It’s ironic that this Fiddler’s Green entry follows the last one of James McIntyre. These two officers were virtually inseparable throughout their cavalry service during the war, though their careers ended rather differently. Contrary to appearances from the frequent mention of McCaffertys, McCormicks and McIntyres, there were a number of non-Irish officers in the 4th U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War.
Thomas Hood McCormick was born on February 24, 1836 at Mill Hall, Clinton County, Pennsylvania to Saul and Catharine Hood McCormick. He graduated Lafayette College with a law degree in 1855, and according to census information was living with his mother and family and working as an attorney in Lock Haven in 1860.
He was appointed second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Cavalry on March 27, 1861. As one of the early appointees he was quickly promoted as resignations thinned the regiment’s officer ranks, achieving first lieutenant less than a month and a half later on May 7, 1861.
Lieutenant McCormick quickly completed his initial training as a cavalry officer at Carlisle Barracks over the summer, and was assigned to the squadron of the regiment in Washington, D.C. Although only a first lieutenant, he assumed command of Company A, 1st U.S. Cavalry, which was redesignated the 4th U.S. Cavalry in August. The commander of Company E and the squadron of the 4th U.S. Cavalry as a whole was Captain James McIntyre. In addition to his other duties, McCormick also served as an acting assistant quartermaster for the squadron, as the remainder of the regiment was serving in the western theater.
He requested additional recruits to bring his company to full strength in September, and appears to have served well over the winter in the defenses of Washington. As the Army of the Potomac prepared to embark on the Peninsula Campaign, the squadron was assigned as Major General McClellan’s escort. It served in this position throughout this campaign, assigned to the army headquarters. The squadron’s men saw little action other than the odd artillery shelling when the general moved too close to the action. McCormick was promoted to captain and retained command of Company A on August 7, 1862.
The day after the battle of Antietam he recommended his first sergeant, Neil J. McCafferty, for a commission in the regiment. The two had been together since McCormick joined the company, first McCafferty was the quartermaster sergeant, then he was promoted to company first sergeant in October 1861. Captain McCormick wrote in his recommendation, “The highest compliment I can pay to the excellence of his character and his soldierly qualities is to request that if he should receive a commission he may be attached to my company.” Captain McIntyre, still commanding the squadron, endorsed the request, and McCafferty was commissioned a short time later.
The squadron finally rejoined the rest of the regiment during the winter of 1863-1864, and the following spring saw its first active campaigning of the war. Captain McCormick apparently had no issues with the adjustment. He was commended for his actions during fighting at Franklin, TN on April 10, 1863. According to the report of Captain James McIntyre, who commanded the regiment during the battle, “No officer could have behaved more gallantly than Captain McCormick, who with the rear squadron repulsed the enemy who in force attempted to surround and cut off our retreat to the ford.” He served through the remaining campaigning of 1863 and 1864 without reported incident.
Captain McCormick took a leave of absence during the winter of 1864-1865. He saw a doctor while at home in Lock Haven and requested an extension of twenty days on February 24, 1865 for “congestion of the liver,” which was granted. This is the first clue in his records that something may have been wrong.
On June 18, 1865, Captain McCormick’s cavalry career came to an abrupt and unpleasant end. According to the report of acting regimental commander Captain John A. Thompson:
“I have the honor to state that at about 5 o’clock last evening Capt. Thos. H. McCormick 4th U.S. Cav was driven into this camp in an ambulance in a beastly or insensible state of intoxication – he was lying on his back on two seats with his head hanging down and totally unconscious of where he was or his condition. I believe several of the men saw him. Myself and Lieut. W.W. Webb saw him and conversed with the driver.
“The driver said he had been taken out of the cars in that condition by Col Eggleston and himself aided by others at the depot.
“His condition was such that I could not permit him to be taken out in presence of the command and ordered the driver to take him to Wilson Hospital.”
The regimental surgeon, Assistant Surgeon Merritt S. Jones, concurred with Captain Thompson’s assessment, describing McCormick’s condition as “insensible from intoxication. He was so entirely helpless that he had to be carried into the ward on a stretcher.”
Correspondence then followed fast and furiously on the subject of McCormick’s dismissal. Brevet Major General James H. Wilson recommended immediate dismissal for habitual drunkenness. “This is no new thing in his conduct,” he wrote. “His public disgrace by drunkenness is a matter of notoriety in service tho’ hitherto he has managed to escape punishment. A Court Martial cannot well be convened to try him, and the credit of the public service, as well as its discipline and good order demands his summary dismissal.” Major General George H. Thomas concurred and forwarded the recommendation. It was approved by Lieutenant General U.S. Grant on July 12th, and by the Secretary of War on July 21st. McCormick was dismissed on July 25, 1865, and returned home to Lock Haven.
Thomas Hood McCormick died in Lock Haven on March 30, 1866. He is buried in Highland Cemetery, Lock Haven, PA.
A thorough examination of McCormick’s personnel records revealed no clues as to what may have happened other than the surgeon’s certificate on his request to extend his leave. While it was far from infrequent for there to be issues with alcohol for officers on the frontier following the war, examples such as this during the war were pretty infrequent and seldom drew such high-ranked ire. General Wilson’s evident disgust may have been the result of extended service by the regiment as his escort during that spring’s campaigns.
I give you Thomas Hood McCormick, gallant in battle, but all too human in the end.
Coffin, Selden Jennings. Record of the Men of Lafayette. Easton, PA: Skinner & Finch, Printers, 1879.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 430.
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: 4th U.S. Cavalry.