Archive for the Reserve Brigade (Det.) 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.


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.

1st U.S. Cavalry

Posted in 1st U.S. Cav on November 25, 2008 by Craig Swain


Reserve Bde, 2nd Division

Posted in Reserve Brigade (Det.) on November 25, 2008 by Craig Swain


Report of Lieut. George Browne, Jr.

Posted in 6th NY Ind Bty, Correspondence US on November 25, 2008 by Craig Swain

Near Aquia Creek, Va., March 19, 1863.

LIEUTENANT: I beg to submit the following report of the participation of my battery in the recent expeditionary movement commanded by Brigadier-General Averell:

Pursuant to orders from headquarters Cavalry Corps, dated March 15, 1863, my battery took up its march from camp near Aquia Creek at daybreak on the morning of the 16th instant, but owing to the fact of the guide having mistaken the road, I did not reach Hartwood Church until 4 p.m.

Upon my arrival there, I reported to Colonel Curtis, and received an escort to Morrisville, which place I reached at 11 p.m.

We halted, fed the horses, and moved forward with the column at 4.30 a.m. of the 17th instant, arriving at Kelly’s Ford at about 6.30 a.m.

Upon arriving at the ford, skirmishing commenced between the cavalry pickets of the enemy and our advance. The enemy here making a very stubborn resistance to our crossing, I was ordered to advance one piece into position, with a view to cover the axmen who were employed in removing the obstructions to the ford, which being accomplished, our cavalry advanced to the ford. After one or two attempts, a crossing was effected and the enemy driven in all directions, some 30 prisoners being taken, together with horses and equipments.

At this time I brought one more piece into position, to cover the crossing of the main column, which, being effected, my battery went forward, piece by piece, over the ford, one squadron of cavalry carrying over the ammunition by hand, which was necessitated by the depth of the water. We then moved forward, and our advance came up with the enemy about half a mile from the ford.

At this time my right section was ordered forward, and, after advancing a short distance, the cavalry became engaged with the enemy, who were in force. Owing, however, to the narrow and extremely muddy and impracticable condition of the road, I could bring but one piece into battery, sending the others to the rear. The enemy now appeared in such force as to momentarily check the advance of our cavalry, which, however, soon rallied, and drove them from the woods, their left flank being turned by our cavalry on the right, with which was posted two of my pieces, commanded by Lieutenant Clark, and which did good execution. The enemy were driven across the plain in the greatest confusion.

At this time I received an order from Lieutenant Rumsey to bring my whole battery into position into the open field from which the enemy had been driven. This order I executed at once, calling in the two pieces which were posted with the cavalry on the right, as also the two pieces which were with the reserve. I formed my battery in line, and moved forward with the cavalry to the woods at the farther extremity of the plain, where we formed in battery to receive the enemy, who was expected to make a charge. At this point, by command of Lieutenant Rumsey, I left two of my pieces with the reserve, their ammunition being nearly exhausted.

After a brief delay, we again moved forward in column of pieces, with the cavalry skirmishing as they advanced for about a mile, and came into battery of four pieces in a large open plain on the left of the road. At this point we received from the enemy the first intimation that our farther advance would be opposed by artillery. They opened a fire with shot and shell upon our column as it came up the road, having three pieces in position commanding the road, consisting of two 10-pounder rifles and one 6-pounder gun. On their extreme right was posted another section of their artillery, which was not used, being probably held in reserve to check our farther advance.

Having already expended one-half of my ammunition, I had remaining 150 rounds when I entered this field, and could only fire, therefore, at long intervals, deeming it prudent to reserve my fire for the opposing columns of cavalry, and at long and uncertain ranges upon the enemy’s artillery, as it was evident they intended to charge us at once.

In this conclusion we were not at fault, for the enemy soon appeared in force in our immediate front, extending from the right to the left of the road, with the evident object of driving in the supports on either flank of the battery. As I observed this, I opened upon them with shell at about 1,500 yards, and at a distance of, say, 1,000 yards with spherical case, continuing it until they arrived at about 400 yards, when, obliquing my sections to both flanks, I opened on them with double-shotted canister with great effect. Our cavalry at this moment charged the lines of the enemy, driving them back in confusion, when I immediately changed the direction of my fire to the enemy’s artillery. It now became evident, both from the statements of wounded prisoners and other sources, that the enemy were being largely re-enforced both by artillery and cavalry. We, however, maintained our position for about an hour, replying at intervals to their artillery, which was most advantageously posted and commanded every approach by the front and flank, their cavalry being at the same time masked by the woods on either flank of their batteries, which kept up a constant and harassing fire upon us, to which, however, I could only reply occasionally, thinking it prudent to reserve a supply to cover the recrossing, should it be necessary to do so. Upon receiving an order from General Averell to fall back, I limbered up, recrossed the ford, and placed two pieces in position on the opposite bank to cover the crossing of the remaining columns, sending the balance to Morrisville with a regiment of cavalry, the First Rhode Island. The recrossing having been effected without loss, in conformity with orders I proceeded to Morrisville, where the column halted until daybreak, when we returned to camp via Hartwood Church.

As regards the loss of the enemy, I have no means of determining, but from my own observation I should say that it far exceeded ours, their prisoners saying also that they suffered very heavily.

As to the effect of this affair upon the morale of our cavalry, it only strengthens my belief in their superiority and efficiency over that of the enemy, as was clearly demonstrated in each encounter.

I beg to tender my acknowledgments to the staff and officers of General Averell’s command for the courtesy and consideration shown to me and my command, it being the first occasion on which my battery has ever had the opportunity to maneuver with cavalry, and they were, therefore, perhaps in some respects deficient in the requirements of this branch of the service.

I have to report the following casualties: One man (Private Richard Paxton) and 2 horses killed; 2 sets of horse equipments unavoidably lost; 1 wheel for 6-pounder carriage badly damaged; 1 sponge-bucket and 2 handspikes lost; 6 sponge-staffs broken; 3 felling axes loaned to cavalry and not returned. <ar39_56>


Ammunition expended:

Hotchkiss canister            32

Schenkl percussion shell    90

Hotchkiss shrapnel           100

Hotchkiss shell    25

Total 247

I am, lieutenant, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


First Lieut., Comdg. Sixth Independent N. Y. Horse Battery.

First Lieut. C. F. TROWBRIDGE,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.