Time Capsule: Brief History of the US 4th Cavalry

I authored a book in the late 1980s entitled: History of the 1st Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry: The Quarterhorse during the period of my military career as a soldier assigned to the “Quarterhorse”, the 1st/4th US Cavalry, short for 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, and a lifetime membership awarded in 1983 by Command Sergeant Major Tuemler, whose wife made me a 4th Cavalry banner as a going-away gift when I was reassigned to Fort Riley Commanding General’s Office. I thought I would pass on some of the highlights of the history of this famous cavalry that represents an era long gone in history, but still remains as a symbol of the U.S. Army cavalry’s heritage. Maybe one day I will reprint the original limited edition volume that is registered and exists at the Library of Congress and a copy within the 1/4th Cavalry Museum that is located within their HQ at Fort Riley, Kansas. The only unit, to date, who is authorized a unit museum at their headquarters location. It is now attached to the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One is historically famous onto itself).

The United States 4th Cavalry Regiment can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century. It was most effective against Army operations against Indian uprisings on the Texas frontier. As stated above, only two elements remain of the original regiment – the 1st and 2nd Squadron of the 4th US Cavalry. The 1st Squadron of the 4th Cavalry has a nickname – “Quarterhorse”, in honor of the breed of horse that was customary to use in horse cavalry operations. It is the only operational element of the old 4th Cavalry that still has a horse unit that attends change-of-command ceremonies and other official functions, such as parades. The riders are trained to ride the horses and are uniformed and saddled in the historical tradition of the US cavalry. The rider wears the period blue uniform and his accoutrements include a US cavalry sword. The saddle used is the famous McClellan saddle. During certain events, the riders will demonstrate a cavalry charge with their swords drawn. Training techniques and other interesting facts about the cavalry can be found at the post museum at Fort Riley, Kansas and is open to the public. The 2nd Squadron of the 4th Cavalry is also part of the 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas.
The 4th United States Cavalry regiment was established as part of a growth of mounted U.S. Army units that started in the early 1850s, mostly used in Indian Territory operations. It was officially organized on March 26th, 1855 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri as the U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment. One year after it was established, the 1st Cavalry Regiment’s first military action was a peacekeeping mission in what became known as Bleeding Kansas, where pro-slavery and Free State factions were fighting each other. During this period the 1st Cavalry also fought against hostile Plains Indians in the area. The first commanders were Colonel Edwin V. Sumner and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston; both would later become Civil War generals. The regiment fought its first combat on July 39th, 1857 at the Battle of Solomon River in Kansas against a large force of Southern Cheyenne warriors. The regiment was under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee, which was his last command in the Federal Army before the outbreak of the American Civil War. When the War Between the States officially began in 1861, the 1st Cavalry Regiment was dissolved and then reorganized immediately. Many of its commissioned officers became famous during the American Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, mentioned above, as well as George B. McClellan (the cavalry saddle named after him) and J.E.B. Stuart.
jeb-stuart-cavalry-raidThe War Department, as early as 1854, wanted to re-designate all mounted regiments as cavalry by renumbering them in order of seniority. As the 1st Cavalry Regiment was the fourth oldest mounted regiment in terms of active service, it was re-designated as the 4th United States Cavalry Regiment on August 3rd, 1861. Most of the regiment was assigned in the Western Theater, but fought against Confederates in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory . In 1861 and 1862, two companies served (with distinction) in Virginia in the Army of the Potomac before they were reunited with the rest of the regiment in Tennessee. Those companies fought in the major battles of the First Bull Run Battle, the Peninsula CampaignFredericksburg, and Antietam. Most of the regiment fought continuously in the western theater from Shiloh to Macon and participated in fights at ChickamaugaStones River, and Battle of Nashville. All these names being familiar with Civil War buffs.
So many regiments were sent east to support the war that the 1st U.S. Cavalry was kept (initially) on the frontier until other units were established to protect settlers and townsfolk from Indian raids. On June 22nd, 1861, former 1st Cavalry officer Fort Henry ScoutsGeorge McClellan, who became a major general, requested Company A and Company E to serve as his personal escort. These two companies were the units that fought at Bull Run, Peninsula, Antietam, and Fredericksburg campaigns and did not rejoin the main unit again until 1864. The rest of the 1st Cavalry was commissioned to support operations in Mississippi and Missouri. The 4th Cavalry company units became scattered from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast. Their missions consisted of the traditional operations of reconnaissance, screening and raiding – not too much differently than what they are designed to do today, only instead of horses and light artillery they incorporate helicopters, scouts and light armor in their missions.
On December 31st, 1862, a two-company squadron of the 4th Cavalry attacked and caused the retreat of a Confederate cavalry brigade near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. From 1863 to 1864, companies of the 4th Cavalry saw action in Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi. On June 30th, 1863, another squadron of the 4th Cavalry charged a six-gun battery of Confederate artillery near Shelbyville, Tennessee, capturing the entire battery and three hundred prisoners.
By the time of spring of 1864 came, the success of the Confederate cavalry corps under the command of J.E.B. Stuart had convinced the Union to form their own Cavalry Corps in the east under General Philip Sheridan. The 4th Cavalry was ordered to reunite as a regiment and, on December 14th, 1864, it joined in the attack on Nashville, Tennessee as part of the Western Cavalry Corps commanded by General James Wilson. The 4th helped turn the Confederate flank that sent them in retreat. A Confederate force attempted to delay action at West Harpeth, Tennessee, but an element of the 4th Cavalry led by Lieutenant Joseph Hedges charged and captured a Confederate artillery battery. For his bravery, Hedges received the Medal of Honor, the first one as a member of the 4th Cavalry.
wyndhams-union-cavalry-1500General Wilson, in March of 1865, was ordered to take his cavalry on a drive through Alabama to capture the Confederate supply depot at Selma. As the column of cavalry moved south into Alabama, it encountered the famed Confederate cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. Wilson’s cavalry had superior numbers and firepower, so it defeated the Confederates, which allowed the Union troops to arrive in Selma the next day. The 4th Cavalry led a mounted charge on April 2nd, 1865 where they were stopped by the railroad and fence line. They then dismounted and stormed the town on foot. Selma’s storage of munitions and supplies were destroyed and foundries and arsenals were leveled. Next Wilson joined General Sherman who took Montgomery, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia before arriving in Macon, Georgia. It was there that the word came that General Lee and General Johnston has surrendered their armies. The regiment stayed in Macon as occupation troops. The last battle of the war for the 4th Cavalry was the Battle of Columbus, where the regiment assisted in capturing the Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
In August of 1865, the 4th Cavalry was sent to Texas. During the next thirteen years its units of twelve companies occupied military posts between the Rio Grande River and Jacksboro and between San Antonio and San Angelo. Before 1871, the 4th Cavalry’s operations were limited to guarding the US Mail and settlements against Indian attacks and attempted to overtake bands of Indians on raids. The skirmishes were commanded by Colonel Lawrence Pike Graham, which none of the Indian skirmishes were of any major significance.
When Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie took command in December of 1870 this changed and orders were received to stop Comanche and Kiowa raids along the Texas frontier. On February 25th, 1871, Mackenzie set up command at Fort Concho. One month later he moved the headquarters to Fort Richardson, near Jacksboro, while some companies of the 4th Cavalry remained at Fort Griffin and Fort Concho. In May of 1871, Kiowa near Fort Richardson brutally mutilated teamsters from a wagon train at nearby Salt Creek Prairie (see Warren Wagon Train Raid). A few days later General William T. Sherman had three leaders of the raid brought to Fort Sill, Oklahoma – SatankSatanta and Big Tree where they were taken to Jacksboro to stand trial for murder. Satanta killed a trooper while attempting to escape along the way; Satanta and Big Tree were sentenced to life imprisonment.
In August of 1871, General Mackenzie led an expedition into Indian Territory against the Comanche and Kiowa who had left the agency, but he was later ordered to return to Texas. He then led eight companies of the 4th Cavalry and two companies of the 11th US Infantry (600 men) in search of Quahadi Comanches, who had refused to live on the reservation. On October 10th of 1871, a skirmish took place in Blanco Canyon, near the site of present-day Crosbyton, but the band of renegades escaped across the plains. The following summer of 1872, Mackenzie, with six companies of the 4th Cavalry, continued its search for the Quahadis. On September 29th, 1872, 222 cavalrymen surprised and destroyed Chief Mow-way’s village of Quahadi and Kotsoteka Comanches on the North Fork of the Red River about six miles of the present-day site of Lefors. It was estimated that 52 Indians were killed and 124 captured with a loss of 3 cavalrymen killed and 3 wounded. For at least one year, Kiowa and Comanche remained peaceful.
After the Southern Plains Indians initiated the Red River War in June of 1874, the Grant administration cancelled the Quaker peace policy and authorized military control of the reservations in order to subdue the hostile Indians. During this period, Indians who had settled in Mexico began to perform raids in Texas. In 1878 General Sherman, at the request of the Texans, transferred General Mackenzie and six companies of the 4th Cavalry to Fort Clark. At this time Mackenzie led a large and extensive expedition into Mexico, restored the system of cavalry patrols, and reestablished peace in the region of South Texas. After the annihilation of George Armstrong Custer’s command at the Battle of Little Bighorn in June of 1876, General Mackenzie forced Red Cloud and his band of Sioux and the Northern Cheyenne to surrender. In the autumn of 1879, Mackenzie with six companies of the 4th Cavalry subdued the hostile Utes in Southern Colorado without firing a shot and in August 1880 forced them to move to a reservation in Utah Territory. The 4th Cavalry was then transferred to the Arizona Territory, where Mackenzie assumed command of all military forces and subdued the hostile Apaches. Within one month the Apaches surrendered or fled to Mexico, and on October 30th, Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry were transferred to the new District of New Mexico. From 1884 to 1886 the 4th US Cavalry operated against the Apaches in Arizona and was instrumental in the capture of the legendary Geronimo. This operation ended the regiment’s participation in any Indian Wars that remained. In 1890 the regimental headquarters was moved to Walla Walla, Washington.
In the early part of the 20th century, the 4th Cavalry served on the Mexican border in Texas from 1911 to 1913. For the next six years, the regiment served at Schofield Barracks in the Territory of Hawaii, but did not participate in World War I.
However, by World War II, the regiment exchanged horses for armored vehicles and tanks. It was put ashore in the allied operation of D-Day on islands off the coast of France. The regiment experienced fierce fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy and in the Hurtgen Forest during the Battle of the Bulge.
In 1965, the First Squadron of the 4th Cavalry (1-4 Cavalry) deployed to the Republic of Vietnam, spending eight years fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The unit became known as the Fire Brigade because of their firepower, effective mobility and the shock effect of hit-and-run tactics used since the Civil War.
In 1990, after the period of reconstruction of military units initiated by the Reagan administration due to the ending of Cold War tactics, the First Squadron deployed to Saudi Arabia, as part of Operation Desert Shield. This led to the Squadron’s spearhead of the division assault into Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. On May 4th, 1991, the 1-4 Cavalry received the Valorous Unit Award for service in the Gulf.
During the Balkans Conflict, in 1995, the 1-4 Cavalry was the first cavalry unit deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina, supporting the peacekeeping mission that was under the Dayton Peace Accord that lasted for a period of eleven months at Camp Molly, called the “Dog Pound” and Eagle Base at Tuzla Main. From 1999 to 2000 the 1-4 Cavalry, its air-cavalry elements of the Quarterhorse (D Squadron) returned to the Balkans to serve at Kosovo as members of Operation Joint Guardian II. In the middle of 2002, soldiers with the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment (1-4 Cavalry) were suddenly told their mission was canceled and that they would not be deploying to Kosovo for peacekeeping missions. A spokesman of the U.S. European Command stated that he could not comment on the change and referred it back to V Corps. The first trainload of the squadron’s equipment that was headed for the Balkans from Germany had to be called back. The Schweinfurt unit of the Quarter Cavalry was to be a rotating task force under the command of the 1st Infantry Division. The squadron was to lead the aviation task force with their OH-58 Kiowa and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, as well as provide perimeter guards from their scout troop units at the headquarters at Camp Bondsteel. To date, the reason for the change is unknown, and apparently was still classified at the time – thus the reluctance of the 1-4 Cavalry and European Command leaders to make any comment.
During the 4th Cavalry’s long history, it did not participate in two wars – World War I and the Korean War.
Its unit awards include: (1) Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for Binh Thuan Province; (2) Valorous Unit Award for Quang Tin Province; (3) Valorous Unit Award for FISH HOOK; (4) Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for SOUTHWEST ASIA; and (5) Valorous Unit Award for Desert Storm 1st Squadron.

History of the 1st Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry: The Quarterhorse, Izmir Press & Binding, Izmir, Turkey; LC #87200809; 1987 by Keith A. Lehman
4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment Association

United States Army Center of Military History
; CMH Publication 60-1; “Army Lineage Series: ARMOR-CAVALRY, Part I: Regular Army and Army Reserve.” Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 69-60002.
Order of Battle: U.S. Army, World War II; Presidio Press, 1984; ISBN 0-89141-195-X by Shelby L. Stanton
Spurs to Glory: The Story of the U.S. Cavalry
; Rand McNally, Chicago 1966 by James M. Merrill
Battle of the Red River
4th US Cavalry and the Lee-Peacock Feud
 (Texas) 1869

Encyclopedia Britannica
Kansas Civil War Soldiers

New York Tribune – Horace Greeley Civil War Coverage
Unit History – SC 4th Cavalry
Regimental History of 4th Cavalry
 (Mary Lee Stubbs and Stanley Russell Connor)
4th NY Cavalry Regiment During Civil War
(NY Military Museum)


A History of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry and Cavalry in the American Civil War by Michael Martin.Cooke’s Cavalry Tactics by Philip St. George Cooke, Brig, Gen. U.S. Army, Lippincott Publications, Philadelphia, 1862.
United States Military Saddles 1812-1943 by Randy Steffen, Oklahoma University Press, 1973.
Crossing the Border with the 4th Cavalry – Mackenzie’s Raid into Mexico in 1873 by Richard A. Thompson, Texian Press, Waco, 1986.
The Old Sergeant’s Story by Captain Robert G. Carter, Hitchcock Press, 1926. (Biography of the days of the 4th Cavalry via letters to Captain Carter) Rare, out-of-print; may find at e-Bay or Biblio.com.
On the Border with Mackenzie
 by Captain Robert G. Carter, circa 1910 (first-hand account of the 4th Cavalry in Texas).
I would like to take a moment to commend and thank the Native Americans web site for their preservation of Indian history and their invaluable information in the form of biographies of famous tribal leaders. History must be preserved, and it is good that the history of the “original” Americans remain for all to study and know that it is all part of American history.