History of the original Regiment
The 2d Regiment Light Dragoons was commissioned by Congress at General Washington's request on December 12, 1776. Washington directed the Regiment's commander, Elisha Sheldon of Litchfield, Conn. to choose "gentlemen of true spirits and of good character."
In the next five months, the Regiment was mustered and trained at Wethersfield, Conn. by Major Benjamin Tallmadge. On the 6th of June 1777, after hearing local pastor Judah Champion exhort them "to be the avenging angels of destiny", they rode to support Washington's New Jersey campaign. This was the first of four Dragoon regiments to be raised during the War and the only Dragoon regiment to serve throughout the War.
Dragoons were used for the advanced, flank and rear guard of the Army. Because of their speed and small unit tactics, they excelled at reconnaissance, protecting the Army's main body, staging lightning fast harassment raids and ambushes. When the Army retreated, Dragoon troops were left behind to delay the British advance.
In an era of slow moving armies with rigid, massed battle formations, Dragoons were unique. Often described as mounted infantry, a combined troop of mounted and dismounted Dragoons could speedily sweep into the enemy's flanks. Under the cover fire of the dismounted Dragoons, the mounted troops were free to assault the enemy with saber slashing charges, then retreat and reform. Before the British could regroup to meet a new threat, the Dragoons melted away to hit another spot.
The 2d Dragoons fought at the battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Trenton, Germantown, Woodbridge, Saratoga, Morrisania, White Plains, Yorktown and others. (See the Chronology for more details.) Some even credit them with the first recorded American cavalry charge at Die Flockie in upstate New York. Because of their mobility, they often formed Washington's bodyguard when he was in the Hudson Highlands, Westchester and Connecticut. During the terrible winter at Valley Forge, the Regiment patrolled the perimeters.
The Regiment's main patrol areas were Southern Connecticut and New York where they intercepted British supplies and fought off bands of Loyalist partisans who preyed on local citizens. The duty earned them the nickname "Watchdogs of the Highlands".
Dragoon Major Benjamin Tallmadge became a spy master for General Washington and ran the most successful spy ring of the War, infiltrating the British military command in New York City. Crucial information was passed using a secret ink developed by John Jay and given to Tallmadge by Washington. As a result, Tallmadge became one of Washington's most trusted officers. Ironically, Major Tallmadge and his troop were instrumental in the capture of the British spy Major John Andre and the near capture of Benedict Arnold.
Tallmadge used Long Island Sound to bring the war home to the British. Putting his Dragoons in whaleboats, they sailed across the Sound on several raids to capture Fort St. George, Ft. Slongo and Lloyd's Neck, Long Island. They also used the boats to interdict British shipping and Loyalist smugglers. On one occasion, they withstood broadsides from an 11 gun British privateer "The Three Brothers" to board and capture her with nothing more than their bayonets.
Bravery in the face of long odds was a Dragoon trademark. Their job usually put them in situations were they opposed greater numbers. Washington awarded Dragoon Sergeant Elijah Churchill the Badge of Military Merit for bravery. This was the Army's highest military award and only three are known to be awarded during the War.
The 2d Dragoons were described by the Count de Clemont-Crevecoeur, General Rochambeau's aide as, "...incontestably the best troops on the continent." This reputation was also recognized by the British. In 1778, the British hatched a plot to kidnap General Washington. He was shadowed by Loyalist agents and a crack British commando team for weeks until the plan was abandoned because, according to the British Intelligence Dispatches, "2d Dragoons are (always) with him."
The last official order from General Washington, when he closed his West Point Headquarters at the end of the War, was to discharge the men of the 2d Regiment Light Dragoons on November 20, 1783. On horse, on foot, under cover and on the sea, troopers of the 2d Regiment Light Dragoons under Major Tallmadge's command proved themselves to be a vital and ingenious part of America's struggle for freedom
Capt. Thomas Seymour, 2nd Dragoons