Co. F, 1st Dragoons at Churubusco

Company F, 1st Dragoons was commanded by Captain Phil Thompson, but recruited, trained and led in the field by Lieutenant Phil Kearny. Shortly before the war with Mexico, Phil Kearny wrote to his friend John Love from New York. June 7, 1846, to Lt. John Love of the 1st U.S. Dragoons. “I hope to heaven that you have not been as sorely persecuted…(thanks to Captain Cooke); poor me I am suffering under a spring’s renewal of it, on my asking a recall of my resignation they reappointed me rather against my express wishes, would have been [appointed] in the Rifles. It was a disgraceful affair for all concerned in it as war had come and [I] have, thank God, some feeling of pride in my regiment, if none for my country. I [would] gladly go through the strife [and] most willingly pledge my life for it’s glory, if we have but half a chance we will win it. A charger is pretty essential for a Dragoon as you and I may have to stem the battle’s tide together. I apply to you for your sympathies in obtaining a remount. If there is [one] within reach uncommon[ly], fine, powerful, fleet, and active beauty of a charger please purchase [it] for me. Get him for me as cheaply as you can. I only limit you to 200 dollars. If you succeed in obtaining for me a charger send him by a safe means, to Major Stewart, St. Louis. If you can arrange it make the draft payable in N. York sixty days after…or else thirty days as money is very scarce. I find that money due comes in very slowly, although due from rich houses. Remember me to Ewell if in your neighborhood. PS: a good horse is always of a good color, although I am rather more partial to grey, black, or chestnut. A roan is also a favorite color.”

Lieutenant Eugene McLean, 1st Infantry, described the unit as “a fine company of young men raised principally by Kearny who exerted himself in every way to fill the company.” It served as General Winfield Scott’s body guard during his invasion of the Valley of Mexico. (This is the same company, with different personnel, which would riot in Taos in 1855.) At Churubusco, on 20 Aug. 1847, the company was assigned by Gen. Scott to Col. David Harney. Following the defeat of Mexican infantry, the colonel ordered the troop to charge one of the fortified gates and the company, led by Capt. Philip Kearny boldly charged down the causeway towards on of the gates. Harney decided to call off the advance and had his bugler sound “recall.”

A company of dragoons were allotted two buglers. One to ride at the head of the column and the second bugler rode at the rear of the column, the latter’s role to relay orders sent from the rear. Unfortunately,  Company F had no bugler (its only bugler had been discharged due to illness in May of 1847) and, consequently, many of his men did not hear Harney’s bugle call sounding recall and continued in pursuit of fleeing Mexican soldiers. Reaching the gate, the company dismounted and attempted to carry a battery guarding the gate and, would have done so, had Col. Harney reinforced Kearny’s squadron and not have ordered a retreat.

On Nov 4, 1848, Keary wrote the following to fellow 1st Dragoon, Lt. John Love.

I understand that there are whispered rumors of rashness on my part to detract from what our troop did at Churubusco. My answer is, that those who investigate the matter will find far sooner cowardice, (of, at least, a moral nature), and stupid doltish incapacity on the part of Col. Harney, who interfered with our columns which he was too far in the rear to comprehend the position of. I hold Harney, who took the command out of my hands, responsible for sounding the “Recall” at all, or too late, [as when the head of it being committed, the foremost were left in the lurch.] From the first moment of seeing the “El Pinon,” and understanding the enemy’s double line of defences, I had determined, when opportunity offerred, to win distinction for ourselves, by ___?___ into the second line of defences, protected by their own fugitives. It was on the eve of accomplishing this, when I found the rear part of the column had been withdrawn. withdrawn.  The ordeal of [re]-calling a squadron of ho[rse] on a hard gravelled [zsic] avenue [[with?]] cries, in the [[turn]] around & confusion to boot!!! Lt. [Julian] May recalled the men from his rear.   Neither Ewell nor myself, nor Sergt. Reid ever saw or heard him. Thank God we are all young.  I may have another chance yet.  You would be surprised to find how little the loss of an arm incommodes me.  I heard from Ewell yesterday. He is at “Buckland, Prince William County, Virginia.”  See him if
you can. We old men of the First must rally warmly to each other. We are all getting  (young though we be) too old & form new friendships and god knows our late [ranks?] & [dearest?] ones have been decimated. I was very glad that Mrs. Stewert has seen you. Believe me, very Truly Yours
P. Kearny

War correspondent George Kendall of the New Orleans Picayune reported:

Captain Kearny’s Charge—”The charge of Kearny’s dragoons upon the flying masses of the Mexicans in the battle of Churubusco, is one of the most brilliant and decisive feats which has occurred in the war. As soon as our troops had carried the formidable tete de pont by which the avenue leading to the city was laid open to cavalry, Capt. Kearny’s dragoons rushed upon the yielding masses of Mexicans with an impetuosity and fury which made amends for the scantiness of their numbers, and bore them back in confusion upon the town. The enemy had upon the causeway a force in cavalry four-fold of ours, but the narrowness of the avenue prevented him from availing himself of this superiority, and reduced the conflict to those single-handed issues which the Mexicans must ever yield to our prowess. The audacity of the onset of Kearny’s troops struck dismay to the hosts which fled before them. The retreat became a confused rout, and the causeway was blocked by the entrangled masses of the enemy. But even through this obstacle the triumphant dragoons forced their way, trampling down those who escaped their relentless sabres. Scattering the foe before them, the dragoons came at last within reach of the formidable batteries which defended the gates of the city, and a murderous fire was opened upon them, which was even more terrible to the fugitive Mexicans than the dragoons. The latter continued their pursuit up to the gates of the city, and were shot downmade prisoners upon the very parapets of its defences. This was the moment, if ever, that Gen. Scott might have entered the city, had the instant possession of it conformed to his preconceived design. Already had the inhabitants of the town set up the cry that the Americans were upon them, and the whole population was stricken defenceless by panic terrors. But the dragoons were recalled from the pursuit, and the survivors of that desperate charge withdrew covered with wounds and with honors.

In every narration of the events of Churubusco, we have seen the charge and pursuit by Kearny’s dragoons, commemorated and applauded; but it appears to have impressed the Mexicans far more than the popular mind of our own countrymen. In various letters we have seen written by them from the capital, they speak of the audacity of the dragoons as terrible and almost supernatural. New Orleans Picayune, Nov. 21, 1847

Kendall later wrote that if Kearny “had ben supported by a hundred resolute men , the garita of San Antonio Abad might have been held. A single infantry regiment, supported by a light battery, might even had entered the capital and taken possession of the grand plaza and National Palace, for Santa Ana could not have rallied a formation sufficiently strong to resist such a force. (Kendall, History of Mexican War, 723.)

Killed:
1. Pvt. Patrick Mart, Co. F, 1st Dragoons.
2. Pvt. McBrophy, Co. F, 1st Dragoons.
3. Pvt. James McDonald, Co. F, 1st Dragoons.
4. Pvt. John Ritter, Co. F, 1st Dragoons.
5. Capt. Seth B. Thornton, Co. F, 2d Dragoons.
6. Pvt. Edward Curtis, Co. G, 3d Dragoons.
7. Pvt. Augustus Delsol, Co. G, 3d Dragoons.
8. Pvt. George DeDuve, Co. G, 3d Dragoons.

Wounded:
1. Capt. Philip Kearny, Co. F, 1st Dragoons, se-verely, lost left arm.
2. Lieut. Lorimer Graham, 10th Infantry attached to 1st Dragoons, severely.
3. Capt. A. T. McReynolds, Co. K, 3d Dragoons, severely.
4. Private Cowden, Co. K, 3d Dragoons,.

At Puebla, Capt. Kearny wrote to General Scott and requested that thirty men and two buglers be added to his depleted squadron.

Puebla July 2nd 1847

Dear Sir:

I have the honour to request that on the arrival of any detachment of recruits that my company be filled to the full number allowed by the Law.  My troop is at present 80 men strong, of whom 74 are present.

I have the honour to make this request on the grounds of my Company having been filled 111 men, that they had been recruited by extra exertions on my part, and that I was reduced to the number of 81 by order of the Adjutant General, & that now there being authority to fill the dragoon companies to the full limit of the Law, in justice the same number of men should be restored to my that were formerly taken from my command.

My troop is an isolated one from the regiment.  The full company makes a complete squadron and I am most probably one of the squadron (or first five) captains in my own Regiment, although ranked by all but one of the 2nd Drag. Captains present, although older in service than Capt Hardee, Merrill, of Sibley, three of the 2nd Drag. Captains serving with the army.

If these men are granted to me, not a moment shall be lost in rendering them as efficient as possible.  My present troop is well drilled.  I will not feel the effects of this number [of recruits] being thrown in with them.

I am, Sir, Very Truly Yr. Obdt. Servt.

P. Kearny Jr., Capt. 1st Drgs, F Compy

[To:] Capt. H. L. Scott, A. A. Adjt. Genl.

P.S. I would respectfully [illegible] to my previous request for Trumpeters for my troop.  I have none at present.  Respectfully, P. Kearny, Capt. 1st Drgs, Compy F

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Kearny lost the use of his left arm due to his wounds and bitterly wrote to his friend, Lt. John Love, of his anger at Harney.

In the ensuing months, I shall be posting material on this charge. The first item is a summary of the company’s muster roll written just over two months after the battle. Note that the company was primarily composed of recent enlistees.

Lt. Richard Ewell rode with Kearny that fateful day. Here is a portion of a letter he wrote to his brother describing the charge.

Vera Cruz,

November 25, 1847

Captain Kearny was ordered at the close of the fight [at Churubusco] to follow the Mexicans down the the avenue along which thousands of them were retreating. We overtook them about a seventh of a mile from the city gates and I rather think they suffered somewhat. The gate was a good deal obstructed and we pushed them so rapidly that they got into the water on each side of the road. They began firing upon us, and to some effect, too, When we approached the gate, I saw the crowd before us open as if by one movement and I sa a piece of artillery frowning over the works. Captain Kearny had given orders to dismount in such a case and carry the works, but when I looked around, to my horror, I found the Dragoons retiring some distance in the rear. There were three companies in all. Captain Kearny’s leading. Colornel Harney had ordered the recall to be sounded in the rear. AS it took some time for the information to get to the head of the column, they had not being able to hear in all the noise and confusion, we were engaged while the rear was retreating. Colonel Harney had refused to lead the charge and, of course, should not have interferred as it was out of his power to control after we passed him. Only a miracle saved Captain Kearny and myself. He lost his arm by a grape shot after (so great was the confusion) getting in and out of the works. I had two horse shot, one by a musket by the side of the road, the other by a canister shot through the neck. The second was able to bring me back at a walk. Captain Kearny and I came back from the presence of the Mexican four or five hundred yards without further molestation of our troops.

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August 24, 1847

Sir: As I was not wounded until the last of the action of the 20th, I have the honor to report of the movements of my squadron (Ftroop of the 1st, and K of the 3d regiments, dragoons.) Twenty-five men under Lieutenant Ewell, myself attending, accompanied the general-in-chief to the redoubt at Contreras, captured a short time previously. At Cayoacan, coming up to the head of our pursuing column, I was sent with my dragoons and some twenty riflemen under Lieutenant Gibbs, mounted on horses taken from the enemy, to cover Captain Lee, of the engineers, on a reconnaissance towards San Antonio. This place was found to be in possession of General Worth and, his comumns rapidly following up the victory.

Returning without delay to the general-in-chief, I was joined by the rest of the squadron, which had been rapidly and efficiently brought up by Captain McReynolds of the 3d dragoons, and received orders to report to General Pillow, and to join in the attack going on on the right; the ground immediately in front was found to be impracticable for cavalry action. During the carrying of the village and redoubt of Churubusco, I moved to the right, hoping to make a diversion and get on the road to the rear, but, finding this impossible, returned to my former position.

After the enemy’s works were carried, I was ordered to charge down the road towards the city, after the rereating enemy. On the route I was joined by Colonel Harney with several companies of the 2d dragoons; he assumed command, and directed me with my three troops of dragoons, to place myself and command at the head of the cavalry column; the Mexicans were overtaken soon after we entered on the causeway, bout three-fourths of a mile from the city, and suffered a severe slaughter up to the very gates.

Understanding that a battery was on the end of the causeway next [to] the town, I communicated through Lieutenant Steele, A.A.A. General, to Colonel Harney my firm intention to charge it, trusting to their panic to enter with the fugitives. Myself, Lieutenant Steele, and Lieutenant Ewell, together with some dragoons whose horses were over excited, were considerably ahead of the main body, coming full on the redoubt, when the enemy opened a fire of grape upon us, amongst the fugitives, and I gave the command to the men around me to dismount and carry it, presuming that the movement would be observed and followed by the rest of the column. This movement not being understood by our men, and the recall which had been sounded and imperfectly heard from the rear, caused them to halt and retire, but in creditable order.

On having been sent to combine with the attack on the right, I was joined by Captain Duperu, with his company of the 3d dragoons, who accompanied me throughout the rest of day, and behaved very handsomely under such fire as we had passed through.

Company F, of the 1st dragoons, was the leading one on the causeway, and which explains its severe loss.

I have particularly to mention the gallant conduct of Lieutenant Steele, who was constantly at the head of the column, and of Lieutenant Ewell, who had two horses shot under him, immediately at the barricade, and whose conduct in our previous affair of the squadron on the 18th instant, was most conspicuous; also Lieutenant L. Graham, who was wounded, deserves my thanks for his efficiency on this day, as well as the handsome manner of heading a detachment of the company against superior odds on the 12th instant.

Captain McReynolds, acting as second captain of the squadron. was throughout the day every way active, and active, and suffered by  a severe wound in his arm.

But it is to the non-commissioned officers and privates that credit is more particularly due for their conduct here and elsewhere.

Statement of loss on the 20th instant.

Captain Kearny, loss of arm.

Captain McReynolds, wounded severely.

Lieutenant L. Graham, wounded slightly.

Five privates, company F, 1st dragoons, killed.

Fuve horses, company F, 1st dragoons, killed.

I am sir, very respectively your obedient servant.

P. Kearny, Jr.

Capt. 1st Drag, Com’g. 1st Squad, 2d Bat., Cav. Brig.. Lt. Col. Moore, 3d Reg Drag., Com’g 2d Bat. Cav. Brig.


Muster Roll of Company F of the First Dragoons, Mexico City, October 31, 1847
Capt. Philip Kearny, Jr.    Sick
1st Lt. A. Buford                 Absent. Never Joined. Place and duty not known.
1st Lt. Richard Ewell         Commanding Company.
2d Lt. Oren Chapman       Joined from duty 2d Drags. 5 Sept.
1st Sgt. David Reed            9 Jan. 46, Ft. Leavenworth
Sgt. Henry Hence         23 Nov. 46,  —œ            —œ                          Sick
Sgt. Fleming Megan       8 Aug. —™46, Terre Haute    Sick, Pueblo, Mexico, since 8 Aug.
Corp. James Clark          7 Sept. 46, St Louis
Corp. John Perkins        8 Aug. 46, Shelbyville
Corp. Wm Anderson    28 Aug. 46, St Louis
Bugler Joe Hodgson     25 Sept. 47, Joined City of Mexico
Farrier George Thompson 12 Jan. 44, Ft. Scott,  $2.00 stoppage garrison ct martial
Daniel Alaways              21 Aug 46, Chilicotte
John Alaways                   ”     ”    ”               ”                Sick, Pueblo, Mexico, since 8 Aug.
Joseph Aleut                  21 July 46. St Louis
John Askins                     8 Aug. 46, Shelbyville     Detached service, since 31 Oct.
Allen Bullard                  13 Aug. 46, Terre Harte
Michael Brophy     20 Apr. 46, Rayado,         Joined company prisoner exch. Sept. 3
Thomas Bryant             5 Aug 46, St Louis,     Sick, Pueblo, Mexico since 8 Aug.
Morris Kane                  18 Sept. 46,  ”    ”
Hugh Call                       16 Oct. 46, near St Louis
Peter Christman          6 Dec. 43,  St Louis,     Sick; stoppage for wool infy coat, $2.28
Alonzo Clark              16 May 47, Jalapa, Mexico,     joined during march.
James Curley              18 July, 46, St Louis
Eleazor Dort                10 Aug. 46, Terre Haute
William Donovan       29 Aug., St Louis                           Daily duty
David Dunton           9 Dec. 46, Saltillo, Mex.                 Daily Duty
Samuel Flint             14 July, 46, Chilicotte
Philip Frankenberg  6 Aug. 46, Ft. Leavenworth            Sick, Puebla, Mex., since 8 Aug.
Charles Graman       10 Aug. 46, Terre Haute            Sick
David Giesler               21 July 46, Chillicothe
Andrew Gillespie       26    ”      ”       ”
James Grace                 16 June 46, Ft. Leavenworth
Jacob Grant                  5 July 46, Jefferson Barracks       Sick Puebla, Mex. Since 25 May
Augustus Gruber       6 July 46, Fort Leavenworth           Sick, Puebla, Mex., since 8 Aug.
Thomas Hall                5 July 46, Jefferson Barracks       Sgt. until 29 October.
John Harper               28 July 46, Chillicote                        Stoppage pistol $7.50.
Patrick Hart               4 August 46, St Louis; Joined Tabacayo 5 Sept. prisoner exch.
Michael Henry         12 Sept. 46, Philadelphia; Joined from desertion 16 Feb 47.
Thomas Hewitt       27 Aug. 46, Terre Haute                    Sick, Puebla, Mex., since 8 Aug.
Henry Hoffman       14 Jan. 46, Dayton                  Sick
Martin Howard       11 Aug. 46, Terre Haute                   Sick, Puebla, Mex., since 8 Aug.
John Howell                6 Feb. 46, Ft. Leavenworth; Stoppage flannel shirt and pistol
William Jeffers         19 Oct. 46, New Orleans
John Kaler                   4 June 46, St. Louis
John Keckler             17 Aug. 46, Chillicote
Levi Kimball               1 June 46, Sackett’s Harbor       Detached Service since 31st Oct.
Antone Lange              14 Aug. 46, StLouis                     Daily duty.
William Martin          8 Aug. 46, Terre Haute
Persaruis Maypelle 25  July 46, St. Louis
John Moore               10 Aug, 46, Terre Haute
Wm McAllister          17 Aug. 46, Covington, Ind.  Stoppage for 1 blanket $2.22.
Wm McCrea               19 Aug. 46, Roseau, Ind.         Daily duty.
John McDonald        19 Aug. 46, Chillicote   Stoppage for pistol $7.50.
Anthony Pulver           7 Dec. 46, Corpus Christi; Detached service since 31 October.
Charles Prother         10 Aug. 46, Terre Haute
Christian Ranner      10 Aug. 46, Terre Haute
John Roberts               1 April 47. Vera Cruz    Sick at Puebla since 8 August.
Frederick Rodewald 16 Aug 46, St Louis                   Sick at Puebla since 8 August.
William See                15 Aug. 46, Terre Haute    Detached service since 31 Oct.
John Smith                 10 Aug. 46,   ”         ”
John W Smith             ”     ”       ”     ”          ”                  Stoppage flannel shirt $1.30.
Robert Stewart            8    ”       ”     ”          ”
James H Stevens         1 Apr.  46, Vera Cruz.
Daniel Suter                 6 Aug. 46, Ft. Leavenworth; Daily duty.
Clinton Thompson     14 Aug. 46, Terre Haute              Sick at Puebla since 8 August.
Harvey Thompson      4 Aug. 46, Shelbyville; Daily duty.
James Thompson       8 Aug. 46,    ”   ; Sick at Puebla since 8 August.
John Walkes                 24 Aug. 46, St. Louis; Sick
Joseph Westgenes       17 Aug. 46,  ”      ”          ”   ; Sick, Puebla since 8 August.
Robert Whitener         27 Jan. 41, Ft. Crawford; Sick Perote, since 25 May.
Andrew Whitley          31 July 46, Geldon, Ind.
William Wilson           25 Sept. 46, Jefferson Bks.
Robert Wright              8 Aug. 46, Terre Haute.

2 Replies to “Co. F, 1st Dragoons at Churubusco”

  1. Robert Wright of Terry Haute is my great-great grandfather. He returned to Terre Haute where he was a farrier and maintained that profession during the Civil War. Terre Haute, I understand, was a stopping point for union soldiers on their way ?

  2. A huge proportion of men from Indiana volunteered to fight in the war with Mexico. They served in 5 Indiana regiments as well as in a number of Federal regiments. Most of these men returned to civilian life after the end of the war.

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