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.
Lt. Colonel Miles lead the southern column of about four hundred men, which was composed of detachments from Companies B, D, G and K of the 1st Dragoons, Company K of the Mounted Rifles, Companies C, F, and K of the 3rd Infantry and Company B of the 8th Infanty. The column was accompanied by a group of guides and spies made up of Puebla Indians and Mexicans under the command of 2nd Lt. Alexander McD. McCook (West Point Class of 1852). Miles split his command into 2 wings. He commanded the left wing. Richard S. Ewell commanded the right. The columns were advancing westward from Fort Fillmore along both sides of the Gila River in search of Apache. According to official reports, "after a march of twelve days from the depot on the Gila River" Ewell's troops, which separated from Miles column on June 24, "came upon a band of Coyotero and Mogollon Apache" at their village along the Gila River near Mount Turnbull on June 27, 1857. Ewell's forces charged the Indian camp "killed twenty-four; took twenty-seven prisoners, captured or destroyed their property; and rescued a Mexican boy from captivity." The battle was over with in less than an hour. Two officers and 7 enlisted men of Ewell's command were wounded including 2nd. Lt. Benjamin F. Davis who was "shot in the knee in a personal encounter with an Apache". Ewell noted in his report: "the wounded were promptly attended by Assistant Surgeon John M. Haden before the action was over". Official reports also indicate "great credit given by commanding officers to the following named officers and men: Alfred B. Chapman and Benjamin F. Davis". Davis's wound would put him on sick leave at Fort Thorn until August 5 when he would return with his company to Fort Buchanan.
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.