Monday, February 17, 2020

Benjamin Franklin Davis: Service in the 1st U S Dragoons, Part II



While most of the 1st Dragoons who were stationed at Camp Moore were on campaign against the Apache in May and June 1857 the post at Camp Calabasas was abandoned and moved closer to Tucson. Fort Buchanan, named in honor of President James Buchanan, was established in June 1857 40 miles from Tucson and 25 miles northeast of Camp Moore “on a slightly timbered bench above the junction of the Sonoita and Santa Cruz Rivers” in what is now Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

Accommodations at Fort Buchanan were primitive at best. Like most frontier forts erected in the era the buildings were not surrounded by walls or palisades because “they were designed primarily as shelter for small communities of officers, enlisted men, family members and civilian camp followers rather than defensive structures” which enabled the Indians to roam about the grounds at will, especially at night. In a February 1859 “Sanitary Report - Fort Buchanan, (Arizona), Assistant Surgeon B. I. D Irwin noted “Fort Buchanan consists of a series of temporary jacal (jackal) buildings, which have been erected from time to time, over a distance of a half mile, and built without any regard to the permanent occupation of the present immediate location. The site of these buildings is irregularly elevated some thirty or forty feet above the level of the surrounding cienega, a swampy morass which encircles it on the east, south and western aspect. The structures used as quarters for the men, most of those used by the officers, the laundresses quarters, storerooms, and workshops are formed of pickets placed perpendicular to the ground, the chinks filled with mud, and the roofs covered with the same material. The chinking remains only long enough to dry, shrink and tumble out, never to be replaced.” The rooms were low, narrow and lacked, neatness, comfort and ventilation.

Health and morale at Fort Buchanan were chronically low throughout the years the site was occupied, in part because the post was very remote but also because the fort had been established in an area that was inherently unhealthy. The marshy cienegas (springs) where malarial mosquitoes breeding grounds. According to Surgeon and Medical Director William J. Sloan intermittent and remittent fever was prevalent, especially during the rainy season.
Grimes Davis continued in command of Company B, 1st Dragoons at Fort Buchanan throughout September 1857. Alfred B. Chapman of Company K was absent on leave. Another classmate Horace Randall was also at Fort Buchanan assigned to Company G, 1st Dragoons.

On October 31, 1857, a little less than a year after the original event occurred, 2nd Lt. Davis wrote a letter to the the Adjutant General in Washington D.C., in response to correspondence he had received from that office. He noted in his letter “I have just received a letter from the War Department informing me that I have been reported to the President for dismissal for non rendition of accounts for the 3rd quarter of 1856.” Davis continues his response by noting “the only accounts which I had open with the government at that time, was for three hundred dollars of quartermaster money received from Lieutenant (Milton) Cogswell, AAQM, 8th Infantry, at Fort Stanton, N.M., about the 10th of August. This money was for the purchase of forage for the company whilst in route to (Arizona). As the command did not arrive there until sometime in November it was not convenient to make out the account until the last quarter of 1856. The returns were then sent to the proper office, but through some neglect, without the necessary explanation…In conclusion I would state that all my accounts with the government of whatever nature will be closed by this mail.” Davis letter would be received in the office of the Adjutant General January 2, 1858 and must have resolved any issues regarding his dismissal from the service.

The remainder of 1857 passed without notice. January 1858 saw both Captain John W. Davidson and 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin F. Davis away from Fort Buchanan on detached service. 1st Lt. Orren Chapman remained at the fort in command of the enlisted men of Company B who were there present for duty. He was sick much of the time however. Both Davidson and Davis left the fort on January 30, 1858. Davidson returned on the 1st. Grimes Davis was back at the fort on the 6th. Both men left again on February 15 and did not return until March 7. They were probably out scouting however the returns are not specific as to their whereabouts. By April 30, 1858 Benjamin Davis was in command of Company B at Fort Buchanan because both his superior officers were sick.

In early May 1858, the 72 enlisted men and 2 officers of Company B and the 71 rank and file and 3 officers of Company K, 1st Dragoons were transferred from Fort Buchanan, New Mexico to Fort Tejon, California in the Department of the Pacific, in accordance with General Order No. 5 Headquarters of the Army, issued January 27, 1858. The order specified “ Two companies of the 1st Dragoons at Fort Buchanan will remain to garrison the post. The other two only are transferred to the Department of the Pacific and will march for Yuma accordingly.” Companies B & K left Fort Buchanan May 11, 1858, in route to California. Companies D & G 1st Dragoons remained at Fort Buchanan.

Fort Tejon had been established in August 1854 in Grapevine Canyon about fifteen miles southwest of the Sebastian (Tejon) Indian Reservation south of present day Bakersfield, California. The wagon road running between San Francisco and Los Angeles ran in an east - west direction just north of the main complex. Joseph Mansfield noted in a February 1859 inspection report “the post is situated in the Paso de Las Uvas,… about six miles from the outlet into the Tulare or San Joaquin Valley at an elevation of about 2500 feet in vertical altitude above the valley; and in consequence is cold and damp, and an unpleasant climate through the whole fall, winter and spring, and on the 1st and 2nd of this month the ground was white with snow and ice.

The post is 374 miles from San Francisco, and 100 miles from Los Angeles, and all of its supplies are received through that place having first been landed at (the port of) San Pedro, and transported 25 miles by land. Thus 382 miles from Fort Yuma via Los Angeles, Temecula and Cariso Creek.

An August 13, 1858 article in the Baltimore Sun noted: “Captain John W. Davidson of the first dragoons with his command, consisting of companies B & K, numbering about 150 men, arrived at San Bernardino on the 18 ultimo (probably June 18, 1858) from Fort Buchanan having left that place on the 12th of May last. Lieutenants B. F. Davis and A. B. Chapman are with the command.” They would all arrive at Fort Tejon on July 7, 1858, having “joined by transfer from Fort Buchanan.”

On June 22, 1858, probably while at San Bernardino, Lt. Davis, Acting Assistant Quartermaster (AAQM), executed a contract with Phineas Banning, the owner of a stagecoach line and freighting business, who later in life would be known as “the father of the Port of Los Angeles”, for the transportation of supplies. Banning was to “furnish 5 10-mule teams, with good wagons, drivers, wagon-masters etc., each of the teams to be capable to convey 7000 pounds, of such supplies as shall be designated, from San Bernardino to Fort Tejon. The teams to leave the port of San Pedro on the 22nd of June 1858 and go to San Bernardino and load, and leave for Fort Tejon June 25, 1858. Compensation $30 per day for each team in going from and returning to San Pedro.”

On June 29, 1858 Davis signed a second contract with Banning again for the transportation of supplies. This contract called for Banning to furnish “1 10-mule team, wagon, driver, and wagon-master; the team to be capable to convey 7000 pounds of supplies from Los Angeles to Fort Tejon. The team to leave the port of San Pedro June 29, 1858 and to go to Los Angeles, and load, and leave there for Fort Tejon June 30, 1858. Compensation $30 per day from port San Pedro to Fort Tejon, and returning. (ibid)
When Company B and K, 1st Dragoons arrived at Fort Tejon on July 7, Company F was assigned to the fort. Company F was under the command of 2nd Lt. John T Mercer a classmate of Chapman and Davis. They had a short time to reminisce before Mercer and his command departed for Stockton, California on July 8.

Upon arrival at Fort Tejon 2nd Lieutenant Davis was appointed AAQM and Acting Assistant Commissary of Subsistence (AACS) for the fort, replacing 1st Lt. William T. Magruder who had previously held the positions. Grimes Davis would serve as the post AAQM and AACS until early December when the regimental quartermaster, 1st Lieutenant Henry Brevard Davidson, a Mexican War hero and 1853 West Point graduate, relieved him.

In early October 1858 Benjamin Davis was on detached service for a number of days, otherwise he appears to have remained at Fort Tejon most of the time from his arrival there in July through the end of December 1858. His duties as AAQM could have included being responsible for the civilian employees who worked at the fort including a wheelwright, six carpenters, four masons, a sawyer, three herders, four laborers and six teamsters.

One perk associated with being stationed at Regimental Headquarters of the 1st U. S. Dragoons was that the regimental band was there as were the field and staff officers. The band was probably made up of sixteen musicians in accordance with Army regulations. The regimental band of the 1st Dragoons was described by someone who saw it in September 1854 at Fort Union, New Mexico. An observer noted in his diary, “the band came out and played today. They were all mounted on black horses. They looked fine and played well. This is the first brass band I have heard since 1850. The first tunes played was “Old Folks at Home” and “Sweet Home.”

January 1859 finds 2nd Lieutenant B. F. Davis at Fort Tejon commanding Company B, 1st Dragoons up through January 8 when he is relieved by John Davidson who returned to the post from detached service. On January 9, 2nd Lieutenant Alfred B. Chapman, of Company K, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Company B, replacing Orren Chapman who had died January 6 in St. Louis. Chapman might not have received notice of this promotion until early April. He left Fort Tejon April 7 on leave and did not return until May 9 when he joined Company B from leave. Chapman’s promotion and transfer put Grimes Davis’s classmate immediately over him in the command structure of Company B.

In February 1859 Inspector General Joseph K. F. Mansfield arrived at Fort Tejon. He would remain at the post until March 3rd. While at the fort Mansfield reported on Company B. In an inspection report written March 5, 1859 and submitted to Bvt. Major General Irwin W. McDowell at Army Headquarters Mansfield report “Company B, 1st Dragoons, Captain J. W. Davidson (commanding) had been stationed here since July 1858. The company did not have a 1st Lieutenant. B. F. Davis served as 2nd Lieutenant. The company had 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 1 farrier and 48 privates “of which 3 were sick, 7 confined and 16 on on extra duty and 57 horses.” 

Mansfield noted “the company is armed with Model 1833 (Ames) sabres, Sharps Carbines and Colt belt pistols. It was in uniform, except for the cap, of the old pattern. ( In 1858 a new uniform had been prescribed for the two regiments of dragoons consisting of a “refined” version of the 1854 jacket, dark blue trousers, and a new “Hardee” hat of stiff black felt with a folded brim, ostrich feather, orange cord and brass company letters.) No sword knots—was neat on inspection, and appeared with arms in order. There was a deficiency of clothing of all kinds - some had no stocks on. The company is quartered in a good adobe building, shingled; but the mess, room and kitchen, not yet worked in and a temporary one in use. There were no bunks yet made.”



Map Fort Tejon from Mansfield's 1859 Inspection Report 

“The horses were kept in temporary stables. There was no long forage on hand…For the last 7 months (the horses) have had but half long forage…The horses are daily herded on the scanty grass in the neighborhood within 8 miles. Barley is had in abundance.”

Mansfield’s report also described the Fort Tejon in some detail. He noted “There is no garden here, and no grazing of consequence for animals short of five miles. There is, however, a good spring of water, and abundant oak for fuel. It 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…One person has been killed by the fall of an adobe building, and a cow has been swallowed up.


”On February 22 Mansfield reviewed and inspected Companies K & B of the 1st U. S. Dragoons. After the inspection and review were completed Mansfield noted the 2 companies of dragoons were “resolved into a squadron. I put Maj. (James H.) Carleton in command, in the absence of Lt. Col. Benjamin L. Beall at Los Angeles; and the following named officers to wit, Capt. J. W. Davidson, 1st Lieut. Charles H. Ogle, 2d Lieut. B.F. Davis, each in succession took the squadron through the various movements and the sabre exercise with the exception of the charge, which, with little practice they had it was deemed advisable not to attempt, and finally Major Carleton drilled the squadron as skirmishers both as mounted and dismounted. The squadron was broken up, and each company fired at the targets 6’ x 22” mounted, with Sharps carbine at 100 yards…They then fired at the same target 20 yards with Colts pistols and mounted…On the 23rd both Companies fired at the same target with Sharps carbines, on foot, at 100 yards…The men fired at will.”

“On the whole the military exercises were conducted by Major Carleton, and indicate a better state of military instruction and target firing in our service can be had if the rank and fire are properly instructed. These companies have been practicing at the targets preparatory to taking the field on the Mojave River, and Major Carleton on the day of my arrival, paid three premiums out of company fund for the 3 best shots.



                        Officers Quarters Fort Tejon (LOC image)

Benjamin Davis would remain at Fort Tejon through the early spring of 1859. On May 2, 1859 he left the post on detached service headed for San Francisco. He would not return until September 27. He could have gone overland some 300 miles to San Francisco or by ship from the Port of San Pedro. When exactly he arrived at the bay city is unclear. After arriving in San Francisco it is likely 2nd Lt. Davis went to Benecia Barracks and picked up the “35 recruits from Fort Walla Walla, (Washington Territory) in route to Fort Crook” that had arrived at the barracks on June 17 with 2nd Lt. George B. Dandy of the 3rd Infantry. Davis and 34 recruits left San Francisco in mid to late June traveling to Fort Crook in accordance with Special Order #56 Department of California, dated June 15, 1859.

Fort Crook, named after 1st Lieutenant George Crook of the 4th Infantry, was established on the north bank of the Falls River seven miles north of the Pitt River Ferry (Lockhart’s Ferry) in Shasta County on July 1, 1857, by Captain John W. T. Gardiner and forty-seven rank and file of Company A 1st Dragoons, to protect miners, settlers and travelers on the wagon road between Yreka and Red Bluffs, California. The post was established, in part, to address the murder of five white men, the burning of their homes, mill and two ferries by the Pitt River Indians earlier in the year in retaliation for depredation of the whites against Indian women.

After covering over 250 miles, Grimes Davis and his detachment of recruits arrived at Fort Crook, which was garrisoned by Companies A & F, 1st Dragoons, in July 1859. It was noted in the post returns “Lt Davis having lost the descriptive roll of these men, nothing definite is known regarding them.” Before leaving Fort Crook, to head back to San Francisco, Lt. Davis was probably able to catch up with two classmates from West Point, 1st Lt Milton T. Carr, Company A, 1st Dragoons and 2nd Lt. John T. Mercer of Company F.

Benjamin Davis was back in San Francisco, at the Presidio, by July 22, 1859. In a letter dated July 23, Headquarters, Presidio, Lt. Colonel Charles S. Merchant wrote, “I have the honor to report the departure on the 22nd of the U. S. troops under the command of 2nd Lt. B. F. Davis, 1st Dragoons.” Davis and the 32 recruits under his command, destined for Company C, 6th U. S. Infantry, were outbound on board the government transport brig (a two masted sailing vessel) Floyd for Yuma via the Port of San Pedro. Once the recruits got to San Pedro they could go overland to the mouth of the Colorado River where they could catch a steamboat for the 160 mile trip up the river to Fort Yuma.

In 1859 San Francisco city and county were the largest metropolitan areas in California, boasting a population of over 36,150 people in 1852 of which approximately 30,150 were white males. Los Angeles county and the city of Los Angeles, which were close to Fort Tejon, in contrast, had a population of about 7,800. Although everything was expensive in post gold rush era San Francisco it must have been exciting for young Benjamin Davis to spend a few days in the cosmopolitan city by the Golden Gate after spending most of the time since graduating from West Point in small, remote, isolated army posts with a few hundred army officers, enlisted men, contractors and camp followers.

The remainder of Company C, 6th U. S. Infantry had left the Presidio in San Francisco on July 15, just days before Davis sailed with his recruits. They arrived at Fort Yuma on August 1, 1859. The Returns for the 6th Infantry indicate Davis and his recruits arrived at Fort Yuma sometime in August 1859 as they were included on the months roster as present for duty.

By August 12 2nd Lieutenant Davis had another assignment. The post returns for Fort Tejon reported Davis on detached service since August 13 to the Colorado River in accordance with a post order dated August 12, 1859. It is unclear what this assignment entailed however, it would keep him away from Fort Tejon until September 27, 1859.

In his almost 5 months away from Fort Tejon on detached service Grimes Davis had traveled almost the entire length of the State of California. He went from Fort Tejon in Kern County to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Fort Crook in Shasta County, a distance of over 550 miles, and back to San Francisco, thence by sea to the port of San Pedro and on to Fort Yuma and finally back to Fort Tejon. One officer in charge of more than 30 recruits who at anytime might elect to desert and make a beeline for the gold fields. Not only did he have to keep the men in line he also probably had to take care of all the logistics for the expedition and ensure there was adequate food for the men and forage for their horses, if they had them of the trip between San Francisco and Fort Crook. It must have been an interesting, educational and at times trying summer for the young officer.

After returning to Fort Tejon Davis was back in command of Company B, 1st Dragoons for periods of time in October and November 1859. 1st lieutenant Milton T. Carr was transferred from Company A to Company B on September 27, replacing 1st Lt. Alfred Chapman who joined Company A. Carr would not join Company B at Fort Tejon until December 24, however. Captain John W. Davidson retained command of Company B. He had spent periods of the year on detached service campaigning against the Mojave, settling a despite at the San Sebastian Reservation and leading an expedition to Owens Lake River wherein the troops under his command marched 630 miles between July 21 and August 18.

To be continued.

Most of the information in this post comes from the "Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916" and "U. S. Returns from Regular Army - Non Infantry Regiments, 1821 - 1916.


Mansfield's Inspection Report was downloaded from the following site. (Inspection Report and Muster Roll, Ft. Tejon 28 February 1859, downloaded January 18, 2020 from http://www.chargeofthedragoons.com/2009/09/fort-tejon-muster-28-february-1859/)


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Benjamin Franklin Davis: Service in the 1st U S Dragoons

Benjamin Franklin Davis graduated from West Point July 1, 1854 and was commissioned a brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th U S Infantry.  Upon graduation he returned to Aberdeen, Mississippi where he awaited orders to travel to his duty station Ringgold Barracks, which was just north of the Rio Grande River about 100 miles up river from Brownsville, Texas.   After a 5 month leave of absence Davis arrived at Ringgold Barracks and joined Company C, 5th U S Infantry on December 24, 1854.  Colonel Gustavus Loomis of the 5th Infantry commanded the post.  Brevet 2nd Lieutenants Stephen D. Lee (Company D, 4th Artillery) and David H. Brotherton (Company G, 5th Infantry), classmates of Davis's at West Point, were at the camp when Davis arrived, having preceded him by about two weeks.

Brevet 2nd Lt. Davis's stay at Ringgold appears to have been uneventful.  The post returns show him at the fort from December 24, 1854 until June 23, 1855.  On May 23, 1855, Benjamin F. Davis and four of his classmates William D. Pender (2nd Artillery), Alfred B. Chapman (3rd Artillery,) John T. Mercer (6th Infantry) and Horace Randal (8th Infantry) were appointed 2nd Lieutenants, "to take rank therein from March 3, 1855" in the 1st Dragoons to fill the vacancies of field officers in that regiment.

Between 1848 and 1853 the United States gained over 1.5 million acres of land from Mexico and England through conquest, treaty and land sales.  As the country expanded westward military forces were needed to establish forts along the major transportation corridors to protect immigrants and settlers from the Indians.  They also patrolled the boarder between Mexico and the United States to help prevent depredation from Indians, Mexicans and Americans on both sides of line separating the two countries.  The Dragoons were in the forefront of the military's efforts to establish forts as well as in their dealing with the Indians.   Benjamin Davis and a number of his classmates would be actively engaged in fort building, scouting and in periodic battles and skirmishes with the Indians in some of the countries most remote and inhospitable environs between 1855 and the fall of 1861.

2nd Lt. Davis left Ringgold Barracks on June 23, 1855 in route to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he arrived on  August 3, 1855.  On September 23 Davis, Pender and Chapman left Fort Leavenworth headed for Jefferson Barracks near St Louis and eventually to Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York Harbor.  Davis and Pender arrived in New York on October 2, 1855.   They departed the fort on October October 25, 1855, presumably by ship, with a detachment of recruits in route to New Mexico Territory to join their regiment.

On January 15, 1856 2nd Lt. Davis and the recruits under his jurisdiction arrived at Fort Fillmore, New Mexico territory.  The fort was on the Rio Grande not far from the boarder with Mexico.  It had been established in 1851 to protect immigration routes between El Paso and Tucson.  Davis was temporarily attached to Company B, 1st  Dragoons (that assignment was made official March 5, 1856) who were at the fort under the command of Captain John W. Davidson (West Point Class of 1845).  He would remain at the fort throughout February and March 1856.  On April 15, Davidson, Davis and Company B, 1st Dragoons departed Fort Fillmore for their permanent home Fort Stanton.



                              Map of Forts in New Mexico Territory

Benjamin Davis arrived  at Fort Stanton with Company B on April 24, 1856.  The military post at Fort Stanton, which is southeast of Albuquerque, and northeast of Fort Fillmore was established in 1855 to  protect settlements along the Rio Bonita and control the Mescalero Apache.  In 1856 the fort was staffed by Company B, 1st Dragoons, Company A & E, Third Infantry and Company E 8th Infantry   Four days after his April 24 arrival,  Davis was sent out on detached service to a grazing camp near the fort.




                             Fort Stanton, circa 1887

B. F. Davis returned to Fort Stanton from the grazing camp on May 19, 1856.  On  May 21 he left the fort on a scout with Captain Davidson to the Pecos River in an attempt to open communications with Captain John Pope who was attempting to drill artesian wells in the Llano Estacado in Texas.  Davidson & Davis would not arrive back at Fort Stanton until June 16, 1856.

Company B of the 1st Dragoons would remain at Fort Stanton through July 1856.  Orders were issued July 28, 1856 transferring Company B to Fort Thorn.  Fort Thorn, originally called Cantonment Garland after John Garland was located about 50 miles northwest of Fort Fillmore on the west bank of the Rio Grande.  Davis and Company B left Fort Stanton on August 11, 1856 to establish a grazing camp near Fort Thorn.  They arrived at the grazing camp in early September. where they were joined Companies D, G & K, 1st Dragoons.

Company B  left the grazing camp October 19 headed for Tucson about 340 miles northwest of First Thorn where Major Enoch Steen was directed to establish a fort.   Steen was not happy with the facilities at Tucson so he headed south about 60 miles to the Calabasa (Calabaza) Ranch  near the Santa Cruz River where he found good water and abundant grass. Calabasa Camp/Ranch was a stone fortress erected by the Mexicans in 1837 south of Tumacacori, New Mexico (now Arizona).   B. F. Davis and Company B, 1st Dragoons arrived at Camp Calabasa  November 2, 1856.  Steen  would name his new post, established at the ranch, Camp Moore.  The camp commanded by Steen, was originally garrisoned by 2 squadrons of the 1st Dragoons containing 253 men and 228 serviceable horses.   Company B was commanded by Captain Davidson, Company D  by 1st Lt. Milton Carr, Company G by Captain Richard S. Ewell,  and Company K by 1st Lt. David H. Hastings.


   Map of (Camp) Calabasas and Fort Buchanan

Captain Davidson left Camp Moore on leave of absence on December 28, 1856 leaving 2nd Lt. Benjamin Davis in command of Company B.  He would not return until October 1857.   In January 1857 Davis left the post on detached service with 34 troops in pursuit of Indians.  Captain Ewell was also in the field with men of G company marking the wagon road to Rio San Pedro.  In March B. F. Davis would again be on detached service, having left Camp Moore on March 9, in pursuit of deserters.  He did not return until sometime in April.

On May 2, 1857 Captain Richard Ewell, 2nd lieutenants Alfred Chapman and Benjamin Davis left Camp Moore with 103 rank and file and headed in a northeasterly direction through the Chiricahua Mountains in search of Indians.  Ewell established a camp in the mountain stronghold of the Apache on May 12 and went on a 7 day scout with Chapman and 65 men in search of the Indians who eluded them.  A day after arriving back at his base camp Ewell struck out again in search of his nemesis.  The second night out Ewell found the Apache and was engaged in hit and run fighting with them for several days before disengaging and heading off to join Colonel Benjamin L. E. Bonneville's  (West Point Class of 1815) Gila River Expedition.  Colonel Bonneville had organized the expedition to punish the Indians for the death of Indian Bureau agent Henry L. Dodge, who had been captured and killed by the Mogollon in early February 1857.   The Coyotero and Mogollon Apache had increased their raiding and depredation in the area, in part because they were unhappy with the increased U S military and civilian presence in their ancestral homeland.  Ewell's command arrived at Bonneville's Gila River depot on June 8, 1857.

  Once all the the forces were organized to participate in his expedition Colonel Bonneville split his command into 2 columns a northern one commanded by Colonel William W. Loring and a southern one under the command of Lt. Colonel Dixon S. Miles (West Point Class of 1824).  Loring lead his troops out of Albuquerque on May 1.  He arrived at the Gila River depot on May 18.  Loring engaged the Mimbres Apache (who had no involvement with Dodge's death) on May 24, 1857 at their camp in the Black Range in what is now the Gila National Forest in Grant and Sierra Counties in New Mexico.  He killing 7 warriors, captured 9 other and recovered  about 2000 head of sheep that had reportedly been stolen.


The southern column was split into two parts, one under Richard Ewell and the other under Dixon Miles.  On June 24 Ewell’s command, including the three regiments of Dragoons, the Mounted Rifles and a battalion each of the 3rd and 8th Infantry were “sent to operate against the Indians reported in advance” by Mexican and Pueblos scouts and spies.  “Captain Ewell, with twenty infantry and forty mounted dragoons, with all the officers under his command except Lieutenant Edson, endeavored to surround the camp.  The guides and spies captured a woman, but the command was discovered.  In this march Captain Ewell’s command suffered much, having to sustain itself by killing some of the Indian ponies they had captured.”  Ewell and his command continued toward the Gila River where the spies reported more Indians.  Late on the evening of June 27 the Pueblos scouts “soon discovered Indian signs (on the Gila River about 35 miles north of Mount Graham near present day Stafford, Arizona) and told me to go in with my people.  The dragoons were hurried on, and soon came on a (Coyotero) Apache camp on the river bank, partly  surrounded by thick brush.  Lieutenant (Isaiah N.) Moore* (Company K, 1st Dragoons)  led the head of the column through the village and across the river, taking up such a position as to cut off all retreat (to Mount Turnbull). This well-timed movement went far toward securing the decisive results.”  The Apache were caught completely by surprise and suffered severely because of it. (Ewell’s Report, San Lucia, July 13, 1857 in Report of the Secretary of War)

 “The dragoons having cut off the retreat of the Indians to the mountains on the left bank, the Mounted Rifles charged on the right bank, and prevented escape in that direction.  The 3rd and 8th Infantry under Lieuts (William Dennison) Whipple** and (Alexander E.) Steen)*** and Lieuts (Thomas Klug) Jackson**** and (Alexander McDowell) McCook***** assisted by the Rifles and Dragoons, now attacked the Indians in the brush on opposite sides of the river, and after a severe conflict succeeded in killing and capturing nearly the whole party.  The field of battle extended the distance of about a mile and a half on both sides of the Gila, and was covered with a thick growth of brush which enabled the enemy to fight with great advantage.”  (Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, Fayetteville, North Carolina October 8, 1857 page 2)

Two officers and 7 enlisted men of Ewell's command were wounded. Lt. Steen was struck by an arrow in the corner of the eye.”  In what was probably his first real experience in combat 2nd. Lt. Benjamin F. Davis was "shot in the (right)n knee in a personal encounter with an Apache”.  The July 30, 1857 Santa Fe Democrat in reporting on the battle noted:  “Lieutenants Davis and (Henry M.) Lazelle each had a personal encounter with the enemy.  The latter shot one Indian and cut down a second as he was charging with the Dragoons and the former was attacked by a warrior, whom he slew, after a sharp conflict, in which he was wounded.” (Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, Fayetteville, North Carolina October 8, 1857 page 2)  Ewell noted in his report: "the wounded were promptly attended by Assistant Surgeon John M. Haden before the action was over”.

In another description of the fighting on the Gila River provided by a participant which appeared in the Washington D C., Evening Star on August 29, 1857, it is mentioned that  “Lieut. Davis, 1st Dragoons was wounded in the knee by an arrow in a personal encounter.  He fired his revolver three times at the Indian, and not killing him - the Indian shooting too, not over five yards apart, - he became enraged and hurled his revolver at the Indian’s head, who fired again, struck Davis and then ran after the revolver, which he had scarcely  picked up before he was pierced by a dozen balls.” (Evening Star, Washington, District of Columbia, August 29, 1857, Page 2)

Bonneville, Miles and the rest of Miles command arrived at the Apache camp after the fighting was mostly over. In his official report Dixon Miles noted “he believed the battle started about half-past four p.m.; it lasted until sunset, when we encamped on the field.”

Colonel Bonneville reported 24 Indians killed, four women having accidentally been killed in the melee, including one afterwards, made twenty-seven prisoners; destroyed many fields of corn and rescued from captivity Mexican boy who escaped to us.”  Miles and Bonneville’s  official reports also indicate "great credit given by commanding officers to the following named officers:  Captain Ewell, Lieutenants, Isaiah N. Moore, Alfred B. Chapman and Benjamin F. Davis” as well as Lieutenants Whipple and McCook, 3rd Infantry and Lieutenant Lazelle 8th Infantry.

The June 1857 Post Returns for Fort Buchanan show Benjamin Davis at the San Carlos River in command of Company B, 1st Dragoons.  In July the young second lieutenant is sick at Fort Thorn which could mean he was ill or more likely absent from his command recovering from his knee wound.  The returns for August indicate B. F. Davis is at Fort Buchanan as of August 5 after being absent sick.  He assumes command of Company B upon his return because Captain John W. Davidson is still absent on leave.

To be continued.

Most of the information in this post comes from the "Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916" and  "U. S. Returns from Regular Army - Non Infantry Regiments, 1821 - 1916.

The information on Ewell and his action against the Chiricahua Apache comes from Richard S. Ewell A Soldiers Life by Donald C. Pfanz, The Univesity of North Carolina Press,  Chapel Hill and London, 1998 pg 92-93.












Sunday, June 2, 2019

An Officer, A Gentleman And An Ornament to His Country: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Davis, Part V

Thirty one year old Colonel Benjamin F. Davis and the 8th New York Cavalry moved from Hagerstown, Maryland to Pleasant Valley On October 25, 1862 in preparation for crossing the Potomac River at Berlin (present day Brunswick) on the 26.  After crossing the river Henry Norton noted  in Deeds of Daring the command "marched a number of miles into Virginia and made camp for the night.  It was rainy, cold and a disagreeable time."   Originally Major General McClellan had intended leaving Davis in Maryland to guard the upper Potomac with Arno Voss, John R. Kenly and Jacob M. Campbell's commands however, he appear to have moved into Virginia without having received the order to remain in Maryland.  For the next three weeks Davis, the 8th New York and the other regiments of  Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton's Cavalry Division would be engaged almost daily in skirmishing with the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia as both tried to locate the forces of the other and screen the movement of their respective armies.

October 27 found the 8th New York pursuing Confederate cavalry from Purcellville toward Snickersville along the Snickersville Turnpike.  An article in the October 31, 1862 New York Daily Herald reported: "the Eighth New York under Colonel Davis  was sent on a reconnaissance along the turnpike toward Winchester.  It was understood a rebel force was stationed at Snickersville about 15 miles from here.  When the advance squadron of the regiment, under Captain Pope, reached within two miles of Snickersville the rebel pickets appeared on the right and left of the turnpike and fired at our men.  Shots were exchanged, the enemy falling back and our men advancing...  At every turn in the road the rebel skirmishers appeared in increasing force."  As the Eighth New York continued their advance along the turnpike "the right platoon reached the enemy first near a belt of woods, the remainder of the squadron followed on a charge.  The rebels were dispersed.  Beyond there was a large open space completely commanded by rebel artillery planted on rising ground behind.   As soon as our men debouched from the woods the artillery opened on them. One shell killed 5 of our horses and wounded two or three of our men."  The squadron was then ordered to rejoin the regiment drawn in a line a short distance to the rear.  Having ascertained the position of the enemy the regiment returned to Purcellville."  

Henry Norton also described the action along the turnpike: "On the morning of the 27th, we broke camp and started for the rebs.  Our cavalry was on the advance of the  army.  The rebel cavalry covered the retreat of their army...We marched along until we came to Snicker's Gap.  The Colonel marched the regiment up the mountain to see what was there.  We were marching by fours, and had gone but about one-half mile when we found the "rebs".  They had a cannon planted in the road, and when we were near enough, they fired the gun.  It was loaded with canister.  The balls hit some of the horses, and made quite a commotion among the boys for a few minutes.  The order was given to about face and retreat.  Away the regiment went down the road faster than they had come up".

After the engagement Colonel Davis noted in a report to Alfred Pleasonton that he had "driven the enemy through Snickersville, that his advance was fired on from the gap and he lost 1 man killed and 5 horses by the bursting of a shell".  Actual losses included 1 enlisted man killed, 1 enlisted man wounded and 5 enlisted men missing.


 Cavalry Action Near Snickersville from Harpers Magazine

On October 29, 1862 Major General  J. E..B. Stuart headed east from Jefferson County, Virginia through Snickers Gap with Brigadier General Fitz Lee's Cavalry brigade, commanded by Colonel William C. Wickham and Major John Pelham's horse artillery.   On October 31 Stuart advanced along the Snickersville Pike to Mountville where he routed three companies of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry before coming in contact with George Bayard's command farther east near Aldie.  Fearing federal forces that were reportedly approaching from his rear Stuart disengaged late in the day and retreated to Middleburg.


 Area of Operations in Loudoun County, November 1-2, 1862.

On November 1, 1862  Stuart was informed Pleasonton was advancing with his division southward toward Philomont from Purcellville.  Stuart moved the 3rd Virginia Cavalry and Major Pelham's horse artillery from Middleburg to Union (present day Unison) and arrived there before Pleasonton. Stuart's cavalry skirmished with Pleasonton's forces  near the town of Philomont for most of the afternoon.  Colonel Davis's 8th New York, the 8th Pennsylvania, the 3rd Indiana and guns of Lieutenant Alexander C. M. Pennington's horse artillery engaged the rebel cavalry west of town.  Norton commented on the fighting at Philomont.  He said: "When General Davis came upon the rebels, he never waited for them to attack him.  He would cast his eyes over the field, and he could tell in a minute what to do.  He would take them on the flank and would go for them heavy.  He would drive them every time he attacked them."  By days end Union cavalry had  pushed Stuart's forces westward toward Union where they would make a stand on November 2nd.  Davis's command did not suffer any losses in the engagement.

North Fork Beaverdam Creek Ford between Philomont & Unison

The scene of the fighting moved westward on November 2, 1862.  At dawn Pleasonton left Philomont, moving toward Union.  In addition to his cavalry and horse artillery his command had been reinforced with several infantry regiments.  The troops from both sides spared back and forth for most of the day.  Pleasonton continued to exert pressure on Stuart's command as Stuart made a fighting withdrawal southwestward along the Unison Road buying time as he retreated.  In his dispatch book for November 2nd Pleasonton noted:  Colonel Davis captured 3 prisoners this morning and thinks he has 2 men badly wounded".  Later in a dispatch to Randolph Marcy, McClellan's Chief of Staff Pleasonton reported: "The cavalry dismounted under Colonel Davis 8th New York have behaved markedly well." 


Looking eastward from Unison toward Philomont


 Late in the evening, as darkness shrouded the battlefield, the Confederate cavalry withdrew toward Upperville where, according to Civil War in Loudoun Valley "many spent the night huddled in their blankets in a family graveyard among the headstones".  The 8th New York Cavalry under Colonel Davis was engaged most of the afternoon with other forces of Pleasonton's command.  Davis's command captured 3 prisoners and had several men wounded during the days fighting.  Pleasonton noted in his November 2 dispatch to Randolph Marcy, McClellan's Chief of Staff: "The cavalry dismounted under Colonel Davis 8th New York have behaved markedly well."

Looking eastward toward Unison from Quaker Meeting House site

Fighting occurred east of Upperville on November 3.  Pleasonton's command had been augmented by troops of Brigadier General William W. Averell's cavalry brigade and Captain John C. Tidball's horse artillery.  When the 8th New York Cavalry arrived on the field Colonel Davis had Company H dismount and fight on foot.   According to Henry Norton "every fourth man stayed with the horses... We marched along until we came to the edge of the woods...where there was a stone wall.  One of our men saw a "reb" off about a half mile, and fired at him without orders.  There was a rebel battery off to our right, and when they heard the shot, they turned their guns that way and commenced firing.  We must have been just the right distance off for the shells exploded right over our heads.  Soon we heard a yell.  It was General Davis with the rest of the regiment, charging the rebels.  We went back where our horses were, mounted, and on we went."

After the days fighting had ceased on November 3 Stuart departed Upperville and headed westward toward Ashby Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Stuart briefly turned over command of  Fitz Lee's cavalry to Colonel Thomas Rosser so he could confer with Stonewall Jackson at Millwood.  Rosser would head the Confederate cavalry southward toward Piedmont Station (present day Delaplane) on the Manassas Gap Railroad where he hoped to join up with Wade Hampton's Brigade which was in route from Front Royal.  When Rosser arrived at Piedmont Station Hampton was not there so Rosser moved westward toward Markham.  Rosser would be engaged in a "minor skirmish" with Union forces commanded by Averell at Markham.


 Area of Operations  in Fauquier County, November 3-4, 1862

November 5, 1862 would find both Stuart's and Pleasonton's cavalry at Barbee's Crossroads (present day Hume) south of Markham.  The crossroads was an important intersection of four roads about 12 miles northwest of Warrenton.  Barbee's Crossroads was named after Joseph Barbee who built a tavern at the intersection   about 1790.  Stuart's troops arrived first.  He deployed Fitz Lee's  command (under Rosser) on the right and Hampton's on the left of the main road leading south out of town.  They were supported by Pelham's horse artillery.  Pleasonton arrived about 9:00 a.m.  He positioned his two brigades of cavalry and Pennington's artillery to assaulted the rebel line.  A savage fight ensued.  

Colonel B. F. Davis's 8th New York was in the thick of the fight.  General George McClellan addressed the fighting in his official report noting:  "About 12 m today Pleasonton's cavalry met and attacked Stuart's command of about 3000 cavalry and 4 pieces of artillery at Barbee's.  Colonel Gregg with the 8th Pennsylvania and the 6th U. S. Cavalry moved on the right and turned his (Stuart's) position.  Colonel Davis with the 8th New York attacked the enemy's left and Colonel (John F.) Farnsworth with the 8th Illinois moved against the center.  A largely superior force charged Colonel Davis's 8th New York but were gallantly met and repulsed."  Davis had his horse killed under him.


Area of Operations in Fauquier County November 5, 1862

Henry Norton mentions the fight at Barbee's in his history of the 8th New York Cavalry.  Norton wrote"  We marched along (on November 5) until the middle of the afternoon, when we came to Barbee's Crossroads.  The rebels had made a stand to hold us in check.  When we came within a mile of the crossroads we went into the fields.  After marching nearly one hundred rods, we came to a knoll that hid us from view.  There we halted...the general dismounted Company I and one other company to fight on foot." Davis deployed the dismounted men behind a stone wall and attempted to take a Confederate battery which was firing at the 8th New York.  He was unable to capture the battery however.   "We were glad when Davis came and marched us down under the knoll out of range" of the artillery.  "After we went under the know the rebels lost track of us. They made out where the dismounted horses were, and made a charge on them.  Then the General got in one of his counter charges.  It was not long before he came over the knoll and gave the command to right wheel and come on.  It was cut and slash.  When the rebels saw us they were under such headway that many of them could not stop their horses and rode past us and were taken prisoners.  Those who could, wheeled their horses and got out.  We went for them heavy, and killed a number and wounded a good many."

Norton also mentioned that Pleasonton was watching the 8th New York.  "When the rebels made the charge on us: Pleasonton "said to one of his aides:  The Eighth New York is a goner.  When he saw that we had driven the rebels back, he slapped his hands and yelled out:  Bully for the Eighth New York."  

A correspondent writing from Barbee's Crossroads, under date of November 5 wrote, in part, as printed in Frank Moore's The Rebellion Record, 6th Volume; "Colonel Davis had taken his regiment on the right, and placing two squadrons in a hollow, concealed from sight had dismounted one squadron and placed the men behind a stone wall, where there was a small detachment of the sixth regulars.  Captain Houston lead the charge of the (1st) North Carolina Regiment...When he halted to form his own regiment, seeing the squadron deployed, he shouted, Only one squadron and then gave the command to charge.  With a fearful yell the rebels in a solid column, with sabres flourishing, and pistols and carbines cocked, dashed at the squadron of Col Davis's regiment, expecting its speedy annihilation.  Colonel Davis, who was watching the rebels from the knoll, behind which his two (mounted) squadrons were formed, dashed from the hollow, and bringing them around to the right, awaited the assault for a moment.  At the same instant the dismounted men behind the wall opened fire as the North Carolinians came near.  Then Colonel Davis, with his two squadrons, dashed at them.  Sabres glistened, carbines cracked, and men rent the air with cheers.  The rebel regiment wheeled about and fled as fast as their horses could carry them, and screaming like a troop of wild Indians, Colonel Davis, with his squadron chased them shouting and cheering as they went."    

Colonel Davis wrote an official report of the battle.  It was found by another blogger, reportedly, in the National Archives.  The report does not appear in the Official Records.  It is included in its entirety below.

“Dec. 5, 1862
Captain,
I have the honor to submit herewith in compliance with the 742 Article Army Regulations, the following report of the operations of my regiment at the fight at [Barbee’s] Cross Roads on the 5th of November.
On leaving Piedmont in the morning the regiment was placed in rear of the leading section of artillery and followed in this order until we came up with the enemy.  The guns were placed in position and I was directed to support them, but before the regiment was formed I was ordered by Gen. Pleasonton in person to move towards a mill which was on our right and front and operate in that direction.  By taking advantage of hollows and ravines we reached the mill unmolested but on attempting to pass the crest were met by severe fire of spherical case from the enemy’s artillery which was posted on a commanding eminence about 600 yards to our left and front.  The enemy’s cavalry could also be seen in large force in the other end of a field about a quarter of a mile distant.  The regiment was halted momentarily behind the crest and dispositions made to attack.
Capt. [Hobert] Mann’s squadron was dismounted and sent along a stone wall which was somewhat in the direction of their guns, with orders to drive away their skirmishers and if he could get close enough to pick off their gunners.  The other three squadrons were then moved over the hill into the field and placed behind some high ground to screen them from the artillery fire, which was at this time very severe.
The enemy’s cavalry were also hidden from view by high ground at the other extremity of the field.  Capt. [Edmond] Pope’s, a small squadron of fifty men, was then thrown forward as skirmishers toward a piece of woods to the right and front.  The regiment opposite to me proved to be the 1st North Carolina and the commanding officer seeing Capt. Pope’s squadron and supposing it to be alone immediately ordered the charge.  The Captain ordered his men to rally in the corner of the field to my right and rear and the enemy came dashing after him at full speed and with loud cheers.  From an eminence on which I was standing I galloped back to the Reserve Squadrons, brought them up over the hill and charged the enemy somewhat obliquely just as the main body had arrived nearly opposite to our position.  Although less than half their numbers the charge was made with such vigor and intrepidity that he hesitated, pulled up, opened fire with pistol and carbines and finally as the leading files were closing upon him, turned about and fled in the utmost confusion.  The men followed with the greatest eagerness close up to the reserves, sabering and taking prisoners at every step.  Knowing that a regiment was in reserve ready to call on in case the pursuit was followed too far I ordered the men to rally in the woods on our right already referenced to.  This was done but owing to the confusion that necessarily follows a successful charge, not without considerable delay.
I should have mentioned that a part of the enemy’s leading squadron had anticipated the main body and had reached the corner of the field in pursuit of our skirmishers when they were opened upon by a sharp fire from Capt. Mann’s dismounted squadron, and driven back, most of them making their escape through the woods on the right.  Quite a number of prisoners also made their escape in the same manner for want of a reserve to pick them up.  As soon as the command was rallied, Capt. Pope’s squadron was again thrown forward in the woods as skirmishers and was fast gaining a position to their left and rear when the 3rd Indiana reached me as a support.  I ordered it forward to attack the enemy now in full retreat, and informed Major [George] Chapman that I would follow closely and give him support.  Whilst proceeding to execute this order the Major was called by a counter order from Gen. Pleasonton to go to the rear and support guns.  I then recalled Capt. Pope and moved the regiment to the front but by this time the enemy’s columns had safely retreated and taken up a position with their artillery a mile or so in rear.  Understanding no pursuit was to be made I repaired to the rear and reported myself to the general in person.
The result of the charge was five of the enemy left dead on the field, one captain and fifteen non-commissioned officers and privates taken prisoners.  We had one man “Pat [Peter Kelley]” of Co E killed by a blow from a saber and six wounded.  Two of the wounded who were taken prisoner report that the enemy buried that night six of their men who were mortally wounded in the charge.  I cannot conclude this report without claiming for the cavalry service in general and my regiment in particular that this was a complete and thorough repulse of a charge of cavalry by a counter charge, although the enemy outnumbered us at least two to one.  In regard to the conduct of the officers and men I can make no discrimination.  As far as I could see and hear every officer and man behaved in a courageous and soldier like manner.
The charging squadrons were those of Capt. [Benjamin] Foote and [George] Barry.  Capt. Pope also rallied part of his men in time to join in the charge.  The field officers, Lt. Col. [Charles] Babbitt & Major [William] Markell and my Adjt. Lt. [Albert] Ford were in the thickest of it and did good service.
I am Sir, Respectfully, B. F. Davis
Col. 8th New York Cavalry”
To be continued.

Some information in this presentation regarding the strength and disposition of Confederate forces is derived from "The Perfect Lion: The Life and Death of Confederate Artillerist John Pelham by Jerry H Maxwell.






Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Long Standing Tradition: Sharpsburg Elementary Decorating Graves at Antietam National Cemetery for Memorial Day

Although "Decoration Day" had been a tradition for a number of years, throughout the country, after the Civil War "Memorial Day" was not officially established until May 30, 1868.  



Major General John Alexander Logan, who had served with distinction in the Army of the Tennessee, is recognized as having established Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was then called, when on May 5, 1868, as national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in General Order No. 11 he made the following proclamation: 
HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC
General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic. 

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us. Let us, then, at the  time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan. 

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective. By order of 
JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief 

Decorating graves for Memorial Day has been a long standing tradition at Antietam National Cemetery, which was established in 1866, on the outskirts of Sharpsburg, Maryland, the site of the bloody Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.  One part of that tradition has stood for over 30 years as the 5th Grade Class at Sharpsburg Elementary walks through town from the school to the cemetery and upon arrival will assist the National Park Service in placing American Flags in front of each of the more than 5000 headstone and small square numbered markers designating graves of the unknown.











They do it in record time as well.  This year all the flags were placed in 47 minutes.  That is quite an accomplishment!




Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Dateline Brandy Station, Virginia June 9, 1863: A Fateful Encounter at Dawn

As dawn approached about a mile from Beverly Ford on the north side of the Rappahannock River the morning of June 9, 1863 Brigadier General John Buford's Cavalry Division was waking from a fitful sleep.  Included in that division was a brigade commanded by Acting Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Davis.*  Davis's command had been selected to spearhead the attack of the right wing of the Union Cavalry.  They were to cross the Rappahannock at Beverly Ford than advance in conjunction with the left wing, which was ordered to cross at Kelly's Ford about six miles downstream, toward Culpeper Courthouse, where they expected to encounter the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Everything was in place for what the northerners thought would be a surprise attack.  Events did not play out as planned however.


Map Beverly Ford and Environs

About 4:00 a.m. Davis's command silently mounted their horses and headed toward Beverly Ford.  They arrived at the ford about four-thirty.  As the cavalry horses stepped into the stirrup deep waters of the Rappahannock they and their riders were shrouded in mist rising from the river and any sounds they made were muffled by the noise the streams generated when it passed over a timber crib dam just upstream of the ford.  


The Rappahannock River near Beverly Ford

Benjamin Davis, who wore a Mexican serape to ward off the morning chill, led the advance as his command dashed up the southern bank of the Rappahannock.  He was followed closely by two squadrons of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry who were in turn supported by the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and the 3rd Indiana.  Just after crossing the river, much to their surprise, the northerners encountered two pickets, Fleet and Bob James, from the 6th Virginia Cavalry.  The James brothers fled, firing their pistols in the air to alert their comrades as they headed in a southwesterly direction from the ford toward a stand of timber about a quarter mile in their rear.  The Union troopers followed the retiring Confederate pickets down the Beverly Ford Road.

Captain Gibson of the 6th Virginia heard the picket fire and gathered his command for action.  When he saw the James brothers come into view followed by the 8th New York Cavalry he ordered his line to fire at the attacking Yankees.  Lt. Henry C. Cutler of the 8th New York was the first casualty of the day when he took a bullet in the neck from one of Gibson's troopers.  Captain Gibson's small force delayed the Yankees momentarily before they were forced to make a hastey retreat toward their own lines themselves.

Benjamin Davis brought up the 8th Illinois Cavalry to support the New Yorkers under his command.  The Union cavalry branched out on both sides of the Beverly Ford Road and headed southward.  Their advance was met by a charge from additional troops of the 6th Virginia under the command of Cabell Flournoy.  Flournoy's surprise, vicious counterattack halted the Union advance, which was pushed back in disarray.


Beverly Ford Road (Davis was wounded at the bend in the road just south of where the road intersects the Beverly Ford road from the east.) 

Benjamin Davis saw his troops break.  Realizing he needed to regain the initiative and rally his disorganized forces the gallant and brave officer raised his saber above his head and trotted down the Beverly Ford Road toward the Confederates.  When about 75 yards in front of his command Davis turned in the saddle to face them with his back to the enemy.  With raised saber he reportedly shouted "Stand Firm 8th New York" several times.  

A Confederate lieutenant with the 6th Virginia, Robert Owen Allen, saw Davis in the road.  Realizing the officer was in an exposed position and unaware of his presence he raced toward his unsuspecting prey.  Benjamin Franklin Davis's attention was focused on his command and he failed to realize Lt. Allen was approaching him from behind until it was almost too late.  Upon hearing Allen's horses's hoofbeats he turned in the saddle and raised his saber to strike Allen.  Allen dodged the blow and at the same time raised his pistol and sent a bullet into the Union officers forehead.  Davis fell to the ground mortally wounded at a bend in the road not far from Beverly Ford.


Mortal Encounter by Don Stivers Depicting Davis's Wounding



Site of Davis Wounding on the Beverly Ford Road

Sometime before 6:00 a. m., Benjamin Davis's comrades gathered the grievously wounded officer up in a litter and transported him back across the Rappahannock to the Hamilton House.  In route the litter bearers encountered Reverend Samuel L. Gracey, Chaplain of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  "Who is that boys?" Gracey reportedly said.  "Colonel Davis Sir."  "Is it possible!"  "Noble fellow"  Is he badly wounded?" Gracey asked.  "A mine ball through the head, sir!" replied a litter bearer.  Gracey then noted:  "He is insensible, his hair matted and clotted with blood.  God have mercy on this brave, noble, patriotic soldier the hero of Harpers Ferry."  Davis wound breath his last before the sunset on June 9, 1863.

Colonel and Acting Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Davis's body would be transported to Washington by train, where it would be embalmed before being shipped to New York for burial.  On June 13, 1863 Davis's remains were interred in the cemetery at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.  He now reposes there next to Alonzo H. Cushing and one space away from his commander at Beverly Ford Major General John Buford.  May these American heroes from a by gone era rest in peace.

*  Confederate general JEB Stuart referred to Benjamin Davis as an "Acting Brigadier General" in his official report about the Battle of Brandy Station.  Davis was the Colonel of the 8th New York and while he had been recommended for promotion to Brigadier General that appointment was not confirmed before his death, most likely, because, being from the south, he had no support in Congress which had to approve all military appointments.  He lead a brigade and at times a division as a colonel for months before his death.