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