Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
The Second Rhode Island Cavalry was activated by a state executive order over Governor Smith’s signature on August 31, 1862. It called for the formation of one battalion under the command of major Augustus W. Corliss at Providence, Rhode Island. Volunteering went so well that on November 15, 1862, an additional order was published forming a full sized regiment. After filling the ranks with men who were procured for the most part by high bounties, the regiment left as soon as possible for action in the Department of the Gulf at New Orleans, under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.
Having arrived in New Orleans, the regiment was assigned various reconnaissance and patrol duties within one of the divisions in Banks' command. An active part was taken by the regiment in the first move on Port Hudson in March, 1863. A critical need for cavalry in the Department of the Gulf was felt by Banks and changed his employment somewhat of the Rhode Islanders. Moving to the west of the Mississippi, parts of the Second Rhode Island Cavalry were committed in a movement all the way north to Alexandria, Louisiana, in an effort to outflank the Confederate position at Port Hudson. When this failed, the unit was moved back to the scene of the original siege at Port Hudson.
Major Robert C. Anthony, executive officer or the regiment, became ill and was sent to Brashear City, Louisiana to rest. In the path of a Confederate drive on New Orleans, Brashear City was readied for defense, and placed under Anthony’s command. The convalescents were overcome by a tactical surprise and the entire garrison was captured. Meanwhile, the greater part of the regiment was on duty in the vicinity of Port Hudson. A skirmish with two regiments of Arkansas infantry inflicted several casualties on the Rhode Islanders. In July, 1863 the regiment was sent to Springfield Landing to break up an attack by Confederate raiders and again received casualties.
Reduced by battle casualties, sickness, and desertions, the regiment was first consolidated into one battalion by General Banks, then later deactivated. The officers were released from the service, and the enlisted men were transferred to another cavalry regiment. In defiance of this deactivation, the enlisted men mutinied against Colonel Harai Robinson, commanding officer of the unit into which they were ordered, and the officer charged with the responsibility of the changeover.
Robinson reacted violently himself to the mutiny, bringing up his own unit abreast of the Rhode Islanders, and threatening to fire if they did not move. As the mutiny subsided, he arrested the two ringleaders, and had them executed as an example for both units to see. Feeling in Providence was very strongly against Robinson for his action; however, nothing of consequence came of it.
A Court of Inquiry was called by Banks which acquitted Robinson of all blame. The writer feels that Robinson, although acting in good faith and in the performance of his duty, carried out the suppression with ruthless disregard of the fact that the mutiny was at that time past the crisis, and that such a severe measure was not warranted.
Harrison, Donald Fisher, "A Unit History of the Second Rhode Island Cavalry" (1960). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1816.