By: Peter Grilley | Published: 2020-10-30
During the 1850s and 1860s, several companies of mounted infantry were formed, but it wasn’t until near statehood the first troops of cavalry began appearing. Differences between mounted infantry and cavalry are subtle, unless you associate with one or the other. Nonetheless, Washington National Guard Cavalry units and service has been comparatively limited yet honorable.
On June 28, 1887, the first troop of cavalry, designated Troop A, First Cavalry, was organized at Sprague, Lincoln County, and mustered into the service of the Territory on May 1, 1888, by the special mustering officer, Lt John Murray of Walla Walla. Commissions were extended to: E. G. Pendleton, Captain; R. G. Paddock, First Lieutenant; B. B. Glasscock, Second Lieutenant.
Arms and equipment for fifty officers and men were duly forwarded to the county commissioner of Lincoln County for the use of Troop A.
With the mustering in of Troop B in 1890, Troop A became a member of the First Cavalry Battalion. Previously it had reported to the Commander, 2nd Infantry Regiment, National Guard of Washington.
On Aug 3, 1895, a fire storm resulted in the near complete destruction of Sprague. Troop A was ordered under arms to protect the property of citizens. After the fire, it was determined the community could not support a unit and Troop A was disbanded.
Later the same year, Troop A was organized in North Yakima. At the same time, the First Cavalry Battalion was disbanded with Troop A reporting directly to the Adjutant General.
In 1897, the State legislature provided limited funding for the National Guard of Washington resulting in reductions of the number of Guardsmen. Troop A was selected for disbandment, but its members volunteered to maintain themselves if uniforms and arms could be provided by the State. This arrangement was agreed to by the Governor.
The end of Troop A occurred on May 13, 1898, when the troop voluntarily organized into the First Regiment of Washington, United States Volunteers for the Spanish American War. Soldiers from Troop A filled the ranks of Infantry Companies bound for the Philippines.
The first formal organization of Cavalry Troop B dates to the territorial days of 1889 with the organization of the Tacoma City Troop. Following statehood, the Tacoma City Troop was formally mustered in as Troop B on June 27, 1890, with three officers and 37 men. Capt James M. Ashton had the honor of being its first commander. This date also marked the organization of the First Cavalry Battalion consisting of Troop A and Troop B. In 1892, Troop B had its first public appearance and first official duty as military escort for the inauguration of Washington’s first governor, Elisha P. Ferry. At least one photo shows Troop B proudly seated in their saddles, although there is more to their story.
At the time of the inauguration, Troop B troopers had been issued only overcoats and sabres with a couple of pistols. Other uniform pieces had yet to be delivered and carbines were still a wish list item. The National Guard budget did not yet include funding for horses. Yet give a cavalryman a sabre and horse, and his pride will be as bright as cavalry yellow. Lieutenant W. O. Robb was a member of Troop B, a Civil War veteran, and a resourceful man. He secured enough horses around Tacoma and Olympia to ensure every trooper was in his rightful place, nobody asked how he did it. To complete a military appearance, troopers buttoned up their overcoat, turned back the yellow lining of their capes, donned borrowed campaign hats and attached their sabres presenting a creditable appearance. The Troop was comprised almost entirely of raw recruits to include the company commander. To those on the outside, the troopers had a soldierly appearance to be proud of, but not so to Lieutenant Edwards. Lt Edwards was the one experienced man in the ranks of Troop B, a graduate of West Point. He was providing instruction in the School of the Soldier all the way up to the inauguration. Capt Ashton, Troop B commander, admitted his commands were slightly modified and quickly corrected by an exasperated Lt Edwards. You can see the Lieutenant’s frustration in the photo of Troop B at the inauguration.
In 1895, the 1st Cavalry Squadron was disbanded, and Troop B reported directly to the Adjutant General.
The Troop served with honor and distinction during the great fires of Seattle and Spokane, as well as the mining strikes and Chinese riots that occurred in the 1890s. In 1902, eight soldiers of Troop B were assigned as honor guard while Governor John R. Rogers remains were lying in state at Olympia.
During the mobilization for the Spanish American War, Troop B was not selected for deployment but stayed in Tacoma. The Governor petitioned the Federal Government to mobilize cavalry units, but no such order was ever received.
Beginning in 1904, American Lake Maneuvers were conducted every two years until 1910. Troop B participated in these maneuvers with elements of National Guards from Washington, Oregon, and other states as well as the Regular Army. Evaluators of the maneuvers gave the Cavalry Troop high marks for its appearance and performance. It was a marked improvement from the early days of 1890.
As of March 1916, the troop was authorized 103 members, but actual strength was 55. With Federal mobilization for Mexican Border Service in 1916, the troop was able to recruit to wartime strength and assemble at the mobilization camp in only six days. Departing by train on June 30, Troop B arrived at Calexico, Calif, and had setup camp by July 7. During the next eight months, Troop B and Washington’s 1st Infantry, secured and patrolled their portion of the border against excursions from Pancho Villa’s raiders.
February 1917 found Troop B enjoying the green grass, the cold air and dampness of Fort Vancouver to muster out of Federal service. When the troop train arrived in Olympia, it was diverted and halted at the State Capital. Officers and men were unloaded and marched into the House of Representatives to receive an ovation from the Governor and the Legislative body. That was the first and only time such an honor has been bestowed upon a unit of the Washington National Guard.
Down time for the troop was minimal with the entrance of the United States into WW1 in April 1917. Nary four months after arriving home, Troop B was again called into Federal Service in July 1917. This time they would not go as cavalry but were re-designated on Sept 19, 1917, as Company B, 116th Field Trains and Military Police, 41st Division and deployed to France. On Nov 1, 1918, within days of the Armistice, the unit was re-designated 217th Company, Military Police and re-designated again as 267th Military Police Company on Jan 15, 1919. Finally, on July 14, 1919, the troop was demobilized at Camp Lewis.
In accordance with the National Defense Act of 1916, as amended on June 4, 1920, each state was required to raise a National Guard force of 200 men for each Representative and Senator in Congress. Included in the reconstitution of Washington National Guard forces, was a Machine Gun Company. On Aug 8, 1920, the Machine Gun Company, Washington National Guard, was organized in Tacoma with Capt Joseph I. Middlesworth commanding. Support for the history of Troop B was strong among civil and Guard members, and the sentiment prevailed. The Machine Gun Company was re-designated as Troop B, 2nd Washington Cavalry on Aug 18, 1920. On January 22, 1921, Troop B, 2nd Cavalry (Wash) was re-designated Troop B, 58th Machine Gun Squadron. Troop B was again re-designated on Nov 1, 1924, this time as Headquarters Troop, 24th Cavalry Division, although everyone continued to lovingly refer to the Tacoma Troopers as Troop B.
By order of the Chief, National Guard Bureau, War Department, on Sept 20, 1940, Troop B was converted to Headquarters Company, 103rd Anti-Tank Battalion. Thus ended the career of the oldest existing military unit in the State of Washington. In the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 103rd Anti-Tank Battalion become the 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion on Dec 12, 1941. The 803rd served with distinction in Europe during WW2, but that is another story for later.
Commanding officers of Troop B included: James M. Ashton; Everett G. Griggs; Hartwell W. Palmer; Myron C. Cramer; Joseph I. Middlesworth; Paul J. Roberts; and Charles W. Goodwin.
Troop C was organized in 1893 in North Yakima. Strength as authorized by the State legislature was 3 officers, 13 NCOs, and 50 privates. By the time of the July 1894 encampment at Woodland station, east of Olympia, organized strength was 3 officers, 13 NCOs, and 43 privates.
General Orders No 7, June 27, 1895, resulted in the disbanding of Troop C.
With Troop B on the Mexican Border, and Federal authorization to increase the size of the Washington National Guard, Adjutant General Thompson and staff received agreement from the citizens of Ellensburg to create a new cavalry troop, Troop C. The troop was to be self-sufficient until the state legislature authorized funding in 1917. However, there is no evidence to suggest it progressed further than an agreement.
Troop D was organized in 1893 in Spokane. Its strength as authorized by the State legislature was 3 officers, 13 NCOs, and 50 privates. When the troop arrived at the July 1894 maneuvers at Woodland station, the organized strength was 3 officers, 13 NCOs, and 31 privates.
Troop D was disbanded on Jun 27, 1895 in accordance with General Orders No 7. Enlisted members were discharged including James A. Drain who had enlisted with Troop D in 1894. Drain’s military career was far from over. Within a few short years, Drain would be appointed Adjutant General on Jan 16, 1901.
HEADING TO PASTURE
With the elimination of Troop B under 1940 General Orders, the last of the service animals were removed from the State Military Forces. For more than half a century, horse-drawn or mounted units were among the various organizations of the Washington National Guard, having served continuously since Territorial days. Those days were now history.
Although horse mounted Cavalry units or long gone, today’s Cavalry and Scout troops ride their steel steeds with the honor and history of those before them.