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.)


The Army maintained recruiting stations through out the Midwest, South and East. The New York Sun for March 13, 1855, featured the following advertisement seeking troops for mounted and infantry regiments:

The Banshee's Lonely Croon: Irish Dragoons

Irish troopers, who formed the backbone of the 1st Dragoons, were generally recent arrivals from Erin’s green shores. In the old country, these men, mostly of peasant stock, had been steeped in the lore of the realm of the supernatural. There was the “Evil Eye”, a silent, fixed stare that was believed to be fatal if cast upon one sitting before a fire while the moon was full. A person who wished to avoid being falsely accused of casting an “Evil Eye” would say “God Bless You” when looking at another. A grudger had the ability to fix an evil curse upon one’s horse. The only known cure was to burn the grudger’s coat under the nose of the afflicted animal. The banshee’s lonely croon warned of an imminent death in one’s family. A horse with one foreleg and one hind leg stockinged was considered to bring bad luck to the rider. Riding a dead man’s horse was considered by the Irish to be a bad idea and, indeed proved to be for Trooper John Garven, late of County Tipperary, Ireland.

During the autumn of 1855, Capt. E.A. Townsend visited Fort Tejon, California, in the company of Bishop Kip. In his journal, Capt. Townsend made the following entry: “Before breakfast this morning, the Bishop buried an Irish soldier of [John] Gardiner’s company [A]. He was the victim of superstition. He happened, by chance, to be the first man to ride Lieut. [Thomas] Castor’s horse after his death, and being soon taken sick with fever, his wife persuaded him that he could never recover because he was the first to ride a dead man’s horse. The surgeon says there was no reason why the man should have died if his mind had not been so depressed.”

In Irish folklore, the last corpse planted in a grave yard is required to stand guard over the site until the next corpse was buried. On October 15, 1855, in the post cemetery at Fort Tejon, Trooper Garven duly duly reported to relieve the recently departed Lieut. Castor from guard duty.

The Civil War witnessed some amazing innovations in modern warfare such as the railroad, submarines, observation balloons and the telegraph. While not as successful as some of these inventions, James “Paddy” Graydon’s plan to deploy exploding mules on the battlefield receives high marks for its originality.

Graydon sailed into Baltimore Harbor in 1853. As was the case for many a lad fleeing from Erin—™s green shores, Paddy quickly discovered —œno Irish need reply.— Out of work, he enlisted in the 1st U.S. Dragoons. Sent to the harsh reaches of New Mexico Territory, Paddy soon became the bugler in Captain Richard S. Ewell’s troop. When the Civil War came, Ewell resigned his federal commission and became a Confederate General. Paddy, who had been honorably discharged from the Army in 1858 and had opened a saloon near Fort Buchanan, headed for Santa Fe where he gained a captain’s commission in the New Mexico Volunteers.

Graydon, who spoke fluent Spanish, recruited a company composed of Nuevo Mexicanos, who functioned as an independent command. Its primary function was to watch for invading Texian troops riding out of El Paso. They did not have to look for long. On July 25, 1861, a Confederate expedition under General Henry Hopkins Sibley, a former Dragoon officer, entered New Mexico and proceeded to capture Fort Fillmore without having to fire a shot. The Rebel juggernaut steamrolled all Union resistance in its path and advanced up the Rio Grande Valley bound for Santa Fe and points west.

During the ensuing months, Graydon’s scouts remained in the saddle, spying on the Rebel column and harassing it when the opportunity presented itself. On February 19, 1862, Sibley’s troops approached Ft. Craig. While the invaders slept in their camp across the Rio Grande, the inventive Graydon embarked upon a scheme to stop the Rebel advance in its tracks. He selected two mules that had been ridden too hard and put away wet. Paddy affixed several boxes of exploding cannon shells to the mules and led them across the river. Easing silently past the sentries, he reached the outskirts of the camp. Graydon lit the fuses of the cannon shells and set the mules into motion toward the camp of the sleeping Texians. So far, so good.

As Paddy was heading back across the river he heard a rustling sound in the sage that was fast approaching from the rear—”it was the two mules. Graydon spurred his horse down the banks and into the river with the mules trotting fast behind with their fuses fast burning. Suddenly there came the great roar of an artillery battery. Not exactly a battery, but in a sense this is pretty much what it sounded like. The Rebels jolted out of their blankets sprang to arms and ran in every which direction. So did their horses and mules. Many of these critters ended up in Yankee hands.

Alas, these late night antics did not hamper the fighting abilities of Sibley’s forces. As General Sibley lay in a drunken stupor, his forces flanked the Yankees at Val Verde and forced them back into their fort. The Rebels continued their march up the valley, capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the process. Once again Grayon’s company, minus two mules, rendered valuable service as it scouted and raiding the Rebel column.

Sibley eventually met his Waterloo at Glorieta Pass on March 26-28, 1862. As his defeated and worn troops retreated back to Texas they were repeatedly raided by Graydon’s pesky troop. Paddy Graydon exited the stage in few months later when he was killed in a frontier duel with an army surgeon.


The frontier army was repeatedly confronted with desertions. Often the deserters were recaptured and punished. Here is an account of the dismal fate of two men who deserted from Company G.

New York Times November 16, 1859, reported:

From the Arizonian, Oct. 27

On the 14th inst. Corporal GORMAN, and Private CAULFIELD, of G—™s Company, 1st Dragoons, deserted from Fort Buchanan, while out in charge of the Fort herd, taking with them three horses, arms and accouterments, and fled into the State of Sonora, where they met with a reception very different from that which they expected. Some thirty-six hours after their flight they were pursued by the indefatigable Arizonian —œVidocq— JAMES GRAYDON, of Casa Blanco, and overtaken after a hard chase, at Barajito, Sonora. It appears that these misguided men employed some Mexicans to guide them down towards Guaymas, who, in a lonely part of the highway, fell upon and robbed them. One of the robbers snatched GORMAN—™s pistol and discharged its contents at his head, the ball passing through his hat, which sent him to the —œright about double quick time,— leaving his companion, who was less fortunate, in the hands of the highwaymen. When CAUFIELD was again discovered, he was found hanging to a mesquoite [sic] tree, suspended by means of his own pocket-kerchief, and it is supposed he may have been driven, by his forlorn and desperate condition, to self destruction, as the thieves had plundered him of his horse and everything about him. GORMAN and his horse were recovered and brought back to the Fort by his pursuers, after a hard ride of nearly three hundred miles, performed in sixty hours. This is another sad illustration of the kind of sympathy which Americans will receive in Mexico, as long as barbarous retaliation is the —œorder of the day— on both sides of the boundary line.

On the 16th, a party of twenty-five dragoons were sent from sent from Fort Buchanan to protect the inhabitants of Tubac and its vicinity, against an imaginary attack from the Apaches, who were reported to be marching in incredibly large numbers for the purpose of —œcleaning out— the valley of Santa Cruz. At last accounts, the wolf had not arrived, and the presence of troops allaying the fears of those who were stampeded by this silly canard.


The deserters were members of Captain Richard Ewell’s troop. On October 26, 1859, the captain wrote to “Dear Lizzie”, his niece of the incident.

Dear Betty:

I believe I owe you a letter, or two, or three of them, but as it is sometime since I wrote I have concluded to inform you that there is nothing stirring. I am just recovering from the effects of a very hard ride I took a few days since. Every now and then soldiers seem to be taken with a fit for deserting, and last Friday week a corporal and [a] private of Dragons took it into their heads to leave with two of my best horses. I returned from a short absence the day after, and started with one man in pursuit, the deserters being 36 hours in advance. I rode, without stopping that night and next day, arriving within fifteen miles of them [at] about sunset. Sunday night, about four in the morning I started back with the corporal; the post being hundred and twenty-eight miles off, and riding all Monday and Monday night, I reached it at 8 in the morning. Making in abut 60 hours two hundred and fifty miles, the longest stop being from sunset until 4 o’clock Sunday night. The horses were changed of course on the road. After overtaking the deserters, the reasons for the speedy return were (until leaving the Mexican side of the line, where I overtook them) the dangers of interference by Mexican authorities and robbers. After that there was no one to watch the prisoner while I slept, I thought it best to keep on to the post. The corporal and private had employed some Mexicans to guide them, and when the whole party were walking, at a concerted signal, one knocked the private down and the other jerked the corporal’s pistol from his belt and fired at his head, the ball passing through his hat. The corporal rode back at speed for help and a party of Mexicans returned to the place with him. They found the other deserter hung by his hankerchief to a tree, supposed to have committed suicide; this was the reason I only brought back the corporal. We thought the other committed suicide because a Mexican would not have thrown away his hankerchief but would have stabbed or shot him. They murder each other (Americans and Mexicans), on this and the other side of the line without the slightest remorse, and, as if they wanted to see which was the most attrocious. Since my return, I have heard they collected a party to follow me, but when they were ready to start, I was then across the line. The most of the people there of any standing are very friendly disposed towards me, and through they might go through forms they would be very far from showing ill will.

Sgt. William Holbrook

Sergeant William C. Holbrook served with Company E of the 3d Missouri regiment at Santa Cruz de Rosales on 16 March 1848. After the battle at Rosales, the sergeant faced a general court martial—”which is the military equivalent of felony proceeding—”for having attempted to enter, while intoxicated, the home of a resident of the city of Chihuahua. The court martial tribunal found him not guilty of the forcible entry, but guilty of the charge of intoxication. Because of Holbrook’s prior service to the country with the 3d regular Infantry at the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca, Monterey and Vera Cruz, General Price annulled the charge and he was honorably discharged from the volunteers.

After the war, Holbrook footloose in New Mexico, enlisted in Company I of the 1st Dragoons and soon became its 1st sergeant. In 1850, while stationed at Rayado, New Mexico Territory, he led a patrol that reportedly killed and scalped five Jicarilla Apache horse thieves. 1

In March of 1854, Sergeant Holbrook, still serving with Company I at the battle with the Jicarilla at Cieneguilla, was struck with an arrow in his shoulder, which Corporal Benjamin Dempsey promptly pulled out. The corporal was immediately hit in the leg with a musket ball and also had a portion of his thumb shot off. He would somehow survive. Sergeant Holbrook’s luck ran out as he was quickly hit by two more arrows, the shaft of one was deeply lodged so that only the fletches could be seen. The sergeant was faintly heard to cry out, —œI am shot and cannot go any further on foot.— Weakened from the heavy loss of blood, Sergeant Holbrook begged trooper Strawbridge to bring up his horse. While attempting to place his foot in the stirrup, the sergeant fell backwards and died.

1. Holbrook to McLaws, April 7, 1850, Letters Received, 9 Military District, M-1102, roll 2, RG 393, Nat—™ Archives; and Munroe to Jones, April 15, 1850, M269/1850, Letters Received, AGO, RG 94, Nat—™l Archives; Carson, Kit, Autobiography (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press 1966) edited by Quaife, Milo M., 136-137. The report sent along to the War Department included a note from Sgt. Holbrook—™s commanding officer Capt, William Grier, another veteran of Santa Cruz de Rosales, stated that the scalping was performed by Mexican civilians who had accompanied the expedition. Message of the President to the 31st Congress (Washington 1850) Exec. Doc no. 1, Senate version, Report of the Secretary of War, 70-71.
Bennett, James A., Forts and Forays (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press 1996) edited by Brooks, Clinton and Reeve, Frank, forward by Thompson, Jerry, xxiii.