Christopher Hely McNally was born in Middlesex, England in June, 1820. He immigrated to the United States as a young man, arriving in New York City on August 24, 1835. He served an enlistment from December 1, 1848 to 1853, but it is unclear in which regiment he served. I was unable to locate his enlistment papers for this first enlistment. According to Heitman, he also served that enlistment the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, but he is listed in the 1850 census as a soldier at Columbia Barracks, Clark County, Oregon Territory, which was not one of that regiment’s postings.
On October 31, 1853, McNally was enlisted into Company D, Regiment of Mounted Rifles at Bellsville, Texas by Lieutenant Robert Ransom. He was 32 years old, and claimed his previous occupation was a soldier. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’8” tall, with brown hair, gray eyes and a fair complexion. McNally earned promotions to corporal and sergeant in the company prior to his discharge on June 16, 1855 at Fort McIntosh, Texas to accept a commission as a second lieutenant in the Mounted Rifles. His commission was dated May 23rd, but notification of the promotion didn’t reach McNally and the regiment until the following month.
Lieutenant McNally continued to serve with the regiment, and was commended for his actions in an engagement with Mogollon Indians in New Mexico. The regiment remained on the frontier after Texas seceded on February 1, 1861, and he was promoted to first lieutenant on May 5th.
As Confederate troops advanced into New Mexico from El Paso, Lieutenant McNally fought in the regiment’s first engagement of the Civil War on July 25, 1861 in a skirmish at Mesilla, New Mexico. McNally was seriously wounded in the skirmish, and later received a brevet promotion to captain for gallant and meritorious service in the action.
He was among the companies of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry and 7th U.S. Infantry surrendered by Major Isaac Lynde at San Augustin Springs a few days later. He accompanied these companies of paroled prisoners of war on their long march to Fort Wayne, Michigan. After a brief stop at Fort Union, New Mexico territory, they marched to Fort Leavenworth, where they arrived in November. They reached Fort Wayne the following month, and remained there until they were exchanged in September 1862. Lt. McNally was promoted to captain, 3rd U.S. Cavalry on September 28, 1861 during the long march.
After his exchange, Captain McNally returned to duty with his regiment, after another long march from Michigan to Tennessee. He commanded an independent squadron of Cos. B and E, 3rd U.S. Cavalry in Gen. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee from January to April 1863. His command served with the cavalry assigned to the Sixteenth Army Corps, specifically in Brig.Gen. Alexander Asboth’s District of Columbus. With the great difficulty in procuring horses and mules for the armies in the western theater, he was subsequently assigned as an inspector of horses and mules in St. Louis, Missouri until March 1865.
Captain McNally received a unique opportunity on March 31, 1865, when he was appointed Colonel of the 3rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry. This was one of the “galvanized yankee” regiments composed of paroled Confederate prisoners sent west to protect overland routes from hostile Indians. The 3rd U.S. Volunteers were assigned to the Overland Route, with two companies each initially assigned to Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory, Cottonwood Springs, Nebraska Territory and Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory. Colonel McNally, regimental headquarters and the final two companies were assigned near Julesburg, Colorado Territory.
McNally received a brevet promotion to major in the regular army on March 13, 1865 for meritorious service during the war. He was honorably mustered out of volunteer service on November 29, 1865, and rejoined the 3rd U.S. Cavalry in New Mexico in August, 1866. He was retired from active service on December 24, 1866, for incapacity resulting from wounds received in the line of duty, in conformity with an Act of Congress, of August 1861.
McNally returned to the northeast after he retired, living in New York and New Jersey. He married Martha M.E. Dawson in Manhattan, New York on August 28, 1879.
Christopher McNally died February 14, 1889, at the age of 68 years, 8 months. He is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Newark, New Jersey. His headstone lists his military service only as Colonel, 3rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry. His widow listed both the 3rd U.S. Cavalry and the 3rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry when she applied for his pension in New Jersey on April 5, 1889.
Here’s to Christopher McNally, most likely the most travelled regular cavalry officer during the Civil War. In less than four years, he marched from El Paso to Kansas to Michigan to Tennessee to Colorado, with fighting in between.