Join Date: November 2, 1998
US Army unofficial bicycle corps
I rummaged through the Friends of the Library bookstore and found a book on the 25th Infantry, an original buffalo soldier unit. The book is The Twenty-Fifth Infantry by John H. Nankivell. It had too much modern history (for my taste) and not enough frontier and Spanish American War. I did find this gem in it.
An innovation of this period was the establishment of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, under the command of 2nd Lieutenant James A. Moss. An article by Fairfax Downey in the American Weekly for September 18, 1928, gives a very entertaining description of the "Corps," and from which I have culled the following extracts:
In the heydey of the bicycle, the year 1897, there was organized at Fort Missoula, Montana, the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. In command of the cycle corps was Lieutenant (now colonel) James A. Moss, widely known as the author of Moss's Manual and other military text books. His talent made him a fit chronicler of the activities of his command - activities which were to resolve themselves into a veritable peace-time anabasis, a series of bikes through the Rocky Mountains.
'Now this Bicycle Corps of the 25th Infantry, was not the sizable organization it sounds. With customary army conservatism, the strength of this new department was restricted to one lieutenant, one sergeant, one corporal, one musician and five privates, one of them a good mechanic. They all presumably qualified as being able to ride wheels. Before very long, they could do a good deal more than that. They cold drill, scale fences, ford streams and hike - or bike - forty miles a day in heavy marching order.
'The Corps would clear a nine foot fence in twenty seconds. The command was, 'Jump fence,' and they did it - of course 'By the numbers.' A front rank man would rest his wheel against the fence and pull himself over. Thereupon his file would pass over both wheels and follow himself. On the other side, the Corps would smartly assume the position of 'Stand to bicycle.' To ford a stream not deep and swift, they dismounted, and rolled their wheels through, but if it was a more formidable proposition, two men slung a wheel on a stick resting on their shoulders, and carried it over. Their packs consisted of aknap-sack with blanket roll and shelter half strapped to the handlebars. A haversack was carried forward underneath the horizontal bar. Under the seat was a cup, in a cloth sack to keep off the dust. The rifle was strapped horizontally on the left side of the wheel. Slung on the rider himself was the canteen and thirty rounds of ammunition, having been found that it was prudent to burden the soldier's person with little, in case of a fall.
'The corps made its first real hike to Lake Macdonald. Starting at 6:20, they had clicked off thirty-three miles by 12:30 without much untoward happening, except for two men falling in a stream. By 7:30 that night they had put fifty-one miles behind them. the next day it rained and was very muddy, but they made thirty-one miles. All in all, they made 126 miles in twenty-four hours of actual travel and that under adverse conditions. The Corps next put a hike to Yellowstone Park. A hot sun and steep hills which necessitated pushing the wheels were encountered, and down grades where it was hard to hold back also provided difficulties. At last the command halted on the Continental Divide, where half the squad took position on one side and half on the other. When a tourist asked one of the cyclcists, 'Where do you expect to go today?', the answer came back quick as a shot, 'The Lord only knows, we're following the lootenant.' Deprecating the deep dust and many falls, but enjoying the scenery and the geysers, the Corps pedaled through the park, making a speed of seven miles an hour for 133 miles.
'Their record hike was seventy-two miles averaging eight and three-quarters miles per hour. While the strength of this Corps was increased later to twenty and it proved valuable as scouts and couriers in regimental maneuvers, it did not continue, and during the usual peace inertia between wars, no similar organization took form. The extent of our country, its lack of network of roads, its large supply of horses - all these were factors discouraging cycle corps while the reverse in Europe encourages them."
Their bicycles were the old steel frame, one gear type. No carbon fiber or aluminum frame, titanium gears, shock absorbers or anything that can be found on a modern mountain bike. That was some tough biking.
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!