As a former commander of Company C, 2nd U.S. Dragoons (at the time in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, currently designated the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, but still on continuous active service since 1836), it’s always gratifying to turn up information on one of the company’s soldiers. Little did I suspect, however, where following Moylan’s life would lead me. Shiloh, Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee — Myles Moylan was definitely born to be a cavalryman. Despite controversy shrouding his career more than once, the quality of the 36 years of his service speaks for itself.
Myles Moylan was born at Amesbury, Massachusetts on December 17, 1838. His father was Thomas Moylan and his mother was Margaret Riley, both born in Ireland. Educated in local schools, he worked as a shoemaker prior joining the army. He was enlisted as a private in Company C, 2nd U.S. Dragoons by Lieutenant McArthur in Boston, Massachusetts on June 8, 1857. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’9 ½” tall, with black hair, gray eyes and a ruddy complexion. For some reason he listed Galway, Ireland as his place of birth on his enlistment paperwork.
Army life apparently agreed well with young Myles. He was promoted to corporal on October 1, 1858, and sergeant exactly two years later. During this time, he served in the Utah expedition of 1857-1858 and later in Kansas and Nebraska. He fought in an engagement with Indians at Blackwater Springs, Kansas on July 11, 1860. Sergeant Moylan was promoted to first sergeant of the company on May 17, 1861.
This last promotion proved very important to the company, as all of its assigned officers resigned at the outbreak of the war. Company C left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on June 11, 1861, under the command of Lieutenant Farrand of the 1st U.S. Infantry. It didn’t rejoin the rest of the regiment until June 1863. During these two years, it was commanded by eight officers of different regiments and corps, including four infantry officers and two artillery officers. It would have been the steady hand of the first sergeant that kept the company functioning.
First Sergeant Moylan led his company through engagements at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. He re-enlisted at Pittsburgh, Tennessee on April 1, 1862, just days before the battle of Shiloh. He continued to serve with the company through that battle and the subsequent siege of Corinth. During the winter of 1862-1863, they served as the escort for General Grant for several months at Memphis, Tennessee. First Sergeant Moylan remained with the company until March 28, 1863, when he was discharged at Memphis, Tennessee. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 5th U.S. Cavalry on February 19th, but it took over a month for the news to reach him.
Lieutenant Moylan joined his new regiment in Virginia in May, and was assigned to Company D. He immediately assumed command of the company upon his arrival due to a shortage of officers with the regiment. He commanded the company through engagements at Brandy Station, Aldie, Middletown, Upperville, Gettysburg, Williamsport, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Falling Waters, Manassas Gap, Front Royal, and Brandy Station again in August. The regiment moved with the rest of the Reserve Brigade to Giesboro Point, D.C. for remounting and refitting from August to October 1863. His final battle with the regiment was the engagement at Morton’s Ford, Virginia on October 11th, as part of the diversion for Kilpatrick’s raid.
His commission was revoked and he was dismissed from the service on October 20, 1863 for an unauthorized visit to Washington, D.C. and failing to report to military district headquarters. Sympathetic biographers have on several occasions referred to this as a “trifling offense,” but given the length of his service he should have known better. In his defense, officer absenteeism was a common problem subject to periodic crackdowns during the war, and he may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He didn’t stay out of action long, however. He enlisted in Company A, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry at Malden, MA under the fictitious name of Charles E. Thomas on December 2, 1863. Despite using a nom de guerre, he received a $325 bounty for enlisting. Given his experience, it is unsurprising that he was a sergeant in the company by December 26th, and appointed first lieutenant a month later on January 25, 1864.
Lieutenant Moylan led his company through engagements on John’s Island, South Carolina in July, 1864, and near Jacksonville, Florida in October before his regiment was assigned to the forces besieging Petersburg. He was promoted to captain of Company K on December 1, 1864, and served briefly on the staff of Major General John Gibbon. He commanded a squadron of the regiment at the headquarters of the XXIV Corps during the Richmond campaign, and on April 9, 1865 received a brevet promotion to major of volunteers for gallant and meritorious services during the campaign in Virginia. He was honorably mustered out of service with his regiment on November 14, 1865 at Richmond, Virginia.
After the holidays, Moylan was back in uniform, this time once again under his own name. He enlisted in the general mounted service at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania as a private on January 25, 1866, and on March 10th was promoted to corporal.
Corporal Moylan was assigned to the new 7th U.S. Cavalry when it was formed on August 20, 1866, and his fortunes soared again. He was noticed by the regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel Custer, and was appointed the regiment’s first sergeant major on September 1, 1866. The two had briefly served together in the 5th Cavalry prior to Gettysburg. Moylan would serve in the 7th Cavalry for the next 26 years.
Custer encouraged his new sergeant major to apply for a commission once again. He was appointed a first lieutenant, 7th U.S. Cavalry on July 28, 1866, but was initially unable to accept it because he failed the appointment examination. Custer obtained permission to administer a second test, however, and tutored him to pass the examination the second time.
Such patronage was not without its costs. The new lieutenant was not initially admitted into the junior officer’s mess, though whether this was due to his prior enlisted service or Custer’s favoritism is unclear. Lieutenant Moylan served as the regimental adjutant from February 20, 1867 to December 31, 1870, when he was relieved at his own request. He served in the 1868 Washita campaign, following which he was also assigned as an acting assistant adjutant general of the troops serving in Kansas from 1868 to 1869. Lieutenant Moylan was assigned on recruiting service from January 1871 to January 1873.
While on recruiting service, Myles Moylan married Charlotte Calhoun on October 22, 1872 at Madison, Indiana. Charlotte, or Lottie as she was known, was the 19 year old sister of First Lieutenant James Calhoun. Lieutenant Calhoun also served in the 7th Cavalry, and was married to Custer’s half sister, so this further cemented Moylan’s ties to the Custer family.
Moylan was promoted to captain in the 7th U.S. Cavalry on March 1, 1872, and assigned to command of Company A when he returned to the regiment. He commanded Company A and at times a squadron during the Yellowstone and Black Hills expeditions of 1873 and 1874.
Captain Moylan commanded his company at the battle of Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, and was one the few officers of the regiment to survive the fight. He participated in the fight of Major Reno’s column in the valley, and later the Reno-Benteen defense on the bluff. Moylan lost both his patron and his brother in law during the battle. Interestingly given his ties to Custer, he later wrote a controversial letter defending Reno’s actions during the battle. He was part of the burial detail after the fight, and several months later wrote to Libby Custer of how he’d found her husband’s body on the battlefield.
Captain Moylan again led his company in the campaign against the Nez Perce the following year, when he earned the Medal of Honor. After a forced march of several days, the cavalry column successfully overtook a camp of the elusive tribe near Bear Paw Mountain, Montana on September 30, 1877. During the subsequent battle, he “gallantly led his command in action against Nez Perce Indians until he was severely wounded,” according to the award citation. He was reportedly wounded in the right thigh while at the head of his company charging at a full gallop. His was one of nine medals of honor awarded for the battle. He was brevetted major in the regular army for the battle on February 27, 1890, and his medal of honor was awarded November 27, 1894.
In 1880, Captain Moylan commanded his company and Fort Meade, Dakota Territory, according to census data. He commanded a battalion of three companies of cavalry during the summer Little Missouri River campaign of 1881, and his own company during an engagement with Crows in Montana Territory on November 5, 1887. He continued to serve on the frontier through the fighting at Wounded Knee in 1890.
Captain Moylan was promoted to major in the 10th U.S. Cavalry on April 8, 1892. He retired a year later, on April 15, 1893, after a career of almost 36 years. He and his wife moved to California, where he settled in San Diego with his wife. They had no children.
Major Myles Moylan died of stomach cancer in San Diego, California on December 1, 1909. Lottie survived him by seven years, dying March 29, 1916. The couple had no children, and are buried together in Greenwood Memorial Park, San Diego.
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