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Second United States Cavalry

Harold B. Simpson General Entry

The Second United States Cavalry, one of four new regiments approved by Congress on March 4, 1855, was organized specifically for service on the Texas frontier. It was an elite organization. The troopers rode the finest horses and were issued the latest equipment and firearms. The officers were handpicked by Jefferson Davis, secretary of war for President Franklin Pierce. Thus the regiment was known as "Jeff Davis's Own." Most of the officers, like Davis, were West Point graduates and southerners. The regiment was known for the outstanding quality of the sixteen general officers it produced in the 6½ years of its existence. Eleven of these became Confederate generals, and the Second Cavalry supplied one-half, or four, of the full generals of the Confederate Army-Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Edmund Kirby Smith, and John Bell Hood. Although Pierce had first promised the command to Benjamin McCulloch, Davis named Johnston the first commander of the Second Cavalry, which was commanded at various times by George H. Thomas, Earl Van Dorn, and Robert E. Lee. Lee commanded the regiment on three occasions-first during the spring of 1855, when the unit was organizing; second during the fall of 1857, when Colonel Johnston was reassigned to campaign against the Mormons in Utah; and finally in the winter of 1860–61. The Second Cavalry was Robert E. Lee's last command in the United States Army. The regiment left Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri, on October 27, 1855, and after riding through Missouri, a corner of Arkansas, and the Indian Territory, crossed the Red River into Texas near the Preston Supply Depot on December 15, 1855. When the unit reached Fort Belknap in Young County the command was divided; Maj. William J. Hardee took a detachment of four companies to establish Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos in what is now Throckmorton County, and the rest of the regiment continued south to establish regimental headquarters at Fort Mason in January 1856.

The Second Cavalry remained in Texas until the Civil War. During its stay in the Lone Star State, companies of the regiment were involved in some forty engagements along the western and northern frontiers of Texas and along the Rio Grande, fighting Apaches, Comanches, Kiowas, and Mexican marauders. Various companies of the regiment also conducted scores of scouting expeditions into West and Northwest Texas, some of five and six weeks' duration. Companies of the Second Cavalry were stationed at forts Belknap, Chadbourne, Clark, Inge, Mason, McIntosh, and McKavett, and camps Colorado, Cooper, and Verde. Using Texas as a base of operations, the Second Cavalry staged two major raids against the Comanche villages north of the Red River in Kansas Territory, one in October 1858 and the other in May 1859. The most significant engagement fought by the regiment in Texas was the battle of Devils River, July 20, 1857. On that date Lt. John Bell Hood, with a detachment of twenty-five men from Company G, fought a combined force of Comanches and Lipan Apache warriors. It was estimated that of a party of fifty warriors nine Indians were killed and at least double that number injured. The cavalrymen counted seven casualties. Hood himself suffered a painful wound when an arrow pinned his hand to his saddle. As a result of the secession crisis the regiment was ordered out of Texas in late February 1861 and left the state via Indianola during March and April. Upon its return north the Second Cavalry, now under the command of Maj. George H. Thomas, was assigned to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. When the mounted units of the United States Army were reorganized in the fall of 1861, the Second Cavalry became the Fifth Cavalry, the designation by which it is known today. The Second Cavalry had five years of distinguished service on the Texas frontier and border. It had driven the Indians far beyond the fringes of settlement and had attacked and defeated the Comanches deep in their heartland. It had also helped the Texas Rangers to combat Juan N. Cortina, and to bring peace to the lower Rio Grande valley. Thorough in reconnaissance, persistent in pursuit, and successful in battle, the Second United States Cavalry made a significant contribution to Texas frontier history.

George F. Price, Across the Continent with the Fifth Cavalry (New York: Van Nostrand, 1883; rpt., New York: Antiquarian, 1959). Harold B. Simpson, Cry Comanche: The Second U.S. Cavalry in Texas (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1979).

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Harold B. Simpson, “Second United States Cavalry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 31, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
June 13, 2020