Second Cavalry

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

    In the year 1855 the United States Government set up the 1st and 2nd cavalry units after Jefferson Davis, elected Secretary of War in 1853, called for their organization. The first US Cavalry was commanded by Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnson, who had been a captain of engineers with Marcy in the 1849 road expedition. The second US Cavalry was commanded by Col. Albert Sidney Johnson, a graduate of West Point in 1826. Under his command were 17 officers, who later became generals during the Civil War. Some of these were Lt. Col. R.E. Lee, Lt. John Bell Hood, Maj. W.J. Hardy, Capt. Earl Van Dorn, Capt. Edward Kirby Smith, Lt. Charles W. Field, 1st Lts. Fitzhugh Lee and George H. Thomas (Rock of Chicamauga) (see story below) , who served as field officer.

    Picture of General E. Kirby Smith
    General E. Kirby Smith
    Center for American History

    They were equipped with Springfield army carbines, movable stocks, and 10" barrels, and breachloading Perry carbines. There were five 2-company squadrons armed with navy Colt revolvers and dragoon sabers. This unit left Jefferson Barracks, Missouri October 27, 1855 with 750 men, 800 horses and 29 6-mule wagon teams. They crossed the Red River at Preston December 15 during one of the most severe cold spells ever recorded in our area. When the company arrived at Buffalo Springs on December 22 the temperature was a minus 4 degrees. On December 24 they marched 20 miles to Flag Springs, 7 miles southwest of Windthorst, where they remained camped through the 25th (Christmas Day). The temperature remained constant. On the 26th with temperature at 2 degrees they marched 20 miles to camp and on the 27th 12 miles to Belknap, where they camped for several days with temperature of minus 1 degrees. On January 2 as they proceeded west they discovered a wagon train with 113 oxen frozen to death. It was January 8 before the temperature rose, at which time it was 9 degrees. Johnson's wife and baby, as well as an African maid, were on the trip. Mrs. Johnson's diary records the bad weather. This unit had 55 engagements with the Indians from January 1856 until February 1861.

    This unit's 10 companies had selected horses of like stature and color for each member of the company. For instance, Van Dorn's Company was called the "Mobile Grays." A.S. Johnson rode a fine gray mare. Johnson had been appointed December 13, 1838 as Texas Secretary of War; he called for a mounted ranger force to be established of 840 men to protect the frontier. Their enlistment was to be three years at $16 per month with a bounty of $30 for each Indian scalp, plus a free certificate of land. The total troop was to be made up of eight companies who could keep some spoils but must return all stolen merchandise to the settlers. Johnson was made a Brig. Gen. in 1857 and had patented land in both Palo Pinto and Stephens Counties in 1855. Reaching Belknap in 1857, 6 companies under Maj. Enoch Steen were sent to quell the Mormon uprising in Utah. These included 213 men, 232 horses, 468 mules and 76 wagons. They moved toward Utah up through Archer County, using the Marcy Trail, crossing the Little Wichita River at later Van Dorn's Crossing and the Red River at Steen's Crossing, which was thus named at this time for Major Steen. The remainder of the second cavalry unit was left to command the frontier posts of Texas.

The above story is from the book, Trails Through Archer, by Jack Loftin.

More of Loftin's Second Cavalry

One of our visitors notes:

On the page titled Second Cavalry there is a statement that Joseph E. Johnson [sic] was the commander of the First US Cavalry. There are two errors here. The first is a misspelling of the name Johnston (with a "t"). Your page omits the "t". The second concerns the command of the First Cavalry. Johnston was never its commander. At its formation in 1855, Col. Edwin V. Sumner was in command and Johnston was Sumner's second in command. See

Jay Ward

Major George H. Thomas (Rock of Chickamauga)

Maj. George H. Thomas, on an August day in 1860, returning from an extended scout for hostile Indians came across a fresh Indian trail and gave pursuit. Some forty-five miles to the northwest his contingent of the Second Cavalry sighted the Indians, and a chase began.

When the troops were about to overtake the Comanches, an old warrior decided that they would have to be delayed and that he was expendable. He dismounted, probably removed his moccasins as token that he would not leave the place, and as the excited troops dashed up, greeted them with a stream of arrows. Two of the barbed dogwood switches wounded the commander severely, and five troopers were wounded-all with arrows or spear.

Through an interpreter, Thomas tried to get the Comanche to surrender, but the warrior scoffed at the suggestion and taunted the "long knives" to come and get him. At last the troops killed him and found some twenty wounds on his body. With his primitive weapons he had delayed a score or more of well armed troops, permitting his companions to escape.

Major George H. Thomas on Kickapoo Creek

On January 26, 1860 on Kickapoo Creek, Company A of the Second U.S. Cavalry; Major George H. Thomas in command fought the Comanche Indians killing four.

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