The Seventeenth Cavalry was organized under special authority from the War Department, issued September 11, 1863, to Hon. John F. Farnsworth. The rendezvous was established at St. Charles, Kane county, Ill. By the approval of the Governor of the State, the Colonelcy of the Regiment was offered to John L. Beveridge, then Major in the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, who assumed the work of recruitment and organization, and opened the rendezvous November 15, 1863. Eight companies were mustered in January 22, 1864. Four other companies were mustered in and the organization of the Regiment completed, February 12, 1864.
By the close of April next, 650 horses had been brought in by the men, under instruction from the Cavalry Bureau, and sold to the Government.
May 3, 1864, the Regiment moved, under orders from the General-in-chief, to report to Major General Rosecrans, commanding the Department of Missouri, at St. Louis, Mo.
The Regiment was sent to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., where 1,100 sets of horse equipment were received. From there it moved to Alton, Ill., and relieved the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry in guarding the Military Prison at that place. For this purpose 500 muskets were drawn from the arsenal.
Early in June, following, the First Battalion was ordered to St. Louis, and the Second Battalion followed immediately. Both being fully mounted, were ordered at once to North Missouri District.
The First Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Dennis J. Hynes commanding, proceeded to St. Joseph, Mo., where the commanding officer reported in person to General Fisk, commanding District of North Missouri.
The Second Battalion, Major Lucius C. Matlack commanding, was assigned by General C. B. Fisk to the post of Glasgow, Mo.
From this period, for four months, the three Battalions were separated and remote from each other. Their history will be most fitly given in separate narratives, extending over the time intervening and up to the time of re-union with the regimental headquarters.
The First Battalion
Lieutenant Colonel Hynes, being detailed as Chief of Cavalry, and attached to General Fisk's staff, the first squadron (Companies A and B), under Major H. Hilliard, was ordered to Weston, Mo. The second squadron (Companies C and D), was ordered to remain at St. Joseph, Mo., Captain J. D. Butts in command.
The duties of the Battalion were mainly escort and provost guard duty, for three months; not always at the same localities, yet always within the District of North Missouri.
In September 1864, the invasion of Missouri, by Price's army of rebels, increased the responsibility of their work, by the increased restlessness of the rebel sympathizers around them; but no actual conflict with the enemy occurred in that district.
Late in September, the second squadron (Companies C and D), commanded by Captain Jones, was moved over the country to Jefferson City, Mo., and here rejoining the Regiment, took part in the defense of the city, October 6 and 7, 1864.
The first squadron (Companies A and B) remained in North Missouri, during the winter, and joined the Regiment in June 1865. Lieutenant Colonel Hynes and Major Hilliard had been ordered to the Regiment, in February and March, preceding, while the Headquarters was at Pilot Knob, Mo.
The Second Battalion
From July 1864, for three months, Major Matlack, with the Battalion (Companies E, F, G and H), occupied the port of Glasgow. This was adjacent to the strongholds of numerous guerrilla bands, whose influence with rebel sympathizers, and their inrods upon the loyal inhabitants and interruptions of United States telegraph lines, required scouting parties constantly on the road for a distance of from 30 to 60 miles. Threatened attacks upon the post and actual assaults upon the out-posts kept the entire detachment busy, day and night.
Parties were sent out under orders from General Douglas, commanding Eighth Sub-District, District of North Missouri, to remote points, and frequent fights ensued. In every instance but one - when a score of the Seventeenth men fought five times their number - their success in punishing the enemy was decided, yet not without the loss of a few killed and wounded. Among these fights may be named one near Allen, on the North Missouri Railroad, in July 1864; one near the Porsche Hills; and a third near Rocheport. None of these demanded a more extended notice.
The reported presence of the rebel Colonel Thornton, with 1,500 men, induced an order from General Rosecrans, through General Fisk, for a movement from Glasgow, northward and westward, in search of Thornton. Pursuant thereto, Major Matlack moved, with all his mounted force and a squadron of the Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, to Chillicothe, on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Here, reinforced by 500 militia, the column was divided into three detachments, and thoroughly scoured the whole country, from the railroad, southward and westward, to the river. No enemy was found, but the presence of the troops reassured the Union men of that country, and held their enemies in check. The distance traveled was 300 miles.
In September 1864, the Second Battalion was ordered to move over the country, and report to General McNeil, commanding District of Rolla, at Rolla, Mo. It rejoined the Regiment at Jefferson City, with which its movements are thenceforward identified.
The Third Battalion
From July 1864, until late in August, of the same year, this Battalion, with Regimental Headquarters, remained at Alton, Ill. Being removed to Benton Barracks, and fully mounted, it was ordered, early in September, to Glasgow, Mo., but at Jefferson City its destination was changed, and joined by the Second Battalion, Colonel John L. Beveridge commanding, reported to General John McNeil, at Rolla, September 19, 1864, with the two Battalions. Here commenced an active and vigorous campaign, in which the movements of the Regiment were a unit.
When all communications between Rolla and St. Louis were interrupted by Price's Army, and General Ewing's small force had retired from Pilot Knob, after a brave resistance, Colonel Beveridge, with the Seventeenth, by order of General McNeil, moved out at noon, September 28, and, driving a cavalry force which appeared near Cuba, reached Leesburg the day following - 33 miles distant - and saved General Ewing, with Colonel Fletcher (since Governor of Missouri) and their 700 men, from imminent peril of capture, and covered their return to Rolla, Mo.
Early in October, the Regiment moved from Rolla - a part of McNeil's Brigade - towards Jefferson City, reaching there in time to aid in constructing defenses and in repelling the attack of Price, October 6 and 7, where Companies "C" and "D" rejoined the Regiment.
The day following, General Pleasanton arrived from St. Louis, and organized the entire force - four thousand - as a Cavalry Division, under General Sanborn. Colonel Beveridge was placed in command of the Second Brigade, which included the Seventeenth Illinois Cavalry and the Third, Fifth and Ninth Missouri Cavalry.
Major Matlack commanded the Seventeenth, which took part in the attack made on Price, at Boonville, October 11, and which induced an early evacuation of that point by the rebels.
At Independence, the Seventeenth dismounted, was deployed on the left, and in support of the Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry, when the rear guard of the enemy was attacked and their artillery captured. This was October 22, 1864. Same day, at midnight, the Brigade left Independence, in the direction of Hickman's Mills, 12 miles distant, where the enemy was intercepted the next day, about noon. While the main column of the Brigade, under General McNeil, who had assumed command attacked near the head of the rebel column, the Seventeenth, Colonel Beveridge commanding, was ordered to form a separate column, and strike the enemy on the flank, one mile or more in the rear. By a rapid movement their flank was reached, but at a moment preceding an attack, which must have been a success, peremptory orders were received to return and support the battery in front. Two days after this, the Division, now under General Pleasanton's immediate orders, captured Major General Marmaduke, Brigadier General Cabel, ten rebel cannon, and more than a thousand prisoners, with their arms, at Mine Creek, Kan., having moved 70 miles within twenty-four hours.
The Seventeenth, with McNeil's Brigade, was hurried forward in pursuit of the retreating foe. Three times the pursuers formed in line of battle, but only in the last case did the enemy maintain his ground. Then the rebels had chosen their ground on an open prairie, and were quietly waiting the approach of the Union forces - a Brigade, now thinned down to 1,500 men, moving up to attack 15,000. Every man of this little band could see, and was seen by every man of the rebel army. The Seventeenth was made the guide for the whole line, of which it was the left. After a short, sharp engagement, and an attempt by the rebels to overwhelm its right, which was prevented by the arrival of two guns, which checked the rebels, an order came from General Pleasanton to charge along the whole line. After some delay, the command "forward" was given, and away went the Seventeenth boys. With only three hundred men, they pushed up in the face of the enemy, who moved off at their approach, while the center and right were full half a mile in the rear. This was October 25, 1864, and occurred in the vicinity of Fort Scott. The lack of forage and rapid marching caused the loss of more than half their horses, and hundreds of miles were traversed, by some of the Seventeenth, on foot.
The escape of the rebels over the Arkansas line was followed by the march of the Brigade to Springfield, Mo. Here orders from Headquarters directed it to proceed southwest to Cassville, Mo., thence back to Rolla, Mo., which was reached by November 15, 1864. During the 43 days intervening, the Regiment had marched over 1,000 miles, and suffered the loss of 600 horses.
In January 1865, the Seventeenth was ordered to Pilot Knob, Mo. After being remounted it was ordered to Cape Girardeau, Mo., in April.
Colonel Beveridge was now breveted Brigadier General, and in command of sub-District No. 2, of St. Louis District, Headquarters at Cape Girardeau, Mo. Lieutenant Colonel Hynes commanded the Regiment.
A threatened attack on the Union lines was rumored abroad. An expedition was sent out, comprising the Seventeenth and some Missouri Artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hynes, late in April, but no enemy was found.
The week following, the Seventeenth accompanied commissioners from Department Headquarters, with a flag of truce, who reached General Jeff. Thompson, and arranged terms and places for the capitulation of his forces.
From Cape Girardeau the Regiment was ordered to Kansas, and occupied detached posts along the plains; whence they returned, to be mustered out, in November and December 1865, at Leavenworth, Kan.
Their last important work was that of a detachment, accompanying the commissioners, who went to Fort Smith to treat with the Indians, at the great council held in September 1865.
The service of the Regiment has been wholly within the Department of the Missouri, commanded, respectively, by Generals Rosecrans, Dodge and Pope.
While the Regiment was stationed at Pilot Knob, Major Matlack was ordered to St. Louis and assigned to duty as Provost Marshal.
From Cape Girardeau, Colonel Beveridge was ordered to Warrensburg, thence to Kansas City, and thence to Rolla, Mo. He closed out all the military in Missouri, south of the Missouri River, outside of St. Louis county; mustering out the Missouri troops, supervising the removal of military stores, and subjecting the military to the civil authorities when the Regiment was mustered out. Colonel Beveridge, by order of the Secretary of War, was detained in the service and presided over a Military Commission in St. Louis for the trial of rebel offenders against property and persons of the United States. He was finally mustered out of the service February 6, 1866, having served over four years.
The Seventeenth was the last Cavalry Regiment organized in this State. Its services were confined chiefly to the Department of Missouri.
While the Regiment did not experience any severe engagements, it performed hard and valuable services in frequent skirmishes with the enemy, in routing guerrilla parties and in long and weary marches.
As the youngest of the Cavalry Regiments it is entitled to the respect of the older regiments and the gratitude of the State and Nation.