Archive for the Regimental Histories Category

1st U.S. Cavalry at Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863

Posted in Regimental Histories, Reserve Brigade (Det.) with tags on January 5, 2013 by dccaughey

As the sesquicentennial gets closer, I’ve been looking more in depth at the actions of the troopers of the two regular regiments (1st and 5th US Cavalry) that participated in the cavalry battle at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863.  Unfortunately, Captain Marcus A. Reno’s report was not included in the Official Records, and I’ve been unable to locate a trace of it anywhere.  Reno commanded multiple companies of the 1st and 5th US Cavalry in the battle.  Neither of the regimental commanders present in the field accompanied the expedition.

It’s unclear why the regulars were included in the expedition, since their parent brigade was not sent, and neither was the entirety of each regiment.  Much like their parent unit, the Reserve Brigade, it appears that the expedition’s commander, William W. Averell, intended to use them as a reserve for his volunteer regiments.  While active in the fighting, they were entered into the fighting late, and some were primarily responsible for keeping the ford open so the expedition had an exit route.

What I have been able to find are the comments from the monthly regimental returns of both regiments.  A roll up of the 1st US Cavalry’s strength and the comments from each of the companies that participated in the battle are listed below.  This is the first monthly return from the regulars I have encountered which included commentary from individual companies.  It’s interesting to note how few officers were present in the regiment even prior to the beginning of major campaigning in 1863.



Regimental strength:  4 officers, 398 men (excepting Capt Reno, commanding detachment of 1st & 5th US Cavalry).


KIA: 1 (Pvt Jacob Deeds, Co. C)

WIA:  4 (Pvt James Graham, Co. A; Pvts Cooper and Payne, Co. K; and Pvt John J. Lee, Co. M)

MIA: 1 (Pvt Robert Mickles, Co. K)

Deserted: 1 (Pvt James Riggs, Co. M).

Horses: 14 killed, 2 missing.


Company A:  1 officer, 76 men present for duty (1st Lt Joseph Hoyer)

Record of events: “Were detailed on picket duty with the Regt  March 2d.  Returned to camp  March 4th .  Left camp with the Regt on the morning of the 16th.  Encamped 6 miles from Kelly’s Ford, Va.  Priv. James Graham slightly wounded, three horses gave out and died.”

Company C: 0 officers, 48 men present for duty

Record of events:  “Co left Camp Allen, Va Mar. 16th marched to near Kelly’s ford on the Rappahannock River & encamped.  Participated in the engagement of the 17th near Kelly’s Ford, Va. Lost one man & 3 horses killed. Ret’d to Camp Allen, Va.”

Company E:  0 officers, 80 men present for duty

Record of events:  “Left this camp on the 16th day of March.  Encamped at Morrisville, dist. Marched 25 miles.  March’d next day to Kelly’s Ford, on the Rappahannock River.  Met the enemy – the engagement lasted until sundown, left the battlefield, encamped at Morrisville.  Left camp at daybreak and encamped at Camp Allen, dist. march’d in 3 days 60 miles.”

Company H: 0 officers, 65 men present for duty

Record of events:  “Left Camp Allen 16th march & marched up the Rappahannock river & crossed at Kelly’s Ford on the 17th.  Engaged with the enemy, returned to Camp on the 18th March ’63.”

Company K:  1 officer, 67 men present for duty (2nd Lt and former Co. K first sergeant John McDonald)

Record of events: “Engaged in action beyond Kelly’s Ford, on the Rappahannock, 20 miles from Camp Allen on March 17, 1863.  Pvts. Payne & Cooper, wounded, Pvt. Robt Mickles missing.  1 horse missing and 1 killed.”

Company M:  2 officers, 72 men present for duty (Capt John Feilner, 1st Lt Edward T. Benton)

Record of events: “Left Camp Allen Va. Mar 16 ’63.  Engaged with the enemy at Kelly’s ford on 17 Mar/ 63, returned on the 19/ 63.  Four horses killed, Pvt John J. Lee slightly wounded, Pvt Jas. Riggs deserted while the enemy were advancing on line – carrying with him Arms, Horse & Equipments.”


Source: NARA, Returns of Regular Army Regiments, 1st U.S. Cavalry, March 1863, images 110-111.

Note:  This post also cross-posted on the blog Regular Cavalry in the Civil War.


4th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Posted in 4th Penn Cav, Regimental Histories on May 12, 2009 by dccaughey

“On the 16th of March, the division was hurried out in light marching order, and proceeded to Morrisville, Va., and encamped there for the night.  They then started early the next morning, and marched to the Rappahannock, at Kelley’s Ford.  Here we found the enemy opposite ready to dispute our passage of the river and the ford.  Below the surface of the water they had placed wires, fallen trees, etc., to obstruct our progress.  But, after a short fight and most gallant charge, by the First Rhode Island cavalry, under Col. Chamberlin, of the First Maine cavalry, the enemy were routed, the crossing effected, and all the rebels in the works on the opposite side captured – consisting of 75 prisoners.  This was not accomplished, though, without considerable loss to the charging party, as they advanced under very adverse circumstances, the ford being small and narrow.  Col. Chamberlin was very seriously wounded, and his life was despaired of for a long time.  The division then crossed the river 1800 strong, Gen. Averill in command.  They were soon met by Gen. Stuart’s and Gen. Fitz Hugh Lee’s rebel cavalry.  We fought very desperately all day, making several fierce charges, one of which our regiment made singly, routing the enemy and driving him in the direction of Culpeper.  This engagementcalled into play only the cavalry forces of the two armies.  It was the first collision, on a large scale, of the mounted forces of the two armies in Virginia, and the first time in which the rebel cavalry had been successfully met and defeated by inferior numbers.  This reconnaissance in force was made under orders from Gen. Hooker, to discover what movements the enemy were about making.  The regiment suffered pretty severely in this engagement, the company losing Corp. Thomas Connor, his father, a fellow-soldier, also being present at the time.  We condoled with him on our common loss.  As a cavalry-man he was wild and daring.”

 Source:  Hyndman, William.  History of a Cavalry Company.  Philadelphia: Jas. B. Rodgers Co., 1870.  Pages 87-88.

5th U.S. Cavalry

Posted in 5th U.S. Cav, Regimental Histories on May 12, 2009 by dccaughey

“On the 16th of March a cavalry force under the command of General Averill moved up the Rappahannock to the Orange and Alexandria Railway for the purpose of crossing the river at Kell’s Ford and marching in the direction of Culpeper, where a strong force of the enemy’s cavalry were assembled under the command of General Fitzhugh Lee.  The column arrived at the ford on the morning of the 17th, and after a sharp skirmish, overwhelmed the enemy’s pickets, effected a crossing, and then moved in the direction of Culpeper Court-House, and about one mile from the ford a stubborn and desperate combat ensued, and during a struggle of four hours’ duration the enemy was driven back about six miles.  General Averill, finding that his ammunition was about exhausted, then withdrew his troops and recrossed the ford at dark, the enemy following him with some slight demonstrations.

“This was the first cavalry engagement of the war in which a division was engaged on each side.  The National forces consisted of seven volunteer regiments, the Sixth New York battery, and detachments from the regular cavalry which included three squadrons (C, E, G, H, I and K) of the regiment under Lieutenant Leib.  The enemy’s forces consisted of five regiments of cavalry and a battery.

“At the second attempt of the enemy to rally, the regiment seized the opportunity and made a brilliant charge which forced them into a rapid retreat and won the commendation of General Averill.  The National loss was eighty-four killed, wounded, and missing.  The enemy’s loss was one hundred and thirty-three.  A large number of horses were killed and wounded on each side.”

 Source:  Price, George F.  Across the Continent With the Fifth Cavalry.  New York: Antiquarian Press Ltd, 1959.  Pages 114-115.

16th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Posted in 16th Penn Cav, Regimental Histories on December 1, 2008 by Craig Swain

16th PA Cavalry


Abstracts of the Journal of the Regiment


March 16, 1863.  Colonel Gregg, with Adjutant Day, Serg’t Major Miller, eight officers, and one hundred and ninety-six men, left camp at 8 A M ; joined the brigade, commanded by Colonel McIntosh, of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, and marched to Morrisville, and encamped.


March 17, 1863.  Engaged with the enemy at “Kelly’s Ford.”  On arriving at the ford, Colonel Gregg sent forward all the axes in the regiment, and immediately dispatched twenty men of the Sixteenth, under command of First Lieutenant A J Snyder, of “H” Company.  The party bore itself gallantly, and did good service in removing the blockade at the Ford, and crossed with the First Rhode Island men. Sergeant McGowan, “H” Company, Private Claffe, “A” Company, and Saddler F J Cornman, “I” Company, were recommended to the favorable notice of the Colonel commanding Brigade, for their gallant conduct.  The position occupied by the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry was on the extreme right of he line, the right of the Regiment resting on the river; skirmishers thrown forward and deployed at a distance of three hundred yards, and concealed from view by a row of cedar trees and outbuildings.  Shortly after the attack commenced on the left and centre, Colonel Gregg observed a large force of the enemy moving rapidly towards our right, evidently with a view of out-flanking us.  Colonel Gregg dismounted a portion of the regiment and occupied the buildings immediately in his front.  This was not done too soon, as the enemy were already entering the outer gate, when a volley from behind the houses drove them back.  They soon rallied home behind some trees and out of carbine range, and supposing, from their manoevres, that it was their intention to dismount a portion of their men and gain our rear, under cover of the bushes which lined the bank of the river.  Colonel Gregg dismounted the entire command, and threw the whole force some three hundred yards in advance of the houses, under cover of a stone wall, and drove the enemy from their position.  A charge by thirty men, led by Major Fry, drove a squadron of the enemy from the woods, immediately to our front.  Finding the enemy did not approach, Colonel Gregg mounted his command, and took up a position on the right of the line, and moved forward, until further progress was arrested by a dense woods, when he again dismounted his command and threw it forward on the enemy’s left flank, obliging him to change his position three times.

            The Regiment sustained no loss of either officers or men — one man, Private Durling, of “E” Company, was slightly wounded.  Major Fry, Captains Alexander and Kennedy, Lieutenants Snyder and Youngs, as well as all the men under my command, “see “Official Report,”) deserve great credit for the promptness they advanced under fire.

            Marched to Morrisville at sundown, and encamped.








History of the 16th Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry, for the year ending October 31st, 1863.  Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1864.

3rd VA Cavalry

Posted in 3rd Va Cav, Regimental Histories on November 25, 2008 by Craig Swain

3rd VA Cavalry


From the War Diary of Lieutenant Colonel William R. Carter, CSA


M’ch 17:  Boots & saddles sounded at 7 a.m. & Regiment soon on the road to Kelly’s ford via Brandy Station, 3rd squadron, under Cap’t Chappell, being in front & 1st under Cap’t Field in the rear.  Moved at a brisk trot as far as Miller’s house & here formed in order of battle, 1 ½ miles below Brandy Station.  Col. Owen called around his company commanders & asked them to do their duty & to see that their men did the same.  Remaining here a few moments the Brigade moved off down the road at a brisk gallop; the 3rd Regiment being in front preceded by the sharpshooters.  Soon came in sight of the enemy with their right wing resting on the river at Wheatley’s ford & their left extending a short distance beyond Brook’s house.  They had a large number of dismounted sharpshooters posted behind a stone fence connecting these two places & a heavy mounted reserve drawn up in the fields & woods, on both sides of the road, branching off from Wheatley’s to Kelly’s ford.  Our sharpshooters were soon engaged with theirs, and throwing down the fence about 100 yards below Brandon’s house, the Regiment came into the field & fell back to Brown’s house & in Wheatley’s field to form.  Here all were met by Gen. Lee, who ordered Col. Owen to charge the enemy.  This was doen in gallant style, Regiment sweeping down the fence along the road & passing through an opening between the rail fence, running at right angles across the field from Brook’s house, and the rock fence.  We found it impossible to get through the stone fence to them & so the Regiment turned across the field to our left, to some straw shacks & wheeled down towards Wheatley’s ice house, hoping to be able to get at their right flank.  But observing this, the enemy’s sharpshooters, who had fled from the approach of the column, returned to their posts & poured a hot fire into it as it passed & crowded into Wheatley’s houses & garden.  Several of our number were wounded.  On our left was the 5th Regiment, under Col. Roper, advancing to charge the enemy’s right flank.  But getting to the house of G.T Wheatley, they were unable to advance because of obstructions placed in the outlet by the enemy.  Blocked up here all remained a considerable time under a galling fire from the enemy posted in & around Wheatley’s houses at a range of not more than 75 yd’s.  Here S’g’t G.M. Betts, company C., fell, and moving out from this position a few hundred yards, Maj. Puller of the 5th Regiment was killed.  The 1st, 2nd & 4th Regiments charged the enemy as they advanced through Wheatley’s field from behind the stone wall.  Here Maj. Breckenridge of the 2nd was captured — this was the first charge.  We moved through Wheatley’s field into a field of Miss Wheatley (place occupied by Lampkin) & the 3rd charged again through the triangular lot in front of Lampkin’s house.  But owing to the narrowness of the gate & the confusion produced by the 5th attempting to pass  out at the same time, not more than 15 or 20 men followed the Col. Into the lot, who charged up to within 50 y’d’s of the fence on the west of Wheatley’s field.  Finding it impossible to dislodge the enemy’s sharpshooters from behind the fence, this party retired through another gate by Lampkin’s sable.  The enemy’s fire was concentrated upon these gates & they wounded several & killed J.T. Wilkins, company C, & W.W. Young, company B at this place.  Maj. Pelham of the artillery fell in this field, shot in the head by a shell.  This was the second charge.

            Retiring from this charge we moved over on the main road leading from Brandy Station to Kelly’s ford & formed a line of battle near Caster’s run on the farm of Jas. Newby.  The 1st, 5th & 3rd Regiments charged on the left of the road facing towards Kellysville; while the 2nd & 4th charged on the opposite side, making a line of the entire Brigade.  The enemy formed in the edge of the woods opposite & advanced with the sharpshooters across the field & with a battery of 3 guns in Brown’s field; they were gallantly met by our sharpshooters & our Brigade remained some time exposed to a galling fire from the enemy’s sharpshooters before they were ordered to charge.  Presently our artillery opened upon them& soon the order came for a simultaneous charge of the whole Brigade, commencing on the right. The 3rd commenced the charge by fours, and advancing 300 yards, were fronted into line & ordered to charge in line; but owing to the inequality of the ground, this was found impracticable & they were again ordered to charge by fours.  A battery of 3 of the enemy’s guns was playing on us from the moment we commenced the charge.  Some of the men passed several hundred y’d’s beyond the Battery, causing the most of the gunners to desert their pieces, & were only prevented from capturing the guns by a double fence which intervened & a heavy line of sharpshooters posted in the edge of the woods & behind the fences.  Finding no impression could be made upon the enemy, we fell back to Caster’s run the point which the charge was commenced & reformed, the enemy not daring to follow us into the open fields.  Ordered back on the road to within two miles of Brandy Station.  Here we remained till about sunset; then ordered to follow the enemy on his retreat across the river.  Marched to ½ mile of Kelly’s ford & hearing that the whole force had recrossed the river, we returned to the same camp at 12 P.M.  This was the heaviest loss that our cavalry have sustained in a fight during the war.  It was as follows:


                                    Killed  Wounded        Missing                        Total

1st Regiment                1          7                      0                      =          8

2nd                                1          18                    15                    =          34

3rd                                4          37                    3                      =          44

4th                                2          17                    16                    =          35

5th                                2          9                      0                      =          11

Maj. Pelham Killed     1                                                          =          1         


Many of these were very slightly wounded.  Those in the 3rd Regiment who were sufficiently wounded to go to Hospital & the killed are as follows: Company A.— Private J.E. Reynolds wounded seriously.  Company B.— W.W. Young killed; L’t G.C. Mellen, J.B. Herbert & private A.W. West wounded.  Company C.— S’g’t G.M. Betts & private J.T. Wilkins killed; Lt Jas. W. Hall wounded very seriously.  Company D.— Privates Jas. E. Adams, L.A. Marston & F. Mountcastle wounded. Company E.— Corpl. Jno. R. Foster wounded in the arm.  Company F.— L’t B.W. Lacy & Se’g’t Apperson wounded.  Company G.-Private J.W. Bryant, H.F. Goodman wounded & private I.S. Fowler killed.  Company H.— L’t Jas. V. Garner, Private Jas. Green, E. Cage & Thos. Walker wounded.  Company I.—Corp’l A.A. Dance wounded.  Company K.— Private Henry W. Edmonds, J.R. Cunningham, L. Scott, & C.A. Bondurant wounded.  Thus ended this day.  While the loss on our side was heavy, in men & horses, the enemy, in attempting to cross the river, lost more in killed than our own; and which we had to mourn the loss of some of our best men, are succeeded in preventing the enemy from accomplishing their purpose of making a raid through the country & destroying the rail road Bridge across the Rapidan.  Our men with vastly inferior numbers & with horses which had not been fed in some time, held the insolent foe in check.

            No feed tonight for horses or men.  Wagons left for Orange C.H. at 10 a.m.


M’ch 18:  Remained in same place & this evening got some corn for our horses.  Wounded treated at Brandy Station & sent off to Gordonsville.    




Carter, LtCol William R., CSA.  Sabers, Saddles and Spurs.  Shippensburg: Burd Street Press, 1998. Pages 49-54.

1st VA Cav

Posted in 1st Va Cav, Regimental Histories on November 25, 2008 by Craig Swain

1st VA Cavalry


The continued successful Confederate cavalry raids behind Union lines brought a vengeful response.  General William W. Averell led a 3,000-man force of Federal cavalry against Fitz Lee’s small brigade.  Averell sent his troopers swarming across Kelly’s Ford on the morning of March 17.  Dismounted Confederate cavalrymen in the rifle pits put up a gallant defense, but they were overwhelmed and captured or driven off.  When word of the Federal advance reached Culpeper Court House, Fitz Lee ordered out every available man from the four regiments, about 800 men.  The reserve in support of the pickets at the ford contested the Union advance for an hour and a half before help arrived.  Major William A. Morgan, with the sharpshooters from the 1st, led the advance of the brigade.

Fitz Lee committed his regiments as they arrived, each making a mounted charge across an open field, toward the Union position behind a high stone and rail fence.  The Federal dismounted men with their carbines and the artillery took a heavy toll of the Confederates, who charged up to the fence, emptying their carbines and revolvers before retiring.  Each time the enemy attempted to advance, Lee sent a regiment to drive them back.  In one of the mounted charges, Major John Pelham of the Stuart Horse Artillery was killed.  When the Confederate artillery arrived and opened on the Federals, Lee led the mounted portion of his brigade in a charge.  Averell was forced to retreat across the river.

Lee singled out Colonel Drake for praise, sating that he was “always ready at the right time and place.”  Major Morgan was cited for his handling of the 1st‘s sharpshooters in the battle.  Lee wrote that Captain Charles F. Jordan of the Rockbridge Dragoons and Lieutenant Rudolphus W. Cecil of the Howard Dragoons deserved to be “especially commanded for reckless daring without parallel.”  He went on to laud Captain Connally T. Litchfield of the Washington Mounted Rifles and Lieutenant Gustavus W. Dorsey of the Maryland troop.  All of the couriers praised for their good conduct were from the 1st: Privates John H. Owings and Otho Scott Lee of Company K, John A.K. Nightingale of Company A, and Henry Shackleford of Company G.  The 1st was fortunate, losing only one man killed and seven wounded, the smallest loss in the brigade.  Twebty-one horses were killed or wounded.

The Federal cavalry had served notice that they were a force to be reckoned with.  Confederate valor could not always overcomethe enemy superiority in men, horses, arms, and equipment.


Editor’s Note:

Rockbridge Dragoons = Company C

Washington Mounted Rifles = Company D

Howard Dragoons  or Maryland Troop = Company K  (Howard County, MD)







Driver, Robert J.  1st Virginia Cavalry, 2nd Edition.  Lynchburg: H.E Howard, Inc., 1991.  Pages 55-56.