02 January 2008 by Published in: Union Cavalry 19 comments

Stan O’Donnell specifically requested this one, so here’s a profile of forgotten cavalryman Bvt. Maj. Gen. John Irvin Gregg….

John Irvin GreggJohn Irvin Gregg was born on July 26, 1826 at Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania, his family’s home for nearly 100 years. His grandfather, Andrew Gregg, served two terms in the United States Senate. He was a first cousin of Bvt. Maj. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg, and both were first cousins of Pennsylvania’s war-time governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin.

J. I. Gregg stood 6’4” tall, and was called “Long John” by the men who served under his command. He received a sound education in the academies of Centre and Union Counties. In December, 1846, he volunteered as a private for the Mexican War, and on reaching Jalapa received notice of his appointment as first lieutenant in the 11th U. S. Infantry, one of ten new regular regiments. He was subsequently promoted to Captain and recruiting officer, serving with honor to the close of the war, when the new Regular regiments were mustered out of service. Gregg mustered out on August 14, 1848.

Captain Gregg returned to Centre County, where he engaged in the manufacture of iron in the family business, Gregg & Co. He served in the “Centre Guards”, a local militia unit, as first lieutenant, captain, major, and lieutenant colonel. In November 1857, he married Miss Clarissa A. Everhart, “a lady of rare amiability and beauty, whose early death was deeply and sincerely mourned.” He later married again, to Harriett Marr, the daughter of a local Presbyterian minister. They had two sons, Irvin and Robert.

With the coming of the Civil War, Gregg was commissioned first captain and then colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves, but was shortly thereafter appointed Captain in his cousin David’s regiment, the newly-formed 6th U. S. Cavalry.

His duty in the field commenced with the Peninsula Campaign under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, as commander of a squadron of Regular cavalry. He was present at the battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, Kent Court House on the 9th, and on the 11th, his troopers occupied White House Landing on the Pamunkey River. He was with the Union advance at Ellison’s Mills on the 21st, and at Hanover Court House on the 27th.

In the preliminaries to the Seven Days’ battle he skirmished with the rebel infantry, and narrowly escaped capture. Then followed days and nights of weary marching, while the Army of the Potomac fought its way to the James River. Captain Gregg subsequently did important service in the army’s retirement from the Peninsula, and in the campaigns of Second Bull Run and Antietam.

In November, 1862, he was selected to command the newly-formed 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Early in January, 1863, he joined the Army of the Potomac, and was assigned to Brig. Gen. William W. Averell’s cavalry brigade. During the remainder of the winter he performed important outpost duty, and acquired a reputation for efficiency that he never lost. The first and only battle in which Colonel Gregg participated as a regimental commander was at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863. After a long day of fighting, Averell withdrew from the battlefield, and left the field in the possession of the Confederates. Even though Kelly’s Ford cannot be considered a Union victory, it nevertheless marked a new era for the Army of the Potomac’s mounted arm.

Gregg commanded a brigade at the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station in his cousin David M. Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division. At Aldie (June 17) and Upperville (June 21), the fighting was severe, the combatants coming hand to hand. Gregg’s brigade was actively engaged in both actions.

In the battle of Gettysburg, his command was posted so as to protect the right flank of the Union army, and was engaged during the afternoon of the second day, and slightly during the third. After Lee made his escape to Virginia, Gregg’s brigade (along with the rest of Gregg’s division) crossed the Potomac to follow up the rebel rear, and ascertain his whereabouts. However, JEB Stuart covered his movements by leaving his best fighting troopers near the mouth of the valley. Near Shepherdstown, at noon on July 18, 1863, Stuart’s men drove in the Union skirmishers, and close upon their heels, the enemy advanced in force. For eight hours, and until night put an end to the contest, the heavy fighting dragged on, leading to heavy casualties on both sides.

Stuart’s horse artillery was especially effective that day. At first he concentrated his fire on the right, then on the left, and finally, just as the sun was sinking, a fire of “unwonted power and destructiveness” was opened upon the right center. The Confederate horse soldiers charged repeatedly, coming on in three columns, and gaining at times a point within thirty paces of the Union line; but nothing could withstand the withering fire that swept that gory field, and until darkness separated the combatants, Gregg’s small brigade held fast its position. When his brigade finally received orders to retire, they carried away 158 of their own casualties with them.

In the subsequent movement to Culpeper, Gregg was with the advance, and in conjunction with men of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Division, captured a body of the enemy who were there cut off. When General Lee commenced his flank movement towards Centreville, one regiment of Gregg’s brigade was left on the south bank of Hedgeman or Upper Rappahannock River, charged with picketing in the direction of Jeffersonton. At eight o’clock on the morning on October 12, 1863, Gregg received reports that the enemy was advancing in force. With only two small regiments of less than six hundred men, Gregg checked the right wing of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for an entire day, enabling Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac to cross the stream and gain a day’s march on Lee.

In November, Gregg reported to Washington for medical treatment. He spent most of the winter there, receiving medical treatment. He reported back to the Army of the Potomac in time for the beginning of the spring campaigning season. In the Wilderness Campaign, his brigade was in Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s 12,000-man cavalry column, and for three days was engaged near the vital crossroads at Todd’s Tavern.

On the morning of May 10, Colonel Gregg had the advance in Sheridan’s raid on Richmond, and soon after starting encountered the enemy in force. A brisk skirmish ensued. On the following day, Gregg had the rear of the column, and before the Federals had all moved, the enemy attacked them with great impetuosity near Yellow Tavern on the Telegraph Road, a few miles north of Richmond. Stuart’s troopers doubled up a part of his brigade, and was near throwing the whole Union force into confusion. Gregg brought his artillery into position, and opened on the Confederates with grape and canister in rapid rounds, routing them.

Gregg particularly distinguished himself in the action at Meadow Bridges, in the fortifications of Richmond, on May 12, and again at Trevilian Station on June 11, for which he received the brevet rank of brigadier general. Then, in the engagement at Deep Bottom on August 16, he was wounded in the right wrist. He was also wounded in the ankle at Hatcher’s Run on February 6, 1865, the 6th of February, while charging at the head of a portion of his brigade against the enemy’s infantry.

In April 1865, during the pursuit of Lee’s army from Petersburg, he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek, and was captured the next day north of Farmville, Virginia. Fortunately, he was only a prisoner of war for less than a week, as Lee’s army surrendered at Appomattox Court House four days later.

At the close of hostilities, he was brevetted major general of volunteers for distinguished service during the war. He also received brevets to major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier general in the Regular Army, for gallantry in action in the battles of Kelly’s Ford, Middleburg, Shepherdstown, Wilderness, Sulphur Springs, Samaria (St. Mary’s) Church, Deep Bottom, Stony Creek Station, and Hatcher’s Run.

He was appointed Colonel of the newly-formed 8th U.S. Cavalry in July 1866, a position his cousin David Gregg had desired. He reported for duty at Camp Whipple in the Arizona Territory. He led a series of expeditions into the Mojave Desert, campaigning against Indians. He was transferred to the New Mexico Territory, where he commanded Fort Union from 1870–72. While there, he attempted to pursue and subdue renegade Apache Indians. In 1872, he led a reconnaissance expedition to survey and map the panhandle region of Texas. General Gregg retired from active service on April 2, 1879, and spent the rest of his life enjoying his retirement and participating in various veterans’ activities. He died in Washington, D. C. on April 6, 1892, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

“Throughout his entire term of service, General Gregg displayed the best qualities of the intrepid soldier, and by his stubborn fighting on many fields fairly won the character of an heroic and reliable officer,” wrote historian Samuel P. Bates, “one who was not afraid to face superior numbers, even under the most unfavorable circumstances, and who made his dispositions with so much coolness and self-possession as to reassure his own men and intimidate the foe.” Frederick C. Newhall described Gregg as “cool as a clock.”

Here’s to Long John Gregg.

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Comments

  1. Wed 02nd Jan 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Another fine profile, thanks Eric. Coincidentally, just yesterday, I was updating one of my guys, John Irvin Curtin. Greggs, Irvins, and Curtins everywhere! John must have been the black sheep, as his service was Infantry …

  2. Wed 02nd Jan 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Brian,

    Some of these family connections are mind-boggling. This is a great example of another one.

    Eric

  3. Todd Berkoff
    Wed 02nd Jan 2008 at 8:34 pm

    One of my favorite cavalry commanders! Thanks for posting. There must have been some tension between John Irvin and his cousin David M. Gregg over that postwar appointment to the 8th US Cavalry.

    Like many people, we wonder why David M. Gregg left the service when he did…I tend to believe he couldn’t stand Sheridan’s ego any longer and refused to serve under him.

    On a separate note, I was visiting family in New Jersey last weekend and visited Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson, New Jersey and located the grave of Peter Stagg. Though Stagg is affiliated with the 1st Michigan Cavalry and the last commander of the Michigan Brigade, Stagg was born and died in Paterson. I too grew up near Paterson, NJ.

    Also of note is Colonel Hugh H. Janeway (1842-1865) of Rahway, New Jersey, and an officer in the 1st New Jersey Cavalry for most of the war. In between stints in the 1st NJ Cavarly, Janeway served as ADC to John Sedgwick during the Chancellorsville Campaign. He would eventually command the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavarly Corps, AoP, from December 1864-March 1865. Janeway was wounded at Haw’s Shop, Gravel Hill, Hatcher’s Run, and was shot in the head and killed at Amelia Springs, Virginia on April 5, 1865 at age 22. I’m not sure what unit he commanded at the time of his death. Janeway is buried at Elmwood Cemetery, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

    Regards,

    Todd Berkoff
    Arlington, Va

  4. Stan O'Donnell
    Thu 03rd Jan 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks Eric!

    Long John was “cool as a clock.” (As per F. Newhall)
    LOL! What about a cucumber or the other side of the pillow?

    I’m wondering the same thing Todd is? You mentioned that Long John got command of the 8th US Cav in the post-war summer of 1866 and that David McM Gregg had covetted that same command. Is the implication that D MCM Gregg would have reentered the US Army had he been offered that particular command? Or am I interpeting that wrong?

    I have a very interesting photo hanging in the ECF mansion of, amongst others, Long John, cousin D McM Gregg and Lt. Brooke-Rawle taken during the 1884 dedication of the Cavalry Shaft on East Cav Field. In the photo, Brooke-Rawle looks like Trotsky and Long John is seated next to cousin D McM and wearing a bowler hat. LJ and D McM both look haggard and no-nonsense nasty, even more so than their more common depictions. Everybody who sees this photo points to Long John and asks “Who IS that guy?”.
    He’d put on some pounds and is scowling at the camera like he’s still pissed off about being captured near Farmville. Either that or he’s pissed off because Eric made a blog typo and got the 6 and the 2 backwards in the year of his birthdate? [wink-lol!]

    Thanks again for the Long John bio!
    Stan

  5. Todd Berkoff
    Thu 03rd Jan 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Hi Stan. Getting captured at Farmville must have really burned “Long John”…after all the effort he put forth during the war, only to be captured with the end in sight…

    Regards,

    Todd

  6. Jeff Mancini
    Fri 04th Jan 2008 at 4:01 pm

    With recent discussions on both the Gregg’s and Wade Hampton can anyone give a solid explanation to the Batttle at Haw’s Shop May 28th, 1864, whereby both the Gregg’s clashed with Wade Hampton’s brigades. This battle fought between Yellow Tavern and Trevilian Station was actually quite a skirmish. Hampton had at his disposal three mounted infantry regiments in addition to his three brigades plus a battery of horse artillery. The Gregg’s both fought this action with much fury despite being outnumbered and hemmed in. Sheridan’s dispatch of Custer’s Michigan Brigade turned the tide in this battle forcing Hampton to withdraw. But the actions on the field that day would set the stage for more action two weeks later at Trevilian.

  7. Fri 04th Jan 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Jeff,

    Indeed it did.

    Haw’s Shop will play a prominent role in one of my forthcoming book projects, and I’ve just begun researching it. For now, I highly recommend the treatment of it by Gordon Rhea in his book on the North Anna. You won’t be disappointed.

    Eric

  8. Don
    Sat 05th Jan 2008 at 12:28 am

    Eric,

    Very nice profile, as always. You answered some of the questions I’d been entertaining about the Gregg cousins, though I think you hit D McM’s reasons for resigning right on the head. I’m not much of a Sheridan fan, and by that point in the war there was a good deal of talent to take over the cavalry without bringing in an outsider. Unless the guy running the show wanted someone he was comfortable with.

    I hadn’t thought until now of checking Sheridan’s memoirs for a mention of why Gregg resigned….

    I keep noticing Ft Union cropping up around these folks, and according to their website they have a great historical archive down there. Might be worth a visit this summer, it’s only 3-4 hours away.

  9. Sun 06th Jan 2008 at 12:19 am

    Thanks, Don. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Sheridan’s memoirs say nothing about Gregg’s resignation that is illuminating. Don’t waste your time.

    I’m glad to hear you agree with my assessment of why DM Gregg resigned. To me, it’s the only explanation that makes any sense.

    Eric

  10. Tue 08th Jul 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Eric: Hello again! You might want to add to the JI Gregg page that he was stationed for a short time at Ft Halleck, now in Elko County, Nevada. I live about five miles from the site of the fort and there are no visible signs of any structures remaining. from what I have seen Gregg retired while posted at Halleck. Sonny.

  11. Kate Woodle
    Mon 19th Jan 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Hi, I stumbled across this page while looking for some information on my great great grandfather, John Irvin Gregg. This was very interesting. I’ve only just started doing research on John Irvin, and was wondering if there was any particular place that I should look. I’m new at this. Aside from the fact that he was a civil war general and that he later went to the territories to subdue the indians, I don’t know much about him. I have some of his letters, and his letters of commission, etc. Anyway, I would like to find out more. Where would I look?

    Kate

  12. Lynn
    Wed 28th Jan 2009 at 2:40 pm

    This is for Kate. Hi. Would like to talk with you more about JIGregg. He too is my great great grandfather. You can reach me at rcmorici@netscape.net Thank. lynn

  13. Lynn
    Wed 28th Jan 2009 at 2:43 pm

    This is for Kate. Hi. Would like to talk with you more about JIGregg. He too is my great great grandfather. You can reach me at rcmorici@netscape.net Thanks. lynn

  14. Judy Gergg Homan
    Thu 29th Sep 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Hi I too am the great,great granddaughter of Gen gregg. My father was Samuel V Gregg. I also have beautiful portraits of Gen. and Andrew Gregg. I have collected some of the history on the Greggs, but this is really a good article. Where else can I look. Judy

  15. Thu 29th Sep 2011 at 6:11 pm

    There’s not much else out there, Judy.

    Long John is a largely neglected fellow.

  16. Lynn Gregg Morici
    Fri 13th Jul 2012 at 10:35 am

    Hi Judy, Would love to share information with you. I had stated that the General was my great great grandfather, but after really doing some searching, I now believe he was an uncle. I have connected with 3 people aready about the Gregg, Irvin, Curtin family. Would love to get copies of any photos you may have. I have some of Andrew but not sure which Andrew. There are so many John’s, and Andrews!!! My great grandfather was an Andrew and I know his father was an Andrew. Looking forward to hearing from you. Lyn

  17. Paul Garvin
    Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Todd, according to Longacre’s bio of. Gen. John Buford, David McM. Gregg had a dread fear of dying in battle, which caused him to resign his commission before the end of the war.

  18. Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Paul,

    The source for that representation–completely uncorroborated, by the way–is the postwar memoir of the regimental surgeon of the 6th Ohio Cavalry of DM Gregg’s division. He claims that Gregg told him this.

    There is NOTHING to corroborate or substantiate it. I think that the reason for what General Gregg did was to avoid being under the command of Phil Sheridan again. Sheridan hung Gregg out to dry at the end of the Trevilian Station raid, and then Gregg watched Sheridan trash the careers of two of his friends/West Point classmates, Alfred Torbert and W.W. Averell. I’m sure Gregg figured he was next, and I’m sure he had no interest in serving under Sheridan further. I believe that’s why he resigned.

    Gregg, being an Victorian gentleman, did not say why. His letter of resignation says that he had pressing family business to attend to at home, and none of his postwar writings say anything different. There is no record of anything being said, and only that single uncorroborated reference by Rockwell that Longacre latched onto. I would not give it any credence.

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