1st Cavalry Regiment (1855)
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1st Cavalry Regiment (1855) was a unit of the United States Army, and was the first US Army unit to be designated "Cavalry". Previously, mounted riflemen were called "Dragoons". In 1833 the "First Regiment of Dragoons" was formed and soon after that the "Second Regiment of Dragoons". These two regiments continued until 1860, when they were renamed the 1st Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. At the same time the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments that were formed in 1855 were renamed the 4th Cavalry Regiment and the 5th Cavalry Regiment.
The 1st Cavalry Regiment: along with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment was authorized in 1855 and formed at Jefferson Barracks, MO. All field grade officers (majors or above) and one half of the company grade officers (captains and lieutenants) were to come from existing army units. The other half of the company grade officers and most of the enlisted men came from civilian life. Each company sent out one lieutenant and one sergeant to city after city to recruit men to fill the ranks. Posters, displayed in each city promised good clothing, rations and medical attention. The pay rate was $12.00 a month for privates, $14.00 for corporals, $17.00 for Duty Sergeants, and $22.00 for First Sergeants.
The regiment had four field-grade officers, one full colonel in command, one lieutenant colonel as second in command and two majors. Each of the ten companies had a captain, one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, four sergeants, four corporals and eighty-four privates. Also attached to each company was a one farrier and blacksmith and two buglers.
Each company had horses of a distinctive color. This served two purposes. In addition to the dramatic effect on parade, the distinctive color made it easy for members of the regiment to locate their company in the heat of battle. The assigned colors were Company A had sorrels, B, grays; C, sorrels; D, bays; E, roans; F, sorrels; G, blacks; H, bays; I, sorrels; and, K, bays. The buglers had white horses. The officers each had two horses. They could select the color of their choice. Officers were required to provide their uniforms, equipment and horses.
Against the Sioux
In the fall of 1855 the regiment was ordered to participate in an expedition against the Sioux. As it turned out, the regiment were not directly involved in the major engagement with the Sioux.
Kansas Territory Slavery Issue
In 1856 the regiment was engaged in maintaining the peace in the Kansas Territory between the pro-slavery group who fought to make the territory a slave state, and the free-state faction, who bitterly opposed them. This conflict had given rise to the term "Bleeding Kansas".
During the summer of 1856, Cheyenne war parties attacked four wagon trains, killing twelve people and kidnapping two. The commander of the Department of the West recommended that the Cheyenne be punished for their attacks on emigrant trains. He recommended that any action be put off until spring of 1857.
In May 1857 preparation began for the expedition with the organizing of the 1st Cavalry under Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner at Fort Leavenworth. Sumner divided the regiment into two columns in order to circle the Cheyenne hunting grounds in central Kansas Territory. One column, under Major John Sedgwick, departed on May 18 with four companies, five Delaware scouts and forty wagons, heading west along the Arkansas River past Bent's Fort north up to the South Fork of the Platte River. There they were to meet Sumner's column, which had left Fort Leavenworth on May 20, with four cavalry companies, 300 cattle and 51 wagons. Sumner's column went north and then west up to Fort Kearny, where three companies of the 6th Infantry Regiment and two companies of the 2nd Dragoons, five Pawnee scouts and ten more wagons were added. After considerable difficulty in crossing the South Platte River, Sumner's column and Sedgwick's columns met at the South Platte as planned on July 4. The whole regiment then traveled east through central Kansas to their rendezvous with the Cheyenne on the Solomon river. The map in the inset shows the routes taken by both columns.
Meanwhile, the Cheyenne, about three hundred strong, were midway between the two columns, probably around the Republican River, where they had spent the previous winter. The Cheyenne consisted of both Northern Cheyenne and Southern Cheyenne. They knew the U.S. Cavalry were searching for them, so they remained banded together longer than they normally did.
On July 29 1857, The U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment caught up with the Cheyenne on the bank of the Solomon River. As the two groups paused within about a mile of each other, the cavalry commander, Col. E.V. Sumner, gave the command "Gallop march." Both groups approached each other at full speed. Col. Sumner then commanded "Sling carbines! Draw Sabers! Charge." It was the first time sabres had been used in the West. The astonished Indians, whose medicine, administered by holy men before the battle, protected them from carbines but not from sabers, became terrified when they saw the sabers. They pivoted and ran as fast as their horses would carry them away from the troopers. The chase lasted for about seven miles before the Indians, having faster horses, pulled ahead too far for the cavalry to follow. During the brief fighting that took place during the chase, two troopers were killed and nine, including Lt. J.E.B. Stuart, who was to become the Confederates' most famous cavalry general during the Civil War, were wounded. An estimated nine Indians were killed on the field and an unknown number were wounded. The cavalry wounded and a detachment of infantry were left behind in a makeshift fort while the rest of the 1st Cavalry followed the Indians as best they could.
This engagement was the climax of The Cheyenne Expedition, which began two and a half months earlier at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. After the battle the regiment left the wounded, including J.E.B. Stuart and one company of infantry, and followed the trail of the Cheyenne south towards the Arkansas river. They found and destroyed a large abandoned village that had recently been occupied but were not able to catch the rapidly dispersing Indians. The regiment received orders to split up and send four companies under Major Sedgewick to join Col. Albert Sidney Johnston at Fort Kearney to become part of the Utah Expedition, while the other two companies were to proceed to Fort Leavenworth under Col. Sumner. However, before reaching Fort Kearney Major Sedgewick received further orders to return to Fort Leavenworth to rejoin the rest of the regiment.
- Chalfant, William Y., Cheyenne and Horse Soldiers:The 1857 Expedition and the Battle of Solomon's Fork by William Y. Chalfant. Copright @1989 by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
- Wild West Magazine, Feb, 2002