SEVENTIETH REGIMENT, PENNSYLVANIA VOLUNTEERS,
ALSO KNOWN AS THE SIXTH PENNSYLVANIA CAVALRY
From: Samuel P. Bates, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, 4 vols. (Harrisburg, Pa.: B. Singerly, 1869), Vol. 2, pp. 741-753
On the 27th of July, 1861, Richard H. Rush, of Philadelphia, a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, and late a captain of artillery in the regular army, received authority from the War Department to recruit a volunteer regiment for three years’ service. Recruiting stations were immediately opened in different parts of the city, and on the 3d of September a camp was established on Second Street, known as Camp Meigs. On the 7th dismounted drills were commenced, on the 20th the first horses were received, and on the 25th mounted drills. With the exception of Company G, which was recruited in Berks County, and a few squads brought in from different parts of the State, the men were from Philadelphia. The following were the field officers: Richard Henry Rush, Colonel; John H. McArthur, Lieutenant Colonel; C. Ross Smith, 1st Major; Robert Morris, Jr., 2nd Major.
In recruiting the regiment the officers received substantial aid from prominent citizens of Philadelphia, and on the 30th of October, a stand of colors and a set of guidons, a gift from the ladies of Germantown, were presented at the hands of William Rotch Wistar, Esq. The companies were supplied with clothing, camp, and garrison equipage, from the United States Depot in Philadelphia, and the men armed, at first, with Colt’s army pistols and light army sabres. Subsequently, General McClellan suggested that the regiment be armed with the lance, and the suggestion was accepted by a vote of the officers. This weapon was new to our service. The Austrian pattern was adopted. It was nine feet long, with an eleven inch, three edged blade; the staff was Norway fir, about one and a quarter inches in diameter, with ferule and couterpoise at the heel, and a scarlet swallow-tailed pennon, the whole weighing nearly five pounds. Subsequently, twelve carbines to a company were added to its arms for picket and scout duty. On the 4th of December, the State colors were presented by Governor Curtin, in the midst of imposing ceremonies. The regiment paraded on the occasion in the streets of Philadelphia, and attracted much attention. The lance was new and highly burnished, and the scarlet pennon bright and attractive; the new uniforms, and tidy appearance of the men, and the well groomed and trained horses, made it a beautiful and imposing pageant. The presentation was made in a large field, near the Odd Fellows Cemetery, on Islington Lane. Five regiments of infantry, and this of cavalry, participated in the parade, and received their colors on this occasion. His Excellency, surrounded by his staff, distinguished officers of the State and National government, and of the army and navy, made an eloquent and patriotic speech, which was responded to by the commanding officers as they received the flags.
About the middle of December the regiment moved to Washington and went to Camp Barclay, on Meridian Hill, near Columbia College.
It was soon afterwards inspected by General Stoneman, Chief of Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, and on the 1st of January, 1862, paraded through the Capital, eliciting much admiration. On the 10th of March, it crossed the Potomac and taking position in line, moved upon the Manassas campaign, which was suddenly cut short by the discovery that no enemy was in front. Returning again to Camp Barclay it remained until the 3d of May, when it embarked at Alexandria upon transports, and proceeded to Fortress Monroe. A few days later it moved to New Market Bridge, where it was brigaded with the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Near the close of the month, it was assigned to the Second Brigade, General Emory, composed of the Fifth and Sixth United States and Sixth Pennsylvania, of General Philip St. George Cooke’s Division, known as the Reserve Brigade.
On the 4th of May the regiment marched to Yorktown, and upon its arrival Major Morris with a squadron was sent to Mulberry Point on a reconnaissance. Leaving Yorktown on the 9th, it proceeded by easy marches to the neighborhood of Old Church. Here the regiment was temporarily detached from the brigade, and was employed for some days in picketing and reconnoitering towards Hanover Court House. On the 23d of May a reconnaissance with the Fifth New York Infantry, and First Connecticut Artillery, all under Colonel Warren of the Fifth New York, discovered the enemy in some force near the Court House, as if to demonstrate upon the right rear of our army. Accordingly, General Porter was ordered with the Fifth Corps to drive him away, which he did. On the 25th, Lieutenant Leiper, with a part of Company C, charged the enemy’s advance cavalry pickets with the lance and drove them in upon their infantry supports. In the battle of the 27th the regiment, which had for several days been acting independently of the brigade, was sent to the extreme right of the line for the purpose of attracting the attention of the enemy, and was under fire during the day. Upon the discomfiture of the rebels it followed up the retreating foe, captured eighty of his men and two commissioned officers, and burned the bridge over the Pamunkey, when the pursuit was staid. On the 4th of June the regiment rejoined the Reserve Brigade.
On the 13th of June news was brought into camp of Stuart’s start on his first ride around the Army of the Potomac. Owing to unaccountable delays the column of pursuit was not fairly started until after sunset. Major Morris of this regiment with one squadron overtook the successful raiders as their last men were crossing the Chickahominy, and were the sole pursuers who had a shot at them. On the 18th, two squadrons, consisting of companies B, G, C, and H, under command of Captain Clymer, were detached and ordered to report to General McCall. They were posted to picket and patrol the roads and approaches to the Chickahominy from Mechanicsville northward to Atlee’s Station. On the same day two squadrons under Lieutenant Colonel C. Ross Smith, companies A, D, I, and K, were sent to Hawes’ Shop to picket the right and rear of the army. Here they were undisturbed until the evening of the 26th, when Jackson made his sudden attack which cut them off from the main army, and they retired with General Stoneman’s flying column, sent by McClellan to destroy the depot at White House. They escorted the wagon train to Yorktown, and thence marched to Fortress Monroe, where they remained until July 10th, when the rejoined the regiment at Harrison’s Landing.
During the battle of Beaver Dam Creek, the two squadrons serving with McCall were posted upon the right of the line, and were under fire but not brought to close quarters. On the following day, the Union forces having fallen back to the neighborhood of Gaine’s Mill, were drawn up in position to meet the enemy’s attack. The cavalry, under command of General St. George Cooke, was posted on the left of the line under cover of a hill, between Doctor Gaines’s House and the Chickahominy. By noon the troops were all in position. As the battle opened, stragglers began to make their appearance, directing their course towards the bridges in the rear; but were stopped and held by the cavalry. At six o’clock in the evening, the Union lines having been driven back, the enemy made his appearance rushing forward in pursuit. The bulges sounded attention. The First and Fifth Regular Cavalry charged, but were driven back, losing heavily. At this juncture, Robinson’s United States Battery, the Third, began to move from the field; but at the request of General Cooke, unlimbered, and again poured in deadly volleys, checking the foe and giving our lines time to retire. In this last encounter, Robinson was supported by the remaining squadrons of the Sixth, under command of Major Morris. Their steadiness and gallantry under the galling fire to which this battery was subjected in the repeated attacks of the enemy, is fully attested by the Captain in his official report of the battle. Major Morris was wounded in the hand. They bivouacked on the field, and at two o’clock on the following morning crossed the Chickahominy.
On the 28th, companies C and H, Captains Whelan and Lockwood, were ordered to report to General Kearny, for duty at his headquarters. On the following day, Company F, Captain Milligan, was ordered to report to General Sumner, and was with him in the engagement at White Oak Swamp, being exposed to a heavy fire for over five hours. During the night of the 30th, it moved to Malvern Hill, and was afterwards engaged in escorting the heavy siege artillery to Harrison’s Landing. After leaving the Chickahominy, the remaining companies served, by detachments, with Porter, Keyes, and McCall, and were almost constantly exposed to the enemy’s fire. The companies with Kearny, were of his rear guard in his movement to Malvern Hill, and received his commendation for their gallantry. Several of the regiment were taken prisoners in the various encounters of the Seven Days’ Battles, were marched to Richmond, and incarcerated in the enclosure upon James Island. While in camp at Harrison’s Landing the regiment furnished five detachments daily for guard and scout duty; but aside from this performed little active service. On the 31st of July, the enemy made a night attack with artillery from the opposite side of the James, in which one man of the Sixth was killed. The fevers peculiar to the Peninsula prevailed, and may of its member were stricken, some for the grave.
Upon the evacuation of the Peninsula, companies C and H moved with General Porter’s column, and with embarked on transports at Newport News. Company F, under Captain Milligan, moved with General Heintzelman. The remainder of the regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel C. Ross Smith, marched with the headquarters of the army to its old camp at New Market Bridge, from whence on the 3d of September it was shipped to Alexandria, and on the 6th went into camp on Seventh Street, Washington, where the detached companies reported after the Second Bull Run battle.
The Sixth moved with the army on the Maryland Campaign under Colonel Rush, and at Rockville, on the 7th of September, and Lieutenant Leiper, with companies, B, G, and I, was ordered to report to General McClellan, with whom they served during the battles of the 16th and 17th. They went to Frederick, on the 13th, Lieutenant Charles L. Leiper in command of the squadron, came upon a body of dismounted rebel cavalry. Though greatly outnumbered, he boldly charged upon the foe and quickly put him to flight. The regiment, now under command of General Pleasonton, was posted in rear of the center of the line, from which it could descend to any part of the field. Four batteries of horse artillery, Robertson’s, Tidballs, Gibson’s and Haines’s, were posted with it. The stone bridge upon the extreme left was carried by Burnside’s infantry on the morning of the 17th, and at four P.M. his entire corps had crossed and taken position on the heights above. The whole movement, even after the bridge was gained, had to be executed under a heavy artillery fire. As the cavalry advanced, the Sixth was sent by the Keedysville and Sharpsburg Road to take position on the left of the line above the bridge. The brigade was composed of the Fourth and Sixth Pennsylvania, and the Third Indiana, under command of Colonel Childs. The enemy’s artillery, which had for several hours resisted the crossing of the stone bridge, still held its position and completely enfiladed the road leading up from the river. The command dashed across at a gallop, and with the assistance of Tidball’s Battery drove the rebels, successfully held its position until evening, when it bivouacked on the field. The loss in the Sixth was only slight.
On the 10th of October, on the occasion of the rebel cavalry raid to Chambersburg, Colonel Rush, who was lying in camp near Frederick, received orders from General Buford to send out patrols on all the roads to the north, and report promptly. Four small companies were sent towards Emmitsburg, but got no intelligence of the hostile force. An hour after passing the town, it was ascertained that the enemy was in possession of it in force, but no means of ready communication with headquarters was now open. One company of the Sixth, the only one remaining, and a company of the First Maine wwere sent out, one to Woodsborough, and the other to Johnsville, with instructions to scour the country from the vicinity of Creagersville, Woodsborough, New Windsor, and Westminster, and to promptly communication to General Pleasonton and to headquarters any information obtained. At Woodsborough they found the head of the rebel column passing through towards Liberty. This information was quickly given to Pleasonton at Mechanicstown. But before a sufficient force was concentrated to stop him, Stuart had made his escape.
In conformity with an order from the War Department directing that all regiments of cavalry should consist of twelve companies, Lieutenant Leiper, with a number of non-commissioned officers, proceeded to Philadelphia and recruited two new companies, L and M, which were added to the regiment. On the 2d of November the three companies with General Franklin were relieved and companies E, F, and K substituted in their place. On the 29th companies A, D, C, H, and I, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Smith, broke camp at Frederick and marched to rejoin the army now on the Rappahannock, arriving at General Franklin’s headquarters on the 7th of December. A week later came the battle of Fredericksburg. The command crossed the river with Franklin’s Grand Division, and was placed in charge of the bridge, acting also as provost guard, to whom all prisoners on the left were given. It was exposed to artillery fire during the entire day, but was not called into action.
On the 18th a part of Company A was detailed for duty with Charles M. Bache, chief engineer on the staff of General Franklin. One company was posted for guard duty along the river, a corporal’s guard being stationed at each house below Falmouth for four miles. One squadron was detailed for duty at army headquarters. Two companies were ordered to duty with General Reynolds, one with General Newton, three remained with General Franklin, and the rest went into camp at White Oak Church. Colonel Rush, with companies B and G, moved from Frederick in company with the Seventeenth Pennsylvania and joined the regiment on the 24th. On the way the force fell in with a party of the enemy near the town of Occoquan, routing it and taking some prisoners and arms. After the second move of Burnside, in January, 1863, which was arrested by the impassable roads, the army went into winter-quarters in the valleys and along the southern slopes of the hills, stretching away from Acquia Creek to Falmouth. About the first of March the camp of the Sixth was transferred from White Oak Church to Belle Plain Landing. Here, in a dense wood, well located, a camp was established and fitted up in a style of convenience and comfort rarely excelled. On the 6th of April the Cavalry Corps was reviewed by President Lincoln. The perfection in drill and discipline exhibited on this occasion by the Sixth, with its novel arms and fine uniforms and accoutrements, attracted the special attention and commendation of the reviewing party.
On the 11th an order was issued directing the cavalry to prepare for an expedition, and for that purpose to reduce baggage to light marching order. The entire corps rendezvoused at the headquarters of General Stoneman on the 13th, and proceeded in three divisions, under Buford, Gregg and Averell, the Sixth, Colonel Rush, forming an independent command, towards the Rappahannock. The Sixth had been selected for special duty on which it was to start early on the following morning. After crossing the river with the main command, it was to proceed rapidly to the vicinity of Richmond, destroy railroads, canals, telegraph lines, and by forced march, to join the Union columns at Suffolk or Fortress Monroe. A few hours before starting a heavy storm set in, and upon approaching the ford of the river at which it was to cross, the stream was found to be so much swollen as to render a passage impracticable. From the 15th to the 20th the rain continued to descend almost incessantly, preventing any movement. On the morning of the latter day the regiment moved in the direction of Warrenton. The town was reported to be in possession of the enemy. Captain Treichel with company A was sent to reconnoiter and charged through, unopposed, holding it until the command came up. At Warrenton Junction, on the 27th, Colonel Rush took leave of the regiment, the exposure of the last three weeks having revived a chronic disease contracted while serving in Mexico, and forced him to leave active service. The discipline attained by the Sixth was in no small degree due to his zeal and skill as an organizer. The command of the regiment now devolved on Major Morris, Lieutenant Colonel Smith being on detached duty on the staff of General Stoneman.
Crossing the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford on the 29th, and the Rapidan at Morton’s and Raccoon fords, the command proceeded without much opposition to Louisa Court House. Here the telegraph line and the Virginia Central Railroad was struck. An operator was soon placed in the telegraph office and received telegrams from Richmond, informing the command of the success of Hooker in getting his army to Chancellorsville. The track of the railway was torn up, bridges and culverts destroyed, and stations and water tanks burned. Commands were sent out in different directions, capturing and destroying contraband property, breaking up railroads and canals, and scattering the rebel forces encountered. The work of the expedition having been effected, General Stoneman called a council of war on the evening of the 4th, in which it was decided to return, no intelligence having been received of the fate of Hooker, and Averell having failed to communicate with the balance of the corps. The Sixth marched with Buford’s Division, and when near Louisa Court House made a circuit to near Gordonsville. The enemy were met at different points on the return; but as it was the policy now to avoid an engagement, the command moved rapidly and succeeded in shunning his column.
Until the 8th of June the regiment was engaged in scout and picket duty, frequently meeting irregular bands of rebels, and losing some men. On the morning of that day it moved with the entire corps, now under command of General Pleasonton, to Beverly Ford. The enemy’s pickets were on the opposite side, but pushing boldly across, before dawn of the 9th, they were surprised and captured. Buford’s Division, consisting of the First, Second, Fifth and Sixth Regulars, and Sixth Pennsylvania, had the advance. “General Buford having driven the enemy’s pickets and skirmishers in the open fields on the right of the road, sent in the Sixth Pennsylvania, supported by the Fifth and Sixth Regulars, to charge this line on the flank. The Pennsylvanians came up to their work in splendid style. This is the regiment formerly known as the Lancers, and they had a matter of pride to settle in this charge. Steadily and gallantly, they advanced out of the woods in excellent order, and then dashed across the open field in an oblique direction towards the enemy’s guns. They went up almost to the very muzzles, through a storm of canister, and would have taken them, when suddenly there dashed out of the woods on their right flank, in almost the very spot from which they themselves had issued, two whole regiments of the enemy on the full charge. Retreat was almost cut off, but the regiments, now subjected to a fire in front and on both flanks, charged back, cutting their way out with considerable loss. The Sixth Regulars came to the rescue, but the fire was so severe that even these veterans could not stand it, and they fell back with some loss.” The demonstration of the Regulars caused the enemy on the right to move to receive them, and thus a way of escape was opened. The regiment was withdrawn across the field through the woods, but all the time exposed to a heavy fire from a battery within fifty yards. Buford maintained an unequal contest until joined by Gregg, when the enemy was driven and his camps were in possession of Pleasonton; but it was now found that the rebel cavalry was supported by heavy forces of infantry. Pleasonton accordingly withdrew. In this engagement the Sixth lost nearly half of its effective force. Major Morris was captured and soon after died in Libby Prison. Captain Charles B. Davis was among the killed. Captain Leiper and Lieutenant Ellis were among the wounded.
On the 14th of June the regiment arrived at Thoroughfare Gap, which was held, and Captain Treichel, with his squadron, was sent on a reconnaissance to Ashby’s Gap, returning in the evening. On the 17th it met the enemy at Aldie, and after a short engagement gained the pass, driving the enemy back into Loudoun Valley. On the 20th it was sent as a guard to a supply train, which it accompanied as far as Fairfax Station. The brigade was engaged on the 21st at Middleburg, and on the following day at Upperville, the Sixth being held in reserve near Aldie until the 23d, when it re-joined the division. The Reserve Brigade was here placed in command of General Wesley Merritt. Crossing the Potomac at Edwards Ferry the regiment was employed in guarding trains and patrolling the mountain roads leading through the Catoctin range, until the 2d of July, when it arrived at Emmitsburg, and that night pushed forward to Gettysburg. The brigade was posted on the extreme left of our lines near Round Top. The Sixth, which was in the advance of the brigade, was the first to become engaged. The men were dismounted, deployed as skirmishers, and moved steadily up over ground intersected by stone walls and fences, until they reached the crest of the hill, where they were saluted by a storm of balls from the enemy’s infantry, that checked their advance. A stone house within range of the line, filled with rebel sharpshooters, proved a serious impediment; but a few shells from a section of artillery soon compelled them to evacuate. At one o’clock the artillery of both armies opened, and the men seeking shelter, held the ground they had gained, watching and promptly checking every movement in their front. “The air,” says Chaplain Gracey, “seemed full of fragments of bursting shell and ball, while other sounds peculiar to the several projectiles told of the determination of the attack. There was the ‘whoo!’ ‘whoo!’ ‘whoo=oo!’ of the round shot, the ‘which one?’ ‘which one?’ of the fiendish Whitworth gun, the demoniac shriek of ‘what-you-doing-here?’ of the shells, and the buzzing minie, all combined to give it the character of a high carnival of powers infernal.” At one time in the afternoon, and while the grand charge of Pickett’s Division was in progress, an effort was made to turn our extreme left. The cavalry, which at first was on the west of the Emmitsburg Road, was forced back; but its thin line was extended and the ground stubbornly contested. Through the night of the 3d the men stood to horse, and although worn out by long marches and hard fighting, with less than half rations, they started at five o’clock on the following morning on a forced march of seventy miles. On the afternoon of the 6th the cavalry arrived upon the crest of the hill overlooking Williamsport. Colonel Gamble’s Brigade was thrown off to the left, striking the river at Falling Waters. The Third Indiana Cavalry charged into the town, and captured seventeen wagons and about a hundred prisoners. But the enemy’s infantry appeared in force and compelled the cavalry to retire. “Looking down,” says Chaplain Gracey, “upon Williamsport from our position, thousands of ambulances, some parked and others moving in long lines, could be discerned; while at the same time we discovered that Lee had not left his line of retreat unprotected. A large force of infantry and artillery attacked us promptly on our appearance, serving their guns with remarkable rapidity and accuracy. A few minutes sufficed to assure us that our cavalry force was largely outnumbered by the infantry of the enemy. They moved upon our skirmish line in solid line of battle; and it was only by the determined bravery of our troops, the excellent handling of our batteries, and our advantage in position, that we were able to resist their attacks. General Kilpatrick passed through Hagerstown and soon came upon the enemy. He was forced back upon our right, and came in upon us somewhat demoralized. About six o’clock our lines were shortened, our whole force dismounted, and all engaged. We were greatly outnumbered, and that by infantry. We had no support, no reserve, nor reinforcements, every man was under fire, and to us it became a desperate fight for existence, and we looked anxiously for night to close upon the scene. Had the daylight lasted another hour, we would have suffered the most disastrous defeat…During the fight on the center of our line, the Sixth Pennsylvania had the advance of the brigade, and was the first regiment engaged on the heights of Williamsport. We were under a heavy artillery and musketry fire, having Captain Graham’s Battery committed to our defense. We deployed the entire regiment in front of the battery, and for four hours returned the steady fire of the enemy. More than one determined charge of the rebels would have broken our lines but for the timely use of canister by Graham’s guns. The regiment and battery suffered severely in killed and wounded.” As the cavalry was now far away from the supports of the army, it was necessary to retire to, and hold the passes of the mountain.
On the morning of the 10th the enemy again advanced to gain possession of Turner’s Gap. He was in such force as to drive our line back near the town of Boonsborough, so that his shells fell in the streets of the town. On the following day the lines were reinforced by Kilpatrick’s Division and pushed the enemy across, and some two miles beyond Beaver Creek. The attack was renewed on the morning of the 10th, and the rebels driven through Funkstown, across Antietam Creek to within sight of Hagerstown. The wounded of the regiment were sent to Boonsborough, the loss being heavy. In the afternoon and as the ammunition was nearly exhausted, the infantry of the Eleventh Corps appeared upon the field and took their place in line of battle, relieving the cavalry.
On the 2d of July, while the Reserve Brigade was at Emmittsburg, and before starting for Gettysburg, a detachment of one hundred men under Captain Treichel and Lieutenants Morrow, White, Whiteford, and Herkness, was ordered to report to Captain Ulric Dahlgren, of Meade’s Staff, for special duty upon the rear of Lee’s army. On the way it was joined by citizens armed with shotguns and axes for the destruction of army wagons. At Greencastle a charge was made upon the enemy’s cavalry holding the town, surprising and capturing eighty-four of his men. On the 5th the command discovered one of the enemy’s trains on the Williamsport and Chambersburg Road. Captain Treichel divided his force into two squadrons, led by Lieutenants Morrow and Herkness, and when three hundred wagons had passed the rear squadron, they charged to front and rear at the same time. With the assistance of citizens they destroyed one hundred and fifty wagons, and run off the horses to the woods, captured two iron guns, and two hundred prisoners. The infantry guard soon concentrated in force and a severe skirmish ensued, in which the prisoners, and some of the detachment were lost. Lieutenant Herkness was wounded and taken prisoner. Scattering, and betaking themselves to the woods until the enemy had retired, the men rendezvoused on the following day at Waynesboro. Here a party of Jenkins’ Cavalry was surprised in the streets of the town and driven in confusion. Soon afterwards another train of wagons was attacked, many destroyed, and some prisoners taken. A rebel paymaster with a guard of fifteen men was also captured, bearing important dispatches from Richmond, and a considerable amount of rebel money. On the 7th, sixty men, the survivors of the party, rejoined the regiment near Boonsborough.
In the movement of the army back to the Rappahannock the regiment engaged with the cavalry in skirmishing with the enemy at the passes of the Blue Ridge, and upon its arrival at the river on the 1st of August was immediately thrown across, encountering the enemy at Brandy Station, and forcing him back to Culpeper, where his infantry supports were met. The Reserve Brigade, under General Merritt, had the advance of the extreme right, and made several charges, the Sixth, led by Captain Lockwood, being heavily engaged during the entire day. The cavalry was finally obliged to withdraw before superior forces of infantry, but in good order, and at Brandy Station Meade was found with his lines well established. The Sixth was again engaged on the 5th, losing one killed and three wounded. The Sixth was again engaged on the 5th, losing one killed and three wounded. On the 15th the Reserve Brigade was ordered to Washington to rest and refit.
As the army retired toward Centreville, with a prospect of a third battle on the old Bull Run ground, the brigade was ordered to the field, and crossed the Potomac at Long Bridge, on the 11th of October. Two days later companies I and E, Captains Starr and Carpenter, which had been on duty at the Headquarters of the Army since March, rejoined the regiment, and from that time to the close of the war the twelve companies served together. In the campaign which followed, the Sixth was slightly engaged on the 18th and 19th, losing five wounded; on the 6th of November, near Sulphur Springs, in which the enemy’s cavalry was pushed back to Culpeper, and in which the loss of the brigade was fifty; on the 18th it was sent on a scout, to James City Road, in which some prisoners were taken, and information of the enemy’s position obtained; on the 28th, and in the demonstrations upon Mine Run it was engaged in covering the trains of the army, and scouting and picketing upon the river. On the 4th of November, while at Morrisville, Lieutenant Sage was killed by guerrillas. After the return of the army from Mine Run, the regiment went into winter quarters near Culpeper, picketing the Rapidan.
During the winter religious services were held in a comfortable log chapel, on each Sabbath, and on three evenings of each week. One hundred and forty of the men re=enlisted and were given a veteran furlough. The Reserve Brigade, under Colonel Gibbs, made a reconnaissance towards Orange Court House, on the 7th of February, which served to develop the position of the enemy in that direction, and as a diversion in favor of a movement of the infantry under General Sedgwick. On the 27th, one hundred men from each regiment in the brigade, under Major Treichel, were detailed to accompany General Custer on a raid upon the Virginia Central Railroad. Near Charlottesville the enemy was found in force, and, after a sharp skirmish, a retrograde movement was commenced. In the movement back to Stannardsville, the Sixth formed the rear guard, and skirmished with the enemy. Sergeant Wright was severely wounded.
At the opening of the Spring campaign, the First Division, to which the Reserve Brigade belonged, was commanded by General Torbert, the brigade by General Merritt, and the regiment by Major Starr. On the afternoon of the 7th of May, the Sixth took the lead of the First and Second Cavalry Divisions upon the march towards Spottsylvania Court House. A heavy line of the enemy’s skirmishers, well posted, were soon met. Captain Leiper, with his squadron mounted, was deployed on the left of the road; Captain Clark, with his dismounted, on the right, the wood there being impassable for horse; and Captain Carpenter was held in reserve on the road. Advancing promptly the enemy was driven, but soon came upon his supports and made a determined stand. The remainder of the brigade came up, Captain Carpenter was sent in on the left, and the whole line pressed on. Discovering a weak point, the enemy made a sudden dash and broke through. Fresh troops were immediately thrown in, the breach repaired and the enemy again driven. Major Starr and Lieutenants Coxe and Kirk were wounded, the latter mortally, and Captain Carpenter and Lieutenant Hazel were taken prisoners. Two men were killed and eighteen wounded. Upon the fall of Major Starr, Captain Charles L. Leiper assumed command.
On the 9th, Sheridan started on his first raid, and upon his arrival upon the Virginia Central Railroad, the Sixth was sent to Beaver Dam Station to destroy the road. Nearly an entire night was spent in tearing up track, and destroying the bridges and culverts. Early on the morning of the 11th, the command moved forward towards Richmond, the Reserve Brigade acting as advance guard, one-half of the regiment being deployed as skirmishers on both sides of the road. Before noon the enemy’s cavalry was met, which proved to be General Stuart with his entire corps. Pushing on, driving all opposing forces, the command ran against the fortifications of Richmond, from which the enemy’s infantry soon sallied, in confident expectation of bagging the entire Union force. Leaving Gregg and Wilson to hold the infantry in check, Sheridan ordered Merritt to open the road across Meadow Bridge. Dismounting all save three regiments, he ordered a charge, and while the enemy was hotly engaged with the mounted force, embracing the Sixth, led by Colonel Gibbs, crossed the bridge and charged down the narrow causeway beyond, scattering the foe and opening the way. Withdrawing, Sheridan passed on to the James River,and thence returned by White House to Chesterfield Station, where he rejoined the army.
At Old Church, on the 30th of May, the cavalry engaged the enemy, and Merritt’s Brigade, with a battery of Napoleon guns, was sent forward to check his further advance. The Sixth was sent in on the left of the line and charged the rebel flank; a hand to hand encounter followed in which the regiment lost heavily, but fought with great valor. Captain Leiper, in command, was severely wounded, and Lieutenant Morton and two men were killed. Captain Clark now assumed command. At Cold Harbor, on the following day, it was again hotly engaged, fighting dismounted, and driving the rebels back until reinforced. Lieutenant Murphy was among the killed. During the night a barricade was constructed in front of the bivouac, and early on the following morning the enemy attacked with infantry and artillery; but the carbineers held their position against repeated assaults, repulsing a whole division.
Sheridan’s second raid, which extended to Trevilian Station, was commenced on the 4th of June. A number of recruits from Philadelphia joined the regiment before starting. Before reaching the station, the enemy was encountered strongly posted in a railway cut. The cavalry fought dismounted, and after a severe struggle was forced back. The loss in the Sixth was forty-one wounded, two mortally. Returning, the corps marched to White House, where the trains of the Army of the Potomac were found and escorted to the James River. After crossing, the cavalry was hastily marched to Ream’s Station to the assistance of Wilson, but was too late to render him any aid, and on the 3d of July went into camp in front of Petersburg. Here Major Starr rejoined the regiment and resumed command.
On the 26th of July the command, numbering three hundred and twenty-six, moved with a considerable force of infantry and cavalry across the Appomattox and the James. A sharp engagement occurred on the Charles City Road, in which the Sixth lost six wounded, Adjutant Lanigan severely, and one mortally. Returning to the south side of the river, it was ordered to proceed with other reinforcements to the army in the Shenandoah Valley. On the 11th of August the cavalry encountered the enemy upon the Opequon, and was hotly engaged with Gordon’s Division of infantry. The Sixth, led by Major Starr, moved steadily forward under a severe infantry fire, and held the ground gained until relieved by infantry. On the 24th Company A, and four days later Company B, were mustered out of service. Near Smithfield, on the 29th, the regiment was again engaged, losing two killed and sixteen wounded.
On the 8th of September the Sixth was ordered to Remount Camp in Pleasant Valley, Maryland. Major Starr was placed in command of the camp. Here, as the terms of service of the men expired, they were mustered out. Surgeon John B. Coover, who had been appointed Medical Inspector of the Middle Military Department, while on his way from the front to Harpers Ferry, was shot and mortally wounded by guerrillas. About the middle of November the regiment went into winter quarters at Hagerstown. In January, its ranks, which had become much reduced, were strengthened by the addition of a hundred recruits, and towards the close of the month broke camp and rejoined the brigade near Winchester. Eight hundred more recruits were here received, and Major Leiper was mustered as Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Morrow as Major.
On the 20th of February Sheridan received the following instructions from General Grant: “As soon as it possible to travel, I think you will have no difficulty about reaching Lyncburg with a cavalry force alone. From there you could destroy the railroad and canal in every direction, so as to be of no further use to the rebellion. Sufficient cavalry should be left behind to look after Mosby’s gang. From Lynchburg, if information you might get there would justify it, you could strike south, heading the streams in Virginia to the westward of Danville, and push on to join Sherman.” Accordingly on the 27th Sheridan moved from winter-quarters with the First Cavalry Division under General Merritt, the Third under General Custer, one brigade of the old Army of West Virginia under Colonel Capehart, and two sections of artillery, and proceeded rapidly over an excellent turnpike to Staunton, meeting little opposition. At Fishersville the enemy’s pickets were encountered, and were driven in upon his main line, well posted, with seven pieces of artillery, at Waynesborough. Deploying two regiments as skirmishers, and following up with his entire line, by one impetuous charge, Sheridan swept the foe before him, capturing nearly the entire force. The work of destruction now commenced. The iron railroad bridge at South River, depots of military stores, wagon trains, and everything that could yield aid or comfort to the enemy were given to ruin. At Charlottesville the force was divided. Merritt proceeded direct to Scottsville and commenced the destruction of the James River Canal, which he followed to Duguidsville, and Custer proceeded down the line of the Lynchburg Railroad to Amherst Court House, leaving ruin in its track. At New Market, the two columns united, where Sheridan purposed to cross the James, proceed to Farmville, and destroy the Southside Railroad towards Appomattox Court House; but the river being high, and the pontoons insufficient to span it, he decided to strike a base at the White House. At Rockfish River the bank of the canal was blown up, and at New Canton the guard-lock was destroyed. This let the James River into the canal, changing its sluggish stream to a raging torrent, sweeping away its banks. At White House the infantry, sent out by General Grant in anticipation of his coming, was met, and on the 25th of March Sheridan joined the army before Petersburg. Here Lieutenant Colonel Leiper rejoined the regiment and resumed command, and was soon after mustered as Colonel, Major Morrow as Lieutenant Colonel, and Captains A. D. Price, Charles B. Coxe, and B H. Herkness as Majors.
Moving around to the extreme left of the infantry line, General Sheridan stood ready on the 29th for the final ride. The Sixth could muster but a hundred mounted men. The meagerness of the number was owing to lack of horses; for at dismounted camp were plenty of men. “A man,” says Chaplain Gracey, “may ride from Winchester to Petersburg, through rain, and mud, and cold, and get little to eat and little sleep, and yet not suffer in health very much. After one ample dinner and one good night’s rest, he will, very likely, be getting uneasy and bored with the quiet life, and be longing for more rides; but the horse that carries him on the trip is apt to reach his journey’s end in pitiable plight. Hunger and cold have starved him, the pitiless rain has pelted him, deepening mud has mired and tired him. His back has been galled with pinching saddle or frozen blanket; he is leg weary and foot sore; decrepitude is in his gait and dejection in his eye; great scars are scalded on his weather-beaten front, and on his ribs and rump famine might hang her banner. Some indomitable wills bear up through it all though, and these deserve to be rewarded of their country, for they rendered possible the deeds of Sheridan’s Cavalry.”
Sheridan had been ordered to move upon the enemy’s right and rear. At nine o’clock on the morning of the 30th, General Merritt’s Division, which had the advance, came upon the enemy at Gravelly Run, near Five Forks. After crossing the run, Colonel Leiper, who was at the head of the column, deployed his men in line, and was soon joined by the Second Massachusetts, First United States, and Seventh Michigan. With this impromptu brigade, he advanced against the enemy lying quietly in the woods, and by a sudden charge scattered his lines, and drove them in upon his infantry, in a thick wood, near the Dinwiddie Road. The ground was stubbornly contested on every part of the line; but, by his skillful dispositions, Sheridan was triumphant, successfully holding his position until joined by the infantry, when the enemy sullenly withdrew. The loss in the Sixth, was Lieutenant Magee killed, Lieutenant Colonel Morrow and a considerable number of men wounded. Pursuit was immediately given, and the column soon came upon the rebels sheltered behind his strong fortifications, on the White Oak Road. And there the Sixth Cavalry dismounted to fight its last battle. There stood in the ranks but forty-eight men bearing carbines. Through the day the position fronting the enemy’s works was held, the men keeping up a brisk fire and diverting his attention from other parts of the field, where our infantry was moving for his overthrow. The victory was complete, and the regiment rested that night upon the field.
After this battle, the remnant of the regiment was ordered to General Merritt’s headquarters for escort and guard duty. With Sheridan’s column it moved to Sailor’s Creek, thence to Appomattox Station, and finally to Appomattox Court House, where, on the 9th, Lee surrendered, General Sheridan having the satisfaction of being a witness to the terms of a surrender, which he had largely contributed to secure.
With Sheridan the Sixth returned to Petersburg, whence it proceeded to Danville, North Carolina, and, after the surrender of Johnston, returned to Washington, where it participated in the Grand Review. Retiring across the Potomac, it was consolidated with the Second and Seventeenth Regiments, under the title of the Second Provisional Cavalry, and subsequently ordered to Louisville, Kentucky, where, on the 7th of August, it was mustered out of service.
Home, Who Were the Lancers, Formation of the Lancers, Regimental Roster, Campaigns of the Lancers, Battle of Brandy Station, Histories of the Lancers, History by Bates, "Annals of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry", Rush's Lancers: The Story, Men of the Lancers, Thomas W. Smith, Frederick Newhall, Frank Furness, Photograph Gallery, Other Information About the Lancers, Research Corner, Reenacting, Chat Board, Links
Copyright 2000 by Eric J. Wittenberg. None of the contents of this web site may be reproduced without the express written consent of the owner.