15 October 2006 by Published in: Union Cavalry 5 comments

Here’s another in my periodic posts on forgotten cavalrymen.

I’ve long admired Col. William H. Boyd. As a company commander in the 1st New York (Lincoln) Cavalry, Boyd harassed and generally impeded the Confederate advance through Pennsylvania. His service, brilliant as it was, is too often overlooked, and has long been forgotten.

Here’s the entry from Samuel P. Bates’ Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania on Boyd:

WILLIAM HENRY BOYD was born on the 14th of July, 1825, at Quebec, Canada. His father was a soldier in the British army. At the breaking out of the war he was in the Directory publishing business in Philadelphia. He recruited a company of cavalry for Schurz’s National brigade, which became a part of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry, and which he led on the Peninsula as escort to General Franklin. After the Maryland campaign this regiment was left with Milroy at Winchester, and fought the advance of Lee in his march towards Gettysburg. Boyd was detached to save the wagon train and brought it safely to Harrisburg, after which he operated in the Cumberland Valley both during the advance and retreat of the enemy from Pennsylvania, rendering important service. He was shortly after commissioned Colonel of the Twenty-first cavalry, which in the Wilderness campaign he led as infantry, and at Cold Harbor was severely wounded, the ball piercing his neck and lodging in one of the vertebrae, where it remained for five months and was only extracted after three unsuccessful attempts. In 1868 he was an agent of the Treasury Department.

Locating information on Boyd is difficult; his service and pension files are a jumbled mess, confused with the files of his son (William H. Boyd, Jr.), commingled together. I haven’t been able to find much more on him other than that information available in the OR and in various newspaper accounts. One of these days, I hope to be able to put together at least an article on Boyd’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign that will give him the credit he deserves.

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  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 16th Oct 2006 at 10:52 am


    If you do any research on Boyd, maybe you will find out information regarding Boyd’s interesting relationship with my subject, John Mosby.

    Of course, first off, Boyd was the one who ‘intruded’ into Mosby’s tryst with his wife Pauline at James Hathaway’s home where Pauline had been brought by Stuart’s cavalry to join her husband in Northern Virginia. Boyd and his men searched the house from top to bottom and found only a rumpled Confederate uniform (and perhaps undergarments) but no boots. Boyd questioned Pauline who was in bed with the bedclothes pulled up around her chin. One Union soldier’s recollection was that she was an articulate, handsome woman who had no use for ‘Yankees’. Despite all efforts, however, Boyd did not find his quarry and he and his men left the home taking Mosby’s horse with them (some accounts said that they took Hathaway as well). Disappointed, Boyd looked back at the house in time to see the lights in Pauline’s bedroom extinguished; what he did NOT see, however, was Mosby as he came back into the second story bedroom through an open window from a branch of a chestnut tree next to the house (I have seen the tree though the branch is long gone). Tom Evans, a Mosby expert, was of the opinion that the Major probably spent the considerable time that his enemies searched the house and grounds on his branch dressed mostly – or only – in his boots!

    After the war, Boyd became Sheriff of Fauquier County during which time he and Mosby had a very disagreeable relationship which seemed odd since Boyd was considered one of the more ‘gentlemanly’ Union officers in Mosby’s Confederacy and Mosby was usually fair in his assessment of his former enemies. Yet he and Boyd came to blows (on Boyd’s part according to one press report) and Mosby challenged Boyd to a duel either because of that incident or because Mosby learned that his efforts against Boyd resulted in the former Union officer – while traveling in Pennsylvania – calling the former Confederate a ‘highwayman’. The general consensus of opinion is that in the end, Mosby ‘won’ the dispute because Boyd left Viringia but whether Boyd did so because of Mosby or for other reasons, I don’t know.

    As an interesting souvenir of their feud, I have a copy of a letter Boyd wrote to a Northern newspaper in which he defended himself against what were obviously comments made by Mosby to another journalist earlier. It is a long letter in which Boyd makes no bones about his feelings about Mosby and those in his ‘set’ as Boyd calls them. It is well worth the reading.

  2. Charles Adams
    Thu 27th Aug 2015 at 1:35 pm

    I have information, and obituaries, of Boyd’s death in Reading, PA in March, 196

  3. Philip Harris
    Mon 19th Oct 2015 at 4:35 pm

    To Mr. Adams:
    The Wm Henry Boyd you speak of is different from the Col. Wm Henry Boyd in this article. I am Col. Boyd’s great-great grandson. He is buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Washington DC, within site of the Capitol. I have seen the headstone. He died in 1887.

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