ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
From now until October 19, the Second Cavalry with the rest of Merritt’s division was doing reconnaissance and picket duty as the army withdrew down the valley. On this date it took part in the battle of Cedar Creek at Middletown. The enemy attacked the pickets of the First Brigade at Cupp’s Ford and this unit was soon supported by the Reserve Brigade. As a result of the strong attack of the enemy there was much straggling on the left of the infantry line. The Fifth Cavalry and the Second Brigade were interposed to stop this by requiring the stragglers to form line as they moved to the rear. At about 10:00 a.m. the whole division was placed on the left of the infantry with the Reserve Brigade in the center of the division. This was done to stem the tide of the successful attack of the Confederates, who had just captured eighteen pieces of artillery from Crooks corps. Lieutenant Wells was soon wounded severely and this left only one officer, Captain Smith, on duty with the Second Cavalry.
General Wright reformed the Federal infantry and was preparing to attack when General Sheridan arrived from Washington. His presence on the battlefield is supposed to have raised the morale of the troops. The line was soon advanced, driving the enemy across the open country. During most of the day the Rebel artillery was so accurate the cavalry had difficulty in finding a place for the led horses. The entire cavalry division under Merritt later was ordered to make a mounted attack. Forming the brigades in column of regiments, Merritt moved forward to the charge in a resistless mass. The Second and Reserve Brigade galloped to Cedar Creek, crossed it and pursued the enemy to Fisher’s Hill. The Reserve Brigade commander, Colonel Lowell, fell mortally wounded. In the final attack, most of the enemy artillery was captured, thus more than offsetting the loss of Crook’s guns that morning. Near the end of the day’s fighting Captain Smith fell wounded and the Second Cavalry now was without an officer. It was attached temporarily to the First Cavalry under the command of Captain Baker, and then on the 20th moved out as usual in pursuit of the fleeing Confederates. The entire division pursued to Woodstock and the Reserve Brigade followed on to Edenburg without coming up to the enemy. In this battle the First Division under Merritt captured 389 prisoners, twenty-two cannon, and much property.
The Second Cavalry continued to do picket and reconnaissance duty with the Army of the Shenandoah until November 3. On this date it was detached and placed on guard duty protecting workmen who were building the military railroad from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester.
On November 29 the Reserve Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Crowninshield, was ordered to join the division for the purpose of marching east of the Blue Ridge and destroying property and capturing guerillas. From Stephenson’s Depot it marched to Bloomfield where the remainder of the division was expected. At this place Moseby’s guerillas attacked the advance guard of the brigade, wounding two men. The march was continued to Snickersville, where pickets were placed at strategic points in the gap and on the roads. On November 30 the Second Cavalry was detached with the Second Massachusetts and given a sector to devastate. Its route was along Wood Grove, Hillsborough to Cave Head on the Potomac, thence along the river to Lovettsville. In this area all grain, hay, mills and distilleries were destroyed, and stock driven off. On December 2 the regiment joined the division and the command went into camp at Stone Chapel.
General Torbert started from Winchester December 19, 1864, with the First and Second Cavalry Divisions, but without artillery, on a raid of destruction to Gordonsville. The command crossed the Blue Ridge on the 20th and camped on the Hazel River that night after a march of twenty-nine miles. On the following day the First Division separated from the Second Division and marched to Madison Court House, where it met Jackson’s brigade of Rebel cavalry and drove it from the town. The command having again united on the 22nd, they met Lomax’s division of cavalry at Liberty Mills. At the bridge the Confederates were entrenched and soon after firing began, the wooden structure was set on fire. This necessitated sending part of the command up and down the Rapidan River to seek crossings. These two columns were so delayed that it was nearly dark before they attacked the Confederates from the opposite bank. After driving the Rebels away from the river, the fighting continued until after dark when friend and foe could not be distinguished. On the 23rd the enemy was again attacked and driven to the top of the gap in Southwest Mountain. They were strongly posted behind breast-works, and after an attack failed to dislodge them, Torbert sent part of his column around their flank to the north. Later he was convinced the enemy infantry had relieved the cavalry in front of him in the gap. As a result of this information, he decided it was useless to push the attack farther and began withdrawing at once. After a march in severely cold weather, the command arrived at Winchester December 28. Although some property was destroyed on the raid, Torbert failed to reach the railroad at Gordonsville, the main objective of the expedition.
The Second Cavalry was sent to Camp Russell, Virginia, until January 21, 1865, when it moved to Hagerstown, Maryland. At this time the regiment was depleted to such an extent that there were only three officers and 111 men for duty. From now until the end of the Civil War, it was doing picket and reconnaissance work in northern Virginia. On July 28th the regiment reached Monrovia, Maryland, where it was recruited and refitted for post war duty.