Faded Hoofbeats – Samuel H. “Old Paddy” Starr (6th US Cavalry)

Here’s another installment of my “Faded Hoofbeats” series – profiles of cavalrymen of the Civil War.  This one is of Samuel Henry “Old Paddy” Starr, and one of the subjects of my most recent article in America’s Civil War magazine on the July 3, 1863 cavalry battle at Fairfield PA.  Sammy is one of my favorite personalities – reading his personal letters reveals a man who was actually very religious and tender, quite a contrast to the vulgar, loud disciplinarian he was with his troopers.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll put up more installments on troopers integral to the Gettysburg Campaign.

One of the legendary old dragoons who served in the Civil War was Samuel H. Starr, referred to by troopers as both “Old Paddy” and “Old Nose Bag.”  The Old Celt’s latter moniker was earned due to the often gloomy-faced veteran’s harsh discipline exacted on both officers and enlisted men; one of his favorite methods of rectifying a transgression was to place the offender astride a fence, with the feet tied together below, hands tied behind the back, and the head strapped inside a horse’s nose bag.  The nickname for the no-nonsense commander was unflattering but rather fitting for a seasoned dragoon who expected nothing less than exemplary service from his troopers.  He was often known to give a battlefield tongue-lashing, full of expletives, to anyone who performed unsuitably; his temper was unleashed on his own men as severely as it was upon the enemy.

Starr, born in 1813, had nearly 30 years of service with the army by the time of the Civil War.  Enlisting as a private in 1832, he was assigned to Company G of the 4th US Artillery, rising to sergeant in 1837.  He also served in the engineer and infantry branches before transferring to the newly-formed 2nd US Dragoons in 1848. That year, he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, and served in both the Mexican and Seminole wars and was a veteran of the often-harsh frontier service.  Starr was a captain when the Civil War broke out in 1861.

His first assignment was to serve as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Joseph K.F. Mansfield in April.  Starting in May, he then served as Provost-Marshal of Washington until July.

Upon President Lincoln’s second call for volunteers in July, Starr left the Regulars to organize the newly-raised 5th New Jersey regiment as it arrived for training in Washington DC.  Because his home was in Burlington NJ, Starr had been requested by the state’s governor to help raise the regiment.  Promoted to colonel, Starr took command of the volunteers in August, drilling them with his characteristic discipline.  

Assigned to the Third Brigade of Major General Joseph Hooker’s Division, Starr’s 5th New Jersey performed admirably at the battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks in the Peninsula Campaign, winning laud from their commanders.  Hooker called Starr “a tough old bird.”  Starr himself praised his regiment’s performance, saying, “The regiment was brave, and I have reason to congratulate myself in having command of as gallant a regiment as any in the service.” 

Starr’s tough demeanor got him removed from the regiment’s command, however.  After riding up to a camp guard, hitting him over the head with his saber and calling the hapless soldier an “SOB,” Starr was removed on the charge of “abuse of the guard.”  Starr then resigned his commission with the Volunteers and went on recruiting duty in the Capitol after the Campaign.  Starr returned to the Regulars in the spring of 1863, bringing approximately 100 men of the 5th New Jersey with him, and was appointed major of the 6th US Cavalry of the Reserve Brigade on April 25.  Those men accompanying him joined the unit.  The newly-formed 6th was the only unit of Regular horsemen formed at the outbreak of the war.

The most experienced officer in the Reserve Brigade, Starr briefly commanded it during the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign, replacing Major Charles J. Whiting (his junior) until the promotion of the young Wesley Merritt to brigadier general on June 29.  Believing that he was both too old and too old-fashioned to command the “new” cavalry in the field, many of the troopers felt he should return to the infantry.  However, Starr’s tenacity and experience would prove well-suited to a galling test soon to come on a field just a few miles southwest of the Gettysburg battle ground.

Upon Merritt’s promotion, Starr returned to command of the 6th.  As Brigadier General John Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division dogged the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania in late June, Merritt’s Regulars were detailed to Mechanicstown (present-day Thurmont) MD to guard wagon trains and picket the area.  In the early morning hours of July 2, the vedettes were called into town as the brigade set off for Emmitsburg MD, where they made camp and picketed the southern and western roads, watching for elements of Lee’s army.

The distant rumble of cannon in the direction of Gettysburg on the morning of July 3 signaled a continuation of that massive battle.  That morning, an “old farmer,” who claimed to live near Fairfield PA, rode into Merritt’s headquarters and reported that a large train of Confederate wagons, bulging with foodstuffs and booty taken from Pennsylvania farms, was parked in one of his fields and was ripe for the taking.  Assuring the troopers that the train was insufficiently guarded in its place behind Lee’s lines, the citizen proffered that it was “a right smart chance for you’ns to capture it, [as] the soldiers are all over at the big fight.”  Too tempting a target for Merritt to pass up, he quickly made arrangements for its capture.

With his brigade ordered to the main battle ground at Gettysburg, Merritt dispatched Starr’s 6th US to Fairfield to capture the train and hold the town, in order to block a possible line of Lee’s retreat.  Merritt was apparently confident that the one regiment was sufficient for the job.  However, Starr’s unit was under-strength, as one squadron (consisting of Companies D and M) had been attached to Cavalry Corps commander Alfred Pleasonton’s headquarters as escort, leaving Starr with a command of about 400 horsemen.  Although Merritt was confident of the citizen’s information, some troopers were uncomfortable with the story, feeling that perhaps the “patriotic farmer” was instead a Confederate spy or sympathizer who was setting a trap.  Some sources today purport that the man was the infamous spy William Richardson, whom Buford would hang on July 7 in Frederick MD during the southward pursuit of the retreating Lee.

Merritt ordered Starr, who was still fuming over what he considered to be the regiment’s poor performance at Upperville, and his troopers behind Lee’s lines and to “move upon the road between Fairfield and Gettysburg to keep off any supports which might be sent to Gettysburg by the enemy” and snatch up the Rebel wagons.  Anticipating an adventure in taking and ransacking the train, the Federals set off on their mission.  Tattnall Paulding, lieutenant of the 6th’s Company L, wrote later (from the Confederate Libby Prison) that “all was excitement, and you will not wonder when you imagine capturing a hundred wagons laden with spoils for confiscation, and the plundering and destruction of the same.”  

Reaching the vicinity of Fairfield, with Starr and the citizen in the lead, the old veteran halted the regiment in a valley about two miles south of the little village.  Starr detached a squadron to march along the course of a railroad bed and led the remainder of the unit onward to town.  Once in the streets, the troopers fanned out in search of the wagon train prize.  Informed by a citizen that some Rebel wagons had just passed out of town on the Fairfield-Orrtanna (now Carroll’s Tract) Road, a detachment galloped off in pursuit.  Spotting some wagons down the road, the squadron, under command of Lieutenant Christian Balder, formed a line of battle on either side of the stoutly-fenced road atop a ridge and charged them.  The Federals encountered, and drove back, a picket line of several dozen Confederate horsemen of Confederate Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones’ “Laurel Brigade.”  Jones’ command had marched earlier that afternoon from the fields south of Cashtown.  Balder’s charge, however, was short-lived and his small command had to halt their pursuit upon spotting a large column of Jones’ men coming at them on the road.  Quickly realizing he was outnumbered, Balder ordered his troopers to turn about and head back toward town to join the rest of Starr’s command.  The Virginia horsemen began a hot pursuit.

Hearing of the presence of the southern horsemen, the stubborn Starr decided to stay and fight.  Although outnumbered, Starr directed and deployed his men into line of battle.  Half of the regiment was dismounted along a slight rise perpendicular to the road, and the other half remained in mounted column in the road itself.  Sizing up Starr’s deployment but not yet fully aware of what faced him, Jones rashly sent in his 7th Virginia, the vanguard of his unit.  With drawn sabers and the Rebel Yell in the air, the 7th charged Starr but were forced to balk at the devastating first fire that Starr’s men let loose with their single-shot carbines.  As the hard-hit southerners fell back to regroup, Jones brought an artillery battery into position and began to fire on the Federals from a quarter mile away.  Small arms fire continued on both sides, but Starr had no artillery with him to counter against Jones’ cannon.

Emboldened by his initial blunt of Jones’ charge, Starr decided to take a risk and ordered a charge of his own while the southerners formed opposite him.  Under cannon and small arms fire, Starr ordered the troopers on the right to charge, wishing to catch the southerners before they could form up for an obviously-impending second assault.  However, Starr’s rash order, carried out without proper cohesion and by a force too small for the task, was bloodily repulsed as Jones carried out a counter-assault.  Captain William H. Carter, the 6th US’s historian, years later wrote of Starr’s order: “It was very unfortunate that the scattered squadrons were not withdrawn instantly from the front of such superior forces for more favorable ground.  The regiment paid dearly for the error…”

The gray troopers quickly formed “with a wild yell” and spurred down the lane at the Federals.  Caught at the worst moment in the 6th US’s history, Starr’s troopers could not oppose the onslaught and were caught in every cavalryman’s nightmare.  As both sides wildly slashed away with sabers and revolvers exploded in a close-up melee, the Federals were caught between the stout farm and road fences as in an ambush.  Blades hacked and whipped through the air as Starr’s command was closed in on three sides.  Starr himself was surrounded by Rebel horsemen, and he tried to beat off his attackers but was knocked from his saddle by a saber wound to the head and a bullet through his right arm.  Lieutenant R. R. Duncan of the 6th Virginia, who had crippled Starr, then went on to saber more Federals, running his blade completely through one and “twisting him from his horse.”

Surrounded and outnumbered, Starr’s troopers were captured in masses as a few remaining elements broke for the town behind them by horse and on foot, many pursued by gray horsemen.  The wounded Starr was taken to the yard of the Benjamin Marshall home (pictured) by his captors and laid on the grass with several other wounded officers and men of both sides.  As the prisoners of his command, comprising over half of the regiment and most of the officers, were marched off toward Cashtown for their date with Confederate prisons, Starr was taken into Fairfield to the Bly home (pictured below) on the main street, across from the Presbyterian Church which had been pressed into service as a hospital for the numerous wounded of both sides.  The severity of his arm wound required immediate amputation.  The heavy losses of the 6th were immediately noted by their companion regiments in Merritt’s brigade.  Private Samuel Crockett of the 1st US Cavalry penned in his diary that “The 6th U.S. is cut to pieces; there are less than a hundred of them left.”

Jones’ loss was minimal; of the 1600 men in his brigade as of July 3, his reported casualties tallied only 58 killed, wounded, and missing.  Starr’s melee at Fairfield had no tactical outcome on the battle at Gettysburg, and instead damaged a hard-fighting unit of Regulars in a painful and seemingly wasteful clash that today is largely unknown.  The responsibility for the debacle rests squarely upon Brigadier General Merritt, who ordered Starr’s small command on a risky foray deep behind enemy lines, without adequate support and intelligence.  The information Merritt received from the “farmer” about the wagon train was hours old by that morning, and couldn’t account for any resistance that Starr might encounter.  Starr, as well, is justifiably faulted for not withdrawing his men upon making contact with Jones’ brigade of superior numbers.  Neither stated objective of the mission was accomplished; not a single Confederate wagon was captured, and the Fairfield Gap remained open to Lee as an unsecured escape route after the Gettysburg battle.  The 6th US, mightily thrashed and forever damaged by Jones’ Laurel Brigade, was bluntly sized up by Jones in his report’s final closing sentence: “The Sixth U.S. Regular Cavalry numbers among the things that were.”

Starr was exchanged by the Confederates and returned to duty in November 1863.  In November 1864, he was assigned to command the Cavalry Remount Camp at Pleasant Valley MD.  From January to August 1865, he was assigned as Special Inspector of Cavalry for the armies of the Potomac and the James.  Despite the heavy loss at Fairfield, he was brevetted to lieutenant colonel in October 1865 for his service in the campaign.  Starr remained with his regiment until he retired on December 15, 1870, with the rank of full colonel.  He died on November 23, 1891, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  

Jones’ statement in his report, in which he writes off any remaining heartbeat in the 6th, is patently untrue; what remained of the regiment would fight on gallantly through to the end of the war.  The 6th United States would go through many changes in the United States military over the ensuing 120 years, and still remains a proud, active unit serving in Korea.

The Bly home in Fairfield, where Starr was cared for after the battle.

Published in: on May 29, 2007 at 3:03 pm  Comments (16)  

New Blog – “Fifty-Four”

I received a nice comment from a reader identified as “Gunner54” on a past post I’d made about Lt. John H. Calef of Battery A, 2nd US Artillery.  Gunner54, who appears to be a knowledgable fellow from across the pond (perhaps in or near Twickenham, England?), has a blog called “Fifty-Four.”  At the top of his home page, you can click on his Battery A, 2nd US Artillery blog, wherein he has a well-done piece on Calef’s service at Gettysburg.  Here is Gunner’s comment:

Nice to see John Calef getting the coverage he deserves, well done. I have been reseaching the Civil War service of Company A, 2nd Artillery – the battery Calef was in command of during the Gettysburg compaign – for several years. I have a short history of the battery on my blogsite, plus a chapter length reconstruction of the battery’s part in the Gettysburg campaign.

Thanks, Gunner – I’m impressed with your blog and I put a link to it here.

Published in: on May 17, 2007 at 4:21 pm  Comments (4)  

Faded Hoofbeats – George Stoneman

Thought I’d throw out another biography – this one of George Stoneman, my favorite Itchy-bum (read on to see).  As I’m working on an article about the Federal cavalry depots during the war, I thought this would be timely.

George Stoneman was born in Busti (later incorporated as the village of Lakewood) NY on August 8, 1822, the son of George (1-9-1799 to 8-6-1877) and Katharine Cheney Aldrich (9-11-1800 to 11-10-1874).  His grandfather, Richard Stoneman, had settled in New Berlin in western New York from Exeter, England in the early 1800’s.  There Richard had met and married Mary Perkins, whose family had come to New York from Rhode Island.  Richard and Mary’s eldest son was named George after Richard’s uncle, who was killed while serving with the British army at the Battle of the Nile.  George was a prominent lumberman and for many years the Justice of the Peace.

George and Katherine (whose family was from Baltimore MD) eventually had ten children, eight of whom reached adulthood.  The eldest son, George Jr., was educated at the Jamestown Academy in Jamestown NY until age 18.  His headmaster, E. A. Dickinson, wrote that young George was a pupil “in good standing as a scholar and had made exceedingly good proficiency in those branches to which he has directed his attention.”  George studied arithmetic, algebra, and higher math at the Academy.  His headmaster also reported George to be “a correct moral man.”

Considering his family’s pioneer, average status, George made the surprising decision to seek an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point.  His chances for such an appointment seemed rather remote, as his family had no influential connections.  In spite of this, George wrote a letter, seeking the appointment, directly to the Secretary of War, Abe Bell, saying, “It is with the greatest diffidence that I approach you feeling as I do the vast difference in our situations… A military life has ever comported with my inclination.  But to make a military man he wants a proper education.  I have therefore concluded to apply for the privilege of becoming a Cadet at West Point.”  As fate happened, George’s congressman, Staly N. Clark, did not have a sufficient number of candidates for appointments for the year 1842, so he offered Stoneman a slot, which he eagerly accepted on May 9.  Young George became a plebe of the West Point Class of 1846.  The naturally sad-eyed, quiet Stoneman would graduate with such future military notables as George McClellan, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (his roommate), Ambrose P. Hill, Darius Couch, Jesse Reno, and George Pickett.  Stoneman and Jackson seemed to be perfect roommates; the reclusive, unsociable Jackson was a match for the quiet, demure 6’4″ New Yorker.  He, like Stoneman, also came from a modest family background.  Stoneman graduated 33rd out of his class of 59.  In 1895, Couch wrote that Stoneman was “esteemed by his personal associates as a generous-hearted, whole-souled companion.”  He also noted that Stoneman, like Jackson, was more of a “thinker” than a “talker.”

After graduation, Stoneman was commissioned a brevet 2nd lieutenant in the Mormon Battalion.  The battalion had been established by President James K. Polk to enlist the Mormons in the U.S. army and support the U.S. occupation of California.  The unit was recruited to march from Iowa to California to assist the army in taking that territory from the Mexicans.

The march was made during the winter of 1846-47.  Stoneman was assistant quartermaster for the train of 25 mule-drawn wagons.  The epic march, plagued by extreme heat, devastating cold, hunger and exhaustion, opened new roads to be used by settlers, railroads, and gold seekers in the future.  Drawn to the beauty of the area, Stoneman vowed to return to California one day and make his home in the San Gabriel Valley.  On July 25, 1854, he was promoted to 1st lieutenant.

Stoneman served on the frontier during those years leading up to the Civil War as he slowly made his way up in the ranks of the peacetime army.  He became a proficient Indian fighter with serving under Major General Persifor Smith, commander of the Pacific Division, at the battles of Clear Lake and Russian River in California, and at Fort Orford in Oregon.  Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, ordered railroad surveys to be done in order to find the best routes to the frontier West.  Stoneman was assigned to conduct surveys in the Sierra Nevadas and the Coast Range to look for feasible mountain passes in which to lay track that would connect the far territory with Oregon and Washington..

With a solid reputation for courage under fire and concern for men in his command, Stoneman was assigned to the newly-formed 2nd U.S. Dragoons, organized in St. Louis MO.  Jefferson Davis himself selected its officers, a prime collection of military talent:  Albert Sidney Johnston as colonel in command, Robert E. Lee as lieutenant colonel, and William J. Hardee and George Thomas as majors.  Stoneman was named one of the 2nd’s captains on March 3, 1855.  The unit was assigned to frontier duty in Texas where it chased Mexican insurgents who were stealing cattle and threatening American settlers from across the border.  Stoneman found life at Camp Cooper, a remote post in the Comanche Reserve, to be intolerable.  Writing to a friend back in California, Stoneman was blunt:  “This is god forsaken country and the lord only knows when I will get out of it again.  I will embrace the first opportunity to get to California and it is altogether probable that when once there I shall never again leave it.”  During the Mexican War, he would serve as quartermaster of the Iowa Volunteer battalion.

Stoneman eventually reached position as the third senior captain of the 5th US Cavalry, until the outbreak of the Civil War.  In command of Fort Brown TX, in February 1861, Stoneman refused to surrender the fort to Texas authorities, instead evacuating and sailing north with part of his command.  On May 9, 1861, he was promoted to major of the 1st United States Cavalry and served on George McClellan’s staff in West Virginia as assistant inspector general.  When McClellan was promoted to command of the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman was appointed Chief of Cavalry and was then promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers on August 13.  However, McClellan’s lack of appreciation for the abilities and use of the cavalry severely limited Stoneman’s effectiveness as its leader.  The most glaring mistake was McClellan’s method of assigning cavalry regiments to duty amongst the infantry.  In effect, then, Stoneman and his officers were symbolic officers under the control of the infantry commanders.  The error of this policy became painfully evident during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862, where the poor coordination of cavalry with infantry led to disastrous results.  The cavalry simply didn’t have a clearly-defined role in operations.  At the battle of Williamsburg, however, Stoneman held his own well against JEB Stuart’s Confederate horsemen.

On November 22, 1861, Stoneman married the vivacious Mary Oliver Hardisty, who, like his mother, came from Baltimore.  They eventually had four children:  Cornelius, the oldest son; George Jr. (who later became a prominent lawyer in Los Angeles and Arizona); and two daughters – Katherine Cheney and Adele.

After the Peninsula Campaign, he commanded a division of infantry, and at the battle of Fredericksburg, Stoneman commanded the Third Corps.  Although Robert E. Lee inflicted disaster on the Army of the Potomac, Stoneman performed with distinction in a supporting role.  Stoneman’s division commanders, brigadier generals David B. Birney and Daniel Sickles, saw active combat as they saved the Federal position during a disorderly retreat of other divisions early in the battle.

In March of 1863, he was promoted to major general to date to the previous November.  When Joseph Hooker was appointed to command the army, the Cavalry Corps was reorganized into a cohesive unit and Hooker placed Stoneman in command.  Now back to commanding cavalry, Stoneman had long suffered from an intolerable case of hemorrhoids, and always seemed to be uncomfortable in the saddle.  The condition would plague him throughout his life as attempts at surgery were unsuccessful.

During the Union disaster at the battle of Chancellorsville, Hooker characteristically searched for scapegoats among his commanders to blame for his own failures.  Hooker had designed a cavalry raid behind Confederate lines, with Stoneman in the lead.  It would soon be known as “Stoneman’s Raid.”  It was a daring, risky maneuver that failed.  However, it boosted the morale of the troopers and ranks as one of the significant precursors to the turning of the war in the East.  The troopers were long proud of their participation in “Stoneman’s Raid,” and it effectively diverted much Confederate infantry from the Chancellorsville battle.  But Hooker, reeling from his own loss, blamed Stoneman and unofficially relieved him from command of the Cavalry Corps by packing him off to Washington to seek “medical treatment” for his hemorrhoids.  Stoneman became chief of the newly-formed Cavalry Bureau there, while Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton rose to command of the Cavalry Corps by default, a position he had long coveted and which he knew would finally bring him his own promotion to major general.  As head of the bureau, Stoneman established a large purchasing and organizational depot at Giesboro Point DC, near the Potomac River.  It was quickly name “Camp Stoneman,” and accommodated up to 12,000 horses for drilling and training.

Stoneman and his old friend, John Bufordd, had long respected each other’s abilities and were close friends.  Buford was disappointed when Stoneman was relieved of command of the Corps.  When Buford became increasingly ill in November 1863, he left the field for Washington DC to stay at Stoneman’s home.  Under Stoneman’s watchful eye, Buford’s health rapidly deteriorated in early December and he died there on December 16.  Early that morning, knowing that Buford’s end was near, Stoneman requested a major general’s commission for his old friend.  President Lincoln approved the promotion, which arrived just a few short hours before Buford died.  At Buford’s subsequent Washington funeral, Stoneman directed the procession’s military escort.

During the winter of early 1864, Stoneman wearied of his administrative duties at Washington and longed to get back to the field.  He was anxious to redeem his reputation in the wake of the Chancellorsville raid.  When Major General John Schofield, a fellow New Yorker and friend, was given command of the Department of the Ohio in January, he arranged for Stoneman to take command of the XXIII Corps of infantry in the Western Theater.  However, on April 4, Schofield took his place while retaining command of the Department.  Stoneman was assigned to command a special cavalry force, but Schofield instead placed him in command of the Department’s entire Cavalry Corps.  Buford’s closest aide, Myles Keogh, distraught at Buford’s death, requested a transfer to be appointed to Stoneman’s staff.  Keogh became Stoneman’s aide-de-camp.  During a raid planned for Macon GA and the Andersonville Confederate prison camp designed by Stoneman to free captives there, he was captured on July 31, 1864, along with Keogh.  Stoneman suffered the distinction of being the highest-ranking officer that the Confederates captured during the war.  Both were specially exchanged at General William T. Sherman’s request that fall, Stoneman being exchanged for Confederate Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan.  After his return to the army, in late 1864, Stoneman finally salvaged his reputation by leading a raid into southwestern Virginia to destroy the salt works there, one of Lee’s army’s major resources, and the ironworks near Wytheville.  He then led 6,000 men on another raid into North Carolina and Virginia in March 1865.  His command nearly captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  As Davis moved his government into North Carolina, Stoneman’s horsemen closed in.  Davis was finally captured by the 4th Michigan Cavalry, of Major General James Wilson’s command, in Georgia on May 10.  In June 1865, Stoneman was appointed commander of the Department of the Tennessee and headquartered in Memphis, a city torn by racial tension since Black troops comprised a part of the occupying Union army.  After a riot broke out on May 1 between the black soldiers and black citizens, it led to charges that Stoneman had not intervened quickly enough to restore order.  White Irish-born immigrants, competing with the blacks for manual labor jobs, had killed 46 blacks.  Making matters worse was the fact that the Memphis police force was predominately Irish.  Later, a Congressional committee investigated the riots and both thanked Stoneman for his assistance as well as rebuking him for not acting as quickly as he perhaps could have.  

During the Congressional campaigns of 1866, Stoneman became a Democrat since he was opposed to the radical policies of Reconstruction.  Republicans, however, won a sweeping victory and began establishing military districts in the south, placing some ten states under military rule.  Stoneman was first tapped to head the sub-district in Petersburg VA and then the district of the state itself.  Stoneman, like his predecessor and old friend John Schofield, supported more moderate policies that eased the state through the process.  For his services, Stoneman received a brevet to major general in the Regular Army and was mustered out of volunteer service on September 1, 1866.

Upon mustering out, Stoneman reverted to his Regular Army rank of lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Cavalry.  Effective back to July 28, 1866, he was appointed colonel of the XXI Infantry, and commanded the Department of Arizona, 1st Military District.  On May 3, 1870, Stoneman took command of the Arizona Military Department with headquarters at Drum Barracks.  A controversial commander in his dealings with Indian uprisings, Stoneman was relieved of his command in May 1871, retiring with the rank of major general and replaced by George Crook.  He had sought retirement due to “injuries” suffered during the Civil War, but President Ulysses Grant discovered that Stoneman’s “disability” was due to the hemorrhoid condition and revoked Stoneman’s rank, reverting him to colonel.

Moving to California, and realizing his life-long dream since first seeing it as a young 2nd lieutenant over 30 years before, Stoneman and wife Mary settled on a 400-acre estate in San Gabriel Valley which he called “Los Robles (The Oaks).”  Stoneman cultivated a lush vineyard on the property.  The home no longer stands, but the area is today a state historical landmark.  

 In 1882, he was elected Governor of California and served a four-year term after serving as a Railroad Commissioner from 1876-78. Stoneman had several influential supporters in his nomination, three being Judge David S. Terry, Stephen M. White, and James T. Ayers, the latter the editor of the Evening Express. Stoneman’s principal opponent for nomination was the owner of the San Francisco Examiner, George Hearst (millionaire father of William Randolph Hearst), who led in the early balloting.  However, Stoneman’s rural-based supporters rallied and Stoneman was finally nominated on the 14th ballot.  In the election, Stoneman faced the Republican Morris M. Estee, an experienced California politician and Speaker of the Assembly.  Stoneman campaigned hard throughout the state, hampered by his poor speech-making.  His wife Mary (picture at left), who called her husband “Stony,” hated the rigors of campaigning.  She once even wrote that seeing her husband in the political arena made her “sick.”

Stoneman won the race handily, capturing 40% of the total vote among four candidates.  His administration was early on marked by the controversial issues of the state railroads, but he nevertheless established progressive programs in several arenas.  Two new state hospitals were established in 1885, as well as a home for the blind.  A Forestry Board, sorely needed, was established.

On July 17, 1885, a fire destroyed Stoneman’s ranch home.  The family wasn’t home at the time, but Stoneman’s papers, his Civil War mementos, and most personal possessions were lost.  Stoneman’s political supporters, as well as many newspapers, proclaimed the fire to have been set by the Governor’s political enemies.  Mary was devastated by the fire, and more so upon learning that her husband had let the insurance lapse so there was no recovery available.

His party did not nominate Stoneman for re-election, as he faced strong opposition within his own party. Without the necessary political skill to build support, Stoneman was not even considered for a second term.  In fact, at the convention, his record as governor was hardly even mentioned.

In 1887 he asked for restoration to the military retirement list upon leaving office, which elicited negative comments since there was a perception that his ranch had made him a wealthy man, irrespective of losing his home.  He became estranged from his wife over an alleged affair, which she vigorously denied.  Broken financially and in poor health, he traveled to New York City and there had surgery to alleviate his hemorrhoids, described by his sister as a “severe operation.”  He stayed at her home in Albany to recuperate.  On November 28, 1888, Stoneman left Albany and traveled  to Buffalo NY, to visit another sister, Charlotte Williams.  After more traveling to visit his children and other family, he died at Charlotte’s home in Buffalo on September 5, 1894, as a result of a stoke suffered in April.  His final years had been anything but the happy ones he had expected to spend at his home in the beloved California valley.

 At the military funeral, all of his pallbearers were civilians, and neither of his sons attended.  He is buried in the very small Bentley Cemetery in Lakewood NY, not far from his Busti childhood home, in the Stoneman family plot.  A simple family monument in the center briefly tells of Stoneman’s accomplishments, and he is surrounded by his parents and other members of his family.  Stoneman’s family home in Busti disappeared long ago, and a new home, built in the 1990’s, now stands on the spot.

In 1970, songwriter J. R. Robertson immortalized Stoneman’s 1865 raid into southwest Virginia in his popular song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”  Recounting the feeling of the coming end of the war, the song begins:

“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train,
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again…”
©1970 Canaan Music, Inc.

(My thanks to ol’ buddy Ben Fordney, who assisted with many of the details).

Published in: on February 24, 2007 at 10:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Faded Thunder

Early in the life of this blog, I started a periodic series called “Faded Hoofbeats” to highlight the lives of long-forgotten (or underappreciated) cavalrymen of the Civil War.  Well, here’s another – except this one is John H. Calef, a regular horse artilleryman.  I’ve long been fascinated with Calef’s career and life since he notably served with John Buford’s troopers to open the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

John Haskell Calef came from a long line of Calefs that settled in the New England area by at least the mid-1700’s.  His great-grandfather was Colonel John Calef, of Kingston NH, an officer in the Revolutionary Army.

John was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts on September 24, 1841, and was appointed from that state to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1858.  Attending from July 1 of that year, Calef graduated on June 17, 1862, at which time he was ranked a 2nd Lieutenant and appointed to the 5th United States Artillery.  While with the 5th, Calef served in McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign from July through August, at Harrison’s Landing (in the action at Malvern Hill on August 5, 1862, and in the Northern Virginia Campaign from August to September 1862 (2nd Bull Run) and at the battle of Antietam.  On October 6, he transferred to the 2nd US Artillery, and participated in the march to Falmouth from October to November, and in the Rappahannock Campaign from December 1862 to June of 1863, which saw him in the actions of Stoneman’s Raid, the battle of Chancellorsville, and at Upperville.

His service with the 2nd Artillery would bring him deeply into the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863.  Attached to Colonel William Gamble’s First Cavalry Brigade of General John Buford’s Division, Calef’s men, horses, and guns made the hard march with the horsemen on their advance into Pennsylvania, dogging Lee’s Confederate Army.  On the morning of July 1, 1863, and throughout the afternoon, Calef and his men would see some of their hardest fighting in the war.  Ordered by Buford to spread out his six guns along McPherson Ridge west of Gettysburg, Calef’s battery was an important element in Buford’s delaying plan.  The division of his battery would allow Calef to appear to have more guns to play upon the Confederates advancing on the town.  Confederate Major General Henry Heth’s artillery soon outnumbered Calef, but the young Lieutenant kept up a dogged fire, keeping his tubes smoking until red-hot.  Calef’s gunners were ordered to take up several positions throughout the first day of the battle, defending both the Union Cavalry’s opening fight and the subsequent lines taken by the Union infantry upon their arrival to the field.  For his and his cannoneers’ services that day, Buford  highly praised the young officer in his official report, saying that Calef “…fought on this occasion as is seldom witnessed” and that he “…held his own gloriously.”  Calef was thereafter ever proud of Buford’s laudatory words for his battery’s deadly work that day.

On November 4, 1863, Calef was promoted to First Lieutenant.  His service in the Civil War would be extensive, since it had begun with the Peninsula Campaign immediately after his graduation from West Point.  His artillery served at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, the Rappahannock Campaign, Stoneman’s Raid, Chancellorsville, Upperville, Gettysburg, Williamsport, Boonsboro, Funkstown, and the Rapidan Campaign.  During a skirmish near Racoon Ford, Calef was wounded on September 15, 1863.

After a leave of absence from February to April 1864, Calef participated with his 2nd US Artillery in the battle of Cold Harbor, the skirmish at Bottom’s Bridge, the battle at Trevilian Station, and St. Mary’s Church.  On July 6, 1864, Calef was made a Brevet Captain for “gallantry and good conduct in the Battle of Gettysburg, and in the Campaign from the Rapidan to Petersburg, Va.”  During August to September, Calef took a sick leave of absence, then was back in the action during the Siege of Petersburg during the winter of 1864-65, participating at Boydton Plank Road in October, the destruction of Stony Creek Station on December 1, and the skirmish at Bellefield on December 9.  Calef officially served as Adjutant of the 2nd Artillery from November 6, 1864, until he was posted at Fort McHenry MD from February 21 to July 26, at which time he was sent to the Presidio in California, serving there from September 19 to October 27.  

Effective March 13, 1865, Calef was brevetted Major for “good conduct and gallant services during the War of the Rebellion.”  On October 27, Calef was sent to Fort Point in California until January 1 of 1867.  On January 12, he was appointed a captain in the 10th US Cavalry, but refused the position.  He then returned to the Presidio in February until November 1872, and was posted again at Fort McHenry until May of 1875.  On March 16, Calef was made full Captain in the 2nd US Artillery.  Also that year, beginning on May 11, Calef served as an instructor in the Art of War at the Artillery School at Fort Monroe VA until April 8, 1888, except while he was called to duty in suppressing “railroad disturbances” in Pennsylvania from July to October, 1877.  After his duty at Fort Monroe, Calef was sent to Jackson Barracks LA until September 26, 1888, and then to Fort Wadsworth NY until September 12, 1889, at which time he took a leave of absence.

Following the commemoration of the Gettysburg battle anniversary in 1888, a group of Buford admirers met to form the John Buford Memorial Association.  During discussions about a suitable design for a monument of the General to be placed at Gettysburg, Calef suggested that the design incorporate the use of four cannon tubes that served in the 2nd US battery.  Calef subsequently, through the Army Ordnance Department, traced down tube #233, the gun that fired the first Federal artillery shot of the battle on McPherson Ridge.  That, and three other tubes that served in the battery at Gettysburg, were built into the base of Buford’s statue.  The statue was placed upon the spot at which that particular gun had fired its first round, along the Chambersburg Pike.  At the dedication ceremony of the statue on July 1, 1895, Calef personally “spiked” the four guns tubes at the base of the statue, rendering them useless in hostile battle, but forever in the service of memorializing General Buford at the place of his finest hour.

Calef retired from the service as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1900 and died in St. Louis MO on January 14, 1912.  He is buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.


Published in: on February 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm  Comments (5)