First Dragoons

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Reports of Santa Cruz de Rosales

Headquarters, Army of the West,
Chihuahua, March 31, 1848.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit a report of my operations from the period of adopting the intentions expressed in my communication to the war department, dated 6th February, 1848, to the present instant.

After making such arrangements both military and civil, as I deemed essential for the security and tranquility of New Mexico, I took up the line of march on the 8th of February, with one company of Missouri horse, for El Paso, where I had previously ordered a concentration of the following troops to operate against the State of Chihuahua, viz: three companies United States dragoons, commanded by Major B. L. Beal--one of which was acting as light artillery, under the command of Lieut. Love; six companies Missouri horse, under command of Col. Rolls; five companies Missouri infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Easton; and Major Walker’s battalion of Santa Fe horse, three companies of horse and one of light artillery.

On the 23d I arrived at El Paso, distant from Santa Fe 340 miles, where measures were at once adopted for the intended operations; the peculiar characteristics and general features of the country, embracing the privations which must necessarily be endured on the road thus traveled, have been, I believe, already submitted to the department in former reports.

The additional information at El Paso confirming the many reports respecting the hostile intentions of the enemy supported by positive evidence as to the extended preparations in the fabrication of cannon and munitions of war, together with contributions of small arms from the adjoining states, induced me to change my original plan of operations, and adopt forced marches with my best mounted troops, for the purpose of striking a blow before the enemy could conceive my design. With this determination, I dispatched Major Walker with three companies of his battalion on the night of the 24th, to occupy the small town of Carrizal, distant from El Paso 90 miles, and so situated as to command all the passes leading to Chihuahua. This command has orders to reconnoitre the country: cut off all communication, by establishing strong pickets, and make every effort to obtain information respecting the designs and movements of the enemy.

On the 1st of March, after having been delayed by the non-arrival of my supply of trains, conducted as they were compelled to be by inexperienced officers, I resumed by march with four companies of Roll’s and two of Beale’s command, supplied with eight day’s subsistence, leaving orders for Love’s artillery, the remainder of Rall’s command, under Lieut. Col. Lane, and Easton’s infantry, with the exception of one company, which I designed as additional protection to the train, yet in the rear, to march on the 2d. Major Walker, at Carrizal, received no additional information, but succeeded in effectually stopping all communication with the enemy.

Thus far my march was successful, and continued so until the night of the 6th. When within sixty miles of Chihuahua, a small party of my advance unexpectedly came upon one of the enemy’s pickets, which, unfortunately, succeeded in escaping.

Aware, now, that my approach would be known on the following morning, I pushed forward my command until I arrived within six miles of the Sacremento, at a point termed Laguna, where I was met by a flag of truce from the general commanding the Mexican forces, protesting against the advance of my troops upon Chihuahua, upon the ground that instructions had been received from the Mexican government suspending hostilities, as a treaty of peace had been concluded and signed by commissioners on behalf of both governments. The evidence adduced on behalf of this assertion I did not then deem sufficiently satisfactory, and could not, therefore, comply with the proposition. Convinced of the uselessness of further conference, I was solicited to send in advance of my command two of my officers, to arrange the preliminaries of a capitulation. To this request I yielded, and immediately dispatched Capt. McKissick, of the quartermaster’s department, and Lieut. Prince, my assistant adjutant general, who were fully made acquainted with my views.--Fearful that dissimulation was the object of this interview, I determined to move my command upon Chihuahua that night, and accordingly proceeded with rapidity, when, in about an hour after the departure of my officers, I was met by some American citizens of Chihuahua, who informed me of the retreat, the morning previous, of the Mexican army, with their munitions of war. Anticipating events of this nature, I had, on the previous day, detached Beall’s dragoons, so that by a forced march over the mountains during the night, he would be able to intersect the Durango road, and possibly encounter the enemy in his rapid and confused fight. For his operations, I respectfully refer to the report herewith submitted. At 9 o'clock at night, my troops had possession of the city. On the following morning, (the 8th,) with portions of Rall’s, Beall’s, and Walker’s commands, (the majority mounted,) and numbering about 250 men, I pursued the enemy to the town of Santa Cruz de Rosales, where he had already strongly fortified himself--a distance of 60 miles from Chihuahua--where I arrived at sunrise the morning of the 9th. After a careful reconnaissance of the place, I determined to carry the town by storm, notwithstanding the immense superiority of the enemy in numbers, implements and munitions of war. Dismounting Rall’s (with the exception of McNain’s company) and Walker’s commands to operate as infantry, and posting Beall’s dragoons, now augmented by one company of Rall’s regiment, to act either as a reserve or to intercept the flight of the enemy, in the event of success, I determined the attack on the west side of the town, with Rall’s command, and on the southeast angle of the same, with Walker’s command.--These arrangements perfected, I dispatched Lieut. Prince, with a flag of truce, demanding an unconditional surrender of the town and public property. An interview upon this summons was requested by General Trias, which I readily granted for the reason adduced--viz: that official notice from the Mexican government of a treaty of peace having been signed by commissioners, on behalf of both governments, had been received, and the solemn assurance by General Trias that he himself had no doubt of the existence of the treaty; moreover, that he felt assured that confirmation of the same from his government would reach him by a courier (express) expected in three days. This declaration was supported by the honor of the Mexican general, and, under the circumstances, was regarded important. I therefore made the proposition contained in the subsequent correspondence, which I have the honor to submit herewith. That success must inevitably follow any course I might decree, I had not the slightest doubt. I was expecting reinforcements of my artillery and horse, and was willing, if human life could be saved, to withdraw for a few days my forces; though, at the same time, I considered it my duty to besiege the town, as I maintained the right to dictate such terms as I deemed consistent with American honor.

It will thus be seen, that a small American force, not exceeding 300 men in the aggregate besieged with success a strongly fortified town, containing over 900 troops of the enemy. Without tents, a scarcity of provisions, and suffering from the effects of forced marches beyond a parallel, my troops cheerfully performed the onerous duties of the siege day and night, and are entitled to the highest considerations of their government.

From the 9th instant to the morning of the 16th, nothing of importance transpired for the subject of my report, save the correspondence before alluded to, and the arrival of small detachments of the several commands, together with two 12 pounder howitzers, of Major Walker’s battalion, under the command of Captain Hassendeubel, whom I left at Chihuahua on the morning of the 8th.

Expecting daily a sally from the enemy, my troops were constantly in the saddle ever vigilant and cautious, each appearing to possess the individual interest, which belongs more properly to the commander. That the enemy exhibited supineness--that his every effort became paralyzed by the vigilance of my troops, is sufficiently manifested by his total inaction, although numbering near four times my own. With a battery of eight pieces of artillery (several heavier than any of my guns,) and nine wall pieces, no attempt was made, designs executed, or pickets forced, to remedy the evils which were the subject of complaint in his official correspondence.

About daylight on the morning of the 16th, my expected reinforcements arrived; they consisted of part of three companies of Missouri horse, under the command of Lieut. Colonel Lane, and Love’s battery.

They reports of these officers, which I have the honor to submit, evince a zeal seldom displayed, a rapidity of movement yet to be surpassed, and an iron energy of will which recognizes no limit, and convey to the department a record of their own merits.

Convinced now of the necessity of terminating a siege peculiarly burdensome to my troops, I determined at once upon an act. From several reconnaissances, I felt sure the enemy believed my main force would be directed against that portion of the town fronting my camp, as new batteries had been established, and an unusual degree of activity became apparent throughout the siege in that quarter. At seven o'clock, A. M., I broke up my camp, and with my entire force, excepting Beall’s dragoons, augmented by Captain McNair’s company Missouri horse, who were left to cut off a retreat on the Durango road, I proceeded round the southern point of the town, where I placed in position Walker’s battalion, protected from the enemy’s artillery by walls and houses, for the meditated assault. Continuing to the western side of the town, I then detached Lieutenant Colonel Lane, with two companies of the Missouri regiment, to support Love’s battery, which I ordered to take position within 500 yards of the town, on the road leading to Chihuahua, and commanding the principal plaza church, around and in which the enemy were strongly posted, reserving Rall’s remaining four companies as my centre, and so disposes as to afford timely support to the artillery under Love and Hassendeubel.

My final disposition made, Hassendeubel’s two 12 pounders having been put in battery on the west side of the town, supported by Rall’s command, I, at 101/2 A. M., ordered my batteries to open, which, for nearly an hour, maintained a spirited and destructive fire, clearing the houses and church of the enemy; which latter, from its flanking position and strength of construction, became the stronghold of the enemy.

The fire of the enemy, during this time, from all his heavy guns and wall pieces, was incessant, but, from their position, without effect.--Observing that large gun of the enemy, which I afterwards learned to be a 9 pounder, had been brought to bear upon Hassendeubel’s battery, and evidently with a view to silence it, Lieut. Dyer, of the ordnance, belonging to my staff, but who volunteered for duty with Love’s battery, was ordered to reinforce Hassendeubel with a 24 pounder howizter and a 6 pounder gun. This movement having been perceived by the enemy, his battery was reinforced, and an incessant fire of canister, grape, and round shot was opened upon our batter, but without doing material injury. Lieut. Dyer was soon in position, where he continued a direct fire upon this battery, placed in embrasure in one of the principal streets leading to the main plaza, as well as the church and a large building, upon both of which were stationed a strong force. For the upwards of an hour this battery was served with great effect, clearing the houses and church during which time it was exposed to the fire of the enemy’s batteries, which, throughout mantained a most rapid firing.

I now ordered Lieut. Love, with a 24 pounder howitzer and a 5 pounder gun, (the remainder of his battery having been disabled in firing,) to advance upon the position occupied by Lieut. Dyer, determined if possible, to silence the enemy’s 9 pounder, which contributed, by the efficient manner in which it was served, greatly to our annoyance. Immediately thereafter I received information that my rear was threatened by a large cavalry force of the enemy, supposed to be about 900 strong, and intended as a reinforcement for the enemy within the town. I immediately withdrew my artillery to a commanding position about three quarters of a mile from the town, and in the direction of the Chihuahua road; ordering, at the same time the remainder of my command to the same point, for the purpose of attacking this supposed reinforcement. This movement was evidently regarded by the enemy as a prelude to a signal defeat.--Loud cheers arose from the town, the houses were again covered by the soldiery, a flag was immediately run up from an angle of the church, and the fire of the enemy’s heavy guns became unusually brisk. I soon discovered the report of a large reinforcement of the enemy in my rear to be incorrect, and that only a small body of cavalry had threatened it, which I soon dispersed with the command under Lieutenant Col. Lane.

I now determined to storm the town, agreeably to the dispositions made at the commencement of the attack; and therefore gave orders for Ralls, Lane, and Walker to resume their former positions, dismount their men, and charge the town at the points assigned them, as soon as my batteries should re-open.

Lieut. Love was ordered to take up his former position. About 31/2 P. M., the action was resumed, and the fire of our battery returned with unusual briskness. Lieut. Love’s battery at this time consisted of one 24 pounder howitzer, one 6 pounder, and one 5 pounder. For a more detailed report of this battery, and the efficien aid contributed by the officers who kindly assisted at it, I respectfully refer to Lieutenant Love’s report, which I take pleasure in endorsing, from my personal observations upon that day.

For the particulars of the several storming parties, I must also refer to the reports of their respective chiefs, which I desire to be identified as a portion of my own. The charge of Ralls was commenced under my own eye, and in a manner which foreboded success. So soon as time would permit, I witnessed the persevering efforts of Major Walker’s command, and felt confident of the result.

I would also refer to Major Beall’s report for the duty assigned the squadron of dragoons, under the command of Capt. Grier. In affording protection to my battery on the 16th, in the judgment and activity displayed to intercept any attempt by flight of the enemy, and in the discharge of the highly important duties of the siege, I discovered talent and ability.

I feel confident that I cannot add to the known reputation of this command; for the second time has it shared with me the honors of victory. Although the first was at the sacrifice of its gallant and accomplished leader, (the lamented Burgwin,) yet I cannot refrain from according that tribute of praise which is due the distinguished services they have performed since forming a portion of my command.

Shortly after sundown the enemy surrendered. Gen. Trias and forty-two (42) of his principal officers were made prisoners of war; and eleven pieces of artillery, nine wall pieces, besides 577 stand of arms, fell into our hands. Our loss in the action was one lieutenant, two corporals, and one private killed; and nineteen privates wounded. The loss of the enemy--from the evidence of commanding officers herewith submitted--was two officers, and 236 non-commissioned officers and privates; the number wounded cannot be correctly ascertained.

In submitting to the consideration of the government the operations which have been performed by my troops, I feel anxious to exhibit that high degree of praise their conduct on this occasion so justly merits. The exceedingly onerous duties of forced marches, over a sterile and desert country of nearly 320 miles, without tents or transportation trains, with merely a few days' rations of subsistence, have been willingly, indeed cheerfully, endured by my gallant column. I feel a sense of pride in recording the distinguished bravery of all--regulars and volunteers; believing that feeling will be reciprocated by the war department, and cherished by the American people.

The distinguished conduct of Lieutenant Love--in the highly efficient manner in which his battery was served; in the rapidity of movement which characterized his conduct, when ordered to reinforce me, traveling night and day, going into battery four hours after his arrival, and his unceasing efforts during the entire day in working his battery--deserves especial notice; and I cannot refrain from expressing the strongest recommendation for that honorable gratitude from this country which the brave soldier acquires by his exploits.

To Colonel Ralls, to Lieutenant Colonel Lane, to Major Walker, and their brave officers and men, I must accord the highest honors; unflinching in the performance, they each and all vied, where duty called them, for the crowning result of success. Ralls, on the west, charged with animation and enthusiasm; Walker, on the southeast, stormed with daring and bold determination; Lane, on the northwest, with a small command, forces the enemy’s barriers, gained the main plaza, but, overwhelmed by numbers, prudently withdrew, in good order, his small command. In this charge, the brave but lamented Lieutenant G. O. Hepburn, Missouri mounted horse, fell, leading the men gloriously, cheering and animating them to the last. His country has lost a valuable officer; his relatives and friends must look to his deeds, worthy of record upon the page of history, to console them for their loss.

From the officers of my personal staff, I have received the most important services and encouraging aid. Capt. McKissick, assistant quartermaster, Capt. Garrison, assistant commissary of subsistence, Maj. Spalding, pay department, and Lieutenant Prince, A. D. C. and A. A. A. General, served during the contest near my person, conveying my orders with promptness wherever necessity demanded.

Captain McKissick, suffering severely from sickness, resumed his position in the field, rendering valuable services throughout the action.

To the medical staff, conducted by Assistant Surgeon R. T. Simpson United States army, I have to express my acknowledgements. The attention and ability displayed by Assistant Surgeon Simpson to our wounded upon the field, as well as those of the enemy after the action, has won for him admiration and esteem from both armies.

I also mention, with pleasure, the services of Capt. Haley, Missouri horse, acting brigade inspector of my command, who voluntarily led his company at the storming of the town, under the immediate command of Colonel Ralls.

I also take great pleasure in recording the services of Messrs. James L. Collins, E. W. Pomeroy, and W. C. Skinner, American citizens, resident at Chihuahua, who volunteered their services as aids-de-camp upon that duty.

Of these gentlemen I must take particular mention. The valuable information received from the former upon my arrival at El Paso, as respects the condition of the enemy, a knowledge of the country and its language, together with his unremitting efforts to second my views in all that pertains to these occurrences, and the personal exertions of the two latter, in assisting me to remount my command at this place, with their services on the 16th, entitle them to my warmest thanks.

I respectfully transmit herewith a special field return of the forces engaged in the action of the 16th: a report of the killed and wounded; a list of officers paroled; a list of stores captured;a muster-roll of the enemy’s forces, as furnished by Gen. Trias; and two topographical sketches of the town, showing the position of my several commands; prepared respectively by Captain Hassendeubel, of Maj. Walker’s battalion, and Assistant Surgeon Horace R. Wirtz, United States army.

I think proper to state here, that every exertion was made by Lieut. Col. Easton, commanding battalion of infantry, Lieut. Webber, commanding two sections of Captain Hassendeubel’s artillery, and those officers who were necessarily absent with the trains, including Major Bodine, pay department, in charge of the public funds, to share the honor of the attack.

I would also inform the department that Gen. Manuel Armijo, late governor of New Mexico, surrendered himself to me as a prisoner of war on the 21st inst., and is now on his parole of honor; a copy of which together with that of Gen. Trias, I have the honor herewith to submit.

I am, sir, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Brig. Gen. U. S. A. Comd'g.

To Brig. Gen. R. JONES,
Adjt. Gen. U. S. A., Washington, D. C.

M567 R388 F275

City of Chihuahua
March 26, 1848

The Board met pursuant to the foregoing orders, and soon after the reception of the captured property, as was practicable, and up to the present time have been busy in assorting and taking inventories of said property, which they find to be as follows (incl.(?) accompanying list or inventory as marked “A”).

All the large guns are more or less injured by firing, and some of them badly cast, full of flaws and honeycombs. The majority of the muskets and escopetas are in bad order, broken locks and stocks, bent barrels &c. Three of the muskets are very much injured in the stock by shot, or shell, of one, the entire stock is gone. The muskets, and in fact all of the cartridges, are badly made, and only valuable for the amount of powder they contain. The shells, strap shot, balls, and canister, are as a general thing very badly made and would be apt to greatly damage a good piece if fired from one.

One reference to the list, it will be found that there are eleven large boxes of powder, this is supposed to be for cannons, as also the five bags. Ten of the kegs contain very fine powder, supposed to be for rifles, and the remainder for muskets. Having no means to ascertain the weight, the amount in bulk only is first put down as it appeared before the Board.

The horses are all small, poor, and weak, and many of the mules are equally in as bad condition, none of them being fit for present use, and scarcely any will ever be capable of hard service.

The saddles are of Spanish pattern and much out of order in their present state worthless.

Of the drums, three are without heads or have but one, and the others are so heavy and unwieldy as to be almost or quite unserviceable.

The articles, not having (sic) innumerated, are generally in very good condition, and might, if necessary, be put to immediate use.

The above is respectfully submitted as a report of the proceedings of the Board, which, having no further business before it, adjourns sin die.

B.L. Bell,
Major 1st Dragoons



2 Two 32-Lb. Brass Howitzers

1 One 10-Lb. Brass Cannon by Measurement

1 One 8-Lb. “ “ “ “

1 One 4-Lb. “ “ “ “

2 Three Swivels

7 Seven Wall Pieces

1 One Double-Barrel Wall Piece

392 Three Hundred and Ninety-Two Muskets

281 Two Hundred and Eighty-One Musket Bayonets

99 Ninety-Nine Cartridge Boxes & Belts

80 Eighty Escopetas

27 Twenty-Seven Service Rifles

78 Pistols

35 Sabres

122 One Hundred and Twenty-Two Lances Complete

142 One Hundred and Forty-Two Lance Heads and Ferrules

150 ________ Lance Straps

145 Shafts for Lances

6 Six Wipers for Wall Pieces

11 Eleven Large Boxes of Powder

23 Twenty-Three Kegs of Powder

5 Five Bags of Powder

58 Fifty-Eight Cartridges for 32-Lb. Howitzer

72 Seventy-Two Cartridges for 9-Lb. Gun

2600 Twenty-Six Hundred Musket Cartridges

7 Seven Bunches Signal Rockets

9 Nine 32 Lb Grenades

9 Nine 24 lb Shells

4 Four 32 lb Shells

75 Seventy-Five 4 lb Shells

7 Seven 3 lb Strap Shot

24 Twenty-Four 6 lb Strap Shot

4 Four 12 lb Strap Shot

103 One-Hundred and Three 4lb Balls

50 Fifty 3 lb Balls

76 Seventy-Six Cases 32 lb Canister

116 One-Hundred Sixteen Cases 3 lb Canister

1 One Lot Canister for Wall Piece

1 One Lot Balls for Wall Piece

1 One Lot Musket Balls

1 One Ten Ball Roller

10 Ten Bullet Molds

7 Seven Rifle Locks

1 One Lot Gun Flints

11 Eleven Sponges

2 Two Worms

6 Six Hand Spikes

1 One Treatment Scale

A List of Quarter Master Property Captured at the Siege of Santa Cruz de Rosales, Mexico, March 16th 1848.

98 Ninety-Eight Horses

66 Sixty-Six Mules

7 Seven Wagons

52 Sets of Harnesses, four collars wanting

9 Nine Pack Saddles

35 Thirty-Five Spanish Bridle Bits

32 Thirty-Two Sets Spanish Saddle Rigging

1 One Bulk “ “ “

35 Thirty-Five Buckles

7 Seven [Screw} Drivers

43 Forty-Three Files

8 Eight Hammers

4 Four Vices

2 Two Wrenches

1 One Grinding Stone

65 Sixty-Five Edge Tools

13 Thirteen Augers

18 Eighteen Saws

3 Three Screw Plates

2 Two Anvils

10 Ten Pounds Rod Steel

2 Two Boxes Tin

2 Two Boxes Shoes

8 Eight Boxes Blue Clothe

1 Lot Printing Type

1 Lot Duct Parts

1 Lot Rosin

2 Lots Steel Yards

12 Twelve Empty Boxes

11 Eleven Boxes Cigarilos

Here is an unoffical report that was re-published from the Santa Cruz Banner in the Santa Fe Republican, April 22, 1848, bottom of bottom of column 3 of page 1. I am grateful to Tim Kimball for running down this precious piece of frontier journalism.


We copy the following from the Santa Cruz

Banner, a small sheet published at that place by P. G. Fergurson.

On the first of March Gen Price set out from

El Paso with four companies of the Missouri

regiment of horse under command of Colonel

Ralls, two companies of U. S. Dragoons under

command of Major Beall, and two mounted

howizers with an artillery detachment under

command of Capt Hasseduebel for a forced

march upon the city of Chihuahua, 300 miles

distant, south from El Paso, at Carasel [sic, Carrizal], 100

miles upon the road. The Santa Fe battalion,

Major Walker’s, joined us, making in all, nine

companies, with which we marched on to Chi-

huahua, in the unprecedented time of six days;

reached the city with the nine companies, but [here shifts to top of column 4]

the enemy under Gen. Trias, with his forces

some eight hundred strong, with principally Caval-

ry, had left some12 hours before with all the

public property, including a [blurred] of newer artil-

lery for the South. A few hours after our arri-

val at Chihuahua, we were put en route to over

take the enemy. Our forced march upon the

city exhausted a great many of our horses and

men and we set out for the South with skeletons

of nine companies, numbering in all about 300;

with this force, we kept our march in pursuit—

we made sixty miles march in about 12 hours,

and approached Santa Cruz at about sunrise,

where the enemy had already fortified himself,

his batteries fixed, and full and efficient dispo-

sition made for defence of the place, he having

reinforced himself to the number of about 1200

in all behind his barriers, also occupying the

church itself, a perfect fortification. As we

moved our column around the west of the city,

a nine pounder was discharged by the enemy,

passing our centre, when several of the compa-

nies of his infantry filed through the balcony,

ranging in order upon the church, a person sup-

posed to be a priest, harangued them, and the

surrounding populace, a part of which was

heard and distinctly understood, was replied to

by loud cheers by the soldiery, and the people

with many “vivas” “vivas” and vevar Re-

publicano Mexicano.”

An express was sent back to hurry on the

pieces, and the place was put under siege. We

permitted no communication with the place, al-

lowed omen and children and non-combat-

ants two days to leave the city with their ef-

fects, when our pickets were closed upon them.

The siege last from the 9th to the 16th.

Many attempts were made by parties of the

enemy during the siege o leave the town, but

few succeeded—now and then, a fleet horse

would out run our pickets and get to the moun-

tains. The third day of the siege, the com-

mander of one of the pickets, sent word to the

general that a number were escaping, which he

could not prevent, his picket was too small.

On the morning of the 16th, Lieut. Col. Lane,

arrived with artillery &C., and we received the

enemy’s invitation to come on. Our forces are

referred to the reports of Col Ralls and to Lt.

Col. Lane in this number, which detail their part

of the affair. The reports of Major Walker and

Beall would make this accout complete. Maj.

Walker’s command distinguished itself by

storming the South of the town while the dra-

goons acted well the part assigned them, and

Capt. Hassandeuebel [sic] and Lieut. Love, gallantly

managed their batteries the whole day, with

great science and skill.

The charge of Col Rall’s column was a spleen-

did affair. It moved like a thunder-bolt, pre-

cisely in the direction it was sent spreading dis-

may, death and destruction, and it was over this

column that Col Sanchez extended the flag of

surrender. It was a proud day for all, but for

those leading and directing this column, it was

particularly so, and Col Ralls in his report has

but rendered justice to his officers and men, and

that report does that commander distinguished

honor for the virtue of his head and heart.

An entire park of artillery was captured with

about 2,000 stand of arms and munitions, with

other public property to the value of seven to

eight hundred thousand dollars.

We captured the whole force, including thir-

ty commissioned officers, Gov. Maj. General

Trias at their head.

After the day had nearly expired we learned

that the place could only be carried by storm-

ing. The order to charge was given, and in

one hour’s time the city surrendered, our arms

as ever, victorious, adding another trophy to the

Fame of the great Republic we serve.


Lieut. George O. Hepburn of Co. D, privates

Schafenberg and Bockman, co. B.

WOUNDED.—Private Ripper, Greff and De-

drich, co. B, Jackson, Kearnes, Williams and

Gillam, co. D.

We also understand by a private letter that a

young man by the name of Maston, commissa-

ry Sergent, start out from Santa Cruz, to meet

Love’s command, and has never since been

found or heard from, he is supposed to have been



Thursday, June 02, 2005

LOVE'S DEFEAT (Coon Creeks 1847)

LOVE’S DEFEAT: The Battle of the Coon Creeks
By Will Gorenfeld and George Stammerjohan
Copyrighted December 8, 2003

First Lieutenant John Love, commanding Company B, 1st United States Dragoons, felt he was in a rut that winter of 1846-47. The year before, as a 2d Lieutenant, he was on recruiting duty in Dayton, Ohio. Hearing that the war with Mexico had begun, in May of 1846, the young officer sent off a flurry of letters to his superiors requesting permission to close down the recruiting station and “join my Company should my Regiment be ordered into the field.” In due course, authorization was granted and, on July 29, 1846, the hard-riding Lt. Love caught up with Colonel Steven W. Kearney’s Army of West near Bent’s Fort. A few days later, he marched with Kearney’s column into Santa Fe, New Mexico. The bloodless conquest of New Mexico had been accomplished, and Lieutenant John Love was ordered back to Dayton to again seek dragoon recruits.

Lt. Love desperately sought to recruit a full company of men so that he might return to New Mexico before the fighting was over. On December 20, 1846, the Lieutenant wrote to Roger Jones, the Army’s grandfatherly Adjutant General, expressing how “extremely anxious” he was “to fill the Company which fortune has given me the command” and that he expected to take the field by April 1, 1847. Finding recruits in a hurry was not going to be an easy task. Lt. Anderson Nelson of the regular Sixth Infantry, one of Love’s West Point classmates, complained to him in February of 1847 that, after “pegging away since some time last summer and [he had] done any thing but a ‘land office’ business” finding Hoosier recruits for his regiment.

By 1847, much of the nation was fast growing weary of a war that seemed to have no end in sight. Nearly a dozen volunteer regiments had already been raised in the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, stripping the landscape of those young men willing to fight a war in a distant land. The volunteer regiments offered cash bounties and short terms of enlistments. Equally valuable as an inducement was the regulation that permitted company officers of the volunteer regiments be selected by a democratic vote of the men. In contrast, officers of the regular regiments gained their commissions by way of a presidential appointment.

In February of 1847, Lt. Love was in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his recruiting flag draped from a balcony of the Drake Hotel. He placed an advertisement in the local Indiana State Journal there requesting the wartime services of men of good character, between the ages of 18 and 35, in the elite United States Dragoons. “Only those who are determined to serve the period of their enlistment, honestly and faithfully” need apply. The advertisement promised each recruit eight dollars a month, good quarters, the best of medical attention, as well as a “large supply of comfortable and genteel clothing.” The recruiting laws, now having been changed by Congress, made service in the regulars somewhat more attractive. Upon enlistment, the regular recruit would be paid a bonus of six dollars and receive another six dollars when he joined his regiment for duty. A recruit was now allowed to opt for a shorter term of enlistment: “duration of the war.”

The 1st Dragoons were a mounted regiment; the volunteer regiments, for the most part, were infantry. Lt. Love knew that he had an ace in the hole and he was quick to play it--pointing out to the Hoosier farm boys the glory of their becoming splendidly clothed and mounted “bold dragoons”--whose military status, uniform and bearing was unquestionably superior to that of the humble and often ill-clad “dough foot” of the volunteer regiments. When Love’s bright-eyed recruits arrived at Newport Barracks, Kentucky, however, they found there were no horses available and, worse, infantry officers were daily putting them through the wearisome close order drill of the foot soldier. Included in the John Love collection at the Indiana Historical Society is a letter from three recruits from Indianapolis expressing their “not inconsiderable dissatisfaction prevailing in regard to our having no officers of our own company with us.” The trio complained that, “[w]e are here drilled in the infantry squads [by Infantry officers], and obliged to do duties that we believe we would be exempted of.”

Meanwhile, a detachment of 25 Company B recruits who had been recruited by Lt. Leonidas Jenkins in St. Louis were doing much better than their Indiana and Ohio counterparts. These men had been sent to nearby Jefferson Barracks and there drilled by Lt. Jenkins of the 1st Dragoons. He wrote to Lt. Love that the recruits from Missouri were “as good men as ever were enlisted.” In early March of 1847, the Lt. Jenkins scared up some horses and new model Grimsley saddles for these troops and marched them westward to Fort Leavenworth.

Of all of the branches of the service, the mounted arm of the nineteenth century military was the hardest to train. It is one thing to teach a soldier how to march and fight while on foot and quite another to instruct him how to march, attack, and rally while mounted. In addition, the mounted trooper must learn how to care for, feed, groom, and saddle his mount.

The 1841 manual for the training of dragoons contemplated that the typical recruit would spend his first six weeks in dismounted drill; the next twelve weeks learning to ride; and five weeks learning to ride in military formation. But due to the immediate need for reinforcements in Santa Fe, this regimen would be ignored for Company B. Most B Company recruits would be expected to learn in less than two months’ time the skills that a dragoon usually learned in six.

Although the troops were untrained and horses scarce, two seasoned non- commissioned officers would drill the recruits once they reached Fort Leavenworth. German-born First Sergeant Frederick Muller had been with the Dragoons since 1834. Thirty-five years of age and standing six foot-one inch, Sgt. Muller commanded the respect of his commanding officer. Lt. Love would write of Sgt. Muller, “whether in battle, in camp, or on the march, he is energetic and soldierly; never in one instance have I known him to neglect his duty.” Pennsylvanian Benjamin Bishop also had joined the Dragoons in 1834. At five foot ten inches, tough and literate, he was a born leader of men and a skilled horseman.

Company B was also fortunate to have Bugler Langford Peel in its ranks. The son of a career soldier, Peel was “practically raised in the army” and at seventeen years of age he enlisted in the Dragoons. Percival Lowe, who served with Peel from 1849-1854, described him as being “naturally bright, clear headed, cheerful and helpful always . . . a perfect horseman, possessing unlimited courage and endurance, he was a man to be relied on and trusted in every emergency.”

The recruits had barely settled into its quarters in the two-story brick barracks at Fort Leavenworth when the troop received orders to escort the paymaster and $350,000 in gold coin to New Mexico. Also joining the expedition would be Navy Lieutenant John K. Duer, who was carrying important dispatches for the Pacific Squadron in California. On June 7, 1847, B Company took the salutes of Colonel Clifton Wharton, paraded out of the fort and headed west. George Ruxton, an English cavalry officer and adventurer, observed Company B on its march. He was less than impressed with what he saw and wrote that although “superbly mounted” on full-blooded sorrels, these men were “soldierlike neither in dress nor appearance.”

Although Lt. Love, in his six years of military service, had never commanded a troop in the field and his men were untrained, he was certain that the Comanche tribesmen would not be so foolish as to attack this large force of armed Dragoons. In 1843, while on an expedition on the Plains, he wrote, “6 men could have kept off 500 Indians as they never approach within gun shot.” He would be soon proven wrong.

Prior to the commencement of the Mexican War, Native Americans living near the Santa Fe Trail raided only the smaller trading caravans. Experienced traders traveled in large numbers and heavily armed. These trains were rarely attacked. But this all changed during the years 1846-1848, as the Santa Fe Trail became the highway of conquest as a vast stream of troops and supplies headed west along the 873-mile road that coursed the Plains from Ft. Leavenworth to Santa Fe. As the number of expeditions proliferated during the war, the travelers not only polluted the streams and spread contagion, but consumed the sparse grasses, wood, water, and game along the trail. Starvation and disease became more widespread among the tribes and they began to assault nearly every caravan, supply train, and body of troops that traveled on the Santa Fe Trail. By year’s end, 47 travelers would be killed, 330 wagons destroyed, and 6,500 head of stock plundered.

A few days out of the fort, Indian Agent Thomas “Badhand” Fitzpatrick, making his way back to his post at Bent’s Fort, overtook the Dragoon column and traveled with it. Fitzpatrick, a trapper, guide, scout, and Indian agent, had ranged the frontier since 1823. The late historian David Lavender credits Fitzpatrick as being “one of the openers of the West.”

Indian Agent Fitzpatrick would later write that the Dragoons and paymaster’s wagon train “traveled along happily and with much expedition, until we arrived at Pawnee Fork, a tributary of the Arkansas River, three hundred miles from Fort Leavenworth.” It was at this point that, on the early evening of June 23d, they came upon the encampment of three large government commissary wagon trains (two westbound and one eastbound). These wagons had been attacked two days prior by a large body of Indians, who left three men wounded. The eastbound train had lost most of its oxen to the marauding Indians and was thereby left without the means of hauling several of its wagons any further. These wagons were burned in order to prevent their contents from falling into the hands of the Indians. Lieutenant Love promised the dejected wagon boss that he would avenge the attack on the train.

Lieutenant Love directed that henceforth, the westbound trains would travel and encamp with the Dragoons for the duration of the trip. Charles Hayden, the 22-year-old captain of one of the government trains chafed at being told what to do by a shave-tail lieutenant. Hayden claimed to have received detailed instructions from the quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth and would take whatever course of action he thought to be prudent.

It took all of the next day for the wagon trains to descend the steep banks, cross the swollen waters of Pawnee Creek, and climb the opposite bank. The next morning, the wagons of Hayden, along with two wagons belonging to civilian trader Henry Miller, were out on the trail at dawn’s light and making good time. Hayden was determined to travel without the interference of a military escort and would beat them into Santa Fe.

The wagon trains traveled along at a brisk pace, making 27-miles that day and, camped on a plain in about a mile from the Arkansas River (what is today about nine and one-half miles west on US 56 near Garfield, Kansas). The dragoons made their camp on the north bank of the Arkansas River. Although the plain was sandy and nearly barren of grasses, the river bottoms provided good grazing for the animals. The treeless prairie was bisected by two washes that flowed into the Arkansas, known as Little Coon Creek and Big Coon Creek.

Lieutenant Love was not pleased by the fact that Hayden and Miller, in attempting to shake off the army and its wagons, had placed their wagon trains about 500 yards to the west of the Dragoon camp. In the event of a raid, Love’s soldiers and their short-ranged weapons could not effectively protect these wagons and stock. He planned to speak to Hayden tomorrow about the need to camp within supporting distance of the other wagon trains and troops.

In the pre-dawn hours of June 26, 1847, Lieutenant Love mounted and rode to the top of a slight hill. The sky was clear and a slight breeze blew up from the south. This young officer knew that horses and mules should not be allowed to freely graze until it was safe to do so—i.e., when no raiders lurked in high grasses of the nearby washes. For the moment, all horses and mules remained tethered to the picket lines.

With the first emergence of dawn, the young officer heard the distant sound of reveille. He saw his troopers slowly forming for the morning roll call and inspection. Looking to the west he noticed that Hayden had turned his oxen out of the corral to graze. Love opened his spyglass for a better view of the countryside. His jaw dropped when he saw well over one hundred Comanche spilling out of Big Coon Creek. Lt. Love could see the teamsters frantically grabbing what few clumsy weapons they possessed and firing wildly at the raiders. The Comanche fought back, wounding three teamsters; within minutes they had stampeded Hayden’s oxen and seized control of the herd.

Spurring his horse down the rise, Lt. Love galloped back to the Dragoon camp and ordered Bugler Peel to sound “Boots and Saddles”. The noncommissioned officers barked orders to their sleepy men; horses were saddled; the men were soon smartly standing to horse, under arms, awaiting further orders. It was Lt. Love’s intention to recapture the oxen so he ordered his detachment to mount. Just then he saw about 150 Comanche splashing across the Arkansas River with the intent of attacking his camp. Faced with this new danger, Love ordered his men to dismount and fight as skirmishers.

A ragged volley from the massed Hall carbines drove most of the Comanche out of range. Sgt. Benjamin Bishop, the veteran trooper, fired his Hall carbine and killed the horse of one warrior. A pull on the Hall’s fishtail lever opened the breech of his carbine. Tearing open a paper cartridge and spilling its powder and ball into the chamber, Bishop slammed the breech shut, and capped his weapon. Before he was able to take aim, two riders gracefully swooped down; each grabbing an arm of the fallen warrior, and carried him away to safety.

Lieutenant Love placed Sergeant Benjamin Bishop in command of 25 Dragoons and ordered him to retrieve the stolen oxen. Bishop, who had been with the Dragoons since 1834, must have had a sense of apprehension. Taking a small detachment of green troops, mounted on unseasoned horses, with orders to pitch into over one hundred of the world’s finest horseman, was pure folly, to say the least. But orders were orders.

Bishop dutifully trotted his men out of camp and brought them to within one hundred and fifty yards of the raiders. There he halted and formed his small detachment into line. The sergeant was about to order an advance when he noticed a large body of well-mounted Comanche fast approaching to his rear. Armed with lances, bows and firearms, these warriors had crossed the Arkansas River and cut off the Dragoon’s avenue of retreat.

Outnumbered twenty to one, Bishop realized that his only real chance for survival was to keep his formation intact. In this manner, the massed volley fire from 25 carbines and pistols might sufficiently rattle the enemy just long enough to allow his detachment to charge to the rear. Sgt. Bishop ordered, “Left about, march!” Wheeling a line of 25 horses 180 degrees on a parade ground is not an easy task for a detachment of unskilled horsemen. Attempting this tricky maneuver while on restive mounts and under attack was near impossible.

The army-issued curb bit of the 1840’s was designed so that a Dragoon need only to gently tug at the reins in order to gain control of his mount. The curb bit had the opposite effect should an untrained rider, attempting to turn or stop a horse, pull too hard upon the reins. It is fair to assume that many of the novice troopers frantically tugged at the reins, causing their horses to run wildly out of control.

The Comanche waved blankets, blew on bone whistles and yelled to further panic the horses. Several of the Dragoon horses, being new to the service and unaccustomed to the pandemonium of combat, soon became wholly unmanageable and bolted. Given the chaos that followed, all manner of military formation was lost and it was now every man for himself.

Sergeant Bishop fired his carbine and then discharged his horse pistol. There was not time to reload and so he drew his saber. Finding himself beset by several warriors and struck in the side by a musket ball, Bishop pointed his saber forward in “tierce point,” spurred his mount, and rushed headlong into his foes. Later he would recall that he “made his saber . . . drink blood”; the lanky sergeant hacked and parried lance thrusts, fended off blows from buffalo hide shields, somehow fighting his way back to the safety of the Dragoon encampment. Five members of the detachment were not as fortunate. Troopers Jonathon Arledge, John Dickhart, Moses Short, George Gaskill, and Henry Blake were killed. (Gaskill, having enlisted at Edinburgh, Indiana, on April 17, 1847, had been in the army for just over two months.) Five other troopers, Henry Vancaster, John Lovelace, Thomas Ward, James Bush, and Willis Wilson, although badly wounded, were able to cheat death and escaped. Fourteen Dragoons somehow managed to reach the camp without suffering any serious wounds.

Although Bugler Peel later boasted that he killed three warriors during the fray, the Comanche seem to have endured only a few casualties in the half-hour fray. They were content to take all of Hayden’s oxen and before departing, mutilated three of the dead Dragoons and absconded with their clothing, equipment, arms, and horses.

The Dragoons were forced to remain encamped at the Coon Creeks to tend to the wounds suffered by six troopers and because of the lack of sufficient teams of oxen to pull all wagons. On the day after the battle, a train of eight wagons was seen approaching from the east. Lt. Love and Fitzpatrick rode out to this train and asked the wagon boss for assistance. Fortunately, this train had a number of spare mules that were for sale and Henry Miller was able to obtain mules to pull his two wagons.

On July 2, 1847, Lt. Love deemed it to be safe to move his wounded. The remaining oxen were redistributed between the two government wagon trains and, in this manner; Hayden obtained enough oxen to pull 13 of his wagons. The caravan, making five to eight miles a day, limped its way towards the small government outpost of Fort Mann. Finding the fort to be abandoned, Love left Hayden and his train behind with instructions that he remain there until a relief party could be sent. The weary and battered Dragoon detachment reached Santa Fe on August 6, 1847.

When word of the battle reached “the states,” newspapers were quick to call the battle “Love’s Defeat.” Indeed, for recklessly ordering Sgt. Bishop to attack overwhelming numbers of Comanches with untrained troops, Lt. John Love had displayed the same arrogance that would later spell the doom of the commands of John Grattan, William Fetterman, and George Custer. Agent Fitzpatrick and Sgt. Bishop, nonetheless, wrote accounts in which they commended the manner in which he handled his troops during the battle with the Comanche. Fitzpatrick was quick to fault the wagon captain for not following Love’s order to place his camp next to that of the two other wagon trains. He was “very certain that, if Hayden had obeyed the order of Lieutenant Love, no such misfortune would have happened.”

In his report, a wiser Lt. Love wrote that the Comanche were “the most expert horsemen in the world, they are enabled to make an attack, alarm the animals, and be out of sight in an incredibly short time.” He concluded that, “in an attack, it is nearly as much as a company of dragoons can do to prevent their horses from taking a ‘stampede.’”

Seven months later, Lt. Love would redeem himself at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales in Mexico, where Company B, converted into a battery of artillery, performed gallantly in the battle. Sergeants Muller and Sergeant Bishop (the latter still recovering from the wound he had suffered at Coon Creek) each ably commanded a section of artillery. The war ended, but Company B garrisoned the town of Chihuahua, Mexico until July 16, 1848. After thirty-four days of marching, they entered Santa Fe, wheeled their horses smartly into line on the town plaza, and dismounted. Between August 19th and 24th the “wartime service” men received their discharges and went home. In a period of fifteen months, these Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri farm boys had marched across two thousand miles of harsh terrain and fought in two battles. In the finest tradition of the United States Dragoons, they could now proudly claim to be veterans.

Company B was broken up and its few remaining enlisted men transferred to Company G. Lieut. Love and the non-commissioned officers headed east in search of a new batch of recruits. In 1849, Sergeant Muller donned the scarlet trimmed jacket of an Ordnance Sergeant. He served in this capacity until his death in 1861 at Fort Wood in New York harbor. Sergeant Bishop was discharged in 1849 and gained employment at Fort Leavenworth as a civilian forage master for the army. Bishop later became a successful cattleman in the town of Weston, Missouri.

John. Love was brevetted to the rank of captain for his heroism at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales. He resigned his commission in 1853. Returning to Indianapolis, Love embarked upon a career as a railroad construction contractor. During the Civil War, he was briefly commissioned as a Major General of Indiana volunteers. After the war he spent most of his remaining years as the European agent for the Gatling Arms Company.

To read more on the post war exploits of B Company, the reader might wish to consult Percival Lowe’s “Five Years a Dragoon.” For information on the Santa Fe Trail during the Mexican War, the authors recommend “Dangerous Passage” by William Chalfant, published by the University of Oklahoma in 1994. The authors wish to express their deep appreciation to Betsy Caldwell (Collections Assistant) at the Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana, for supplying them with previously unpublished letters that are quoted extensively in this article.

WILL GORENFELD, an attorney for the State of California and member of the Company of Military Historians, has been the author of articles on the First United States Dragoons. He lives in Ventura, California.

GEORGE STAMMERJOHAN, grew up in the farming community of Turlock, California. From 1974 through 1998, he worked as a State Historian II with the California Department of Parks and Recreation where he authored several historical articles on California and military history. Among his interests is the role of the Spanish, Mexico, and the U.S. military in early California. George resides in Sacramento, California.

The United States Dragoons
Dragoons are horsemen who are trained to fight both on foot and while mounted. The United States Regiment of Dragoons was formed in 1833 for patrolling the Great Plains region. In 1836, a second regiment of Dragoons was formed to fight the Seminoles in Florida. The 3d Dragoons were created for the Mexican War and disbanded at the end of the war.

The typical Dragoon was a “moving arsenal and military depot.” Secured by a leather sling over his left shoulder hung a .52 caliber Hall carbine—a percussion breech-loading smooth-bore carbine of limited range and impact. In his pommel holster was a single shot Model 1836 flintlock horse pistol in .54 caliber. This foot-long weapon was wildly inaccurate and it was said, “[I]n practicing marksmanship it was never wise to choose for a mark anything smaller than a good sized barn.”

From his buff belt was slung the Model 1833 saber. Troops complained that this saber would warp “rubber-like around a man’s head and was only good for cutting warm butter.” He also carried on his person a cartridge box, a small pouch containing percussion caps, a haversack for rations, and a wooden canteen. Attempting to mount, while weighed down by all of this unwieldy equipage, could be a daunting task. Company B was able to obtain the new Grimsley saddle and horse equipment.

As for the “genteel clothing” mentioned in the recruiting advertisement, army regulations provided that for dress occasions the Dragoons wore a high collared coatee with a double row of nine brass buttons, trimmed in yellow, light blue kersey trousers, white belts, and a shiny black shako that sported a flowing white horsehair plume and yellow braid. For fatigue duty, Dragoons wore the natty blue woolen shell jacket that was trimmed in yellow along with the Model 1839-pattern dark blue wool forage cap.



Included in the John Love collection at the Indiana Historical Society is a letter from three recruits complaining about their treatment at Newport Barracks, Kentucky. This did not offend Lt. Love slight to his rank and station: in June of 1847, he promoted George Gibson, one of the signatories, to the rank of corporal. All three of the men would serve honorably in Company B. We have left intact the spelling and grammatical errors contained in the original.
Newport Barracks
April 2, 1847
Liet Dear Sir
We wish to inform you that our condition is very unpleasant
on account of the absence of our officers. We are here drilled in the infantry
squads, and obliged to do duties that we believe we would be exempted
of, were you with us and on this account there is some, not inconsiderable dissatisfaction prevailing in regard to our having no officers of our own company with us. We would inform you that the discord refered to, has already been the cause of the one of the company’s “deserting”, but we do not think that any who came with us, will, on any consideration be guilty of so base an act, but could you favor us with an officer of our own greater satisfaction would exist, and a greater degree of confidence would be concentrated in you by your men. We consider it right you should know these circumstances and also that is binding on us to inform you of it. Gardener is dead and another one of the Company not expected to recover. We have considered it our duty to write this much.
We remain your friends and Obedient soldiers
John W. George
Jeptha Powell
George W. Gibson
A CALL TO ARMS: Indiana 1846

When it became known that the President of the United States had made requisition upon the States for troops. and in response to a general demand from all parts of' the county, a meeting of the citizens of the county was called to be held in the City Hall at Dayton the evening of May 21, 1846. The hall was filled with militiamen of the different companies of the county and prominent citizens of the city and townships. Gen. Spiece was called to the chair. and Maj. Thomas B. Tilton. his Brigade Major, was made Secretary of the meeting. Gen. Spiece briefly stated the object of the meeting to be to give an expression of the sentiment of the county on the Mexican war question, and to adopt measures to encourage the enrollment of volunteers. Capt. Luther Giddings of the Dayton Dragoons in response to a call of the meeting. made a patriotic appeal. Short. stirring speeches were. also delivered by Capt. M. B. Walker. of the Germantown Cavalry : by Maj. Tilton. Capt. Lewis Hormell, of the Dayton National Guards (German Company) ; Lieut. Atlas Stout, of the Dayton Gun Squad and Lieut. John Love, of the United States Army, and others.