I was overdue for another post in the Fiddler’s Green series, and this one is proof of how much information can find if you pull the right string and keep following it. After initially being stymied on this man, I ended up with almost 50 pages of documents on him. He is one of the two men at the head of the column in the photo I sometimes use to head this blog, which will give some readers of the blog an idea of just how long this post has been brewing. Unsung but unforgotten, I give you cavalryman John Mix.
John Mix was born in Chautauqua County, New York on December 25, 1834. He was enlisted into Company F, 2nd U.S. Dragoons by Captain James Oakes on April 11, 1852 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His enlistment documents describe him as 21 years old, 5’ 7” tall, with gray eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion. He was promoted to corporal and sergeant in the company during his first enlistment. He was re-enlisted into the same company by Lieutenant John Might at Fort Riley, Kansas on February 21, 1857. He grew three inches during his first enlistment, as he is listed as 5’10” in the enlistment description.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Mix, now first sergeant of Company F, was the first noncommissioned officer in the 2nd Dragoons recommended for a commission. According to the letter sent to the Adjutant General requesting a commission for him, “He is a man of steady habits, fine intelligence, and has been a faithful noncommissioned officer, and in our opinion is in every way worthy of promotion among the appointments now being made. Especially in the mounted service.” The letter was signed by Major Lawrence P. Graham, Captain Samuel H. Starr, and Captain Charles E. Norris of the 2nd Dragoons, Lieutenant Napoleon B. McLaughlin of the 1st U.S. Cavalry (another former NCO from Company F), and Brigadier General Joseph K.F. Mansfield. Captain Starr added in his endorsement to the letter that First Sergeant Mix “is a thorough soldier, brave, energetic and intelligent. He will make an excellent officer.”
In the endorsement, Starr also elaborated on an incident during the regiment’s march east from Utah between First Sergeant Mix and his troop. “He was offered by his late troop commander, Lt. Geo. Jackson, now with the army of the Confederacy, a commission in that army if he would join the rebels; and a furlough was offered him for that purpose. He is too loyal a man to listen willingly to traitors; but Lt. Jackson commanded his troop, and respect for his officer restrained him.”
The request was approved, and Mix was appointed a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, still in Company F, on August 14, 1861. In his letter of acceptance he reported his age as 27.
Lieutenant Mix was soon separated from his regiment. Volunteer units were forming across the country, and experienced cavalrymen were in short supply. On September 17th, Lieutenant Mix was placed on a leave of absence in accordance with War Department Special Orders #254 to accept a volunteer commission as a major in the 3rd New York Cavalry. The fact that the regiment’s lieutenant colonel was named Simon H. Mix likely had something to do with the volunteer commission.
A month later, Major Mix was commanding four companies of the 3rd New York Cavalry at Edward’s ferry during the fighting at Ball’s Bluff. Tangentially involved in the fighting from a position on the far Union right flank, he was summoned before Congress’ Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War in February 1862.
In April 1862, the regiment was assigned to XVIII Corps in North Carolina, and participated in the fighting near New Bern. Major Mix was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the 3rd New York Cavalry on April 26, 1862, and to first lieutenant in Company M, 2nd U.S. Cavalry effective July 17, 1862. His replacement as the second lieutenant in Company F, was the former company first sergeant, Paul Quirk.
On September 23, 1862, he requested an end to his leave of absence from the regular army to return to the 2nd Cavalry, stating “the object of my being sent to the volunteer service having I think been gained, no objection it appears to me can be raised to granting my request.” The letter continues to clarify that he was requesting a change of assignment back to his previous rank and regiment, not a release from military service. The only caveat to his request was that he was the only field grade officer present with the 3rd New York Cavalry, and asked that assignment orders be delayed until the return of the absent regimental commander. On December 27, 1862, Mix resigned his volunteer commission and returned to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. While unusual, it was not unheard of for regular officers to resign their volunteer commissions and return to their units. The same Captain Starr who had endorsed Mix’s request for a commission had resigned his volunteer commission as a colonel in charge of a brigade of New Jersey infantry regiments just the month before to return to the same regiment.
Lieutenant Mix rejoined his regiment in Virginia at the beginning of 1863. Since his company, Company M, was still being recruited, he asked to join the officers forming the company at Carlisle Barracks. Before his request reached the War Department at the end of February, however, the company had joined the regiment in the field.
In early March, Lieutenant Mix requested assignment to the staff of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks for duty. The two had become acquainted when part of the 3rd NY Cavalry was assigned to Banks’ division along the Potomac in late 1861. Among the reasons listed In his request, Mix referred to “a desire to serve under an old and beloved commander, under whom I have already won some honor, and a desire to benefit my health which has been shattered by eleven years active service & which now nearly incapacitates me for active service in a northern latitude especially during the cold and wet seasons.”
General Banks endorsed the request, but Mix was selected by Brigadier General John Buford to serve on the staff of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Reserve Brigade before it was considered at the War Department.
Lieutenant Mix’s health apparently recovered prior to the opening of the spring campaign, as he was among several members of the staff singled out and highly praised by General Buford in his official report. Following over two weeks of grueling riding, Buford described their performance as “severely worked, and have rendered valuable service to me,” and “untiring and zealous.” He was again commended by Buford in his report on the cavalry battle of Upperville in June as “most efficient in bringing up troops and delivering messages.” This resulted in his appointment as provost marshal for the Reserve Brigade during and following the Gettysburg campaign.
In September 1863, a detachment of regular cavalry was separated from the Reserve Brigade and assigned to Point Lookout, Maryland under the command of Lieutenant Mix to assist in securing an area where negro troops were being recruited and suppress smuggling. The detachment consisted of two companies of the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Lieutenant Frank Dickerson and two companies (Cos. B and D) of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry under Lieutenants Mix and Lennox. He established his headquarters at Leonardtown, subordinate to Brigadier General Gilman Marston’s Military District of Saint Mary’s.” Other than a fifteen day leave of absence to attend to personal matters granted in November, Mix served there with his detachment until the following summer. Mix and his company rejoined the regiment in time for the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1864.
Active campaigning during the war ended for Lieutenant Mix following an engagement at Berryville, Virginia on August 10, 1864, where he, Lieutenant Robert Lennox and an enlisted man were wounded. After several months of recovery, Mix was ordered before an officer retention board in December in Annapolis, Maryland. The board consisted of Brigadier General Lawrence P. Graham, formerly of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, a Major J. Hendrickson, and Surgeon G.S. Palmer, formerly of the 5th U.S. Cavalry. In the board results, Surgeon Palmer describes Mix’s condition as “suffering from the effects of a gunshot wound of the right knee. The ball entered perpendicularly just below the patella, passed backwards without exit. Much exercise produces inflammation.” The prognosis was that Mix should be retained and might be fit for field duty after several months, but in the meantime should be assigned to light duty.
He was subsequently assigned to the Mounted Recruiting Service for the last few months of the war. The assignment is unsurprising given that Graham had formerly commanded the service, and Palmer was on temporary duty away from Carlisle barracks specifically for the retention board. Lieutenant Mix served on recruiting duty in Cleveland and then Philadelphia until September 1866. On October 19, 1865, he was promoted to captain and command of Company M, 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
Upon his relief from recruiting duty, Captain Mix requested a leave of absence to return to New York “to settle some private business” before joining his regiment on the frontier. Once he reached Springfield, Otsego County, New York, he requested a further twenty days of leave. Springfield was also the home of Mary T. Barrett, who Mix married some time before 1870, most likely during this leave. Mrs. Mix did not accompany her husband to Colorado, as she was still living on her parents’ farm in Springfield during the 1870 census.
Captain Mix joined Company M at Fort Sedgwick, Colorado Territory in October 1866 and served there for the next three years. His tenure there included “numerous successful field operations along the line of the Republican River,” according to Rodenbough’s history of the regiment.
In November 1869, Company M was reassigned to Omaha Barracks, Nebraska, where it served until early 1874. The pattern was six months in garrison each year, followed by roughly six months of field operations. In 1870 and 1871, these were to protect the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1872, the company scouted the Nebraska frontier.
In 1873, Captain Mix was selected to serve on a board of inspection of the Army’s cavalry horses, which lasted from May to September. He returned to Omaha Barracks for the rest of the year.
In February 1874, Captain Mix and Company M was reassigned to Fort Laramie. They served here until September 1877, when the majority of the regiment was transferred to newly constructed Forts Keough and Custer in Montana Territory. Fort Custer, on the Big Horn River at the mouth of the Little Big Horn, was garrisoned by the regimental headquarters and four companies, including Company M. Mrs. Mix joined her husband at this post, as the 1880 federal census shows her present at Fort Custer.
On January 25, 1881, John Mix was promoted to major and assigned to the 9th U.S. Cavalry. He had served for 29 years in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, ten years in Company F and 19 in Company M. He joined his new regiment in New Mexico several weeks later. In declining health, he was granted a leave of absence to return to his home in New York in the fall, but never reached his destination.
Major John Mix died in Santa Fe on October 26, 1881, while en route from Porter, New Mexico to New York. Assistant Surgeon St. Clair Streett listed his cause of death as “malignant disease of the walls of the chest and axillary glands attended with complete paralysis of both lower extremities.” He is buried next to his wife in Section 21, Cedar Grove Cemetery, New London, Connecticut.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register of the United States Army, volume 1. Washington, D.C.: The National Tribune, 1890.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, volume 1. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869.
Lambert, Joseph I. One Hundred Years with the Second Cavalry. San Antonio, Newton Publishing Company, 1999.
National Archives, Record Group 94, M617, Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916 (accessed online, 2013)
National Archives, Record Group 94, M619, Letters Received by the Adjutant General
National Archives, Record Group 94, M1064, Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
U.S. Federal Census, 1860, 1870 and 1880.