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.
The seven companies of the regiment encamped near Washington, D.C., were selected to form part of McClellan’s army which was to invade Virginia from the Yorktown Peninsula. In March, 1862, this army was transported south and the siege of Yorktown began. The Second Cavalry was fortunate in being unloaded soon after its arrival at Fort Monroe, as the harbor was crowded with over 250 ships, and many of the transports had waited for some time with men and animals still on board. On April 4 the regiment encamped at Hampton about four miles from Fort Monroe.
When McClellan’s army made its advance April 5, Company H, Second Cavalry, was selected as the escort for the General Headquarters. The company hurried along the road with the General for fifteen miles toward the front and went into camp. The next morning the remainder of the regiment joined, along with four companies of the First Cavalry, which made up the mounted force at General Headquarters. The Second at this time formed a part of the cavalry reserve, about five regiments, under its old commander Brigadier General St. G. Cooke. During the campaign this force performed picket and reconnaissance duty. After the withdrawal of the Confederates up the Peninsula, they were engaged further on reconnaissance duty and had skirmishes almost daily on the advance to Chickahominy. The regiment was prevented from participating in some of the engagements during this period, as it usually acted as escort for the General.
Companies H and K, under Captain George A. Gordon, were engaged with the enemy at New Bridge, Virginia, on May 24, 1862. The squadron was sent on reconnaissance as a support to the Fourth Michigan Volunteers. At this place the nature of the marshy ground and the deep Chickahominy River prevented the squadron from taking a very active part in the engagement. The enemy artillery, which was posted on the opposite bank, fired two pieces at the squadron for nearly an hour, causing some casualties. The Fifth Louisiana regiment was driven away from the bridge where they had been acting as pickets.
In the passage of the Army of the Potomac over the Chickahominy, June 27, 1862, the cavalry, with the Fifth Army Corps, was placed under the orders of General Porter, who was charged with covering the movement. The line of battle formed a semi-circle parallel to the river and Cooke’s cavalry was placed on a plateau in the rear of the left of the line. As the day drew to a close the Confederates made a desperate assault to cut the left of the line off from the bridge. The infantry gave way and uncovered the artillery, which was left exposed. General Cooke then ordered the artillery to remain there and brought up the cavalry to support it. Under cover of a charge the artillery was safely withdrawn. After the fight at Gaines’ Mill, the Second Cavalry was the last to leave the north bank of the Chickahominy and took up the pontoon bridge under a heavy fire from the Confederates.
The Second was now on the dangerous service of opening the route for the Union army from the Chickahominy to the James River, which it accomplished on June 29. After some skirmishing by the advance guard of the regiment it reached Carter’s Landing and made contact with the gunboats that evening. During the remainder of the Seven Days battles at Savage Station and Malvern Hill the regiment was an active participant in the combats.