I was asked this question:
When did Albert Jenkins’ cavalry brigade arrive on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Could part of the reasoning on Lee’s and/or Ewell’s part have been to keep Governor-elect Billy Smith out of harm’s way, thus using his brigade to watch the flank? Or, did they not trust Jenkins’ brigade? Or, maybe a little of both?
Here’s my answer:
Good questions all.
Let me answer the last one first. The Gettysburg Campaign was the first so-called “regular” service of Jenkins’ command, which had been considered to be partisan rangers prior. They were largely an undisciplined and unproven commodity. In addition, they were not armed with normal cavalry weapons. Instead, they carried two-band Enfield muzzle-loaders, which meant that they were more mounted infantry than anything else. Hence, they were largely unknown to Robert E. Lee, who didn’t really trust them as a result.
For purposes of the invasion of Pennsylvania, the command consisted of the 14th, 16th, and 17th Virginia Cavalry regiments and the 34th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, commanded by the very colorful Lt. Col. Vincent “Clawhammer” Witcher. Lije White’s 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry of Grumble Jones’ Brigade was also sent with Jenkins’ command.
The command escorted Jenkins into Pennsylvania, and then split when Early’s division went toward York and the Susquehanna River. White’s battalion and part of the 16th Virginia escorted Early all the way to great covered bridge at Wrightsville and back. The other two full regiments, the rest of the 16th Virginia, and Witcher’s guys, with Jenkins in personal command, went with the rest of Ewell’s Corps to Carlisle and on to Camp Hill. In fact, the detachment with Jenkins had two skirmishes at Camp Hill. The first one, on June 29, was at a place called Oyster Point. Then, the next day, after Ewell received orders to go to Gettysburg, the cavalry served as a rear guard for the infantry and had a pretty large engagement with infantry from Fort Couch and Fort Washington at a place called Sporting Hill, which is on the southern edge of what is today Camp Hill.
The detachment with Jenkins led Ewell’s way south through Carlisle and then on toward Gettysburg. If you read John Buford’s dispatches to Reynolds on the night of June 30, he talks about encountering enemy cavalry in the area of Heidlersburg. These would have been Jenkins’ command leading the infantry south, serving the traditional role of cavalry.
Elements of Jenkins’ command traded picket fire with elements of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry of Devin’s brigade at the Samuel Cobean farm, well north of Gettsyburg, very early on the morning of July 1. I believe that it is quite likely that the first shots of the battle were actually fired by either by a member of the 17th Pennsylvania at one of Jenkins’ guys, or vice versa, and not by Lt. Jones on Wistler’s Ridge.
So, Jenkins and his men arrived very early on the morning of July 1, and then they pretty much disappear. We know that about half of the brigade spent most of the battle doing provost duty. That detachment, commanded by Col. Milton Ferguson of the 16th Virginia, operated in the vicinity of Lee’s headquarters on Seminary Ridge for most of the battle.
The whereabouts of the rest of the brigade for most of July 1 and 2 is unknown and undocumented. All we know is that they were operating in the vicinity of Blocher’s (now Barlow’s) Knoll on the morning of July 2, and Jenkins was wounded by a chunk of shell fragment. For reasons that are a complete mystery to all of us, nobody informed Ferguson that he was now in command of the brigade, and we don’t have any idea where the men with Jenkins went or what they did for the rest of July 2, because there are absolutely no records or reports to tell us. It’s like they just disappeared, only to reappear with Stuart on East Cavalry Field the next day. Witcher would have commanded that detachment (which he did on ECF on July 3), so the blame probably must be placed squarely on his shoulders.
The wounding of Jenkins and resulting breakdown in command left the Hanover and Carlisle Roads unpicketed, and Ewell had no choice but to detach the Stonewall Brigade and Extra Billy’s brigade to do that duty. That’s how they ended up where they ended up. I often say that the only military aspect of the battle that was impacted by Stuart’s absence on July 1 was that there was no cavalry picketing the roads to the north and east on July 2, and that the detachment of those two veteran brigades of infantry to do duty that should have been done by cavalry may well have tipped the balance in the fighting for Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill on July 2, as neither of those brigades was available to participate in the Confederate attacks. One can’t help but wonder whether the addition of those two veteran brigades might have made the difference in two assaults that nearly succeeded without them.
As a general rule, I don’t much care for “what-if’s”, but even I have to admit that this one is an especially tantalizing one. Would those two veteran infantry brigades have given Ewell’s twin assaults on East Cemetery and Culp’s Hills sufficient oomph to succeed? We will never know, but it is fascinating.Scridb filter