Old Four O'Clock: Sumner Takes Command of the Mounted Rifles

Armstrong to Love: Letter from Brazos Santiago, 1847.

(A special guest contribution)

This  breezy  communication was written by  2nd Lt. Bezaleel Armstrong, USMA 1845. He had recently returned from the occupation of New Mexico with a small party of 1st Dragoons, arriving at Fort Leavenworth on November 20, 1846.  Armstrong was one of several young officers transferred due to promotions.  The Dragoon return party was led by Major Edwin Vose Sumner,  finally promoted himself after thirteen years as a captain.  Armstrong’s letter was intended for his friend and recent traveling companion, 1st Lt. John Love, now in Dayton, Ohio, and assigned to recruit Compy B, 1st Dragoons full (broken up on order from Kearny and its privates distributed among Compys G & I, remaining in New Mexico).

Describing his own travels, reflecting on Major General Scott and the state of sea transportation, Armstrong also discussed the  Sumner’s assignment by Commanding General Winfield Scott as Acting Commander of the new regular army Regiment of Mounted Rifles, in apparent preference over the amateurs assigned to its field grade ranks.  Sumner, formally a  Major of the 2nd Dragoons, would train, command, and lead the Regiment of Mounted Rifles to Mexico City, winning Brevets of Lieutenant Colonel at Cerro Gordo and Colonel at Churubusco.

Armstrong never fully recovered his health, surviving the war only to die at home in Ohio, “a skeleton,” February 15, 1849.

Brazos Island, Texas
January 15, 1847

Dear  John:
Here I am on a sand bank without money, without a horse, a fairly considerably bad case of C…–entirely disgusted & anxious to get along from the “Greenwood” without being able to do it, on account of the wind blowing, the breakers running, and sand flying.
When I left you in Saint Louis, we got along very well on our way to New Orleans, until we got into the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio, when I (unlucky devil that I am) was taken with the Dysentery and came near going to Davy Jones before my time—we got into N. Orleans and there the Doctors took charge of me and after about ten days they put me on my legs again.  I then commenced to look about me, for a vessel to goBrazos [Brazos Santiago, the transshipment point for Taylor’s Army]. The doctor advised me not to go in the first vessel that left as I had not yet so far recovered as to [be] able to stand salt water to drink.  So I waited until the Alabama went out, but in the mean time the great “Mogul,” Gen. [Winfield] Scott came and took all room there was on Board for horses.  So I refused to go without my horse and waited until the Steamer [McKino?] was ready to go, but I was in no great hurry and she was considered rather a poor sea vessel so I waited a day or two for the next vessel, which was the “[Marcia Burt?]”  the evening she was to go.  I sent my horse on her, together with Major [Cary, former 2nd Lt., 3rd U.S. Inf.] Fry’s of Ky. Vol. (a cousin of Miss Gaphney’s [sic, Ellen Gwathmey]) and his nigger, but as she had no sails and we came to the conclusion that we could send our horses ahead and wait for the Massachusetts, we did so and arrived here days ago, but the Marcia Burt is not here, and nothing has been heard of her, so that my horse has gone in search of shells at the bottom of the gulf—at least every one here has given her up as she has been out about fifteen days.
So I am broke as I stayed in New Orleans about twenty eight days, at an expense of at least $5 per day, but the hardest lick is that I have lost my horse, and he cannot be replaced in this country.  Nearly all the horses of the Rifle Regiment have been lost in the gulf during the last gales.  When we arrived in New Orleans, the rifles were running wild, and their Major [William Loring] confined to his room by sickness.  So soon as Genl Scott arrived in New Orleans he assigned old “4 O’clock” [Major Sumner] to the command of the rifle Regiment, and he is now encamped at the mouth of the Rio Grande in command of the Rifle Regmt, 80 recruits of the 2nd Dragoons, about 200 of the 4th Infy, and a company of artillery.
I am ordered to the mouth to take charge of the recruits for my Regmt [2nd Drags] as they are now under a Bvt 2nd.  So I cannot tell when I will reach Genl [Zachary] Taylor.  Genl Scott & staff are here and will remain for about ten days, [who knows?] where they are going after that I cannot tell and “Tom Williams” [won’t?].  The fact the great “Captain” is very Mysterious, we have heard nothing from the Army as yet no battles has been fought as was expected.
Since I have been here we have heard that a detachment of the 2nd Drags has been attacked and six men killed, the Lieut in command has been arrested (so report says).  It is supposed [1st Lt. Reuben] Campbell was the officer.  I do not know the particulars.  I hope you will recruit soon and come on.  The Mexicans say they will have all [1st Lt. Phillip, Compy F, 1st Dragoons] PKearny’s horses before a month.  Give my love to Buckeye Gals and write me to mention how you are getting along.

Yours truly,

[2nd Lt. Bezaleel] Armstrong. [2nd Dragoons]