Here is another installment in my infrequent profiles of Civil War cavalrymen. This particular soldier has a fascinating tale.
Henry Washington Sawyer was born in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on May 16, 1829. He received a common school education in Lehigh County and then learned the carpenter’s trade. In 1848, he moved to Cape May, New Jersey, where he worked as a carpenter until the outbreak of the Civil War. He married and had three children.
When President Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers on April 15, 1861, Sawyer was among the first to offer his services to New Jersey Gov. Charles S. Olden at Trenton. However, there was no organization for troops ready for muster-in yet, and because secessionists had interrupted mail and telegraphic communication with Washington, Governor Olden sent Sawyer to Washington to deliver important dispatches to Secretary of War Simon Cameron.
On April 18, 1861, he enlisted as a private in a three-month regiment, the 25th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the first volunteer troops to arrive in the national capitol. The 25th Pennsylvania was engaged in barricading and guarding the Capitol until the arrival of the 6th Massachusetts and 7th New York regiments. At midnight on April 19, he was chosen to be one of the guards to protect the Capitol, there being but one company of regular cavalry in Washington. On the 20th, five companies of Pennsylvania three-months’ men arrived, to one of which Sawyer was attached as private. In recognition of this service, Sawyer received a special medal from the Pennsylvania legislature. He was promoted to sergeant on May 14, 1861, and was then discharged on July 23, 1861 at the end of his three-month term of enlistment.
With the assistance of Governor Olden, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in Company D of Halsted’s Cavalry Regiment, an independent organization raised under the provisions of an Act of Congress approved on July 22, 1861. By order of the War Department of February 19, 1862, this unit was re-designated the 1st Regiment, Cavalry, New Jersey Volunteers, which proved to be one of the finest fighting units of the American Civil War. It was involved in 97 different engagements during the Civil War. On August 20, 1861, Sawyer was mustered in at Trenton, and shortly after proceeded to Washington, D.C. with his regiment. When his company’s first lieutenant resigned his commission, Sawyer was promoted to first lieutenant on Aril 7, 1862, and was promoted again, this time to captain of Company K, on September 8, 1862, when Capt. Virgil Brodrick was promoted to major.
Sawyer was wounded in 1862 at Woodstock, Va. when his horse was shot out from under him. The dying beast fell on Sawyer’s right leg. He later developed “extosis of the bone” in his thigh as the femur had sharp edges protruding from it. Sawyer was in constant pain and limped for the rest of his life.
On October 31, 1862, at Aldie, Va., Sawyer was wounded again. He led a small group on a reconnaissance mission. About 1,500 Southern cavalrymen attacked them. Sawyer stayed behind to cover his men’s escape, but was shot in the stomach. Sawyer somehow survived. The bullet had lodged near his spine, and the Army surgeons were afraid to remove it. He was sent home to recover, where civilian surgeons successfully removed the bullet.
Sawyer’s regiment, the 1st New Jersey Cavalry, was heavily engaged at the Battle of Brandy Station. Sawyer received two serious wounds in the fighting for Fleetwood Hill, one of which passed clear through his thigh, and the other struck his right cheek and then passed out the back of his neck on the left side of his spine. Despite these two serious wounds, Sawyer remained in the saddle until his horse was shot. The mortally wounded beast sprang into the air and fell dead, throwing Sawyer with so much force that it knocked him senseless. When he recovered consciousness Captain Sawyer saw Lieutenant Colonel Broderick lying near, and crawled up to him, but on examination found that he was dead. A short distance further on he saw Major Shellmire, while all around him were men of his own or other companies, either killed or wounded. While by the side of Colonel Broderick, Captain Sawyer was seen by two rebel soldiers, who took him prisoner, and, after washing the blood from his face with water from a neighboring ditch, conveyed him to the rear.
He was treated at a home in Culpeper, and his two combat wounds from Brandy Station were declared “very dangerous, if not mortal.” However, he recovered enough to be transported from Culpeper to Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison, “only to face the horrible fate which this heroic captain wished he had escaped by death through the bullet he had previously received through his head in battle.”
On April 9 1863, Federal soldiers arrested Confederate Capts. William F. Corbin and T. G. McGraw near Rouse’s Mills, Kentucky. They were tried before a military commission convened by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio, and were convicted of being spies and recruiting within Federal lines. On May 15, Corbin and McGraw were executed at the prisoner of war camp at Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio.
When Col. Robert Ould, the Confederate agent for the exchange of prisoners of war, learned of these executions through the press, he informed his Union counterpart, Lt. Col. William H. Ludlow, that the Confederate authorities had ordered two Union captains in their custody to be selected for execution in retaliation for this perceived barbarity. On May 25, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Ludlow informed Ould that Captains Corbin and McGraw were being executed as being spies, and “that if he proposed to select brave and honorable officers who had been captured in fair open fight on the battlefield and barbarously put to death in just retribution for the punishment of spies, he gave him formal notice that the United States Government would exercise their discretion in selecting such persons as they thought best for the purpose of count retaliation.” Ludlow had already received notice that the Confederates had condemned Capt. Samuel McKee of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry and a Lieutenant Shepherd, as the two officers to be executed. However, some influential politicians intervened with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and the two men were spared.
Brig. Gen. John H. Winder, who commanded the Department of Henrico, Virginia, issued Special Orders No. 160 on July 6, 1863, ordering Capt. Thomas P. Turner, the commandant of Libby Prison, to select by lot two captains from among the prisoners to be shot in retaliation for the deaths of Corbin and McGraw. Turner summoned all of the seventy-five Union captains being held in Libby Prison, and announced, “Gentlemen, it is my painful duty to communicate to you an order I have received from General Winder, which I will read.”
After reading the order, Turner had them men formed into a hollow square, in the center of which was placed a table. The names of all of the Union captains were written on slips of paper, carefully folded up, and then placed in a box. The first two names drawn would be the two men shot. He gave the officers the choice of who would draw the names, but nobody came forward. Instead, Sawyer suggested a chaplain of the U.S. Army. Three chaplains were called down, and Rev. Joseph T. Brown, of the 6th Maryland Infantry drew the first name, which was Sawyer’s. The second name drawn as that of Capt. John M. Flinn of the 51st Indiana Infantry. “When the names were read out,” reported the Richmond Dispatch, “Sawyer heard it with no apparent emotion, remarking that some one had to be drawn, and he could stand it as well as any one else. Flynn was very white and depressed.” The two men were placed in solitary confinement to await their execution. No date for the execution was set.
Sawyer realized that if he could bring his plight to the attention of the Federal government, something might be done to save his life. He asked for, and received, permission to write to his wife. Sawyer penned a lengthy letter to his wife explaining the fate that awaited him:
Richmond, Va., July 6th, 1863.
My Dear Wife: I am under the necessity of informing you that my prospects look dark.
This morning all the captains now prisoners at the Libby Military Prison drew lots for two to be executed. It fell to my lot. Myself and Captain Flynn, of the Fifty-first Indiana Infantry, will be executed for two captains executed by Burnside.
The Provost- General, J. H. Winder, assures me that the Secretary of War of the Southern Confederacy will permit yourself and my dear children to visit me before I am executed. You will be permitted to bring an attendant. Captain Whillidin, or Uncle W. W. Ware, or Dan, had better come with you. My situation is hard to be borne, and I cannot think of dying without seeing you and the children. You will be allowed to return without molestation to your home. I am resigned to whatever is in store for me, with the consolation that I die without having committed any crime. I have no trial, no jury, nor am I charged with any crime, but it fell to my lot. You will proceed to Washington. My government will give you transportation for Fortress Monroe, and you will get here by a flag of truce,and return the same way. Bring with you a shirt for me.
It will be necessary for you to preserve this letter to bring evidence at Washington of my condition. My pay is due me from the 1st of March, which you are entitled to. Captain B– owes me fifty dollars, money lent to him when he went on a furlough. You will write to him at once, and he will send it to you.
My dear wife, the fortune of war has put me in this position. If I must die, a sacrifice to my country, with God’s will I must submit; only let me see you once more, and I will die becoming a man and an officer; but, for God’s sake, do not disappoint me. Write to me as soon as you get this, and go to Captain Whilldin; he will advise you what to do.
I have done nothing to deserve this penalty. But you must submit to your fate. It will be no disgrace to myself, you or the children; but you may point with pride and say: “I give my husband;” my children will have the consolation to say: “I was made an orphan for my country.”
God will provide for you; never fear. Oh! it is hard to leave you thus. I wish the ball that passed through my head in the last battle would have done its work; but it was not to be so. My mind is somewhat influenced, for it has come so suddenly on me. Write to me as soon as you get this; leave your letter open, and I will get it. Direct my name and rank, by way of Fortress Monroe.
Farewell! farewell!! and I hope it is all for the best. I remain yours until death,
H. W. Sawyer, Captain First New Jersey Cavalry.
Upon completing his letter, Sawyer burst into tears at the thought of leaving his wife and children behind.
Sawyer and Flinn were placed in close confinement in an underground dungeon and fed only corn bread and water, their clothing molding in the dank, damp dungeon. The vault was only about six feet wide, and had no place for light or air, except a hole about six inches-square cut in the door. A sentry constantly stood duty in front of this door, whose duty it was to challenge the inmates once in each half hour and receive a reply. This, of course, rendered it impossible for both the inmates to sleep at one time. Sleep would have been impossible anyway. One of the two had remain awake to keep away the rats, which swarmed in the cell, off his comrade. The two men understandably grew deeply depressed as they awaited their cold fate, unaware of the efforts being undertaken to save their lives.
On July 11, the two officers penned a letter to Winder, pleading for their lives. “You are aware in obedience to your order we were by lot selected from among the Federal captains for execution,” they wrote. “No crime is charged against us, nor have we been guilty of any. It seems our lives are demanded as a measure of retaliation on our Government for the execution of two persons in Burnside’s department of our army. Of these persons we know nothing, nor of the circumstances attending them. We never had any connection with that part of the army.” They suggested that they should only be held for events that occurred in their theater of the war and suggested that Winder instead consider several officers from the Western Theater. They concluded by pleading, “Innocent as we are of any offense against the rules of war, in the name of humanity we ask you if our lives are to be exacted for the alleged offense of other men in other departments of the army than that in which we served?”
In the interim, Colonel Ludlum, who was an astute observer, wrote to recommend a course of action to save the lives of Sawyer and Flinn. “I respectfully and earnestly recommend that two Confederate officers in our hands be immediately selected for execution in retaliation for the threatened one of Sawyer and Flinn, and that I be authorized to communicate their names to the Confederate authorities, with the proper notice.” This wise suggestion provided the basis for a strategy that saved the lives of the two unfortunate captains.
Upon learning her husband’s fate, a horrified Mrs. Sawyer hastened to Washington, D.C. to present the case to President Abraham Lincoln. She traveled with a friend, Capt. W. Whelden, and Representative J. T. Nixons of New Jersey, and met with the President on July 14. Lincoln immediately ordered Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the commanding general of the U.S. Army, to send the following communication to Lieutenant Colonel Ludlow at Fortress Monroe, Virginia:
Washington, July 15, 1863
Colonel Ludlow, Agent for Exchange of Prisoners of War:
The President directs that you immediately place General W. H. F. Lee and another officer selected by you not below the rank of captain, prisoners of war, in close confinement and under strong guard, and that you notify Mr. R. Ould, Confederate agent for exchange and prisoners of war, that if Capt. H. W. Sawyer, First New Jersey Volunteer Cavalry, and Capt. John M. Flinn, Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, or any other officers or men in the service of the United States not guilty of crimes punishable with death by the laws of war, shall be executed by the enemy, the aforementioned prisoners will be immediately hung in retaliation. It is also directed that immediately on receiving official or other authentic information of the execution of Captain Sawyer and Captain Flinn, you will proceed to hang General Lee and the other rebel officer designated as hereinabove directed, and that you notify Robert Ould, Esq., of said proceeding, and assure him that the Government of the United States will proceed to retaliate for every similar barbarous violation of the laws of civilized war.
H. W. Halleck,
Like Henry Sawyer, Brig. Gen. W.H.F. “Rooney” Lee, the second son of Gen. Robert E. Lee, received two serious combat wounds at Brandy Station. One was a saber cut, and the other, more serious, was a gunshot wound to the leg that narrowly missed the tibia and the main artery. He was taken to Hickory Hill, the Wickham family home, in Hanover County, Virginia, to recuperate. A task force of more than 1,000 Federal cavalrymen, stationed near Yorktown, Virginia, raided deep into Hanover County and seized Rooney Lee from his father-in-law’s house on June 26, 1863. Col. Samuel P. Spear of the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, commander of the task force, whom Lee knew from the pre-war Regular Army, refused Lee’s request to be paroled, and the Confederate general became a prisoner of war. He was taken to Fortress Monroe and held there, and soon became a pawn in the great game of human chess that also involved Henry Sawyer.
Immediately after receiving this telegram, Ludlow had Rooney Lee placed in close confinement in a dungeon at Fortress Monroe, where Capt. Robert H. Tyler of the 8th Virginia Infantry, a prisoner of war being held in Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D. C., drawn by lot, joined him the next day. This action saved the lives of Sawyer and Flinn. Ludlow then informed Ould what had occurred, and what the new policy of the United States Government would be. As one Union officer commented that the Union high command had rightly surmised “that the influential connection of these two officers in the Confederacy would prevent the threatened execution of the Union captains who had drawn their death warrants in the dreadful lottery in which they had been compelled to take tickets.”
After remaining in the dungeon until August 16, 1863, they were relieved and placed back in with the general prisoner population on the same footing as the other prisoners, even though the Richmond newspapers continued to claim that the two Yankee captains would be executed.
On November 13, Lee was transferred to Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor. Captain Tyler joined him there a month later. Finally, in February 1864, the Confederate authorities proposed an exchange that was acceptable. Lee and Tyler were to be exchanged for Brig. Gen. Neal Dow of Maine, who was the highest-ranking Union officer in captivity, Sawyer, and Flinn. Lee and Tyler were transferred back to Fortress Monroe in anticipation of their exchange. Finally, on March 14, the exchange was completed, and the prisoners returned to their respective commands.
“The satisfaction with which Captain Sawyer once more walked forth a free man, and found shelter under the Old Flag, was such as only a man coming from death unto life–from dismal bondage into joyous and perfect liberty–can ever experience, and none other, certainly, can appreciate,” noted Dr. C. E. Godfrey, an early biographer of Sawyer.
Upon the recommendation of Col. Sir Percy Wyndham, Sawyer was commissioned major of his regiment on March 22, 1864, to date to October 12, 1863, and received his commission from Gov. Joel Parker that day in the State House at Trenton. He then proceeded to his home in Cape May on furlough. He was mustered in as major at Washington, D.C. on August 31, 1864, and immediately re-joined his command, with which he continued until the regiment was mustered-out and honorably discharged at the close of the war at Vienna, Virginia, on May 24, 1865. He suffered two more minor combat wounds at the Second Battle of Kernstown, Va. After his recovery he was stationed at U. S. Cavalry Headquarters in Washington, D. C. as an inspector of horses.
After the close of the war he was breveted lieutenant-colonel by United States Commission, and remained in that position until September, 1865, when the regiment was discharged. At the close of the Civil War, the ranks of the Regular Army being recruited up, he was offered by Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, having been recommended by a division officer, a lieutenantcy in the regular army, which position he declined. During the time that he was in the field he received six combat wounds, two of which were of a serious character. One ball he carried in his body until he died.
Major Sawyer immediately returned to his home in Cape May, and in 1867, became proprietor of the Ocean House in that lovely summer resort town. He operated the Ocean House until April 1873, when he moved to Wilmington, Delaware and became proprietor of the Clayton House. In 1876, he returned to Cape May and built the Chalfonte Hotel, which he owned and operated for many years. He was for a number of years a member of the Cape May city council, and was at one time Superintendent of the United States Life Saving Service for the coast of New Jersey. He was also a member of the New Jersey State Sinking Fund Commission from 1888 to 1891. He died suddenly of heart failure at Cape May on October 16, 1893, and was buried in Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery in Cape May.
Here’s to forgotten cavalryman Henry Washington Sawyer, a pawn in the great game of politics that underlay the American Civil War.Scridb filter
146 years ago today, the Union cavalry, supported by Col. Strong Vincent’s infantry brigade of the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps, defeated Jeb Stuart’s cavalry at the Battle of Upperville. Upperville is significant for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it represents the first time that the Union cavalry defeated Stuart’s men on the field of battle and held the battlefield at the end of the day. As they had at Brandy Station 12 days earlier, John Buford’s Federal division and William E. “Grumble” Jones’ Confederate brigade bore the brunt of the day’s fighting. Late in the day, a combined assault by Buford and David Gregg, supported by Vincent’s infantry, shattered Stuart’s lines at Upperville and sent his troopers flying from the field for the first time.
They fell back to the mouth of Chester Gap, the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, and the support of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps infantry beyond. Fortunately for Stuart and the Confederates, the Federals did not press their advantage and did not discover the presence of the main body of Longstreet’s corps beyond (although Alfred Pleasonton later lied and claimed that he had). The Confederate infantry would have driven the Yankee horsemen off, of course, but they would have gained useful intelligence about the whereabouts of the main body of Lee’s army.
In addition, Stuart lost his favorite aide, the giant Prussian mercenary Maj. Augustus Heros von Borcke, badly wounded in the neck during the final assault by Gregg’s troopers. von Borcke’s wound was thought mortal–although he recovered from it–and it ended his active participation in the American Civil War. It was a serious loss for Stuart, who was very fond of the outgoing, fun-loving German. Stuart himself barely escaped; he reported to his wife Flora that some of Buford’s Regulars of the 1st U.S. Cavalry had been gunning for him but had missed.
However, as he had since Brandy Station, and particularly at Aldie and Middleburg on June 17 and 19, respectively, Stuart managed to keep the active and diligent Union cavalry from locating the body of the Army of Northern Virginia as it advanced down the Shenandoah Valley toward the Potomac River and Maryland. Thus, even though Upperville was a tactical defeat for Stuart’s horsemen–their first at the hands of the Federal cavalry–it remained a strategic victory.
The next day, June 22, Stuart received the orders that led to his eight-day raid during the Gettysburg Campaign, triggering a controversy which still rages to this day. Thus, the Battle of Upperville is worthy of commemoration for a variety of reasons. Here’s to the cavalrymen of both sides who fought there 146 years ago today.Scridb filter
Time for another of my infrequent profiles of forgotten cavalrymen. Tonight, we feature Colonel John Beardsley of the 9th New York Cavalry, a scoundrel if ever there was one. He’s one that probably should remain forgotten.
Born on October 12, 1816, in Fairfield, Herkimer County, New York, John Beardsley was appointed to the United States Military Academy in 1837. He graduated 17th in the class of 1841, which included such future luminaries as John Reynolds, Robert Garnett, Richard Garnett, Don Carlos Buell, Nathaniel Lyon and Israel Richardson, all of whom would become generals in the Civil War.
Upon graduation, Beardsley joined the 8th Infantry. Beardsley served in the Seminole War in Florida from 1841-42, and in Mexico. In 1846 with the 8th Infantry, Beardsley participated in the Battle of Palo Alto and in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. On June 18, Beardsley was promoted to first lieutenant.
The 8th Infantry was assigned to serve with the expeditionary force of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott, then preparing for an amphibious landing at Vera Cruz. When the invasion began, the 8th Infantry participated in the Siege of Vera Cruz and in the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where their division played an important role in the rout of the Mexican forces. Fighting alongside his comrade in the 8th Infantry, Lt. James Longstreet, Beardsley fought in the Battle of Churusbusco and at the Battle of Molino del Rey, where he was severely wounded in action while leading an assault on the Mexican works.
His conduct at Molino del Rey caught the eye of his superiors, and Beardsley received a brevet to captain for gallant and meritorious service. It took him more than a year to recover from his wound, and he did not return to active duty until 1849, when he was promoted to Captain and company command in the 8th Infantry. After several more garrison assignments, and as a result of visual impairment and lingering problems resulting from his combat wound, Capt. John Beardsley resigned his commission on December 31, 1853, thus ending a twelve year career in the Regular Army marked by regular promotions and meritorious service.
The decorated war hero returned home to New York and took up a career in farming. He led a quiet life on his farm near Athens, New York until the storm clouds of Civil War gathered in 1861. In October of that year, the governor of New York appointed Beardsley as colonel of the 9th New York Cavalry, and gave him the task of recruiting, arming, and training the regiment. His commission was dated November 21, 1861. Interestingly, Beardsley brought two servants with him, Horace, a tall (5’8″) black man with black eyes and hair, and Kip, a dark complexioned male. Due to administrative problems, Beardsley’s command did not receive mounts until the spring of 1862, and had a troubled early history. At one point, while Beardsley struggled to train his demoralized recruits in the tactics of fighting on foot, a proposal was made to either disband the unit, or to assign its men to various artillery batteries. Elements of the 9th New York served with various artillery batteries and infantry regiments during the Peninsula Campaign. Finally, the regiment’s men rebelled and refused to serve with the artillery or infantry any longer. As a result of the near mutiny, Maj. Gen. George McClellan ordered the unit sent north to be mustered out of service in May 1862.
Put aboard ships, the New Yorkers expected to be mustered out of service upon their arrival in Washington, D.C. Instead, the men of the regiment went into camp and were surprised when orders for the regiment to be mounted arrived on June 21, 1862. The newly mounted troopers moved to the front in July 1862, joining Pope’s newly-formed Army of Virginia. Col. Beardsley reported to Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, who assigned Beardsley to command a brigade of cavalry consisting of the 4th New York, 9th New York, 6th Ohio, and 1st Maryland. Given his background as a West Pointer, and his previous record of valor, John Beardsley seemed to be as good a choice to command a brigade of cavalry as Brig. Gens. John Buford and George D. Bayard, who commanded the other two brigades assigned to Pope’s army.
Buford and Bayard did outstanding service during what became the Second Manassas Campaign, prompting Pope to praise their service lavishly. However, the official reports are devoid of mentions of either Beardsley or his brigade. The brigade played a limited role in the campaign, its principal contribution being the capture of the Waterloo Bridge, near Warrenton, Virginia, on August 25. Elements of the brigade served with Buford’s troopers on August 30, participating in the short but fierce cavalry fight at the Lewis Ford, in the closing engagement of the Second Battle of Bull Run.
The rest of Beardsley’s command was assigned the hopeless task of trying to stem the stampede to the rear after Beardsley’s old comrade in arms, Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, launched his massive counterattack against the Union left on the afternoon of August 30. Thereafter, Beardsley ordered his men to form line of battle (in a single rank) to the east of Henry House Hill, astride the Warrenton Turnpike, to cover the retreat of the army. Beardsley’s brigade eventually followed the broken army off the field.
Beardsley’s report on the conduct of his brigade during the campaign is brief and cursory. His summary of the action ends by stating, “It would be difficult to enumerate all the duties which my brigade performed. It could not have done more. Without transportation, without supplies, almost constantly in the saddle day and night, frequently engaged with the enemy, they bore all without a murmur.”
Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, Beardsley’s immediate superior, wrote only, “…the commanders of our small cavalry force have assisted me under all circumstances cheerfully and to the utmost of their ability…” Sigel’s failure to recognize Beardsley as the commander of his cavalry forces, and his insistence upon referring to all of the cavalry officers under his command perhaps demonstrates the corps commander’s displeasure with the brigade commander’s performance.
After the ignominious defeat at Second Manassas, Beardsley’s brigade returned to Washington, D.C. with the 11th Corps, where the unit served in the city’s defenses during the Antietam Campaign. Beardsley and his brigade rejoined the reconstituted Army of the Potomac in November. Sometime in late 1862, Col. Beardsley was put in command of the cavalry Convalescent’s Camp near Hal’s Farm in northern Virginia, where he remained until late February 1863. On February 24, 1863, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck sent a curious order to the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Major General Joseph Hooker. Halleck, via his Assistant Adjutant General James Barnett Fry, directed Hooker’s attention to the Convalescent Camp under the command of Colonel Beardsley, and instructed Hooker to issue the necessary orders for Colonel Beardsley to join his proper command, the 9th New York Cavalry. Why would the apparently low profile assignment of a relatively unknown colonel attract the time of the General-in-Chief of all federal armies, his able A.A.G. (who was described by Ulysses S. Grant as one of the best staff officers in the army ) and the recently appointed commander of the government’s principal army (Hooker was appointed in early February 1863)?
Fry’s order generated a brief and furious reaction. On March 10, 1863, Major Charles McLean Knox of the 9th New York Cavalry preferred court martial charges against Colonel Beardsley claiming disloyalty, cowardice and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman resulting from a series of incidents occurring between August 6 and November 4, 1862. Major Knox alleged that Beardsley proclaimed, in the presence of enlisted men of his command, on August 6, that “we have no government that we are fighting for – no government; Congress is a mean, abolition faction; the Constitution is broken – we have no Constitution; the abolitionists of the North brought on this war; the Republicans are abolitionists.” Similarly, Beardsley allegedly said, “I would rather fight under Lee than under an abolition leader” on September 12 when he was informed that General Robert E. Lee had invited the conservative portion of the North to join Lee in putting down the administration in Washington.
Major Knox preferred more serious military charges regarding Colonel Beardsley’s actions in the face of the enemy. Knox alleged that Beardsley left his command while it was skirmishing with the enemy on September 1, 1862, when the brigade was serving as the army’s rear guard near Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia. Knox similarly alleged that, on November 4, 1862, during the 11th Corps advance from Centerville, Virginia toward Warrrenton, near New Baltimore, Beardsley precipitately retreated when his command first encountered enemy resistance, with Beardsley “manifest[ing] trepidation and fear . . . placed himself at the head of the retreating column and finally ordered the column to trot . . .” Knox pointed out that 40 men of the 9th New York Cavalry stopped the enemy advanced and drove the Rebels back to New Baltimore while Beardsley conducted his retreat.
Knox’s most serious charge related to Beardsley’s conduct on the battlefield at Second Manassas. Knox alleged that on August 30, 1862, Beardsley publicly berated Lt. Col. William Sackett, commanding Beardsley’s own 9th New York Cavalry, while Sackett tried to form line of battle “to stop a stampede that had commenced on the battlefield.” Beardsley allegedly interrupted Sackett’s dispositions of the troops, stating “[w]hat in Hell are you doing with the Regiment there – bring it around here – bring it here, I tell you – by file, march – trot – march – by God, you do not know how to handle a Regiment – I will put someone in command of it that does know how to form a line”. Remember, Beardsley was a career infantry officer whose cavalry regiment had received horses only a little over two months previous to this event. Knox believed that Beardsley’s words and actions indicated that Beardsley “was too much excited to know what he was doing.” Knox went on to allege that Beardsley then left the 9th New York and went to the rear, leaving the command under fire without orders. Lt. Col. Sackett kept his command in place until no more stragglers came his way, and then retired the regiment across Bull Run until he found Colonel Beardsley, from whom Sackett requested instructions. Knox alleged that Beardsley told Sackett to form on one side of the road, but then ordered the 9th New York to the other side of the road while retreating artillery was passing on the road. Knox inferred that Beardsley used the subsequent chaos in the road to abandon his command once again, and that he then rode off to Centerville, leaving the 9th New York formed without orders.
Finally, Knox alleged that Beardsley arrested Lt. Col. Sackett on September 8, 1862 while Beardsley was under the influence of alcohol. He averred that the inebriated colonel berated Sackett in an abusive and ungentlemanly manner. This episode involved a matter in which Beardsley never preferred charges against Lt. Col. Sackett.
Some support for Major Knox’s charges can be found. Lt. Col. Charles Wetschky of the 1st Maryland Cavalry stated in his official report dated September 17, 1862 that, on August 30, his command was ordered to stop stragglers until Colonel Beardsley subsequently ordered the 1st Maryland to form a line of battle on the right of the retreating column. Lt. Col. Wetschky stated that the line was promptly shelled by artillery, causing Beardsley to pull the line back behind a hill. Beardsley then ordered the 1st Maryland to remain in position until it received further orders. Wetschky reported that “the regiment was left without orders until the bridge over Bull Run had been nearly destroyed, when the officer in charge of the party who were ordered to destroy [the bridge] sent a message for the cavalry to come up in great haste – that he had just discovered that they were still in the rear.”
The report of Colonel William Lloyd of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, Beardsley’s final regiment, dated September 13, 1862, recites a consistent story of being formed to stop straggling infantry, and then being shelled by artillery while in position. Lloyd then states “[w]e were shortly thereafter ordered to withdraw, and with the brigade, conducted by Colonel Beardsley, we moved on toward Centerville with the then retreating army.” Is this a clever use of the passive voice, indicating that Beardsley was present during the retreat but that he did not give the order to withdraw from the battlefield proper?
Major Knox’s charges were sent to the 1st Cavalry Division on March 10, 1863. On March 12, Brig. General Alfred Pleasonton forwarded the charges to the Cavalry Corps. Pleasonton’s endorsement stated that “Colonel Beardsley . . . is not a proper officer to command a brigade, to which his rank entitles him and from the gravity of these charges, it would evidently be of advantage to the service if he was out of it.” The speed at which Pleasonton’s headquarters forwarded Major Knox’s charges seems to indicate that no deliberation was required before deciding that Beardsley should be removed from command as the spring campaigning season got underway.
Beardsley must have realized that he had little chance of retaining his command. He resigned as Colonel of the 9th New York Cavalry on March 14, 1863, and his resignation was speedily accepted by divisional headquarters and sent to the Cavalry Corps on March 16. Corps headquarters was obviously forewarned of the issue, because Colonel Beardsley’s resignation was accepted a mere one day later. Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Cavalry Corps, took time out of his busy schedule (the Battle of Kelly’s Ford was fought between Federal and Confederate cavalry on March 17, as blue clad horse soldiers forces under Brig. Gen. William W. Averell sallied south of the Rappahannock) to accept Beardsley’s resignation with the following endorsement: “Respectfully forwarded with the recommendation as strong as English language can express that it be excepted [sic].”
Even more remarkable than the events surrounding Beardsley’s resignation are the efforts made by many people to sweep these ugly incidents under the rug. Instead of elaborating on the reasons why Beardsley left the service, the regimental history of the 9th New York states only, “March 9….Col. Beardsley…rejoined the regiment…June 4, Lieut. Col. Sackett returned from Washington with a Colonel’s commission for himself and a Lieut. Colonel’s commission for Maj. Nichols. Col. Beardsley had resigned.” There were no other references to Beardsley in the balance of the 9th New York’s fine regimental history. An obituary of Beardsley that appeared in a West Point alumni publication simply stated, “Immediately after [Second Bull Run], he came back to the Regiment and assumed command and remained with it until he resigned his commission at Acquier (sic) Creek, on the Potomac, April 8, 1863.” There were no other references to the circumstances underlying the resignation stated.
Beardsley returned to New York, where he resided for the rest of his life. In the years after the war, he worked as a farmer and as a trust agent. He died in Athens, New York on February 18, 1906, and was buried in Athens Rural Cemetery. Despite the disgrace that marked the end of his military career, the obituary that appeared in a West Point alumni publication stated, “Colonel Beardsley was highly respected by all who knew him for his excellent qualities of mind and heart.” The cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the end of Beardsley’s career with the 9th New York Cavalry was complete. It is, perhaps, without precedent in American history that a West Pointer with such a distinguished pre-war service record would have his career end so ignominiously, followed by so extensive an effort to sweep the incident under the rug.
What happened to John Beardsley on August 30, 1862 that turned the hero of Molino del Rey into a brigade commander who reportedly shied away from combat and apparently abandoned his troops under fire? Perhaps the sight of the Union army being pushed off the plains of Manassas for the second time in 14 months, combined with Beardsley’s obvious contempt for the Republican administration, broke his will resist. Beardsley’s position, at the rear of the army, with all the normal incidents of tales of woe and defeat compounded by the very real success of Longstreet’s attack, could only lead an experienced soldier to the conclusion that John Pope, the Republicans’ hand-picked savior of the East, had badly mismanaged his command. Alternatively, Beardsley could be yet another anti-Pope Democratic old Army officer who fell before Edwin Stanton’s winnowing of the officers corps, as most poignantly exemplified by the Fitz John Porter court martial. This alternative may provide a reason for the involvement of Halleck in this affair.
Thus ends the strange saga of Colonel John Beardsley. A Civil War career that began with such great promise ended with secrecy and cover-up. Perhaps he should have remained a forgotten cavalryman.Scridb filter
This is a profile of a forgotten cavalryman that Iâ€™ve wanted to do for some time. I owe Ranger John Hoptak a big debt of gratitude for passing along the missing material that Iâ€™ve long wanted but have been unable to obtain. Thanks, John.
Forty-seven year-old Maj. Charles Jarvis Whiting of the 5th U.S. Cavalry led the Reserve Brigade. Whiting was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts on November 28, 1814 and was raised in Castine, Maine, and from the time of his childhood, his overarching ambition was to become a West Point cadet. When he received his appointment, he made the trip to West Point and was turned away for being too short. He spent the next year hanging from trees with a brick tied to each foot, hoping to stretch himself enough to meet the height requirement. He returned to the Academy the next year and was admitted. He graduated fourth in the Class of 1835.
He was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery and served engineering duty during the Seminole War in Florida. He resigned his commission on May 31, 1836 to become a railroad surveyor in the Florida panhandle. In 1838, he served as the assistant engineer for the survey of the Mississippi River delta. He then settled in Maine, where he established, and served as headmaster of, the Military and Classical Academy in Ellsworth, which a promising young student named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain attended. He married in June 1841, and had a daughter. His wife died in 1847, leaving Whiting a 33-year-old widower with an infant daughter, Anna Waterman Whiting. His wifeâ€™s family raised Anna, for the Army was no place for an infant.
After teaching for six years and with his wife dead, Whiting surveyed the boundary between the United States and Mexico that was established by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Whiting then settled in San Jose, California, where he farmed and surveyed. For the years 1850-1851, he served as Surveyor-General of California.
When the size of the Regular Army was increased in 1855, a new regiment of light cavalry was formed. On March 3, 1855, Whiting was commissioned a captain in the newly formed 2nd U.S. Cavalry (which was re-designated as the 5th U. S. Cavalry in 1861). He saw extensive action in the west, fighting against Comanche Indians on several occasions, and earning praise for his valor in combat. The New Englander was known as an ambitious martinet who was eager to advance his own career. The coming of Civil War gave him that opportunity.
In March 1861, at the height of the secession crisis, Whiting was stationed at Fort Inge in Texas. When Texas left the Union, he and other loyal officers were stranded there. Whiting and Capts. George Stoneman and James Oakes met to discuss how to escape. They pondered the possibility of trying to escape to the Jefferson Barracks via the Indian country. However, they had insufficient supplies and no transportation, so they abandoned the plan. Stoneman and Whiting eventually found their way back to Washington, D. C. on a steamboat. Whiting was assigned to teach new recruits basic cavalry tactics at the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. He also took a brief furlough to return home to Maine to marry Phebe Whitney, the younger sister of his brotherâ€™s wife.
A veteran officer like Whiting was needed at the front, and he was immediately called to rejoin his regiment, which was assigned to the defenses of Washington and in Pattersonâ€™s Valley Campaign of 1861. During that campaign, he demonstrated a personality trait that cost him dearly two years later. â€œIt is said when he was ordered, at Falling Waters, to proceed with a squadron in search of a militia regiment which had become detached from the army, that he never ceased during the entire movement, to express his opinion of militia in general and of the politicians who were responsible for the war,â€ duly recorded the historian of the 5th U. S. Cavalry.
Whiting then served in McClellanâ€™s Peninsula Campaign of 1862. He led the 5th U.S. Cavalry in its ill-fated sabre charge against Confederate infantry at Gaines Mill in June 1862, and was captured when his horse was shot out from under him. An account of this charge reads: â€œOnly the cavalry and a part of the artillery remained on this part of the field. A brigade of Texans, broken by their long advance, under the lead of the hardest fighter in all the Southern armies, come running on with wild yells, and they were a hundred yards from the guns. It was then that the cavalry commander ordered Capt. Charles J. Whiting, with his regiment to charge. No one had blundered; it was the supreme moment for cavalry, the opportunity that comes so seldom on the modern field of war, the test of discipline, hardihood and nerve. Right well was the task performed. The 220 troopers of the Fifth Cavalry struck Longstreetâ€™s veterans squire in the face. Whiting, his horse killed under him, fell stunned at the foot of the Fourth Texas Infantry.â€
After spending a month in Richmondâ€™s notorious Libby Prison, he was sent north to Washington under parole and then was exchanged for another captain and promoted to major. Whiting commanded the 5th U. S. Cavalry throughout the fall and winter of 1862-1863 and participated in the Maryland Campaign and also in the Battle of Fredericksburg, although the role of the cavalry was extremely limited in the great December battle. Whiting also led his regiment in the 1863 Stoneman Raid that occurred during the Chancellorsville Campaign.
Although he was one of the oldest serving officers in the Regular cavalry, Whiting assumed command of the Reserve Brigade in June 1863 when Buford took command of the 1st Division. His brigade consisted of the U.S. Army Regular cavalry units assigned to the Army of the Potomac, the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th U. S. Cavalry, and the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (also known as Rushâ€™s Lancers). His tenure in brigade command was brief, lasting only a couple of weeks.
Whiting led the Reserve Brigade during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station. The major gave the 2nd U.S. Cavalry orders that conflicted with orders from Buford, and the Regulars failed to join in a charge to rescue the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which had charged all of the Confederate horse artillery near St. James Church, infuriating Buford. Shortly after Brandy Station, Whiting was relieved of his command and sent to the Draft Rendezvous at Fort Preble in Portland, Maine. Unexpectedly, while serving in Maine, Major Whiting was â€œdishonorably dismissed from the service on November 5, 1863 for disloyalty and for using contemptuous and disrespectful words against the President of the United States.â€
A letter found in Whitingâ€™s pension file at the National Archives lends a great deal of insight into why he was cashiered. The letter states that Whitingâ€™s hotel room in Portland faced the public square and had a balcony. â€œA mass meeting of Republicans was announced for a certain evening to take place, at which General [Benjamin F.] Butler was to speak. The local committee called upon the Major, as the story goes, and asked him if he had any objection to General Butler hopping through his room in order to address the gathering outside the balcony. The Major replied, â€˜by no means,â€™ and peevishly added, permitted he could have time to â€˜lock up his spoons.â€™ The Committee was incensed and informed General Butler and the Maj. was removed from the service.â€ Whiting returned to the family home in Castine to ponder his future.
After the end of the Civil War, the expanded Army had a real need for experienced officers to command troops on the western frontier. In May 1866, President Andrew Johnson reinstated Whiting to duty as Major of the 3rd Cavalry, with his records stating â€œthe disability of holding a commission by reason of said dismissal was removed by the President of the United States.â€ Whiting assumed command of Fort Marcy in New Mexico. He then assumed command of Fort Union, New Mexico.
During July 1867, a party of Navajos at Bosque Redondo reservation, believed to have stolen livestock in their possession, fought back when troops attempted to recover the livestock. Six soldiers died in the exchange. Major Whiting led troopers of the 3rd Cavalry from Fort Union â€œto quell the present outbreak and prevent the occurrence of any future troubles with those Indians.â€ By the time Whiting arrived, the outbreak of violence had been quelled, and he and his troopers returned to Fort Union. Whiting later headed a board of officers that investigated the incident at Bosque Redondo, and he was appointed commander of Fort Sumner when the board determined that the former post commander had provoked the Indians.
In May 1869, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and transferred to the 6th Cavalry. He was assigned to command the Army post at Greenville, Texas, where his troopers were to keep the peace between feuding former Confederates and former Union soldiers.
In 1870, he took command of Fort Griffin in Abilene, Texas, which was responsible for protecting travelers from raiding Kiowas and Comanches. After five months there, he was transferred to the supernumerary list on December 15, 1870. On January 1, 1871, at the age of 56, he was honorably mustered out of the service. He packed his belongings and headed home to Castine. He and his wife lived out the rest of their lives there, supported by an Army pension. As he got older, the old injury to his back at Gaineâ€™s Mill gave him more and more trouble and pain. After 20 years of peaceful retirement, Whiting died on New Yearâ€™s Day 1890 at the age of 75. He was buried in Castine.
Whiting spent nearly 30 years in the Regular Army, all in the mounted service. His service was honorable, and he was a good soldier who deserved a better fate than being cashiered from the Army. Hereâ€™s to Charles Jarvis Whiting, forgotten cavalryman.Scridb filter
It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a sketch of a forgotten cavalryman, so I’ve decided to pay tribute to one today.
Samuel Baldwin Marks Young was born on January 9, 1840 at Forest Grove, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. His father, John Young, was of English descent as was his mother, Hannah (Scott) Young. His spent his early years upon the farm and at Jefferson College (now Washington & Jefferson) in Washington, PA, where he studied civil engineering. He married Margaret McFadden in 1861.
With the coming of the Civil War, he enlisted in the 12th United States Infantry as a private in April, 1861, and was made Corporal in the following June. On September 6, 1861, he was commissioned a captain in the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
He participated in heavy fighting during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, demonstrating great bravery and good leadership skills. He led the famous charge of one squadron of his regiment, and one section of Tidball’s horse artillery under Lieutenant Dennison, across the Stone Bridge on the left center of the line, in the Battle of Antietam. The defense of those guns led to the death of his regimental commander, Col. James Childs. In the wake of the death of Childs, and Young’s valor at Antietam, he was promoted to major. In November, 1862, while leading two squadrons of the 4th Pennsylvania, he attacked the rear of J. E. B. Stuart’s column at Jeffersonville, Virginia, and dismounted two guns, destroying the carriages before the supports arrived.
In the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Campaigns, the 4th Pennsylvania served under the command of Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell, and experienced little hard fighting, although he did participate in the May 1863 Stoneman Raid. During the Gettysburg Campaign, he fought in the battles at Aldie and Upperville, where Major Young led his battalion in repeated charges with the steadiness and determination of a veteran officer. Moving on the right flank of the Army of the Potomac, the 4th Pennsylvania stretched away in its course to the Susquehanna River, arriving at Wrightsville just after the destruction of the Columbia bridge. Hastening back, the 4th Pennsylvania moved to a position on the left flank of the Army of the Potomac late in the morning of July 2, 1863. The regiment did not participate in the fighting on East Cavalry Field, and played a limited role in the pursuit of Lee’s army after Gettysburg.
On October 12, when Lee attempted his flank movement during the Bristoe Campaign, the 4th was sent to the relief of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which, while on picket duty near Jeffersonville, on the right bank of the Rappahannock and opposite White Sulphur Springs, was attacked and hard pressed by the advancing enemy. The two regiments made a stand and fought bravely in a hopeless situation. The Confederate infantry flanked the horse soldiers from their position, capturing many and inflicting a large number of casualties upon both regiments. Major Young was conspicuous for his valor, and in the heat of the engagement was struck in the right elbow by a Minie ball, inflicting a painful and serious wound. After six months of intense suffering, the arm was saved, but the joint was left permanently stiff.
In an action on July 20, 1864, this arm was again hit, breaking both bones of the forearm. He recovered and soon re-joined his regiment in the field. In the spring of 1865, the same arm was struck a third time, but Young recovered and did not lose the arm.
In October 1864, Major Young was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and in December, to Colonel, and he assumed command of a brigade of cavalry. At the battle of Hatcher’s Run in February 1865, Colonel Young was ordered to charge with his brigade after an unsuccessful attack by an infantry brigade. He carried out his orders and carried an entrenched line with his charge. Gen. David M. Gregg complimented Colonel Young for his heroic action in front of the entire 2nd Cavalry Division. Confederate General John Pegram was killed in this encounter.
Colonel Young was active throughout the retreat and pursuit of Lee’s army from Five Forks to the surrender to the surrender at Apommattox, in which the movements were remarkable for rapidity and skill. He led a charge of his brigade even after the surrender had been consummated, though not known upon the front, routing a rebel brigade and capturing its colors. He was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers for this action.
At the conclusion of the war, he was appointed to a lucrative position in the Revenue Department of the U. S. government, but refusing to sacrifice his principles to party purposes, he was removed by President Johnson.
He was soon after appointed second lieutenant in his old regiment, the 12th U. S. Infantry. When the army was reorganized in July 1866, he was commissioned a Captain in the 8th U. S. Cavalry, and enjoyed remarkable success in the various campaigns against hostile Indians in Arizona and New Mexico. He was promoted to major of the 3rd U. S. Cavalry on April 2, 1883 and to lieutenant colonel of the 3rd U. S. Cavalry on August 16, 1892. After a brief stint as acting superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, he was promoted to colonel of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry on June 19, 1897.
With the commencement of the war with Spain in 1898, he was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers, and was then promoted to major general of volunteers in July 1898, commanding a division in Cuba during the Santiago Campaign.
During the Philippine Insurrection, he returned to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers and commanded brigades in the Northern Luzon District, including serving as military governor of the District. He was commissioned brigadier general in the Regular Army on January 2, 1900, and major general on February 2, 1901.
From February 1901 to March 1902, Young commanded the Military District of California from the Presidio in San Francisco. In 1901, his daughter Marjorie married an army surgeon was a nephew of Young’s old comrade in arms, General John Gibbon. He then served as the first president of the Army War College between 1902 and 1903. Then, under the newly-implemented General Staff System, he was promoted to lieutenant general and was appointed to serve as the U. S. Army’s first Chief of Staff in August 1903. He held this position until he retired as a result of age in January 1904.
He served as Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park 1907-1908. In 1909-1910, he served as president of a Board of Inquiry that investigated the riot of black soldiers of the 25th U. S. Infantry at Brownsville, TX on August 13, 1906, and affirmed the subsequent dishonorable discharge of 159 soldiers by order of President Theodore Roosevelt. He then served as governor of the Soldier’s Home in Washington from 1910 to 1920. He then enjoyed a quiet retirement after more than 60 years of public service.
His wife Margaret died in 1892, and he married Mrs. Annie Dean Huntley of Chicago in 1908. Samuel and Margaret Young had six children. His son, Ranald MacKenzie Young, died at the age of two. His daughters all survived him. Two of his daughters married cavalry officers who attained flag rank.
General Young died at his house in Helena, MT on September 1, 1924, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery after a state funeral. Thus ended the life of a remarkable soldier who rose from private to chief of staff of the United States Army. Here’s to Samuel B. M. Young, forgotten cavalryman.Scridb filter
Time for another installment in my infrequent series of profiles of forgotten Civil War Cavalrymen. Today, we feature Col. James H. Childs, colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was killed in action at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.
James Harvey Childs was born on the 4th of July, 1834, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was Harvey Childs, a native of Massachusetts. His mother, Jane Bailey (Lowrie) Childs, was a sister of the Hon. Walter H. Lowrie, late Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. He was educated at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he graduated in the class of 1852. He stood six feet tall, was well-proportioned, and enjoyed good health. He was married on the 14th of July, 1857, to Mary H. Howe, eldest daughter of the Hon. Thomas M. Howe, of Pittsburgh.
After graduation, he settled in his home town of Pittsburgh, where he was a civil engineer and a wholesale dry good merchant and manufacturer of cotton goods. He became a prominent and well-respected businessman in the community.
Childs served as first lieutenant of a militia unit, the Pittsburgh City Guards, before the Civil War. When the call was made for troops in that struggle, he promptly tendered his services, and was commissioned first lieutenant of Company K, 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. After his short term of service expired, he became active in recruiting the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and was commissioned the new regiment’s first lieutenant colonel on October 18, 1861. On March 12, 1862, before his regiment took the field, he was promoted to colonel when the regiment’s original colonel was transferred to the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
In McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign, he served with his regiment, the scouting and skirmishing being unusually severe on account of the lack of troops in this arm of the service. His regiment opened the battle at Mechanicsville, during the first of the Seven Days’ engagements, and at Gaines’ Mill and Glendale, was actively employed, proving, in both these desperate encounters what a good regiment he led, as well as the steadfast purpose of its commander.
On evacuating the Peninsula, the regiment moved to Washington, arriving in time to join the Maryland campaign. At Antietam it was attached to Averell’s brigade, and on account of the sickness of General Averell, command of the brigade devolved upon Colonel Childs. The brigade was assigned to the left of the Union line, and after crossing the stone bridge, was posted in support of Clark’s battery, which was heavily engaged. The duty was difficult, and the enemy’s fire proved very destructive. Colonel Childs was upon every part of the field, encouraging his men, and intelligently directing the movements. He had just completed an inspection of the skirmish line and had returned to his headquarters, where he was cheerfully conversing with his staff, when he was struck by a cannonball on the left hip which threw him from his horse, and passed completely through his body.
For a time his mind was clear, and recognizing at once that his wound was mortal, his first concern was for his command. He dispatched Captain Hughes, one of his staff officers, to Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasanton, commander of the cavalry division assigned to the Army of the Potomac, to apprise him of his fall, and another to his regiment’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Kerr, to request him to assume command of the brigade. He then sent a message to Dr. Marsh, that, “If he was not
attending to anyone whose life could be saved, to come to him, as he was in great pain.” Finally, he called to his side his Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain Henry King, a townsman, and personal friend, to whom he gave brief messages of affection to his wife and three little children. Of the oldest of the three, a boy bearing the name of his maternal grandfather, as if thinking in his dying moments only of his country for which he had perilled and lost his own life, he said: “Tell Howe to be a good boy, and a good man, and true to his country.” Twenty minutes later, he became delirious, and he died a few minutes later, joining the many other brave men who lost their lives on the bloody battlefield of Antietam. His remains were taken home to Pittsburgh, and were buried in Allegheny Cemetery.
After the war, when the Antietam battlefield was marked, Childs received a monument. Located on Maryland Route 34 near Antietam Creek, the simple stone monument says:
At this spot Colonel James H. Childs of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry in temporary command of Averill’s Brigade fell mortally wounded on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.
Here’s to forgotten cavalryman Col. James H. Childs, who lost his life at Antietam on the Civil War’s bloodiest day.Scridb filter
Yesterday, I mentioned that Mort Kunstler had called me to discuss a painting he’s planning on doing of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Today, Don Troiani e-mailed me to let me know that he’s finally ready to begin working on a scene of the charge of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry at St. James Church during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station that he’s been planning for the better part of ten years. He asked whether I’d be willing to help and answer questions for him on it, and I agreed. I’ve already given Don pretty much everything that I have on this episode, but I am nevertheless more than happy to help.
That makes two scenes of the Lancers by two prominent artists in two days. How cool is that?Scridb filter
I had a very interesting but surprising telephone call this morning. Renowned Civil War artist Mort Kunstler phoned me this morning, out of the clear blue sky. Mort has gotten interested in the Rush’s Lancers and figured out that I know something about them. He’s planning to do a painting of the Lancers, and got hold of me to see if I might be interested in helping. I’ve worked with Don Troiani, Don Stivers, and Dale Gallon in the past, and enjoyed each instance. So, I readily agreed to help Mort.
I quoted him my usual fee for helping: a copy of the print personally signed to me, and we had a deal.
I’m looking forward to working with him, and am especially looking forward to seeing my favorite regiment honored. I will keep everyone posted as to the progress of the project.Scridb filter
Today, I am going to profile a forgotten cavalryman named Bvt. Brig. Gen. Thomas Jefferson Jordan, who, like me, was an alumnus of Dickinson College, one of a number of notable cavalry officers who graduated from Dickinson.
Thomas Jefferson Jordan was born in December 3rd, 1821, to Benjamin Jordan and Mary Crouch on the family farm, Walnut Hill, in Paxtang, Dauphin County Pennsylvania. The family was of Scottish origin and came to this country in 1720, first settling in King and Queen County, Virginia. In 1742, his great-grandfather, James, left Virginia, and with his slaves came to Pennsylvania, where he bought a large tract of land on the Susquehanna River, near Wrightsville, York county. His grandfather, Thomas Jordan, was born in Cecil County, Maryland, and married Ann Steele, daughter of Capt. William Steele of Drumore, Lancaster County, PA and widow of Robert Dickson.
Benjamin Jordan was born near Milton, PA in 1779 shortly before the family fled due to Indian attacks. They later lived in Hopewell, York County, PA. During the war of the Revolution the grandfather was a paymaster with the rank of Major, and served as such during the entire war. The father married Molly, the only daughter of Edward Crouch, a Captain in the Revolutionary army, she being a granddaughter of General James Potter, of Pennsvalley, also a soldier of the Revolution. Jordan was paymster for General Potter in the Pennsylvania militia and fought with Potter in Chester County, PA.
Benjamin Jordan’s mother had three brothers that eventually became generals in the Revolution and War of 1812. His aunt, Rachel Steele, married Jacob Bailey, brother of Francis Bailey, and the Baileys and Steeles were involved in the printing trade for multiple generations with Francis Bailey printing newspapers, almanacs and becoming the official printer for Continental Congress, and a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and witness to Franklin’s will. Benjamin’s half brothers, William and Robert Dickson, were associated with the Lancaster Intelligencer and Benjamin had apprenticed there as a young man before going on to a career in politics . He was a friend of Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s first Secretary of War and was also an investor in the Bank of Middleton with Cameron.
Thomas Jefferson Jordan spent first fourteen years of his life in the local country school, along with the other farmers’ boys, remaining enrolled there until in the summer of 1839. In December, 1839, he enrolled in the Law Department at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, then under the leadership of its founder, Judge John Reed. He attended the College for the following two years and in February, 1843 was called to the Dauphin County bar in Harrisburg and opened a practice.
He practiced law and ran a lumber business in Harrisburg until the Civil War broke out. On April 17, 1861, the day after Fort Sumter fell, Jordan was commissioned as aide to Maj. Gen. William Hugh Keim, who was raising volunteers in Pennsylvania. He served Keim well. Jordan carried the first news of the riots in Baltimore to Bvt. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, and then commanded a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley. Jordan first saw action with Keim at Falling Waters in early July 1861, gaining valuable experience against the Virginia forces of Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
At the end of that campaign, Jordan was mustered out and received a new commission as a major. He was ordered to assist Col. Edward C. Williams in the recruiting and organization of a cavalry unit that became the Ninth Pennsylvania Cavalry in October 1861. This regiment was also known as the “Lochiel Cavalry” and as the 92nd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers.
With Jordan commanding its Third Battalion, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry was deployed to the Cumberland Valley and then was sent west to the column commanded by General Don Carlos Buell, then at Louisville, Kentucky, where it arrived in November, 1861. The regiment saw action in Kentucky and Tennessee in early 1862. At Tompkinsville, Kentucky, on July 9, 1862, a superior force of Confederate raiders under command of the dashing Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan surprised Jordan and three companies of the Third Battalion. Jordan organized a fighting retreat but elements of the rearguard and the major himself were captured by Morgan. He was sent to the Confederate POW camp at Madison, Georgia, and was later transferred to Richmond’s Libby Prison.
Once a prisoner of war, Jordan came under attack for alleged ill-treatment of civilians in Sparta, Tennessee the previous May and was moved from Libby Prison to Castle Thunder Prison to face charges. However, a subsequent investigation determined that his unit had only been in Sparta for a few hours and that the charges were based on Jordan’s demand to the women of the town quickly to prepare a meal for his men. He was exonerated and subsequently exchanged in December 1862.
Jordan returned to his regiment in January 1863. In the meantime the Colonel had resigned, and the Lieutenant Colonel was terminally ill. Jordan was, accordingly, appointed Colonel. At Shelbyville, Tennessee, on June 9, 1863, he led the charge on the left, a most gallant action, which scattered the enemy and put him to inglorious flight. At Thompson’s Station, when Colonel Coburn of an Indiana regiment had tamely surrendered, he brought off the surviving forces, saving the artillery and baggage, and fighting heroically against a force of 5000 cavalry, led by Nathan Bedford Forrest. At the moment when General Bragg’s army was retiring across the Cumberland mountains at Cowan, Tennessee, Colonel Jordan and his command charged and captured over five hundred prisoners.
In the Battle of Chickamauga, when ruin was impending on other parts of the field, he heroically defended the right of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, enabling that gallant soldier to stem the tide of disaster. His conduct so impressed Thomas that he asked President Lincoln to promote Jordan in recognition of his meritorious service at Chickamauga.
He fought and defeated Brig. Gen. George Dibbrell’s cavalry at Reedyville, though the latter was at the head of a force of 2500 men. He was active in the campaign against Longstreet in East Tennessee in the winter and spring of 1863-64, and fought in the battles of Mossy Creek, Dandridge and Fairgarden. In the battles of Lafayette, Dalton, Kenesaw, Big Shanty, Resaca, New Hope Church, Peach Tree Creek, and in front of Atlanta, Colonel Jordan was constantly engaged. When the enemy finally retreated, he followed close upon the trail and was sharply engaged with Wheeler’s troopers at Jonesborough and Lovejoy’s Station.
He was placed in command of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the cavalry in the March to the Sea, with which he met Wheeler at Lovejoy’s Station, and after a sharp engagement routed him and captured all his artillery, retaining the pieces which were of superior quality in his command until the end of the war. He again defeated Wheeler at Waynesburg, Georgia, where he led his brigade in a charge upon the enemy’s position, and ended the fight before the reserves, sent to his relief, could arrive. He first invested Fort McAllister near Savannah, driving the rebels within their works, and was only prevented from carrying them by assault by the arrival of General William B. Hazen, with his division of infantry, who superseded him in command.
On the march through the Carolinas Colonel Jordan crossed the Savannah River in advance of the infantry at Sister’s Ferry, and covered the Left Wing of Sherman’s army under command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum. His position in the column on the march north was such that he was brought often to severe conflict. He led the charge at Blackville, dislodging the enemy from the town. He held the position at Lexington, protecting the flank of the infantry, while Columbia was being occupied. With Wheeler and Hampton he had a stubborn action at Lancaster, and crossing into North Carolina led the advance to Fayetteville, daily and hourly skirmishing heavily.
The Battle of Averasboro, fought on March 16, 1865, opened early in the day. Jordan’s brigade fought unaided until two in the afternoon, when the infantry of the Twentieth Corps came to his assistance. In this action, every twelfth man in his entire force was either killed or wounded. At Bentonville, he held the left flank, and participated in all the movements of the day. In the advance against Raleigh he again had the lead, and entered the city on the morning of April 12th, 1865. On passing through, he found that the rebel cavalry was ready for action on the Hillsborough road, and at once moved forward to the attack, driving them before him the entire day. At Morristown he was met by a flag of truce, with a letter for General Sherman from General Joseph E. Johnston, proposing to surrender, when fighting ceased. Jordan was brevetted to brigadier general of volunteers for his long and meritorious service in February 1865. The 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Jordan with it, was mustered out on July 18, 1865.
He had married before the war and he corresponded extensively with his wife, Jane, during the war. After the war, he briefly returned to the legal profession in Harrisburg. A few years later, he went into the lumber business in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, but the business eventually failed. Perhaps due to his advanced age, he secured a position with the U. S. Post Office and then transferred to the U. S. Mint in Philadelphia. He died in Philadelphia on April 2, 1895 and was buried in Section 11, Lot 19 of the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware. He was seventy-four years old.
Jordan was an able field commander who was well thought of by his superiors and respected by his men. Except during his time as a POW, he was constantly in the field with the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, in spite of bad health that often compelled him to accompany his command in an ambulance.
Here’s to forgotten cavalryman and Dickinson College alum, Bvt. Brig. Gen. Thomas Jefferson Jordan.Scridb filter
Time for another in my infrequent series of profiles of forgotten cavalrymen….
Andrew Jonathan Alexander was born to a wealthy and influential family in Woodford County, Kentucky on November 21, 1833. He was one of six children; one of his sisters married Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair, the influential Missouri Congressman. His father died in a mill accident on the family estate, and his mother went blind. Opposed to slavery, Mrs. Alexander freed her slaves and settled in St. Louis. Andrew attended Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and then returned to St. Louis, where he was engaged in business pursuits when war came in the spring of 1861.
He was commissioned in the Regiment of Mounted Rifles as a second lieutenant on July 26, 1861. He was immediately promoted to first lieutenant the same day. The new lieutenant was assigned to serve on the staff of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, where he impressed the general with his efficiency. Alexander was appointed assistant adjutant general, serving first with McClellan, and later with Maj. Gen. George Stoneman.
He received brevets for gallantry for the 1862 Peninsula Campaign for carrying messages from McClellan to and from Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman under fire and for leading various scouting expeditions with the Union cavalry, for performing outstanding scouting and reconnaissance services before and during the Battle of Gettysburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and other engagements, eventually receiving a brevet to brigadier general of volunteers, dated March 13, 1865.
Originally assigned to the staff of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, he joined Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s staff as assistant adjutant general of the Cavalry Corps when Stoneman took medical leave after the Battle of Chancellorsville. At the end of July, 1863, Stoneman became the first commander of the newly-formed Cavalry Bureau, an organization intended to provide remounts for the Union cavalry forces. Alexander went with him, serving on Stoneman’s staff at the Cavalry Bureau. On September 13, 1863, he was promoted to captain in the 3rd U. S. Cavalry (the successor designation of the Regiment of Mounted Rifles).
When John Buford contracted the typhoid fever that claimed his life, he went to Washington to recuperate, staying in Stoneman’s rented home. On December 16, 1863, the day Buford died, Alexander brought him a long-coveted prize: a major general’s commission. Buford, who was in and out of lucidity as the end drew near, had a lucid moment and said, “Too late. Now I wish I could live.” Alexander helped his fellow Kentuckian sign the commission.
In the spring of 1864, Stoneman was assigned to take command of a division of cavalry attached to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army. When Stoneman left, Alexander stayed on, joining the staff of his successor, Brig. Gen. James Harrison Wilson. Later that spring, Wilson assumed command of the 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, and Alexander went to join Stoneman’s staff once again. He served on Stoneman’s staff with Capt. Myles W. Keogh, a dashing Irish soldier of fortune who had loyally served Brig. Gen. John Buford until the dragoon’s untimely death on December 16, 1863. Alexander and Keogh developed a very close and lasting friendship that lasted until Keogh’s untimely death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876 (Keogh and Alexander rest in the same cemetery in Auburn, NY). Alexander married Evelina Throup Martin on Nov. 3, 1864.
When Alexander returned to the army after his wedding, he joined Wilson’s staff as his chief of staff. Wilson, nominally Sherman’s chief of cavalry, was in the process of assembling a 15,000 man all-cavalry army that became a mounted juggernaut that served as the prototype for modern armored cavalry. Alexander performed especially valuable service in rounding up sufficient quality mounts for Wilson’s new army. Wilson urged Alexander’s promotion to full brigadier general of volunteers, but the war ended before that recommendation could be acted upon. However, he was brevetted colonel in the Regular Army by Grant.
On July 28, 1866, he was appointed senior major of the newly-formed 8th U. S. Cavalry and settled with his family at Camp McDowell, Arizona, where he and his wife had their first child, Emily. Commanding the Subdistrict of the Verde, Alexander scouted regularly against Apache Indians with the cooperation of the Pima Indians. He also contended with fights among residents of of nearby settlements.
In 1869, he was reassigned, commanding Camp Toll Gate until February 1870, when he went on leave. He rejoined the regiment in New Mexico. While commanding Fort Bayard in 1871, he was ordered to Fort Garland, Colorado at the direction of Sec. of War Belknap. He took leave in 1872 to tend to his ill wife after she had a miscarriage and then returned to duty in 1872, when he reported back to Fort Garland.
He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Cavalry on March 20, 1879. In 1883, he began suffering serious health problems, including malaria, diabetes, and rheumatism. In 1884, he developed a bad inner ear infection and was retired as a full colonel as being unfit for further duty, effective July 3, 1885. His friends (including Generals Sherman and Stoneman) tried to arrange for him to be appointed deputy commander of the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D. C., but his health was too poor to permit him to perform the duties associated with the job. He spent much of his retirement writing about his war-time experiences and in maintaining a regular correspondence with Wilson, with whom he became close friends.
On May 4, 1887, while on a railroad train with his wife on their way to their home near Auburn, New York, he died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a mere 54 years old. Alexander was buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, joining his dear friend Keogh there.
Maj. Gen. James Harrison Wilson wrote of him, “Those who had the fortune to know him during the war will readily recall and bear witness to his superb figure, his stately carriage, his bright, flashing blue eyes, his flowing bears as tawny as a lion’s mane, his splendid shoulders, his almost unequalled horsemanship…Standing over six feet in height, he was trim and commanding a figure as it was ever my good fortune to behold.”
Here’s to A. J. Alexander, a forgotten cavalryman who gave good service to his country both during the Civil War and in the years afterward.Scridb filter