Jessie Scout Commander Lt. Col. Henry Young’s Mysterious Death in Mexico and an Enduring Cover Story

Young Statue in Providence, Rhode Island

There is a Harpers Monthly Magazine article about Henry H. Young, a young officer from the Second Rhode Island Infantry Regiment, who became the commander of Sheridan’s scouts and vanished under mysterious circumstances during a river crossing into Mexico nearly two years after Appomattox. Sheridan described Young’s loss in his “Autobiography,” but he had two different explanations in separate letters he wrote to the recently discharged Jessie Scout Arch Rowand and to the Adjutant General of Rhode Island. Being very familiar with “cover stories,” it was apparent that something out of the ordinary was involved with Young’s disappearance, Sheridan’s multiple and differing explanations, and Lt. Col Young being mustered out of service retroactively back to July, 1865.

The discovery of a single page from an old audit report conducted on Sheridan’s use of his Secret Service Fund revealed much about Young, many of his scouts, and their final trip into hostile territory as Sheridan accounted for $2100 questioned by the auditors:

“Amount paid Lt. Col. Young, Chief of Scouts, about November 1st, 1866 for hire of schooner to the Rio Grande and payment of scouts in the service of the United States.”

Sheridan’s certification continued:

“I certify that the foregoing amount is correct and just, that the services were rendered as stated and were necessary for the public service and that the amount was paid to Lt. Col. Young on or about November 1st 1866 for said services and that all receipts and memoranda of the payment of the same were destroyed by the Chicago fire of 1871.”

Sheridan signed the audit report on December 8, 1877 in Chicago that revealed that Young hadn’t been mustered out of the army in July, 1865 since Young had signed for official funds as a serving army officer during October or November, 1866. Additionally, Rowand’s inquiry letter from Pittsburgh to Sheridan requesting information on Young’s fate was dated in early November, 1866. Obviously, whatever happened to Young occurred soon after Sheridan provided him with Secret Service funds.

The Cover Story

The Civil War being over, General Sheridan was sent to the Mexican border, Mexico being torn with dissension as a result of the occupation by the French and the placing of Maximilian on the throne. Canalejas, the leader of the Mexican liberals, proposed that Major Young should join him with a band of picked men to serve him as a body guard. Contrary to Sheridan’s advice, Young accepted the proposal. He crossed the border with fifty men only to find the Liberals in confusion. Swarms of Mexican cut-throats surrounded the little force, which attempted to escape by swimming the Rio Grande. In this attempt Young was shot and killed, and his body found an unknown grave. (Rowand, 1911 Memorial Address in Providence)

Rowand, second left. The other surviving scouts were ushers at the statue (above) dedication in 1911

Immediately after Lee’s surrender, Lieutenant -Colonel Young accompanied Sheridan to his command in the southwest. He was as active and successful as ever, but after a brief term of service as a volunteer aid with Sheridan, he entered into the employment of the Mexican Patriot Government, and was engaged for a time in raising recruits for service against the troops of Maximillian. * * In one of his expeditions in the winter of ‘66-’67, he and his party were attacked while crossing the Rio Grande; since then nothing definite has been heard from or of him. The matter was taken up, and thorough investigation made, but without any satisfactory result. A letter from General Sheridan, stated, that report said, “Colonel Young had been seen alive and well in Monterrey,” but it was never corroborated. Whether he perished in the fight at the Rio Grande, or languished within the walls of a Mexican prison, will ever be shrouded in mystery. (Young’s Campaign Life, 1882)

Captain Henry Young (later brevet Lt. Col.)

Crossing into Mexico he was attacked. Although undoubtedly dead, yet his death is a mystery. In a letter I received from General Sheridan about the time of his death, he wrote: “I cannot bear to think of him as dead, and yet hope to see him.” It was a long time before he gave up. Young had a considerable sum of money with him, and it is probable that he was shot from behind and murdered by some professional scouts who were with him, and knew of his having a large sum of money. (Gen. Oliver Edwards’ account)

Gen. Oliver Edwards, Young’s commander and friend

Cover Story erosion:

At the close of the Appomattox campaign Young accompanied General Sheridan to New Orleans, and was sent by him to the Rio Grande River to assist in the overthrow of the imperial government of Maximilian and French rule in old Mexico. While thus occupied he was under pay as a secret service man, and to a great extent he aided by his skill and pluck in furthering the plans of General Sheridan to force Bazaine and the French imperial army of occupation out of the country and the eventual re-establishment of the Republic of Mexico under President Juarez. [Emphasis added] Before this finality was reached Major Young was killed and in his death the United States lost some of the most gallant defenders. He died in the cause of freedom, and in carrying out the wishes and well-laid plans of his commander, the late General P.H. Sheridan. (Col. James W. Forsyth, 1889)

Col. James W. Forsyth, Sheridan’s Staff

Major H.H. Young, who commanded these scouts, went to Mexico in 1866 to aid Juarez in driving the Imperialist forces from that country. Some twelve or fifteen of the scouts accompanied him and all were killed there by a detachment Juarez’ army through a mistake, they having been taken for Imperialists. (Michael Sheridan’s account, 1908)

Michael Sheridan managed the Secret Service Fund and was in a position to know about Young’s mission

Of the wonder of it all, the good results and then the sad end my brother’s reliable [illegible word] was that Young was taken prisoner and hanged. Sheridan knew that report but kept it from his mother. (Charlotte Edwards Warner — Oliver Edwards’ sister, 1909)

Henry Harrison Young’s place in history remains muddled:

Young was promoted to major of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry on November 14, 1864 but remained detached from the regiment as an aide de camp to General Sheridan. Young was breveted to lieutenant colonel of Volunteers in March 1865, shortly before he was mustered out of service four months later. Colonel Young was mysteriously killed in late 1866 while crossing the Rio Grande. He was with a group of veteran soldiers on their way to serve as a bodyguard for Mexican General Mariano Escobedo who was allied with Mexican president Benito Juarez against Emperor Maximilian.

Upon hearing of Young’s death, General Sheridan wrote “Major Young’s record during the war, if the details could be gathered, would be of more interest than any romance of war ever written. I shall always remember him with pride and affection.” Wikipedia

And confusion over the role played by Young remains misunderstood by careful historians:

A statue named “The Scout” was erected in his honor at Burnside Park in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. This statue is probably a figurative representation of Young rather than literal one as the statue figure wears the uniform and accouterments of a Cavalry soldier whereas Young was an officer in the Infantry. Wikipedia

Cover stories obviously meant something in the post-Civil War period. Additionally, Young and many of the Jessie Scouts were originally assigned to infantry regiments but were detailed to Sheridan’s command where they operated as cavalry.

Special Forces veteran from Vietnam (1967–8) and adviser on Irregular Warfare to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East (Policy) and at RAND.

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