Averell’s Ride and Good Fortune

I should long since have posted on this. I have decided to use Averell’s official report rather than the longer version from his memoirs, as I think it less likely to contain embellishment. Not that this report isn’t told to put himself in the best light, but I considerable it more reliable. While the report itself is interesting reading, what I find more interesting is the subsequent chain of events that led to this relatively obscure lieutenant of Mounted Rifles commanding a volunteer cavalry regiment.

Lieutenant William Woods Averell graduated the U.S. Military Academy in 1851. After a stint teaching cavalry tactics, he proceeded to join the Regiment of Mounted Rifles in New Mexico. In the pursuit of learning his duties as a subaltern, he was involved in several engagements with hostile Indians.

Lieutenant Averell was newly arrived in Washington, D.C. in April 1861. He was just returning to duty from a very serious gunshot wound to the thigh received during a fight with Indians in New Mexico. Not yet ordered to return to his regiment for duty, he was thus eligible for a delicate assignment for General Winfield Scott. Averell’s mission was to carry an evacuation order to Lieutenant Colonel William H. Emory to remove all Federal troops and supplies from the Indian Territory. The order was delivered by Major Fitz John Porter and Captain James B. Fry.

 “Washington, D.C., May 31, 1861

Col. L. Thomas, Adjutant-General U.S. Army:

Sir: I have the honor to report that, having returned to duty on the 16th of April from an unexpired sick leave, I received the following order on April 17, viz:

Lieut. William W. Averell, Mounted Riflemen, Washington City:

Sir: You will, by order of the General-in-Chief, proceed at once to Fort Arbuckle and deliver the accompanying letter to Lieut. Col. W.H. Emory, or the senior officer present, receive from him communications for the Government, and return to this city.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E.D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General.


Upon the back of the order was the following indorsement, viz:

Headquarters of the Army, Washington, April 17, 1861.

The General-in-Chief directs the quartermaster at Fort Smith to extend every facility to Lieutenant Averell to enable him to execute his orders with promptitude.

F.J. Porter, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Providing myself with a rough travelling suit of citizen’s clothing, I left Washington a 2.45 p.m. on the 17th of April, by the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. At Harper’s Ferry, where the train stopped for a few minutes, I saw Capt. Roger Jones, commanding a detachment guarding the arsenal at that point, who informed me of his apprehension of an attack by the Virginians, and that, aware of the insufficiency of his force to defend the public property, he had made arrangements to destroy it and withdraw his small force into Maryland. The towns and villages through which my journey to Saint Louis was made were alive with agitated people turning out volunteers in response to the call of the President. I arrived at Saint Louis on the evening of the 19th, and left on the morning of the 20th by the first train to Rolla, Mo., where I arrived, 115 miles distant, at 5 in the afternoon. Leaving Rolla by the first stage coach at 5 a.m. the 22d, with several prominent Southern gentlemen as fellow passengers, I proceeded, with changing horses, mails, and passengers, toward Fort Smith, through towns wild with secession excitement and rumors of war. He unruly temper of the people and their manifest readiness to embrace any pretext for violence made it necessary for the safety of my dispatches and their successful delivery that my name and character should remain unknown. Having assumed a name and purpose suitable to the emergency, I experienced no great difficulty in passing safely through several inquisitions. I was obliged to drive the stage a greater part of the distance between Cassville and Bentonville, on account of the drunkenness of the driver, there being no other male passenger. At Evansville I met the intelligence, which monumentally astounded me, that Fort Smith had been captured by a force of secessionists 800 strong, which had come under the command of Colonel Borland from Little Rock. Near the foot of Boston Mountain, on the southern side, the rumor was confirmed by passengers of a coach from Fort Smith which we met, happily in a pitch dark night, which prevented my recognition by some of the lady passengers, wives of army officers who might have known me.

Crossing the Arkansas River on a ferry boat we reached Fort Smith at 9 o’clock on the morning of the 27th. The town was in a political frenzy. The fort had been evacuated by Captain Sturgis, with four companies of the First Cavalry, four or five days before, and the post quartermaster, on whom I had an order for transportation, was a prisoner in the guard-house. Secession troops were having a “general training” and target practice. It was perilous to make inquiries regarding our troops, and the only information obtainable of them was that they had gone westward, that pursuit up the Arkansas and from the direction of Texas was on foot, and that bridges had been burned and the streams were swollen from recent rains. Exchanging my gold watch and a little money for a horse, saddle, and bridle with a man whose principal incentive to the trade was his apprehension of losing his horse by public seizure, I mounted for the remainder of my journey. It was 260 miles to Fort Arbuckle. Having been out of the saddle two years on account of my wound, and having just completed a toilsome, jolting journey of 300 miles in a coach, I was in poor condition for the (end pg 494) struggle before me. The horse was unbroken to the saddle, and after a fierce but unsuccessful effort to throw me ran wildly away through the successive lines of drilling troops, but I managed to guide him in a westerly direction and mastered him before reaching the Poteau River. This stream, 100 yards wide, was bank full and the bridge destroyed. Removing my heavy black overcoat, I swam the horse across, after a fearful struggle, in which I lost my overcoat and also suffered some injury from being struck by the horse. Twenty miles west of Fort Smith the road forks, the right hand going to Fort Arbuckle and the left to Fort Washita, these points being separated by sixty-five miles. Between the two routes the volcanic protrusion called the San Bois Mountains rise in several ranges about 1,500 feet high and gradually sink to the level of the undulating prairie seventy-five miles west of the fork. The deep trail showed that Sturgis had taken the left-hand road to Washita; therefore I went forward on the other the distance of about a mile to establish my own trail in case of pursuit and then crossed over to the other road. The next morning I was overtaken at Holloway’s Overland Station, fifty-four miles west of Fort Smith, by four mounted desperadoes, but my would-be captors, finding me wearing the light blue uniform overcoat of a private soldier, which I had obtained at a station to replace the black one lost in the river, were easily persuaded that they had missed their man and I was not the one they wanted, but a rancorous secessionist like themselves who was going to fetch a sister from the army on account of the prospective troubles. Permitted to pursue y way, and quitting the road a few hours later to graze my horse, the same party, undeceived by a study of trails, passed me in hot pursuit. Resuming the road after them, a friendly wayfarer, who had met them and heard their inquiries, informed me of their wrathful purpose to shoot me on sight. With the intention to reach the trail crossing to the Arbuckle rad at the western end of the mountains, if possible, and to avail myself of the sheltering woods which covered their southern slopes if necessary, I rode cautiously forward. But ere the desired trail was reached the party was descried returning, whereupon I took to the woods and was fired upon and ordered to halt. Realizing that I could make a trail faster than they could find it my course was taken directly across the mountains and my escape made good. The Arbuckle road was found about two hours after midnight, after experiencing considerable trouble in keeping my horse, which I was obliged to lead during the night in the woods through howling packs of wolves. The next day I was headed off by the same party on that road and pursued. After another troublesome night in the woods among wolves and impassable ravines I found a Cherokee cabin, some food for myself and horse, and a guide to the Arbuckle road, ten miles west of Perryville.

Another weary day and night brought me near to Cochrane’s ranch, forty miles from Arbuckle. Here it was ascertained that our troops had left Arbuckle and were concentrating at Washita, forty miles to the southward. Obtaining a fresh horse and an Indian guide we set out for Washita, but toward night were overtaken by a blinding storm of wind and rain, in which the Indian lost the way and I lost the Indian. Making my way to the Big Blue River I swam it in the dark and unsaddled, tied my new horse to one stirrup, and running my arm through the other lay down and slept until morning. Upon awaking the Indian, who found me, informed me that we were not far from the road between Washita and Arbuckle and about ten miles west of the former place. When arrived at the road a deep double trail made in the mud of the previous evening disclosed the fact that a heavy body (end pg 495) of mounted troops had moved westward. Following it about six miles we came upon the First U.S. Cavalry and the First U.S. Infantry breaking camp, the infantry already stretched out on the road toward Arbuckle. Riding to Colonel Emory, who was already mounted, I delivered the dispatches. They were soon communicated to his officers. It was made known to me that the enemy was concentrating upon and had taken possession of Fort Washita the previous evening, and that I should have found myself again in his hands but for the storm which had prevented me from reaching that point the previous night. In an ambulance I accompanied Colonel Emory’s command to Fort Arbuckle, where we arrived May 3, and found Major Sacket, Captains Crittenden, Williams, and others who had been left with a small force in charge of the post while the main body went to Washita. The trains were loaded to their utmost capacity, and on the 4th of May the flag was lowered with military honors, Fort Arbuckle was abandoned, and we marched northward, conducted by the Indian guides Possum and Old Beaver. We were pursued by a body of Texans two or three days, but ceased to be annoyed after the capture of their advance guard of about thirty men by Captain Sturgis, in which undertaking I accompanied him by permission of Colonel Emory. I left Colonel Emory’s command on the march for Leavenworth at El Dorado, in Kansas, and reached Washington yesterday and endeavored to report at once to you. Finding you engaged with the Secretary of War, I went to his house, but as you were unable to see me I avail myself of this my first opportunity to report.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Wm. W. Averell

Second Lieutenant, Regiment Mounted Riflemen”


While Averell’s mission had not been successful in warning Emory to move his troops, the rigors of the trip and its accomplishments had brought him to the attention of some very influential people in Washington. Both the Secretary of War and the President were informed of the exploit.

 A few days later, Averell was invited to dinner with General Winfield Scott, and a week later assigned to duty mustering volunteer units at Elmira, NY. Less than a month later, he was ordered to “report immediately to General McDowell at Arlington, Virginia.” He arrived to learn that McDowell’s chief of staff was the same James B. Fry who dispatched him on his wild ride. Fry saw him assigned as an Assistant Adjutant General to the brigade of regular troops in McDowell’s army. The brigade commander was Colonel Andrew Porter of the 16th Infantry, who was formerly the captain of Company F, Regiment of Mounted Rifles when Averell was a second lieutenant in the same company.

 Lieutenant Averell did well in his new position at the battle of Bull Run. Early in the battle the division commander, Colonel David Hunter, was wounded and Porter succeeded to command of both his brigade and the division. In his official report on the battle, Porter stated:

 “Acting Assistant Adjutant General W.W. Averell sustained the high reputation he had before won for himself as a brave and skillful officer, and to him I am greatly indebted for aid and assistance, not only in performing with the greatest promptitude the duties of his position, but by exposing himself most fearlessly in rallying and leading forward the troops, he contributed largely to their general effectiveness against the enemy. I desire to call the attention of the Commanding General particularly to him.”

 Averell stayed with Porter when the latter was assigned as Provost Marshal for Washington at the end of July 1861. He was offered the lieutenant colonelcy of an Illinois volunteer cavalry regiment in early August, but declined, preferring to stay near the excitement and influence of the capitol.     

 Following a disciplinary issue with Young’s Kentucky Cavalry, a regiment newly arrived from Pennsylvania, General Scott reportedly asked if there were anyone who could command the regiment. Averell responded that he could. Very shortly thereafter, on October 7, 1861, the Adjutant General’s Office issued Special Order #272:

 “Leave of absence until further notice is granted 1st Lieutenant W.W. Averell, 3d Cavalry, to enable him to take command of the 3d Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry – late Young’s Cavalry.”

In six months William Averell had successfully progressed from a lieutenant to regimental command with powerful supporters.



Cullum, George W. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891. 

Eckert, Edward K. and Nicholas J. Amato, editors. Ten Years in the Saddle: The Memoir of William Woods Averell, 1851-1862. San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1978.

 Official Records, Series I, Volume 2, page 386 (Porter’s report on Bull Run)

 Official Records, Series I, Volume 53, pages 494-496 (Averell’s report)


2nd U.S. Cavalry on the Peninsula


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154 years ago today, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry was serving on the Peninsula. The regiment had not participated in the Battle of Gaines Mill, and was sent by General McClellan to find a route for the army to the James River. No great battle narratives in here, but I was surprised how big a role it played in the initial consolidation. Pleasonton has been known to blow his own horn, but I think he would have been called out if he exaggerated on this one.

Headquarters Second Cavalry

Camp at Harrison’s Landing, James River, Va., July 4, 1862

General: I have the honor to submit the following report of services of my command, the Second Cavalry and the McClellan Dragoons, 489 strong, in executing the orders of General McClellan, from the 28th of June to the 3d of July:

On the evening of the 28th of June I received orders to escort Lieut. Col. B.S. Alexander, Corps of Engineers and aide-de-camp, in a reconnaissance to determine the best position for the army on the left of White Oak Swamp to cover the movement to James River. The command started from Savage Station at 8 o’clock p.m., and was all night on the road through White Oak Swamp, owing to the difficulties and obstructions on that route. Next morning at 7 a.m. I reported to Colonel Alexander, who was then beyond the White Oak Bridge, and we immediately proceeded to examine the country in front of Keyes;’ corps, at that time in the advance, and a line of battle was suggested covering the junction of the Quaker, New Market, and Charles City roads, and extending up the latter beyond the debouche of the road through the swamp, over which Sykes’ division had passed. We were occupied in this duty until near 1 o’clock, when learning the commanding general had arrived on the field, the colonel reported to him what had been done.

The general then ordered us to proceed to James River, open communication with the gunboats, and examine the country for a suitable location to establish the army. After a march of 18 miles, in which every precaution was taken to repel an attack, the command reached the James River, near Carter’s Landing, on the evening of the 29th June, at 5.30 o’clock. No gunboats were in sight, but Colonel Alexander proceeded immediately down the river in a small boat in search of one. Upon inquiring I learned that a force of the enemy had been in that vicinity that morning. I therefore kept my command ready to mount, and extended my pickets 1 ½ to 3 miles on the right, front, and left. More than an hour elapsed and Colonel Alexander did not return, (end pg 47) and knowing how necessary it was to have the plans of the general commanding carried out at an early moment, I availed myself of the kind offer of Captain Been, of the gunboat —–, who had just come down the river, and went off to the Galena, Commodore Rodgers’ flagship, which was lying 4 or 5 miles above us. The commodore offered us every assistance, and directed the Port Royal, Captain Morris, to cover our position at Carter’s Landing. Colonel Alexander returned about 8 o’clock with the steamer Stepping Stones, and having dispatched an express to General McClellan, repaired on board the Galena. I then returned to my command, which remained saddled all night in a strong position, ready for service at a moment’s notice.

Early next morning, the 30th of June, my pickets reported the arrival of the advance troops of Keyes’ corps; but in the mean time the sick, wounded, stragglers, and trains of wagons and ambulances from different corps came rapidly in on us. The former repaired in great numbers to the steamer Stepping Stones, which was at the wharf, and so great was the rush that I was obliged to clear this vessel three different times of all persons except such wounded and sick as the medical officers in attendance declared ought to be sent to Fortress Monroe. This vessel left about 11 o’clock a.m. with 500 or 600 of the worst cases of sick and wounded. To the generous kindness of the Navy were we indebted for this opportune assistance; and in connection with this subject it is proper to record the valuable services of Capt. George U. Morris, of the Port Royal, in furnishing subsistence and supplies, besides giving his own personal attention and exertions to the care of the sick and wounded.

Throughout both days, the 30th of June and the 1st of July, the sick, wounded, and stragglers kept coming in, and I can only estimate their numbers by the means I adopted to supply their wants, for they were without food or organization. The sick were established in camps according to their respective divisions, and as the different medical officers came in I assigned them to duty with the divisions to which they belonged. The wounded were sent to the Carter house to be attended to by the surgeons at that place. The stragglers were organized into two commands, viz, those with arms and those without. Captain Hight, Second Cavalry, had charge of those with arms, and they numbered over 2,000 men. The party without arms was more numerous. The trains of wagons and ambulances were parked in convenient positions to water and forage.

On the 30th of June beef and salt were issued to those who asked for them, and 1,000 rations of bread obtained from the Navy were also issued. On the 1st of July the steamer Spaulding arrived with supplies, when 8,000 additional rations of coffee, sugar, bread, salt, and meat were issued; besides, 15 head of cattle were killed and distributed by my command. From these facts there must have been 10,000 or 12,000 men in sick, wounded, and stragglers at Carter’s Landing during the 30th of June and the 1st of July. There were also some 800 wagons and 300 ambulances.

On the morning of the 2d of July I was apprised of the army being ordered to move to apposition covering Harrison’s landing, and in consequence I ordered all the trains of wagons and ambulances, with all the sick and wounded capable of moving, to start immediately for that place. My command covered the rear of all of these parties, and I have the satisfaction of reporting to the general commanding that all of these large trains of materiel and personnel reached their several destinations in the army in safety. When the state of the weather, the (end pg 48) roads, and the near approach of the enemy at that time are remembered, the duties required of all concerned for the successful accomplishment of this undertaking will be understood. Besides these arduous duties, I caused the country in the neighborhood of the Chickahominy to be explored to observe the enemy.

Captain Norris, with his squadron, performed this duty on the 30th of June, and Captain Green with an equal force went within 4 miles of the Chickahominy on the River road, while one of his detachments passed as far as Charles City Court House on the Charles City road. There was no enemy visible on either occasion, and the fact was reported by me at the time to General Marcy, chief of staff.

The squadron of McClellan Dragoons under Major Barker rendered good and efficient services in the above-named movements, and the major himself was conspicuous for the energy and activity he displayed in keeping the road clear on the march from Carter’s Landing to this place.

In conclusion, I desire to recommend to the favorable notice of the general commanding the following-named officers of the Second Cavalry, for the zeal, gallantry, and activity they have displayed in the discharge of their duties: Capts. Charles E. Norris, Thomas Hight, and John Green. Captains Norris and Green were charged with destroying two bridges over the Chickahominy after our army had crossed, and the services performed by them were highly satisfactory. Three caissons of one of our batteries having been left on the other side of the Chickahominy, Captain Green crossed with some of his men, threw the ammunition into the river, and set fire to the caissons.

First Lieut. James F. McQuesten, adjutant, and Second Lieut. Edward Ball, regimental quartermaster, have discharged their duties with great credit and ability, and are very deserving officers.

The faithful services and good conduct of the noncommissioned officers and privates of the Second Cavalry in the campaign of the last three months in this Peninsula have been a source of the highest gratitude and pride to all the officers of the regiment. I do not think this appreciation can be better expressed than by naming two of the most deserving of them to the general commanding for such promotion as the exigencies of the service will permit. I am satisfied that Sergt. Maj. Robert Lennox and Quartermaster Sergt. Edward J. Spaulding will show themselves worthy of any advancement in their profession it may be deemed proper to bestow upon them.

I remain, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. Pleasonton,

Major, Second Cavalry, Commanding.

General S. Williams, A.A.G., Hdqrs. Army of the Potomac.

Source: Official Records, Volume 11, part 2, pgs 47-49)

Recommendation: Small but Important Riots

I realized this morning that I had not yet endorsed Bob O’Neill’s recently opened blog “Small but Important Riots,” so I am immediately addressing the problem.

Named after the excellent but unfortunately out of print book of the same name, the blog focuses on the cavalry engagements between June 10th and 27th, 1863. Activities in Loudoun and Fauquier counties throughout the war are addressed, and his most recent post focused on the plight of Southern families in the area caught between the armies during the winter of 1863.

Bob is the recognized authority on these battles and this area, having published both the book that shares the title and “Chasing Jeb Stuart and Mosby, the Union Cavalry in Northern Virginia from Second Manassas to Gettysburg.”

For those of my friends who share an interest in the Indian Wars, Bob also had a very good feature article on the Rosebud last year in Blue & Gray Magazine.

His content is thought provoking and very well researched, I highly recommend that you take a look at your first opportunity.

GainesMill Relations


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For the 154th anniversary of the battle of Gaines Mill. I thought I would post in a different direction than revisiting the 5th US Cavalry’s charge, the casualties suffered there or the controversy afterwards as to its propriety or effectiveness. In this case the cordial and not so cordial relations and relationships of opponents during the battle.

The account below is from former Confederate Captain J.T. Hunter of Company H, 4th Texas, who was a staff officer as a lieutenant in General Whiting’s division for the battle.

“Just before the 4th Texas reached the cannon there was an attempt by a squadron of Yankee cavalry to protect their guns. This squadron was commanded by Major Whiting, a cousin of our general, and he was badly wounded. General Whiting went to see him next morning and told him that if while a prisoner he should need any financial aid to supply his necessities to call on him, and he would supply him, but further he would have nothing to do with him. One of the companies of the squadron was commanded by Captain Chambliss, of the 2d United States Cavalry, General Hood’s old regiment, and he and Captain Chambliss were warm friends and discussed the pending war before hostilities commenced. Chambliss’s sympathies were with the South, but he said he was a soldier by profession and thought there were better prospects for promotion in the Union; so he and Hood separated to meet on the bloody field at Gaines’s Mill, Hood a brigadier general and promoted to major general for his gallantry and success on this field; while Chambliss was only a captain. Chambliss and four or five of his men and their horses were all shot down in a space of only a few yards square, Chambliss having three wounds. Whilst lying on the field, surrounded by dead men and horses, he heard General Hood’s voice (and surely no one who ever heard that voice could forget it); and the first soldier who came along (a singular coincidence) was Sergeant McAnery, who had served in Chambliss’s company in the 2d Cavalry and had been seeking revenge for real or fancied bad treatment while under Chambliss’s orders, having said that if he ever had an opportunity he would kill Chambliss. Here the opportunity presented itself, but instead of doing the man an injury he hastened to carry a message to General Hood informing him of Captain Chambliss’s condition. General Hood told McAnery to take three men and carry Chambliss to the temporary hospital and see that he had medical attention and to tell him that he would come as soon as his duties permitted. General Hood told me that his meeting with Chambliss was very affecting. Chambliss was sent to Richmond and given special attention, and he recovered, but never entered the service any more.”

The Confederate general was the Union major’s first cousin. William Henry Chase Whiting was born in Biloxi, Mississippi and graduated the US Military Academy first in the class of 1845. He served in the Army Corps of Engineers until resigning his commission in February 1861. Gaines Mill was the pinnacle of his career, as he was replaced after the Seven Days Battles by General Hood. He died of dysentery March 10, 1865.

Then-captain Charles Jarvis Whiting recovered from his wounds and after some difficulty was individually paroled.  He was back in command of the regiment by August 12, 1862. He was promoted into the 2nd Cavalry and commanded that regiment from October 1862 to June 1863, then the Reserve Brigade at the battle of Brandy Station. Afterwards he commanded the draft stations in Portland, Maine from July to November 1863 when he was dismissed for disloyalty and using disrespectful and contemptuous language against the President of the United States.

Captain William P. Chambliss was born in Virginia, and his family moved to Tennessee in his youth. He fought as a lieutenant in the Tennessee volunteers during the Mexican War. He served as a member of the Tennessee legislature and practiced law before receiving his appointment in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in 1855. The regimental history says he was wounded six times at Gaines Mill. Regardless, his health was shattered and he was sent to St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. When he left the hospital, he served as an assistant instructor of cavalry at West Point from October 1862 to August 1864.  He then served as a special inspector of cavalry in the Military Division of the Mississippi until the end of the war. He was promoted to major in the 4th U.S. Cavalry on March 30, 1864 and after the Civil War served with his regiment until he resigned in November 1867.

I could not find any record for Sergeant McAnery or any reasonable permutation of the name in the enlistment records.


Cunningham, S.A. ed. Confederate Veteran, Volume XXVI. Nashville: Confederated Southern Memorial Association, 1918. Pgs. 112-113.

Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 512.

Price, George F. Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry. New York: D. Van Nostrand,Publisher, 1883. Pages 331-334 and 351-352.

Battle of Wilson’s Creek report


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The majority of the attention paid to the regular cavalry during this battle quite rightfully goes to the 4th U.S. Cavalry, but I wanted to post this report for inclusion in the record as well. Company C, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Charles Farrand of the 1st Infantry also participated in the battle as well. At least one of the enlisted men mentioned will be appearing in a future post.

Camp near Rolla, Mo., August 17, 1861

Captain: I have the honor to report that on the evening of the 9th of August I received verbal orders from General Lyon to report with my company for duty to Colonel Sigel. I reported to the latter at 6 o’clock that evening, and by his order formed with my company the rear guard of his column, which immediately proceed towards the (end pg 90) enemy’s camp. While on the march Colonel Sigel directed me to act on the right when the enemy should be engaged. Afterwards, however, this order was countermanded, and I was directed to take my position on the left.

Nothing of importance occurred on the march until about 4.30 in the morning, when several prisoners were tuned over to the guard. One of these stated to me that their army was expecting re-enforcements from Louisiana, and that they had mistaken us for their re-enforcements. We were now very near the enemy’s camp, and continued to take prisoners in small numbers, most of whom said they were out in search of something to eat. At about 5 o’clock I was ordered with my company to the front. Soon after I reached the head of the column, a small party of men and horses was discovered in a ravine through which we were approaching the enemy’s camp. These I was ordered to take, as they were supposed t be the enemy’s picket. I advanced with a small party upon them. They discovered me ata distance, and mounted their horses. I did not succeed in taking the party prisoners, but cut them off from their camp, which was now in plain sight. I with my company now took my position on the extreme left, and the command moved steadily forward without having been discovered by the enemy, although very near, and at some points in plain sight of, their camp.

The attack was opened by the infantry on the center and left, and soon responded to by the artillery. It was but a moment before the camp was entirely cleared, and as we passed through it I saw many dead bodies and quantities of arms of al descriptions lying on the ground. Many of the latter I caused my men to destroy. There were in their camp a wagon load of Maynard rifles, of the regular rifled muskets, and several boxes of United States regulation sabers, all new.

There being no enemy in sight, I was ordered to move along the south side of camp. I was in a few minutes after ordered to return and support Colonel Sigel’s battery. When I reached the battery I discovered an immense body of the enemy’s cavalry forming in a field about 7000 yards in front of our position. The battery immediately opened on them with considerable effect, and forced them to retire. A large body of the enemy’s cavalry, who had dismounted and deployed in the brush on the south side of the field, were driven back and obliged to leave their horses. My company was on the field until Colonel Sigel’s forces retired, but as circumstances were such as to render it impossible to use cavalry, we did no particular service.

Upon finding myself with the company alone, I retired in a southerly direction, and accidentally meeting one of the guides who had been employed in taking us to the enemy’s camp, I forcibly detained him until I could collect some of the troops, whom I found scattered and apparently lost. I halted my company, and got quite a number together, and directed the guide to proceed to Springfield, via Little York. Affter proceeding a short distance we came upon one of the pieces which had been taken from Colonel Sigel. Although the tongue of the limber was broken, one horse gone, and one of the remaining three badly wounded, we succeeded in moving it on. Some distance in advance f this we found a caisson, also belonging to Colonel Sigel’s battery. I then had with me Sergeant Bradburn, of Company D, First Cavalry; Corporal Lewis and Private John Smith of own company (Company C, Second Dragoons). My company being some distance in advance, I caused the caisson to be opened, and on discovering that it was full of ammunition, I determined to take it on. I and the three (end pg 91) men with me tried to prevail upon some of the Germans to assist us in clearing some of the wounded horses from the harness, but they would not stop. After considerable trouble, my small party succeeded in clearing the wounded horses from the harness, hitching in two more and a pair of small mules I obtained, and moving on, Corporal Lewis and Private John Smith driving, while Sergeant Bradburn and I led the horses. After reaching the retreating troops again I put two other men on the animals, and joined my company with my three men.

Before reaching Springfield it became necessary to abandon the caisson in order to hitch the animals to the piece. The was done after destroying the ammunition it contained. Lieutenant Morris, adjutant of Colonel Sigel’s command, assisted me in procuring wagons, which we sent back on the road after the wounded.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

Chas. E. Farrand,

Second Lieut., First Infantry, Comdg. Co. C, Second Dragoons (OR, Vol 3, pgs 90-92)


Fiddler’s Green: Tattnall Paulding


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Given the recent Facebook anniversary of the publishing of our book on the 6th U.S. Cavalry in the Civil War, it seemed appropriate to get things rolling again with something from that regiment. I found a period obituary of Paulding, and it is relayed in full at the end of the post.

Tattnall Paulding was born March 5, 1840 at Huntington, New York. He was the son of Rear Admiral Hiram Paulding and the grandson of Captain John Paulding, one of the captors of Major John Andre’ (more about him here:   ) during the Revolutionary War. He had completed his schooling and was in business at the beginning of the Civil War. Believing the conflict would be over quickly, he initially enlisted as a private into the 7th New York Infantry, a ninety day regiment, and accompanied it to Washington.

He was in Washington when word of his appointment as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, dated May 14, 1861, reached him.  He joined the regiment almost immediately, and by July and August was assisting with recruiting duties in the Franklin and Butler counties of Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant Paulding quickly adjusted to cavalry life, and was mentioned favorably on several occasions by his superiors in the regiment over the winter. When the unit saw its first action at Williamsburg the following May, he was mentioned in his commander’s report for his coolness and gallantry in action. He was selected to lead the regiment’s detachment assigned to the Army of the Potomac’s provost guard under Brigadier General Marsena Patrick following the engagement.

He continued to distinguish himself through the campaigns of 1862, Stoneman’s Raid and the battle of Brandy Station. Although only a lieutenant, Paulding commanded a squadron during the Gettysburg campaign. He led his squadron capably during the battle of Fairfield on July 3, 1863, commanding companies A and G. Although a disastrous defeat for his outnumbered regiment, Paulding received a brevet promotion to captain for “gallant and meritorious service” during the battle.

Following the battle of Fairfield, he was reported by Lieutenant Nicholas Nolan as “missing, and supposed to be in the hands of the enemy.” This was quickly confirmed, and Paulding spent the next nine months confined in Libby Prison. He was a prolific correspondent with his family during his internment, and these letters are very good primary source accounts of both the battle of Fairfield and life in Libby Prison.

August 1864 was a good month for Paulding. Not only was he finally released from Libby Prison, but he was also promoted to captain in the 6th U.S. Cavalry on August 20th. Upon his release, Captain Paulding was assigned to operate the Mounted Recruiting Service station in New York City. Although the station notionally recruited for the army as a whole, the overwhelming majority of these men were sent to bolster the dwindling number of veterans in the ranks of the regular cavalry regiments of the Army of the Potomac. Captain Paulding received brevet promotions to major and lieutenant colonel on November 11, 1865 for meritorious services during the war. He relinquished command of the recruiting station when he resigned his commission on July 1, 1866.

Paulding moved to Philadelphia after his resignation, where his father was the commander of the Naval Asylum, and studied law until 1870. He then became an insurance agent and broker for the company of Carstairs & Paulding in Philadelphia, specializing in fire insurance. He worked in the insurance industry for the next thirty seven years. Tattnall Paulding was the president of the Delaware Mutual Insurance Company of Philadelphia, known today as Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, at the time of his death.

In addition to his professional achievements, Paulding was also a dedicated philanthropist. He served the Saving Fund Society of Germantown, the Mercantile Beneficial Association, the Union League, the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and as the director of the Free Hospital for Poor Consumptives.

Tattnall Paulding died in Philadelphia on March 5, 1907, after more than a year of illness of more than a year from rheumatism and other complications. He is buried at St. Luke’s Episcopalian Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania.


I discovered this obituary in the Adjutant General Office records at the National Archives, and include it as I believe it has seldom been seen. Interestingly, it was filed not in Paulding’s records but in those of the author, Brevet Colonel William H. Harrison. It was originally published in a circular of the Headquarters Commandery of the State of Pennsylvania Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) dated September 12, 1907.


“Tattnall Paulding.

First Lieutenant 6th U.S. Cavalry May 14, 1861; Captain October 20, 1864; resigned and honorably discharged July 1, 1866.

Brevetted Captain U.S. Army July 3, 1863, “for gallant and meritorious services in the Gettysburg Campaign;” Major and Lieutenant Colonel November 11, 1865, “for meritorious services during the war.”

Elected March 6, 1867. Class 1. Insignia 464.

Born July 5, 1840, at Huntington, N.Y.

Died March 5, 1907, at Philadelphia, Pa.


Companion Tattnall Paulding was the son of Rear-Admiral Hiram Paulding, United States Navy, and grandson of Captain John Paulding, one of the captors of Major Andre.

His ancestry of itself would have made him a marked man. It put an interrogation on the value of a distinguished and patriotic lineage. Its inheritance was an inspiration to noble living. It has been well said, “people will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.” But when to this is added Companion Paulding’s own distinguished services, it can also be said of him, “who serves his country well has no need of ancestors.” Companion Paulding by inheritance and his own achievement owned and added lustre to an honored name.

At the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion he accompanied the Seventh New York Regiment, S.M., to the City of Washington.

President Lincoln gave him an appointment in the United States Army and he was commissioned First Lieutenant, 6th United States Cavalry, May 14, 1861.

He served continuously with his regiment in the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. In an attack on his regiment near Gettysburg by a largely superior force, it suffered severely in loss of life and prisoners. Companion Paulding was captured and endured for many months the privations and sufferings of prison life. For his gallantry in this engagement he was brevetted Captain United States Army, July 3, 1863, “for gallant and meritorious services in the Gettysburg campaign,” and subsequently Major and Lieutenant-Colonel, November 11, 1865, “for meritorious services during the war.”” Companion Paulding resigned and was honorably discharged July 1, 1866. He came to Philadelphia and made it his home.

He was the first agent in this city of the Commercial Union Assurance Company of London, England, and at the end of twenty years resigned the position to accept the presidency of the Delaware Mutual Insurance Company of Philadelphia, which office he filled at the time of his death, March 5, 1907.

Companion Paulding was a member of a number of civil, military and charitable organizations and a trustee of the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. He had been a resident of Germantown since 1872.

Tattnall Paulding and Hannah S. Huddell were married November 15, 1872. Two children of this marriage are living, Companion John Tattnall Paulding and Caroline White Paulding.

Companion Paulding was gifted with a manly presence, and to this was added a poise and quiet dignity of manner crowned by a rare modesty, which gave grace and charm to his conversation and companionship.

Such a personality had its hidden spring deep down below the surface, a reserve of helpfulness and strength, which though possessed by few is acknowledged by the many as an ideal to be cultivated as well as admired.

It is these qualities of mind and heart, these character builders, that we shall miss as the days pass and Companion Paulding is no longer a presence in the councils and reunions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

William H. Harrison, Brevet Colonel U.S. Volunteers.

Jackson McElmell, Chief Engineer, U.S. Navy

William F. Potter, Captain, 3d Penna. Cavalry.


By command of

Captain John P. Green, U.S.V. Commander

John P. Nicholson, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel U.S.V. Recorder.”



Caughey, Donald C. and Jimmy J. Jones. The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.: 2013.

Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 512.

Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, Volume 2. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869. Page 165.

Milgram, James W. “The Libby Prison Correspondence of Tattnall Paulding,” The American Philatelist. 89 (December 1975).

Morris, Charles, ed. Men of the Century. Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1896.

National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.

National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Commission Branch, 1863-1870.

National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 6th U.S. Cavalry.

Obituary. Circular No. 29, Series of 1907. Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Commandery of the State of Pennsylvania. September 12, 1907.

Obituary. The Germantown Guide. March 9, 1907.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 25, pages 156, 575, and 440. Also Volume 27, Part 1, page 948.

Bugler Adolph Metzger


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Adolph Metzger was born in Balingen, Wurtemberg, Germany about 1834. He immigrated to the United States as a young man and settled in Philadelphia, where he worked as a laborer.

On May 29, 1855, he was enlisted into Company C, Regiment of Mounted Rifles by Lieutenant Burns. His enlistment documents describe him as 21 years of age, 5’ 5” tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a dark complexion. After service with his regiment in the southwest, he was discharged at the expiration of his enlistment at Hatch’s Ranch, New Mexico as a private on May 29, 1860.

Civilian life apparently didn’t resonate with Adolph, and he re-entered the army a few months later. On November 14th he was enlisted into Company C, 2nd U.S. Cavalry by Lieutenant Wilkins as a bugler. He was working in Newport, Kentucky as a laborer at the time of his enlistment, and it is unclear whether he was east- or westbound at the time. Miraculously, he aged only three years in the five and a half years since his first enlistment, listing his age as 24. He served through the various campaigns of the Civil War without major incident, and was discharged the day prior to his third enlistment at Light House Landing, Virginia shortly after the regiment’s return from the battle of Trevilian Station.

Bugler Metzger was enlisted into Company C, 2nd U.S. Cavalry by Lieutenant Robert Lennox on July 12, 1864. Although he had grown three inches since his last enlistment, he had aged only a single year. A few weeks later, probably during a furlough granted due to his reenlistment, Adolph married Fredericka Cooper. The ceremony took place on August 2nd, at the German Evangelical Church in Washington, D.C. The bride was only 15 or 16 at the time of the wedding, and Adolph apparently did not inform his parents back in Germany of his changed marital status.

He remained with his company through the end of the war and its subsequent recruiting and refitting in Maryland. When the regiment moved west in October 1865, his wife remained behind. Due to the numerous changes of post and their attendant dangers, this was probably a wise choice.

In November 1866, the company was assigned to Fort Phil Kearny, Dakota Territory, in present day Wyoming. Second Lieutenant Horatio S. Bingham was the company’s commander and sole officer for the assignment. Bingham, who had served as a captain in the 2nd Minnesota Cavalry during the Civil War, had been appointed an officer in the regiment in February. Lieutenant Bingham was killed in an engagement with Indians on December 6, 1866 when he and a small group of soldiers were decoyed away from the main body while attempting to assist a woodcutting party which was under attack.

On December 21st, twenty six members of the company, including Bugler Metzger, rode out of the fort to assist another woodcutting party. A mixed party of infantry and cavalry sortied from the fort under the command of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel William J. Fetterman. The force was drawn into a trap out of view of the fort and wiped out in less than twnety minutes by over a thousand Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The only survivor was a gray cavalry horse named Dapple Dave, badly wounded by both bullets and arrows. The horse was probably Metzger’s, as it was the practice in that unit to mount buglers on white or gray horses to make it easier to find the commander during a battle.

Metzger was one of only two soldiers whose body wasn’t mutilated by the victorious Indians. The other was Sergeant James Baker, also a Civil War veteran of Company C. According to several verbal accounts from Indians who participated in the battle, Bugler Metzger fought to the very last. Once his ammunition was exhausted, he continued to fight using his bugle as a bludgeon until overcome.

The bugle is now part of the collection of the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, who very kindly granted me one-time permission to publish a photo with this post. It was found around 1935 by early homesteader Christian Hepp, who ran cattle near the grounds of the ruins of the fort. Since Metzger was the only bugler in the expedition, it seems extremely likely that it was his.

Photo courtesy of Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum.

Photo courtesy of Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum.

The dead from the fight were brought back to Fort Phil Kearny, and initially interred there. After the fort was abandoned and when Custer National Cemetery was created at Little Big Horn, they were moved there. They now lie there in graves numbered 15-49 and 108-144.

Headstone, Custer National Cemetery.

Headstone, Custer National Cemetery.

Metzger’s wife Fredericka drew his pension. This was later disputed by his mother, who contacted the American consulate in Stuttgart to press her claim. She maintained that Adolph could not possibly have been married without informing his family in Germany. Her claim was later rejected.


1. One account from a soldier in Company C mentions a man named Footer as the company’s bugler, but there was no such person assigned to the cavalry company or the 18th Infantry at the post at this time. Since the account was written several years later, it seems likely he confused the name of the bugler. Some accounts describe the bugler as a teenager, but there’s no evidence to support this.
2. Historian John H. Monnett maintains that the story of Metzger and the bugle is apocryphal. For more information, see his very detailed book Where A Hundred Soldiers Were Killed. He makes a very strong case.


Brady, Cyrus Townsend. Indian Fights and Fighters. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 1971.
Fort Phil Kearny/ Bozeman Trail Association. Portraits of Fort Phil Kearny. Banner, WY: 1993.
Guthrie, John. “Fetterman Massacre,” Annals of Wyoming 9 (October 1932): 714-718. Accessed via Internet Archive on August 30, 2015.
Lambert, Joseph. One Hundred Years With the Second Cavalry. San Antonio: Newton Publishing Company, 1999.
Monnett, John H. Where A Hundred Soldiers Were Killed. Albuquerque: University of New mexico Press, 2010.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Civil War Widows Pensions. Accessed via Fold3.com on August 30, 2015.
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Utley, Robert M. Frontier Regulars. Lincoln: Univeristy of Nebraska Press: 1973.
Watson, Elmo Scott. “The Bravery of Our Bugler is Much Spoken Of,” Old Travois Trails 1 (1941): 139.

Book Review: Masters of the Field


Masters of the Field, The Fourth United States Cavalry in the Civil War

Hardcover, 256 pages, with 13 black & white photos and maps, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must begin this review by stating that I have seen this project in various stages over the last ten years, and have corresponded with the author for the better part of a decade. That said, I have done my best to be as impartial as possible in this review.

In Masters of the Field, author John Herberich tells the tale of the 4th United States Cavalry Regiment in the Civil War. Herberich’s work is the first of its kind on the regiment. While there have been volumes written on Minty’s brigade as a whole, and a couple of the other regiments individually, no one until now has published a Civil War history of the regiment.

The author sets the stage well with an explanation of the regiment’s beginnings in 1855 and status as the war began. He then follows the regiment as it fights through the majority of the major battles of the Western Theater, and a few of the Eastern Theater, until the final cavalry charge with General Wilson at Selma, Alabama. Each year of the war has its own section, as the regiment is followed through battles such as Wilson’s Creek, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga and the Tullahoma and Atlanta campaigns.

The author spent nearly twelve years researching this book, and the depth of research is easily apparent. I am confident he found every record of substance with information on the regiment, and used them wherever possible to tell the regiment’s story in the words of the participants. There are extensive quotes from the letters and memoirs of enlisted men such as James Larson, Charles Bates, and James Wiswell, as well as National Tribune articles from others. These help flesh out the official reports and officer narratives quite nicely. Thirty seven pages of endnotes ensure the reader looking for more information will be easily able to find it, though many of the sources are very rare. The bibliography appears short at first glance, before one considers that the majority of the material comes from army records at the National Archives and several letter collections.

A robust section of appendices follows the narrative, including a full roster of the regiment’s soldiers. Other sections focus on the regiment’s officers, including field commissions and those from before the war who later became general officers for either the C.S.A. or the U.S.A.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hal Jesperson’s maps, which provided an excellent aid to following the progression of the various campaigns. Some individual battle maps would have been nice, but I am certainly in the category of military history reader who always desires more maps.

The author has an understandably pro-regiment bias, as his great-grandfather served in the unit throughout the war. Herberich is forthright about the matter, addressing it in the prologue and the epilogue, and I did not find it a distraction. He certainly accomplishes his goal of capturing the service of the regiment for posterity and honoring its members. The overwhelming majority of quotes were from Union sources, however. It would have been helpful to see more Confederate accounts, particularly during the battle sequences.

I reviewed a digital version of the book, so I can’t speak to the physical characteristics of the book, such as quality of binding.

Overall, this book is an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Western Theater of the Civil War, particularly those interested in cavalry operations and the Army of the Cumberland.

More of the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg


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Thousands of visitors to Gettysburg this weekend will hear of the charge of the 1st Minnesota Infantry in the late afternoon of July 2, 1863. Tens of thousands of other visitors have heard the story and seen the three monuments to the regiment on the battlefield. Their guides will tell the story of how II Corps commander General Winfield Hancock, seeing a breach in his line, ordered the regiment to charge against a brigade of Alabama infantry under Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox. Outnumbered nearly 5:1, the gallant regiment plunged into the fray without hesitation, buying Hancock the time necessary for other units to reach the breach and shore up the line. In the process, the regiment suffered nearly 82% casualties, the highest rate suffered by any American unit in combat (yes, cavalry afficionados, higher than the 7th U.S. Cavalry at Little Big Horn).

It’s a great story and one that should be told. It was one of the bravest acts of the war. The regiment knew what would happen if it charged, and plunged in anyway. And it wasn’t the first time they’d been in certain peril. After adjacent units fled near Henry House at First Bull Run, they suffered nearly 20% casualties and were among the last units to leave the field. The previous fall at Antietam, they suffered 28% casualties in fighting near the West Woods under General Sedgwick.

What the guides probably won’t tell the visitors is that more of the men who enlisted in the 1st Minnesota in 1861 were also on the field for the battle. Following the battle of Antietam, 64 transferred to regular army regiments. They came from across the regiment, with only Companies B and D not losing any men. Company I had the most with 12, followed by Company A with 10 and several with 8 or 9. Seven of them had been wounded in previous battles, three at Bull Run, two at Savage Station and two at Antietam.

Just over half joined cavalry units, 30 to the 1st U.S. Cavalry, 14 to the 6th U.S. Cavalry and one to the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. They fought the next day, on the Army of the Potomac’s left flank and at Fairfield. The others transferred primarily to artillery batteries, and a handful to engineer companies.

Several of them had already been killed in fighting at Beverly Ford and Upperville. Two more, former corporals James E. Seely and Lucius F. Walden of Company A, were killed in battle within the week. One died while a prisoner of war at Belle Isle and another at Andersonville. And these men definitely understood duty. Of those who didn’t die in battle, only three didn’t finish their enlistment, and one of those was discharged for disability. Only two deserted, a very low percentage for the time. Three even re-enlisted to see the war to its finish.

Here’s to the rest of the 1st Minnesota Infantry soldiers who served at Gettysburg.

Fiddler’s Green: John A. Thompson


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This one has been a LONG time coming.

John A. Thompson was born in Belmont County, Ohio in 1832. The family’s holdings were just across the Ohio River from Moundsville, Virginia. He was the son of Colonel John Thompson, of Belmont County, Ohio, and his wife, Sara Ann Walker, both born in Pennsylvania, and whose paternal parents came from County Armagh, Ireland.

John attended Virginia Military Institute in the graduating class of 1850-51. During his senior year, he and several other classmates had an issue with the Second Cadet-Captain. According to one history of the Institute, “Thompson was a great favorite, and the Second Captain was very unpopular – both in his Class and the Corps at large. The issue was joined by Thompson denouncing in unmeasured terms his commanding officer. A court-martial resulted; but his classmates (all but two or three) stood by him, and they were threatened with dismissal for “forming a combination,” in contravention of the Regulations of the Institute. There was great excitement in the Corps which met and adopted resolutions upholding both Thompson and his Class, and condemning the Second Captain. The verdict of the court-martial was generally thought to have been unjust. Thompson left the Institute, but carried with him unmistakable proof of the confidence and admiration of his classmates (except one or two) and of the whole Corps.”

Three years later, June 25, 1855, he received a commission from civil life as second lieutenant in the First United States Dragoons. He reported to Brevet Colonel Charles A. May for instruction at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri on July 7th, but was transferred to the newly formed 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment a few weeks later on August 29th. He reported to Colonel Edwin V. Sumner at Fort Leavenworth in time to join the regiment on the Sioux expedition that fall. He was assigned to Captain William D. De Saussure’s company.

In 1857, he was part of the escort of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston’s expedition to survey the southern boundary of the Kansas territory. The expedition consisted of four companies of the 1st Cavalry and two companies of infantry. Lieutenant Thompson led the pioneer party and preliminary survey line for the expedition.

The following year, Thompson’s company served as part of the advance guard on the march from Fort Bridger to Salt Lake in March 1858. The young lieutenant also served as acting quartermaster and commissary officer for the command. He was relieved on August 6, 1858 and ordered back to Fort Leavenworth, where he arrived in October. He was granted a four month leave of absence later that month after settling his quartermaster accounts. He rejoined his company at Fort Riley, where it had moved during his leave.

Lieutenant Thompson spent the summer of 1859 as part of an expedition along the Arkansas River. The four companies of the 1st Cavalry spent the summer protecting Santa Fe mail trains before returning to Fort Riley in the fall. During that winter he served as the post adjutant of Fort Riley for Major John Sedgwick.

The next spring he accompanied Major Sedgwick on an expedition against the Kiowa and Comanche. That summer he assisted the command in the construction of Fort Wise, Colorado Territory (later renamed Fort Lyon). One of the second lieutenants in the command was James E.B. Stuart. Thompson departed on another four month leave of absence at the end of September. During his leave he married Mary J. Wilson, of St. Louis, Missouri.

Lieutenant Thompson’s return from his leave did not go as planned. He was diverted on his return trip in St Louis to go to Jefferson Barracks and drill infantry recruits. Shortly after organizing a company of 80 men, Thompson was ordered to secure the St Louis Arsenal. He was relieved in early April and ordered to rejoin his company at Fort Wise. He immediately set out for his unit, escorting paymaster Major Brice from Fort Riley to the post.

He arrived to some welcome news. He had been promoted to first lieutenant in Company F, 1st U.S. Cavalry in January. He immediately renewed his oath of allegiance with Lieutenant Colonel Sedgwick and in the absence of the assigned captain assumed command of the company. Although appointed from the state of Virginia, he apparently never considered resigning his commission to fight for the Confederacy.

After a week or so he and his company were ordered to Fort Larned, Kansas, where he assumed command of the post. Captain Tyler of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons had spiked the guns and deserted the post as he departed to join the Confederacy. On May 23rd he received notification of his promotion to captain and command of Company K, 1st U.S. Cavalry, but was not yet relieved and remained at Fort Larned.

Captain Thompson was and assigned to survey the route between Fort Larned and Fort Kearny, N.T., and assigned to the latter post. He arrived on June 4th to learn he was one of three officers assigned to the fort. The senior officer, Captain Brockholst Livingston of the 2d Dragoons, was incapacitated. Captain E.W.B. Newby commanded the post, and Captain Thompson served as post adjutant, quartermaster and commissary in addition to commanding his company. After Captain Newby’s relief and arrest by Major General Hunter in November, Captain Thompson commanded the post as well.

In June 1862, Brigadier General James Craig ordered a swap, shifting Colonel E.B. Alexander to Fort Kearny and Captain Thompson with his squadron of Companies F and K, 1st Cavalry to Fort Laramie. Fort Laramie was otherwise garrisoned by volunteer units, and had the important responsibility of safeguarding the overland mail and telegraph lines. Captain Thompson managed the post well, writing afterwards “although it was a difficult matter at first to bring some of the volunteer companies to a proper understanding of discipline.”

In August 1862 the Overland Mail Company shifted its route south to the Bridger Pass road. Since securing the mail routes was one of Fort Laramie’s responsibilities, Captain Thompson was ordered by General Craig to find a location for a new fort on this southern route. He selected the site for what would become Fort Halleck, surveying it and planning the buildings. He then went east to the Cache la Poudre River to superintend hay contracts for cavalry which would garrison the new fort. He made the following observations in his report to General Craig:

“I have selected a beautiful piece of ground for the fort on the north side of the Medicine Bow Mountains. Three streams of clear mountain water run through it, either or all of which can be turned so as to water every part of the garrison without an hours work. There is plenty of the finest timber on the mountains within a mile of the place selected. The government will not be compelled to haul timber either for lumber or firewood more than two miles for many years, in fact the supply is almost inexhaustible. A fine quality of limestone can be found in the mountains half a mile distant, and hay can be had in abundance within twelve miles of the post. I submit for the approval of the Gen’l Comd’g the enclosed plan of buildings for the new post.”

Commended by Craig for his efforts, Captain Thompson was ordered to Washington to report on the state of affairs in the region. While he was away, a mutiny occurred due to maladministration of the post by his successor, Captain Herrington, and Thompson was ordered back to Fort Laramie. There had been a conflict between a lieutenant of the 6th Ohio and men of the 8th Kansas, and Herrington’s assistant adjutant general, Captain Eno, had been compelled to shoot one of the enlisted men.

Thompson was ordered to join his regiment in March 1863, but requested permission to delay the move. His wife had just given birth to their second child, John, and the doctor stated that she was unable to make the 800 mile trip by wagon for eight weeks. Requests to the War Department and Governor Pierpont of what would become West Virginia to delay the move were approved.

Captain Thompson and his squadron were delayed again during their march west. They stopped in St Louis for two weeks to update their arms, and again in Louisville to arm and equip a group of recruits. He joined the rest of the 4th U.S. Cavalry at McMinnville, Tennessee in August 1863, with both companies of his squadron fully equipped and in fine condition.

Thompson served with the regiment through a number of skirmishes in the vicinity of Chattanooga during the late summer and early fall of 1863. He commanded the regiment during the greater portion of the battle of Chickamauga, Captain McIntyre being too unwell to ride. He relinquished command to McIntyre the day before the regiment moved inside the lines at Chattanooga.

I found the following statement in an anonymous tribute written after his death, but could find no evidence to confirm or deny it: “He was present at the battle of Chickamauga, and it was his presence of mind, his personal bravery, and fortitude, and his disobedience of orders (or, rather, his substitution of his own military discretion), that saved the retreat of the Army and its almost total destruction.”

Thompson became very ill with dysentery and fever shortly thereafter, and was granted a 20 day leave of absence to join his family in St Louis and recover. On his arrival in St Louis, however, he was placed on temporary duty as an acting assistant commissary of musters. On November 6th he was ordered to permanently assume the position from Captain Cheek of the 13th U.S. Infantry.

Due to the fact that he had been absent from service with his regiment for such an extended period, Captain Thompson was ordered to appear before a retiring board in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1864. After recounting his military career, he ended his statement to the retention board, “I am well and sound and know of no reason why I should be unfit for duty.” The board, including Major Generals Irwin McDowell and Erasmus Keyes, voted unanimously to retain him in service.

Captain Thompson remained a conscientious cavalryman despite serving far from the action. In July 1864 he wrote to the Army’s Adjutant General concerning the possibility of recruiting newly mustered out volunteers for regular cavalry service. He noted “all I would require is a good noncommissioned officer and one man to look after these men after they have been mustered out – to bring them in after they have spent their money.” Recruiting was authorized three days later.

Captain Thompson returned to duty in the field with his regiment before the war’s end. He commanded the regiment at the battle of Selma on Wilson’s Raid during the closing days of the war. He continued to command the regiment through June, as it moved to Macon, Georgia for occupation duty. When the regiment moved to Texas, he resumed command of his company and the post of Fort Mason, Texas.

On August 25, 1867, he was promoted major of the Seventh Cavalry, though it took time for the news to reach him. He was preparing to move to join his new regiment when he was murdered by desperadoes at Fort Mason, Texas on November 14th.

The San Antonio (Texas) Express, in its issue of November 18, 1867, published this account of the incident:

“An express from Fort Mason arrived in this City on Saturday morning bringing the intelligence of the brutal murder of Major John A. Thompson, Commander of the Post, on Thursday morning last. Major Thompson was out driving with his wife and two children, and, passing by a store about half a mile from the Post, saw a difficulty taking place between some citizens and soldiers. He stopped his ambulance and ordered a sergeant, who was present, to have the parties arrested, when the desperadoes turned upon the Major and his sergeant, shooting the major through the head, killing him instantly, while by his wife’s side, and mortally wounding the sergeant.

“The murderers, having their horses at hand, fled before any attempt for their arrest could be made. [Then followed the names of the gang.] Scouts have been sent in all directions to (if possible) catch the murderers. The officers of the regiment have offered one thousand dollars reward for their arrest, and delivery to the military authorities.”

Sergeant John McDougall of the 4th Cavalry died of his wounds at the fort later the same day.

Fort Mason Assistant Surgeon John A. Hulse, wrote the following account of his murder to his father:

“Fort Mason, Texas, November 14, 1867.
Colonel John Thompson, Moundsville, W. Va.
Dear Sir – It becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son, Major John A. Thompson, at this post, this morning, at the hands of desperadoes, while commanding the peace in an affray between them and a party of soldiers just arrived from Fort Chadbourne.
The ball struck the right cheek below the eye, cutting the internal carotid artery, and emerging below the left ear, with fatal hemorrhage in about twenty minutes. I was by his side in a few moments, but my best endeavors to preserve his valuable life were hopelessly futile.
He was universally esteemed here, his many noble qualities winning him a large circle of friends who, with his inconsolable family, and the Army which loses one of its most valuable officers, will ever deplore his irreparable loss.
Accept, dear sir, my most sincere sympathy, in this your sad bereavement.
Mrs. Thompson will leave for St. Louis as soon as proper escort can be secured to accompany her.
Very respectfully,
John A. Hulse, A.A. Surgeon, U.S.A.”

Major General Winfield Hancock, commanding the department, requested and received authority from the War Department to provide transportation and escort for the bereaved family.

There were several tributes written of him after his death, of which I have excerpted three:

“He was universally beloved by his fellow officers and the men under his command. He was very happy in his domestic relations, having one of the sweetest of women for a wife, and two beautiful children.”

“He was scholarly, soldierly, and gentlemanly, with the love of his men, the respect of his fellow officers, and the confidence of his superiors.”

“He devoted the best energies of a noble manhood to his country’s service, and closed an honorable career with that sublimest of offerings, a hero’s life.”

I give you Major John A. Thompson, a gallant cavalryman whose career was tragically cut short.


Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 639.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Commission Branch, 1863-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 4th U.S. Cavalry.
Wise, Jennings C. The Military History of the Virginia Military Institute from 1839 to 1865. Lynchburg: J.P. Bell Company, Inc., 1915. Pages 501-504.
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/wy-forts.html#Fort H.W. Halleck