Red River Campaign Ride After Action Report

Photo by Robert London

June 7, 2015 in Washington, Arkansas

Submitted by Major C. Doutt, 1st Squadron, FCA Cavalry

My Fellow Dragoons, 

I know that many of you can imagine what it might be like to return to the modern world of family and occupation after a trip of 9-10 days. With that said, I have aired my excuse for the tardiness of this report, I will now offer that report. The First Squadron consisted of the 2nd US Cavalry Cos. A & H, 1st US Co. C, and 1st Colorado Volunteers. 

In my quest to emulate an 1860's Cavalryman, I have always been impressed with the attitude and grit possessed by our hobby's membership of like minded Crazies. This event didn't disappoint me. We traveled a long way together; we suffered and endured together for some of the hottest and toughest days that I have ever spent in this hobby. I am proud of the civility and compassion extended by each trooper to one another. Our experience and training prevailed in all areas, but how we managed our horses under those extreme conditions insured our mission's success in the field. This experience also lent itself to our traveling with no incidents, no breakdowns, and coordinated rendezvous at appointed locations.

I do not intend to single out anyone in particular in this report because the Red River campaign was a US event, we truly executed as a team. Up most days by 0400, Standing to Horse by 0500, fighting and riding hard until late afternoon, drinking horse warmed water throughout the day, (well water down there was lukewarm at best), resting at every chance on Terra Firma, scouring through our daily rations for something edible to eat, something that didn't need a fire, were some of the daily challenges that were to be overcome. When opportunity presented itself to be the static Camp, the 6th Ohio gals did a tremendous job of tending to our nutritional needs. One tough night though, on the Campaign, with particularly sparse provisions, manna came from heaven in the form of contraband pizza smuggled into our camp from who knows where, we were in the middle of nowhere, nothing for miles!

A trip to the 150th Shiloh Battle Reenactment had rekindled my love for this hobby. The outstanding charges and maneuvering executed by the Eastern Federal Cavalry still remains with me. What I had witnessed that weekend had shown me that our time together, coupled with mutual unit cooperation, had paid major dividends. I actually was embarrassed for our Confederate counterparts. In the back of my mind still, was a lingering notion that the victories achieved that weekend at Shiloh, might have been a fluke. I had to go to Red River to see how we would measure up again against the "western" Confederates, especially of the hardened Texas variety. Rangers, I believe they proudly called themselves. 

I was privileged, as an officer, to (1) know that the Confederate Cavalry were going to outnumber us; (2) it was generally known that they had a large chip on their shoulders and it would be a grudge match of sorts, and (3) since some Confederates were local, they would have the tactical advantage of knowing trails and ambush points. I knew that we would have to be at our best to gain the upper hand during this campaign. The Confederate Cavalry had also taken steps with the event organizers to neutralize two of our four weapons. We were told not to bear our sabers, and they didn't want our horses touching their mounts. The Confederate Cavalry relied on their troopers carrying multiple pistols and shotguns. We countered that with our long arms of the Sharps, Smith, and Spencer variety, intentionally and effectively staying out of their shotgun range. Colonel Mike Church instructed me, that my squadron was to continue to carry sabers, and to use sabers when necessary, especially when weapons were empty. "If" the Confederates got in our way, we were to move them by whatever means deemed necessary. He didn't have to draw me a picture.

Our duties on this Campaign primarily centered on performing the functions of a true to life Civil War Cavalry Regiment. Cover the main body of Infantry, scout and report enemy activity, guard and escort our horse and mule drawn cannons and drawn supply wagons, and provide offensive and defensive tactics to gain the advantage over the enemy.

On first day of the Campaign we gained our first major tactical victory over the Confederate Cavalry, catching them when fully deployed in battle formation, in a trap between the 1st and 2nd Squadrons. Then with the close support of our remarkable artillery, we sprung the trap. Those present can attest to that action. That victory, we would come to learn, would set the tone for the week. You see, the Federal Cavalry had done some planning and studying of their own of the terrain to offer a tactical advantage to the Blue Bellied Troopers of the FCA Cavalry.

As I write this report, I have to temper my enthusiasm and pride for the action of our Cavalry Brigade. After the first trap, I am convinced that we really got in the heads of our adversaries. If we didn't own them then, we would when we severely spanked them again on Day 2. The 1st Squadron had been detailed early to guard and escort our artillery and support wagons (no Ford F150s hauling cannons to hill tops on this Campaign!) to a bridge being constructed by our engineers. I had found out early, that the bridge wasn't near complete, a major disappointment and set back to our high command. However, we carried on; each of us knowing that it was going to be up to the horse soldiers and the amazing artilleryman that we are bonding with, to gain the day.

I was told at Officer's Call early that morning I was to dismount my squadron to help the engineers finish the bridge. On the march to the bridge Col. Church devised a plan to use the artillery's mules to accomplish the task. The mules were amazing, responding to the task at hand and the bridge was finished in short order after they had been unhitched from their guns. By now, the infantry caught up to the war and were guarding the newly finished bridge, guns and wagons. 

In the far distance, one could begin to hear the spirited gunfire coming from Major Bob Vance's 2nd Squadron, as they fought to defend our army's withdrawal. This action set up, what I believe, was to be the true spirit breaker for the Confederate Cavalry for this week. Having been in constant close contact with Vance's 2nd Squadron all morning, the boldness of the Confederate Cavalry manifested itself as they pushed persistently, though blindly, against Vance's rear guarding squadron. Coming into play for the Federals was the fact that the 1st Squadron hadn't been seen, or for that matter, fired a shot all morning. Fully loaded and ready for a fight was the 1st Squadron. We were deployed into an area with good cover on the backside of a draw along the route of withdrawal. As Vance's troopers fell back in good order, to the rise at the end of the draw, the Confederates recklessly rushed in firing at will, bellowing their rebel yell. As the last 8 man Confederate rank rushed in, the 1st Squadron responded, galloping into their rear firing fully loaded pistols to pin the entire Confederate Cavalry between the 1st & 2nd Squadrons, the Confederates were neatly packaged in neat rows of 8's in this draw, with mostly empty weapons, and completely spent horses. This joyous officer witnessed firsthand the embarrassment and shame exhibited on the face of the Confederate Commander as he was challenged to yield and surrender his command by Colonel Church. 

With the Brigade in good spirits from the victories, we were ordered to stand down on Day 3 due to the extreme heat. We were ordered to send pickets and dismounted patrols out within the town of Old Washington, just after hostilities opened again within the town, and patrol of Confederate Cavalry charged into our camps firing and racing their horses back and forth in the heat in an effort to provoke us into hasty reaction. What they encountered was a stout dismounted defense of our position. I remember thinking during time that their horses, already worn down from the previous day's exertion, would be rendered useless for any action in the days to follow. I wasn't wrong, and we did not see them again during the Campaign. Rumor also had it that Commander J. Beam might have visited the Confederate camp during the night.

Day 4 started with an early march, catching the rear of the Confederate column as they retired. I was ordered to dismount the 1st Squadron with the 2nd Squadron to provide effective fire on the Confederate rear. Once the Confederate army moved away under cover of their artillery, our Infantry came up and passed our squadrons in pursuit of the fleeing Confederates. We had taken this lull in the action, to unbit our mounts and graze them on the lush grass present, taking advantage of the nutrition and moisture. The heat already was nearing the low 90's early that morning and combined with increasing humidity levels as we remounted and set to our mission to harass and flank our enemy. The 1st Squadron was ordered to lead the column, after a short march, we witnessed our infantry making camp and stacking arms, their main focus was on making fire for their morning coffee. Really? As we continued our pursuit of the Confederates, we encountered intense rear guard action from all Confederate branches. This action delayed our advance; our scouts were dispatched quickly to feel out the flanks, looking for crossings to attack the Confederate flank in the densely vegetated stream bottom. 

Soon one of our scouts returned with news that he had found a crossing. During this temporary calm, Colonel Church ordered the 2nd Squadron to do the same on the left flank. I would come to know that Major Vance had dismounted his command and were pouring fire into the left flank of the Confederates. This action completely surprised the enemy, especially the Confederate Cavalry. If they would have been shooting live rounds there would have been many of the saddles empty. It seemed apparent that they just couldn't dismount with those shotguns. The Confederates had to be thinking "how are they doing this to us?" With Vance's Squadron hammering the left, and a crossing found, the 1st Squadron crossed streams and raced across the bottom into a clearing that lead us to the rear of the Confederates, to our surprise we galloped around the bend in the terrain to find the unguarded Confederate supply wagons, half of the Confederate infantry also was resting with weapons stacked. Another Bounty collected! Had this officer had better vision, he would have quickly recognized the Overall Confederate commander present and had him captured before his prompt escape. 

Day 5 & 6 offered more heat and humidity; those two conditions were rapidly draining man and beast. We fought to a stalemate on Day 5, given what history had dictated 151 years ago, we yielded reluctantly to honor that history, retiring from the field in good order closing the Battle of Prairie Deanne. 

As I conclude this report about this action, I think back to a line from the movie "The Untouchables" that may help to sum up our Cavalry experience against the heralded Confederate Cavalry at Red River. It came from the lips of Sean Connery, who portrayed a tough, street smart, old beat Sergeant, in the movie when he said "here endeth the lesson!" A lesson was indeed taught again by the Federal FCA Cavalry.

My profound respect goes out to Barry Kruis, Hank Happy, Ace Moreau, Rebecca Crispin, Jill Czarnowski, Frank Blaha, Dan Burtz, Bill Fuzia, Rick Smith, John Perry, Jeff Harrison, Pete Czarnowski, and Larry & Matt Raskin who endured this adventure with me. You all heightened my experience by your willingness to go beyond the normal realm of conditions attending this Campaign. I have learned that 2 members of the 7th Michigan have come down with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and had to be hospitalized.

Respectfully Submitted,
Major C Doutt
1st Squadron, FCA Cavalry