1864, 1st U.S. Cavalry, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, 5th U.S. Cavalry, A.K. Arnold, Alfred Gibbs, cavalry, Civil War, N.B. Sweitzer, Reserve Brigade, T.F. Rodenbough, Wesley Merritt
150 years ago today, the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps engaged in its first battle of 1864 at Todd’s Tavern. Before looking at the battle itself, I thought it would be helpful to look at the state of the three regular regiments in the Reserve Brigade as the campaign began. Listing the numbers may seem tedious, but it will go a long way to help the reader visualize the effects of the year’s battles on these understrength regiments. 1864 was an absolutely brutal year for these regiments, and one would be combat ineffective by year’s end.
On April 28th, the regiments of the Reserve Brigade moved out of their winter camps near Mitchell’s Station and encamped about 1.5 miles from Culpeper. At this time the brigade consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 5th U.S. Cavalry, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and the 1st New York Dragoons. Colonel Alfred Gibbs, commander of the 1st New York Dragoons, commanded the brigade, as Brigadier General Wesley Merritt was in temporary command of the First Division.
The 1st U.S. Cavalry was commanded at the beginning of May by Captain Nelson B. Sweitzer. This Pennsylvania native was the most experienced of the three commanders. An 1853 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he had served in the regiment his entire career. It had 8 officers and 487 enlisted men present for duty of an authorized 42 officers and 1,189 enlisted men. Its twelve companies averaged 40 enlisted men each. On the April 1864 return, the regiment requested 356 recruits to bring it up to full strength.
The 2nd U.S. Cavalry started 1864 campaigning under Captain Theophilus F. Rodenbough. A civilian appointee from his native Pennsylvania in 1861, Rodenbough was by now a veteran, his only absence from the regiment a brief stint as a prisoner of war after Second Manassas. The regiment had eight officers and 271 enlisted men present for duty, with another 131 enlisted men on extra duty. Its twelve companies averaged only 21 enlisted men each. On the April 1864 return, the regiment requested 559 recruits to bring it up to full strength.
The 5th U.S. Cavalry was commanded at this time by Captain Abraham K. Arnold. Another Pennsylvanian, Arnold graduated from West Point in 1859. He missed the regiment’s ill-fated charge at Gaines Mill, serving as an aide de camp to General McClellan until March of the previous year. He distinguished himself multiple times during the Overland Campaign, earning a Medal of Honor. Only seven of the regiment’s twelve companies were present for duty, as Companies B, F, K and L served as escort to General Grant’s headquarters, and Company D served at Point Lookout, Maryland. Indeed, the regiment had 23 of its assigned officers and 263 enlisted men on detached service, at army headquarters and elsewhere. The seven companies present mustered only 6 officers and 206 enlisted men, an average of 29 men each. On the April 1864 return, the regiment requested 630 recruits to bring it up to full strength.
Unfortunately, I don’t presently have unit strengths for the 6th Pennsylvania and the 1st New York Dragoons. The 1st New York a relatively inexperienced unit, but the 6th Pennsylvania had served in every 1862 campaign of the Army of the Potomac, and its numbers reflected its veteran status.
The three regiments combined for a present for duty strength of 22 officers and 964 enlisted men, of an authorized strength of 126 officers and 3,567 enlisted men. Officer strength was 17.4% and enlisted strength was 27%. And the hardest year’s campaigning was about to begin.
Bob O'Neill said:
Don, Looking forward to a post on Todd’s Tavern. Would also be interested in your thoughts on Col. Gibbs and his effectiveness during the campaign. His cavalry background was, I think, rather minimal, his own regiment was converted infantry and he had a reputation postwar for excessive drinking, though I don’t find accounts that reflect that concern during the war
Bob, should actually have the Todd’s Tavern piece finished today. It will probably be a while longer for Gibbs, and to be honest my opinion isn’t fully formed yet. People kept putting him in charge of the brigade, which theoretically means he wasn’t too bad, and I haven’t seen much expressed against him by the other regular officers. I have also heard of his post-war drinking reputation, but he was one among many there.