The 6th U.S. Cavalry was the only Regular cavalry regiment raised during the Civil War. On 4 May 1861, General Order No. 16 was published and prescribed the plan of organization for the regiment. This order provided that the new cavalry regiment be composed of three battalions, each battalion of two squadrons, and each squadron of two companies. The organization of the 3d Regiment of Cavalry was announced in General Order No. 33, Adjutant Generals Office, 18 June 1861, with the headquarters directed to be established at Pittsburg, PA.
Prior to this time the mounted force of the army was organized as dragoons, mounted riflemen, and cavalry. In order to simplify matters for the large volunteer army then being organized, Congress enacted, on 3 August 1861, that all mounted regiments should be known as cavalry, and General Order No. 55, Adjutant General’s Office, 10 August 1861, prescribed that the 3d Cavalry be renumerated to the 6th Cavalry.
The assignment of companies to squadrons, and officers to companies, was announced in Regimental Order No. 1, 15 August 1861, and recruitment was immediately begun in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and western New York.
The regiment participated in every campaign in the eastern theatre. It was among the first units to experience battle during the campaign, and was the last unit to depart the battlefields of the Peninsula, serving as rear guard for the army. On 3 July 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the regiment rode to Fairfield to investigate a report of an unescorted rebel wagon train. North of the city the regiment was ambushed by the 7th VA Cavalry, but repulsed the rebel forces. General William Jones’ Confederate Cavalry Brigade launched a renewed assault, overwhelming the 6th U.S. Cavalry.
Medal of Honor, painting by Don Stivers
During this, the color bearer of the 6th U.S. was shot down. Private Platt appeared and rescued the flag. Platt ‘…tore the color from the staff, placed it in his bosom, and rammed the staff through the first enemy that came before him, and then cut his way through the ranks of the enemy.” The 6th U.S. Cavalry was defeated and suffered 242 casualties, but Private Platt and the unit’s flag survived.
The 6th received 16 battle streamers for its service with two 6th cavalrymen receiving the Medal of Honor.*
Following the Civil War, the Regiment spent the next 32 years stationed on the American frontier, scattered among various outposts in Texas and Louisiana (1865 – 1871), Kansas and Colorado (1871 – 1875), Arizona and New Mexico (1875 – 1890), and Nebraska, Wyoming, and Washington, DC (1890 – 1898). The regiment was continually called upon to fight hostile Indians, guard the courts of justice, assist revenue officers, aid in executing convicted criminals, supervise elections, pursue outlaws and murderers, and in general institute lawful proceedings where anarchy reigned. Of particular significance was the Battle of Little Wichita (1870), participation in the General Miles Expedition to end the Red River War (1874/75), the establishment of Fort Huachuca (1877), the surrender of Geronimo (1886), participation in the Pine Ridge Campaign (1890), and the Johnson County War (1892).
The regiment earned participation credit for 10 campaigns during the Indian Wars and 50 troopers earned the Medal of Honor.*
The call to arms sounded for the country with the sinking of the Maine in February 1898. The 6th U.S. Cavalry regiment was ordered to leave its various posts and take up camp at Chickamauga Park, GA, where most of the nation’s cavalry was camped. On 11 May 1898, the regiment (minus H Troop) moved by rail to Tampa, FL, and on 14 June it embarked on the transport steamer Rio Grande and sailed for Santiago, de Cuba. The 1st and 2nd Squadrons charged alongside Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Battle of San Juan Hill, while the 3d Squadron participated in the Battle of Kettle Hill. H Troop served as escort and provost guard for General Brookes headquarters and accompanied that expedition to Puerto Rico. Upon Spain’s formal surrender on 17 July 1898, the regimental band had the honor of being selected to salute the flag as it was raised on the Palace, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, to replace the Spanish ensign.
The regiment earned one campaign streamer with the inscription SANTIAGO 1898 for its service during the Spanish American War.
Pursuant to telegraphic orders dated 23 December 1898, the regiment was reassigned to the Department of the Missouri and took stations at Forts Riley and Leavenworth, Kansas, and Forts Reno and Sill, Oklahoma Territory. In 1899 various troops were reassigned further west, with Troop C taking station at Fort Logan, Colorado, Troop E at Fort Walla Walla, Washington, Troops F and G ordered to the Department of California, and further assigned to the Sequoia National Park, Troop H to Boise Barracks, Idaho, and Troop M to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
Troop F at the Fallen Monarch, Yellowstone, 1899
In June 1900, the various scattered regimental elements amalgamated at Presidio de San Francisco, California, and on 1 July departed (minus 2nd Squadron) with orders to proceed to Nagasaki, Japan aboard the USAT Grant, and en route to China during the China Relief Expedition. As part of the 1st International Relief Expedition, M Troop was among the first units to enter the Forbidden City (Peking).
On 19 August 1900, the Regiment (less 2nd Squadron) conducted a mounted charge against Boxer forces at Gaw-Char-Chun. Sent on a minor expedition from the already-captured Tientsin, the squadron initially fought dismounted, then mounted and “charged hotly at the enemy.” During the charge, Corporal Rasmus Rasmussen was thrown from his horse at the point of furthest advance. Lieutenant J.R. Gaussen of the 1st Bengal Lancers. Gaussen saw Rasmussen lying on the ground near the Chinese trenches, and the Chinese, who had also seen Rasmussen, emerged from their trenches to take him prisoner. The race was on. Gaussen succeeded in mounting Corporal Rasmussen behind him and rode to the rear. For his bravery, Lieutenant Gaussen was awarded the China medal with clasp and named Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.
The Regiment (less 3d Squadron) was relieved of further duty with the China Relief Expedition and ordered to embark on transports which sailed for Manila, Philippines, for service during the Philippine Insurrection. It arrived in Manila Bay on 21 November 1900 and headquartered at Manila Station, whereupon its troops took various stations. It will be remembered that at this juncture the 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment was composed of the Headquarters and 1st Squadron, stationed in the Philippines, the 3d Squadron, still stationed in China, and the 2nd Squadron, acting as the depot squadron, stationed with the Department of California, although each squadron soon rejoined the headquarters in the Philippines, whereupon each troop took respective stations at scattered outposts. It performed patrol, escort, enforcement and other duties until April 1903 when it was redeployed to Presidio de San Francisco, California, and further ordered to take station in the American West, headquartered at Fort Meade, South Dakota.
Troop L, 6th U.S. Cavalry, Ming Tombs.
Lt. Gaussen, 1st Bengal Lancers, rescues Cpl. Rasmussen, 6th U.S. Cavalry, during an engagement west of Tientsin, China.
In October 1906, the Regiment was called upon to intercept a band of White River Ute Indians who had left their Uintah Reservation in Utah and traveled through Wyoming toward South Dakota. The intervention peacefully ended and officially marked the last action against the American Indian. In August 1907 the regiment was ordered back to the Philippines in compliance with the schedule of rotation of the era. On 1 July 1908, Troops A and B, the Machine Gun Platoon, and a detachment from the Hospital Corps were sent to capture or destroy Jikiri and his band of Moro outlaws. Jikiri was located on the south coast of Jolo and traced to a cave entrance on an island covered with dense brush. The ensuing action saw the outlaw and his band killed, with four Medals of Honor earned for the action. In December 1909, the scattered regimental organizations left their respective stations in the Department of Mindanao and embarked on the U.S.A.T. Sheridan en route to the United States for station. From 1900 to 1909 it had earned the China and Philippine campaign streamers, along with four Medals of Honor.
In January 1910, the 6th U..S. Cavalry took station at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. This same year saw the Madero Revolution in Mexico, and in response to the violence, the Regiment was deployed along the Mexican Border. In January 1912, the Regiment was ordered back to Fort Des Moines. In February 1913, the Regiment was ordered to Texas City, Texas, in anticipation of problems along the U.S/Mexican border. Here, the various troops were scattered across the border until March 1916, when the Regiment reassembled and took part in the Mexican Punitive Expedition. The unit earned a campaign streamer for its service.
In April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and entered into the World War. The regiment continued patrolling the border at Marfa until 17 October 1917, when it marched 450 miles to San Antonio in preparation for the war. From San Antonio, it entrained and traveled by rail to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, and on 16 March 1918 sailed for France. After reaching La Havre on the 31st, the regiment entrained for Bordeaux. Here it was broken up into detachments and sent to various parts of France where the troops were assigned to military police duty. It was then reassembled for immediate duty at the front, but the signing of the armistice caused its delay, first at Gieveres, then at Vendome, until its return to the United States in June 1919. It earned a campaign streamer for its service.
Upon returning to the U.S., the 6th was permanently stationed at the Post at Fort Oglethorpe (1919 – 1942). During this period the Regiment became a “spit and polish” outfit. Competitive polo, military horse tournaments, team sports competition, parades and troop reviews were a way of life at the Post as were the many social activities that brought Chattanooga residents south to North Georgia. The training year annually closed with marches or maneuvers to Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
In 1933, the 6th furnished officers and men to organize and instruct the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which saw the civilians paid more than the soldiers.
In 1938, the 6th formed the guard for FDR’s visit to Gainesville, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
While stationed at Fort Oglethorpe the 6th experimented with the merger of horse and mechanization, field tested the Bantam Car (later to be known as the Jeep) and motorcycle. The use of horses was over and when called for duty in WWII, the 6th Cavalry (Mechanized) landed in Northern Ireland without any horses. With this mechanization, modernization, and the general expansion of the army throughout the war, the 6th Cavalry Regiment and its troops would undergo many reorganizations and redesignations.
With the news of the Sunday, 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, leaves were canceled, units were called together and the regiment was assigned security duty, guarding the TNT Plant in Chattanooga, railroads, bridges and other vital resources in the area.
The transition from horse cavalry to a mechanized unit had begun but was not complete. In 1942 the regiment was transferred to Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina to complete training and the mechanization process. With the departure of the regiment, the horse cavalry era ended at Fort Oglethorpe.
The 6th entered World War II assigned to Patton’s Third Army doing reconnaissance and landed at Utah Beach at D-Day+33.
The 6th Cavalry Group was committed on the night of 8 – 9 January 1945, on a 5,000-yard front along the General line Villers-La-Bonne-Eau-Betlange-Farm-Furhman with the mission of aggressive patrolling to follow up any enemy attempts to withdraw. When it became apparent on the morning of 9 January that the Germans had so organized the ground that it was impossible for the infantry on both flanks to advance, the 6th Cavalry Group (Mechanized) (Reinforced) attacked on its own initiative. In order to make the attack successful against a numerically superior and well-dug-in enemy, a special task force was constituted composed of elements of the various components of the group.
The task force spearheaded the attack, and the Group, making full use of the mobility and firepower, captured the towns of Betlange and Harlange. The attack, continuing through the night despite the bitter cold and deep snow, was delayed only by serious obstacles, including mines and blown bridges in the vicinity of Watrange.
At daylight on 10 January, these obstacles were quickly bypassed and the Group drove on. Taking finely calculated risks, all leaders made maximum use of both mobility and firepower and relentlessly sought out and destroyed the enemy. Open flanks were ignored by small units in the interest of speed. This speed along with the aggressive fighting spirit made possible the capture of the towns of Lutremange, Watrange, and Tarchamps, and the zone assigned to the Group was quickly cleared. Having completed its mission, and by doing so, making possible the advance of units on its flanks, the Group, in furtherance of the Corps plan, requested and was granted permission to advance far beyond its original objective. The Group drove on and assisted in the capture of Soniez.
The outstanding action of the 6th Cavalry Group broke the back of German resistance in the Harlange Pocket, which had held up the Corps advance for a period of 11 days. The determination and indomitable fighting spirit of the courageous officers and men exemplified the finest traditions of the military service. For this action, the 6th earned the Presidential Unit Citation for its part in the Battle of the Bulge 1944-1945.
At war’s end in Europe, the 6th Cavalry Group (Mechanized) (Reinforced) had participated in 281 days of continuous and victorious combat. Five campaign streamers were awarded for its service in World War II, in addition to occupation credit for the Occupation of Germany (2 May – 31 October 1945).
On 20 December 1948, the regiment was reorganized and redesignated as the 6th Armored Cavalry. The Regiment remained in Europe where it patrolled 172 miles of rugged mountain country along the German-Czech border. Also assisting in the reconstruction of Germany and helping at orphanages and schools.
The Bavarian Government was so thankful for the Regiment’s help that it presented a beautiful silver plaque embossed with the Shield of Bavaria. This gift is on display at the museum and is the only known official recognition given an American unit by a German State.
Returning to the U.S. in 1957 as part of Operation GYROSCOPE, the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky until its inactivation on 24 October 1963. The 6th was reactivated on 23 March 1967 at Fort Meade, Maryland, and deployed upon the streets of Washington, DC during the 1968 Riots. On 31 March 1971, the regiment (less 1st Squadron) was inactivated, and 22 June 1973 it was reorganized and redesignated as the 6th Cavalry, a parent regiment under the Combat Arms Regimental System (CARS). On 16 July 1986, it was withdrawn from the CARS and reorganized under the United States Army Regimental System (USARS). Since 1973, the regimental headquarters has remained inactive (technically headquartered at Washington, DC, and manned at zero strength), while its various squadrons have been activated/inactivated during our nation’s call to arms.
* Many campaign streamers are consolidated over the course of history as more continue to be introduced. As such, the 6th Cavalry Regiment’s original 16 Civil War campaign streamers were consolidated into 11 campaign streamers (see picture). In addition, the original 10 Indian Wars campaign streamers were consolidated into 3 campaign streamers (see picture) authorized for display.
** The 6th Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat) and the 6th Cavalry Regiment are separate and distinct lineages. The brigade takes its lineage from the 6th Tank Group (1942). The Brigade was reconstituted 21 February 1975 in the Regular Army as Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 6th Cavalry Brigade, and activated at Fort Hood, Texas. This reconstitution brought about the reactivation of the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, as a subordinate command under the Brigade, and later the 3d Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment as well.