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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The First Alabama Cavalry USV... Union Troopers

by Gordon Thorsby

To Edwin M. Stanton

Secretary of War

The volunteers from Alabama will be organized into companies, under the direction of Captain H. C. Bankhead, who will enroll and muster them into the United Stated service in accordance with the laws and orders on the subject. The provost-marshal in Huntsville will give Captain Bankhead such assistance as the may require in this duty. All Alabama men desiring to enlist and now traveling with any of the regiments of this command will be sent to of left at this place.

By command of

Major-General Buell

Enlisting for the North in the Union army was one thing with friends, neighbors, brothers, and cousins going. In Alabama for Unionists, it was altogether different. These men were rock solid Unionists living in the seceded states who objected to the causes. They believed that these United States should remain unified. They feared speaking out against the war fearing reprisals and they did not want to serve in a conscripted Confederate army. If they avoided conscription, Home Guards would burn farms, confiscate stock and loot valuables. There was only one thing they could do.

The First Alabama Cavalry U.S. regiment was mustered into Federal service in December, 1862 at Corinth, Mississippi with a compliment of between 900-1200 men. Company officers were chosen from among the men and Captain George E. Spencer was named Colonel of the regiment. It was the only Alabama Union cavalry regiment and men were from all nine seceding states, seven northern states, two border states and eight foreign countries. There were also sixteen blacks in the regiment serving as teamsters, wagoners, and cooks in the companies. It was an orphan regiment with little in common than other volunteer regiments with fellow state regiments.

During most of its operational life, the 1st Alabama was part of the Army of the Tennessee. Their toughest fights did not have notable names and familiar places like Gettysburg, Vicksburg or Chickamauga. Their fights were in places like Vincent’s Crossroads (their

bloodiest), Nickajack Creek, Cherokee Station, White Pond and the more familiar Monroe’s Crossroads. Two companies of the regiment were part of Abel Streight’s disastrous mule raid. By the conclusion

of the Atlanta Campaign, the Alabamians were well known, “invaluable...equal in zeal to anything we discovered in Tennessee.” William T. Sherman selected the First Alabama for his escort in the March to the Sea. Gen John “Black Jack” Logan called them, “the best scouts I ever saw, and (they) know the country well from here to Montgomery.”

With Judson’s Kilpatrick Cavalry at Monroe’s Crossroads the First:

“…was behind the swamp, an equally formidable waited: the 1st Alabama Union Cavalry. The Southern Unionists were the last of Spencer's mounted brigade to come into camp the night before and had filed past the other units and halted along the south bank of Nicholson Creek. Now they were alerted by the din of battle near the Monroe house, and were in position to give a hot welcome to the Confederates across the swamp.

For most of the war, these bluecoat Alabamians had served as scouts, raiders and railroad guards. At the moment, however, they were doing just what they had enlisted to do -- fight Rebels."

Fire from the Alabamians' Burnside, Spencer and Smith carbines poured into the swamp, forcing Harrison's and Ashby's men to give up their push and turn north to seek an easier route. As the Confederates across the creek pulled back, the 1st Alabama men turned their attention to the fighting near the Monroe house north of their camp. The 5th Kentucky had camped on the Alabamians' right, and now the two regiments combined forces to harry the Confederates and slow the pace of their attack.”

For troopers, their fates included:

From Dennis C. Cantrell’s Southern Claims Commission application submitted in the 1870s. “I had one brother, John S. Cantrell in the 1st Alabama Regiment Cavalry. He entered service at Camp Davis, Mississippi in the year 1863 in Company D. He was captured by Stokely Robert’s Rebel forces and turned over to Moreland’s Battalion and was by them murdered."

-James and Jesse Files of Co. L, brothers, from Fayette County, AL , both were killed at Jack’s Creek.

-Marshall Byrd, 35, Private in Co. E from Hardin County , TN was killed at Vincent’s Crossroads in the Chattanooga Campaign. His wife had died the prior winter and he left four children orphans.

-David Smith, Captain was commanding the two companies in the Abel Streight raid. He was captured in 1863. Because of his southern heritage, he was held until April 9th, 1865. He died in an Annapolis hospital nine days later.

-Joseph McCullough private Co. D, from Marion County AL, was killed 6/12/63 by guerillas while out on a secret scout outside of Corinth. Some had thought he deserted until his body was found.

When the regiment was ordered to Alabama in June, 1865 after the surrender, many men saw greater need to be home than performing guard duty. They deserted and went home.

The men of the First Alabama Union weren’t delegated to backwater areas of the war because of where. They were as tough a bunch as most other cavalry regiments. When the 1st Alabama Cavalry (U.S.V.) mustered out for good on 20 October, 1865 only 397 men remained with the colors. the regiment lost 345 men killed in action, died in prison, of disease or other non-battle causes; 88 became POWs. When they reached home, many suffered ostracism for their Unionist loyalty.

The men believed in the preservation of the American republic and the Constitution was their reason for fighting. The proof of their contribution was the 1st Alabama Cavalry, USV.

from First Alabama Website


The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

History of the first Alabama by Steve Ross, internet article.

The Fist Alabama USV Website contribution of Glenda Todd

Historical Database, Inc., PO Box35, Roxbury MA.

149 views2 comments


Mar 07, 2022

The Files were my ancestors, one brother Thomas Benton Files is my GG Grandfather....who are the men in the photo? Are they identified? There were at least 8 Files and relations in that unit in Co L. Thanks for the publish.

Gordon Thorsby
Gordon Thorsby
Mar 07, 2022
Replying to

they were not identified.

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