30 December 2006 by Published in: Union Cavalry 1 comment

This is another in my series of periodic profiles of forgotten cavalrymen.

Only one officer of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry achieved the rank of brevet brigadier general during the Civil War. Twenty-three-year-old Charles Lewis Leiper was the regiment’s final colonel.

Leiper signed up in the fall of 1862 when Companies L and M of the Lancers were recruited. He had no formal military training, and joined as a lieutenant. He quickly distinguished himself with his courage and his leadership. Leiper, now a captain, was badly wounded during the charge for the Confederate horse artillery at St. James Church during the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 when he was slashed over the head by a Southern saber. “He fought like a Turk with pistol and sabre, and was surrounded and disarmed, but still stuck to his horse and striking with his fists finally broke away and escaped,” praised his commanding officer, Maj. Henry C. Whelan.

Fighting at Brandy Station once again on August 1, 1863, Leiper led another heroic saber charge. “I remember seeing Leiper lead a sabre charge at Culpeper on the 1st of August 1863 which was one of the most gallant I ever saw,” observed Capt. William M. Graham, commander of the battery of Union horse artillery attached to the Reserve Brigade.

The 6th Pennsylvania suffered terrible losses at the battle of Todd’s Tavern on May 7, 1864. At the end of the day, Leiper, the most senior unwounded officer in the regiment, ended up in command as a captain. He remained in command for a couple of weeks until Maj. James H. Starr returned to duty from a terrible wound. He then suffered another serious wound in the Battle of Yellow Tavern, four days later. Capt. Charles L. Leiper was badly wounded in the right foot “while with his usual intrepidity he was leading his regiment into action,” reported Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, leaving Capt. J. Hinckley Clark of Company M in command of the regiment.

When Leiper returned to duty that fall, he received a promotion to major. Within days, he was in command of the regiment, and held that command for the rest of the war. In the winter of 1865, he was promoted to colonel, only the second colonel the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry ever had. In that capacity, he led his troopers in their final actions, at Dinwiddie Court House and Five Forks on March 31 and April 1, 1865.

Leiper received a brevet to brigadier general in recognition of his services during the war, the only member of the Lancers to achieve this distinction.

Charles L. Leiper’s military career ended with his discharge in 1865. Leiper was just twenty-two years old. He became a successful manufacturer of textiles and owned his own business. He was active in various veterans’ associations, including the Grand Army of the Republic and MOLLUS. He served as the president of the Rush’s Lancers alumni association for many years, and was also very active in various civic associations in and around Philadelphia.

Leiper died on May 14, 1899, and was buried at Middletown Presbyterian Churchyard, in Delaware County. Many of his former comrades in arms attended his funeral. His active and honorary pallbearers were all former members of the Lancers, including Charles E. Cadwalader, M.D., Frank Dorsey, William W. Frazier, Frank Furness, Michael Golden, William J. Roney, W. W. Sweisfort, George Sykes, William Treas, William P. C. Treichel, John Wagner, and William Redwood Wright,. Furness designed a handsome granite monument to mark the grave.

The monument contains the following inscription: “1861-1865—Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry Lancers. In memory of Brevet Brigadier General Charles L. Leiper, Colonel Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Erected by surviving members of the regiment, May 1900.” It was one of Furness’ finest works. More than two thousand people attended the dedication of the monument, including most of the surviving members of the regiment.

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  1. Thu 05th Jul 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Great piece of Delaware County History. We Should
    teach and study this information. We are loosing to much of our heritage. Lets start promoting Delaware County History.
    Especially about this very proment Delco family.

    Harry Seth

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