14 May 2008 by Published in: Union Cavalry 13 comments

It’s been quite a while since I profiled a forgotten cavalryman, so I think it’s time to do so again. Today’s subject is Brig. Gen. George D. Bayard.

Bayard was born on December 18, 1835 at Seneca Falls, New York. He was a direct, linear descendant of the family of Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, known as “the Good Knight”. Chevalier Bayard was also called “the knight without fear and without reproach.” George’s great-grandfather had commanded the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Revolutionary War, so cavalry was in the boy’s blood. When he was 8 years old, the family moved to Iowa for several years. In 1849, the family returned and settled in New Jersey. In 1852, young George was appointed a cadet at large in the Military Academy at West Point by President Millard Fillmore. He graduated in 1856, standing eleventh in a class which originally numbered ninety members. On leaving the Academy, he chose the cavalry arm of the service, and was assigned to duty with the 1st U. S. Cavalry (now the 4th U.S. Cavalry), rising to the rank of captain.

Not long after he joined the regiment, the 1st U.S. Cavalry, was ordered to the plains, where it had frequent encounters with the Indians. In 1860, while engaged with a party of Kiowas, Bayard was severely wounded. His father gave the following account of this event: “After a pursuit of more than twenty miles; some Indians were seen at a distance. Lieutenant Bayard, being mounted on a superior horse, whose speed surpassed that of any in the command, led the way in the chase. He soon came up with an Indian warrior, and, presenting his revolver, demanded his surrender. The Indian, as Lieutenant Bayard rode up to him, had dismounted from his pony for the purpose of dodging the shot from the pistol he anticipated, or to enable him the better to use his bow and arrow. At this moment, while in this attitude, Lieutenant Bayard saw some Indians running at a distance, and turned to see if any of his men were near enough to receive a signal from him that other Indians were in sight, and as he turned again towards the chief he had brought to bay, the latter shot him with his arrow. The arrow was steel-headed, in shape like a spear-head, and the head two and a half inches long. It struck Lieutenant Bayard under the cheek-bone, and penetrated the antrim. If the Indian had not been so near, he would have drawn his bow more taut, and probably killed his enemy.”

The arrow head was imbedded so firmly in the bone that it could not safely be removed except by superior skill. Though enduring intense suffering, Bayard made a journey of 800 miles to St. Louis before he could have the operation performed. Its removal gave some relief, but the wound did not heal, and he was subject to severe hemorrhage which threatened his life. The artery, which had been severed, was cauterized, freeing him from further danger, and he was soon after assigned to duty as cavalry instructor at West Point.

When the war broke out in 1861, even though his wound was still unhealed and very painful, he repeatedly asked to be relieved, and allowed to join a regiment of volunteers. In a letter to his father of April 13, 1861, he wrote: “The capital will very soon be the object of attack, and I think it the duty of all good Americans to march to its defence. My heart is too full to write you anything about Sumter. The Southerners have made a great mistake attacking it. All my sympathy with the South is now gone. It is now war to the knife.” And again, on July 26, 1861 he wrote, “I must go to this war. I cannot stay here and rust while gallant men are in the field. This Rebellion is a much more serious thing than many suppose. I pity the Southern officers in our army. They cannot but condemn the madness of their politicians who have brought on this war, and yet they feel in honor bound to go with their section.”

Finally, his request to be relieved of duty at West Point was granted in September 1861, when he was made major of a newly recruited regiment pf New York cavalry. On his arrival at Washington, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, then commander-in-chief, would not consent to his taking this position, and instead gave him the option to take command of a regiment or to serve as an aid upon his staff. Bayard chose an independent command, and was appointed colonel of the 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry, which was part of the Pennsylvania Reserves, by Keystone State Governor Andrew G. Curtin. He quickly became known as a martinet, and he was not especially popular with the men who served under him. His first speech to his men, delivered as they were about to undertake a hazardous duty, was characteristic: “Men! I will ask you to go in no place but where I lead.”

A friend left this description: “As a soldier, in camp and on the field, in bivouac or in the height of an engagement, he was a perfect model. He had a quiet but keen eye, detecting and correcting what was wrong, and just as quick to discern merit. In the field, he participated in all the hardships with the men, declining a shelter when they were exposed.” During a reconnaissance of Confederate-held bridges outside Falmouth, Virginia, he came under attack, and rifle fire hit his horse three times. He survived the engagement unharmed, and was commissioned Chief of Cavalry of the III Corps and brigadier general of volunteers on April 28, 1862.

When McClellan went to the Peninsula, Bayard remained with the army of observation before Washington. At Cross Keys, and all the subsequent operations under Maj. Gen. John Pope, he acquitted himself with great credit, capably commanding a brigade assigned to Pope’s Army of Virginia. He had been at the Academy with J. E. B. Stuart, and at Cedar Mountain they met; first in conflict, and afterwards under flag of truce for the burial of the dead, where they conversed in a friendly way. No allusion was made to the present war, but they talked of former associations. “During the interview,” says a Washington paper, “a wounded Union soldier lying near was groaning and asked for water. ‘Here, Jeb,’ said Bayard – old time recollections making him familiar as he tossed his bridle to the rebel officer – ‘hold my horse a minute, will you, till I fetch that poor fellow some water.’ Jeb held the bridle. Bayard went to a stream and brought the wounded man some water. As Bayard mounted his horse, Jeb remarked that it was the first time he had ‘played orderly to a Union General.'” Stuart was then a major general in the Confederate service. The business for which they met was soon arranged, and when the bugle sounded the recall, they shook hands and turned away, mortal enemies again.

Despite the disfiguring wound, Bayard was engaged to be married. The wedding was scheduled for his 27th birthday, December 18, 1862. That fall, as the senior cavalry officer, he took the field with the Army of the Potomac. “I have been troubled a good deal of late with rheumatism, owing to having been thoroughly drenched with rain,” he wrote to his father on November 22. “I ought to be in the hospital. But I must go with this army through. I am senior General of cavalry. Honor and glory are before me – shame lurks in the rear. It looks as if I should not be able to leave at the time appointed for my marriage, but will have to postpone it till this campaign is over.”

His cavalry opened the December 13, 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, holding the enemy in check until the infantry could come up, when he was withdrawn and posted on the extreme left of the line, his left flank abutting upon the river. His command spent the morning of December 13 more or less with the enemy’s skirmishers and advance. His last directions, before leaving his troops to go to the headquarters of Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, who commanded the Right Grand Division of the Army of the Potomac, were given to his artillery officer to change the position of some of his guns. Bayard then rode off to see Franklin.

“A little before two o’clock he rode to headquarters, to receive such orders as General Franklin might deem proper to give. He found the General in a grove of trees, with some of his staff and other General officers. The enemy were then throwing their shells at and around this grove. General Bayard, soon after he arrived, having dismounted, seated himself at the foot of a tree, but with his face towards the quarter from whence the shells came. He was warned by a brother officer of his needless exposure, and invited to change his position. This he did not do, but remained for some time participating in the conversation of those around. In a little while, however, he rose from his seat, and hardly stood erect, when he was struck by a shell just below the hip, shattering his thigh near the joint. In this frightful condition, with mind still clear and active, he lingered until noon of the following day, arranging his business and sending messages of love and affection to friends.” He dictated a brief note to his parents: “I have to dictate to you a few words, ere it becomes too late. My strength is rapidly wasting away. Goodbye, dearest father and mother; give my love to my sisters.”

He did not appear to suffer much pain, and about 24 hours after being struck, quietly died just five days before his 27th birthday. “Not one,” wrote Horace Greeley, “died more lamented than Major-General George D. Bayard, commanding our cavalry on the left, who was struck by a shell and mortally wounded. But twenty-seven years old, and on the eve of marriage, his death fell like a pall on many loving hearts.” He was buried in Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, New Jersey.

Bayard was the senior officer in the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry at the time of his death. Although Maj. Gen. George Stoneman would have been entitled to command of the Cavalry Corps at the time of its formation in February 1863, Bayard would have been the senior division commander. Thus, when Stoneman took medical leave on May 15, 1863, Bayard would have assumed command of the Cavalry Corps, and not Alfred Pleasonton. The complexion of cavalry operations would have been very different indeed, and it is intriguing to consider what effect Bayard might have had on the evolution of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps had he lived.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. dan
    Wed 14th May 2008 at 11:35 pm

    It still astounds me how tragic this whole thing was.

  2. Thu 15th May 2008 at 9:38 am

    I’ve been studying up on Bayard in relation to the post-Antietam pursuit into Loudoun Valley in the fall of ’62. Lots of interesting occurrences around Mountville and the northern part of the valley in general. There are some glimpses of the Fed Cavalry “coming of age” in that campaign, if you allow me to steal one of your lines….

  3. Thu 15th May 2008 at 10:03 am

    Craig,

    There is no doubt that they showed glimpses of what they were capable of doing during McClellan’s advance. Bayard, in particular, did very well during that period of time, and I’m glad to hear you’re working on that period. It needs someone to do a detailed study of those cavalry actions, because some really interesting things–including the Second Ride Around McClellan–happened during the fall of 1862.

    Eric

  4. Thu 15th May 2008 at 10:06 am

    Dan,

    It was indeed tragic. There were three casualties in the Union cavalry in the entire Battle of Fredericksburg, and one of them was Bayard.

    There’s no telling how good he might have been, and there’s no telling how differently things might have played out with Bayard in corps command instead of Alf Pleasonton.

    Eric

  5. Thu 15th May 2008 at 10:16 am

    Eric,

    Or Stoneman, for that matter…

    :)

    J.D.

  6. Thu 15th May 2008 at 10:28 am

    J.D.,

    Indeed. Good point.

    I wonder what John Buford would have thought about serving under a guy who was nearly 10 years younger than he was and who had a lot less experience. Buford and Bayard had worked well together under Pope, and I think Buford respected Bayard as a result. It would have been interesting, to say the least.

    Eric

  7. Thu 15th May 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Eric,
    If Bayard had lived and did continue to show a higher competence than Pleasonton and Stoneman, then how does that affect the Federal Cavalry of the AoP in 1864? (Same argument could be advanced if Buford had lived too.)

    Does little Phil stay out west with Uncle Billy? What a thought. I’d better hide my lucifers….

  8. Sat 17th May 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Eric,

    Out of curiosity, how long does it take you to knock out one of your profiles of a “forgotten cavalryman,” particularly a nearly 2,000-word essay like this one?

    dw

  9. Andrew German
    Sat 24th May 2008 at 9:23 am

    Hello Eric,

    I’m just catching up with your posts. It’s great to give Bayard his due. From my work on the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, he’s an old friend. It’s true that his volunteer troopers initially hated him for his strict discipline–and he knew that some had threatened to shoot him the first time they got to fire on the enemy–but after that first winter of instruction they had complete confidence in him. At a time when the federal cavalry in the east was trying to find its footing, he pushed his command and they met expectations. You mentioned the reconnaissance at Falmouth, which was actually a night attack to secure the bridge, thwarted by an ambush. At the end of May, Bayard’s “Flying Brigade” (which included a battalion of the “Bucktails” (riflemen) and a battery of mountain howitzers) reconnoitered far south of Fredericksburg, then immediately turned around and marched to the Valley, catching the end of Jackson’s column at Strasburg before Fremont’s command finished its much shorter march to complete the pincer movement. Then the cavalry led the federal advance through the rain, fighting aggressively with Jackson’s rear guard. You even see dismounted tactics employed here.

    Under Pope, Bayard and Buford acted independently but supportively. Bayard’s fighting withdrawal from the Rapidan slowed Jackson’s advance by a day and permitted Pope to get into position at Cedar Mountain. There, Bayard sacrificed one battalion of his 1st Pennsylvania in a mounted charge against infantry. Later, as the Army of Virginia withdrew across the Rappahannock, Bayard conducted a successful mounted engagement with Confederate cavalry–a mini Brandy Station I. His troops then held Thorofare Gap against Longstreet and during Second Manassas maintained a cavalry presence on the left flank, prepared for a night cavalry charge in the center, and held the rear during the retreat to Centreville.

    He remained in command of the cavalry in front of DC during the Antietam Campaign, but conducted scouts as far as Warrenton and proposed a mounted raid not unlike Stoneman’s Raid of six months later. As mentioned, his brigade joined the AoP at the beginning of November, and Pleasonton was not happy to be outranked by such a young officer. Bayard’s brigade performed well at Aldie, at Warrenton, and in the night seizure of the bridge at Rappahannock Station. At Fredericksburg, his brigade in the Left Grand Division was the only cavalry engaged. On the day before the battle they felt out the Confederate position and skirmished sharply with Confederate infantry along the railroad. After Pelham’s artillery flank attack, the 1st Pennsylvania was deployed to picket the left flank and sat on horseback all day under artillery fire. The rest of the brigade remained near Franklin’s headquarters, where Bayard was mortally wounded. It was speculated that a bolt from the Confederate Whitworth gun did the deed as the range was too great for conventional artillery. What a sad fluke.

    Bayard’s death was a great loss, and his men found they missed his leadership greatly. They came to appreciate David Gregg’s fatherly leadership, and would do anything for him, but Gregg didn’t have the dash of Bayard. We can’t know for sure, but I’d say Bayard would have made a great division commander. His confidence in the mounted arm and comfort in independent command probably would have made him support the cavalry corps concept. Whether he would have suffered some of the fools in command and been able to manage the whole show is an intriguing question.

    Thanks,
    Andy German

  10. Cheryl Cockrell
    Fri 14th Nov 2008 at 10:14 pm

    I cleaned out a house in Louisiana after someone had died and found a carte de vista of Gen. Bayard. I found this site and found it so tragic and INTERESTING. Thanks for putting a story to a picture. The mystery would be to figure out how thisold old photo got down into South Louisiana. Thanks Cheryl

  11. tom savage
    Mon 15th Dec 2008 at 10:50 pm

    hard fighting all day. we were in range of the rebel guns all of the time, a good many shells struck amoung us. the genl got wounded. the doctor says he cant live. (saturday, dec 13)

    he died today. the cavalry all came back over the river
    (sunday, dec 14)

    our genl was not killed while reconnoitering. he was in rear of line of battle near a house that was used during the fight for a hospital. but the shot and shell raked the ground there, and fell thicker there than they did at the verry front for they fought with muskets and rifles more there. and it seemed as they were trying to prevent our crossing the river with more troops, by throwing shell at this one house which stood near the bank. shell and solid shot fell all around us……but strange to say not a man in our co was even hurt. although we were with genl all the time…..
    (alonzo s west—-1st md cav, co m)

    above are exerpts from Alonzo West diary and letters I have—-he was with the 1st Maryland Cav, co M and was at most of the battles of 1862 to 1865 including 2nd bull run , fredericksburg, stonemans raid, brandy station , gettysburg, and petersburg) thought his Bayard references were interesting

Add comment

*

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress