The First New York Dragoons – Daniel Griffis

Flag of the First Dragoons.

Daniel Griffis enlisted in the 130th infantry regiment of New York in August 1862 in Stillwater, New York. This regiment had the distinction of being the only Union army volunteer regiment which was converted entirely from infantry to cavalry during the Civil War.  It was ultimately renamed the First Regiment of Dragoons. [1] The term dragoon generally refers to mounted infantry or light calvary. [2]

Soon after enlisting men in August, the 130th New York Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service at Portage County, New York in September 1862. Consisting of ten companies, men were recruited from Allegany, Livingston, and Wyoming counties and placed under the command of Col. Alfred Gibbs. Daniel enlisted in Company “G” which recruited principally from the Stillwater, New York area.

This original blue silk flag contains the United States Eagle painted in the center, the regiment’s designation painted in a scroll underneath the eagle, and “SEMPER PARATUS,” or “Always Ready,” painted as a scroll flying from the eagle’s beak. In addition, battle honors are painted on the flag including battles the regiment participated in while in service as infantry. Flag dimensions are: 32” hoist X 32 1/2” fly. Military History MuseumNew York State Battle Flags: 1st Regiment Dragoons, NY Volunteers Standard

The regiment left New York on September 6, 1862, and arrived in Suffolk, Virginia on September 13 where it was assigned to the 1st Division, VII Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The 130th New York was engaged at the Battle of Deserted House and took part in the Siege of Suffolk in April and May 1863. [3]

The regiment was converted to cavalry on July 28, 1863, and designated as the 19th Regiment New York Volunteer Cavalry. The 19th Cavalry was officially re-designated as the 1st Regiment New York Dragoons on September 10, 1863. The 130th New York had the distinction of being the only Union army volunteer regiment which was converted entirely from infantry to cavalry during the Civil War.

“For a short period after our transfer, the regiment was known as the Nineteenth New York Calvary, and our mail matter was so directed. But a more distinctive or special designation was desire. Several names were proposed, but the one suggested by Quartermaster Lawrence, and under which the regiment became famous – “First New York Dragoons” – was adopted, and the same confirmed by the governor of New York.”[4]

It was drilled in its new calvary duties by Col. Gibbs, who belonged to the U.S. cavalry service. James Riley Bowen, who served with the First Dragoons, provided a colorful recollection of the troop’s transition training from infantry duties to being a mounted calvary regiment.

“After a day or two spent in getting settled in camp establishing picket lines, the work of drilling in calvary tactics began. Colonel Gibbs was now in his element. … His twenty years of service as a calvary officer had eminently fitted him for the work he so enthusiastically and successfully carried forward. …We had not only to familiarize ourselves with the various evolutions performed on foot, or dismounted, but were expected to become even more profivcient in all the maneuverings required of ‘the trooper mounted’. … We were thoroughly trained in all that pertained to the use and management of our horses. Most of us had a lingering idea that we knew about all necessary to be known on the subject; but all who had plumed themselves on the possession of such knowledge, soon had conceit taken out of them. … Our country manner of guiding a horse was to use both hands, but we were taught to hold the bridle reins and guide the animal entirely with the left hand. … Another lesson we learned was that never, under any circumstances, were we to control the horse by speaking to him; this must be done by bit and spur. … If the colonel heard anything of the kind, he would savagely yell at the culprit, ‘ Here, you old market woman, stop that’. … The elbow floppers were dubbed ‘pump handle lubbers’. … no monkeyism was tolerated. … Even a man who thought it cute to ride side-saddle style, had all such notions dispelled by a night in the guardhouse.” [5]

The Dragoons were an auxiliary arm supporting the Infantry. While they were not expected to make long marches on foot, it was necessary at times for them to hold a position dismounted, until the Infantry could arrive to secure the ground. While cavalry regiments did most of their fighting on horseback, dragoons, on the other hand, did most of their fighting dismounted. The horses provided them with mobility but for the most part they dismounted when they went into action, using their carbines or musketoons. However, they were armed with sabers and thus were trained to fight both mounted and dismounted. When dismounted, one soldier was responsible for securing four horses during battle, allowing three dismounted infantrymen to engage the enemy with an assortment of rifles. [6]

Battle Highlights

As a regiment of dragoons, it made its first fight near Manassas Junction in Oct., 1863, sustaining a loss of 10 killed, wounded and missing.

Originally assigned to the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, the Dragoons moved to the Army of the Shenandoah with General Philip Sheridan.

The regiment moved on Grant’s campaign of 1864 with about 400 carbines and fought in the Wilderness (at Todd’s tavern), dismounted, sustaining a loss of 20 killed, 36 wounded and 35 missing, the heaviest loss of any cavalry regiment in any one action during the war. The Dragoons also took part with losses in General Sheridan’s raid to the James River, Virginia in May, 1864. At Cold Harbor the Dragoons were aroused from their sleep on the ground and ordered into the breastworks, which they defended throughout night, inspired by the music of their brass band. (See quote below. ) Their losses at Cold Harbor were 35 killed, wounded and missing.

“In the early morning of June 1, 1864, we were lying behind the slender barricade at Cold Harbor when three lines of rebel infantry marched toward our front. … Turning to me (the colonel) said, ‘Sergeant, give us some music.’ We at once struck up ‘Yankee Doodle’. After the first repulse… we gave them ‘Dixie’; and when they advanced the second time, gave them ‘Hail Columbia’ on our horns, while the boys put in the variations with their carbines, smashing their ranks worse then before. When they fell back this time, we played, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’. Not satisfied with what they received, the plucky rebs tried it again, we furnishing them with, ‘Red, White, and Blue’, as they came up, and with ‘Girl I Left Behind Me’, as the went back, satisfied not to come again. Some of the Sixth Corps boys came up to see the fight, and were astonished to hear a band playing on the battle line.” – Sergeant Walter H. Jackson, in charge of the regimental band. [7]

Reduced in numbers, the Dragoons moved with Sheridan on the raid to Trevilian Station, where they were heavily engaged, their casualties in that action amounting to 16 killed, 61 wounded, and 8 missing. The regiment fought with Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley and shared victories of the final Appomattox campaign. The Dragoons gained a high reputation among brigade and division generals for their discipline and efficiency.

Under command of Col. Thorp, it was mustered out and discharged on June 30, 1865, at Cloud’s Mills, Va., having participated in about 65 battles and skirmishes. It lost 4 officers and 127 men killed and mortally wounded; 1 officer and 142 men by disease, accident, in prison, a total of 274 . Its loss in killed and mortally wounded was exceeded by only five cavalry regiments in the Union service.

Based on correspondence among the veterans of the regiment, it is interesting to note a perception of prejudice and discrimination between volunteer regiments and ‘regular’ regiments. United States Volunteers also known as U.S. Volunteers, U.S. Volunteer Army, or other variations of these, were military volunteers called upon during wartime to assist the United States Army but who were separate from both the Regular Army and the militia. The Volunteer regiments did not exist in times of peace. Under the United States Constitution, each state recruited, trained, equipped, and maintained a state militia, with regimental officers appointed and promoted by state governors and not kept in federal service for more than nine months. The U.S. Volunteers were enlisted for terms of one to three years, and between 1794 and 1902. [8]

Volunteer regiments were often viewed as inferior by soldiers in the regular army regiments. In addition, the regular army regiment brigades and armies had embedded newspaper correspondents that chronicled their success while the volunteer units relied upon soldiers to write home to their local newspapers.

“As predicted in my letter of the 21st, some of the New York papers contain glowing accounts of their (the regular’s) valor at Trevilian: how the First, Second, and Fifth United States Calvary of the reserve brigade ‘charged over the crest like a whirlwind, sweeping all before them, exciting a gallantry that won the applause even of the enemy’. The above may be true of the volunteer regiments so unfortunate as to be brigaded with them, but so far as the three regular regiments are concerned it is all bosh. Colonel Gibbs says that this unfairness comes from the fact that the regulars have with them a professional New York correspondent, who gives them credit for all the fighting of the brigade. Besides this, regulars always have a feeling of antipathy, or disdain, for the volunteers, and prove every opportunity to treat them with contempt. I have heard it remarked that they hate volunteers worse then they do the rebs.” [9]

Engagements and Narrative

Daniel Griffis participated in some form in various engagements listed below. At a point not known in his military service he became a wagon master. Available documentation indicates he was a wagon master in January or February 1864. Perhaps when the regiment was drilled in its new calvary duties in Manassas in October 1863 he assumed wagon master duties. Based on the list of major engagements, Daniel was involved with 34 regiment engagements. Early in the morning of August 13, 1864, Daniel and approximately 200 other soldiers were captured by the Confederate guerrilla regiment led by Colonel Mosby. Daniel was part of a reserve brigade wagon train that was captured by Mosby’s regiment (See below).

Month / YearDay /Engagement
Sep 186213, arrived at Suffolk, VA
Dec 18622, Blackwater, VA
Jan 186330, battle of Deserted House
“In the winter of 1863-64, while the Dragoons were doing picket duty on the north branch of the Rapidan, trumpeter J.R. Brown, of Co. I, performed a feat almost equal to the exploits of Orpheus of old. Although he didn’t actually compile the trees to dance to his music, nevertheless he played his instrument so persuasively that he induced a small squad of confederates to swim the river, walk into the picket post, and give themselves up. they were shivering with the cold, and their teeth chattering, but a liberal supply of commissary, hot coffee, and hardtack soon brought them around all right.” – Lieutenant J.N. Flint, in charge the picket detail [10]
Apr 186311, siege of Suffolk began
17,South Quay Road
May 18633, siege of Suffolk closed
Jun 186312, skirmish at South Quay;
13, skirmish at Franklin;
17, skirmish on the Blackwater;
19, left Suffolk to join Keyes’ Peninsula expedition;
20, arrived at Yorktown;
22, Williamsburg;
27, White House.
Jul 18631, at Baltimore Cross Roads;
3, retired towards White House, skirmish at Baltimore Cross Roads;
9, Williamsburg;
10, Yorktown;
11, embarked for Washington;
12, arrived at Washington;
13, Frederick, Md.;
17, Berlin, assigned to Army Headquarters;
19, crossed the Potomac;
22, Upperville;
23, Manassas Gap;
24, Salem;
24, Warrenton;
28, regiment transferred to cavalry service, First New York Dragoons.
Aug 18631, marched to Warrenton;
3, Union Mills;
Aug 6 – Oct 12 1863Manassas drilling in cavalry tactics
Oct 186313, rejoined the Army of the Potomac, engagement at Manassas Plains.
Nov 186320, engagement at Culpepper Courthouse
Dec 186326, moved from Culpepper to Mitchell’s Station.
Jan 1864in camp at Mitchell’s Station, picketing the Rapidan
“With the exception of our short stay at Manassas, we had for seven months been so incessantly on the move that we could never tell where night would overtake us.” [11]
Feb 18646,7, reconnaissance to Robertson’s River;
28, detail from regiment to join Custer’s Charlottsville Raid.
Mar 186429, review of 1st division of cavalry by General Grant.
Apr 189423, moved to Culpepper.
May 18644, broke camp for the Wilderness campaign;
5, crossed the Rapidan at Ely’s Ford;
7, battle of Todd’s Tavern;
“At 3 P.M. the regiment is dismounted and moved across the country for more than a mile at ‘double quick’, when the enemy are met. With a terrible yell the Dragoons go to work, loading and firing their carbines with the utmost rapidity and with deadly effect. … Night closes upon the scene. Over eighty of the dragoons lie upon the ground either killed or severely wounded. The support has arrived and the day is won.” – Lieutenant Flint [12]
8, engagement on Spottsylvania road, Sheridan’s raid to Richmond begun;
9, Beaver Dam Station;
10, crossed South Anna River, skirmish at Anderson’s Bridge;
11, battle of Yellow Tavern;
12, Richmond, battle of Meadow Bridge, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mills;
“Arriving at Meadow Bridge … the First Dragoons were held to ‘fight mounted’ and the reason we heard at the time was that as we had always been in it on foot, we should have a rest. We soon found that while that might have been a good reason, there was one stronger why we were to be mounted on that day; there was an extra job at hand, and it was well known in the calvary that the First Dragoons could be relied upon for those extra jobs. …it was a common saying among other regiments: ‘Another fight boys, there go the Dragoons’, and sure enough , it would come. This time it proved that there had to be a long mounted charge across a narrow causeway and along the Chickahominy swamp, with a battery of artillery at the further end.” – Captain Leach, personal recollections [13]
13, crossed Chickahominy at Bottom’s Bridge;
14, Malvern Hill, Haxall’s Landing;
17, night march crossing Chickahominy at Jones’s Bridge;
18, Baltimore Cross Roads;
21, White House; 23, King William’s Courthouse;
24, Polecat Station, rejoined the Army of thePotomac;
26, Chesterville Station;
27, Hanover Town,
28, battle of Hawe’s Shop;
30, engagement at Old Church;
31, first engagement at Cold Harbor.
Jun 18641, second engagement at Cold Harbor;
2, Botom’s Bridge;
3, reconnaissance to Jone’s Bridge;
4, Old Church;
7, Trevilian raid begun, marched to Dunkirk;
8, Polecat Station;
10, within two miles of Trevilian Station;
11, first engagement at Trevilian;
12, second engagement at Trevilian;
13, retired by way of Carpenter’s Ford;
14, six miles from Spottsylvania Courthouse, Schouler’s Plantation;
17, Bowling green, Newton, Dunkirk;
18, King and Queen’s Courthouse;
19, to West Point and back to Dunkirk;
20, to West Point again;
21, crossed at Pamunky;
24, crossed the Chickahominy at Jones’s Bridge;
24, rejoined the Army of the Potomac at Harrison’s Landing;
29, crossed the James to Prince George’s Courthouse;
30, to Reams Station.
Jul 18642, went in to camp at City Point;
26, reconnaissance across the James;
27, on the Newmarket road;
28, skirmish at Darbytown;
29, engagement at Darbytown;
30, returned to Petersburg, Reams Station; return to City Point.
Aug 18641, embarked for Washington and the Shenandoah Valley;
2, landed at Giesboro Point;
6, Rockville, Clarksburg, Hyattstown;
7, Jefferson, Knoxville, Harper’s Ferry, Hallstown reconnaissance to Shepherdstown;
10, Berryville, Engagement at White Post;
11, engagement at Newtown;
12, Middletown;
13, reconnaissance to Strasburg;
13, Berryville Wagon Raid
“Early in the morning of August 13, the entire reserve brigade wagon train was captured by the guerrilla Mosby. It had been moved out from Harper’s Ferry, and was in park near Berryville. The train was guarded mostly by one hundred day men, who threw down their arms and ran like sheep at the first sight of the coming guerrillas. We lost all our regimental records, besides much valuable private property. Mosby destroyed seventy-five wagons, and ran off two hundred prisoners, with a loss of but two men, killed by Tran Marr and another Dragoon, who stood their ground and were captured. Than had $100, which he quickly hid beneath a large stone. Escaping on the road to Richmond, he returned and secured his money. In this affair, we lost two week’ mail.” [14]
16, Nineveh;
17, Berryville;
20, reconnaissance to Kabletown;
21, retired to Charlestown;
22, to Shepherdstown;
25, reconnaissance to Leetown, engagement at Shepherdstown, retired across the Potomac to Sharpsburg;
26, Harper’s Ferry, Bolivar Heights;
27, reconnaissance to the Charlestown and Shepherdstown road;
28, first engagement at Smithfield;
29, second engagement at Smithfield;
30, Berryville.
Sep 18642, to Rippon returning to Berryville;
4, Snicker’s Ferry;
5, Summit Point;
8, Smithfield;
18, Summit Point;
19, battle of Winchester;
20, Strasburg;
21, Middletown;
22, Woodstock;
23, engagement at New Market;
25, Harrisonburg;
26, engagement at Port Republic;
27, engagement at Cross Keys;
29, Port Republic, Mt. Crawford;
30, Cross Keys.
Oct 18642, engagement at Mt. Crawford;
5, Cross Keys;
6, Harrisonburg, Timberville;
7, Edenburg;
8, engagement at Tom’s Brook;
9, Woodstock Races, driving the enemy twenty miles through Mt. Jackson;
10, Tom’s Brook;
11, Bowman’s Ford,
13, near Middletown;
14, engagement at Strasburg;
15, Front Royal;
16, Middletown;
19, battle of Cedar Creek;
20, Woodstock;
21, in camp at Middletown.
Nov 18647, reconnaissance at Front Royal;
10, retired to near Winchester;
12, engagement near Newtown;
13, reconnaissance to Cedar Creek;
21, reconnaissance to Front Royal;
22, regiment on picket during brigade reconnaissance to Milford;
23, in camp near Winchester;
28, Loudon raid begun, Asby’s Gap, Paris, Upperville;
29, Bloomfield, Snickersville;
30, Waterford, Lovettsville.
Dec 18641, Wheatland, Snickersville;
2, Snicker’s Gap, Beryville;
3, return to camp near Kernstown;
19, Gordonsville raid begun, Front Royal, Chester Gap;
20, Flint Hill, Sperryville;
21, Madison Courthouse;
22, crossed the Rapidan on Gordonsville road, engagement at Liberty Mills;
23, engagement at Gordonsville, retired across Rapidan and Robertson Rivers;
24, Alderate Mills;
25, Warrenton;
26, White Plains;
27, Millwood;
28, Kernstown;
29, marched to Smithfield;
Jan 1865
30, Hallstown.
Jan 1865in camp near Lovettsville.
Feb 186527, James River raid begun, marched up the valley to Woodstock;
28, Mt. Jackson, New Market, Lacy’s Mills.
Mar 18651, Harrisonburg, Mt.. Crawford;
2, Staunton, Fisherville;
3, Waynesboro, Rockfish Gap;
4, Charlottesville;
5, Scottsville, Howardsville, New Market;
7, reconnaissance to DuguidsviIle Bridge;
8, night march to Columbia Courthouse;
11, reconnaissance to Goochland;
12, Tolersville Station, Fredericks Hall;
14, Taylorsville;
15, Hanover Junction, Chesterville Station;
16, Twenty miles towards White House;
17, Ayletts, King William Courthouse;
18, White House;
25, Baltimore Cross Road, Charles City Courthouse., Harrison’s Landing;
26, Malvern Hill, cross river at Deep Bottom joining Army of Potomac;
27, front of Petersburg;
29, Appomattox campaign begun, Reams Station, Dinwiddie Courthouse;
30, move to Five Forks and retired;
31, engagement at Dinwiddie Courthouse.
Apr 18651, battle of Five Forks;
2, Deep Creek, engagement at Sutherland Station; moved towards Amelia Courthouse;
4, skirmish near Amelia Courthouse;
5, Jetersville;
6, battle of Sailor’s Creek;
7, Prince Edward’s Courthouse;
8, engagement at Appomattox Station;
9, Appomattox Courthouse, Lee’s surrender;
10, returned to Prospect Station;
11, Prince Edward’s Courthouse;
12, Burkesville;
13, Nottoway Courthouse;
18, Petersburg;
24, Dan River expedition begun,
25, Meherrin River;
27, Clarksville;
28, crossed Stanton River and Dan river.
May 18653, returned to Petersburg;
10, Richmond;
11, passed Yellow Tavern;
13, crossed Rapidan at Raccoon Ford;
14 crossed Rapahannock;
15, Fairfax Courthouse;
16, Alexandria;
21, Clouds Mills;
23- 24, grand review at Washington.
Jun30, Mustered out at Cloud’s Mills.

Sources

Featured image: Jackman, B. D, photographer. Civil War veterans of the 1st New York Dragoons wearing ribbons and with flag / B.D. Jackman, 37 Superior St., Buffalo, N.Y. United States, ca. 1900. [Buffalo, N.Y.: B.D. Jackman, 37 Superior St] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2019645908/.

[1] 1st Dragoons Regiment, Civil War, website for the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. Images of the 1st Dragoon Flags are from the New York State Military Museum;

1st Dragoons Regiment, Civil War Archive, New York Union Regimental Histories;

Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons with a List of Names, Post-Office Address, Casualties of Officers and Men, and Number of Prisoners, Trophies, etc. Captured, From Organization to Muster-Out, Washington, DC: Gibson Brothers, 1865

Phisterer, Frederick, New York in the War of the Rebellion, Third Edition, Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, 1912 ;

Bedgood, Deana, Civil War History and Roster of the First New York Dragoons. Denver, Colorado: Outskirts Press, 2010

Benedict, George D., George D. Benedict Letters. 1863-1864

Breslin, Tom, Glimpses of the Past: 1st New York Dragoons, December 2000;

James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons: Originally the 130th N. Y. Vol; Infantry; During Three Years of Active Service in the Great Civil War, originally published by author 1900, Reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2012

Union Regimental Histories, New York, 1st Regiment Dragoons (19th Cavalry), Civil War Archive, Source – “A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion” by Frederick H. Dyer (Part 3)

[2] Calvary vs Dragoons, Civil War Talk, (webpage) see for informal discussion about this subject.

[3] Bert Dunkerly, The Siege of Suffolk, Emerging Civil War, April 4, 2017

[4] James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons: Originally the 130th N. Y. Vol; Infantry; During Three Years of Active Service in the Great Civil War, originally published by author 1900, Reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2012, Page 99

[5] Ibid, Pages 96-98

[6] Union and Confederate Cavalry: Dragoons, Mounted Troops, and Calvary History

[7] Recollections documented in James Riley Bowen, Regimental History of the First New York Dragoons During Three Years of Active Service in the Great Civil War, Published by the author, 1910, Page 181

Also, Page 119: “The organization and equipment of a brass band occurred that winter [1863] … they repeatedly served a most excellent purpose on the battle line.”

[8] Chambers II, John Whiteclay, To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America, New York: The Free Press of Macmillan, 1987; “General orders. No. 15 – Digital Collections – National Library of Medicine”National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 25 September 2020;  “General orders. No. 126 – Digital Collections – National Library of Medicine”National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 25 September 2020; Guerin, T. M., General Orders affecting the Volunteer Force Adjutant-General’s Office 1861, War Dept, United States, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1862

[9] James Riley Bowen, Regimental History, Page 191

[10] Ibid, Page 124

[11] Ibid, Page 112

[12] Ibid, page 143

[13] Ibid, pages 162-163

[14] Ibid, pages 213-214

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