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.
For many years there had been acts of violence between citizens of Mexico and the United States, including many insults to the flag. Although a treaty of amity was made in 1831, unpleasant affairs increased. In 1837, President Jackson declared the situation was such as to justify war. Through the next eight years various attempts were made by this government to collect claims from Mexico but without much success. Finally, President Polk took advantage of the excitement caused by the outrages in order to further his aggressive policy toward expansion. The annexation of Texas in 1845 arrested the negotiations for settlement of the claims.
In June, 1845, the Congress of the Republic of Texas accepted the resolutions of the United States Senate in March providing for annexation of Texas to the union. The joining of the union by the Lone Star Republic was considered by Mexico as an act of war. This also transferred the boundary dispute from Texas to the United States. Texas claimed the territory as a part of her domain toward the west as far as the Rio Grande, while Mexico recognized it only as far as the Nueces River.
Anticipating the ratification of the treaty of annexation with the Texas Republic, the President sent General Zachary Taylor to Fort Jesup, Louisiana, to command the “Army of Observation” on the border. This force consisted of seven companies of the Second Dragoons already there, the Third Infantry, and eight companies of the Fourth Infantry. On June 15, 1845, further instructions were sent to General Taylor to move to a convenient port of embarkation on the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans was selected as the port and the infantry was ordered there.
The Second Dragoons were ordered to march across country to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the Army would assemble. This place is located on the eastern side of the Nueces River and on the Gulf of Mexico. The regiment, less Companies A, G, and I, moved out on July 25, 1845, under Colonel David E. Twiggs, with a train of sixty wagons for the transportation of supplies. During this march, which was in the hottest season of the year, they started each day before daylight and marched twenty-five or thirty miles before the sun was hot. Sixty horses’ backs were made sore the first six days by new saddles just issued the army. Their riders were forced to walk the remainder of the way in order to let the animals’ backs recover. Just before arriving at Corpus Christi on August 27, a rumbling was heard in the distance which seemed to indicate that the troops already there had been attacked. Colonel Twiggs decided to leave the sick men back with the train and hurry on to the town. After the regiment had traveled a short distance farther, the officer left in charge reported that the sick had all come up with the column, the number left behind having quickly changed from fifty to zero. It was later found that the noise heard in the distance was a thunder storm.
Companies A, G, and I left Fort Washita, Arkansas, September 13, 1845, en route to Texas, arriving in Austin October 10. The first two companies marched into Camp Bexar, near San Antonio. From here Company A went, in November, to Camp Hays on Leona Creek, and in December continued to Camp Alamo, also near San Antonio, where it joined Company G, which had previously arrived there.
The winter was spent at Corpus Christi in a pleasant manner training for the coming campaign, and in hunting, fishing, and racing. Practice marches and scouts were made to the interior, one being by Company K, under Captain Ker, which penetrated the country for fifty miles. While here the troops experienced a “norther” for the first time. This phenomenon is a sudden change of temperature from mild summer weather to several degrees below freezing, usually accompanied by a strong wind.
Having received orders from the President to march to the Rio Grande, General Taylor set his army in motion March 8. The advance guard consisted of the Second Dragoons and Ringgold’s Light Battery. For several days the column traveled through an interesting region covered with game. Then there was an area of barren desert where the troops suffered for lack of water. On March 16, Lieutenant Hill, commanding the advance guard of the regiment, was confronted with a small force of Mexican rancheros who told him he could proceed no farther. Arrangements were made for a parley with Colonel Twiggs, but the Mexicans disappeared and were not seen again.
On March 20 the force reached the Arroya Colorado about thirty miles from Point Isabel. As some resistance was expected here General Taylor prepared to force a crossing. A road was opened down the steep banks of the stream and the Second Dragoons and first brigade of infantry advanced to the crossing, covered by the artillery and second brigade. A few Mexicans showed themselves on the opposite bank but there was no firing. Here it was that General Taylor was given a message from General Mejia that the crossing would be considered a declaration of war. Without any resistance from the Mexicans the column crossed and went into camp.
The march was resumed on the 22nd in four columns with the dragoons on the right. Having reached a point on the 24th where the road divided, General Taylor took all empty wagons and the Second Dragoons as an escort and moved to Point Isabel for supplies. The port captain had set the town afire and escaped, but the dragoons soon extinguished the flames. The American ships landed supplies, and, the wagons having been loaded, this force left Point Isabel, March 27. Meantime, the rest of the command was in camp at Palo Alto awaiting General Taylor’s return. The entire column now marched to the Rio Grande, coming within sight of Matamoras the next day, where camp was made opposite that town. Just before arriving two men of the advance guard of the dragoons, while some distance from the column, were captured by the Mexicans and made prisoners of war, but were later released.
Several days after the arrival opposite Matamoras word was received that the Mexicans were about to attack the base at Point Isabel. Captain Ker, with his squadron, Companies D and E, Second Dragoons, was ordered to march there in four hours, a distance of twenty-seven miles. He accomplished this, but finding everything quiet at the seaport, returned to the camp.
An interesting phase of this early period of the campaign was the propaganda of the Mexicans to induce the American soldiers to desert and join the Mexican army. Proclamations were issued appealing to the various nationalities in our own army by listing the alleged wrongs of this government against the southern republic. There were a few desertions as a result of these appeals. While one deserter was swimming the Rio Grande he was killed at a range of over two hundred yards by a sentry, a remarkable shot with a gun of that period. This was witnessed by a large number of Mexicans and caused much comment among them about the wonderful marksmanship of the Yankees.