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The Pennsylvania Line 4th Continental Dragoons

 

The Continental Army had four regiments of cavalry, formally designated as "light dragoons." They were used for scouting, patrolling, and covering missions and for courier service. Except for surprise encounters with enemy patrols, they were intended to fight on foot. As originally conceived, and as prescribed on March 14, 1777, a Dragoon regiment was to have six troops, each consisting of a captain, a Lieutenant, a cornet (the cavalry equivalent of infantry ensign or artillery second lieutenant), and forty-one enlisted men. With the field-grade officers and regimental staff, the regiment would total 280 personnel. The reorganization of May 27, l 778, retained the six-troop structure, but added a lieutenant and twenty-three enlisted men to each troop, bringing the theoretical total to 416 officers and enlisted men. January l, l 781, bought still another reorganization, this one reflecting a conceptual change imposed by necessity. Six more privates were added to each troop and minor changes were made to the staff, bringing the regimental total of 455 officers and men; but only four of the troops were mounted, the attaining two consisting of infantry. This new type of unit was called a 'legionary corps, "' and provided a more versatile organization, roughly equivalent in an embryonic way to a regimental combat team.

But cavalry was an expensive branch of the service. Mounts had to be purchased, and, due to hard usage and perennial shortages, required frequent replacement. Saddles and other "horse furniture" had to be procured. Weapons suitable for mounted men were also in short supply sabers could be manufactured, but pistols and carbines had to be reported. Due to this combination of limiting factors, no Continental cavalry regiment ever had much more than three hundred men, and only bout half of these could be mounted. More often, the regiments mustered no more than 150 men.

The 4th Continental Light Dragoon regiment was authorized by Congress on January 1, 1777and on January 5, Stephen Moylan was appointed its colonel. He had previously been the Continental Army's Quartermaster General (in grade of colonel), and at the time of his appointment to the new regiment, was serving as an aide on Washington's staff. He continued, as commander of the regiment until it was disbanded.'

Of the key officers (captain through colonel) of the original regiment, only Moylan himself and one captain were from Pennsylvania. One Captain was from Maryland, and the rest of the captains, the lieutenant

Colonel, and the major were Virginians.5 The enlisted men, however, were largely from Pennsylvania, chiefly from Philadelphia and its vicinity.

For more than two years after its formation, the 4th Dragoons had no held-grade officer except for Colonel Moylan. Not until December 10, 1779, was Lt. Col. Benjamin Temple, of the 1st Continental Light Dragoons (a Virginian), transferred to fill the vacancy. He continued with the 4th Light Dragoons during the rest of the regiment's existence. Similarly, the 4th Dragoons had no major until another Virginian, Moore Fauntleroy, was promoted from captain on August 1, 1779. He remained on the regiment's roster from that time on, although on February 10, 1783, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair complained that Fauntleroy had been absent from duty for many months.

The 4th Dragoon regiment was authorized six troops, and actually had that number on July 3, 1781," but the names of only five original captains have been found. The troops and their commanders appear to have been as follows:

[Troop A], commanded by Capt. Moore Fauntleroy. After serving in 1776 as an ensign and second lieutenant in the 5th Virginia (infantry) Regiment, he was appointed a captain in the 4th Continental Light Dragoons on January 21, 1777. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Germantown, on October 4, 1777. The date of his escape or exchange is not known; but as noted above, he was promoted to major on August 1, 1779 Records do not indicate the promotion or appointment of any officer to fill the captaincy he vacated. The regiment's first appointment to captain after Fauntleroy's promotion was that of Larkin Smith, but that did not take place until April 1,1780, eight months later. Smith, still another Virginian, had been commissioned a cornet in the 4th Dragoons on August 1, 1777, promoted to lieutenant on September 4, 1778, and after becoming a captain continued with the regiment as long as it remained in existence.

[Troop B], commanded by Capt. David Hopkins, of Virginia. He had been a volunteer with Benedict Arnold's Quebec expedition in 1775, and was appointed a captain in the 4th Continental Dragoons on January 21, 1777. At an unknown date in 1780, he was promoted to major of the 1st Continental Dragoons." It is possible that his replacement was Capt. Henry Willis, of Pennsylvania, concerning whom the records are contradictory. He was appointed a cornet in the 4th Dragoons in June, 1777, and according to one version was promoted to second lieutenant on June 25, 1781, and to captain on an unspecified subsequent date, serving to the end of the war. Another version, however, says that he was promoted to Captain on December 22, 1780, and resigned his commission on April 24, 1781, at which time he was replaced by Capt. Thomas Overton, a Virginian, who had been a lieutenant in the 9th Virginia (infantry) Regiment until July 1, 1779, when he had been appointed a first lieutenant in the 4th Dragoons. He served with that regiment through the rest of the war.

· [Troop C], commanded by Capt. Thomas Dorsey, of Pennsylvania. He began his service as a captain of infantry, initially in the 1st Pennsylvania Battalion and then in its successor unit, the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment. He became a captain in the 4th Dragoons on January 10, 1777, but is listed as "omitted" in August of the same year. No promotion occurred which can be associated with the departure from service (whatever the circumstances may have been) of Captain Dorsey. The first such promotion after he left the regiment, which took place on February 8, 1778, was that of John Heard, of New Jersey. After having been a second lieutenant of New Jersey artillery in 1776, Heard had become a first lieutenant of the 4th Dragoons on January 20, 1777. He served as a captain in that regiment from the date of his promotion to the end of the war.

· [Troop D1], commanded by Capt. David Plunkett, of Maryland. His prior service had been as a second lieutenant in Smallwood's Maryland Regiment. Appointed a captain in the 4th Continental Light Dragoons on January 10, 1777, he was taken prisoner on October 20 of that year (location and circumstances unknown, although possibly in conjunction with the defense of Fort Mercer, near Red Bank, New Jersey), and resigned from the army on March 13, 1779. Possibly to fill this vacancy, Peter Manifold was promoted to captain from first lieutenant on April 14, 1779. One of the comparatively few Pennsylvania officers, he had originally joined the regiment as a cornet, on April 14, 1778, being promoted barely two weeks later (on May 1) to lieutenant. He resigned on October 30, 1780. Apparently the vacancy remained unfilled for some time.

· [Troop E], commanded by Capt. Vashel D. Howard, of Virginia. He was commissioned a captain in the 4th Dragoons on January 24, 1777, but died on March 15, 1778.22 There was no promotion to captain in the regiment from that time until December 22, 1778, when John Craig, a Pennsylvanian, was promoted from first lieutenant. He had been a second lieutenant in the Ed Pennsylvania (infantry) Battalion and a first lieutenant in the Id Pennsylvania (infantry) Regiment before transferring to the 4th Dragoons on March 22, 1977. He stayed with the organization to the end of the wards

Other officers who at one time or another served as captains in the 4th Continental Light Dragoons were:

Capt. Zebulon Pike, of New Jersey. Appointed a cornet in the 4th Dragoons on March 1, 1777, he became the regimental adjutant on November 20, 1777, was promoted lieutenant on March 15, 1778, and captain on December 25, 1778. On June 1, 1780, he was appointed regimental paymaster, holding that position until the end of the war.

Capt. Erasmus Gill, of Virginia. He was appointed a captain in the 4th Dragoons in February 1779, but with a retroactive date of rank of December 25, 1778. He had prior service as a sergeant, ensign, and second lieutenant in the 2d Virginia (infantry) Regiment. (Father of the Brig. R. Gen. Zubulon Pike who discovered Pike's Peak and who was killed at Toronto during the War of 1812) On October 3, 1779, he was taken prisoner at Savannah, Georgia, and after his exchange (on October 22, 1780), served to the end of the war.

Capt. Lawrence Frank, of Pennsylvania. Having been commissioned a first lieutenant, 4th Continental Light Dragoons on October 1, 1779, he was promoted to captain some time in 1782 and served in that grade throughout what remained of the war.

Whatever the regiment's pattern of promotions or company strength may have been, it is clear that some time prior to its demobilization the 4th Dragoons had reached a total of six companies, commanded at the end by Captains Smith, Heard, Craig, Gill, Overton, and Frank.

The uniform originally adopted for the 4th Dragoons featured coats captured from the British. These were red, with blue facings. However, the first detachment of the regiment to join Washington at Morristown, New Jersey, in the spring of 1777, was mistaken for British soldiers, to the consternation of the American civilians the troops met along the way. On May 12, General Washington wrote to Colonel Moylan, directing him to change the color, "which may be done by dipping into what kind of dye that is most proper to put upon Red. I care not what it is, so that the present color be changed. Apparently, some of the men wore linen hunting shirts for a time, but before long the regiment was uniformed in green coats trimmed with red, green cloaks with red capes, red waistcoats, buckskin breeches, and leather caps trimmed with bear skin. 29 By the terms of the General Order of October 2,1779, however, all dragoon regiments were thenceforth to wear blue coats, faced and lined with white, with white buttons.

For recruiting, the 4th Dragoon Regiment had been assigned to the area between the North (Hudson) River and the Susquehanna, but, as noted above, it appears to have drawn the bulk of its men from the Philadelphia region. The original enlistment's expired in the latter part of September 1780. The regiment had never been filled, and only eleven of the old members re-enlisted at that time for the duration of the war.'2 With new recruits, it totaled only eighty men (with fifteen officers!) by the spring of 1781.'' The nearest thing to a complete roster, purportedly showing all the enlisted men who ever served with the regiment, lists only 213 namesake.

SUMMARY

In comparison with infantry and artillery organizations, the term "regiment" is misleading as applied to Continental cavalry units. The 4th Light Dragoon regiment, raised chiefly in and around Philadelphia, seems seldom to have exceeded a hundred troopers by very much, and frequently to have fallen to much lower manning levels. As numerical weakness limited the uses, which it could serve, iterated in small detachments or with men functioning independently as individuals.

OPERATIONS

Even more markedly shall was the case for artillery. American Continental cavalry was employed in small, widely dispersed detachments. It performed valuable services in observing and reporting enemy movements, screening its own infantry's movements, covering exposed flanks, and providing messengers for dissemination of tactical orders. Except for brief skirmishes, however, it almost never saw extensive combat.

As already noted, the first elements of the 4th Continental Light Dragoons arrived at Morristown on May 12, 1777. For the next two months they were carrying out patrolling activities in the vicinity of Middlebrook, New Jersey. A return dated July 16, 1777 indicates that three troops (under Captains Dorsey, Hopkins, and Plunkett) were in the field. They drew a total of 172 rations, but upwards of twenty of these appear to have been for the authorized regimental laundresses.

Four days later, at Elizabeth, New Jersey, nineteen men of Captain Craig's troop, disgruntled because they had not been paid, left for Philadelphia in defiance of orders, to demand the money due them. Two troops of the 1st Dragoons brought them back, but the horses were too stiff to permit further movements until they could be rested. The deserters were tried by court martial in early August, by which time the regiment was at Neshaminy, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. All nineteen were sentenced to be hanged, but General Washington commuted the sentence and, on August 19, transferred the men to infantry regiments.'

The 4th Dragoons took part with the rest of the army in the march through Philadelphia on August 24, moving on south toward Wilmington, Delaware. From there, the regiment formed part of the escort for General Washington when he reconnoitered toward the British army's landing place at Head of Elk, Maryland, and helped drive off an enemy scouting force attempting a probe northward.

During the Battle of Brandywine, on September 11, the dragoons operated chiefly as scouts and couriers, under the over-all direction of Count Casimir Pulaski, soon to be named commander of all the Continental cavalry. Some of the 4th Dragoon regiment may have taken part in Pulaski's successful attempt to block the British forces trying to cut off the American line of retreat to Chester, but no specific documentation to this effect has been found. On September 13, however, a detachment of the 4th Dragons was sent to retrieve military stores being held at French Creek, in Chester County, and the rest of the troopers were used to provide cover for the fords across the Schuylkill River.

As at Brandywine, the role of the regiment at the Battle of Germantown was to provide covering and scouting forces and messenger service. Presumably, some or all of the regiment may have been with Pulaski's force delaying the British pursuit. It does not appear to have been heavily engaged, although it may have seen some action, for Captain Fauntleroy was captured during this battle.

Scouting and patrolling continued to occupy the 4th Dragoons. On November 9, 1777, Captain Craig and a detachment were officially commended for capturing a number of enemy soldiers. When Washington took up a defensive position at Whitemarsh, the regiment helped cover the left flank of the position, but was not engaged during the tentative British advance.

The 4th Dragoons moved with the rest of the army to Valley Forge on December 19, 1777. Although the bulk of the army's cavalry was sent to Trenton in order to ease the demands on the Valley Forge locality for fodder, the 4th Dragoons appear to have stayed at Valley Forge until March 20,1778. On that date, Colonel Moylan was ordered to move his command to Trenton. Over the next several weeks, there was frequent patrolling, which gave rise to several skirmishes, but the lack of fit horses and suitable equipment limited the action which could be taken. Then, on May 28, Washington sent orders for all the cavalry regiments to join the army at Valley Forge. Before the troopers could arrive, however, the orders were countermanded and the cavalrymen were directed to keep close watch over British movements in the vicinity of Philadelphia.

When the British evacuated Philadelphia and started across New Jersey on June 18, the cavalry stayed close on their heels, keeping Washington informed of their direction of march. In fact, the 4th Dragoons clung so close that on June 27 they overran the camp followers marching in the rear of the British columns. On June 27, the day before the Battle of Monmouth, the regiment captured a number of prisoners and sent them back for interrogations

Like most Revolutionary War battles, Monmouth was an infantry and artillery fight, with cavalry playing its part chiefly before and after the actual clash. The 4th Dragoons seem to have had no part in the engagement itself, and there is no record that the regiment suffered any casualties on that day. On the other hand, Moylan's men did follow up the British withdrawal on June 29, but they were too weak in numbers and the horses were too exhausted to do anything except maintain a watch over enemy movements.

After the Battle of Monmouth, the 4th Continental Light Dragoons remained in New Jersey through the summer. The regiment's base was at Hackensack, but its assignment was to patrol the area toward the Hudson and to keep the British forces under observation.

By early October, the regiment had moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. From there it was ordered to Durham, Connecticut, for the winter of 1778-1779. It operated along the New York-Connecticut border during the summer of 1779. On July 11, it saw its next sizable action when it accompanied a militia force to try to prevent a British amphibious raid on the town of Norwalk. By the time the Americans arrived, the enemy troops had made their landing and had set the town on fire. Colonel Moylan led an attack, during which, he reported, "a vast deal of ammunition [was] wasted, to very little purpose, as in general our militia kept at awfull distance." Although the raiding force, concealed by the smoke from the burning town, withdrew successfully to its ships, the cavalry took four prisoners.

During the rest of that summer, the bulk of the regiment continued to operate in the same general area, serving as part of the force under Brig. Gen. John Glover. Some of the regiment appears to have gone to the Southern Theater about this time, as Captain Gill (who was mentioned by name as capturing the four prisoners at Norwalk on July 11) was himself taken prisoner at Savannah, Georgia, on October 3.

The regiment as a whole spent the winter of 1779-1780 in Connecticut. Quarters for men and horses were inadequate, and the 4th Dragoons had to be scattered over a distance of five miles, an impossible situation for any organization, which might be called upon to react quickly. Colonel Moylan claimed that "No Regiment could be more orderly than the 4th since they have come into this State," but the troopers were unpopular with the local civilians. Shortages of supplies and equipment were acute. "We have an exceeding cold day," Moylan noted on January 22, 1780, "and the Regiment so badly off for underclothes that they are much to be pitied. He reported on February 15 that there were 130 Pennsylvanians in the organization—probably the bulk of its enlisted strength—but a week later he stated that even this small number was not effective "for want of breeches, boots, shirts and stockings."54 The shortages were still acute as late as April 14.

Apparently, spring brought more supplies, and the summer definitely brought more action. On July 21, 1780, the 4th Dragoon regiment was part of the force under Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne, which attacked the Blockhouse at Bergen Heights, New Jersey. It carried out the only part of the operation, which was completely successful, driving off the considerable collection of Tory owned cattle and horses at Bergen Neck while Wayne's infantry and artillery tried vainly to reduce the garrison which was holding the Blockhouse.

According to one authority, parts of the regiment were sent to the Southern theater during 1780, sustaining heavy losses at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, on August 16, the survivors being absorbed into a composite dragoon unit commanded by Lt. Col. William Washington, originally of the 3d Continental Dragoons. This claim seems to be unlikely. No other reference to 4th Dragoon participation in that battle has been found. Moreover, it is clear that the greater part of the regiment spent the winter of 1780-1781 at Lancaster, and there was a detachment at West Point.

Because of these dispositions, the 4th Dragoons did not take part in the January 1 mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line at Morristown, New Jersey. Nevertheless, they staged a minor revolt of their own. On May 21, 1781, a number of the dragoons, with their weapons, marched on the Lancaster jail, determined to release one of the members of the regiment who was confined there. The jail was guarded by a militia sentry, who ordered the cavalry men to halt. One of the troopers continued to move forward, threatening the sentry with a cocked and loaded pistol. When he tried to wrest away the sentry's musket, the sentry shot and killed him. As the dragoon fell, his pistol dropped out of his hand and fired when it hit the ground, with the result that a militiamen standing nearby was wounded in the thigh.

The regiment had become greatly reduced in effectiveness. As of April 6, Major General St. Clair reported that the 4th Dragoons had only eighty men, and only fifty of those were mounted, and there was no improvement by mid-July. Even so, by the end of June, part of the regiment had joined Wayne's provisional brigade in Virginia.63 As of July 3, the regiment's total enlisted strength is shown as being only 101 men. '['hey were organized in six troops, but were very unevenly distributed, the largest troop numbering forty-two men and the smallest only three.

By October 1, 1781, what was left of the 4th Dragoons (now officially the 4th Legionary Corps) was all assembled at Williamsburg, in Virginia. From there, it went on to the siege of Yorktown, where it was assigned to the "right division." By November 1, still at Yorktown, it had fourteen officers and ninety-four enlisted men, and another forty men and four officers had already marched south to join Major General Greene. The mounts of the men in Virginia were in very poor condition, and Colonel Moylan predicted that they would not be capable of marching for at least four months.

The only part of the regiment which saw any further action during the war was the detachment in the south, which by the end of 1781 numbered approximately one hundred officers and men. This force was assigned to the command, which Anthony Wayne led into Georgia, leaving South Carolina on January 4, 1782. During the course of the campaign, which ended with the occupation of Savannah on July 12, 1782, what was left of the 4th Dragoons was absorbed into a mixed command (including elements of the 1st and 3rd Dragoon regiments) under Col. George Baylor, 3rd Continental Light Dragoons. * As for the elements of the regiment, which had not gone south from Virginia, by December 15, 1782, their strength had dropped to one mounted troop and one troop of foot soldiers. The foot troop was transferred to the Pennsylvania infantry (although the men continued to be paid at the higher rate prescribed for cavalry), and the mounted troop was mustered out.

 

*Griffin, p. 126. It seems likely that Berg's statement that in 1780 remnants of the 4th Dragoons w ere absorbed into a mixed command under let. Col. Washington, 3d Dragoons, reflects a confusion with what actually happened in 1782.