2nd U.S. Cavalry, cavalry, Charles Polk, Civil War, Daniel Mount, Robert Lennox, sergeants major, Thomas Burton, Thomas Delacour
A careful examination of the regimental monthly returns revealed that the lists of regimental sergeants major found in Heitman and Lambert are incorrect. While only five men held the position, they did so over seven different periods of time. Their performance was inconsistent, with two ending their tenure through appointments as officers and one being reduced to the ranks – multiple times. They did share one thing in common. Without exception, they all worked as clerks prior to enlisting in the army, or at least claimed they had. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate a picture of any of them.
Thomas W. Burton was born in Albany, NY in 1829. He was enlisted into Company G, 2nd U.S. Dragoons by Captain McLane at Baltimore, MD on March 26, 1852. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 8 ½” tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion. He served this entire enlistment in Company G, reenlisting as a private at Fort Riley, Kansas Territory on January 26, 1857. His second enlistment was much more successful, as he quickly moved through the ranks in Companies G, C, A and E. He was promoted to regimental sergeant major on March 12, 1860.
Captain Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the regiment at the time, requested Sergeant Major Burton’s appointment as a second lieutenant in the regiment on October 29, 1861. Pleasonton’s request was accompanied by a group recommendation stating that he had “shown himself in the discharge of the duties of his office to be an energetic and efficient soldier, an excellent and capable man and welll worthy of promotion to the position as an officer.” The group included Captains John Buford and George A. Gordon, Lieutenant William P. Sanders and regimental adjutant Wesley Merritt. The appointment was quickly approved, and Lieutenant Burton accepted his commission at regimental headquarters in the Park Hotel, Washington, D.C. on November 2nd.
Daniel Mount was promoted to be the regiment’s second Civil War sergeant major on January 5, 1862. He served as a sergeant in Company H prior to his promotion. Mount was born in West Meath, Ireland in 1827, and had served in the regiment nearly twelve years at the time of his promotion. He originally enlisted into Company H on March 22, 1850 in New York City. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 8 ¾” tall, with brown hair, gray eyes and a ruddy complexion. He reenlisted the first time in February 1855 at Fort Leavenworth and the second time in February 1860 at Camp Floyd, Utah Territory. Mount’s tenure as sergeant major was brief, as he was reduced to the ranks into Company E only a month later.
First Sergeant Robert Lennox of Company D succeeded Mount as the third sergeant major. Robert Lennox was born in Sligo, Ireland in 1833. He originally enlisted into Company D on October 16, 1854 in New York City, where he had worked as a clerk. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 8” tall, with sandy hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He reenlisted in Company D on August 15, 1859 at Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory. He served as sergeant major through the Peninsula and Antietam campaigns, until September 23, 1862, when he received notification of his appointment as a second lieutenant in the regiment on July 17th. His recommendation for appointment had been submitted in January and again in June 1862, as a “brave, intelligent and energetic young man, and has seen some eight years of continual active service as a noncommissioned officer of this regiment.”
Sergeant Thomas Delacour, also of Company D, became the regiment’s fourth sergeant major the following day. A large number of the regiment’s first sergeants were promoted the same day as Lennox, and an equal number of sergeants promoted to fill the gaps. Delacour was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1837, and worked as a clerk. He was originally enlisted into the regiment by one of its legends, Captain Charles May, on April 22, 1857. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 8 ½” tall, with black hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. He reenlisted as the sergeant major on December 15, 1862 in camp near Falmouth, and served in that position through all the fighting of 1863.
Wesley Merritt related an incident involving Sergeant Major Delacour in Rodenbough’s From Everglade to Canyon. During the battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, Sergeant Major Delacour was riding to the assistance of Lieutenant Robert Lennox, who had been wounded and unhorsed. A Confederate cavalryman rode up and fired at Lennox, who exclaimed “Don’t shoot; I’m wounded!” With an oath the rebel horseman emptied another barrel of his revolver near Lennox’s head. Delacour then drew his pistol and shot the man out of his saddle, remarking, “And now you are wounded.”
Captain George A. Gordon, serving as regimental commander, requested a commission for Sergeant Major Delacour on July 17, 1863. In part, Gordon’s recommendation read, “He has already been recommended by the officers of the regiment for promotion and has been mentioned several times in orders for gallantry and good conduct in action. He is a man of good habits, gentlemanly in his deportment and I am confident that he would do honor to the service.” An endorsement by his brigade commander, Brigadier General Wesley Merritt noted that Delacour “elicited the admiration of all connected with him by his coolness and gallantry in action, and his zealous attention to duty at all times.” Despite approval by Major Generals Pleasonton and Meade, Delacour never received the appointment. On February 4, 1864, he was transferred to first sergeant of Company G by Special Order No. 15. It is unclear why the transfer occurred, but had it been for misconduct he would have been reduced to the ranks. Delacour served ably as the first sergeant through the hard fought campaigns of 1864.
Chief Bugler Charles Polk succeeded Delacour as the regiment’s fifth sergeant major. Polk was born in Hanover, Germany and worked as a clerk before joining the army. He originally enlisted into Company H in Philadelphia, PA on November 22, 1856. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’4” tall, with light hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. He reenlisted into Company H as a bugler on November 15, 1861 in Washington, D.C. He was promoted through the ranks in the company to sergeant prior to his appointment as the regiment’s chief bugler on May 23, 1863. Polk served as the sergeant major through Sheridan’s raids and the Shenandoah Valley campaign until the expiration of his term of service on November 15, 1864.
Thomas Delacour was again promoted to sergeant major the same day, and served in that position through the winter of 1864. On March 18, 1865, he was reduced to quartermaster sergeant in Company E.
Delacour was replaced by Daniel Mount, who had meanwhile earned promotions back through the ranks to first sergeant. The entry in the regimental returns is difficult to read, but he was first sergeant of either Company K or M. Mount served as sergeant major until June 1st, when he was once again reduced to the ranks, this time into Company K, by Special Order No. 39.
The same order restored Delacour as sergeant major, where he served until his enlistment expired on December 16, 1865. He was succeeded again by Daniel Mount, who lasted only two weeks this final time, before being replaced by William Search on January 1, 1866.
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, M619, Letters Received by the Adjutant General’s Office, 1861-1870
NARA, RG94, M1064, Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1863-1870.
NARA, RG 94, Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914
NARA, RG 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Regiments, 2nd U.S. Cavalry
Rodenbough, Theophilus F. From Everglade to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.