… A Hard Duty Given This Half of the 5th Cavalry’: Company H, 5th U.S. Cavalry, June 1862

by Donald McConnell and Gustav Person

The 2nd U.S. Cavalry had been organized at Newport Barracks, Louisville, KY, following an act of Congress March 3, 1855. It retained that title until the War Department issued General Order No. 55 Aug. 3, 1861, in which all six mounted regiments were redesignated, resulting in the change of the unit’s name to 5th U.S. Cavalry.

COL Albert Sidney Johnson had been designated as the first regimental commander, an appointment he relinquished when he resigned to accept a commission as a general officer in the new Confederate Army. He was replaced May 3, 1861, by George H. Thomas, who, although he held a commission as a major general of volunteers during the war, retained the substantive Regular Army position of colonel of the regiment until Oct. 27, 1863.

Before the Civil War, the 10 companies of the regiment were spread across Texas in small far-flung garrisons. The companies guarded the frontier, escorted streams of immigrants crossing the plains and fought Indians. Company H, stationed before the war at Camp Cooper, 275 miles west of San Antonio, was representative of the other companies of the regiment. The Army built Camp Cooper, a dreary frontier post named after the adjutant general, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River on the Comanche Reserve in West Texas.2

This article is divided into two parts. Part I follows the company in its travels to and around the Eastern Theater, and its later participation at the battle of Gaines’ Mill June 27, 1862, during the Peninsula Campaign. The second part is based on an extensive study of the relevant muster rolls, service and pension records at the National Archives of every officer and enlisted man assigned to the company in June 1862. It provides a study of the unit’s demographics and relates a remarkable human-interest story of a typical regular cavalry company in the second year of the Civil War.

Part I – Gaines’ Mill

With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Army authorities quickly realized that regulars would be needed in the East to form a professionally trained reserve force and train the multitudes of state volunteer troops that were being raised to suppress the rebellion. Meanwhile, the department commander, Brevet MG David E. Twiggs, had surrendered most of the Union forces in Texas to Confederate authorities. However, the regiment successfully deployed out of the state, although, to the troopers’ sorrow, it had to leave all its horses behind.

Like many regular regiments, captains and lieutenants commanded 5th Cavalry for most of the war. Command of the regiment actually changed 34 times. Once remounted at Carlisle Barracks, PA, the regiment deployed two battalions, each of four companies. While Companies D and H were stationed at Washington, DC, on provost duty, one battalion consisting of companies B, E, G and I saw action at 1st Bull Run July 21. During that campaign, the second battalion, consisting of companies A, C, F and K, served in the Shenandoah Valley with forces under the command of MG Robert Patterson.3

Following the Bull Run campaign, the regiment remained on duty in the capital. Before moving to the peninsula in March 1862, MG George B. McClellan, commanding general of the Army of the Potomac, formed three (1st, 5th and 6th) of the four regular cavalry regiments in the area into a cavalry reserve brigade under the command of BG Phillip St. George Cooke.

After its disembarkation at Fortress Monroe, VA, at the end of the James Peninsula, the regiment slowly moved west toward Richmond. On the morning of the second day of the Seven Days battles – June 27, 1862 – the V Army Corps, under the command of MG Fitz John Porter, had been positioned in a wide semicircle on the north bank of the Chickahominy River below Gaines’ Mill. Porter positioned the cavalry reserve, now increased to two brigades, to the rear of the left of the infantry line deployed along Boatswain’s Creek.

What followed was the regiment’s most desperate fight of the entire war. Commanded by CPT Charles J. Whiting, only five companies (A, D, F, H and I) of 5th Cavalry, numbering seven officers and 220 enlisted men, were present for duty.4

Around midday, the Confederates, in overwhelming numbers, launched their first attack, and the fighting went on until dark. Cooke had deployed 5th Cavalry in two lines, supported by 1st Cavalry Regiment, a little to the rear and just filling the interval of two artillery batteries in the reserve line. The troops were under a hot fire of musketry and shell throughout the afternoon. Cooke instructed Whiting to charge “… when the support or safety of the batteries required it.”5

The Texas Brigade, under the command of John Bell Hood, a former officer of the old 2nd Cavalry, made the critical breakthrough on the left of the Union line toward dusk. The supporting Confederates quickly overwhelmed the Union infantry and forced their disorderly retreat. The obvious target was the first line of artillery, which attempted to limber up and make an escape. All told, the batteries making up the first line of artillery defense on the plateau lost 10 guns to the Confederate assault.6

Taking further orders from Cooke, Whiting prepared his regiment to charge to save the reserve line of artillery. The Cavalry Tactics manual, authored by Cooke in 1861, prescribed a charge as beginning with a walk of 20 paces, 60 paces at the trot, 80 paces at the gallop, and then an all-out charge. A pace was defined as three feet.7

With drawn sabers, 5th Cavalry moved forward with a wild cheer. Soon enveloped by dust and smoke, the five companies, forming a small battalion, veered to the left and right to avoid the guns. They charged about 275 yards across the open plateau while the Confederates met them with heavy gunfire. The musketry emptied many saddles, and the charge soon degenerated into a stampede in reverse when the troopers reached the edge of the woodline bordering Boatswain’s Creek. Many horses went out of control, and their backward rush carried them into the reserve artillery line.

Whiting, his horse killed under him, fell stunned at the feet of 4th Texas Infantry. CPT William Chambliss was grievously wounded in six places. Both were captured and interned at Libby Prison in Richmond. LT John Sweet was mortally wounded and died in Confederate custody. The battalion adjutant, 2LT Thomas Maley, although wounded, assisted in reforming the battalion after the charge. Both LTs Louis Watkins and Abraham Arnold were also wounded. Watkins was actually severely injured when a number of troop horses trampled him. Only CPT Joseph McArthur survived unhurt to command the battalion’s remnants. In all, casualties were four killed in action or died of wounds, 30 wounded and 21 men missing in action, presumed captured. Unsupported, and without most of their officers, the troopers rallied, reformed and were soon engaged in covering the retreat of the Union Army across the Chickahominy River.8

Meanwhile, most of the guns in the reserve line had been overrun. Nine of those pieces were captured by the enemy, raising the total of Union guns captured to 19. While the charge failed to stop the Confederate advance, it certainly gave the artillery enough time to save most of their guns.9

Cooke summed up the entire incident, describing it as “… a hard duty given this half of the 5th Cavalry.” The Comte de Paris, a French nobleman serving as a volunteer on McClellan’s staff, wrote to Cooke in 1877 that “… the main fact is, that with your cavalry, you did all that cavalry could do to stop the rout.”10

Although the regimental historian later noted that the “regiment performed its most distinguished service” in the charge, both Porter and Cooke carried on an extended dispute over its cause and effects. In the charge, Porter found an excuse for the events of the day, which resulted in the defeat of his V Army Corps. For his part, Cooke solicited the assistance of his many cavalry colleagues to argue that the charge had actually saved the entire V Corps from destruction.11

The charge at Gaines’ Mill continues to play a major role in 5th Cavalry’s history and heraldry. The central shield of the coat of arms and the Distinctive Unit Insignia bears a cross moline, which symbolizes the charge. The cross moline represents the iron pieces of a millstone (moulin, the French word for mill). Certainly the officers and men of 5th Cavalry lived up to the regiment’s motto, “Loyalty and Courage.”12

Part II – the company

The regiment and company included a number of distinguished officers from its early history. Many resigned from the unit to accept commissions in the Confederate Army. For example, at the close of 1860, CPT Nathan “Shanks” Evans of South Carolina commanded Company H. He took a leave of absence for two months starting in January 1861 and was later declared absent without leave March 27. Evans later saved the Confederate Army at 1st Bull Run.

Evans was replaced Jan. 31, 1861, by 2LT James E. Harrison, who subsequently received two brevet promotions for gallantry during the war. CPT Kenner Garrard took command April 30, 1861. In June 1861, the Army sent him to the Military Academy as commandant of cadets. Garrard subsequently rose to the rank of major general of volunteers by the end of the war for distinguished service. First LT William McLean assumed command Aug. 31, 1861, upon Garrard’s transfer and remained in command until Confederate cavalry captured him during an outpost fight at Old Church, VA, June 13, 1862, just days before the battle at Gaines’ Mill. (Fitzhugh Lee, a former officer of the old 2nd Cavalry, commanded the Confederates in this action.)

McLean was apparently exchanged in July or early August. Promoted to captain, and appointed to command Company M in September, he remained absent without leave according to the Regimental Returns and Muster Rolls for the period. McLean was assigned to recruiting duty at Carlisle Barracks, PA, but died of unknown causes April 13, 1863, at the Clarendon Hotel in Washington, DC.

The only other company officer on the rolls, 2LT Charles S. Brooks, joined the company May 18, 1862. However, he soon became absent sick and missed the battle. He died of disease at Fortress Monroe July 7, 1862. Brooks was replaced in July by 2LT Harrison Fosdick, who joined from detached service. Fosdick was promoted to first lieutenant in September 1862 but resigned his commission in October, reverting to his enlisted rank and serving as a sergeant in the General Mounted Service until early 1863.13

The vast majority of the company, including all eight company noncommissioned officers, were veterans of hard frontier service in Texas, having enlisted in the “Old Army” in 2nd Cavalry before the war. One of the most experienced soldiers was PVT Thomas McDermott. Born in County Galway, Ireland, he listed his civilian occupation as a clerk. Literate and physically imposing at six feet tall, he had enlisted in 2nd U.S. Dragoons in November 1848, quickly moved up the ranks and was discharged in 1853 as the company first sergeant. In 1859, he re-enlisted into Company H, 2nd Cavalry, while residing in Baltimore, MD. McDermott was severely wounded at Gaines’ Mill and was hospitalized until early 1863. After recovering, he was appointed as an ordnance sergeant and served in that capacity until his death June 7, 1886, in Key West, FL.

According to Article XIV of the 1861 Revised Regulations, ordnance sergeants were appointed from the line with at least eight years’ service (four years as NCO). One appointee was permanently assigned to each military post. The ordnance sergeant maintained responsibility for receiving and preserving the ordnance, arms, ammunition and other military stores of the post to which he was assigned.14

Typical for a Regular Army company, most of the men in Company H were immigrants. The unit was predominately Irish, with 30 men coming from the Emerald Isle. There were also five Germans, and one man each from Austria and France. Only 19 men reported their birthplace as the United States: six from New York; three from Massachusetts; two each from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky; and one man each from Indiana and the District of Columbia. According to the U.S. Army’s Enlistment Register, most of the men (21) were unskilled laborers before enlisting. Other occupations reported included boot and shoemakers (five), farmers (four), clerks and hostlers (three each), teamsters (two) and a variety of other trades.15

Desertion posed a constant problem for the Regular Army throughout the entire 19th Century. In peacetime, garrisoned in dreary frontier posts, drawing low pay and usually serving under dangerous conditions, soldiers often deserted in large numbers. Wartime often drove more men out of the ranks. A total 320 men deserted from the regiment in 1861, and only 30 were apprehended.

Company H had the third highest desertion rate with 42. In January 1862, while stationed at Camp Cliffburn in the District of Columbia, 10 soldiers of Company H went over the hill. One soldier deserted in February, and two brothers, Joseph and George Gibbs, deserted March 24, 1862, only three days before 5th Cavalry embarked on ships at Alexandria, VA, for the voyage to Fortress Monroe and the Peninsula Campaign. Both had enlisted Aug. 2, 1861, at Cincinnati, OH. These men were not pre-war Old Army regulars and may have been unable to endure the regulars’ iron discipline combined with the expectations of active service.

Thereafter, there were no desertions in Company H for the next four months, a measure of the cohesiveness of the unit and the increased command-and-control in an active area of operations.16

The two men from Kentucky, PVTs Jefferson and John W. Fitzpatrick, were brothers born in Floyd County. Both enlisted at Newport Barracks Dec. 1, 1860. Jefferson was a 23-year-old shoemaker, and John was a 21-year-old unskilled laborer. Jefferson was discharged in December 1865 as a corporal while stationed at Cumberland, MD. He re-enlisted in 1866, joining Company H, 3rd U.S. Cavalry. Jefferson was reported as a deserter in 1867, but the charge was likely dropped, as he received a disability pension in 1880. He died June 13, 1911, in Denton, Texas. John, who was wounded in action at Gaines’ Mill, re-enlisted in Company H, 5th Cavalry, in July 1864 and was later transferred to 10th U.S. Infantry before he was discharged for disability in late 1865 while recovering at the Harewood Hospital on 7th Street near the Soldier’s Home in the District of Columbia. John was awarded a disability pension in 1866. He married and settled in Arkansas, where he died Feb. 5, 1909, in Goshen.17

At the beginning of the war, a regular cavalry company was authorized a captain, a first and second lieutenant, four each of sergeants and corporals, two buglers, a farrier or blacksmith and 50 privates for 61 enlisted men. With the beginning of the war, the authorized strength was raised to 78 privates.18

Company H had an aggregate strength June 1, 1862, of 55 enlisted men. However, 10 soldiers were absent on detached service, sick or on extra duty. Also, that number was decreased by the three soldiers missing in action at Old Church June 13. First SGT Edward Preston dislocated a knee while helping free a wagon from the mud just two days before the battle at Gaines’ Mill. He was evacuated to Washington, DC, dropping the available manpower for the coming battle to just 41.19

With McLean missing and Preston hospitalized, the remaining seven NCOs commanded the company during the charge at Gaines’ Mill. Only the junior sergeant, Albert S. Wing, and two corporals, Thomas Tuffy and John J. Donnelly, would escape injury and lead the company off the field when the regiment withdrew. Wing survived the war and continued to serve in the Army until 1894 as a messenger with the Adjutant General’s Office in Washington. Tuffy later became the company first sergeant and re-enlisted in July 1864, but deserted less than two months later. Donnelly survived the war and served with 5th Cavalry until his appointment as an ordnance sergeant in 1883. He died in 1886 while stationed at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory.20

After the battle, the muster rolls listed Company H with an available strength of just 32 enlisted men. That number reflected one man missing in action since a late-May action at Hanover Courthouse. He was identified as PVT John Byrnes, who was later exchanged and then discharged for disability at New York City Dec. 18, 1862. It also included the three missing since June 13 and six missing in action at Gaines’ Mill on the 27th. Of these six, only one, PVT Jacob Dale, returned to duty. Dale, who was wounded in the fight and captured, was exchanged in August 1862. In all likelihood, the others died on the battlefield and were buried in unmarked graves. Ten men were reported wounded in action at Gaines’ Mill.

The company also lost 18 horses in the action.21

Second SGT Shaffholt J. Antoni was the ranking man in the company at Gaines’ Mill. Antoni, whose real name was Joseph Antoni Shaffholdt, hailed from the Alsace region of France. He enlisted in 1855, re-enlisted in June 1860, and had been a sergeant since that November. Reported as missing in action at Gaines’ Mill, he was almost certainly mortally wounded. His wife Diana claimed in her application for a widow’s pension that an officer in the 5th Cavalry had sent her a letter telling her that her husband had been wounded and died on the field. Investigation of prisoner-of-war records by the Adjutant General’s Office noted that “S. Antonia, Co H 5th USA” had been admitted with a chest wound to a Confederate field hospital at nearby Savage Station, VA, but they could find no other information on him.22

The third sergeant, Thomas Barrett, was among the most experienced men in the company. A native of County Mayo, Ireland, Barrett enlisted in 3rd U.S. Infantry at 18 in June 1849. Discharged in the New Mexico Territory in 1854, Barrett ended up in San Antonio, TX, where he enlisted into Company H, 2nd Cavalry, in August 1856. Having re-enlisted in June 1861, Barrett was severely wounded at Gaines’ Mill and died of his wounds Sept. 29, 1862, at a Philadelphia hospital.23

The senior corporal was William Kenney from Leitrim, Ireland. Kenney enlisted in June 1855 and re-enlisted in April 1860. Reported as missing in action at Gaines’ Mill, Kenney never returned to duty and was probably killed in action and buried on the field by the Confederates. The junior corporal, George Anthony Hess, had been a landsman in the U.S. Navy before enlisting in Company H in September 1860. Serving as a sergeant during the charge June 27, Hess was shot in the left arm near the shoulder. He was hospitalized in Washington until late-September 1862, when he returned to duty. Later rising to first sergeant, Hess was discharged Feb. 12, 1865, by expiration of service at Camp Russell, VA.24

Of the 10 men wounded in action at Gaines’ Mill, PVTs John T. Coffey, James D. Cavins, Thomas Crawley, Bernhardt Miller, Michael Hallahan and Jacob Dale recovered quickly and were returned to duty before the end of August 1862. PVT William Gregory returned to duty in September 1862 and was promoted to corporal at the end of that month. Gregory was later reported as missing in action March 17, 1863, after the large-scale cavalry action at Kelly’s Ford, VA, and was probably killed. Hess returned to duty in September 1862, PVT John W. Fitzpatrick in October and, as noted earlier, PVT Thomas McDermott probably returned to duty in early 1863.25

During the War of the Rebellion, 5th Cavalry was engaged starting at 1st Bull Run, where they covered the Army’s retreat and finally helped stop the last advance of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox April 9, 1865. In between, the unit fought in 125 battles and minor actions in which losses were sustained.26 Company H was a notably cohesive unit, as evident by the many veterans serving in the ranks and the absence of deserters while under active service.

This has been a story both of immigrants seeking to make their own way in a new country and of native-born Americans who may have been down on their luck and decided to give the Army a try. Most remarkable was their distinguished conduct, despite the fact that no officers or a first sergeant were available to command them at Gaines’ Mill, which by all accounts was a desperate battle.

About the authors

Donald McConnell is a retired military-intelligence officer, now working for the Department of Defense. He is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, and the National War College in Washington, DC. His current projects include compiling the personnel records of enlisted men in the "Old Army" regiments from 1860-1865 and researching the staff and operations of the Bureau of Military Information – the Army of the Potomac's intelligence organization during the Civil War. He is married with two sons.

Gustav Person is a native New Yorker with bachelor’s of arts and master’s of arts degrees in history from Queens College in New York City. He served three years on active duty with the U.S. Army and 26 years in the New York Army National Guard, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1999. After discharge from active duty, he worked for 30 years in the New York State Division of Parole, retiring in 2002 as an area supervisor. Since March 2003, he has worked as the installation historian at Fort Belvoir, VA. He is married with three children.

Both authors are members of Sykes’ Regulars, a living-history organization dedicated to studying and portraying the role of Regular Army infantry regiments during the Civil War.


1 Heitman, Francis B., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1903.

2 Ness, George T. Jr., The Regular Army on the Eve of the Civil War, Baltimore, MD: Toomey Press, 1990.

3 Newell, Clayton R., and Shrader, Charles R., Of Duty Well and Faithfully Done: A History of the Regular Army in the Civil War, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.

4 Cooke’s report July 3, 1862, in the U.S. War Department’s The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1884; Series I, Volume XI, Part II (hereafter cited as OR); Powell, William H., The Fifth Army Corps, 1895; reprint Dayton, OH: Press of Morningside Bookshop, 1984.

5 OR.

6 Sears, Stephen, To the Gates of Richmond, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1992.

7 Cooke, Phillip St. George BG, Cavalry Tactics: Or Regulations for the Instruction, Formations and Movements of the Cavalry of the Army and Volunteers of the United States, New York: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1862.

8 Downey, Clifford, The Seven Days: The Emergence of Robert E. Lee, 1964, reprint New York: The Fairfax Press, 1978; Swift, Eben 1LT, “The Fifth Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States, editors Theophilus F. Rodenbough and William L. Haskin, New York: Maynard & Merrill, 1896, reprint, New York: Argonaut Press LTD., 1966; CPT Joseph McArthur’s report July 3, 1862, in OR; Hitchcock, W.H., “Recollections of a Participant in the Charge,” Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, editors Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel, New York: Century, 1887-88, reprint New York: Castle, no date; Powell, Fifth Army Corps; OR.

9 Sears.

10 Cooke in OR and “The Charge of Cooke’s Cavalry at Gaines’ Mill,” Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

11 Swift; Sears; Cooke, “The Charge of Cooke’s Cavalry at Gaines’ Mill.”

12 Sawicki, James A., Cavalry Regiments of the U.S. Army, Dumfries, VA: Wyvern Publications, 1985.

13 Heitman; Swift; Returns From Regular Army Cavalry Regiments, 1833-1916, National Archives and Records Administration Microfilm M744, 117 Rolls; Records of the U.S. Regular Army Mobile Units, 1821-1942, NARA (hereafter cited as Regimental Returns); Henry, Guy V., Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the U.S. Army, New York: Carleton Publishers, 1869, http://www.books.google.com, accessed Sept. 22, 2012.

14 Muster rolls, May 31, 1862, for Company H, 5th U.S. Cavalry; Regimental Returns for May 1862, 5th U.S. Cavalry, NARA; U.S. War Department, Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861, Philadelphia, PA: J.G.L. Brown, printer, 1861, reprint Harrisburg, PA: The National Historical Society, 1980.

15 Ancestry.com, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 (database on-line), Provo, UT, 2007. Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, NARA Microfilm Publication M233, 81 Rolls; records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, RG 94 (hereafter cited as Enlistment Register).

16 Regimental Returns.

17 Ancestry.com, 1850 United States Federal Census (database on-line), Provo, UT: 2009, source citation: 1850, M432; Enlistment Register; General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, NARA, Microfilm Publication T288, 546 Rolls; Disability Pension Certificate 256560 for Jefferson Fitzpatrick; Disability Pension Certificate 316293 and Widow’s Pension Certificate 684445 for John W. Fitzpatrick.

18 Ness.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Muster rolls; Enlistment Register; General Index to Pension Files; Widow’s Pension Application filed by Diana A. Dunn, widow of Shaffholt J. Antoni; Widow’s Pension Certificate 270380.

23 Muster rolls and Enlistment Register.

24 Muster rolls and Enlistment Register. No record of a pension application by Kenney or his next of kin was found. Disability Pension Certificate 200819 and Widow’s Pension Certificate 861407 for George A. Hess.

25 Muster rolls and Enlistment Register.

26 Swift.

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