Organization begun in July, 1862; first companies mustered in at Nashville, in September, 1862; mustered out at Pulaski, August 14, 1865.
In June, 1862, Governor Andrew Johnson authorized William B. Stokes, former U. S. Congressman from DeKalb County and a former officer of the Provisional Army of Tennessee, to raise a battalion of cavalry. Recruits were accepted during July and August, and the regiment was organized in Nashville, the recruits coming in from various counties in small parties.
The first mention of the regiment found in the Official Records was dated at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, August 6, 1862, stating that Colonel Stokes, with a squadron of 1st Tennessee Cavalry arrived that morning. On August 11, this squadron had a skirmish with Confederate forces under Napier and Anderson at Kinderhook, near Columbia. These were Colonel T. A. Napier's Battalion, C.S.A. On August 27, 1862, the 5th Regiment was assigned to Colonel J. F. Miller's Brigade, with headquarters at Murfreesboro, which was directed to "operate actively in covering our lines out of Nashville, particularly against the cavalry forces of Forrest and Morgan in the territory around Carthage, Lebanon, Woodbury, Liberty and Smithville."
On September 2, 1862, the regiment encountered and routed Bennett's (later Ward's) 9th Tennessee Cavalry, C.S.A., on the "Dickinson" (sic) Pike out of Nashville. On September 20, Brigadier General James S. Negley, Commanding Post at Nashville, reported the 5th Tennessee Cavalry with 16 officers, 722 men present, with an aggregate of 794 present and absent. Five companies of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry took part in a fight with Brigadier General Nathan B. Forrest's forces on the Franklin Pike on November 5, 1862.
On December 5, 1862, the regiment was ordered to Carthage to join Brigadier General Joseph J. Reynolds, but on December 24, General Reynolds complained that it had still not reached Gallatin. In the battle of Murfreesboro, or Stone's River, December 26, 1862-January 5, 1863, the regiment was in the Reserve Cavalry under Major General David S. Stanley. As part of his force, it took part in the advance of the Right Wing, under Major General A. McD. McCook against Hardee's Corps on the Nolensville Pike near Triune on December 27; was at Wilkinson's Cross Roads on the 29th; at Overall's Creek on the 31st, where it repulsed an attack by Major General Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry, and was engaged again at Lytle's Creek on the Manchester Pike on January 5, 1863. During this campaign it reported 15 casualties.
For the rest of the year it never served as a unit, but was reported in detachments from small parties up to battalion size at various places in Middle Tennessee, engaging in numerous skirmishes, the most important of which was with Confederate forces under General Van Dorn at Franklin, on April 10, 1863.
On April 11, the two North Alabama companies, under Captain D. D Smith, left Nashville with an expedition under Colonel A. D. Streight in an attempt to cut the Georgia Railroad south of Dalton, Georgia. The force moved to Palmyra, Tennessee, by boat to Eastport, Mississippi, and then overland towards Rome, Georgia, but was run down and captured on May 3, 1863 by General Forrest before reaching that point.
On April 3, 1863, Murphy's Cavalry, part of the 5th Regiment, was reported at Carthage, Tennessee, and on April 21, the 5th was reported at McMinnville.
On June 27, a portion of the regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Galbraith was engaged at Guy's Gap and Shelbyville, operating with Colonel Robert H. G. Minty's 1st Brigade, of Brigadier General George Crook's 2nd Cavalry Division. On July 10, this part of the regiment was at Fayetteville. This same portion of the regiment was stationed at Shelbyville for some time. On August 2, 1863 Brigadier General W. C. Whitaker, Commanding 1st Division, Reserve Corps, at Shelbyville, reported: "The Tennessee Cavalry of Colonel Galbraith is giving me excessive trouble, and worrying and plundering through the country whenever they go out. They are under no control or discipline, as far as I can learn. Several instances have come to my hearing of their insulting unprotected females."
Another portion of the regiment, under Major John Murphy, five companies, was at Carthage, where Colonel William B. Stokes was for a time Brigade Commander of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, XXIII Army Corps. On September 2, 1863, Colonel J. T. Shelley, at McMinnville, reported: "I am here as directed, with 3rd and 6th East Tennessee Infantry and Stokes' Cavalry." On September 12, Brigadier General James G. Spears, Commanding 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, moving towards Chattanooga shortly before the battle of Chickamauga, reported he left Stokes' Cavalry at Tracy City, Tennessee.
Adjutant General J. P. Brownlow's report stated that a portion of the regiment under Captain Cain and Lieutenant Carter took part in the minor engagement at Lookout Mountain; and another portion, under Lieutenants Robinson and Nelson, participated in the battle of Chickamauga.
Two companies were with Colonel Tillson at Anderson Cross Roads, near Bridgeport, Alabama, on October 6; on October 28, Co. "G" was mentioned by Major General Joseph Hooker as being in the engagement at Wauhatchie, Tennessee. Meanwhile, Galbraith's Cavalry was still reported at Shelbyville on October 12, 1863.
On November 8, 1863, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division of the Cavalry Corps, was broken up, and the "1st Middle Tennessee Cavalry" was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division; but on November 10, the division was reorganized, and the 5th Tennessee Cavalry was ordered by Major General George H. Thomas, "to proceed to Nashville, without delay, to reorganize and complete its muster." It remained at Nashville until January 24, 1864, when Colonel Stokes, with his command, was ordered to Sparta, to destroy the guerrillas who infested that section of the country.
Meanwhile, on January 10, 1864, General Thomas recommended a separation of the regiment between Stokes and Galbraith, making two regiments. On January 30, Major General Lovell H. Rousseau, at Nashville, reported the troops in the District were generally under good discipline, well equipped, and in good condition, "excepting, of course, the 5th Tennessee Cavalry under Colonel Stokes, and a few others, who are neither well drilled, disciplined, or equipped. * * * It is proper for me to remark here that two battalions of that regiment will never be of service together, and I shall press upon Governor Johnson the suggestion of the General commanding the Department to separate them." At this time Galbraith's Battalion was at Nashville, along with the rest of the regiment. Colonel Stokes' influence with Governor Johnson was apparently greater than that of the General commanding, for the regiment was not separated as recommended.
As ordered, Colonel Stokes moved to Sparta, about February 1, 1864. In his reports covering his operations, Colonel Stokes stated he took about 150 men with him, but was shortly afterwards joined by Captains Blackburn, Waters and Brandon, bringing his force up to 200 men. On February 18, with companies "A", "B", "G", "I", "K" and "L", he fought an engagement near Sparta with the Confederate forces under "Hughs, Hamilton, Ferguson, Carter and Bledsoe," and another on February 22 on Calfkiller Creek. On the 24th he was joined by portions of Companies "C", "F", and "H", most of these companies still being at Nashville with no horses. For the first time in many months, all the companies were represented at one place, except the two Alabama companies which had been captured with Colonel Streight, and Co. "M", which was not organized until later. During the months of February and March, Stokes reported numerous engagements around Sparta, Calfkiller and Beersheba, and scoured Overton, Putnam and Jackson Counties for guerrillas. He urged the necessity of remounting his men, and arming them with Springfield rifles.
The reply of Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, Chief of Cavalry, is interesting: "You have no idea of the demands made upon our Government for horses to remount our cavalry. No one Government-not all the Governments of the world-could keep so much cavalry mounted while animals are so recklessly destroyed. * * I will gladly aid you in any way I can to keep your command in good shape, but horses are absolutely out of the question. You must find and take them in the country you traverse. * * * Galbraith was ordered to join you with all the men he had with him, and I will endeavor as far as possible to keep your whole regiment at all times within your immediate control. Now pitch in, Colonel, and help yourself to horses; keep your powder dry and give the guerrillas thunder wherever you can find them."
On April 2, 1864, the Cavalry Corps was reorganized; Colonel Stokes was given command of the post at Carthage, and the 5th Tennessee Cavalry, under Major William J. Clift, was placed in the 2nd Brigade, Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem's 4th Division. Colonel Stokes was not again in active command of the regiment.
During the next several months, the regiment continued to operate in small detachments under Majors Waters, Clift and Armstrong, throughout Middle Tennessee, being reported at various times at Tullahoma, McMinnville, Sparta, Pulaski, and in Lincoln County, with numerous skirmishes. During the raid made by Major General Joseph Wheeler, in late August and early September, 1864, the regiment was under the overall command of Major General Robert H. Milroy, commanding defenses of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, and fought with Confederate forces under Colonel Dibrell, at McMinnville; and under Brigadier General John S. Williams on the line from Nashville to Murfreesboro, around Triune, and at Pulaski, and returned to Tullahoma September 9. It was then sent in pursuit of General Williams as he withdrew into East Tennessee, but Wiliams has gotten too far ahead for the pursuit to be effective.
During this same period, on September 3, 1864, Colonel Stokes, at Carthage, wrote:
"In order to effectually and speedily clear the country of all stragglers (from Wheeler's forces), I respectfully and earnestly request that the 5th Tennessee Cavalry be ordered to report to me for duty. They can and will do the work. They have been tried, and I have only to point to their achievements for proof of their success in guerrilla warfare. I wish this communication to be laid before His Excellency, Governor Johnson, and shall expect his aid in this matter. It is due to the families of my men that their fathers, brothers and husbands should be here to protect them." General Milroy, on September 19, recommended that his request be granted, but on September 30, 1864, the 5th Tennessee, Major Armstrong, was reported at Pulaski, with Brigadier General John C. Starkweather, so the request was evidently not granted. On the same date, Lieutenant Colonel Clift was reported as brigade commander of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, with Major Armstrong in command of the regiment. On October 31, Lieutenant Colonel Clift was ordered to report to Brigadier General John T. Croxton, Commanding a Provisional Division from the District of the Etowah, which was brought from Chattanooga for the campaign around Nashville.
On November 17, 1864, Major General James H. Wilson, in a reorganization of the cavalry forces, ordered the organization of the 6th Cavalry Division under Brigadier General R. W. Johnson. He assigned the 15th Pennsylvania and the 5th Tennessee Cavalry to the 3rd Brigade, but the brigade never completed its organization, and the regiments continued to serve separately.
On November 27, the regiment was with General Milroy at Tullahoma, moved with him to Murfreesboro during the campaign ending with the battle of Nashville, and returned with him to Tullahoma after the battle. On January 16, 1865, General Milroy made the following statement with regard to the regiment: "When I took command of the defenses of this road, in June, 1864, the 5th Tennessee Cavalry was stationed at this Post. I found it camped outside the picket line of the post, men and officers boarding at private houses, inside and outside the lines. I found that officers and men were absent at home and elsewhere without authority. In fact, I found the regiment utterly void of order and discipline. I at once made it a specialty *** to try and reduce the regiment to some sort of discipline, and worked faithfully, but without any perceptible benefit. I have tried every means known to me to bring about order and efficiency in the regiment, but have not been rewarded with any success, even unto this day. In fact, the regiment is as far from being an efficient organization as it was in June. The field officers seem to have no conception of their obligations and duties; have no control over their subordinates or men. Officers and men absent themselves without authority whenever they take a notion to visit their homes. The regiment is about 800 strong, and the largest number that can be paraded in camp at any time will not exceed 200. Most of the 600 absentees are unaccounted for. I have been informed that Colonel Stokes was able to keep the men together, and did hold them under reasonable discipline. I therefore suggest that Colonel Stokes be ordered back to his regiment, because, without him, the regiment is a rabble and entirely worthless to the service. I further suggest that even if Colonel Stokes is ordered back to his regiment, it be sent beyond the state of Tennessee clear beyond the reach of their homes-as a sure means of making them of service to the Government. Many of the officers and men live within one or two days' ride of this place, and so long as they are so situated they will be worthless as soldiers. I respectfully request that this regiment be ordered away from my command, and that a regiment of cavalry from some other state be sent in its stead."
His plea to send the regiment out of the state was not heeded, but it was ordered to Fayetteville January 26, 1865, where it stayed until mustered out of service in August. The last record found in the Official Records was dated May 4, 1865, when Captain William O. Rickman, commanding the regiment, was directed to co-operate with the 18th Michigan, at Huntsville, Alabama, in capturing or exterminating a Confederate band under Mead. He was directed: "You will treat Mead and his band as outlaws, and show them no quarter." In extenuation of this command, it should be stated that Mead had been offered the same terms accorded Generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, and had refused to accept them and surrender his forces.
The regiment was mustered out of service August 14, 1865.
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This unit history was extracted from Tennesseans in the Civil War, Vol 1. Copyrighted © 1964 by the “Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee” and is published here with their permission.
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