8th Pennsylvania Cavalry
2This Regiment, originally intended as a rifle regiment, subsequently changed to cavalry, was recruited in:The camp of rendezvous was at Nicetown, Philadelphia, where the first company, under Captain Arrowsmith, was mustered in on the 23d of July, 1861. By the 17th of September, the companies for the entire regiment were full, and the organization was completed by the muster in of the following field officers:
- Lycoming County
- Bucks County
- Schuylkill CountyOn the 4th of October the regiment was ordered to Washington, and went into camp at Camp Stoneman, on Meridian Hill, but soon after removed to Camp Leslie, on Arlington Heights, near Fort Corcoran. Here the drill, and camp and garrison duty which had been commenced at Camp Stoneman, was assiduously prosecuted. It was assigned to the command of General Fitz John Porter, and was brigaded with the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry under Colonel Averell. In addition to drill and camp duty, it was employed during the winter on scout and picket in the vicinity of Freedom Hill, Vienna, and Fairfax Court House.
- Ernest G. Chorman, Colonel
- Amos E. Griffiths, Lieutenant Colonel
- Albert J. Enos, Major
Early in January, 1862, the vacancy occasioned by the retirement of Colonel Chorman was filled by the appointment of Captain David M'M. Gregg, of the Sixth United States Cavalry, a graduate of West Point. New and complete camp and garrison equipage with a full outfit of arms and accoutrements were obtained, strict compliance with army regulations was enforced, schools for theoretical instruction in tactics were established for officers, and non-commissioned officers, and both these classes were daily drilled in the school of the trooper and squadron.
Early in March, it having been reported that the enemy had evacuated his works, the Eighth and Third regiments were sent in advance of the army, as it moved, to verify the rumor, and to discover his disposition. They reached Manassas late at night, only in time to behold the burning of his deserted camps. They were immediately ordered to return and resume their former positions. The First Regular Cavalry was added to the brigade, and during the first week in April was moved in detachments, by transports, to Fortress Monroe. It remained in camp near Hampton until the evacuation of Yorktown, when it moved forward with the army, attached to the Fourth Corps, commanded by General Keyes.
It first met the enemy at New Kent Court House, where it skirmished lightly. A few days later it participated in a reconnoissance by a force of infantry, artillery, and cavalry under command of Colonel Gregg, to Bottom's Bridge, on the Chickahominy, and Savage Station, and subsequently in a movement to the latter place, by troops under General Naglee. Soon afterwards a severe skirmish occurred near Garnett's House, in front of the Union lines, which resulted in some loss to the Eighth, its first casualties.
It was present at the battle of Fair Oaks, but the ground being unfavorable for manoeuvring cavalry, only detachments were engaged. After the battle of Gaines' Mill it was employed along the line of the Chickahominy, while the army was starting on the march to the James, and in the destruction of Bottom's and Long bridges. It re-joined the column at White Oak Swamp, and in the battle of Malvern Hill portions of the command were actively engaged. During the campaign company D was detached for duty at the headquarters of General Philip St. George Cooke, commanding the cavalry; company A to General Porter's headquarters; and company B as escort to General M'Clellan, at Malvern Hill. Upon the arrival of the army at Harrison's Landing, Colonel Gregg was assigned to the command of a cavalry brigade of which the Eighth formed part, and was employed in heavy picket duty involving some casualties.
The regiment marched with General Pleasanton's Brigade from Harrison's Landing to Yorktown, acting as rear guard, and thence returned to Alexandria, arriving on the 2d of September, but not until the second battle of Bull Run was ended. On the 4th the regiment was sent on a reconnoissance to Freedom Hill, meeting Stuart's Cavalry, and having a sharp skirmish, and upon being ordered to retire was followed as far as Fort Upton. The same night it crossed the Potomac and moved up to Poolesville, where it came upon the enemy, and skirmished sharply at Sugar Loaf Mountain and at Darnestown.
On the 12th it entered Frederick, driving out the rear guard of the enemy's cavalry, and capturing twenty prisoners. On the 13th it was ordered on a reconnoissance to Gettysburg, falling in with, and capturing about fifty rebel cavalry pickets on the march. From Gettysburg it marched to the battle-field of Antietam, operating upon the right of the Sharpsburg Pike, with small loss, on the day following the general engagement. After the battle the regiment was encamped at Sharpsburg, whence frequent scouts were made across the Potomac, extending to Shepherdstown and Martinsburg, having a warm encounter at Charlestown on the 29th.
On the 26th of October Pleasanton's Brigade, composed of the Eighth Pennsylvania, Eighth Illinois, Eighth New York, and Sixth United States cavalry regiments, crossed the Potomac, leading the army in its movements into Virginia, and encountered the enemy at Philomont on the 1st of November, where it was warmly engaged during the entire day, the Eighth losing ten killed and about twenty wounded, Lieutenant J. Edward Carpenter being among the latter.
The engagement was renewed on the following day, and the enemy driven. Subsequently he was met successively at Upperville, Aldie, Barbour's Cross Roads, Ashby's Gap, Chester Gap, Orleans, Amissville, and Hazel River, the regiment sustaining heavy losses. It then fell back to Morrisville, and was employed in picketing Kelly's, Ely's, and United States Fords, subsequently moved to Falmouth, and was thence ordered to King George Court House, on the northern neck, to picket the fords of the Rappahannock as far as Leeds. While near Leeds a squadron under Captain Wilson was surprised and captured. He did not surrender without a brave resistance. He was taken to Libby Prison; but was s6on after paroled and returned to his command.
On the night previous to the attack on Fredericksburg the regiment returned to the army, and during the battle, one squadron, under command of Captain M'Callum, crossed the river and was engaged in connection with Franldin's ??Grand Division on the left.
Upon the fall of General Bayard, Colonel Gregg was ordered to assume command of his division, and was officially notified upon the field of his promotion to Brigadier General. The regiment under command of Lieutenant Colonel Griffith returned to picket duty in King George County after the battle.
On the 25th of December, it was relieved by the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, and proceeding to Falmouth, was employed in scout and picket duty along the line of the Rappahannock.
On the 18th of February, 1863, it was ordered into winter-quarters at Acquia Landing, where it became part of Colonel Devin's Brigade of Pleasanton's Division, composed of the Eighth Pennsylvania, Sixth New York, and Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. After the promotion of Colonel Gregg, Major Pennock Huey was commissioned Colonel, Captain Samuel Wilson, Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Peter Keenan, Major.
On the 21st of April the regiment started on the Chancellorsville campaign, and proceeded to Kelly's Ford. While on the way the first squadron, companies B and L, under Captain Arrowsmith, was sent to Ellis Ford, where a party of the enemy was met and routed. Fording the Rappahannock, the Fifth Corps was found in possession of the south bank, and the advance was at once resumed, the Eighth taking the lead.
Captain Arrowsmith with the first squadron was sent to Richards' Ford, where he surprised and captured the enemy's entire picket party. Captain Corrie in like manner, coming from the rear, attacked and captured the picket guard at Bartlett's Ford. Colonel Huey with the remainder of the regiment proceeded to Ely's Ford, on the Rapidan, crossed the stream, which was then so high that the horses could with difficulty keep their footing, and charging the enemy, who were present in some force, drove him nearly two miles in the direction of Chancellorsville. After stationing pickets he returned and bivouacked for the night on the high ground on the south side of the river.
At three o'clock on the following morning the regiment moved out on the Chancellorsville Road, and at the crossing of the United States Ford Road the advance guard under Lieutenant Carpenter captured a rebel picket party consisting of twenty-two men and three commissioned officers. Upon the arrival of the regiment near Chancellorsville, M'Callum's squadron became heavily engaged, and Wickersham's squadron was sent to his assistance, and finally the entire regiment was brought into action. The enemy was driven back on the river road to the woods beyond Chancellorsville. Captain Wickersham was left upon the picket line, the rest of the regiment retiring behind the infantry.
Early on the morning of May 1st, Wickersham was attacked, but gallantly held his ground until joined by the main body. The enemy was kept in check, and prevented from advancing beyond the woods which he occupied, though making repeated attempts to do so. This was the first fighting on the Chancellorsville field. The regiment suffered heavily in killed, wounded, and horses.
At ten A. M., General Sykes, with his infantry division of regulars, relieved the cavalry, and was at once hotly engaged. The Eighth was withdrawn, and was posted in front of General Hooker's headquarters, at the Chancellor House, where it remained during the night.
On the morning of the 2d it re-joined the brigade*, and with the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry was formed in an open field in rear of General Sickle's line of battle.
"As I was going back at a trot," says General Pleasanton, "an aid-de-camp came up to me and said, 'General, the Eleventh Corps is falling back very rapidly, and some cavalry is necessary to stop it.' I understood pretty well what that meant. I had only two regiments of cavalry with me; [Eighth and Seventeenth Pennsylvania,] one of them [Sixth New York] having been retained by General Sickles at the front to protect his right, and there was one battery of horse artillery with me. When I came to this open space which I had before left, I found it filled with fugitives, caissons, ambulances, guns, and everything. I saw the movement was critical, and I called on Major Keenan, of the Eighth Pennsylvania, and gave him his orders.
'I said to him, 'Major, you must charge in these woods with your regiment, and hold the rebels until I can get some of my guns into position.' Says I,' You must do it at all cost.' I mentioned the Major because I knew his character so well; that he was a man for the occasion. He replied to me with a smile on his face, though it was almost certain death, 'General, I will do it.' He started in with his whole regiment, and made one of the most gallant charges in the war. He was killed at the head of his regiment, but he alarmed the rebels so much that I gained about ten minutes on the enemy. Major Keenan had only from four to five hundred men."* The enemy which this single regiment was sent to check was the front of Stonewall Jackson's Army, which had just fallen upon and routed the Eleventh Corps, and was rushing on in a resistless torrent to new conquests. It was one of those critical moments, which is the turning point in the fortunes of an army. Should Jackson gain the commanding position on this open ground just before him, and now almost within his grasp, he would sever the Union army and hold it at his mercy. But if he could be kept in check for a few minutes, until Pleasanton could bring his artillery into position, this commanding ground could be held. A fearful sacrifice must be made. It fell to the fortune of the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry to make it. Like the man who is willing to part with a limb for the preservation of his life, Pleasanton, knowing the critical posture of affairs, promptly gave the order for the regiment to advance. As promptly it obeyed; and taking a narrow wood road, with room only for two horsemen to ride abreast, Huey and Keenan leading, it dashed forward and was soon in the very midst of the rebel hordes their skirmish line occupying the woods to the right, and their line of battle, plainly visible not more than seventy yards distant, on the left. Major Keenan at the head of the first battalion, calling on his men to stand by him, ordered**them to draw sabre and charge! Reaching the plank road by wheeled to the left, and dashed with his trusty followers full upon Jackson's infantry. He was instantly assailed with fearful volleys, and his little band almost annihilated. By this bold manoeuvre the enemy was startled, and time was given Pleasanton to get twenty-two pieces into position, double shotted, bearing upon the menaced front; and when, in dark masses, the rebels swarmed from the woods, in a charge upon his guns, he swept them-with terrible effect, and completely checked the further progress of their army.
After the battle General Pleasanton issued a congratulatory order to his division, in which he says:
"The distinguished gallantry of the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, in charging the head of the enemy's column, advancing on the Eleventh Corps, on the evening of the 2d inst., has excited the highest admiration.
* * The gallant M'Vikar, the generous, chivalric Keenan, with one hundred and fifty killed and wounded from your small numbers, attest the terrible earnestness that animated the midnight conflict of the second of May." Captain Charles Arrowsmith and Adjutant J. Hazleton Haddock, were among the killed.
On the 3d, it being rumored that Fitz Hugh Lee had crossed the river above, what was left of the Eighth was sent across the river to Hartwood Church, and scouted the country and roads leading to the upper fords and to Warrenton. It returned at night to United States Ford, encamping on the north side of the stream. On the morning of the 4th, the Union lines having been contracted, the enemy ran a light battery close to the river and shelled the camp of the Eighth, killing a few horses. Captain Wistar, with the Sixth Squadron, was on this day ordered to report to General Schurz. The balance of the regiment moved to Banks' Ford, and reported to General Sedgwick, who immediately ordered it to the front. Sharp skirmishing ensued which lasted until after dark, when Sedgwick retired to the north bank of the river. A portion of the Eighth acting as his rear guard, under command of Lieutenant Baker, being strongly pressed, was obliged to swim their horses.
On the 6th the regiment retired to its camp at Potomac Creek, where it remained until the 14th, and was then ordered to King George County. Here it was employed in picketing the country below Acquia Creek and Falmouth until its evacuation previous to the Gettysburg campaign.
On the 12th of June the regiment reported at Falmouth, and was immediately sent to Thoroughfare Gap. It had several sharp encounters with the enemy, while covering the rear of the infantry column in its march towards Maryland, and in the action at New Market lost fifteen killed and wounded.
At Frederick City it re-joined the cavalry corps, Second Brigade, under command of Colonel Huey, of the Second Division. On the 30th it moved to Westminster, thence to Hanover Junction, and on the 4th of July to Emmittsburg, where the brigade joined General Kilpatrick's command, and crossing the South Mountain fell in with the enemy's wagon-train, capturing two hundred and fifty wagons and six hundred prisoners. On the following day it moved through Boonsboro to Hagerstown, where it was repulsed and fall back to Williamsport, keeping up a running fight until after dark, and then retiring to camp at Boonsboro.
On the 11th it had a sharp skirmish a short distance beyond the town, and on the 12th it moved to Jones' Cross Roads. Here it remained for three days, advancing each morning to skirmish with the enemy's infantry pickets. On the 15th it participated in Kilpatrick's dash at Falling *Waters, encamping the same night at Boonsboro.
After returning to Virginia the Eighth was employed in guard and picket duty on the Manassas Railroad, and at Thoroughfare Gap, and about the middle of August, when the Second Brigade was consolidated with the First and Third, it became part of the First, which was composed of the Second, Fourth, Eighth, Thirteenth and Sixteenth Pennsylvania, and First Maine, commanded by General J. Irvin Gregg. During the campaign which followed, the command was kept in almost constant motion, for the most part performing severe duty.
On the 12th of October, at Sulphur Springs, the regiment was closely engaged, losing Lieutenants Daily and Phelps captured, and sixty-five men killed, wounded, and missing. Two days later, at Bristoe Station, while acting as rear guard to the column, it was attacked and temporarily cut off, but with only trifling loss.
From this time until the advance to Mine Run it performed picket duty in the vicinity of Morrisville and Beverly Ford. In that advance it was employed upon the left flank of the army, having a sharp engagement at New Hope Church, and after its return went into winter-quarters at Bealton Station.
On the 21st of December it was ordered out upon the raid into the Luray Valley, where much property, valuable to the enemy, was destroyed; and again on the 1st of January, 1864, crossed the Blue Ridge at Chester Gap, destroying forage, partially tanned leather, and tan-yards. During the winter the greater portion of the regiment re-enlisted and were given veteran furloughs by battalions.
Upon the opening of the Wilderness campaign on the 4th of May, the Eighth marched with Sheridan on the Richmond raid, and participated in the engagements at the fortifications of the rebel capital, at the Brock Road, and in minor actions, losing in all about one hundred men, among them Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Wilson, wounded.
Upon the arrival of the command at White House, General Sheridan called upon the Eighth for an officer to go to the James River and communicate with General Butler. Lieutenant John S. Howard volunteered to go, and on his return was sent with four men to carry dispatches through the enemy's lines to General Grant, then engaged in the Wilderness, which were delivered three days after in safety, the little party having captured six prisoners, fully armed and equipped, on the way.
Re-joining the army Sheridan moved on with it to Hawes' Shop, where the enemy was driven, with a loss to the Eighth of twenty-five killed and wounded. On the 31st of May, Sheridan attacked Fitz Hugh Lee's Cavalry supported by Clingman's infantry and routed them. Here, while reconnoitring with his company, in front of the enemy's lines, Captain Henry H. Garrett was badly wounded, and never after recovered sufficiently to return to his command.
On the 7th of June the regiment marched with Sheridan's Corps upon a raid to Gordonsville. The weather was excessively hot and the progress of the column slow. The enemy, apprised of Sheridan's design, prepared to meet him at Trevillian Station. The rebels were strongly posted in a cut of the railroad and behind breast-works. After a desperate encounter the position was carried, the Eighth losing in the battle thirty-five, but capturing a larger number from the enemy.
On the 14th the command fell back to West Point, the Eighth being assigned to the duty of guarding the wounded and prisoners, the latter numbering six hundred. At St. Mary's Church, Gregg's Division, while on the way from White House to the James, encountered a greatly superior force of the enemy, who apprised of Gregg's weakness, attacked. Gregg called for reinforcements, but these failing to come, he was obliged to fight his way back to the main column. Repeated charges were made to hold the enemy in check, in one of which Colonel Huey and Captain Piggott were captured, and about forty men killed, wounded, and missing.
On the 1st of July the regiment crossed the James River at Buchanan's Point, and moved with the division up to the Blackwater, and thence to the Nottaway River, for a diversion in favor of General Wilson's command, which had been roughly handled by the enemy while on a raid to the rear of Richmond.
After this it was stationed on the Jerusalem Plank Road near Petersburg, and was engaged in picketing, from the vicinity of the Blackwater towards the South Side Railroad.
On the 26th it was ordered to move at night, and crossing the Appomattox and the James proceeded to Malvern Hill, where it took part in a sharp engagement, losing five men, and taking about sixty prisoners. Again, on the 29th, it was engaged at the Charles City Road, but with only small loss, principally from sun stroke. That night it re-crossed the James and moved out to Lee's Mills, on the Blackwater, and on the following night to Prince George Court House.
Two weeks later it again crossed the James and engaged the enemy at Charles City Road, losing fifteen men. On the 16th of August it was engaged nearly the entire day at Spotted Tavern, and in the afternoon suffered severe loss in repulsing an attack of the rebel infantry upon the brigade battery. Lieutenant George L. Bragg, regimental quartermaster, was killed, and Lieutenant Colonel Wilson commanding, Major Corrie and twenty-three enlisted men were wounded.
The command devolved on Major Wistar, and on the 18th, in a hot engagement at Nelson's Farm, it lost twenty men killed and wounded. Its ranks had now become reduced by the constant marching and fighting since the opening of May, to about two hundred men present for duty.
On the night of the 20th it re-crossed the river and marched to the Jerusalem Plank Road, where it was engaged in picketing from Lee's Mills to the Weldon Railroad. In the action at Ream's Station on the 23d, it was engaged and suffered heavy loss. Major Wistar, commanding, and Captain Oldham, were wounded, and about twenty men killed and wounded. The command devolved on Captain Alexander OI'Callum, all the field officers having been either wounded or captured.
In the operations of the cavalry during the fall and winter, while the siege of Petersburg was in progress, the regiment participated, and upon the opening of active operations in the spring, moved with Sheridan to Five Forks, sharing in the hardships and glories of that short but brilliant campaign, which culminated in the surrender of Lee.
Captain John S. Howard, who had displayed signal daring and gallantry in bearing dispatches, as already noted, was mortally wounded in the action at Five Forks, and died on the 22d of April.
After the surrender the regiment moved with the cavalry to Danville,
to reinforce Sherman, but after the surrender of Johnston, returned to Petersburg, and soon after was ordered to Lynchburg,
where, on the 24th of July,
it was consolidated with the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. It was mustered out of service with that organization on the 11th
of August, 1865, at
*The Second Brigade of Pleasanton's Division consisting of the Eighth and Seventeenth Pennsylvania, and the Sixth New York, were the only cavalry that participated in the Battle of Chancelorsille. Pleasanton's First Brigade had been detached and sent on the raid with Stoneman.
**Conduct of the War, 1865. Vol. I, p. 28.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
Source: Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion Compiled and Arranged from Official Records of the Federal and Confederate Armies, Reports of he Adjutant Generals of the Several States, the Army Registers, and Other Reliable Documents and Sources.Des Moines, Iowa: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908
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