Thanks to Chris Swift for posting about Harris last week and bringing this post back to mind.
Moses Harris was born in Andover, New Hampshire on September 6, 1839. He enlisted in Company G, 1st Cavalry Regiment from New Hampshire in 1857, which became the 4th Cavalry Regiment in August 1861. He served in the company as a private, corporal and sergeant in the western theater until 1864.
He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry Regiment on May 18, 1864, and moved to the eastern theater to join his regiment. Harris was promoted to first lieutenant in the same regiment on August 15, 1864, assuming command of a company.
Two weeks later, during an engagement at Smithfield, West Virginia, Harris was serving as the second in command of the regiment’s reserve squadron under the command of a Captain Hoyer. The squadron of approximately 150 troopers was ordered to charge a Confederate cavalry brigade that had broken through the line. Captain Hoyer was mortally wounded during the approach, so Lieutenant Harris assumed command and ordered the charge in a column of fours. His squadron broke and routed the Confederate brigade. Harris was later awarded the Medal of Honor on January 23, 1896 “for most distinguished gallantry in action at Smithfield, West Virginia, August 28, a864, where in an attack on a largely superior force his personal gallantry was so conspicuous as to inspire the men to extraordinary effort resulting in the complete rout of the enemy.”
A month later, Lieutenant Harris was brevetted captain on September 19, 1864 “for gallant and meritorious service in the battle of Winchester, Virginia.” His squadron had stubbornly resisted the advance of Confederate General Early’s troops after the VI Corps broke during the early phases of the battle.
Moses Harris remained in service after the war, and was promoted to captain in the 1st Cavalry on June 20, 1872. His post-war experiences were somewhat different than those of many of his peers.
On August 13, 1886, Captain Harris received an unusual order. He was ordered by General Sheridan himself to take his cavalry troop to Yellowstone National Park and assume command of the park from the departing civilian superintendent and his staff. He was charged to protect and administer the park. Elements of the cavalry remained in the park for the next 32 years.
Harris arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs on August 20 at the head of his column. Troop M, 1st Cavalry consisted of himself, two lieutenants, twenty enlisted men, 56 horses, 17 mules, three wagons, and an ambulance. His first order was to combat a wildfire burning nearby. His second was to begin the construction of Fort Sheridan (later renamed Fort Yellowstone) between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Gardiner River.
After his service in Yellowstone, Harris penned two articles for the Journal of the United States Cavalry Association that contain valuable information for Civil War cavalry researchers. With The Reserve Brigade, in 1890 and 1891, was a four part series that covered the service of the Reserve Brigade from July 1864 through Appomatox in detail. The Union Cavalry, published in 1892, is a shorter, more general work covering cavalry service during the entire war.
Moses Harris was promoted to major in the 8th Cavalry Regiment on July 22, 1892. He was retired at his own request on March 7, 1893.