard all along our lines, “Charge, Charge!” We rush forward, firing as we advance; the rebel colors fall, and so furious is our charge that the North Carolina Brigade breaks in complete rout, leaving three stands of colors, all their killed and wounded, and many prisoners in our hands.” This little-known battle is mentioned because it is a precursor of how the Union Cavalry would fight in the future. They would ride to the scene, dismount, send their horses to the rear, and fight in highly coordinated skirmish lines, using the heavy firepower of their carbines to maximum advantage.

In August of 1864, the Regiment rode with General Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley. On August 15, battle was joined at Cedar Creek. The Second was attacked by two brigades of Kershaw’s Division of Longstreet’s Corps. A quote from Captain William H. Harrison: “The battle waged fiercely, each combatant determined to hold his ground until darkness should end the conflict. But our cavalry, with their breech-loading carbines, were more than a match for Kershaw’s veteran infantry. Our repeated charges on foot, with a well directed fire as we rushed forward, caused a rout on the part of the enemy, which was not stayed until he was driven across the Shenandoah, with the loss of three hundred prisoners, and two battle flags. General Merritt lost sixty men.”

This fight is recounted only to demonstrate again the success of the dismounted tactics displayed by the Union Cavalry.
Additional skirmishes were fought by the Regiment in the Shenandoah Valley during this time, some very large in size and heavy in volume of fire. The Regiment rejoined the Army of the Potomac later in 1864, with refit for the spring campaign sure to come. On March 30, 1865, Grant ordered Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps to spearhead the movement around Lee’s right at Petersburg. After a poor start due to rain and mud, the beginning of the end of the Army of Northern Virginia commenced on April 1 at Five Forks. The Union Cavalry was in the van of the assault, and by the end of the day had routed Pickett’s Division with the help of the Union infantry. The war ended at Appomattox Court House several days later.

The Regiment would attain new heights of glory and accomplishment when it was sent West, back out to the frontier, in 1866 .

For more detail of the Regiment’s history, see the following sources:
• From Everglade to Canyon, with the Second United States Cavalry, by Theophilus F. Rodenbaugh
• The Armies of US Grant, by James R. Arnold
• Lincoln’s Cavalrymen, by Edward G. Longacre

And make sure to visit the Gas and Stream Museum: http://agsem.com

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