30 April 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 2 comments

I first heard of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry in 1992. I’ve been drawn to this regiment for years for a variety of reasons. One company of the Lancers–Company G–was raised in my home town, Reading, Pennsylvania. Also known as Rush’s Lancers, the regiment was named for its first commanding officer, Col. Richard H. Rush, a member of the legendary West Point Class of 1846. Rush was the grandson of Dr. Benjamin Rush, the patriot who signed the Declaration of Independence, and who founded Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When I arrived at Dickinson as a freshman in August 1979, one of the first things I noticed was that the college was split into two campuses, including one named for Dr. Rush. Finally, I am a native Philadelphian, although I grew up in Reading. Many of the names of the men who populated this fine regiment have been familiar to me for most of my life, as many of them went on to become captains of industry in the years after the Civil War.

I encountered this unit while researching John Buford, under whom they served for most of 1863. Buford came to greatly respect the courage and steadfastness of this unit after five companies of Lancers made a magnificent charge into the teeth of an entire battalion of Confederate horse artillery at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863. From that moment forward, Buford referred to the Lancers as his “Seventh Regulars.”

The regimental chaplain of the Lancers, Samuel L. Gracey, wrote a history of the regiment in 1868 that was based on his war-time diary. It was an excellent regimental history for its time, but it was an extremely early one that did not have the benefit of input from his fellow veterans, meaning that there was a tremendous well of untapped primary source material out there that could really flesh out the story of this regiment.

Because the Lancers were a highly educated group of men who thoroughly documented their service, there were at least a dozen sets of letters of members of the unit to be found, several diaries, an other miscellaneous memoirs that had never been used to tell the story of the regiment. Given all of that, I decided to tackle a new regimental history. I had originally intended to write this book alone, and that was the course that I was heading down this road when I learned from Ed Longacre in 1998 or so that he had recently submitted a proposal to Combined Books (now part of DaCapo) for a new history of the Lancers. Realizing that there would not be sufficient demand for two new regimental histories of this unit, I asked Ed if he wanted to do this as a joint venture. We would use my research, and I would take the first half of the war, up to and including Brandy Station. I wrote my half of the book, and then waited for Ed to tell me that he was ready for me to ship my research files to him so he could get started writing. After more than two years of waiting, Ed finally told me that due to his other commitments, he was going to have to back out of the project. So, I now had to go forward with finishing the project alone.

After Combined Books was acquired by DaCapo, I realized that DaCapo was definitely NOT the right press for a history of a Pennsylvania cavalry unit. Combined–a Philadelphia-based company–would have been a perfect outlet for the book, but Combined no longer existed, and that was that. I contacted DaCapo, and told them that I wanted out of the contract. After I repaid the minimal $250 advance I’d been paid, I was released from the contract, and then had to find a new publisher.

Last year, I helped Joe Bilby with the Gettysburg portion of his excellent new book on repeating weapons in the Civil War. Joe sent me a copy of the book as a thank you, and I was very impressed with the quality of the book itself and with the production values that were demonstrated. The book was published by a relatively new publishing company, Westholme Publishing, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia suburbs. Bruce Franklin, the publisher, and I had a dialogue about the book, and Bruce expressed interest in the project, so I sent him some sample material from the manuscript. He then offered me a contract to publish the book, and my problem was solved.

It’s taken me thirteen years to research this regiment fully, and to write a new history. It was a long process, and much to my surprise, I found the second half more difficult to do than the first half. I had expected the first half to be the more difficult portion. This week, I finally got the last of the primary source material that I’d been waiting for, which was some material from the National Archives. I incorporated the good stuff into my manuscript tonight, and it suddenly dawned on me–after all of these years, the book is finally finished. It was have nearly 100 illustrations and a full set of maps, and I am really proud of it. I think that I’ve done this unit justice.

The only thing it won’t have is a roster. After discussing it with Bruce, adding a full roster–over 1800 men took the oath as members of this unit–would make the book huge and largely unaffordable. Instead, we’ve decided to make the roster available for free as a download on the company web site. It’s in an Excel spreadsheet, but that spreadsheet will be available for download in PDF format for free. Thus, anyone who wants it will have the roster, too.

After all of these years of laboring away at this, and after all of these years of trying to do the memory of these men justice, it is, at long last, finished. I can only hope that I have succeeded in telling their story fully and that I have documented the trials and tribulations of these men well enough to do them justice.

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Comments

  1. Mike Peters
    Wed 03rd May 2006 at 1:42 pm

    Eric:

    Looking forward to this one a lot. You’ve got a lot of your soul in this one hoss.

    Mike

  2. Don
    Sun 14th May 2006 at 8:19 am

    Eric,
    Really looking forward to this one as well, any idea how soon it will be available? I think the roster idea is brilliant – saves production costs and few but those who buy the book would know to look for it. Congratulations.

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