On August 18, 1846, Company B of the 1st United States Dragoons participated in the bloodless conquest of Santa Fe. Brig. General Stephen W. Kearny, with orders to proceed to California, broke up Company B and transferred most of its enlisted men and mounts to the other four companies of Dragoons and headed west. Lt. John Love, now in field command of Company B, was ordered to return East to gather recruits.
While Lt. Love was slowly gaining recruits for Company B in Ohio and Indiana, he received the following letter from Lt. Henry Stanton, the regimental adjutant. The letter is significant in two regards. First, it reveals that the new Grimsley horse equipage was being widely issued, prior to its official adoption by the Army board in 1848. Second, the letter tells of a November 12, 1846, running battle between elements of the 1st Dragoons and the Navajo. Although the Dragoons had patrolled the plains since 1833, this encounter was the first reported skirmish between the Dragoons and Native Americans and occurred nearly a month prior to the bloody clash between Company C and Californio militia near the village of San Pascual, California.
Ft. Leavenworth, December 24, 1846
I send you herewith a Regimental and General Orders, and an extract from the clothing receipt roll of Sergt. Muller and Corpl. Nickerson, clothing issued by Lieut. McLean. I also send you Duplicate Receipts for Ordnance and Horse Equipage which I have directed Sergt. Bishop to leave behind as I do not think you would want to be troubled with old equipage and ordnance at Jefferson Barracks, when you will probably get an entire New Equipment for your Company.
If you should want any horse equipage I have receipted for a good deal of New Equipage that was sent on for the different Dragoon Companies, and which has never been used, and if you are not able to equip you Company entirely at St. Louis, I may be able to help you. Colonel Wharton has at last indirectly applied to join the Army in the field, he will probably get an answer before the middle of next month. We got a mail from Santa Fe a day or two ago. Grier had a fight with the Indians, it seems they have runned [sic] off some cattle, Grier followed them, but owing to the bad condition of the mules of his party, only himself, Lieut. Wilson and two men were able to come up with the Indians; they killed two of the Indians and Grier’s horse or mule whatever it was, shot [out from] under him. The Dragoons under Burgwin have been ordered to the Passo [El Paso] to protect the traders. He writes very despondently, says, if his men were only Dragoons he might do something. I hope that Colonel Wharton joins [Generals] Scott or Taylor that he will [have] some more Companies of the 1st Dragoons down with him. If he could get four or five Companies it would be a very pretty command. How are you getting along at Dayton. Did the Girls give you a warm welcome? I was not able to send you a copy of your estimate for clothing because by some mistake it was sent off without a copy being attached. If there should by any possibility be any thing new here, I will [sic] let you know.
An account of Lt. Grier’s battle with the Navajos appears in Lt. Col. W.H.
Emory, Notes of a Military Reconnaissance, Ex. Doc. Mo. 41, Washington
Military Reconnaissance, Ex. Doc. No. 41, 1848, Report of Lt. J. W. Abert, 498.
“So warm and exciting was the chase, that the officers, who were well
mounted, heeded not the want of their men who were unable to keep pace
with them, but they pressed on, anxious to recover the immense “cavalgada”
of sheep the Indians were yet driving.
Suddenly they saw they had rushed into an ambuscade, for the Indians
rising up from their concealment surrounded Captain Grier and his three
brave companions. With horrid cries and shouts of “Navajoe,” the
Indians sprang forward to the combat; they were dressed for war, being
ornamented with paints and plumes, and mounted on good horses, and
armed with bows and arrows, and lances; but, fortunately, they were so
crowded that they feared lest they shoot each other. At length, one of
the chiefs came alongside of Lieutenant Wilson; their horses were on
the gallop, each one waiting until the horses should jump together,
when, at the same moment, Lieutenant Wilson and the Indian fired; the
officer’s pistol did not go off, and the arrow of the chief only cut
off a coat button, and lodged in the saddle blanket of Captain Grier.
As the Indian turned his horse, a Mexican, who had started at full
speed, came in contact with him, and rolled horse and rider in the
dust; the Indian was immediately upon his feet, and rushed up to a
dragoon soldier, who had a patent [Hall’s] carbine, such as loaded at
the breach, and had, unseen by the Indian, reloaded it, and the Indian
coming up within two or three feet, the soldier shot him dead. One
other Indian was killed, when Captain Grier ordered a retreat, and the
four, drawing their sabres, cut their way out and rejoined their
company, while the Navajoes succeeded in carrying off 3,000 head of
Thanks to the efforts of Tim Kimball,here is more on Burgwin from Stanton via the Missouri Republican, December 29, 1846
stanton (presumably) to editor, missouri republican:
Fort Leavenworth December 21, 1846.
Dear Sirs: I send you for your disposal the following items of intelligence, this day received by express from Santa Fe. An officer of the medical department [[either De Camp or Simpson]] of the army writes to this effect, under date of the 9 th of Nov., from Santa Fe:
“Capt. Grier and Lieut. Wilson, with two soldiers , (of the first dragoons,) pursued and overtook a large party of Navajos and killed two of them, recapturing at the same time a flock of sheep. The rest of the company being mounted on poor mules, could not overtake the Indians. The captain’s horse was wounded – no other damage done.”
An officer of the 1st dragoons [[clearly Burgwin]], writing from Albuquerque, under date of the 25 th of October, says to his correspondent [[who HAS to be Stanton]]:
“tomorrow I start on an expedition to the south. I have (at Albuquerque) a solitary [[garbled–best guess]] squadron of 175 men. I would feel perfectly satisfied with my situation, were not my command so truly ineffectual [[this is a complaint about the squadron being mounted on the worst of the dragoons’ mules, not about the quality of his dragoons– and soon this, the squadron was completely dismounted]]. All our horses, you know, have been sent to Missouri, under the belief that they could not sustain the fatigues, and no forage, of the march to California. When the detachment for the march was finally made up at Socorro, all of the really serviceable mules were selected for it, out of the companies that were to remain in this country – so that now I have not only for my mounts, but for my teams, the sorriest lot of animals that were ever seen. I had the greatest difficulty in performing the march back to this place, and now find myself with scarce the ability to move from it. I received today a call upon me, which demands prompt attention, and which requires the exertions of my utmost ability. After pacification of the country, the Chihuahua traders continued their journey towards the south, in order that they might avail themselves of the operations of General Wool’s army, for the entrance of their goods into California.
“It seems that some had trusted too far to the peaceful professions of the Mexicans. They have all halted about one hundred and fifty miles from here, and having good reasons, they say, to believe that the Mexicans from the settlements of El Passo, design making the attack on them, for plunder, have written up for troops to protect them. The value of their property is estimated at a half million of dollars. Although these traders have by their own imprudence placed themselves in this danger, yet the protection of so many American lives, and of so large an amount of American property, is a matter of great importance; and I feel it incumbent on me, feeble and small as is my force, to make an effort to accomplish it. What would I not give to have with me a squadron of dragoons! [[again, a complaint about mounts, not soldiers]] Since receiving the letter from the traders, I have received letters from Gov. Bent, the intelligence communicated in which tends to confirm the impression that there is a very general feeling of discontent existing among the people of the province, and that efforts have been made to get up an opposition towards us, the first development of which is to be an attack on the traders below. It is said that a force of one thousand men has been assembled at El Passo del Norte, to act in concert with the people above in this business. If this should be, or could out approach for the protection of the traders by unknown to them, we may yet have the satisfaction and enjoyment of a battle with these people. Of the fatigues and hardships of a quasi war the 1st dragoons have had enough, but we cannot boast the honor of having been in a stricken field.
“Gen. Kearney, in making his arrangements for his expedition to California, under the impression that troops enough for the maintenance of the American supremacy in this country were on their way here and would soon arrive, gave orders that Col. Doniphn’s regiment should proceed by El Passo to join Gen. Wool’s army en route to Chihuahua. I have just learned that Doniphan left Santa Fe yesterday en route to El Passo. We are much concerned at the prospect of starvation amongst us before spring. The supply of provisions is far short of the demand and that to be drawn from the country is far short of the supposed deficiency.”
Henry Stanton would serve as regimental adjutant at Fort Leavenworth and Jefferson Barracks until 1851. Gaining a Captain’s commission in 1854, he was placed in command of John Love’s old Company B. In January of 1855, Company B took part in an expedition against the Mescalero Apache, south of Sierra Blanca in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico Territory. Captain Stanton forgot all about Captain Grier’s near fatal mistake of riding too far in advance of his support. While rashly leading a small detachment in pursuit of a fleeing band of Mescaleros, Captain Stanton and three troopers were ambushed and killed.
For further information on the refitting of Company B, see Gorenfeld, Jefferson Barracks, 1847: I’m Disgusted with the Duty, Military Collector & Historian, Winter 2003-2004, Vol. 55, No. 4, 211. John Love graduated from the Military Academy in 1841 and was promoted to the rank of 2d Lieut. in the 1st Dragoons in 1842, and 1st Lieut. on June 30, 1846. (George W. Cullum. Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy (New York, J. F. Trow, 1850) 241 (hereafter cited as Cullum)
Born in New York, Henry W. Stanton graduated from the Military Academy in 1842 and became a 2d lieut. in the 1st Dragoons on October 8, 1844. In 1846, he was serving at Fort Leavenworth as regimental adjutant. (Cullum, 253.)
In 1846, the Ringgold saddle was the official saddle for the mounted arm. It was not until March 7, 1848, that an Army board approved the Grimsley saddle as the official pattern. (Stephen Dorsey & Kenneth McPheeters, The American Military Saddle 1776-1945 (Collectors—™ Library, Eugene, Ore. 1999), 20.
The original of this letter may be found at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis. The author wises to express his deep appreciation to Mrs. Besty Caldwell for making a copy of this letter available.
German-born First Sergeant Frederick Muller had been with the Dragoons since 1834. He was thirty-five years of age and was six foot-one inch in height. Lt. Love wrote of Muller that, —œwhether in battle, in camp, or on the march, he is energetic and soldierly; never in one instance have I known him to neglect his duty.— Sergeant Muller donned the scarlet trimmed jacket of an Ordnance Sergeant. He served in this capacity until his death in 1861 at Fort Wood in New York harbor. (Report of John Love, House Ex. Docs., 30 Cong., 1 sess., No. 1, 120.; (War Department Files, National Archives, Lt. John Love’s Company B, Muster Roll Records, 28 February to 30 April, 1847. (Hereafter, Muster Roll)..
Trooper John F. Nickerson enlisted in the 1st Dragoons in 1841. Promoted to the rank of corporal in June of 1847, on February 6, 1848, he received a surgeon—™s discharge. (Muster Roll, Company B, 1 January to 28 February, 1848.).
2d Lt. Eugene Eckel McLean, 1st Infantry, graduated from the Military Academy in 1842. During the Mexican War he served as Aide de Camp to General John Wool. (Cullum, 253)
Sergeant Benjamin Bishop had served with the Dragoons since 1834. Sergeant Bishop was discharged in 1849 and gained employment at Fort Leavenworth as a civilian forage master for the army. (Percival Lowe. Five Years a Dragoon (Norman, Okla. Univ. Oklahoma Press), 82-83, 242; Muster Roll, Company B, 29 February to 30 April, 1847.)
Lt. Col. Clifton Wharton. 1st Dragoons (Heitman, 1022).
Capt. William N. Grier, 1st Dragoons, graduated from the Military Academy in 1835, was promoted to Captain on August 23, 1846 and commanded Company I. (Cullum, 205.)
A detailed account appears in Lt. Col. W.H. Emory, Notes of a Military Reconnaissance, Ex. Doc. No. 41, Washington, 1848, Report of Lt. J. W. Abert, 498. —œSo warm and exciting was the chase, that the officers, who were well mounted, heeded not the want of their men who were unable to keep pace with them, but they pressed on, anxious to recover the immense “cavalgada” of sheep the Indians were yet driving. Suddenly they saw they had rushed into an ambuscade, for the Indians rising up from their concealment surrounded Captain Grier and his three brave companions. With horrid cries and shouts of “Navajoe,” the Indians sprang forward to the combat; they were dressed for war, being ornamented with paints and plumes, and mounted on good horses, and armed with bows and arrows, and lances; but, fortunately, they were so crowded that they feared lest they shoot each other. At length, one of the chiefs came alongside of Lieutenant Wilson; their horses were on the gallop, each one waiting until the horses should jump together, when, at the same moment, Lieutenant Wilson and the Indian fired; the officer’s pistol did not go off, and the arrow of the chief only cut off a coat button, and lodged in the saddle blanket of Captain Grier. As the Indian turned his horse, a Mexican, who had started at full speed, came in contact with him, and rolled horse and rider in the dust; the Indian was immediately upon his feet, and rushed up to a dragoon soldier, who had a patent [Hall—™s] carbine, such as loaded at the breach, and had, unseen by the Indian, reloaded it, and the Indian coming up within two or three feet, the soldier shot him dead. One other Indian was killed, when Captain Grier ordered a retreat, and the four, drawing their sabres, cut their way out and rejoined their company, while the Navajoes succeeded in carrying off 3,000 head of sheep.”
2d Lt. Clarendon J. L. Wilson, 1st Dragoons, graduated from the Military Academy in 1846 and was serving as a brevet 2d Lt at the time of the battle. (Cullum, 271.)
Capt. John Henry K. Burgwin, 1st Dragoons. Graduated from the Military Academy in 1830 and was promoted to Captain on July 31, 1837, and commanded Company G. Captain Burgwin was mortally wounded during the Taos insurrection and died of wounds on February 7, 1847. (Cullum, 163.)
During the most of Mexican War, there was lively trade between American merchants in Santa Fe and Mexican merchants in Chihuahua. (See generally, Edward James Glasgow and William Henry Glasgow, Brothers on the Santa Fe and Chihuahua Trails, edited by Mark L. Gardner (Niwest, Colo, Univ. Colorado Press 1993).
Francis Heitman, Historical Register of the United States Army (Washington D.C. GPO 1903) 1:916; LTC Miles to General Garland November 18, 1854 (National Archives Microfilm Publication, Washington, D.C.) M1120, roll 3,
Capt. Richard Ewell to Lt. William Nichols, 10 February 1855, Letters Received, Department of New Mexico, Record Group 393, Microfilm 1120, Roll 4, National Archives.
; James A. Bennett, Fort & Forays, edited by Clinton E. Brooks & Frank Reeve (Univ. New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1996), xxviii-xxix. James Bennett, a sergeant with Company I, described the battle and Stanton—™s death as follows: —œThe main body of troops moved up the stream and small parties of Dragoons kept charging out after parties of Indians. A running fight was kept up until 4 o—™clock, when we encamped. Captain Stanton with 12 men rushed up a deep ravine. The Indians in ambush fired upon him, a ball passed through his forehead.— (Bennett, 60.) In Captain Richard Ewell—™s official account of the battle, he states: —œAbout 3 PM on the 18th of Jan , I came to the first of their abandoned camps where my command was halted for the night and Captain Stanton was directed to take his company, with some additional men and examine a small open valley to the right where were some more abandoned lodges, about 500 yards distant, and endeavor to find the direction taken by the Indians when they left. This officer, after reaching the place designated, charged after some Indians he saw in front and in following up the steep hillside in the ardor of the chase, became separated from some of his men, badly mounted, who were unable to join him when he sounded the rally. After rallying about a dozen men he proceeded up the valley until he became satisfied that the Indians had not retreated in that direction, then he started back, leading his horses. About three-fourths of a mile form the camp the valley narrowed with trees, and here he was ambushed and fired into, the first fire killing one of his men. He ordered his party to take to the trees, but the Indians being in too great force, he mounted and ordered his party to retreat, remaining in the rear himself, firing his Sharps carbine, when he received a shot in the head and was instantly killed.— (Ewell to Nicolls, Letters Received, Dept of NM.)
6th November, 1846, Santa Fe
And from Gilmer Lenoir, a member of the Missouri Volunteers, is this letter concerning the same event:
My Dear Welcker [Gilmer’s cousin George, a Captain in Washington at the Fortification Engineers Bureau],
—œThe small body of Regulars, about 200 strong, that are stationed near Albuquerque, 120 [sic, 65– tho Gilmer is giving the distance to Lemitar, where the following event took place] miles south of this, marched down the Rio Grande some three weeks ago towards the Paso del Norte, for the purpose of protecting the traders going from Santa FÃ© to Chihuahua. It is almost impossible to subsist horses in this country so late in the season and for this reason the Reglrs were mounted on mules—”not a very fierce animal, by the bye, on a charge. When they had arrived in the vicinity of TomÃ© [pronounced Toma] a body of Navajo Indians were discovered in the act of driving off a large flock of sheep belonging to the Spaniards—”the latter in pursuit, but afraid to approach with the range of the Indian arrows. Capt. Burgwin detached 60 men and Capt. Grier in pursuit, but spurs, whips, kicks, and curses could bring nothing more than a high trot out of the war studs on which they were mounted—”the sheep and the Indians were about to distance the mules, when Capt. G., Lieut. Wilson, a sergeant and one private who were mounted on horses, dashed ahead and charged in the midst of about fifty Indians. Grier and Wilson—™s pistols missed fire, having been loaded for several days. The Sergeant and private each killed his man, to which the enemy took fright and scampered off like so many wild turkies [sic], leaving their booty in the possession of Capt. Grier and his men. The Sheep were driven back and delivered to the Spaniards who owned them. After this affair, Capt. Burgwin continued his march to the south. From the best intelligence which we have been able to obtain from that directions since, it is more than probable that Capt. B. will find no enemy north of El Paso, beyond which he will not advance; but, in the course of 12 or 15 days, he will return to his station near Albuquerque.—
Lenoir Family Papers, #2262, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Courtesy of Tim Kimball.