During the Civil War, the Second Colorado Volunteer Regiment played a vital and often decisive role in the fight for the Union on the Great Plains—and in the westward expansion of the American empire. Christopher M. Rein’s The Second Colorado Cavalry is the first in-depth history of this regiment operating at the nexus of the Civil War and the settlement of the American West.
Composed largely of footloose ’59ers who raced west to participate in the gold rush in Colorado, the troopers of the Second Colorado repelled Confederate invasions in New Mexico and Indian Territory before wading into the Burned District along the Kansas border, the bloodiest region of the guerilla war in Missouri. In 1865, the regiment moved back out onto the plains, applying what it had learned to peacekeeping operations along the Santa Fe Trail, thus definitively linking the Civil War and the military conquest of the American West in a single act of continental expansion.
Emphasizing the cavalry units, whose mobility proved critical in suppressing both Confederate bushwhackers and Indian raiders, Rein tells the neglected tale of the “fire brigade” of the Trans-Mississippi Theater—a group of men, and a few women, who enabled the most significant environmental shift in the Great Plains’ history: the displacement of Native Americans by Euro-American settlers, the swapping of bison herds for fenced cattle ranges, and the substitution of iron horses for those of flesh and bone.
The Second Colorado Cavalry offers us a much-needed history of the “guerilla hunters” who helped suppress violence and keep the peace in contested border regions; it adds nuance and complexity to our understanding of the unlikely “agents of empire” who successfully transformed the Central Plains.
“Few Civil War regiments engaged in as wide a range of operations as the Second Colorado Cavalry. Adding to recent scholarship that links the Civil War and the conquest of the West, Christopher Rein effectively locates the regiment in political, economic, and environmental context and demonstrates the similarities in warfare against Confederate guerrillas in Missouri and Native Americans on the Plains. Deeply researched and richly detailed, The Second Colorado Cavalry persuasively connects western, military, and Civil War history.”—Samuel J. Watson, author of Peacekeepers and Conquerors: The Army Officer Corps on the American Frontier, 1821–1846
“Christopher Rein’s rich and deft combination of military, social, and environmental history forcefully illustrates the complexity of the Civil War. Offering far more than a regimental history, Rein connects the conflict between North and South to the conquest of the Great Plains and reveals how the Second Colorado Cavalry became unwitting ‘agents of empire.’”—Daniel E. Sutherland, author of A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War
“The Second Colorado Cavalry appears at first blush to be another Civil War regimental history of a forgotten unit in a faraway theater—but readers will be rewarded with a rich and nuanced narrative of the multisided War for the Great Plains. Christopher Rein makes a strong contribution to a growing body of scholarship on the Civil War and the struggle for power in the Far West.”—Andy Masich, author of Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861–1867
“While presenting an engaging and detailed history of the Second Colorado Cavalry, the author explores the complex cultural terrain of the time. Although the Civil War and the Indian Wars are generally seen as starkly separated, such a distinction may not be justified. The story of this vast region becoming part of America is more complex and nuanced than a simple, linear recitation of history allows. The author’s presentation of this aspect of our history is thought provoking and worthy of consideration.”—Journal of America’s Military Past