The First Cavalry was organized--that is, seven companies, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G--at Alton, in 1861, and was mustered into the United States service July 3. Companies I, H and K, were not mustered in with the Regiment, nor did they operate in the field as a part of the Regiment proper.
From Alton the Regiment moved to St. Charles, Mo., where Colonel U. S. Grant was then in command. After remaining at this point a few days drilling, and receiving arms and uniforms, the Regiment moved in a westerly direction until it arrived at Jefferson City; remained there but a few days; from thence it moved to Mexico; from Mexico to Hannibal; and from Hannibal to Lexington. While on the way to Lexington, Company C, commanded by Captain Mitchell, encountered a rebel force, under command of Colonel McGoffin, at Georgetown, in which the command lost 1 man killed and 4 wounded: Captain Mitchell was among the latter. The rebels retreated but Colonel McGoffin was captured and held as a prisoner of war until after the battle of Lexington.
The battle of Lexington was the principal engagement in which the Regiment took part though it was ever on the alert and did much scouting and valuable service in various ways.
At Lexington the Regiment was joined by the Irish Brigade, under command of Colonel James Mulligan, and a small body of Missouri home guards.
The battle of Lexington really commenced on Monday September 11, at which time an advance force of 3,000 men under General Harris advanced upon the place. The First Cavalry and the Thirteenth Missouri were ordered out to meet them. A decisive action occurred which resulted in considerable loss to the Confederacy. After this there was little of moment until the 18th, each party anxiously watching the re-enforcements and Colonel Mulligan making his position as strong as possible.
Colonel Mulligan met the attack of the enemy with undaunted bravery and almost overwhelmed with a greatly superior force it was only after fifty-two hours of hard and uninterrupted fighting he surrendered the place. Colonel Mulligan's force all told, numbered less than 2,500 men while that of the enemy was 10,000 or more. The surrender took place on the 20th of September.
The officers were put on parole while the privates were given their choice of taking an oath to not again take up arms until they were exchanged or to remain prisoners of war. They chose to take the oath and they were escorted to the railroad where they took passage for Quincy and from thence to St. Louis, where they remained until they were joined by the officers of the Regiment a week later.
The Regiment was paid off at St. Louis about the last of September, and returned to their homes to await an exchange. In November, however, the Governor having failed to effect an exchange of the non-commissioned officers and privates, ordered them to Springfield and discharged them.
The commissioned officers were exchanged in December, and were ordered to re-organize the Regiment and it was also ordered that such of the non-commissioned officers and privates as wished might return with their respective companies and draw pay as if they had remained continuously in the service, and to complete the re-organization by the enlistment of recruits. With this understanding the Regiment was re-organized at Benton Barracks in June, 1862. Quite a number of the non-commissioned officers and privates of the original organization returned to their respective companies.
The Regiment remained at Benton Barracks a month or more when it was moved westward and was engaged for a time in guarding supply trains and supply depots at Rolla, Houston, Westplains and other places.
In the re-organization of the Regiment there were one or two vacancies in nearly if not all the companies; some of the officers having been promoted or assigned to other regiments while others had resigned.
In attempting to fill these vacancies a great dissatisfaction ensued throughout the entire Regiment which culminated in an order from the war department disbanding and mustering out of service the officers and men, which took place at Benton Barracks July 14., 1862.
The order to muster our the Regiment included Company I and H, which had been on detached service from their first enlistment in July, 1861, and which were in no way involved in the trouble which resulted in the peremptory disbanding as the following history of their service will show:
Company I was the first company of soldiers enlisted in White county. It was organized to go into the Eighteenth Infantry under President Lincoln's call for 75,000 men but failing to get into that Regiment it was afterwards mustered in as cavalry at Alton about the 12th of June, and on the 12th of July were assigned to duty at Bird's Point. For a month or more this company was the only cavalry force at Bird's Point where it was kept continuously on the move scouting the country.
In the meantime Company H had arrived at Cairo and some time in August it was sent over to Bird's Point. Both companies were in the battle of Belmont and also with General Pope at the capture of New Madrid. Some weeks later Company I acting as a body guard for General Payne crossed the Mississippi River in transports and assisted in the capture of the rebel army at Island No. 10. The two companies remained at New Madrid until after the capture of Memphis when they were sent to that point and it was while there that the order came mustering them out of the service with the Regiment which was then at Benton Barracks.
It is worthy of remark to say that Company K was never in reality a part of the First Cavalry for it was transferred to the Fifteenth Cavalry as Company M.
It is also worthy of remark that in the interval which ensued between the surrender of Lexington and the re-organization and muster out of the First Cavalry a great many of the men entered other regiments and remained in the field until the war was over.