09 January 2007 by Published in: Union Cavalry 3 comments

And, last, but certainly not least, here is the report of Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer, commander of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, of August 22, 1863:

In compliance with instructions received from the headquarters of the 3d division, I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the engagements near Gettysburg, July 3d, 1863:At an early hour on the morning of the 3d I received an order, through a staff officer of the brigadier general commanding the division, to move at once my command and follow the 1st brigade on the road leading from Two Taverns to Gettysburg.

Agreeable to the above instructions my column was formed and moved out on the road designated, when a staff officer of Brigadier General Gregg, commanding 2d division, ordered me to take my command and place it in position on the pike leading from York to Gettysburg, which position formed the extreme right of our line of battle on that day. Upon arriving at the point designated I immediately placed my command in position, facing toward Gettysburg. At the same time I caused reconnaissances to be made on my front, right, and rear, but failed to discover any considerable force of the enemy. Everything remained quiet until 10 A.M, when the enemy appeared on my right flank, and opened upon me with a battery of six guns. Leaving two guns and a regiment to hold my first position and cover the road leading to Gettysburg, I shifted the remaining portion of my command, forming a new line of battle at right angles to my former line. The enemy had obtained correct range of my new position, and was pouring solid shot and shell into my command with great accuracy. Placing two sections of Battery M, 2d Regular Artillery, in position, I ordered them to silence the enemy’s battery, which order, notwithstanding the superiority of the enemy’s position, was successfully accomplished in a very short space of time. My line, as it then existed, was shaped like the letter L. The shorter branch formed one section of Battery M, supported by four squadrons of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, faced toward Gettysburg, covering the Gettysburg pikel the long branch composed of the remaining two sections of Battery M, 2d Artillery, supported by a portion of the 6th Michigan Cavalry on the left and the 1st Michigan Cavalry on the right, with the 7th Michigan Cavalry still further to the right and in advance, was held in readiness to repel any attack the enemy might make coming on the Oxford road. The 5th Michigan Cavalry was dismounted and ordered to take position in front of my center and left. The 1st Michigan Cavalry was held in a column of squadrons, to observe the movements of the enemy. I ordered fifty men to be sent one mile and a half on the Oxford road, while a detachment of equal size was sent one and a half on the road leading from Gettysburg to York, both the detachments being under the command of the gallant Major [Peter] Weber [of the 6th Michigan Cavalry], from time to time kept me so well informed of the movements of the enemy that I was enabled to make my dispositions with complete success. At 12 o’clock an order was transmitted to me from the brigadier general commanding the division, by one of his aides, directing me, upon being relieved by a brigade from the 2d division, to move with my command and form a junction with the 1st brigade on the extreme left. On the arrival of the brigade of the 2d division, commanded by Colonel [John B.] McIntosh, I prepared to execute the order. Before I had left my position Brigadier General Gregg, commanding the 2d division, arrived with his entire command. Learning the true condition of affairs in my front, and rightly conjecturing that the enemy was making his disposition for vigorously attacking our position, Brigadier General Gregg ordered me to remain in the position I then occupied.

The enemy was soon after reported to be advancing on my front. The detachment of fifty men sent on the Oxford road were driven in, and at the same time the enemy’s line of skirmishers, consisting of dismounted cavalry, appeared on the crest of the ride of hills on my front. The line extended beyond my left. To repel their advance I ordered the 5th Michigan Cavalry to a more advanced position, with instructions to maintain their ground at all hazards. Colonel Alger, commanding the 5th, assisted by Majors Trowbridge and Ferry, fo the same regiment, made such admirable dispositions of their men behind fences and other defenses as enabled them to successfully repel the repeated advance of a greatly superior force. I attributed their success in a great measure to the fact that this regiment is armed with the Spencer repeating rifle, which in the hands of brave, determined men, like those composing the 5th Michigan Cavalry, is, in my estimation, the most effective fire-arm that our cavalry can adopt. Colonel Alger held his ground until his men had exhausted their ammunition, when he was compelled to fall back on the main body. The beginning of this movement was the signal for the enemy to charge, which they did with two regiments, mounted and dismounted. I at once ordered the 7th Michigan Cavalry, Colonel Man,, to charge the advancing column of the enemy. The ground over which we had to pass was very unfavorable for the maneuvering of cavalry, but, despite all obstacles, this regiment advanced boldly to the assault, which was executed in splendid style the enemy being drivem from field to field until our advance reached a high and unbroken fence, behind which the enemy were strongly posted. Nothing daunted, Colonel Mann, followed by the main body of his regiment, bravely rode up to the fence and discharged their revolvers in the very face of the foe. No troops could have maintained this position; the 7th was, therefore, compelled to retire, followed by twice the number of the enemy. By this time Colonel Alger, of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, had succeeded in mounting a considerable portion of his regiment, and gallantly advanced to the assistance of the 7th, whose further pursuit by the enemy he checked. At the same time an entire brigade of the enemy’s cavalry, consisting of four regiments, appeared just over the crest in our front. They were formed in column of regiments. To meet this overwhelming force I had but one available regiment–the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and the fire of battery M, 2d Regular artillery. I at once ordered the 1st to charge, but learned at the same moment that similar orders had been given by Brigadier General Gregg. As before stated, the 1st was placed in column of battalions. Upon receving the order to charge, Colonel Town, placing himself at the head of his command, ordered the “trot” and sabers to be drawn. In this manner the gallant body of men advanced to the attack of a force that outnumbering them five to one. In addition to this numerical superiority, the enemy had the advantage of position and were exultant over the repulse of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. All these facts considered, would seem to render success on the part of the 1st impossible. No so, however. Arriving within a few yard of the enemy’s column the charge was ordered, and with a yell that spread terror before them, the 1st Michigan Cavalry, led by Colonel Town, rode upon the front rank of the enemy, sabering all who came within reach. For a moment, but only a moment, that long, heavy column stood its ground; then, unable to withstand the impetuosity of our attack, it gave way into a disorderly rout, leaving vast numbers of their dead and wounded in our possession, while the 1st, being masters of the field, had the proud satisfaction of seeing the much-vaunted “chivalry,” led by their favorite commander, seek safety in headlong flight. I cannot find language to express my high appreciation of the gallantry and daring displayed by the officers and men of the 1st Michigan Cavalry. They advanced to the charge of vastly superior force with as much order and precision as if going upon parade; and I challenge the annals of warfare to produe a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry than the one just recounted. Nor must I forget to acknowledge the individual assistance rendered by Battery M, 2d regiment of artillery, in this charge. Our success in driving the enemy from the field is due, in a great measure, to the highly efficient manner in which the battery was handled by Lieutenant A. C. M. Pennington , assisted by Lieutenants Clark, Woodruff, and Hamilton. The enemy made but slight demonstrations against us during the remainder of the day, except in one instance, he attempted to turn my left flank, which attempt was most gallantly met and successfully frustrated by Second Lieutenant J. H. Kellogg, which company H, 6th Michigan Cavalry. We held possession of the field until dark, during which time we collected our dead and wounded. At dark I returned with my command to Two Taverns, where I encamped for the night.

In this engagement my command lost as follows: 9 officers and 69 men killed, 25 officers and 207 men wounded, 7 officers and 225 men missing; making a total of 542. Among the killed I regard Major N. H. Ferry, of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, who fell while heroically cheering on his men. It would be impossible for me to particularize in those instances deserving special mention; all, but officers and men, did their duty. There were many cases of personal heroism, but a list of their names would make my report too extended. To Colonel Town, commanding the 1st Michigan Cavalry, and to the officers and men of his regiment for the gallant manner in which they drove the enemy from the field, great praise is due. Colonel Mann, of the 7th Michigan Cavalry, and Colonel Alger of the 5th Michigan Cavalry, as well as the officers and men of their commands are ntitled to much credit for their united efforts in repelling the advance of the enemy. The 6th Michigan Cavalry rendered very good service by guarding bot my right and left flank; also by supporting Battery M under a very hot fire from the enemy’s battery. Colonel Gray, commanding the regiment, was constantly seen wherever his presence was most needed, and is deserving of special mention. I desire to commend to your favorable notice Lieutenants Pennington, Clark, Woodruff, and Hamilton, of Battery M, 2nd Artillery, for the zeal and ability displayed by each on this occasion. My thanks are personally due to the following named members of my staff, who, on many occasions exhibited remarkable gallantry in transmitting and executing my orders on the field:

Captain G. A. Drew, 6th Michigan Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant general.
First Lieutenant R. Baylis, 5th Michigan Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant general.
First Lieutenant Wm. H. Wheeler, 1st Michigan Cavalry, aide-de-camp.
First Lieutenant Wm. Colerick, 1st Michigan Cavalry, aide-de-camp.

I desire also to mention two of my buglers, Joseph Fought, Company D, 5th U. S. Cavalry, and Peter Boehn, Company B, 5th U. S. Cavalry; also, Orderlies Norvall Churchill, Company L, 1st Michigan Cavalry, George L. Foster, Company C, 1st Michigan Cavalry, and Benjamin H. Butler, Company M, 1st Michigan Cavalry.

Interestingly, Custer did not mention that Gregg also ordered the charge of the 7th Michigan. Perhaps he did not know it. In any event, on both instances, Gregg usurped Custer and gave the orders to charge directly to the regimental commanders. I also find Custer’s estimations of the strength of the enemy forces interesting; he underestimed their size and strength in both phases of his report.

Well, there you have it. That’s the whole series. I hope that you have found these interesting and useful; none of these reports appear in the Official Records, and Custer’s full report is exceedingly rare.

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  1. David Corbett
    Wed 10th Jan 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Dear Sir ,
    This report of Custer’s should dispell the myth that he was reluctant to praise others to the point of being ego-centric . No hero is perfect nor in the manner of the ancient Greeks , should they be . Custer was less a soldier and more a warrior in the mode of Richard Coeur de Lion , El Cid, Patton , Crazy Horse , DuGuesclin , et . al .
    all for the old flag ,
    David Corbett

  2. Wed 10th Jan 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Well said, David.

    I agree with your assessment of Custer, with the exception that he didn’t have the talent the rest of them had….


  3. Richard L. Hamilton
    Fri 10th Aug 2007 at 10:17 am

    I am in most agreement with David Corbet regarding Custer. When one reads the many accounts of what the general did among all the finger pointing and political manuevering of many politically motivated field commanders, Custer remains the ‘General Warrior’ throuhout his career, absent of politics. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg recognized this character in Custer and wrote about his bravery and that of his command in his report on the East Cavalry Battlefield at Gettysburg. His one attempt at politics to save his military career after the Civil War failed, and Sherman saved him. Brig. Gen. Custer had to endure one of the worst commanders in the entire Union ranks, in the likes of Hugh Judson ‘Kill Cavalry’ Kilpatrick, and regardless Custer served him well. My gr.gr. grandfather, 1st Sgt. Geo. Thomas Patten faught in Custer’s 6th Michigan Cavalry Brigade, Co.B under the command of Maj. Peter A. Weber . He was with him throughout the Gettysburg Campaign to its conclusion at Williamsport. Sgt. Patten was killed alonside Maj. Weber at the Battle of Falling Waters in the first charge on the superior numbers of Gens. Pettigrew and Heth on the northside of the Potomac River at Lee’s Crossing on July 14, 1863.

    Dick Hamilton

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