Michael Lawless was born in Waterford, Ireland about 1826. He appears to have emigrated from Galway in 1849 on the brig Clarence with his older sister “Biddy” (Bridget?). He listed his occupation as farmer on the passenger list. They arrived in New York on February 10, 1849, and moved to Boston shortly thereafter.
On December 4, 1849, Michael was enlisted into Company I, 1st Dragoons by Lieutenant Charles Jordan. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’7″ tall, with black hair, hazel eyes and a dark complexion. Lawless was working as a laborer at the time of his enlistment. He left the Army at the end of his enlistment on December 4, 1854 as a private at Fort Thorn, NM.
He soon rejoined the Army, enlisting in Company H of the 2nd Dragoons in St Louis, MO on March 13, 1855. This is roughly the amount of time it would have taken him to travel east on the Santa Fe Trail as a civilian from Fort Thorn. Lawless was more successful this enlistment, with promotions to corporal and sergeant. He re-enlisted into the same company on January 13, 1860 at Camp Floyd, Utah Territory. His company commander was Captain Alfred Pleasonton.
Sergeant Lawless accompanied his regiment on its march east at the outbreak of the Civil War, reaching Cantonment Holt in Washington, D.C. by the end of 1861. He served ably in the company during the campaign on the peninsula, rising to the rank of first sergeant by the summer of 1862. On July 19, 1862, he, the regimental sergeant major and several other first sergeants were recommended for commissions by regimental commander Major Alfred Pleasonton through the provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac.
Lawless was promoted to second lieutenant in the same company on July 17, 1862. Interestingly, this was two days before the date of Pleasonton’s recommendation. Due to the pace of operations within the army that summer, he didn’t learn of his promotion until September, just after the battle of Antietam. He accepted his commission on September 23, 1862 at the regiment’s camp near Sharpsburg, MD. There must have been quite a party in the camp that evening, as the sergeant major, quartermaster sergeant and three first sergeants were all notified of their appointments the same day.
Lieutenant Lawless served with Company H through the remainder of the 1862 campaigns, as well as Stoneman’s Raid. He fought well at Brandy Station, where he was one of the few officers of the 2nd Cavalry not killed or wounded. Indeed, he was the only one of the five officers he was commissioned with not to be wounded in the battle. He was promoted to first lieutenant in Company A after the battle, with a date of rank of June 9, 1863. He fought with this company for the rest of the year, frequently commanding it in the absence of its assigned captain.
First Lieutenant Lawless opened the 1864 campaign once again commanding Company A. He led it during the fighting at Todd’s Tavern, Sheridan’s “first raid,” and Old Church. in command of the company. The regimental commander cited him as “distinguished for his personal intrepidity in action and other good qualities as a soldier” during the fighting.
On June 11, 1864, during the opening phase of the battle of Trevillian Station, Lieutenant Lawless was killed while leading his company. In his report on the battle, Brigadier General Wesley Merritt said of him, “he was a fearless, honest, and eminently trustworthy soldier, ‘God’s truth’ being the standard by which he measured all of his actions.”
Originally buried on the battlefield, Lawless was later moved to Culpeper National Cemetery. He appears not to have had a next of kin, as I found no record of a pension claim.