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 20, 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.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

One Family's Sacrifice Exemplifies The True Cost of the Civil War

When studying or discussing the American Civil War we often focus on statistics and those statistics usually include a numerical listing of the casualties: those killed, wounded, captured or found missing  after any skirmish or major engagement.  What we many times fail to communicate or consider is what all those casualties signified, someone's loved one, a family member, a father, son, brother, uncle, nephew or cousin.  Real men with real hopes, ambitions and desires.

One family from Mississippi via Alabama and Louisiana lost five boys in the war, four brothers and a cousin of the brothers.  Due to family circumstances and the death of the parents of the brothers, when they were all less than fifteen years old, all the boys were raised by the family of the cousin, that is, they grew up together in the same household near Aberdeen in Monroe County, Mississippi.

Although raised together, at least for a time, the young men fought on different sides during the war.  One served with distinction in the Union cavalry and the other four, one of whom proudly carried the colors for his regiment, fought for the Confederacy.  Three were killed in or went missing in battle, in Virginia, the fourth died as a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland and the fifth took his own life within years of returning home to Mississippi after the war.  One of the soldiers is buried in the cemetery at the United States Military Academy at West Point another is buried at the Confederate Cemetery at Point Lookout.  The location of the remains of the other three is unknown.  Here is their story in a little more detail.

The brothers, including the eldest Benjamin Franklin and the three youngest, Francis Marion, Christopher Columbus and Augustus Romalus are four of the six sons of Benjamin E. And Matilda Davis.  They were born in Perry County, Alabama between 1831 and 1840.  In the fall of 1840 the boys, their parents and their other brothers William Owen and Thomas Jefferson, moved to Union Parish, Louisiana where their father opened a store northeast of Farmerville.  Their mother died in 1843 and their father passed away on or about June 26, 1846.  The orphaned brothers moved to Monroe County, Mississippi where William Taylor became their guardian.  Taylor, a successful planter, was the husband of Matilda Holladay's older sister Agnes Portatier. The cousin of the Davis brothers, James H. Taylor was the son of William and Agnes.

Benjamin Franklin Davis was a career army officer.  After graduating from West Point July 1, 1854 as a brevet 2nd lieutenant he was assigned to the 5th U. S. Infantry in Texas.   In May 1855 he transferred to the 1st U. S. Dragoons and served with them in New Mexico Territory and California until November 1861 when he headed east with the 1st U. S. Cavalry.  Captain Davis lead a squadron of cavalry at the Battle of Williamsburg that routed the enemy and helped save a Union artillery battery.  In July 1862 Davis was promoted to Colonel and assumed command of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  He trained them to be an elite fighting force and helped lead the 8th New York and portions of five other cavalry regiments in a daring escape from Harpers Ferry, Virginia into Maryland and Pennsylvania on the night of September 14, 1862. After the Battle of Antietam Colonel B. F. Davis was assigned to brigade command.  He was commanding a brigade of cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford when he was shot from the saddle and mortally wounded by Lt. Robert Owen Allen of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, early in the morning, on June 9, 1863, near where Beverly Ford crosses the Rappahannock River during the Battle of Brandy Station.  Colonel Davis's body was taken to West Point and interred in the cemetery on the grounds of the United States Military Academy.

Augustus Romalus Davis, a lawyer in Monroe County, Mississippi in 1860 and the youngest of the 6 Davis boys was the first to enter the Confederate Army.  He was 20 years old when he enrolled as a private in the Van Dorn Reserves in February 1861 at Aberdeen, Mississippi.  The Van Dorn Reserves would become Company I, 11th Regiment Mississippi Infantry.  Davis was ordered into the Confederate Service on April 26, 1861. The regiment formed in Corinth, Mississippi , a major railroad hub, on May 4, 1861 and soon headed to the theatre of war in Virginia.  He was with the regiment when they mustered into Confederate service May 13,1862 at Lynchburg. A. R. Davis would serve as a private in Company I  from his enlistment date until April 21, 1864 when he was promoted to ensign.  His compiled service records note he was absent from the regiment sick at Strasburg in September and October 1861.  He received a $50.00 bounty in February 1862 when he reenlisted and was given a 2 month furlough. November and December 1862 found him absent from the regiment  recovering from wounds.  He was killed in action on August 18, 1864 at the Battle of Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg, Virginia in the waning months of the war.

Francis Marion Davis, known as Marion by his friends and family, was about 13 years old when his eldest brother left Mississippi for West Point. They might have met twice more before the civil war, once when Benjamin Davis had a summer furlough from the military academy between his 3rd and 2nd class year and again when Benjamin came home after graduation and before heading to Texas in December 1854.

 In 1850 Marion was living with his guardian William Taylor's family.  Marion was still  in Monroe County, Mississippi when he enlisted as a private in Company I, 11th Regiment Mississippi Infantry in November 1861.  By this time the 11th Mississippi and Marion's younger brother Augustus  were already in Virginia.   Marion would serve with the regiment throughout the winter, spring and early summer of 1862.  He also would receive a $50.00 bounty and a furlough in February 1862 after re-enlisting. In late June and early July 1862, when the 7 Days Battles were occurring around Richmond,  Virginia the 11th Mississippi was brigaded with the 2nd Mississippi as part of Evander Laws Brigade of William H C. Whiting's Division.  Marion Davis would appear on the list of missing in action from the 11th following the Battle of Gaines Mill, June 27, 1862.

Christopher Columbus Davis was probably born in early 1839 as he was sandwiched between Marion and Augustus.  He would have gone to Mississippi with his 5 brothers after his fathers death.  The 1850 Census shows him living with his cousin Sarah E. Clopton and her husband Dr. John H. Clopton.  William Taylor appear to have been his guardian.

Christopher would enlist as a private in Company D (William Beck's Company), 2nd Regiment Mississippi Infantry on April 27, 1861 for twelve months.  At the time of his enlistment Christopher was listed as a 21 year old farmer from Pine Grove, Tippah County, Mississippi.  He stood 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall, with blue eyes, black hair and a dark  complexion.  One wonders if he resembled his older brother Benjamin who stood 5 feet 9 or 10 inches tall and weighted about 130 pounds in 1849 when he was 18 years old.

The 2nd Mississippi was mustered into Confederate service May 10, 1861 at Lynchburg, VA. Christopher was present with his company throughout 1861.  On February 9,  1862 he received  a $50.00 bounty for re-enlisting for 2 years.  C. C. Davis was listed on the Roll of Honor for action at 2nd Manassas August 28-30 where he was the regimental color bearer.  Private Davis was present at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 and would have been engaged when John Bell Hood's Division made a successful counter-attack against the Union 1st Corps between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m.  Christopher was wounded in the right arm during Hood's counterattack and left on the field.  He was captured, sent to Fort Delaware as a POW and later exchanged in December 1862, after which he rejoined his regiment.

On February 16, 1863 Private Christopher C. Davis was promoted to 4th Sergeant.  He was with the 2nd Mississippi at Gettysburg although he did not participate in the fighting on July 1st because he was sick.  Sergeant Davis would be wounded in both legs while carrying the colors during Pickett's Charge.  He would be captured July 5, 1863 and taken to a hospital  either in or near Gettysburg.  On July 19, 1863 Christopher was transferred to A hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania.   On October 4, 1864 C.C. Davis arrived at Hammond General Hospital at Point lookout, Maryland as a POW.

On January 26, 1864 Christopher C. Davis "galvanized" when he became a sergeant in the 1st U. S. Volunteers.  He officially mustered into Federal service on May 1, 1864 at Norfolk, Virginia.  He deserted August 2, 1864 and entered Confederate lines at Suffolk, Virginia.  In September 1864 Davis was promoted to ensign to rank from August 25, 1864.

Christopher Davis survived the Civil War and returned to Mississippi after the Confederate troops surrendered only to take his own life by suicide several years after returning home.  In a letter written by D. J. Hill, who was a member of the 2nd Mississippi, to Rufus R. Dawes, of the 6th Wisconsin, on September 12, 1893, Hill noted C.C. Davis may have taken his life due to "the grief over the loss of his four bothers during the war, coupled with the defeat of the Confederacy." (See Note at bottom of page)

James H. Taylor was born March 9, 1839 in Monroe County, Mississippi, the son of William and Agnes Taylor.  He spent his teenage years growing up with four of the Davis brothers who were his cousins.  On June 25, 1861 James Taylor would join for duty and enroll as a private in the Hamilton Guards which became Company B, 20th Regiment Mississippi Infantry.  By October 1861 he would be a 4th Sergeant.

The 20th Mississippi  originally served with John B. Floyd's Brigade in Western Virginia after mustering into Confederate service before being transferred to Tennessee in early 1862. In February  the regiment was sent to reinforce Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.

 James H. Taylor was captured at Fort Donelson on February 16, 1862 and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago as a POW.  Sergeant Taylor was exchanged in September 1862 near Vicksburg, Mississippi and rejoined his regiment which remained in the western theatre.  Taylor was captured a second time, at Brownsville (Edward's Station) on May 16, 1863  during the Vicksburg Campaign.   He was sent to Fort Delaware as a POW in June and later transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland on September 20, 1863.  Taylor died at Point Lookout on August 22, 1864.  He was buried in the Confederate Cemetery at the prison.

Maybe it is a blessing the Davis brothers parents proceeded them in death so they did not have to experience the loss of four of their six sons because of the fratricidal conflict that was the Civil War.  One must also wonder how difficult it must have been for William and Agnes Taylor when they realized that 5 boys they had helped raise were casualties of this great American conflict.  It must not have been easy to put their shattered lives back together.

Most of the information in this post related to the military careers of the Davis brothers and their cousin who served with the Confederacy is derived from their Compiled Service Records.

Note:  The Hill letter to Rufus Dawes, who met C. C. Davis on the field of Gettysburg on or about July 5, 1863 is in the Special Collections at McCain Library at the University of Southern Mississippi (Dawes (Rufus R.) Letters, Collection M30).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Benjamin Franklin Davis: The Measure of a Man in the Words of his Peers.

What most historians know about this Alabama born, Louisiana and Mississippi raised orphan, who spent his short adult life as an officer in the United States Army, can be summed up in a couple of paragraphs.  The vast majority of what is known is positive, but not all.  This dearth of information has lead me on an exhaustive search in an attempt to bring to light something more definitive and insightful about this young man.  The following is the result of that ongoing research extracted from the written word of his family, friends, colleagues and peers.

William F. Dowd, a Mississippian, who would serve as a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, had this to say about his young friend Ben Davis in a letter he wrote January 2, 1850, supporting Davis's application to the United States Military Academy at West Point: "Davis is a young man of about 18 years of age of unblemished reputation of very superior mental endowment - also if educated at West Point I feel soon will prove an ornament to the service and an honor to his country."

Benjamin F. Davis was admitted to West Point July 1, 1850.  Upon graduation, in 1854, the brevet 2nd Lieutenant was assigned to the 5th U. S. Infantry.  In March 1855 he transferred to the 1st U. S. Dragoons.  He would serve with the dragoons in New Mexico Territory and California from 1856 until late 1861.

On page 56 Executive Documents The House of Representatives 1st Session of the Thirty-fifth Congress in documentation referring Captain Bonneville's 1957 Gila River Expedition it is noted: "Great credit (was) given by the commanding officer to the following named officers - Alfred B. Chapman and Benjamin F. Davis.  

In the fall of 1861 orders were issued to transfer almost all the regular army troops from the west coast, east, so they could serve in the rebellion. To do this volunteer regiments had to be raised in California, Washington and Oregon to replace them.  In August 1861 the governor of California was looking for an officer for the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry Battalion.  In recommending Lt. Davis for this position to both California's governor and Lorenzo Thomas, the army's Adjutant General, Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner, commander of the Department of the Pacific, had this to say: "General in raising the volunteers from this state, I find it indispensably necessary, for economy as well as efficiency to have a cavalry officer of experience and ability to command the five companies of cavalry.  There was no suitable man to be found out of the army, and at my request  the governor of California has given the commission of Lt. Colonel of Cavalry to Lt. B. F. Davis of the 1st Dragoons.  I have known this young officer since he entered the army and I know him to be one of the best officers in it.  He is from the south but a firm loyalist to the government.   Between August and November 1861 Davis reportedly "whipped the raw recruits of the 1st California Cavalry into 1st class horse soldiers."

Captain B. F. Davis came east with his regiment in November 1861.  By early 1862 he would be serving in the defenses of Washington, prior to joining the Army of the Potomac for the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, where he would be commended for his action at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862.  While at Camp Sprague, on the outskirts of Washington Captain Davis "trained" George B. Sanford, the 1st Lieutenant of Company K 1st U. S. Cavalry.  Sanford noted in  "Fighting Rebels and Redskins: "To Captain Davis more than any other one officer I am indebted for whatever I afterwards became in the service.  He was a thorough officer ... and never missed an opportunity to impart the instructions that I required...He required me to study and recite to him daily.  On the march he taught me to notice the character of the country, the advantages of positions for attack and defense, sites for camps etc.  At a halt he would practice with me in the saber exercise and give me instructions in posting pickets and sending out scouts.  If I did not appreciate his kindness at the time, I certainly have since."  Sanborn also mentioned "Captain Davis was a handsome man of about twenty-eight years...He had gained some reputation for his gallantry in action with the Apache.  He was as loyal as he was brave, and nothing but his early death prevented him from reaching very high rank in the service."     

 By mid June 1862, Benjamin Davis would be on leave, sick at Willard's Hotel in Washington D.C.  About this time however the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry was looking for a new commander and George Stoneman recommended Davis.  Davis's commission as Colonel of the 8th New York was backdated to June 25, 1862.   He would not take over command of the regiment in the field in Maryland until mid July 1862.  

At first the 8th New York Volunteers did not think very highly of their West Point educated  regular army colonel but this is what several members of the regiment had to say after they became better acquainted.  

On July 29, 1862 a member of the 8th New York wrote a letter to New York's Governor Morgan.  He said "You will not think it amiss if I give you the public judgement already pronounced in the 8th Cavalry Regiment upon the quality of it's head....The bearing of our colonel among us has given us a lofty example of the hard-working soldier and of the man of honor, at home in his work, quiet, thoughtful, cheerful, of few words, and, like the weight of a pendulum of a clock, in ceaseless and noiseless influence on all of the wheels.  His quarters and their furnishings are as plain as those of any other officer, that is, as plain as plain can be, and no one rises in the morning and finds him abed.  That he means to do his duty is evident, and no one is left in doubt that he expects the rest of us to do ours.  He has no favors to ask for himself.  That is both evident and striking.  I dare say your Excellency will recognize that as a peculiarity; but it is also the secret of true dignity and freedom....To the office of the Chaplain he has shown himself respectful and considerate, in making it useful and impressive, and so have all the officers - to his gray hairs courteous and kind.  In reproof to officers I hear no instance of impatience, and none have been administered in the presence of subordinates.  In this record I believe I have the camp's unanimous concurrence."  

Henry Norton noted in Deeds of Daring History of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry, that Colonel B. F. Davis “was a military man clear through, the right man in the right place.  He was a strict disciplinarian, and brought the regiment down under the regular army regulations.” 

The 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry, and Colonel Davis were ordered to leave Relay House, Maryland for Harpers Ferry, Virginia on August 28, 1862.  Once at Harpers Ferry they were primarily charged with protecting the Winchester and Potomac Railroad that ran from Harpers Ferry to Winchester, Virginia and breaking up the 12th Virginia Cavalry.  The 8th New York and 5 other regiments of cavalry were trapped in Harpers Ferry when Confederate forces commanded by Stonewall Jackson surrounded the town on September 13, 1862.  Colonel Davis was instrumental in facilitating and helping lead the union cavalry escape from Harpers Ferry on September 14, 1862.  For this action he was breveted Major in the regular army and given command of a brigade by Major General George B. McClellan.  Davis would lead a brigade as a colonel until his untimely death at Beverly Ford, Virginia during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station.

In his official report following the Battle of Brandy Station Major General Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac reported: we "would have captured his (Beckham's) guns but for the untimely loss of the brave and accomplished Colonel B. F. Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry, who while commanding a brigade, charged at the head of his column into the midst of the enemy and was shot through the head."

Brigadier General John Buford, who commanded the 1st Division, which Davis's brigade was attached to, wrote: "this success was dearly bought, for among the noble and brave ones who fell was Colonel B. F. Davis.  He died in front, giving examples of heroism and courage to all who were to follow.  He was a thorough soldier, free from politics and intrigue, a patriot in its true sense, an ornament to his country and a bright star in his profession."

In Annals of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Reverend Samuel Levi Gracey Chaplain of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and, for a time, the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps, who saw the insensible Davis being carried from the field (at Beverly Ford) in a litter wrote: “Here comes a rough litter bearing an officer.  Who is that boys?  “Colonel Davis sir!” “Is it possible!” Noble fellow!  “Is he wounded badly”  “A minie ball through the head, sir!”  He is  insensible his hair matted and clotted with blood. God have mercy on this brave, noble, patriotic soldier the hero of Harpers Ferry.”  This is our hastily breathed prayer, as we linger for a moment,  and then hurry on to join our command.” 

In writing his Personal Recollections of the Civil War Brigadier General John Gibbon, who also had ties to the south from growing up in North Carolina, wrote in a June 9 letter: “he (Davis) was killed in the fighting up the river either yesterday or today…I regard his death as the greatest loss this army has met with in a long time.  He ought long ago to have been promoted, but such men, I am sorry to say, seldom get positions to which their merit and service entitle them.”  

In another letter dated June 11 John noted: "Poor Davis was killed while gallantly charging at the head of his brigade….I feel very sad when I think of him, and he is a very, very great loss to this army.”

Brigadier General Marsena Patrick's notation in his diary for June 9, 1863 read:  "Pleasonton has been engaged up the River, in a severe fight, which cost us the life of our best Cavalry Officer - Col. Benjamin F. Davis."

In an article written for Harpers Weekly titled  "The Battle of Brandy Station" General Wesley Merritt noted" “the leading brigade of Buford’s Division was commanded by Col. B. F. Davis, 8th New York Cavalry, a captain in the 1st U S Cavalry…The battle was hotly joined and Davis had fallen mortally wounded.  He was dearly beloved throughout the command, and many a veteran of the old 1st and 2nd Dragoons drew his chin grimly to his breast and with clinched teeth awaited the shock of battle determined to do his share in avenging the death of this hero."

Merritt also noted in Personal Recollections-Beverly Ford to Mitchell's Station,  "He (Davis) was a gallant man, an ambitious soldier, a courtly gentleman.  A southerner, like the idolized chief of the first division (Buford), he stood firm by the flag under which he had received his qualifications and commission as an officer; he died for that flag, under that flag fell to soon, but oh! so bravely."

Elias Beck, surgeon of the 3rd Indiana Volunteer Cavalry did not have the same high regard for Colonel B. F. Davis as did many of his fellow officers.  Beck remarked in  June 10, 1863  letter to his wife that we:  "had a fight, our brigade commander Colonel Davis was killed...Davis was a regular, a Mississippian by birth, a proud tyrannical devil and had the ill will of his whole command.  I bet he was killed by our own men.” 

In a History of the 3rd Indiana CavalryWilliam N. Pickerill painted a different picture of the regiments opinion of Davis.  Pickerill wrote: “Colonel Davis was an officer of the regular army, a strict disciplinarian…was regarded as one of the best subordinate cavalry commanders of the army.”

George W. Newhall also commented about B. F. Davis in the Battle of Beverly Ford in The Annals of the War Written by Leading Participants North and South.  Newhall recorded: “he  (Davis) fell in a moment mortally wounded on the further bank, and should be remembered with special honor for he was a southern man and a graduate of West Point.  He was called “Grimes” by all his army friends and was the beau ideal of a cavalry officer.  He was borne back in a blanket just as Pleasonton gained the southern bank of the river.”

In the years after the Civil War and Colonel Benjamin F. Davis's untimely death at age 31 encomiums were still being written about the gallant American soldier.  

In Three Years in the Federal Cavalry Willard W. Glazier wrote: “ In the early part of the engagement (Brandy Station) fell Colonel B. F. Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry.  His loss was a subject of great lamentation.  He had distinguished himself for great sagacity, wonderful power of endurance and unsurpassed bravery.”

Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac  served with Benjamin Davis at Fort Tejon in California before the Civil War.  Lettermen wrote in
 Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac,  "This officer, who so successfully extricated his regiment from Harper's Ferry when the post was surrendered by General Miles - who fought so gallantly on our march through Virginia in the autumn of 1862 - had been my companion in more than one campaign among the Indians; my messmate at stations far beyond the haunts of civilized men.  This long, familiar intercourse produced the warmest admiration for his noble character, which made him sacrifice friends and relatives to uphold the flag under which he was born and defend the Constitution of his country."

Henry L. Abbott, who graduated 2nd in the same West Point Class as Davis, noted in a book he wrote titled Half Century of a West Point Class 1850 to 1854,  that Davis was Captain of Cadets.  Abbott also wrote on page 18: “He took part in all the battles and skirmishes of the Army of the Potomac after that of South Mountain, always with so much credit to himself, as to be regarded as having very few equals and no superiors in the cavalry branch of the service.  He commanded a brigade of the 1st Division of Pleasonton's Cavalry Corps for many months, and was over and over again recommended for promotion to the grade of Brigadier General...The request that his body might repose at West Point was granted by the Secretary of War.  It is the fitting place.  He was a gallant son of his Alma Mater, and an honor to his class and to the Academy.”

And maybe one of the final and most fitting remarks regarding the life and career of Benjamin Franklin Davis was written by Major General George B. Davis in an article about Harpers Ferry published in the Journal of the U. S. Cavalry Association May 1, 1913.  General Davis noted: "Colonel Davis, affectionately known as "Grimes" by his friends and admirers who were many and enthusiastic - was to valuable a man to permit to be cooped up again (as at Harpers Ferry), or employed in escorting his own forage and rations...and was immediately assigned to the command of a brigade of cavalry by General McClellan.  Here he was at his best, and Grime's Davis's best was something beyond the common...In one of the early combats of cavalry against cavalry of which the year 1863, and those following were to see many, he was killed while leading his brigade - not upon a place - but upon a mounted force of the enemy, of equal if not superior strength; and so the gallant spirit passed, in the tumult of battle, "to where beyond these voices there is peace."  A photograph, dating probably from the late summer of 1861, is - or was, one of the cherished possessions of the Army Mess at the Military Academy, which in life, not less in his untimely death he so much adorned."

Thursday, August 9, 2018

An Officer, A Gentleman and an Ornament to His Country: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Davis, Part IV

On August 31, 1862 Colonel Davis would get instructions from Henry M. Binney, Aide-de-Camp to Colonel Dixon S. Miles, commanding the garrison at Harpers Ferry to "take post at Summit Point on the Winchester (and Potomac) Railroad, with your regiment"... protect the railroad and "closely watch the operations of  an active partisan group" the 12th Virginia Cavalry. Norton notes the 8th New York was "sent up the Shenandoah River scouting about every day to Charlestown and Shepherdstown, to ascertain the whereabouts of the rebel cavalry.  He also mentions  "we had not been there (Harpers Ferry) long before we found out we were surrounded by rebels."

When General Lee invaded Maryland in September 1862 he had expected the federal garrisons at Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg would evacuate.  When they did not Lee sent Major General Thomas J. Jackson with about two-thirds of his army to either capture the garrisons or force their evacuation.  Jackson left Frederick, Maryland September 10 and by the 13th he had Harpers Ferry surrounded.  Maryland Heights fell on the 13th and confederate artillery began shelling the town on the 14th.  It was inevitable the garrison would have to surrender.

 According to Ezra A. Carmen in The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Volume I, South Mountain  page 255, "During the afternoon of September 13 Colonel B. F. Davis, 8th New York Cavalry and Lieutenant Colonel  Hasbrouck Davis 12th Illinois Cavalry, waited upon General White...and suggested that as the cavalry was of no use there and forage short, it cut its way out, as if obliged to surrender, the horses and equipment would be a great prize to the enemy, and that an effort to reach McClellan ought to be made.  That evening a conference of all the cavalry commanders was held at Miles' headquarters, and Miles agreed they could consult and propose means of getting out." Purportedly there were sharp words between Grimes Davis and Dixon Miles, at the meeting, before the latter reluctantly gave his permission for the cavalry to attempt the breakout.  

Miles's Aide-de-Camp Lt. Reynolds drafted Special Order #120 on September 14, 1862 which stated:  "The cavalry force at this post, except detached orderlies, will make immediate preparations to leave here at eight o'clock tonight, without baggage wagons, ambulances or led horses, crossing the Potomac over the pontoon bridge, and taking the Sharpsburg Road.  The senior officer, Colonel Voss, will assume command of the whole, which will form the right at the quartermaster's office, the left up Shenandoah Street, without noise or loud command, in the following order: Cole's Cavalry, 12th Illinois Cavalry, 8th New York Cavalry, 7th Squadron Rhode Island Cavalry and the 1st Maryland Cavalry.  No other instructions can be given to the commander than to force his way through the enemy's lines and join our own army."  

Around 8:00 p.m. on the 14th about 1,500 cavalry composed of Companies H & I, 1st Maryland Cavalry, the 7th Squadron Rhode Island Cavalry, Cole's 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade Cavalry, Samuel Means Loudoun Rangers, the 12th Illinois and the 8 New York led by local guide Hanson T. C. Green and scout Thomas Noakes left the ferry via the pontoon bridge that spanned the Potomac to the base of Maryland Heights.  The guide and scout would lead the cavalry men along the existing roads and through various farm fields and pastures to Antietam Iron Works at the confluence of the Potomac River and Antietam Creek, then on to Sharpsburg, where they would rest for a while and regroup before heading northwestward on the Mercerville road.  According to Carmen, "once on the (Mercersville) Road they broke into a brisk trot, went through New Industry and Mercersville, traversing hills and ravines, through cornfields and meadows, over fences and water cources, with an occasional halt to breath the horses.  Before daylight the column came out near St. James College then continued northward entering the woods, "skirting the turnpike from Hagerstown to Williamsport.  About two and one half miles from Williamsport the low, rumbling sound of heavy carriage wheels was heard."  The command decided to surprise and capture the wagon train.  "The 8th New York and 12th Illinois were formed in line near the turnpike, the Maryland and Rhode Island Cavalry in Reserve, while Colonel B. F. Davis with a squadron of the 8th New York quietly advanced and took possession of the turnpike to interrupt the passage of the train to Williamsport."  In so doing a number of the wagons from Major General James Longstreet's ordinance train were captured and taken to Greencastle, Pennsylvania with the Union Cavalry column.  

Colonel Davis and the 8th New York did not have much time to rest at Greencastle, Pennsylvania following the arduous escape from Harpers Ferry.  Late on September 15, Davis was ordered by Major General MacClellan to retrace his steps to Jones' Cross Roads, at the intersection of the Keedysville - Williamsport Road four miles north of Sharpsburg, and join the 15th Pennsylvania cavalry there.  Davis and the 8th New York would stay around the Hagerstown area for much of the time until they crossed the Potomac at Berlin, Maryland on October 26 and joined the rest of the army of the Potomac in Virginia.  Colonel Davis would command the 5th Brigade, consisting on the 8th New York and the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry of Alfred Pleasonton's Division from September thru part of November 1862.

 Although the historical records are considerably muddled regarding who was responsible for coming up with the idea the Union Cavalry should try to escape Harpers Ferry, before the town surrendered, most of the credit has been given to Colonel Benjamin F. Davis for originating the idea and helping ensure the endeavor was a success.  I would suspect however, the idea was on the minds of most if not all of the cavalry officers and troopers present at Harpers Ferry even though they do not get much credit for it.

In the Records of the Harpers Ferry Military Commission which are part of Volume 19, Part I of the Official Records Henry Binney statement under oath supports the contention the idea for the cavalry to attempt an escape from originated with Colonel B. F. Davis.  Binney testified,  "On Sunday night (September 14) Colonel Davis of the Eighth New York Cavalry, came down  and represented that the cavalry was of no use there, and if we were obliged to surrender the place eventually they would be as great a prize as the enemy could get.  Furthermore, that we had no forage for the horses ... and that he desired the privilege of cutting his way out.  Colonel Miles then issued an order, or sent his orderlies  to the commanders of cavalry to meet at his office that evening.  They met at 7:00 or 7:30."  After considerable discussion a route was selected and Colonel Miles issued Special Orders #120.

A telegram George McClellan sent to Henry Halleck on September 23, 1862 adds credence to the supposition the idea to escape and the success of the venture rested squarely on the shoulder of Benjamin F. Davis.  The telegram stated: "The conspicuous conduct of Captain B. F. Davis 1st cavalry in the management of the withdrawal of the cavalry from Harpers Ferry at the surrender of that place merits the special notice of the government.  I recommend him for the brevet of major."

Many army officers who were contemporaries of Davis, also gave him credit for successfully leading the escape and called him the hero of Harpers Ferry. Since there is no evidence Colonel Davis himself ever wrote or spoke about the incident, that we know of, we may never know all the facts.  He certainly deserved some recognition but not all of it in deference to his fellow officers, scouts, guides and cavaliers.

To be continued.

Monday, August 6, 2018

An Officer, A Gentleman and an Ornament to His Country: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Davis, Part III

Captain Benjamin F. Davis would arrive at Camp Sprague near Washington, D.C. and join Company K, 1st U. S. Cavalry on January 18, 1862.  Eight companies of the 1st Cavalry, including K, would remain at Camp Sprague engaging in drilling, camp and garrison duties as well as serving as escorts, couriers and pickets, in the defense of Washington, until March 10, 1862 when they would depart for Alexandria, Virginia to join the Army of the Potomac.  They would be brigaded with the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry and the McClellan Dragoons commanded by Charles Barker to form Colonel George A. H. Blake's 2nd Brigade, Cavalry Reserve.

Blake's command left Alexandria, Virginia March 29, 1862, embarking on schooners in route to Hampton, Virginia, arriving there April 3rd.  On April 4th they were camped on the Kentucky Farm.  The command left the Kentucky Farm April 11 and arrived at a new camp near Ship Point on the Chesapeake Bay the same day.  The Union Army would use Ship Point as a point of debarkation, a hospital and a supply depot during part of the Peninsula Campaign.  Blake's Brigade left their bivouac near Ship Point April 24 heading to Camp Winfield Scott near Yorktown, Virginia.

Camp Winfield Scott was about a mile and a half from Yorktown.  Theophilus Rodenbough notes in From Everglades to Canyon with the Second United States Cavalry: the camp was "in a large open plain, surrounded by trees, the sun has a good chance at us.  The location is a very fine one, far superior to our last one, some eight miles back, where we lived in mud literally fifteen inches deep, and drowned out every other day."  Major General McClellan was attempting to defeat the rebels at Yorktown by siege, however the Confederates thwarted his plans when they evacuated their camp on the night of May 3rd, 1862.

The May returns for the 1st U. S. Cavalry state the regiment left camp on Cheeseman's Creek, about six miles southeast of Yorktown, on Sunday May 4th.  They were engaged, along with the 6th U. S. Cavalry and Captain Horatio Gibson's Light Company C 3rd U. S. Artillery et al, as the advance guard of the Army of the Potomac, against the rebels on both May 4th and 5th near Williamsburg, Virginia.  On May 4th Brigadier General George Stoneman directed his two reserve cavalry brigades to harass the rear of the retreating Confederates.  Emory became engages with Stuart's cavalry while Blake's command, which included the 1st U. S. Cavalry, followed the rebels in the direction of Fort Magruder.  While Blake skirmished  and maneuvered to assault the Confederates they attacked his cavalry and Gibson's battery. Captain Benjamin Davis commanded a squadron of about 60 men who were part of the rear guard as the 1st U. S. Cavalry and Gibson's Battery retired from the field late in the day.  According to Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke's official report while the 1st Cavalry was retiring with it's last squadron (Davis's) at a walk, and carrying off the wounded they were "charged in the narrow road by a superior force of the enemy's cavalry.  Captain Davis, wheeling about by fours, met and with great gallantry (handsomely) repulsed them" driving them back in confusion which protected the artillery battery and the wounded. Davis's command captured a rebel standard and suffered 13 casualties.  Captain Davis would be recommended for a brevet promotion two different times for leading the gallant charge at Williamsburg, the first time by Philip Cooke on June 20, 1862 and the second time by Edwin M. Stanton, February 23, 1863 however, neither would be conferred.

On May 6th Captain Davis and the rest of the 1st U. S. Cavalry would be camped near Williamsburg. They left the Williamsburg area on May 11th and camped near West Point, Virginia.  On the 13th the regiment advanced to New Kent Courthouse.  They were at St. Peters Church by the 18th before moving to Tunstall's Station on the Richmond and York River Railroad 18 miles from Richmond by the May 20th.  On May 23rd the regiment would be camped 7 miles from Richmond.  On May 31 they relocated their camp near Walnut Grove, nine miles from Richmond.

The 1st U. S. Cavalry would remain at their camp 9 miles from Richmond for most of the month of June 1862.  On June 13 they left camp in pursuit of Stuart's Cavalry who had been causing depredation at Garlick's Landing on the Pamunkey and Tunstall's Station during his ride around McClellan's Army.  They were back in camp by the 15th.  Later in the month 4 companies of the 1st cavalry were engaged at the Battle of Gaines Mill. 

 It is unclear if Captain Davis was with his regiment during this time.  The June returns indicate Company K might have been on detached service at Fort Monroe.   The returns also indicate Davis was on leave as of June 25, 1862 as per Order #141, Army of the Potomac dated June 15 and a Special Order of the War Department dated June 17.  What is known is that on June 7, 1862 Captain Davis was commissioned Colonel of Volunteers by the governor of New York, to date from June 6, and assigned to command the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  He was unable to report to duty with his new command immediately however, as on June 30, 1862 W. K. Barnes of the Surgeon General's Office, Washington D.C., noted Davis was confined to his bed, with a febrile (fever) attack, at Willards Hotel. 

July 1862 would find Colonel B. F. Davis at Relay House, Maryland, near Baltimore, commanding the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  He had been mustered in as the units colonel July 11, 1862 to date from June, 25th.  The 8th New York had been organized on November 14, 1861.  They left New York for Washington D.C., November 29.  The regiment, which was not mounted and equipped as cavalry until July 1862, served in the defenses of Washington until March 9, 1862.    Between March 9 and April 6th they were guarding the Potomac River and the C & O Canal between Edwards Ferry and Point of Rocks.  On April 6th they moved to Harpers Ferry where they were assigned to guard the railroad between Harpers Ferry and Winchester, Virginia.  On June 23, 1862 they were ordered to Relay House to meet their new colonel and finally get outfitted as a mounted unit.

Colonel Davis would spend July and most of August drilling the 8th New York Cavalry into an elite fighting unit.  He had been commissioned their colonel at the request of their officers and upon the recommendation of George Stoneman.    Henry Norton described Davis in Deeds of Daring or History of the Eighth New York Cavalry: "He was a military man clear through, the right man in the right place. He was a strict disciplinarian and brought the regiment down under the regular army regulations.  Some of the boys thought he was to severe with them.  They said no man could bring a volunteer under regular army style with success.  Previous to Davis taking command the boys were put in the guard house for punishment.  That suited them too well.  Colonel Davis's mode of punishment was to make the soldier carry a rail on his shoulder and walk a ring until he gave orders for him to stop."  Norton also noted Davis was quite a smoker.  "He had an old clay pipe and when he got engaged he would keep it in his mouth for an hour after it was smoked out."

Another member of the 8th New York described Davis in a July 21, 1862 letter to the governor of New York:  "As I stepped to the door of my quarters...and looked out this moment on the busy scene of work and drill in camp—two acres swept like a floor—all filth and garbage removed; tents open, clean and aired; officers hard at work in drill; the men busy, orderly and cheerful—I thought of you and intrude upon your time... just to express to you our sense of obligation for the commission to Col. Davis.  The bearing of our Colonel among us has given us a lofty example of the hard-working soldier and of the man of honor, at home in his work, quiet, thoughtful, cheerful, of few words, and, like the weight and pendulum of a clock, in ceaseless and noiseless influence on all the wheels. His quarters and their furnishings are as plain as those of any of his officers; that is, as plain as plain can be, and no one rises in the morning and finds him abed. That he means to do his duty is evident, and no one is left in doubt that he expects the rest of us to do ours. He had no favors to ask for himself. That is both evident and striking. I dare say your Excellency will recognize that as a peculiarity; but it is also the secret of true dignity and freedom."
The 8th New York Cavalry would get their horses and accouterments on July 8 and July 20, 1862.  Norton noted the regiment drilled every day until late August.  On August 28, Colonel Davis would be ordered by Major General John Wool to have his "regiment ready to start for Harpers Ferry by Saturday at the latest."  Davis and the 8th New York left Relay House for Harpers Ferry on the 29th by railroad, arriving there on August 30, 1862.  Little did they know that in about 2 weeks time, after arriving at the ferry, they would have a date with destiny on account of their colonel.

To be continued. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

An Officer, a Gentleman and an Ornament to his Country: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Davis, Part II

 Fort Tejon was established near Tejon Pass at the head of the San Joaquin Valley in California in August 1854.   In December 1856 the fort became the headquarters of the 1st U. S. Dragoons.  Companies H & I were at Fort Tejon while Companies B, D, G and K remained at Camp Moore.  By 1858 the post was commanded by Major George A. H. Blake, 1st Dragoons.

2nd Lt. B. F. Davis arrived at Fort Tejon on July 7, 1858 along with his commanding officer Captain John W. Davidson and Albert B. Chapman of Company K.  Davis immediately took on new duties at the fort as he began serving as the posts Acting Assistant Quartermaster (AAQM) and Acting Assistant Commissary of Subsistence (AACS).   He would continue these duties until December 1858. He also spent some time on detached service and in command of Company B, 1st Dragoons.

Benjamin Davis spent the first several months of 1859 at Fort Tejon.  On the May returns he was reported as being on detached service in San Francisco since May 2nd.  In June he was again absent from the fort conducting recruits to Fort Crook as per Special Order #56,  Department of California dated June 15, 1859.  Fort Crook, named after 1st Lieutenant George Crook, 4th U. S. Infantry, was located on the north bank of the Falls River in Shasta County, California near the present town of Falls River Mills.  It was established in 1857 to protect settlers from the hostile Indians.  In August 1859 Davis was still on detached service, this time on the Colorado River.  He left Fort Tejon on August 12 and did not return until September 29.  By December 27, 1859 Davis was again on detached service at Los Angeles.

1st Lt. Benjamin Davis left Fort Tejon January 19, 1860 for Fort Yuma where he was a member of a general court martial.  He returned to Fort Tejon February 27.  Fort Yuma was established in 1848 in what is now Imperial County, California across the Colorado River from Yuma, New Mexico Territory (now Arizona).  By 1858 The Butterfield Overland Mail had a station near the fort.  In March 1860 Company B, 1st Dragoons was temporarily under the command of Milton T. Carr a West Point classmate of Benjamin Davis.  Both Carr and Davis left Fort Tejon in mid April for the Mojave River.  They were probably part of Brevet Major James H. Carletons Pah-Ute Campaign against the Southern Paiutes and the Chemehuevis Indians who had been attacking wagon trains on the Mojave Road which linked Southern California to Beale's Wagon Road and the Santa Fe Trail. On April 18, 1860 Companies B & K of the 1st Dragoons were  engaged near Camp Cady on the Mojave River in Arizona.  Both Carleton and Carr were back at Fort Tejon by July 9.  Davis probably returned at the same time.

The July returns for Fort Tejon show 2nd Lt. Benjamin F. Davis being promoted to 1st lieutenant, after almost five years as a 2nd lieutenant, and transferred from Company B, to Company K, 1st Dragoons.  Post records do not show the promotion date however Davis's service records indicate the  promotion occurred on January 9, 1860.  On July 18, 1860 1st Lieutenant Davis will apply for and receive 60 days leave of absence, the first extended leave he appears to have taken since joining the 5th U. S. Infantry in Texas in December 1854.  By early October Benjamin will be back at Fort Tejon where he again will serve as the AAQM and Acting Commissary of Subsistence (ACS) of the post.  He will continue these duties until June 20, 1861.

First Lieutenant Grimes Davis spent the first four months of 1861 at Fort Tejon.  On May 3, 1861 he was ordered to Los Angeles on detached service.  He left Fort Tejon May 11.  As noted on pages 55-58 of "Los Angeles in the Civil War, 1860 to 1865":  "On May 14 Major James Henry Carleton and 50 mounted troopers from Company K, 1st Dragoons, from Fort Tejon, trotted into Los Angeles, to the immense relief of Captain (Winfield Scott) Hancock (the Army's lone officer in town) and the Union sympathizers.  A few days later they were joined by cavalry from Fort Mojave and the immediate danger of insurrection in Los Angeles was over.  The soldiers set up camp on the southern outskirts of town in view of Hancock's Quartermaster buildings.  The new encampment was named Camp Fitzgerald."

 June finds Lt. Davis at Camp Fitzgerald.  He would remain here for several months commanding the 1st Dragoon Band and serving as the camp adjutant.  Camp Fitzgerald was garrisoned by a little over 300 soldiers belonging to Companies B & K of the 1st Dragoons and Companies F & I of the 6th U. S. Infantry.

On July 30, 1861 1st Lt. Benjamin F. Davis was promoted to Captain 1st U. S. Dragoons which was renamed the 1st U. S. Cavalry on August 3.  He  stayed at Camp Fitzgerald until mid August.  The camp returns for the month note he is on detached service per a telegraph dispatch from San Francisco dated August 15, 1861.  The young officer would leave Camp Fitzgerald August 17, 1861 to take command of the 1st Battalion (5 companies) 1st California Volunteer Cavalry.

When the Civil War started California was asked to provide a regiment of infantry and 5 companies of cavalry to help guard the overland mail route between Carson City (Nevada) and Fort Laramie (Wyoming).  Suitable officers had to be found to organize and train the raw recruits.  Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner commander of the Department of the Pacific was coordinating with John G. Downey California's governor to find officers for the California volunteers.  In correspondence to Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant General, Washington DC dated August 22, 1861 Sumner wrote:  "General in raising the volunteers for this state, I find it indispensably necessary, for economy as well as efficiency to have a cavalry officer of experience and ability to command the five companies of cavalry.  There was no suitable man to be found outside of the Army, and at my request the governor of California has given the commission of Lt. Colonel to Lt. B. F. Davis of the 1st Dragoons.  I have known this young officer since he entered the army and I know him to be one of the best officers in it.  He is from the south but a firm loyalist to the government.  I would respectfully ask the sanction of the war department to this appointment."

Benjamin F. Davis was commissioned  Lt. Colonel of Volunteers August 19, 1861 to date from August 6, 1861.  In an August 29 letter Colonel James H. Carleton wrote "by authority of the general commanding the Dept. of the Pacific Lt. Col. B. F. Davis is designated as mustering officer for the 1st Cavalry and 1st Infantry now camped at Contra Costa, (County) California".  It would be Davis's responsibility not only to muster in the volunteer cavalry but also to drill and discipline the raw recruits and make them an effective fighting force.

The volunteers who would make up the five companies of the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry rendezvoused at Camp Merchant near Lake Merritt Oakland, California in August 1861.  They would receive barely a month's training before being mustered into federal service and ordered to Southern California.  On September 14, 1861 Richard C Drum, AAG wrote Special Order #172, Department of the Pacific directing Colonel James H. Carleton to take the 1st California Infantry and Cavalry to Los Angeles.  The horses of the battalion of cavalry were to be left in San Francisco.  The cavalry would be remounted at Los Angeles.  The quartermaster was to procure the necessary transportation by water to San Pedro.

The California Volunteer Cavalry and Infantry arrived at the port of San Pedro on  September 19 and 20th.  They disembarked and marched approximately 18 miles northward where they established a camp   near Bollona Creek christened Camp Latham.  Three companies of cavalry remained at Camp Latham with the 1st California Infantry while the other two were sent to Camp Carleton near San Bernardino.  The recruits training would continue in southern California.

 On October 13, 1861 Lt. Col. Davis wrote a letter from Camp Latham applying for a seven day leave of absence with permission to visit San Francisco.  He noted in the letter "I have given the colonel commanding verbally my reasons for deserving this indulgence".  His leave was approved and Davis departed Camp Latham on October 15.  It is unknown if the request was related to business or pleasure or both however my supposition is he was primarily seeking permission from headquarters to return east with the 1st U. S. Cavalry Regiment.   After Davis arrived in San Francisco he applied for an additional ten days of leave on October 19.  Then in a letter dated October 29, 1861 he resigned his commission as Lt. Colonel of the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry.  The resignation was accepted  October 30, 1861 by Headquarters Dept. of the Pacific who subsequently drafted the following Special Order # 205: "Captain B. F. Davis, 1st Cavalry, having tendered his resignation as lieutenant-colonel of cavalry, California volunteers, will join his company at San Pedro in time to embark with the same on the steamer leaving this port on the 1st proximo".  All the regular army regiments except 4 artillery batteries had been ordered east.  Captain B. F. Davis would leave the port of San Pedro, California November 1st, aboard the wooden side-wheel Steamer S. S. Golden Gate, cross the Isthmus of Panama, by train, board another ship headed for New York and finally arrive in Washington City, DC by early January 1862.

To be continued.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

An Officer, a Gentleman and an Ornament to his Country: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Davis

When Brigadier General John Buford wrote his official report on the Battle of Brandy Station near Warrenton Junction, Virginia on June 13, 1863 he noted: "This woods were dearly bought, for among the noble and brave ones who fell was Colonel B. F. Davis, 8th New York Cavalry.  He died in the front giving example of heroism and courage to all who were to follow.  He was a thorough soldier, free from politics and intrigue.  A patriot in the true sense, an ornament to his country and a bright star in his profession."  Who is this man who elicited such glowing comments from the well respected cavalier John Buford who would follow Davis to the cemetery at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point after his own untimely death on December 16, 1863.  Very little is known about him but he deserves to be remembered.  I will try and do that in this short essay.

Benjamin Franklin Davis was born in Perry County, Alabama on or about October 24, 1831.  He was the eldest of six sons born to Benjamin E. Davis and his wife Matilda Holladay Davis between 1831 and 1840.  Little is known about Benjamin E. Davis except for the marriage records showing either his marriage to Matilda E. Holladay or the issuance of a marriage license on January 1, 1831;  his purchase of 79.81 acres of government land in the E2NW4 Section 17 T. 18 N., R. 8 E., in Perry County on November 14, 1833 and a reference in the 1840 Perry County Census showing Benjamin E.,  as being between 30 and 39 with a wife age 20 to 29, 3 sons age 5 to 9 and 3 sons under age 5.  The census also indicated the elder Davis owned 5 slaves.

Matilda E. Holladay Davis was born in Wilkes County, Georgia before 1813.  She was one of 11 children (8 girls and 3 boys) born to Captain Benjamin W. Holladay and his wife Elizabeth Cook Jones Holladay.  Captain Benjamin W. Holladay was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia in April 1777.  He was the son of John M. Holladay III who served as a private in the 10th Virginia Regiment of Foot in the Continental Army.  John M. Holladay III was the great grandson of Thomas Holladay a native of  Middlesex, England who came to the colonies with some of the early arrivals and settled in Virginia.

Sometime after the completion of the Perry County Census in late 1840 Matilda and Benjamin E. Davis and their six sons moved to Union Parish, Louisiana.  Matilda died of unknown causes in early 1843.  Benjamin E. Davis passes away on or about June 26, 1846.   All six sons, including Benjamin, became wards of Walter Taylor the husbands of Matilda's sisters Agnes. Very little is known about the life of Benjamin F. Davis and his five brothers from 1840 until they reappear in court records in 1846 & 1847, correspondence in 1849 and Monroe County, Mississippi Census records in 1850.  Benjamin Davis did enlist as a private in Company E, Anderson's Mississippi Rifles, commanded by Lt. Colonel James Patton Anderson on December 23, 1847, at Aberdeen, when he was sixteen years old.  The rifles were stationed at Tampico.   He mustered out with the unit on June 28, 1848 at Vicksburg.   In 1850 William O. Davis age 17, Frances Marion Davis age 13 and Augustus R. Davis age 11 reside with William Taylor.  Thomas J . Davis age 16 lives with Wiley and Nancy Howell.  It is not know who Christopher Columbus Davis, age 10 lived with in 1850.

 In 1849 Benjamin F. Davis was seeking an appointment to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.  A number of his friends and relatives wrote letters to the local congressman W. S. Featherston supporting his application. E. Abbott, a friend of Benjamin Davis had this to say in his December 28, 1849 letter to Featherston: "Mr. Davis is 18 years of age, 5' 9 or 10 inches high, and will weigh about 130 pounds, a fine looking fellow.  Mr. Davis served in the battalion from this state at Tampico in the Mexican War and is one of it's best soldiers.  He is the grandson of B. W. Holliday 6 miles from Aberdeen on the Columbia Stage Road.  Mr. Davis has lost both father & mother and has 5 brothers all fine strong well behaved boys."  In another letter  Davis's uncle John Abbott wrote Featherston on December 26, 1849: "Permit me to ask a favor of you, my nephew Benjamin Franklin Davis of Monroe Co., heard that there is a vacancy from your district... if so I wish that Mr. Davis could get the situation.   He is the grandson of Capt. Benj W. Holladay of this county, nephew of W. Taylor and Wiley Howell and all of his relations live in this and the adjoining county.  He is a very promising young man about 18 years of age and has a liberal education for a youth, he has a fine appearance of good size and in every way a gentleman....His means is limited."  Benjamin Davis himself wrote Featherston a letter on December 28, 1849, from Columbus, Mississippi.  Davis noted that he had written Featherston a letter of inquiry three or four weeks ago concerning a commission in the navy but now realized  "that I am to old by one year 17 being the limited age and besides I would rather have this appointment."  The letter writing campaign was successful.  On April 3, 1850 Benjamin F. Davis acknowledged receipt of the communication from the Secretary of War dated March 16, 1850 of his conditional appointment of cadet in the service of the United States and to inform you of my acceptance of the same.

Benjamin Davis was admitted to West Point on July 1, 1850.  His age is listed at 18 years 8 months at date of admission.  Sometime during his tenure at the academy he acquired the nickname "Grimes".  During his 4th year he ranked 43rd of 71 cadets.  His best subject was engineering studies where he ranked 31st.  He accumulated 92 demerits.  In 1852 Davis ranked 53rd of 60 cadets in the third class.  His best subject was French.  He ranked 224 of 224 cadets in conduct with 200 demerits.  During his second year Davis moved up in the class standings ranking 30th of 54 cadets.  He ranked 23rd in philosophy and 26th in chemistry.  His conduct also improved as he ranked 172 of 225 cadets with 186 demerits.

In 1854 Benjamin Davis was a member of the 1st class at West Point.  Henry L. Abbott who wrote "Half Century of a West Point Class 1850 to 1854"  noted in a table titled "Record at West Point" on page 56 that Davis was Captain of Cadets.  Of the 46 cadets that graduated on July 1, 1854 Davis ranked 26 in cavalry exercises and  32nd over all with 198 demerits.  He was commissioned a brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th U. S. Infantry upon graduation.

Benjamin F. Davis returned to Aberdeen, Mississippi after graduating from West Point.  In a letter dated August 26, 1854 he accepted his commission as a brevet 2nd lieutenant offered him by the president.  The returns from Ringgold Barracks, Texas where Davis was to report to join his unit shows him on leave from July 1, 1854 through the end of October.  The November returns note his passage is delayed through New Orleans to join his regiment until December 1, 1854.    Davis finally joins the 5th Infantry at Ringgold Barracks on December 24 after 5 months leave.

Brevet 2nd Lieutenant Davis will remain at Ringgold Barracks with Company C, 5th Infantry from January to June 1855.  In June he will transfer to the 1st Dragoons, as per a war department letter dated May 23, 1855. The United States Regiment of Dragoons, organized by an Act of Congress on March 2, 1833, was an elite mounted force trained to fight on foot and on horseback with sabres, carbines and pistols.  Four West Point classmates, all from the south, William D. Pender, Alfred B. Chapman, John T. Mercer and Horace Randal will join Davis with the 1st Dragoons.  When the Civil War starts all but Davis will resign their commissions in the U. S. Army.  Pender, Mercer and Randal would fight for the Confederacy.  Chapman would take up the practice of law in California.

Benjamin F. Davis left Ringgold Barracks June 23, 1855 in route to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  While in St. Louis on July 1, 1855 he accepts his appointment as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Dragoons to date from March 3, 1855.  He arrives at Fort Leavenworth August 3rd.  At this time the post was commanded by Colonel. Edwin V. Sumner, 1st U. S. Cavalry.

On September 23, 1855 2nd Lt. Davis leaves Fort Leavenworth headed to Jefferson Barracks outside St Louis, Missouri.  By early October he is at Fort Jay, New York in route to join his regiment in New Mexico Territory.  On October 25, 1855 Davis, Chapman, and David McMurtrie Gregg (West Point Class of 1855) depart New York Harbor by sea in route to Corpus Christie, Texas in charge of a number of recruits.  Davis is the acting adjutant.

Benjamin Davis would arrive at the remote outpost of Fort Stanton in south central New Mexico on April 24, 1856.   The, fort named after Captain Henry W. Stanton, had been constructed  along the Rio Bonita River by the 1st Dragoons and the 3rd and 8th Infantry in 1855 to protect settlers from the indigenous Mescalero Apache.  The April 1856 post returns show Davis at a grazing camp near Fort Stanton since April 28, 1865.   In late May he is on a scout to the Pecos River.  By June 15 he is back at the fort.  Davis will leave Fort Stanton August 11, 1856 in route to Camp Moore (renamed Fort Buchanan in June 1857) near Calabasa Ranchero 45 miles southeast of Tucson in what is now the state of Arizona.  2nd Lt. Davis will remain at Camp Moore from November 1856 through February 1857 with Company B 1st Dragoons.  He will leave the post March 9th, 1857 on detached service in search of deserters and will not return until April 15.

On May 3, 1857 2nd Lt. Davis will leave Camp Moore.  He will participate with Company B & K, 1st Dragoons, commanded by Captain Richard S. Ewell, et al, as part of Lt. Colonel Dixon S. Miles southern column in Colonel Benjamin Bonneville's Gila River Expedition.  After marching from a depot on the Gila River for 12 days the command made up of about 400 men will encounter a band of Coyotero and Mogollon Apache on June 27, 1857.  In the fighting 24 Apache will be killed and 27 taken prisoners and all their property captured or destroyed.  Several officers under Ewell's command will also be injured including 2nd Lt. Davis who received an arrow wound in the right knee. In General Orders #14, dated November 14, 1857 Irvin McDowell noted "great credit was also given to both 2nd Lieutenants Benjamin F. Davis and Alfred B. Chapman" for their conduct in the June 27 action against the Apache.  2nd Lieutenant Davis would return to Fort Buchanan with the 1st Dragoons in August 1857.  He would remain in and around the fort the remainder of the year.

Fort Buchanan, by all accounts, was a miserable place.  The post historian noted: "It consisted of a series of temporary jackals.  The quarters lacked neatness and comfort and the houses were built of upright posts of decayed timber coated in mud.  The floors and roofs were covered with dirt and grass and the rooms were low, narrow and lacked ventilation."  Marshes surrounded the fort on three sides which exposed the garrison to mosquito borne malaria.

In early 1858 Benjamin Davis would spend considerable time on detached service away from Fort Buchanan.  During one stint in April while at the fort he would be in command of Company B, 1st Dragoons a position he had also temporarily held in the fall of 1857.  On May 11, 1858 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin F. Davis was transferred to the Department of the Pacific.  He left Fort Buchanan for Fort Tejon in southern California where the 1st Dragoons were headquartered.

To be continued.