2nd U.S. Cavalry, cavalry, Civil War, Fort Donelson, Fort Henry, Franscis C. Armstrong, General U.S. Grant, James M. Hawes, Myles Moylan, Shiloh, Solomon Williams
One might assume from the title that this post is about a Confederate unit. It is actually the story of one cavalry company’s experience during the first half of the war, and the extraordinary measures needed to obtain its release from service as General Ulysses S. Grant’s escort to rejoin its regiment.
As Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the two westernmost companies of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons were located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Company K was almost immediately dispatched to Washington, D.C., arriving in time for the battle of Bull Run. Company C followed the lead company by only days, but it would be over two years before it was reunited with the rest of the regiment. Elements of the regiment stationed nearly 1,000 miles farther west would reach the nation’s capital a year and a half before Company C.
The company was commanded by Captain James Morrison Hawes, with First Lieutenant Francis Crawford Armstrong and Second Lieutenant Solomon Williams assigned as his subalterns. Forty five enlisted men were present for duty, among them a young sergeant from Massachusetts named Myles Moylan.
Captain Hawes had a distinguished career prior to the Civil War. Born in Lexington and appointed to West Point from Kentucky, he graduated 29th in the class of 1845. He received two brevet promotions for gallantry in battle during the Mexican War. He later served as an instructor at the military academy for infantry tactics, cavalry tactics and mathematics. He served for three years at the French cavalry school at Samur before his promotion to captain of Company C. He was the only officer present for duty with the company in April, and resigned on May 9, 1861.
First Lieutenant Armstrong was awarded a direct commission after graduating from Holy Cross Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1855. Frank Armstrong is one of the unusual few soldiers who had the distinction of leading both Union and Confederate troops into battle during the war. He commanded Company K, 2nd U.S. Dragoons during the first Battle of Bull Run, and was attached to Colonel Hunter’s division. Disillusioned following the battle, he resigned on August 13, 1861 and enlisted in the Confederate Army. (more information about Armstrong can be found here.) In April he was on detached service as an aide to General William S. Harney, a position he had held for nearly two years.
Second Lieutenant Solomon Williams was born in and appointed to West Point from North Carolina. He graduated 11th in the class of 1858. He commanded the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry as a colonel for nearly a year prior to his death at the battle of Brandy Station. General Stuart described him “as fearless as he was efficient.” He was forming his command for a charge against the advance of his old regular regiment when he was shot in the head and killed. He was absent on furlough in April, and resigned on May 3, 1861.
Lieutenant Armstrong was temporarily (later promoted and permanently) assigned to command Company K, leaving no officers present for duty with the company. The company’s first sergeant was Myles A. Moylan. Enlisted as a private in Boston in 1857, he had rapidly risen through the company’s ranks. Sergeant Moylan was promoted to first sergeant of the company on May 17, 1861. This last promotion proved very important to the company. During the next two years, it was commanded by eight officers of different regiments, including four infantry officers and two artillery officers. It would have been the steady hand of the first sergeant that kept the company functioning. (More information about Moylan can be found here. )
The company remained at Fort Leavenworth until June 11th, when it departed with several other companies from the Leavenworth garrison for operations in Missouri. Second Lieutenant Charles Farrand of Company B, 1st U.S. Infantry was temporarily placed in command of the company. Farrand graduated 36th in the class of 1857 from West Point. After a year at Newport Barracks, Kentucky, he had spent the previous four years on the frontier in Texas and the Indian Territory. He arrived at Leavenworth only two weeks before, part of the column evacuated from Fort Cobb.
They spent the remainder of June and most of July on the march in Missouri, finally arriving at Camp Stanley on July 28th. After a week’s stay there, they marched to Springfield, arriving on August 6th. They marched forth as part of Gen. Lyons’ army and fought at the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, on August 10th. Following the army’s defeat, the company marched by way of Springfield and St. Louis to Paducah, Kentucky.
In Paducah, they were assigned to the command of Brigadier General Charles F. Smith. They spent the next several months engaged in scouting and escort duty. They remained under General Smith’s command when Gen. Grant’s forces began to maneuver on Forts Henry and Donelson on February 5, 1862. According to regimental returns, they “had a skirmish with the enemy in the vicinity of Fort Donelson on the 10th inst., and had another skirmish with them in the same place on the 12th; was engaged in the taking of Fort Donelson from the 15th until the surrender, on the 16th of February.” Afterward, the company moved south with the rest the army to Nashville, arriving February 28.
On March 1st, Company C marched south with Grant’s army to Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee. During the battle of Shiloh, they fought with Company I, 4th U.S. Cavalry, under the command of James H. Powell, 18th U.S. Infantry. These companies were engaged all day April 6, 1862, in front of their camp, as skirmishers on the right of the Union army.
The company participated in the pursuit of the Confederate army after Shiloh, then were transferred from escorting one general to another.
“Savannah, Tenn., April 20th, 1862
Brig General Geo C. Cullum,
Chief of Staff & Engrs Dept of the Miss.
Pittsburgh Landing, Tenn.
I understand that Genl Halleck has taken as his Body Guard Co’s C of the 2d & I of 4th Regular Cavalry; up to the present time under my command. There are six of these men now with me as my orderlies, shall I send them to report to their companies?
I beg to request that one of these men, Private Sullivan of Co. C, 2d Cav, may be allowed a furlough of thirty-five (35) days to accompany me to New York.
If the request is granted, may the proper papers of furlough & description roll be sent to me?
Very respectfully & truly yours,
The company served as Gen. Halleck’s escort during the advance on Corinth, Mississippi, once again under Captain Farrand’s command.
Unfortunately, when Halleck was ordered east to assume the position of General in Chief, the company did not accompany him. In September, the company was assigned to the consolidated cavalry command under Colonel John K. Mizner. Mizner had also been a lieutenant in the regiment at the beginning of the war.
On September 25th, the company marched to Pocahontas Farm, Tennessee, part of a cavalry probe ordered by General Ord to the Hatchie River. They had a brisk skirmish with Confederate cavalry there, losing five men and eighteen horses taken prisoner. Captain Farrand was also briefly taken prisoner, but escaped before reaching a Confederate prison. Leaving Corinth on November 5th, the company made its way to Memphis by January 15th, serving there as General Grant’s escort.
In November, First Sergeant Moylan submitted a request for an appointment as a second lieutenant in the regular cavalry. Although the regimental returns show no officers present with the company, his request is endorsed by Second Lieutenant Charles Lewis “Comdg Co. ‘C’, 2nd Cavly.” The request was endorsed by Generals C.F. Smith, McArthur and McPherson.
The regiment, meanwhile, was very short-handed in the Army of the Potomac. It had deactivated three companies in the summer of 1862 in order to consolidate its limited manpower, sending the officers and noncommissioned officers north to recruit fresh companies. Additional companies authorized the previous fall were still at Carlisle Barracks and had not yet reported for duty.
With another spring campaign on the horizon, Major Charles J. Whiting, the regimental commander, appealed to the Adjutant General to have Company C returned to the regiment.
“Washington D.C., Feby 23d 1863
Gen. L. Thomas
I have the honor to request that Company “C” 2d U.S. Cavalry, now serving with the Dept. of the Cumberland may be ordered to join the reg. It is useless for me to give any reasons. It is evident that, with the force we have in the field that it is for the interest of the service to have the Reg together.
Your Obt Servant
Chas. J. Whiting
Major 2d Cav
The endorsement for the letter on February 26th is unsigned, but presumably from General Thomas: “Gen. Grant requested to order the Co. to the A. of Potomac if he can dispense with their services.”
There was apparently such a shortage of cavalry in the Army of the Cumberland that not a single company could be spared for escort duty for its commanding general. Nearly a month and a half later, on the eve of Stoneman’s Raid, Major Whiting tried again. This time he routed his request through the chain of command.
“Headquarters 2d U.S. Cavalry, Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 4th 1863
Brig. General L. Thomas
Adjutant General, U.S.A.
I have the honor to request that Company “C” of the 2d Regiment U.S. Cavalry be ordered to join the regiment if it be not inconsistent with the interests of the service. The monthly return of the company for February shows that it is stationed at Memphis, Tenn. It has no commissioned officer of the regiment on duty with it, and only forty five enlisted men and twenty three serviceable horses.
I am very respectfully
Your obt servant
Chas. J. Whiting
Major 2d U.S. Cav
The endorsements on this letter read like a Who’s Who of the Army of the Potomac:
“Hd Qrs Cav Reserve, April 3d 1863
Respectfully referred to Corps Hd Qrs asking that steps be taken for the return of the company.
Jno Buford, BG Vols, Cmdg”
“Headquarters Cavalry Corps, April 9/ 1863
Approved & resptly forwarded.
George Stoneman, Maj Genl, Comg”
“Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, April 11/ 1863
Respectfully forwarded with the request that this company may be ordered to join the regiment.
Joseph Hooker, Maj Gen, Commg”
“Respectfully submitted to the General in Chief. On February 26 General Grant was directed to send this company to its regiment in the Army of the Potomac as soon as its services could be dispensed with, as measures were being taken to have all detached companies to join their regiments. March 3rd, an order was issued by authority of the General in Chief, ordering the different detached companies to join their regiments without delay. In the enumeration this company was not mentioned in view of the letter to General Grant above referred to.
As nothing has been heard from General Grant on the subject, and as it is of great importance the company should be with its regiment, it is respectfully recommended that it be at once relieved and ordered to join its regiment in the Army of the Potomac.
Asst Adjt General”
General Halleck’s response was very succinct.
“Approved. The horses will not be transferred. April 15th 1863.
Genl in Chief”
Once the decision was made, things moved rapidly for the orphaned company. By the end of the month, they were already in Washington, D.C., though without mounts. The company was commanded during the movement by Second Lieutenant Myles Moylan, whose appointment to the 5th U.S. Cavalry was approved the previous month. Only 25 men remained present for duty in the company, the majority of the losses from expiration of their terms of service. In May, still without horses, the company was moved to the regiment’s camp of the previous winter near Falmouth, where it spent the remainder of the month. In June, during the march from Beverly Ford to Aldie, the company rejoined the regiment. It had 22 enlisted men present for duty, with 24 serviceable horses.
General Grant’s preference for a regular cavalry escort did not fade with time. Shortly after his move to the east as General in Chief, four companies of the 5th U.S. Cavalry were assigned as his escort, and served in this capacity through the end of the war.
Cullum, George W. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy, Volume 2. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903.
Lambert, Joseph I. One Hundred Years With the Second Cavalry. San Antonio: Newton Publishing Company, 1999.
NARA, RG 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
NARA, RG 94, Register of Enlistments.
NARA, RG 94, U.S. Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916
NARA, RG 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Regiments, 2nd U.S. Cavalry
NARA, RG 391.3.2 Records of 1st-6th Cavalry Regiments
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.