Monday, September 14, 2020

A Valiant Coup: Colonel B F. Davis and the Exodus of the Union Cavalry From Harpers Ferry



In the book " The United States Cavalry: An Illustrated History, 1776-1944, Gregory Irwin wrote: "Davis's Valiant Coup compared favorably with anything Stuart had ever done, and it stands as an unrecognized omen of what was to come." Yet 158 years later this amazing accomplishment is still overshadowed by the magnitude of the losses when the Union Garrison surrendered at Harpers Ferry, Virginia on the morning of September 15, 1862 as well the losses at Antietam on September 17, 1862, and seems, to some extent, to have been relegated to the position of a footnote in the study of the Maryland Campaign. Maybe it is time to explore this subject once again and bring it out of darkness into the light.

What is the "Coup" Irwin refers to anyway? It is described below.

On the evening of September 14, 1862 the approximately 14,000 United States soldiers of all arms who made up the federal garrison at Harpers Ferry were surrounded on all sides by a much larger force of Confederates under the overall command of Major General Thomas J. Jackson. They were "trapped" in an indefensible town with no hope of escape. An ignominious surrender seemed inevitable. Or so it seemed.

At least one man in the town, Colonel Benjamin Franklin Davis, commander of the Eighth New York Volunteer Cavalry, had different ideas, however. He had no intention of throwing in the towel. He was reportedly overheard telling the commanding officer of the garrison, Colonel Dixon S. Miles, a regular army officer he had know since 1856 when both were stationed at Fort Fillmore, New Mexico Territory, that "he would never surrender his force to a living person without a fight." As early as the afternoon of September 13, after Maryland Heights had been evacuated, he "was busy, for he was going to take his regiment out, and not stay there and be gobbled up by the rebels without making an effort to get away." He was actively engaged in getting support for and making arrangements to cut his way out. "To be compelled to surrender without a fight was not Colonel Davis's purpose." The colonel’s education, training, experience, natural aggressiveness and bravery made the thought of surrender totally repugnant to him. He was “tough, daring and resourceful” and was not about to wind up in some Confederate prison if he could help it.

Colonel Benjamin Davis, nicknamed "Grimes" by his West Point classmates had not come to Harpers Ferry to surrender and had no intentions of doing so. He consulted with at least some if not all of the other commanders of the six cavalry regiments at Harpers Ferry. They agreed they should make an attempt to get out of the beleaguered town. Davis then went to speak with Miles, and implored him to a give his permission for the movement noting "the horses and equipment would be of great value to the enemy if captured, and that an attempt to reach McClellan ought therefore to be made". Miles was reluctant to do so at first but finally late on the afternoon of September 14, he gave his permission for the attempted breakout, in hopes the cavalry might be able to reach George B. McClellan's Army, which was known to be in Maryland, and that he would come to the garrisons rescue before it was to late.

Once a decision had been made Colonel Miles had his Assistant Adjutant General, Lieutenant H. C. Reynold draft the orders for the cavalry to leave Harpers Ferry.

Headquarters,
Harpers Ferry, Va., 14 Sept., 1862

SPECIAL ORDER No.120.

1st. - The cavalry forces at this post, except detached orderlies, will make immediate preparations to leave here at eight o’clock tonight, without baggage, wagons, ambulances or lead horses; crossing the Potomac over the pontoon bridge, and taking the Sharpsburg Road.

2nd. - The senior officer, Colonel Voss, will assume command of the whole; which will form in the following order: the right at the Quartermaster’s Office; the left up Shenandoah Street, without noise or loud command, in the following order: Cole’s Cavalry, Twelfth Illinois Cavalry, Eighth New York Cavalry, Seventh Squadron Rhode Island Cavalry and First Maryland Cavalry. No other instructions can be given to the Commander for his guidance than to force his way through the enemy’s lines and join our own army.

By order of Colonel Miles,
H. C. Reynolds,Lieutenant and A.A.G.

Once the orders had been issued cavalry commanders went to their respective regiment to inform the rank and file of the decision. When the Seventh Rhode Island heard the news about four o’clock Major Corliss also reportedly told his men that by the “next morning they would either be in “Pennsylvania, or in hell, or on the way to Richmond.” In some case’s men were given the option of staying at Harpers Ferry when the rest of the regiment left. There is no evidence well, able bodied men with a fit horse chose to stay however. The soldiers quickly prepared to leave Harpers Ferry. Horses were groomed and fed what forage was available and led to water. Saddle girths were checked. The men discarded all non-essential items including, tents, overcoats, blankets, extra paraphernalia and accouterments. They were issued extra ammunition. They might have eaten what food they had available and filled their canteens with water.

The individual regiments began to gather at the rendezvous point on Shenandoah Street around 8 o’clock at night. Some of the troops probably also lined up on Potomac Street. By then it was dark. Commanders whispered last minute instructions to their men. Henry Norton wrote “We were drawn up in line, and our sutler, knowing that he could not get out with his goods, went down the line and gave the boys what tobacco he had. Before we crossed the pontoon bridge each captain gave orders to his company that each man must follow his file leader and that no other orders would be given.

Each regiment formed in a column by two’s, in the order specified by Mile’s Special Order 120. They began walking across the bridge, between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m., behind at least two guides who knew the country well. One of the guides was Second Lieutenant Hanson T. C. Green of Company A, Cole’s Cavalry, who had been seriously wounded at Leesburg on September 2, “when he was struck a crushing blow to the face with the butt end of a large army revolver, and across the head with a sabre.” Another guide was Thomas Noakes of Martinsburg, Virginia who had been employed for some time as a guide and scout by Major General Nathanial P. Banks and others. Noakes was reportedly “tall and athletic, brave and cruel, a Spartan in his indifference to physical comfort…a man of great prowess, and a valuable adjunct to the brigade.” Some participants noted that Colonel B. F. Davis and Lt. Colonel Hasbrouck Davis, of the Twelfth Illinois Cavalry were in the advance directly behind the guides. They were followed by the squadron of Cole’s Cavalry, some of whom had lashed their sabers to their saddles in an attempt to reduce the noise they made.

The rushing water of the Potomac and the sod and dirt placed on the bridge’s wooden planking helped muffle the sound of the horse’s hooves as the cavalry crossed the span. When the head of the column reached the Maryland shore they turned left onto the “Harpers Ferry-Sharpsburg Road”, also referred to as “the John Brown Road” that ran between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath and the bluff at the base of Maryland Heights and spurred their horse to a gallop. The column was well spread out as it moved northward in the inky darkness. It took almost two hours for the group of horsemen to cross the Potomac. Captain William H. Grafflin of the First Maryland Cavalry, who brought up the rear, testified before the Harpers Ferry Commission that he did not start crossing the river until about 10:30 p.m.

One mishap occurred aa the column crossed into Maryland. Some men from Company D of the Twelfth Illinois turned to the right toward Sandy Hook after getting across the Potomac. They quickly discovered their error and turned around after being fired upon by a few Confederate pickets. It is unclear if they all rejoined the rest of the column or if some re-crossed the pontoon bridge back into Harpers Ferry which they probably could not have done until the main column was all across.

Not long after crossing the river the lead elements of the main column also encountered a few Confederate pickets, from the 13th Mississippi Infantry of Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Brigade, which had been left on Maryland Heights with two Parrott rifles when Lafayette McLaws pulled the rest of his command off the hilltop and took them to Pleasant Valley to confront the Union 6th Corps which was in his rear. Thomas Bell wrote “after a spirited response from Lieutenant Green, in which the enemy retreated up the road to Maryland Heights, the column was under full headway.” Another member of the Eighth New York wrote in a letter to his father “we came to the rebel pickets and they were so scart (scared) they could not fire so we bound and gagged them and on we went. We passed within 80 rods of their cannon on both sides of us but they had no idea of our trying to escape and we rode by safe.

The column followed the Harpers Ferry - Sharpsburg road along the river for about a mile. While doing so they tried forming up as rapidly as possible by four, which was probably easier said than done. The road then took a sharp turn to the right and a steep climb up to the top of the Maryland Heights. One soldier noted the climb was so steep “that he had to grasp the mane of his horse to stay safe”. The column quickly became strung out. Henry Norton wrote “the only way we could tell how far we were from our file leaders was by the horses shoes striking against the stones in the road. Sometimes we would be twenty yards from our file leaders, and then we would come up full drive; then we would hear some swearing. That was the way we went for several miles”, sometimes on the road and other times across fields and open country. Thomas Bell also noted “the increasing pace of the head of the column making it difficult for those in the rear to retain their proper intervals. Until we reached Sharpsburg it was everyman for himself. The only clew was the clatter of hooves” and the rattle of sabers. “To those in the rear of the column the direction of these sounds was not easy to determine”.

At the intersection of the Harpers Ferry – Sharpsburg Road and the Lime Kiln Road the column veered to the left and at times followed the route of the Lime Kiln Road toward Antietam Iron Works. When not on the roads the column went “across, flats, over fences and through creeks.” At the iron works the horsemen crossed the Antietam, not far upstream of its confluence with the Potomac and then took the Harpers Ferry – Sharpsburg Road again, northward toward Sharpsburg. The head of the column arrived at the outskirts of the town around midnight. Campfires helped the men avoid the bivouacs of the Confederates that had retreated from South Mountain late on the 14th. Norton reported “at Sharpsburg, the advance made a halt for about half an hour, so we could close up and let our horses get their wind.

On nearing Sharpsburg, and thinking they might be in the vicinity of the Army of the Potomac orders were given to reply to any challenge that might be made. William Luffs of the Twelfth Illinois wrote, “the night had now become starlight, and as we approached the town, several cavalry vedettes were discovered in the road. To the challenge, “Who comes there?” the answer was “Friends of the Union.” This reply was unsatisfactory for the pickets fired upon the column. But without effect. A charge was ordered and promptly executed, driving the pickets in and through the principal street of Sharpsburg on the road toward Hagerstown.

As the Union cavalry headed northward out of Sharpsburg on the Hagerstown Pike the glow of campfires could be seen in the distance. Sounds carried through the night air including the loud voices of officers giving orders and the dull rumbling of wagon and limber wheels against the roadway, which indicated enemy camps could be nearby. “A civilian informed an officer of the 8th New York that the column was going right into Lee’s Army”. In actuality, Colonel Henry L. Benning’s Confederate Infantry of Brigadier General Robert Toombs Brigade and the Army of Northern Virginia’s reserve artillery under Brigadier General William N. Pendleton were both moving southward on the Hagerstown Pike toward Sharpsburg during the early morning hours of September 15 as the Union forces traveled north. The regimental officers and guides stopped the column to discuss the situation. The guides selected an alternate route, “a circuitous path through the lanes and by-roads, woods and fields” to the north and west of the Hagerstown Pike. The column marched steadily and silently threading their way between the camps of the foe” until it emerged at a point on the Boonsboro-Williamsport turnpike about two miles east of Williamsport. While Colonel Voss remained the titular commander of the cavalry column it is pretty evident by this time that Grimes Davis had assumed tactical command of the same and “took charge when trouble loomed”.

William Luffs of the Twelfth Illinois noted, “It was now just in the gray of morning. Fires of a large camp of the enemy could be seen, near Williamsport.” Henry Norton wrote, “just before we got to the pike we halted in a piece of woods. As the advance of the column approached the pike the rumbling of wheels in the distance toward Hagerstown was heard. Colonel (Davis) went ahead to reconnoiter, and when he got to the road, he soon found out it was a rebel wagon train principally loaded with ammunition and escorted by infantry with a detachment of cavalry in the rear.” The ordnance train was commanded by “London-born” First Lieutenant Francis W. Dawson, who was an assistant ordnance officer with Longstreet’s command. “It was an anxious moment, but Colonel (B. F.) Davis of the 8th New York and Lt. Colonel (Hasbrouck) Davis of the 12th Illinois, who were at the head of the column, were equal to the occasion.” The Eighth New York was immediately formed in line facing the road on the north side, the Twelfth Illinois in the same order south of the road, the Maryland and Rhode Island Cavalry were held in reserve; while Colonel Davis with a squadron of his regiment, advanced and took possession of the road so as to intercept the enemy. “All was done in silence, and it was still too dark for our troops, concealed in the timber which skirted the road to be seen”. The concealed Union horsemen watched Dawson and a small body of cavalry appear over a hill that rose to their right, followed by the ordnance wagons. As Dawson and the other unsuspecting Confederates rode toward the concealed Union troopers Colonel Davis reportedly quietly told his command “don’t shoot boys”.

“When the head of the train came up” Colonel Davis ordered it to halt, which it did without a shot being fired.” Dawson later wrote “the gloss was not yet off my uniform, and I could not suppose that such a command, shouted with a big oath, was intended for me.” When the command was repeated Dawson road forward and found himself at the entrance of a narrow lane which was filled with men on horseback. He could not tell if they were friend or foe in the predawn darkness. He confronted the Union cavalryman who he thought had ordered him to stop. “How dare you halt an officer in this manner. The trooper responded surrender and dismount. You are my prisoner.” When Dawson asked who he was speaking to the cavalryman reportedly answered, “Colonel B. F. Davis, 8th New York Cavalry.” Colonel Davis then ordered Captain William Frisbie, Company D, Eighth New York to take the train, “turn it right on the turnpike that ran to Greencastle, Pennsylvania and run it through to that place at the rate of eight miles per hour”. Frisbie purportedly “innocently” asked Colonel Davis where the road was, “and he was peremptorily ordered to “find it, and be off, without delay”.

Charles D. Grace described the capture of Longstreet’s train from the Confederate perspective in an October 16, 1897 letter to Ezra Carmen head of the Antietam Battlefield Board. He wrote, “If I remember correctly there were no guard for Longstreet’s train. The only guard, if guard at all were the details sent back to cook rations and a few on the sick list. We passed through Hagerstown and were nearing Williamsport about half past four o’clock a.m., on the 15th. The moon would occasionally show itself brilliantly through the drifting clouds. At a point about a mile east of Williamsport at a knoll of timber on the south side of the pike a road supposed to be the river road intersected the pike at right angles. The knoll on which the timber stood had been graded down to the west side to a level with the pike. To the west as far as the river or Williamsport was cleared land. As I came up to the junction of the road I found the men stopping and noticing some cavalry back behind the knoll, perfectly concealed from view, approaching from the east. I demanded to know by what authority the men were halted – the train still moving on – when two or three cavalrymen threw their guns down on me, saying “by this authority” their barrels glistening brightly. I replied that authority was sufficient. Just at that moment Colonel B. F. Davis came up, his horse on the gallop, his pistol in his right hand and in a perpendicular position above his shoulder, remarking to the men, “stand fast men and we will cabbage a hell of a lot of them.” I said being a little petulant. “Yes sir, I hope you will have them do so for General Jeb Stuart will have you in our condition in a few minutes as he is on his way this side of Hagerstown. The remark was either fortunate or unfortunate because he immediately ordered the men to throw down the rail fence on the west side of the road, at the same time ordering the prisoners, who numbered sixty-one, to move out and get in the wagons, which they did of course, and as soon as the prisoners were in the wagons Colonel Davis ordered four men to ride up by each team. As soon as everything was ready, the order was given to move off as fast as the teams could be made to travel”.

Elements of the First Virginia Cavalry harassed the rear of the Union column and it’s captured wagon train as it sped toward Greencastle. The Union rear guard was able to fend them off. The Virginians were not able to recapture any of the wagons or prisoners or inflict any casualties on the jaded Union horsemen. The command with their prisoners and captured wagons reached Greencastle about 9:00 a.m., on the 15th after riding fifty miles in twelve hours. The exhausted, hungry cavalrymen were warmly welcomed by the town residents, who plied them with every type of food imaginable. A trooper from the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was in town when the column arrived wrote, “I saw the dusty procession marching into Greencastle, and had the honor of being placed, loaded revolver in hand, on the hind seat of an omnibus, to stand guard over the rebel prisoners, whom I conducted to the county jail”.

Not long after the Union Cavalry column arrived in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the news was telegraphed to Harrisburg and Baltimore. The first telegram announcing the columns arrival in Pennsylvania was dated 8:00 a.m., from Greencastle. It noted “sixteen hundred of our cavalry are coming into town – they cut their way out from the neighborhood of Harpers Ferry”. At 9:00 a.m., Governor Curtin, who was in Harrisburg, telegraphed a message to Edward M. Stanton the Secretary of War; “United States Cavalry, from Harpers Ferry, has arrived at Greencastle, under command of Colonel Davis, Eighth New York. The force is 1,300 strong. They left Harpers Ferry at 9 o’clock last evening. One mile from Williamsport, they captured Longstreet’s ordinance train, comprising 40 wagons; also brought in 40 prisoners. Fighting has been going on for two days at Harpers Ferry. Colonel Davis says he thinks Colonel Miles will surrender this morning. Colonel Miles desires his condition made known to the War Department.

The breakout of the Union Cavalry from the surrounded town of Harpers Ferry on September 14, 1862 succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. It compares favorably with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s breakout from Fort Donelson with his Confederate Cavalry, prior to the forts surrender, in February 1862. While there is no question according to Special Order 120, that Colonel Davis was not in “official” command of the cavalry expedition, at least on paper, there is ample evidence that he had a great deal to do with initiating the idea and persuading Colonel Miles to allow the column to depart. In route he was instrumental in helping ensure the success of the venture and in the capture of Longstreet’s train. William H. Nichols of the Seventh Rhode Island would pen words that were reiterated by many others authors and army officers after the successful breakout. Nichols noted, “much of the success of the expedition was due to Colonel B. F. Davis of the Eighth New York Cavalry” who was afterwards recommended by Major General McClellan, for the brevet of Major in the regular army for “conspicuous conduct in the management of the withdrawal of the cavalry from Harpers Ferry”. In a September 23, 1862 telegram to Major General Henry Halleck, General-in-Chief of the United States Army, McClellan wrote, Captain B. F. Davis merits the notice of the government. I recommend him for the brevet of major. The honorary rank was confirmed to date from September 15, 1862.

It is unclear what the losses were in the ranks of the cavalry regiments that broke out of Harpers Ferry on September 14th, 1862, although the Eighth New York regimental history reported an enlisted man missing at Williamsport of the 15th. Some men were “lost” in route but many reportedly eventually rejoined their commands. A number of soldiers stayed in Harpers Ferry, either because they were sick or because they did not have a serviceable horse. The official records indicate the Twelfth Illinois reported two enlisted men wounded and four officers and 153 enlisted men missing. The Eighth New York’s casualties included 5 officers and 87 men missing. The First Maryland Cavalry lost 23 men when Miles surrendered. The men captured at Harpers Ferry were paroled. Many, including eighty members of the Eighth New York, wound up at Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois where they remained until they were exchanged in late November 1862.

Stonewall Jackson was deeply disappointed when he arrived in Harpers Ferry on September 15, to find the Union Cavalry gone. The New York Daily Herald reported on September 18, 1862, “His first question, after glancing over the eight thousand infantry drawn up unarmed in line before him, was, “where is all the cavalry you had”? And on being informed that they had escaped the previous night, en masse, he was silent, but his face, and the countenance of the rebels about him, wore a look of disappointment and chagrin.” He purportedly cried, impossible! I would rather have had them than anything else in this place.” James Ewell Brown Stuart was no happier than Jackson, in part, because he had admonished Lafayette McLaws to watch the Harpers Ferry-Sharpsburg Road. Captain William Blackford, a member of Stuarts staff wrote,” To think of all the fine horses they carried off, the saddles, revolvers, and carbines of the best kind, and the spurs, all of which would have fallen to our share, and the very thing we so much needed, was enough to vex a saint”.

In his September 21, 1862 report to President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee would play down the escape of the Union Cavalry from Harpers Ferry and the loss of Longstreet’s wagons when he wrote “unfortunately on September 14, the enemy cavalry at Harper’s Ferry evaded our forces, crossed the Potomac into Maryland, passed up through Sharpsburg, where they encountered our pickets, and intercepted on their line of retreat General Longstreet’s train. Some historians contend the loss of Longstreet’s ammunition had an adverse impact on Lee’s forces during the Battle of Antietam. The enemy captured and destroyed forty-five wagons.” Lt. Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, Chief of Ordnance for the Army of Northern Virginia would later write “the loss of forty-five wagons” loaded with ammunition and subsistence” had been a severe blow at such a distance from our base at Culpeper, Virginia. “On the 16th I was ordered to collect all empty wagons and go to Harpers Ferry and take charge of the surrendered ammunition; bringing back to Sharpsburg all suiting our calibres”.



Portions of this blog are extracted from the draft of a biography about Benjamin F Davis that is in in the process of being written by your truly titled "An Ornament to His Country". The source document from which this is extracted is copiously footnoted. Stay tuned!





















Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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




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:

Camp Fitzgerald
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,
    First Lieutenant,&c. 



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.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

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





On December 27, 1859 Benjamin F. Davis left Fort Tejon for Los Angeles on detached service.  He was back at the fort by January 10, 1860.  On the 10th Davis in command of thirty rank and file from Company B, which formed part of a squadron of 1st Dragoons commanded by Captain John W. Davidson, left the post for Los Angeles.  They arrived there on the 11th after having traveled 105 miles in 33 hours.  On the 12th the squadron attended the funeral of Brevet Major Edward H. Fitzgerald, Captain 1st Dragoons who had died On January 9, 1860 of tuberculosis at Los Angeles. Davidson and his squadron were back at Fort Tejon by January 18. 

Brevet Major James H. Carleton, Company K, 1st Dragoons and Benjamin Davis left Fort Tejon on January 19 in route back to Los Angeles. Both men were assigned to court martial duty at Fort Yuma in accordance with Special Order No. 2, issued January 9 by the Department of the Pacific in San Francisco, which “orders a detail for court martial at Fort Yuma”.  On Monday January 31 the young 2nd lieutenant left Los Angeles in the company of James Carleton, Lieutenant Julian McAllister and Lieutenant Chandler headed to Fort Yuma. Lt. Davis and his comrades  would be relieved from court martial duty by mid February and he would be back at Fort Tejon by February 27.   Upon his return to the fort Davis was put in charge of Company B.  Milton Carr replaced Davis in command of the company in early March.

On February 29, 1860 Dr. Jonathan Letterman arrived at Fort Tejon.  He had been assigned to the post as an assistant surgeon.  Letterman, the son of Dr. Jonathan Leatherman and his wife Anna Ritchie, was born in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Canonsburg, December 11, 1824.  He attended Jefferson College and Jefferson Medical School, graduating in March 1849.  In June 1849 he joined the United States Army as an assistant surgeon.  Dr Lettermen served in Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico Territory and Virginia before being assigned to Fort Tejon in 1860.   

In April 1860 Company B and K, 1st Dragoons left Fort Tejon under the overall command of Major James H. Carleton to conduct a campaign against the Paiute (Pah-Ute) Indians in the Mojave Desert.  They would not return to the post until July.  Lieutenants Milton T. Carr and Benjamin F. Davis accompanied the detachment.  Dr. Jonathan Letterman went along as assistant surgeon.

The objective of the campaign was to punish the Paiutes who were accused of murdering three white men in the desert along the Salt Lake Trail which ran from Salt Lake City through Las Vegas to San Bernardino and terminated at Los Angeles.  The first casualty was cattle herder Robert Wilburn, who was killed near the Mojave River on January 23, 1860.  The second killings occurred at Bitter Springs on March 18 when two teamsters, Thomas Williams and his brother-in-law Jehu Jackson, were reportedly murdered by the Indians.  The killings caused an uproar in Los Angeles.  Citizens petitioned California’s Governor  John G. Downey and the commander of the Department of California (formerly the Department of the Pacific), Brevet Brigadier General  Newman S. Clarke “asking that the Pah-Utes be punished and a post established somewhere on the Salt Lake Trail for the protection of travelers”. 

 On April 5, 1860 Special Order No. 35 was drafted at San Francisco by command of Brevet Brigadier General Clarke:  The order directed:

1. Major Carleton’s Company K 1st Dragoons (raised to 80 effective men and horses by detachments from the other companies serving at Fort Tejon) will proceed to the Mojave. 
2. The Assistant Surgeon of the posts will accompany the troops.
3. The Commanding officer at Fort Tejon will supply the command as far as the means at his disposal will permit and the assistant Quartermaster at Los Angeles (Captain Winfield S. Hancock) will furnish such additional supplies as are required by Major Carleton.  

In an instructional letter accompanying the orders Carleton was directed to “proceed to Bitter Springs and chastise the Indians you find in the vicinity, then give them to understand that, they have been punished for the recent murder and that the punishment will be certain for future offenses and of increased severity…The punishment must fall on those dwelling nearest to the place of the murder or frequenting the water courses in the vicinity. The General wishes you on account of economy and expedition to move as light as possible, and that your arrangements shall be such as to enable him in future expeditions on the desert to give detailed instructions to officers of less experience than yourself.”

Upon receipt of the orders preparations were made for the campaign.  On April 12, as the command, including three  commissioned officers, eighty-one rank and file, the assistant surgeon, two civilian guides, and an interpreter marched out of Fort Tejon in columns of four, followed by four wagons loaded with supplies, the regimental band played the music of a traditional English folk song from the Elizabethan Era “The Girl I left Behind Me”.  The troops crossed Grapevine Creek and headed southward on the Los Angeles Road leaving a cloud of dust in their wake.  On April 19, after covering about 170 miles in a week’s march, Carleton and him men arrived at a spot where “water came to the surface” a few miles east of the junction of the Mojave Road, which connected Los Angeles to Albuquerque, and the Salt Lake Road about 20 miles east of Barstow in San Bernardino County, California.  Here they established a base camp called Camp Cady, after a friend of Carleton’s who was the commander at Fort Yuma, Major Albemarle Cady of the 6th U. S. Infantry. The Dragoons erected temporary shelters of brush and mud called “dugouts” which they lived in for three months while not out on frequent patrols in search of the Paiutes.  Supplies, in addition to those brought from Fort Tejon, were shipped to the site from Los Angeles via Cajon Pass by Acting Quartermaster Captain Winfield Scott Hancock.  Patrols would be sent out to all point of the compass from the base camp in search of Indians. 

On April 19, 1860, while out on a scout southwest of Camp Cady, a detachment of Carleton’s command under 2nd Lt. Benjamin F. Davis encountered a group of Paiutes.   In the skirmish that followed one Indian was killed and a second Indian taken prisoner, who was subsequently killed in an escape attempt.  The bodies of the dead Indians were taken to Bitter Springs and reportedly hung on a gallows as a warning to the other Indian in the area.  

Potions of a letter written on April 22 by Dr. Letterman to Captain Hancock describing the engagement was published in the Los Angeles Star on April 28, 1860.  Letterman noted: “ Davis killed two  Indians on the 19th, in the mountains to the south-west from our camp, about twelve miles southwest of the fish-ponds.  In the affray two men were seriously wounded - one in the neck and one in the abdomen, by one of the Indians.  Both are doing well; the one wounded in the abdomen is not out of danger yet.  One man received a flesh wound in the left shoulder from one of our men’s pistols.  The Indian was surrounded so that there was no chance of escape, and he fought to the last.  Davis, had a ride of fifty miles there and back, in about eight hours.  The men all seemed to vie with each other, who should kill the rascal, and were perfectly fearless.”  Letterman also noted “The Major (Carleton) and Davis are off beyond this place in different directions.  I look for them back on the 26 or 27th” of April. 

1st Lt. Milton Carr with 16 rank and file and guide David McKenzie left Camp Cady on April 30  on a ten day scouting expedition, heading in a northeasterly direction along the Mojave Road to Soda Springs and the Providence Mountains.  Carr and his command attacked a group of Indians on May 2, killing three of the men, wounding another and taking a woman prisoner, without any loss to the Dragoons.  By May 10 Carr was back at Camp Cady.  Major Carleton reported to headquarters that “the heads of the Indians who were killed are hung upon the gibbit at Bitter Springs as a warning to the tribe for the murders committed there”.  This did not go over well with department headquarters, however.  On May 28 Wiliam W. Mackall, Clarke’s Assistant Adjutant General informed Carleton “Brigadier General Clarke has received your report of May 14, 1860.  He desires you to give positive orders to prevent mutilation of the bodies of the Indians who may fall, and to remove evidence of such mutilations from the public gaze.  He cannot approve of such acts, tho the effect upon the Indians may, or may be thought to be good”. 

Major Carleton and Lieutenant Davis both left Camp Cady on May 1.  Davis and his command of 12 Dragoons left camp for Snow Mountain exploring the Mojave Desert southwest of the base camp for any sign of Indians.  Davis was back in camp by May 5 having traveled 140 miles.    In a  letter drafted on May 14, 1860 accompanying the April Field Returns, sent to  the Department of the Pacific, Carlton reported “Lt. Davis made several long marches, some of them by night, and swept over a good deal of the country from this camp (Cady) to the Point of Rocks and southward to the base of the great San Bernardino range of mountains.  He did not succeed in finding any Indians.  Major Carleton scouted to the south of Camp Cady and engaged the Indians on May 1.  After a running fight Carleton "destroyed all their effects, burnt up their rancheria” and headed back toward Camp Cady.  After Lieut. Davis’s scouting party alluded to (above) returned, (to camp) Major Carleton and Lieut. Davis with twenty men on foot made a night march and succeeded in getting to the highest point of the mountain.  You can judge of the altitude: ice formed in our canteens.  We were disappointed:  the Indians had all fled.  Their trails which have been cut by our scouting parties, indicate sixty or seventy, and they have all gone northward.”

On May 6 Carleton and Davis left Camp Cady with thirty-five enlisted men on another scout toward Rattlesnake Mountain.  They were back in camp by the 9, having covered 80 miles.

On May 14, Carleton, Davis, Dr. Letterman and forty rank and file, twenty five of whom were mounted, left Camp Cady on a ten day scout toward Las Vegas which was on the Salt Lake Trail northeast of Carleton’s base camp.    After returning to camp on May 26 Carleton wrote the following report on May 28 outlining what happened on the scouting trip.  He noted “The command reached Bitter Springs (on May 15).  Here is was increased by 15 dismounted men.  On the 16 after marching to a Dry Lake six miles in advance of Bitter Springs”  the command was split.  Carleton with fifteen mounted men, Dr. Letterman, an interpreter and four pack mules separated from Lt. Davis, scouting alone with his command with the intention of rejoining Davis at a spot on the Salt Lake Road southwest of Las Vegas called Mountain Springs.  “Lieutenant Davis with twenty five dismounted men and McKenzie the guide proceeded with the provisions and forage in three wagons by the Kingston Springs Road”, an offshoot of the Salt Lake Road, toward Mountain Springs.  Both Carleton and Davis were at the rendezvous point by May 17 however neither party had encountered any Indians.  “Lt. Davis had been obliged from the breaking of a wheel to one of his wagons, to leave the wagon and its load of forage at Kingston Springs.  He left a guard with it of a corporal and five men.  One of his other wagons had upset in the night march, and a tire had come off the other, so he had been delayed a good deal on the road.  These things are mentioned because they are really serious difficulties on these long stretches of dessert where one is without water, and when time becomes of great importance.  Lt. Davis made up for all these embarrassments by promptness and energy, and arrived at Mountain Springs even before the hour agreed upon”.  The combined command made it to Las Vegas by the 19th, stayed there until the 20th when they headed back to Camp Cady.  “The distance to Las Vegas by the Amargosa (Carleton’s route) is 172 miles; by the other road (Davis’s route), in round numbers, 150 miles.  The command marched it each way in five days, making over 300 miles in ten days on the desert.  Very few Indians were encountered on the campaign although there signs were everywhere.

Lieutenant Milton Carr, with a detachment of twenty-two men left Camp Cady on a scout toward Soda Springs and the Providence Mountains on May 28.  He was back at camp by June 6th.   Second Lieutenant Grimes Davis left the base camp on May 30 with ten rank and file scouting toward the Rattlesnake Mountain.  He returned without  coming across any Indians.  

On June 9 B. F. Davis was dispatched on another scouting mission, this time to “a snowy mountain to the north and west of Kingston Springs” now known as Telescope Peak which is within the confines of the current day Death Valley National Park.  He would not return to Camp Cady until June 18.  Accompanying Davis, as a scout, was an employee of Captain Hancock, Joel H. Brooks. Lieutenant Davis wrote a detailed report of his expedition on June 21, 1860 which he submitted to Major Carleton along with a map “Of a Reconnaissance of the Snow Mountain” showing the route he took into Death Valley.

Major: 
      I have the honor to report, that in pursuance of your directions to follow up the Indians in the direction of the large Snow Mountain, which lies to the Northwest, I left this place on the 9th instant with a detachment of thirty-five  men and marched to the Turtle Springs, distance twenty-five miles.  These springs are in a sandy ravine, about three miles to the northwest of the dry lake which you see to the left in going to Bitter Springs. There are three holes, two of which will contain 100 gallons, the other about 20.  The water runs in very slowly.  We were able to get half enough for our animals.
June 10.  We started at sunrise, passed the western end of Bitter Spring Mountain, then crossed a dry lake (Bicycle Lake) and ascended a long slope to the slope of a granite mountain (present day Granite Mountain) which runs east and west; after crossing some rough spurs we descended into the plain on the northern side.  There the guide Mr. Brooks expected to find water, but failed.  Sergeant McCleave while examining a ravine found two Indians; he gave chase but they escaped up the mountain.  Here we also found some water in a granite hole, but only enough to give the men a drink.
As the animals began to suffer it became necessary to push for the nearest water, which was Saratoga Springs.  This place was reached at 9 o’clock at night, having traveled over fifty miles.  The horses suffered so much, that most of the men were compelled to throw away their barley.  
June 11.  We remained in camp to recuperate till 6 o’clock in the evening.  The Saratoga Springs is on the northern side of the Valley of the Amagosia; at the foot of a low black mountain which projects well into the valley from the General range on the west.  It is twelve of fifteen miles due west of Salt Spring.  It is a hole ten or twelve feet in diameter and three or four feet deep; the water boils up through quick sand holes in the bottom.  The stream from it runs several hundred yards and forms two or three considerable lakes.  Wood is plenty. The grazing is not good; there is some little grass and cane. Left camp at 6 o’clock p.m. and marched fifteen miles.
June 12.  At daylight we could see the Snow Mountain to the west, apparently twenty or twenty-five miles distant.  We marched till 12 o’clock, when having passed the point at which the guide expected to find water, we halted and sent out parties to hunt for it.  The day was intensely hot and the men began to suffer for water.  Brooks returned at 2 o’clock  but without success.  At 4 o’clock we mounted and pushed on and found water after traveling five miles.  The other party returned at 10 at night, having found water 15 miles up a canon on the mountain.
June 13.  We remained in camp, to rest the horses and the men.  We were now at the foot of the mountain for which we had been aiming.  The valley of the Aqua Magosia is here, ten miles wide and runs due north toward a large mountain, which appears to be 40 miles distant.  It then turns to the west.  The stream rises in a lake on the western slope of the above mentioned mountain and runs east and southeast to Salt Spring.  It then turns west, northwest and finally due north to within 20 miles of its source, when it again turns to the west and is lost in the Desert.
Above Salt Spring there is said to be plenty of water, but below its valley consists of a series of dry lakes, interspersed with patches of lumpy soil which has been deposited by the salty waters of the river during freshets.  
I took a party of men in the afternoon and travelled into the mountain ten miles and encamped for the night.  I estimate the mountain 7000 feet above the valley.  The snow still lies in small patches on the summit.  There is also some Pinon timber on its top; but it is neither so well watered nor timbered as one would expect.  There were no fresh Indian signs in the vicinity; a few old Indian huts in the valley and rancheros in the mountain show that they live here a certain season.  Mr. Brooks says they are not the Pah-Utes; he calls them Ponomints and says they live in the valley from this point down.  They do not speak the same language as the Pah-Utes and make war upon each other.  Their Head Quarters are on a stream about 40 miles farther down the valley.
July 14th  We returned to camp at 9 o’clock a.m.  I have called this water Ponomint Springs, from the name of the Indians who inhabit the valley.  There is a large patch of grass, three or four hundred acres in extent, in which the water is found any where in great abundance by digging two or three feet.  They are on the western side of the valley about 45 miles from Saratoga Springs.
It is evident that the Indians we were in pursuit of, were not in this part of the country, but that they were still farther to the south and west, and that failing to find the 2nd water, had thrown us out of our course too much to the right; as the barley was entirely gone and rations were getting short, I determined to return.  We turned around on the evening of the 14th and reached this camp (Cady) on the 18th instant. 

I am Major, Very Respy, Yr Obt Servt. B. F. Davis, 2nd Lt 1st Dgs.


 An article in the July 8, 1860 Daily National Democrat mentioned Lt. B. F. Davis’s scout noting “Lieutenant Davis, in command of a scouting party from Camp Cady made a journey lately from camp to a point distant about forty miles, in search of Indians, to a part of the Desert, where water is usually found, and where the Indians are known to frequent.  Depending on the spring for water, he took a supply sufficient only for the outward journey, but on arriving at the place, he found that the water was exhausted, and the place desiccated, which caused great suffering to all the party.  However, they succeeded in getting back to camp, greatly debilitated, having undergone great suffering”.

After Davis’s scout failed to find the illusive Indians the party had been in search of Major Carleton decided to call off the campaign and take his command back to Fort Tejon.  Carleton notified headquarters he would abandon Camp Cady on July 3, 1860.  On July 2nd however, probably much to the surprise of the whole command “three Pah-Utes Chiefs appeared on the hill south of camp with a white flag.  They came to hear the white man’s team for peace”.  Carleton held a council with around 27 of the Indians and executed a treaty. 

Carleton and his dragoons evacuated Camp Cady on July 3 and were back at Fort Tejon by July 9, 1860.  Lt. Davis and Dr. Letterman did not return to Fort Tejon with the rest of the command, instead they headed toward Los Angeles on detached service.  Davis might have gone there to settle his accounts as AAQM and ACS for the Pah-Ute Campaign with Captain Hancock.  Carleton’s Field Returns for July also mention 1st Lieutenant B. F. Davis was transferred by promotion to Company K, 1st Dragoons and indicate he was “temporarily attached to Co. “K” 1st Dragoons June 19, 1860”.

To be continued. 

 Considerable information about  the Pah-Ute Campaign comes from Carleton’s Pah-Ute Campaign by Dennis G. Casebier, King Press, Norco, California, June 1972 .  Additional information is derived from newspapers and Returns from Military Posts and Returns of the 1st U. S. Dragoons.



Monday, February 17, 2020

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Map Fort Tejon from Mansfield's 1859 Inspection Report 

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

Mansfield’s report also described the Fort Tejon in some detail. He noted “There is no garden here, and no grazing of consequence for animals short of five miles. There is, however, a good spring of water, and abundant oak for fuel. It is particularly exposed to earthquakes, and every building is cracked by them; and on one occasion the gabled ends of two buildings were thrown down by earthquakes: in a few miles off, I saw an immense crack and crevice in the earth extending for many miles, caused recently by them…One person has been killed by the fall of an adobe building, and a cow has been swallowed up.


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

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



                        Officers Quarters Fort Tejon (LOC image)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

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


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