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Recollections of a participant in the charge.

by the Rev. W. H. Hitchcock.
Remembering clearly the incidents connected with the cavalry charge, I wish to clear up a point in regard to that charge, so far as the regiment (the 5th Regular Cavalry) with which I had the honor of being connected was concerned.

The battle did not begin till noon. We were stationed on the left of our position. As the hours passed, the battle became more and more furious. About 5 P. M. we were moved up near to the crest of the hill on our left, and within some 20 rods of the 5 or 6 batteries planted on the crest of the hill.

It was something marvelous to watch those brave men handle their guns; never a man flinched or was dismayed, though a most withering fire of musketry and artillery was poured upon them.

Just before dark, when we could tell, by the sound of the musketry fire and by the constantly advancing yells of the charging foe, that he was getting near the guns in our front, General Philip St. George Cooke, commanding the cavalry, rode to our front. I was on the right of the front line of the first squadron, and I heard his order to Captain Whiting, commanding the five companies of our regiment that were present on the field. He said, “Captain, as soon as you see the advancing line of the enemy rising the crest of the hill, charge at once, without any further orders, to enable the artillery to bring off their guns.” General Cooke then rode back around the right of our squadron.

Captain Whiting turned to us and said, “Cavalry! Attention! Draw saber!” then added something to the effect, “Boys, we must charge in five minutes.” Almost immediately, the bayonets of the advancing foe were seen, just beyond our cannon, probably not fifty rods from us. Captain Whiting at once gave the order, “Trot! March!” and as soon as we were fully under way he shouted, “Charge!”

We dashed forward with a wild cheer, in solid column of squadron front; but our formation was almost instantly broken by the necessity of opening to right and left to pass our guns. So furiously were our brave gunners fighting that I noticed this incident: The gun directly in my front had just been loaded; every man had fallen before it could be fired. As I bore to the right to pass this gun, I saw the man at the breech, who was evidently shot through the body, drawing himself up by the spokes of the wheel, and reaching for the lanyard, and I said, “He will fire that gun,” and so kept to the right, and almost immediately felt the shock of the explosion. Then I closed in to re-form the line, but could find no one at my left, so completely had our line been shattered by the musketry fire in front and the artillery fire in our rear. I rushed on, and almost instantly my horse reared upright in front of a line of bayonets, held by a few men upon whom I had dashed. My horse came down in front of the line, and ran away partly to our rear, perfectly uncontrollable. I dropped my saber, which hung to my waist by the saber-knot, and so fiercely tugged at my horse's bit as to cause the blood to flow from her mouth, yet could not check her. The gun I had passed, now limbered up, was being hauled off at a gallop. I could direct my horse a little to right or left, and so directed her toward the gun. As she did not attempt to leap the gun, I gained control of her, and at once turned about and started back upon my charge. After riding a short distance I paused. The firing of artillery and infantry behind and of infantry in front was terrific. None but the dead and wounded were around me. It hardly seemed that I could drive Lee's battle-scarred veterans alone, and so I rode slowly off the field. The regiment had only about 250 men in action. Our commissioned officer was the only one not wounded, except some who were captured. Only about 100 returned from that bloody field for duty the next day. Some were captured, but a large number fell in that terrible charge, and sleep with the many heroes who on that day gave their lives for the Union. So far as those of the 5th Regular Cavalry present in this charge were concerned, we certainly did our whole duty, just as we were ordered. We saved some guns, and tried to save all.

Fairview, Ill., June 13th, 1885.

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W. H. C. Whiting (3)
Philip St. George Cooke (2)
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W. H. Hitchcock (1)
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June 13th, 1885 AD (1)
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