Near the end of my book, The Last Day of Forever, I have my main character, Ethan, as a young second lieutenant in a unit called the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen out in New Mexico Territory. They did exist—and still do. Here are some highlights of what I discovered in my research for this portion of the book and this particular regiment.
The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was created as a very early version of a modern mechanized infantry regiment, in a manner of speaking, that is. They were mounted on horses and rode to the fight, but once there, they dismounted and generally fought on foot. They were also issued rifled muskets instead of the usual smooth bore muskets the infantry of that period carried (prior to 1861) or the much-hated Dragoon muskets carried by other mounted troops. The Dragoon muskets were inaccurate, and the ball was prone to rolling out of the barrel if the barrel was pointed downward. In my book, I have the Brave Rifles armed with Sharps carbines. I could not determine if they were actually so armed prior to the Civil War or not. Some mounted units were indeed armed with Sharps during the prewar period, so I took a little artistic license on that point.
The Sharps carbine was a breech-loading weapon (verses muzzle loading, which means it was loaded from the back or breech end instead of the muzzle end). This made reloading much faster and easier, especially on horseback. The cartridges of the early model Sharps were made of paper and contained powder and a bullet. The trigger guard/lever was swung down, dropping the breech block to expose the chamber for inserting the cartridge. Once loaded, the lever was returned to the closed position, and the breech block closed with a sharp edge clipping off the back of the paper and exposing the powder to the priming charge. A primer cap was inserted over the nipple. Pulling the trigger dropped the hammer on the primer, igniting it and in turn the powder charge. Being rifled, they were much more accurate and had longer effective ranges than the other smooth bore arms of that period. Later model Sharps used metallic cartridges that were fully self-contained; projectile, powder, and primer cap all in a brass case. The longer rifle versions of the Sharps became favorites of buffalo hunters. If you ever saw the movie Quigley Down Under with Tom Selleck, it was a Sharps rifle that Matthew Quigley used.
1853 Military Sharps
The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was formed in May of 1846. Under various names, it has seen action in all of America’s major conflicts since then, including The Mexican-American War, The Indian Wars, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and WWII, as well as service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was in the Mexican-American War in 1847 that the regiment got its nickname, “Brave Rifles,” and its motto, “Blood and Steel.” After several major engagements, the exhausted regiment was visited by General Winfield Scott. He had come to order the regiment to Churubsco for an even more difficult battle. He removed his hat, bowed low, and said: “Brave Rifles! Veterans! You have been baptized in fire and blood and have come out steel!” Even today members of the unit greet each other thusly: An enlisted trooper renders military courtesy to an officer by saluting and yelling out “Brave Rifles!” The officer will return the salute and reply just as loudly, “Veterans!”
The regiment is also thought to be the origin of “Gringo,” the modern Hispanic slang for an American. The regimental marching song, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is named “Green Grow the Rushes, Ho!” Legend has it the Mexicans slurred the “green grow” into “gringo.”
In 1848 the regiment returned to Jefferson Barracks, MO where it was originally formed, and in 1849 was sent on a grueling march all the way to Oregon Territory. Two years later, they returned to Jefferson Barracks and were officially designated as the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen (previously without the “1st” designation) because the Army expected to raise two more such regiments. That never happened.
In 1851 the regiment was ordered to Texas, and in 1856, they moved further west into New Mexico Territory. (Ethan joins the regiment in 1860 and resigns in early 1861.) They had a very large territory to police and never enough troopers to do so.
With the advent of the Civil War, all mounted regiments were organized as cavalry, and the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen became the 3rd US Cavalry Regiment. They fought in the Civil War, mostly in the western theater, first in Texas and later in Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
In 1866 the Brave Rifles were ordered back to New Mexico Territory to campaign against the Indians.
In 1898 the Brave Rifles arrived in Tampa, FL for deployment to Cuba during the Spanish American War. The famous western artist, Fredrick Remington, was visiting the regiment’s camp. One of the regiment’s NCOs, Sergeant John Lannen, caught his attention as representing what Remington considered to the epitome of the American cavalryman, and he sketched him. The drawing eventually became known as “Old Bill.”
During World War I, the regiment deployed to Europe and saw only limited action, but during WWII, they traded in their horses for armored vehicles and were reorganized as the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, serving in Europe. It was troopers from Troop B, Reconnaissance Squadron of the 3rd ACR that were the first Americans to cross into Germany, albeit only a short excursion to prevent the Germans from blowing a vital bridge.
The Brave Rifles served in Iraq during Desert Storm. In 100 hours, they covered over 300 miles, rolling over three Iraqi divisions in the process. They also served in Bosnia and more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2011 they were renamed yet again as the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and traded in their heavy armor for lighter and faster Stryker armored vehicles. They are currently based at Fort Hood, Texas.