Another of my favorite regiments is the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Here’s my brief history of the unit, with emphasis on their actions during the Gettysburg Campaign.
Colonels: Josiah H. Kellogg, James Q. Anderson
Also known as: 162nd Pennsylvania Volunteers
Company A – Beaver
Company B – Susquehanna
Company C – Lancaster
Company D – Bradford
Company E – Lebanon
Company F – Cumberland
Company G – Franklin
Company H – Schuylkill
Company I - Perry and city of Philadelphia
Company K – Luzerne
Company L – Montgomery and Chester
Company M – Wayne
(During the Battle of Gettysburg, Companies D and H were detached to 5th Corps Headquarters, and Company K to the 11th Corps.)
Dates of Service:
Organized at Camp Simmons in Harrisburg PA from September to November 1862
Mustered in October 18, 1862
Left the state for Washington DC on November 25, 1862
Mustered out on June 16, 1865 at Washington DC
(Detachment mustered out on August 17, 1865 at Louisville KY)
Major Engagements: Kelly’s Ford, Chancellorsville, Beverly Ford, Aldie, Upperville, Ashby’s Gap, Middleburg, Gettysburg, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro, Falling Waters, Brandy Station, Rappahannock Station, Mine Run, Kilpatrick’s Raid, The Wilderness, Todd’s Tavern, Spottsylvania, Front Royal, Yellow Tavern, Hawes Shop, Cold Harbor, Trevilian Station, Kearneysville, Opequon, Winchester, Cedar Creek, Five Forks, Appomattox Station, Appomattox Court House
Killed: 6 Officers, 98 Enlisted men
Died from Disease: 128 Enlisted men
TOTAL CASUALTIES: 232
At Camp Simmons, near Harrisburg, the regiment elected the following field officers on October 18, 1862:
Josiah H. Kellogg, Colonel
John B. McAllister, Lt. Colonel
David B. Hartranft, Major
Coe Durland, Major
Reuben R. Reinhold, Major
Kellogg was a captain in the 1st United States Cavalry, and some men of the unit had served previously in the Mexican War, but most recruits had no prior military experience. Most were good horsemen, however, having worked as farmers, lumbermen, and mechanics. Shortly after its formation, the regiment marched to Camp McClellan, slightly north of Harrisburg, where the men’s sabers, side arms, horses, and accoutrements were issued. Under the effective leadership of Colonel Kellogg, strenuous drill to perfect their discipline was begun.
The regiment marched to Washington DC on November 25, and encamped for several days on East Capitol Hill, after which it was ordered to the front. On December 22 the troopers reached Occoquan, where Confederate General Wade Hampton’s Legion of cavalry was encountered during a severe skirmish. The new horsemen drove and pursued the Confederates across the Occoquan Creek. Several skirmishes ensued over the next month with enemy cavalry, artillery, and infantry.
In February of 1863, the regiment was assigned to the 2nd Brigade of General John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division, where it joined with the 6th New York, 6th United States, and the 8th Pennsylvania regiments. The brigade was commanded by Colonel Thomas C. Devin, a skilled former New York militia cavalryman who had commanded the 6th New York. The 17th served in this brigade throughout the war. On February 18, Companies C and I under Captain Spera were ordered into escort duty with General George G. Meade, commander of the Fifth Army Corps, where they would remain until after the Battle of Chancellorsville. During the battle the men of the companies were kept busy with the transmission of orders.
During the Chancellorsville Campaign, only three regiments of cavalry moved with Hooker’s columns, one of them the 17th. The main part of the Cavalry Corps was sent under Averell and Stoneman to harass the enemy’s rear and cut his lines of communication. Two green squadrons of the regiment were ordered to mass behind the Federal artillery and display a front that would protect their being overrun. In the “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-65,” it is stated that “And thus was the mad onset of Stonewall Jackson’s army checked by artillery, supported by a single line of raw cavalry. It was a trying position for the regiment, but the firm front presented, saved the day, and enabled Hooker to re-form his shattered columns, and once more present an unbroken line.” In a general order, issued immediately after the battle, Cavalry Corps commander General Alfred Pleasonton stated, “The coolness displayed by the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Regiment, in rallying fugitives, and supporting the batteries (including Martin’s), which repulsed the enemy’s attack under Jackson, on the evening of the 2d instant, has excited the highest admiration.” Pleasonton’s comments were part of his overall (and spurious) claim to have blunted Jackson’s flank attack and thus “saved” the Union army.
On the 9th of June, the cavalry divisions of Buford and Brigadier General David McM. Gregg crossed the Rappahannock at Beverly and Kelly’s fords respectively, and boldly clashed with the cavalry of Confederate Major General JEB Stuart in the epic cavalry battle of Brandy Station. After the battle, which lasted nearly the entire day, the 17th participated in covering the withdrawal of the Federal horsemen and was subjected to heavy artillery fire. On the 11th, the 17th was posted to picket the line of the river, from Beverly Ford to Sulphur Springs, while the main column of the Union Army marched northward. The 17th then rejoined the Division upon its withdrawal on the 15th. Early during the morning of the 21st, the regiment was formed in line just west of Middleburg and met the Confederates, repulsed their attack, and drove them toward Upperville. Near the town, the 17th was ordered to charge the Confederate left flank and in doing so brought heavy artillery fire until they were forced to withdraw.
The next two weeks saw the opposing armies marching parallel northward on their date with destiny in and around the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. For the boys of the 17th, this would mean returning to and defending their own home soil. On the morning of the 29th, Buford’s First and Second Brigades marched at about 9 am, moving through Boonsboro, Cavetown, and Monterey Springs, MD. Following the base of South Mountain, they headed toward Pennsylvania. When the column reached the Mason-Dixon line, the guidon carrier of Company G of the 17th sat upon his horse, astride the boundary line, announcing to each company of his passing regiment that they were entering upon the Pennsylvania soil. The men of the 17th “raised their caps and lustily cheered, again and again, for the old Keystone State and Old Glory.”
The division marched on to Fountaindale, located at the mouth of the strategically important South Mountain pass called Monterey Gap. Proceeding down the rocky cliffs of the mountain, the division encamped about two miles from Fairfield PA. The regimental historian of the 17th, in describing the rigors of the march north, stated: “The division had been marching and picketing for almost a week with no rest for man or beast. They had marched all night to reach this point… The column halted before the light of day with orders to dismount and stand to horse… an hour passed and the gray dawn… lighted up a picture I can never forget. The men, who were completely exhausted, had slipped the bridle reins over their arms and lay down in a bed of dust (8 inches deep) that almost obscured them from sight. Their jaded steeds seemed to know they should not move, and propping themselves with extended necks and lowering heads, stood like mute sentinels over their riders dead in sleep.”
Company G of the 17th was raised in the area around nearby Waynesboro and its troopers requested permission to visit their homes and families on the night of the 29th. Permission was granted, with the promise that all men would return and be present for morning roll call. It was a proud boast thereafter that not a single man of the company missed roll call early the next morning.
About 2 am on the morning of the 30th of June, the men of both brigades were roused and resumed the march at dawn. After withdrawing from an unexpected skirmish with some Confederates, the column detoured through Emmitsburg and headed for Gettysburg. Upon arriving in the town around noon, the men of the 17th and the brigades were met by the excited citizens with anxious shouts and patriotic songs. Moving west, Buford’s column examined the ridges in the area for defensive positions after spying an approaching column of Confederates under Confederate Brigadier General James Johnston Pettigrew, which withdrew upon spotting the Federals.
Brigade commander Colonel Devin began setting up his troopers’ dispositions northwest, north, and east of the town for the expected clash in the morning. The headquarters of the 17th was set up in the John Forney barn, adjacent to the Mummasburg Road. Advance vidette posts were placed to give early warning and to delay any enemy advancing from the west. Anxiousness set in that night as a portion of the men slept once again with the bridle reins wrapped around their wrists.
About 7:30 the next morning, the men of the 17th would hear the first shots of the opening of the coming epic battle. While the troopers of the First Brigade were engaged with the advancing Confederates of Major General Ambrose P. Hill’s Corps, the 17th and the rest of the brigade began setting up their skirmish lines to meet an advance from the north. About 9 am, Buford spurred his horse up to Colonel Devin and announced that his area was “the key to the army position. We must hold this if it costs every man in your command.” The 17th was in that command and they and the Merrill & Smith carbines they carried would be put to the test.
While the battle raged just to the south of the 17th’s position, Confederate skirmishers under Major General Robert Rodes began advancing upon them from the north. The advance picket posts of their Second Brigade began the delay tactic, withdrawing upon being pressed, with the entire cavalry line fighting through to exhaustion to hold off the enemy until the Union infantry could arrive. Lt. Colonel of the 17th, Theodore H. Bean, recalled that “from 8 to 10 o’clock, the unequal conflict was maintained, yielding ground to the enemy step by step, suffering severe loss in officers and men, with many of our led horses, which from time to time came within range of the enemy’s guns. Our ammunition was almost exhausted, and it was becoming painfully evident that the Seminary Ridge, on which this fierce struggle was raging, would have to be abandoned unless additional support speedily reached us.” As the men were getting sorely pressed, Devin withdrew the brigade to a defensive position east of their location on Oak Ridge. Upon the arrival of some Union First Corps infantry, the 17th, engaged with the enemy at this point, was able to join with the rest of the brigade in a thin skirmish line stretched over a two-mile front. The subsequent arrival of Union Major General Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps allowed the tired troopers to move to their right flank, then covered the withdrawal of the corps through the town as they became overwhelmed by the pressing Confederate infantry. Around 3 pm, the brigade, while attempting to anchor the flank of the Federal Army, came under a heavy friendly artillery fire when a Union battery atop Cemetery hill began shelling the area. Keeping their demeanor the men of the 17th and the brigade followed Colonel Devin through the shelling and made their way to the rear. Since the flank of the 11th Corps was now exposed, the Confederates soon routed the Federals. Troopers of the 17th massed near the York Road and delayed the Confederate pursuit by rapidly firing their single-shot carbines and answering the Rebel Yell with “a ringing loyal cheer.” The enemy advance was sufficiently delayed so that the routed 11th Corps was able to reach safety on the hill. The troopers of the 17th then deployed onto Cemetery Hill via the Henry Culp farm.
After the fighting on this momentous day, the 17th joined the division for an anxious respite on the Federal left flank near the Sherfy Peach Orchard, again receiving orders to “stand to horse” throughout the night and be ready for action at any time. As Bean again recalled, “The Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry fully performed its share of service on the night of July 1, and cheerfully labored without rest or sleep in preventing the advance of the enemy on every road it occupied, and in preparing the field in its rear for the operations of those then marching out to relief.” Through the all-night drenching drizzle of rain, the division’s wagon trains came up and the 17th was able to finally secure some rations and refit.
The next morning, regiments of the 17th’s Second Brigade would engage Confederates once again before being ordered off the battlefield. The men of the 17th made several charges against them, but was repulsed each time. Worried that the Federal Army’s wagon trains, still advancing from the south, Cavalry commander Pleasonton ordered Buford’s division toward Westminster MD to guard them and refit. The hungry, exhausted troopers marched off and had to listen to the sounds of the ensuing battle over the next two days. Despite their condition, the men of the 17th and the entire division wished they could rejoin their infantry comrades and clamored for any bit of information about the action on the front.
Soon, the regiment would see renewed fighting of its own. The retreat of Lee’s repulsed army meant a pursuit by the troopers. On July 6th, the 17th encountered the Confederates near the town of Boonsboro and drove them back after a sharp fight. The next morning the attack was renewed and the 17th again drove them back. Skirmishing continued nearly daily throughout the month until the Army of Northern Virginia was able to escape to relative safety.
The fall campaign of 1863 was one of heavy activity for the troopers. As Bean reflected, “At Racoon Ford, you left your horses under shelter, and rushed to the support of your brother comrades in arms (the 4th New York), who were gallantly struggling against fearful odds, and under a murderous fire of grape and canister from the enemy, saved them from capture, re-established the line, and held it until relieved by the Twelfth Army Corps, for which you received the special commendation of your division commander (Buford). In the subsequent movements… when the wily rebel chief proposed to flank the army of the Potomac, and thus gain possession of the Capitol, history will accord to the regiment an honorable association with the commands that beat back his advance at Morton’s Ford, Stevensburg, Brandy Station, and Oak Hill, where, holding the extreme left of the line, you skillfully repulsed… with heavy loss, a reckless charge of cavalry, for which that enemy at that time were notorious. In the counter movements of the campaign, closing with the battle of Bealton Station, and Rickseyville, the occupation of the line on the Rapidan, and the indecisive management at Mine Run, the regiment was present bearing its share of the toils, and sustained its proportion of losses, and… went into winter quarters on the battle beaten plains of Culpepper.”
During the long winter, the regiment was on picket duty. On February 27, 1864, a detachment of 200 men of the 17th (under Captain Weidner H. Spera) was ordered to report to Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, who was about to start a raid on the Confederate capitol at Richmond with 5000 cavalrymen. The raid and its path of destruction began on the following day. The column reached with a few miles of the city but found a force too large to dislodge.
Throughout the spring campaign the regiment would fight with distinction, notably at Todd’s Tavern. Fighting by the troopers on the 8th of May to hold the Spottsylvania Road against repeated assaults resulted in severe losses. The 17th would lead charges of its own; near Richmond on Union Major General Philip M. Sheridan’s own grand raid toward the city, the 17th took the lead in crossing Meadow Bridge under heavy infantry and artillery fire, and delivered a fierce charge, driving Confederates out of their earthworks in confusion. Lieutenant Joseph E. Shultz was killed in the charge, shot through the heart.
Regimental Quartermaster Lieutenant John Anglun would be killed while the regiment was engaged near Old Church Tavern. Cold Harbor would see the regiment maneuvering dismounted. Holding the left of the line, it suffered severe loss during a first advance and was repulsed, but routed and drove the Confederates on the second attempt. At Trevilian Station, on June 11th, the 17th was sent to the front where Sheridan’s horsemen were hotly engaged. The regiment would suffer severe losses this day, which caused the outnumbered Sheridan to disengage. More regimental casualties would mount throughout the summer at White House Landing, Jones’ Bridge, Charles City Court House, and Ruffin’s House.
The 17th was ordered to the Shenandoah Valley in August when Sheridan took command of that Department. At Major Reuben H. Reinhold’s resignation, Captain Spera was promoted to succeed him. On the 11th, the 17th was ordered to the front near Newtown and ordered to charge a determined enemy that had just been driven. After obstinate resistance, the regiment finally dislodged them up the valley. On the 16th, the Confederates advanced upon their brigade line, with the 17th holding the center. Immediately put into motion, the brigade attacked and repulsed the Confederates at Front Royal, where brigade commander Devin took a severe wound to the foot that would take him out of action for a month.
In a diversionary charge made near Shepherdstown the following week, designed to aid Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s Division, Lieutenant James Potter was killed. For three weeks the regiment would be engaged in nearly constant skirmishing, with participation in the actions at Smithfield on June 29th, at White Post of September 1st, at Opequon on the 7th (where Captain Martin R. Reinhold was killed), and at Bunker Hill on the 13th.
With Sheridan now assuming the offensive, the cavalry was brought together and refitted. Advancing toward the Opequon on the 19th in the early morning hours, the horsemen moved to engage the Confederates near Stevenson Station. Engaged along both their lines, Sheridan moved the troopers forward, as “step by step the ground was disputed.” As Confederate cavalry was being massed to dispute the advance, Devin (now Brigadier General) was order to charge with the brigade. The 17th led the assault and drove the enemy, under Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early, in great confusion towards Winchester. Sheridan would be able to capture many prisoners and nine battle flags.
Until winter would set in, the regiment would be engaged in numerous skirmishes and battles in Virginia, one which would see the death of Lieutenant Alfred F. Lee. Returning to Winchester for winter quarters, the troopers were employed in picket and scouting duties, with occasional detachments being sent out against roving bands of the enemy. On December 27, Colonel Josiah H. Kellogg, in command of the regiment since its inception, was honorably discharged, and Lt. Colonel James Q. Anderson succeeded him. Major Durland was promoted to Lt. Colonel, and Captains Luther B. Kurtz and William Thompson were both elevated to Major.
Beginning in February of 1865, the 17th would participate in the raids of destruction led by Sheridan, destroying railroads, warehouses, supplies, and disrupting communications. Subsequent losses in the regiment would be severe as the horsemen pressed the Confederates onward to Appomattox Court House. Captain James Ham was killed on April 1 as the regiment charged entrenched Confederates. Captains English, Henry M. Donehoo, Reinhold, and Lieutenant Anglun were among the wounded. The cavalry would keep up a “running fight” with the Confederates as they retreated further toward Appomattox. After Lee’s surrender of his army there, the 17th marched to Petersburg and had a week’s rest, then continued onward to Washington where it remained in camp until being mustered out of service on June 16. A detachment of the regiment, consolidated with parts of the 1st and 6th Pennsylvania cavalry regiments (formed into the 2nd Provisional Cavalry) remained in service until August when it was mustered out at Louisville KY. In his farewell order to the gallant troopers of the 17th, Division commander General Devin wrote: “Of the many gallant regiments from your State none has a brighter record, none has more freely shed their blood on every battle-field from Gettysburg to Appomattox.”
The 17th had one Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Lieutenant Henry G. Bonebrake of Company G. Bonebrake was born in Waynesboro PA and received his honor for bravery at the Battle of Five Forks VA on April 1, 1865. As one of the first troopers of General Devin’s division to enter Confederate earthworks, he fought in a fierce hand-to-hand struggle with a Confederate to capture his battle flag by superior physical strength. The citation was issued on May 3, 1865.
Regimental standard of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, made by Horstmann & Co., Philadelphia.