Yellowstone and the Cavalry


, , , ,

As many of my friends are aware, I made my first visit to Yellowstone National Park a few weeks ago in the company of our Boy Scout troop. While I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic beauty and wildlife of the park, I dimly remembered something about Moses Harris, one of the cavalry regiments, and the parks. Cell and internet service being very sketchy at best in the area, I resolved to look into it when I returned.

Lest one think this simply another manifestation of my determination to find a connection of Civil War cavalry with anything I happen to run across, I will first direct the reader to this article on the Yellowstone NPS webpage, entitled “How The U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks” .

If the name Moses Harris sounds familiar, it should. An enlisted man in the 4th U.S. Cavalry and officer in the 1st U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War, I have previously written about him here. I came across several new items while researching his Yellowstone connections, so there will be an updated biographical sketch of him posted here in the near future.

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, one of the original national parks. As such, there was no inherent program for the administration of the park and the protection of its resources. Civilian superintendents were appointed, but with little instruction or resources to carry out their mandate to protect the park and its treasures. Consequently, the park was under constant threat from those who wanted to exploit its resources. This varied from souvenir hunters and poachers to tourist facilities in and around the geysers and hot springs.

In 1886 the problem came to a head when Congress refused to appropriate additional funds to administer the park. The Secretary of the Interior turned to the Secretary of War for assistance. In August, Captain Moses Harris and the 50 men of his Company M, 1st U.S. Cavalry were ordered from Fort Custer, Montana to the park.

Here is Captain Harris’ account of his time at Yellowstone:

“In August 1886 Captain Harris was ordered to take station with his troop in the Yellowstone National Park relieving the civilian superintendent, and was ordered to report to the Secretary of the Interior for instructions relative to the protection of the Park. Having so reported was directed to perform the duties which had previously been performed by the superintendent of the Park and his assistants. He remained at this station with his troop performing the civil duties of the superintendent of the National Park, and with his troop giving the Park full and efficient protection until June 1889, when he was ordered to take station at Fort Custer. It is proper in connection to state that the reports of the Secretary of the Interior for the years 1887, 1888, and 1889 contain expressions of satisfaction at the efficient manner in which the duty of protecting the park had been performed and its interests cared for during the tour of duty in the Park of Captain Harris and his command.”

For those interested, one of Captain Harris’ annual reports to the Secretary of the Interior can be found here. 

At first, the soldiers lived in temporary frame buildings at what was initially called Camp Sheridan at the foot of the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. After five cold, harsh winters, the Army realized there was no end in sight to this assignment and requested funds from Congress for a permanent post. These funds were granted in 1890, and the post renamed Fort Yellowstone.

The first buildings of Fort Yellowstone were finished by late 1891, though Company M had been replaced by a different company by then. An almost identical set of wooden buildings was finished in 1897 to house a second troop. In 1909, sandstone buildings were constructed, increasing the fort’s capacity to four troops (approximately 400 men). The stone for these buildings was obtained from a local quarry. At its height in 1910, over 300 soldiers manned the park between the fort and outlying posts.

In 1916, the National Park Service was created and assumed control of the park. After a brief return the following year, the Army departed the park for the final time in 1918. Fort Yellowstone became the administrative center of the park for the new organization. Over the 32 years of its tenure, troops from 10 different cavalry regiments served in the park: the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th and 13th U.S. Cavalry Regiments.

Ironically, I didn’t get to see Fort Yellowstone while I was in the park. Maybe on my next visit.

Fairfield Dead – William Mottern


, , ,

156 years ago yesterday, the 6th U.S. Cavalry had its biggest fight of the war a few short miles from Gettysburg, outside the small town of Fairfield, Pennsylvania. The understrength regiment had a brief fight with an entire brigade of Confederate cavalry which did not go well for the bluecoats. Among the dead from the battle was Private William Mottern of Company H.
William Mottern was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 1833. Prior to the Civil War he worked as a boatman. He enlisted into Company H on August 12, 1861 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His enlistment documents describe him a 5’ 6 ½” tall, with light hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion.
Private Mottern served in the regiment’s “flank squadron,” the only squadron equipped with carbines until after the battle of Antietam. On July 3, 1863, his company was partnered with Company C under 2nd Lieutenant and former first sergeant Joseph Bould as the regiment’s reserve. When the Confederate cavalry broke the through the regiment’s thin defensive line, Bould countercharged to stem the attack. Priavte Mottern was killed in the melee.
Private William Mottern is buried alongside his regimental comrades in the cemetery at Gettysburg.


Jared R. DeRemer, 6th U.S. Cavalry


, , , , , ,

I nearly titled this post “Down the Rabbit Hole.” It started as a brief, quick post about a private from the 6th Cavalry, but quickly assumed a life of its own. A story started in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it spends much of its time in my home of Colorado. A long weekend later, it is finally complete.

Jared Russell DeRemer was born on July 2, 1843 in Milesburg, Pennsylvania. He was the second child and eldest son of Isaac and Matilda DeRemer, both born in New Jersey. The family moved around Pennsylvania as Jared grew up, his father working as a carpenter. In 1850 they lived in Mauch Chunk, Carbon county, according to the census. In 1860 they lived in Dennison township, Luzerne County. Jared, age 17, was working as a machinist and living with his parents.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jared joined the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry. It was a somewhat unusual regiment, in that it originally had 15 companies. Company N was raised in Luzerne county, and Jared enlisted on August 30, 1861. The regiment received its initial training at Oxford Park in Philadelphia, and was serving in the area of Harpers Ferry before the end of the year. It spent the majority of its time before the battle of Antietam serving in this region. The regiment suffered heavily at Antietam, with 266 casualties. On October 28, 1862, the 147th Pennsylvania Infantry was formed from five companies of the 28th Pennsylvania and three new companies. All assigned personnel from these companies were transferred to the new regiment, but DeRemer had departed days before.

On October 25, 1862, Jared transferred to Company B, 6th U.S. Cavalry at Knoxville, Maryland. His enlistment documents describe him as 19 years old and 5’ 10” tall, with blue eyes, light hair, and a light complexion.

Private DeRemer’s service with the 6th U.S. Cavalry was brief but eventful. Once he left the dismount camp and joined the regiment, his company served as General Sumner’s escort during the battle of Fredericksburg in December. After a long winter of picketing fords across the Rappahannock, he was part of Stoneman’s Raid in May 1863. The following month he fought at Brandy Station, and then several weeks of fighting and hard riding on the way to Gettysburg. Jared was one of the very fortunate few to not be killed, wounded or captured in the regiment’s fatal encounter at Fairfield, Pennsylvania on July 3rd. He continued to serve with the regiment during the pursuit back to Virginia and on Cavalry Corps headquarters escort duty for the remainder of the year, including a second fight at Brandy Station in August. The cumulative effects of this campaigning took their toll, however. DeRemer was discharged due to disability on December 18, 1863 at McClellan Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He applied for an invalid pension on February 13, 1864, and received his certificate.

Jared returned to his family, who had moved to Hampton, New Jersey. In 1869, he married Nancy Macrina Wass. She was born in April 1857, a native of Easton, Pennsylvania. After several years, Jared and his brother James Richard Deremer left the family in New Jersey and moved to Colorado to seek their fortunes.

The two were very successful, and moved most of the rest of the family to Pueblo, Colorado over the following years. James Richard was a very prominent civil engineer and real estate investor. He built Pueblo’s first opera house, which burned to the ground several years later, and the DeRemer Hotel. This building still stands, and is currently the home of Schwabe Real Estate at 230 South Union Avenue.

Jared, on the other hand, worked for the railroads on survey crews, and lived across the state. Jared and Nancy welcomed their son, named James Silas after his brother, in 1880. In 1885, Jared and Nancy lived in Chaffee County, according to the state census. In 1887, Jared was assigned to oversee the construction of the South Pacific Railroad Company railroad through Glenwood Canyon, and the family moved to Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Springs was very good to the DeRemer family, and Jared decided to put down roots. In 1893, he built a house at 1008 Colorado Avenue in Glenwood Springs that is still in use today as an apartment building.

Jared not only was able to complete the difficult railroad survey through the canyon, he was the locator and mastermind behind the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon. This power plant is still in operation today, with the oldest and biggest water right on the upper Colorado River. It provides fifteen megawatts of electricity and is a cornerstone of the management of the upper Colorado River. In Colorado, precedent of water rights is determined by age, not size. Even though small by today’s power plant output measurements, Shoshone has the right to its water flow. This ensures that it retains flow even with the water diverted from the Colorado basin to supply Denver and eastern Colorado.

The family resided here during the 1900 census. In 1904, his son married Josephine Agnes Heichner, born in Colorado of German parents.

In 1908, he patented the DeRemer Ball Bearing Water Wheel, a valve used in hydroelectric plants. He subsequently formed the DeRemer Water Wheel Company with his son and served as its manager and president until 1916.

His wife Nancy died on March 24, 1910 in Glenwood Springs, according to the local newspaper and the Colorado Springs Gazette. She was initially buried in Rosebud Cemetery in Glenwood Springs, then later moved to be with her husband. According to the 1910 census in June, Jared was a widower, with his son and daughter in law residing with him.

In 1916, his son accepted a position in Salida, Colorado working as an engineer for the Durango & Rio Grande Railroad. With nothing left to tie him to Glenwood Springs, Jared sold his house to a promising young lawyer and returned to the family homestead in New Jersey the following year.

Jared Russell DeRemer died in Hampton, New Jersey in 1918. He is buried next to his wife in Union Brick Cemetery, Blairstown, New Jersey.

William H. Burns, 6th U.S. Cavalry


, ,

William H. Burns was born in Toronto, Canada in 1839. He and his family moved to Wisconsin during his childhood. At the beginning of the Civil War, Burns enlisted as a sergeant in Company A, 3rd Wisconsin Infantry in Watertown, Wisconsin on April 18, 1861.

The 3rd Wisconsin was a very active unit during the first year of the war. Their first engagement was a skirmish with forces under Turner Ashby on Bolivar Heights on October 16, 1861. They fought in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862, and at Cedar Mountain in August. The battle of Antietam was particularly hard on the regiment, fighting near the Cornfield. The 3rd Wisconsin lost 27 enlisted men killed and 173 wounded of 340 engaged, as well as 8 of 12 officers wounded. Sergeant Burns, wounded slightly from a gunshot wound in the left leg during the battle, had seen enough of the infantry.

He transferred to Company C, 6th U.S. Cavalry as a private on October 23, 1862. His enlistment documents describe him with hazel eyes, brown hair, a florid complexion and 5’6” tall. He served on picket duty along the Rappahannock during the winter after training as a cavalryman in the regiment’s dismounted camp. He must have performed well, as he was promoted to corporal prior to Stoneman’s Raid in May 1863.

On June 9, 1863, Corporal Burns was again in a pitched battle, this time at Brandy Station, Virginia. His old unit was there as well, as the 3rd Wisconsin and the 2nd Massachusetts both fought on the Union right wing near Beverly Ford during the battle. Burns was again wounded, this time with a gunshot wound in the left breast. Fortunately his companions helped him from the field, and he was sent to Washington, D.C. with the other seriously wounded. After a long and difficult recovery, he was discharged because of disability from Lincoln Hospital on December 26, 1863. His disability pension was $10.14 per month.

Burns returned to Wisconsin after living briefly in St. Louis. By 1882, he was once again residing in the Milwaukee area, alternating between Wauwatosa and Milwaukee. His wound continued to cause him issues periodically, and he spent time in and out of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, North-western Branch, in Milwaukee between 1882 and 1890. He worked as a watchmaker and jeweler before and after this period.

William H. Burns died in Milwaukee in April 1913. He was survived by his wife Eliza. He is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A Christmas Raid – Gordonsville, 1864


, , ,

After the bloodiest year of the war for the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and the Reserve Brigade, troopers must have been looking forward to going into winter camp near Winchester in time for the holidays. After all, they had weathered hard fighting in multiple major battles in two different campaigns in two different areas over the course of the year. General Early’s army had been soundly defeated, and there were no Confederate forces of any strength remaining in the Shenandoah Valley the week before Christmas. Imagine their surprise, then, when the following order was received:

“Field Orders, Headquarters First Cavalry Division, December 18, 1864

The command will be prepared to march early to-morrow morning. Four Days’ rations will be issued and carried on the horses. Each man will be supplied with eighty rounds of carbine ammunition and the usual supply of pistol ammunition.

The Second Brigade will take along one section (rifled) of its battery, the best horses being selected for the march. Camp guards consisting of the dismounted men, and those mounted on unserviceable horses, will be left in camp in each brigade under charge of a field officer. The ranking field officer will take charge of the entire division camp, picketing and making other necessary dispositions for its safety.

No other wheels save those mentioned above will accompany the expedition, save the following: Six ambulances, two wagons to division headquarters, one wagon to brigade headquarters, three wagons for commissary supplies.

These preparations must all be made at once. Further instructions will be given as to the time of march, &c.

By command of Brevet Major General Merritt:

A.E. Dana, Assistant Adjutant-General.”

And so began ten miserable days of winter campaigning. Although General Sheridan had written somewhat dismissively to General Grant on the usefulness of cutting the Central Railroad to interdict Confederate supplies between the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond, he ordered the raid. In case there were any Confederate forces in the area, he ordered General Custer to take his division south through the Valley at the same time Torbert was departing with the other two divisions of the cavalry. General Torbert’s report is a pretty detailed account of the raid.

Headquarters Cavalry Corps, Army of the Middle Military Division

Winchester, Va., December 28, 1864

Sir: I have the honor to report that I started from Winchester on the 19th of December, with the First and Second Divisions of Cavalry, without artillery, about 5,000 men, across the Blue Ridge. On the night of the 19th I camped in Chester Gap, having marched about twenty-two miles, via Front Royal, crossing both branches of the Shenandoah River. It rained nearly all day. December 20, crossed the Blue Ridge, marched via Little Washington, Gaines’ Cross-Roads, and Sperryville, in the direction of Criglersville; marched about twenty-nine miles, Second Division camping on the Hughes River and the First Division on the Hazel. This night it hailed and sleeted all night. During the day the enemy’s vedettes were driven before the advance. December 21, at daylight the march was resumed, in a hail and snow storm which lasted all day, via Criglersville, to Madison Court-House, over one the worst roads I ever traveled. The First Division went to Madison Court-House, had an engagement with Jackson’s brigade of rebel cavalry, driving them from the town, with slight loss. Second Division camped on Robertson’s River near Criglersville. December 22, at daylight the march was resumed, Second Division leading, on the pike in the direction Liberty Mills and Gordonsville. The enemy’s cavalry – Generals Jackson’s and McCausland’s brigades, General Lomax commanding – were driven rapidly before my advance and across the bridge over the Rapidan, at Liberty Mills. On my advance reaching the bridge, which they did under a severe fire from men behind breast-works on the opposite bank, they found some of the flooring of the bridge had been removed. Immediately after reaching the river the bridge was fired by an explosion and soon destroyed. The ford, wich was a bad one, was barricaded and defended by men in rifle pits and artillery in position behind earth-works. It was impossible to effect a crossing in front. Some delay was caused by having to send through the country to find parties who knew the roads to fords above and below Liberty Mills, so that I could cross and flank them out of their position. Finally two columns were started, one to the right and one to the left. Two brigades of the First Division – First and Second, Second Brigade leading, commanded by Colonel Kellogg, 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry – were to cross at Willis’ Ford, about two miles above Liberty Mills, and come down on the Stanardsville and Orange Court-House road. One brigade Second Division, Colonel Capehart commanding, was to cross at Cave’s Ford, about three miles below Liberty Mills, and come up on the Orange Court-House and Stanardsville road. It was represented that both of these fords were good, and that the detour of these columns would be about four miles, when, in fact, the column at Willis’ Ford could only cross by twos and had to march about eight miles before getting to Liberty Mills, and the column by Cave’s Ford could only cross by file and had to march about seven miles before getting to Liberty Mills. This caused an unexpected delay, and it was not until just dark when the right column came in sight and immediately charged the enemy, driving them across the Gordonsville pike and in the direction of Orange Court-House; here they were met by my left column, and the enemy withdrew by a country road in the direction of Gordonsville. The fighting was all after dark, and not being able to tell friend from foe, and my own men having fired into each other, the firing was ordered to cease and hold their positions for the night. This day and night was intensely cold. December 23, at daylight the enemy was again engaged and all their artillery – two pieces – taken from them, and driven to within two miles and a half of Gordonsville to the top of the gap in Southwest Mountain. Here the pass was narrow and the enemy were strongly posted behind rails and earth breast-works, where a few men could hold three times their number in check. I attacked the position with nearly half of my force, but could not carry it, and I immediately started a column to flank them on the left by crossing the mountain several miles to the north. While waiting to hear from this column, which had got well on its way, the cars were heard about ten o’clock to arrive at Gordonsville, and about an hour after infantry was seen to file into the breast-works and relieve the cavalry. After becoming fully satisfied of the presence of infantry (Pegram’s division), I concluded it was useless to make a further attempt to break the Central railroad. I had at this time six or eight men killed and about forty wounded, more than I could transport, and the worst cases were left behind. I decided to withdraw and at once crossed to the north bank of the Rapidan. That afternoon and evening I marched to Madison Court-House and Robertson’s River. About thirty prisoners were taken, but having no provisions, and it being very difficult, if not impossible, for them to keep up, I paroled them. The guns, two 3-inch rifled, were brought to camp. December 24, at daylight started from Madison Court-House, marched, via James City, Griffinsburg, and Stone-House Mountain, to near Rixeyville. December 25, at daylight marched to the Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, crossing in the meantime the Hazel and the Rappahannock Rivers, the former with great difficulty indeed. December 26, march resumed at daylight, Second Division leading. On reaching Warrenton the Second Division went in the direction of Salem and Piedmont, camping near Paris. At Warrenton the First Division marched in the direction of New Baltimore, Georgetown, White Plains, and Middleburg, camping near the latter place. December 27, the Second Division marched, via Paris, Ashby’s Gap, to Millwood. December 28, First Division marched to camp near Winchester.

The country through which we passed was thoroughly cleaned of stock and forage. The command was obliged to live on the country for six days. Altogether it was an extremely hard trip on men and horses on account of the intense cold and bad weather. For six days out of the ten it either rained, hailed, or snowed, and sometimes all three.

A.T.A. Torbert,

Brevet Major General, Chief of Cavalry, Commanding.

To Brevet Brigadier General Forsyth, Chief of Staff, Headquarters Army of the Shenandoah.”

Total casualties from the raid were 7 killed, 38 wounded, 47 missing, 10 accidentally hurt, for an aggregate of 102. Torbert does not mention frostbite injuries, but there were over two hundred cases in his force, which was half as large and whose raid was half the duration of Torbert’s. Two hundred fifty eight horses were lost, over five percent of the total, showing the effects of weather and distance on the mounts.


Official Records, Volume 43, Part I, pages 677-679 and Part II, page 803.

Abram V. Race, 6th U.S. Cavalry


, ,

Abram V. Race was born on February 2, 1838 in Belfast, Allegheny county, New York. He worked as farmer on the family farm until the outbreak of the Civil War.

On June 22, 1861, he enlisted into Company I, 42nd New York Infantry on Long Island. He was transferred to Company K the same day. The regiment fought well but lost heavily at Ball’s Bluff before the end of the year, losing 133 killed, wounded and missing. It served during the Peninsula campaign the next spring, losing over fifty men at Glendale during the Seven Days’ battles. At Antietam the regiment was heavily blooded again, losing 181 killed, wounded and missing out of 345 engaged. Most of these were lost during the charge under Gen. Sedgwick.

After the battle of Antietam, Abram transferred to Company K, 6th U.S. Cavalry. He was enlisted by Lieutenant Albert Coats at Knoxville, Maryland. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’6 ½” tall, with blue eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion. He apparently didn’t inform his former company of his intentions, as the records of the 42nd NY show him as deserting the regiment on November 5, 1862 at Warrenton, VA.

Abram served well through the winter and during the regiment’s 1863 campaigns. He was one of the few not to be wounded or captured during the fighting at Brandy Station and Fairfield. He completed his original enlistment period on April 24, 1864 at the Camp of the 6th Cavalry near Brandy Station, Virginia. Perhaps tired of Cavalry Corps headquarters escort duty, he chose not re-enlist in the regiment and returned home to New York. Over the summer he undoubtedly read in the local papers of the heavy cavalry fighting in the Overland Campaign and during Sheridan’s raids.

On September 19, 1864, he enlisted into the 1st New York Dragoons at Belfast, NY for one year. He was mustered in Company K as a private on October 1st. Ironically, he was headed right back to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He arrived in time for the battle of Cedar Creek on October 19th. He remained with them through the end of the war, mustering out with his regiment at Cloud’s Mill, Virginia on June 30, 1865.

After the war, Abram moved to Michigan, where he married Ann Sissens in 1866. They lived in Kent county, near Grand Rapids, and had five children. He worked as a laborer in Algoma, and they later rented a ten acre farm. In 1890 he filed for an invalid pension, complaining of rheumatism, piles, loss of hearing and sight.

In 1900, Abram is listed a single boarder with a family in Wheatland, Michigan. The following year he married Hanna Widdifield Bryant in Grand Rapids on April 15, 1901. He was 63, and she was 70. On April 18, 1908, he married Harriet McGee in Wheatland, Hillsdale county, Michigan. His age is listed as 71 and hers as 64.

Abram was admitted to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Bath, New York on April 27, 1916. He died there on November 24, 1916, and is buried at Bath National Cemetery, Steuben county, New York.

Brevets by Torbert, Part 1


, , , , , , ,


Major General Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert commanded the Union cavalry in Sheridan’s Middle Military District during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1864. I found this document a while back and thought today would be an appropriate day to post it.

This post is part 1 because in this document he only recommends his personal staff for brevets. It was eight days later before he recognized his subordinate commanders and officers. In fairness, those were most likely solicited from the units and took a bit longer to gather. The regular cavalry portion of that document will be posted before the end of the month.

There was apparently no statute of limitations on brevet promotions, as a couple of these go as far back as May of 1864. The entries are a bit repetitive, but I included them all as I thought it interesting just how long some of these officers were on staff away from their regiments.

Headquarters Cavalry, Middle Military Division
Winchester, Va., January 17, 1865

Lieutenant Colonel C. Kingsbury, Jr., Asst. Adjt. General, Army of the Shenandoah

I have the honor to recommend the following named officers for promotion by brevet:

Major Wm. Russell Jr., Asst Adjt. Genl., to be Lieutenant Colonel by brevet to date from September 19, ’64 for gallant and distinguished service in the battles of Opequon Sept 19, Cedar Creek Oct. 19, ’64 and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

Captain E.H. Bailey, 1st New York Cavy, A.A.D.C., to be brevet Major to date Oct. 19, ’64 for gallant and distinguished service at the battles of Opequon Sept. 19, Tom’s Creek Oct. 9, & Cedar Creek Oct. 19, ’64 and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

Captain F.G. Martindale,1st N.Y. Cavy., A.A.D.C., to brevet Major to date from October 19, ’64 for gallant and distinguished service in the battles of Opequon Sept. 19, Tom’s Creek Oct. 9, Cedar Creek Oct. 19, and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

Captain J.J. Coppinger, 14th U.S. Infantry, A.A.D.C., to be brevet Major for gallant and distinguished service at the battle of Trevillian Station Va. June 11 & 12, ’64 and brevet Lieutenant Colonel for gallant and distinguished service in the battles of Opequon Sept. 19, Tom’s Creek Oct. 9, Cedar Creek Oct. 19, ’64 and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

Captain C. McK. Leoser, 2d U.S. Cavy., Inspector General of Cavalry, M.M.D., to be brevet Major for gallant and distinguished service in the battles of Todd’s Tavern Va., May 9 & Yellow Tavern Va., May 11, ’64. And to be brevet Lieutenant Colonel for gallant and distinguished service in the battles of Old Church Va., May 30, Coal Harbor Va., May 31, and Trevillian Station Va., June 11 & 12, ’64.

1st Lieut. Howard H. Goldsmith, 15th New Jersey Volunteers, A.D.C. to be brevet Captain for gallant & distinguished services in the battles of Todd’s Tavern Va., May 9 and Yellow Tavern May 11, ’64. And to be brevet Major for gallant and distinguished services in the battles of Opequon Sept. 19, Tom’s Creek Oct. 9, Cedar Creek Va., Oct. 19, and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

1st Lieut. Robt. C. Wallace, 7th Mich. Vol. Cavy., A.A.D.C., to be brevet Captain for gallant and distinguished services in the battles of Todd’s Tavern Va., May 9 and Yellow Tavern Va., May 11, ’64. And to be brevet Major for gallant and distinguished services in the battles of Opequon Va., Sept. 19, Tom’s Creek Va., Oct. 9, Cedar Creek Va., Oct. 19, ’64 and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

C.J. Wilson, Asst. Surgeon U.S.A. and Medical Director Cavalry M.M.D. to be brevet Captain for meritorious and distinguished services in the Department in the battles of Todd’s Tavern Va., May 9 and Yellow Tavern Va., May 11, ’64 and other engagements on the Peninsula. And to be brevet Major to date from Oct. 19, ’64 for highly meritorious and distinguished services in the Department in twelve (12) engagements in the Shenandoah Valley where the wounded were well taken of under the most trying circumstances.

1st Lieutenant C.H. Lester, 2d U.S. Cavy., A.D.C., to be brevet Captain to date from July 27, ’64 for gallant and distinguished services in the battles of Todd’s Tavern Va., May 9, Yellow Tavern Va., May 11, Deep Bottom Va., July 27, ’64 and several other engagements on the Peninsula.

Captain G.B. Sanford, 1sst U.S. Cavalry, Mustering Officer, HdQrs. Cavalry, M.M.D., too be brevet Major to date from Oct. 19, ’64 for gallant and distinguished services in the battles of Opequon Sept. 19, Tom’s Creek Oct. 9, Cedar Creek Va., Oct. 19, ’64 and other engagements in the Shenandoah Valley.

1st Lieut. J.Q. Slater, 1st N.Y. Dragoons, Chief Ambulance Officer Cavalry, to be brevet Captain from Sept. 19, ’64 for gallant & distinguished services in the battles of Winchester Seppt. 19, Cedar Creek Oct. 19, and for his excellent management of the Ambulance Depm’t in all the battles in which the cavalry has been engaged.

(signed) A.T.A. Torbert, Brevet Major General, Comdg.

National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870, File T274, 1864.

Private John Sirrine, 2nd U.S. Cavalry


, ,

John Surine 2nd US Cavalry and 17th NYVI fom Michigan

Photo used with permission of Dale Niesen.

This is the second attempt to post this article to the blog, hopefully I will have better luck this time. I am deeply indebted to Dale Niesen for allowing me to use the image of John Sirrine from his private collection, and to Bob O’Neill for retrieving his pension record from the National Archives to add detail to the post.

John Sirrine was born in Williamsfield, Ashtabula county, Ohio on May 27, 1841. His family was Methodist, and his father a Sunday school superintendent for his church. John noted in his pension record a certificate he received at age seven for learning 73 verses of scripture. During his childhood, his family moved to Paw Paw, Van Buren county, Michigan, just west of Kalamazoo. His father died when he was 10. In his own words,

“My father went to Paw Paw Michigan in the year 1851 and purchased a nice tract of land, but two days later was called from this world to that better one, and where he had laid up greater treasures. Not having paid in full for the land in Michigan, my Mother lost nearly everything. My Mother having several children, I went to live with a neighbor farmer until I should be twenty one.”

At the outbreak of the Civil War John and many of his neighbors tried to enlist as volunteers in the Union Army. The local militia company, known as the La Fayette Light Guard, had formed in Van Buren county in 1859, and its ranks soon swelled with volunteers. The problem was that Michigan had already provided her share of the volunteers requested by President Lincoln. Not to be deterred, the company’s officers persisted in their efforts and the company became Company C, 70th New York Volunteer Infantry. John enlisted in the company on April 25, 1861, five days after his cousin Arthur.

The company departed for New York City on June 13, 1861, and mustered into federal service on June 30th. It remained on Staten Island until boarding a train for Washington July 23rd, arriving the next day. The regiment encamped on Meridian Heights through the winter, and embarked on ships for the peninsula with the rest of McClellan’s army in April 1862. It lost several men to typhoid fever during the winter, and John was nearly one of them. He was so sick that his brother travelled to Washington to care for him while he was in the hospital. He was offered his discharge, but refused it and was back on his feet in time for the spring campaign.

The company was heavily blooded during the spring and summer’s fighting. One hundred twelve men enrolled in the company, including the officers. In its first battle at Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, it lost 8 men killed and 23 wounded and missing. One soldier drowned at Harrison’s Landing, and a few weeks later at Fair Oaks it lost two more men killed and three who would later be discharged due to their wounds. Several more were wounded at Second Bull Run in August and Antietam in September. The company’s losses weighed so heavily on its commander, Captain James M. Longwell, that he resigned on November 21st and returned to Paw Paw.

When the order was published in October that volunteers could join regular army units for the remainder of their enlistments, it is unsurprising that John, his cousin Art, and six others volunteered for what they expected to be easier duty in the regular cavalry. All eight were enlisted into the regiment by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, Virginia on October 28, 1862. John’s enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 5” tall, with light hair, blue eyes and a light complexion. He listed his occupation as a farmer. John and two others, Henry Crandall and Samuel Garver, were assigned to Captain Starr’s Company D. Arthur and the others were assigned to Company B.

All eight survived the heavy fighting of 1863, including the grueling Gettysburg campaign. John thought so much of service with the cavalry that he re-enlisted at Leonardstown, Maryland on March 25, 1864. The Michigan men all survived the intense fighting of the Overland campaign during the summer of 1864 more or less intact. Unfortunately, they did not fare as well in the Shenandoah Valley.

John was shot in the right shoulder during the fighting at Winchester on September 19, 1864, and nearly lost his arm. The ball entered two inches below his right clavicle and exited through the deltoid muscle, fracturing the humerus and injuring the nerves controlling the forearm and hand. As he describes the event in his pension records:

“After wounded was next day taken to a church in Winchester, where after examination by a surgeon, was labeled (sic) “Operation.” I saw other surgeons taking men out of back door marked same way, and I investigated what took place in back yard. … I quarreled with the two surgeons who came to take me to the operating table the next day. They said, ‘Then lie there and die if you would rather do that than have that arm amputated.’”

Three days later John was evacuated to McClellan Hospital in Germantown, PA. He was forwarded with the remainder of the regular cavalry wounded to Carlisle Barracks about a month later. He was discharged for disability at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania on December, a week after the other seven were discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office since their volunteer enlistments had expired.

John returned to Paw Paw after his discharge. He filed his pension claim in January 1866. By 1870 he was working as a painter and married to his wife Rosetta, a woman seven years younger from New York. She died childless before the next census, and John never remarried. In 1880 he was working in a furniture store in Paw Paw and living in a boarding house. His mother died there in 1887.

John entered the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 21, 1896. At the time he was receiving $8 per month from a disability pension. He was discharged at his own request February 3, 1899 and moved to nearby River Falls. In 1908, his pension was increased by Congress to $30 per month. His cousin Art had passed away the year before at the Michigan Soldiers Home. By 1912 John had returned to live in Paw Paw.

John continued to lobby the government for higher disability payments, without much success. Local doctors would examine him and recommend a higher rate, only to be denied by the Bureau’s surgeons when they examined his records. In one letter he noted bitterly:

“The trouble seems to be with some of us that we enlisted too early in the war, served too long, kept out of hospital too much, didn’t give ourselves up to be prisoners of war, didn’t drink enough “Plantation Bitters” and haven’t drank enough “Personal” or the stuff that made Milwaukee famous since.”

By 1920 John had moved to California. His brother and sister had both died in Paw Paw the year before, so there were few remaining ties to keep him in Michigan. His half-brother, B.W. Bonfoey, lived in Los Angeles. In the 1920 census he was living at 926 Wall Street in Los Angeles, with no occupation listed.

John Sirrine died chronic myocarditis and arterio sclerosis on March 5, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. He is buried in Los Angeles National Cemetery, plot 44 16.

The Civil War service of the other seven members of his company:

Abrams, James E. Resident of Paw Paw, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry May 14, 1861, at Paw Paw, Michigan as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged at the expiration of his term of service on October 28, 1864 as a private. Born Clarendon county, New York. Farmer.

Crandall, Henry. Resident of Keeler, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry May 14, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company D, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, Virginia on December 6, 1864 as a private. Born Hillsdale county, MI. Farmer.

Garver, Samuel. Resident of Lawton, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 27, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Wounded in action at Williamsburg, VA on May 5, 1862. Transferred to Company D, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, Virginia on December 6, 1864as a private. Born Seneca county, Ohio. Farmer.

Reese, Henry. Resident of Porter, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 30, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, VA on December 7, 1864 as a private. Born Kalamazoo, MI. Farmer.

Robinson, Lyman. Resident of Paw Paw, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 22, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, VA on December 6, 1864 as a private. Born Van Buren county, MI. Cooper.

Ryan, Michael. Resident of Lawrence, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry May 22, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a sergeant. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office on December 6, 1864 as a private. Re-entered service in Company B, 10th Michigan Cavalry, discharged November 7, 1865. Born in Ireland. Wagon maker.

Sirrine, Art. Resident of Paw Paw, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 20, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, VA on December 6, 1864 as a private. Born Trumbull county, Ohio. Farmer.


National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
National Archives, Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration, Pension record #67724.
Rowland, Captain O.W. A History of Van Buren County Michigan, Volume 1. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912. Pages 300-307.

Benjamin Griffin, 6th U.S. Cavalry


, ,


Benjamin Griffin was born in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. He enlisted as a private in Company A, 82nd Pennsylvania Infantry on November 6, 1861. He did not see any major engagements before he was discharged for disability on August 20, 1862. The disability was not stated, but he apparently recovered quickly once he returned home.
Following the battle of Antietam, Benjamin enlisted in Company C, 6th U.S. Cavalry at Knoxville, Maryland on October 28, 1862. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 11 ½” tall, with dark hair, gray eyes and a light complexion. He served with his new regiment during the winter picketing of the Rappahannock, Stoneman’s Raid and the battle of Brandy Station without suffering any wounds.

During the battle of Fairfield on July 3, 1863, Private Griffin was part of Lieutenant Tattnall Paulding’s squadron fighting dismounted on the regiment’s right flank. When the Union position was overrun, he was captured trying to reach his horse. He was a prisoner of war at Belle Isle until he was exchanged January 7, 1864.

After a brief stay in Annapolis, Maryland, he returned to the regiment for duty at Cavalry Corps headquarters during the winter of 1863. He fought in the battles of the spring 1864 Overland campaign and the initial skirmishes of Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign before his enlistment expired on September 17, 1864. He was discharged at Berryville, Virginia and presumably returned home for the remainder of the war.

Fiddler’s Green: William B. Royall


, , , ,

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.