ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
On the morning of May 9, Taylor advanced in the direction the enemy had retreated. Captain Ker’s squadron was sent forward to reconnoiter and discovered that they were in a position on the Resaca de la Palma, a ravine which intersected the road and was bordered by dense chaparral. The troops were thrown forward and attacked the enemy in the brush. His infantry soon gave way but his artillery was still in position to check further advance. Anxious to dislodge the enemy batteries, General Taylor ordered Captain May with his squadron, Companies D and E, to charge them. Moving out in column of fours they bore down upon the Mexicans at a full gallop, crossed the ravine, and drove the gunners away, capturing General La Vega. The Eighth Infantry soon came up and consolidated the position. It is this charge of Captain May’s squadron from which the design on the shield of the Second Cavalry regiment coat of arms is taken. The squadron lost in the charge Lieutenant Inge and seven privates killed and ten men wounded.
CAPTAIN MAY’S REPORT
DRAGOON CAMP, RESACA DE LA PALMA
ON THE BATTLE GROUND, May 10, 1846
SIR: Having been detached from the headquarters of my regiment with my squadron, and acting under the immediate orders of the Commanding General during the actions of the 8th and 9th instant, it becomes my duty to report the services which the squadron I had the honor to command rendered during those actions.
You are aware that my first orders on the 8th were to strengthen the left flank of the army, and sustain Lieutenant Duncan’s battery. In this position I lost four horses killed and two wounded.
About half an hour before sunset I received orders to proceed to the enemy’s left flank, and drive in his cavalry. In execution of these orders, and while passing the General and his staff, the enemy concentrated the fire from their batteries upon us, killing six of my horses and wounding five men. I succeeded in gaining a position on the enemy’s left with a view of charging his cavalry, but found him in such force as to render ineffectual a charge from my small command, and therefore returned, in obedience to my instructions, to my first position, where I remained until the close of the action, which terminated very shortly afterwards. Thus ended the service of my squadron on the 8th instant.
On the morning of the 9th my squadron was actively employed in reconnoitering the chaparral in advance of the field of the 8th, and on the advance of the army I took my position as the advance guard. When about half a mile from the position which the enemy were reported to have taken, I was ordered to halt, and allow the artillery and infantry to pass, and await further orders. I remained in this position about three-quarters of an hour, when I received orders to report, with my squadron, to the General. I did so, and was ordered by the General to charge the enemy’s batteries and drive them from the pieces, which was rapidly executed, with the loss of Lieutenant Inge, seven privates, and eighteen horses killed, and Sergeant Muley, nine privates, and ten horses wounded. Lieutenant Sackett and Sergeant Story, in the front, by my side, had their horses killed under them, and Lieutenant Inge was gallantly leading his platoon when he fell. We charged entirely through the enemy’s batteries of seven pieces – Captain Graham, accompanied by Lieutenants Winship and Pleasanton, leading the charge against the pieces on the left of the road, and myself, accompanied by Lieutenants Inge, Stevens, and Sackett, those on the direct road – and gained the rising ground on the opposite side of the ravine. The charge was made under a heavy fire of the enemy’s batteries, which accounts for my great loss. After gaining the rising ground in the rear, I could rally but six men. With these I charged their gunners, who had regained their pieces, drove them off, and took prisoner General Vega, whom I found gallantly fighting in person at his battery. I ordered him to surrender, and, on recognizing me as an officer, he handed me his sword. I brought him under a heavy fire of their infantry, to our lines, accompanied by Lieutenant Stevens and a sergeant of my squadron. I then directed Lieutenant Stevens to conduct him in safety to our rear, and presented his sword to the Commanding General.
From this time until the enemy were routed I was engaged in collecting my men who had become scattered in our lines, and succeeded in assembling half of my squadron, joined the army in pursuit of the enemy until he crossed the Rio Grande, from which I returned to camp.
I cannot speak in terms of sufficient praise of the steadiness and gallantry of the officers and men of my command. They all behaved with that spirit of courage and noble daring which distinguished the whole army in this memorable action, and achieved the most brilliant victory of the age. I have the honor to be,
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. A. MAY,
Captain, Second Dragoons,
Commanding Second Squadron.
Adjutant, Second Dragoons.
RESACA DE LA PALMA
SERGEANT FUREY’S STATEMENT
On the morning of the 9th of May, 1846, our squadron of the Second United States Dragoons (composed of E and D Companies), commanded by Captain C. A. May, advanced at an early hour in search of the enemy. Captain McCall’s infantry were thrown into the chaparral to feel him. They advanced far enough to receive his fire, and reported him on both sides of the road leading to Matamoras. As we came up, General Taylor stopped to speak to one of McCall’s men, who was wounded. The other infantry shortly after came up, when the General ordered them to deploy to the right and left of the road, and to advance well into the chaparral, which they did. The battle then commenced. Randolph Ridgely’s battery, C, Third Artillery, was also sent forward, and took up a position on the right of the road, and opened upon the enemy. Our squadron was ordered into the chaparral in rear of the General’s staff. Captain Ker’s squadron of our regiment and the artillery battalion were held as a reserve in a small prairie (called Jackass Prairie), some distance to the rear. Captain Walker, Texas Rangers, with a few of his men, kept with our squadron. We remained in action for over half an hour, listening to the firing, the musket-balls from the Mexicans cutting the mesquite trees and chaparral around us. Our officers and men were anxious to be on the go, and to be called to do something, as we had no chance the day before. Finally, an aide-de-camp from the General came down the road with orders for Captain May. We were immediately ordered out into the road and formed into column of fours, sabers drawn, advancing in a trot to where the General and staff were sitting on their horses. What orders the general gave Captain May I could not hear, but the captain immediately gave the command to charge – which was repeated by the officers of the squadron – Lieutenant Inge leading the first set of fours. As we had been drilled, we commenced the charge with a “terrific” yell, and at a full gallop, never stopping until we were on top of the Mexican guns, the gunners escaping to their infantry supports, and a few of them crouching under the cannon as we dashed at them with our sabers. A number of our saddles were emptied before we reached the battery, which caused some scattering at the guns. Some of the men went down the road and through the Mexican lines. One of them was Corporal McCauley, formerly a swordmaster at West Point, who informed me that four men with him went nearly to Fort Brown. He was the only one who returned safe. A platoon of lancers endeavored to stop them, but McCauley’s party charged through them, killing their officer and putting the rest to flight. I credit his story, as he was an excellent horseman and a brave man. Some of the squadron scattered to the right. As I knew the ravine, having “watered” there in going to Point Isabel, I took to the left about and up the ravine; others attempted to cross and were “bogged” and shot before getting out. Corporal Bingham, of D (afterwards General Taylor’s standing orderly), called to the men about him to follow me, which they did. I soon came to the trail which led up into the chaparral, following it about one hundred and fifty yards into an opening. I found I had seventeen men with me. Some of the officers of Captain Ker’s squadron were there, also our second captain of squadron – Graham. The Captain asked where Captain May was. I informed him that I did not know, as the dust and smoke were too thick to see much, and that the men were continually under fire until we got clear of the ravine. Captain Graham then took charge and led us into the road, where we met Captain May. The latter asked if I was wounded (as I had been slightly hurt in the charge by being jammed against a tree), and said, “Sergeant, our squadron is cut to pieces, but they did well; we have taken a Mexican General prisoner, and I have turned him over to General Taylor; Lieutenant Sackett and Sergeant Story brought him out of the fight; they both had their horses killed.” The infantry finally succeeded in driving the Mexicans from the chaparral, when we were ordered to pursue them to the lower ferry, after which we returned to the battlefield, stretching our picket-line and encamping in the ravine of Resaca de la Palma.
After the silencing of the enemy artillery, the troops began to drive them back along the line. Finally, the Mexicans starting retreating precipitately, leaving much of their baggage. The headquarters and all of the official correspondence of General Arista was captured. The artillery, Third Infantry, and Captain Ker’s squadron were now ordered to pursue. They followed the enemy to the Rio Grande, capturing a large number and witnessing many others drown as they tried to escape by swimming the river.
Captain May and his men immediately became the heroes of the war. The incident of the charge was picked up by the press all over the country and publicized as the outstanding event of the war. The picturesque appearance of Captain May, with his long hair and beard, was described in great detail. His skill and daring as a horseman soon became household knowledge throughout the nation. As a result of a wager he was said to have ridden his horse into a hotel in Baltimore, and to have done many other similar feats of a daring nature. He was breveted major for his conduct at Palo Alto and lieutenant colonel for distinguished work at Resaca de la Palma.
Some of the killed or wounded at Resaca de la Palma:
INGE, Zebulon Montgomery Pike, 1st Lieutenant
ATHATRON or ATHERTON, William, Private, Co. B. Age 30, born England, occ: laborer.
TUCKER, Lewis H., Private, Co. B. Age 27, born Windsor, Vermont, occ: soldier.
BATES, George, Private, Co. E. Age 33, born Germany, occ: soldier.
CANTWELL, Thomas L., Private, Co. E. Age 31, born Huntington, Pennsylvania, occ: soldier.
MANNING, James, Private, Co. E. Age 23, born Paterson, New Jersey, occ: tailor.
PARPA, Frederick, Private, Co. E. Age 24, born Germany, occ: wagonmaker.
WILSON, Charles, Private, Co. E. Age 26, born England, occ: soldier.
MALONEY, Patrick, Private, Co. B. Age 30, born Limerick, Ireland, occ: butcher.
DAVIDSON, William, Private, Co. D. Age 25, born Queens, Ireland, occ: turner.
FLICKINGER, William, Private, Co. D. Age 21, born Germany, occ: shoemaker.
McNABB, James, Private, Co. D. Age 17, Tyrone, Ireland, occ: musician.
MULEY, John D., Sergeant, Co. E. Age 30, born Rouen, France, occ: soldier.
WATKINSON, Abel, Private, Co. E. Age 26, born Pemberton, New Jersey, occ: coachmaker.