Edward Davis – Cavalry Officer and Chronicler, Part 1

Biographical Profile

Lt Col Davis near Jerusalem, 1918

A US Army cavalry officer, serving from the Spanish-American War until just before WW2, Edward Davis isn’t a household name. For those interested in the history of US military horse equipment, his name is one that should be very familiar – yet it is not.

In this two-part biographical profile, we’ll take a short look at his background, and then a deeper dive into his significance in the study of US horse equipment, and the amazing influence his own work had on nearly everyone that has written on the topic.

Born in September, 1874, Edward was the younger son of David and Alice Davis. David Davis ran a prosperous retail/wholesale grocers business in Litchfield, Illinois. His grandfather, also named David Davis, was an immigrant from Italy, who became a militia captain in New York during the War of 1812. Wounded and captured at the Battle of Queenstown Heights, he remained in a British prison in Boston. After the war he relocated to St. Louis and later farmed in Illinois.

Apparently, the family did well enough to send Edward to Cornell University, where he appears to have studied the law, graduating with the Class of 1896.

After graduating, both Edward and his eldest brother, David Davis III, were swept up into the excitement of the war with Spain, with Edward gaining a second lieutenancy in the 1st Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and David a captaincy with the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Edward’s service was brief, but action-packed with the 1st Illinois being shipped to Cuba and participating in many of the actions there during the war.

The military life clearly agreed with Lt. Davis, as he managed to gain a commission as a Captain in the 33rd US Volunteer Infantry, a unit raised primarily in Texas. This rather well-known unit was shipped to the Philippines and served there for nearly two years. Even before mustering out, Captain Davis had managed to acquire a 1st Lieutenants commission with a Regular Army unit, the 11th US Cavalry.

In the years that followed, Edward Davis served in many places – Cuba, Philippines, various US postings, and gained notice for himself, being a valuable officer for special assignments. One of the first special appointments for Captain Davis was his selection to be the secretary for the prominent cavalry equipment board, initiated in 1911. This was the famous Cavalry Board that designed and promoted the Model of 1912 Service Saddle and equipments.

Later came service along the Mexican border, and in 1916 he was selected to become an observer attached to British forces in Palestine, eventually entering Gaza and Jerusalem with General Allenby. He also observed forces in a variety of theaters, including French, Russian, Italian, Serbian and Greek troops, before serving in The Hague as a military attaché, performing various military intelligence gathering activities, while catching a few promotions.

Through the war and for the next ten year or so, Lt. Col. Davis continued his military cavalry career primarily in foreign service roles. Following his lengthy foreign service work, he spent the last years of his career primarily involved with National Guard and Reserve organizations. In 1936, after some 40 years of continual service, Col. Davis retired from his military life.

Following his military retirement, he work as assistant to the president of a large department store in Chicago until the outbreak of WW2. He was appointed by then governor Dwight Green as purchasing agent for the Illinois State Dept of Finance, and some years later attempted to electoral politics with a run for the House of Representatives, which did not succeed.

Col Davis was married to Alice Steel in 1907, and the couple had two daughters, Alice and Elizabeth.

Col. Davis passed away at age 90, on October 18, 1964, and was buried in Galena, Illinois.

As a brief note – there isn’t a great deal written about the man and his career, but searches do turn up the most amazing number of references to his work and reports as a ‘military attache’ in a wide number of countries. I suppose the closest term one might have for his various roles from 1916 through the 1920s was military intelligence and reporting. Fascinating fellow, in any case.

Office of Illinois Secretary of State – Illinois Spanish-American Veterans, Illinois State Archives


Col. Edward Davis, Career Soldier, 90. (1964, October 20). The New York Times.

Edward Davis Dies; 5 Lands Cited Colonel. (1964, October 19). Chicago Tribune, 46.

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