1846: Lyman Redfield to Pardon Redfield

This incredible letter was written by Lyman Redfield (1821-1847), the son of Pardon Stevens Redfield (1779-1856) and Achsah Evans (1787-1862) of Bainbridge, Chenango county, New York. Lyman was a lawyer by profession and was 24 years old in April 1846 when the hostilities broke out on the US border with Mexico in a dispute over disputed territory. Lyman joined Co. H as a private in the 1st Kentucky Cavalry that served as Gen. Wool’s body guard in the war. He died at Metamoras on 16 January 1847, most likely from disease.

“The 1st Kentucky Mounted Volunteers traveled by steamboat from Louisville to Memphis, Tennessee, and then cross-country to San Antonio, Texas. Like many units, the regiment suffered various illnesses on its journey to the seat of war. Although the Kentuckians missed out on many of the early battles, they fought in what was probably the most dramatic battle of the war, Buena Vista. 

“During the second day of the Battle of Buena Vista, Mexican Gen. Santa Anna attacked, forcing U.S. troops to fall back in disorder. During the Mexican offensive, the 1st Kentucky Mounted Volunteers – fighting on foot – became isolated and was forced to retreat. During the withdrawal, John’s uncle, Alexander Morgan, was killed. The Kentuckians regrouped, mounted their horses, and charged the attacking Mexican force, and, with the support of infantry, drove the enemy back. During the battle the 1st Kentucky Mounted lost 27 dead and 34 wounded. Gen. Zachary Taylor extolled the regiment, noting that “The Kentucky Cavalry, under Colonel Marshall, rendered good service dismounted, acting as light troops on our left, and afterwards, with a portion of the Arkansas Regiment, in meeting and dispersing the column of cavalry at Buena Vista.”

“The 1st Kentucky Mounted Volunteers would not see combat again in the Mexican American War. Their year-long enlistment ended and they were mustered out in New Orleans in June 1847.” [John Hunt Morgan, by Tim Talbott]

In this letter to his older brother Pardon Redfield (b. 1816), a tinner by trade, Lyman shares his impressions of Little Rock, Arkansas, while enroute to San Antonio, Texas. “Horse thieves, robbers, gamblers, and loafers of every description form the majority of the inhabitants,” he believed.

The 1st Kentucky Cavalry in the Battle of Buena Vista, 23 February 1847


Little Rock, Pulaski county [Arkansas]
July 28, 1846

Dear Brother,

While the sun is shining with a heat which you in New York can scarcely form an idea, I will try to give you a glimpse of myself and things around me. We are now encamped on an eminence back of the town 1 of Little Rock, Capitol of Arkansas, and 150 miles from Memphis where I wrote to you about two weeks ago. Our march from that place to this has been extremely slow. The country intervening is swampy, abounding in bear of the largest size, at least I should think so if their track, which were seen in great numbers on each side of the road, could at all indicate the size of the animal. We saw several hogs that bore evident marks of having narrowly escaped bruins pork barrel and the inhabitants complained that his bearship was making such havoc among their swine as to deprive them of pork.

The rattlesnake, cotton mouth, copperhead, viper, and others—the names of which I cannot remember—infest the country and render high topped boots quite convenient to the pedestrian.

Little Rock is a mean place for the capitol of a state. As I approached the town, I was astonished at the wildness of the country. Indeed, the wild beast howls up to the very steps of the State House. Business, education, and morals are in a low state. The villain holds up his head unabashed and lust and debauchery holds their revels unawed by law or publick opinion. The grog shop with its never failing attendants is found on every corner. Horse thieves, robbers, gamblers, and loafers of every description form the majority of the inhabitants.

“Little Rock is a mean place for the capitol of a state. As I approached the town, I was astonished at the wildness of the country. Indeed, the wild beast howls up to the very steps of the State House.”

—Lyman Redfield, 1st Kentucky Cavalry, 28 July 1846

We are now on the border of a wild country. Our march to San Antonio will occupy I suppose about six weeks. I shall not be able to write you another letter until we reach San Antonio. If you will write to San Antonio, I shall probably receive the letter on my arrival there.

I am in excellent health and my little war steed in good condition for fighting or traveling. Give my respects to all my friends. Tell Father and Mother that I am getting quite fat and rosy cheeked and that when I return next spring to see them, I suppose they will not know me. The southern climate agrees with my constitution.

With fraternal regards, I remain your brother, — L. Redfield

1 Most likely the troops were encamped on the ridge south of Little Rock where the Federal government had recently completed the construction of the Little Rock arsenal. The arsenal was constructed at the request of Governor James S. Conway in response to the perceived dangers of frontier life and fears of the many Native Americans who were passing through the state on their way to the newly established Indian Territory.

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