In the rosters of influential US Army officers of the early 19th century, the name of Samuel Ringgold is held in high esteem. Reknowned for his work in introducing and development of light artillery in the US Army, he is also known here for a side project to promote an Americanized take on the French hussar saddlery.
Samuel Ringgold was the eldest son of an influential Maryland gentleman, congressman and War of 1812 militia general. His mother was the daughter of Revolutionary War General John Cadwalader. He had a younger brother, Cadwalader Ringgold, who became a highly considered US naval officer who retired as rear admiral in 1864. No doubt greatly influenced by these domestic examples of public and military service, Ringgold entered the US military academy at West Point at the age of 14, in 1814, graduating in 1818.
The young lieutenant served in a variety of positions over the decade, in artillery, ordnance and topographical duties. He was highly regarded by General Winfield Scott, serving as his aide-de-camp for a number of years. When the 1832/3 Nullification crisis arose, Ringgold was ordered to Ordnance duties in Charleston, and in this highly charged environment performed his duties with great discipline and diplomacy, that he was recognized for his role in keeping a tense situation from escalating, being awarded a brevet captaincy.
Ringgold was later promoted to Captain and sent to command Battery C, 3rd Artillery in Florida in 1836. Serving for a year, he was then recalled to Carlisle Barracks for a new assignment of great importance. After a long sick leave (apparently after contracting malaria during his time in Florida), he arrived at his new station at the mounted services school then forming at Carlisle. He worked closely with Bvt. Col. Edwin V. Sumner, who was commanding the post and building the dragoon training program there. It was during this time that he began development of his horse equipment set, with some degree of input by Sumner – both were recognized in correspondence by the Chief of Ordnance as proponents for his pattern saddle.
Ringgold’s work developing light artillery were highly successful, and promoted by his mentor General Scott in the years before the Mexican War, through ‘Grand Camps of Instruction’ and detached service at West Point, while his permanent duty station at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. Numerous accounts of his ‘flying artillery’ company being demonstrated at numerous public events can be found in periodicals of this period, such as popular ‘Army and Navy Chronicle’.
Capt. Ringgold and his company of ‘flying artillery’ was immediately mobilized at the outbreak of the Mexican War, quickly being ordered to the new frontier in Texas. The details of this deployment are easily found elsewere, and only strengthen his reputation as an accomplished officer and leader. At the Battle of Palo Alto, May 8, 1846, Ringgold and his flying battery performed in legendary manner – their years of study and training was justified with a remarkable performance on the battlefield, recognized by all there to be the key to victory. At the height of the battle, Ringgold was mortally wounded by a cannonball, living to exhort his junior officers continued efforts on the field before being removed. He survived for a few more days, debriefing and advising his officers before finally succumbing to his wounds.
Tales of his bravery and performance in the fight were reported back to the United States, where he soon became a nationally recognized hero.
Memoir of Major Samuel Ringgold, United State army. Wynne, James. Baltimore, J. Murphy, 1847.