06 July 2010 by Published in: Confederate Cavalry 12 comments

I was asked this question:

When did Albert Jenkins’ cavalry brigade arrive on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Could part of the reasoning on Lee’s and/or Ewell’s part have been to keep Governor-elect Billy Smith out of harm’s way, thus using his brigade to watch the flank? Or, did they not trust Jenkins’ brigade? Or, maybe a little of both?

Here’s my answer:

Good questions all.

Let me answer the last one first. The Gettysburg Campaign was the first so-called “regular” service of Jenkins’ command, which had been considered to be partisan rangers prior. They were largely an undisciplined and unproven commodity. In addition, they were not armed with normal cavalry weapons. Instead, they carried two-band Enfield muzzle-loaders, which meant that they were more mounted infantry than anything else. Hence, they were largely unknown to Robert E. Lee, who didn’t really trust them as a result.

For purposes of the invasion of Pennsylvania, the command consisted of the 14th, 16th, and 17th Virginia Cavalry regiments and the 34th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, commanded by the very colorful Lt. Col. Vincent “Clawhammer” Witcher. Lije White’s 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry of Grumble Jones’ Brigade was also sent with Jenkins’ command.

The command escorted Jenkins into Pennsylvania, and then split when Early’s division went toward York and the Susquehanna River. White’s battalion and part of the 16th Virginia escorted Early all the way to great covered bridge at Wrightsville and back. The other two full regiments, the rest of the 16th Virginia, and Witcher’s guys, with Jenkins in personal command, went with the rest of Ewell’s Corps to Carlisle and on to Camp Hill. In fact, the detachment with Jenkins had two skirmishes at Camp Hill. The first one, on June 29, was at a place called Oyster Point. Then, the next day, after Ewell received orders to go to Gettysburg, the cavalry served as a rear guard for the infantry and had a pretty large engagement with infantry from Fort Couch and Fort Washington at a place called Sporting Hill, which is on the southern edge of what is today Camp Hill.

The detachment with Jenkins led Ewell’s way south through Carlisle and then on toward Gettysburg. If you read John Buford’s dispatches to Reynolds on the night of June 30, he talks about encountering enemy cavalry in the area of Heidlersburg. These would have been Jenkins’ command leading the infantry south, serving the traditional role of cavalry.

Elements of Jenkins’ command traded picket fire with elements of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry of Devin’s brigade at the Samuel Cobean farm, well north of Gettsyburg, very early on the morning of July 1. I believe that it is quite likely that the first shots of the battle were actually fired by either by a member of the 17th Pennsylvania at one of Jenkins’ guys, or vice versa, and not by Lt. Jones on Wistler’s Ridge.

So, Jenkins and his men arrived very early on the morning of July 1, and then they pretty much disappear. We know that about half of the brigade spent most of the battle doing provost duty. That detachment, commanded by Col. Milton Ferguson of the 16th Virginia, operated in the vicinity of Lee’s headquarters on Seminary Ridge for most of the battle.

The whereabouts of the rest of the brigade for most of July 1 and 2 is unknown and undocumented. All we know is that they were operating in the vicinity of Blocher’s (now Barlow’s) Knoll on the morning of July 2, and Jenkins was wounded by a chunk of shell fragment. For reasons that are a complete mystery to all of us, nobody informed Ferguson that he was now in command of the brigade, and we don’t have any idea where the men with Jenkins went or what they did for the rest of July 2, because there are absolutely no records or reports to tell us. It’s like they just disappeared, only to reappear with Stuart on East Cavalry Field the next day. Witcher would have commanded that detachment (which he did on ECF on July 3), so the blame probably must be placed squarely on his shoulders.

The wounding of Jenkins and resulting breakdown in command left the Hanover and Carlisle Roads unpicketed, and Ewell had no choice but to detach the Stonewall Brigade and Extra Billy’s brigade to do that duty. That’s how they ended up where they ended up. I often say that the only military aspect of the battle that was impacted by Stuart’s absence on July 1 was that there was no cavalry picketing the roads to the north and east on July 2, and that the detachment of those two veteran brigades of infantry to do duty that should have been done by cavalry may well have tipped the balance in the fighting for Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill on July 2, as neither of those brigades was available to participate in the Confederate attacks. One can’t help but wonder whether the addition of those two veteran brigades might have made the difference in two assaults that nearly succeeded without them.

As a general rule, I don’t much care for “what-if’s”, but even I have to admit that this one is an especially tantalizing one. Would those two veteran infantry brigades have given Ewell’s twin assaults on East Cemetery and Culp’s Hills sufficient oomph to succeed? We will never know, but it is fascinating.

Scridb filter


  1. Alejandro
    Wed 07th Jul 2010 at 1:46 am


    Probably you know that blog but anyway – http://www.yorkblog.com/cannonball/2009/12/jenkins-cavalry-raid-through-n.html
    Pretty good reading about Jenkins and his raid through Pennsylvania.


  2. James F. Epperson
    Wed 07th Jul 2010 at 7:54 am

    It is also worth mentioning that it was this brigade (Jenkins) that is implicated in much of the “Negro chasing” that occurred in and around Chambersburg.

  3. Wed 07th Jul 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Great stuff, Eric. Bravo!

  4. Sun 11th Jul 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Gettysburg: Little Round Top Theology

    Kicking up rock after rock,
    building walls to crouch behind
    and pop some graybacks,
    I uncover a heap of ants so thick
    looks like they’re having a war themselves,
    crawling on and about each other
    like they hate the bug on the left more
    than the bug on the right.

    I sprinkle a bit of gun powder
    on the mess, drop a match.
    Flame sends `em all to hell.
    Colonel Chamberlain asks
    what I’m up to so I tell `im.
    He smiles, says maybe God
    just lifted up a stone
    and found all us squirming
    here and there, decided
    to exterminate with a storm
    of blood and lead, foul as we are.

    S. Thomas Summers

  5. Mon 12th Jul 2010 at 9:10 pm


    Thanks very much for the compliment on my Cannonball blog! It covers my home area of York County PA in the Civil War, including Jenkins’ Raid. That expedition will be featured in an article I wrote for the Gettysburg Magazine for January 2011 publication.

    Scott L. Mingus, Sr.

  6. Alejandro
    Tue 13th Jul 2010 at 10:23 am


    Interesting. I hope you’ll post some excerpts from there in Cannonbal blog, ‘cos it’s always trouble to acquire such publications in Russia where I currently reside. Post service not always did great.


  7. Tue 13th Jul 2010 at 2:16 pm


    Seems a bit strong to me to put the blame on Witcher for “disappearing” the night of the second. Do you have any idea when Witcher was notified that he was in command of his portion of Jerkins brigade? I have read that he spent the night of July 2nd on or near Brinkerhoff ridge. I feel that this lack of communication with Ferguson and Witcher might have been brought on by the late arrival of Stuart on the battlefield, and the fatigue that he and his staff felt from their long raid around the AOP.

    There is no question that he was in tactical command of the portions of Jenkins brigade that fought so well at Rummels farm on the third, but then again the bulk of that combat was borne by the 34th Virginia. [See Witcher’s letters to John Batchelder in Volumes 2 and 3 of the Batchelder papers].

    Also, while the 34th may have carried a few Enfield rifles or even rifle muskets, ordnance records show that they were armed with M1841 rifles [caliber .54], CS Richmond rifles, caliber .58 [rifles that had been cut down, or in some cases put together using battlefield salvaged rifle muskets and parts at the CS Richmond Armory] and even a few .69 caliber M1842 rifled muskets, which the “Nighthawks “valued for the long range accuracy. No matter what they carried, the men of the 34th knew how to shoot, and shoot well.

    While the “Cavaliers” of the ANV might have looked upon the men of Jenkins brigade as rather rough and uncouth “mountaineers”, I do think that Stuart, having spent his youth in southern Virginia was familiar with the tenacity and marksmanship of Jenkins brigade and in particular the 34th, when he personally placed Witcher’s troops in position as the advanced right anchor” of the confederate position. Since Jenkins brigade was considered “mounted infantry” instead of cavalry it is plausible to me that Stuart placed the brigade in the best place tactically, were it could be used either as “bait” to draw a the main body of Yankee cavalry onto the field, and thereby exposing their right flank to a mounted charge, or perhaps in the event of a confederate reversal to be in place to cover a withdrawal from the field.” In short Witcher was placed in the best place possible on the confederate battle line.

  8. Wed 14th Jul 2010 at 11:09 pm

    (re-post from my Facebook page) you may Be-friend me if you enjoy civil war history, But YELLING about my spelling will get you removed quickly ( God made me the way i am, Love to read, but I spell on an 8th grade level)

    Let’s see what ya’ll think:

    In recent years, a different school of thought has emerged
    …about Gen Picket Grand attack. Was he only to be a diversion, so that Gen.
    Stewart could strike the center of the federal line from the rear?

  9. Shawn Prouty
    Sat 04th Jun 2011 at 6:38 am

    I wanted to add, that the 36th Virginia Cavalry Battalion was also in BG. Jenkin’s Cavalry Brigade. Also the 17th Va Cav Reg went with MG. Early, not the 16th VA Cav Reg. Along with the 17th Va Cav Reg, the 35th Va Cav Battalion also was with MG. Early.

  10. Brian Stuart Kesterson
    Wed 07th Dec 2011 at 12:05 am

    James Hodam of Company C, 17th Virginia Cavalry noted that the 17th Virginia Cavalry had been in a thicket of woods being shelled for a considerable time when orders were given to Col. French by an orderly who dashed out of the smoky woods. Lt. Col. Fredrick F. Smith gave the order to march by fours, and the regiment headed out on the road to Gettysburg. They charged across the fields of Gettysburg and hit the flank Howard’s 11th Corps of Mead’s army as it retreated through the streets of Gettysburg. Hodam noted that the scenes of carnage were everywhere on the field as they rode toward Gettysburg. He stated that the regiment even rode over and trampled the dead and dying without pity or compunction, in the excitement of the moment. The 17th was given orders to gather up prisoners in Gettysburg and they then marched the last of the six thousand prisoners to the rear as darkness neared.
    James Hodam also noted that as they advanced with the Confederate infantry earlier in the day they had been skirmishing with the Federal cavalry. This would have been Col. Thomas Devin’s Brigade of Federal Cavalry. The 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry reported that they were skirmishing with the advance of the Confederate infantry and cavalry early on the morning of the 1st. The 17th Virginia Cavalry had been riding with Ewell’s (Rodes) infantry as it advanced. Unfortunately no official records of this action exists, The area that the 17th Virginia Cavalry was actively engaging would have been along the line where Devin’s advance pickets were placed stretching from Belmont Schoolhouse Ridge and Kecler’s Hill. This line stretched as far east as the York Road. This was the area where a squadron of the Third West Virginia, Sixth New York, Ninth New York, and the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry were stationed and stretched across the Carlisle Road. Elijah White and his 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry also reported that they had skirmished with the Federal infantry and cavalry as they charged Howard’s Corps as they fled through the streets of Gettysburg. It was probably the 17th Virginia cavalry who came into contact with the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry near the Samuel Cobean Farm that was about five miles from Gettysburg. The 17th Pennsylvania took a severe loss in this action.
    As the 17th Virginia was mopping up General Jenkins and the rest of the brigade showed up that evening between three or four P.M. The next morning Jenkins rode off with his staff to receive orders from Gen. Lee on where he was to place his troops. On the way back to the brigade a shell exploded striking Jenkins in the head and killing his horse on the high ground of Blocher’s (Barlow’s) knoll. Jenkins was carried to his headquarters at the Majors’ family farmhouse. This left Col. Milton J. Ferguson in command of the brigade but it was uncertain if Lee’s plan was to use Jenkins’ Brigade to relieve Smith and Gordon so that their infantry could assault the Yankee right flank. As it stood they were guarding the York Pike against Brig. Gem Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division. It is not understood why Ferguson did not press this plan. He did not move until he had received intelligence that Stuart was on the way on the evening of the 2nd. In many respects it appears that real time orders were delayed too long to be coordinated properly and in the end either became garbled, impractical, or dated.
    Part of the 17th Virginia Cavalry would participate on East Cavalry Field on the 3rd with the remainder of the regiment and part of the 16th Virginia Cavalry remaining until the morning of the 4th guarding Yankee prisoners. All of the regiments in Jenkins’ Brigade were represented in the East Cavalry Field fight. Jenkins’ Brigade would also offer stubborn resistance to the Federal cavalry as they acted as the guard the rear of Lee’s army as it retreated and crossed the river at Williamsport.

  11. James D. Williams
    Sat 28th Dec 2013 at 3:43 am

    I have quoted your page on Boardgamegeek : under “Gettysburg 150” [the board game] further under “Jenkins Cavalry”. Thank You!

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