The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster; An Interview with Author Don Caughey.

I recently read Don’s book on the 6th U. S. Cavalry which fought as part of the Army of the Potomac’s Reserve Brigade in the Cavalry Corps. The Regular Army units never get they attention that the state volunteer regiments received. Perhaps it was because they were professional soldiers and many of the soldiers continued in the service long after the war and it was a way of life not just the Civil War experience. Whatever the case, Don has filled a void in the historic literature with his well researched book that helps us delve into the lives of the men of the 6th U. S. Cavalry as they fought through the U.S. Civil War. I have posed a few questions for Don to give him an opportunity to share with readers his insights on the book and his research:

SCP:  The Reserve Brigade contained the Regular Army mounted units in the Army of the Potomac, yet the Cavalry Corps becomes dominated by Volunteer Units. Tell us about the importance of the U. S. Cavalry regiments in the development of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry corps that ultimately placed a decisive role in the Shenandoah and Appomattox Campaigns?

DC: The regular regiments played a tremendous role in the development of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry. Initially, they were a model on which to base the training of volunteer units, frequently with the assistance of detailed regular officers or noncommissioned officers. They served as role models for the volunteer units, sometimes to the chagrin of the volunteers. During the peninsula campaign, one rarely sees a volunteer cavalry unit moving without a regular unit either accompanying them or nearby. For most commanders, the regulars were a security blanket used to ensure things went well. An excellent example is the battle of Kelly’s Ford, on March 17, 1863. Parts of both the 1st and 5th U.S. Cavalry, under Marcus Reno, are sent on the expedition even though they’re not even in the same brigade as the other units involved. To some extent, I think this may have actually hindered the cavalry’s development a bit, because it isn’t really until 1863 that we see commanders with enough confidence to employ volunteers by themselves. On Stoneman’s Raid, for example, the rear guard is formed of the best mounted 100 men from each of the regiments in the Reserve Brigade (which in fairness did include the 6th Pennsylvania) as they turned north to escape. At Brandy Station, Buford moved the brigade across the battlefield to wherever the fighting was heaviest. Indeed, had casualties in June not been so high that the brigade was detailed elsewhere, Buford might not have learned how capable his other two brigades were on July 1st at Gettysburg. From that point forward the volunteers were relied on more and more, which is fortunate, because the regular regiments weren’t able to recoup the heavy losses they suffered in these and subsequent battles. And one can’t discount the value of the leadership the Reserve Brigade provided to the rest of the Cavalry Corps. Regiments were led by captains and lieutenants because their higher ranking officers were away commanding larger formations. Buford, Merritt and Pleasonton came from the 2nd U.S. Cavalry leaders such as David McMurtrie Gregg, J. Irvin Gregg, August Kautz, William P. Sanders and Charles Russell Lowell all commanded brigades and divisions before the end of the war, but started as lieutenants and captains in the 6th U.S. when it was formed.

SCP: What motivated you to write the badly needed history of the 6th U. S. Cavalry?

DC: The short answer is that we saw a need and decided to meet it. The longer version is that it was a number of things for both Jimmy and I. I was teaching in the military science department at the College of William & Mary when I started the project. I wanted to research the regular cavalry regiments, particularly the 2nd where I had served a couple of years before. Much to my initial dismay and later delight, I found that there really wasn’t much published about them. There are only parts of a handful of books total on all six of them, so I saw a need for new research. I initially chose the 6th because it had a clear beginning when it was created at the beginning of the war. What I discovered was that there really wasn’t a Civil War history of the regiment. There was an excellent memoir by an enlisted soldier (Sidney Morris Davis’ Common Soldier, Uncommon War), but it was written many years after the war. It had some wonderful details of life in the regiment, but wasn’t necessarily accurate concerning dates and events. It was also biased and presented a very narrow view of the war. The few chapters of William H. Carter’s larger history of the regiment, From Yorktown to Santiago With The Sixth U.S. Cavalry, had the dates and events right, but lacked a lot of detail. I saw an opportunity to make a contribution. Meanwhile, Jimmy was assigned as the adjutant to one of the regiment’s current squadrons in addition to his flying duties, and had become intrigued by its history. He looked at what was out there and reached the same conclusions I had. He had already completed a tremendous amount of research toward compiling the roster. After bumping into one another in the course of our research, we decided we could produce a better history of the regiment by combining our efforts. I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
SCP: As you were researching and writing this book, what were your biggest surprises or findings that deviated from your original conceptions?

DC: Our biggest find by far were the letters of Louis Henry Carpenter. Carpenter, a Philadelphia blueblood who served as both an enlisted man and an officer in the regiment during the war, was a prodigious correspondent. He averaged better than a letter a week throughout the war home to his family, sometimes with multiple letters to different family members covering the same event. The letters contain such a huge amount of detail that it was a struggle at times to keep them from overpowering the narrative. The second biggest find was the stories tied up in the roster of the regiment’s soldiers. From the entire band from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania enlisted to be the regimental band to the numerous groups of relatives who served together to the wife who enlisted with her husband and continued to serve after he left the army, there are lots of great stories we discovered in the course of our research. The editors at McFarland helped us find a way to include as much information as possible in the book.

I think the biggest surprise was the number of volunteers who flocked to the regular regiments following the battle of Antietam. The 6th received about 500 new soldiers this way, and subsequent research has shown that several thousand made this move. Initial thought was that they were fleeing infantry units for perceived safety in the cavalry and artillery, but a number joined the shorthanded regular infantry units in the Army of the Potomac as well.

SCP: Grumble Jones is one of my favorite Southern cavalrymen. He once reported, “The 6th U. S. Cavalry numbers among the things that were…” Tell us about his run ins with the 6th?

DC: Jones is one of my favorites as well, he was certainly a very colorful fellow. The quote you mentioned came from his report on the Gettysburg campaign. It turned out not to be true, as the regiment served all the way through Appomattox, but was a reasonable assumption at the time. On the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, the regiment was dispatched on a solo mission to Fairfield to intercept a supply train. Instead they encountered Jones’ entire brigade of Confederate cavalry. In a very onesided fight, the outnumbered and understrength regiment lost 232 casualties of 400 men engaged. All five officers commanding squadrons were killed, wounded or captured, and the regimental commander lost an arm and was captured. Yet the regiment was back in the field two days later pursuing Lee’s army, and engaged Jones’ brigade again a week later at Funkstown. That encounter didn’t go well either, but this time the rest of the Reserve Brigade was nearby and the Confederates didn’t win the engagement.

SCP: Did you find any particular details about the time that the remnants of the 6th U. S. served as HQ escorts? Anything that offered insight on personalities and officers?

DC: There were some interesting insights on what they saw happening at headquarters. Letters from this period show a broader observation, though not necessarily understanding, of the corps’ maneuver. An officer is tasked to monitor an intersection to ensure units follow the correct line of march, for example, but isn’t told why. Or an enlisted orderly is given a message to carry to another part of the battle, but has only what he sees or thinks he sees as a frame of reference for what is happening. They offered a much broader look at operations, particularly in early 1864, than one sees in most primary sources. I thought Carpenter’s letter after escorting General Pleasonton to the train to Washington following his relief from command was very interesting, especially given some accounts of his attitude toward subordinates at other times.
SCP: How is the 6th different from other regiments in the Reserve Brigade?

DC:  The 6th was different from the other regiments in several ways. They were new, although they had a solid leavening of veterans. This led to some unique experiences for the regiment. For example, rather than operating with the personnel they had in the field and waiting for trained replacements from the cavalry depot at Carlisle Barracks, they trained all their own troopers. I think they’re an interesting bridge between the other regular regiments and the volunteers. Despite their youth, leaders’ expectations of their performance were just as high. Their performance on the peninsula shows that they were relied on as much or more than the other regiments, though I suspect this was partly because of their relative size. I think the biggest difference, however, was the variety of their service during the war. From the point of the spear on the peninsula to a solo expedition at Fairfield to extended duty at Cavalry Corps headquarters, they saw a bit of everything. One of the really fascinating things to me in my research on the regular cavalry regiments in the east is how different the experiences were for four very similar units.
SCP: Tell us about your next project.

DC: I’m currently working on a regimental history of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry during the war. It’s a bit more complicated than the 6th’s service, and I’ve expanded my efforts to find primary sources to back up the narrative. I feel that whenever possible a historian should use the participants’ views to tell the story, and that can be challenging if convenient sources like letters aren’t readily available. I love the challenge of conducting research, and pulling on historical strings to see where they lead. Unfortunately, my blog suffers at times because I become so wrapped up in research that I forget to post. I plan to eventually write the history of the Reserve Brigade, including the regulars and its volunteer regiments like the 6th Pennsylvania and 1st New York Dragoons, but feel I still need a bit more experience and a lot more research before I will be ready to take on something quite that large.

SCP:  Thanks Don. The 6th Penn Cav.  Isn’t some lawyer in Columbus, Ohio interested in that outfit? Eric somebody…. Mabye you’ve heard of him.  LOL.

I highly recommend that anyone interested in Union cavalry operations during the Civil War get their hands on Don’s book. I am eagerly awaiting his history of the 2nd U. S. Cavalry as well, especially given its more involved role in 1864 combat operations.

Here is a link to his book on Amazon:

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The Battle of Lynchburg

The fighting at Lynchburg late in the afternoon of June 17, 1864 pitted infantry from General George Crook’s division against the Confederate cavalry brigades of Col. William Peters, (Grumble Jones former command); Col. William “Mudwall” Jackson and Gen. John Imboden under the overall command of the latter.

The Southern Cavalry deployed just west of Lynchburg near an old Quaker meeting house. Imboden checked the advance of Gen. William Averell’s cavalry who turned the fight over to Crook. He promptly attacked and drove back the Confederate horsemen. The History of the 91st Ohio Infantry provides a descriptive recollection of the first day’s battle at Lynchburg:

“June 17, we arrived within six miles of Lynchburg by 10 A.M. and rested until 3 P.M. We then moved to attack the rebels. The 91st Regiment was in the front line of battle, just to the right of the main pike leading into the city. It support in the second line of battle was the 9th West Virginia ; the 12th Ohio was on the right of the 91stt in the front line. On either side of the pike there were woods to protect the troops in their advance except immediately on the right and directly in front of the 91st, here was an open field through which the 91st was compelled to charge, an in which the rebels had built rail pens.  As the 91st  emerged from the woods into this field, they found themselves upon an elevated part of the field where the rebels played upon them with their artillery. In the middle of this field was a depression, and tat the farther side was another elevation upon which the rebel artillery was placed.

It seemed a terrible ordeal to attempt the passage of this field while the artillery frowned death and those rail pens were filled with angry rebels.  Not withstanding, the 91st charged over this field and through a terrible storm of shot and shell, driving the rebels from their defense, capturing two pieces of artillery, and pressing their entire line back to their inner line of defenses. We had the misfortune in this engagement to lose our commanding officer. Col. Turley was severely wounded while in the discharge of his duty, and lt. Col. Coates succeeded to the command of the regiment.”

The 91st Ohio was well supported in its assault and did not act alone, being joined in the attack by Col. Jacob Campbell’s brigade of Pennsylvanians and West Virginians as well as the troops noted in the history. Although the attack was successful, the opportunity to capture Lynchburg had been lost thanks to the bold delaying actions of Confederate Brig. Gen. John C. McCausland, who had contested Hunter’s advance from the moment he left Staunton, to Lexington, at Buchanan, over the Blue Ridge and on the road to Lynchburg. McCausland bought the time needed for Lt. Gen. Jubal Early to arrive late in town late in the afternoon of June 17, with the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia’s vaunted Second Corps. As Imboden’s horsemen retreated in confusion toward Lynchburg pursued by Crook’s infantry, Early led Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur’s division forward to restore the line. Shaking his fist in the air, “Old Jube” shouted defiantly to the Federals (and derisively toward Imboden’s beaten troopers as well), “No more buttermilk rangers after you now, damn you!?

Early’s arrival saved Lynchburg from Hunter’s grasp. The vital rail and supply center would remain securely in Confederate hands.

For more on the 1864 Valley Campaign read:

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The Lynchburg Campaign: Brig. Gen. William Averell’s Report of Operations

MAY 26- JUNE 29, 1864–The Lynchburg Campaign.
No. 22.–Report of Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, U.S. Army, commanding Second Cavalry Division.

HDQRS. SECOND CAV. DIV., DEPT. OF WEST VIRGINIA,
Charleston, W. Va., July 1, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the cavalry under my command since the 1st ultimo:
On the 1st of June my division, consisting of the brigades of Brigadier-General Duffié, Colonel Schoonmaker, and Col. J. H. Oley, was encamped at Bunger’s Mills, Greenbrier County, waiting for supplies from Charleston of horses, shoes, clothing, &c. Crook’s division crossed the river on that day, leaving me to bring up my detachments and supplies, which did not arrive.
On the 2d Mr. David Creigh, a citizen of Lewisburg, was tried by a military commission and found guilty of murdering a Union soldier in November last. The proceedings were subsequently approved and Mr. Creigh was hanged at Belleview on Friday, the 10th of June. The detachments and supplies for which we had so long waited failing to arrive, I followed Crook’s division on the 3d to White Sulphur Springs with 3,200 mounted and 1,200 dismounted men; 600 men were without shoes, and many other articles of clothing were much needed. From the 18th of May until this day we had waited near Lewisburg upon half rations, most of the time for necessary supplies of horseshoes, nails, and clothing; but owing to the miserable, inadequate, and insufficient transportation furnished from the Kanawha we were obliged to set out again almost as destitute as when we arrived. The march from Sulphur Springs to Staunton was made in five days via Morris’ Hill, Warm Springs, Goshen, and Middlebrook. My barefooted men suffered terribly, but without complaint on this march. At Staunton the much needed supplies were received.

 

On the 9th Brigadier-General Duffié was placed in command of the First Cavalry Division and my own was reorganized as follows, viz: First Brigade, Colonel Schoonmaker–Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Eighth Ohio; Second Brigade, Colonel Oley–Seventh West Virginia Cavalry, Thirty-fourth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry, Third West Virginia Cavalry, Fifth West Virginia Cavalry; Third Brigade, Colonel Powell–First West Virginia Cavalry, Second West Virginia Cavalry. The Third West Virginia Cavalry was assigned temporarily to the division of Crook and has remained with it since.

 

At the request of the major-general commanding the department, on the 9th I submitted a plan of operations the purpose of which was the capture of Lynchburg and the destruction of railroads running from that place in five days. The plan proposed the movement of Sullivan’s, Crook’s, and my own division by different roads up the Valley, while the division of Duffié, after threatening the position of the enemy at Rockfish Gap, was to pass southward along the western base of the Blue Ridge, making demonstrations at the various gaps, sending scouting parties to destroy the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and to arrive at Buena Vista Furnace, on Jackson River, at the close of the second day. On the third day he was to move through White’s Gap to Amherst Court-House, destroying the railroad, sending a detachment of his division toward Lynchburg for that purpose, while he proceeded with his main body across the James River below Lynchburg and destroyed the South Side Railroad east of the city, his entire division forming a junction with the corps of Major-General Hunter south of Lynchburg. The plan was approved and adopted, and orders were issued covering the operation for the first day. By direction of the major-general commanding I gave to Brigadier-General Duffié complete and comprehensive verbal instructions with regard to the route he was to take and the services his division was to render. He was also furnished with memoranda to assist his memory.

 

On the 10th my division marched via Summerdean to Belleview, on Hays Creek, with little opposition, communicating with Crook at Brownsburg, two and one-half miles to the east. Efforts were made to cut off the rebel force of McCausland, which had attempted to make a stand against Crook on the Brownsburg pike. Taking the route via Cedar Grove, on the 11th my division crossed North River at the Rockbridge Bath and endeavored again to cut off McCausland, who had burned the bridge at Lexington, and was opposing the crossing of Crook. The enemy, however, avoided the danger by a hasty flight and the town of Lexington fell into the hands of my division with little or no resistance.

 

No communication having been received from General Duffié, I sent scouts to find him during the evening of the 11th and the ensuing day, which time was wasted in waiting to hear from him. Fearing he might fail in the execution of the most important part of his work, I dispatched 200 men, under Lieutenant Grim, First West Virginia Cavalry, and Lieutenant Kerr, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, on the evening of the 12th, from Lexington through White’s Gap, via Amherst Court-House and around Lynchburg, to destroy the railroad. The perilous duty assigned to these officers was most gallantly performed, and they rejoined their regiments on the 15th. The report of Lieutenant Grim is inclosed.

 

At 2 a.m. on the 13th my division moved toward Buchanan, driving McCausland in disorder across the James River. He was pursued the last eight miles to Buchanan at a gallop, my advance endeavoring to save the bridge at that place, but the flying forces of McCausland set it on fire before he himself had crossed, obliging him to ford the river to escape capture. Two brigades were immediately thrown across to a fruitless pursuit. Several bateaux, loaded with provisions and stores, were captured near this town. Two of my scouts who had been sent to Duffié the day previous returned, having fallen in with a reconnoitering party of the enemy ten miles from Lexington, from the commanding officer of which they received a dispatch to bear to Breckinridge, a copy of which is inclosed.(*) A spy from the enemy who came into my camp soon after my arrival was killed by my order. I soon received a notification from the major-general commanding that he should remain that day at Lexington, and instructions to wait for his arrival at Buchanan.

 

The 14th was occupied in destroying some important iron furnaces in the neighborhood of Fincastle. On the 15th my division followed Crook’s over the Blue Ridge between the Peaks of Otter to Fancy Farm, where General Crook, having received information that Breckinridge was at Balcony Falls, desired me to wait until the arrival of the main body, as our left flank would be too much exposed. The brigade of Colonel Powell was sent forward to Liberty, and the country in that direction was most thoroughly scouted by him that evening. Scouts were sent to Lynchburg and every other direction.

 

The following morning my command pushed on through Liberty, rebuilt the bridge over Little Otter River, forded Big Otter, and attacked McCausland at New London about dark. He had been re-enforced by Imboden with 400 men and two guns, but relinquished his position after a short action, in which he lost about a dozen men.

 

At sunrise on the 17th my command moved by the old road toward Lynchburg, some two miles to the right of Crook, who moved on the direct road from New London. The enemy resisted our advance at every step after arriving within eight miles of the city, but it was not until we came in sight of the stone church, four miles from Lynchburg, that he seemed determined to give battle. I constantly advised General Crook of my progress, and after a brief reconnaissance of the position, opened the attack. The ground was difficult for cavalry, and its peculiar formation made the following disposition necessary: Schoonmaker’s brigade furnished a strong skirmish line, mounted, across the open ground, supported by squadrons with intervals in columns of fours, open order, ready to charge or dismount to fight: Oley’s brigade on the right in column, Powell’s on the left, in the same order. The enemy retired as the attack was developed, with very little skirmishing, but as it approached the crest of the hill upon which the church stands a rapid artillery fire was opened upon us, and their small-arms became unmasked. Schoonmaker’s and Oley’s brigades dismounted and ran to the front; the section of artillery with my division galloped up to the church, supported by Powell, and opened its fire. The enemy signally failed in his ruse to draw us into a position from which he expected to drive us. After a short but sharp contest he was driven nearly a mile toward Lynchburg. Crook brought up two brigades, which were soon deployed and advanced to the support of my line, and two of his batteries also arrived at the front. The enemy, driven to his field-works, received re-enforcements, and confidently advanced to charge my line. Had the infantry support been in position, to have carried on our success, then we might have achieved some important advantages. As it was my line had a hard struggle to maintain its position until the infantry arrived, but with it came the dusk of evening, and although the boldness of the enemy was severely punished, our attack was delayed until the morning.

 
During the night, by the direction of the major-general commanding, efforts were made to communicate with Duffié, who had lost himself on the extreme left. Scouting parties were also sent to obtain information from the city. Re-enforcements continually arrived to the enemy. On the following morning Duffié was found and ordered to attack on the Forest road. Two hundred men under Captain Duncan, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, were sent to the enemy’s extreme left to harass him, and, if possible, destroy the railroad. Later Powell’s brigade was sent to attack the enemy at the Campbell Court-House road.
The enemy busied himself with throwing up earth-works during the night of the 17th and the day of the 18th, until 4 p.m., when he advanced from his works, making an attack, which was quickly repulsed. Schoonmaker’s brigade was placed in position during the action, but was not called upon to enter it. Oley was looking out for the rear and left. It was evident that too many lives must be expended to carry the enemy’s position. The morrow would find him in a condition to assume the offensive, if not already so. The delay at Lexington, rendered necessary by the deviation of the First Cavalry Division from the course ordered for it, and the change of place made by ordering it to join the main body, instead of going around Lynchburg, had proved fatal to the successful execution of the original project.
The orders of the major-general commanding to withdraw westward along the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad left me as rear guard of the column, which position was maintained until our arrival at Liberty. Between the Big

and Little Otter Rivers I received orders from the major-general commanding to make a movement upon the Danville railroad, which were suspended soon after at Liberty. Upon the arrival of the army at the latter place it halted to rest west of the town. I had requested that a brigade of infantry be left to support me, anticipating an attack from the indications in rear; but my request was not granted, and unaided my division stood the brunt of a severe attack for two hours. Schoonmaker’s brigade especially distinguished itself by its obstinate resistance. My ammunition failing, the division was withdrawn behind Crook’s, which had been formed in line of battle a mile in the rear. My loss in this severe engagement was 122.
At 3 a.m. the 20th the march was resumed in the direction of Buford’s Gap. Scouts had informed us that a heavy force of cavalry had passed the night before to the northward in the direction of the Peaks of Otter. Arrived west of the gap, my division was placed in position in connection with Crook’s to enable the troops to rest and refresh themselves. At sundown the column was again in motion toward Salem, Duffié division in advance of the trains, and my own in rear, with the exception of Powell’s brigade, which was left with General Crook in rear. Staff officers were sent forward to direct General Duffié to picket strongly all the side reads until the column had passed. At Bonsack’s Station no picket was found on the road to Fincastle, and scouts sent by me upon that road reported a cavalry force of the enemy moving in the direction of Salem. An officer was dispatched to General Duffié with directions to take a strong position near that place, and patrol a distance of four miles upon every road leading to it.
I received during the night an order from the major-general commanding to send the train on at once from Salem upon the road to New Castle, but not feeling assured that the road indicated had been properly patroled, I postponed the execution of the order until my arrival at Salem, to which place I hastened, finding the division of Duffié asleep among the wagons at daylight, with one brigade in the village and pickets only just outside. Without leaving my saddle I roused one of his regiments and sent it at once upon the New Castle road, with orders to attain the summit of Catawba Mountain, seven miles from Salem, and await further orders. Immediately after it I sent one of his brigades to support it. I directed the two brigades of my division with me to be posted opposite the Fincastle road to await the attack of the approaching enemy. It was soon reported from Duffié’s advance that the New Castle road was blockaded. I directed him to take his entire division present and proceed to clean out the gap and hold it until the column had passed, placing a regiment upon the summit of Catawba Mountain to hold that position. The wagon train followed him. The cavalry of the enemy at this time attacked my brigades on the Fincastle road, but were repulsed. The action could have been made much more decisive in our favor had General Sullivan granted assistance, for which he was vainly importuned, although he had a brigade within a few hundred yards of the scene. Meeting the major-general commanding upon my return from the flank, I represented to him the necessity for resting and refreshing the troops, explaining to him the arrangements which had been made and the positions taken, all of which he approved, directing provisions to be cooked in the town, and the artillery and troops to bivouack. Shortly after it was reported that the enemy had attacked our trains in the gap, and later that he had captured some pieces of artillery. Who had started the artillery upon the road or who knew that it was not in camp as had been directed, I am unable to say. With the brigades of Colonel Schoonmaker and Oley the enemy was soon routed in a brilliant manner, the guns retaken and several of the enemy killed and captured. It was found upon proceeding through the gap that General Duffié had neglected to observe any of the instructions he had received. Not a single precaution had been taken by him to prevent the attack which had occurred, and not a regiment nor a man had been left by him upon the summit of Catawba Mountain, but pushing northward he was only halted by a staff officer sent by me. During the night of the 21st my division followed the First to New Castle, guarding the roads leading to the east and west until the main body had passed. The march thence to this place via Sweet Springs White Sulphur Springs, and Lewisburg was made without incident. The officers and men suffered greatly from hunger, but no complaint was heard. From White Sulphur Springs the Eighth Ohio Cavalry was sent to overtake and accompany a train to Beverly which had left us on the 16th at Liberty.
I beg leave to commend for enterprise and activity, for an intelligent and faithful execution of orders, Lieutenant Grim, First West Virginia Cavalry, and Lieutenant Kerr, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Captain Winger, Eighth Ohio Cavalry, elicited the admiration and encomiums of his comrades by his daring gallantry in the attack in front of Lynchburg. Colonels Schoonmaker and Moore in front of Liberty behaved with great credit. Colonel Powell proved himself at all times a capable brigade commander.
WM. W. AVERELL.
Lieut. Col. CHARLES G. HALPINE,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Department of West Virginia.

 

For more on Averell and the 1864 Valley Campaign see:

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The 1st Tennessee Cavalry at the Battle of Piedmont

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June 5, 2014 · 7:58 pm

The Battle of Piedmont: Account by Adjutant Caldwell, 12th West Virginia Infantry

On the 18th of May, our regiment and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts with two pieces of artillery moved from Cedar Creek, five or six miles up the Valley to Fisher’s Hill, and occupied it as a picket. Gen. Sigel came out to our camp there. The next day the two regiments fell back two or three miles to Strasburg and occupied an old fort there built by Gen. Banks. We received today mail – always a welcome receipt to the boys, the first since leaving Winchester, ten days before. In the evening the Thirty-fourth band came to the headquarters of the Twelfth to give us a serenade. Speeches were made by Col. Curtis, Adjt. Caldwell and Capt. Smiley of our regiment.

 

On the 2nd, Gen. Sigel was relieved from command here and Gen. Hunter assigned to his place. Three days later we were reinforced at Cedar Creek by three more regiments of infantry, the Second Maryland, the Fourth Virginia and the One Hundred and Sixtieth Ohio, and about this time, or a little later we were further reinforced by the Fifth New York Heavy artillery.

 

On the 25th, we drew ten days’ rations of coffee and sugar and three days’ rations of hard bread. The troops from Cedar Creek came up, all having had marching orders. We were now about to start on the memorable campaign against Lynchburg. Hunter had issued his famous order announcing to his troops that they were about to enter on an explosion of hardships, in which they would have to live off the enemy, and if need be to eat mule meat. The infantry were required to carry each man 80 or 100 rounds of ammunition. A little after noon of this day the great march began of what was known as Hunter’s raid. We camped in the evening near Woodstock. On the way the cavalry burned a house and barn, by orders of Gen. Hunter, the owner having been engaged in bushwhacking.

 

On the 29th we resumed our march passing through Edinburg and Mount Jackson, crossing the Shenandoah here on a bridge newly built by the Rebels to replace the one burnt by Sigel and camped near New Market and the ground of the battle of two weeks before. Some members of the regiment looked over the battle field. They found that our dead had been buried in a heap where some stone had been quarried out. The dead of the enemy that had not been taken to their homes, had been buried in the cemetery at New Market. The enemy had left 31 of our wounded at this town and vicinity, who it had appeared had been quite well taken care of. This night our regiment went on picket on the bridge over the river in our rear. The second day after our arrival here, two companies of the Twelfth I and K were detailed to fill in with stone the wodden abuttments of the bridge, and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts went out foraging; thus making a beginning of living off the enemy.

 

We remained here until June 2nd, when we marched at 5 o’clock A. M. our regiment in the rear of the wagon train, arriving at Harrisburg in the evening, our advance having driven Imboden out of town. The Rebels left some sixty of our wounded and thirty of theirs here, brought up from New Market. Distance marched this day 24 miles.

 

On the 4th, we marched from here taking the pike leading to Staunton, but Hunter finding Imboden posted about seven miles ahead at Mount Crawford after examining this position, turned to the left taking a side road leading via Port Republic. Seven miles from Harrisburg we came to Cross Keys where the forces of Fremont and Jackson fought on June 8th, 1862, and a little farther on to where the Rebel Col. Ashy was killed. At Port Republic on the south branch of the Shenandoah our pioneers put a pontoon bridge over the river on which we crossed and marched about one mile on the road leading to Staunton.

 

Early in the morning of the 5th, we resumed our march, but did not go far until our cavalry began skirmishing with the Rebels, driving them and capturing a number of prisoners. It may be well to say here that an Irish woman, who accompanied the First New York cavalry was noticed helping tenderly to bury some of the killed “my (her) boys” of that regiment that morning.
Seven miles from Port Republic we found the Rebels in force, consisting of the commands of Generals Vaughn and Imboden, and a number of militia, numbering in all, as learned from prisoners, between 8,000 and 9,000 men, all under the command of Gen. W. E. Jones. Hunter’s command consisted in all of 8,500 men, the infantry in two brigades the First commanded by Col. Moor, and the Second by Col. Thoburn. The cavalry were under command of Gen. Stahl, the infantry under Gen. Sullivan.

 

The enemy were posted on either side of the pike their right drawn back somewhat. They had breastworks of rails extending at least from the pike to the Middle river on their left, several hundred yards distant. Hunter made disposition for battle at once, and the engagement that followed is known as the Battle of Piedmont. The First Brigade was formed on the right of the pike, and the Second Brigade on the left. The opposing forces faced each other from either side from the edge of woods, with several hundred yards of cleared land between.

 

The battle began. It was opened by the artillery from each side. The Twelfth and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts of Thoburn’s brigade were ordered forward through the woods, on the left of the pike with a view to charging some of the enemy’s artillery; when being discovered they were vigorously shelled by the enemy. After awhile they were brought back to the point where they had entered the woods. While waiting here for the coming of the balance of their brigade Colonels Thoburn and Curtis and Adjt. G. B. Caldwell with their orderlies, rode out into the open ground forming a group, for the purpose of watching the effect of the artillery fire. They were discovered by the Rebels, who threw a shell right into their midst, which exploding took off the fore-leg of the Adjutant’s little mare. That group immediately dispersed.

 

The other regiments having come up, Col Thoburn moved his brigade forward in the open ground into a slight hollow, within 200 yards of the enemy for the purpose of making a flank charge upon him. While the infantry were moving forward into this position, the artillery on each side opened up a heavy fire, and the Rebel band played “Dixie,” while ours played “Yankee Doodle.” Just before the charge that gallant young officer Capt. Meigs, of Hunter’s staff rode backward and forward along the line encouraging the men to do their duty on this charge, and the day would be ours, that they must not hesitate or falter but go right through, that we were now a hundred miles from our lines, and that defeat would be disastrous. The First Brigade had made three charges right in the face of the Rebel front and had been repulsed. But we will let Adjt. G. B. Caldwell of the Twelfth tell the story of the battle in his graphic and enthusiastic way, as it came red hot from his pen a few days after for the Wheeling Intelligencer; or more particularly of the part taken in the engagement by the Twelfth. The letter was written from the headquarters of the regiment at Staunton and is as follows:

 

This regiment moved from camp at Port Republic at 6 o’clock A. M., June 5, 1864. Our forces marching forward towards Staunton some four miles, our cavalry became engaged and drove the enemy a distance of one and a half miles, suffering a loss of thirty, killed and wounded. Capt. Imboden a brother of the general’s was taken here. The ball then opened by the loud mouthed artillery bellowing forth, both Union and Rebel in hellish dialogue of the death answering each other’s thunderous salutations. Post the crackling and roaring of Rebel woolen factories, consumed by flames kindled by the land of Union retributive justice; past the roaring batteries; past Carlin’s braves stripped to the shirt sewing out iron vengeance to traitors, the Second Brigade, our fearless, cool and sound-judging Col. Joe Thoburn commanding, marched a mile to the very front, forming the left of our force. The position was 150 yards from the Rebel lines drawn tip behind a fortification of fence rails, so arranged as to make perfect protection against musketry. Here for one hour and a half in a woods at one and one-half miles range, the two twenty pounder Parrott guns of the enemy were served entirely against us with all possible rapidity and great precision, amid the tremendous explosion of shell, the profuse of rain of case shoe the fall of trees and limbs, amid wounded and dying among all these combinations of horror, with not a gun fired by us and no excitement to cause a wild carelessness of danger, our line never wavered.

 

The first Brigade (our right) being heavily pressed moved us in retreat perhaps half a mile undetected by the enemy. This manouver was admirably masked in the woods like our advance before in the morning. A wide hollow whose descending sides were open fields stretched between the First and Second Brigades. Across this we must go. Our batteries open their fiercest fire, from hill to hill leap the ponderous black messengers of destruction, the reverberations of half a hundred, guns, on both sides, brought into action by the endeavor our batteries make to attract the attention of the enemy’s ordnance, make earth tremble, and the air roar while we run the fiery gauntlet to reinforce our right. With unbroken lines we march over with steady tread.

 

The Rebels occupy a woods in whose edge they have as on their right, an admirably impromptu fence barricaded. Up we go to within 100 yards, lie down, fire and draw the Rebel fire. Men are struck all along the line. Most of the enemy’s rifles are empty. Springing to their feet and cheering wildly the men rush forward and over the parapet. Our color bearer plants that banner of holy hopes and hallowed memories right where the sheet of Rebel flame runs crackling along, and mounting up cries, “Come on boys here’s where I want you.” Gloriously forward we go right into the woods our flag the first our regiment the foremost, the Rebels contending in a hand to hand struggle. Prisoners stream to the rear by the hundreds. Other regiments come to our support.

 

The character of the conflict is attested by bayoneted Rebel dead. The emblematic rags of treason their battle flags, a few minutes before planted in the dirt. They flee in utter rout and one wild shout of “Victory is ours!” runs along for more than a mile through infantry, artillery, cavalry, through stragglers and wagon trains, till the very wounded in the hospitals cheer again and again. The conduct of the men cannot be too much praising. Often a soldier would press forward so furiously as to be enclosed single-handed among a mass of Rebels, surrendering to be recaptured instantly by his advancing comrades. The whole Rebel force having fled, we camped for the night in the woods among the Rebel dead, too numerous to be buried till the morrow.

 

Thirty ambulances constantly running with the attendants, cannot collect all the wounded into hospitals, even in the long hours of this summer afternoon and evening. They have from two to three to our one in killed and wounded, and 1,000 able bodied prisoners, 60 officers, four or five colonels, Brig. Gen. Jones, their commanded killed, 1,700 stand of arms, four or five stand of colors and last and best Staunton grace our triumph.

 

 

Corp Joseph Halstead, 12th West Virginia Inf. W. B. Curtis Collection, WVU

Corp Joseph Halstead, 12th West Virginia Inf.
W. B. Curtis Collection, WVU

And here let me pause to pay a tribute to the memory of one of our own country’s martyrs in our holy cause, our color bearer Corporal Joseph S. Halstead. A braver spirit never bore the banner of beauty and glory forward amid the bursting shells and the leaden rain of death. With comrades falling all around him he went ahead of the bravest, ahead of his brigade. The head and front of that terrific charge into the jaws of death, he rushed forward and planted our flag on the very parapet sheeted with flames from the enemy’s rifles. Then over and forward again goes our banner into the hand to hand conflict in which that glorious day’s fate was decided. He falls at last, but if there be consolation in such an hour, and to a Christian and one so wholly a soldier as he, he has it to the full a knowledge of his country’s glory and his own. In the moment of victory with a broken and dispirited enemy flying before us with the shouts of comrades drunk with the enthusiasm of the hour rendering the very sky, with the valor of our arms attested by the piles of grey-clothed dead and hurt around him with the deep heart-felt admiration of all, attracted by his surpassing daring, with his comrades standing around him in speechless and tearful sympathy, with prisoners streaming or crowding to the rear, colonels and subordinates in traitor regalia, their perjured leader stricken dead by loyal vengeance, he fell at the very acme of our triumph, battling the flag which be had borne so royally to glory and to victory, with blood as noble as ever coursed through patriot veins. Poor Halstead among the brave the choicest spirit of them all, long will his memory be cherished and his valor in that, hour of carnage and triumph be the theme of the bivonac talks of his comrades.

 

Col. William B. Curtis 12th West Virginia Inf W. B. Curtis Collection WVU

Col. William B. Curtis
12th West Virginia Inf
W. B. Curtis Collection
WVU

Col. Curtis had the pleasure of receiving the sword of a Virginia regiment’s colonel, whose surrender he demanded. One of our Marshall county boys had the honor of bringing a Rebel colonel “to time.” He, the Marshall county boy is a young fellow of about 17. Another from Hancock county, I. N. Cullen, (Comp.) had a grey header Confed bring a musket to his breast with an order to surrender. He threw the musket aside and twisted it out of the old fellow’s hands, then kicking him over the parapet and out of the woods saying, “Old man you’re too old for me to bayonet.” Another Ohio county boy mounted the parapet in the charge and looking down on the Rebs, says “Lookout Johnnys we’re coming down on you like a thousand of brick” That was funny at such a time – It was “in the cool.”

 

In the morning before the fight, Gen. Jones drew his men tip and told them that we were going to avenge Fort Pillow, that to surrender would be to die; and such stuff for an hour. If anything was wanting to prove the superior humanity of the Union soldiers or the barbarism induced in the South by slavery here it might have been found. First Sergeant Hart Marks, of Company K, accepted the surrender of a Rebel lieutenant and passed on to the front. The Rebel drew a revolver from under his coat and shot him, fortunately slightly, in the back, yet our boys spared him. I know of more such cases, several. Marks shortly afterwards received two wounds, one in side, and one in the shoulder, the last having passed through a twisted blanket, while charging the woods, the Rebels being behind the trees. Another of our regiment, the eccentric Barney Wyles, pressed ahead too far and was surrounded; he surrendered but his captor shot at him after surrender, with a revolver, cutting his clothes. Our men rushed on him, wrested the revolver from him, and then spared him. All evening could you see Union soldiers feeding wounded Rebels, and food was scarce with us then, having to come all in the shape of forage. In every regiment a number of instances can be given of such treachery as above. Could any contrast be greater?


For more on the battle of Piedmont see:

197.0 Piedmont Battle

 

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May 31, 1864: Major Joseph Stearns, 1st New York Cav., Defies Hunter’s Order to Burn Newtown (Stephen’s City)

     In the spring of 1864, Confederates from Maj. Harry Gilmor’s 2nd Maryland Cavalry Battalion and Col. John S. Mosby’s Rangers repeatedly waylaid Union wagon trains in the village of Newtown, Hunter warned the townspeople that he would burn the town if they did not see to it that the attacks stopped. When the report of yet another attack on a Union wagon train being attacked in Newtown reached Hunter when his army was at New Market, he became enraged and determined to make good on his promise to burn Newtown.

     “Black Dave” ordered Major Timothy Quinn to detail two hundred men from his 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry and “proceed to Newtown tomorrow morning at 3 o’clock, for the purpose of burning every house, store and out-building in that place, except the churches and houses and out-buildings of those who are known to be loyal citizens of the United States.” Hunter exempted the home of Dr. Owens of Newtown, who had treated wounded U. S. soldiers with compassion after Gilmor’s attack. The Federal commander ordered Quinn not to burn homes belonging to Confederates if such action endangered a loyal citizen’s property.

     Quinn detailed the morbid task to Major Joseph Stearns. The New Yorkers promptly rode out of camp well before dawn on May 31. Only a few officers knew the true purpose of their mission. Most troopers simply speculated on the latest move. Major Stearns’ battalion covered the forty miles between New Market and Newtown in one day and bivouacked for the night on the Stickley farm at Cedar Creek.

      Early the next morning (June 1), Stearns revealed the purpose of the mission to the men. The sullen troopers rode toward Newtown, “more like a funeral procession than a marching army.” Elderly citizens and young children stood in the door-ways of houses “with an expression of mute helplessness on their faces.” The enlisted men of the 1st New York spoke only of not obeying Hunter’s order to burn the town.

     The people of Newtown had been “in great anxiety expecting to be burned out” ever since Gilmor’s attack. Major Stearns and his officers rode into the village and conferred with the leading citizens of Newtown. The townsmen informed the understanding Major that they had no control over the Confederate forces that made the attack. They explained how they had nursed U. S. soldiers wounded in Gilmor’s attack.

     After talking to the men and hearing the mournful prayers of the tearful women, Stearns courageously determined to face Hunters wrath and saved the innocent people of Newtown from “Black Dave’s” fiery vengeance. In return, the townspeople took an oath of allegiance to the United States. The New Yorkers then turned around and marched back to the army. In the end, Hunter verbally lambasted Stearns, but allowed his actions to stand. Stearns’s heroism was a different sort than we commonly think of relating to the Civil War, but he displayed a valor the prevented the ruination of the lives of scores of innocent resident of Newtown, now Stephen’s City, Virginia.

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John D. Imboden: Misrepresenting History and Southern Soldiers Who Fought at Piedmont

Gen. John D. Imboden wrote about the battle of Piedmont to protray himself as a victim and the Confederate Forces who fought there as being incapable of victory. Unfortunately, he misrepresented the truth about the composition of the Confederate forces at Piedmont. In the process, thousands of regular Confederate soldiers were denied their place in history, because Imboden’s widely circulated writings have been overly relied upon by historians. In the following text, where Imboden is quoted, his false assertions will appear in italics.

Gen. John D. Imboden

In his post-war writings on the campaign, Imboden recalled organizing the troops sent him from Southwest Virginia on June 3 and wrote of the troops who joined him:
To my dismay, I learned from officers in command of the detachments arriving that no large organized body of troops was on its way to join me except Vaughan’s small Tennessee brigade of cavalry. Jones had cleaned out the hospitals from Lynchburg to Bristol of convalescents, and gathered them together with the depot guards along the railroad, aggregating all told less than 2,200 men. The largest organization was no more than a battalion, not a single complete regiment was coming on, except as stated, Vaughan’s brigade of about 800 men. Mostly they were in companies, and parts of companies.
This statement contained several misleading assertions which short-changed the Virginians, Tennesseans and North Carolinians who bore the brunt of the coming battle. General Imboden left the impression that his assertions applied to the army as a whole. Unfortunately, this post-war account appeared in the widely read Confederate Veteran and heavily influenced future interpretation of the battle of Piedmont.
Imboden’s statement that no unit larger than a battalion is an outright fabrication. In reality, General William E. Jones generously sent Imboden several organized infantry regiments. The 36th, 45th and 60th Virginia Infantry regiments numbered a minimum of five hundred men each. The Thomas Legion contained 390 men. The 45th Virginia Battalion numbered only 150 men but consisted of only five companies. These men were not Valley soldiers, however, they resided in Southwest Virginia and Counties that became West Virginia in 1863 and were not part of the usual Valley armies prior to June 5, 1864.

When Imboden’s account appeared in a Staunton newspaper, word of it filtered back to a veteran of the 45th Virginia. The veteran took Imboden to task and informed the paper’s editor of his oversight in leaving out the Virginia infantry. Jones also sent approximately five hundred dismounted cavalrymen from his own brigade to the Valley, but these proved the exception rather than the rule, as Imboden implied in his narrative.
Imboden also claimed that he appointed the acting brigadiers and organized the brigades. Most reinforcements already belonged to existing organizations. The 36th and 60th Virginia, the 45th Battalion and Bryan’s Lewisburg Battery belonged to an officially recognized brigade, formerly commanded by Colonel John C. McCausland. This brigade retained its organization under the command of Colonel Beuhring Jones at Piedmont, and Imboden clearly played no role in its creation and organization.

Imboden possibly organized the 45th Virginia, General William E. Jones’ dismounted men and the Thomas Legion into a brigade com-manded by Colonel William E. Browne. On the other hand, the 45th Virginia and the Thomas Legion had formed part of the Saltville garrison which Browne had previously commanded.

Imboden did indeed organize the convalescents from the hospitals and the Maryland Line into a battalion, organized a medical department and called up a regiment of local reserves before any rein¬forcements arrived. Quite clearly, General Imboden organized some of the troops, but he misled his audience when he de-scribed the nature of the troops from the Department of South-western Virginia and East Tennessee.
Imboden also stated that the troops at Piedmont were strangers to one another and had never fought together before. To some limited extent this held true, but the infantry which did the bulk of the fighting had much shared experience. The 45th Virginia previously had fought side by side with McCausland’s Brigade at Cloyd’s Mountain. Before that, the Virginians fought together in several Western Virginia campaigns. Some familiarity definitely existed in the Confederate ranks at Piedmont.
Imboden further exaggerated the situation when he described the “heterogeneous materials” which composed the Confederate army at Piedmont. He wrote that the Southern soldiers “touched elbows with strangers, and obeyed orders from, to them, unknown and unfamiliar lips.” While Vaughn’s brigade, the Virginia Infantry and Imboden’s cavalry had not fought together as an army previously, the units within each brigade were well acquainted with each other. The companies and regiments had been together for most of their service, and the officers who commanded them at Piedmont knew their men well. Imboden’s exaggerations por-trayed the Confederate Army at Piedmont as one which had little chance to achieve victory. In truth, General Jones had assembled a formidable force of infantry and dismounted cavalry given the exigency of his situation. And he did so in a remarkably short period at a time when the Confederacy was hard pressed across all fronts.

Jones and the men who did most of the fighting at Piedmont deserved better than Gen. John D. Imboden gave them.

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