Where the Regiment Was Scattered During the Mexican War

A lack of Mexican War records has vexed historians as they’ve tried to pin down where the ten companies of the 1st Dragoons operated between 1845 and 1848. It wasn’t until 1851, three years after the treaty with Mexico, that the army comprehensively recorded where the units were during the war.

Except for five companies assigned to the Army of the West, the rest lay all over the map, in groups formed from between one and three companies, from present-day Oklahoma and south into the Valley of Mexico. This complicated efforts to track troop movement and personnel from the regimental headquarters at Ft. Leavenworth, Missouri Territory.

Below is a useful summary of where the regiment’s ten companies served during the years 1845-1848. I’ve taken these from annual returns of each year (from the National Archives’ NARA M7742).

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Quake That Shook The Army’s Adobe

The army established Fort Tejon, California, in 1854. In January of 1857, the post was struck by a series of powerful earthquakes. These quakes were, possibly, the worst earthquakes to take place in California in the past 200 years. Inspector General Edward Mansfield noted in his 1859 inspection report that the post, built almost entirely out of adobe bricks “is particularly exposed to earthquakes , and every building is cracked by them; and on one occasion the gabled ends of two buildings were thrown down by earthquakes: in a few miles off, I saw an immense crack and crevice in the earth extending for many miles, caused recently by them.”

Lt Col. Benjamin L. Beall commanded the regiment and post. He was sound asleep when the quake struck and awoke to find his bedroom wall to have fallen away from the building. That evening he issued this preliminary report to headquaters.

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From the Wide Missouri to the Pacific Shore: Rufus Ingall's Report of the Steptoe Expedition

In 1854-55, an expedition of dragoon and artillery recruits, under the command of Major Steptoe, left Fort Leavenworth for the Pacific Coast. Steptoe carried with him orders to spend the winter in Salt Lake City and, while there, investigate the murder of Captain John Gunnison and his party. Capt. and Assistant Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls, a former 1st Dragoon, submitted a following report of the expedition.

Report of the Secretary of War- Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress at the Commencement of the First (1st) Session of the Thirty Fourth Congress, Senate Ex. Do. No. 1, December 31, 1855 (Beverly Tucker, Washington, 1855) Vol. 2, 153

Washington City, D. C,

November 22, 1855.

General: I have the honor to submit the following summary of the principal events and useful information contained in my communication* to you in relation to the march of Colonel Steptoe’s command into the Great Basin of Utah, last year, and referred to in the second paragraph of my report of the 25th of last August. I beg this may be substituted for the letters, as they contain many repetitions almost necessarily, and touch on various business matters which do not belong to a report of the march.
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Rare Stevenson Journal Paints An Enchanting City of Saints

James Stevenson, a recruit in Company A of the 1st Dragoons, served as a member of an army expedition that traveled to Salt Lake City in 1854. Twenty-five years later, he wrote of his observations.

We descended the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains into the valley of the Green River, while the snowy peaks of the Wind River Mountains, including Fremont Peak, towering in the clouds on our right like the famous Alps of Europe.

As we dismount on the western slope of the Wasatch Mountains overlooking Salt Lake City on the last day of August, 1854, the valley of the Jordan in all its beauty lay spread beneath us like a beautiful picture. The “city of the Saints,” with its lead colored houses, street lined with green cotton wood trees and streams of water, like silver threads, coursing along either side of the streets, looked like a fairy scene, while the great summer sun was descending into the waters of the majestic lake, twenty miles distant, lighting it up like a sheet of burnished gold.

It was enchanting. For weeks before arriving we had been regaled with stories about Mormons, about their peculiar institutions, and of the Great Salt Lake, which was represented as receiving rivers of fresh water constantly and yet remaining very salty, having no outlet except by a great whirlpool in the centre which drew everything towards it that approached within the circle of its powerful influence.

And, as “distance lends enchantment to the view,” we looked a way off to the waters of the lake with wondering eyes and longed to stand upon upon its mystic shores.

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What Flogging Was Like In 1854

From a 1854 entry in the previously unpublished journal of soldier James Stevenson, 1st Dragoons:

That winter a court martial was convened at the barracks to try a number of deserters, who were under guard, with ball and chains attached to their ankles.  They are found guilty and sentenced to receive fifty lashes each upon the bare back, to have the letter “D” branded upon the hip, and to be drummed out of the service.

When the day for the execution of the sentences arrived, the troops were drawn up in lines forming three sides of a square, to witness the punishment that might deter them from deserting.  It was the duty of the officer of the day to superintend the execution of the sentences.  A gun carriage was placed on the fourth or vacant side of the square so that all the troops could see, and each prisoner in his turn was lashed firmly to the wheel, having been previously stripped to the waist.  The drummer of the infantry and the buglers of the cavalry administered the stripes with a rawhide; and a more brutal exhibition I have never witnessed.  When a blow was struck which did not seem hard enough, the officer of the day would not count it, so some of the prisoners received sixty stripes instead of fifty.

When a man fainted under his punishment, restoratives were administered, and if the surgeon thought he could still stand it, he received his full allowance.  In one case, the surgeon pronounced a man physically unable to stand the punishment after being restored from a fainting fit, and he was led off with about thirty stripes.  When cut down from the wheel, their backs were rubbed with brine which, although said to be for their good, caused them dreadful suffering, if we could judge by their groans and cries.  After a few days’ medical treatment, the letter “D” was pricked into their skin with India ink, and, with shaven heads, they were marched around the parade ground, the soldiers standing in line to witness the performance.  The drums and fifes played the “Rogues’ March,” and a file of infantry, with bayonets at a charge, marched behind the culprits, and conducted them some distance beyond the limits of the barracks.  Thus ended the inhumane and humiliating spectacle; I can truly say that, instead of filling the hearts of the soldiers with fear and exercising a restraining influence over them, it only filled them with hatred for a service in which such brutal punishment was practiced, and produced a strong desire to get out of it in any way possible.  I do not blame the officers, for they were, as a rule, humane and gentlemanly in their treatment of the soldiers.  It was the fault of the system, and I am happy to say that it has since been done away with.

After the exhibition of cruelty, I was very anxious to get away from “garrison duty” and to enter upon the more dangerous, but vastly pleasanter duty, of “life upon the plains.”’