John Irvin Gregg, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves

From "Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania" by Samuel P. Bates

John Irvin Gregg

JOHN IRVIN GREGG, Colonel of the Sixteenth cavalry, Brevet Brigadier and Major-General, was born on the 26th of July, 1826, at Bellefonte, Centre county, where his family had resided for nearly a century. His father, Andrew Gregg, was for two terms State Senator. He received a sound education in the academies of Centre and Union Counties. In stature he is six feet four inches in height and well formed. In December, 1846, he volunteered as a private for the Mexican War, and on reaching Jalapa received notice of his appointment as First Lieutenant in the Eleventh infantry, one of ten new regular regiments. He was subsequently promoted to Captain, and served with honor to the close of the war, when these regiments were mustered out of service. Captain Gregg returned to Centre county, where he engaged in the manufacture of iron. He served in the militia as First Lieutenant, Captain, Major, and Lieutenant-Colonel. He was married in November, 1857, to Miss Clarissa A. Everhart, a lady of rare amiability and beauty, whose early death was deeply and sincerely mourned.

At the breaking out of the Rebellion he was made Captain and Colonel of the Fifth Reserve, but was shortly after appointed Captain in the Sixth Untied States cavalry. His duty in the field commenced with the Peninsula campaign under McClellan, as a squadron. He was present at the battle of Williamsburg on the 5th of May, Kent Court House on the 9th, and on the 11th had possession of White House on the Pamunkey. He was with the Union advance at Ellison’s Mills on the 21st, and at Hanover Court House on the 27th. In the preliminaries to the Seven Days’ battle he skirmished with the rebel infantry, and narrowly escaped capture. Then followed days and nights of weary marching, while the army of McClellan was fighting its way to the James. Captain Gregg subsequently did important service in the retirement from the Peninsula, and in the campaigns of Second Bull Run and Antietam. In November, 1862, he was selected to command the Sixteenth Pennsylvania cavalry.

Early in January, 1863, he joined the Army of the Potomac, and was assigned to Averell’s brigade. During the remainder of the winter he performed important outpost duty, and acquired a reputation for efficiency which was never lost. The first and only battle in which Colonel Gregg participated as a regimental commander was at Kelly’s Ford, on the 17th of March. The numbers on either side were about equal, and the advantage gained by the Union force was decisive, marking a new era for that arm. At Brandy Station, on the 9th of June, nearly the entire cavalry of the two armies was engaged. Here Colonel Gregg led a brigade.

At Aldie and Upperville the fighting was severe, the combatants coming hand to hand. In the battle of Gettysburg his command was posted so as to protect the right flank of the Union army, and was engaged during the afternoon of the second day, and during the third. After Lee made his escape to Virginia, Gregg’s brigade with the entire division was sent across the Potomac to follow up the rebel rear, and ascertain his whereabouts. But the rebel chieftain covered his movements by leaving near the mouth of the valley his best fighting troops. At noon on the 18th, while near Shepherdstown, the Union skirmishers were driven in, and close upon their heels the enemy advanced in force. For eight hours, and until night put an end to the contest, the fighting was of the most determined character and the carnage terrible. The enemy was well supplied with artillery, which was effectively served. At first he concentrated his fire on the right, then on the left, and finally, just as the sun was sinking, a fire of unwonted power and destructiveness was opened upon the right centre. The enemy charged repeatedly, coming on in three columns, and gaining at times a point within thirty paces of the Union line; but nothing could withstand the withering fire that swept that gory field, and until darkness separated the combatants Gregg’s small brigade held fast its position, and when the remnants of his faithful band were ordered to retire, bore away the mangled forms of one hundred and fifty-eight of their comrades.

In the movement to Culpeper, Gregg was with the advance, and in conjunction with Kilpatrick’s men captured a body of the enemy who were there cut off. When General Lee commenced his flank movement towards Centreville, one regiment of Gregg’s brigade was left on the south bank of Hedgeman or Upper Rappahannock river, charged with picketing in the direction of Jeffersonton. At eight o’clock on the morning of the 12th of October, the enemy were reported advancing in force. With two small regiments of less than six hundred men, from early in the day until nightfall, Colonel Gregg succeeded in checking the right wing of Lee’s army and delaying his passage of the stream. The stubborn resistance which this devoted band here made was of signal service, as Meade was enabled to complete the crossing of the stream, and gain a day’s march on his antagonist.

In November Gregg was ordered to Washington, where he remained the greater part of the winter under medical treatment. In the Wilderness campaign, which opened in May, he was in Sheridan’s column, and for three days was engaged near Todd’s Tavern. On the morning of the 10th Colonel Gregg had the advance in the movement upon Richmond, and soon after starting encountered the enemy in force. A brisk skirmish ensued. On the following day Gregg was of the rear-guard, and before the column had all moved the enemy attacked with great impetuosity, doubling up a part of his brigade, and was near throwing the whole Union force into confusion. At this juncture Gregg brought his artillery into position, and when the rebels were at close quarters, gave them grape and canister in rapid rounds, which sent them back in utter rout. It is impossible, as it is unnecessary, to follow Colonel Gregg through all the intricate mazes in which he led his brigade and division. He particularly distinguished himself in the actions of the 12th of May inside the fortifications of Richmond, and at Trevilian Station, on the 11th of June, for which he received the brevet rank of Brigadier-General.

In the action at Deep Bottom, on the 16th of August, he was wounded in the right wrist. He was also wounded in the ankle at Hatcher’s Run, on the 6th of February, while attempting to charge at the head of a portion of his brigade against the enemy’s infantry. An amusing incident occurred in connection with the dressing of this wound. At the time of the engagement, and for some days previous, a young German, the Baron Morehouse, a Lieutenant in the Prussian service and Aide-de-camp to the King, who was here for the purpose of observing military operations, had been serving as a volunteer aid on the staff of General Gregg. He had kept close to the side of the General throughout the battle, and in the midst of the sharpest firing. While the surgeon was removing the boot from the wounded foot, seeing the bullet lying loose in the wound, he sprang forward in an excited manner, and seizing the blood-stained missile, exclaimed in his broken English, “Mien Gott! I will carry him to Europe and show him to mien king.”

General Gregg was again wounded at Amelia Springs on the 5th of April, 1865, in a skirmish on the occasion of Lee’s retreat from Petersburg. At the close of hostilities he was brevetted Major-General of volunteers for distinguished services during the war. He also received the brevets of Major, Lieutenant-Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier-General in the regular army, for gallantry in action in the battles of Kelly’s Ford, Middleburg, Shepherdstown, Wilderness, Sulphur Springs, St. Mary’s Church, Deep Bottom, Stony creek Station, and Hatcher’s Run. Throughout his entire term of service, General Gregg displayed the best qualities of the intrepid soldier, and by his stubborn fighting on many fields fairly won the character of an heroic and reliable office, one who was not afraid to face superior numbers, even under the most unfavorable circumstances, and who made his dispositions with so much coolness and self-possession as to reassure his own men and intimidate the foe.1

City Letter Carrier at USPS | | Website | + posts

Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.

  1. Bates, Samuel P., “Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania”, pp. 851-854, Part II, Chapter XIII.