"…it should be remembered that during the Civil War there were periods when skirmishes, which would now be called battles, were of daily occurrence, and yet were considered so unimportant that, in many instances, they can only be traced by the casualty columns of the muster-rolls."
-- Lt. Col.W. H. Carter, Author, Historian and Soldier
"From Yorktown to Santiago with the Sixth U.S. Cavalry"
The 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment had its birth at the outbreak of the Civil War with its first action at Yorktown, Virginia in 1862. The Regiment fought in the Army of the Potomac under General Sheridan throughout the war, taking part in the eastern campaigns. Its most outstanding feats occurred at Williamsburg, Virginia, 1862, when it assaulted entrenched works, and at Fairfield, Pennsylvania, 1863. At Fairfield (not far from Gettysburg) the unit engaged two enemy brigades of J.E.B Stuart’s cavalry, completely neutralizing them and saving the supply trains of the Union Army, but in the process was literally cut to pieces.
The 6th Cavalry’s long and honorable service includes campaign participation credit in the Civil War for the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Shenandoah, and Appomattox; Virginia from 1862 to 1865; and finally, Maryland in 1863.
Following the end of the Civil War, the regiment was reorganized and
ordered into Texas to support aggressive Reconstruction efforts, fight
bands of desperados and outlaws, and put down Commanche uprisings.
The day after the lowering of the old flag at Ft. Sumter on April 14, 1861, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for three month’s service to "suppress insurrection". Virginia promptly seceded, claiming the President’s call for volunteers was an act of war against the seceded states. Virginia was quickly followed by Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina, and by May 20, 1861, eleven states were in armed, open rebellion. Kentucky declared "neutrality" on May 24th.
It had become apparent to the Lincoln Administration months before the First Battle of Bull Run was fought on July 21, 1861, that the war was likely to be much more than a brief insurrection, and on May 3, 1861, the President issued a proclamation which directed the "addition to the regular establishment of one regiment of cavalry, one of artillery, and eight of infantry". This greatly underestimated the eventual requirements. Within four years the North found it necessary to put into service 272 regiments of cavalry, 232 batteries of artillery, and 1,096 regiments of infantry, numbering more than two million men!
The Regiment Organizes and Prepares for Combat
On May 4, General Order No. 16, Adjutant General’s Office, was published and prescribed the plan of organization for the "new regiments" requested by President Lincoln.. The new cavalry regiment was to be composed of three battalions, each battalion of two squadrons, and each squadron of two companies. (Note: The Act of July 17, 1862, would later change the designation of "company" to "troop", and this remained in force until June 20, 1873 when the "company" designation was reinstated for use in official orders and communications until May, 1881, when the Secretary of War directed that the legal designation "troop" should again be used.) The order also provided that two-thirds of the company officers should be appointed "in the manner as officers of like rank in the then existing army", and the remaining one-third should be "taken from among the sergeants, on the recommendation of the colonel of the regiment, approved by the general commanding the brigade".
Initially organized as the Third Regiment of Cavalry on June 18, 1861, with headquarters at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the unit was redesignated as the "6th Cavalry" by General Order No. 55, Adjutant General’s Office, on August 10, 1861. Regimental Orders No. 1, August 15, 1861 assigned twelve companies to six squadrons and officers to each of its companies, all under the command of Lt. Colonel William H. Emory who was formerly of the 1st Cavalry (old army). Recruiting was immediately begun in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Western New York.
The regiment was recruited just as volunteer regiments were raised, except that there was no election of officers. There were a number of officers and sergeants selected from the old army who were familiar with the drill, traditions and customs of the mounted service on the western frontier.
On September 12th, 1861, the regiment mustered 607 men and was moved on that date to Bladensburg, Maryland, where it was mounted during the following month. The Regiment remained in camp at Bladensburg until October 12, 1861, when companies B, D, E, F, G, H, I, and K were marched to the Camp of Instruction east of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. Company "A" recruits arrived and were immediately organized on October 15th.
As soon as the regiment was established in the new camp, instruction was undertaken in earnest, and before the end of October the companies were ordered to appear "in full marching order" at drills. During the autumn, quarters and stables were commenced, and by the end of December, men and horses were comfortably housed. Throughout the winter the drills and other routine work of camp were kept up regardless of weather. Drills by brigade and regiment frequently took place in the rain, and the mud about the barracks and stables was often half knee deep to a horse.
The Regimental Band and Company "M" organizations were completed on November 1st. Company "C" cadre were not organized until December 23rd, owing to the absence of all the officers. (Note: "C" company, while being on the eve of organization several times, when the recruits were taken to fill out other companies, would not actually be organized until October 25, 1862, joining the regiment at Knoxville, Maryland. Company "L" was subsequently organized at the old camp in Washington, but did not join the regiment until July 13, 1862, at Westover, near Harrison’s Landing, VA, after the Seven Days’ battles.)
The entire regiment (except for "B" and "H" companies, who comprised the flanking squadron) was equipped as light cavalry with pistols and sabers only, and this remained the case until late in the war. The large number of volunteers being organized by the Union Army made it impossible to obtain carbines at this time. This was in contrast to the regiment’s Confederate counterparts who most always wielded superior numbers of carbines, rifles and shotguns throughout most of the war. A limited number of carbines were finally secured for the two flanking companies in early March, 1862, just days before the regiment was to take to the field as part of the Peninsula Campaign.
Other shortages in needful equipment plagued 6th Cavalry units, who endured shortages of, among other items, pantaloons, pistol cartridges, and saddle blankets. Owing to a lively bounty system, enlisted recruits were still easily obtained during this early period, but the absence of officers at the active combat unit level (many were rapidly "promoted upstairs") soon became a source of complaint which continued throughout the war. Lt. Colonel Emory commented on this subject in a letter dated January 17th, 1862, as follows:
"The unremitted instruction given this regiment is all in vain
without the presence of officers to retain and enforce the instruction.
A few tours of detached service or inclement weather interfering with the
exercises effaces the labors of a month.
The best old cavalry requires more officers in proportion to the men than are with this, a regiment of a few months’ standing. Without proper officers, no effort can make good cavalry, and all military authorities agree that bad cavalry is worse than useless.
It is not only the positive inconvenience resulting from the absence of these officers, but it is the discontent fastened in the minds of those left behind, who are equally desirous of obtaining high commands in the volunteer forces."
The Regiment continued in the camp at Washington until March 10, 1862, pulling its share of details for provost-guard duty in the city and bringing the thousand men then in the ranks up to the "old army" standard. Well-trained and fully-equipped, it was finally ready to enter the field of battle, where it would remain for more than three years, participating in all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, returning to Washington only in time for the Grand Review at the close of the war.
The Regiment Takes To the Field
On March 10, 1862, the 6th Cavalry Regiment, comprising 10 mounted companies, "A" through "K" (Companies "C" and "L" were still being formed), now 1,000 strong, abandoned winter quarters and marched in column of platoons down Pennsylvania Avenue and across Long Bridge to Fairfax Court House. Here it was assigned to General P. St. George Cooke’s command, and camped for the first time in the open field.
Eager for action, and an opportunity to prove itself, the unit vigorously conducted reconnaissance in and around Centreville and Manassas Junction, at one point driving in some Confederate Pickets, but otherwise unable to find any real action. On the 15th the regiment returned and occupied the abandoned Confederate huts at Manassas, observed a number of abandoned Confederate "Quaker" guns nearby, and next day built a bridge at Blackburn’s Ford on Bull Run, crossing and marching back to Fairfax Courthouse without incident.
On March 18th, the regiment marched to Alexandria and encamped near
the Seminary until the 27th, when it was embarked on transports for Fort
Monroe under command of Major L. A. Williams (Lt. Col. Emory, having been
promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and assigned to command the
First Brigade, Cavalry Reserve, to which the 6th belonged).
Major Lawrence Williams was an officer of the old army, promoted by selection from captain, Tenth Infantry, to be Major of the Sixth Cavalry. Interestingly, Maj. Williams was a kinsman of the Lees, a problem that soon led to his arrest outside the lines before the 1st Cavalry, for allegedly "attempting to communicate with the enemy", namely Mrs. Robert E. Lee and her daughter, who were present at nearby White House Landing, on/about May 15th. Confined to his tent and under armed guard, Lt. Col. Williams was quickly released by Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, after writing a letter calling for an immediate investigation of the matter to clear his name. He returned to command the Sixth on May 17th where he continued until becoming disabled on June 26th and remained absent sick until September 3, 1862. He was then placed on duty in New York City, at order of General Scott (who had been an admirer and friend of the Lees in the old army) where he continued until dismissed by order, March 11, 1863.
Though, in retrospect, there can be no reasonable doubt but that Major
Williams, having learned of Mrs. Lee’s presence at the White House, contemplated
a friendly visit, without any criminal motive whatsoever, his purported
conduct on this occasion was never completely overlooked. (Note: In an
attempt to no doubt help clear his kinsman’s name after the war concerning
this matter, General Fitzhugh Lee claimed to have taken a pistol shot at
Lt. Col Williams before Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign as Williams
approached Confederate lines at the head of a cavalry squadron, which veered
off and disappeared behind a portion of McClellan’s advance.)
The individual companies disembarked at Fort Monroe, and by March 30th all had gone into camp near Hampton, where the regiment remained until April 5th, when it moved to Big Bethel, and on the following day to within six miles of Yorktown. Heavy rains precluded offensive operations throughout April.
The Peninsula Campaign
On May 1, 1862, the Confederates abandoned their lines at Yorktown, and General Stoneman was sent forward early in the morning with four batteries of horse artillery and all available cavalry in pursuit, with orders to harass the enemy’s rear and cut off those forces which had taken the Lee’s Mill and Williamsburg roads. When the head of the column reached the road near the breastworks at Yorktown, several horses were killed by exploding torpedoes, sunk in the ground, set off by contact with the horses’ shoes.
About two miles from Williamsburg, General Cooke’s advance guard and the flankers encountered the rear guard of the enemy. Captain Savage’s squadron, Sixth Cavalry, was ordered to advance and charge, but the enemy retreated, leaving two wagons in flames, and a spiked howitzer.
When the head of the column reached a strip of swampy woods, the central battlefield of the next day, Captain Savage’s right flank platoon reported field works in front and to the right. General Cooke, having learned there was a forest road which turned the enemy’s left flank, ordered Major Williams with four large squadrons of the Sixth against the enemy’s left, while Gibson’s battery was brought into action as rapidly as the deep mud would permit, to reply to the fire which had opened on the head of the column from Fort Magruder. While the regiment was making its way to attack the enemy’s left, Magruder’s squadron of the First, and Savage’s squadron of the Sixth Cavalry, charged the enemy close up to the works, and later charged again to save some of the guns when their capture appeared imminent. Joseph Kerin, Sixth Cavalry, who was with Savage’s flankers, captured a Confederate Captain at this time.
What subsequently took place may be best shown by quoting Major Williams’ report:
"I was ordered to make a detour through the woods and take a battery on the enemy’s extreme left flank I accordingly proceeded with the Sixth Cavalry through the woods indicated, and after going about half a mile at a trot, debouched upon an open but undulating ground in front of the enemy’s line of fortifications. The ground was very heavy, and between the woods and the fieldworks there was a deep ravine only passable by file. The ravine was about equidistant from the woods and the works. It was passed, and the regiment formed about 100 yards from the fortifications. Lieutenant Madden with a platoon was sent to reconnoitre the gorge. This was during the time its occupants were engaged with Gibson’s Battery in front. Lieutenant Madden reported that the ditch and rampart would have to be surmounted before we could effect an entrance, and also that infantry was approaching on the near side of the wood which skirted the back of the fort. I saw three regiments advancing in line; our position was critical, equally exposed to the guns of the fort and the advancing infantry. I determined to retire. Four of the squadrons and a portion of the fifth had already passed the ravine (it was belly deep to the horses in mud), when two squadrons of rebel cavalry rushed from the barracks in rear of the fort, and endeavored to cut off Captain Sanders’ company. Captain Sanders wheeled his company about, charged and repelled the enemy with great gallantry. I cannot speak too highly of the officers and men on this occasion. Though every one felt that that few would survive if the guns of the fort were turned upon us, not one showed the slightest concern. Captain Sanders showed great prudence and bravery in the timely manner in which he met the enemy, though taken at a disadvantage by superior numbers. I regret to report that Lt. McLellan was wounded in the leg by a shell while engaged."
During the action, some of Sanders’ men were unhorsed in the deep mud of the ravine, by the plunging and falling of wounded horses, and were captured and taken to the rear before the counter-charge drove the enemy back. These were the first losses of the regiment by capture. The prisoners were marched to an old tobacco warehouse in Richmond and subsequently sent to Salisbury, North Carolina, for confinement. After a brief imprisonment, they were paroled, sent to Washington, North Carolina, and thence delivered to the Union fleet. They embarked on the "Virginia," and after inspection by General Burnside at Newbern, they sailed for New York, and subsequently rejoined the regiment.
On May 7, the regiment left Williamsburg in pursuit of the enemy, and after a march of about five miles, overtook the rear guard, with which the carbine squadron composed of "B" and "H" companies, became engaged. After a brief but lively skirmish the enemy withdrew. Nine men of the Sixth were wounded in this affair and were left to be cared for in houses in the vicinity (a common practice during the war).
The pursuit was continued, and on May 9, the advance reached Slatersville about 3 p.m., shortly after which a part of Captain Lowell’s squadron consisting of 55 men, and Captain Sanders’ company of 32 men were ordered to attack a Confederate detachment of about 20 cavalrymen located near the town. In so doing, they encountered heavy fire from some nearby buildings toward which the Confederates retreated, and were themselves attacked by a squadron of Confederate cavalry who surprised them by striking their left as they emerged from a woods. Captain Sanders’ company, though greatly outnumbered, boldly counter-charged, and threw the advancing Confederate squadron into confusion, causing it to retreat. When suddenly attacked by yet another squadron of the enemy advancing rapidly upon him, Captain Sanders rallied his small company, wheeled about, and charged this second Confederate unit, throwing it into confusion and compelling a retreat. Taking advantage of the disruption caused by Captain Sanders’ company, the other Sixth Cavalry companies extracted themselves from the town and joined Sanders in a withdrawal before the enemy had recovered sufficiently to recognize the smallness of the force opposed to them. The loss in this sharp action was just four killed, eight wounded and three missing.
The regiment had exhibited confidence and courage in the face of superior numbers and was able to withdraw after it was discovered that the supposed small detachment of the enemy had suddenly grown to several squadrons backed up by infantry.
The Confederates continued their retreat and the regiment remained in close proximity to the rear guard on May 10 and 11; fighting a sharp engagement on May 11th that lasted nearly two hours at New Kent Courthouse, until the enemy withdrew. The regiment then pushed on to Cumberland Landing on the Pamunkey River.
On May 12th the regiment reached White House Landing, and continued movement to Dr. Macon’s House on the 14th, from which place "B" and "H" companies were sent on May 15th to scout in the direction of Hanover Court House. The advance guard captured 75 mules and three six-mule teams from Winder’s Confederate Brigade at Hawe’s Shop, and the companies rejoined the regiment that same night.
Following resolution of the alleged "Lt. Col. Williams’ attempt to communicate" incident discussed earlier, the regiment moved to Cold Harbor on May 18th , and on May 20th , "A" and "M" companies were sent on a reconnaissance to New Bridge on the Chickahominy River, where an engagement took place in which "A" company lost a corporal, killed, and two men wounded. On May 21st the regiment marched to Gaine’s Mill and on the 24th to Mechanicsville, where it was engaged with the enemy for about three hours. At the close of the action, the regiment was sent on picket duty at Shady Grove and Bethesda Church.
At 7 a.m. on May 25th the regiment began moving in the direction of Hanover Court House, and at noon came in contact with the enemy at Winston’s Farm where it acted in support of Benson’s Battery, losing one man and two horses wounded. The regiment pressed the enemy as he retreated in the direction of Hanover Court House forcing him through that area until recalled to resist an attack from the rear, which having been accomplished, the regiment camped for the night on the battlefield.
The regiment burned two railroad bridges spanning the South Anna river on the same day, May 28th, returning thereafter, as ordered, to Cold Harbor, where it arrived shortly after midnight. The regiment would continue to occupy the camp at Cold Harbor for some time performing picket and scouting duty in the vicinity of Atlee and Old Church, and making frequent reconnaissances to Ashland and Hanover Court House.
On June 2, Captain Kautz proceeded with his squadron and two squadrons of Rush’s Lancers (6th Pennsylvania Cavalry) on an expedition to Wormley’s Ferry, on the Pamunkey, swimming the river at night, capturing Doctor Wormley (an active southern sympathizer and collaborator) and destroying a sloop and a number of smaller boats concealed there, their exact locations having been volunteered by slaves in the area.
The regiment had now been undergoing such constant marching and fighting, all the way from Yorktown, that the horses were rapidly becoming unserviceable from exhaustion and the poor condition of their feet. There was a scarcity of horseshoes and nails, little or no coal, and although the companies had three forges, there was only one anvil amongst them.
The regimental return of February 28th shows that 28 officers and 953 men were present for duty, and the return for May, made at camp, eight miles from Richmond, Virginia, shows 24 officers and 670 men. The difference represents the loss (killed, wounded, captured, etc.) resulting from the exhaustive operations of the cavalry in advance of the Army of the Potomac, which was confronted on all sides by a well-led, active and alert enemy.
On June 13, General J.E.B Stuart (who was also General Cooke’s son-in-law) began his celebrated raid to the rear of the Army of the Potomac, and the 6th Cavalry regiment actively participated in the futile attempts to capture and destroy Gen. Stuart’s elusive command. In a frustrating series of misfortunes and just plain bad luck, the regiment narrowly missed intercepting Stuart’s advance column at Hanover Court House and, despite having subsequently determined the exact direction and whereabouts of Stuart’s column, was ordered by General Cooke to "hold its position, scour the roads and collect information". This was done, while Stuart went almost unmolested on his rapid march.
During the operations around Richmond, June 25 to July 2, 1862, known
as the Seven Days’ Battles, the Sixth Cavalry was detached from the Reserve
Brigade for duty with General Stoneman, and Gregg’s squadron (6th Cavalry)
was on the extreme right when
the action opened. General Cooke personally commanded the cavalry which formed the extreme rear guard, and really saved Fitz John Porter’s batteries, which had been left without support at Gaines’ Mill.
The regiment moved from Cold Harbor to Hanover Court House on June 25, and the next day to Tunstall’s Station. It subsequently participated in the successful defense of a key ford on the Black River in the vicinity of the White House Landing depot against marauding Confederate Cavalry trying to force a crossing. Along with but a section of artillery, elements of the Sixth Cavalry defended the position until after dark on the 26th, when the torch was applied to such stores as could not be moved. The regiment then withdrew, acting as rear guard. It marched all night, arriving at Williamsburg about 8 a.m. on the 27th, and on the following day continued on to Yorktown.
On July 2, camp was moved to a point near Hampton where the regiment embarked on July 7 at Fort Monroe for Harrison’s Landing on the James river, ultimately camping at Westover, a famous old Virginia estate, where it remained until August 4, employed in picketing the extreme left toward Haxall’s. The regiment, now joined by company "L", formed a part of General Pleasanton’s Brigade of General Hooker’s command, and had, as usual, the advance of the reconnaissance in force to Malvern Hill, where it participated in the action of August 5th, losing four men killed and a number of wounded and prisoners.
The regiment next acted as rear guard returning to Haxall’s Landing and remaining outside the works, forming part of the grand guard, under General Pleasanton, and picketing towards Malvern Hill and Richmond while the Army of the Potomac was evacuated. Along with the First Cavalry and Robertson’s and Benson’s horse batteries, the Sixth Cavalry was forced to occupy a line of about 15 miles, with pickets and scouts covering all the roads leading to Harrison’s Landing until evacuation was completed on August 18th. The regiment then marched as the rear guard of the army through Charles City Court House, and on the following day reached Chickahominy, arriving at Yorktown on the evening of the 20th, and remaining there until the last day of the month, when it embarked on transports for Alexandria, Virginia. This concluded the Peninsula Campaign.
In its first brief but arduous campaign, the Sixth Cavalry had won the right to emblazon upon its standard the names of ten engagements in which it had participated with honor. Losses had begun to thin the ranks, but the experience already gained by those remaining would make them important factors in solving the difficult problems which would confront the Army of the Potomac during the next three years.
The Maryland Campaign
The evacuation of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula had been necessary in order to prepare for defense of the capitol, which was now menaced by a victorious enemy marching into Maryland., thereby threatening both Washington and Baltimore, as well as Pennsylvania.
The Sixth Cavalry reached Alexandria, Virginia on September 1st, 1862, and as soon as the weary men and horses could be disembarked, they were placed in camp near Fort Albany, where the precious hours were spent preparing for the coming conflict with Stuart’s cavalry, which had already advanced to Fairfax Court House.
Part of the regiment was detached to Dranesville, under General Sigel, and the remainder advanced to Falls Church, where the enemy’s cavalry outposts were encountered. The regiment lost one man killed and three wounded in the short engagement. Elements of the Sixth Cavalry were involved in a number of smaller skirmishes for the next two weeks while probing Confederate lines, guarding fords on the Potomac, picketing roads, and scouting. Elements of the regiment, reinforced by two guns, tried unsuccessfully to dislodge Confederates defending Sugar Loaf Mountain on the 10th, the same day that Stuart crossed the Potomac at McCoy’s Ferry on his nine-day raid into Maryland an Pennsylvania. Some 6th Cavalry elements marched 78 miles in a 24-hour period in an effort to bring Stuart to battle before he slipped back into Virginia under Pleasanton’s guns at White’s Ford.
The regiment operated for a time with Franklin’s Corps. The Battle of South Mountain took place on September 14th, and Antietam on the 16th. While the Sixth Cavalry had no conspicuous part in either main battle, it was constantly striking the enemy’s outposts during the entire campaign, driving them in with loss to itself as well as the enemy. General Pleasanton, in making his report on the operations resulting in driving Lee’s Army back into Virginia said:
"The services of this division (cavalry) from the 4th of September up to the 19th were of the most constant and arduous character. For fifteen consecutive days we were in contact with the enemy, and each day conflicts of some kind were maintained, in which we gradually, but steadily advanced. The officers and men have exerted themselves to insure the success of every expedition and these efforts have been fortunate…"
After much scouting and reconnaissance duty, the Sixth Regiment arrived at Sharpsburg on the evening of the 21st, where carbines, which had been repeatedly asked for during the preceding year, were at last obtained. Up to this time the regiment, excepting one squadron ("B" and "H" Flanking Companies), had been equipped with pistols and sabers upon the European Model of light cavalry.
The regiment marched by way of Knoxville, Maryland, to Harper’s Ferry,
where Lee had recently captured the garrison of about 10,000 men, and arrived
at Bolivar Heights September 23rd. After
a brief respite, the regiment conducted operations in and around Charlestown, Virginia, from September 25th to October 8th, capturing a number of the enemy’s pickets.
The regiment subsequently returned to the camp at Knoxville, where it was joined by the newly organized "C" company, which had not yet received equipments or horses, on October 25th. The regiment was again on the march the next day, leaving the men of Company "C" behind with other dismounted men, over three hundred in all. On October 27th , the advanced guard for companies A, E, K, and M, detached for picket duty at Hillsboro, were attacked by a squad of Confederate cavalry while they entered the town, and a corporal of "E" company was captured when his horse fell in the street. The enemy was promptly driven from the town which was then occupied by the two squadrons until the 31st, when they joined the regiment at Purcellville to which place it had advanced.
The brief time which had elapsed since disembarking at Alexandria had been taken up with hard marching, screening, scouting and picket duty – purely cavalry work, but involving much hardship, constant activity, courage and quick judgment.
At the muster of October 31st, there were present 19 officers and 510 men. (It will be recalled that the regiment embarked for the Peninsula Campaign the previous April, 1,000 strong.)
On to Fredericksburg
Lee’s having withdrawn from the vicinity of Antietam, the pursuit was taken up by a portion of the Army of the Potomac. General McClellan believed that the army was in no state to more aggressively follow-up the victory of of Antietam, needing supplies of all kinds, and his cavalry requiring remounting. Supplies and animals were forwarded with all haste possible, but many of the horses were in no condition for active work against Stuart’s cavalry. (Note: In one instance, a lot of horses for remounts had been kept on the cars for fifty hours without water or forage, before delivery to the cavalry.) But President Lincoln was not persuaded by General McClellan’s arguments for missing an opportunity to utterly destroy Lee’s Army, and Maj.General McClellan soon relinquished command of the army.
Meanwhile, operations of the Cavalry Division continued, and in early November, the regiment moving by way of Philamont, Uniontown and Upperville, participating in several minor mounted and dismounted actions. While at Little Washington on November 10th, the Confederate cavalry attacked and drove in the Union pickets there and the regiment immediately helped repulse the enemy and re-establish the line.
The regiment marched by way of Waterloo, Liverpool and Warrenton to arrive at Sulphur Springs on November 17th, where it picketed the ford of the Rappahannock river near that village.
During the withdrawal of Pleasanton’s division from Sulphur Springs on November 18th, the enemy opened with a battery on the rear guard, composed of the Sixth and a section of Pennington’s battery. The section replied, and the Confederates crossed two squadrons which were driven off, and the march of the rear guard resumed.
Moving by Falmouth (20th) to Belle Plain (24th), the regiment was assigned the duty of picketing the fords on the Rappahannock, which was continued until December 12th, when, at daylight, the regiment marched to the Philips House, near Fredericksburg, to participate in the battle about to begin on that historic field.
The Union army had already begun crossing below Fredericksburg and construction on the pontoon bridge was completed about noon on the 12th. At approximately 3 p.m., Lt. J.F. Wade’s squadron composed of "D" and "K" companies (6th Cavalry) was ordered to cross and make a reconnaissance of the enemy’s works.
The squadron rode through town and out into the open country at the foot of Marye’s Heights and the adjoining ridges. The advance guard, well to the front, was allowed to approach the Confederate position from which the main infantry strength of the Army of the Potomac was soon to recoil in defeat.
When the squadron had approached dangerously close, the Confederate artillery opened. The advanced guard turned to the right, and moving rapidly along the lines, drew heavy infantry fire from the base of the Heights. It was evident that no further reconnaissance of this position was possible with this single squadron, which, although in rapid motion, suffered within a few minutes a loss of two men and eight horses wounded.
The squadron retired in good order, under fire, and recrossed the bridge. The result of the reconnaissance was communicated to General Burnside, who pushed out the infantry skirmish lines beyond the town while massing the army on the Fredericksburg side of the river.
During the fierce infantry and artillery fight which followed, the 6th Cavalry regiment was posted on the opposite side of the river, above and to the rear of Falmouth, in support of the batteries guarding that flank. During the evening of December 13th it was withdrawn and went into camp about two miles from Falmouth, where it remained throughout the winter and until April 13th, 1863.
During these four months, the cavalry performed increasingly disagreeable
picket duty along the Rappahannock, the Sixth having the posts at the United
States, Richard’s and Banks’ Fords above, and at Corbin’s Neck, below Fredericksburg.
The distance was so great from camp that these details remained out a week
at a time, often foregoing regular provision of food and fodder. The duty
was not only very trying and disagreeable for the men, but was ruinous
for the horses. Regimental morale seemed so low, that its commanding officers
recognized that it must be built up and encouraged. Captains Sanders and
Cram finally concluded, on the march from Maryland, that the regiment was
not being accorded fair treatment, and addressed to the Adjutant General,
Army of the Potomac, several letters similar in tone to the following:
Headquarters 6th Cavalry
Camp at Upperville, Virginia, November 4th, 1862
GENERAL: -- I have the honor to request that, in
justice to my regiment, the 6th U.S. Cavalry be relieved from duty with
General Pleasanton’s Brigade.
General Pleasanton now has three officers from my regiment on his staff, one company and its officers as provost marshal, and almost every detail of men is made from this regiment. I am willing to go on any duty where the regiment will be justly treated. I have also the honor to request that some of the officers and men on duty at brigade headquarters be relieved.
Your obedient servant,
Captain, 6th U.S. Cavalry, Commanding."
From a number of letters written about this time on the subject of excessive
picket duty, the following has been selected to illustrate picket duty
on the Rappahannock from the trooper’s point of view:
Banks of the Rappahannock, Virginia, Sunday Morning
DEAR MOTHER: -- Being very hard off for paper and ink and something
to write on, I take one-half of the sheet of paper you sent me and sit
down to answer your welcome letter which I received this morning.
At present I am on picket duty, only a short distance across the river from the Rebel pickets. We are in sight of each other. I am writing this on the butt of my carbine. There is another man on post with me; he is a Scotchman. He keeps me in good humor all the time telling stories. He is talking to the Secesh all the time. They ask him to what regiment he belonged. He told them he was the 1st Dublin. We don’t fire at one another unless someone attempts to cross the river. The weather is very pleasant at present, but the nights are cold. We get along very well. We have a fire to warm ourselves. I like to stand picket in good weather; but it is very nasty work in bad weather. We are going to have a good dinner. One of the boys has killed a hog, so we will have pork steaks to-day. We get plenty of corn cakes from the farmers. We have to stop out here eight days. We are out six now.
There are a great many stories afloat. Sometimes we hear that the army is going to the west, and at other times we hear that we are going to the Peninsula again. We do not know where we are going. Time will tell. I wish the war was at an end. As soon as the war is over I shall quit the service for good and settle down.
* * * * * * * * *
Your affectionate son,
Company M, 6th U.S. Cavalry
The true uses of cavalry and its capabilities when properly handled were apparently not understood up to this time by any one powerful enough to rectify abuses and stop the enormous waste of horses. In the early part of the war subordinate generals were often seen with so-called "body guards" of cavalry, and the strength of fine organizations was frittered away with unnecessary details. The extracts given from the regimental records show how useless it was for junior commanders, who understood the use of cavalry, to seek justice for their organizations. While the cavalry had exhibited magnificent fighting qualities on various fields, it remained later for Sheridan with his determination and strong will to force the cavalry corps into its true position, relative to the remainder of the Army of the Potomac.
While at Falmouth, every effort was made to drill and equip the regiment while in camp. The drilling was necessarily confined to those not on outpost duty, and the exposure and hard work prevented the horses from improving very fast. Nevertheless, when "boots and saddles" sounded on April 13, 1863, the regiment turned out 661 men mounted and equipped for the controversial expedition known as "Stoneman’s Raid". This operation, which lasted from April 29th until May 7th, was typified by heavy downpours, swollen streams, desolate country, short rations, and minimal results. It may be unrivaled in the annals of war for discomfort and hardship, considering the time consumed. In addition, the "raid" deprived the Army of the Potomac of Stoneman and the cavalry during the battle of Chancellorsville fought during their absence, a battle that brought the Union Army under Hooker to the verge of ruin.
Arriving at Hartwood Church on May 13th, the regiment camped there until the 18th, picketing Richard’s and United States Fords. While at the camp, Captain G. C. Cram, now the regimental commander, accompanied by Assistant Surgeon W. H. Forwood and two orderlies, rode to General Buford’s headquarters, about a mile and a half distant. Towards evening they started back to camp, and while passing along a country road, were suddenly surrounded and compelled to surrender by about thirty of Mosby’s guerrillas, under Lt. Fairchild. The captors mounted and conducted their prisoners through the forest to a house, which appeared to be their headquarters. Here Captain Cram and the enlisted men were released on parole, after being deprived of their horses and equipments, and started back to camp. The Assistant Surgeon (who, as a medical officer, had the right to be released without parole) refused to sign the parole, and was turned over to a guard detail to be taken to some interior point as a prisoner of war. He escaped through the brush while being marched away, and later rejoined the regiment.
On May 18th the regiment marched to Brooks’ station. Captain Cram having been exchanged, reported and resumed command on June 2nd.
It was while at Brooks’ Station that Colonel Dahlgren, then an aide-de-camp,
contempla-ted his celebrated expedition to Richmond (to free prisoners
there), and actually proposed to the commanding general to undertake it
with the Sixth Cavalry alone.
Note: Colonel Dahlgren’s proposition was not accepted, but some months
later, Col. Dahlgren was authorized to proceed. The Sixth was not detailed,
but Col. Dahlgren was allowed to accept a small detachment, under Sergeant
James R. Wood, for duty as scouts. The regiment had been on all the cavalry
raids of the Army of the Potomac, and the men, generally, were familiar
with the country in an around Richmond. After successfully leading a detachment
across the Rapidan, Sergeant Wood and one of his men were sent by Col.
Dahlgren to open communication with General Kilpatrick who was conducting
artillery support operations on the opposite side of Richmond. Sergeant
Wood was captured and his companion killed by a party of Confederate cavalrymen
on the Brook Turnpike. The sergeant was sent to Libby Prison, where he
was soon joined by others, captured when Colonel Dahlgren was killed. Wood
later cleverly effected his escape, succeeded in passing through the Confederate
lines, and rejoined the army. Some of the others were held as prisoners
until the end of the war.
On June 8th, five squadrons of the Sixth moved with the cavalry corps against Stuart’s cavalry camp by way of Beverly Ford, crossing the Rappahannock on June 9th and taking a gallant part in the great cavalry battle that day, working closely with the 2nd U.S. and Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry in support of Elder’s Horse Artillery. The Sixth distinguished itself in this hotly contested battle which raged for about 13 hours in the forests and clearings bordering on the Rappahannock. Four of its twelve officers that went into action were lost: Lt. Ward, killed; Lieutenant Stoll, missing and presumed dead; Lieutenant Madden, severely wounded; and Lieutenant Kerin, taken prisoner. Out of 254 enlisted men actually engaged, seven were killed outright, 25 were severely wounded, and 31 were disabled or missing, making an aggregate loss of 67 officers and men.
The officers had fought gallantly, and the men showed not only an unflinching readiness to follow their officers in every charge, but when, through losses in battle, three companies were left without officers, the sergeants gallantly led them in the fray, which, throughout, was a giant test of strength between the cavalry corps of the two armies.
Until the Battle of Beverly Ford took place, Stuart’s cavalry divisions
had held those of the Army of the Potomac in great contempt so far as mounted
fighting was concerned. Now, the Federal cavalry had boldly crossed the
river, captured Stuart’s headquarters, developed Lee’s intended march to
the north, and had fearlessly engaged the enemy, fighting mounted or dismounted
as the immediate occasion demanded. The corps was withdrawn only upon the
approach of Lee’s heavy columns of infantry, and after the object of the
crossing had been effected.
Note: For many months, Lieutenant Ward was rumored to be a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. He was seen by a sergeant to fall, shot through the breast, but still alive. The day after the battle the enemy gave notice that an officer of the Sixth Cavalry had been killed in the charge. He was carried on the rolls as a prisoner, notwithstanding the officers of the regiment, held in Libby Prison, had sent word that he had never been with them. During January, 1864, when the cavalry was again camped at the scene of the battle on June 9th, 1863, a citizen nearby recognized the insignia of the regiment and reported that an officer had been buried in the vicinity. General Pleasanton’s headquarters were then camped on the hill over which the regiment had charged. There was no difficulty in finding the spot where Lieutenant Ward was seen to fall, and, with the assistance of the farmer, the grave was readily located and the body disinterred.
Lieutenant Kerin, who had been captured and later confined at Libby
Prison following the battle was one of those who later got out by means
of a tunnel through which a number of officers escaped from captivity.
The Gettysburg Campaign
Major Starr, who had been promoted from the 2nd Cavalry, reported on June 10th and assumed command of the Sixth Cavalry, no field officer having been present for duty since Major Williams left the regiment a year prior to this time.
The regiment moved to Catlett’s Station, and the next day to Thoroughfare Gap, where Lt. Wade’s squadron, composed of "D" and "K" companies was detached as provost guard for the headquarters of the Cavalry Corps. The remainder of the regiment went on picket until June 15th when it marched to Manassas Junction, and on the following day to Bull Run bridge.
In the days and weeks leading up to the climactic battle of Gettysburg, the Sixth was kept in constant contact with the enemy, and participated in many fights, the first of which occurred at Benton’s Mills on June 17th, while on the march from Aldie, on the road leading to Middelburg. The regiment joined General Gregg’s command on the 21st and participated in a running fight in which nearly all the cavalry of both armies engaged throughout the day between Middleburg and Upperville.
The regiment returned to Aldie on the 22nd, and on the 26th marched to Leesburg, and thence across the Potomac at Edwards’ Ferry and the mouth of the Monocacy, and went into camp on the 27th near Point of Rocks, Maryland. On the 29th, Middletown was reached, and here General Merritt assumed command of the brigade, relieving Major Starr, who resumed command of the Sixth regiment. The march was continued to Frederick and Mechanicstown, where the regiment remained until July 2nd, when it was marched to Emmitsburg.
While General Buford’s division battled with the head of Lee’s invading column near Gettysburg on July 1st and 2nd, General Merritt ordered the regiment to Fairfield, Pennsylvania, on the road leading to Gettysburg from the northwest, to capture a wagon train, the rest of the brigade moving toward Gettysburg by way of Farmington.
As they moved toward Fairfield, no one new that red-letter day in the history of the 6th Cavalry regiment had arrived; for, after leaving the bivouac, and being detached from the main column, they were to go down to defeat against overwhelming odds, but without dishonor.
The regiment reached Fairfield at noon, detaching two troops to proceed along the base of the mountain, the rest of the regiment keeping the road to Gettysburg. About a mile from Fairfield, the enemy’s pickets were encountered and driven back to their supports. A squadron of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry came up and was driven back to forks of the road from which their main body could be seen, consisting of about four regiments of cavalry. Clue’s Virginia battery opened on the regiment as soon as the wreck of the Seventh Virginia cleared the way. The regiment was close enough to hear the command, "Draw sabers!" of the enemy, as they were formed for the charge.
The two advance squadrons of the Sixth were in between post and rail fences, and could not form line or join those in the fields before they were charged by the Sixth Virginia Cavalry, supported by the Confederate brigades under Generals Robertson and Jones. Caught in such a trap, the men remained firm, firing and inflicting severe loss on the advancing column, until literally ridden down. Some escaped to the fields and made for the town, but the Confederates got there first. Lt. Balder, who was ordered to surrender, called on a few men near him to follow, and had nearly cut his way out, when he fell mortally wounded. The squadron which was on the road near the mountain was also overpowered and hurled back.
The regiment lost Lt. Balder, killed; Major Starr and Lieutenants Tucker, Wood and Chaffee, wounded; Captain Cram, Lieutenants Bould and Paulding, and surgeons Forwood and Notson, captured. The loss of men was 232 killed, wounded and captured, out of a total of less than 400. Lt. Bould later managed to escape and Captain Cram was paroled.
At the moment when the charging column of the enemy encountered the head of the regiment, the standard-bearer was shot dead. As the Confederates were about to seize the standard, some of the Sixth cavalrymen charged into the melee. Sgt. George C. Platt rescued the standard and, sticking close to the fence, put spurs to his horse, dashed past the enemy and escaped. The slashed and torn emblem, for which so many men had fought and died, remained in the hands of the gallant little remnant who had followed it on many hotly contested fields. Sergeant Platt was later awarded a medal of honor for his distinguished bravery.
The fight made at Fairfield by this small regiment against two of the crack brigades of Stuart’s cavalry, which were endeavoring to get around the flank the Union army to attack the trains, was one of the most gallant in its history and no doubt helped influence the outcome the battleof Gettysburg. The efforts of these rebel brigades were frustrated and their entire strength neutralized for the day by the fierce onslaught of the small squadrons. The regiment was cut to pieces, but it fought so well that the squadrons were regarded as the advance of a large body of troops. The senior officer of those brigades was later adversely criticized for allowing his command to be delayed by such an inferior force. Had the regiment not made the desperate stand, the two brigades of Virginians might have caused grave injury in the Federal rear, before sufficient force could have been gathered in their front.
The small portion of the regiment which escaped retreated to Emmitsburg, joined the brigade the next day near Gettysburg, and proceeded to Frederick, Maryland, July 5th, and to South Mountain and Williamsport July 6th, participating in an engagement with the loss of one sergeant killed.
While making a reconnaissance to Funkstown, July 7th, the remnant of the regiment became heavily engaged with superior numbers (Seventh Virginia Cavalry) and lost Captain Claflin severely wounded, and 85 men killed, wounded and missing. Confederate General Jones, later writing his report of the Gettysburg campaign, said of this action:
"The evening of the 7th, the Sixth U.S. Regular Cavalry, making a reconnaissance near Funkstown, fell in with the Seventh Virginia Cavalry, which availed itself of the opportunity of settling old scores. Sabers were freely used. The day at Fairfield is nobly and fully avenged. The Sixth U.S. Regular Cavalry numbers among the things that were."
The regiment had now lost all but a few officers and men and was ordered, July 11th, to report for duty at the headquarters of the cavalry corps. The march was resumed over the familiar ground to Berlin, and again into Virginia, where the regiment was destined to remain until the color’s of Lee’s brave Army of Northern Virginia were lowered forever.
Several weeks later, the battered regiment was encamped near Germantown where it healed its wounds and accepted remounts and replacements. At the end of August, many new men had rejoined the regiment and eight officers and 460 men were again ready to take to the saddle against General Stuart’s cavalry.
The regiment remained in camp near Germantown until September 12th, when it marched across the Rappahannock to join in the attack on the Confederate cavalry at Brandy Station on the 14th, driving the enemy beyond Culpeper and across the Rapidan.
The regiment subsequently returned to camp at Culpeper where it remained until the Confederates forced the army to withdraw across the Rappahannock to Manassas on 11 October, the Sixth Cavalry regiment withdrawing back to Brandy Station where it took up a position on the right of the road, facing Culpeper. Pressed by skirmishers and an advancing cavalry column, the regiment found itself in an exposed position and in danger of being cut off. It fought its way out, however, and withdrew across the Rappahannock with the loss of Sergeant Ellsworth killed; Lt. Chaffee, Surgeon Forwood and one private wounded; and Privates Joseph and Shortel captured.
The regiment was subsequently involved in a series of light skirmishes with pickets in the vicinity of Warrenton, but took no losses, and on November 3rd the regiment marched back to Brandy Station, where it arrived on November 8th , and stayed until the 26th of November. The men were put to work building huts and stables for the winter. At the end of December, there were 13 officers and 615 men present.
The regiment remained in this cantonment for five months, performing its share of routine cavalry corps duty. Leaves were granted to many of the officers and men, and the unit was refurbished and trained. At the end of this period, the regiment was fully armed with Sharp’s carbines, Colt’s army revolvers, and light cavalry sabers. The animals suffered greatly during the winter from a shortage of hay.
With Sheridan to the End
General Sheridan assumed command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac on April 6th, 1864, and immediately set about having the cavalry relieved from much of the arduous and harassing picket duty, which had been forced upon that arm by General Meade and previous commanders.
The Sixth left winter quarters for the Wilderness on May 4th, 1864, and returned to Chancellorsville in time to accompany General Sheridan to Todd’s Tavern where, after a hotly contested fight on May 7th, Fitzhugh Lee’s and Hampton’s divisions were driven towards Spottsylvania Court House.
On May 8th, General Sheridan received the long coveted order to seek out and destroy Stuart’s Cavalry, and a raid toward Richmond commenced on the 9th. Realizing the danger, Stuart desperately sought to position himself between Sheridan’s cavalry and Richmond, and managed to take up a position at Yellow Tavern, just six miles from Richmond. On May 11th, a major engagement took place, resulting in the defeat of the Confederates and the death of their gallant and famous leader, J.E.B. Stuart. After Yellow Tavern, Stuart’s Corps ceased to exist, the cavalry divisions being assigned to duty under General Lee’s personal direction, but the Confederate cavalry was never again the same important factor which it had been in the past.
The regiment remained with Sheridan’s column until the 14th, when it was detached and ordered to Ft. Monroe to deliver dispatches and hurry along important supplies. The regiment marched to Williamsburg – a distance of 50 miles – the first day, and reached Ft. Monroe the following day, May 16th. It returned with the required supplies a week later, rejoining the army at Chesterfield Station on the 24th.
The Sixth then participated in the general advance of the Army of the Potomac on the Pamunkey, took part in a severe cavalry fight near Hawe’s Shop on the 28th, and pushed on to Cold Harbor, helping capture it on May 31st.
On June 7th, the regiment, with three days’ rations to last for five days, and two days’ grain on the saddles, left the White House Landing with General Sheridan on the Trevilian raid to cut the Virginia Central Railroad near Charlottesville. Continually skirmishing with the enemy until Trevilian Station was reached on the 11th, the advance precipitated a severe battle with Hampton’s and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry divisions, resulting in the rebels’ defeat. The raiders returned to the White House on June 13th, where they were rested and fed on the 14th. The regiment fought an engagement at Dabney’s Mills on the 29th, then returning to the vicinity of Light House Point where they camped and refitted for a month before accompanying General Sheridan, who had been ordered to report with his command to General Hancock for temporary duty. The regiment joined in the fighting at Deep Bottom on July 26th, recrossed the James River on July 30th, and went into camp at Prince George Court House.
General Sheridan was relieved from duty with the Army of the Potomac on August 1st, 1864, and assigned to the command of the Middle Military Division and the Department of the Shenandoah Valley. Company "L" of the Sixth Cavalry was detached and accompanied the general as his escort. The remaining companies of the regiment at eventually rejoined the cavalry corps at Berryville, via Light House Point, Geisboro Point (opposite Washington), Rockville, Frederick, Knoxville (Maryland), and Harper’s Ferry, arriving on August 19th. It remained encamped on the nearby Bolivar Heights until September 19th, when it joined in the battle of Winchester.
On the 20th, the regiment supported General Crook (Eighth Corps) in
the battle of Fisher’s Hill, it being the only available cavalry in the
action, until joined by elements of Devin’s Brigade who aided in the pursuit
of the retreating Confederates up the Shenandoah
Valley as far as Harrisonburg, the regiment arriving there on the 24th, where it remained for some days.
During the return march down the valley, everything in the shape of forage, wheat, corn, etc., was destroyed, and live stock driven along with the column, in order to deny their use as supplies for the Confederate Army. Following the decisive cavalry battle of "Tom’s Brook" fought on October 9th, the Sixth Cavalry proceeded to encamp with the Army near Cedar Creek on October 12th, where it remained until the Union forces were surprised on their left by an attack on the morning of October 19th at 4 a.m. which doubled back the whole Union line from left to right. The Confederates quickly occupied all the Union camps, while the troops reformed on the Sixth Corps, which, being less demoralized than the others, was stubbornly contesting the ground. The next several hours were spent resisting the enemy’s advance while establishing a line of defense about two miles to the rear of the Union’s first position on Cedar Creek. The Confederates remained in possession of the Union camps and all they contained until General Sheridan arrived on the field from Winchester around 3 p.m.
A general advance was ordered and the Confederates were routed with the loss of their captures of the morning, much of their own artillery, trains and 1500 prisoners. Captain Lowell of the Sixth Cavalry, who led the reserve brigade to the charge in this battle, was killed. The regiment camped that night on its old camp ground and remained there until mid-November, when it withdrew to Kernstown, three miles south of Winchester.
Early in December the regiment marched to Stephenson’s Station and formed a part of General Merritt’s command on his raid into Loudoun Valley, returning on the 10th. On December 19th, the regiment accompanied General Torbert’s command on the raid to Gordonsville, and returned December 31st, when it went into camp for the winter at Kernstown. The weather was intensely cold during these operations and both men and horses suffered severely.
The regiment broke camp at Kernstown on February 27th, 1865 and marched with Sheridan’s cavalry corps up the valley to rejoin the Army of the Potomac near Petersburg, which they reached on March 27th. Two days later, the regiment proceeded to Dinwiddie Court House where it engaged the enemy on the 30th, driving them back into their works at Five Forks, and holding their position for three hours against repeated attacks until their ammunition was exhausted. As the line was being withdrawn for ammunition, the enemy charged the regiment’s right flank, capturing Lt. Nolan and 18 men. On March 31st, their infantry having come up, the enemy attacked and drove the cavalry corps back to Dinwiddie. The next morning the regiment connected with the Fifth Corps and drove the enemy back, battling until sunset, when the battle of Five Forks was won.
The regiment incessantly pursued the retreating rebels April 2nd through April 6th until the enemy was forced to make a stand to defend his trains at Sailor Creek. The Sixth Cavalry supported the main attack conducted by the Third Cavalry Division. The enemy was decisively beaten, with about 10,000 Confederates captured. During this action, the regiment was ordered to take possession of some log huts. It is recorded in the regimental archives that the few men now left in the ranks hesitated, believing it was sure death; but Lt. McLellan, a veteran of the old army, faced them and said, "Men, let us die like soldiers." Everyone of the little band rushed for the huts under a shower of bullets, and gained the cover with but three men wounded. The pursuit was pressed until 9 p.m.
The march was resumed on the 7th, and on the 8th, after a forced march to Appomattox Station, a charge was made resulting in important captures. On April 9th, the Confederates made a desperate attack upon the cavalry at Clover Hill, but the arrival of infantry supports about 9 a.m. relieved the cavalry; which proceeded at a gallop to the enemy’s left with a view to charging upon the flank. On nearing the Confederate lines, a flag of truce was met requesting a cessation of hostilities, as it had been decided to surrender. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was announced at 4 p.m.
As soon as General Lee’s army surrendered, the cavalry was started for Petersburg, and after a brief rest, the regiment resumed the march for North Carolina to join General Sherman’s army. When near Danville, the news that Johnson’s army had surrendered was received and the cavalry turned back and proceeded to Petersburg. From there the regiment marched to Washington via Richmond and Alexandria, arriving May 21st, 1865, where it was reviewed by General Sheridan and then proceeded to camp near Bladensburg, Maryland.
From the 5th of May , 1864, to the 9th of April, 1865, the day on which the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered, the cavalry corps sent to the War Department 205 battle-flags, captured in open field fighting. This nearly equaled the number sent by the combined Union armies during the whole period of the war.
Though depleted to a mere shadow of the unit which had so proudly marched down Pennsylvania Avenue three years before, turned out and participated in the historic Grand Review, which took place before President Lincoln in Washington, May 23rd, 1865.
Brave Sanders, a southerner and West Pointer, who remained loyal, was
not present at the Review…he had been promoted to brigadier general and
was killed at the siege of Knoxville, Tennesse.
The records of casualties suffered by the Sixth Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War show eight officers killed; 53 men killed in action and 53 other deaths; 122 wounded in action, and 17 killed by accident; 438 missing, most of these being captured at Fairfield and in other charges; making a total of 689 enlisted men lost.
The regiment participated in the following actions:
Date Place Companies Engaged
April 5th to May 4th, 1862 Siege of Yorktown, VA
May 4th and 5th, 1862 Williamsburg, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,M
May 9th, 1862 Slatersville, VA A,E,K
May 20th, 1862 New Bridge, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,M
May 23rd and 24th, 1862 Ellisons Mills, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,M
May 25th to May 29th, 1862 Hanover Court House, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,M
June 26th, 1862 Black Creek, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,M
June 27th, 1862 Gaines’ Mills, VA Detachments
June 30th to July 2nd, 1862 Malvern Hill, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,M
August 4th to 6th, 1862 Malvern Hill A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
September 4th, 1862 Falls Church, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
September 10th, 1862 Sugar Loaf Mountain, MD A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
September 16th -17th, 1862 Antietam, MD A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
October 7th, 1862 Charlestown, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 1st, 1862 Philomont, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 2nd, 1862 Union, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 3rd, 1862 Upperville, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 5th, 1862 Barbee’s Crossroads, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 8th, 1862 Little Washington, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 10th, 1862 Corbin’s Crossroads, VA A,B,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
December 11th -15th, 1862 Fredericksburg, VA Regiment
February 14th, 1863 Richard’s Ford, VA B
April 29th - May 7th, 1863 Stoneman’s Raid, VA Regiment
June 9th, 1863 Beverly Ford, VA Regiment
June 17th, 1863 Benton’s Mill, VA Regiment
June 21st - 22nd, 1863 Upperville, VA Regiment
July 1st to 3rd, 1863 Gettysburg, PA Regiment
July 6th, 1863 Williamsport, MD Regiment
July 7th, 1863 Funkstown, MD Regiment
July 7th to 12th, 1863 Boonsborough, MD Regiment
July 9th to 11th, 1863 Near Funkstown, MD Regiment
September 12th - 15th, 1863 Brandy Station, VA Regiment
October 11th, 1863 Culpeper/Brandy Station, VA Regiment
Nov. 26th - Dec. 2nd, 1863 Mine Run Campaign, VA Regiment
May 5th to 7th, 1864 The Wilderness, VA Regiment
May 7th and 8th, 1864 Todd’s Tavern, VA Regiment
May 9th to 12th, 1864 Sheridan’s expedition from
Todd’s Tavern to James
River, VA Regiment
May 11th, 1864 Yellow Tavern, VA Regiment
May 12th, 1864 Meadow Bridge, VA Regiment
May 12th, 1864 Mechanicsville, VA Regiment
May 22nd - June 1st, 1864 North Anna, Pamunkey and
Totopotomoy Rivers, VA Regiment
May 27th - 28th, 1864 Hawe’s Shop, VA Regiment
May 30th, 1864 Old Church, VA Regiment
May 31st-June 1st, 1864 Cold Harbor, VA Regiment
June 11th to 13th, 1864 Trevilian Station, VA Regiment
June to August, 1864 Before Petersburg, VA Regiment
June 29th, 1864 Dabney’s Mill, VA Regiment
July 27th to 29th, 1864 Deep Bottom, VA Regiment
August 16th, 1864 Berryville, VA Regiment
September 19th, 1864 Winchester, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
September 20th, 1864 Fisher’s Hill, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
September 20th-30th, 1864 Sheridan’s Expedition in the
Shenandoah Valley, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
October 19th, 1864 Cedar Creek, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
November 29th, 1864 Loudoun Valley, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
March 14th, 1865 Taylorsville, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
March 31st, 1865 Dinwiddie Courthouse, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
April 1st, 1865 Five Forks, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
April 2nd, 1865 Southerland Station, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
April 6th, 1865 Sailor’s Creek, VA A,B,C,D,F,G,H,I,K,L,M
April 8th and 9th, 1865 Appomattox Court House,
This is an impressive array of actions, many of them historic battles, in which the Sixth Cavalry Regiment took part. For each battle fought there were weeks and months of outpost duty, weary marches, and fruitless scouts that tried the strength and spirit of the troops. It is a marvel that any regiment could keep up its organization at all, under such service conditions, without a depot squadron from which to recruit its depleted ranks. All honor is due to the brave men of the Sixth Cavalry who constantly rallied to the standard from dismounted camps, hospitals and southern prisons.
Nearly all of the material contained in this partial summary account
is extracted from Lieutenant Colonel William H. Carter’s insightful book,
"From Yorktown to Santiago with the Sixth U.S. Cavalry", State House Press,
Austin Texas, 1989. Lt. Col. Carter, who wrote this book in 1900, was commissioned
a Second Lieutenant at West Point (Class of 1873) and served with the Sixth
from 1874 until his retirement as a Major General in 1915. The information
presented here is intended for historical and educational reference only.