The Origins of the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment

By Daniel P. Gillotti (5th Bn, 82nd FA, 1st Cavalry Division, Korea, 1960-61)

The 82nd Field Artillery Regiment (FA Regt) (Horse) traces its ancestry back to the famous "First Dragoons", the original Regiment of the US Army. Because of the "dragon" or short musket, so called from the dragons head worked on the muzzle, the "First Dragoons" represented a type of fighting force, both unique and effective, for their service could be employed as mounted or dismounted troops. From the "First Dragoons" was formed the "First Cavalry" which in turn became the mother of the 24th Cavalry.

The 24th Cavalry was organized on 5 June 1917, with one third of the officers and enlisted men coming from the old First Cavalry. Subsequently, the 24th Cavalry was reorganized as Field Artillery pursuant to a letter from the War Department dated 20 July 1917, and was effective 1 November 1917. The total strength of the 82nd FA Regt at that time was 62 officers, 1,448 enlisted men, 1,117 horses, and 114 mules located at Fort D.A. Russell. The entire 82nd FA Regt eventually arrived at Camp Logan, Houston, Texas, and then proceeded to Fort Bliss, Texas, assigned to the 15th Cavalry Division. Although training was in full swing and preparations were being made for overseas movement to fight the Germans, it was not to be. The 15th Cavalry Division and the 82nd FA Regt were specifically trained and equipped for border service. The Mexican rebel, General Francisco " Pancho" Villa, had been causing problems in cross border raids, and had committed acts of aggression against US citizens and soldiers for a number of years. A Punitive Expedition led by BG John J. Pershing into Mexico had been carried out in 1916-1917. A number of Pancho Villa's rebel forces were killed or captured and his forces were scattered. But Pancho Villa was never caught.

By 1919, Pancho Villa had reassembled a sizeable rebel force and had initiated several battles against Mexican military troops in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Mexican people to rally with him against President Carranza. In early June 1919, indications were received that Villa was moving his rebel forces north to attack the Mexican military troops at Ft. Hidalgo near Juarez, Mexico. The attack on Ft. Hidalgo began at 12:10 a.m. on the morning of 15 June 1919 and lasted until 12:50 a.m. when the firing ceased. Then at about 1:10 a.m., another attack by Villa's forces broke out in a separate part of the city and a battle raged back and forth for most of the day. For reasons that may never be known, rebel snipers from Villas forces began foolishly to shoot sniper fire across the Rio Grande River into El Paso, Texas, wounding several civilians. At 1:36 a.m., 15 June 1919, the 82nd FA Regt, minus Service Company (SVC Co), under the command of COL Thomas E. Merrill, left camp at Ft. Bliss and headed towards El Paso to occupy pre-planned firing positions. The 82nd FA Regt, consisting of approximately 20 officers and 475 enlisted men, deployed with Headquarters Company (HQs Co), the 1st Battalion (Bn) with Batteries A & B, the 2nd Bn, with Batteries C &D, and the 3rd Bn with Batteries E & F. Immediately upon leaving Ft Bliss, the 2nd Bn, 82nd FA, under the command of LTC Henry L. Newbold, and consisting of 9 officers and 198 enlisted men, was detached from the 82nd FA Regt and proceeded to join the 2nd Cavalry Brigade (Cav Bde) as direct support artillery. The 2nd Cav Bde was under the command of COL Selah R.H. Tompkins, and was comprised of the 5th Cav Regt and the 7th Cav Regt.

By 2:30 a.m., the 82nd FA Regimental Headquarters was in position at the El Paso Union Stockyards and the 1st and 3rd Bns were in firing positions at Camp Cotton. At 4 a.m. on 15 June 1919, the 1st Bn, 82nd FA, under the command of MAJ Laurin L. Lawson, was directed to deploy his two Firing Batteries near the El Paso Milling Company at the Stanton Street Bridge in support of the 24th Inf Regt commanded by COL G. Arthur Hadsell. In the vicinity of the 82nd FA Regimental HQs occasional sniper shots were received from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River. At 9:30 p.m., it was decided the 1st Bn, 82nd FA should support the anticipated 24th Inf Regt advance across the river into Juarez from its present positions with the artillery. An Artillery Liaison Officer, LT McMahan, with a map showing targets numbered as pre-arranged by the artillery, would accompany the attack by the 24th Inf Regt. During the remainder of the evening, snipers on the Mexican side of the river were quite active firing towards the 82nd FA Regimental HQs.

Tragedy struck at 10:35 p.m. on June 15 1919, when Private (PVT) Sam Tusco, HQs Co, 82nd FA, was killed by a sniper's bullet and PVT Burchard Casey, also of HQs Co, was severely wounded. The District HQs, under the command of BG James B. Erwin, ordered 3,600 American soldiers to cross into Mexico at 11 p.m. on 15 June 1919 to prevent further promiscuous firing into El Paso and to provide protection for American citizens. The American Force consisted of the 24th Inf Regt, the 5th Cav Regt, the 7th Cav Regt, and the 2nd Bn, 82nd FA. At 12:20 a.m., 16 June 1919, LT McMahan arrived by motorcycle at the location of the 1st Bn, 82nd FA. His instructions from COL Hadsell were to open fire on the Juarez Racetrack, as the Villistas had been definitely located there. Using shrapnel rounds the first artillery shot was fired across the Rio Grande River into the Juarez Racetrack by Battery A, 1st Bn, 82nd FA, at 12:30 am on 16 June 1919. Battery A fired a total of 52 rounds and Battery B fired a total of 12 rounds before a "Cease Fire" was called at 1 a.m.

And although the 3rd Bn, 82nd FA, commanded by MAJ Carl C. Krueger, was in position and prepared to fire, they did not get in on the action. At 4 a.m., LT McMahan reported the arrival of the 24th Inf Regt at Palazio Commercio in Juarez. While the 24th Inf Regt was advancing through the streets of Juarez the 5th Cav Regt, the 7th Cav Regt were moving as a blocking force on either side of the advancing Infantry to prevent any flanking movements by the Villistas. The 2nd Bn, 82nd FA advanced in support of the 5th Cav Regt and 7th Cav Regt and were prepared to fire quickly should targets of opportunity present themselves. By 6:50 a.m. the Combined Arms forces of the US Cavalry and the 2nd Bn, 82nd FA were in pursuit of the rebel forces. They had marched southeast about six miles when a sizeable force of Villistas were spotted. The 2nd Bn, 82nd FA advanced towards the Villistas at an extended gallop and opened fire with shrapnel on their column at a range of about 4,000 yards. A direct hit was made with the first volley of shots and the shrapnel bursting overhead in the center of the rebel column wiped out a complete section. The other two sections of Villistas were routed and scattered in different directions. This action was completed around 9 a.m. on 16 June 1919, by Battery D, 2nd Bn, 82nd FA. During the continued pursuit afterwards, an adobe shack was targeted and a direct hit was made by the howitzers of the 2nd Bn, 82nd FA. After this attack the bodies of twenty-five killed or wounded Villistas were found.

On the return march over 50 abandoned saddles, 300 horses and burros, and 100 rifles were scattered all over the area. Some of the rifles were of German manufacture and were brought back as souvenirs by members of the command. The conduct of the artillery's direct support role with the cavalry in Mexico so pleased COL Tompkins, he later came to the 82nd FA Camp to express his approval personally to the command. After the funeral for PVT Sam Tusco was conducted a Guard Camp on the bank of the Rio Grand River was named "Camp Tusco" by the War department in honor of this soldier of the 82nd FA Regiment. Most of the men of the 82nd FA Regt that participated in the Battle of Juarez were entitled to wear the Mexican Service Medal. The Distinctive Unit Insignia for the 82nd FA Regt shows a black artillery shell imposed on a wavy white background. The black artillery shell and the wavy white background are symbols of the first round shot across the Rio Grande River by Battery A, 1st Bn, 82nd FA, at 12:30 am on 16 June 1919. As an integral part of the 82nd FA Regt, the history of the 1st Bn, 82nd FA displays a rich heritage of Honor, Bravery, Duty, and Country. And the motto "Can and Will" are reflective of a spirit steeped in traditions of men doing what needs to be regardless of the obstacles to be overcome.

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