Jonathan Lettermen would reminisce about his friend and fellow army officer Benjamin Franklin Davis when he wrote Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac in 1866. "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.”
When the Pah-Ute Campaign commenced there were three officers with the command, Brevet Major James H. Carleton commanding the expedition and Company K, 1st Dragoons and 1st Lieutenant Milton T. Carr and 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin F. Davis attached to Company B. Lieutenant David H. Hastings was assigned to Company K however he had been absent from Fort Tejon since April 12, 1858. The young lieutenant had been severely injured October 7, 1857 while in pursuit of Indians near Fort Buchanan. “While making a charge down a steep rocky hill, Lt Hastings was thrown from his horse with great violence, had his leg and collar bone broken, and his chest so severely crushed, that for sometime his life was despaired for. His injuries necessitated an extended sick leave.
Lt. Hastings was well enough by January 1860 to be promoted Captain on January 9, 1860 and transferred to Company D, 1st Dragoons to replace Captain Edward H. Fitzgerald. This left an opening for a 1st lieutenant in Company K and Grimes Davis was promoted to that rank as of January 9, 1860. The word of Davis promotion appears to not have reached him until early July 1860.
Following his promotion 1st Lieutenant Benjamin Davis, took a well deserved 60 day leave of absence from July 30 to September 25, the first leave of absence he had enjoyed since joining the ranks of the 5th U. S. Infantry at Ringgold Barracks on December 24, 1854. 1st Lieutenant Davis would not return to Fort Tejon to officially join Company K until September 25, 1860. With steamship traveling along and up both coasts and the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama B. F. Davis would have probably had time to go to Mississippi and spend time with his extended family and brothers who still lived there, however it is not known what he did or where he went during his time away from the army. One thing is certain, much had changed in the young man’s life since December 1854 and he was receiving well deserved recognition from his superiors as a promising young officer in the United States Army.
Upon his return to Fort Tejon Grimes Davis was appointed AAQM and ACS for the post. He would continue to exercise these duties until April 25, 1861 when he was replaced by the regimental quartermaster Henry B. Davidson. While 1st Lt. Davis was occupied with his quartermaster and commissary responsibilities his comrade 1st Lt. Milton T. Carr was assigned the daily duty of commanding the 1st Dragoons Regimental Band and acting as the post adjutant, who was responsible for assisting the commanding officer with correspondence and issuing orders.
A number of changes took place in the Department of California in early 1861. The Departments of Oregon and California were merged together into the Department of the Pacific on January 15. Brevet Brigadier General and Colonel, 2nd U. S. Cavalry Albert Sidney Johnston, assumed command with headquarters in San Francisco. There were 143 officers and 2,245 enlisted men present for duty, in what was now the Department of the Pacific, as of December 30, 1860.
There had been sectional tensions in California, particularly in the southern part of the state for years, both before and after it had been admitted to the Union September 9, 1850. As tension continued unabated, in isolated sections of California, Colonel A. S. Johnston continued to do his duty as a military officer however, in part, because of his strong ties to the south including his adopted state of Texas, which had succeeded on February 1, 1861, he was replaced by Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner on March 23, 1861. Johnston would eventually resign from the United States Army May 3, 1861 and enter Confederate service as one of their fledgling army’s highest ranking officers. He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh April 6, 1862.
On April 15,1861 when President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops tensions in Southern California rose. Captan Hancock was concerned about the safety of the vast quantity of government military stores and armaments he had in Los Angeles, as he was the only officer on hand. Upon assuming command, of the Department of the Pacific on April 25, Sumner noted “There is a strong Union feeling with the majority of the people of this State, but the secessionists are much the most active and zealous party, which gives them more influence than they ought to have from their numbers.” On April 29 Sumner ordered Fort Mojave abandoned and and the garrison sent to Los Angeles to make a show of force and assist Hancock. On May 3 Special Order No 71 directed “Company K, 1st Dragoons, will be detached, from Fort Tejon, and will proceed and take post at Los Angeles. Major James Carleton was directed to establish a camp at the most eligible position in the immediate vicinity of Los Angeles for his dragoons and the companies of infantry in route from Fort Mojave.
A number of Grimes Davis’s classmates who were with the 1st Dragoons, including William Dorsey Pender, Alfred B. Chapman, John T. Mercer and Horace Randall, resigned from the United States Army in the winter and early spring of 1861. All except Chapman donned Confederate Gray. Officers of the Army were required by General Order No. 13, issued by the War Department April 30, 1861, “to take and subscribe anew the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.” Special mention will be made of the failure to comply with the requirements of the order. Lieutenants Milton T. Carr and Benjamin Franklin Davis honored both the oath of allegiance they had sworn to uphold at West Point and the one mandated by the April 30 order and stayed in the United States Army.
Fort Tejon was closed, for all intents and purposes, on May 11, 1861. The troops manning garrison were moved closer to Los Angeles. Carleton, Davis and the rank and file of Company K left the post on that date in route to the City of Angles. On the 14th Major Carleton and “fifty mounted troopers from Company K” reportedly “trotted into Los Angeles, to the immense relief of Captain Hancock and the Union sympathizers in town. The officers and enlisted men of companies B and K 1st Dragoons were transferred to Camp Fitzgerald which was “on the southern outskirts of (Los Angeles), in line-of-sight with Captain Hancock’s Quartermaster building…Its location was at the base of the hill between 1st and 2nd Streets, on Front Street (now Broadway), and it initially consisted of eleven tents in a cleared area 100 yards wide and 150 yards long. ” They arrived there on May 15. This enabled “soldiers in blue to patrol the streets of Los Angeles”. A “Grand Union Demonstration” was held in Los Angeles on May 25. Union sympathizers “from as far away as San Pedro, guarded by army dragoons in full dress, gathered in the Plaza. The 1st Dragoon Band struck up a march. Civilians and soldiers marched toward the courthouse where Phineas Banning spoke as did Major Carleton and Captain Hancock. The dragoons “with their glittering sabres and burnished carbines” added to the dignity of the occasion”.
The most eventful thing that probably happened to Lt. B. F. Davis while stationed at Camp Fitzgerald in the spring of 1861 occurred on May 23 when he had a run in with Company K’s farrier Morris Hurley. Private Hurley had enlisted in the 1st Dragoons in Boston, Massachusetts on September 8, 1857. His records of enlistment show him as a twenty-one year old blacksmith born in County Cork, Ireland, who stood five foot eight and one half inches tall, had grey eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. If Hurley was 5’ 8” tall he would have been about as tall as Grimes Davis who, at age 18 in 1849, was 5’ 9 or 10” tall and weighted about 130 pounds.
Davis’s run in with Hurley is described in Three Dragoons on Trial a July 26, 2016 post by Will and John Gorenfield author’s of Kearny’s Dragoons Out West The Birth of the U. S. Cavalry. The two historians wrote: `It seems on the morning of 23 May 1861, Lt. Benjamin Davis found Farrier Hurley drunk. Hurley got into an altercation with Davis who had a sergeant arrest him. While in the guard tent, Hurley became loud and ill mannered, telling the other prisoners to leave the tent. Hearing the commotion Lieutenant Davis entered the tent and told Hurley to stop making noise. Hurley called the lieutenant a “damn son of a bitch,” ordering him out of the guard tent and threatening his life. Davis testified the drunken farrier began to shove him, first with his hands and then threatening death by pointing the muzzle of a Sharps carbine at Davis.
Hurley denied aiming the muzzle at Davis or threatening to kill him. He admitted to using the butt of the carbine to strike the lieutenant and produced witnesses to give his side of the fight. Unfortunately, most of the disturbance occurred inside of the guard tent and the prisoner’s witnesses did not observe what took place.
The lieutenant claimed he left the tent and ordered a sergeant of the guard to take a file of men to the tent and secure Hurley, but they did not do so as they were afraid of the belligerent Hurley. A frustrated Davis stormed back into the guard tent and attempted to seize the carbine. He was not successful. The sergeant and his men were again ordered by Davis to secure Hurley. The prisoner once again threaten the guard, fought them, lost the struggle, was retrained, and then tied up and taken to the city jail.
The Army charged Hurley with conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. Hurley wasn’t charged with a violation of Articles 7 and 9 of the Articles of War with mutiny and striking a superior officer, each of which allow for the imposition of the death penalty. On 5 July 1861, the general court-martial panel, headed by Capt. John W. Davidson, 1st Dragoons, found Hurley guilty of the specifications and charge. It ordered him to suffer a forfeiture of pay and to be confined under guard for six months. During his confinement the farrier was to carry each day in prison a pack weighing fifty pounds.
It is unlikely that Hurley served the entire sentence. Skilled farriers were difficult to come by, all the more so during wartime. Consequently, Maj. James Carleton testified Hurley, when sober, was a valuable soldier in his company. In the fall, Company K sailed for the East Coast and the civil war. Army records reveal Hurley served his full five year term enlistment and was honorably discharged in Mechanicsville, Virginia on September 8, 1862.
In June the dragoons at Camp Fitzgerald were joined by Companies I and F of the 6th Infantry who arrived from Fort Mojave and San Diego. Lieutenant Davis was relieved as AAQM and ACS on June 20. He was then appointed post adjutant and took over commanded of the regimental band from Milton Carr. Camp Fitzgerald, which would be moved a total of three times during its short tenure as an army post at the start of the Civil War was relocated two miles south of Los Angeles adjacent to the San Pedro Road. The new camp site reportedly was able to accommodate a larger number of troops and provided better grazing for the horses.
Benjamin Davis continued his duties as post adjutant and dragoons regimental band commander into July 1861. On July 14 Lt. Davis left Camp Fitzgerald on a special assignment and made a trip back to Fort Tejon to determine if there was any validity to the reports of citizens accusing Indians in the area of depredations and “threatening to make war”. On July 23 he submitted a report of his findings to Major Carleton. The report reads as follows:
Near Los Angeles, Cal., July 23. 1861
Brevet Major Carleton,
Commanding Camp Fitzgerald near Los Angeles:
Major: I have the honor to report that in compliance with your orders I left this camp the morning of the 14th and proceeded to Fort Tejon for the purpose of ascertaining the facts concerning certain reports made by the people of the vicinity that the Indians were committing depredations and threatening to make war on them. I arrived at that place on the 28th and made careful inquiries of Messers. Alexander, Barbee, Halpin, and other residents of the canon. From their statement it appears that when the troops left the fort the Indians came about in considerable number to pick up old rags, shoes, &c., as is usual with them in such cases, and Lieutenant Carr, the officer left in charge seems to have had some difficulty in getting rid of them. A few days afterwards two or three of these Indians got drunk at the “Yews” and on their way home attempted to throw a lariat over the head of a man whom they met coming up the can n a buggy. They also tried to break into the house of a Mrs. Welt, who lives below the fort, but she easily frightened them off by firing a pistol out the window. This seems to have been the extent of their depredations, and since that time they have been quiet and friendly. The apprehension that the people are under from the Indians may be judged of by the fact that most every family has them employed either as house servants or laborers, and they are well aware that it is in their power to prevent all trouble in the future by simply prohibiting the sale of liquor by any member of the community. I then proceeded to the settlements on the slough or South Fork of Kern River to inquire into the threatened depredations in those quarters. The story that these people tell is that an Indian boy told a Mrs Cottrell or Cottring that the Indians from the reservation were coming down when the corn got ripe to eat it up, and were then going to kill all the whites. This woman lives near her father, an old man named Bonny, who has also another daughter, Mrs Greenlis, who lives eight or ten miles down the slough. The old man becoming alarmed sent for this daughter, which caused the panic to spread to two or three other families in the neighborhood. They collected at his house and remained together three or four days, when, their fear having subsided, they returned to their homes. According to their own showing this is the only foundation for the reports which they circulated and the petition which they signed praying for protection. It is possible that some idle Indian boy may have amused himself by playing upon the fears of the women, but I believe the whole story to be a fabrication. Mr. Gale, an old mountaineer, who lives within a mile of Mr. Bonny, says he heard nothing of the matter until the people had returned to their homes, and James McKenzie, who lives near Greenlis, makes the same statement. I returned by the way of the reservation and had an interview with Mr. Bagchart, the newly appointed agent. He says that these reports about the Indians are false; that they are contented with their condition, and that he is well satisfied with their conduct. He also stated that he wanted no troops for protection against Indians. In this connection I would respectfully refer the general to the report which the gentleman has recently made to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs on this very point. The truth is that the people in the vicinity of Fort Tejon have lived so long upon Government patronage that they now find it difficult to do without it, and they will use every means to have troops restationed at that place.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
B. F. DAVIS,
In late July 1861 the headquarters of the 1st U. S. Dragoons was moved from Los Angeles to Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory. This did not affect Companies B & K who remained at Camp Fitzgerald near Los Angeles. On July 30, 1861 Lieutenant Benjamin F. Davis was promoted to Captain upon the dismissal from the service on the same date of Henry B. Davidson who had been the regimental quartermaster for the 1st Dragoons since December 5, 1858. 2nd Lieutenant George B. Sanford, who was attached to Company K but who had yet to join the regiment, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant filling Davis’s slot.
The 2nd U. S. Dragoons were also going through a transformation in July 1861. Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, who had 28 years of service with the dragoons, commanded the regiment and the Department of Utah from his headquarters at Camp Crittenden, Utah Territory. In late July the military forces at Camp Crittenden which included 4 companies of the 2nd U. S. Dragoons, 3 companies of the 4th U. S. Artillery and 2 companies of the Tenth Infantry were ordered to vacate the post and head east. They left there July 27 in route to Washington D.C. After leaving Fort Laramie Colonel Cooke left the group and took the stagecoach to Fort Leavenworth. On November 28 he assumed command of the regular cavalry serving with the Army of the Potomac outside Washington D.C.
On August 3, 1861 the 1st U. S. Dragoons, the oldest, longest serving mounted regiment in the United States Army would be renamed the 1st U. S. Cavalry. Many in the ranks of the Dragoons who had a proud history of service to the country were not happy with the new designation. The 2nd U. S. Dragoons would become the 2nd U. S. Cavalry. The original 1st and 2nd U. S. Cavalry, which dated from 1855, became the 4th U. S. Cavalry and 5th U.S. Cavlary.
To be continued.
Most of the information in this post comes from Returns of U S Military Posts and from the Returns of the 1st U. S. Dragoons, and the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Additional information is extracted from newspapers, (Three Dragoons on Trial, July 26, 2016, www.achargeofthedragoons.com) and Los Angeles in the Civil.