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.
While General Pillow’s division was building a road to the right of the Mexican position at San Antonio, the latter attacked at Contreras August 19. Owing to the ground in this area being volcanic rock, it was impracticable for horses. During the battle the regiment was held in reserve nearby. On the 20th Captain Hardee with Company C was attacked while guarding the approaches to San Augustin and captured about forty horses and a quantity of equipment. Captain Blake’s squadron was assigned the duty of guarding the prisoners taken at Contreras, over 1,000 in number and including four generals.
During the battle of Churubusco, Captain Ker’s squadron was ordered to remain at general headquarters. The troops conducted themselves admirably during this engagement, which was over difficult ground against permanent works and under heavy fire. As soon as the Mexicans began retreating along the causeway to the city, Colonel Harney gathered a mounted force together including Captain Ker’s squadron of the Second, and pursued, catching up with the fugitives about one-half mile from the gate. The dragoons rode among them killing many and driving others into the nearby ditches. After our troops came under fire of the guns on the defenses, Colonel Harney ordered them to withdraw. At the battle of Churubusco, the Americans lost 1,000 killed and wounded, and the Mexicans 7,000 killed, wounded, and missing. For political reasons General Scott now agreed to an armistice.
OPERATIONS PUEBLA TO THE CITY OF MEXICO – MAJOR SUMNER’S REPORT
Headquarters, Second Dragoons
Near the City of Mexico
August 24, 1847.
SIR: In compliance with the directions of Colonel Harney, I submit a brief report of the services of the Second Dragoons and Company I, Mounted Rifles, during the late operations.
We marched from Puebla at the head of the army on the 7th inst. On our arrival at the hacienda Buena Vista, at the foot of the western slope of the mountains, on the 10th inst. we first met the enemy. They appeared in considerable force about a mile in our front, and preparations were immediately made to charge them, on which they disappeared, and we took quarters in the hacienda. Shortly afterwards they appeared again, and drove in several of our men who had gone some distance to our front. Colonel Harney then ordered me to take a squadron and pursue them, which was done at a rapid pace, he supporting me with the rest of the regiment. The enemy fled so fast we could not overtake them, and we halted at the end of a mile and a half.
On the 17th instant, as we approached San Augustin, the enemy again appeared in force, but they retired before us. Captain Blake, of the Second Dragoons, who commanded the advance-guard of the army, entered the town and took possession of it after a skirmish with the enemy. On the 18th, we marched at an early hour with the First Division, Captain Thornton taking the lead with the advance guard. As we approached San Antonio their guns were partially concealed, and the brave Captain Thornton unfortunately advanced too far, when he received a cannon-shot from their battery, which struck him in the breast and killed him instantly. On the 19th, at the battle of San Geronimo, my command was held in reserve within range of the enemy’s shells. On the 20th, it became necessary to split up the cavalry into so many detachments that both Colonel Harney and myself were left without commands for the greater part of the day. On this day Captains Hardee and Ruff were holding important points around San Augustin, and the former was attacked by a large band of guerillas, who were repulsed and driven off by Captain Hardee and his subaltern, Lieutenant Anderson. The firing being heard at San Augustin, two companies of the Second and one of the Third Dragoons were promptly taken out to his assistance by Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, of the Third Dragoons; but the enemy had retired before they arrived, and further pursuit was deemed unnecessary. In this encounter, between thirty and forty horses, with arms and accouterments, were captured by Captain Hardee. Captain Blake, with his squadron, was engaged in conducting and securing the prisoners taken at San Geronimo. Captain Ker, of the Second Dragoons, was ordered to report to General Pierce, and was engaged in the charge, under the direction of Colonel Harney, that drove the enemy into the city. During all these operations my command had been actively engaged in reconnoitering, on picket, guard, and patrol duty; and, as the corps of horses is very small in comparison with the other corps of the army, these duties have been very severe.
It gives me great pleasure to add that the regular staff officers – Lieutenant Oaks, as Adjutant, and Lieutenant Tree as quartermaster – have rendered important service, and I am much indebted to them for their zeal and energy.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. V. SUMNER, Major, Second Dragoons
Lieut. WM. STEELE, A. A. G. Cavalry Brigade
OPERATIONS OF CAVALRY BRIGADE NEAR THE CITY OF MEXICO – COLONEL HARNEY’S REPORT
Headquarters Cavalry Brigade
Tacubaya, Mexico, August 24, 1847
SIR: I have the honor to present the following report of the operations of the cavalry brigade under my command during the Battle of Mexico:
The cavalry force being necessarily weakened by detachments of different divisions of the army, I found myself, on the morning of the 19th inst., in the immediate command of nine companies only, consisting of six companies of the Second Dragoons, one company of Mounted Riflemen, and two companies of Mounted Volunteers. With this force I was ordered by the General-in-Chief to report to Brigadier-General Twiggs, who was at this time covering Major-General Pillow’s division in an effort to make a road through the ridge of lava which forms the pass of San Antonio. Owing to the nature of the ground I was compelled to halt within range of the enemy’s shells, and to remain in this position for several hours, an idle spectator of the action which ensued. After night I returned with my command to San Augustin, and remained there until the enemy’s position at Contreras was carried on the morning of the 20th.
As soon as the road was ascertained to be opened and practicable for cavalry, I was directed by the General-in-Chief to proceed with two squadrons and Captain McKinstry’s company of volunteers to the field of battle, and to take charge of the prisoners which had been captured. While in the execution of this order I received instructions from the General-in-Chief to leave one squadron in charge of prisoners, and to report to him in person with the other three companies. Captain Blake, with his squadron, was directed to perform this duty, while Major Sumner and myself, with Captain Ker’s squadron and Captain McKinstry’s company of volunteers, joined the Commanding General near the field of Churubusco, just after the engagement at that place had commenced.
The reports of Major Sumner, commanding the First Battalion, and Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, commanding the Second Battalion, which I have the honor to forward herewith, will show in what manner the other troops and squadrons in my command were employed. The three troops of horse brought by me on the field being ordered away in different directions, Major Sumner and myself soon found ourselves without commands. I then employed myself with my staff in rallying fugitives and encouraging our troops on the left of the main road. Major Sumner, towards the close of the engagement, was placed by the General-in-Chief in charge of the last reserve, consisting of the rifle regiment and one company of horse, and was ordered to support the left. This force was moving rapidly to take up its position in line of battle, when the enemy broke and fled to the city. At this moment, perceiving that the enemy was retreating in disorder on the main causeways leading to the City of Mexico, I collected all the cavalry within my reach, consisting of parts of Captain Ker’s company, Second Dragoons, Captain Kearney’s company, First Dragoons, and Captains McReynolds’ and Duperu’s companies of the Third Dragoons, and pursued them vigorously until we were halted by the discharge of the batteries at their gate. Many of the enemy were overtaken in the pursuit, and cut down by our sabers. I cannot speak in terms too complimentary of the manner in which this charge was executed. My only difficulty was in restraining the impetuosity of my men and officers, who seemed to vie with each other who should be foremost in the pursuit. Captain Kearney gallantly led his squadron into the very entrenchments of the enemy, and had the misfortune to lose an arm from a grape-shot fired from a gun at one of the main gates of the capital. Captain McReynolds and Lieutenant Graham were also wounded, and Lieutenant Ewell had two horses shot under him. Great praise is due to Major Sumner, commanding First Battalion, for his zeal, energy, and promptitude, and for the gallant manner in which he led up the last reserve of the General-in-Chief. It is much to be regretted that the Second Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, was so cut up by detachments as to materially weaken its efficiency and to impair the usefulness of that officer, who was always at the post of danger, and anxious to participate in the conflict. My warmest thanks are due to my brigade staff, consisting of Captain Wood, A. Q. M., Lieutenant Steele, A. A. G., and Lieutenant May, my Aid-de-Camp, who were actively employed on the morning of the 20th in rallying our men, and who exhibited the utmost coolness and bravery under a heavy fire of the enemy. The last two named officers were foremost in the pursuit, and Lieutenant Steele cut down three of the enemy with his saber.
In conclusion, I beg leave to state that the dragoons, from the commencement of the march from Puebla, have been engaged in the most active and laborious service. These duties have been the more arduous in consequence of the small force of cavalry compared with other arms of the service. Small parties being constantly engaged on reconnoitering and on picket guards, the utmost vigilance and precaution have been required to prevent surprise and disaster.
The gallant Captain Thornton, while reconnoitering the enemy near San Antonio, on the 18th instance, as shot through the body by a cannon-shot and instantly killed. His death is much to be regretted. On the 20th, although I had but four companies of my brigade with me in the field, the remainder were actively employed in the performance of important and indispensable duties. Captain Hardee, while watching the enemy with his company near San Augustin, was attacked by a band of guerillas, but the enemy was promptly and handsomely repulsed, and a number of their horses, with arms and accouterments, captured.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM S. HARNEY, Colonel,
Com’g. Cavalry Brigade
Capt. H. L. SCOTT, A. A. G., U. S. Army