First Dragoons

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Letter from Ft. Leavenworth 1846

In 1846, Company B of the 1st United States Dragoons participated in the bloodless conquest of Santa Fe. The Brig. General Stephen W. Kearny broke up Company B and transferred its enlisted men and mounts to the other companies in his command. Lt. John Love was placed in field command of Company B and was ordered by General Kearny to return East to recruit men and rebuilt the company back up to full strength. (1)

While Lt. Love was slowly gaining recruits for Company B in Ohio and Indiana, he received the following letter from Lt. Henry Stanton, regimental adjutant. (2) The letter is significant in two regards. First, it reveals that the new Grimsley horse equipage was being widely issued, prior to its official adoption by the Army board in 1848. (3) Second, the letter tells of a November 11, 1846, running battle between elements of the 1st Dragoons and the Navajo. Although the Dragoons had patrolled the plains since 1833, this encounter was the first reported skirmish between the Dragoons and Native Americans. (4)

Ft. Leavenworth December 24, 1846

Dear Love

I send you herewith a Regimental and General Orders, and an extract from the clothing receipt roll of Sergt. Muller (5) and Corpl. Nickerson (6), clothing issued by Lieut. McLean (7). I also send you Duplicate Receipts for Ordnance and Horse Equipage which I have directed Sergt. Bishop (8) to leave behind as I do not think you would want to be troubled with old equipage and ordnance at Jefferson Barracks, when you will probably get an entire New Equipment for your Company.
If you should want any horse equipage I have receipted for a good deal of New Equipage that was sent on for the different Dragoon Companies, and which has never been used, and if you are not able to equip you Company entirely at St. Louis, I may be able to help you. Colonel Wharton (9) has at last indirectly applied to join the Army in the field, he will probably get an answer before the middle of next month. We got a mail from Santa Fe a day or two ago. Grier (10) had a fight with the Indians, it seems they have runned off some cattle, Grier followed them, but owing to the bad condition of the mules of his party, only himself, Lieut. Wilson (11) and two men were able to come up with the Indians; they killed two of the Indians and Grier's horse or mule whatever it was, shot under him. (12) The Dragoons under Burgwin (13) have been ordered to the Passo to protect the traders. (14) He writes very despondently, says, if his men were only Dragoons he might do something. I hope that Colonel Wharton joins Scott or Taylor that he will [take] some more Companies of the 1st Dragoons down with him. If he could get four or five Companies it would be a very pretty command. How are you getting along at Dayton. Did the Girls give you a warm welcome? I was not able to send you a copy of your estimate for clothing because by some mistake it was sent off without a copy being attached. If there should by any possibility be any thing new here, I will let you know.
Yours Truly

Henry Stanton would serve as regimental adjutant at Fort Leavenwoth and Jefferson Barracks until 1851. Gaining a Captain’s commission in 1854, he took part in an expedition against the Mescalero Apache in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico Territory. (15) Captain Stanton seems to have forgotten Captain Grier’s nearly fatal mistake of riding far in advance of his support. (16) While rashly leading a small detachment in pursuit of a fleeing band of Mescaleros he and three troopers were ambushed and killed. (17)



(1) For further information on the refitting of Company B, see Gorenfeld, "Jefferson Barracks, 1847: 'I'm Disgusted with the Duty'", Military Collector & Historian, Winter 2003-2004, Vol. 55, No. 4, 211. John Love graduated from the Military Academy in 1841 and was promoted to the rank of 2d Lieut. in the 1st Dragoons in 1842, and 1st Lieut. on June 30, 1846. (George W. Cullum. Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy (New York, J. F. Trow, 1850) 241 (hereafter cited as Cullum)

(2) Born in New York, Henry W. Stanton graduated from the Military Academy in 1842 and became a 2d lieut. in the 1st Dragoons on October 8, 1844. In 1846, he was serving at Fort Leavenworth as regimental adjutant. (Cullum, 253.)

(3) In 1846, the Ringgold saddle was the official saddle for the mounted arm. It was not until March 7, 1848, that an Army board approved the Grimsley saddle as the official pattern. (Stephen Dorsey & Kenneth McPheeters, The American Military Saddle 1776-1945 (Collectors' Library, Eugene, Ore. 1999), 20.

(4) The original of this letter may be found at the Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis. The author wishes to express his deep appreciation to Mrs. Besty Caldwell for making a copy of this letter available.

(5) German-born First Sergeant Frederick Muller had been with the Dragoons since 1834. He was thirty-five years of age and was six foot-one inch in height. Lt. Love wrote of Muller that, "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." 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. (Report of John Love, House Ex. Docs., 30 Cong., 1 sess., No. 1, 120.; (War Department Files, National Archives, Lt. John Love's Company B, Muster Roll Records, 28 February to 30 April, 1847. (Hereafter, Muster Roll).

(6) Trooper John F. Nickerson enlisted in the 1st Dragoons in 1841. Promoted to the rank of corporal in June of 1847, on February 6, 1848, he received a surgeon's discharge. (Muster Roll, Company B, 1 January to 28 February, 1848.).

(7) 2d Lt. Eugene Eckel McLean, 1st Infantry, graduated from the Military Academy in 1842. During the Mexican War he served as Aide de Camp to General John Wool. (Cullum, 253)

(8) Sergeant Benjamin Bishop had served with the Dragoons since 1834. Sergeant Bishop was discharged in 1849 and gained employment at Fort Leavenworth as a civilian forage master for the army. (Percival Lowe. Five Years a Dragoon (Norman, Okla. Univ. Oklahoma Press), 82-83, 242; Muster Roll, Company B, 29 February to 30 April, 1847.)

(9) Lt. Col. Clifton Wharton. 1st Dragoons (Heitman, 1022).

(10) Capt. William N. Grier, 1st Dragoons, graduated from the Military Academy in 1835, was promoted to Captain on August 23, 1846 and commanded Company I. (Cullum, 205.)

(11) 2d Lt. Clarendon J. L. Wilson, 1st Dragoons, graduated from the Military Academy in 1846 and was serving as a brevet 2d Lt at the time of the battle. (Cullum, 271.)

(12) A detailed account appears in Lt. Col. W.H. Emory, Notes of a Military Reconnaissance, Ex. Doc. No. 41, Washington, 1848, Report of Lt. J. W. Abert, 498. "So warm and exciting was the chase, that the officers, who were well mounted, heeded not the want of their men who were unable to keep pace with them, but they pressed on, anxious to recover the immense "cavalgada" of sheep the Indians were yet driving. Suddenly they saw they had rushed into an ambuscade, for the Indians rising up from their concealment surrounded Captain Grier and his three brave companions. With horrid cries and shouts of "Navajoe," the Indians sprang forward to the combat; they were dressed for war, being ornamented with paints and plumes, and mounted on good horses, and armed with bows and arrows, and lances; but, fortunately, they were so crowded that they feared lest they shoot each other. At length, one of the chiefs came alongside of Lieutenant Wilson; their horses were on the gallop, each one waiting until the horses should jump together, when, at the same moment, Lieutenant Wilson and the Indian fired; the officer's pistol did not go off, and the arrow of the chief only cut off a coat button, and lodged in the saddle blanket of Captain Grier. As the Indian turned his horse, a Mexican, who had started at full speed, came in contact with him, and rolled horse and rider in the dust; the Indian was immediately upon his feet, and rushed up to a dragoon soldier, who had a patent [Hall's] carbine, such as loaded at the breach, and had, unseen by the Indian, reloaded it, and the Indian coming up within two or three feet, the soldier shot him dead. One other Indian was killed, when Captain Grier ordered a retreat, and the four, drawing their sabres, cut their way out and rejoined their company, while the Navajoes succeeded in carrying off 3,000 head of sheep."

(13) Capt. John Henry K. Burgwin, 1st Dragoons. Graduated from the Military Academy in 1830 and was promoted to Captain on July 31, 1837. And commanded Company G. Captain Burgwin was mortally wounded during the Taos insurrection and died of wounds on February 7, 1847. (Cullum, 163.)

(14) During the most of Mexican War, there was lively trade betweenAmerican merchants in Santa Fe and Mexican merchants in Chihauhua. (See generally, Edward James Glasgow and William Henry Glasgow, Brothers on the Santa Fe and Chihuahua Trails, edited by Mark L. Gardner (Niwest, Colo, Univ. Colorado Press 1993).

(15) Francis Heitman, Historical Register of the United States Army (Washington D.C. GPO 1903) 1:916; LTC Miles to General Garland November 18, 1854 (National Archives Microfilm Publication, Washington, D.C.) M1120, roll 3

(16) Capt. Richard Ewell to Lt. William Nichols, 10 February 1855, Letters Received, Department of New Mexico, RG 393, National Archives.

(17) James A. Bennett, Fort & Forays, edited by Clinton E. Brooks & Frank Reeve (Univ. New Mexico, Albuquerque, 1996), xxviii-xxix. James Bennett, a sergeant with Company I, described the battle and Stanton's death as follows: "The main body of troops moved up the stream and small parties of Dragoons kept charging out after parties of Indians. A running fight was kept up until 4 o'clock, when we encamped. Captain Stanton with 12 men rushed up a deep ravine. The Indians in ambush fired upon him, a ball passed through his forehead." (Bennett, 60.)