This is the first of several posts this month focusing on Civil War soldiers who fought on the frontier against Indians after the war, either in 1866-67 or the 1876 Sioux campaign.
William Bedford Royall was born in Virginia on April 15, 1825. His family moved to Missouri when he was at a very young age. During the Mexican War, he was appointed a first lieutenant in Company D, 2nd Missouri Infantry on July 31, 1846. Royall served creditably at the battle of Canada, the skirmish at Embudo and capture of Puebla de Taos in New Mexico, serving under the command of his uncle, Colonel Sterling Price. Upon the expiration of his regiment’s term of service, he was first lieutenant and adjutant of the Santa Fe Battalion on August 14, 1847. After a year of recruiting service back in Missouri, he was escorting his recruits to Santa Fe when he had a skirmish with Comanche Indians on June 18, 1848 near Coon Creek in Kansas. Royall’s command arrived in Santa Fe as the war ended, and he subsequently assigned with his recruits to escort duty with now-General Price on his return to Missouri. Royall was honorably mustered out of volunteer service on October 28, 1848.
When the Army expanded by the creation of two new cavalry regiments in 1855, Royall was appointed the senior first lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry on March 3, 1855. He received his appointment at Columbia, Missouri, and proceeded immediately to recruiting service for his regiment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until July. He joined the regiment at Jefferson Barracks and served with Company C. Following a month of recruiting duty in Columbia, Missouri, he marched with his regiment to Texas in October and arrived at Fort Mason, Texas on January 14, 1856.
He was recognized for gallantry in action against the Comanches during skirmishes that summer, before reporting to Philadelphia for recruiting duty until November 1858. After leading his recruits from Carlisle barracks to Camp Radziminski, Texas, he assumed command of Company C. He commanded the company from December 31, 1858 to February 10, 1860. He was highly commended for conspicuous gallantry during fighting on May 13, 1859 in regimental reports and by General Winfield Scott. He was granted a leave of absence from June 1860 to February 1861.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Royall chose to side with the Union, despite his southern birth and his uncle, now a Confederate general. During the regiment’s evacuation of Texas, he led his company from Fort Inge to Indianola, where it embarked on the steamship Empire City. He and his company arrived at Carlisle Barracks on April 27, 1861, where he learned he had been promoted to captain on March 21st.
Captain Royall and his company served under General Patterson in the Shenandoah Valley during the summer and fall of 1861, seeing action at Falling Waters, Martinsburg and Bunker Hill. He and his regiment drilled as part of the Cavalry Reserve in the defenses of Washington during the winter of 1861-1862.
During the Peninsula campaign in the spring, he and his regiment were active on the right flank of the army as it advanced toward Richmond. They saw action at the siege of Yorktown and the battle of Williamsburg in April and May. He again distinguished himself at the battle of Hanover Court House on May 27, 1862, receiving a brevet promotion to major for gallant and meritorious service there.
Captain Royall was commanding two squadrons of the regiment on the extreme right of the army when he fought an engagement against a cavalry brigade under Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart on June 13, 1862 near Old Church, Virginia. This was the only significant fighting during Stuart’s ride around the Army of the Potomac. Royall’s command, heavily outnumbered, was overwhelmed after a stubborn fight and routed. He was again brevetted for gallantry, this time to lieutenant colonel, but at a heavy price. Royall received six saber wounds during the fighting: two contusions on the right side of the head, a cut two inches long on the forehead, a long cut on the left cheek, a cut dividing a tendon on the right wrist, and an incised fracture of the left parietal bone. These wounds disabled him from active field service for the rest of the war.
Royall was offered the colonelcy of the 27th New Jersey Volunteers in September 1862, but declined due to the effects of his wounds. When he returned to light duty in October, he was assigned to duty as a mustering and disbursing officer in Louisville, Kentucky until March 1864. He was promoted to major in the 5th U.S. Cavalry on December 7, 1863, but would not return to the regiment for nearly two and a half years.
After two months at the Cavalry Bureau in the spring of 1864, Major Royall was assigned as the superintendent of the Mounted Recruiting Service at Carlisle. He assumed command of the post on May 19, 1864. Like the two officers who had preceded him, Royall was another very experienced cavalryman. He also served as the commander of the drafted camp for his district, and much of his correspondence during this period refers to difficulties maintaining sufficient guards for the draftees, especially during Confederate General Early’s advance from the Shenandoah during the summer of 1864. Major Royall was ordered to send out his permanent company and recruits to scout Early’s advance, leaving him no capable soldiers for duty on the post. He served in this position until April 1866. He was brevetted colonel on March 13, 1865 “for arduous and faithful services in recruiting the Army of the United States.”
Major Royall next rejoined his regiment in Nashville, Tennessee, where he commanded four companies until November when he was relieved by the regiment’s lieutenant colonel. He continued to serve there until April 1867. Ryall was next assigned to North Carolina, where he worked as a cavalry inspector in the 2nd Military District and later Chief of the Bureau of Civil Affairs there. This was followed by duty at Morganton, N.C., where he oversaw execution of the reconstruction acts of Congress in fifteen counties of western North Carolina.
In September 1868, Major Royall was at last reassigned to frontier service with a detachment of four companies of the 5th U.S. Cavalry. He led them to Fort Harker, Kansas by September, and was then assigned to Fort Riley. Major Royall served during several campaigns in the vicinity of the Republican River in Kansas, Nebraska and northeastern Colorado over the next year.
On December 22, 1869, he was assigned with a detachment of the regiment to Fort D.A. Russell, Wyoming. He commanded the detachment of up to seven companies at different periods until March 1872, when he was reassigned to Camp Grant, Arizona. He served in various capacities in Arizona and southern California until May 1875, when he marched with the regimental headquarters and six companies of the regiment to Fort Lyon, Colorado, where the command was divided amongst several forts. Royall established the regimental headquarters at Fort Hays, Kansas.
After a brief leave of absence, he assumed command of Fort Dodge, Kansas, and a few days later was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry on December 2, 1875. The promotion had to be bittersweet, as it ended nearly 21 years of service in the 5th Cavalry. He was transferred to the Department of the Platte at Fort Sidney, Nebraska. From January to March 1876, he served as a member of a board examining Army supplies and the best method of issuing them in the west for the War Department in Philadelphia. While he was there, General Crook applied for him to command the cavalry during the upcoming campaign against the Sioux in the summer of 1876. He returned to the department, and spent April and May purchasing horses for the campaign.
Lieutenant Colonel Royall joined the expedition on May 18, 1876, and commanded his regiment in the field. The regiment’s colonel, John J. Reynolds, was under a court martial for actions the previous December. Some speculate that he resented Crook because of this, but it seems unlikely since he wasn’t present during the incident, and the result of a personal request from the commander was a field command rather than continued staff work in Philadelphia. A battalion of the 2nd Cavalry was added to his command once the expedition was under way, giving him command of 14 companies of cavalry.
Royall had command of these companies during the battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876. He took personal command of several companies during the fight and made an independent attack without informing General Crook, which caused some difficulties in managing the battle. After the expedition disbanded in Nebraska in October, he was appointed an acting assistant inspector general for the Department of the Platte until September 1882. After a brief reunion with his regiment at Fort Whipple, Arizona, he was promoted colonel of the 4th U.S. Cavalry on November 1, 1882.
Five years later, Royall retired with the rank of brigadier general on October 19, 1887. On February 27, 1890, he was granted a brevet of brigadier general for gallant service in action at the battle of the Rosebud, fourteen years after the engagement. William Bedford Royall died in Washington, D.C. on December 13, 1895. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 563.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, Volume 1. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869. Page 178.
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: 5th U.S. Cavalry.
Price, George F. Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry. New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher, 1883. Pages 292-298.