The Bucktails: The Famous Rifle Regiment of Pennsylvania. Part 3

Featured in the Grand Army Scout and Soldiers Mail, January 20, 1883

On the 6th of February, 1863, the Reserves were ordered to the defenses of Washington, to rest and recruit. being transferred from the lst to the 22d Corps. The Bucktails, with the 1st Brigade, were now ordered to Fairfax Court-house, where a permanent camp was established. Here Lieut.Col. 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 Col. Taylor applied himself with tireless energy to the work of drilling and disciplining his command. The 1st Brigade, to which the regiment was attached, was commanded by Col. William McCandless, and the division by Brig.-Gen. S. W. Crawford. On the 25th of June, the 1st and 3d Brigades were ordered to rejoin the 5th 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 rest, the roll was called, and every man was found in his place, a force of five hundred strong. At 4 P.M. the division was ordered to the front, and moved over in the direction or Little Round Top, where the Union lines were being hard pressed, the artillerists ready to spike their guns. Col. McCandless hastily formed his brigade in two lines, the Bucktails on the left of the first 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 regiment deployed to the left, and, wading across, drove the enemy into the woods beyond the stone wall which skirted it. The left, with Col. 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. Lieut-Col. Niles, having been wounded early in the engagement, the command devolved on Major Hartshorn, who, finding that his regiment was unsupported, fell back to the wall. This position was held by the 1st Brigade until 3 p.m. of the 3d, when Major Hartshorn was ordered by Col. 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 Col. 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 Bucktails were soon engaged hand to hand with the enemy, and nearly the entire 15th Georgia Regiment, with its colors, was captured. The rebels were in a short time driven from the woods 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. Col. Taylor, a brave and accomplished officer, Lieut. Robert Hall and six men were killed; Lieut.-Col. Niles, Captains Hugh McDonald, J. D. Yerkes, Neri B. Kinzey and Frank Bell, Lieuts, 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 5th 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 manoeuvers 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. On the 4th of May it crossed the Rapidan and bivouacked that night near the Lacy House, near the 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 9 A. m., Major Hartshorn reported to Gen. Crawford that be 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 Col. McCandless, with the 1st Brigade, moved to his support. The Bucktails then advanced and attacked the enemy’s skirmishers, pushing them back to their line of battle, and to a point in full view of Parker’s store. The enemy was in great force and the skirmish line held its position with difficulty. At 1 P.M., Major Hartshorn heard that the division was falling back, and that his command was being……………………………………………………

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 6th, the Reserves were moved to the right of the 5th Corps, and formed in two lines, the Bucktails on the left of the 1st Brigade, when they advanced to the attack. The fighting was severe, and was kept up throughout the day without advantage to either side. At night the regiment moved with the division to the support of the 6th Corps, on the extreme right, suddenly attacked, but was relieved, and returned to the Lacy House before the morning of the 7th. At 1 P.M., Major Hartshorn was directed to deploy his regiment, to the front, and moved forward to ascertain the strength of the enemy’s works, which had been constructed during the night. Col. Ent, of the 6th, was ordered to protect his flank, Approaching the rebel line of skirmishers, a charge was made, driving him back into his intrenchments, when his artillery opened with grape and canister. The object of the reconnoissance 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 toward Spottsylvania. At ten A.M.on the 8th, the enemy was encountered three Miles north of the town. When the Bucktails came upon the field, the 1st and 2d Divisions of the 5th Corps were 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 woods beyond, which position was held until about 3P.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 hold 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 l0th, 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 array. 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 bad 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 Hardin, 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 5 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………………………………………………………..beyond both his flanks. Reporting the fact to Colonel Harden, he fell back slowly until he met the brigade coming, to his support. Forming line on 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 3d Brigade, and immediately commenced throwing up rifle-pits. He ordered Major Hartshorn to bold the enemy in check with his skirmishers; to fall back slowly, and to take position oil the left of the brigade. This manoeuver 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 3d Brigade. With the remaining eight companies he succeeded in reaching the position designated by Col. Hardin, in time to bear his full part in the, handsome. repulse given to the enemy as he advanced to the assault. Col. Fisher warmly commended the conduct of the two companies which had been driven into his lines, and which fought with his brigade. The Bucktails casualties during the campaign were two officers and twenty-six enlisted men killed, and six officers and one hundred and twelve enlisted men wounded. What remained of the Pennsylvania Reserve, division was now consolidated into two regiments, 190th and 191st Pennsylvania; of the former Major Hartshorn was appointed colonel. The two regiments participated in all the remaining battles of the Army of the Potomac ,and with the 5th Corps were in front of the enemy at the surrender at Appomattox.

Though no longer a distinct organization, the few Bucktails left, forming part of the 190th, could be distinguished by the bucktails which always were in their caps; and were always on the front line as skirmishers or sharpshooters until the day of the surrender.

The red bunting which had floated on the rafts on which the original Bucktails were born 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 (the deer’s tail) which surmounted its staff.1

  1. Grand Army Scout and Soldiers Mail, January 20, 1883