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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1865 Report

Troops in the Field
(continued)

The FIRST REGIMENT OF CAVALRY have had but little cessation, during the year, of the accustomed severity of service required of them, and have been distinguished by their accustomed gallantry, and by more than their accustomed success. Their movements fro the third of June, 1864, until they arrived in the valley of the Shenandoah in August, were stated in my last Annual Report, but not nearly so much in detail as in the official report of Col. William Wells, which was subsequently received, and which I now annex in Appendix C.

On the twenty-ninth of August, 1864, the regiment was encamped near Charles Town, Va. On the afternoon of that day two battalions of the regiment made a reconnoissance to near Berryville, and on the thirtieth the command advanced to that place. On the thirty-first the regiment made a reconnoissance to near Newtown, moving through MIllwood and White Post, returning the same evening to camp, where they remained until the second of September, when they fell back to Charles Town. On the third they joined the brigade which made a reconnoissance to near Newtown and returned the same evening to Millwood and bivouacked. On the fourth they returned to Berryville, where a skirmish was had with the enemy's cavalry. On the fifth the regiment was ordered to Harper's Ferry, to escort our army train to Berryville, arriving there on the sixth. On the seventh the division made a reconnoissance to near Winchester, and returned the same evening to camp, where the regiment remained,--a portion doing picket duty,--until the sixteenth, when a part of the brigade made a reconnoissance to Paris, returning to camp in the evening of the seventeenth.

Early in the morning of Sept. 19, the regiment formed a portion of the advance, moved to the Opequan River, where they met the enemy, advanced from the river about one mile, and remained in position until relieved by the infantry, when they moved to the extreme left. The regiment was dismounted, and moved on the extreme right flank of the enemy, where they rendered good service, and followed on the flank and in rear of the enemy as far as Kearnstown, and bivouacked. On the twentieth they advanced to the Shenandoah River, on the Front Royal pike. The regiment had the advance, skirmishing slightly with the enemy's cavalry, until the river was reached, where the enemy were found in force. At daylight on the twenty-first of September Col. Wells was ordered, with the First New Hampshire and the First Vermont, to cross the river to the right of the pike, while the remainder of the division crossed on the pike. The First New Hampshire was dismounted and attempted to drive the enemy from the south bank of the river, but did not succeed. A charge by the First Vermont was then ordered, and the enemy were driven from their position. The regiment soon joined the division, and moved through Front Royal, when the regimen was again detached and ordered to advance four miles on the river road to "Mooney's Grade," at which place they met a very heavy force of the enemy's cavalry and artillery. About ten o'clock p. m. the regiment was relieved and joined the brigade.

On the twenty-second of September the regiment moved up the Luray Valley to Millford, where a short skirmish was had with the enemy. The next day they remained on picket on the Shenandoah River, and the brigade moved to Bucktown. At one o'clock a. m., on the twenty-fourth, the regiment advanced through Luray and bivouacked near the Massanutten Gap, and on the twenty-fifth they moved through the Gap to Newmarket, in the Shenandoah Valley.

On that day Col. Wells was placed in command of the Second Brigade, to which the regiment was attached, and Lieut.-Col. John W. Bennett took command of the regiment. Col. Wells was not again in immediate command of the regiment. On the twenty-second of February, 1865, he was breveted Brigadier General for gallant and meritorious service, and on the nineteenth of May he was appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers.

Col. Wells reports, that during the severe campaign, while the regime tn was under his command, from the third of June, 1864, the field, staff and line officers of the regiment rendered most valuable service, and that no regiment in the division, marched more miles, or fought more battles, than the First Vermont.

During the retrograde movement of Gen. Sheridan's army from Harrisonburg, the division to which the First Vermont was attached, left Timberville for Columbia Furnace on the morning of the seventh of October, the regiment serving as the rear guard. During the morning a charge was made upon the rear by a small party of the enemy, which was promptly repulsed. At about two o'clock p. m., the wagon-train was halted, and the regiment was no sooner in position, than two unsuccessful charges were made by the enemy. The force which the enemy then developed was soon found to be greatly superior, and, as the safety of the train compelled the holding of the position, the line of the regiment was extended to the utmost. The regiment was reinforced by a small portion of the Eighth New York, and about fifty men of the First New Hampshire, and by severe skirmishing the lines were held until three o'clock p. m., when the enemy charged upon the left with two regiments. This was checked by the small part of the First Vermont in reserve, under command of Capt. Watson and Lieut. Mitchell; but an attack following immediately along the entire line, the regiment was forced back nearly two miles, to the lines of the First Brigade, without being able to offer any effectual resistance. Nearly one hundred and fifty of the regiment, in this engagement, were recruits, who had never drilled, and were then in action for the first time.

At six o'clock in the morning of the ninth of October, the regiment joined the column then moving towards Mount Olive, and in the engagement which ensued at Tom's Brook, being stationed upon the left of the batteries, was ordered to move rapidly to the front, on the road leading to Mount Olive. On reaching the summit of the hill, a charge was ordered, which was executed by the Third Battalion, under Major Grover. At this moment a heavy column of the enemy was discovered preparing to charge the regiment, and while the First and Second Battalions were taking position to support Major Grover, the Third Battalion was slightly broken; but the First and Second Battalions coming promptly to its support, the enemy were quickly repulsed and the line re-established. Here the enemy stubbornly contested the advance for about half an hour, during which but little ground was gained; but they then commenced giving way, and the regiment promptly charging, the enemy broke and fled in great confusion. At this point the regiment became divided, a portion following the enemy to the left, while the residue took the direct road leading to Columbia Furnace. The portion which moved to the right, led by Adjutant Gates, mingled with other regiments in the rush and fruitless attempt to overtake any considerable force of the enemy, the advance halting at Columbia Furnace, a distance of about eight miles. The other part of the regiment, under Major Grover and Capt. Cummings, met more resistance, the enemy forming several times, and once making an unsuccessful charge upon a portion of their command. By heavy skirmishing, however, they continued to drive a greatly superior force, until recalled. When the division retired, the regiment acted as rear guard.

The conduct of the officers and men, in this engagement, is spoken of by Lieut.-Col. Bennettin the highest terms. He specially mentions Sergeants Alvah R. Haswell and Frederick W. Cook, of Co. G; Malcolm G. Frost, Co. A, and James Wright, Co. D,--the two latter the color-sergeants of the regiment,--as conspicuous for bravery; sergeant Wright thrust one of the enemy with the spear of the color-staff.

The regiment captured, during the day, two pieces of artillery, three ambulances, two army-wagons, and about twenty-five prisoners, including two commissioned officers.

In the battle of Cedar Creek, on the nineteenth of October, the regiment bore a distinguished part. The cavalry were encamped upon the right of the Sixth Corps. In the morning the command was aroused by an attack on the right of the picket lines, which were held by the Third Division. Lieut.-Col. Bennett was ordered to move out with his regiment, select a position covering the camp, and feel the lines of the enemy. The latter was promptly and successfully accomplished by the First Battalion, under Capt. Cummings. The regiment then joined the division, which was moving in the direction of the infantry lines, from which heavy firing was heard, but was immediately directed to move again to the extreme right and ascertain if any flanking column of the enemy was moving in that direction. AFter proceeding a short distance, they came in sight of a strong column, and a position was selected to check their advance; but being ordered to fall back and keep connection with the infantry,the regiment slowly withdrew, the enemy following and skirmishing sharply. After retiring about a mile, information being received that the infantry were making strenuous efforts to check the further advance of the enemy, the regiment was halted, and, by severe skirmishing, succeeded in maintaining their position for more than two hours. Gen. Custer then returned from the left with the First Brigade and Battery and ordered a charge, in which the enemy were driven back, and the regiment regained its former position.

The position was held until about four o'clock p.m., when the whole division was moved rapidly to the left and front, separating the enemy's infantry from his cavalry; and while the First Brigade engaged his cavalry, Gen. Custer, taking the First Vermont, moved rapidly down across the battle-field, where the Sixth Corps had fought in the morning. The line of the enemy then rested along the breast-works which had been held by the Union troops at the commencement of the battle. Before the regiment could execute the order to charge the breast-works, the enemy had moved so rapidly to the rear, that nearly all had crossed the creek. The regiment dashed down a narrow winding foot-path, which led through the thick wood covering the bluff on the bank of the creek, crossed the creek, skirmishing until the advance had reached a heavy stone wall, about sixty rods from the crossing,where a halt was made until the entire regiment could arrive. Just as the formation of the line was completed, Gen. Custer came up with the Fifth New York, which formed upon the left of the First Vermont. The charge was ordered, and the men, maddened by the sight of their dead and wounded comrades, lying, barbarously stripped of their clothing, upon the battle-field behind them, with loud shouts obeyed the order. For a moment they were met by a terrific fire, and then, confused and terrified, the enemy threw down their arms and trampled upon each other in their frantic efforts to escape. The slaughter was fearful. The enemy, diving to the right and left, allowed the regiment to pass through their centre and reach their artillery and trains. Many guns were captured,--some in good order, with cannoniers in their places, and the drivers upon their horses; others entangled, upset, and abandoned. It was a scene of wild confusion. Ambulances, with their loads of wounded, horses with their riders, cannoniers with their pieces, were struggling madly together, and through and over all, the regiment swept forward, never halting the advance, until a little creek had been reached, about half a mile south of Strasburg, where several overturned wagons had completely blocked the passage, leaving the pike behind crowded with trains, prisoners, and captured ambulances ang wagons, without change of drivers, were necessarily sent unguarded to the rear. The pursuit ceased at this point, and the regiment returned about midnight to Cedar Creek, having captured one hundred and sixty-one prisoners, including one general officer (Ramseur), one Colonel, one Lieutenant-Col., three battle-flags, twenty-three pieces of artillery, fourteen caissons, seventeen army-wagons, six spring wagons and ambulances, eight-three sets artillery harness, seventy-five sets wagon harness, ninety-eight horses, and sixty-nine mules.

Lieut.-Col. Bennett reportsthat every officer and man, under his command, who participated in that charge, conducted himself with such gallantry as to merit special mention.

On the twenty-second of October, 1864, the original members of the regiment, who had not re-enlisted,left Virginia for Vermont, to be mustered out of service, and were mustered out at Burlington on the eighteenth of November, leaving in the field about four hundred men and three officer, Major William G. CUmmings commanding.

I annex, in Appendix C, the detailed and very interesting report, by Lieut.-Col. Bennett, of the movements and preparations of the regiment, while under his command, from September 25 to October 22, 1864.

The regiment remained encamped near Cedar Creek until the army fell back, on the tenth of November, and took up a new line near Kearnstown. The Third Cavalry Division had the right of the line, encamping at the junction of the Middle Road with Romney Pike. Immediately upon going into camp, Major Cummings received orders to proceed with the regiment and establish a picket line in front of the division, from Newtown to Faucet's Gap, some three miles in extent, which was done at once.

About noon, on the eleventh of November, the regiment was attacked by the enemy's cavalry, coming in on the Middle Road, and forced back, until the brigade came to their support, when a heavy skirmish ensued, continuing until the enemy fell back, sometime after dark. They were pursued, and some prisoners captured. The regiment was again stationed upon the picket line, and was again attacked, early the next morning, by the rebel cavalry, but held the line until about eleven o'clock, when the division came up and the regiment joined in the charge, which was continued some two miles, but resulted in being in turn compelled to fall back to their previous position. The skirmishing was quite heavy until near night, with occasionally a charge but just before dark the First Division came up, and the enemy were driven from the field. The casualties, on the eleventh, were one killed and three wounded, and on the twelfth four killed, thirteen wounded, and three missing. Major Cummings reports that the regiment never fought better than in these engagement, although some two hundred and fifty of the men were recruits, just from the State, who had never had a day's drill; and that the officers, capt. Chandler and Lieut. Mitchell, acquitted themselves with great gallantry.

The next morning (13th) the regiment joined in the pursuit of the enemy as far as Cedar Creek, but finding that they had gone up the valley, returned to camp. On the nineteenth of November, the regiment, with the corps, marched on a reconnoisance up the Valley as far as Mount Jackson; but finding the enemy in force at Rood's HIll, the troops withdrew, the First Vermont covering the rear. THe enemy pursued some distance, and in the skirmish two men were wounded and one captured. The regiment returned to camp on the twenty-third, and remained until the seventh of December, when they moved, with the division, to Moorefield, Va., to intercept Rosser, on his return from capturing New Creek; but although the command marched fifty miles in sixteen hours, Rosser has already passed, and the command returned to camp on the eleventh, without an engagement.

On the eighteenth of December the division made a reconnoisance up the valley, encamping the second night at Lacie's Springs. Just before day, on the twentieth, a brigade of rebel cavalry charged into camp, surprising the pickets of the First New Hampshire, and attacking the Eighth New York before the Eighth were aware of the presence of an enemy. The First Vermont moved at once towards the firing, and, after a short skirmish, made a charge, capturing some thirty prisoners, without losing a man. On the twenty-second the regiment returned to camp and built winter quarters near Winchester, Va., where they remained, doing out-post duty, until the opening of the spring campaign.

On the first of February Lieut.-Col. Josiah Hall rejoined the regiment and took command. I annex, in Appendix C, the report of Major Cummings, of the movements and operations of the regiment while he was in command, from October 22, 1864, to February 1, 1865.

On the twenty-seventh of February the regiment broke camp and started on the spring campaign, forming a part of General Custer's division of Gen. Sheridan's command, which moved up the Shenandoah Valley, through Staunton to Charlottesville. On the second of March the enemy were met in force at Waynesboro. The regiment formed in line of battle just in rear of the skirmish line, and in full view and easy range of the enemy's guns, partly to draw their fire, and partly to cover the manoeuvering of other portions of the division, and although standing under a most galling fire and in a very exposed situation, the lines were kept as complete and steady as on a review. When all the details for the general attack has been arranged, the regiment moved round on the enemy's right flank, to draw their fire and attention, while the main attack was made on the enemy's left. The movement was successfully made, and the regiment joined in the grand charge, capturing one piece of artillery complete, a number of prisoners, and a quantity of small arms. The behaviour of the regiment, in this engagement, is reported as having been admirable. During the day one man was killed and one wounded.

The next day the command moved to Charlottesville, and the regiment was employed in destroying the railroad and telegraph line from that place to Lynchburg, and was principally employed in the performance of that kind of duty during the remainder of the march to White House Landing, which was reached on the eighteenth of March. On the twenty-fourth of March they again left camp, crossed the James River on the twenty-sixth, and went into camp on the lines in front of Petersburg, where they remained until the twenty-ninth, when they marched towards Dinwiddie Court House.

On the morning of the first of April the division moved to the front, and in the afternoon the regiment was actively engaged in the battle at Five Forks, capturing many prisoners, and having a number of men slightly wounded, but none seriously. On the second of April a slight skirmish was had with a small detachment of the enemy's cavalry.

On the third of April the regiment started on the advance, but had not proceeded far before the met the enemy, behind breastworks, and with a deep, muddy creek in front. A part of the regiment was dismounted and crossed at a distance from the road and came down on the flank and rear of the works, and carried them at once. The remainder then crossed the stream and commenced the pursuit. The enemy were soon overtaken and found in force, well posted upon the summit of a hill. The regiment was at once formed by battalions and charged, driving the enemy from their position and back upon their reserves. The regiment, with the Eighth New York Cavalry, then charged them again, driving them in every direction, and capturing many prisoners and their only piece of artillery. After pursuing them about eight miles a halt was ordered, to enable the troops, which had become much scattered in the chase, to close up, and to gather up the captures. The casualties in the regiment, during the day, were two killed and nine wounded.

ON the fourth of April the regiment crossed Deep Creek, and proceeded down its bank to near the Appomattox, and thence, after a halt of a few hours, to Jeter's Station, on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which was reached on the morning of the fifth, after a most tedious night's march. They took position to the left and front of the Fifth Corps, and remained in line of battle all day. The battle of Sailor's Creek commenced early on the morning of the sixth. The brigade to which the regiment was attached, was sent upon a reconnoisance to the extreme right of the line. They moved through Amelia Court House, which had been evacuated by the enemy that morning, and followed in the direction the enemy had moved, but did not come up with the main army until after the battle had terminated. On the seventh the regiment passed through Prince Edward's Court House, and on the evening of the eighth arrived at Appomattox Court House. There the enemy were again met, and, after a stubborn and hotly-contested fight, were driven from the field, leaving their trains and artillery. Eight pieces of artillery, besides a large number of wagons and ambulances, were captured by the First Vermont. The casualties in the regiment, during the day, were one killed and five wounded. Among the wounded were Lieut. Eri D. Woodbury, Acting Adjutant, and Lieut. Willard Farring, Co. L.,--both severely.

On the ninth of April the fighting commenced by sunrise, and, as the infantry had arrived during the night, the cavalry were soon in motion. The Second Brigade was in advance, and the First Vermont in front, the Eighth New York having been placed upon the skirmish line. THe cavalry moved out on the trot, forcing back rapidly the enemy's skirmish line, leaving the ground to be occupied by the Fifth Corps, which came up at the double quick. After passing the enemy's entire front, and having been subjected to the united fire of two batteries, the regiment came around upon their flank and rear, and in full view of their supply trains. Lieut.-Col. Hall, being ordered to charge the train with his regiment, immediately made the proper disposition of the command; the front battalion had already broken into a gallop, and the others were at a fast trot, when word was brought that Gen. Lee has sent in a flag of truce, offering to surrender his army, and the regiment was ordered to be halted. The two rear battalions were immediately halted; but the front battalion had advanced so far that they had captured the last post between them and the train before they could be halted. The regiment was at once formed in line of battle, while the preliminaries of the surrender were adjusted. The surrender was completed, and the regiment went into camp where they were, having been called upon, for the last time in the war, to face the enemy.

The casualties in the regiment, during the morning, were two men wounded, one of them severely.

On the tenth of April the regiment returned to Burkesville Junction, and from thence proceeded to Petersburg, arriving there on the nineteenth. On the twenty-fourth the regiment started for Danville Va., but, learning that Johnson had surrendered, they returned to Petersburg, arriving there on the third of May, and remaining until the tenth, when they started for Washington, where they arrived on the sixteenth, and remained until the ninth of June, participating in the review of the army at Washington on the twenty-third of May, and in the review of the troops from Vermont by the Governor of this State on the seventh of June.

On the ninth of June the regiment left Washington for Vermont, arriving in Burlington on the thirteenth.

The recruits, whose terms of service would expire previous to the first of October, were mustered out of service on the twenty-first of June; and the remainder of the men were consolidated into six companies. Col. Hall was mustered out of service, and Lieut.-Col. William G. Cummings took command of the battalion.

Two companies of the battalion were stationed at St. Albans, Vt., and the remaining companies at different points in Northern New York, the headquarters being at Champlain, New York.

The battalion was mustered out of service, entire, on the ninth of August, 1865.

I annex, in Appendix C, the official report of Col. Hall of the movements and operations of the regiment while under his command, from February 1, 1865, to June 21, 1865. He bears strong testimony to the willing and prompt execution, by the officers and men of the regiment, of every duty assigned them, and the indomitable courage and heroic daring displayed by them in every engagement.

The following statement shows the condition and station of the regiment at the several dates specified.

(see Legend, below)

FIRST REGIMENT OF CAVALRY

ABCDEFGHI
1864.
Sept. 30,Camp Russell, Va.957638298966-
Oct. 31,do99054422121456-
Nov. 30,do902609281165-
Dec. 31,do9085932921373-
1865.
Feb. 28,In the Field, Va.893665213447-
M'ch 31,do88861521450 54-
Apr. 30,do89959323466 24-

The casualties in the regiment, during the year, have been as follows:--Mustered out of service, 1134; transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps, 22; discharged, 45; deserted, 44; died, 177; total, 1422.

Legend:


A - Date
B - Station.
C - Aggregate
D - On Duty
E - Sick
F - Absent with Leave
G - Absent without Leave
H - In arrest or confinement
I - Prisons
left arrowSeventeenth Regiment Second Artillery Batteryright arrow

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