The Civil War history of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry regiment is largely unknown and unremarked. They were on the periphery of the conflict at its outbreak, and herculean efforts were involved simply to get them to the scene of large scale fighting by the end of 1862. Arguably, however, they had the most rigorous experience of any of the regular cavalry regiments during the war.
As with most Regular units, the Regiment of Mounted Rifles was caught off guard at the outbreak of the Civil War. Home to many seasoned veterans, the regiment had served on the frontier since the end of the Mexican War. Early 1861 found the regiment spread across New Mexico territory and portions of western Texas. They were renamed the 3rd U.S. Cavalry on August 3, 1861.
The regiment lost its commander prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Colonel William Wing Loring was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, and appointed to the Army from Florida. He was one of the original officers appointed to the regiment as a captain when it was created in 1846. He was wounded three times during the Mexican War, receiving two brevet promotions during the war and losing an arm to amputation. Despite the loss, he worked his way to command of the regiment. When promoted to colonel of the regiment on December 30, 1856 at the age of 38, he was the youngest colonel in the Army. He resigned his commission on May 13, 1861. In a conference in New Mexico prior to departing the regiment, he told his officers, “The South is my home, and I am going to throw up my commission and shall join the Southern Army, and each of you can do as you think best.”
Colonel Loring was succeeded by John S. Simonson. Simonson had also been appointed a captain when the regiment was formed in 1846, but his first service had come as a sergeant in the New York militia thirty years previously in 1814. He distinguished himself during fighting at Chapultepec during the Mexican War, but was far too old for active campaigning in the Civil War. He retired at his won request on September 28, 1861 “for incapacity resulting from long and faithful service, and from injuries and exposure in the line of duty.”
Newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel Marshall S. Howe of the 5th U.S. Cavalry was promoted to Colonel and command of the 3rd Cavalry, but he didn’t join the regiment until the following July. In the meantime, the regiment fought in numerous engagements during 1861.
First Lieutenant Christopher H. McNally led detachments of Companies B and F the regiment’s first engagement of the war. Another veteran, McNally worked his way through the ranks to first sergeant of Company D before his appointment to second lieutenant in 1855. He was promoted to first lieutenant in May 1861. This first fight against the Confederates didn’t go well for the mounted riflemen. In a fight at Mesilla, Texas on July 25, 1861, Lt McNally was wounded, and the squadron suffered “considerable loss.” They retreated to nearby Fort Fillmore.
Upon receiving word of the defeat, Major Lynde, the district commander, directed the abandonment of Fort Fillmore on July 26th. The following day he surrendered his entire command without warning at San Augustin Springs. Among the unwilling prisoners, were Lieutenants McNally and Alfred Gibbs and 88 men of Companies B, F and I. Soon receiving paroles, all of the regiment’s prisoners were assigned to Company F and sent to Fort Wayne, Michigan until they could be exchanged. By the time their exchange took place on August 27, 1862, their numbers had dwindled down to nearly nothing from discharge, desertion and death.
In the meantime, the remainder of the depleted regiment prepared for combat. Two new companies were authorized for the regiment in August 1861, but were not recruited. Of the 263 enlistments that expired during the year, only 61 soldiers re-enlisted. So few officers and troopers remained that Companies A, B, and H were “closed,” and the personnel reassigned to other companies. The regiment was now a reinforced battalion of Companies C, D, E, G, K and I, commanded by Major Benjamin S. Roberts.
A native of Vermont, Benjamin Roberts graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1835. He served as a lieutenant with the 1st Dragoons until 1839, when he resigned. Another original officer of the Mounted Rifles, he was appointed as a first lieutenant in 1846. Brevetted for gallant and meritorious conduct on three separate occasions during the Mexican War, he had been serving on the frontier with the regiment since the end of the war.
In September 1861, Captain Robert M. Morris defeated a force of Texans neat Fort Thorn with Companies C, G and K. Company E, consolidated from the squadron of E and H, reached Fort Wise, Colorado Territory on August 30th, following the departure of the last two companies of the 4th U.S. Cavalry. Captain Alexander McRae’s Company I was drilling as a light battery of artillery to utilize the few available artillery pieces in the district.
The regiment spent the remainder of the year in patrolling and preparing for future operations. According to its annual return, regimental strength on December 31st was only 453 enlisted men, optimistically counting the paroled prisoners in Michigan as “detached service.”
I have found an Edward J. Cole in the Old City Sacramento Cemetery. His marker says Co A 3rd U. S. Cavalry. Trying to figure out if he is Civil War or Spanish American War. No dates.
Rhonda,Definitely not Civil War, as the regiment had never been stationed in California at that point, and I haven't seen any record them recruiting there either. I'll poke around an see what I can find.
Rhonda,Sorry, I wasn't able to find anything on him.
Doug Waldron said:
Your mention of the fight at Mesilla, uses the Confederate description of “Considerable loss” to the two companied of B and F. However the loss was Pvt Lane killed, Lt McNally and Sgt Callahan wounded. On the other hand, when your two companies total 53 men, 6% losses might be considered a “considerable loss.”
I was surprised that you did not mention the destruction of I company at the battle of Valle Verde, or the battle at Glorieta Pass, NM, where C, E, and K Troops totaling approximately 150 men engaged the Confederate forces. Each Troop of the 3d Cavalry at this time were woefully understrength, from between 20 to 50 men per Troop.
Doug, you’re correct, that was my interpretation of their losses. For Cavalry that’s fairly high. Good point, though, I’ll try to compare with 1863 battles and see. As for the other two battles, they were in 1862, not 1861. Different post, but long overdue. Thanks for the possibly inadvertent suggestion.
Thanks for your interesting article which helped me put into context the service of a man I am researching, Andrew Malcolm, born in 1819. He enlisted in the 3rd US Cavalry in 1852, and was with them until his death in January 1862. I’ve found his entry in the registers of enlistment, and a note of his pension, but nothing more thus far. He was in Company G, at the time of his death at least. If you have anything more about him I would be very interested Thanks again, Wendy
Wendy, thanks for your note. I will take a look and see what I can find. Might take until the weekend. Best, Don
That would be great Don, thank you so much.
Didn’t find much about him specifically that you don’t already have, but located a couple of links that will tell you about his company and what they did while he served in it. Enlistment data: enlisted Co. G Regiment of Mounted Rifles (later 3rd US Cavalry in 1861) in New York City by Lt. Smith on July 26, 1852. 33 yrs old, brown hair, blue eyes, ruddy complexion, 5′ 9 1/2″ tall. Occupation: clerk. B: Edinburgh, Scotland. Re-enlisted in same company at Fort Fillmore, NM on July 24, 1857 by Capt. Rhett at age 38. Died of delirium tremens at Belen, NM January 26, 1862. Rank private for both enlistments. Pension application #814023 filed by his wife Jemima C. on February 23, 1865. Oddly, I couldn’t find the supporting documents for his widow’s pension on Fold3.com like I have been able to for most of those killed during the war.
Try these two links for unit information: https://history.army.mil/books/R&H/R&H-3CV.htm AND http://crossedsabers.blogspot.com/2009/08/3rd-us-cavalry-in-civil-war-1861.html
Many thanks for checking Don. I see that the date on the pension document was 1865, three years after Andrew died, and as she was living in the UK perhaps it was difficult for Jemima to sort out the pension from afar. It might have been some time before she even heard that he had died. How much would she have been entitled to? What would the supporting documents have contained? Very intriguing.
Kind regards, Wendy