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The First cavalry.

Captain James H. Stevenson.
When the war-cloud suddenly burst over Charleston harbor, in the early dawn of that memorable 12th of April, the loyal people of the North found the national existence threatened by armed and organized treason, without adequate preparation to meet the impending danger. It was supposed, however, that seventy-five thousand militia would be able to quell the insurrection in a very short time, and President Lincoln issued his proclamation calling out that number of men to serve for a period of three months. This levy was soon raised; but the people, having been thoroughly aroused to the danger which threatened the Union, continued to form regiment after regiment of volunteers, in anticipation of their services being needed. Some even began to organize companies for the cavalry arm of the service, but they were regarded as altogether visionary. The government threw cold water upon the cavalry movement, and plainly intimated that it could manage the rebels without that arm. Nothing discouraged, “Young America” persisted in sounding “Boots and saddles,” and many young men were found anxious to have a tilt with the “chivalry” on the “sacred soil” on horseback. Very soon, the government began to think that a regiment of volunteer cavalry might be of some service, and, accordingly, the following circular was issued:

War Department, Washington, May 1st, 1861.
to the Governors of the several States, and all whom it May concern:
I have authorized Colonel Carl Schurz to raise and organize a volunteer regiment of cavalry. For the purpose of rendering it as efficient as possible, he is [635] instructed to enlist principally such men as have served in the same arm before. The government will provide the regiment with arms, but cannot provide the horses and accoutrements. For these necessaries we rely upon the patriotism of the States and the citizens, and for this purpose I take the liberty of requesting you to afford Colonel Schurz your aid in the execution of this plan.

(Signed) Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.

On the 3d of May, Colonel Schurz passed through Philadelphia, when he heard of some gentlemen engaged in organizing a regiment of cavalry, and to these he made known his authority, and requested them to unite with him. These gentlemen thought the government would soon call for more cavalry, and, therefore, declined to join Colonel Schurz, except one of the lieutenants, named William H. Boyd, to whom Colonel Schurz gave authority to raise a company for his regiment. This was the first company of volunteer cavalry duly authorized to be raised for the war.

At that time, there was a troop composed of some of the best young men of Germantown and vicinity, all mounted, armed, and fully equipped for active service, undergoing a thorough course of drill at Chestnut Hill, under the instructions of James H. Stevenson, who had just returned from California, after serving a term of enlistment as sergeant in the First United States Dragoons. William Rotch Wister, Esq., was captain of the troop, and, on hearing of Colonel Schurz's authority, he visited Washington to try and have his men accepted as part of Schurz's regiment. On his return, the following note was received:

War Department, June 14th, 1861.
Captain William Rotch Wister, Philadelphia:
Dear Sir :--This department, I am instructed by the Secretary to say to you, will accept your light horse company, to be attached to the regiment of cavalry being formed to serve for three years, or during the war, if ready to be so mustered, and will, in that event, furnish the holsters, pistols, and swords, but not the uniforms, horses, or equipments.

Very respectfully, (Signed)

J. P. Sanderson, Chief Clerk.

They felt very much elated at this; but there was still an obstacle in the way. The government would not muster in a man unless a fully organized company, with a minimum aggregate of seventy-nine men, were presented to the mustering officer. Captain Wister and his gay troop rode all over the country, among the farmers' sons, in quest of recruits; but all his efforts failed to raise the requisite number of men who were able and willing to find their own horses and equipments, notwithstanding that the government [636] had offered to pay the troopers forty cents per day for their use and risk; with the proviso, however, that, in case the trooper lost his horse in any way, he must furnish another, or serve on foot. This proviso was the straw that broke the camel's back. After three months spent in drilling, and in unavailing efforts to fill up, Captain Wister's troop disbanded, on the 30th of June, and its members sought service in other commands.

In the meantime, Colonel Schurz had gone to New York, and had succeeded in raising four companies of Germans who had seen service in the cavalry of Europe. And here, also, he was joined by six companies of Americans, which had been organized in hopes of being accepted by the government. A company from Michigan also joined him, which, with Boyd's Philadelphia company, completed the regiment. About this time Colonel Schurz was appointed Minister to Spain, and some trouble was then experienced in getting a suitable commander. At last /Major Andrew T. McReynolds, a Michigan lawyer, who had seen service in the cavalry in Mexico, was accepted by the government in lieu of Colonel Schurz, and things again looked favorable. No one knew how the men were to be mounted and equipped. The several States had made no efforts to comply with the request of the War Secretary; the men, with few exceptions, were unable to mount and equip themselves, and things had about come to a stand-still. It was even feared that the organization could not be kept together, as the men were not mustered into service. On the 10th of July the government came to its senses, and an order was issued requiring the proper departments to furnish horses and equipments to companies of volunteer cavalry when ready to be mustered into service; and on the 19th of July Captain Boyd's company was mustered in at Philadelphia by Major Ruff, the United States mustering officer. The company had appeared before him to be mustered in on the 16th, but were rejected because they lacked one man of the requisite number. The officers of the company were: Captain, William H. Boyd; First Lieutenant, William W. Hanson; and Second Lieutenant, James H. Stevenson (he who had been drilling Captain Wister's troops at Chestnut Hill). On the 22d of July, Boyd's company arrived at Washington, amid the excitement caused by the Union repulse at Bull run the previous day. That night they listened to horrifying tales of the sanguinary deeds performed by the “Black Horse cavalry” on that disastrous field, but it only seemed to stimulate the boys with a desire to measure swords with horsemen so renowned. [637]

They had not long to wait, for, on the 18th of August, not quite one month from the date of their muster into service, Boyd's company were sent on a scout toward Mount Vernon. While they were feeling their way through a large woods, in the vicinity of Pohick church, they suddenly came upon a squadron of the famous “Black Horse cavalry” drawn up in line on a broad road ready to receive them. Captain Boyd placed himself at the head of his company, and at once commanded it to “charge!” The boys answered with a yell, and dashed upon the foe, who confidently expected to see them run at the very sight of such an array. So sudden and so unexpected was the onset, that the enemy had only time to fire one volley before the “blue jackets” were upon them, when, marvelous to relate, they broke and fled in confusion. Boyd's men pursued them several miles, putting two of them hors du combat, and then returned to Alexandria to report to General Franklin what they had done. The General was delighted, and at once notified General McClellan, who reviewed the company on the 22d of August, and complimented Captain Boyd and his officers and men for their gallant conduct. The charm was broken, and that company never afterward had any dread of the Confederate cavalry. In this charge, Captain Boyd lost one man killed, Jacob Erwin, who is now buried in the Odd Fellows' Cemetery, in Philadelphia. He was the first cavalryman killed in the rebellion, and this was the first charge made by volunteer cavalry. So much for Pennsylvania.

Boyd's company was then attached to General Franklin's headquarters, and was the pet of the whole division commanded by that gallant soldier. When the regiment to which the company belonged was authorized to be raised, the government supposed it would not require any more volunteer cavalry, and that regiment was to be known as the First United States Volunteer Cavalry. But when it was determined to call out a large force of this arm, the government declined to have anything to do with volunteers, and this regiment found itself without a patron. At this juncture a controversy arose between Governor Morgan, of New York, and Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania, as to the proprietorship of the regiment, which was decided in favor of New York, she having raised ten out of the twelve companies. We had been called the “Lincoln cavalry” up to that time; but after that we were known as the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry. Captain Boyd then made several efforts to get his company transferred to a Pennsylvania regiment, but without success. Governor Curtin had designated the company as the Tenth Pennsylvania cavalry during the controversy with [638] Governor Morgan, and Pennsylvania never had a regiment to fill the vacancy left for Boyd's men.

The company remained with General Franklin throughout the Peninsular campaign, rendering valuable services. By its bold conduct, and timely warning, it saved Franklin's right flank at Savage's Station; and, after hard service in the battle of White Oak Swamp, it covered the retreat, at midnight, to the James river. It rendered good service at Malvern Hill, and cleared the road of teams on the following day, so that the artillery and ambulances could pass. A company of Rush's Lancers took its place at General Franklin's headquarters, at Harrison's Landing, when ordered to proceed with the regiment to join Burnside at Fredericksburg. It marched with that officer to Antietam, and won laurels at Hyattstown, Maryland, just before that battle, and at Williamsport, at its close, where several of its members were wounded by grapeshot while charging upon a battery. In Western Virginia, it made its mark among Imboden's men, helping to capture the camp of that bold partisan on two different occasions. In the Shenandoah Valley, under Milroy, it performed many bold deeds, in company with the regiment, while fighting against Mosby, Gilmore, and Imboden. Here Captain Boyd was promoted to the rank of major, and Lieutenant Stevenson, who had been adjutant of the regiment and acting assistant adjutant general of the cavalry brigade, was promoted to be captain of Boyd's company.

Just then, General Lee slipped away from Hooker at Fredericksburg, en route for Gettysburg, and suddenly confronted Milroy at Winchester. The First New York Cavalry were at Berryville, and were compelled to retire before the advance of Rodes' Division, of Ewell's Corps. A brigade of rebel cavalry pursued and overtook them at the Opequan, but the First New York “cleaned them out” nicely, killing and wounding over fifty of them, and causing them to retire from the field. When Milroy found he was surrounded by Lee's army, he sent for a bold officer and fifty men to carry a dispatch to Martinsburg, and Major Boyd was detailed with his old company. They knew every cow-path in the Valley, and succeeded in flanking the rebel force then between Winchester and Martinsburg, and sent the first intelligence to Baltimore and Washington that Lee's army was at Winchester. That night, a dispatch arrived at Martinsburg for Milroy, and three men of Boyd's company volunteered to take it through. Their names were Oliver Lumphries, John V. Harvey, and George J. Pitman, all sergeants. After several hair-breadth escapes, they arrived in the beleaguered town at midnight, [639] and Milroy called a council of war. It was determined to spike the guns, destroy the artillery ammunition, leave everything on wheels behind, and cut a way through the enemy's lines to Martinsburg or Harper's Ferry. The disaster of that day is too well known to require a recital of it here.

Major Boyd fought the advancing enemy at Martinsburg, while our wagon train, which had gone from Berryville to that place, got well under way, and then he followed it to Williamsport, Maryland. The enemy followed closely, and Boyd was compelled to fight and fall back, and then fight again, in order to save the train, which he succeeded in doing, and conducted it in safety to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Then he began a system of partisan warfare, dashing upon the enemy in front and on both flanks, causing them to think there was a large force in their front, and preventing them from doing much mischief that they otherwise would have done, and helped to save the State capital from the invaders. From the 15th of June, when they left Winchester, to the 15th of July, this company was never out of sight of the enemy, and seldom a day passed without their having a fight. They captured many prisoners, and a vast amount of property, beside saving untold thousands to the people of the Cumberland Valley. At Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the company attacked Jenkins' rebel brigade, and here they lost William H. Rihl, who was the first soldier killed in Pennsylvania during the war.

For his services in this, the Gettysburg campaign, Governor Curtin rewarded Major Boyd with the Colonelcy of the Twenty-first Pennsylvania Cavalry, and commissioned his able lieutenant, 0. B. Knowles, a major in the same regiment. Lieutenant William H. Boyd and Sergeant E. Knowles were also transferred to the Twenty-first--the first as captain and the other as adjutant of the regiment. Captain Stevenson then took command of his company, and under him it won fresh laurels in the Shenandoah Valley after Gettysburg. It was with General Sigel in the battle of New Market, and was the last to leave the field. It led the advance, under General Hunter, upon Lynchburg, and greatly distinguished itself in the battle of Piedmont, and in the subsequent fighting during Hunter's retreat from Lynchburg over the Alleghenies into the Kanawha Valley. Again at Snicker's gap, Ashby's gap, and Winchester, under General Crook, this company played a conspicuous and noble part. And at Moorfield, under General Averill, it formed part of the gallant two hundred of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry, commanded by Captain Jones, that defeated McCausland's whole brigade, returning [640] from the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. It served under Averill during the memorable advance of General Sheridan against General Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and took part in every battle during the campaign. In the battles of Opequan, Fisher's Hill, Brown's gap, and Wier's cave, the valiant conduct of this company attracted the attention of all who beheld it. And at the battle of Nineveh, when Capeheart's Brigade attacked and defeated McCausland's Division, this company led in the charge.

When Sheridan set out from Winchester to join Grant, his way was obstructed by the rebels, under Rosser, at the bridge over North river, near Mount Crawford. The First New York Cavalry, under Lieutenant Colonel Battersby, was ordered to swim the river a mile above the bridge, and charge the rebels in flank; which they did in fine style-driving them out of their works, pursuing them about ten miles, capturing prisoners, guns, and wagons, and saving the bridge over Middle river. For this General Custer, to whose division they belonged, complimented them in person. Next day Custer advanced upon Waynesborough, where Early's forces were intrenched, and, after some severe fighting, charged the works, driving the enemy out, capturing nearly every man, and all the guns and material of war. The First New York Cavalry led the charge. Again at Dinwiddie Court-House and Five Forks, the regiment won fresh laurels under the eyes of Sheridan and Custer. At Sailor's creek the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry led the charge over the enemy's works, capturing General Ewell and his staff and hundreds of prisoners, beside guns and battle-flags. At Appomattox Station they charged with Custer, in the darkness, and took hundreds of prisoners, many guns and wagons, beside four trains of stores, which were waiting for Lee's hungry army. And the next day they were dashing forward with Custer to attack the enemy, when they were stopped by news of the surrender of Lee.

When the regiment re-enlisted as veterans, in 1864, Captain Stevenson induced his men to be credited upon the quota of the Twentieth Ward of Philadelphia, notwithstanding the fact that New York offered much larger bounties to the men, and had offered the captain five hundred dollars to take his company to that State. On the arrival of Company C in Philadelphia, on veteran furlough, the Twentieth Ward Bounty Fund Committee gave them a hearty reception in the old North Baptist church, Eighth street, above Master street, upon which occasion the ladies of the ward presented the company with an elegant guidon, and Captain Stevenson was presented with a sword, sash, and belt. The company participated [641] in sixty engagements with the enemy during their four years of service, and the little guidon above mentioned, which is now in possession of Captain Stevenson, was completely riddled with bullets.

It may not be amiss to state that not only was the present Secretary of the Interior our first colonel, but that Charles B. Evarts, a son of the present Secretary of State, was a soldier in the regiment. This young man was at college, but reading in the New York papers of the daring and seemingly romantic deeds of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry, he ran away from school and enlisted in the regiment as a private soldier, his father being at the time in Europe. He served faithfully and with much credit during the severe campaign of 1864, and on our return from the Lynchburg raid he was commissioned a lieutenant by President Lincoln and assigned to duty as an aide on the staff of General William H. Seward, son of the then Secretary of State.

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