Henry’s Brunettes


Occasionally, a historical photograph surfaces from an old trunk in an attic that piques the interest of historians and enthusiasts alike.  Such was the case this month when a picture of ten non-commissioned officers of Troop G, 9th Cavalry, came to light and was published in the Taos News under the title, “Mystery of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ photo.” According to the article, Taos resident Gloria Longval wishing to honor Black History Month brought the photograph to the attention of the local news outlet.  Mrs. Longval intimated that she came into possession of the photograph entirely by accident about fifty years ago.  After buying several frames at an auction, she discovered the photograph under an illustration in one of the frames.

A historian and blogger by the name of Luckie Daniels has taken up the cause to identify the men in the photograph.  One of her readers, William F. Haenn, a retired army lieutenant colonel and published author opined:

The medal five of the soldiers are wearing shows they are members of the Society of the Army and Navy Union of the United States. Badges of Military Societies were first authorized for wear in the 1897 Army Uniform Regulations. Typically uniform regulations served to catch up with what was already a common practice. Safe to say the photo is early to mid-1890s. The other badges are marksmanship badges.

The two soldiers in the upper left are wearing sharpshooter badges (maltese cross) and the soldier second from the left is [also] wearing a distinguished marksman badge. The solider with a cravat bottom row second from the right is wearing a marksman silver bar. All the soldiers are non-commissioned officers, six sergeants and four corporals.
The leggings worn by the soldier in the front row far right were not adopted for wear by cavalrymen until 1894. Leggings replaced the traditional cavalry boots in that year. The photo had to be taken after 1894.
The 9th Cavalry Regiment was stationed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska throughout the 1890s until deployed to Cuba in the War with Spain in 1898.

Based on Haenn’s assessment, the photograph most certainly dates from the mid-1890s at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.  These same cavalrymen very likely participated in the Pine Ridge Campaign of 1890-1891.  Named for their commander, Major and brevet Colonel Guy V. Henry–perhaps the most renowned Indian fighter in uniform at the time–the 9th Cavalry during that campaign were dubbed “Henry’s Brunettes.”

A 26 January 1891 article in the Omaha Bee, detailed Major General Nelson A. Miles’ review of all the soldiers gathered in Pine Ridge at the end of the campaign. The article mentions Troop G as being under the command of Lieutenant Grote Hutcheson, who later served as the regiment’s adjutant and wrote the first history of the 9th Cavalry for the book, “The Army of the United States, Historical Sketches of the Staff and Line.”  Bee correspondent Ed O’Brien wrote:

Then came the Ninth, the fame of which in this campaign is the subject of general conversation. In a certain sense it was the leading feature of the parade. The troopers are colored. They wore buffalo overcoats. Long or short, light or heavy, they sat there on horses like Neys. They seemed to glory in the soldier’s life, to take to it as kindly as do the savages to the warpath. They looked like Esquimaux rigged out for an active campaign and demeaned themselves as if they were alike fearless of the elements and storms of shot and shell. At their head rode Colonel Henry, the fearless man who has led them in their rides over these hills and valleys and both into and out of the mouth of hell, which they have experienced on several occasions. Lieutenant W. Finley acted as adjutant, Dr. Kane as medical officer and Lieutenant Bettens as quartermaster.
The First battalion was commanded by Captain Loud, A troop by Captain Garrard, I troop by Lieutenant Perry, G troop by Lieutenant Grote Hutcheson, in the absence of the veteran Captain Cusack, who was seriously ill. The guidon of this troop was badly punctured with bullets.
The Second Battalion was commanded by Captain Stedman, K troop being led by “Light-Horse Harry,” Captain Wright, the young gentleman who has just received the spurs of his present rank which even was celebrated on the field of battle. F troop was led by Lieutenant McAnany and D troop by Lieutenant Powell. A Hotchkiss battery brought up the rear.

A more famous narrative of General Miles’ review written by Charles Seymour appeared in Harper’s Weekly:

…..And when the black scowling faces of the Ninth Cavalry passed in close lines behind the glittering carbines held at a salute, General Miles waved his gloved hand to Colonel Henry, whose gaunt figure was almost lost in the folds of his buffalo overcoat. Three weeks before, these black troopers rode 100 miles without food or sleep to save the Seventh cavalrymen, who were slowly being crushed by the Sioux in the valley at the Catholic Mission. Then they dashed through the flanks of the savages, and after sweeping the ridges with carbine and pistol, lifted the white troopers out of the pocket with such grace that after the battle was over the men of both regiments hugged one another on the field.

Henry later wrote a detailed account of the 9th Cavalry’s actions during the campaign including the famous 100-mile ride that culminated with the rescue of the 7th Cavalry at the Drexel Mission fight on White Clay Creek, 30 December 1890.  Following is Henry’s narrative printed in the 4 January 1897 edition of the Omaha Daily Bee.

A SIOUX INDIAN EPISODE.

RECOLLECTIONS OF THE PINE RIDGE WAR.

(General Guy V. Henry in Harper’s Weekly.)

While seated in my office at Fort McKinney, Wyo., on the 19th day of November, 1890, the following telegram was handed to me:

“Move out as soon as possible with the troop of cavalry at your post; bring all the wagon transportation you can spare, pack mules and saddles; extra ammunition and rations will be provided when you reach the railroad.—By Order of the Department Commander”

What possible cause for this interruption of our peace and happiness and the breaking up of our homes, settled for the long and usually trying winter, and the leaving of our families could not be imagined.  A distance of nearly 200 miles from the railroad, uncertain mail and telegraphic facilities, or at least much delayed news, kept us ignorant of outside troubles.

Preparations were at once made, and the following day I marched out of Fort McKinney with troop D, Ninth cavalry, Captain Loud, Lieutenants Powell and Benton.  Turning the point of a hill, after crossing the beautiful Clear fork of the Powder river, the post and our families were soon lost to sight.  Little did we suspect at the time that we were never to return to Fort McKinney as a station.  This is a peculiarity of army life—to leave on twenty-four hours’ notice a place, possibly never to be seen again, or maybe only when, after a lapse of years a similar notice may as suddenly return you to your old station.  Nearing the railroad, we began to hear all sorts of rumors of the Indians being on the warpath—the murder of settlers, the starting of a party of Indians in the direction of Fort McKinney so as to obtain a refuge in the Big Horn mountains; these and other reports found us mentally prepared for a winter’s campaign, so that on reaching the railroad we were not surprised to find cars in readiness to carry us to Rushville, the nearest point to the reported place of trouble—Pine Ridge agency, South Dakota.

We arrived at Rushville at night, and immediately detrained, and started early the following morning on our march to the agency, where we arrived early in the afternoon of the same day.  Contrary to expectations we met with no hostile Indians or resistance.

We found all the troops camped close about the agency, and made our own camp in the bottom, about half a mile away, on White river.  The next day we were joined by troops K, F and I, with Captains Wright and Stedman, and Lieutenants Guilfoyle, McAnaney and Perry, Dr. Keane being the medical officer; the four troops constituted the Ninth cavalry squadron.  Our time was fully occupied in daily drills and in getting our pack-mule train in order, for upon this we depended for rations and forage when absent from our wagons.  Rumors came often to us that the Indians were keeping up their ghost-shirt, or Messiah dances; that they considered these shirts, when worn, to be impervious to the bullet; of their desire to clean out the whites and to occupy the promised land; of their having occupied an impregnable position in the Bad Lands, so fortified and difficult of approach that an attempt to dislodge them would result in the annihilation of the whole army—these and many other rumors gave the Indian, who is a great braggart, an abundant opportunity to air himself, and left us plenty of leisure to prepare ourselves for our future state.

The afternoon of December 24 an order reached us to move out at once to head off Big Foot—an Indian chief—and his band, who had escaped from our troops, and, it was supposed, would join the hostiles in the Bad Lands; and this we were to prevent.  So at 2 p.m. the “general” sounded—a signal which meant to strike our tents and pack our mules and wagons.  The latter were to follow us, escorted by one troop.  Soon “boots and saddles” rang out, when horses were saddled, line formed, and then, with three troops and with two Hotchkiss guns of the First artillery, under Lieutenant Hayden, we commenced our march of fifty miles, expecting to reach our goal before daylight.  Only a half-hundred miles!  It does not seem far on paper, but on the back of a trotting horse on a cold winter’s night it is not to be laughed at.  On we dashed through the agency, buoyed by the hearty cheers and “A Merry Christmas!” given us by the comrades we were leaving behind to revel by the camp-fires, while we rode on by moonlight to meet the foe.  Every heart went out in sympathy with us, every one waved his hat and cheered as we rode out on the plains—perhaps to glory, perchance to death.  Proud and gallant the troopers looked, more as if going on parade than like men riding forth, it might be, to meet a soldier’s death.  It made one’s heart beat quicker, and brought to mind the words:

To sound of trumpet and heart-beat
The squadron marches by;
There is color in their cheeks,
There is courage in their eyes;
Yet to the sound of trumpet and heart-beat
In a moment they may die.

Little did we think at that time that within less than one week some of the gallant men we were leaving behind would be killed by the very band we sought, while we should be saved.  After riding for two hours, alternately at a trot and a walk, a short halt was made for the men to make coffee and to give the horses a feed.  Then the march was continued, and on and on we sped, that cold, moonlit Christmas eve.  The words, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” rang in our ears as we pushed on with hostile intent toward the red men.  The night was beautiful with the clear moon, but so cold that water froze solid in our canteens, notwithstanding the constant shaking.  Crossing a narrow bridge, a pack-mule was shoved off by its crowded comrades, and, falling on the ice of Wounded Knee creek, broke a hole, smashed a box of hardtack, but gathered himself together and ambled off, smiling serenely at having received no damage to his body.

Here we passed abandoned ranches, the owners driven off by threats or fear of the Indians; here we were at the scene of the ghost dance, where the Indians were taught that the Messiah would appear, rid the country of the white man, and bring plenty to the Indian; that the common cotton ghost shirt worn was bullet proof; while in every other possible way the medicine-men worked upon the fanaticism of the deluded creature.  We saw at a distance stray cattle, whose spectral appearance almost led us to believe in ghosts, if not in ghost shirts, and an examination was made to see whether or not they were Indians waiting on their ponies to attack us.

To cross White river we had to take a plunge from solid ice to mid-channel water, and then rode to Cottonwood springs, at the base of the position of the Indians in the Bad Lands.  We reached this place at 4 a.m., and threw ourselves on the ground for rest, knowing that to obtain wood and water for breakfast Christmas morning we should have to march eight miles.  And this is the way the Ninth cavalry squadron spent Christmas eve of 1890.  Christmas day we proceeded to Harney springs, a place where I had encamped during my winter’s march on seventeen years before, and finding wood and water, we made our breakfast.  We scouted the country for several days to find Big Foot’s trail, but he had passed east of us.  We discovered the tepees of the Indians, but finding no trace of the former occupants, we returned to White river.  The next day we made a reconnaissance of the Bad Lands.  Instead of narrow trails or defiles of approach accessible only in single file, where we could have been shot down by the Indians at will, we found a broad open divide; instead of impregnable earthworks, only a ridiculously weak pile of earth existed, here and there, filled in by a dead horse.  The Indians occupied a narrow position, from which they could easily have been shelled.  They had taken one military precaution, however, that of preparing for retreat, and had cut openings in the bluffs, which on their side were abrupt, so that they could slide down and escape.  The reality, as compared with the reports of Indian guides and interpreters, was greatly exaggerated, all brag and bluster, and but for the existence of high hills, little more than a “bluff” on the part of the Indians.  I had spent many a moment, when I supposed we should have to make an assault on this position, thinking how it could be done, and worrying over the probable loss of life, such perhaps as had occurred in the Lava beds when troops were opposed to the Modoc Indians; but when I saw this burlesque I could only laugh, and I made up my mind that it was best not to cross Fox river till it was reached.

It was not 10 o’clock at night, the wind was cold, and as it howled out of the canyons and swept over the valley, it carried with it the crystals that had fallen the day before.  There was no moon, the night was inky dark, even the patches of snow which lay here and there on the ground gave no relief to the eye.  Muffled in their shaggy buffalo overcoats, and hooded by the grotesque fur caps used by our western troops, the negro troopers looked like meaningless bundles that had been tied in some way to the backs of their horses.  Through canyons whose black walls seemed to be compressing all the darkness of the night, over buttes whose crests were crowned with snow, and across the rickety bridges which span Wounded Knee and Porcupine creeks the command sped at a pace which would have killed horses that had not been hardened by practice, as ours had been.  Nothing could be heard but the clatter of hoofs and the clanking of the carbines as they chafed the metallic trappings of the saddle; silence had been ordered, and the usual laugh and melodious songs of the darky troopers were not ours to beguile the march.  Now and then came the reverberation of the mule-whacker’s whip as he threw his energy and muscle into a desperate effort to keep the wagon train near us; figures could be seen flitting across the road and on the bluffs, and we knew not at what moment we might be fired upon; accordingly, the effort was made to reach the agency before daybreak, in the hope that darkness and the Indians’ superstition would protect us from attack in the meantime.

As we neared the agency the country became more open, hills easy of occupation commanding the road if the occasion required.  So, in order to enable us to get our horses into camp, and the riders and saddles off our weary animals, we left the wagon train a short distance in the rear, guarded by one troop, and the column moved on, entering the agency at daybreak, men and horses much tired after our long day and night ride of about 100 miles.  Reaching our old camp we all sought rest at once by throwing ourselves on the ground, but we had been resting only a short time when Corporal Wilson of the wagon train guard, who had volunteered at the risk of his life to reach us, rode rapidly into camp and reported that the train beyond the agency was surrounded and one man already killed.  In a moment the command, many not waiting to saddle, galloped to the front and quickly occupied the hills, whereupon the Indians retreated and the train moved in.

Scarcely had we returned to camp when orders were received to proceed to the Mission, the smoke from whose buildings indicated Indian depredations.  By request, owing to tired men and horses, we were allowed to rest longer, the Seventh cavalry going out.  Later we went to the Mission as rapidly as our wearied horses could carry us, and, after accomplishing the purpose for which we had been urgently called, returned, reaching our camp about dusk.  We had marched some 103 miles in twenty-two hours, and, although one horse had died, there was not a sore-backs horse in the outfit; men and horses were fatigued, but all were in good condition.  The following day, December 31, we remained in camp, with a howling snow storm prevailing, and amid these gloomy surroundings the Seventh cavalry buried its dead.  January 1, again under orders, we left the agency to combine with other troops in forming a cordon to drive back the hostiles who had fled from the agency, or to follow them if depredations upon the settlements were commenced.  Finally the Indians were forced back to the agency, not, however, until Lieutenant Casey had been killed by them, nor before they saw that resistance was useless, and that the ghost shirt was not impervious to the bullet.

Preparations were then made for a final review of troops.  We were encamped in line of battle, extending nearly three miles, which made a great impression upon the Indians, many of whom looked on from a distance in amazement and distrust, fearing that our arrangements might mean an attack instead of a peaceful march in review previous to the return of the troops to their posts.

The morning broke with a pelting flurry of a combination of snow and dirt.  A veil of dark clouds hung suspended above the hills, which surrounded the camp ground like a coliseum, and a piercing breeze swept from the north, making the contrast with the previous Messiah weather we had been having anything but agreeable.  We were fearful that a Dakota blizzard might strike us, meaning death to our animals in their exposed position and probably serious results to the soldiers.  Accordingly we all were anxious that the review ordered by General Miles be not postponed.

General Miles, after passing along the line, took position opposite the center, so that the troops, all of whom had participated in or rendered service during the Pine Ridge troubles, might march past him.  They moved in column of companies, troops, or platoons, and by infantry, cavalry, and artillery corps, respectively, and in order as above.  General Brooke and staff headed the column, followed by the band of the First United States infantry.  When opposite General Miles the band wheeled out of the column, playing, or attempting to do so, during the passage of the troops—a difficult matter, as the fierce wind almost prevented any musical notes being made or heard.

Then came 100 mounted Ogallala Indian scouts, commanded by Lieutenant Taylor of the Ninth cavalry.  Their precision of march was noticeable, and in various ways they had rendered valuable service during the campaign.  General Wheaton, as a brigade commander, followed with his staff.  The first regiment of his command was the First United States infantry, under Colonel Shafter, whose martial appearance and indifference to the cold—the men not wearing overcoats—suggested blood warmed by their California station.  Then came the Second United States infantry under Major Butler.  Their marching showed service, and they had recently lost Captain Mills, whose sad death in his tent as reveille sounded was fresh in the minds of his comrades.  Next followed six companies of the Seventeenth infantry, under Captain Van Horne, who marched well; then two companies of the Eighth infantry with a Gatling gun, under Captain Whitney; then Captain Capron with his light battery of the First United States artillery, which had distinguished itself at the battle of Wounded Knee creek during the fight with Big Foot’s band on December 29, and afterward at the Mission.  Next in order came General Carr, commanding the cavalry brigade, followed by the historic and veteran Sixth cavalry and the Fort Leavenworth cavalry squadron, composed of one troop from each of the First, Fifth and Eighth regiments of cavalry, followed by a Hotchkiss battery; then came the scowling black faces of the Ninth cavalry squadron, with three other troops, A, C and G of the same regiment, who passed at “advance carbine” and whose gallant and hard service is of official record; then the Seventh United States cavalry, whose fine appearance attracted attention, and whose losses in action were attested by the vacancies in the ranks made by the gallant men killed or wounded.  The ambulance wagon and pack-mule trains brought up the rear, making a total in passing of about 3,600 men and 3,700 animals.

The column was pathetically grand, with its bullet-pierced gun carriages, its tattered guidons and its long array of cavalry, artillery and infantry, facing a pitiless storm which caused the curious Indians who witnessed it to seek protection under every cover and butte which could be found.  It was the grandest demonstration that had ever been seen by the army in the west, and when the soldiers had gone to their tents the sullen and suspicious Brules could be seen going to their tepees in ill-disguised bad humor.  The forces disbanded in a few days, the First infantry remaining at the agency for one month, while the Ninth cavalry squadron was ordered to select a comfortable winter camp, and to remain till spring.

Our comfortable camp was located on a small stream under cover of a high bluff, which, like a snow fence, secured and held the drifting snow from the plain above and caused a bank of snow twenty feet high and ten thick to form beyond and near our camp.  The men had stoves in their tents, but their beds were on the ground; the officers were a little better off.  The animals had canvas blanket covers.  But with all this there was suffering in various ways.  There were damp, cold nights; many had colds and pneumonia; there were few comforts.  But yet our soldiers did not complain.  On the contrary, it would have been difficult to find a more truly happy lot than those colored troopers.

Each of the big Sibley tents held fifteen or sixteen men, and when supper was over (bread and coffee, and sometimes a little bacon), these little communities settled down to have a good time.  Song and story, with an occasional jig or a selection on the mouth-organ or the banjo, with the hearty laugh of the darky, occupied the night hours till “taps” sounded for bed; and the reveille, or awakening, seemed to find these jolly fellows still laughing.  The Indians seem to hold the darky in reverence, if not awe.  The doctrine of the Messiah religion is that all the whites are to be cleaned off the earth—and this leaves the negro.  The Indians have a superstition that the bullet cannot kill the darky; but this, as with the ghost-shirt “not-kill” theory, had been dispelled by actual experience.

The negro is not easy to scalp—I have never heard of one being scalped, their wool not giving so good a hold as the hair of the white man—and the theory is that only those who are scalped are kept from the “happy hunting grounds,” where the fighting unfinished on earth is continued.  It is certain that the treatment of the black by the Indian is different from that given to the white, and when thrown together the red man seems to hold the black in greater respect.  I recall an instance in my youth when a band of Indians attacked a party of whites, killing the men and children, but keeping a white woman were obliged to change clothes, showing the greater respect for the black, who was treated then and afterward with consideration, while the white woman was killed when on the eve of recapture by our troops who had pursued the Indians.

The colored troops make excellent soldiers; in garrison they are clean and self-respecting, and proud of their uniform; in the field patient and cheerful under hardships or deprivations, never growling nor discontented, doing what is required of them without a murmur.  Arriving in camp after hours in the rain or cold they will sing and be happy; an enforced reduction of rations is received with good humor.  The peculiar owl-like character of the negro, who apparently does not need so much sleep at night as the white man, makes him a good and vigilant sentinel.

If properly led he will fight well; otherwise, owing to his habit of dependence upon a superior, he is more liable to stampede than the Caucasian; nor has he, as with the white, except in exceptional cases, the same individuality or self-dependence—he goes rather in a crowd and you seldom see a negro by himself.  He is generous to a fault and has but little regard for the care of the United States property, for which neglect he pays, but in this respect he is much improved over former years.  He is like a child, and has to be looked after by his officers, but will repay such interest by a devoted following and implicit obedience.  It would not be safe to suggest to some of these black troopers your desire that one of their comrades, whose conduct had not met with approval, should be hung before daylight, for it would very likely be an accomplished fact.  Drunkenness is not one of his vices—it is seldom you see one under the influence of liquor; his loyalty to the flag is unquestioned, and the desertion of one is almost unknown.

The above are some of the virtues of the black trooper, all necessary attributes of a good soldier.  Card playing—and he is an inveterate gambler, as is also the Indian—is one of his vices, if such it may be called.  His defective education leads him to indulge in it largely as a means of whiling away the time.

Our service with such men made the disagreeable camp surroundings endurable, even pleasant, and imparted to the white officers a more contented feeling, or at least an acceptance of the situation in a more equable manner than would otherwise have been the case.

Spring came, and with it our orders to march to Fort Robinson, a station where I had been seventeen years before, when on my winter’s march to the Black Hills.  I was now to return to it under very different circumstances.  Leaving our winter camp, and marching through deep snows, we made the town of Chadron, on the railroad, the first day, our men sleeping in a building loaned by the citizens.  The second day we marched nearly forty miles through deeper snows up to the girths of the saddles, in drifts much deeper, and, as the snow began to melt, through lakes of slush and bog, many of the men and animals becoming snow blind.  As the retreat gun fired, with the band playing a welcome, we entered Fort Robinson, thus ending the duties of the Ninth cavalry squadron in the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian campaign.

For further reading on the amazing military career of General Guy Vernon Henry, Sr., I recommend Cyrus Townsend Brady’s, “What They Are There For” in the October 1903 edition of Scribner’s Magazine.

Sources:
Daniels, Luckie, “Military Mystery: U.S. Cavalry 9th Regiment Company G?” Where Honor Is Due: Our Men of Military Service (https://wherehonorisdue.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/military-mystery-u-s-cavalry-9th-regiment-company-g/), posted 16 Feb 2015, accessed 28 Feb 2015.
Haenn, William F., from comments posted on “Are Our Soldiers Wearing GAR Medals? #BuffaloSoldier,” Where Honor Is Due: Our Men of Military Service (https://wherehonorisdue.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/are-our-soldiers-wearing-gar-medals-buffalosoldier/) posted 20 Feb 2015, comments 26 and 27 Feb 2015, accessed 28 Feb 2015.
Henry, Guy V., “A Sioux Indian Episode,” Omaha Daily Bee (4 Jan 1891), 7.
Hutcheson, Grote, “The Ninth Regiment of Cavalry,” The Army of the United States Historical Sketches of the Staff and Line With Portraits of Generals-In-Chief by William L. Haskin (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1896), 280 – 287.
O’Brien, Edward A., “The March of Forces,” Omaha DailyBee  (26 Jan 1891), 2.
Romancito, Rick, “Mystery of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ photo,” The Taos News (http://www.taosnews.com/entertainment/article_2891a05a-b9d8-11e4-b7f2-4b042719192c.html), posted 21 Feb 2015, accessed 28 Feb 2015.
Seymour, Charles G.,  “The Sioux Rebellion, The Final Review,” Harper’s Weekly, vol. 35
(7 Feb 1891), 106.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Henry’s Brunettes,” Army at Wounded Knee (http://wp.me/p3NoJy-Jg), posted 28 Feb 2015, accessed date __________.

Posted in Enlisted, Newspaper Articles, Reminiscences | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Letter from Private Thomas McGuire, D Troop, 7th Cavalry


My Dear friend we had a pretty hard battle with Big foots band on the 29th Dec. We killed over 300 of them.

Private Thomas McGuire was a twenty-four-year-old Irish immigrant in Captain Godfrey’s D Troop.  He enlisted in New York City in April 1888 and served three of his five years, being discharged in July 1891 with a characterization of service of excellent.  A native of Leitrim, Ireland, McGuire stood just under five feet, seven inches, with blue eyes, light hair and a fair complexion.  Writing two letters from the Pine Ridge Agency in January 1891, Thomas McGuire related to a friend in Topeka, Kansas, his experience in the battles at Wounded Knee and the Drexel Mission, and about some of the curios he collected from the Wounded Knee battlefield.  He also describes the fear and animosity with which the Lakota viewed the 7th Cavalry three weeks after the tragedy.

page 1 - 10 Jan 1891

(Click to enlarge) page 1 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

 South Dakota
I do not know the name of
this place it is 18
miles from Pine R. agency
January 10th, 91.

My Dear
Friend, I received your kind letter yesterday as was glad to hear by it that you are better of your sickness.  My Dear friend we had a pretty hard battle with Big foots band on the 29th Dec. We killed over 300 of them.  The 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavy, went out scouting and captured the Band and when the[y] brought them into camp the[y] sent a courier for the 2nd Battalion and we went out to help to disarm them.  There was 4 troops in a circle around them and the other 4 troops went into

(Click to enlarge) page 2 of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page 2 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

there [sic] camp to take there arms every thing was going fine only for a medicine man commenced to preach to them saying that a white man bullets could not kill them and then all at once he threw up a hand full of sand in the air and like a flash of lighting all the Indians men, women & children started firing on us.  I thought that it was the last of me right there but I came out safe.  There was bullets cuting [sic] the ground right around me.  I felt nervous at first but I got over it after I fired 5 or 6 shots and we gave them all the[y] wanted of lead.  We had another fight

(Click to enlarge) page 3 of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page 3 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

on the 30th, but we had a hard crowd to tackle.  There was about 1200 warriors and about 388 of us and the[y] had us in a pretty hard place to fight them. The Indians will never fight except in ravines or holes of some kind where the soldiers cannot get a shot at them. The[y] are a hard crowd to deal with but I guess the war is about over now.  We heard that the Indians was going into the agency today to give up. We have them surrounded like a horse shoe and the only way that can get out is to go into the agency and if the[y] raise any noise going in the artillery & Infantry is ahead of them there

(Click to enlarge) page 4 of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page 4 of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

I must close this not as there is a party going into the agency from here and that is the only way that we can get mail in to get it posted.
You must excuse my writing as I am writing this on my knee.

Yours Truly
Thos. McGuire
Troop E, 7th Cavy
Pine Ridge Agency
South Dakota

 

 

 

 

(Click to enlarge) envelope of McGuire's 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) envelope of McGuire’s 10 January 1891 letter.

(Click to enlarge) page one of Thomas McGuire's letter to Mr. Zeller.

(Click to enlarge) page one of McGuire’s 20 January 1891 letter.

Pine Ridge agency,
January 20th 1891

My Dear Friend, Mr. Zeller

I received your welcome letter on the 18th and was glad to hear that you are well. You asked me if I could get you a bow & arrow or a tomahawk.  I am sorry that I cannot get one for you as we are not allowed to go into the hostile camp.  The only things that I got is a squaw knife & scabbard & a pair of moccasins that I got on the battle field.  I will send them to you but I will try and find something else before I send them and send them all together.  It is pretty hard to get anything from

(Click to enlarge) Page two of Thomas McGuire's letter to Mr. Zeller.

(Click to enlarge) Page two McGuire’s letter .

the Indians as the[y] hate the soldiers. The[y] are turning in there [sic] arms every day here but the[y] want the Seventh Cavalry sent away from here.  The[y] are afraid of us.  The[y] say that the Seventh is on the war path and not them.  We got orders tonight to move camp in the morning, we do not no where we are going to camp but it is believed that we are moving towards Rushville and then to go home from there.  You must excuse me for this writing as the men in this tent is [sic] packing up some of there [sic] stuff.  The[y] say that I am in the way.

Yours Respectfully,
Thos. McGuire

This letter was provided courtesy of Ms. Pat Carney.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Letter from Private Thomas McGuire, D Troop, 7th Cavalry,” Army at Wounded Knee (http://wp.me/p3NoJy-It), updated 24 Feb 2015, accessed date __________.

Posted in Enlisted, Personal Letters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Irish Immigrant Private Thomas Sullivan, E Troop, 7th Cavalry – Conspicuous Bravery


Throughout the engagement he was conspicuous by his bravery, and I took occasion, while still on the field, to refer to his excellent conduct.
–Lieutenant H. G. Sickel

Thirty-one year-old Private Thomas Sullivan had little more than a year in the Army and E Troop, 7th Cavalry, at the time of the Pine Ridge Campaign.   At Wounded Knee he demonstrated to his leadership his bravery and potential as a cavalryman.  E Troop was taking effective fire from the Lakota that had sought refuge in the pocket of the ravine. Sergeant Nettles and Private Kellner were both shot in the head by Indians firing from concealed positions in the pocket, and Sergeant Tritle was wounded in the hand.  Two of the troop’s horses were also killed.  By all soldier accounts, E Troop was under a hot fire to which the officers and non-commissioned officers exposed themselves while placing soldiers on the skirmish line, directing their fire, and encouraging their men.  One of the leaders in the troop called for two volunteers to advance nearer the pocket in order to gain a better advantage on the Indians firing from that position.  Privates Thomas Sullivan and Mosheim Feaster readily took on the mission under the direction of Sergeant John F. Tritle, and were lauded by their commander that same day.  Sullivan was soon after promoted to the rank of corporal.

Wanting to ensure his soldiers were duly recognized for their actions on 29 December 1890 at Wounded Knee, the regiment’s sergeant major, Albert W. McMillan, who had served as one of the sergeants in E Troop at the battle, provided a sworn deposition at the end of March 1891 detailing Sullivan and Feaster’s actions.

That Private Thomas Sullivan (now corporal) and Private Mosheim Feaster, Troop “E” 7th Cavalry, when volunteers were called for to move from the left of our skirmish line and move to an exposed position (about 40yds distant from the concealed Indians) which would command this pocket to better advantage, did voluntarily and of their own accord move to this position and their bravery at that time called forth the following remark from 1st Lieut. H. G. Sickel 7th Cavalry Commanding troop, “men, Sullivan and Feaster have been brave men to-day.”[1]

Page 1 of Lieutenant Sickel's letter detailing Private Sullivan's actions.

(Click to enlarge) Page one of Lieutenant Sickel’s letter detailing Private Sullivan’s actions.[2]

Sullivan and Feaster also provided depositions testifying that they were the two soldiers that volunteered to advance on the pocket.  All of the E Troop recommendations–Sergeants McMillan, Austin, and Tritle, and Privates Feaster, Sullivan, and Ziegner–were returned to the regiment by the Adjutant General’s Office, at the suggestion of the Commanding General of the Army, in order to obtain additional details and an endorsement by the regiment’s commander, Colonel James W. Forsyth.  Lieutenant Sickel then wrote on 17 April:

(Click to enlarge) Page 2 of Lieutenant Sickel's recommendation.

(Click to enlarge) Page two of Lieutenant Sickel’s recommendation.[3]

While Troop “E” (dismounted) was engaged with Indians concealed in a ravine, Corporal (then private) Sullivan, acting with Sergt. Tritle, attracted my attention by his endeavors to drive the Indians from their position.  Corpl. Sullivan acted with great coolness, advancing almost to the edge of the ravine, drawing upon himself and companion the hostile fire.  Throughout the engagement he was conspicuous by his bravery, and I took occasion, while still on the field, to refer to his excellent conduct.

Assistant Secretary of War Lewis A. Grant approved the medal on 16 June writing, “Let the medal of honor be issued.”  The medal was engraved, “The Congress to Private Thomas Sullivan, Troop E, 7th Cavalry, for bravery at Wounded Knee Creek, S.D., Dec. 29, 1890.”  The Adjutant General’s Office mailed Sullivan’s medal on 23 June along with those of four other 7th Cavalry troopers to Fort Riley for presentation.

(Click to enlarge) Assistant Secretary of War Lewis A. Grant approved Private Thomas Sullivan's for the Medal of Honor on 16 June 1891.

(Click to enlarge) Assistant Secretary of War Lewis A. Grant approved Private Thomas Sullivan for award of the Medal of Honor on 16 June 1891.[4]

Thomas Sullivan was born in County Meath, Ireland, likely near the town of Drogheda. According to a Medal of Honor marker placed on his grave in front of his headstone, Sullivan was born on 20 April 1859.  Assuming this date is correct, he was probably the son of Patrick Sullivan and Bridget Conolly and was baptized in the Catholic parish of Drogheda in the adjacent county of Louth on 23 June of that year. The southern outskirts of Drogheda lie in County Meath.  [5]

However, there is some discrepancy as to Thomas Sullivan’s year of birth. All of his military records place his birth year as 1860 or 1861, and his headstone has the year 1860 engraved.  U.S. federal census data also disagrees inferring 1860, 1861, and even 1865 as the year in which Sullivan was born.  The New York death index too infers 1860.  A thorough search of Irish Catholic Parish baptismal records for those years indicates that Patrick and Bridget (Conolly) Sullivan were the probable parents of Thomas Sullivan. Less likely, but still plausible, is that he was baptized in the same parish on 10 July 1861, two years later, the son of Rich Sullivan and Mary McCann.[6]

Thomas Sullivan immigrated to America on the R. M. S. Chester in 1889.[7]

More certainly is that Thomas Sullivan, a twenty-eight-year-old laborer from County Meath, boarded the R. M. S. City of Chester in March 1889 at the port city of Queenstown, Ireland, and left his native land bound for the new world.  He arrived in New York Harbor on the 30th and made his way to Newark, New Jersey, where six months later he enlisted in the Army for five years. His recruiting officer, Lieutenant Carter, recorded on 20 September that Sullivan was twenty-eight years and five months of age, stood five feet, nine and a half inches in height, and was a laborer born in Meath County, Ireland, with light brown eyes, dark brown hair, and a healthy complexion.[8]

The recent emigrant from Ireland was assigned to Captain Ilsley’s E Troop, 7th U.S. Cavalry posted at Fort Sill in the Indian Territory.  Sullivan found his niche and served four consecutive enlistments in Troop E from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Fort Grant, Arizona Territory, and from Columbia Barracks, Cuba, to Camp Thomas, Georgia.  In 1903 at the time of his fifth enlistment, Sullivan transitioned to Troop H, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, as a quartermaster sergeant and served his final decade in that unit serving in places like Randolph, Kansas, and Fort Des Moines, Iowa.  Sullivan’s final tour was at Torrey Barracks on the Philippine Island of Mindanao before he returned with his unit to Fort Bliss, where he retired as the troop’s first sergeant on 3 June 1912 after over twenty-three years riding in a McClellan cavalry saddle.  In addition to his Medal of Honor, his awards included the Indian Wars Campaign Medal and the Philippine Campaign Medal.  Later he would also be authorized the Spanish War Service Medal, the Army of Cuban Occupation Medal, and possibly the Mexican Border Service Medal, each authorized by Congress after his retirement.[9]

(Click to enlarge) First Sergeant Thomas Sullivan retired from the Army at Fort Bliss, Texas in June 1912.

(Click to enlarge) First Sergeant Thomas Sullivan retired at Fort Bliss, Texas, in June 1912.[10]

Following retirement from the Army, Sullivan returned to Newark, New Jersey, and married a fellow Irish immigrant named Ellen.  Born in 1869, Ellen arrived in the United States at the age of eighteen and was a naturalized citizen.  By 1915 Thomas and Ellen Sullivan were living at 357 South 12th Street in Newark where he was working variously as a watchman, a guard of a ship yard, and a policeman, eventually settling at 33 Brookdale Avenue.[11]

Thomas Sullivan, policeman, retired cavalry first sergeant, and recipient of the Medal of Honor, died on 10 January 1940 at Manhattan, New York.  He was laid to rest in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in East Orange, New Jersey, next to his wife, Ellen, who had predeceased him in 1934.  Coincidentally, buried in the same cemetery is another 7th Cavalry trooper and Medal of Honor recipient, Thomas J. Callan, one of the water bearers from the Battle of the Little Bighorn.[12]

Thomas Sullivan and his wife, Ellen, are buried in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in East Orange, New Jersey.[13]

The Medal of Honor marker on First Sergeant Thomas Sullivan’s grave lists a year of birth different than that on his headstone.[14]

 

Endnotes:

[1] Adjutant General’s Office, Medal of Honor file for Thomas Sullivan, Principal Record Division, file 3466, Record Group: 94, Stack area: 8W3, Row: 7, Compartment 30, Shelf: 2; C. H. Carlton to Adjutant General’s Office dated 22 April 1891, Source data: The National Archives, Principal Record Division, file 6776, Record Group: 94, Stack area: 8W3, Row: 7, Compartment 30, Shelf: 3. Research conducted by Vonnie S. Zullo of The Horse Soldier Research Service.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ancestry.com, Ireland, Selections of Catholic Parish Baptisms, 1742-1881 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011 (Original data: Parish Registers. Dublin, Ireland: National Library of Ireland (NLI).
[6] Ibid.
[7] The Milkcan Papers, “How Our German Ancestors Came to America,” Our German Immigrant Ancestors (http://www.milkcanpapers.com/franz.html) updated 24 Jul 2011, accessed 7 Feb 2015.
[8] Ancestry.com, New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line], Year: 1889; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 531; Line:47; List Number: 358; Ancestry.com, U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, Year Range: 1885-1890, Surname Range: L-Z, Image: 443, Line: 588.
[9] Ancestry.com, U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, Year Range: 1893-1897, Surname Range: L-Z, Image: 343, Line: 516; Year Range: 1900, Surname Range: L-Z, Image: 197, Line: 705; Year Range: 1902-1904, Surname Range: L-Z, Image: 429, Line: 1549; Year Range: 1906-1907, Surname Range: L-Z, Image: 392, Line: 1407; Year Range: 1909-1913, Surname Range: R-Z, Image: 152, Line: 2009; Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Year: 1900, Census Place: Pinar del Rio Barracks, Cuba, Military and Naval Forces, Roll: 1838, Enumeration District: 0108, FHL microfilm: 1241838; Year: 1910, Census Place: Torrey Barracks, Mindanao, Philippines, Military and Naval Forces, Roll:T624_1784, Page: 3A, Enumeration District: 0184, FHL microfilm: 1375797.
[10] “Sullivan Retired,” El Paso Herald (El Paso, Tx.: Editorial and Magazine, 14 Jun 1912), 6.
[11] New Jersey State Census, 1915, Sheet Number and Letter: 9A, Household ID: 205, Line Number: 10, GS Film Number: 001465523, Digital Folder Number: 005877707, Image Number: 00644;  United States Federal Census, Year: 1920, Census Place: Newark Ward 13, Essex, New Jersey, Roll: T625_1037, Page: 5B, Enumeration District: 235, Image: 111; Year: 1930, Census Place: Newark, Essex, New Jersey, Roll: 1340, Page: 4A, Enumeration District: 0220, Image: 70.0, FHL microfilm: 2341075; Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line], Publication Title: Newark, New Jersey, City Directory, 1918, Image: 749;  Publication Title: Newark, New Jersey, City Directory, 1925, Image: 741;  Publication Title: Newark, New Jersey, City Directory, 1934, Image: 899.
[12] Ancestry.com, New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948 [database on-line], Death Place: Manhattan, New York, USA, Certificate Number: 1097; National Cemetery Administration, U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [database on-line], Cemetery: Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cemetery Address: 125 Central Ave East Orange, NJ 07018; Peter Russell, “A Hero From the Wee County,” Men With Custer (http://www.menwithcuster.com/the-twenty-six-countries/a-hero-from-the-wee-county/), accessed 7 Feb 2015.
[13] Don Molfe, photo., “Thomas Sullivan,” FindAGrave (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=19718) uploaded 12 Jan 2003, accessed 7 Feb 2015.
[14] Ibid., uploaded 15 Apr 2006, accessed 7 Feb 2015.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “Irish Immigrant Private Thomas Sullivan, E Troop, 7th Cavalry – Conspicuous Bravery,” Army at Wounded Knee (http://wp.me/p3NoJy-HA), posted 7 Feb 2015, accessed date __________.

Posted in Award Recipients, Enlisted | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments