Post-Civil War Military Expansion
Gibbs became the Senior Major of the 7th Cavalry in 1866. Following the Civil War, the Regular Cavalry and other regiments were notably understaffed. Of the authorized 448 cavalry, infantry, and artillery companies, 153 remained unformed, with many existing units below their optimal strength. However, by July 1866, many volunteers had transitioned to the Regulars, alleviating some shortages. It soon became evident to policymakers in Washington that the standing Army, even at its fullest, couldn’t adequately fulfill all its responsibilities. As a result, on 28 July, Congress approved the formation of four new cavalry regiments and the reorganization of 19 existing regiments into 45 regiments, each with 10 companies. This expansion resulted in 10 cavalry regiments, 5 artillery, and 45 infantry regiments.
These cavalry units represented a fifth of all company-sized groups. The Regular Army’s sanctioned strength grew to roughly 57,000, a significant increase from the war’s end. Notably, this was the first post-war period where the Regular Army substantially increased. Immediate recruiting efforts were initiated, targeting Veteran Volunteers about to depart service. Officers were drawn from both Volunteer and Regular ranks, with a minimum requirement of two years of honorable service during the Civil War.
The newly formed cavalry regiments labeled 7th through 10th, followed the organizational structure of the pre-existing six. A regiment was divided into 12 companies and into three squadrons of four companies. Besides a colonel in command, the regimental staff comprised seven officers, six enlisted personnel, a chief medical officer, and two assisting medical officers. A company typically had 4 officers, 15 non-commissioned officers, and 72 enlisted soldiers. An external civilian veterinarian was also associated with the regiment, although not officially part of its structure.
In August 1866, Fort Riley, Kansas, became the assembly point for the new cavalry recruits. Major John W. Davidson initiated the regiment’s formation on 10 September, and Colonel Smith finalized it by 22 December. Initially named the “Eighth Cavalry”, it was soon referred to by the more symbolic number, “Seven”.
Colonel Andrew J. Smith, a Mexican War veteran and notable cavalry leader during the Civil War, assumed command of this regiment. The 7th Cavalry Regiment was officially formed at Fort Riley on 28 July 1866 and became fully operational by 21 September 1866.
The early days of the 7th Cavalry Regiment were intertwined with the westward migration and commerce across the southwestern plains. As the idea of “manifest destiny” took hold, the U.S. influence expanded into the largely untouched western and southwestern territories. With increasing attacks on westward-bound settler convoys by Native Americans, the Army established various posts in strategic western locations to ensure safety.
The iconic bugle call and the rallying cry of “Charge” became synonymous with the U.S. Cavalry, many of whom had previously served in the Civil War. Their mission was to safeguard settlers venturing westward during a time when Native American tribes freely roamed the vast frontier. The Cavalry, including regiments such as the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, and 10th (all of which would later be part of the 1st Cavalry Division), frequently engaged with tribes like the Sioux, Comanche, Arapaho, and Apache during the Indian Wars.