154 years ago today, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry was serving on the Peninsula. The regiment had not participated in the Battle of Gaines Mill, and was sent by General McClellan to find a route for the army to the James River. No great battle narratives in here, but I was surprised how big a role it played in the initial consolidation. Pleasonton has been known to blow his own horn, but I think he would have been called out if he exaggerated on this one.
Headquarters Second Cavalry
Camp at Harrison’s Landing, James River, Va., July 4, 1862
General: I have the honor to submit the following report of services of my command, the Second Cavalry and the McClellan Dragoons, 489 strong, in executing the orders of General McClellan, from the 28th of June to the 3d of July:
On the evening of the 28th of June I received orders to escort Lieut. Col. B.S. Alexander, Corps of Engineers and aide-de-camp, in a reconnaissance to determine the best position for the army on the left of White Oak Swamp to cover the movement to James River. The command started from Savage Station at 8 o’clock p.m., and was all night on the road through White Oak Swamp, owing to the difficulties and obstructions on that route. Next morning at 7 a.m. I reported to Colonel Alexander, who was then beyond the White Oak Bridge, and we immediately proceeded to examine the country in front of Keyes;’ corps, at that time in the advance, and a line of battle was suggested covering the junction of the Quaker, New Market, and Charles City roads, and extending up the latter beyond the debouche of the road through the swamp, over which Sykes’ division had passed. We were occupied in this duty until near 1 o’clock, when learning the commanding general had arrived on the field, the colonel reported to him what had been done.
The general then ordered us to proceed to James River, open communication with the gunboats, and examine the country for a suitable location to establish the army. After a march of 18 miles, in which every precaution was taken to repel an attack, the command reached the James River, near Carter’s Landing, on the evening of the 29th June, at 5.30 o’clock. No gunboats were in sight, but Colonel Alexander proceeded immediately down the river in a small boat in search of one. Upon inquiring I learned that a force of the enemy had been in that vicinity that morning. I therefore kept my command ready to mount, and extended my pickets 1 ½ to 3 miles on the right, front, and left. More than an hour elapsed and Colonel Alexander did not return, (end pg 47) and knowing how necessary it was to have the plans of the general commanding carried out at an early moment, I availed myself of the kind offer of Captain Been, of the gunboat —–, who had just come down the river, and went off to the Galena, Commodore Rodgers’ flagship, which was lying 4 or 5 miles above us. The commodore offered us every assistance, and directed the Port Royal, Captain Morris, to cover our position at Carter’s Landing. Colonel Alexander returned about 8 o’clock with the steamer Stepping Stones, and having dispatched an express to General McClellan, repaired on board the Galena. I then returned to my command, which remained saddled all night in a strong position, ready for service at a moment’s notice.
Early next morning, the 30th of June, my pickets reported the arrival of the advance troops of Keyes’ corps; but in the mean time the sick, wounded, stragglers, and trains of wagons and ambulances from different corps came rapidly in on us. The former repaired in great numbers to the steamer Stepping Stones, which was at the wharf, and so great was the rush that I was obliged to clear this vessel three different times of all persons except such wounded and sick as the medical officers in attendance declared ought to be sent to Fortress Monroe. This vessel left about 11 o’clock a.m. with 500 or 600 of the worst cases of sick and wounded. To the generous kindness of the Navy were we indebted for this opportune assistance; and in connection with this subject it is proper to record the valuable services of Capt. George U. Morris, of the Port Royal, in furnishing subsistence and supplies, besides giving his own personal attention and exertions to the care of the sick and wounded.
Throughout both days, the 30th of June and the 1st of July, the sick, wounded, and stragglers kept coming in, and I can only estimate their numbers by the means I adopted to supply their wants, for they were without food or organization. The sick were established in camps according to their respective divisions, and as the different medical officers came in I assigned them to duty with the divisions to which they belonged. The wounded were sent to the Carter house to be attended to by the surgeons at that place. The stragglers were organized into two commands, viz, those with arms and those without. Captain Hight, Second Cavalry, had charge of those with arms, and they numbered over 2,000 men. The party without arms was more numerous. The trains of wagons and ambulances were parked in convenient positions to water and forage.
On the 30th of June beef and salt were issued to those who asked for them, and 1,000 rations of bread obtained from the Navy were also issued. On the 1st of July the steamer Spaulding arrived with supplies, when 8,000 additional rations of coffee, sugar, bread, salt, and meat were issued; besides, 15 head of cattle were killed and distributed by my command. From these facts there must have been 10,000 or 12,000 men in sick, wounded, and stragglers at Carter’s Landing during the 30th of June and the 1st of July. There were also some 800 wagons and 300 ambulances.
On the morning of the 2d of July I was apprised of the army being ordered to move to apposition covering Harrison’s landing, and in consequence I ordered all the trains of wagons and ambulances, with all the sick and wounded capable of moving, to start immediately for that place. My command covered the rear of all of these parties, and I have the satisfaction of reporting to the general commanding that all of these large trains of materiel and personnel reached their several destinations in the army in safety. When the state of the weather, the (end pg 48) roads, and the near approach of the enemy at that time are remembered, the duties required of all concerned for the successful accomplishment of this undertaking will be understood. Besides these arduous duties, I caused the country in the neighborhood of the Chickahominy to be explored to observe the enemy.
Captain Norris, with his squadron, performed this duty on the 30th of June, and Captain Green with an equal force went within 4 miles of the Chickahominy on the River road, while one of his detachments passed as far as Charles City Court House on the Charles City road. There was no enemy visible on either occasion, and the fact was reported by me at the time to General Marcy, chief of staff.
The squadron of McClellan Dragoons under Major Barker rendered good and efficient services in the above-named movements, and the major himself was conspicuous for the energy and activity he displayed in keeping the road clear on the march from Carter’s Landing to this place.
In conclusion, I desire to recommend to the favorable notice of the general commanding the following-named officers of the Second Cavalry, for the zeal, gallantry, and activity they have displayed in the discharge of their duties: Capts. Charles E. Norris, Thomas Hight, and John Green. Captains Norris and Green were charged with destroying two bridges over the Chickahominy after our army had crossed, and the services performed by them were highly satisfactory. Three caissons of one of our batteries having been left on the other side of the Chickahominy, Captain Green crossed with some of his men, threw the ammunition into the river, and set fire to the caissons.
First Lieut. James F. McQuesten, adjutant, and Second Lieut. Edward Ball, regimental quartermaster, have discharged their duties with great credit and ability, and are very deserving officers.
The faithful services and good conduct of the noncommissioned officers and privates of the Second Cavalry in the campaign of the last three months in this Peninsula have been a source of the highest gratitude and pride to all the officers of the regiment. I do not think this appreciation can be better expressed than by naming two of the most deserving of them to the general commanding for such promotion as the exigencies of the service will permit. I am satisfied that Sergt. Maj. Robert Lennox and Quartermaster Sergt. Edward J. Spaulding will show themselves worthy of any advancement in their profession it may be deemed proper to bestow upon them.
I remain, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major, Second Cavalry, Commanding.
General S. Williams, A.A.G., Hdqrs. Army of the Potomac.
Source: Official Records, Volume 11, part 2, pgs 47-49)