The National Tribune, April 3, 1884, The Penna. Reserves by J. L. Eberhart


An Interesting Sketch of the Famous Crack Division. 

To the Editor National Tribune: 

Allow me to give a more extended reply to the questions asked by L. N.J., of Schroon Lake, N.Y., in regard to the Pennsylvania Reserves. At the outbreak of the rebellion it was feared by wise men, whose prophecies could not be unheeded, that the war would, if possible, be carried by the insurgents into free territory, and that Pennsylvania would be their first objective point; and it was further prophesied by those same statesmen and military men that the term of service of the men already mustered in for three months would not see the war ended, and that additional levies for troops and for longer terms must be made. Hence, as early as April 20, 1861, Governor Curtin called an extra session of the Legislature to convene on the 30th of that month.

On May 2d a bill was reported, as recommended by the Governor, for arming the State and providing for a loan to meet the expenses incident thereto.

The bill became a law on the 15th of May, 1861, and among other things authorized the governor to organize a military corps, composed of thirteen regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and one regiment of light artillery, which were to be styled the Reserve Volunteer Corps of the Commonwealth, and as to numbers, officers, and all their clothing and equipments were to conform to the regulations of the army of the United States. 


This organization was fully completed and ready for the field, and many of the regiments were actually on duty within six weeks after the passage of the law by which it was created. The term of enlistment was for three years, unless sooner discharged, and they were to be held liable to serve in the United States Army at any time the President might call on the Governor for troops.  Our defeat at Bull Run resulted in a call for the entire division, and as soon as the railroads could get it to Washington city it was there—many of the regiments arriving at the capital on the night of the 22d and morning of the 23d of July, 1361, and were all sworn into the United States service in a few days thereafter. Major-General George A. McCall commanded the division ; the 1st brigade, comprising the 5th, 1st, 2d and 8th regiments. was commanded by Brigadier-General John F. Reynolds; the 2d brigade, comprising the 3d, 4th, 7th and 11th regiments, was commanded by Brigadier-General George G. Meade, and the 3d brigade., comprising the 6th, 9th, 10th and 12th regiments, was commanded. by Colonel John S. McCalmont; of the 10th. who was a graduate of West Point, until about November, 1861, when Brigadier-General E. O. C. Ord took command. These men—McCall, Meade. Reynolds and Ord—were all officers in the Regular army, and all had seen active service in the Mexican war and on the frontier. General Ord was succeeded in command of the 3d brigade by Brigadier-General Truman Seymour early in May, 1862. This was the original organization of the division, and it was peculiar, for the reason that it was the only division then in the army composed entirely of troops from the same State, and in which the brigade commanders, as well as the division commander, were all Regular army officers, and all of whom had actually served on the field of battle. The incidents of war, however, made many changes, and, while the division commander retired early in the campaign of 1862, being, really too old for active duty, the others become eminent for their heroism and military skill. and rose successively and rapidly from brigade commands to divisions and corps. and one of them—General Meade to the command of the Army of the Potomac. 


But I have said nothing yet about the Bucktails,—the 13th regiment,—although apart of the corps. This regiment was composed of riflemen—of men who were born and reared in the mountain fastnesses of Northern Pennsylvania, and who were as hardy and heroic as they we’ e unerring with their rifles, and were intended primarily as a mounted regiment, but this idea was abandoned, and they became the skirmishers — the sharpshooters—of the division. The regiment was recruited by Thomas L. Kane, a brother of Dr. Kane, the arctic explorer, and his command was known at first as the Kane Rifles; but, as every man had a buck’s—deer’s—tail in his cap, they soon received the cognomen of “Bucktails,” and with that title they will travel on down the highway of history and glory. The 149th and 150th regiments, which went into the service in the latter part of the year 1862, and after the reputation of the Kane Rifles had become national through their individual deeds of daring and the immortality of McNeil on the picket-line the night before Antietam, assumed the insignia of “Kane’s men,” but never won the same renown nor achieved the same heroic results. Geri. Meade was not with any other troops than the Pennsylvania Reserves prior to his taking command of the 5th army corps, except the short time he was in command of the 1st army corps on the field of Antietam during the few days that Gen. John F. Reynolds was called to the command of the Pennsylvania militia which were called to the borders of that State in September, 1862, to repel any invasion that might be attempted by I the rebel army in the event of success in the engagement at Antietam.

Every soldier in the Army of the Potomac who read the farewell order of Gen. Meade to the Pennsylvania Reserves when he parted with them in the early spring of 1663, well remembers that in that :order he attributed to the bravery of the division all the renown he had achieved as a military commander.

J. L. Eberhart, 
8th Pa. Reserves.

  1. The National Tribune, (Washington, D.C.), April 3, 1884, pg. 7.