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First {1st} Massachusetts Cavalry

The first companies of the First {1st} Massachusetts Cavalry regiment were mustered into service for the Union between September 1, and late December of 1861. In the U.S. Army at the time, there were six regiments of twelve companies each in the Cavalry which was the model used in mustering the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. The 1st Massachusetts was made up almost entirely of militia regiments that were found in Massachusetts. According to the regimental history of the 1st Massachusetts, the companies prior to federal service were the “Boston Dragoons,” “Boston Lancers,” “Waltham Dragoons,” “North Bridgewater Dragoons,” and “Springfield Horse Guards.” The Lt. Colonel of the regiment was Horace Binney Sargent, who eventually was promoted to Brevet. Brigadier General in March 1864 over the U.S. Volunteers.  (Crowninshield, 1891)

Companies A-M eventually filled the ranks of the regiment all of which were sent to various places as the regiment was split and sent to various duties. Initially, several companies were sent to South Carolina and it’s coast, particularly to James Island, and Hilton Head. Parts of the regiment were sent to Edisto Island and fought in several battles including Secessionville, South Carolina. Some companies were sent to Washington D.C. as guards for various activity of which most stayed for up to 2 years. Some were sent to western Virginia at Shepherdstown, while still others participated in the battle at Antietam.

Early in the war, and perhaps later as the war progressed, it is said that Union Infantrymen would take verbal jabs at the cavalry saying, “has anyone ever seen a dead cavalryman?” This  statement may have had some merit only for the reasons, early on, the Union wasn’t using their cavalry to maximize their potential. There were times of boredom, not only for the cavalry, but the infantry also. This statement made by infantrymen is not so realistic when looking at the June 17, 1862 official report at James Island, South Carolina of Captain Lucius M. Sargent, Jr, the son of the regiments commander. Captain, later Major Sargent was commander of Company H. In the  report Captain Sargent states, “During the action two of my horses were killed, one being shot in the head, the other in the body; and two of my men were wounded severely, one in the hand, groin, and thigh, the other in the leg. Another, whose horse’s head was blown to pieces, was stunned, and considerably bruised by his fall. The men’s conduct excellent.”[Ibid]. Makes you wonder if the infantrymen who saw this battle on the beaches of James Island continued to feel the same of their brothers in arms afterwards.

If one wasn’t  convinced of the metal found in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalrymen by 1863, then a look should be taken by the detractors at the battle at Aldie, Virginia, that occurred in June of that year. It has been said that this engagement was the fiercest of engagements of all the battles the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry participated in. Here, the 1st engaged with Colonel Thomas Munford’s 4th Virginia Cavalry causing a Union retreat until the Union cavalry was checked by its officers who then continued their patrol on the Snickersville road. It was on the Snickersville road, behind a stonewall, Confederate cavalrymen ambushed the 1st Massachusetts. Union troopers coming to the rescue those that “By the Sword We Seek Peace” [Part of the State Motto of Massachusetts] found the road blocked with dead horses and great numbers of killed and wounded soldiers. The battle was called a non-conclusive engagement, however, the 1st Massachusetts lost 24 killed and 42 wounded, 88 taken prisoner.  One reference reported 250 men were lost by the regiment. It was here the 1st Massachusetts lost a National guidon that was eventually returned to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the 4th of April 1905. One unknown Union soldier referred to the battle as a “nightmarish melee.” (Unknown, 2001-2009)

Prior to the Maryland Campaign [Sept-Nov. 1862], the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry was presented as a compliment to Lt. Colonel H.B. Sargent by fellow aides on Governor Andrews staff, a coin silver eagle that was on a presentation standard. Just before marching to Fredericksburg, the regimental standard, flag and staff and the silver eagle reappeared after missing in South Carolina. On November 10, 1864, the eagle and flag was received by the Sergeant of Arms at the Massachusetts State house where the two stayed separately until December 1885. (Archive, 1987). In the December 22, 1885 issue of the Boston Globe newspaper, is an article about the flag and the coin silver eagle, which is reported to have cost $95.00, which is valued at $3,000.00 today. (Globe, 1885). It is unknown to the author where the eagle was purchased and who made the piece, however, with flag manufactures such as Charles O. Eaton, and Abner W. Pollard in Boston, one of these could very well have been the supplier. With quality such as this finial, one mustn’t leave out Tiffany or Schuyler, Hartley& Graham in New York as a possible supplier. Below is an image found in the regimental history of the 1st Massachusetts depicting the coin silver eagle on the original staff. [Ibid]. Also shown below is an image of the coin silver eagle now in the care of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

cw-Cav1-1987_5A finial001.jpg

One last thing I thought to be odd found in the regimental history of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. On Page 474 of the history, the writer titles one page, “Who Raised the First National Flag at Richmond?” This article is written by Loomis L. Langdon, Colonel 1st United States Artillery. It is believed by me that the short article was included in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry history solely because the incident involved a member of the Fourth [4th] Massachusetts Cavalry, and a Massachusetts man. Langdon reports   Major Atherton H. Stevens, Jr. was in the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry entering Richmond, Virginia, and was first to the Virginia State House. Stevens was the provost-marshal of the 25th Corps [colored troops]. Stevens rushed to the roof of the building, and hoisted two small national flags, both of which were guidons of the squadron of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, which he commanded. Credit was given ungrudgingly to Major Stevens for raising the first Union flag over Richmond after it’s surrender. [Ibid, pg. 474]. In Ken Burns Civil War series, Burns gives credit to the one who  followed Stevens sometime later, who took down the guidons and hoisted a large National flag on the top of the building, with no mention of the two guidons being hoisted earlier. In the regimental history article, the large flag is mentioned as being hoisted after the Massachusetts guidons.

Sources: A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers, Crowninshield, Benjamin William, 1892, Boston, Mass. Boiston Houghton, Mifflin


                  Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Regimental Information

                  Boston Globe, 1885, page 5.


Acknowledgement: Susan Greendyke Lachevre, Curator, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Art Commission, State House.

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