|History of the
11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry: Heritage of the 11th
Cavalry “Blackhorse” Regiment
Frank R. Cambria, CPT U&4 (RET)
Blackhorse Vietnam veterans may find many eye opening similarities here between two wars70
years apart. A little known fact to many military history enthusiasts is that the 11th Cavalry was first formed during the summer of 1899 as the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry in the Philippines, a full year before Congress authorized the creation of the 11th U.S. Cavalry as a Regular Army regiment. Called into existence by The Army Act of 2 March 1899 which authorized the President to enlist 35,000 volunteers for service in the Philippines, the U.S. Volunteers were an experiment. The U.S. War Department wanted soldiers who would combine the best qualities of the State Volunteers as seen during the Civil War, and the Regulars. The Volunteers generally demonstrated greater initiative, morale, esprit de corps, and an aggressive fighting spirit. A later testimony of the Volunteers’ aggressive fighting ability and heroism was that Volunteers received 17 of the 23 U.S. Medals of Honor awarded in the Philippines. The Regulars, on the other
hand, brought discipline, years of training, tactics, military experience and leadership. The 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry quickly proved itself as a hard-fighting unit with a combination of the best qualities of both Volunteers and Regulars.
The soldiers of the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry were recruited in late 1899 primarily from U.S. State Volunteers whose
enlistment’s were up in the bloodied state regiments which had shouldered the burden of fighting in the Philippines. Each volunteer received a special $500 bonus to reenlist in the 11th U. S. Volunteer Cavalry or one of two U. S. Volunteer Infantry regiments. They were the sons of fathers who wore Blue and Gray, and these sons now trained and fought together under one flag. Regulars, many who fought in the American Indian Wars and the recent Spanish-American War also volunteered to join the 11th U.S, Volunteer Cavalry from other units in the Philippines. And a few of the senior officers and NCOs were veterans of the American Civil War.
It is interesting to note that when the three squadrons of Regular Army’s new 11th Cavalry Regiment were being formed at
Jefferson Barracks MO, Fort Ethan Allen VT, and Fort Myer VA in 1901, the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry was heavily engaged in its second year of combat in the Luzon.]
The fighting in the Luzon was bitter and brutal with little quarter given or asked. One of the first recorded combat actions of the I 11thU.S. Volunteer Cavalry took place on I 8 December 1899 in the hilly country on the 20 miles NE of Manila which was heavily defended by over 1,000 well-armed insurgents. In the midst of a monsoon, General Henry W. Lawton moved battalions from the 27b and 29’h U.S. Volunteer Infantry and two squadrons of Col. James Lockett’s 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry to a bluff near the Marikina River. Delayed by rain, mud, and a rapidly rising river, only one infantry battalion and a mounted squadron of the 11th Cav reached the rendezvous point on time. Unable to cross the
fast moving river, General Lawton directed his infantry to set up a firing line behind paddy dikes to engage the insurgents on the other side of the river who were bringing heavy rifle fire at the Americans. Lawton then sent the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry up river to find a ford, cross over, and attack the enemy flank. After several hours, the 11th Cav found a crossing and conducted a classic mounted charge into the flank of the enemy using newly issued Krag repeating carbines, pistols and even a few sabers. General Lawton, however, was killed by a sniper’s bullet in the chest as he walked along the infantry’s firing line encouraging his infantry soldiers to stand fast. Nine days later, converging columns of the 45th and 27th Infantry and the 11th Cavalry attacked a stronghold across a gorge on the San Mateo River. Dismounting to fight, the platoons of the 11th Cavalry and the 45h Infantry used a new method of advancing by rushes (fire and maneuver) and dropping to the ground to lay down suppressive fire with their Krags as the next platoon rushed forward. The recorded body count was 25 insurgents with over 10,000 rounds of ammo captured In January 1900, the 45th Infantry and
the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry again fought side-by-side, this time in the hellish mountains of the Batangas border region. At one point the 11th Cavalry filed through a pass so narrow that their saddlebags scraped along the sides. During the night, the 11th Cavalry was attacked by groups of monkeys which tossed coconuts at the troopers and kept them awake all night with their howling. The next day the troops reached their objective village of Nasugbu and was immediately fired upon by the guerilla soldiers. The 11th Cavalry lost several hard-to-replace horses in the desperate
fighting, but killed four guerillas and found many blood trails as it forced the remaining insurgents out of the village. Later that day, the 11th’ U.S. Volunteer Cavalry fought off a large guerilla force which ambushed the Cav at a river crossing.
With most of the fighting in southern Luzon against large enemy units tapering down in the Fall of 1900, the 11th U.S.
Volunteer Cavalry was given hundreds of square miles to secure. The army controlled the towns, but the guerrillas controlled the jungles. The eight troops of the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry were split among garrison duty, convoy escorts, and a mobile strike force. Small guerilla units of three to nine soldiers would fire into marching columns and then simply vanish, often reappearing as peaceful “amigos.” The guerillas also proved highly adept at building deadly booby traps that severely restricted American infantry and cavalry operations. In July 1900 the 11th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry’s Commander LTC Charles G. Starr selected LT George Wray, an officer who had already demonstrated his proficiency as a hard-hitting platoon leader, to head an elite 25-man strike force to target on the guerrilla cells. In the latter months of 1900, Wray’s Scouts conducted half the 11th U. S. Volunteer Cavalry’s expeditions and fought in four of its six
major engagements. By the time the U. S. Army regular 11th Cavalry Regiment reached the Philippines in mid-1902, the 11th U. S. Volunteer Cavalry virtually ceased to exist as its ranks were severely depleted when most of the volunteers’ enlistments ended in the second half of l901. The remaining 11th U. S. Volunteer Cavalry troopers joined the regular
units and some integrated into the newly arrived 11th Cavalry Regiment which was split between Batangas Province, northern Luzon, and Samar Island where the Regiment’s first official battle streamer was earned by the 1st Squadron, 11th Cavalry in 1902.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE 11th CAVALRY
2 February 1901
After attaining victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States found itself with the new task of Territorial Administration. In large part, the job fell to the regular Army. Found to be undermanned for the mission, Congress increased the standing army by five infantry and five cavalry Regiments. Thus, on 2 February 1901, the 11th Cavalry Regiment was the first of five newly formed cavalry regiments. The 12th, 13th, 14th and the 15th Cavalry Regiments followed.
On 11 March 1901, the first recruits of the new Regiment reported for training at Fort Myer, Virginia. A combat tested veteran of the Civil War, who also gave distinguished service in the Spanish-American War, was tasked with raising the Regiment and serving as its first commanding officer. The 11th Cavalry was exceptionally fortunate in having the standard set by such an experienced and resourceful officer as Colonel Francis Moore; FIRST COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT.
"I have 400 men who have never seen a horse, I have 400 horses who have never seen a man, and I have 15 Officers who have never seen a man or a horse." This sentiment was fully shared throughout the newly formed 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th Cavalry regiments.
THE FIRST UNIFORM
The headgear is referred to as a “campaign hat.” It resembled a fedora with a crease down the middle of the crown. The shirt was made of dark blue chambray and the trousers were a buff-colored khaki with canvas leggings over low cut boots. A dark blue coat was used for dress occasions while a khaki coat was issued for field use. When mounted, the trooper wore brass rowel spurs and gauntlets (riding gloves). His holstered .38 caliber double action Colt revolver hung opposite a Model 1860 Light Cavalry Saber on a canvas “Mills” belt that held double rows of cartridges for his rifle. Slung from his saddle was a tin cup, a flat circular canteen, a blue blanket, and the famous smokeless powder Krag-Jorgensen magazine fed carbine.
The typical soldier began his day with “Stable Call” at 0500 hrs. Tasked with caring for his mount before addressing his own needs, the Trooper rubbed down, fed and exercised his horse. Next came routine with which soldiers of today can readily identify. This involved close order drill, athletics, guard duty, and honing the skills of scouting and patrolling. Afternoons were devoted to mounted drill, one of which was known as the “Monkey Drill.” This maneuver required the Trooper to ride bareback hands free while putting his horse through various maneuvers. The pay of the 11th Cavalry soldier in the early 1900′s was $13.00 a month for a six-day workweek. Sunday was a day off when Troopers received mounted passes that permitted riding through the countryside.
(Philippine Campaign Medal)
By June 1901, the Regiment was fully activated, although its three Squadrons were separated to posts in Missouri, Vermont and Virginia. Six months of intensive training culminated with orders to depart for the Philippines to assist in putting down the insurrection there. First Squadron traveled overland and embarked out of San Francisco to Hawaii, Wake Island and then on to the Philippines. Second and Third Squadrons left by way of New York on the U.S.A.T. Buford (Army Transport Service), arriving in Manila after a sixty-one day voyage which included passage through the Suez Canal.
Future President William Howard Taft was the First Civil Governor of the Philippines and his governorship of the islands was a high mark in colonial administration for any nation. He had First Squadron dispatched to Samar, Second Squadron to Batangas Province, and Third Squadron to northern Luzon. Experiencing jungle warfare for the first time, the Regiment fought dismounted. The name of Private Clarence L. Gibbs, KIA 4 March 1902, was the first to be placed on the 11th Cavalry Roll of Honor.
By May 1902, working from satellite camps attached to larger base camps, daily patrols of Troopers had swept the countryside of guerrillas and the Regiment began the transition to garrison operations. The tropical climate, illness and guerrilla warfare had depleted the Regiment to one-third strength.
Orders home were issued in March 1904 and within a month, the Regiment was scattered around the United States once more. HQ and Second Squadron were at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa; First Squadron was assigned to the historic cavalry post at Ft. Riley, Kansas; Third Squadron was split between Ft. Sheridan, Illinois and Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. It was not until summer 1905 that the Regiment served together for the first time when it was consolidated at Ft. Des Moines.
(Army of Cuban Pacification Medal 1906-09)
The Cuban republic was established after the 1898 Spanish-American War. In 1901 the Platt Amendment, a rider attached to the Army Appropriations Bill of 1901, stipulated the conditions for U.S. intervention in Cuba that virtually made the island an U.S. protectorate. Under the terms of this bill the United States established - and retains to this day - a naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
In mid-1906 Cuban internal strife caused the United States to invoke the Platt Amendment and send troops to the island nation in an attempt to restore order. William Howard Taft, now Secretary-of-War, sent his Philippine Insurrection veterans, the experienced 11th Cavalry Regiment under the command of Colonel Earl D. Thomas, 2nd COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT.
Pulled from its annual maneuvers at Fort Riley, Kansas, First Squadron returned to Fort Des Moines while the balance of the regiment left for Cuba by way of Newport News. The regiment arrived in Havana ahead of its horses on 16 October 1906 and set up base camp outside the city. A storm with hurricane force winds struck the next day, destroying the camp and battering the ships still at sea so badly that over 200 mounts were killed. The troopers of the day quickly recovered and assumed control of western Cuba. Regimental Headquarters was established in Pinar del Rio after a 29 hour/110 mile force march by Troop F. The mission of the 11th Cavalry was to ‘show the flag’ by conducting mounted patrols throughout the countryside between the villages. While in Cuba the regiment was joined by its new commander, Colonel James Parker, 3rd COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT. “Galloping Jim” (the longest serving Colonel) continued peacekeeping operations during the Regiment’s two-year stay, demonstrating to the natives that the US Army’s Cavalry was ready for any and all eventualities. Although conflict is at times inevitable, the 11th Cavalry Regiment best serves the country when it commands respect and thereby averts war through a show of strength. This will be repeated time and again throughout the history of the regiment.
By 1909, the political situation in Cuba was stable and the regiment was recalled. In late February, they began hurried preparations to embark out of Havana and return to the United States. The reason for the hasty departure became apparent when, upon arriving once again in Newport News, Virginia on 1 March 1909, they were immediately ordered to Washington D.C. by train. Arriving in a severe blizzard, the troopers of the 11th Cavalry Regiment nonetheless readied themselves for the task at hand. The next day, 4 March 1909, the Regiment assumed a place of honor in the inaugural parade of their old friend and now President, William Howard Taft.
After the inauguration of President Taft, the regiment settled into garrison life at its new home at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The reprieve was short lived however, as in early 1911 the regiment was deployed to the Texas/Mexico border in response to Mexico’s internal political turmoil, which threatened to spill into the United States. This would prove to be the first of many border postings for the 11th Cavalry. The crisis soon eased and the regiment returned to Fort Oglethorpe in November.
11th Cavalry: Mexican Border patrol 1913. DLIFLC & POM Archives
In May 1914, the 11th Cavalry found itself on the go again, this time to Colorado. A violent-marred coal strike had culminated in the so-called Ludlow Massacre in which several miners along with two women and eleven children were killed in the small town of Trinidad. Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison dispatched the Regiment to perform the difficult and delicate task of restoring order to a community torn by rioting in the wake of the massacre. It was even more frustrating for our troopers considering many came from the coal mining villages of West Virginia and they knew what life is like working under these conditions. The troopers of the 11th Cavalry performed their sensitive mission well, winning praise for their "poise, justness, absolute impartiality, and effectiveness." The Regiment returned to Georgia in January 1915 for a stay of a little over a year.
FOOD FOR MARCHING ORDER
The menu of the troops must not be forgotten. In every game of chance, there is always a possible element of disappointment, but there is neither chance nor disappointment in the matter of meals for troops. They were dealt the inevitable “government straight” consisting of canned baked beans, canned tomatoes, canned corn bread (“Corned Willie”), coffee and prunes. This may not sound so bad, but it did get monotonous.
THE GREAT WAR
World War I began on 28 July 1914, one month after the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The United States was not immediately drawn into “The Great War”, as it was then known. American lives were lost however, during the sinking of the British liners Lusitanian and Arabic in May and August of 1915. After hostile reactions from American citizens and vehement protests from the U.S. Government, Germany announced the cessation of unlimited submarine war. Meanwhile, events much closer to home were commanding the attention of the 11th Cavalry.
MEXICO – 1916
(Mexican Service Medal)
On 9 March 1916, the Mexican revolutionary “Pancho” Villa raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Brigadier-General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to lead a Punitive Expedition into Mexico to destroy Villa’s rebel army. On 12 March the 11th Cavalry under the command of James Locket (4th COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT) was ordered to report to Pershing. The lead elements of the Regiment moved out that very night.
A feature of railroad troop trains is their ability for “rapid” transit. At every station stop, a delegation of the Red Cross met the trains with hot coffee and sweet smiles. At El Paso, Texas the 11th Cavalry was ordered to go directly to Columbus, New Mexico to join the expedition going into Mexico. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry T. Allen led First Squadron as the forward element into that country.
The Provisional Squadron of the 11th Cavalry was formed under the command of Major Robert L. Howze. On 10 April 1916, a Villista patrol engaged Major Howze's advance guard. In the ensuing battle, the Regiment suffered its first casualties of the campaign with three wounded and Private Kirby of Troop M was killed. Trooper Kirby was buried where he fell. The Regiment had forced marched for 21 days over 571 miles. Two troops (companies) of the 10th Cavalry, the “Buffalo Soldiers" reinforced the Regiment at Parral. Cut off from their base at Colonia Dublan, the Squadron was sorely in need of re-supply. “Our animals were low in flesh. Officers had to watch their men to keep them from eating part of the corn allowance of the horses.”
THE LAST CHARGE
On 5 May 1916, the 11th Cavalry had the honor of making what proved to be the last mounted charge in regular US Cavalry history. This would be the first of a number of ‘lasts’ the 11th would undertake in its career as a regular Army unit, including the last forced march and the last mounted combat patrol. The account of the ‘Last Charge’ was noted as follows: “The column advanced onto the village to be found out by guards. The bugler sounded and with guidon flying on high the charge began. The troopers entered Ojo Azules with pistols firing, bugle sounding out orders, commands being screamed, and the thunder of hoofs all putting fear into the hearts of the enemy.” To the average trooper it was just, another day of service to his country.
Howze’s War Diary – 5 May 1916
5 May 1916 report to General Pershing: “We made an over-night march to Ojo Azules, distance thirty-six miles. Reached here at 5:45 a.m. unfortunately one-half hour after daylight. We surprised Julia Acosta, Cruz Domingues and Antonio Angel; jumped them. Had a running fight for two hours. Drove their bands into the hills between here and Carichic. Killed forty-two verified by officers; captured several and some fifty to seventy-one ponies and mules. It is believed that we killed Angel, although identification not completed. We rescued a Carranza lieutenant and four soldiers just before they were to be shot. We followed the enemy, consisting of about 140, until our horses were wholly exhausted, but the chase did not stop until the enemy's left flank had been broken up entirely. In fact, those who escaped us did so as individuals. Our discovery was by Villista herd guards, which fired at our Indians, and alarmed the enemy, which ran pell mell, firing at us in their flight. The remarkable part is although the clothing of several of our men was hit; not a single man was wounded, thanks to the utter surprise and confusion of the enemy. We lost three or four horses. It is needless to say that officers and men behaved as would be expected.”
The 11th Cavalry withdrew from Mexico on 5 February 1917; five days after Germany resumed a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against American shipping on 31 January.
THE ZIMMERMAN TELEGRAM
International Intrigue affects the 11th Cavalry
1 March 1917 saw the publication of a German memorandum proposing a defensive alliance with Mexico in case of war between Germany and the United States with the proviso “…that Mexico is to recover the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona…” which caused a wave of American outrage. Alfred Zimmerman, German Foreign Secretary, had sent the coded message on 19 January, which also contained the suggestion that Mexico urge Japan to join the Central Powers, to von Eckhardt, the German Minister to Mexico. British Naval Intelligence intercepted and decoded it, giving a copy to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain on 24 February. After verification, it was released to the press 1 March. At the time, the British Navy had the German merchant fleet bottled up in the Gulf of California port of Santa Rosalia.
The United States' declaration of war on Germany, enacted by Congress on 6 April 1917, found the Regiment pausing at Ft. Bliss, Texas as part of a provisional First Cavalry Division. Due to the threat outlined in the Zimmerman telegram and the proximity of the German merchant fleet, a detachment of the 11th was stationed on the border at Camp John Beacom in Calexico, California (nearest border crossing to the German fleet) while another was stationed in the Campo area. These detachments continued border duty until 1920. Within a month new orders came and Colonel James B. Irwin (6th COLONEL OF THE REGIMENT) led the remainder of the Regiment back to Chickamauga Park, Georgia, near Ft. Oglethorpe. The next two years saw various elements of the 11th Cavalry scattered throughout the South and West.