2nd United States Cavalry, Comp’y H - A Living History Unit

Line of living historians representing members of the cavalry on horseback
2nd U.S. Cavalry on horseback

Photo courtesy of unit

The following article will introduce you to the 2nd United States Cavalry, Comp’y H. On both days of this event you will find the 2ND U.S. Cav. out at Ellwood where they will participate in multiple NPS led maneuver and firing demonstrations. To learn more about them please continue to read.


2nd United States Cavalry, Comp'y H

Formed in 1836 for service against the Seminole people in Florida, the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons, United States Army had developed a history of service and success by the beginning of the American Civil War (ACW) in July 1861. The Dragoons were patterned after typical European mounted units being armed, equipped, and trained to act as a combination of Mounted Infantry and Cavalry, each man with pistol, saber, and carbine - thereby providing an efficient use of resources for covering the ever expanding western frontier.

The 2nd Dragoons shed the first American blood in the war with Mexico, pacified the Mormon enclave in Utah, and served all across the west from Arkansas to Kansas and New Mexico throughout the 1850's.

Noted officers whose military bio touched the "Old Second" in this period included William Harney, Phillip St Geo. Cooke, Edwin V Sumner, Charles May, Alfred Pleasanton, William Hardee, Henry Sibley, Samuel Starr, John Buford, Beverly Robertson, Wesley Merritt, Theophilus Rodenbough, George H Steuart, Delos Sackett, and David McM Gregg.

Display of arms stacked, including saddle on fence and tent with camp implements
The 2nd US Cavalry portrays Civil War soldiers in camp as well as on campaign

Image courtesy of unit

The outset of the ACW saw Cavalry doctrine changing. From a mixed corps of 6 mounted regiments; 1st Dragoons (1833), 2nd Dragoons (1836), Regiment of Mounted Rifles (1839), 1st Cavalry and 2nd Cavalry (1855), and 3rd Cavalry (1861) - these Regulars were all renamed Cavalry effective August 3 1861 - but all remolded as Dragoons, and renumbered according to seniority thus:
  • 1st Dragoons, now 1st Cavalry
  • 2nd Dragoons, now 2nd Cavalry
  • Mounted Rifles, now 3rd Cavalry
  • 1st Cavalry, now 4th Cavalry
  • 2nd Cavalry, now 5th Cavalry
  • 3rd Cavalry, now 6th Cavalry

And yet they were of dual minds with regards to Cavalry doctrine. While the Regulars were acting like Dragoons, all new volunteer regiments accepted for federal service were to be modeled after light Cavalry, with only a handful of carbines per company. This choice and the parceling out of the corps in small contingents under Infantry commands to serve only as a reconnaissance and security force led to poor performance through the end of 1862.

1863 brought about the appointment of Joe Hooker to Army of the Potomac command. Hooker instituted sweeping change to the Cavalry by creating a separately commanded Cavalry Corp under Dragoon veteran officers such as Cooke, Pleasanton, Buford, and Gregg. Additionally, all Cavalry units were to be armed like the Regulars, as Dragoons. Immediate results occurred with the volunteers at Kelly’s Ford in April, the 8th Pennsylvania and others at Chancellorsville, and the embarrassment of J.E.B. Stuart at Beverly Ford (Brandy Sta.) on June 9th. The subsequent Gettysburg campaign proved the new doctrine and the Union Cavalry had come into its own - evidenced by Buford's July 1 actions east of Gettysburg.

By the spring 1864 campaigns under Grant, the Union Cavalry modeled after the old Dragoon regiments had become the go-anywhere - do-anything Corps in the east. Moving in division strength with attendant Artillery Batteries, these units could attack and capture objectives, defend positions against Infantry, and still provide the scouting and screening so vital to the use of mounted troops.

During the "On to Richmond" campaign in May 1864, the Old Second fought at Todds' Tavern (5/7-8), Yellow Tavern (5/11), Meadow Bridge (5/12), Mechanicsville (5/13), Hawe's Shop (5/28), Hanover C.H. (5/24), Old Church 5/30), and Cold Harbor (5/31-6/1)
Members of reenacting unit on horseback in city street with weapons
The Living History unit portrays the 2nd U.S. Cavalry during the American Civil War

Image courtesy of unit

The Old Second still serves the American Republic, having been back to the frontier after 1865, to Cuba and the Phillipines in 1898, to France and Belgium in 1918, back to France, Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1944 and 1945, on the Iron Curtain through the Cold War, and then on to Kuwait and Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and back to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times in recent years.

Toujours Pret!


Last updated: April 16, 2018

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