Faded Hoofbeats – Brig. Gen. William Wells, 1st Vermont Cavalry

Another installment, this one of William Wells of the 1st Vermont Cavalry.  Most famous for his participation in “Farnsworth’s Charge” at Gettysburg, Wells’ portrait statue on the ground of the charge greets visitors along Confederate Avenue on their way to the Round Tops.

Click here for the online version of the very rare memorial volume to Wells and the dedication of this statue.

The portrait statue of Major William Wells stands proudly on South Confederate Avenue, at the base of Bushman Hill, and faces in the direction which Brig. General Elon Farnsworth’s Charge on July 3 took place.  The statue of this Medal of Honor winner was dedicated on this spot on July 3, 1913, the 50th anniversary of this day’s actions.  Even though the July 3rd fighting was essentially over late in the day, one “small” act remained to be performed on the Union left.  Accompanied by four companies of the 1st Vermont Cavalry under Major Wells, Farnsworth charged five Confederate regiments of General Evander Law’s brigade and artillery.  Breaking into the Confederate rear right flank, the troopers took heavy musket and cannon fire in the area of the “D-shaped field,” enclosed by a stone wall on the Slyder Farm.  Eventually they had to turn back and lost Farnsworth to mortal wounds, along with 75 of the 225 cavalrymen who followed him.  Wells was awarded the Medal of Honor for “most distinguished gallantry” in the futile charge, ordered by the division commander, Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.  Farnsworth has never been so honored, nor does he have a monument of his own on the field.Born in Waterbury VT on December 14, 1837, Wells enlisted as a private at the war’s start in the 1st Vermont Cavalry, and was soon elected Captain.  He eventually rose to Brigadier General of Volunteers in May 1865, and had received more promotions than any other Vermont officer during the war.  Captured in the spring of 1863, then exchanged, Wells was promoted to Major.  In June of 1864 he was promoted to Colonel. The State appropriated $6000 to erect his portrait statue at Gettysburg to honor him and the men under his command.  The sculptor, J. Otto Schweizer, used several of Wells’ actual personal  possessions in creating the work.  To use as models, Wells’ own uniform, hat, boots, belt, and revolver were loaned to the sculptor.  The facial features are taken from war-time photographs of Wells.  Upon seeing the finished work, friends of Wells were so pleased with it that an exact copy of the statue was created and erected the following year at Battery Park in Burlington VT.  After the war, Wells served as Adjutant General of Vermont, then in 1872 became a collector of Internal Revenue, and from 1886-87 served in the State Senate of Vermont.  Wells died in New York City on April 29, 1892.  Major General Philip H. Sheridan described Wells as “my ideal of a cavalryman.”

To further honor the troopers of the 1st Vermont who participated in this charge, another $2000 was donated by the Survivors Association to create and place a bronze sculpture plate, depicting the action, on the face of the foundation boulder.  Schweizer, contracted to sculpt this also, desired accuracy in the plate as well.  Using photographs of the actual participants, he modeled each of the faces visible on them and placed them in movements verified by the survivors.  The horses on the plate are known as “Morgans,” the same breed on which the unit was mounted when mustered in in 1861.  Wells is shown out in front of the charge, saber raised, while General Farnsworth falls mortally wounded at his side.  About 20 of the figures on the plaque are identifiable.

Published in: on June 15, 2007 at 10:30 am  Comments (5)  

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  1. You may be interested to know that General Wells Letters to his wife Anna Richardson are going to be published this year by Patrick Schroeder Publications. Thanks to your website I went to gettysburg and photographed the First Vermont Cavalry and Sandoe Monuments. I enjoy your blog very much. How about putting a list of top 25 Cavalry Books on the site besides the ones on Bufords Boys? It will help a novice such as myself to build a small reading library. I also have a copy of the Wells dedication book. Its really well done and worth the price if it can be found. How about a biography of General Devin? Thanks so much. James McCorry, Palatine Illinois

  2. Hey Jim,

    I didn’t know about the pending publication of the letters – I definitely look forward to seeing them.

    The list of books is a great idea – in fact, I’ll compile one for Gettysburg and one for the general war. Give me some time and I’ll do that here.

    You’re going to see a detailed bio of Devin in some upcoming works that Eric and I are doing… we’re working on a 3-volume history of the cavalry in the GB Campaign, and Devin’s bio will be in volume 2. It’s very comprehensive.


  3. Have in family’s possession one epaulette with metal spirals and Vermont militia button. Was passed down that it belonged to my grandfather’s great uncle, a General. Problem is we don’t know which uncle. The 4 probable last names are Foster, Mead, Thomas and Wells. Do you know if this Wells was issued epaulettes or a Vermont militia button? Do you know where we can find info on Wells genealogy, specifically his brothers & sisters? Thank you for your time.

    • My father has a Genealogy Book n said we’re related to Major William Wells , which my father’s name is also William Wells , he also said we are related to President Pope , I haven’t had a chance to see this book yet but I’m anxious to look at it to see exactly where we came from

    • Being from Waterbury, Gen Well’s home town, I have collected some of his personal items. I have some of his personal books etc. There is also a history book of the 1st VT cav that was printed around 1900 or so that has his bio. They are pricey but I would do some research for you if needed. Ebay has some for sale every now and then. vtcivilwar at aol if you want to contact me.

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