Category:

Union Cavalry

22 Apr 2013, by

A rare treat

photoI had quite a rare treat today. Sharon McCardle, who is an officer of the Rockton, IL Historical Society, stopped by my office to visit. Sharon and her husband Karl had been in Gettysburg at the conference of the Company of Military Historians, where she set up a prize-winning exhibit on Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth. Farnsworth’s charge and death are the cornerstone of my book Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions: Farnsworth’s Charge, South Cavalry Field and the Battle of Fairfield, so he’s long been of great interest to me.

Sharon brought a number of very cool items for me to see, but none cooler than Farnsworth’s saber–the one he was carrying when he was killed. I’m holding it and its scabbard in the photo. I’ve only had one cooler photo of me taken, which is of me holding John Buford’s Henry rifle, taken many years ago.

That’s Sharon in the photo with me. What a very neat thing to experience. Thanks to Sharon and Karl for coming to visit and giving me such a neat memory to savor.

Click on the photo to see a larger image.

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imagesHere is another in my infrequent series of profiles of forgotten Civil War cavalrymen. Today’s profile is of a particular favorite of mine.

Nineteenth Century American cavalrymen were the fighter pilots of their era—devil-may-care, flashy, equally eager to impress the women and eager to seek glory for dashing deeds of courage. When modern students of the Civil War think of cavalrymen, they conjure up images of Jeb Stuart, with his ostentatious ostrich plumes, or of George Custer and his flowing blonde hair and outrageous uniforms. Certainly, the cavalry produced more than its fair share of cads like Earl Van Dorn and Judson Kilpatrick.

However, it also produced some extraordinary soldiers—quiet, modest, competent men who went about their business in an efficient, professional way. This category includes men like John Buford, David Gregg, Wesley Merritt, and Thomas C. Devin on the Northern side, and Wade Hampton, Matthew C. Butler, Lunsford L. Lomax, and Thomas T. Munford on the Southern side. More interested in doing their jobs well than in reaping favorable press clippings, these men avoided the harsh spectacle of the press’s prying eyes.

Theophilus F. Rodenbough fell into the latter category. In fact, it’s quite likely that only a handful of readers of this blog have ever heard of Rodenbough. He probably would have wanted it that way. Nevertheless, his story has languished in obscurity for more than a century, and the time has come to pay tribute to a brave man who was a fine soldier who sacrificed his health in the service of his country. Instead of allowing that to destroy his life, Rodenbough used his post-Army career to become one of the most gifted and prolific military historians of the Nineteenth Century.

The son of Charles and Emily Rodenbough, Theophilus Francis Rodenbough was born in Easton, Pennsylvania on November 15, 1838. The boy’s father owned a rolling mill and wire factory where the first telegraph wire was made. He had one brother, Joseph K. S. Rodenbough, who was also a successful businessman in Easton after the Civil War. His father was active in the Presbyterian church, and served on a number of boards of trustees, including that of a local bank.

Theophilus, a child of privilege, attended private schools, had special tutors, and enrolled in a course of mathematics and English literature at Easton’s Lafayette College in 1856 and 1857. He left Lafayette after a year of studies and tried his hand at business, a field for which he was not well suited. The young man seemed adrift, searching for his life’s calling. As the storm clouds of war gathered on the horizon in 1860, the young man realized that he might enjoy a soldier’s life, and he set about pursuing his new dream.

Rodenbough enlisted the assistance of Representative Andrew H. Reeder, his Congressman, and began his campaign to obtain an officer’s commission. On March 27, 1861, a scant two weeks before the first shots at Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln signed a second lieutenant’s commission for Rodenbough. Rodenbough would join the 2nd U. S. Dragoons, a legendary unit that produced the likes of John Buford and Wesley Merritt. Not long after the outbreak of the Civil War, the Regular Army’s mounted units were reorganized and the 2nd Dragoons received a new designation, the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Now that he wore a second lieutenant’s shoulder straps, Theo Rodenbough had to learn his chosen trade. Unlike today, where new officers have the benefit of attending Officer Candidate School, there was no such luxury in 1861.

To learn how to be a soldier, Rodenbough reported to the Cavalry School of Practice at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. There, he underwent intensive training and learned his new trade. The bright young man quickly demonstrated administrative abilities and became post adjutant and quartermaster for the Cavalry School, serving in that role during the first year of the Civil War. As a reward for his good service, he was promoted to first lieutenant later in 1861. By the time he reached his first anniversary in the United States Army, the young officer had mastered the skills needed to command horse soldiers in the field, and he joined his regiment in time to participate in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign.

On July 17, 1862, just fifteen months after joining the army, Rodenbough received a second promotion, this time to captain. By way of comparison, John Buford, considered by many to be the finest cavalryman of the American Civil War, did not receive his captain’s bars until he had served in the army for eleven years. Of course, the coming of war provided ample opportunities for a capable officer to advance his career, and Rodenbough benefited by it. Rodenbough served with his regiment throughout 1862, and was captured at the Battle of Second Bull Run on August 30, 1862. He was exchanged a week later and rejoined his regiment just in time for the 1862 Maryland Campaign. In October 1862, he went on recruiting duty, raising a new company of Regulars, Co. L, of which he assumed command.

During the spring of 1863, he led a squadron on the Stoneman Raid in April-May, 1863. He commanded a squadron at the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station, where he was slightly wounded and had two horses shot out from under him. On June 28, 1863, Capt. Wesley Merritt, commander of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, received a commission as brigadier general of volunteers and assumed command of the Army of the Potomac’s Reserve Brigade. Rodenbough, the regiment’s senior captain, took command of the 2nd U.S., just two scant years after joining the army. His rise through the ranks of the Regular Army, notorious for slow promotions, was meteoric.

He commanded the 2nd U.S. at Gettysburg and during the retreat, as well as during the fall fighting in 1863. Rodenbough had two more horses shot out from under him during the course of the Gettysburg Campaign. In the spring of 1864, with Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan in command of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, the Union horse soldiers expected a busy campaigning season. They were not disappointed. Rodenbough led his regiment at the Battle of Todd’s Tavern on May 7, 1864, at Yellow Tavern on May 11, and during the Richmond Raid of May 1864.

During the opening moments of the Battle of Trevilian Station, on June 11, 1864, Rodenbough received a serious wound when shot at point blank range in the left shoulder by a South Carolina cavalryman. Following Merrit’s instructions, Rodenbough led the advance of the Regulars himself, riding alone and in front of the rest of the Reserve Brigade. As he turned to give orders, a South Carolinian of Brig. Gen. Matthew C. Butler’s Brigade shot him. Rodenbough turned over command of the regiment to his senior captain and retired, desperately wounded.

Merritt praised his subordinate. “Had Rodenbough simply detached the squadron, transmitted the orders through his adjutant and remained with his regiment he would have executed my order in the customary way. As it was I judged his action then as I have since regarded it as especially distinguished and of great benefit, as an example of valor, as well as leading quickly to an important result.” Sheridan urged Rodenbough’s promotion as a result of his valor on June 11. Thirty years later, Merritt submitted Rodenbough’s name for a Medal of Honor, over Rodenbough’s objections, writing, “I know of no living officer more surely entitled to the honor than he.” In 1894, Rodenbough received the Medal of Honor “for distinguished gallantry in action at Trevilian Station while handling his regiment with great skill and unexampled valor.” Rodenbough responded, “I value this distinction especially because it comes to me at the instance of my former commander, Gen. Merritt.”

Rodenbough went on sick leave and recruiting duty before rejoining his regiment in September 1864, just in time for the Third Battle of Winchester. There, in the great mounted charge of five brigades at Fort Collier, on September 19, 1864, with Rodenbough leading his Regulars forward, he received another severe wound, this time costing him his right arm, which was amputated three inches below the shoulder. “At the battle of the Opequon, he displayed almost unparalleled gallantry and coolness,” observed Maj. Gen. Alfred T. A. Torbert, commander of the Army of the Shenandoah’s Cavalry Corps, “finally, near Winchester while charging at the head of his regiment in a brigade against the enemy’s infantry, he received a wound which cost him his right arm.”

In recognition of his valor at Winchester, he was brevetted major “for gallant and meritorious service.” The severely wounded captain spent three weeks convalescing in the Winchester home of a staunch Unionist before going home to Easton for another three weeks. He then did recruiting duty in Philadelphia from November 1864-April 1865. He received a brevet to lieutenant colonel “for gallant and meritorious conduct during the war” on March 19, 1865.

During the winter of 1864-65, Sheridan and Torbert mounted a campaign to obtain a colonel’s commission for Rodenbough so that he could take over the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry. “He is a gallant and meritorious young officer,” wrote Sheridan, “and would do honor to the grade asked for him.” Torbert echoed a similar note: “He is one of the most deserving young officers of the cavalry, and will not disappoint any trust reposed to him.” With such distinguished support for his promotion, Rodenbough received a commission as colonel of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry on April 29, 1865, and the thrice wounded officer served in the Middle Military Division, commanding the Brigade District of Cumberland, Maryland and the Sub-District of Clarksburg, West Virginia from June until November 1865.

Just four years and four months after joining the army, in July 1865, he received a brevet to brigadier general, U.S. volunteers, “for gallant and distinguished conduct during the war,” and also received an assignment to duty at that rank from President Andrew Johnson. Dated March 13, 1865, he also received a brevet to colonel in the U. S. Army “for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Todd’s Tavern,” May 7, 1864 and to brigadier general, U. S. Army “for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Cold Harbor.”

In recommending Rodenbough for his final brevet, Sheridan wrote, “Colonel Rodenbough was one of my most gallant and valuable young officers, under my command, in the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. He was constantly in the field with his regiment, the 2nd U. S. Cavalry (a portion of the time in command of it), from the spring of ’62 up to the time of his being wounded whilst gallantly leading his regiment at the Battle of Opequon, September 19, 1864.”

On October 31, 1865, he mustered out of the volunteer service and returned to 2nd U. S. Cavalry. In the winter of 1865-66, he joined the staff of Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge as Acting Assistant Inspector General, a position he held until May 1866. “An educated soldier of strict integrity and excellent morals, his ability and past services entitle him to promotion,” urged Dodge in a letter to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1866. Rodenbough served at various posts in Kansas in 1866, and then received an appointment as major of the 42nd U. S. Infantry on July 28, 1866. He served with the regiment at Hart Island, New York and in various staff positions until May 1867, when he assumed command of the Plattsburgh Barracks in New York until the end of the year.

He then commanded the regiment and post of Madison Barracks in Sackett’s Harbor, New York from December 1867 to April 1869. “On the eve of your departure from this command I avail myself of the opportunity to express my thanks for the efficient manner in which you discharged your duties while serving under me in the Department of the East,” proclaimed Maj. Gen. George G. Meade in the spring of 1869, “both as regimental commander and in charge of the military station at Sackett’s Harbor. Your official course has met my approval, and I feel confident that to whatever position you are assigned you will display the same zeal and efficiency which characterized your conduct here.”

Rodenbough went on recruiting duty in Cincinnati and Detroit for a time. In December 1870, he appeared before a Retiring Board commanded by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell. After hearing testimony from surgeons and from Rodenbough himself, the panel concluded that the cavalryman was “incapacitated for active service, and that said incapacity is due to the loss of his right arm, about three inches below the shoulder joint, in consequence of a wound received at the Battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864.” He was retired “with full rank of Colonel of Cavalry, on account of wounds received in the line of duty.” He was just thirty-two years old.

220px-Theophilus_F_RodenboughThe gallant young colonel had married Elinor Frances Foster at the Church of the Incarnation in New York City on September 1, 1868. Their forty-four year marriage was fruitful, producing two daughters and a son, although their first child, Mary McCullagh Rodenbough only lived two years. After retiring from the Army, he remained active and productive. He served as Deputy Governor of the U. S. Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D. C. in 1870-1871, and the accepted an appointment as General Eastern Agent, Pullman Car Company for two years. He served a two-year term as Associate Editor of the Army and Navy Journal in 1876-77, and became Secretary and Editor of the Journal in 1878, a post he held for twelve years. From 1891-1893, he served as Vice President of the Military Service Institution of the United States, and as Chief of the Bureau of Elections, City of New York, 1890-1892.

With the coming of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the sixty-year old warrior tried to obtain a commission and take the field again, writing, “Here is an old sword-blade not so rusty that it will take a respectable polish yet; and I imagine there are several others on the Retired List.” He actively campaigned for an administrative position in the army, but his age and disabilities produced a gentle rebuff. He tried again in 1904, now sixty-four years old, writing, “I have the honor to apply for assignment to duty and detail on recruiting or other service, preferably with station in [New York City].” Rebuffed again, due to an act of Congress, Rodenbough was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, retired, in May 1904, meaning that the honorific of “general” became real, and not just by brevet.

Filling his retirement years, General Rodenbough proved to be a prolific writer and gifted historian. In addition to a comprehensive family genealogy, he wrote numerous articles on diverse topics such as Sheridan’s May 1864 Richmond Raid, the Trevilian Raid, lessons learned by the cavalry in the Civil War, and others. He authored a superb history of his former regiment titled From Everglade to Canon with the Second Dragoons (1875) as well as a history of the Anglo-Russian dispute over Afghanistan (1882). He also wrote The Bravest Five Hundred of 1861, providing thumbnail sketches of various Medal of Honor winners, and a companion volume, Uncle Sam’s Medal of Honor, as well as co-authoring a history of the United States Army. He edited the cavalry volume of Francis Trevelyan Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War, and headed the committee given the task of preparing a regimental history for the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

5848653_1042593153After a long and productive life, Theophilus F. Rodenbough died at his home in New York City on December 19, 1912. His wife, who joined him in death a few years later, survived him. He was buried with full military honors in the family plot in Easton Cemetery in his hometown. He was seventy-four years old, and he had packed a great deal of living into those years.

In nine years and eight months in the Regular Army, this dashing horse soldier earned five promotions, two brevets in the volunteer service, and four brevets in the Regular service. Along the way, he impressed almost every officer he served under. “General Rodenbough is a cultivated and refined gentleman of ability and integrity,” wrote Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, summing him up nicely, “and is well and favorably considered wherever known. His record as an officer during the war was irreproachable, and he was disabled for life by the loss of an arm while gallantly performing his duty in battle.”

His rise had been meteoric, and only his battle wounds terminated a promising military career that probably would have led to high command. But for those wounds, Rodenbough likely would be remembered as one of the greatest horse soldiers in American history. Thus ended the fascinating life of a gifted soldier and scholar, a man who spent his life in the service of the Army that he loved, and in doing the duty that marked his character.

Here’s to Theo Rodenbough, forgotten cavalryman, Medal of Honor recipient, and cavalry historian. He was one of those natural soldiers who rose to prominence despite a lack of any formal military training.

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800px-UnionInfantryHollowSquareOn one of the forum boards that I regularly visit, someone asked for examples of infantry forming squares in echelon to defend against cavalry charges. The first response on the list was Brig. Gen. James H. Lane’s Confederate infantry brigade forming square at Gettysburg on July 1.

There’s a problem with that response. There is no proof that it happened. And it completely ignores the documented instance of Confederate infantry forming square to defend against a feinted cavalry charge that DID occur earlier in the afternoon of July 1, 1863.

For those unfamiliar with forming squares in echelon, it’s a classic Napoleonic tactic for infantry to defend against a cavalry charge. A good, concise explanation of the tactic, and how to try to break a square, can be found here. Yes, it’s a Wikipedia article, but it’s a good one and it is accurate. The photo is of a Union infantry regiment, formed up in a hollow square. Click on the photo to see a larger version of it.

Here’s the story about Lane’s supposed forming squares:

A determined attack by the Confederate infantry brigade of Col. Abner Perrin finally broke the last Union line of resistance on Seminary Ridge, driving the First Corps back toward Cemetery Hill. At 4:00 p.m., in imminent danger of being flanked by Perrin’s advance, Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, the acting commander of the First Corps, sent staff officer Capt. Eminel P. Halstead in search of Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, then overseeing efforts to cobble together defenses on East Cemetery Hill, looking for reinforcements. When Halstead reported the Confederate threat, Howard informed him that he had no reinforcements to spare, and suggested that Halstead “go to General [John] Buford, give him my compliments, and tell him to go to Doubleday’s support.” When Halstead asked Howard where to find Buford, Howard indicated that he did not know, but that he thought Buford was somewhere to the east of Cemetery Hill. Halstead set off to search for the Kentuckian.

After they were driven from the stone wall they had held until Perrin’s attack broke the Union line, Buford ordered Col. William Gamble’s weary troopers to fall into line on the Emmitsburg Road, where they were later joined by Devin’s brigade. There, Halstead found Buford, mounted on his thoroughbred war horse, Grey Eagle, overseeing the disposition of his cavalry. When Halstead delivered Howard’s order, the irate Buford “rose in his stirrups upon his tiptoes and exclaimed, ‘What in hell and damnation does he think I can do against those long lines of the enemy out there!’”

Halstead responded, “I don’t know anything about that, General, those are General Howard’s orders.”

“Very well,” replied Buford, “I will see what I can do.” Around 5:00 p.m., Buford ordered his mounted command to move out into the fields in front of Cemetery Hill, in plain view of the enemy. The sight so impressed Second Corps commander Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, sent by Meade to take command of the field, that he later recalled that, “one of the most inspiring sights of his military career was the splendid spectacle of that gallant cavalry, as it stood there unshaken and undaunted, in the face of the advancing Confederate infantry.”

Gamble sent elements of the 8th Illinois forward to remove fence rails and other impediments to a mounted charge. In line of battle, Buford’s exhausted troopers stood their ground, daring the Confederates of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane’s brigade to attack. Doubleday noted in his diary that night, “Having thus strengthened his right, General Hancock extended his line by posting Buford’s Cavalry…on the left. This gave us an appearance of strength we did not possess and the enemy did not press the attack, preferring to wait for reinforcements.” Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer, later recorded, “General Buford’s cavalry was all in line of battle between our position [on Cemetery Hill] and the enemy. Our cavalry presented a very handsome front, and I think probably checked the advance of the enemy.” Doubleday’s aide Halstead recounted, “the enemy, seeing the movement, formed squares in echelon, which delayed them and materially aided in the escape of the First Corps if it did not save a large portion of the remnant from capture.” Doubleday later recounted that with the feinted charge, Buford “rendered essential service…and prevented them from cutting us off from our line of retreat to Cemetery Hill.”

The problem is that Halstead’s post-war account–published in a paper that he presented to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (a Union officers’ veterans’ organization)–is the ONLY source that claims that Lane formed square. None of the participants mentioned it in their contemporary after-action accounts. None of the other memoirs, letters, and other primary sources mention it. It simply cannot be corroborated by anyone. Undoubtedly, SOMETHING halted Lane’s advance that day. It was probably the sight of two full brigades of cavalry–roughly 2700 troopers–mounted, in line of battle, with sabers drawn, awaiting the order to charge. But there is no evidence that Lane actually gave the order to form squares by echelon, and there is no evidence that they actually did so. Instead, it appears that the feint was enough. Lane’s advance halted, which allowed time for the Union infantry to fall back safely from its very exposed position on Seminary Ridge to the positions that Hancock and Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer, had prepared on East Cemetery Hill.

The story of Lane’s Brigade overlooks another instance that day when Confederate infantry did, indeed, form square against a feinted charge by troopers of the 8th Illinois Cavalry of Gamble’s brigade.

About 1:00, advancing Confederate infantry of Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew’s brigade threatened the left flank of the First Corps near the end of modern-day Reynolds Avenue. Col. Chapman Biddle’s brigade held the end of Doubleday’s line. Biddle’s men were in grave danger of being flanked by the 52nd North Carolina Infantry of Pettigrew’s Brigade. A deep swale hid the Confederates’ advance and allowed the Tarheels to approach Biddle’s flank unseen.

From his vantage point, Gamble could see the threat, and he ordered Maj. John Beveridge, commanding the 8th Illinois, to take his regiment out to the southwest, along the Hagerstown Road, where they took position in an orchard south of the road, near woods.

Beveridge “ordered the 8th Illinois, in column of squadrons, forward, increased its gait to a trot as if to make a charge upon [the Confederate] right. His right regiment halted, changed front, and fired a volley: Biddle’s brigade rose to their feet, saw the enemy, fired and retired across the field toward Seminary Ridge.”

The men of the 52nd North Carolina stopped dead in their tracks and formed a hollow square. A member of the 52nd recalled:

[the 52nd North Carolina] held the right of Pettigrew‘s line, and as we advanced through the open field our right flank was menaced by a body of the enemy’s cavalry, seeking an opportunity to charge our lines. While on the advance and under heavy fire Col. [James K.] Marshall formed his regiment in square to guard against attack from this body, and at the same time deployed Company B…to protect his flank. [They] succeeded in holding the cavalry in check and finally drove them from our flank. This maneuver was executed by the regiment as promptly and accurately as if it had been upon its drill grounds.

Maj. William Medill of the 8th Illinois proudly observed that his regiment

saved a whole brigade of our infantry and a battery from being captured and cut to pieces. The rebels had them nearly surrounded and hemmed in, perceiving which, we made a detour to our left, gained their flank, and charged right on the rear of one of the living walls that was moving to crush our infantry. The rebel line halted suddenly, faced about, formed to receive us, and fired a volley that mostly went over our heads. We returned fire with our carbines and galloped away. But during the time they were delayed, the infantry escaped.

The mission accomplished, the 8th Illinois fell back to rejoin the rest of Gamble’s brigade southwest of the Federal line.

This critical episode saved Biddle’s brigade from being flanked and permitted it to withdraw safely to Seminary Ridge. Yet, it is completely overlooked. Instead, it gets lost in the shuffle of the legend of Lane’s Brigade forming square, when it probably never happened. It’s a shame, because the stand by Beveridge’s men was a critical moment. That’s not to downplay what John Buford and his troopers did, as the very threat of a mounted charge by 2700 Union troopers clearly brought Lane’s advance to a screeching halt. What’s not clear, though, is whether Lane formed square, as it cannot be corroborated.

This particular issue has fascinated me for years, and I’ve been wrestling with it since 1992. I’ve seen every known account of the events of that day, and the idea of Lane’s Brigade forming square, romantic as it may be, just can’t be reconciled with those accounts. Hence, it does not appear that it occurred.

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Thank you to reader Jeff Anderson, of Rockton, Illinois, for bringing this good news to my attention.

Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth, who only got to wear his general’s star for five days before the ego of Judson Kilpatrick sent Farnsworth to his death needlessly at Gettysburg, was taken to his home town of Rockton for burial. Apparently, the large monument over his grave has fallen into some degree of disrepair over the years, but I’m pleased to report that that is no longer the case. From Tuesday’s edition of the Rockford Register Star newspaper:


Rockton cemetery project brings Civil War history into the light
By Greg Stanley
RRSTAR.COM
Posted Nov 20, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

ROCKTON — Rockton Township officials have refurbished a little local history in Year 3 of a cemetery restoration project.

The township has set aside $10,000 each year to restore and clean headstones in the oldest part of the cemetery, which dates to the 1800s.

“We’re trying to do more Civil War markers this time around,” cemetery sexton Jerri Noller says.
The most prominent headstone restored this year belongs to Elon J. Farnsworth, a brigadier general for the Union who became something of a celebrity in his death.

Farnsworth was a rising star when he was made general at 25 years old (along with a 24-year-old George Armstrong Custer) on June 29, 1863 — two days before the battle of Gettysburg. He was killed four days later, on the final day of the battle, in what many historians have described as a reckless blunder of the vain and philandering Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick ordered Farnsworth to lead a doomed charge against a Confederate stronghold of little strategic importance to the battle, according to historian Edwin B. Coddington’s well-regarded 1968 tome, “The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command.”

“Although Farnsworth protested it was suicide, Kilpatrick insisted that he should charge with half his brigade,” Coddington writes. Farnsworth “put on a brilliant display of courage and horsemanship, but the attack ended in a fiasco.”

It became known as “Farnsworth’s Charge” and led to 101 casualties, according to one historian’s report for the National Park Service.

Farnsworth was born and raised in Michigan, but his body was brought back to Rockton Township to be buried next to his mother and father.

Greg Stanley: 815-987-1369; gstanley@rrstar.com; @greggstanley

On this Thanksgiving Day, I find it difficult to say how gratified I am to hear that this largely forgotten hero of the Battle of Gettysburg is being remembered by his home town. So far as I can tell, in all my years of researching the Civil War, I have never been able to identify another general officer who was killed in action while leading an attack BEHIND enemy lines, as Farnsworth was. His valor was wasted by the ambitions of Judson Kilpatrick, but that valor is nevertheless still worthy of commemoration, and I tip my cap to the township for being willing to spend the money to see that his grave is not forgotten.

And on this Thanksgiving Day, I wish each and every one of you a joyous day with family and friends. Enjoy your day, the good food, and the comradeship, but at the same time, let’s not lose sight of the purpose of the day: be thankful for the blessings that you have. And I am thankful for all of you.

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When I did my post on Col. Othniel De Forest of the 5th New York Cavalry, I noted that in the spring of 1864, De Forest was cashiered from the army, and that not long after his death that December, he was cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated to his prior rank of colonel posthumously. The reasons for this were a mystery, and I indicated that I intended to pursue the answer to this question in the hope of solving the mystery. I ordered De Forest’s service and pension files in the hope that they would hold the key to solving the mystery.

I am pleased to report that the mystery has, indeed, been solved, that the system worked the way it was supposed to work, and that an injustice was thereby corrected.

Sometime shortly after the end of the Gettysburg Campaign, De Forest was arrested and charged with fraud. He had been ill during the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign and only returned to duty on July 10, during the retreat from Gettysburg. At that time, he became commander of the First Brigade, Third Cavalry Division, as its senior colonel. However, on July 29, he was sent to the General Hospital in Washington, D.C. on orders of the Cavalry Corps surgeon. There was some confusion over this, as he was reported to be away without leave, but “he was found on a [railroad] car quite ill.” Although he was ill, when De Forest arrived in Washington, he was arrested by the Provost Marshal and conducted to Old Capitol Prison. Then, on August 3, he was taken to New York City under guard, where he was turned over to the civil authorities despite being what was described as “dangerously ill.” Presumably this was the same illness that ultimately caused De Forest’s death the following December.

An individual named Samuel Strong claimed that at the time that the 5th New York Cavalry was formed in 1861, De Forest conspired with others, including his brother Benjamin DeForest, to (a) procure authority to raise the regiment, (b) to purchase horses and equipment for the regiment and (c) to share in the profits of the venture. “The evidence shows that the Govt was defrauded of large amounts thro these parties, which was accomplished in various ways,” states the summary of the court-martial proceedings against De Forest. The document indicates that horses were purchased for $45 and sold to the government by the conspirators for $113, with the parties dividing the profits. De Forest supposedly controlled the inspection of the horses, which enabled deficient horses to be pressed into service. De Forest also was charged with selling the sutlership for the regiment as a bribe. Supposedly, De Forest skimmed more than $50,000 from the government as a result of this scheme, and he was charged with theft. The matter was referred for criminal indictment, and the brief states, “The evidence in this case presents offenses so grave and important that as to require a further punishment than the mere dismissal of Col. De Forest, which of itself does not seem adequate besides some restitution should be made for the losses of the Govt. through his frauds.”

As a result, De Forest was summarily dismissed from the service, and was dishonorably discharged by order of President Lincoln on March 24, 1864. Special Orders No. 131, dated March 29, 1864, declares, “By direction of the President, Colonel O. De Forest, 5th New York Cavalry, is hereby dismissed from the service of the United States with disgrace, for presenting false and fraudulent accounts against the Government.” A handwritten note on the Special Order dated May 11, 1864, adds: “No payments are to be made to Colonel De Forest without the special orders of the Department. By Order of the Secretary of War.”

In December 1864, De Forest died of “congestion of the brain.” After his death, there was a concerted effort to clear his name and restore his reputation. Consequently, a Military Commission convened to reevaluate the charges against De Forest. The Judge Advocate General’s office opposed the request, arguing:

The Judge Advocate General, in reviewing the case at great length, & with much minuteness, entertains the opinion that the application should be be granted–1st because the evidence strongly implicated the deceased, and 2d because “the order dismissing his officer has been made final by his death. No revocation of it can reach him. Before he can be honorably discharged from the service, as asked for, he must be restored to it; but such restoration is a physical impossibility, because he is dead. It is believed that the action proposed has neither the support of example nor of principle, and if allowed to drawn into a rule of administration, could scarcely fail to lead to dependable results,”

After completing its investigation, the Military Commission rejected the Judge Advocate General’s recommendation. The Military Commission expressly found that “all the charges against Colonel De Forest were trumped up by one Samuel Strong who was solely actuated by vindictive motives.” The Commission recommended that “the order dismissing the accused be revoked and that he be honorably discharged the service as of the date of his dishonorable dismissal.”

As a result, on March 14, 1866, War Department Special Orders No. 115 declared, in part:

By direction of the President, upon the report of a Board of Officers, convened by Special Orders, No. 53, series of 1863, from this Office, so much of Special Orders, No. 131, March 29th, 1864, from this Office, as dismissed Colonel O. De Forest, 5th New York Cavalry, is hereby revoked, and and he is honorably discharged the service of the United States, as of the date of the aforesaid order of dismissal, with condition that he shall receive no final payments until he has satisfied the Pay Department that he is not indebted to the Government.

On April 11, the General Order was revised:

So much of Special Orders, No. 115, Paragraph 2, March 14th,, 1866, from this Office, as relates to Colonel O. De Forest, 5th New York Cavalry, is hereby amended to read…as follows: He is restored to his regiment, to date September 3d, 1864, when a vacancy occurred in the the grade of Colonel from the discharge of Colonel John Hammond.

And so, De Forest’s dishonorable discharge was revoked and his name was cleared posthumously. As it appears that he was the subject of an injustice, I’m pleased to know that the injustice was corrected, albeit posthumously. And so, the mystery has been solved.

I love pursuing these interesting leads and seeing where they lead. Finding these human interest stories demonstrates plainly that these men were just human beings, plagued with the same flaws and strengths as the rest of us.

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21 Jun 2012, by

Autie ‘n me

The other day, I was asked a couple of interesting questions. One question was whom do I think was the best Union cavalry commander, and as a subset of that question, where did I think that George Armstrong Custer fit into that calculation. The person who asked my opinion actually suggested that Custer has been underrated by historians. I answered the question about the best commander as I always do when asked to answer such questions, which was to identify John Buford as the best. I cited to John Gibbon’s assessment of Buford–he wrote, “John Buford was the finest cavalryman I ever saw”–and said that was good enough for me.

The Custer question opened up a real can of worms that I’ve spent some time considering over the years. At one point, I was asked to write a bio of Custer, and I initially refused. I eventually agreed, but once I got into it, I realized that not only was my heart NOT in the project, after Jeff Wert’s excellent, balanced, and fair bio of Custer, I realized that I had nothing to add, and eventually terminated the project. However, researching it and beginning to write it really forced me to sit back and take stock of this guy whom I had little positive to say about.

Personally, I would NEVER use the word underrated to describe Custer.

My thoughts on Custer have been a long, strange trip. For most of my adult life, most of my thoughts on Custer were seriously prejudiced by the end he met at Little Big Horn. I adhered to the theory that he was reckless and careless about the well being of his men. It bothered me a great deal that Custer had not paid his dues like Buford, George Stoneman, Alfred Pleasonton, David M. Gregg, and the others had. It also bothered me a great deal that this flamboyant man child got the press and attention that he got and that quiet competent professionals like Buford and Gregg did not ever receive. Consequently, I pretty much dismissed him out of hand as a poseur. Eventually, I realized that that was unfair and wrong.

My research into various projects forced me to study Custer’s career in the Civil War. Much ado has been made about his exploits–read my friend Greg Urwin’s Custer Victorious:The Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer if you need an example of why I would never consider him underrated–and in most instances, rightfully so. He put up a real stinker at Trevilian Station, but other than that, his career in the Civil War was marked by tremendous luck that landed him in the right place at the right time, and some real talent at leading men.

Custer had a lot of real problems. Because he had never commanded much of anything when he was promoted to general, he had not come up through the ranks like his predecessors like Buford, Gregg, and even Merritt (who, as a brand new second lieutenant right out of West Point, served in the same company with, and under the direct command of, Capt. John Buford, and who was very much Buford’s protege and greatest legacy to the Union cavalry). Consequently, he had little skill for and no experience whatsoever with the traditional roles of cavalry: scouting, screening and reconnaissance. He also was a political naif when it came to Army politics, not ever really having had to deal with them. In many ways, he was as Lee allegedly described John Bell Hood: all of the lion and none of the fox.

In 1864, when Sheridan took command, his style and Custer’s meshed nicely, and Custer became his go-to guy. And, with the exception of his lackluster performance at Trevilian Station, it’s pretty difficult to argue with his record. He was pretty much the ultimate hussar, as opposed to John Buford, who was the ultimate dragoon.

But, let’s make no mistake about it. It’s not a fair or appropriate comparison to compare someone who spent most of the war as a brigade commander with someone like, say, Gregg or Merritt, both of whom commanded the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps at some point during the war and both of whom made their fame as division commanders. There’s a quantum difference between commanding a brigade and a division, and an even greater expanse between commanding a division and a corps.

And so, my thoughts about Custer have come full circle. I am now able to see him clearly–both his good and bad points. At times, he was the reckless clod who charged blindly into whatever lay in front of him without doing any scouting. He had absolutely no skill or talent for the traditional role of cavalry whatsoever. But he was a fighter–of that, there can be no doubt. And he was an inspirational leader whose men loved him for his willingness to lead from the front. Most of all, he was lucky. And his luck finally ran out one hot, dusty day in June 1876.

In the pantheon of Union cavalry greats, I would place him well below the likes of Wesley Merritt or Custer’s West Point classmate and rival, James Harrison Wilson. Why? Because Merritt and Wilson both had the skill and talent to be corps commanders, whereas Custer had neither the experience nor the political skill to be anything more than an outstanding brigade commander and a reasonably good division commander. I also would place Buford ahead of him, because Buford had no peer in the Union army as an intelligence gatherer who was also a ferocious fighter. And finally, I would place David Gregg ahead of him. At the end of the day, it was Gregg whom Sheridan relied upon most heavily in 1864 because Gregg was steady, experienced, and competent.

There are others whom I admire greatly. Robert H. G. Minty was probably the best Union cavalry brigade commander of all of them. Thomas C. Devin was terribly competent, terribly reliable, and deserving of the nickname “Buford’s Hard Hitter,” which pretty much speaks for itself. William Woods Averell deserves much better than he gets historically; much of the historical treatment of his career in the Civil War is terribly unfair. Averell certainly had his issues, but there was no better raider than him in the Union services, and his men adored him. George D. Bayard is the great unknown. After Stoneman, he outranked EVERYONE in the Union cavalry, and had he not received a mortal wound at Fredericksburg, he would have been next in line to command the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps when Stoneman left the AoP for medical leave in May 1863. Bayard was young, competent, and aggressive, if unpopular with the men for being a terrible martinet, and he would have been a VERY different sort of leader than Alf Pleasonton, who was the ultimate lead-from-the-rear kind of guy. I’m not normally much of one for “what-if’s”–there was enough that actually happened to keep me interested, not speculation–but that’s a tantalizing one.

Given that a number of my books have dealt with the Michigan Cavalry Brigade–including my current project–I’ve had to really study Custer’s tenure in command of the MCB in great detail. There can be no doubt that the men who followed him loved him unconditionally. It’s clear that he was inspirational leader of very real skill. He was nothing if not aggressive–too much so at times–and he was a fighter. His poor grasp of army politics nearly cost him his career in the post-war army, and his poor treatment of those who served under him earned him the eternal hatred of some of his officers. But, it is very difficult to argue with his record of success. And in the end, that’s what really matters.

He will never be my favorite, but I have come to respect him, and I have made peace with my relationship with him.

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It’s been too long since my last profile of a forgotten cavalryman. I’ve been meaning to do this one for a long time, but my regular readers know that events have intervened, preventing me from being as productive as I might otherwise want. However, it’s time to change that situation. Today, we profile Col. Othniel De Forest, who commanded the 5th New York Cavalry for the first half of the Civil War. De Forest is more notable for the odd end to his military career than for his exploits in the field.

Othniel De Forest was born in New York City on August 13, 1826. He came from a family of Dutch poltroons who helped to settle New York. His father was Charles De Forest, of Connecticut, and Catherine Burlock, of New York City. Othniel had three brothers, David, Alfred, Linson, and a sister named Kate. David and Othniel both attended a private boarding school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania named Nazareth Hall. Nazareth Hall was the central boarding school for sons of Moravian parents. Later it attained wide fame as a “classical academy.” This eventually led to the founding in 1807, of Moravian College and Theological Seminary, located in Bethlehem. In 1843, 17-year-old Othniel enrolled at Yale University, and graduated in 1847.

After graduation, he returned to New York City and took a job as a stockbroker, a position that made him a prosperous man who was well-known in the social and political circles of New York. He married Francis R. Nevins in 1851, and the couple had three children of their own, William (born 1855), Rebecca (born 1857), and Othniel (born 1862). Interestingly, the entire De Forest family—all of Othniel’s siblings and his parents—all resided in the same building in New York City. De Forest also maintained a residence in Philadelphia, presumably for professional reasons.

In 1861, with the coming of war, De Forest was involved in recruiting several units for the State of New York. In July 1861 he received authority from Secretary of War Simon Cameron to raise a regiment of cavalry, and subsequently to raise a brigade. He succeeded in organizing two regiments and a part of a third, when the Government determined to raise no more Cavalry. These two regiments were the 5th and 6th N. Y. Cavalry Regiments, which were also known as the 1st and 2nd “Ira Harris Guards” in honor of the powerful New York Senator Ira Harris, who was the patron of these units. In 1862, he raised another regiment that became the 12th New York.

On July 26, 1861, the 35-year-old De Forest was mustered in as the colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry. De Forest had no prior military training or experience, and had to learn the hard trade of being a cavalryman. His younger brother Linson also enlisted in the 5th New York, and was commissioned as a lieutenant. De Forest and the 5th New York served in Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, prompting Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks to write of De Forest, “As an officer, then and there, he showed much ability, and I do not hesitate to recommend him to the favor of the Dep’t.”

The 5th New York Cavalry then became a mainstay of a cavalry brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford during the Second Bull Run Campaign of the summer of 1862. When the Army of Virginia was dissolved after the debacle at Chantilly on September 1, 1862, Buford’s brigade was assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C.

During the winter of 1862-1863, De Forest became commander of the 3rd Brigade, Cavalry Division, 22nd Army Corps, Department of Washington. He held this command from April 7-June 26, 1863. This brigade was primarily engaged in pursuing and fighting the guerrillas of Maj. John Singleton Mosby and his 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry. On June 26, 1863, De Forest left the regiment with an illness that kept him from active duty at the Battle of Gettysburg.

While De Forest was ill, the division was reassigned as the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac. The 5th New York was part of the 1st Brigade. On June 28, a staff officer, Capt. Elon J. Farnsworth, was promoted to brigadier general, and assumed command of the brigade. Farnsworth’s Brigade, and the 5th New York in particular, bore the brunt of the fighting at the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover. It also participated in the July 2 engagement at Hunterstown. Farnsworth fell while leading a futile charge against Confederate infantry and artillery on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Col. Nathaniel P. Richmond of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry assumed command of the brigade until De Forest returned to duty on July 10.

When De Forest returned to duty on July 10, he assumed command of the brigade, which consisted of the 1st West Virginia, the 5th New York, the 1st Vermont, and the 18th Pennsylvania. He retained command of the brigade into the winter of 1863-1864, but then it all went bad. On March 29, 1864, De Forest was dismissed from the service for “presenting false and fraudulent accounts against the government” after a court martial.

The shamed former brigade commander returned home to New York and attempted to resume his former successful career as a stockbroker, but he never recovered from the ignominious ending to his once-promising military career. On December 16, 1864, after what was described as a “brief illness,” De Forest died of “congestion of the brain” at the young age of 37. He was buried in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Oddly, the dismissal was revoked March 14, 1866, and De Forest was posthumously restored to his rank as colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry to date to September 3, 1864, when his term of service would have expired.

Here’s to Colonel Othniel De Forest, forgotten cavalryman whose tarnished career ended up being not quite so tarnished after all. I really want to get to the bottom of this mystery about why De Forest was cashiered from the army, and, more importantly, why the dismissal was revoked posthumously. I will report back when I know more….

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On December 16, 1863, the United States Army lost its best cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. John Buford, who died of typhoid fever in the rented house of his fellow horse soldier, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, in Washington, D.C. Buford’s dear friend Maj. Gen. John Gibbon once said that “John Buford was the finest cavalryman I ever saw.” He died in the arms of his staff officer and surrogate son, Capt. Myles W. Keogh (who later died with Custer at the Little Big Horn). The Union’s loss was enormous, almost unimaginable.

Buford was promoted to major general–a long overdue promotion that had long been sought on his behalf–on his deathbed the day he died. In a moment of lucidity, he said, “too late.” And sadly, it was. His final words, as befit the finest cavalryman in the army, were “Put guard on all the roads, and don’t let the men run back to the rear.”

This was the obituary of Buford that ran in the New York Times the next day:

Major-Gen. JOHN BUFORD, who died at Washington yesterday, was a graduate of the West Point Military Academy, and in the Regular army held the rank of Major in the Inspector-General’s Department. He was appointed Brigadier-General of Volunteers on the 27th of July, 1862, and assigned to the command of a cavalry brigade under Gen. POPE, in his Virginia campaign of that year. When that army was merged with the Army of the Potomac, Gen. BUFORD was assigned to the command of the regular cavalry brigade, which he held until the formation of the cavalry corps into three divisions, when he was placed in command of the First division, and served throughout the severe campaigns of the past ten months with the most distinguished gallantry. He was considered the best field cavalry commander in the service, and was noted for his coolness and judgment under fire. He was about forty years of age, of full habit a man of generous nature and warm impulses. Before his death the President rewarded him with the commission of Major-General. The country has lost a noble spirit and a brave defender.

The great cavalryman was buried in the post cemetery at West Point, where he rests under a handsome monument paid for the by the men of his First Cavalry Division.

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11 Aug 2011, by

Threads, Part 2

Several weeks ago, I did a post titled “Threads”, which dealt with the family linkages between Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, Revolutionary War hero, his grandson, Col. George S. Patton of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, who was mortally wounded during the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, and Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., the great World War II hero, who was the grandson of the Civil War officer. In that post, I promised I would pull a few more threads regarding General Patton, who is one of my favorites.

Adna Romanza Chaffee was born in Orwell, Ohio on April 14, 1842. In July 1861, Chaffee, only 19 years old, enlisted in the newly-formed 6th U. S. Cavalry as a private. In early 1862, he was promoted to sergeant, and to first sergeant in September 1862. As a reward for his good service, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arranged for him to be appointed second lieutenant in April 1863. Although only 21 years old, he was in command of a company of the 6th U. S. by the time of the Battle of Gettysburg that summer.

On July 3, 1863, the 6th U. S. Cavalry was sent on an expedition to Fairfield, Pennsylvania. There, the 6th U. S. took an entire brigade of Confederate cavalry, and was thrashed. Chaffee was wounded and captured that afternoon. The Confederates tried to parole Chaffee, but he refused a parole in the field, obeying a recent War Department directive that the men of the 6th U. S. not give their paroles if captured. The frustrated Confederates, concerned that they could not manage their large haul of prisoners, simply left Chaffee behind with the other wounded. Chaffee was found laying on the ground in the orchard, being tended to by one of his men, a “neatly cut crimson edged hole in his blue pantaloons over the front part of his thigh. He was quite cheerful.” As a reward for his gallantry in the fighting and for his steadfast refusal to give his parole, Chaffee was brevetted to first lieutenant, effective July 3, 1863. He recovered from his wound and returned to duty with the 6th U. S. in early September 1863. He suffered a second combat wound, and was promoted to first lieutenant in February 1865.

He remained in the Regular Army after the war, and was promoted to captain. He spent 30 years fighting Indians in the west and southwest. In July 1888, he was promoted to major and was transferred to the one of the so-called “Buffalo Soldier” units, the 9th U. S. Cavalry. In 1897, he was promoted to colonel and assumed command of the 3rd U. S. Cavalry. He was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers in the Spanish-American War, and then to major general of volunteers after the American victory at El Caney, Cuba, in July 1898. From 1898-1900, he served as chief of staff to the military governor of Cuba, Gen. Leonard Wood.

When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China in 1900, Chaffee was sent to Peking as commander of the U. S. Army’s China Relief Expedition. He played a major role in putting down the rebellion and then was promoted to major general in the Regular Army in 1901 in recognition of those accomplishments. He served as military governor of the Philippines for a few months, and then assumed command of the Department of the East, a position he held until 1903. In 1904, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became chief of staff of the United States Army, a position he held for a bit over two years. He was one of two old horse cavalrymen to rise from the rank of private to serve as chief of staff of the Army (a profile of the other officer to go from private of cavalry to chief of staff of the army can be found here). Chaffee retired in February 1906 and died on November 1, 1914. He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

His son, Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr., was born in Junction City, Kansas on September 23, 1884. He graduated from West Point in 1906, and was appointed a lieutenant of cavalry, following in his famous father’s footsteps. Chaffee soon became known as the best horseman in the army. In World War I, he was an infantry major, serving in the IV Corps during the St. Mihiel offensive and then as a colonel in the III Corps during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the war ended, he reverted to his Regular Army rank of captain of cavalry and became an instructor at the General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

During the 1920’s, with the help of a young horse cavalryman who had commanded armor during World War I–Capt. George S. Patton, Jr.–helped to develop tank doctrine and tactics. In 1927, he predicted that mechanized armies would dominate the next war and helped to develop the U. S. Army’s first true armored force. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in 1931, and continued to work on the development of the U. S. Army’s armored forces and capabilities. He soon became the leading advocate for American armored forces.

In 1938, he assumed command of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized), the U. S. Army’s only armored force. He worked tirelessly for the further development and advancement of armored forces, and his predictions proved true when France surrendered after the German blitzkrieg in 1940.

After the collapse of France, Chaffee finally convinced Congress that the United States needed to develop an effective armored force very quickly. Congress authorized the creation of the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions in 1940, and Chaffee was promoted to major general and was given command of this force. Unfortunately, Chaffee was quite ill. He died of cancer at the young age of 56 on August 22, 1941, just before the United States was forced to enter World War II, and is remembered as the father of the U. S. Army’s armored force. The M24 Chaffee light tank was named in his honor.

In the 1920’s, George S. Patton, Jr., an old horse cavalryman who designed the U. S. Army’s last cavalry saber, also tirelessly worked to advance the cause of armor. He had successfully commander light tanks during World War I, and saw the potential of tanks as a decisive battlefield weapon. He unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to fund an armored force and wrote articles on tactics that were published in the Journal of the United States Cavalry Association, a professional journal for Regular Army cavalrymen.

In July 1940, Patton–now a colonel–was given command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. He became assistant division commander the following October, and was promoted to brigadier general on October 2, 1940. He served as acting division command from November 1940 to April 1941, and was promoted to major general and given command of the 2nd Armored Division a few days later. Were Chaffee still alive in 1941, he undoubtedly would have been given command of the I Armored Corps when it was formed. However, his premature death opened that slot for George S. Patton, Jr. and he was promoted to major general and appointed to command the I Armored Corps. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, armor serves most of the traditional roles of horse cavalry: scouting, screening, and reconnaissance, and many armored units are actually designated as cavalry units. It has a great legacy for doing so, with direct links to some of the greatest horse cavalrymen of the post-Civil War era of the United States Army. As you will see from the image at the beginning of this paragraph, the traditional crossed sabers logo of the cavalry has been amended to reflect the direct link between horse cavalry and armored service in the modern army.

If you pull the various threads, you find a direct connection between the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps and the legendary commander of the Third Army, George S. Patton, Jr. That direct connection flows through two great horse soldiers, Adna Romanza Chaffee and his son, Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr.

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JanewayJim Lamason went to the New Jersey State Archives for me to look for information on the role of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry’s role in the fighting on Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg for the new edition of Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863 being published by Savas Beatie later this spring. Unfortunately, Jim didn’t find anything useful there, but he did locate a report of the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station penned by Maj. Hugh Janeway, in temporary command of the regiment at the time, to the Governor of New Jersey. This report is different from the one in the Official Records, so I thought I would share it here. That’s Janeway in the photograph.

Headquarters 1st N.J. Cav.
Rappahannock Station
June 10, 1863

To His Excellency, Joel Parker
Governor of the State of New Jersey

Governor,

I have the honor to report that the Regiment has been engaged in another very severe cavalry fight. On the 8th inst. the Division broke camp at Warrenton Junction and marched to Kelly’s Ford where we bivouacked for the night. The next day (the 9th inst.) at 3 a.m. we crossed the river and moved on Brandy Station. As is normal in times of danger we were in the advance. Meanwhile Genl Buford was fighting hard opposite Rappahannock Station. The object of our movement was to turn the right flank of the Rebels. Col. Wyndham was in command of the 2d Brigade composed of the 1st N. Jersey 1st Md. and the 1st Pa Cavalry and the command of our Regt. devolved upon Lt. Col. Brodrick. Capt. Yorke of Co. I had the advance guard composed of Cos. C & I– he moved his men so carefully that he captured every vidette in the road so that the first intimation that the enemy had of our being in their rear was by seeing the head of our column debouch from the woods.

Col Wyndham moved his troops with such celerity that we were upon them almost before they were aware of our vicinity. The fight lasted four hours and was a continual inception of the most brilliant charges ever made. Every officer behaved with the utmost bravery, coolness and it is impossible for men to behave better than did ours–they proved themselves well worthy of the State from which they come. More cannot be said in their praise.

Lt. Col. Brodrick and Major Shelmire were both wounded and taken while leading one of the numerous charges–accounts of the nature of their capture are so conflicting that I defer sending any statement regarding it till I learn something definite but that they both behaved with the greatest daring and gallantry there can be no question.

Capt. Sawyer Co. K and Lt. Crocker Co. H are also prisoners but not thought to be wounded. Capt. Lucas Co. F Capt. Maulsbury and Adjt Kitchen while in the thickest of the fray had their horses shot out under them–that of Adjt Kitchen fell dead carrying him along with it–his escape seems almost miraculous. When the order was given to retire our Regt covered the rear. I am told that Genl Gregg expressed the greatest satisfaction at the conduct of the Regt. Towards the close of the engagement Col. Wyndham recd a bullet wound in the calf of the leg but we are thankful to know that it will not prove dangerous–he kept the field for sometime after being hit but was finally obliged to give up–he goes to Washington today. We hope he will soon return as he can ill be spared from his command. He also paid the Regt the highest compliments for its steady and dashing charges.

The fight was hand to hand throughout. We had in the engagement four Field officers, 14 line officers and 281 enlisted men. Our loss in killed wounded and missing is at present 3 Field officers 2 line officers and 52 enlisted. This of itself speaks volumes for the bravery of the Regt. The morale of the Regt has been greatly benefitted by yesterday’s work and I am confident that the men will fight better now than ever. Major Beaumont will probably soon return from his present command to assume that of the Regt and will be able to collect further accounts of the capture and wounds of the missing officers than I am now able to do.

I have the honor to be Governor

Very respectfully
Your obdt servt

Hugh H. Janeway
Major Comdg 1st New Jersey Cavalry

Here are a few notes on this report.

Col. Sir Percy Wyndham, the regimental colonel, was in command of the brigade at the Battle of Brandy Station. He was, as Janeway pointed out, wounded in the leg in the melee, and he never commanded troops in the Army of the Potomac again. For my biographical sketch of Sir Percy, click here.

Lt. Col. Virgil Brodrick and Maj. John Shelmire were both mortally wounded in the melee, and both died on the field. Both are buried in the National Cemetery in Culpeper. Capt. Henry W. Sawyer was indeed badly wounded, which led to his capture, meaning that Janeway’s information was incorrect. Sawyer ended up being the center of quite a drama that is the subject of an article I’ve written that will appear in Civil War Times Illustrated later this year.

Thus, the 1st New Jersey Cavalry lost its colonel, lieutenant colonel, senior major, and a squadron commander that day. The regimental command structure was devastated in the fighting at Brandy Station. Janeway was killed in action less than a week before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. It seems a shame to die so close to the end.

Thanks to Jim Lamason for getting this for me.

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