Thomas Drummond: And the war came
Editor’s Note: Today is the fourth installment of a six-part series on Thomas Drummond, who led a short but fascinating life as a senator, newspaper editor and Civil War hero. He is buried in the Methodist Cemetery on Newell Avenue, St. Clairsville. The authors are Edmund A. Sargus, a federal judge, and his son, Edmund C. Sargus, a writer in Tampa, Fla. Both are from St. Clairsville and have co-authored a book on the life of Thomas Drummond.
On March 4, 1861, Thomas Drummond attended the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. He sold his interest in his newspaper and resigned his seat in the Iowa Senate. He went to Washington with fellow Iowan James Harlan, whom Drummond had vigorously and successfully supported for the position of United States Senator.
Harlan promoted Drummond for a position in the new Lincoln administration. Lincoln and Harlan had grown close during the campaign. Their families also shared the connection. Lincoln’s son, Robert, later married the Senator’s daughter, Mary Harlan. Drummond had an important advocate in Harlan.
Lincoln told Harlan that he needed strong supporters of the Union cause in the United States Army.
By the inauguration, seven Southern states had already voted to secede from the Union. A number of officers from those states then resigned from the army.
In April of 1861, Drummond accepted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 5th U. S. Cavalry Regiment. The regular U. S. Army was quite small as the nation raced towards war. The entire army included 16,000 soldiers in sixteen regiments, only two of which were mounted cavalry. Robert E. Lee was thesecond in command of the 5th U. S. Cavalry, but resigned after his home state ofVirginia seceded the same month Drummond was commissioned.
The 5th Cavalry was staffed with professional soldiers, which was in sharp contrast to the huge army later assembled during the Civil War. Because of its professional status, the 5th Cavalry was involved in virtually every major conflict in the eastern side of the war. As hundreds of thousands of volunteer soldiers were recruited, troops in the regular army were a valuable commodity. Unlike other officers in the regiment, Drummond had no military training and had not attended West Point.
Drummond quickly proved his worth. One month after entering service, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. A new graduate of West Point, George Armstrong Custer, was assigned to serve under him. By the summer of 1861, a large Confederate force menaced the nation’s capital. On July 21, 1861, the Union Army attacked at the Battle of Bull Run. While initially successful, the volunteer army eventually broke and began a chaotic retreat. The 5th Cavalry was the exception. Both Drummond and Custer were officially recognized for holding their positions under intense enemy fire.
As the tattered Union Army regrouped, Lincoln asked the states for more volunteer infantry. Governor Samuel Kirkwood of Iowa offered to send cavalry, contending that most Iowans were skilled with horses. The War Department, however, insisted that the recruits be infantry. Further, the War Department refused to authorize a cavalry regiment of one thousand soldiers without an experienced professional officer assigned to the unit. Kirkwood contended that Drummond fit this requirement.
Governor Kirkwood and Senator Harlan went around the War Department
and made their case directly to the President. Lincoln issued the following order:
Thomas Drummond, Lieut. In 5th Cavalry, was appointed last April
from civil life, & without military education. The governor of Iowa
now wishes to appoint him Lieut. Col. of a regiment of volunteers.
Senator Harlen wishes it done, and if the Sec. of War & Adjt. General,
deem it admirable, consistent with the public service, let it be done.
A. Lincoln Dec. 14, 1861.
In December of 1861, Drummond became the Lieutenant Colonel of the 4th
Iowa Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. He had but eight months experience as a
soldier, although he had proven himself in combat. For the next six months, he
commanded one thousand volunteer cavalry.
Several of the volunteers kept diaries. Drummond used the same command
methods utilized in the regular army, which proved to be widely unpopular. The
volunteer soldiers were unaccustomed to following orders, drilling and training.
Drummond soon became the most unpopular officer in camp. One soldier,
William Howard, wrote in his dairy that, “Colonel Drummond . . . when he is sober
. . . is a very good officer but that is very seldom as he has been drunk more than
half the time since we have been in this camp.”
The diaries also indicate that Drummond’s discipline was better appreciated
as the regiment saw combat in Arkansas in early 1862. Two widely read
publications gave prominent mention to Drummond’s command. Harper’s Weekly
reported that on April 24, 1862, “A detachment under Captain Drummond crossed
White River near Yellville, Arkansas, and destroyed extensive salt-peter
manufactories . . .” Salt-peter is the main ingredient in gunpowder. The St. Louis
Democrat also wrote of the Confederate cavalrymen captured during the same
Once the 4th Iowa Cavalry Regiment gained experience, Drummond asked to
be returned to the 5th U. S. Cavalry. In June of 1862, he was promoted to Captain
in the regular U. S. Army, a rank actually higher than Lieutenant Colonel in the
volunteer army. Drummond saw immediate action. He led several companies of
the 5th in the bloody Battle of Antietam. As the Confederate Army retreated from
Antietam, the 5th continued to harass the enemy for several months.
The following spring, over 10,000 mounted Union troops moved between
the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under Lee, and Richmond, Virginia.
Known as Stoneman’s Raid, the cavalry hoped to cut off the Confederate Army
from its supplies. Drummond once again proved his skill in combat. Major
General John Buford, later a national hero at Gettysburg, wrote in his official
report that Drummond “behaved handsomely, and dispensed the foe opposed . . .”
Taking two hundred mounted troops within only a few miles of Richmond,
Drummond’s force destroyed two bridges used to supply the Confederate Army.
Stoneman’s Raid, however, did little to deter Lee’s army. Following a
disastrous Union attack at Chancellorsville, the Confederate Army of Northern
Virginia began a move to the north. Confederate cavalry, under General Jeb
Stuart, acted as a screen for the massed infantry on the move. The Union Cavalry,
under General Albert Pleasanton, meant to shatter the screen and reveal the
position of the infantry.
On June 9, 1863, the two forces collided at Brandy Station, the largest
cavalry battle of the Civil War. Although technically a draw, for the first time,
Union Cavalry fought Confederate horsemen to a standstill. Thereafter, the Union
Cavalry gained considerable relative strength. General Pleasanton wrote in his
official report that “Captain Drummond, Fifth Cavalry, acted as aide-de-camp and
in other capacities . . . frequently under hot fire, and rendered valuable assistance.”
As Lee continued his march into Pennsylvania, the new commander of the
Union Army, General George Meade, ordered a reorganization of the Union
Cavalry. Just three days prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Pleasanton promoted
George Armstrong Custer and Elon Farnsworth to the rank of Brigadier General.
Custer was only twenty-three and Farnsworth twenty-five, making them the
youngest generals in U. S. history.
Drummond, Custer and Farnsworth were close friends and had served
together through repeated episodes of combat, prior to Gettysburg. All three again
distinguished themselves in the costly three day Battle of Gettysburg. On the last
day of the battle, Farnsworth, a general for only six days, was killed. Drummond
wrote of the sad news to Farnsworth’s family, through his uncle, General J. F.
You have already heard of the death of your nephew, General E. J.
Farnsworth, killed in action on the 3rd. I was with him not five
minutes before he fell, gallantly charging the enemy’s infantry at the
head of two of his regiments. His body was brought in last night, and
at 3 a.m. of the day. I buried him with one of his captains, each in a
good, rough box in the Gettysburg Cemetery. He was shot through
the pelvis, and had two balls through the left leg, one of which
shattered his ankle.
Farnsworth’s loss is mourned by all. He had just got his star, and fell
in a gallant endeavor to prove to his men his right to wear it. While
by the light of a single lantern I dug his grave, instinctively the lines
of Sir John Moore’s burial at Corunna came in my mind.
We buried him darkly at the dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the moonbeam’s misty struggling light,
And our lanterns dimly burning.
Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory,
We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone in his glory
Drummond had spent the last twenty-seven months in continuous combat.
He had seen many deaths and injuries. Farnsworth’s death touched him, as the loss
of war came to his inner circle of wartime friends. While the Confederate Army of
Northern Virginia slowly retreated to Virginia, Drummond continued to serve with
distinction. Union cavalry harassed Lee’s withdrawal at the Battles of Falling
Waters and South Mountain, where Drummond again was thrown into combat.
As both armies settled into winter camps in late 1863, Drummond took an
assignment in Cleveland, Ohio as a recruiter of new troops. Always a compelling
speaker, and now a distinguished combat veteran, Drummond organized an entirely
new regiment. Over one thousand Ohioans joined the newly formed 177th Ohio
Volunteer Infantry Regiment, all mustering in under Thomas Drummond.
Beginning in the spring of 1864, General Grant marched the huge Union
Army of the Potomac only miles from Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia. But the
Confederates had dug in and created massive trenches and embankments. By
winter, each army held the other in check. Both sides believed that the spring of
1865 would bring a climactic end to the war.
The country had not seen the end of the war, and neither had Thomas