First Dragoons

A site dedicated to the 1st US Dragoons 1833-1861 (What is a Dragoon?)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Disabled Dragoon Officers

George Evans

George Evans graduated from the Military Academy as a member of the legendary Class of in 1846. Assigned as a brevet 2d Lieutenant to the 1st Dragoons, he received a brevet for bravery at the battle of Buene Vista before receiving his permanent rank of 2d Lt. Assigned to A Company, he suffered what appears to be a stroke while in California in 1850. Sent home to Maine, he languished for another 9 years before dying on 29 March 1859.

Adjutant-General's Office,
Washington, November 9, 1854.

Report of the Adjutant General of the Army relates to passing over 2d Lieutenant George F. Evans, of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons, on account of physical disability.

Sir: Lieutenant George F. Evans, of the 1st Dragoons, being at the head of the list of second lieutenants of his regiment, and a vacancy having occurred therein by the resignation of Captain Buford, I respectfully request your instructions on the question of carrying up Lieutenant Evans to a first lieutenancy, or giving the promotion to the next below him on the regimental list.
Lieutenant Evans left his company in California in October, 1850, in consequence of a severe attack of paralysis, affecting both his limbs and speech, and from which there seems but little, if any, prospect of his recovery. He is entirely unable to make the monthly sick-reports prescribed by the regulations, which are in the handwriting of his father, Lieutenant E., simply affixing his mark to them. Accompanying is the last certificate of Lieutenant Evans's physicians, dated at Gardiner, Maine, October 2, 1854.
"I have the honor to be, sir, your obe'd't ser't,
(Signed)"S. COOPER,

Hon. Jefferson Davis,
"Secretary of War.

The disability of Lieutenant Evans requires that the officer next below him, competent for active service, shall be promoted over him.
Sec. of War

1st Lieut. Thomas Castor

Benny Havens ran a tavern that was located about a mile and one-half from the cadet barracks at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. The saloon quickly became a favorite haunt for generations of cadets. Cadet Edgar Allan Poe wrote that Benny was “the sole congenial soul in the entire God forsaken place.” In 1838, a couple of appreciative young officers, borrowing the Irish tune known as the Wearing of the Green (also known as The Rising of the Moon), composed some verse to honor Benny Havens. The first verse went as follows:
“Come fill your glasses, fellows, and stand up in a row,
To singing sentimentally we’re going for to go;
In the army there’s sobriety, promotion’s very slow;
So we’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!
Oh! Benny havens, Oh! Oh! Benny Havens, Oh!
We’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, Oh!”

The song soon became quite popular among officers. During the ensuing years, many a new verse was added as cadets carried the song with them from the dismal Everglades to Buena Vista’s barren plain and then out to the foothills of California’s Motherlode.
Thomas Foster Castor entered West Point in 1841. His classmates, a rather notable group, included the likes of George McClelland, Thomas Jackson, A.P. Hill, George Crook and George Pickett. The latter cadet seems to have become “addicted to Benny’s enticements.” During the years of Cadet Castor’s stay at the Academy it is likely that he also frequently slipped out of the barracks to partake in a glass of hard cider and join in the good cheer at Benny Haven’s public house.
“Let us toast our foster-father, the Republic, as you know,
Who in the paths of science taught us upward for to go;
And the maidens of our native land, whose cheeks like roses glow,
They’re oft remembered in our cups at Benny Havens, Oh!”

Upon graduation in 1846, Castor was posted to Fort Columbus in New York Harbor. Here is a copy of letter that a freshly minted brevet 2d Lieutenant Castor wrote to the folks back home in Pennsylvania.

Fort Columbus, 3 Sept. 1846

To Mrs. George Castor, Frankford, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Dear Grandmother:

Well here I am snugly fixed on the Island. I arrived in N. York on Tuesday about 2 o'clock and reported myself for duty about 5 on the same day. I was attached to the dragoon recruits now here under the command of Lieut. Sibley. I have nothing to do but to superintend the drills and roll-calls, inspect their rations and keep them in order generally. I suppose that it will afford you a great deal of pleasure to hear that we will probably not sail for a month yet and very likely not that soon. Mr. Sibley told me that he would propose to the Captain when he arrived to take the company from here to Carlisle, mount it there and after drilling it for some time take it down to Mexico by land. if this obtains I would not be surprised if we did not leave this part of the country until November. And if the reports which have just been received prove true (viz. that private advices have been received that the war is over) we will very likely not go to Texas at all. Aunt Eliza I know will clap her hands at this news notwithstanding it cuts me out of all chance of distinguishing myself. I have been so lucky as to get quarters with one of my classmates who has been here for some time and we have to rooms carpeted with tables, sofa, beds, looking glasses and everything complete. To day I am Officer of the Day and it would make you laugh to see me strutting around with my sash and sabre followed all day by an orderly at a respectful distance and having Captains and old Lieuts. asking permission to have boats etc. The Officer of the Day being you know second in command for the time being. I am very well pleased with the post so much as I know of it. The officers are very clever and the society I am told is very good.

I had the blues going up the river and indeed the whole day after I left home. I waved my handkerchief as I passed our house but I suppose it was so foggy you did not see it as I could see none waved in return. Please tell me in your answer how Aunt Eliza and [Bud?] got home and particularly how Josephine is. I was afraid when I left that she would have a spell of sickness. How did she get through wit her teeth, how much did they cost and every thing. you must tell me all. I hope you have gotten over your troubles on account of my departure and if you have not I say you must!!

Yesterday about 700 troops sailed from here for Pt. Isabel. Poor fellows they were glad to get off but many a soldiers wife who was left behind went sorrowing to her home. If there are any letters at home for me please send them on directed to Ft. Columbus, Governors Island, N.Y. I am getting over my home sickness and am in good health. Please write very soon and tell all that has occurred since I left home, and everything that would be of any interest to me. Give my love to Aunts Liz and Buts [?] and take it yourself. I am going to write to all in succession? as I promised and I hope that nobody will fail to write me a long long answer. You dear grandmother must get Buts [?] to write for you. It is near 11 o'clock so good night dear Grandmother and I hope that you will not forget.

Your affectionate grandson

On 6 December 1846, Castor gained a permanent commission as 2d Lt. with the 1st Dragoons and campaigned in Mexico with the regiment, from the siege of Vera Cruz into the Valley of Mexico through the capture of Mexico City. While in Mexico he became quite ill and began to drink heavily. There may not have been much sobriety, but promotion came slow: Castor did not become a First Lieutenant until 1851. Following the war Castor was posted to Forts Snelling and Ripley, Minnesota. On 9 October 1851. While stationed at Fort Lane in Oregon he participated in a skirmish on the Illinois River on 24 October 1853. The next year Lt. Castor was sent to Fort Miller in California with Company A. Later that year he was ordered to start construction on what became Fort Tejon. Castor's drinking and ill health continued to rack his body. In August of 1854, Castor led the first troops to the proposed site of Fort Tejon. The rigors of years of hard campaigning, and the effects of hard drinking, had taken their toll on the Lieutenant. Castor had a bout with tuberculosis and was seriously ill during his posting at Fort Tejon. On September 8, 1855, he died.

“To our kind old Alma Mater, our rock-bound Highland home,
We’ll cast back many a fond regret as o’er life’s sea we roam;
Until on our last battlefield, the lights of heaven shall glow,
We’ll never fail to drink to her and Benny Havens, Oh!”

His remains were ceremoniously buried under the spreading oaks that dot the landscape behind the Lebeck Oak. Fellow officers bought a marble headstone and an iron fence to honor their fallen comrade. Some years later, the fence and marble grave stone were moved to the site of the old post cemetery. As a consequence, no memorial marks final resting place of Lt. Castor.

“To our comrades who have fallen, one cup before we go,
They poured their life-blood freely our pro bono publico.
No marble points the stranger to where they rest below;
They lie neglected far away from Benny Havens, Oh!”


Thompson grew up in a privileged family, the eldest son of Dr. B.C. Thompson of Augusta, Georgia and grandson of Philip R. Thompson, a former congressman from western Virginia. Thompson had attended the Richmond Academy and then was a cadet at the United States Military Academy. In 1835, he graduated 36th in a class of 56 from the Military Academy, and the Army assigned him to the 1st Dragoons. The years 1837-1841, found Thompson serving on the plains at Forts Atkinson and Leavenworth as well as the regimental adjutant for Col. Stephen W. Kearny.

In 1846, with the outset of the Mexican-American War, the Army promoted Thompson to the rank of Captain. Alcoholism was a serious problem for far too many an officer in the antebellum army. Thompson was fighting a lifelong battle with alcohol and it was a battle that he would ultimately lose.

Thompson became the adjutant for Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan’s regiment of Missouri volunteers and, as a member of Col. Doniphan’s staff, participated in the invasion the Mexican State of Chihuahua. Col. Doniphan, a lawyer in civilian life, knew little of military matters and relied heavily upon his adjutant. At the Battle of Sacramento, 28 February 1847 he received the honorary rank of major for bravery. Col. Doniphan wrote in his official report of the battle praised Capt. Thompson who “acted as my aid and adviser on the field during the whole engagement, and was of the most essential service to me."

At war’s end, Capt. Thompson reunited with his dragoon company at Ft. Scott, Missouri Territory. In the spring of 1851, the troop traveled to New Mexico Territory. Katie Bowen, the wife of Captain Isaac Bowen, department commissary officer, 1851-1855, traveled with the column. She wrote of Capt. Thompson, when intoxicated, could turn violent. "Frequently he has had 'the man with the poker' after him and always carries his pistols loaded. He fancies, when in his cups that some of his men are going to kill him, and last night, as this man was cooking by the fire, the Maj called him and presented a pistol to his head, but immediately lowered it and told the man to go about his work. When, as he was stooping over the fire, the Maj deliberately shot him in the back, the ball passing through the body under and into one arm. Medical aid from here was soon procured and the man is still alive but little hopes of recovery. Maj Thompson has been arrested . . . . He is very polished and agreeable when himself, but can not live long at the rate he has drank while here. He has nights of delirium . . . but is always gentle with his wife. She, poor soul, must be in trouble enough now. I have not heard how she bears it." The man whom Thompson shot survived, and the Army ordered Thompson to pay him $600 in damages and required that he join the temperance society in Santa Fe. Thompson "broke the pledge so soon that the society expelled him." Maj. Blake, like many other commanding officers out West, was short of officers and put up with Thompson’s alcoholism.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Resigning Dragoon Officers

Obtaining a rebel commission was not an easy thing for officers of the regular army. First, one had to choose between the loyalty owed to his home state and to the oath to defend the Constitution. Many officers of Southern birth remained in the federal army. Of 821 West Point educated officers actively serving in the federal army in 1861, 184 gained commissions in the army of the Southern Confederacy.

Consider the case of William T. Magruder--an officer who managed to fight for both sides in the war. A native of Maryland, he graduated from West Point in 1850 and landed a commission in the 1st Dragoons. He received a Captain's commission and the command of Company E to date from 8 January 1861. When the war started, Magruder found himself on leave in the East and fought for the Union Army at the Battle of Bull Run. After the battle he hurried to the West Coast to take command of his company at Fort Wall Walla, in Washington Territory only to turn around and take his company back to Washington, D.C. Magruder dutifully boarded a steamer and arrived in Washington D.C. with his troop at the end of January of 1862. He fought in a number of battles during General McClellan’s failed campaign to take Richmond in May of 1862. Opposing McClellan was Magruder's older brother, Prince John Magruder.

With his battered troop in need of new recruits and refitting, Captain Magruder went on leave in August. He did not return. On October 1, 1862, the Union Army accepted his resignation. The capable Magruder quickly obtained a captain's commission in the Confederate Army and served on General Robert E. Lee's staff. On July 3, 1863, he was killed while attempting tp rally the men of General Davis' brigade during the final moments of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg.