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.
Having verified the information from other sources, General Taylor decided to withdraw at once to the pass at Buena Vista about twelve miles distant. Leaving General Wool in command, he went on to Saltillo to prepare it for defense. He returned to Buena Vista early on February 22, escorted by Captain May’s squadron. During this day’s fighting the dragoons were kept in reserve, and took very little part in the engagement. That night General Taylor again returned to Saltillo with the same escort, and finding the camp in order returned to the field of battle.
On the morning of February 23, Captain May placed his squadron near the two companies of the First Dragoons on the left of the line. Shortly thereafter the enemy made an attack on this side, driving back the Indiana and Kentucky volunteers. At this Captain May received orders to take command of the mounted force consisting of his squadron, the squadron of the First, and one of Arkansas mounted men under Captain Pike. He moved these troops to his rear and took position so as to oppose the enemy at this dangerous point, but was unable to charge owing to a deep ravine. After about an hour General Wool ordered him to occupy his original position. Soon after arrival there, the Indiana and Arkansas volunteers again gave way, and Captain May was again ordered to support them. He soon drove the opposing cavalry back into the mountains. He now ordered his artillery to fire upon these large groups of men, with deadly effect. Being joined by about 200 more troops, Captain May decided he was strong enough to attack. He pushed forward within 200 yards of the enemy when they gave way. The artillery again did good work, permitting our troops to advance so close to the Mexicans that they withdrew in confusion. The right flank of the enemy was thus held in check until the end of the battle, while our artillery killed many of them where they were crowded in the ravines. The Mexicans soon gave way in all parts of the field and Santa Anna retreated with what was left of his numerous army.
BUENA VISTA – CAPTAIN MAY’S REPORT
Dragoon Camp, near Agua Nueva, Mexico,
March 3, 1847.
MAJOR: In compliance with your directions, I have the honor to submit the following report of the services rendered by my command in the affair of the 22d and the battle of the 23d ult. With the Mexican army. Immediately on receiving intelligence of the advance of the Mexican forces on the morning of the 22d, I accompanied the General-in-Chief with my squadron to the battlefield. The action not becoming general that day, the duties of my squadron were simply observatory, and I returned in the evening, in compliance with instructions previously received from the Commanding General, to Saltillo. On the morning of the 23d I again accompanied the General to the battle-ground with my squadron, consisting of seventy-two total, seventy-six aggregate. As soon as I reached the scene of action I took position near the squadron of the First Dragoons, so as to be able to cooperate with it, if necessary, and also to be in supporting distance of Captain Sherman’s battery. Shortly after this the battle became general, the enemy’s grand column of attack having forced the position occupied originally by the Kentucky and Arkansas Mounted Volunteers, and, driving them before it, was rapidly gaining ground toward our rear. At this moment the Commanding General directed me to assume command of the dragoons and check that column. Captain Steen, First Dragoons, being absent or engaged in some other portion of the field, the command of the squadron of First Dragoons devolved on Lieutenant Rucker. Owing to the numerous deep ravines cutting the entire field of battle, I was compelled to pursue a circuitous route to gain the head or front of the advancing column. On my way thither I was joined by Captain Pike, Arkansas Mounted Volunteers, with his squadron, who informed me he had been ordered to report to me for duty. So soon as I appeared with my command in front of the enemy, his cavalry halted, under cover of a deep ravine, supported by large masses of infantry. At the same time Colonels Marshal and Yell, separated from my command by a deep ravine, advanced their respective commands towards the enemy. By these combined movements the progress of the seemingly victorious column was checked. I maintained that position nearly an hour, during which time the enemy did not advance beyond the defensive position assumed on my first appearance in his front. I was, however, unable to charge his cavalry, owing to the intervention of deep ravines.
The position I then occupied was eminently favorable for the use of artillery, and I accordingly despatched Lieutenant Wood, my adjutant, to the Commanding General, requesting a piece of artillery to be sent to me. Before the arrival, however, of the piece of artillery placed under my orders by the General, I was ordered by Brigadier-General Wool to return to the position I occupied first in the morning, to support the batteries situated on the ridge nearest to the enemy, and which were also immediately under the eye of the General-in-Chief. While in that position I was directed to detach Lieutenant Rucker, with the squadron of the First Dragoons, with orders to proceed up the ravine, under cover of the ridge, and to charge the enemy’s batteries situated on the plateau at the base of the mountain. He had not, however, proceeded more than a few hundred yards when it was observed that the enemy’s column on the flank was again advancing, driving the Kentucky and Arkansas Mounted Volunteers, and menacing our rear. I was ordered by the Commanding General to recall the squadron of the First Dragoons, to proceed with my three squadrons and a section of artillery, under Lieutenant J. F. Reynolds, to check and force back this column. Before the squadron of the First Dragoons could be recalled, it had gone so far up the ravine as to be in close range of the enemy’s artillery. It was thus for a short time exposed to a severe fire, which resulted in the loss of a few men. The other two squadrons and the section of artillery were in the meantime placed in motion for Buena Vista, where a portion of our supplies were stored, and against which the enemy was directing his movements. Lieutenant Rucker joined me near the rancho, and in time to assist me in checking the heavy cavalry force which was then very near and immediately in our front. A portion of the enemy’s cavalry, amounting perhaps to two hundred men, not perceiving my command, crossed the main road to the rancho, and received a destructive fire from a number of volunteers assembled there. The remaining heavy column was immediately checked, and retired in great disorder towards the mountains on our left – before, however, I could place my command in position to charge. Being unable, from the heavy clouds of dust, to observe immediately the movements of the body of cavalry which had passed the rancho, I followed it up, and found it had crossed the deep and marshy ravine on the right of the road, and was attempting to gain the mountains on the right. I immediately ordered Lieutenant Reynolds to bring his section into battery, which he did promptly, and by a few well-directed shots, dispersed and drove the enemy in confusion over the mountains. I next directed my attention to the annoying column which had occupied so strong a position on our left flank and rear during the whole day, and immediately moved my command to a position whence I could use my artillery on the masses crowded in the ravines and gorges of the mountains. As I was leaving the rancho, I was joined by about two hundred foot volunteers, under Major Gorman, and a detachment of Arkansas Mounted Volunteers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Roane. Believing my command now sufficiently strong for any contingency which might arise, I advanced it steadily towards the foot of the mountains, and to within a few hundred yards of the position occupied by the enemy. I then directed Lieutenant Reynolds to bring his section into battery; and in the course of half an hour, by steady and destructive fire of his artillery, the enemy was forced to fall back. This advantage I followed up, in doing which I was joined by a section of artillery under Captain Bragg. My command still continued to advance and the enemy to retire. We soon gained a position where we were able to deliver a destructive fire, which caused the enemy to retreat in confusion. While the artillery was thus engaged, by order of General Wool I steadily advanced the cavalry; but owing to the deep ravines which separated my command from the enemy, I was unable to gain ground on him. The enemy having been thus forced to abandon his position on our left and rear, I was again directed to assume a position within supporting distance of Captain Sherman’s battery, which occupied its former position, and against which the enemy seemed to be concentrating his forces. After having occupied this position some time, the General-in-Chief directed me to move my command up the ravine towards the enemy’s batteries, and to prevent any further advance on that flank. This position was occupied until the close of the battle, the enemy never again daring to attempt any movement toward our rear. The cavalry, except Captain Pike’s squadron, which was detached for picket service on the right of the road, occupied, during the night of the 23d, the ground near where I was directed last to take my position before the close of the battle. Finding, on the morning of the 24th, that the enemy had retreated, I was joined by Captain Pike’s squadron, and ordered by the General in pursuit.
In closing this report, I should do injustice to my feelings were I to omit to bring to the notice of the Commanding General the steady bearing the gallant conduct of the officers and men of my command. The squadrons of the First and Second Dragoons, under command of Lieutenant’s Rucker and Campbell, and the squadron of Arkansas Mounted Volunteers, under Captain Pike, displayed the greatest coolness and steadiness under the heaviest fire of the enemy, and the greatest promptitude in obeying all my commands that day. To Lieutenant Th. J. Wood, my adjutant, my thanks are particularly due for the prompt manner in which he conveyed my orders, and for the energy and zeal he displayed throughout the battle. And to Lieutenant Reynolds, Third Artillery, I must also tender my warmest thanks for the gallant and bold manner in which he maneuvered his section of artillery, which rendered the most important and effective service.
I regret my inability to state the killed and wounded of the whole command, squadron commanders not having furnished me the necessary information.
I have the honor to be, your very obedient servant,
C. A. MAY, Bvt. Lieut-Col., Second Dragoons, Com’g.
Major W. W. S. BLISS, Asst. Adj-Gen. Army of Occupation.