Dragoon Uniforms

The Dragoon Uniform: Fancy vs. Fact
by George Stammerjohan and Will Gorenfeld

The 1850s present a confusing picture of the Dragoon image. On the one hand, the Regulations of 1851 gave a neat picture of what a suitably uniformed, dashing Dragoon should look like: dark blue frock coat, “flower pot” shako, and gray-blue trousers. The frock coat had orange collars and cuffs. The new uniform was intended to be worn for both dress and fatigue duty. For troopers of the First Dragoons, a brass number, “1”, was placed on each side of the collar. The first model (1851) shako bore a brass eagle, orange facing, and orange pompom. The long-tailed frock coat was heavy, and generally scorned by the troops because it impaired the Dragoon when he mounted or dismounted. The shako was stiff, hot, and hard to balance while riding at a fast gait. The orange facings of the coat and shako faded rapidly beneath a bright California sun, creating anything but a uniformed appearance to a line of troopers. Some officers scorned the new uniform because there were only slight differences in the design worn by enlisted men from the uniform worn by officers. No matter to the Dragoon troopers in California, for it would take years before this uniform would be delivered to them.

Army storehouses were filled to the brim with old-style uniforms left over from the Mexican-American War. An economy-driven Quartermaster Department wished to use these until stores were exhausted. In 1852, it was decreed that mounted troops would receive yearly allotments of two jackets–the first would be of the dark blue 1833 pattern, while the second would be of the sky-blue variety, reportedly stripped of its infantry or artillery piping. Indeed, some Dragoon companies received nothing but the sky-blue jackets.

Two items of clothing which would remain in constant use by the Dragoons were the off-white wool flannel shirt and old-pattern 1839 forage cap. The shirt was long in the tails, with a fairly full body and tight sleeves. The neck was a shallow “V” with a single button at the throat. (The dark gray salt-and-pepper woolen shirt, seen in some illustrations, was not issued until 1875.)

On August 10, 1854, a detachment of Company A of the First Dragoons arrived at Camp Canada de las Uvas. Although not located in Tejon Pass, the post soon was designated Fort Tejon. Upon arrival, these rowdy recruits and former infantrymen were put to work in the construction of the post. These Dragoons were dressed in a bewildering kaleidoscopic array of colors. The former infantrymen, who had recently marched overland from New Mexico, wore the light blue infantry jackets. The recruits were wearing old pattern 1833 dark blue jackets. The original members of Company A–all nine of them–wore a mixture of dark blue and sky blue jackets; all the worse for wear. This elite regiment would resemble ragpickers–or even worse, mounted infantry. 1st Lt. Thomas Castor begged departmental headquarters to either send new clothing or else allow him to purchase civilian attire for the ragged troops. The next month, a shipment of 1851 pattern clothing arrived at the fort. The popular image of the Dragoon depicts him in tall boots and brass spurs. This is wrong. The Dragoon generally wore infantry-style brogans. When mounted, the Dragoon wore low-shank bootees with brass stud spurs. The spurs were commonly lost and the unfortunate trooper was charged $1.10 per set to replace them.
In 1854, the regulations did away with the frock coat. In its place was a short shell jacket trimmed with orange piping and brass shoulder scales. This uniform did not reach Fort Tejon until the fall of 1856. The old-style surplus jackets in sky blue or dark blue were continued to be issued to the troops–two per year. If Company A troopers wore out their yearly issue, which was often the case, they had to purchase sky blue jackets, making them appear as worn-out infantrymen. The men of Company F, arriving at Ft. Tejon in 1857, were issued Mexican War surplus sky blue jackets. This troop would not receive the proper Dragoon pattern uniform until it reached Fort Crook, California, in 1858.

Company B wearing the 1851 Uniform

Companies B and K arrived at Fort Tejon on July 7, 1858. Brevet Major (Captain) James Carleton, the commanding officer of Company K, was furious when he learned that the Quartermaster Department had mistakenly sent his unit artillery trousers. He demanded that the Quartermaster take them back and send him proper trousers for Dragoons. The quartermaster officer, temperamental Captain Winfield Scott Hancock, refused to exchange the trousers. This led to a private feud between the future generals Hancock and Carleton. Company B, under the sickly and more easygoing command of Captain John Davidson, still wore the 1850 white buff belt and carried the Model 1833 Ames saber. It was said that the saber would wrap “rubber-like around a man’s head and was only good for cutting warm butter.”

In 1858, a new uniform was designated for the Dragoons: a refined version of the 1854 jacket, dark blue trousers, and the new, so-called Hardee hat of stiff black felt with a folded brim, ostrich feather, orange cord and brass company letter. Of this hat Major Albert Brackett wrote, “If the whole earth had been ransacked, it is difficult to tell where a more ungainly piece of furniture could have been found.”

Company K was, perhaps, the best company in the 1st Regiment. Carleton wished his troop to be correctly dressed and requested the new hats. The Quartermaster Depot in Benicia sent him just ten hats for a company of eighty men. When Carleton demanded to be sent the new fatigue flannel sack coat for these men, he received just forty. Carleton was not the kind to surrender without a fight. He lodged some stinging complaints but was each time rebuffed with the reply that the new clothing was “experimental” and that he should be happy with what he had already received. Only the fact that Lt. Col. Benjamin “Old Ben” Beall of the 1st Dragoons was serving as acting commander of the Department of California saved Carleton from being court-martialed.

Dragoon Weapons

Dragoon Firearms: More Legend than Fact
by Will Gorenfeld

Model 1847 Dragoon Musketoon (smooth bore .69 calibre)

One persistent myth concerning the Dragoons on the frontier is that they were well-equipped with the most modern of weaponry. In reality–and that reality would remain true until the late fall of 1858–the Dragoons who served out on the west coast were, for the most part, armed with firearms that bordered upon obsolete. This is not to say that these weapons were old. Indeed, none of their firearms were technically out of date. Rather, they were what the War Department, controlled by a penny-pinching Congress, could afford to issue. The Ordnance Department arsenals were filled with large stocks of these weapons. Also on hand were immense inventories of ammunition. The acquisition of modern pistols and carbines would not only render obsolete those weapons on hand but would also require the costly procurement of new ammunition. An economy-minded Congress was not about to authorize new funds for these purchases. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, graduate of West Point and former Colonel of Mississippi Volunteers, also appreciated the need of better firearms, but could only do so much. Davis authorized the testing of new firearms and the updating of existing weapons but, lacking congressional appropriations, could not purchase large numbers of new weapons for the troops.

In 1851, the Dragoons turned in their old Hall carbines and M1837 Hall North flintlock horse pistols. In exchange, they were issued the Model 1847 Springfield Musketoon and Model 1842 Aston pistol. The .69 caliber Model 1847 musketoon was a well-balanced, smoothbore carbine. It had an effective range of less than sixty yards. Inspector General Joseph Mansfield reported in 1854 that the musketoon presented “no probable certainty of hitting the object aimed at, and the recoil is too great to be fired with ease.” Mansfield concluded that the weapon was “a worthless arm” and that it had “no advocates that I am aware of.” I

Responding to growing criticism, Colonel Henry K. Craig, the chief of the Ordnance Department wrote that if the musketoon �is not a suitable arm for cavalry, I do not know where to look for one that will answer.� As it turned out, Colonel Craig did not have to look far for a replacement weapon. Christian Sharps, who had worked on the Hall carbine while employed at the Harper�s Ferry Arsenal, by 1848 had patented a breech-loading, rifled carbine. The design was relatively simple. Pulling down a lever located as part of the trigger guard lowered the slide, and a paper or linen cartridge was then placed into the breech. When the slide was forced back upward, it sheered off the rear of the cartridge and exposed the powder to ignition. The Sharps rifled carbine fired at the revolutionary rate of 8 to 10 rounds per minute–with accuracy. The Ordnance Board tested the weapon and was favorably impressed. In 1852, it ordered 150 carbines for field tests by Dragoons stationed in New Mexico Territory and Southern California. Because it was an experimental weapon, only ten Sharps were issued to each company. Secretary Davis continued to press for congressional funds with which to purchase experimental weapons. In 1857, four hundred model 1855 Sharps carbines were purchased by the War Department. Ten carbines were issued to each of several Dragoon companies stationed out on the West Coast.

Out in New Mexico territory, in 1858, Captain Richard “Old Baldy” Ewell raved that his 15 Sharps carbines were the best firearms available, and asked for more. Captain Davidson chimed in: “I am satisfied from trial and experience, that Sharps� carbine is the best weapon yet known in our country for a cavalry soldier. Its range and accuracy are greater than those of the musketoon. It is a stronger arm; the soldier can make it last longer. . . One argument I had almost omitted to mention in favor of the Sharps� carbine is that dragoon soldiers have more confidence in it than any other weapon I have ever seen put into their hands; and I have seen them use the musketoon, carbine pistol and minie rifle. Give your soldiers but confidence in the effectiveness of their weapons, and they will give a better account of themselves than with those they can not trust.� When Dragoon Companies B and K, enroute to Ft. Tejon, from Ft. Buchanan in New Mexico Territory, they were armed with the Musketoon and the M1841 Mississippi rifle. While stationed in New Mexico, they had been issued ten M1855 Sharps carbines per company. But these experimental weapons were the property of the Ordnance Department of New Mexico and, as such, were left behind.

Colt 2d Model Dragoon Pistol

The War Department had delivered two dozen or so First Model Colt Dragoon revolvers to each Dragoon company for testing. A great debate soon raged within the ranks of the mounted arm over the efficacy of the Dragoon revolver. It was much too heavy to be carried in a belt holster. Brevet Major Carleton quipped that the Dragoon revolver was only fit for teamsters who had a wagon in which to carry it. Thus, many officers favored the lighter .36 caliber “belt revolver,” the 3d Model 1851 Colt Navy.

Colt 1851 .36 Caliber Navy Revolver

A number of officers chafed at the notion that a lowly enlisted man, often an immigrant, might be entrusted with Colt pistols worth between $25-$50. It is also important to bear in mind that company arms were, ultimately, the financial responsibility of the senior company officer. Lost revolvers could, thus, be charged against the officer’s monthly pay. Colt’s revolvers were easily stolen by deserters and sold on the black market. In late 1856, 25 second-model Colt revolvers were issued to Company A at Fort Tejon. Within weeks of the delivery, three Dragoons deserted, taking with them three pistols. The sale of stolen Colt’s became such a problem that General Order No. 19, issued August 16, 1859, decreed that any trooper who lost his Colt would have to pay $40. In 1856, the Army contracted with the Sharps Company to produce 4000 Model 1853 carbines. These weapons, sealed into tin can-like cases, along with a large order of Navy Colt revolvers, were crated and shipped from New York to California. They were placed in storage at the Benicia Arsenal. The Ordnance Department continued to issue the musketoon and Aston pistol.

To the north of California there would be fought an engagement that would change the whole picture of mounted troops. On May 16, 1858, the Couer d�Alene, Spokane, and Palouse Indians of Eastern Washington attacked a field force of three companies of Dragoons and 25 infantrymen marching under the command of Major Edward Steptoe. During a running fight, two companies of Dragoons, armed with the short-range musketoons, were deployed as a rear guard. In this firefight, they consumed a huge amount of ammunition–with little effect. Finally, the battered column gained a low hilltop and forted up. The Indians, many of whom had Hudson Bay trade muskets and rifles, soon formed a ring around the hill and banged away at Steptoe�s beleaguered force. With men dying and ammunition down to three rounds per trooper, Steptoe buried his dead and made a run for the Columbia River and the safety of Fort Walla Walla. This embarrassing fiasco sent a shockwave through out the Army.

At Department of the Pacific headquarters, grandfatherly Brevet Brigadier General Newman A. Clarke pointed his finger at the Ordnance Department which, at the time, had resting in its
warehouse in Benicia, California, dozens of boxes of Sharps carbines and Navy Colt revolvers. Clarke wanted the new weapons issued, and now! Beginning in July of 1858, Ordnance officers at Benicia uncrated, cleaned, and shipped hundreds of Sharps and Colts to Fort Walla Walla for the mounted units destined for the Spokane Campaign. Additional weapons were next shipped to Forts Crook and Tejon to re-arm the other Dragoon companies. Within weeks, Dragoons from Fort Tejon took to the field armed with their newly issued M1853 Sharps carbines.

M1852 Sharps Crabine

The Mojave tribe, angered by a new wagon road across their lands, were attacking emigrant trains. At a place near the Colorado River known as Beaver Slough, Mojave tribesmen boldly attacked the Dragoons. It was a mistake: the awesome firepower of Sharps carbines in the steady hands of veteran troops quickly drove off the attackers.

In 1859, Inspector General Mansfield, on an inspection tour of California, witnessed a firing exercise by Brevet Major James Carleton’s company K at Fort Tejon. Mansfield reported that, despite the lack of sufficient powder in the experimental cartridges supplied by the Benicia Arsenal, half of Company K’s shots hit a 6′ x 22″ target at 100 yards. Carleton, never without a hot opinion, later wrote to the chief of Ordnance at Benicia and openly expressed anger over the poor quality of the experimental cartridges.

Sharps carbines, like Colt’s, were popular with deserters. Stolen Sharps could be sold in Los Angeles for about $100 in gold coin. One 1st Dragoon sergeant took a detail into the pueblo of Los Angeles and then, graciously, allowed his men a night on the town; after the men had departed from camp, he gathered up their carbines and disappeared. In 1860, Dragoon trooper Henry Ott, the post butcher, got tired of army life. He procured three Sharps carbines and vanished in broad daylight. For good measure, Private Ott also pilfered a new Model 1855 Springfield rifle that had been sent to the Dragoons for field tests. He was never caught.

The Dragoons of Fort Tejon rode out on their last campaign On April 12, 1860. Crossing the arid sands of the Mojave Desert as far as Las Vegas, they chased scattered bands of Pah-Utes who had been attacking mail carriers, cattlemen, and prospectors. Thus, in the final moments of pre-Civil War California, most of the Fort Tejon Dragoons had finally attained the level of armament that gun lore had always declared: they were elite troopers who were superbly armed! It had simply taken the Army 24 years to make fact match legend.

Model 1855 Sharps Carbine: note the Maynard Taped Primer devise

Letter from Jefferson Barracks, 1847: "I am disgusted with the duty."

During the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, Jefferson Barracks, Missouri was a beehive of activity; serving as a major staging area for supplies and troops heading to the war as well as a training facility where the recruits learned basic drill, companies organized and the men equipped. While brother officers were gaining glory and brevets on distant battlefields, those officers stationed at Jefferson Barracks had the unrewarding task of instructing recruits in the school of the soldier.

One such officer was Lt. Leonadis Jenkins of the 1st Dragoons1. He had seen his regiment cover itself in glory, when on 18 August 1846, five Dragoon companies under the command of General Stephen W. Kearney took part in the bloodless conquest of Santa Fe2. Lt. Jenkins’s close friend and classmate from the Military Academy’s Class of 1841, Lt. John Love. rode with the Dragoons into Santa Fe and then placed in field command of Company B3 In October of 1846, the War Department ordered Lt. Love to Dayton, Ohio, with directions to build the company up to wartime compliment of 80 enlisted men.4

While Lt. Love was busily scouring the countryside in the states of Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana for dragoon recruits, Lt. Jenkins had set up a recruiting station in St Louis, Missouri and was fast reaching his quota of recruits. The energetic lieutenant would take his men down to Jefferson Barracks where he would drill and equip them. In the following letter from Lt. Jenkins to Lt. Love we are given a peek into the mindset of a young officer who, although performing a valuable task of securing and training recruits, sees his chance for fame and promotion fast slipping away, while the star of his dear friend is on the rise.

Jefferson Barracks

March 20, 1847

Dear Love,

I have just returned from Fort Leavenworth where I have been and left 25 recruits and 24 sorrel horses for your company.5 A fair lot of men 6 and tollerable [sic] horses and the new saddle and equipments7. It stormed all the way up and took me 16 days to make the march8. I came back by steamboat.

Wharton 9 has just been relieved from the command of the Regiment and Mason 10is considered as commanding it. Stanton 11 is perfectly disgusted and has applied to join his comp__.

I have 13 men and in a few days think I will make it up to 20– as good men as ever enlisted. They get along rapidly in their drill on foot and if I only had a few horses and saddles could have them pretty well instructed by the time that you are ready to receive them. We expect you will be sent here to organize what do you expect? Wharton told me that that he had recommended that as soon as you had 20 men & I 20,you should be sent either here or to Fort L. to fit up as that would make your comp. 80 strong. I believe your arms etc. are mostly here. Wharton has asked Col. D 12 to have 25 sets of accouterments sent up there. I shall persuade him not to do it, if possible, as I suppose you should rather organize here than at Fort Leavenworth as Davenport will let you have your own way here and give you everything you ask for.

As I had not heard from you this winter and wished to meet your wishes while recruiting for your company, I thought I would trouble you with a few lines by way of a friendly greeting.

Where do you expect to get your horses? If I had a few here for drill I could advance your men considerably in the school of the trooper mounted. I am disgusted with the duty. Won’t you exchange with me? This would be a delightful place for you and you won glory enough last summer.13

Yours in haste,

L. Jenkins

Hancock 14 has just arrived here with 60 Infantry recruits en rout for Ft. Smith. He brings news of Genl Taylors bloody affair. 15

Company B was deemed organized on April 19, 1847.16 On 26 June 1847, this untrained unit encountered and fought in a bloody engagement with Comanche tribesmen at the Coon Creeks. 17 On March 16, 1848, Company B, hastily trained as artillerists, played an important part in the battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales.18

1. 1st Lt. Leonadis Jenkins graduated from the Military Academy in 1841. After two years of service on the Great Plains with the 1st Dragoons, he was assigned to recruiting service in 1845. (George W. Cullum: Services and Promotions of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy (New York, C.S. Westcott & Co. 1868) Vol. 2, p.13.

2. Justin Smith, The War With Mexico (New York, McMillan & Co. 1919) Vol. 1, pp. 295-96; James M. Cutts, Conquest of California and New Mexico (Philadelphia, Casey and Hart 1847) 53-57.

3. After capturing Santa Fe, Santa General Kearney had ridden off with two companies of 1st Dragoons to California. Three companies of Dragoons remained behind to protect New Mexico. Captain Abraham Johnson, the commanding officer of Company B, accompanied General Kearney as his adjutant. On 6 December 1846, Captain Johnson was killed at the Battle of San Pascual. (W.H. Emory, Notes of a Military Reconnaissance (Wash. D.C., Wendell and Van Benthuysen 1848) 108-110.

4. Company returns, First Dragoons, Company B, October 1846 (National Archives microfilm M744, R2).

5. Company B, 1st Dragoons was typically mounted on sorrel colored mounts. (E.g., see Percival Lowe: Five Years a Dragoon (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1965), 83.

6. During the 1840s, Irishmen made up a substantial portion the ranks of the regular army. (Edward M. Coffman, The Old Army (New York, Oxford University Press 1986) 141. Yet, there is not an Irish surname to be found among the 25 men recruited by Lt. Jenkins in St. Louis. Was this a case of “No Irish need apply?” See Catholics and the Regular Army in Paul Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press 2002), 25-29.

7. For most of the war, the standard issue saddle was the Ringgold. (Randy Steffen: United States Military Saddles 1812-1943 (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1973), 38. In 1846, the Army began to experiment with the use of a lighter saddle and horse equipment designed by Thornton Grimsley of St. Louis, Missouri. (Id., 38-42.) These new saddles and tack were procured by Lt. Jenkins and issued to the B Company recruits in March of 1847 weight loss supplements.

8. Lt. Jenkins’s detachment arrived at Ft. Leavenworth on 17 February 1847. (Company B returns, id.) The distance between Jefferson Barracks to Fort Leavenworth is about 300 miles; the fierce winter weather slowed the pace of Jenkins mounted column to less than 20 miles a day.

9. Lt. Col. Clifton Wharton, 1st United States Dragoons. (Francis H. Heitman, Historical Register of the United States Army, Washington D.C., Government Printing Office 1903, 1022.)

10.Colonel Richard Mason, 1st United States Dragoons, was commissioned colonel of the regiment on 30 June 1846. (Heitman, id. 695.)

11. 1st Lt. Henry Whiting Stanton, regimental adjutant of the 1st United States Dragoons, graduated from the Military Academy in 1842. (Heitman, id. 916.)

12.Col. William Davenport, 7th United States Infantry, commanding officer at Jefferson Barracks.

13. 4. Lt. Jenkins is referring to Lt. Love�s participation in the August 1846, invasion of New Mexico. He would soon get his wish to be rid of Jefferson Barracks. Lt. Jenkins received orders to join the regiment and on 18 October, and died of disease while stationed at Vera Cruz, Mexico. He was 28 years of age. (Cullum, id, 13.)

14. 2d Lt. Winfield Scott Hancock graduated from the Military Academy in 1844 and was assigned to the 6th Infantry. In the early part of 1847 he was on recruiting duty. (Cullum, id 108.)

15. Lt. Jenkins is referring to General Zachary Taylor’s victory at Buena Vista, which took place on 23 February 1847. (Smith, id. Vol. 1, pp. 384-400.)

16. Company B returns, id, National Archives M 744, roll 2; William Chalfant, Dangerous Passage (Norman, Univ. Okla. Press) 87-102.

17. Diary of Phillip Gooch Ferguson printed in Ralph Bieber, Marching With the Army of the West (Glendale: Arthur Clark Co. 1936) 356; Niles National Register July 31, 1847.

18. Lt. Love received a captain’s brevet for his gallant conduct at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales. He would resign his commission in 1853 and become a railroad contractor in the state of Indiana. John Love saw brief service as a General of Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War. (Cullum, id 13-14.)

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History of the First Dragoons


General Stephen W. Kearney

The “United States Regiment of Dragoons” was organized by Act of Congress approved March 2, 1833, becoming the “First Regiment of Dragoons” when the Second Dragoons were raised in 1836. Its designation was changed to “First Regiment of Cavalry” by the Act of August 3, 1861. The first order announcing appointments in the regiment was dated March 5, 1833, and gave the names of the colonel, lieutenant-colonel, major, four captains and four lieutenants, stating that the organization of the regiment would be perfected by the selection of officers from the “Battalion of Rangers.” Headquarters were established at Jefferson Barracks.

The organization of the regiment does not appear to have been completed until June, 1834, the regimental return for that month naming the following officers:

Colonel Henry Dodge.

Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen W. Kearny.

Major Richard B. Mason.

Captains Clifton Wharton, E. V. Sumner, Eustace Trenor, David Hunter, Lemuel Ford, Nathan Boone, J. B. Browne, Jesse Bean, Matthew Duncan and David Perkins.

First Lieutenants P. St. G. Cooke, S. W. Moore, A. Van Buren, J. F. Izard, Jefferson Davis, L. P. Lupton, Thomas Swords, T. B. Wheelock, J. W. Hamilton (adjutant), B. D. Moore, and C. F. M. Noland.

Second Lieutenants James Allen, T. H. Holmes, J. H. K. Burgwin, J. S. Van Derveer, J. W. Shaumburg, Enoch Steen, James Clyman, J. L. Watson, and B. A. Terrett.

Brevet Second Lieutenants William Eustis, G. W. McClure, L. B. Northrop, G. P. Kingsbury, J. M. Bowman, Asbury Ury, A. G. Edwards and T. J. McKean.

Lieutenant Jefferson Davis was the first adjutant but resigned the staff position February 4, 1834, and was assigned to Company A.

In October, 1833, the five companies first organized were sent under Colonel Dodge to winter in the vicinity of Fort Gibson, Arkansas Territory, where they remained until June, 1834.

In June, 1834, the regiment was sent on the “Pawnee Expedition,” during which, although it ended in September of the same year, one fourth of the officers and men of the command died of fevers. On the 6th of August, Colonel Dodge writes to Lieutenant-Colonel Kearny: “I have on my sick report 36 men, four of whom have to be carried in litters. My horses are all much jaded, and would be unable to return by the mouth of the Wishitaw and reach their point of destination this winter season. This has been

*An abridgment of Capt. Wainwright’s “History of the 1st U. S. Cavalry.”


a hard campaign on all; we have been for the last fifteen days living almost on meat alone. The state of the health of this detachment of the regiment makes it absolutely necessary that I should arrive at Fort Gibson as early as possible, as well as the difficulty of providing grain for the horses. I am well aware you are placed in a most unpleasant situation, encumbered as you must be with sick men, baggage and horses, and regret exceedingly that it is not in my power to help you.”

For the winter, Headquarters with Companies A, C, D and G, were sent to Fort Leavenworth; Companies B, H and I, Colonel Kearny, commanding, into the Indian country on the right bank of the Mississippi, near the mouth of the Des Moines River; and Companies E, F and K, Major Mason commanding, to Fort Gibson.

Throughout the summer of 1835 all the companies of the regiment were kept in the field. The object appears to have been exploration chiefly, for no conflicts with the Indians took place. The regiment performed its duty thoroughly, as was shown by the letter of commendation sent by General E. P. Gaines, commanding West Department, to the regimental commander upon receipt of his report of operations.

Many letters written and orders issued about this time are of great interest and some are very amusing from the force of language used, showing great difference in military correspondence then and now; the court-martial orders are especially interesting on account of the peculiar sentences imposed.

During the year 1836 the general disposition of the regiment remained unchanged. The companies were employed in scouting among the Indians, especially along the Missouri frontier, a portion of the regiment going to Nacogdoches, Texas, for the purpose of keeping off white trespassers from the Indian country, and preserving peace between whites and Indians and among the Indians themselves; also in building wagon roads and bridges. During the winter the companies returned to their stations—”Forts Leavenworth, Gibson and Des Moines.

Colonel Dodge resigned July 4, 1836, and was appointed Governor of Wisconsin. He was succeeded by Colonel Kearny. Major Mason was promoted vice Kearny, and Captain Clifton Wharton vice Mason.

The regiment was not engaged in the Florida war of this year, but Colonel Kearny, being called upon subsequently, reports, March 16, 1844; —””The only officers of the Regiment of Dragoons who died of wounds received or diseases contracted during the late contest with the Florida Indians are 1st Lieutenants J. F. Izard and T. B. Wheelock,” and that no enlisted men of the regiment served there.

The circumstances attending the death of Lieutenant Izard are interesting. Being on his way from the east in January, 1836, to join his regiment, he heard at Memphis of Dade’s massacre. He at once offered his services to General Gaines as a volunteer for the expedition then being organized in New Orleans for Florida, was appointed brigade major of the light brigade organized at Tampa Bay composed of the 2d Artillery, 4th Infantry and the Louisiana Volunteers, and had also the command of the advanced guard assigned him which he retained until he was shot.


On the 26th of February, 1836, the light brigade left Fort King for Ouithlacoochee, during the passage of which stream an attack by the Indians was anticipated. On the following day the place where General Clinch had his battle of December 25 was reached. Here a sharp skirmish took place and some men were lost. Having learned of a better ford below it was decided to take it. Izard, coming with his advanced guard to the bank of the river, posted his guard and went down the river alone to look for the ford. While wading in the stream he was struck by a bullet in the inner corner of the left eye, the ball passing out near the right temple. He fell, but called out while falling, “Lie still, men, and maintain your positions.” He never spoke afterwards and died on the 5th of March.

First Lieutenant T. B. Wheelock left New York for Florida with a detachment of recruits in February, 1836. He distinguished himself with a portion of these recruits on the 10th of June at Fort Micanopy, and died at that post on the 15th of that month of a fever contracted during his service in Florida.

During the year 1837 the regiment was not called upon for any especially hard service. The usual scouting parties were sent out from time to time, and there were several changes of station, so that in June six companies were at Leavenworth and four at Fort Gibson.

The following extract from an order issued by General Gaines, commanding the Western Division, shows the high state of discipline prevailing in the regiment at this time.

“The First Regiment of Light Dragoons at Fort Leavenworth, recently inspected by the Commanding General, was found to be in a state of police and discipline reflecting the highest credit on Colonel Kearny—”the exemplary commandant, —”his captains and other officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, whose high health and vigilance, with the excellent condition of the horses, affords co
nclusive evidence of their talents, industry and steady habits.”

In March, 1837, a regimental order designated the color of the horses of each company as follows:—”A and K, black; B, F and H, sorrel; C, D, E and I, bay; and G, iron gray.

In October, 1837, and again in March, 1838, serious difficulties were reported between the settlers and the Osage Indians, and companies of the regiment were at once sent to the disturbed regions. On the second occasion the rapidity of Colonel Kearny’s movements and the sudden appearance of zoo dragoons in their midst appear to have had a very quieting effect on the Indians, for after his return to Leavenworth Colonel Kearny reports no further danger of trouble with the Osages.

In April, 1839, the post of Fort Wayne, on the northwestern frontier of Arkansas, was established for the purpose of keeping the Cherokees in subjection, and by the end of October Companies E, F, G and K, were stationed there. In this same month Colonel Kearny, with Companies A, B, C, H and I, scouting, visited the post, but in November returned to Fort Leavenworth having marched about 550 miles.

Except that Companies A, C and D, under Major Wharton, were sent to Fort Gibson in December for temporary duty, nothing of any moment occurred to the regiment during the remainder of the year.


Twice in March and once in September, 1840, the regiment was called upon to overawe the Indians, and the end of that year found the Headquarters with Companies E, F, H, I and K, at Leavenworth; C, D and G, at Fort Gibson; A at Fort Wayne, and B at Fort Crawford.

During the period 1841-45 there is little of interest to record regarding, the movements of the regiments. There was the usual detached service for companies, and changes between Leavenworth, Gibson, Wayne, Crawford and Fort Towson—”on the northeastern boundary of Texas. The records show no engagements or excessive marches, except that in April, 1842, on account of some disturbance among the Cherokees, Colonel Kearny marched his command of five companies to Fort Gibson from Leavenworth, and then made a forced march of 57 miles to Fort Wayne in one day. The records do not show that these Indian disturbances amounted to anything; the Indians made no attacks on the troops and but few on the settlers; still it is fair to presume that the activity of Colonel Kearny and his dragoons held them in subjection, and by their timely arrival at points where trouble was imminent, overawed the savages and prevented bloody wars.

On May 18, 1845, Colonel Kearny with Companies A, C, F, G and K, left Leavenworth for an expedition to South Pass in the Rocky Mountains. The command reached Fort Laramie on the north fork of the Platte, June 14; marched to South Pass and returned to Laramie by July 13; thence via Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas to Fort Leavenworth, where it arrived August 24, having made a march of 2000 miles in less than 100 days. In the order issued to his command after his return from this expedition Colonel Kearny says: “In the length of the march, the rapidity of the movement and the unimportant sacrifices made, the expedition is supposed to be wholly unprecedented; and it is with pride and pleasure that the Colonel ascribes the result to the habitual good conduct, efficiency, and attention to duty on the part of the officers and soldiers of the command.”

At the end of the year Companies C, F, G and K, were at Leavenworth; A at Fort Scott; B at Fort Atkinson; D at Camp Boone, near Beatties Prairie; E and H in camp near Evansville, Ark.; and I at Fort Des Moines. The Headquarters of the regiment were at St. Louis, where they remained until April 23, 1846, when they were returned to Fort Leavenworth.

Colonel Kearny was promoted brigadier general June 30, 1846, and was succeeded by Colonel Mason. Major Wharton was promoted vice Lieutenant Colonel Mason, and Captain Trenor vice Wharton.

Very soon after the commencement of hostilities between the United States and Mexico, preparations were begun for the invasion of Mexican territory at various points. One expedition was to advance from the Missouri River west to Mexico, Santa Fé being its objective point. It was immediately determined, however, to push on with this column and occupy Upper California. General Kearny was placed in command of this “Army of the West,” which consisted of Companies B, C, G, I and K, 1st Dragoons, two companies of artillery, two of infantry and nine companies of Missouri volunteer cavalry under command of Colonel A. W. Doniphan, in all about 1800 men. This command was concentrated at Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas, from which point it marched for Santa Fé, August 1, 1846.


Some show of resistance to Kearny’s advance was made by the Mexican governor of New Mexico, but Las Vegas was occupied on the 14th, and Santa Fé on the 18th of August without a conflict, the Mexicans retreating upon Kearny’s approach. Leaving Colonel Doniphan in command at Santa Fé, General Kearny took up the march for California September 26, and encamped about 40 miles from San Diego December 5, where he was met by a small party of volunteers under Captain Gillespie, sent out from San Diego by Commodore Stockton to give information of the enemy, of whom there were supposed to be six or seven hundred opposed to Kearny’s advance.

Company B, coming from Ft. Atkinson Iowa Territory, caught up with the expedition at Bent’s Fort. From there the Dragoons marched into Santa Fe and took the town without a shot being fired. Leaving Companies B, I, and G behind in Santa Fe, General Kearney set out with reinforced companies C and K bound for California.

In the predawn darkness of December 6, 1846, at San Pascual, California, Kearny unwisely ordered his troops to charge a force of 160 Californios. In the ensuing battle, the Dragoons, although holding the field at day’s end, were soundly defeated. General Wilcox in his History of the Mexican War says: “At dawn of day the enemy, already in the saddle, were seen at San Pasqual. Captain Johnston charged them with the advanced guard, followed and supported by the Dragoons, and they gave way. Captain Moore led off rapidly in pursuit accompanied by the Dragoons (mounted on horses), and followed, though slowly, by those on tired mules. The enemy, well mounted and superb horsemen, after falling back half a mile, halted, and seeing an interval between Captain Moore with the advance and the Dragoons coming to his support, rallied their whole force and charged with lances. Moore held his ground for some minutes but was forced back, when those in the rear coming up, the enemy were in turn driven back and fled not to rally again. Kearny occupied the field and encamped upon it.The action was severe, the 1st Dragoons losing three officers,—”Captains Moore and Johnston and Lieutenant Hammond,—”and 14 men killed; and about all the dragoons were wounded, principally with lance thrusts. General Kearny himself received two wounds, Lieutenant Warren of the Topographical Engineers, three; and Captain Gillespie of the volunteers, three. Kearny’s battered command reached and occupied San Diego on December 12.

“But few of Moore’s men escaped without wounds. Captain Johnston was shot dead at the commencement of the action; Captain Moore was lanced and killed just before the final retreat of the Mexicans; Lieutenant Hammond was also lanced, surviving the wound but a few minutes; two sergeants, two corporals, and 10 men of the 1st Dragoons, one private of volunteers, and a citizen engaged with the engineers were killed.”

Company B, meanwhile, was recruited back to strength. In June, it was to escort the paymaster on his trip to Santa Fe ordered. Under the command of Lt. John Love. B Troop fought a skirmish against the Comanche on 26 June 1847, at Coon Creek in what is today Western Kansas. The bulk of the men in the compan
y at this time had been recruited in Missouri and Indiana just a few months prior to the battle. In the action, which became known as “Love’s Defeat,” five Dragoon recruits died and six were wounded. The company reached Santa Fe, New Mexico on August 6 with $350,000 in gold specie that they had been escorting.

In explanation of the remark “mounted on horses,” it may be stated that, with a few exceptions, the Dragoons were mounted on tired mules which had been ridden from Santa Fé, more than a thousand miles.

General Kearny with a force consisting of Company C, 1st Dragoons, (60 dismounted men) under Captain Turner, sailors and marines with a battery of artillery, and California volunteers, left San Diego for Los Angeles December 29. He reached and occupied Los Angeles January 10, 1847. The enemy under Governor Flores was encountered at the crossing of the Rio San Gabriel January 8, and on the plains of the Meza on the 9th, on both of which occasions he was routed with some loss. The loss to the Americans was one soldier killed, and two officers,—”Rowan of the navy and Captain Gillespie,—”and 11 privates wounded. With the loss of Los Angeles all resistance to the occupation of this portion of California ceased.

General Kearny had left Companies G and I at Albuquerque under Captain J. H. K. Burgwin. When Colonel Sterling Price (the successor of Colonel Doniphan in command at Santa Fé) learned of the seizure and murder at Fernando de Taos of Governor Bent and five others by the Mexicans (Jan. 20), he moved out against them with a force of about 350 dismounted men and easily defeated them, Jan. 24, at Canada. Captain Burgwin, with Company G, 1st Dragoons, also dismounted, joined him on the 28th, and the Mexicans, numbering about 500, were again encountered on the 29th in a cañon leading to Embudo, from which position they were driven out by Burgwin with a force of 180 men of Price’s regiment and Company G. He entered Embudo the same day.

On the 31st, having united his force, Price moved towards the Pueblo de Taos, which he attacked February 3, but on account of its strength and the stubborn resistance offered, and more especially for the reason that the ammunition for the artillery had not come up, the attack failed. It was renewed on the following morning when Captain Burgwin, with his company of Dragoons and McMillan’s of Price’s regiment, charged, crossed the walls, and attacked the church, which, with other large buildings within the walls, was occupied by a large force of the enemy and was stubbornly defended. While gallantly leading a small party against the door of the church Burgwin received a mortal wound from which he died on the 7th. Company G sustained a loss in this engagement of one officer and 23 men killed. The Mexicans lost 153 killed and many wounded.

During the year 1847 regimental headquarters were still at Leavenworth and Companies A and E were with Taylor in Northern Mexico. Company B was reorganized at Jefferson Barracks in May and sent to Albuquerque, N. M., being engaged while en route with Comanche Indians at Grand Prairie, Arkansas, June 26, losing five men killed and six wounded.

Company F escorted General Scott from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico and was present at the battles at and near that city. From November 1 to December 20 it was engaged on escort duty between the city and Vera Cruz.

Companies D and K, as well as F, saw service on Scott’s line in Mexico, and in 1848 the three companies returned to the United States and were stationed at various points on the northwestern frontier. In March of 1848, Companies B, G, and I, took Chihuahua and then fought at the battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales on 17 March 1848. These companies returned to Santa Fe in August.

During the year 1849 the regiment lost three men killed and two wounded (one mortally) in Indian skirmishes, the particulars of which are not obtainable.

Brevet Brigadier General Mason, Colonel 1st Dragoons, died at Jefferson Barracks, July 25, 1850, and was succeeded by Colonel Thomas L. Fauntleroy, promoted from the Second Dragoons.

For the next three years there is no record of any important engagement, march or duty, performed by the regiment; in fact, very little attention was given to recording really important fights.

On 30 March 1854, Companies F and I, under the command of 1st Lt. John W. Davidson, attacked a Jicarilla Apache encampment near Cieneguilla, New Mexico Territory. The two companies soon found themselves surrounded and were forced to retreat. In a running battle, the Dragoons lost 24 men killed in action and 22 men wounded. This was the worst defeat inflicted upon the regiment during the Ante Bellum period. Nonetheless, an Army court of inquiry held in Santa Fe, in 1856, cleared Lt. Davidson of misconduct.

Regimental headquarters were transferred to Fort Union, N. M., in July, 1854, and throughout the following year the companies in New Mexico were almost constantly on the move. Colonel Fauntleroy made three expeditions against the Utahs and Apaches, and Companies I and K went with Colonel Miles against the Mescalero Apaches.

Meantime out on the Pacific Coast, Companies C and E took part in the Rogue River war in Oregon. At the battle of “Hungry Hill,” the troops were compelled to retire with a loss of 26 killed and wounded, after fighting a day and a half. In August of 1854, Company A marched from Ft. Miller, California to the Canon de las Uvas and commenced to build Ft. Tejon.

The headquarters of the regiment were established at Fort Tejon, California, in December, 1856, with Companies H and I. At this time Companies B, D, G and K were at Camp Moore, N. M.; C at Fort Yamhill, Oregon; E at Fort Walla Walla, Wash.; F at San Diego, Cal.; and A en route from Ft. Tejon to Benicia Barracks, California.

From this time until the year 1861 scoutings and skirmishes with the Indians were almost incessant, and portions of the regiment were always found where the fighting was going on. Four companies were present with Chandler’s expedition against the Navajos and Apaches in March and April, 1856. In 1856 two companies took part in numerous Indian skirmishes in Oregon and Washington; one was with Wright’s expedition to the Walla Walla country in April, and to the Yakima country in June; later in the year it was out with Colonel Steptoe.

In May, 1858, Companies C, E and H formed part of Steptoe’s expedition northward to the British line which, on the 17th of May, met a force of about 800 Spokane and other hostile Indians and was forced to retreat.

In August of the same year Companies C, E, H and I were with Wright’s column, and administered a severe thrashing, September 1, to the Indians who had defeated Steptoe.

Company D, under the command of Captain Richard Ewell, was in the, field in Arizona in 1858, and E in Oregon in 1859.

Colonel Fauntleroy resigned May 13, 1861, and was succeeded by Colonel B. L. Beall. The various companies of the regiment in California, Washington, and Oregon received orders to travel by ship, by way of the Istmus, to New York. By the Act of August 3 of this year the designation of the regiment was changed to “First Regiment of Cavalry.”

General Stephen W. Kearney