Dragoon Buglers

Dragoon Buglers–a work in progress
By George Stammerjohan and Will Gorenfeld

See also infra: Langford Peel, Paddy Graydon and Aaron Stevens.

1. Michael I. Considine

He was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1834 and emigrated to the United States in 1854. The former clerk, by training, could not find work in New York City and sought out the recruiting station in that city. At least the military fed and clothed a person. He enlisted on March 21, 1855 and was immediately detailed to the dragoons and assigned to a recruit detachment organizing for California. Considine was 21 years old; he stood five feet ten inches in his stocking feet and had blue eyes and a fair complexion that would burn red and then brown under western skies. He was sent across New York Harbor to Fort Hamilton, garbed in the non-descript old fatigue uniform of the infantry. He did not stay long at the fort. On April 19, he met his new company commander in dour, pale Captain John W. T. Gardiner, a puritanical son of Maine, and the next day sailed as part of a 100-man recruit detachment for Panama. They crossed the Isthmus in one day in open leaky cars on a rattletrap railroad and boarded another steamer on the Pacific side for California. They reached San Francisco in early June and were transferred to the steamer Senator to backtrack back down the coast to New San Pedro. Two-thirds of the detachment was left behind. That group was going to Oregon.

From New San Pedro, the recruits marched overland through Los Angeles, Cahuenga Pass, past the old San Fernando Mission, at the time the vast rancho of Andreas Pico, over the massive height of San Fernando Pass where a gang of laborers was trying to improve the road to the San Joaquin and Antelope Valley. At the headwaters of the Santa Clara River, they turned toward the mountains, today known as the Saugus-Newhall area, along the Lake Elizabeth Road, which cut through the coast range in a deep sun-blasted ravine. As they neared the Antelope alley — a part of the Mojave Desert— they turned west along the south flank of the valley and then north into Grapevine Canyon. They reached Fort Tejon on June 20, 1855, two months after leaving New York. A few days later, another detachment, marching overland from Fort Leavenworth since June 1854, also reached the fort with a herd of horses. While Considine was footsore, these new men looked devastated from their long desert crossing.

Fort Tejon was not much to look at; a number of adobe buildings only partially finished, a ratty wooden log mess hall with a faded canvas roof, and some crude wooden buildings dotted here and there as if lost children. The dragoons at the post were a hard working lot, in tattered work clothes, though they did turn out at retreat in the new dress frock coat with the pattern of 1851 cap. Their musketoons were bright and shiny. The men were crowded into the one barracks which was being added to, but they ate in even a more crowded condition in the small log kitchen-mess hall. The other large adobe building was being converted to a mess hall with a kitchen being built onto it with a brick floor and a new wood-range cut out of sheet iron by the Quartermaster Blacksmith.

The Post Bugler, James A. Samo, who was struggling to learn music and master the bugle, was not doing very well. Captain Gardiner continued to tolerate Samo, but on June 29, 1855 appointed William T. Coates as Second Bugler. Coates had arrived with Private Considine. But, Gardiner’s patience was wearing thin. When he discovered that Private William Peasner, who had turned himself in as a deserter at Salt Lake City in December 1854 and traveled to Fort Tejon as part of the overland recruit detachment, was a Bugler with his old outfit, he demoted Samo, appointing Peasner, the former deserter, to the rank of Bugler on July 26. Peasner, who had been listed as “a casual”, waiting to join a company, was assigned to Company A that same day.

Coates struggled to master the bugle, but again Gardiner was displeased and on September 18, 1855, demoted Coates and appointed Private Considine to the position. Considine served as Company Bugler until February 1, 1856 when he, too, having incurred Gardiner’s wrath, was demoted to the ranks. But, Gardiner was unable to find a suitable replacement and restored Considine to the bugle on April 16 of that same year. Considine remained Bugler throughout the year. He saw, as far as can be determined, no field duty, but performed his tasks at the fort until the company departed for Benicia Barracks on December 23, 1856.

2. William Peasner

Peasner was born in Byrne, Germany on August 22, 1831, At age, claiming to be 18, he enlisted in the newly formed 11th Infantry. His enlistment papers have him standing at 5 foot and 7 1/2 inches, with brown hair and a dark complexion. The war with Mexico ended before he could join his regiment and, on August 15, 1848, was discharged.
After working as a laborer for a few months in Washington D.C., he enlisted in the Regiment of Mounted Rifles and, on March 16, 1849, was assigned to Company H. encamped five miles west of Ft. Leavenworth. On May 10, 1849, the regiment began its cross-country march to Oregon Territory. It was in Oregon that Peasner likely learned how to play the bugle and, on March 1, 1850, he was appointed as a bugler with Company F.

In the spring of 1851, word reached the regiment that it was to be reorganized at Jefferson Barracks. The army ordered the privates to California to reinforce the Dragoons; the officers and non commissioned officers proceeded by ocean voyage to Panama, across the Isthmus on foot and then by sea to New Orleans and, finally, up the Mississippi to Jefferson Barracks via steamboat. It was during the regiment’s stay in Missouri that Peasner managed to get himself arrested by civilian authorities and he missed his company’s departure for Texas. Upon release from jail, he transferred to Company A and served with that unit out on the plains until the end of his enlistment on 13 December 1853, at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory.

Peasner took an early discharge to re-enlist in Company K. He was to report to his new unit on 1 April 1854, but failed to do so and reported as a deserter. The 23 year old bugler eventually drifted to St Louis and, using the name of William Pearson, joined a civilian quartermaster detail employed by Bvt. Lt. Col. J.S. Steptoe for his march to the west coast. The column reached Salt Lake City and encamped there for the winter. Capt. Rufus Ingall, AQM, discharged the civilian teamsters and told them they would be rehired in the spring. The unemployed Peasner would now have to fend for himself through the winter. If he turned himself in as a deserter, the Army, at least, would feed him. On 24 December 1854, Peasner walked into temporary headquarters and surrendered to Lt. Benjamin Allston, 1st Dragoons. Lt. Col. Steptoe assigned Peasner to the Dragoon detachment and placed in irons. A few months later, Army Headquarters in New York issued a special order restoring Peasner to duty without trial. (Special Order 19, Headquarters of the Army, March 28, 1855 in General Orders and Circulars, 1855 M-1094 R-7.) On July 14, 1855, the Department of the Pacific issued an order directing Peasner to serve with Company A of the 1st Dragoons.

Meanwhile, back in Utah, Peasner was assigned to a detachment of dragoons bound for Southern California and Fort Tejon, which was reached in late June of 1855. Peasner he was released from arrest and placed on the A Company rolls. On 25 July 1855, Captain John Gardiner appointed Peasner to be one of the company’s two buglers. Peasner settled into the routine of garrison duty for the remainder of the year.

In early May of 1856, the Yokuts living near the town of Visalia were attacked by townsfolk and an Indian war errupted. (See Tule River War http://www.musketoon.com/2005/01/tule-river-war-1856.html ) Bugler Peasner was attached to the detail of 40 Dragoons commanded by Lt. Ben Allston dispatched by LTC Ben Ball to the seat of war. On 22 December 1856, Company A left Ft. Tejon, bound for Benecia Barracks. After refitting and getting new recruits, the company started north up the Sacramento Valley, ending up in June of 1857. on Fall River, where the men built Ft. Crook. Until March of 1856, Bugler Peasner worked as company saddler and as a carpenter.

On June 10, 1858, bugler Peasner left Ft. Crook with the troop to participate in a patrol out to Honey Lake, in southeastern Lassen County, to keep the peace between intruding whites and Maidu natives. Company A returned to the post on 2 July and bugler Peasner resumed duty of sounding daily calls and helping build the post. Ob January 13, 1859, Peasner received hius discharge. Times were hard in 1859 and Peasner drifted around the state for the next 18 months in search of employment and drifted south back to Ft. Tejon. In mid February of 1860, Lt. Henry Davidson hired him for $40 a month to be a herder and cook at the post. Peasner, on April 7, accompanied Captain James Carleton on his escort of the paymaster to Utah Territory and to investigate the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Peasner returned to Ft. Tejon on 30 June and found himself discharged from employment by the quartermaster department.

Peasner again drifted around the state in search of a job. On 29 May 1860, he wandered into Fort Crook and re-enlisted into Company A. He was once again appointed as a bugler and soon found himself on the march to Pyramid Lake in Utah Territory–the Piaute War was raging. By the time Peasner’s troop arrived at the seat of war the fighting had stopped and his troop was, once again put to work building a new post–Fort Churchill. With springtime, news reached the remote post of the pending dissolution of the Union and of the resignation of several officers, including Col. Thomas Fauntleroy. Other Dragoon officers hurried off to Washington, D.C. to seek commissions in state regiments.

In May of 1860, Maj. George A.H. Blake reached Ft. Churchill and soon took command of the 1st Dragoons. He quickly appointed Peasner as Chief Bugler in the regimental band. Blake moved regimental headquarters, renamed as the 1st Cavalry, to Ft. Vancouver in Washington Territory. The band and headquarters eventually made their way back to San Francisco where they were put on a steamer to Panama and from there to New York.

The regiment soon found itself stationed at Camp Sprague, just outside of Washington, D.C. Attached to the Reserve Cavalry Brigade and under the command of General Philip St. George Cooke, the 1st Cavalry participated in General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign where the 1st tasted heavy combat at Gaines Mill. The campaign failed to take Richmond and McClellan retreated back to Harrison Landing on the James River. The losses suffered by the 1st Cavalry required that it rebuild its battered and skeleton ranks and it was sent back to Carlisle Barracks under the supervision of Lt. Col. Wm Grier. In September, following the Gettysburg Campaign, the regiment went into camp at Camp Burford near Washington for a month to rearm and remount. In mid-October Chief Bugler Peasner and the 1st Cavalry was back in the field fighting at places named Catett’s Statioon, Culpepper. Stephensburg and Mine River.

In 1864, Phil Sheridan took command of the Cavalry Brigade where it fought in the Wilderness Campaign. Peasner re-enlisted at City Point, Virginia, on 12 July 1864, and while on furlough, he married Miss Jane Fay.

On 21 September 1864, Peasner fell wounded and was sent to Carlisle for rehabilitation where he remained until February of 1865. He was returned to regimental headquarters at Winchester on 27 February of 1865 and remained there until the war ended. The war had ended but peace had not been restored: General Kirby Smith refused to surrender and France had during the war taken control of Mexico. The 1st was ordered to accompany General Sheridan as his personal escort on his march to Texas. Travelling by rail and riverboat the regiment reached New Orleans on May 31, 1865. Relesed from escort duty, the 1st boarded a steamer bound for Panama, bound for California. Embarking from Panama on the Pacific Mail steamer SACRAMENTO, the regiment arrived in San Francisco on 22 January 1866. Arriving in San Pedro aboard the coastal steamer ORIZABA, headquarters went into garrison at Drum Barracks.

Once again, elements of the regiment would find themselves scattered all about crude outposts on the West Coast. On 5 June of 1866, headquarters and the band boarded a steamer and sailed to Ft. Vancouver on the banks of the Columbia River. Chief Trumpeter Peasner re-enlisted on 17 July 1867. In 1870, regimental headquarters and the band were moved back to Benicia Barracks. There the band remained through the Modoc War. On July 17, 1872, Peasner re-enlisted for another 5-year term and, in December of that year journeyed to Ft. Walla Wall where, on 17 July, he enlisted in the army for the 7th time and placed in the rank of Saddler Sergeant.

The hard years of soldiering were steadily taking their toll on this last remaining enlisted dragoon. Peasner was suffering from frequent bouts of malaria and chronic rheumatism. The coming years were spent in garrison duty at Walla Walla. In 1879, Peasner ended his 24-year service with the dragoons and became an Ordance sergeant, assigned to Fort Lapwai in Idaho where he re-enlisted one final time on July 17, 1882. At Fort Spokane, on 7 May 1885, he retired from the Army and, with his family, moved to the nearby town of Walla Walla. On 1 July 1899, the old dragoon died of cancer to the jaw. (To be continued.)