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The Brave Rifles

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.

3rd ACR copy

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.

Sharps Model 1853 Military Rifle

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.

Old_Bill_Cavalry_Mascot_Poster

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.

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The Last Day of Forever – Excerpt 7

Cover B1CRed BlogSince I am running behind in getting this thing published, I figured I had better get another excerpt out and give you a taste of the other end of the book. This excerpt is from Chapter 25. Our hero, Ethan, has finished school and is a newly commissioned second lieutenant assigned to the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He has just met his commanding officer and been assigned to Fort Fillmore along the Rio Grande in New Mexico Territory. Here, he is about to meet his senior NCO.

A sergeant with flaming red hair and a square jaw that looked like it was cut from granite was standing outside the door. A handlebar mustache of gigantic proportions, neatly waxed on the ends, dominated his face. He was tall, almost as tall as I am and thin and hard. He was also bowlegged, like he had spent his entire life in the saddle and might even been born there. His blue uniform was faded, and he wore his kepi at a jaunty angle, low across his eyes.

“You must be Sergeant Sullivan,” I said.

In a thick Irish brogue, he answered, “Aye, lad, and you must be my new shave tail … er … I mean Lieutenant Davis.” Without waiting for me to respond, he added, “Grab your kit, Lieutenant. The day isn’t a getting any cooler. I see ya brung yer own mount, nice gray ya have, sir. We’re ready to leave if you are, and I ‘spect you are. Come along, lad.” He turned and headed out the door, and I dutifully followed.

A wagon loaded with supplies and three mounted troopers looking as scared as I was trying not to look were waiting outside on the parade ground. “These boys are replacements. Ya gonna ride yer gray or in the wagon with me—Sir?” He said looking me up and down. That “sir” was added almost as an afterthought.

“The wagon with you. We have much to talk about.”

He nodded. “Aye, ‘spect we have. Climb aboard, Sir.” Before I was fully seated, he slapped reins to the mule team, and we were off. We picked up the Rio Grande and bounced along a trail beside it headed north by northwest.

Fort Fillmore was on the eastern edge of the Gadsden Purchase, a piece of land along the Mexican border purchased from Mexico a few years prior. The Butterfield Stage Line ran through there, it being the best route to California. The Butterfield line had been in operation for only a few years and was the first such service to California. It snaked out of Kansas southwest through Indian Territory (Oklahoma), then Texas to New Mexico Territory and on into southern California and Los Angeles. In 1860 all the country between Texas and southern California was called New Mexico Territory.

The three troopers trailed behind the wagon far enough back to stay out of its dust. I took out a cigar for myself and offered another to Sergeant Sullivan.

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said as he took the offered cigar and drew it under his nose. “And a fine one it tis.” He bit off the end, spit it out, and stuck the cigar in his mouth. From his pocket he retrieved a match and struck it on the wagon seat. “Light?” I lit my cigar from the offered match, then he lit his own. “I hear yer from Louisiana.”

“Catahoula Parish.”

“And yer not West Point?”

“Virginia Military Institute.”

He looked at me as if I had said something wrong. “Out here, ya may as well forget everything they taught ya.”

“I suspected as much. Tell me about New Mexico.”

“Its damn hot! And damn dusty! And if ya ain’t careful, damn dangerous! If the Injuns don’t worry ya none, ya can fret over the Mexican bandits, or the rattlers, or the Gilas, or the scorpions, or them rat-sized spiders they have out here.” He spit out a piece of tobacco. “Other than that it’s a grand place. And to think, I left Ireland for all this.” He looked at me with a wry grin. “Yes, I’m Irish. Dropped the O from me name so-as I would fit in better in my new country.”

As if I had not figured that out.

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Filed under Catahoula Books, Excerpts, Last Day of Forever