26 September 2012 by Published in: Research and Writing 2 comments

The following report of the activities of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign, written by its temporary commander, Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, does not appear anywhere in either the Official Records or the Supplement to the Official Records. Preston wrote this report during the retreat from Gettysburg on the same day that the nasty fight at Funkstown occurred. It was published in the Rutland, VT newspaper on August 8, 1863, and differs from the report that appears in the Official Records. It was one of the new sources that I employed in preparing the second edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. Since it is not available to the public, I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.

Boonsboro, Md., July 10

P. T. Washburn.
Adj. and Insp. Gen. of Vt.,

Sir:

I beg leave to make the following report of engagements of the 1st Vermont Cavalry with the enemy in Maryland and Pennsylvania, from June 30 to July 8, 1863. At Hanover, Penn., June 30, aided in repelling an attack by General Stewart’s forces. Cos. M and D, under Capts. Woodward and Cummings, charged through the town, repulsing the enemy and capturing many prisoners. The rest of the regiment supported a battery until the enemy were driven from the field.

At Huntersville, Penn., July 2, in an attack upon the left of Gen. Lee’s army, this regiment was deployed as skirmishers, and subjected to a severe fire from the enemy’s batteries.

July 3, in the attack made by Gen. Kilpatrick on the right flank of the enemy at Gettysburg, this cavalry had the advance. Cos. A, D, E and I, dismounted, were deployed as skirmishers and soon drove the enemy’s skirmishers back of their main lines. The contest was continued by the opposing batteries and dismounted carbineers until 5 o’clock P.M., when Gen. Farnsworth, commanding the brigade was ordered to charge the enemy strongly posted behind stone walls and in the woods, which proved to be Maj. Gen. Hood’s division of infantry. With the 1st Va. Cavalry on the left and the 2d battalion of the 1st Vt. under Maj. Wells on the right, Gen. Farnsworth dashed forward closely followed by his men, leaping one stone wall under a severe fire. Our force drove the enemy in all directions. They then passed over another stone wall and through the enemy’s skirmish line and toward the Rebel batteries and succeeded in piercing the enemy’s 2d line, where many of our dead were found. I moved to the support of the 2d Battalion, with the 1st under Capt. Parsons, and a part under Capt. Grover. On the hill between the two walls we encountered a fresh regiment of the enemy, sent in from the right to intercept the retreat of our first column and to re-establish their lines. The struggle for this hill became most desperate but was at length carried by our boys with severe loss, the greater part of the enemy being captured. Our loss this day in killed, wounded and missing, was 75 men.

July 4th, we marched 50 miles to the rear of the enemy, and on the morning of the 5th at Lightersville, Md., captured one hundred prisoners, a drove of cattle and several wagons, and marched to Hagerstown the same night, twelve hours in advance of Lee’s army.

July 6th, our division attacked the retreating enemy at Hagerstown. Cos. D and L dismounted here, drove the enemy from a strong position and occupied it; Cos. A and D held a portion of the town against a superior force until ordered to retire in the afternoon, when a portion being cut off, were secreted by the Union citizens until our forces reoccupied it on the 12th.

In the retiring of this division at night on the Williamsport Road in the face of Lee’s army, this regiment formed a part of the rear guard, and suffered severely from assaults made upon it by superior numbers. Twice we were nearly surrounded. Capt. Beaman, with the 3d squadron, whom I ordered to hold a strong position, being cut off was ordered to surrender. He coolly replied, “I don’t see it,” and leaped a fence and by a flank movement escaped with his nearly entire force. Capt. Woodward, of Co. M, a brave officer, was killed at the head of his men, strongly resisting the advancing foe. The charge was now made by Co. K, under Capt. Grover, upon the main column of the enemy, which aided materially in checking their progress. A battery was now opened upon us by the enemy in the direction of Williamsport, and being thus attacked in front and rear we drew off under cover of night to the Sharpsburg Road on the left.

July 8, Gen. Stewart with a large force attacked our cavalry at Boonsboro early in the morning. The 1st Vt. was held in reserve until the afternoon, then it was sent by detachments to various parts of the field to strengthen our lines. At sundown a spirited charge was made by the 2d battalion under Major Wells upon the retreating enemy, and the sabres were freely used on both sides. Were I to give you a list of the meritorious it would comprise the names of every officer and enlisted man engaged.

I remain your very ob’t serv’t,

A. W. Preston,
Lt. Col. Com’g 1st Vt. Cavalry

Here are a few notes on this report:

1. A small part of the microfilmed copy of the newspaper article addressing Farnsworth’s Charge–part of one sentence–is obscured and is difficult to read. I made my best guess at what it says and I think it’s correct, but I’m not entirely certain.

2. The Huntersville that Colonel Preston refers to is actually the town of Hunterstown, PA, which is approximately 8 miles from the main battlefield at Gettysburg. There was a meeting engagement there between Kilpatrick’s division and Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade there on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.

3. The Lightersville referred to by Colonel Preston is actually the town of Leitersburg, MD, which is located a short distance from Hagerstown. Kilpatrick sent the 1st Vermont in the direction of Leitersburg on the morning of July 5 to pursue a Confederate wagon train while the rest of the Third Cavalry Division went to Smithsburg, where it spent most of the day skirmishing with Confederate cavalry and horse artillery before retreating to Boonsboro, where Kilpatrick’s division joined Brig. Gen. John Biford’s First Cavalry Division.

4. The regular commander of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign was Col. Edward B. Sawyer, and Preston was normally second in command. Col. Sawyer was on medical leave, putting Preston in command of the regiment in his absence. Sawyer reported back to the regiment on July 10, 1863, the day that Preston penned this report. Sawyer’s return to duty may explain the otherwise odd timing of this report, considering that the campaign was still under way and that the armies were still north of the Potomac River on that date. Preston was killed in action on June 3, 1864 at Hawes Shop, Virginia. Preston was a good and brave soldier. He will soon be the subject of a forgotten cavalryman profile that I’m working on.

This photo is of the monument to the 1st Vermont Cavalry and sits near the spot where Elon J. Farnsworth was killed while leading the eponymous but unsuccessful charge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863.

This account of the activities of the 1st Vermont Cavalry adds to our understanding of Farnsworth’s Charge by providing a different report, and it also adds to our understanding of the critical role played by the 1st Vermont during the retreat from Hagerstown to Williamsport after Kilpatrick was driven out of Hagerstown on July 6, 1863.

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Comments

  1. Ted
    Thu 27th Sep 2012 at 10:41 am

    Good stuff, Eric. This is what it’s all about. (BTW, the first installment of our General’s Reports is about to go live with the first installment of previously unpublished Union reports.)

  2. J David Petruzzi
    Thu 27th Sep 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Just one tiny correction – Hunterstown is just 4 miles NE of Gettysburg – you were probably thinking of Fairfield, which is 8 miles away (SW) :)
    J.D.

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