Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
On the 13th of April, 1861, Thomas L. Kane, brother of Dr. Kane, the famous Arctic explorer, and himself schooled by extensive travel in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, applied to Governor Curtin for permission to raise a company of mounted riflemen from among the hardy yeomenry of the counties of Forest, McKean and Elk, popularly known as the wildcat district. Authority was immediately given as requested, and in less than a week the men began to assemble at the points of rendezvous. On the 17th it was decided to change the organization from cavalry to infantry. The men, for the most part lumbermen, came clad in their red flannel shirts, bearing their trusty rifles, and wearing each in his hat, a bucktail. No one was accepted who did not prove himself-a skilled marksman. All were carefully examined by a surgeon, and none but sound and hardy men taken.
The idea of recruiting this class of men was suggested by Dr. Kane. He had found in his Arctic experience that ordinary sailors-web footed as he termed them-were not the men for overland exploration, and he had conceived the idea of organizing a party from among the hunters of this forest region-men quick of perception, who knew the significance of the rustle of a leaf or the snap of a twig,-and who were accustomed to a life in the woods for days and weeks together-for a second voyage of exploration. The fulfillment of this purpose was only prevented by his untimely death. When hostilities were about to open, the idea of organizing a rifle or skirmish regiment from this class of men was at once entertained, and its wisdom recognized.
On the 24th of April, a hundred men had assembled at the rafting place on the Sinnemahoning, where they at once commenced constructing their transports. Two days later the entire force, three hundred and fifteen strong, embarked upon three rafts, and with a green hickory pole, surmounted by a bucktail, for a flagstaff, the stars and stripes flying, and the martial strains of fife and drums echoing through the forests, they commenced the movement for the general camp of rendezvous at the capital.
Although authority had been given for recruiting this force, yet no order had been issued by the Governor for marching, and before it had proceeded far it was found at headquarters that only a limited number could be accepted. A telegram was accordingly dispatched directing them to turn back upon their arrival at Lock Haven, but through the connivance of General Jackman, of the militia, who was very desirous that these hardy men of the forest should be received, the message was never delivered, and they were borne onward by the current over the broad bosom of the Susquehanna, and upon their arrival at Harrisburg saluted the city with a volley from their rifles.
From the insignia in their hats they were at once recognized and known as the Bucktails. Authority was given for mustering them into the service as the Seventeenth (three months’) Regiment, and an organization was effected by the choice of Thomas L. Kane, Colonel. But a Seventeenth Regiment had already been organized and mustered into service in Philadelphia, and a difficulty arising as to the acceptance of so large a number from a district containing only a small population, the organization was not consummated, and Colonel Kane, declining his commission, was mustered into service on the 13th of May as a private.
In the meantime, other companies had been recruited, and had assembled in camps, with like expectations, and were similarly disappointed. Roy Stone, a citizen of Warren County, had recruited a company, in April, composed of a class of men similar in occupation and experience to those led by Kane. They bore their own rifles, and dwelt principally upon the head waters of the Allegheny River. Disappointed in being admitted to the three months’ service, they remained for some time encamped at the Court House in Warren, and were fed by the citizens. With no authority to provide for them, Governor Curtin advised them to disband. But this they were unwilling to do. Tiring of inactivity, they gladly acceded to a proposition from their captain to-move – down the Allegheny upon flat-boats to Pittsburg, and thence proceed-to join General McClellan in West Virginia, as an independent corps of sharp-shooters. They were five days in making the run, being entertained at the towns along the river, and receiving many recruits on the way. At Pittsburg they were the guests of the city, and here Captain Stone received a summons from Governor Curtin to march to Harrisburg, where the company would be assigned to the Reserve Corps. Another company was recruited in Chester County, one in Perry, one in Clearfield, one in Carbon and two in Tioga.
For some time after the arrival of the men in camp a regimental organization was delayed. The officers of the companies most allied to each other in taste and training, out of which it was proposed to form a rifle regiment, having conferred together, and tiring of the delays which still continued, finally united in presenting the following paper to General McCall1:
“The under signed, captains of companies now in Camp Curtin, present their respects to Major General McCall, congratulating the army of Pennsylvania upon being; placed under such a commander. They beg not to be supposed desirous of interfering with Major General McCall’s discretion in expressing a desire to have their companies united to form one regiment under the command of Colonel Thomas L. Kane. They are assured that their men are peculiarly qualified to serve efficiently in a regiment of rifles under Colonel Kane, being, with few exceptions, men of extremely hardy habits and trained from boyhood to the use of Arms. [Signed.] Captains Philip Holland, Julius Sherwood, George B. Overton, John A. Eldred, Wm. T. Blanchard, Hugh McDonald, E. A. Irvin, R. Stone and A. Niles.
An election was soon ordered, which was held on the 12th of June, with the following result:
- Thomas L. Kane, Colonel
- Charles J. Biddle, Lieutenant Colonel
- Roy Stone, Major.
Colonel Kane, accordingly, received his commission bearing date of June 12th; but, though the first choice of his men, he was but a civilian, and believing that selfish ambition should be subordinated to the public weal, he yielded to a patriotic impulse, at that time most rare, though most noble and magnanimous, and resigned his commission as Colonel on the following day, accompanying his resignation with a request that Lieutenant Colonel Biddle, who had been educated in the profession of arms, and had acquired experience on the battle-field in the war with Mexico, should be commissioned in his place.2 This request was acceded to by the men at his earnest solicitation, and a second election was held which resulted in accordance with his wish. Unwilling to allow so honorable and unselfish an act to pass without some mark of their appreciation, the captains of the several companies passed resolutions soliciting a change of the name from the “Rife Regiment,” to that of the “Kane Rifle Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps.”3
In compliance with his request a special order was issued from headquarters, No. 95, and approved, and made of record by the War Department, making the change of name as requested, which accordingly became the official designation. The regiment therefore started into service with a variety of prenomens. The Forty-second of the line, the Thirteenth Reserve, the Rifle, the First Rifle, the Kane Rifle, and the Bucktail. The latter was the popular name, known and read of all; it was the name it bore in the army, and was known throughout the world where the record of our great warfare was read.
On the 21st of June, the regiment, together with the Fifth, Colonel Simmons, and Barr’s Battery, was ordered to the support of Colonel Wallace, at Cumberland, Maryland. Proceeding by rail to Hopewell, Bedford County, it marched thence to Bedford Springs, a distance of twenty-three miles-its first march. On the 27th, the command proceeded to the State line, a distance of about forty miles, where was established Camp Mason and Dixon. Two weeks later, Colonel Wallace’s regiment having been ordered to Martinsburg to join the command of General Patterson, this portion of Maryland was left open to the enemy.
A mounted force under the leadership of Colonel Angus McDonald was destroying, unchecked, the property of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and at the earnest solicitation of the officers of the road, the command broke camp on the 7th of July, and marched to Cumberland, occupying the camp which Colonel Wallace had vacated.
On the 12th, a scouting party of sixty men, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Kane, went forward and crossed into Virginia. At New Creek Village the party was surrounded by McDonald’s rebel cavalry, but by the skillful management of Kane, the rebels were worsted in a sharp skirmish that ensued, and driven away with the loss of eight killed and double the number wounded. The scouts escaped without injury. Colonel Biddle moved with his entire command to their relief, and immediately dispatched Kane with two hundred men to follow the retreating enemy. He came up with them at Ridgeville, nine miles from New Creek, and after a severe skirmish succeeded in gaining possession of the village, posting his little force in a stone house, which was held until Colonel Biddle with his command arrived.
On the morning of the 13th, the entire command fell back, and took position at New Creek and Piedmont, which were held until the 27th of July, when, in pursuance of orders, it returned to Harrisburg. On the 1st of August, the regiment was reviewed by Governor Curtin, and on the 6th, was ordered to report to General Banks at Harper’s Ferry. Here it was assigned to a brigade composed of the Twenty-eighth New York, the Second and Twelfth Massachusetts, and the Second United States Cavalry, commanded by Colonel George H. Thomas. In this brigade it served through all the marches made by the division until the 1st of October, when, in accordance with orders from the Secretary of War, it moved to Tenallytown and joined the Reserves. Here it was for a time attached to the Second Brigade, commanded by General Meade. After witnessing for the first time the drill of the regiment, the General wrote in very complimentary terms to its commander, in which he said: “The promptness and precision of the maneuvers, the spirited manner in which the movements were made, reflected great credit on yourself and the officers and men of your command. I feel satisfied that men giving such evidence of practice and good discipline can be relied on in the hour of trial.” It being a rifle regiment and adapted to special service, General McCall detached it from the Second Brigade, and ordered its commander to make his reports directly to his headquarters.
Upon the advance of the division into Virginia, the Bucktails led the way. On the 20th of October, companies A, G, H, I and K, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kane, encountered a body of the Louisiana Zouaves, (Tigers,) near Hunter’s Mill. A sharp skirmish ensued, in which the Zouaves were driven with loss. On the 12th of December, Colonel Biddle resigned to take his seat in Congress, to which body he had recently been elected from Philadelphia. On the 20th of December, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Kane, it marched with Ord’s Brigade to Dranesville, where the enemy was met in force. About noon, information was received that a large body of the rebels were in the vicinity, advancing upon the Centreville road. The Bucktails were at once posted in support of the battery, and the battle opened with an artillery duel, during which the infantry laid upon their arms. After a half hour the enemy’s fire began to slacken. At this time Colonel Kane, who was on the right of the column, discovered that the rebel infantry were passing through an opening near the wood, evidently intending a flank movement, or designing to occupy a brick house within a hundred yards of his line. He accordingly sent a detachment of twenty men to take the house, which they did, and under shelter of its walls maintained a hot fire upon the advancing force, which consisted of three regiments and a battery of two small guns. As they approached, the Bucktails, inspired by the presence and example of their leader, kept up a steady and effective fire. Lying upon the ground as they loaded their pieces, they rose suddenly, took deliberate aim, and fired, then dropped upon the ground again. The fire becoming too hot for them, the rebels began to fall back. As the Bucktails arose to follow, Colonel Kane was shot in the face, the ball crushing through the roof of the mouth, inflicting a painful wound. But bandaging it, he continued to advance with his men. The enemy now fled in precipitation, leaving his dead and wounded upon the field, and one piece of artillery, which, but for the positive orders of the General in command, would have been captured by the Bucktails. The loss was two men killed, and two officers and twenty-six men wounded.
On the 22d of January, 1862, an election was held for Colonel, which resulted in the choice of Hugh W. McNeil, Captain of company D; Lieutenant Colonel Kane being at this time in hospital suffering greatly from the wound received at Dranesville.
Upon the recovery of Colonel Kane sufficiently to take the field, he addressed a paper to General McClellan, containing the out-lines of a system of skirmish tactics which he had devised, and which he submitted for the General’s opinion. The system was regarded with much favor, and the paper was returned with the following endorsement:
“March 7th, 1862. Respectfully referred to General M�Call, with instructions to detail four companies of the Kane Rifles to report to Colonel Kane, and until further orders to be drilled by Colonel Kane exclusively in the system of tactics devised by him, so far as the same is not inconsistent with the official system.”
In conformity with this order companies C, G, H and I were selected and placed under his tuition.
On the 10th of March, the campaign opened, and ten days of rough weather were spent, without shelter, in the march to Manassas and return to Alexandria. The Bucktails were now attached to the First Brigade, commanded by General Reynolds, and the Reserves were assigned to the First Corps. Upon the arrival of the regiment at Falmouth, owing to the serious illness of Colonel McNeil, and the detachment of Lieutenant Colonel Kane, Major Stone assumed command of the remaining six companies.
Pursuit of Jackson up the Shenandoah Valley
About the middle of May, Colonel Kane, with his force of four companies, was ordered to report to Colonel Bayard, commanding a brigade of cavalry, The brigade being the extreme advance of General McDowell, the Bucktails were pushed on -a reconnaissance to within six miles of Hanover Court House, whence they were re-called and ordered to support Fremont in the pursuit of Stonewall Jackson up the Shenandoah Valley. The brilliant service of the brigade between May 25th, and June 6th, following, is a memorable period in their history. They led Freemont’s extreme advance throughout the entire pursuit, conducting their marching and fighting according to their peculiar tactics. In twelve successive days, during seven of which they were constantly engaged with the enemy, they marched nearly twenty miles a day, and counting flank marching and service in fight, exclusive of foraging, an estimate of thirty-two more. Without tents, blankets, or regular rations (there being issued to them m twelve days only three and a half rations of crackers, one of meat and two of coffee and sugar,) they out marched and wore down all the horses of the cavalry. Thus in less than a fortnight the effective force of the battalion was reduced to one hundred and twenty-eight men. On the 6th of June, upon their arrival at Harrisonburg, at evening, reports came that the First New Jersey Cavalry had fallen into an ambuscade, and that the wounded, including Captain Haines, a brave young officer, were left lying upon the field. It was necessary to know the position and strength of the enemy. It was important, also, to keep him too hard pressed to suffer him to act separately against Shields, whose command he could not cope with when united with Fremont’s. Colonel Kane and his scouts, one hundred and four in number, volunteered to go forward, hoping to rescue the wounded. Advancing through a wood to the left of the road, they suddenly encountered a rebel regiment in line of battle. Sending back the good tidings that he had found the enemy, he at once attacked. The enemy’s line broke in front under the Bucktail fire, and was driven back; but others on the line held their ground or closed inward. When it was evident that the enemy was in force, Private Martin Kelly signalized himself by an act of heroic devotion. The line of the enemy was protected from the ire of the battalion by the crest of a hill, the Fifty-eighth Virginia being formed but a few paces in front. Kelly seeing that the Colonel was about to give the order to advance, said “Colonel shall I draw their fire?” and deliberately stepping from behind a tree received, without flinching, a volley of balls, falling dead upon the instant. Relying upon a promise of support from General Fremont, the Bucktails stoutly held their ground under cover of the trees, loading and firing with the accuracy for which they were celebrated. Colonel Kane was wounded in the leg early in the fight; but leaning against a tree he directed the battle. The rebel line beginning to waver, an officer stepped out in front and urged them on, the emphatic “Virginians!” sounding through all the din. Private Holmes, who had already received a mortal wound, and was lying close by Colonel Kane, rose up and deliberately fired at the officer, who leaped sharply up and fell dead.4 It was the rebel General Ashby, who was commanding Stuart’s Brigade, consisting of the Forty-fourth and Fifty-eighth Virginia, the First Maryland and a Louisiana Regiment of this brigade. Against this powerful force the handful of Bucktails was contending, at every moment in expectation that reinforcements would come; but though repeatedly called for, and, as is alleged, two regiments were ordered, none ever appeared on the ground. After maintaining the contest for upwards of an hour, and finding the rebel force closing in upon him, Colonel Kane gave the signal to scatter; but scarcely had it been given, when he was struck heavily on the breast with a sharp heeled rifle, throwing him senseless upon the ground. Captain Taylor drew off the remnant of the command, but unwilling to leave his commander alone, wounded, upon the field, turned back to rescue him facing the fire, and was captured.5
The enemy recognizing his chivalrous conduct offered him his parole; but he refused it as did Colonel Kane. The loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners was fifty-two, just half of the entire number engaged. One prisoner was taken besides the officers named, his thigh broken by a musket ball. A published rebel statement showed that the loss of the enemy in killed and wounded in that hour of contest with the Bucktails was five hundred and fifty-nine.
On Sunday, June 8th, the enemy was met at Cross Keys, and a severe engagement occurred between the forces of Jackson and Fremont. The remnant of the Bucktails, less than a hundred strong, were again in the front line, and when, after holding their position in conjunction with the Twenty-seventh Pennsylvania, Colonel Bushbeck, until Fremont’s line was driven back, and they were supposed to be cutoff and captured, they fought their way out, bringing off the pieces they had been ordered to support. After the battle, Colonel Pilson, chief of artillery, shook each man roughly by the hand and thanked them; particularly for having saved his best battery. General Fremont gave them rations from his own headquarters.
Soon after the departure of Lieutenant Colonel Kane with his four companies for service in the Shenandoah Valley, Major Stone, with the remaining six companies, four hundred strong, embarked for the Peninsula, arriving on the 9th of June, and on the 13th, went into camp at Dispatch Station. On the following night it was ordered with other Reserve regiments to counter-march and re-open communication with White House, the base of supply for the whole army, which had been broken by Stuart’s famous raid in its rear. The enemy was overtaken near the landing, and a slight skirmish ensued. On the following day the command returned to camp, and was immediately ordered to move along the north bank of the Chickahominy, and take position on the extreme right of the army, directly north of Richmond, and only four miles distant. From the 18th to the 26th, the Battalion was engaged in picket duty along the river, and in entrenching the position chosen for a final stand on Beaver Dam Creek.
On the morning of the 26th, two companies were stationed at the railroad and Meadow Bridge, another to the left of the bridge, and the remaining three, which at first were held in reserve, were later ordered to the support of the cavalry, which was falling back before a superior force of the enemy. Scarcely were these supporting companies deployed, when they found themselves assailed by his advancing columns. A well directed volley checked his advance and threw his lines into some confusion. Another and another was delivered. At this juncture, Major Stone learned that the three companies which he had left guarding the bridges in his rear had been withdrawn by order of Colonel Simmons, who was in command of the grand guard, and that the enemy, advancing, had already cut off his retreat. Masking his movement by a show of great activity, he withdrew, and making a wide detour to the north, contesting the ground with determination as he went, Major Stone succeeded in bringing in two companies, Captains Wistar and Jewett, to their intrenchments, where the three companies, withdrawn by order of Colonel Simmons, were already in position. One company, Captain Irvin, was cut off, and withdrawing to a swamp, held out for three days, capturing many of the enemy’s stragglers; but eventually, was forced by hunger to come forth and surrender. The loss in the movement in killed, wounded and prisoners was seventy-five. The enemy suffered severely from the well directed fire of these marksmen of the forest. The earthworks which the men had previously thrown up under the supervision of Major Stone, now served an excellent purpose, protecting the gunners at the batteries, and the riflemen in their exposed position. The engagement opened on the part of the line which the Bucktails held at half-past four P. M. The fords which they covered were especially coveted by the enemy, and for the possession of these he made his attacks with the energy of desperation, repeatedly advancing with fresh lines; but the steady fire and unerring aim of these well schooled riflemen was too terrible to brave, and at nightfall he relinquished the contest, leaving them secure in their position. The loss was slight, being but two men killed, and two officers and sixteen men wounded. Two companies of the United States Sharp Shooters, Captains Drew and Giroux, were attached to the Battalion, and acted with great gallantry. Colonel McQuade, of the Fourteenth New York, was ordered to relieve Major Stone in the evening, but he declined to be relieved except as to picket duty, and the men slept in the trenches where they fought.
On the morning of the 27th, the division was ordered to retire to Gaines’ Mill. Major Stone was directed to hold his position until the main body was well on its way. He accordingly pushed out his sharp-shooters to right and left to keep up the appearance of still occupying the whole line, and at daylight opened fire upon the enemy, who had advanced under cover of night and planted new batteries, within grape shot range, and had fresh infantry in line in undiminished numbers. So long as the ammunition of the battery held out a hot fire was kept up. But at six A. M., it being entirely expended, the order was given to retire. Under a heavy fire of artillery, with the enemy already on his flanks and pressing hard his rear, Major Stone commenced the retreat. At three hundred yards from the ford, Captain Holland was posted, with orders to obstruct the road and cover the withdrawal of the main body. Captain Wistar was directed to destroy the bridge at the Mill Hospital. A part of company E, Captain Niles, and a part of company D, holding a detached position on the line, failed to receive the order to fall back, and in the confusion they were not missed from the command, until the bridge was destroyed and it was too late to return for them. This accident, however, was most fortunate in its results; for this small body, falling back through woods and swamps, engaged the enemy at various points until late in the day, which so puzzled and annoyed him, that his attack on the lines at Gaines’ Mill was thereby delayed for many hours. They were captured at last, but not until a whole division of the enemy had been employed to surround them. This detachment unfortunately had the colors, the State flag presented by Governor Curtin. It was not, however, surrendered, but was concealed in a swamp. Had the battle of Gaines’ Mill commenced earlier, it is not difficult to divine in what disaster to our army it would have ended.
General Reynolds complimented the command warmly for its gallant conduct in covering the withdrawal and recommended its leader for promotion. “I take great pleasure,” he says, “in bearing testimony to the gallantry and good conduct displayed by him, (Major Roy Stone,) while in command of the First Pennsylvania Rifles, at Mechanicsville and Gaines’ Mill, and particularly in covering the withdrawal of our troops from the former to the latter position on the morning of the 27th of June, which took place under my personal supervision. I know of no officer more worthy to be placed at the head of a brigade of light troops.” The loss in the morning’s engagement and retreat was more than half of its effective force, and upon its arrival at Gaines’ Mill it could muster but six officers and one hundred and twenty-five men.
At Gaines’ Mill the battalion occupied a position on the right of the First Brigade. The enemy in front was concealed by woods, except two of his batteries, which were visible at a distance of five hundred yards. Upon these the fire of the Rifles was concentrated, compelling frequent changes of position, and finally silencing the guns. For nearly four hours its position was little changed. Upon the retirement of the troops on its right, its ammunition being nearly spent and relief, promised by General Reynolds, failing to come, it fell back. The loss in killed and wounded was one officer and twenty-five men. On the evening of the 28th, the command commenced the march through White Oak Swamp, and during the night of the 29th, performed picket duty on the Richmond road, leading to Charles City. Many of the slightly wounded, and those who had been cut off, here joined the command, increasing its numbers to five officers and one hundred and fifty of the Bucktails, and five officers and eighty-four men of the United States sharp-shooters.
Charles City Cross Roads
In the battle of the 30th, at Charles City Cross Roads, the command was posted in rear of the batteries on the right of the First Brigade. When the brigade made its first charge, Major Stone was ordered to move to the left of the Parrott guns. The charge was vigorously made and was successful; but the enemy, giving no time for the troops to re-form, hurled heavy masses upon their broken and somewhat disordered ranks, driving them back in confusion. Hugging the ground until the retiring forces had passed, the Bucktails sprang to their feet and poured in a deadly volley, continuing to fire for some minutes; but finally overborne by superior numbers, and finding that his command was in the centre of a murderous fire at short range, Major Stone gave the word to retire just in time to escape being surrounded. The enemy maintained the pursuit but a short distance, when he wheeled to the right. The worsted troops from several regiments were now rallied and re-formed under the command of Major Stone. At dusk the force moved forward in excellent line of battle.
“General McCall had come out of the woods,” says Major Stone in his official report, “wounded and alone, and taken his place at the head of the column. After the halt the General took me forward a few paces with him, and in the darkness suddenly we found ourselves close upon the leveled muskets of a column of the enemy which filled the road in front of us. We were ordered to halt and dismount, but I turned and escaped, only slightly hurt, drawing two volleys from the enemy. General Mccall was not so fortunate, and is in the hands of the enemy. My men at the same time had captured the Colonel of a rebel regiment with a small party who were scouting in our direction. I formed my first company across the road, and went to the rear by order of Major General Kearney, in search of a battery to sweep the road in front. I soon became, however, so faint and dizzy from the effects of my hurt, that I was taken to the hospital, and took no further part in the action, which soon terminated.”
The loss in the command was unprecedentedly large-being nearly two-thirds of its entire number-two officers and ninety men killed, wounded and taken prisoners of the Rifles, and two officers and fifty-six men of the United States sharp-shooters. At the close of the battle the remnants of the battalion occupied the very ground which they had held when they entered it, and after a short respite moved off to Malvern Hill.
On coming into position at Harrison’s Landing, it was found that the two grand divisions bf the army were separated by a broad and deep tidal stream, with no bridge for its passage. Generals Porter and Seymour entrusted the location and construction of a bridge to Major Stone, the latter saying that the Engineer Corps would require several days to complete it, and in the meantime the army might be sacrificed in detail. They expressed the hope that the rafts men of the Bucktail Regiment might construct it in two days. The space to be bridged was five hundred feet, and in places the water was ten feet deep. The only material at hand was the timber growing along the banks of the streams and in the swamps. At five P. M., the bridge was commenced, the gallant lumbermen stripping to the work and swimming and wading to raise the cribs. At sunrise on the following morning, to the great satisfaction of the Generals, the bridge was ready for the artillery to cross.
Soon after the arrival of the command at Harrison’s Landing, Major Stone resigned to take command of the One Hundred and Forty-ninth Regiment, and Colonel McNeil, who had been absent sick, returned and assumed command. On the 8th of August, a portion of the men captured at Mechanicsville having been exchanged, returned to duty. From the Peninsula the battalion proceeded to Warrenton, where it joined the Army of Northern Virginia, and was engaged on the 29th and 30th of August, in the second battle of Bull Run, losing five killed, nineteen wounded and three missing.
The four companies which had been under command of Lieutenant Colonel Kane, remained with Fremont’s Corps, now Sigel’s, after the battle of Cross Keys, and were next engaged at Cedar Mountain. On the 19th of August, they were encamped at Brandy Station, on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, where Lieutenant Colonel Kane, who had been a prisoner since the affair at Harrisonburg, rejoined them. He had not yet thrown aside his crutch, but he immediately issued an order that “the soldiers carry at all times, until further orders, one hundred rounds of ball cartridge, forty or more rounds in the cartridge-box, the remainder in the haversack.” On the morning of the 22d, the battalion was ordered to accompany the staff trains, and marched back to Catlett’s Station, to the rear of the army, where were the wagons containing the private baggage and papers of General Pope, and where several regiments were encamped for their protection. The Bucktails numbered one hundred and sixty men. Of these, Captain Winslow with fifteen, was posted at night of the 22d on picket. Early in the evening a terrific thunder storm came on, which caused the men to hug closely their tents. Between nine and ten P. M., a heavy body of rebel cavalry, under command of General J. E. B. Stuart, charged directly over the camp of the Bucktails, taking Winslow and his picket guard prisoners before they had time to give the alarm. Stuart was on his famous ride in the rear of the army, for the purpose of capturing General Pope and his headquarters’ train, destroying the bridge across Cedar Run, and cutting off the only avenue of escape for his column. Colonel Kane immediately rallied his men under fire in a wood adjoining, and succeeded in bringing sixty-eight into line. He sent a few picked men out on a scout, and himself took a small squad (six) to the bridge, which was supposed to be the main object of attack. At the railroad station he had a slight brush with the enemy, but found all quiet at the bridge. In returning, and while but a short distance from it, he met a considerable party of the enemy’s horse, which was repulsed and driven in confusion by a single volley. Returning to his main body left in the skirt of the wood, Colonel Kane received satisfactory reports from his scouts. The enemy was in great force, but over crowded and not well in hand. He was forming in the open space above. Knowing that the enemy’s pickets would prevent a satisfactory surprise, Colonel Kane moved his men quietly over into the Manassas road, and awaited until the foe got fairly into the throat of it, when he opened fire at short range in their very faces, dropping the troopers, and sending rider less horses galloping about in wild affright. A panic seized the entire force, and a stampede ensued. A mile away, it was halted in the midst of McDowell’s staff train, which it fell to plundering. The wagons were in the open field, and the rebels could be plainly seen by the light of the fires. Approaching from the darkness, Kane boldly charged with his little band, pouring in a deadly fire, which again sent them fleeing from the presence of imagined thousands. Much of the pillaging of the staff trains was done, after the enemy was routed, and in fall retreat, by camp followers who knew well what wagons contained valuables. Of the sixty-eight men rallied for the defence of the bridge and the trains, five were wounded, one mortally. In the midst of the thick darkness, it was difficult for the enemy to distinguish friend from foe, and the Bucktails, by their novel tactics and excellent training, realized the language of scripture, “five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight.”6
Second Bull Run
In the second battle of Bull Run, Colonel Kane not being under orders, repaired to the bridge across Cub Run, over which the disorganized troops were falling back, and sought, with his small command, to check the panic and secure an orderly retreat; but the feeble barrier interposed, by his line deployed, was soon swept away. Abandoning this design he pressed forward towards the front, and met a Lieutenant commanding four mountain howitzers, willing to turn back. At the Bull Bun Bridge he formed his line, where he found Captain Mathews with one three-inch rifled gun, Captain Thompson with one rifled gun, and Lieutenant Twitchell with one brass Napoleon, ready to make a stand, if assured of support. The enemy did not attempt to drive them, and their presence, restoring confidence, contributed to diminish the haste and confusion of the retreat. The position was held until three o’clock on the morning of the 31st, when, the last of the Union forces having crossed, Colonel Kane received orders from General Pope, conveyed to him by General Sigel, to destroy the bridge, which were executed by the Bucktails, assisted by company G, of the Fifth Reserve.In recognition of his gallantry at Catlett’s Station. and at Bull Bun, Lieutenant Colonel Kane was, on the 7th of September, commissioned a Brigadier General, and the four companies which he had commanded with such signal advantage to the service, were united with the six, from which they had been separated during the Peninsula campaign, amid loud cheers of welcome from the rank and file of both battalions. The vacancies occasioned by the promotion of Lieutenant Colonel Kane and Major Stone, were filled by the appointment of Edward A. Irvin, of company K, Lieutenant Colonel, and Alanson E. Niles, of company E, Major.
On the 7th of September, the regiment, now led by Colonel McNeil, was ordered to move to meet the enemy in Maryland, and arrived in his front at South Mountain on the 14th. General Meade, in command of the division, ordered Colonel McNeil to deploy his men as skirmishers in front of the division, to move directly up the mountain, and attack the enemy where found. The movement commenced at four P. M., and his line of battle was encountered at the foot of the mountain, protected by artillery on the top. A charge was ordered, and the skirmishers, supported by the entire division, rushed forward with loud cheers, driving every thing before them, capturing prisoners at every step, until the top of the mountain was reached. It was now too dark to continue the pursuit, and the command rested. The loss was eighteen killed and forty-five wounded. Among the latter were Captains Irvin and Mack.
On the following morning the troops moved forward in pursuit of the enemy, and at three P. M., reached the Antietam battle ground. At two P. M., on the 16th, the regiment moved with the division to the right of the army, when General Meade directed Colonel McNeil to deploy, as at South Mountain, in front of his division, and to advance to a piece of wood in front of the Dunkard Church then visible. The enemy was soon found in strong force posted behind a fence in front of the wood indicated. Supports coming promptly up, the order was given to advance. The Bucktails rushed forward, with a shout, through a terrific fire of artillery and musketry, and gained the wood; but at a fearful cost. Colonel McNeil, Lieutenant William Allison, and twenty-eight men, were killed, and sixty-five officers and men wounded in this single charge. The last words of Colonel McNeil were, as he faced the death laden storm, and led the way, “Forward, Bucktails, forward!” The division came promptly to their support, and the position was held during the night. At three A. M., on the following day, the battle was renewed. The Bucktails, now under command of Captain Magee, as senior officer, aided by Adjutant Hartshorn, were at once hotly engaged, and fought with their accustomed gallantry until relieved by order of General Meade. The loss in killed and wounded in the two days of battle was one hundred and ten officers and men.
Captain Charles F. Taylor, of company H, (brother of the renowned traveler, Bayard Taylor,) who was taken prisoner with Colonel Kane at Harrisonburg, was held in captivity until after the battle of Antietam, when he was released and returned to his regiment. As senior officer, he at once assumed command, and was soon after commissioned Colonel.
From Antietam, the army moved to the Potomac, and thence to the neighborhood of Warrenton, the Bucktails, upon the march, having the advance. On the 10th of December, preparations were made to cross the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg, and attack the enemy. During the following day, pontoons were thrown across, and on the 12th, the Reserves crossed to the right bank. Late in-the afternoon the Bucktails moved down the bank of the river, until they found the enemy’s pickets posted in the edge of a wood, and across a road running parallel with the river. Remaining on picket during the night, firing opened early on their front, and during the morning the Bucktails remained in support of artillery, and in the formation for the attack, they occupied the extreme left of the line. The enemy was posted in the edge of a wood, and as the Bucktails moved forward were obliged to cross an open field, under a very heavy fire of musketry and artillery. Upon the order to advance, they rushed forward and soon reached the railroad, where was a cut of a few feet, which, for a short time, was used as a breast work, affording some protection. Again the order to advance was given, and leaping upon the bank, they moved on in the face of the enemy, pushing him from his sheltered position, and gaining, at a fearful cost, a signal advantage. But supports failing to come, it was deemed imprudent to push the advantage further, and the division fell back, suffering severely while executing the movement. The loss was nineteen killed, and one hundred and thirteen wounded and missing. Lieutenant W. B. Jenkins was among the killed, and Colonel Taylor, Lieutenant Colonel Irvin, and Lieutenants O. D. Jenkins, D. G. McNaughton, Thomas B. Winslow and R. F. Ward, were of the wounded.
On the 6th of February, 1863, the Reserves were ordered to the defences of Washington, to rest and recruit, being transferred from the First to the Twenty-second Corps. The Bucktails, with the First Brigade, were ordered to Fairfax Court House, where a permanent camp was established. Here, Lieutenant Colonel Irvin, on account of his wounds, resigned, and Major Niles was promoted to fill the vacancy. Adjutant Wm. R. Hartshorn was commissioned Major, and Sergeant-Major Roger Sherman, Adjutant. A large number of men who had been absent, sick or wounded returned to the ranks, and Colonel Taylor applied himself with tireless energy to the work of drilling and disciplining his command. The First Brigade, to which the regiment was attached, was commanded by Colonel William McCandless, and the division by Brigadier General S. W. Crawford.
On the 25th of June, the First and Third Brigades were ordered to rejoin the Fifth Corps, now on its march to meet an invading army in Pennsylvania. At noon on the 2d of July, the regiment reached the neighborhood of Gettysburg, where a great battle was in progress. After a short r rest, the roll was called, and, to the great satisfaction of its commander, every man was found in his place-a force of five hundred strong. At four P. M. the division was ordered to the front, and moved over in the direction of Little Round Top, where the Union lines were being hard pressed, the artillerists ready to spike their guns. Colonel McCandless hastily formed his brigade in two lines, the Bucktails on the left of the second line, and charged down the slope in the face of a heavy fire. At the foot of the hill was a deep swamp, thirty or forty yards in width, and upon reaching it, the second line deployed to the left, and wading across, drove the enemy into the woods beyond the stone wall which skirted it. The left, with Colonel Taylor at its head, continued the pursuit through the woods to a wheat field beyond, where in the act of steadying his men, he fell, shot through the heart. Lieutenant Colonel Niles having been wounded early in the engagement, the command devolved on Major Hartshorn, when, finding his regiment unsupported, he fell back to the wall. This position was held by the First Brigade until three P. M. of the 3d, when Major Hartshorn was ordered by Colonel McCandless to deploy a, single company as skirmishers upon his left flank at right angles to his line, and to advance against the enemy. While this movement was being executed, the brigade was formed in column of regiments, closed in mass, the Bucktails in front, and advanced, charging through the wheat field and into the woods beyond. Here it was discovered by Colonel McCandless that the enemy was in large force upon his left flank. He accordingly halted, and changed direction by that flank, and ordered Major Hartshorn to charge, -while he followed close with the balance of the brigade. The movement resulted in a complete success. The Bucktails were soon engaged hand to hand with the enemy, and nearly the entire Fifteenth Georgia Regiment, with its colors, was captured. The rebels were in a short time driven from the wood into the open country, where the brigade deployed in line, and a large number of prisoners was again secured. Night coming on, the brigade rested nearly a mile in advance of the position held in the morning. On the morning of the 4th, the brigade was relieved by a division of regulars, and the regiment moved to the rear to replenish its ammunition, which was exhausted. Colonel Taylor, a brave and accomplished officer, Lieutenant Robert Hall and six men, were killed. Lieutenant Colonel Kiles, Captains Hugh McDonald, J. D. Yerkes, Neri B. Kinsey and Frank Bell, Lieutenants J. E. Kratzer, T. J. Roney, J. R. Sparr and thirty-one enlisted men were wounded.
On the morning of the 5th, it having been discovered that the enemy was in full retreat, the army marched in pursuit. The regiment moved with the Fifth Corps, by the Emmetsburg road to Middletown, and thence by the Hagerstown road, until, on the 12th, it came up with the enemy strongly posted in the vicinity of Williamsport. Sharp skirmishing was kept up during the nights of the 12th and 13th, and on the morning of the 14th, the troops moved forward to attack at daylight, when it was discovered that the enemy had fled.
In the maneuvers of the two hostile armies during the remaining months of 1863, the Bucktails were constantly upon the skirmish line, frequently engaging the enemy, rarely in a position to be secure from attack, and finally at the close of the campaign, went into winter quarters at Bristoe Station, where they remained until the close of April, 1864.
The campaign in the Wilderness opened on the 3d of May. The regiment broke camp on the 29th of April, and reached Culpepper on the 30th, where their Sharp’s rifles were exchanged for Spencer’s seven shooters. On the 4th of May, it crossed the Rapidan and bivouacked that night near the Lacy House, in close proximity to the ever memorable battle-field. At daylight on the morning of the 5th, the Reserves, with the Bucktails in advance as skirmishers, moved forward in the direction of Parker’s Store. At nine A. M., Major Hartshorn reported to General Crawford that he had come upon the enemy’s skirmishers, and that their line extended considerably beyond both his flanks. Other regiments were at once distributed upon the line, and Colonel McCandless with the First Brigade moved to his support. These dispositions completed, the Bucktails advanced ad an attacked the enemy’s skirmishers, pushing them back to their line of battle, and to a point in full view of Parkers Store. The enemy was discovered to be in great force, and the skirmish line held its position with difficulty. At one P. M., intelligence was communicated to Major Hartshorn that the division was falling back, and that his command was being surrounded. The skirmishers were immediately withdrawn, and the regiment re-formed in the open ground which had been occupied by his supports. The march to the rear was commenced upon the same road by which it had advanced in the morning. After proceeding a short distance it was discovered that the enemy had possession of this road and was rapidly extending his line to the right. The woods being very dense the Major closed up his regiment, and cautiously moved on, as close as possible to the rebel column, and, in a favorable position, ordered a charge, by which he succeeded in breaking through the cordon that had been drawn around him, and in reaching the division with a loss of but fourteen men.
On the morning of the 6th, the Reserves were moved to the right of the Fifth Corps, and formed in two lines, the Bucktails on the left of the First Brigade, when they advanced to the attack. The fighting was severe, and was kept up. throughout the whole day without advantage to either side. At night the regiment moved with the division to the support of the Sixth Corps, on the extreme right, suddenly attacked, but was relieved, and returned to the Lacy House before the morning of the 7th. At one P. M. Major Hartshorn was directed to deploy his regiment to the front, and move forward to ascertain the strength of the enemy’s works, which had been constructed during the night. Colonel Ent, of the Sixth, was ordered to protect his flanks. Approaching the rebel line of skirmishers, a charge was made, driving him back into his entrenchments, when his artillery opened with grape and canister. The object. of the reconnaissance having been accomplished, Major Hartshorn fell back to his old-position, carrying with him his killed and wounded, two of the former and twenty-one of the latter.
During the night of the 7th, the march was commenced towards Spottsyvania. At ten A. M., of the 8th, the enemy was encountered three miles north of the town. When the Bucktails came upon the field, the First and Second Divisions of the Fifth Corps were already hotly engaged. Forming in line under a severe fire, on the left of the road leading to the Court House, a charge was made by the division across an open field, driving the enemy out of a wood beyond, which position was held until three P. M., when, finding that the enemy was massing in great force in front, and was moving around on its unprotected flanks, the order was given to fall back to the position held in the morning. During the evening the Reserves made three charges and were as often repulsed. On the 9th, the regiment was sent to the right of the corps, and as skirmishers advanced to the Po River, taking up a position which it held until the 10th, when it was withdrawn and placed on the right of the division, in line at Mountain Run. Here the regiment participated in the two assaults made on the enemy’s works, in both of which our forces were repulsed. On the night of the 10th, it was again placed at the front, and kept up a constant fire throughout the night.
On the 11th, an assault was made by the entire army. The position of the Reserves was in front of a double line of works which the enemy had thrown up during the previous night. Two attempts were made to carry them by assault, but in vain. The Bucktails were employed during the 12th in picking off rebel artillerymen, and driving them from the guns in the works which they had unsuccessfully charged on the previous day. On the 13th, the regiment was, for the first time since the opening of the campaign, relieved from the front and allowed a day of rest. On the following day, together with the division, it marched several miles to the left, where it remained actively employed upon the skirmish line until the 20th, when the march was continued to Guinea Station, and from thence, on the 22d, to Jericho Ford, on the North Anna River, which the men were forced to cross by wading, holding their cartridge boxes above their heads. After the division was safely across, Colonel Harding commanding the brigade, directed Major Hartshorn to advance with his skirmishers and clear the woods in front. This movement was successfully accomplished, and upon the advance of the brigade took position on its right, where a determined attack, made by the enemy at five P. M., was handsomely repulsed. The interval between the 22d and 26th was occupied in skirmishing, and in strengthening the position held. During the night of the 26th, another movement to the left was commenced, and after a three days’ march the command reached the vicinity of Bethesda Church.
On the morning of the 30th, Major Hartshorn was ordered to advance his skirmishers to the Mechanicsville road, a mile in his front. The enemy’s skirmishers were soon met and driven a half mile, when the Major found that a large force of rebels was advancing, with lines extending beyond both his flanks. Reporting the fact to Colonel Hardin, he fell back slowly until he met the brigade coming to his support. Forming line on the right of the brigade, a charge was made upon the advancing enemy driving him back to the shelter of some woods. Discovering that the line which he had driven was only the advance of a larger force, Colonel Hardin ordered his brigade to fall back to a position in line with the Third Brigade, and immediately commenced throwing up rifle pits. He ordered Major Hartshorn to hold the enemy in check with his skirmishers,, to fall back slowly, and to take position on the left of the brigade. This maneuver was so successfully executed that ample time was given to complete a strong line of works. On the near approach to the lines, Major Hartshorn was so hard pressed that he was obliged to throw two companies to the right, upon the line occupied by the Third Brigade. With the remaining eight companies he succeeded in reaching the position designated by Colonel Hardin, in time to bear his full part in the handsome repulse given to the enemy as he advanced to the assault. Colonel Fisher warmly commended the conduct of the two companies which had been driven into his lines, and which fought with his brigade. This was the Bucktails’ last battle, their time of service having this day expired The casualties during the campaign were two officers and twenty-six enlisted men killed, and six officers and one hundred and twelve enlisted men wounded. The veterans and recruits were transferred to the One Hundred and Ninetieth, of which Major Hartshorn was appointed Colonel, and the regiment was mustered out of service at Harrisburg on the 11th of June, 1864.
The old bunting, which had floated over the rafts on which the original Bucktails were borne down the Susquehanna in April, 1861, and which had been carried by them in all their campaigns, was borne in procession in Philadelphia, on the 4th of July, 1866, by the scarred veterans who survived, and delivered up to the Governor of the State, amid the loud acclamations of the multitude, as they recognized the familiar emblem that surmounted its staff.
- Patriot and Union, Harrisburg, June 13, 1861.
- Letter of Colonel Kane to Governor Curtain, June 13, 1861: “SIR: I this day resign the post of Colonel of the Rifle Regiment of the Reserve Volunteer Corps of Pennsylvania, respectfully presenting for appointment by you, to fill my place, Lieutenant Colonel Charles J. Biddle, of Philadelphia, whose merits as an officer and a gentlemen need no other advocacy on my part.”
- RESOLUTIONS. -Resolved, That in accepting the resignation of our Colonel, and electing another officer in his place, which we do because he insists upon it-and calls on us to give proof of our attachment and confidence in him by this sacrifice of feeling-we desire not to be forgotten Colonel Kane’s self-devotion; therefore be it Resolved, That we respectfully solicit Major General McCall, if there is no rule in the service to prevent his doing so, to change the name of our regiment from the “Rifle Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserve,” to that of “Kane Rife Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserve.” [Signed.] H. McDonald, John Eldred, E. A. Irvin, Roy Stone, Philip Holland, Langhorn Wistar, A. E. Niles, William T. Blanchard.
- Ashby witnessed this result, and the persistent stand of his opponents, with fiery impatience. He directed the Fifty-eighth to cease firing. and press the enemy with the bayonet; and, putting spur to his horse, rushed forward, shouting “Virginians charge,” when the animal was shot under him and fell. In an instant he was on his feet, and again advanced. He had not, however, moved ten steps, and-was still ordering the men not to fire, but depend on the bayonet, when a bullet pierced his body, and he fell dead almost instantly, at the very moment when the shout of triumph around him indicated the repulse of the enemy. -Military Biography of Stonewall Jackson, John Esten Cooke, (Rebel,) p. 170.
- It was perhaps two hours after, that orders came for three regiments of infantry to retrace the steps they had taken in the morning, and we felt sure, from the command being accompanied by General Ewell in person that some serious work was on hand. The regiments selected were the Fifty-eighth and Forty-fourth Virginia and the First Maryland. After moving through the woods for some distance we were met by General Ashby, when the command was halted and two companies of the First Maryland thrown forward as skirmishers under the immediate eye, I may say, command, of Ashby. The reserves followed closely, and in half an hour three or four shots announced that the enemy was near. The Fifty-eighth was ordered up and soon became hotly engaged. The fire of the enemy was very deadly, and the Fifty-eighth recoiled before it. * * * After the fall of Ashby, the troops engaged fell back in great confusion, when General Ewell, rushing through a storm of bullets, ordered the Marylanders to charge. Under the gallant Johnson they rushed to the attack, and, after a short but sanguinary engagement, drove the enemy from the field. We then discovered that we had encountered the celebrated Bucktail Rifles, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kane, who was wounded and a prisoner in our hands.-Memoirs of Ashby, Avirett, (Rebel,) p. 222-3.
- EXTRACT FROM MEMOIRS OF THE CONFEDERATE WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE, BY IEROS. VON BORCRE, CHIEF OF STAFF TO GENERAL J. E. B. STUART.-Late in the evening we entered this little town, (Warrenton.) * * * We were now again exactly in the rear of the Federal army, the right wing of which we had marched around, and our bold design was nothing less than to capture the Commander-in-Chief and his headquarters, which, as our scouts reported, had been established at Catlett’s Station, a point on the Orange and Alexandria railroad. * * * * The enemy’s pickets, in the fury of the storm, indifferent to everything but their own personal comfort, were picked up, one after the other, by our advanced guard, to the last man, and we had thus arrived within the immediate neighborhood of the main body of the enemy without the least information on their part of our approach. *-. * -* * We halted at the distance of about two hundred yards to form our long lines and make our dispositions, which we did without attracting the attention of our adversaries in the heavy rain and incessantly rolling thunder. The sound of a single trumpet was the signal formerly two thousand horsemen to dash, as they did with loud shouts, upon the utterly? paralyzed Yankees, who were cut down and made prisoners before they had recovered from their first astonishment. I myself had instructions to proceed with a select body of men to General Pope’s tent, which was pointed out to us by a Negro whom we had captured during the day, and who had been impressed by one of Pope’s staff officers as a servant. Unfortunately for us, the Commander-in-Chief had, for once, this day his “headquarters in the saddle?”-an intention which he had so boastfully announced at the commencement of his campaign-and had started a few hours before our arrival on a reconnaissance, so that we found only his private baggage, official papers, horses, &c., &c. I obtained as booty a magnificent field glass, which was afterwards of great service to me. Night attacks, as my later experience taught me, are always dangerous and ought never to be undertaken if they can be avoided. Even the bravest and best disciplined troops may, by an unforeseen accident, be got into a stampede, and inexperienced troops it is almost impossible to control. Blackwood’s Edinburg Magazine, No. DC, p. 415-6.