Jefferson Davis, and his role in forming the First and Second United States Cavalry Regiments, better known as the "Jeff Davis Regiments"...

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Jan 29, 2019
Not many are aware of the fact that the 23rd U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Finis Davis, had a very profound affect on the U.S. Military as he improved and updated our armed forces during his time in office under the 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce`s Administration from 1853 - 1857. The Irony of course being that the very military which he updated and drastically improved as the 23rd U.S. Secretary of War, he would fight against just 4 years later, as President of the Confederate States of America.

Secretary Jefferson Davis was the first to create and form U.S. cavalry regiments in the U.S. army, these coming to be known as the "Jeff Davis Regiments" as he was the one that petitioned Congress to approve and fund their formation. Before they were designated as U.S. cavalry under Secretary Jefferson Davis, they were known as the U.S. dragoons and mounted rifles. Secretary Davis specifically formed the First and Second U.S. Cavalry Regiments in 1855, then giving the United States of America a total of 2 dragoon regiments, 1 regiment of mounted rifles and the 2 newly formed cavalry regiments regarding our horsemen and mounted riflemen.

Basically at the close of the Mexican War (1846-1848) the 'mounted troops' (dragoons / mounted rifles) of the United States army were reduced to just three regiments, designated respectively as the First and Second regiment`s of dragoons and a regiment of mounted riflemen. A few years of campaigning to control the western frontier, which extended from the Rio Grande in Texas to the Canadian border, and to keep watch over the numerous wagon trails leaving the east and heading west, served to convince a very reluctant Congress that enlarging the mounted arms of the regular army was badly needed.

This resulted in Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, lobbying President Franklin Pierce for approval and the formation of said forces. Davis and Pierce had served with many of the regiments’ officers in the then recent war with Mexico (1846-1848). But then-President James K. Polk, having won a victory in the Mexican War and increased the nation’s size by more than one million square miles, reduced the army’s size to its congressionally mandated peacetime size of 13,821 men. By June 1853, five years after the Mexican War and just 3 months after Jefferson Davis became the U.S. Secretary of War, the army had fewer than 7,000 men on active duty in protecting western expansion out on the frontier, which averaged just 124 soldiers for each of the army’s 54 western outposts (on the frontier). This was the situation that Jefferson Davis inherited when he was confirmed as the 23rd Secretary of War while serving in that position from 1853 - 1857.

In his first annual report to Congress early in 1854, Secretary Jefferson Davis complained bitterly about the reduced numbers.

“We have a sea-board and foreign frontier of more than 10,000 miles, an Indian frontier, and routes through Indian country, requiring constant protection of more than 8,000 miles,” he noted, “and an Indian population of more than 400,000, of whom probably 40,000 warriors are inimical and only want the opportunity to become active enemies.”

Secretary Davis petitioned for more soldiers, which was met with immediate opposition in Congress, led primarily by Senators Sam Houston (Texas) and Thomas H. Benton (Missouri), who fought an increase in the military for a number of reasons, specifically their fear that such an army would be Southern-dominated, this coming at a time when the whisper of secession had just began to be heard across our great nation.

However, opposition to Davis’s request weakened after the August 1854 massacre of a troop of dragoons by Sioux warriors at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. When Lt. John L. Grattan led his men into a Sioux village demanding restitution for the tribe’s slaughter of a local milk cow. Conquering Bear, The Sioux chief, asked Lt. Grattan to give him time to make restitution, but Lt. Grattan, convinced that he could defeat the Indians with a single howitzer and a small number of men, refused. During an attack his howitzer misfired, and Lt. Grattan along with his men panicked and fled for their lives. The Sioux Warriors followed and massacred them all. Even though Lt. Grattan had instigated the fight against the Sioux, Davis described the altercation as:“a deliberately forced plan” by the Indians to raid government stores. He renewed his demand to both President Pierce and Congress for additional troops to police the frontier using the massacre as an example of why we needed extra men to secure and protect our ever increasing western expansion as a nation.

Because of the massacre and the message that it sent, Secretary Jefferson Davis got what he wanted from Congress and President Franklin Pierce. On March 3, 1855, Congress passed a bill mandating four new army regiments, two infantry and two cavalry, to be formed. Davis set to work immediately to fill the officer vacancies in the cavalry regiments, his particular pride and joy being a former dragoon commander and former Indian fighter on the American frontier himself. Command of the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment went to Colonel Edwin Vose "Bull Head" Sumner, with Lt. Colonel Joseph E. Johnston as his 2nd in command and understudy. Selected to lead the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment was Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, a longtime Davis friend and a veteran Indian fighter in Florida and Texas, with Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee as his 2nd in command and understudy.

In the selection of officers for these two regiments the War Department, then headed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, took its pick from the field and line of the whole army, including staff corps, engineers, artillery and infantry, as well as some of the most accomplished officers from the 3 mounted regiments which were already in the service, who were then transferred or promoted to higher rank in the new organization. All of the field officers of the new regiments, were seasoned veterans who had "won their spurs" in the regular or volunteer service during the war with Mexico, or even previously during the War`s against the Blackhawk and Seminole nations. The names of many of these men were destined to become famous during the Civil War.

The two U.S. cavalry regiments thus formed were known as "the Jeff Davis regiments," for the reason that Jefferson Davis, who was then Secretary of War, personally selected nearly all of the officers from other regiments or arms of the service for transfer and promotion in the new organizations. Secretary Davis had been an officer of dragoons in his younger years, and later, as colonel of a regiment of Mississippi volunteers during the Mexican War, he had ample opportunity to become more or less familiar with the ability, character and standing of nearly every officer considered and later chosen for a commission in the new cavalry regiments. Jefferson Davis served in the U.S. army dragoons from 1824-1835 on the American frontier as an Indian fighter and then again he served during the Mexican War (1846 - 1848), both of his terms of service under Zachary Taylor (future 12th President of the United States), who was his immediate officer in command during the Blackhawk War, the 2nd Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. So he knew the dragoons and based on his personal experience was more than qualified to form new cavalry regiments during his term as the 23rd Secretary of War from 1853 - 1857.

Out of the "Jeff Davis regiments" came a remarkable number of future Union and Confederate generals who fought Indians together as friends and comrades on the western plains before fighting each other as "frenemies" on numerous battlefields back east a few years later during the American Civil War. Included on the rosters of the First and Second U. S. Cavalry Regiment`s were such future luminaries as; Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Fitzhugh Lee, Edwin Vose "Bull Head" Sumner, George H. Thomas, George Stoneman, George B. McClellan, William H. Emory, John Sedgwick, Samuel Sturgis, John Bell Hood, Edmund Kirby Smith, Earl Van Dorn, William J. Hardee and Charles Field, to mention a few of the more prominent names handpicked for this assignment personally by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis himself. All of whom became seasoned and experienced Indian fighters on the western frontier as they were protecting American expansion. A stray arrow here or there, during this time, might well have changed the entire course of the Civil War which was to be fought by these men a few years later.

Out of the 176 U.S. officers in the original 5 horse regiments which existed before the Civil War (2 regiment`s of dragoons, 1 regiment of mounted rifles and 2 regiments of cavalry) 104 cast their lot with the Confederate army. Out of those, 29 officers from the First and Second U.S. Cavalry Regiments alone would become generals in the Civil War, representing five of the eight total "four star" generals which made up the Confederate States Army (one from the First U.S. Cavalry and four from the Second U.S. Cavalry). Those being Joseph E. Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Edmund Kirby Smith and John Bell Hood respectively.

Both the First and Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment`s became very well known but it was the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, known as: "Jeff Davis` Own" which really became notorious and gained fame for its service on the western frontier, specifically in Texas fighting the Comanche and Apache, as our great nation expanded westward.

The Second United States Cavalry Regiment, "Jeff Davis` Own":

Even though the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment did great service under the command of Colonel Edwin Vose "Bull Head" Sumner and Lt. Colonel Joseph E. Johnston, to include Lt. J.E.B. Stuart, it was the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment who really went on to gain great notoriety and fame during the their fighting against the Comanche and Apache on the Texas frontier under the command of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee and George H. Thomas. After being formed by Secretary Jefferson Davis in 1855, the men of the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment went to Texas to fight Indians. After 5 years of serving and fighting by each others side, they returned home to fight each other during the American Civil War.

Ordered to operate against and engage the Native American tribes whose raids were interfering with the western expansion of the United States, the officers of the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment were also unknowingly preparing to fight each other a few years later. The Texas frontier was their initial battleground, and the warriors of the Comanche, Apache and other hostiles were their foes. During this time the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment schooled themselves in innovative tactics and strategies regarding mobile desert warfare, tutored by a skilled and tireless adversary, primarily the Comanche and Apache. These improvements were put in place by the 23rd U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis as he updated and improved the U.S. army and cavalry regarding how they were to operate, patrol and fight from 1853 - 1857. And then continued by his successor the 24th Secretary of War under President James Buchanan Jr., Secretary John B. Floyd who served from 1857 - 1861 and himself resigned his position to become a Brig. General in the Confederate States Army and fight under Robert E. Lee in Virginia during the American Civil War.

The Second United States Cavalry Regiment, "Jeff Davis` Own", produced more general officers of Civil War fame than any other, they received their due coverage and went down in history as one of the best cavalry regiments ever in the recorded history of our great nation. It was an elite organization and its men were very much a family whom would be torn from one another at the outset of the American Civil War. The troopers rode the finest horses and were issued the latest equipment and firearms. The regiment was known for the outstanding quality of the sixteen general officers it produced in the 6½ years of its existence. Eleven of these who became Confederate generals.

The Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment remained in Texas until the initiation of the American Civil War. During its stay in the Lone Star State, companies of the regiment were involved in some forty engagements along the western and northern frontiers of Texas and along the Rio Grande, fighting Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and Mexican marauders. Various companies of the regiment also conducted scores of scouting expeditions into West and Northwest Texas, sometimes for durations as long as five and six weeks. Using Texas as a base of operations, the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment staged two major raids against the Comanche villages north of the Red River in Kansas Territory, one in October 1858 and the other in May 1859. The most significant engagement fought by the regiment in Texas was the battle of Devils River, July 20, 1857.

On that date Lt. John Bell Hood, with a detachment of twenty-five men from Company "G", fought a combined force of Comanches and Lipan Apache warriors. It was estimated that of a party of fifty warriors nine Indians were killed and at least double that number injured. The cavalrymen counted seven casualties. Hood himself suffered a painful wound when an arrow pinned his hand to his saddle. As a result of South Carolina seceding from the Union and 6 other Southern States soon seceding as well, the regiment was ordered out of Texas in late February 1861. Upon its return north the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment, then under the command of Maj. George H. Thomas, was assigned to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

The Second United States Cavalry Regiment had five years of distinguished service on the Texas frontier and border. It had driven the Indians far beyond the fringes of settlement and had attacked and defeated the Comanches deep in their heartland. It had also helped the Texas Rangers to combat Juan N. Cortina and other Mexican marauders, and brought peace to the lower Rio Grande valley. Thorough in reconnaissance, persistent in pursuit, and successful in battle, the Second United States Cavalry Regiment made a significant contribution to Texas frontier history. It was the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment that built the frontier fortification known as Fort Worth and were garrisoned there, which later grew into what we know now as the Fort Worth / Dallas region of Texas.

Below is a list recording the eight total full "four star" generals of the Confederate States Army, five of whom resigned their positions as U.S. officers with the First and Second United States Cavalry Regiment`s when hostilities were exchanged between the Northern and Southern States, which initiated the American Civil War.

1)- Samuel Cooper

2)- Albert Sidney Johnston (2nd U.S. Cavalry)

3)- Robert E. Lee (2nd U.S. Cavalry)

4)- Joseph E. Johnston (1st U.S. Cavalry)

5)- Pierre G.T. Beauregard

6)- Braxton Bragg

7)- Edmund Kirby Smith (2nd U.S. Cavalry)

8)- John Bell Hood (2nd U.S. Cavalry)

Albert Sidney Johnston was the only to serve as a general in three different Armies; The Texan Army, the United States Army and the Confederate States Army.

Others who went on to resign from the U.S. army and become generals in the Confederate army were: Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (Mexican War), Pierre G. T. Beauregard (Mexican War), James Longstreet (Mexican War), Joseph Wheeler (1st Dragoons / Regiment of Mounted Rifles), William Hicks Jackson (Regiment of Mounted Rifles), Samuel Wragg Ferguson (2nd Dragoons), George Pickett (Mexican War), A. P. Hill (Mexican War), Stephen D. Lee (4th U.S. Infantry), to name a few...

If you would like to learn more about this timeline in our U.S. history in general or specifically more about the Second United States Cavalry Regiment, known as "Jeff Davis` Own", I highly recommend the book: "Jeff Davis's Own: Cavalry, Comanches, and the Battle for the Texas Frontier", by Author James R. Arnold. A great read and a very informative body of work.

Photo below: Jefferson Finis Davis, the 23rd U.S. Secretary of War, circa 1853, soon after he was first confirmed to that position and served in President Franklin Pierce`s Administration from 1853 - 1857.

Jefferson Finis Davis, 23rd United States Secretary of War (1853).jpg
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Jan 29, 2019
After the Mexican–American War was brought to a close, the 2nd Dragoons were ordered west to protect the settlers on the new frontier that had just been gained by the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, regarding some 1 million square miles which was added to the United States during that time. They were to escort and protect the settlers and their wagon trains as they made their way west along the Mormon, Oregon and Santa-Fe Trails. As well as building up both the cavalry and infantry regiments to protect these settlers as they ventured across the plains, Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis also built a network of Forts across the plains and frontier to better protect the western expansion of the United States.

The plains Indian wars was to become a different type of fighting as the terrain was more desert being barren and vastly different than the woodlands back east, which would require different tactics for U.S. horse-soldiers to become successful. Some of the most effective upgrades and improvements made to how the U.S. Cavalry operated and fought, first under Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (1853 - 1857) and continued under his successor, John B. Floyd (1857 - 1861), was derived from how they learned and adapted to fight against the Comanche, Apache, Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa and other hostiles out on the American frontier. For them to be effective they had to change and adapt their tactics and modify their strategies from what was then considered the status-quo of typical European dragoon troops which had long been accepted as the norm.

Effective weapons, the best that could be obtained, were issued to offset the superior mobility and individual fighting skills of the Indians whom the soldiers were about to face on the western plains and frontier. Eight companies of the 1st Cavalry and two of the 2nd were issued Sharps carbines; the others were given U.S. Model 1854 carbines. All carried Colt cap-and-ball six-shooters. A few companies were issued experimental arms muzzle-loading Springfield pistol-carbines, Merrill breechloaders, and Prussian-style sabers. The plains and the frontier would soon become the Army’s field laboratory for weapon testing. And during this grand experiment came numerous changes in tactics, patrolling, attacking, counter attacking and flanking the enemy which would carry over into the Civil War a few years later.

To ensure the cavalry had the best possible mounts, the U.S. army paid top dollar for Kentucky-bred horses. At $150 per horse, the price was well above the going market rate, but the War Department spared no expense to get its troopers into the saddle. Horses were divided by type and color among the various companies; grays, roans, sorrels, bays, and browns. The division was designed to encourage company pride and also make the units easily recognizable in the field.

In addition to the best horses, the best arms available and newer tactics the men of the "Jeff Davis Regiments" (1st and 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment`s) were outfitted with new uniforms to include a new hat (slouch) which became known to the men as the "Jeff Davis hat".

Recruits were easy to come by, and eager applicants soon flocked to Jefferson Barracks outside St. Louis for training and equipping. The men were issued colorful new uniforms: dark blue jackets, pale blue trousers, silk sashes, yellow-braided trim, and black, broad-brimmed hats (slouches) pinned up on the right with ostrich plumes trailing behind them. The new hat, immediately dubbed the “Jeff Davis,” replaced the leather-visored dragoon cap favored in the Mexican War. It proved less than popular with the men, who complained about its weight and fit.

The First U.S. Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Colonel Edwin Vose "Bull Head" Sumner and Lt. Colonel Joseph E. Johnston were headquartered at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. They were the first of the "Jeff Davis Regiments" to take the field, beginning frontier patrols in the late summer of 1855. Assigned to the rolling grasslands of Kansas, Nebraska, and eastern Colorado, they had a much easier area in which to operate and patrol, being the ancestral home to 4,000 generally peaceable Cheyenne. They ran into more problems with the wandering Sioux than the Cheyenne.

The Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment, under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston and Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee had a much more difficult area to patrol and operate with-in, having to cover the vastly more inhospitable region of Kansas, Oklahoma, and northern Texas, home to 15,000 Comanche warriors whom were more than eager for a fight. Considered the best horsemen on the plains, the Comanche ranged far and wide, continuing a generations-long tradition of raids into Texas and as far south as Mexico. They viewed the Southwest as their own private hunting ground, and anyone unlucky enough to wander into their reach was fair game. Raiding was their life, and they were very skilled at living it. And where ever you found the Comanche the Mexican marauders known as the "Comancheros" were not far away who traded with the Comanche for their livelihood and quickly became enemies of the newly formed Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment, also known as "Jeff Davis` Own".
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Jan 29, 2019
Regarding those who want to research these "Jeff Davis Regiments" more, be advised that in their original form they only existed from 1855 to 1861 when the ACW was initiated. Due to so many officers and the rank and file soldiers who resigned from the United States Army and joined the Confederate States Army the United States Army had to reorganize their forces to include their mounted regiments.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, so many officers had resigned to join the southern cause of the seceding states that it became necessary to entirely reorganize many of the regiments in the regular army. In 1861, as a result of this reorganization, all of the regiments of mounted troops (dragoons / mounted rifles / cavalry) became designated as cavalry, and were renumbered according to seniority of organization; that being dragoons (2 regiments), mounted rifles (1 regiment) and then cavalry (2 regiments) in order of seniority based on original dates of organization.

During this reorganization in 1861, the First and Second U.S. Dragoons, organized by acts of March 2, 1833, and May 23, 1836, respectively, became the First and Second U.S. Cavalry Regiments, while the regiment of mounted rifles, organized by act of May 19, 1846, became the Third U.S. Cavalry Regiment, and the old First and Second U.S. Cavalry Regiments, organized by Secretary Jefferson Davis in 1855, became the Fourth and Fifth U.S. Cavalry Regiments, respectively. This regarding the reorganization of the U.S. Army and Cavalry in 1861 once the ACW had broken out. New officers were placed in command of those re-designated regiments (1861), with the vast number of them being very green and inexperienced, giving an advantage of superiority to the Confederate Cavalry during the first couple of years of the War (until 1863).

When I was researching this information initially it was very confusing because when I would place the 1st and 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiments in my search engine the results would more often than not come back showing both being formed in 1861 as opposed to 1855. After more determined searches I began to find the information of the "old" 1st and 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiments, which were the "Jeff Davis Regiments."

During the American Civil War the cavalry reached its zenith, marking the highest position the horse soldier would ever hold in the American military. Between 1861-1865, 272 full regiments of cavalry were raised to preserve the Union, 137 for the South. This number does not include the separate battalions nor the independent companies raised. At the initiation of the ACW on 12 Apr 1861 there were only 5 regiments of United States Cavalry, as referenced above regarding the reorganization and from that it grew to 272 regiments by the close of the war. This demonstrating the importance of the cavalry as the ACW continued to expand until the close of the war on 10 May 1865.
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