American Revolutionary War
Light Dragoon, Partisan Corps and Legionary Corps in the Continental Army
The Birth of the American Cavalry. List Light Dragoon, Partisan Corps and Legionary Corps Units in the Revolutionary War.
Prior to the American Revolution, most military planners believed the heavily forested land, few roads or open land so restricted their use that cavalry was deemed impractical in North America.
There wasn’t any cavalry used during the French and Indian War. When the Revolutionary War started, British Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Gage employed mounted officers as cavalry during the disastrous raid on Concord.
A few mounted units did exist, such as the Philadelphia Light Horse, which escorted General George Washington from Philadelphia to Boston where he accepted the Command of the American Army. This unit was primarily ceremonial, and numbered about thirty troopers.
When the British were forced to evacuate Boston, the whole complexion of the war changed. No longer a static siege, General Washington realized that cavalry would be useful in patrolling the Atlantic Coast Line for possible British landings, and to serve as couriers.
As a result he was pleased to accept Captain John Learys of the Light Horse Troop of New York City, an independent Company of forty light dragoons. On June 21st Washington asked Congress to accept them as a Continental unit.
Prior to the victories at Trenton and Princeton, Congress granted Washington almost dictatorial powers, thusly empowering him to establish a cavalry arm for the American Army.
Neither he, nor any of his officers, had any experience in organizing cavalry, it would have to be a trial and error effort.
The first thing Washington did was to re-designate the existing troops of light horse. He promoted Lt. Colonel Bland and re-designated the Virginia Light Horse to become the 1st Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons.
Likewise, he promoted Sheldon to command the 2nd Regiment. He choose Lt. Colonel George Baylor from his personal staff to command the 3rd Regiment and Aide-de-Camp, Colonel Stephen Moylan to command the 4th. He permitted these officers to select their subordinates.
Each Regiment was divided into six troops, each commanded by a captain, with one lieutenant, one cornet, 2 sergeants, four corporals and 32 privates. Also as part of each troop was a farrier, armorer and trumpeter. Captain George Lewis and his troop was assigned to Colonel Baylor’s 3rd Regiment, but was detached to serve at headquarters. Baylor’s Regiment was known as "Lady Washington’s Own."
A major problem that affected the use of Cavalry, both British and American, was forage. It was scarce, difficult to transport, and prevented them from massing their cavalry.
When the war ended, Congress reduced the army to 80 regulars to guard the military supplies stored at West Point. All of the cavalry regiments were disbanded.
1st Continental Light Dragoon Regiment
(aka Bland's Horse)
Authorized on June 8, 1776 in the Virginia State Troops as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Troops of Light Horse.
Organized between June 13- 10 September 10, 1776 at Williamsburg with recruits from eastern and northern Virginia.
Redesignated on June 25, 1776 as the Virginia Light Horse.
Adopted on November 25, 1776 into the Continental Army, assigned to the Main Continental Army, and redesignated as the 1st Continental Light Dragoon Regiment.
Capt. Henry Lee's Troop (later, the 2nd Partisan Corps) withdrawn on April 7, 1778 and a new Troop organized by Captain Addison Lewis.
Re-organized and redesignated on January 1, 1781 as the 1st Legionary Corps, to consist of four mounted and two dismounted troops.
Consolidated on November 2, 1782 with the 3rd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment and redesignated the 1st Legionary Corps, an element of the Southern Department, to consist of 5 troops.
Disbanded on November 15, 1783 at Winchester, Virginia.
Significant Campaigns and Battles
2nd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment
(aka Sheldon's Horse)
Authorized on December 12, 1776 in the Continental Army as 2d Continental Light Dragoon Regiment and assigned to the Main Continental Army.
Organized between December 16, 1776 - June 21, 1777 at Wethersfield, Connecticut and Middlebrook, New Jersey, to consist of four troops from Connecticut, one troop from Massachusetts, and one troop from New Jersey.
Bull's Troop assigned on June 9, 1777 to the Highland's Department and de Vernejoux's Troop to the Northern Department.
Reassigned on May 29, 1778 from the Main Continental Army and assigned to the Highland's Department, concurrently Seymor's (formally de Vernejoux's) Troop relived from the Northern Department and assigned to the Highland's Department.
Re-organized in early 1780 to consist of four mounted and two dismounted troops.
Re-designated on January 1, 1781 as the 2nd Legionary Corps.
Furloughed on June 9, 1783 at Newburgh, New York.
Disbanded on November 20, 1783.
Sheldon's Horse, the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons was formed under the command of Col. Elisha Sheldon in December of 1776 at the direct recommendation of Gen. George Washington. Sheldon first came to the attention of the Commander-in-Chief earlier that year when Sheldon lead a group of mounted Connecticut militia to Washington's New York headquarters to volunteer for army service. The offer was refused due to lack of sufficient forage for men and horses. However, after the October 1776 defeat at the Battle of White Plains, Washington came to recognize the value of a regular mounted establishment and the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons was born with Elisha Sheldon commissioned as Colonel-Commandant.
Consisting of four troops from Connecticut, one troop each largely from Massachusetts and New Jersey plus two companies of Light Infantry, the unit never served as a whole. First action occurred when Capt. Epaphras Bull and Lt. Thomas Young Seymour led a portion of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons at the Battles at Trenton and Princeton.
From formation through its reversion to State troop status, Sheldon's patrolled and skirmished its way through Connecticut, Westchester and Rockland Counties as well as northern New Jersey.
Numerous whaleboat raids against British and Loyalist installations on Long Island were conducted by Sheldon's troopers. It was acts of bravery on one such raid that earned Sgt. Elijah Churchill the Badge of Military Merit (the Purple Heart), precursor to the Congressional Medal of Honor and one of only three awarded for Revolutionary War service.
The regiment performed as the first "pony express" relaying messages along a string of express stations between Washington's headquarters and the northern colonies.
Sheldon's served as advance scouts for the American army and earned the sobriquet "Washington's Eyes". Under Maj. Benjamin Talmadge, Sheldon's also became Washington's ears as Talmadge operated his "Culper" spy ring on Long Island and in New York City.
Elements of the unit comprised Washington's personal bodyguard and men of the 2nd Light Dragoons guarded John Andre during his incarceration, trial and subsequent execution in Nyack, New York.
In 1781, Sheldon's Horse became the first American unit to conduct a combined combat operation with our French Allies in Tarrytown, New York. Rochambeau's staff considered Sheldon's Horse, 2nd Continental Light Dragoons as " . . . incontestably the best on the continent. . . ."
Sheldon's Horse was never officially disbanded, making this regiment unique among all Continental cavalry units. The majority of its numbers were furloughed after the cessation of hostilities; the regiment released from federal service and returned to the authority of the state.
Battles engaged in: Woodbridge; Brandywine; Germantown; Kingston; The Battles of Saratoga, where a portion of the regiment under Lt. Seymour not only fought as the sole Continental cavalry, but was assigned to escort Burgoyne to Boston after the British surrender; Schoharie, at The Battle of The Flockey where Sheldon's Horse performed the first cavalry charge on American soil; Paoli; Whitemarsh, where two troopers are buried. The barn which was utilized as the field hospital still stands; Morrisania; Yorktown.
3rd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment
(aka Baylor's Horse and Lady Washington's Horse)
Authorized on January 1, 1777 in the Continental Army as the 3d Continental Light Dragoon Regiment and assigned to the Main Army
Organized in spring 1777 at Morristown, New Jersey, to consist of three troops from Virginia, two troops from Maryland, and one troop recruited at large
Re-organized and redesignated on January 1, 1781 as the 3rd Legionary Corps, to consist of four mounted and two dismounted troops.
Consolidated on November 2, 1782 with the 1st Legionary Corps.
4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment
(aka Moylan's Horse)
Authorized 5 January 1777 in the Continental Army as 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment and assigned to the Main Continental Army.
Organized spring 1777 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Baltimore Maryland, to consist of 6 troops from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.
Re-organized in early 1780 to consist of 4 mounted and 2 dismounted troops.
Redesignated on January 1, 1781 as the 4th Legionary Corps.
Re-organized on January 1, 1783 to consist of one mounted and one dismounted troop.
Furloughed on June 11, 1783 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Disbanded on November 15, 1783
1st Partisan Corps
(aka Armand's Legion)
The regiment was organized in the winter and spring 1778 at Boston, Massachusetts, as partisan corps under the command of Col. Charles Armand Tuffin, recruited primarily from foreign volunteers.
Adopted on June 25, 1778 into the Continental Army as the Free and Independent Chasseurs, to consist of 3 companies, and assigned to the Highland's Department.
Expanded on November 9, 1778 to consist of 4 companies.
Consolidated on February 23, 1780 with Pulaski's Legion and consolidated unit redesignated as Armand's Legion, an element of the Southern Army, to consist of 5 companies.
Consolidated on January 1, 1781 with Capt. Henry Bedkin's Independent Troop of Light Horse and consolidated unit re-organized and redesignated 1st Partisan Corps, to consist of 3 mounted and 3 dismounted troops.
Disbanded on December 25, 1783 at York, Pennsylvania.
2nd Partisan Corps
(aka Lee's Legion)
Authorized on June 8, 1776 in the Virginia State Troops as the 5th Troop of Light Horse.
The regiment was organized in summer 1776 at Williamsburg with recruits from northern Virginia.
Re-designated on June 25, 1776 as the 5th Troop of Virginia Light Horse.
Captain Allen McLane's Company assigned on July 13, 1779 as the 4th Troop.
Expanded and re-designated on January 1, 1781 as the 2nd Partisan Corps, to consist of 3 mounted and 3 dismounted troops.
Disbanded on November 15, 1783 at Winchester, Virginia.
Captain Allen McLane's Company
(formally of Patton's Additional Continental Regiment)
The regiment was organized between February 14 and April 23, 1777 at Dover, Delaware, with recruits from Delaware.
July 1777 - Pulaski arrives from France where he had been living in exile after the defeat of the Confederation of Bar in Poland.
Sept 1777 - While still un-commissioned leads Washington’s Life Guard against advancing British forces at the Battle of Brandywine, delaying the advance and preventing an American rout. Shortly afterward Pulaski is appointed General of Calvary by Congress.
March 1778 - After many problems with subordinate Calvary commanders Washington writes Congress advancing Pulaski's plan for raising an Independent "partizan corps". Maj. Gen. Charles Lee, the second in command of the Continental Army and former opponent of Pulaski's in Poland advises Congress to allow Pulaski to raise 10 times the number of men he requested.
March 28, 1778 - Congress authorizes Pulaski to raise an Independent Corps of 68 mounted troops (1 troop of lancers & 2 of Dragoons) and 200 foot "equipped in the manner of light infantry" and assigned to the Main Continental Army.
April 10 to 29 July 29, 1778 - The regiment was organized at Baltimore, Maryland, to consist of 1 troop of lancers, 2 troops of dragoons, 1 company of riflemen and 2 companies of light infantry, recruited primarily from Pennsylvania and Maryland.
August 1778 - Pulaski advises Congress his command is ready for battle.
Oct 15, 1778 - Legion surprised in Camp near Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. A recruited German deserter had informed the British of the position. 30 men and 2 officers killed.
November 1778 - Legion stationed in the Minisink Valley region of New York to garrison against attacks by Indians and Tories on the frontier.
Nov.28, 1778 - Pulaski writes Congress complaining there is "nothing but bears to fight" in the Minisink Valley.
Winter 1778/79 - Legion split between Minisink, Morristown and Trenton, New Jersey because of supply problems.
May 11, 1779 - Successfully defended Charleston, South Carolina, sallied against British while surrender negotiations were under way, boosting the defenders morale and preventing the surrender.
Oct. 9, 1779 - Pulaski mortally wounded while leading his lancers against British defenses at Savannah, Georgia. Major Peter Vernier assumes command of the decimated Legion.
February 23, 1780 - Consolidated with the Free and Independent Chasseurs.
Feb 1780- Remnants of Pulaski Legion attached to Armand's Legion.
April 13, 1780 - In a night surprise attack Armand's and Pulaski's corps are decimated at Monck's Corners SC. Major Vernier killed.
November 1780 - Pulaski’s Legion disbanded. Survivors incorporated into Armand's Legion.
Authorized on December 5, 1776 in the Continental Army as Maj. Nicholas Dietrich, Baron de Ottendorf's, Corps and assigned to the Main Continental Army.
Organized between December 9, 1776 - June 1, 1777 in eastern Pennsylvania to consist of 5 companies, including Capt. John Paul Schott's Independent Company (authorized on September 6, 1776).
Redesignated on June 11, 1777 as Late Ottendorf's Corps.
Corps broken up in April 1778 and its elements re-organized and redesignated as Capt. Henry Bedkin's Independent Troop of Light Horse and Capt. John Paul Schott's and Anthony Selin's Independent Companies, elements of the Middle Department.
Capt. John Paul Schott's and Anthony Selin's Independent Companies relieved on January 1, 1781 from the Middle Department and assigned to the Main Continental Army; concurrently consolidated with the 2d Canadian Regiment.
We can trace our lineage back to the formation of the"Corps de Ottendorf" or Ottendorf's Corps, which was authorized December 5, 1776, assigned to the Main Continental Army.
Three main Companies (also two secondary companies) were organized in Eastern Pennsylvania December 9, 1776- June 17, 1777. Company No. 1 was composed of Light Infantry and Commanded by Maj. De Ottendorf until June of 1777 when it was taken over by Charles Armand. This was Armand's first command in the American War. Company No. 2 was commanded by Capt. Antoni Selin. This Independent Company of Foot was composed of light infantry & rifles (hunters). Company No. 3 was commanded by John Paul Schott, also working as an independent company, it to, was similar in composition to Selin's Company.
By mid June of 1777 it was redesignated as the Late Ottendorf's Corps, commanded Col. Armand, as just mentioned. Armand began recruiting Frenchmen who would fight for the cause. Now comprising of a number of partisan officers Company No 1 was composed of mounted Cavalry, dismounted dragoons and lights . Antoni Selin still had command of the Independent Company of Foot through the fall of 1778. This now comprised a portion of Schott's original Company also, since he had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777
In April 1778, the Corps was broken up and redesignated as Armand's Partisan Corps, Capt. Henry Bedkin's Independent Troop of Light Horse and Captains John Paul Schott's and Anthony Selin's Independent Companies, which were elements of the Middle Department.
Battles: Bound Brook 1777; Short Hills 1777; Woodbridge 1777; Brandywine 1777; Germantown 1777; Valley Forge 1777;
By the Fall of 1778 the unit was deployed on the frontier settlements of the Minisink, NY. The Spring 1779 saw the unit marching for the Pennsylvania settlement of Wyoming, making preparations for the widerness campaign of General Sullivan.
During the Sullivan Expedition, Selin's Company was attached to the 3rd Brigade under General Edward Hand. In part, this group consisted of Light Corps and Rifles who served as the van throughout the Campaign.
The Battle of Newtown, NY, in August 1779 was the major engagement during this Campaign.
After the Sullivan - Clinton Campaign, we served as frontier guards for the Wyoming Settlement and surrounding outposts.
1781 saw the unit attached to Moses Hazen's Regiment, through The Seige of Yorktown.
Corps of North Carolina Light Dragoons
Authorized on April 1776 in the North Carolina State Troops as the Corps of North Carolina Light Dragoons.
Organized in spring and summer 1776 at Wilmington to consist of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd troops.
Adopted on July 31, 1776 into the Continental Army, assigned to the Southern Department.
Disbanded on January 1, 1779 as follows: 1st Troop at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania; 2nd Troop, and 3rd Troop at Halifax, North Carolina.