Faded Hoofbeats: Lt. Col. Timothy Hanley, 9th New York Cavalry

Here’s another in my profiles of “forgotten” Civil War troopers.  Timothy Hanley of the 9th New York Cavalry (known as the “Westfield Cavalry”) has long been known to me.  In my early studies of Gettysburg, his name popped up while going through the regimental history.  On July 2, the second day of the battle, Federal Cavalry Corps commander Alfred Pleasonton ordered John Buford and the two cavalry brigades off the field and to Westminster MD to rest and guard the army’s wagons.  Only (then) Capt. Timothy Hanley and a small squad of 9th New York cavalrymen, about 100 troopers or so in all, were left behind.  Assigned to Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles’ headquarters, Hanley and his troopers were kept close at hand by Sickles and either not ordered or not permitted to do much scouting on the Federal left.  Sickles later made his famous move forward toward the Peach Orchard just prior to Longstreet’s afternoon assault, and Hanley and his group remained with the 3rd Corps until late that night, when they rejoined Buford’s brigades at Westminster.  The regimental history of the 9th New York Cavalry mentions Hanley here and there, as do a few other sources, and I’ve long gotten the idea that some of his performances – particularly at Chancellorsville – showed him to have been quite a brave officer.  Unfortunately, I’d been unable to locate much biographical material on Hanley and I’ve never seen a picture of him.

I still haven’t seen a picture, but last week I happened to discover his obituary in The New York Times while looking for something else.  It was quite a revelation.  It confirmed, as I suspected, that Hanley had some type of prior military experience.  I also hadn’t realized how much a war wound affected him the rest of his life.  Here’s the text of the obituary from the April 5, 1893 issue of the Times:


Six Years It Compelled Lieut. Col. Hanley To Live On Liquid Food.

Lieut. Col. Timothy Hanley died Monday evening at the home of William Sage, 231 East One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Street, where he had been living for the last twenty years.  Col. Hanley received a bullet wound in a skirmish at Smithfield, Va., in 1864, the bullet entering his left lung and passing through his body.  He was also wounded in the arm during the same engagement.  The chest wound gave him constant trouble, and finally caused his death.  For six years he had lived entirely on liquid food.
Col. Hanley was born in Tipperary, Ireland, about fifty-eight years ago.  He began his military life in the Fourth Dragoons of the British Army, and served in the Crimean war and in India, and was in the siege of Sebastopol and Lucknow.  He received many medals from the British Government in recognition of his services.  He became a commissioned officer in the British Army, but resigned and came to this country in 1859.
Gov. Fenton commissioned him Adjutant of the Ninth New-York Cavalry, and he afterward became Lieutenant Colonel of this regiment.  He served through the war under Gen. Sheridan, and took part in forty-two engagements.  Returning from the war he served four years as Inspector in the New-York Custom House.  He then engaged in the liquor business for a number of years, but sold most of his property some years ago.  He owned a hotel in Westchester, N.Y., which he sold only a short time before his death.
Col. Hanley was unmarried, and it is not known that he has any relatives in America.  He was a member of John A. Rawlins Post, No. 80 G.A.R., and of the Limited Order of Friends, and was a Past Commander of Philip Lambrecht Post.
The funeral will take place to-day at 1 o’clock at the home of William Sage, 231 East One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Street.  The interment will be in Cypress Hills Cemetery.

The unit’s regimental history states that Hanley enrolled in the 9th New York Cavalry at age 26 on October 15, 1861 at Troy, New York.  It further states that he was mustered as Battalion Adjutant on November 3, and as captain of Company F on August 18, 1862.  Badly wounded (the chest and arm wounds mentioned in the obituary) at Smithfield, Virginia, on August 4, 1864, and promoted to lieutenant colonel as of March 1, 1865.  Hanley mustered out with the rest of the regiment on July 17, 1865 at Clouds Mills, Virginia.

Here’s a salute of the saber to Tim Hanley, a tough ol’ brogue of the Westfield Cavalry.  If anyone has any more information about him, his life or his service, I’d very much appreciate hearing it.

Published in: on August 20, 2008 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  

“What Hath Kilpatrick Wrought” on Harry Smeltzer’s blog

Harry Smeltzer, on his Bull Runnings blog, has put up a couple terrific posts on the prodigial descendant line of Union General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.  Some are familiar with his more famous descendants, but Harry has put together quite a recounting of all of his descendants and some extremely interesting stories about them to boot.  The first post is here, the second here.

I’ve known for years that CNN’s Anderson Cooper is a direct descendant of Kilpatrick, and Cooper definitely has the “Little Kil” chromosomes.  One look at Anderson is like looking at a picture of the General – put some big sideburns and a uniform on the CNN anchor, and he’s Kilpatrick’s twin.

Check out Harry’s posts.  Interesting reading and you’ll learn a great deal – including the fact that one of those related to Kilpatrick’s descendants was born in one of the cottages atop Monterey – the very ground on which Kilpatrick fought Confederate General Richard Ewell’s teamsters the night of July 4, 1863 as the Rebels retreated following Gettysburg.  I didn’t know about this birth location until now, and it’s an amazing circle of fate – and one that I will mention every time I talk about the fight at Monterey Pass or give a tour of the ground.

Kudos to Harry for some terrific work.

Published in: on April 29, 2008 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Comment from descendant of 9th New York Cavalry trooper

I recently received a comment from a descendant of a trooper who served in the 9th New York Cavalry, known as the “Westfield Cavalry.”  Kenneth L. Vogt writes from Rome NY.  I know the places he speaks of – my wife is from a small town not far from Dunkirk, and the regiment was drilled early in the war in Westfield.

Here’s what Kenneth writes:

Charles Fowler Brown; 1st Sergeant Company F 9th NY Cav Volunteers, wounded at Brandy Station and missed Gettysburg by injury received while on picket duty in June 1863. Was in military hospital at Washington, DC.
According to Pension records, Sgt Brown was asleep and holding his horse by halter. A noise alarmed horse and he was dragged over 40 rods of road and then a wood pyle of ties used for fortifications.
Due to his injuries from the war, Charles Brown could not perform manual labor as a farmer. He served as a clerk for his former commander Captain Martin at Martin’s Mercantile store near Jamestown, New York.
!869, he went to Greely, Colorado for about 3 years and then about 1872 went to join his brother Oscar Brown (His brother Oscar was in Missouri at the outbrake of the war and served as a Cavalry Officer assigned to a gunboat on the Mississippi, a very unique assignment) in Schuyler, Colfax County, Nebraska and obtained 160 acres from the “Homestead Act”. Again he was severly limited on his manual labor and could only farm 40 acres of the 160 acres. In 1879, he went to Illinois and worked briefly as a sewing machine salesman.
He returned to Nebraska and stayed until the 1890s. He then joined his son Persey in Santa Barbara, California and died in 1928.
This Civil War Veteran and his wife lie in unmarked graves in Santa Barbara, California. My cousin Donald Hotchkiss from Las Vegas, Nevada recently obtained over 46 pages of Charles F. Brown’s pension application papers that outlined his injuries during the war and provided an insight into the veteran’s life from 1857 to 1928.
Cousin Donald is a Civil War reanactor and has made arrangements for a stone to be placed on Charles Brown’s cemetery plot and a service honoring him on Memorial Day 2008.
I am Charles Fowler Brown’s GG Grandson and grew up in Chautauqua County at Dunkirk. I have a 1921 family picture of six grandfathers at my brother Jack’s baptism in Westfield, New York. Grand father Brown sent a picture of himself from Santa Barbara, California which was included as an insert to this picture. I am planning on making a pamphlet on Grandfather Brown and his life.
Kenneth L. Vogt from Rome, New York

Published in: on December 27, 2007 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Faded Hoofbeats: Pvt. Norvell Francis Churchill, 1st Michigan Cavalry

History hardly remembers young Pvt. Norvell Churchill of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, one of Brig. Gen. George A. Custer’s orderlies.  However, the actions of Churchill at the Hunterstown battlefield just outside Gettysburg early in the evening of July 2, 1863, literally changed history.  There may have been no “Custer defeat” at the Little Big Horn thirteen years later… indeed, there may have been no George Custer at all after that warm July 2.

Late on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, Jeb Stuart’s tired Confederate cavalry brigades had just made their way to the Gettysburg area after being out of touch with Robert E. Lee’s army for over a week.  Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, commander of the Federal Third Cavalry division, had also made his way to the area after battling Stuart at Hanover on June 30.  Ordered to protect and scout the Federal right flank near Hunterstown, Kilpatrick’s advance guard came into contact with the rear guard of one of Stuart’s brigade commanders, Wade Hampton, in the main street of Hunterstown.

Falling back under a fighting withdrawal, Hampton’s rear guard proceeded down the Hunterstown-Gettysburg road near the Gilbert farm.  Pulling up rein at the top of the Felty farm ridge, Custer, commanding one of Kilpatrick’s brigades, ordered Co. A of his 6th Michigan Cavalry to charge into the Confederates.  Before company commander Capt. Henry E. Thompson could spur away, however, Custer drew his saber and shouted, “I’ll lead you this time boys – Come on!”

Custer, a newly-minted brigadier, led that single company down the road and crashed into Hampton’s defiant rear guard near the Gilbert home.  Some of Hampton’s troopers had begun deploying on both sides of the road at their position, and Custer’s did as well on their side.  In the hand-to-hand melee, Custer’s horse went down, trapping him underneath.  He was soon nearly surrounded, with at least one Confederate trooper bearing down on the hapless general.

Seeing his general’s plight, Pvt. Churchill acted quickly.  He aimed his revolver at Custer’s assailant and shot him.  Reaching down, Custer grabbed onto Churchill’s arm and pulled himself into Churchill’s saddle behind him.  Hell bent for leather, Churchill galloped back to the Federal position atop Felty ridge with the survivors of Company A on their heels.  Custer had been saved from certain capture or death by the quick thinking of his 23 year-old orderly.

According to his family, Churchill was born on June 11, 1840 in Berlin Township in Michigan.  He joined the 6th Michigan Cavalry in August 1861.  After the Hunterstown fight, Custer made Churchill his “Special Orderly” in honor of his deed that day.

Following the war, Custer made a visit to Churchill at his farm at Romeo, Michigan, and stayed for three days before heading off to the Indian Campaigns.  Custer reportedly asked Churchill to join him, but he declined. 

Churchill died at the age of 65 on June 25, 1905 in Echo Township in Michigan.  His family still retains his saber.

The pictures are from the Hunterstown1863 website of the Hunterstown Historical Society, and please see the webpage posted there by Churchill’s great-granddaughter, Pat H. Stephens.

The recounting of Churchill’s actions can also be found in the book by Eric Wittenberg and myself, Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg on page 173.

Published in: on December 7, 2007 at 12:02 pm  Comments (7)  

The 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry

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
Recruitments: (counties)
   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
Regimental Casualties:
   Killed:  6 Officers, 98 Enlisted men
   Died from Disease:  128 Enlisted men

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.

Published in: on June 15, 2007 at 12:08 pm  Comments (114)  

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)  

Faded Hoofbeats – Elon J. Farnsworth

Those who know me well know of my deep interest in Brig. Gen. Elon Farnsworth and his mounted cavalry charge on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg in which he was mortally wounded.  Here is a biography of Farnsworth, containing many obscure details of his short life.

Elon Farnsworth was born on July 30, 1837 in the small town of Green Oak, Michigan.  The son of James Patten Farnsworth and Achsah (Hudson), he was descended from veterans of the French and Indian, Revolutionary, and 1812 wars.  An older brother, Robert, died while very young, and he had one younger half-brother, Julius, who was born in 1855 of his father’s second wife.  When Elon was 18, his family moved to Rockton, Illinois, and the following year he enrolled in the University of Michigan.  A young prankster, Elon often led other students in mischievous acts.  In his second year, he was nearly expelled.  In his third year, he and several others got drunk and rowdy one night, and apparently one student died after being thrown out of a building.  Farnsworth and seven other students were finally expelled from school.  As evidence of Farnsworth’s underlying character, he went to one of his professors and thanked him, acknowledged that the expulsion was justified, and stated that he would yet show that he “could make a man of himself.”

With his schooling now over, Farnsworth followed the Federal Army’s march to the Utah Territory, where he served them as a civilian forage master.  At Utah’s Camp Floyd when the Civil War began, Farnsworth traveled back to Illinois and joined the 8th Illinois Cavalry, which his influential politician uncle John F. Farnsworth had organized at President Lincoln’s direction.  Young Farnsworth, then only 24, was immediately commissioned a first lieutenant in the regiment and in command of Company K.  Amiable and still a bit of a prank, he was popular with the men, who said his “shrewdness and wit were proverbial.”  The tall, thin Farnsworth proved to be brave under fire and was described as “courage incarnate but full of tender regard for [the] men” under his command.

Farnsworth was commissioned captain early in 1862.  Ever the patriot, Farnsworth had been told of a church pastor in Alexandria VA who had not offered the customary prayer for the good health of President Lincoln at one of his services.  Approaching the clergyman, Farnsworth asked him to recite the invocation.  When the pastor refused to do so, Farnsworth demanded it of him.  After a second refusal, Farnsworth had him arrested.  Several members of the congregation got into the argument and assaulted the young Captain, and it took a threat to shoot them to settle the affair.

The Confederates grew to both fear and hate the impetuous young officer.  In November, he and other members of the 8th skirmished with troopers of the 1st Virginia Cavalry in November near Warrenton VA.  A Confederate horseman named Billy Dulin had his horse shot from under him and was pinned under the animal.  Farnsworth, drawing his pistol, shot Dulin, mortally wounding him.  The men of the 1st Virginia swore vengeance upon Farnsworth, and every trooper in Dulin’s company scratched Farnsworth’s name on their cartridge boxes, swearing that “it would only be a matter of time until he [Farnsworth] would meet his fate.”  It would be a savored task indeed to be the one to bring the young captain down.

After returning to the regiment following a serious illness, and serving effectively, he was placed on the staff of Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton at the general’s request.  Pleasonton had often courted the favors of Elon’s uncle John and looked for opportunities for self-promotion.  John had resigned from the regiment upon being elected to the Congress, and Pleasonton recognized him as one who was influential amongst the chain of command.  At the June 9, 1863 battle of Brandy Station, Farnsworth returned to his regiment to command them during the afternoon phase of the engagement when heavy casualties among the regiment’s officers left him as the senior officer on the field.  Farnsworth’s exemplary command abilities caught Pleasonton’s eye that day.  Likely in a maneuver to both give Farnsworth broader command as well as to curry favors from the elder Farnsworth, Pleasonton wrote to the latter on June 23:  “Captain Farnsworth has done splendidly – I have serious thoughts of having him made a brigadier general… I am sadly in want of officers with the proper dash to command cavalry – having lost so many good ones – Do assist us until we can get ahead of the Rebs.”  Hearing of the request, and not one above using some influence to promote himself as well, the young Farnsworth, on June 29, wrote a letter of his own to his uncle, saying:  “The general speaks of recommending me for Brig[adier General].  I do not know that I ought to mention it for fear that you will call me an aspiring youth.  I am satisfied to serve through this war in the line in my regt as a Capt on Genl Pleasonton’s staff.  But if I can do any good anywhere else of course “small favors &c.”  Now try and take this into the President, and you can do an immeasurable good.”

The elder Farnsworth must have acted quickly, since Elon was promoted from captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers (skipping three ranks) on June 28, and immediately took command of a brigade of cavalry under Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.  Promoted along with Farnsworth, also from captain to brigadiers, were Wesley Merritt and George Armstrong Custer.  The young trio would be known as the “boy generals.”

Opportunity to prove himself in field command came quickly.  On the morning of June 30, Kilpatrick’s division clashed with JEB Stuart’s gray troopers in the small Pennsylvania town of Hanover, just a little over 20 miles from Gettysburg.  Farnsworth led a charge that drove Stuart from the town, which had raged through its streets all day.  Two days later, Kilpatrick and Stuart tangled again at Hunterstown PA, where Farnsworth joined Custer and his brigade of horsemen in attacking Confederate Brigadier General Wade Hampton’s cavalry brigade.  In just a few days as a new brigadier, Farnsworth saw heavy action, fighting the most experienced and able of Confederate horsemen.  He was unafraid to lead smashing mounted charges himself and proved himself as an inspirational commander who led by example.

After the Confederates were repulsed in the grand Pickett/Pettigrew/Trimble assault on the afternoon of July 3 at Gettysburg, the 27-year-old Kilpatrick (pictured) saw what he thought to be an opportunity to strike the enemy’s right flank and attain some glory.  From atop Bushman’s Hill, just south of the Round Tops, Kilpatrick (who had received orders from Pleasonton to attack at any opportunity) ordered Farnsworth to lead his brigade, which had just arrived on the field a few hours earlier, in a mounted charge down the hill and into the Confederate ranks.  Skirmishers of the 1st Vermont Cavalry of Farnsworth’s brigade had been trading shots with Confederates of Brigadier Generals Evander M. Law and Jerome Robertson for several hours.  Farnsworth’s brigade was the only unit available, since Merritt’s troopers were skirmishing to the south and Custer’s brigade had been assigned to Brigadier General David M. Gregg’s division.  Seeing the boulder-strewn, wooded terrain, broken by rock walls and fences, Farnsworth rightly recognized the folly of leading his men in such an assault.  Earlier, Kilpatrick had ordered the troopers of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry to charge the 1st Texas infantry near the Slyder Farm, and the troopers had run into a sturdy rail fence that stopped their movement.  Tugging at the stakes and slashing at the rails with their sabers, the Mountaineers received a devastating fire from the Texans and were repulsed, suffering terribly.  As the West Virginians regrouped, Kilpatrick threw in the horsemen of the 18th Pennsylvania, who were also repulsed by the Confederates well-hidden behind stone walls.  Falling back along with men of the 5th New York Cavalry who were supporting Federal artillery, the troopers had to leave dozens of dead and wounded cavalrymen and horses strewn in the fields and woods.

Watching the action from above, Kilpatrick and Farnsworth’s animated conversation began to heat up.  Both were dismounted and standing near roaring Federal cannons.  Farnsworth stated that charging the position was “worse than folly and certain destruction.”  Kilpatrick walked over to Major John Hammond, commanding the 5th New York, to ask his opinion about the chances of a mounted charge succeeding.  Hammond observed the stone fences, heavily timbered swampy ground, and a “range of boulders and rocks that was appalling.”  Out of earshot of Kilpatrick, Farnsworth told Hammond, “My God, Hammond, Kil is going to have a cavalry charge.  It is too awful to think of – will be but a slaughter of the boys – they have no chance for themselves.”  

However, Kilpatrick wanted his charge, his glory on his end of the line.  He had received word of the massive cavalry clash going on east of the field between Gregg’s and Stuart’s horsemen, and he felt if he could break the Rebel right flank, Meade could roll up Lee’s army and end the war on this ground.  Kilpatrick even envisioned himself as President one day, and this scheme could be just the glorious assault to win the White House for him.

Walking over to the group, Major John W. Bennett of the 1st Vermont was asked by Farnsworth what he thought of the chances of success.  “You have been up front all day,” stated Farnsworth.  “What do you think?”  Before Bennett could answer, Kilpatrick yelled, “The whole Rebel army is in retreat!  I have just heard from the right, and our cavalry there is gobbling them up by the thousands.  All we have to do is charge, and the enemy will throw down their arms and surrender!”

Calmly, Bennett replied to Kilpatrick, “Sir, I don’t know about the situation on the right, but the enemy in our front are not broken or retreating.”  He then described how a mounted charge had no chance for success through the trees and rocks.  Kilpatrick shook his head and snorted with disgust.  Bennett and Farnsworth mounted their horses to look the ground over further.  As they rode, Farnsworth told Bennett he could “not see the slightest chance for a successful charge.”  Bennett agreed.

Returning, Kilpatrick ordered Farnsworth to mount the assault.  Angrily, Farnsworth responded, “General… shall I throw my handful of men over rough ground, through timber, against a brigade of infantry?  The 1st Vermont has already been fought half to pieces; these are too good men to kill!”  Having enough, Kilpatrick glared at his brigadier and responded, “Do you refuse to obey my orders?  If you are afraid to lead this charge, I will lead it!”

His honor and courage thus called into question by the goading Kilpatrick, whom Sheridan would call “a hell of a damned fool,” the gallant young general affirmed that no one would lead his men but him, rising in his stirrups and crying out, “Take that back!  I ask no man to lead my troops forward!”  Rebuffed, Kilpatrick backed off, saying simply, “I didn’t mean it.  Forget it.”

After an eerie silence, with troopers gawking at the generals’ exchange, Farnsworth said in a solemn and firm voice, “General, if you order the charge, I will lead it; but you must take the responsibility.  I will obey your order.”  “I take the responsibility,”  Kilpatrick replied, as Farnsworth rode off to prepare for his grim fate.  The argument between the two was so loud that men of the 1st Texas infantry claimed to have heard it from 200 yards away down the hill.  Knowing a charge of some sort was imminent, they readied themselves to receive it, with Law shifting his forces to meet the assault.  He sent for reinforcements from the 9th Georgia to double-quick the half-mile to their front from the south, and they would arrive just in time.

Shaking hands with his officers and bidding them a prophetic farewell, Farnsworth organized the assault.  Preparing, the Vermonters were stoically silent, as “each man felt, as he tightened his saber belt, that he was summoned to a ride to death.”

With federal artillery whistling overhead and bugles blaring, Farnsworth, leading the column, crashed his troopers down the rocky hill and into the ranks of Law’s 15th Alabama brigade, some of the finest riflemen in Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps, and who were supported with two batteries of artillery.  The terrain, unsuited to a mounted charge, quickly threw the brave troopers into disarray.  Farnsworth had divided the 1st Vermont into three battalions for the charge; the third was commanded by Major William Wells (pictured).  Farnsworth chose to ride alongside Wells, who, after observing the ground, had remarked himself that he would “rather charge into Hell than in there.”  The 2nd section was dismounted behind a stone wall to support the charge. 

Repulsed by the Confederates firmly entrenched behind rock walls and fences, Farnsworth’s column galloped near the Slyder Farm (west of Big Round Top) and toward a D-shaped farm field enclosed by high stone walls.  His silk neckerchief flapping as he galloped, the “boy general” raised his saber and charged with his small party toward the 15th Alabama.  Aiming his pistol, he demanded the surrender of Lieutenant John B. Adrian, in charge of the Confederate skirmish line.  Suddenly, a dozen southern riflemen opened on him, killing his horse and wounding him in several places.  Blood strewed from his shoulder, stomach, and a leg.  Adrian approached Farnsworth, who still held his pistol and was struggling to stand up.  The lieutenant asked his surrender, but Farnsworth refused.  He died where he fell.

There, the young general had been shot down, the only known Federal officer of general rank to be killed behind enemy lines during the Civil War.  Proving his courage, Farnsworth was felled in a futile charge which he knew to be suicidal, but which he himself led.

Major Wells was issued the Medal of Honor for his brave service that day.  However, no such honor was given to Farnsworth, nor does he have a separate monument of his likeness anywhere on the Gettysburg battlefield.  Past attempts to correct this tragic oversight have met with failure, although recently a renewed effort has been mounted with a possible chance of success.  The Monument of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, which stands near the spot where the young general was felled, recounts his service in the charge, and a Park Service Placard along the park road which bypasses the Slyder Farm tells the story, of which most visitors are unaware.  On the face of the boulder used as a base for the portrait statue of Wells is a sculpted plaque which depicts the charge, complete with likenesses of many of the participants.

Most visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield do not know of the ground which comprised Farnsworth’s ill-fated charge, although they drive through the middle of it when eagerly approaching Little Round Top, the site of several famous actions on days 2 and 3 of the battle.  Just before coming to Big Round Top, the visitor must look closely to see the walking paths on both sides of the park road, remnants of the old back lane of the Slyder Farm.  Walking up the one to the right will take the visitor up Bushman’s Hill, where the assault was formed, and where monuments to the 5th New York and 18th Pennsylvania Cavalries stand.  To the left, the path leads past the D-shaped field, where Farnsworth fell, to the Slyder Farm.  

The D-shaped field, due to the battlefield tree clearings of 2006, is now finally visible after decades of overgrowth and neglect.  Most of the stone walls enclosing it are the original walls, and the monument of the 1st Vermont stands in it.  In this field, the gallant, impetuous young brigadier, a prankster in his youth and a stalwart, courageous leader in his prime, fell leading his veteran troopers.  Perhaps someday a monument to Farnsworth, befitting of his likeness and worthy of his service, will stand upon this field and bear witness to the dedication and steadfastness of the soldiers on both sides who swirled through their own hell, in both an action and a part of the battlefield, that is all but forgotten by most.


Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 1:15 am  Comments (19)  

Faded Hoofbeats – Cpl. Alpheus Hodges, 9th NY Cavalry

Here’s a profile of Alpheus Hodges, claimant to having fired the “first shot” of the Battle of Gettysburg early on the morning of July 1, 1863.  He went to his grave insisting on his place in history, and among locals at home was hailed as a hero.   My thanks to Kathy Sloan for providing the photo and much of the biographical information.

Corporal Alpheus Hodges, Company F of the 9th New York Cavalry, was one who laid claim to having fired the first shot in the Battle of Gettysburg.  In his hometown community of East Rochester, NY later in his life, he was hailed as the soldier who fired the shot that opened the battle.

Hodges was born May 4, 1843 in Cambridge, Crawford County, PA to James Marshall and Lucinda Marie (Nichols) Hodges.  His mother died when he was 11 months old and Alpheus spent his first 10 years with his grandparents in Waterford, afterward moving back with his father, who had remarried in 1845 to Keziah Nichols Hubbard.  Hubbard was a widow and Lucinda’s sister.  The family lived on a farm near Ashville in Chautauqua County, NY.

At the age of 18, he enlisted in the 9th New York Cavalry, Company F, at the regiment’s formation on September 20, 1861 at Ashville.  He was appointed corporal in his company on September 26, 1862.

In charge of an advanced picket post the morning of July 1, 1863 along with three other troopers of his company, Hodges claimed to have been fired upon by advancing Confederates.  According to the regiment’s history, “At daylight on the morning of July 1, men were seen approaching on the road beyond Willoughby Run, and nearly a mile away.  Acting on his orders, Hodges sent his men to notify the line and the reserve while he advanced across the stream stopping to water his horse, then rode to the higher ground beyond far enough to see that the men approaching were Confederates.  He then turned back and as he did so they fired at him.  Hodges retired to the bridge where, from behind its stone abutments he fired several shots at the advancing enemy.  This occurred at about 5:20 A.M., and this exchange of shots is believed to be the first shots fired at the battle of Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, 1863.  When Hodges rode back from the bridge to the line of videttes on the higher ground east of Willoughby Run he found Col. Sackett [in command of the regiment] had formed a skirmish line of his whole picket force.  A detachment of the 8th Ill. [cavalry] afterward rode out the Chambersburg road and had a skirmish about half a mile beyond Willoughby Run losing one man killed.”

There are some questions about Hodges’ and the 9th New York’s claims, however.  No picket post of the 9th New York was posted on the Chambersburg Pike – that was the post of the 8th Illinois that morning.  Even the 9th New York’s monument at Gettysburg is inscribed with the words “Discovering the Enemy” and “Picket on Chambersburg Road fired on at 5 am.”  In addition, Confederate General Henry Heth’s division didn’t begin their march from their camp at Cashtown, some 5 miles from that point, until 5 am.  However, shots did appear to be exchanged north of town, where the 9th New York did have pickets posted, and it may have been with Confederate stragglers or advance elements of Confederate General Ewell’s corps.  Mounted Confederates had been spotted and skirmished with in Hunterstown the previous evening, so if Hodges did indeed exchange lead with the enemy, it could have been with any number of possible southern detachments.  There are, unfortunately, no southern accounts of such an exchange.

When John Buford’s cavalry division was ordered off the Gettysburg battlefield on July 2nd by Cavalry Corps commander Alfred Pleasonton, Hodges remained behind with a detachment of the 9th New York that was detailed to the headquarters of 3rd Corps commander Major General Daniel Sickles.  There, Hodges is reported to have done “distinguished service.”  Hodges remained with Sickles’ headquarters until July 4, when he returned to his regiment and participated in the cavalry actions during the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia through Maryland.

On August 1, 1863, during the fighting near Brandy Station, Hodges’ horse was shot out from under him.  Hodges’ ankle was broken during his fall, and he was taken prisoner.  Since his ankle was never properly set, it caused him to limp the rest of his life.  He was first slated to be taken to Andersonville prison camp, but was sent to Belle Isle near Richmond instead.  Hodges was released in a general exchange of prisoners in March 1864, and returned to the regiment until mustered out on October 29, 1864 at Middletown VA.

After he was mustered out, Hodges returned to his family farm near Ashville but soon became restless.  Shortly after the war, Hodges moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he worked on several ranches as a ranch hand.  On March 6, 1873, he married Lucy Althea Steen (who was born January 14, 1853), daughter of Robert and Mary (Bunting) Steen.  They had six children, two of whom died in infancy.

A few years later, the Hodges moved to Westfield NY, where the 9th New York Cavalry had been raised, and in 1907 they moved to East Rochester, living at 137 East Chestnut Street.  Hodges worked for the Merchants Despatch Transportation Company for about 10 years, retiring in July 1921.  Besides being well known in the community for his war exploits, he was popular for his involvement in political and social affairs in East Rochester.

At the age of 80, after enjoying generally good health except for the limp caused by his fall at Brandy Station, Hodges developed heart problems and died at his home shortly before 2 pm on August 1, 1922.  He was a member of his local GAR (Myron Adams Post) and was active in veterans gatherings and reunions.  He is buried in Lot 633 in Pittsford Cemetery, Pittsford NY.  His wife Lucy died on November 18, 1934 at East Rochester.

Published in: on June 8, 2007 at 10:20 am  Comments (6)  

Faded Hoofbeats: Wesley Merritt

Born:  June 16, 1834 in New York City
Died:  December 3, 1910 in Natural Bridge, Virginia

Wesley Merritt was born on June 16, 1834 into a family of 11 children.  After an unsuccessful law career, his father moved the family to a farm in St. Clair County IL, where the elder Merritt was a farmer, state legislator, and newspaper editor.  Raised in the comfortable environment of an affluent and politically active household, Wesley attended the Military Academy at West Point, graduating in the Class of 1860 and ranked 22nd out of 41.  Earlier, he had pondered the idea of going into law.  Upon graduation, Merritt joined the 2nd US Dragoons and was promoted to brevet 2nd Lieutenant on July 1.  He served on frontier duty at Fort Crittenden in Utah for about a year, in John Buford’s Company B.  He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the 2nd Dragoons on January 28, 1861, then to 1st Lieutenant on May 13.  Merritt had a reputation for being one of the toughest disciplinarians in the service.  He served as Assistant Adjutant-General of the Utah forces from June 27 to August 8 of that year, and as Adjutant of the 2nd United States Cavalry from July 1, 1861 until January of 1862.  In February of 1862, he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke, who commanded the Cavalry Department of the Army of the Potomac, serving at the headquarters in Washington, DC.  On April 5, Merritt was appointed Captain of the 2nd United States Cavalry (the new name for the 2nd Dragoons), remaining in the defenses of Washington until April of 1863.  At that time, Merritt was appointed Adjutant to General George Stoneman (as Ordnance Officer) of the First Cavalry Corps, participating in the raid toward Richmond.

Not long after the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was promoted to the command of the 2nd United States Cavalry (in the Reserve Brigade) which was commanded by Brigadier General John Buford.  Once General Stoneman was relieved of his command of the Cavalry Corps, succeeded by General Alfred Pleasonton, Buford was transferred to command of the First Cavalry Division, and Merritt took the command of the 2nd US.  On June 29, 1863, Merritt was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers at General Pleasonton’s request and took over command of Buford’s Reserve Brigade, which consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th United States Cavalry Regulars, as well as the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Volunteers.  Buford had come to admire the 6th Pennsylvania (also known as “Rush’s Lancers”) so much that he called them his “seventh regular cavalry.”  The elements of the brigade were shadows of what they had once been due to depleted ranks caused by their mismanagement by previous commanders during the earlier stages of the war.  Buford had trained Merritt in cavalry command and Merritt was an able and competent student.  In writing to seek Merritt’s promotion, Pleasonton stated:  “I desire to inform the general commanding that the losses my command has sustained in officers requires me to ask for the promotion of good commanders.  It is necessary to have a good commander for the regular brigade of cavalry, and I earnestly recommend Capt. Wesley Merritt to be made a brigadier-general for that purpose.  He has all the qualifications for it, and has distinguished himself by his gallantry and daring.  Give me good commanders and I will give you good results.”

Merritt received his Brigadier General’s star due to “gallant and meritorious service” during the Brandy Station and Upperville actions of the campaign through Pennsylvania.  Being promoted from the rank of Captain to Brigadier General was a previously unheard-of “skip” in promotion.  Along with Merritt, Captains George Armstrong Custer and Elon J. Farnsworth received the same honor by Washington.  For this reason, the three are commonly referred to as the “Boy Generals.”  On June 29, the day of his promotion (and only two days before the Battle of Gettysburg), Buford dispatched Merritt and his brigade to Mechanicstown, Maryland, due to the heavy losses they sustained in the recent battles.  Merritt was given instructions by Buford to guard the Army of the Potomac’s lines of communications as well as its paths of retreat should it become necessary.  Crossing the Potomac River at Edward’s Ferry, Merritt and his brigade passed through Frederick and reached Mechanicstown (today Thurmont) that evening.  While the army moved ahead and was engaged in the Gettysburg Battle, Merritt’s brigade rode westward through the passes in the Catoctin Mountains, searching for signs of the Army of Northern Virginia.  After an exhausting day in the saddle, on the eve of the Gettysburg Battle while Buford’s other two brigades prepared to meet the Confederate advance, Merritt wrote in his diary:  “The road is very rugged… people were very kind to us… they opened a schoolhouse & set a fine dinner for the men… went into the town & there as all along the road was rec’d with great joy by the people.”  Early in the morning of July 2, the brigade marched off to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where the troopers made their camp and once again began watching the roads to the south and west.  On July 3, the final day of the Gettysburg Battle, his brigade (except for the 6th U.S., which was detached to Fairfield and fought there against Brig. Gen. William “Grumble” Jones’ cavalry brigade) was called up to Gettysburg by a dispatch from Cavalry Corps commander Pleasonton.  Merritt fought his brigade in a series of dismounted actions against Confederate infantry (and a small unit of cavalry) on the Federal left flank along the Emmitsburg Road.  After the battle the brigade also participated in the pursuit of the enemy to Warrenton, Virginia, and in skirmishes at Williamsport, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Falling Waters, and Manassas Gap.

Only July 5, Merritt’s troopers rejoined Buford’s Division at Frederick, Maryland.  There, the division received fresh horses and refitted for the campaign ahead.

Upon Buford’s death of typhoid fever in December 1863, Merritt took command of the First Division.  Lamenting the untimely death of his mentor, Merritt prepared general orders for the troops which included a moving tribute to his revered commander.

When Major General Philip Sheridan was given command of the newly-formed Army of the Shenandoah, Merritt was given command of one wing of the cavalry, General Custer the other.  Merritt was placed second-in-command to Sheridan in the Appomattox Campaign, and subsequently served as a Commissioner at General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S.Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the Civil War, Merritt served in the West as Lieutenant Colonel of the 9th US Cavalry, helping to put down several Indian uprisings.  In 1876 he was Colonel of the 5th US Cavalry, then commissioned a Brigadier General, Regular Army, in 1887.  He was the Superintendent of West Point from 1882 until 1887, and from 1895 until 1897 took over command of the Departments of the Missouri, Dakota, and the East, respectively.  When war broke out with Spain, Merritt commanded the United States forces in the Philippine Islands, cooperating with Admiral Dewey in the US expedition to conquer Manila.  He was the officer to accept the Spanish surrender.  Merritt was the first Military Governor of the Philippines from July 25, 1898 until August 22, 1898, and then left for Paris to advise the United States Peace Commissioners.  Merritt then assumed command of the Department of the East until his retirement on June 16, 1900, after having served 40 years in the Regular Army.  He died at Natural Bridge, Virginia, on December 3, 1910 and is buried in the cemetery at his beloved West Point.

Merritt, under the tutelage of Buford, recognized the value of the cavalry as an indispensable arm of the service.  He was a quiet, yet competent and intelligent soldier, calm under the greatest pressure.  After General George McClellan was relieved from command of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, Merritt commented that “Little Mac” had demonstrated “ignorance of the proper use of the cavalry.”

Lieutenant Colonel Eben Swift of the 8th United States Cavalry made this assessment of Merritt:  “Merritt at his high prime was the embodiment of force.  He was one of those rare men whose faculties are sharpened and whose view is cleared on the battlefield.  His decisions were delivered with the rapidity of thought and were as clear as if they had been studied for weeks…  In him a fiery soul was held in thrall to will.  Never disturbed by doubt, or moved by fear, neither circumspect nor rash, he never missed an opportunity or made a mistake.”

Merritt’s gravesite at West Point:

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 11:42 am  Comments (14)  

Faded Hoofbeats – Marcellus Jones, 8th Illinois Cavalry

As promised, and as we approach the anniversary of the Gettysburg battle, here’s another profile.  This is of Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, the officer in Col. William Gamble’s brigade (Buford’s division) credited with firing the “first shot” of the battle on the morning of July 1, 1863 against massed Confederate troops.  In the July 2006 issue of America’s Civil War magazine, my feature article “Opening the Ball at Gettysburg: The Shot that Rang for 50 Years” (click to read the online version) featured detail on Jones, his shot, and all known claimants to that distinction.

(Many thanks to Jeff Labuz, a descendant of Marcellus’ younger brother Nelson, for much of the biographical details.)

To nearly any student of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lieutenant Marcellus Ephraim Jones of Company E, 8th Illinois Cavalry, is known as the Union trooper who fired the first shot of the battle at advancing Confederate infantry along the Chambersburg Pike.  Jones was commanding an advance vedette post at the intersection of the Pike and Knoxlyn Road, west of town, when he fired a borrowed carbine at a target some 700 yards away, thus opening the great battle that July 1st morning in 1863.

Jones was described in the “Portrait and Biographical Record of DuPage and Cook Counties, Illinois (1894)” as “…one of the valiant defenders of the Old Flag during the late war.”  Jones was born in Poultney, Rutland County, Vermont, on June 5, 1830, a son of Ephraim and Sophia (Page) Jones.  On his father’s side, he appears to be descended from Captain John Stark of Revolutionary War note (and not the “General John Stark” as is the lineage commonly encountered – they were two different soldiers). 

Jones’ father, Ephraim, was a wagon maker by trade.  Spending his entire life in Vermont, the elder Jones was killed during a severe tornado in 1858 when the timbers of a barn, in which he was taking refuge, fell on him.  Ephraim and Sophia had seven children:  Marcellus, Frank, Nelson, Libbie, Lola, Annis, and Henrietta.  Brother Frank, who had been a hospital steward with the 14th Vermont Infantry in the Civil War, died in Dorset from illness in 1864. 

Marcellus, who grew up in Bennington and Rutland counties in Vermont, lived in that state until the age of 17, when he struck out as a traveling jewelry salesman with his horse and buggy.  A year later he went to Niagara County NY, then to Medina County OH, spending a year and a half in those two locations working as a carpenter.  On December 23, 1850, Jones arrived in Chicago IL and worked as a carpenter for four years.  Moving to Weyauwega WS, he married Sarah Reece and worked as a carpenter, and also built a sash and door factory that was later destroyed by fire.  The loss destroyed all his savings, some $4000.  A son was born to Marcellus and Sarah, but the child lived only 13 days and Sarah died at about the same time.

In 1858, Jones moved to DuPage County IL and soon became a prominent contractor and builder with a large workforce.  He made his home in Danby (now Prospect Park), and continued working his trade until the Civil War broke out and a call for volunteers from the state came out.  Jones was among the first to respond from Danby, and enlisted in Company E of the 8th Illinois Cavalry on August 5, 1861.  The comrades in his company wanted Jones to become an officer, but he modestly declined the honor, saying that all things military were new to him and he felt unqualified.  However, he agreed to consider the offer later after gaining some experience and if the others still wished him to be promoted.  Jones had helped to organize his company’s recruitment and, holding to his intention, enlisted as a private.  He was 31 years old, 5’7″ tall, had brown hair and blue eyes, and listed his occupation on the muster roll as “carpenter.”

The newly-organized 8th formed at St. Charles IL and camped at Camp Kane, but received its drill and training at Washington DC, leaving for the city on October 13.  Arriving on the 17th, the regiment camped at Meridian Hill, then went into camp near Alexandria VA on December 17th.  The unit’s Lt. Colonel, William Gamble, was largely responsible for training it.  The regiment would participate in numerous battles and skirmishes throughout 1862, and captured the colors of the 12th Virginia Confederate Cavalry at Poolsville.  Jones was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on December 5, 1862, First Lieutenant July 4, 1864, and Captain on October 10, 1864.  All three commissions were signed by Illinois Governor Richard Yates.

During the evening of June 30, 1863, as Division Commander Brigadier General John Buford made his picket and vedette dispositions west of Gettysburg to receive the expected enemy the following morning, Jones commanded one of the 8th’s vedette posts along the Chambersburg Pike, a major road between the town and Cashtown, and the route by which the General expected the Confederates to advance.  Shortly after sunrise on July 1, after having visited his posts, Jones purchased some bread and oats from one of the locals.  While at the reserve line east of the advance vedettes, Jones received a message from one of the sergeants along the Pike to come “at once.”  Mounting, Jones rode west along the pike until he reached the post at the intersection of the Pike and Knoxlyn Road, atop Wisler Ridge.  From his vantage point, Jones could see a cloud of dust rising to the west, signaling the advance of the expected Confederates from the area of Cashtown.  Spying Jones’ post, the Confederates deployed skirmishers on both sides of the road and advanced to the stone bridge spanning Marsh Creek, about 700 yards west of Jones’ position.  Sending horses and horse-holders to the rear, Jones borrowed Corporal Levi S. Shafer’s carbine, rested it on a fence rail, and touched off a shot at “an officer on a white or light gray horse” and thereby opened the battle (later, Confederate Colonel W. Marion McCarty would claim to have been at the head of that advance column, but his participation has never been documented).  Jones’ journal entries for the period of June 27th through July 1st are linked below.  After the battle, Jones would participate with his regiment in the actions at Williamsport, Boonsboro, Falling Waters, Chester Gap, Sandy Hook, Culpeper, further actions at Brandy Station, the raid to Falmouth, Raccoon, Ford, Liberty Mills, Mitchell Station, and Ely’s Ford.  After the regiment was mustered out of the service on July 17, 1865, it was ordered to Chicago to receive final pay and discharge.  At the Briggs House in Chicago, now-Captain Jones paid off his men.  While at the house, an officer informed Jones that he was to go to room number 55, and, upon arrival, the Captain was given “an elegant silver set,” as a gift from the men, who “held him in the highest esteem… and thus manifested their love and respect.”

Jones remarried on September 1, 1864.  Naomi E. Mecham, daughter of Mathew and Phoebe, was described as one who “did what the rebels could not do – capture the Captain.”  Mecham’s great-grandfather, who had settled in Massachusetts from England, had served in the Revolution.  He eventually settled in Vermont, to which he had frequently traveled on hunting expeditions.  A son, Seth Benson, served in the War of 1812.  Mecham’s parents eventually settled  in DuPage County in 1854 when Naomi was 12 years old.  Until she married Jones, Mecham was a teacher and had attended Wheaton College.

As soon as the war ended, Jones and his new wife located in Wheaton where he worked at his trade as a builder and house-mover.  In 1872, the Joneses moved to Colorado and worked a ranch for four years.  In 1876, they moved back to Wheaton permanently.  Jones had built a home in 1865 on the southwest corner of Naperville and Indiana Streets in the town (this house still stands, having been moved to a new location a block away by a law firm that purchased and restored it in 1977).  He is related as being one of a group of men who, after the war, had forcibly taken the county records from Naperville and helped to set up Wheaton as the new county seat.  Jones served in various public positions in his post-war career; he served as Township Collector, City Councilman, and in 1882 was elected County Sheriff for four years.  In 1890 he was appointed Postmaster by President Harrison.  Jones was a prominent charter member of E.S. Kelley G.A.R. Post 513, and was its first Commander.  He was a member of the Masons (of the Blue Lodge of Wheaton, Chapter of Naperville), as well as the Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows’ Society.  Jones was described as a “stalwart Republican,” and that “his official, army and private life are alike above reproach.”  Always remembered as the man who “fired the first shot at Gettysburg,” Jones remained a prominent member of the community and in Grand Army circles until his death on October 9, 1900.

To memorialize the location of his “first shot” at the Gettysburg battle, Jones traveled to the spot in 1886 and placed a marker shaft made of Naperville Illinois Granite to memorialize his deed.  This “First Shot Marker” sits today on the north side of Rt. 30 (Chambersburg Road) at its intersection with Knoxlyn Road.

Published in: on May 31, 2007 at 11:01 am  Comments (14)