When Mr. Jefferson Davis, the war secretary in 1855, had secured the adoption of his pet scheme for the organization of two new mounted regiments, he set out at once to make them worthy of his patronage. Much opposition had been encountered from the class of politicians who are inimical to a regular army, who pretended to fear many plans for conquest abroad or reward for favorites at home, so that, among other compromises, about half of the new appointments were made from civil life. Among the officers of the Army, great rivalry existed for the new places, because of the prospective increase in rank.
Mr. Davis then displayed that fine judgment in the selection of men, which has been said to be the first requisite of greatness, and which afterwards enabled him to place the fate of the Southern Confederacy in the best hands from the early days of the war. Out of twenty officers who joined the 5th Cavalry Regiment from the Regular Army in 1855, those who obtained the grade of general officer in the Rebellion were:
The regiment soon became a crack outfit with some of the best horsemen and
soldiers in the mounted service. Each company rode mounts of one color; a
colorful sight during regimental dress parades. Company "A" rode grays;
Company "B" and "E" rode sorrels; Company "C", "D", "F" and "I" had bays;
Company "G" and "H" rode browns and Company "K" rode roans.
Upon arrival at Fort Belknap, Colonel Johnston received orders to set up
Headquarters along with Companies "B", "C", "D", "G", "H" and "I" at Fort
Mason, Texas. On 02 January 1856, Johnston's group negotiated the icy waters
of Clear Fork, the Pecan, the Colorado and the San Saba Rivers in their
journey to Fort Mason. On 14 January, they arrived at their assigned station
which had been abandoned for nearly two years. The troopers were soon put to
work repairing old buildings and constructing new ones. By late spring, a new
Fort Mason flourished atop Post Hill. On 22 February 1956, Company "C" of the
2nd Cavalry, under the command of Captain James Oaks, engaged the Waco Indians
in their first battle just west of Fort Terrett.
For the next four years of service in the southwest, the regiment fought some
40 engagements against the Apaches, Bannocks, Cheyennes, Comanches, Kiowas,
Utes and other fierce tribes along with the Mexican bandits. The old frontier
policy of passive defense against the Indian aggression was quickly abandoned
as the regiment rode patrols, pursued and attacked. On 15 February 1858,
Major Hardee was instructed to proceed from Fort Belknap with Company "A",
"F", "H" & "K" to Otter Creek, Texas and establish a Supply Station. On 29
February, they came upon a large encampment of Comanche Indians near Wichita
Village. On 01 October, the troops made a charge against the Indians and after
a two hour hand to hand fighting, the enemy was routed in the greatest single
defeat inflicted against the Comanches.
The outbreak of the Civil war in 1861 added an ironic, but important footnote
to the history of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Twelve officers of its original
staff returned to their birthplace to eventually become generals in the
Confederate Army. The namesake of Fort Hood, "John Bell Hood", a second
lieutenant rose to become a famous Confederate General, commanding the Texas
Brigade. The most famous, the regiment's second commanding officer, Lt.
Colonel Robert E. Lee rose to become commander of the entire Confederate Army.
As the United States dissolved into the Confederacy and Union in 1861, the 54
year old Robert E. Lee returned to the East and was offered the opportunity to
take command of the Union Army, but he declined because of his wife's illness.
On 20 April 1861, Lee resigned from the US Army and accepted command of the
Army of Virginia.
During the Civil War the regiment fought valiant battles at Gaines Mills, Fairfax Courthouse, Falling Waters, Martinsburg, the Wilderness, Shannandoah Valley and numerous others. In the end, superior manpower and supplies of the Union won out. On 27 June 1862, the most memorable feat of the regiment came at Gaines Mill when they charged a Confederate Division commanded by a former comrade in arms, General John Bell Hood. This charge against a numerically superior force, stopped Hood's division and saved the artillery of the Army of the Potomac from capture. On 09 April 1865, troopers of the 5th Cavalry sat astride their horses as an honor guard at Appomattox, Virginia as their former commander, General Lee, surrendered to end the Civil war.
In September 1868, the regiment received orders to prepare for duty against
hostile Indians in Kansas and Nebraska. In the following years the 5th fought
many skirmishes and battles with the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Apache
Indians. After General Custer and 264 of his men died at Little Big Horn,
troopers of the 5th rode after the Sioux to avenge their deaths. In the next
few years the principal engagements in which the regiment took part were with
the 2nd and 3rd Cavalry were the prolonged Big Horn and Yellowstone
In 1898, the regiment traveled from San Antonio to the embarkation port of Tampa, Florida to enter the Spanish American War. The 5th finally got into fighting in a new setting 2,000 miles from their home ranges. More than 17,000 troops, including the 5th Cavalry, landed at the southwest coast of Puerto Rico at the small port of Guancia 15 miles west of Ponce. In July 1898 the regiment was split into four columns of infantry and cavalry and in early August began fanning out across the mountainous countryside.
Troop "A" of the 5th Cavalry Regiment saw much of the action. It was part of a
2,800 man force (the Independent Regular Brigade) sent north under the
command of General Theodore Schwan. Troop "A" performed well at the short
battles at Las Marias and Hormigueros where the 1,400 Spanish defenders
resisted briefly before a hasty retreat. By these victories, the 5th earned
the right to display the Maltese Cross at the top of its regimental shield.
The Spanish turned over the island of Puerto Rico to the United States on 10
December 1898. The 5th remained on the island until early in 1899, when it
returned to San Antonio.
In 1913, border threats to the United States brought the regiment back to the deserts of the Southwest, stationed at Fort Apache and Fort Huachuca, Arizona. In 1916, the regiment was dispatched to the Mexican border to serve as part of the Mexican Punitive Expedition. Under "BlackJack" Pershing, the 5th Regiment crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico and was successful in stopping the border raids conducted by bandits of Pancho Villa who had expanded their operations of rustling cattle, robbing banks and killing into the United States. The regiment remained with the Punitive Expedition in Mexico, until 05 February 1917. After several relocations, in October, the regiment moved into Fort Bliss, relieving the 8th Cavalry Regiment.
In 1918, airplanes and tanks had emerged from World War I as the glamour weapons of the future. By contrast, the long history of the Cavalry was not finished. The cavalry remained as the fastest and most effective force for patrolling the remote desert areas of the Southwest and Mexican boarders. Airplanes and mechanized vehicles were not reliable enough or adapted for ranging across the rugged countryside, setting up ambushes, conducting stealthy reconnaissance missions and engaging in fast moving skirmishes with minimal support. In many ways, it was just the beginning of a new era. The cavalry was about to be transformed and revitalized - by the activation of the 1st Cavalry Division
The regiments that were soon to become part of the 1st Cavalry Division were
far from idle. Troopers were getting into frequent, small scaled combats with
raiders, smugglers and Mexican Revolutionaries along the Rio Grande River. In
one skirmish in June 1919, four units, the 5th and 7th Cavalry Regiments, the
8th Engineers (Mounted) and 82nd Field Artillery Battalion (Horse) saw action
against Pancho Villa's Villistas. On 15 June, Mexican snipers fired
across the Rio Grande and killed a trooper of the 82nd Field Artillery who was
standing picket duty. In hot pursuit, the troopers and the horse artillery
engaged a column of Villistas near Juarez. Following a successful
engagement, the cavalry expedition returned to the United States side of the
In 1923, the 1st Cavalry Division assembled to stage its divisional maneuvers since WWI at Camp Marfa, Texas. The 5th Cavalry participated and the line of march was Fabens, Fort Hancock, Finley Sierra Blanca, Hot Wells, Lobo Flats and Valentine. The wagon trains, all drawn by four mules (no motorized vehicles yet), were endless. Over the next four years, elements of the division were stationed at Camp Marfa, Fort Bliss and Fort Clark, which were all in Texas. The early missions of the division were largely a saga of rough riding, patrolling the Mexican border and constant training. Operating from horseback, the cavalry was the only force capable of piercing the harsh terrain of the desert to halt the band of smugglers that operated along the desolate Mexican border.
The depression of the 1930's forced thousands of unemployed workers into the streets. From 1933 to 1936, the 3,300 troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division provided training and leadership for 62,500 people of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Arizona-New Mexico District. One of these workers significant accomplishments was the construction of barracks for 20,000 anti-aircraft troops at Fort Bliss, Texas. When World War II broke out, many of those who had been in the CCC were well prepared for the rigors of military training.
The entire Army was expanding and acquiring new equipment. Faster and lighter
medium tanks were assigned to both, cavalry and infantry units. The mobile
105mm howitzer became the chief artillery piece of the Army Divisions. There
was also a new urgency being expressed by Washington. Japan, which had invaded
Manchuria in 1931, continued to expand conquests into China and Nazi Germany
had annexed Austria and was threatening to seize Czechoslovakia. In 1938,
against the background of international tensions, the 5th Cavalry Regiment
joined in with the 1st Cavalry Division at its second divisional maneuvers in
the mountains near Balmorhea, Texas. New units, including the 1st Signal
Corps, the 27th Ordnance Company and the 1st Medical Squadron joined the 1st
Having returned to Fort Bliss from the 3rd Army Louisiana readiness maneuvers in October 1941, the 5th Cavalry Regiment was trained and ready for action. Isolationist politics was still strong in Congress. Major priorities were placed on building up the industrial capacity to supply equipment to the Allies in Europe. Many officers and men took leave or returned to civilian life. Other, more dedicated, members of the 1st Cavalry Division began to prepare for battle. They had no way of knowing that their first combat engagement would not be for more than two and a half years.
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Revised 04 Oct '09 SpellChecked