Bates, Samuel P.: History of the 8th Pennsylvania Reserves

The Eighth Reserve Regiment was formed from companies recruited for the three months’ service, but not accepted, which had rendezvoused at Camp Wright, twelve miles above Pittsburg, on the Allegheny River. Forty-three companies were here assembled, of which only those belonging to the Erie Regiment had a regimental organization. The camp was under the command of Colonel John W. McLane, was pleasantly located, and kept in a neat and healthy condition. Early in June it was visited by General McCall, and the companies selected to form the Eighth Regiment were ordered to Camp Wilkins, near the city of Pittsburg, where on the 28th it was organized by the choice of the following field officers:

  • George S. Hays, M. D., of Allegheny county, Colonel
  • S. D. Oliphant, Lieutenant Colonel
  • J. B. Gardner, Major

Colonel Hays was possessed of considerable military knowledge, having commanded the “Duquesne Greys,” a Pittsburg company of some renown, during the three previous years. Drill by companies without arms had been practiced at Camp Wright. It was now armed and uniformed, and drilled by battalion, the camp being under command of Colonel Hays.

On the 20th of July it was ordered to Washington, and proceeded by rail to Harrisburg, where it received additional equipments, from thence to Baltimore, where it encamped and received tents, arriving in Washington on the 23d, and encamped on Meridian Hill. Remaining here until the 2d of August it was ordered to the Reserve Camp at Tenallytown, where it was assigned to the First Brigade,1 commanded by Brigadier General John F. Reynolds. The Seventh Regiment, having been posted on picket duty at Great Falls, on the Potomac, was vigorously shelled by the enemy, and, in anticipation of his crossing in force, a call was made for reinforcements. The Eighth was promptly sent to its support, and remained several days on duty in this vicinity. The enemy made no further demonstrations. General MCall, in reporting the condition of the Eighth at this time, says:

“It numbers eight hundred and ninety men, armed with rifles and muskets of improved patterns. An officer is out recruiting for it. The men are well equipped and well drilled.”

From Tenallytown the Eighth moved, on the 9th of October, across the Potomac to Langley, Virginia, where it took position, with the division, in line with the army of the Potomac, and where subsequently it went into winter quarters. Picket lines were established on a long line of hills running at right angles with the pike, and with the Potomac, a mile and a half in front of the camp. Here the regiment was thoroughly drilled and instructed by the regimental officers, and joined in brigade drill conducted by General Reynolds, when the men were required to carry their knapsacks with at least their blankets.

Battle of Dranesville

On the morning in which the Third Brigade encountered the enemy at Dranesville, the First Brigade marched to Difficult Creek, five miles away. At the sound of the enemy’s guns General Reynolds started on the doublequick for the field, but only arrived in time to see the rebels scatter before the steady fire of Ord’s advancing columns.2

Upon the breaking up of winter quarters, the regiment moved with the division, first to Hunter’s Mills, and thence to Alexandria, where the army was ordered to concentrate for embarkation to the Peninsula. Here it encamped, and before its turn for moving came, the division was attached to the First Corps under General McDowell, and ordered to remain in front of Washington. From Alexandria it moved to Manassas and thence to Warrenton Junction, where the men made frequent excursions to the Bull Run battle-ground, and for a time occupied the quarters of the rebel troops.

Following up the advance of the First Cavalry, and King’s Division, the Reserves marched, Reynolds’ Brigade in advance, to Falmouth. On the 24th of May, Reynolds crossed the river and occupied the town of Fredericksburg, and soon after commenced an advance upon the Richmond and Potomac Railroad. This route being deemed impracticable, the brigade was recalled and the division was sent by water to the Peninsula. Debarking at White House, the regiment marched to Gaines’ Mill, where it joined M!Clellan’s army.

On the 23d of May Major Gardner resigned, and Captain S. M. Baily, of company I, was elected to succeed him; Acting Adjutant John M. Kent was elected Captain of company I, and Lieutenant Wetter, of company H, was appointed Adjutant.

Battles of Mechanicsville

In the battle of Mechanicsville, on the 26th of June, the Eighth occupied the centre of the line stretching along the left bank of Beaver Dam Creek, with the Tenth Reserve on its left, and the First on its right. On the brow of a ridge descending to the mill-race and swamp in front, was posted Easton’s Battery, and at the margin of the swamp the regiment was deployed, four companies, A, D, F, and I, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Oliphant, being thrown forward as skirmishers. A brief artillery contest, in which the shells burst in rapid succession in the very midst of the infantry, was followed by the advance of the rebel columns, and the battle became general. A charge of the enemy below the swamp, with the design of capturing Easton’s Battery, caused the skirmishers to be recalled, and the regiment moved to its support.’ But the enemy being repulsed by other troops, it returned to its former position. Three times the close columns of the enemy charged down the opposing slope with determined valor, but were as often repulsed and driven back. At night the men rested upon the ground where they had fought. The dead were collected, wrapt in their blankets and consigned to the earth, and the wounded were sent to the rear. The loss in killed, wounded and missing was nearly one hundred. Company F being upon the skirmish line, and not comprehending the order to withdraw, remained at its post and fell into the hands of the enemy.

Battles of Gaines’ Mill

Though the enemy was successfully repulsed with comparatively small loss to the Reserves, yet it was deemed prudent to abandon this position,3

and early on the morning of the 27th, the division was quietly withdrawn, and marched in good order to Gaines’ Mill. Here the Eighth was posted in the second line of battle, on a road which was graded, the cut in the hill where it lay affording some protection. With it was the Second Regular infantry, and on the bank in the rear was posted a battery of four Parrott guns and two brass howitzers.

In front was the Fifth New York (Zouaves) armed with Sharp’s Rifes. As the battle opened the shells from the rebel guns, directed upon the battery in the rear, became very troublesome. A percussion shell struck in the midst of company A, lying where the bank was too low to afford much protection, killing three and wounding four.4

When the rebel infantry appeared, they were treated to rapid volleys from the Zouaves. At four o’clock there was a lull in the storm of battle, and the troops in the road were informed that the enemy was preparing to make a vigorous demonstration on that part of the line. At five o’clock the enemy in heavy masses made his appearance, advancing from the woods. The’Second Regulars were first ordered forward to meet him. Soon the Eighth was summoned to their support, and at the word “forward” every musket was grasped firmly, and the line dashed away in the face of a shower of bullets, Colonel Hays gallantly leading in the advance. The enemy was swept back into the woods, where he made a stand under partial cover, and for some time the conflict was desperate, the men, with great rapidity, loading and firing at will. Overborne by superior numbers the regiment was at length forced back, but retired in good order, and was loudly cheered as it passedithe regiments in reserve. Early in the advance Major Baily was wounded and borne insensible from the field. Captains Johnson, Wishart, Gallupe and Carter were also wounded. The loss in killed was very heavy, numbering twentyfour; eighteen were severely wounded.

Battles of Charles City Cross Roads and Glendale

At night the regiment crossed the Chickahominy, and rested upon its arms on Trent’s Hill. During the entire day succeeding, the Eighth lay near Savage Station, but the weather was intensely hot and the men got little rest. When night came they slept two hours, and were then aroused and commenced the march towards the James River. The trains so blocked the way that the march was greatly interrupted. It was past noon when the regiment arrived at White Oak Swamp, and sundown when it reached Charles City Cross Roads, and stacked arms in anticipation of resting for the night. It was already pitchy dark, a thunder storm prevailing in the distance, when the regiment with a battery was ordered to proceed on the road leading to Richmond on picket; but although in the immediate presence of the enemy they were not molested, and returned in the morning to the position of the previous evening.

At one o’clock P. M. the regiment was called into line, and soon the battle opened, the First Brigade, since the capture of General Reynolds at Gaines’ Mill, being in command of Colonel Simmons. In the formation of the line the First Brigade was held in reserve, but as the struggle became desperate, the Eighth was ordered in. Its position fell opposite the Sixth Georgia, which was upon the point of charging, when General McCall gave the order for the Eighth to charge upon it, and Colonel Hays leading the way, with a shout that rang out above the deafening roar of the conflict, it dashed forward, scattering the. Georgians and driving them beyond the marsh in front. A few prisoners were taken. Later the enemy pressed heavily upon that part of the field, and the line was forced back, the Eighth gradually retiring until it reached a new line which had been established, where it remained until darkness put an end to the contest. The loss in this engagement was sixteen killed and fourteen severely wounded. Colonel Hays had his horse killed under him and was considerably injured by the fall.

Dropping upon the ground for a little rest the men were suffered to sleep for a few hours, when they were aroused and hurried away to Malvern Hill. Here the division was posted in reserve, and while the battle was raging fiercely around, so great was their exhaustion that the men dropped down upon the field and slept. The loss in the regiment in killed, wounded and missing, during the series of engagements commencing at Mechanicsville, was two hundred and thirty.

On the following day it moved to Harrison’s Landing, where the army was. secure and abundance of supplies was received. Here, on account of ill health, Colonel Hays and Lieutenant Colonel Oliphant resigned, and Major Baily still suffering from his wounds and unable to keep the field, the command of the regiment devolved on Captain William Lemon. Major Baily was subsequently commissioned Colonel, Captain Lemon, Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Robert E. Johnston, Major.

From the Peninsula the Eighth moved by water, on the 11th of August, to Acquia Creek, whence it proceeded to join the army under General Pope. At Warrenton it came up with the corps of Sigel, McDowell and Burnside, and marched thence in the direction of Washington.

Battle of Gainesville

On the 27th, the troops moved in column with batteries ready to be thrown into position, and a strong line of skirmishers thrown out on left and front. The same order of march was continued on the 28th. At ten o’clock A. M. the column emerged from the cover under which it had been marching, and was obliged to pass an open space at an elevated point in the road, when it was suddenly opened upon by a rebel battery. Captain Cooper’s Battery of ten pound rifled Parrott guns was soon in position, and by a few well directed shots silenced his fire. But in the meantime a shell had struck in the midst of companies B and G, killing two men instantly, wounling six others and killing one horse. One of the wounded, James Wells, died soon after, and Adjutant Swearngen was mangled in a shocking manner, losing a leg.

Battle of [Second] Bull Run

Moving on to the left of Manassas Junction, the regiment rested at night on the first Bull Run battle-ground. Early on the morning of the 29th, too early for breakfast, it was again in position, and was engaged in a series of movements and evolutions which took it several times over the same ground, often under fire of rebel batteries, and at night rested near the spot where it had lain the night before.

During the evening a heavy engagement took place between the enemy and the forces under King. As it was evident from the cheers of the rebels that they had repulsed our men, and were advancing towards the position occupied by the Reserves, an order came for a detachment of thirty men from the Eighth, to advance to the assistance of the Bucktails on the skirmish line. Captain Kent volunteered to lead his own company of fifteen men, to which were added two other companies, and hastening forward through the woods, soon came in view of King’s retreating forces. On account of the darkness the enemy did not follow, and the skirmishers were re-called.

On the following morning, Saturday, the 30th, the batteries opened early, and at noon the brigade, with Cooper’s Battery, advanced and took position on the very ground where Hatch’s Brigade of King’s Division had been repulsed the night before; but the enemy had been withdrawn. The brigade was then ordered back and placed with the division on the left, where it was kept constantly marching and manceuvering, greatly to the fatigue of the men. The enemy continued to make slight feints upon our left and centre, and towards evening a noisy feint upon our right, which caused a concentration upon that wing, the Second Brigade, to which the Eighth now belonged, being hastened across the field to its aid.

The enemy now made his real attack upon our left, and the brigade was countermarched and posted in support of the batteries, which were hotly engaged. Soon the enemy’s infantry charged upon our guns, and a counter charge was ordered for the brigade, the Eighth in front. Dashing forward at the word of General Reynolds, the rebel line was soon broken and driven back into the woods from which it had emerged, and this advanced position was held until relieved by Sykes’ Division of regulars, when it moved to the rear, and night soon put an end to the battle. The regiment entered the Bull Run campaign with but a hundred strong. It lost five killed, seventeen wounded and about thirty missing.

After the battle of Bull Run, General McDowell was relieved of the command of his corps, to which the Reserves had been attached since their return from the Peninsula, and General Hooker was appointed to succeed him. General Reynolds was now relieved of the command of the Reserves and ordered to duty at Harrisburg, being succeeded by General Meade. Colonel Magilton was in command of the Second Brigade, and Captain Conner, of the regiment.

Battle of South Mountain

The campaign in Maryland followed close upon the defeat at Bull Run, and the, Reserves advancing by the way of Frederick, soon confronted the enemy at South Mountain. At four o’clock P. M., on the 14th of September, the regiment was in line and began the advance.

“We toiled up,” says Sergeant Hill, “the steep ascent in front of us, when we discovered that a valleys lay yet between us and the main ascent of the South Mountain. While passing through a cornfield upon the hill, the enemy’s artillery again opened upon us with solid shot. Down the hill we went-across the small valley up the steep ascent of the mountain. A few hundred yards from the base of the mountain was a stone fence. Below this, the ground was clear; above, the face of the mountain was covered with trees and rocks. When within fifty yards of the stone fence, a murderous fire of musketry was opened upon us by the rebels, who lay concealed behind it, and swarms of bullets whistled about our ears. With a wild shout we dashed forward-almost upward-while volley after volley was poured upon us; but we heeded it not; we rushed madly on. The rebels, intimidated by our voices, and our disregard of their bullets, began to give way. We reached the stone fence and sprang over. The rebels reformed among the rocks, and fought with remarkable obstinacy. Captain Conner had left his horse at the rear, and he and Lieutenant Carter were just springing over the wall when the latter was struck by a bullet and fell back-dead. * * * By sunset we had driven the enemy to the crest of the mountain. Many were the dead and wounded he left lying among the rocks. Many prisoners were taken.”5

The loss in the regiment was seventeen killed and thirty-seven wounded.

Battle of Antietam

The enemy retreated to the right bank of the Antietam Creek, where, taking up a strong position and calling in his available forces, he stood ready to give battle. Hooker’s Corps crossed Antietam Creek on the afternoon of the 16th, and near the close of the day encountered the left wing of the rebel army, the Reserves opening the battle. On the following morning the artillery opened early, and soon the brigade moved forward, passed through a piece of wood and approached a large cornfield, where, in a slight depression, it was deployed into line and the artillery was posted on an eminence a little to the rear. Soon after Colonel Magilton ordered the Eighth to a small grove two hundred paces to the left, where the enemy was sheltered, picking off our artillerymen. As it neared the grove, a body of the enemy, concealed among the corn, rose and poured into it a withering volley. Another and another followed, but it could not pause to reply. The slaghter was fearful. The grove was soon cleared whence a steady and effective fire, at close range, was delivered upon the rebel line concealed in the cornfield. For four hours the battle raged with unabated fury, and with varying success, when the Reserves were relieved by fresh troops. The loss was twelve men killed and forty-three wounded.

The attack was not renewed on the 18th, as the ammunition of the heavy guns and of the infantry was nearly expended, and could not be immediately supplied. During the after part of the day, as the enemy was passing troops from the Virginia shore, the Reserves were ordered into line, it being presumed that they meditated an offensive movement. But it proved to be only a feint to cover his retreat, which was accomplished with great precipitation during the night. Early on the morning of the 19th the whole army moved forward about three miles, crossing the Hagerstown and Sharpsburg pike, and halting near the Potomac above Sharpsburg. The route of the Reserves took them over the enemy’s lines of battle, which were literally covered with his dead. At one point, where he had crossed the fields and pike obliquely, and where he must have received a terrific fire of musketry, the formation of his lines was distinctly marked by the dead who were stretched in long rows, showing that at the time they received the fire they were well dressed.

After some delay the army crossed into Virginia, and under the leadership of General Burnside again advanced upon the enemy at Fredericksburg. To the Reserves was assigned the task of covering the laying of the bridges in front of Franklin’s Grand Division, and when established upon the opposite bank, they were selected to make the first attack. In the heroic advance of this small division, in the face of the concentrated fire of the enemy’s intrenched line, in scaling the heights, and in breaking and scattering his well posted forcep6

, the Eighth bore a conspicuous and most gallant part. Never before had it been subjected to so terrible an ordeal; and when, after being repulsed and driven back by overwhelming numbers, it again stood in rank beyond the reach of the enemy’s guns, scarcely half its numbers were there. Twenty-eight lay dead upon that devoted field, eighty-six were wounded and twenty-two were captured.

Adjutant Ingraham and Lieutenant Miller were among the killed. Colonel Baily, Captains R. E. Johnston, J. Eichelberger, H. C. Dawson, William Lemon and J. M. Kent, and Lieutenants Samuel McCandless, J. A. Diebold, S. B. Bennington, H. H. Maquilken, and James M. Owen were among the wounded.

On the 8th of February, 1863, the Reserves were ordered to the defences of Washington, to rest and recruit. Here the Eighth remained engaged in various duty pertaining to the department until the spring of 1864, when the Army of the Potomac was again summoned for a last great campaign under Grant.

Battle of the Wilderness

On the 19th of April, the regiment left Alexandria for the front, and proceeded to Bristoe Station, where it remained until the 29th, when it marched to Culpepper Court House. At one A. M. of the 4th of May, it broke camp and marched for the Wilderness, crossing the Rapidan at two P. M., and encamping at night near the Lacy House.

On the following day the division was thrown forward on the right centre for a reconnoissance, and was soon skirmishing with the enemy. In the meantime Wadsworth’s Division became heavily engaged and was being driven, when the regiment was thrown forward to the right to check the enemy’s advance, where it occupied a line of rifle pits, keeping up a constant skirmish firing during the night. On the following morning, abandoning this position, it moved up the Gordonsville pike, was deployed to the left of the road in a wood, and moved forward in line driving the enemy. Companies D and I were here thrown forward as skirmishers, and advanced within seventy-five yards of his fortified line. For three hours a hot skirmish fire was delivered, company I loosing one killed and ten wounded. At one P. M. the line was withdrawn three hundred yards, where it threw up a line of rifle pits from which a steady fire was maintained until dark, when it was relieved by the Ninety-first Pennsylvania, and moved back to the position which it occupied in the morning. In the evening it was hastily marched to the right to the support of the Sixth Corps, unexpectedly attacked, but returned without being engaged. The regiment lost in the Wilderness six killed snd twenty-seven wounded.

On the 7th, the Eighth was held in reserve, and on the following day was withdrawn and commenced the march towards Spottsylvania. Arriving in front of the enemy it met the First Division of the Fifth Corps retiring, and was immediately engaged, checking and finally driving him back and capturing some prisoners. From the 8th until the 15th the battle raged with varying success, the regiment being almost constantly engaged, and never out of reach of rebel missiles. Its loss was three killed and sixteen wounded.

On the 17th, the term of service having expired, an order was received from the War Department relieving it from duty at the front. The recruits and veterans were transferred to the One Hundred and Ninety-first Regiment. Shaking the dust of battle from their garments, the men hastened away from the scenes of carnage in which they had borne a gallant part, and were soon embarked, homeward bound. At Pittsburg, on the 24th of May, the regiment was mustered out of service.

Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg, 1868-1871.

  1. Organization of the First Brigade, Brigadier General John F. Reynolds; Pennsylvania Reserve Corps Major General George A. McCall. Fifth (34th) Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Seneca G. Simmons; First (30th) Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel R. Biddle Roberts; Second (31st) Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Wm. B. Mann, Eighth (37th) Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel George S. Hays.
  2. Extract from General McCall’s Official Report: “Early in the day, not knowing what force might be thrown forward from Centreville to support the troops we had encountered, I had called forward Brigadier General Reynolds, First Brigade, and Brigadier General Meade, Second Brigade, from Camp Pierpont, to the support of the Third Brigade.

    Both these distinguished officers promptly brought forward their commands, and I only regretted that the fine dispositions of the regiment and battery of Ord’s command, together with the gallantry of Colonels Jackson, McCalmont, and Taggart, and Lieutenant Colonels Kane, Higgins, and Penrose, and Captain Easton, had left nothing for Reynolds and Meade to do.”

    Executive Document, No. 55, p. 13.

  3. Extract from General McClellan’s Official Report: “The position on Beaver Dam Creek, although so successfully defended, had its right flank too much in the air, and was too far from the main army to make it desirable to retain it longer.”
  4. Suddenly I heard an explosion a little to my right, that pierced to my very brain. I naturally turned in the direction, and saw a sight that is before my eyes yet. Twenty or thirty feet from me, where the banks were not high enough to afford much protection, I saw a cloud of dust and smoke in the very midst of company A. I saw a man throw his hands wildly above his head, and fall backward, covered with blood. A moment he lay quivering convulsively, then he lay still-perfectly still. He was dead. Another stooped and picked up his own arm, which had been torn off by the shell as it descended, and rushed wildly towards a small hospital some distance to the rear, flourishing his dismembered limb above his head and shouting in the broad tongue:-

    “Och, docther, me airm’s off, me airm’s off!”

    A percussion shell had struck fairly among the boys, killing three outright and wounding four.

    -Our Boys, Hill, page 299

  5. Our Boys, A. F,.11i, page 395-7.
  6. La division Meade se composait exclusivement de regiments de Pennsylvanie. Elle s’avanca sur une pointe de bois que debordait en avant, y penetra sans hesiter, et balaya en un instant tout ce qui s’y trouvait. La premiere brigade qui etait en tete, s’ elance alors sur le railroad, l’enleve galamment, culbute quelques regiments ennimis qui s’ enfuient en desordre, et gravissant la pente boisee sur leurs talons, arrive, a travers une seconde ligne de retranchements, sur la crete ou il ne s’ agit plus que de s’ etablir solidement. Mais la, elle se trouve devant un espace ouvert ou le general Jackson avait masse sa reserve. Accuillie de front par un terrible feu d’infanterie, et mitriallee obliquement par une batterie d’ artillerie, elle est forcee de s’ arreter et bientot de se replier precipitamment.”

    -L’Armee Du Potomac, De Trobriand, Paris, 1868, Tome Second, p. 20.