Historical Sketch

Taken from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg) by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.



The Sixth New York Cavalry, a regiment that made one of the most creditable records for service during the late War of the Rebellion, was organized in the summer and autumn of 1861.. It was formed out of what was first known as the Ira Harris Guards, a cavalry organization raised in response to a call for mounted troops to meet the exigencies of the service that had become manifest by the operations of the famous '" Black Horse Cavalry " of the Confederate Army, during the Bull Run campaign, July, 1861. The regiment was, in fact, at first the protege of Senator Ira Harris, of New York, who had been •instrumental in securing the authority for its formation.

The recruiting headquarters were at No. 4 Pine Street, New York City, and the first rendezvous for the command was at Camp Herndon, and at Camp Scott, -Staten Island, New York. Its organization was completed as early as October 24, 1861. The regiment was divided into three battalions. Thomas C. Devin •was appointed colonel, and Duncan McVicar lieutenant colonel. On December 20, 1861, the regiment was ordered to York, Pa., where it was employed in 'building barracks and stables, and in the general work of receiving instruction from its superior officers. On March 6th the regiment moved to Perryville, Md., where it served in guarding the depot and military stores at that place.

At the opening of the spring campaign of 1862, the Third Battalion (Companies B, D, F, and H), under command of Maj. Floyd Clarkson, was sent to the Peninsula, Va., to participate in the operations undertaken by Gen. George B. McClellan, and was assigned to the Second and, later, to the Fourth Army Corps. The writer of this sketch, who had been commissioned as assistant surgeon, accompanied Major Clarkson in this early field service with the Army of the Potomac. The other battalions, under the command of the colonel and their respective officers, were assigned to duty under General Sturgis. On July 15, 1862, they were ordered to Warrenton, Va., and were placed under the -command of General McDowell. They were employed in observing the country south of the Rapidan during the campaign of General Pope, and in covering the evacuation of Fredericksburg and Aquia Creek. On September 4th the regiment was employed, while connected with the army corps of General Burn-• side, in protecting the country in advance of the right wing of the Army of the Potomac during the movement on Antietam.

September 10 and 12, 1862, at the battle of Frederick, Col. Thomas C. Devin commanded the regiment, which served under the immediate command of General Burnside. At the battle of South Mountain, September 14th, Colonel Devin commanding, it was still under the immediate command of General Burnside.

September 16th,— Battle of Sharpsburg Turnpike, Colonel Devin com--manding regiment, under command of General Burnside.

September 17th.— Battle of Antietam, Colonel Devin commanding regiment on the left of Burnside's Corps.

October 6th.— Battle of Lovettsville, Colonel Devin commanding regiment under the immediate command of General Burnside.

October 16th,— Battle at Charlestown, Va., Colonel Devin commanding regiment under the immediate command of General Burnside.

October 24th— Crossed the Potomac and took position at Wheatland Mills. October 28th,— Moved in advance of the Ninth Army Corps to Warrenton, '"Va., employed in observing the mountain passes of the Blue Ridge.

November 16th.— The regiment reported to General Sickles, at Manassas Junction, to cover movement of his division to Fredericksburg. December 13th,— Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.

December 16th,— The regiment was assigned to the Second Brigade of General Pleasanton's cavalry division, and was employed in observing the lower Rappahannock, and in holding the fords of the upper Rappahannock.

April 29, 1863.— Crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers in advance of the Army of the Potomac.

April 30th.— Engaged the enemy's infantry at Hunting Creek Run and Spotsylvania Court House, Va. Lieutenant Colonel Duncan McVicar commanded the regiment, while Colonel Devin commanded the Second Brigade, First Cavalry Division. At the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Lieutenant Colonel McVicar was killed.

In order that one may comprehend the movements of the cavalry that lead up to the battle of Gettysburg, I here append the following memoranda:

The Sixth New York Cavalry at that time was under the command of Lieut. Col. William H. Crocker, and was still connected with the Second Brigade, which was under the command of Colonel Devin. The other regiments of this brigade were the Ninth New York, Col. William Sackett; Seventeenth Pennsylvania, Col. J." H. Kellogg; and Third West Virginia (detached) Cavalry.

May 3d,;— The Sixth New York Cavalry, with the Second Brigade, was engaged at the battle of Chancellorsville.

May 4th.— Crossed the Rappahannock and encamped near Falmouth. The regiment, with the brigade, was employed in holding the fords of the Rappahannock, from Kelly's Ford to Port Conway.

June 8th.— The regiment with its brigade and division, marched to Beverly Ford on the Rappahannock. It was engaged at the battle of Beverly Ford. From June 10th to June 15th the regiment was engaged in holding the fords of the Rappahannock.

June 16th.— The Sixth with the brigade returned to Bull Run.

June 21st.— The regiment engaged Stuart's Cavalry at Upperville and Ashby's Gap.

June 22d.— The regiment was ordered to assist in holding Haymarket; also Thoroughfare and Hopeville Gaps.

June 24th.— The regiment with the brigade and division moved (this is an important fact to be remembered) by Leesburg, Poolesville, Frederick and Emmitsburg to Gettysburg, which we reached on June 3Oth, and passing through the town encamped in the vicinity of McPherson's Farm, a mile and a half to the north of the village.

July 1st.— At daybreak the regiment engaged the advance of Hill's Corps, Capt. William L. Heermance of the regiment commanding the skirmish, line. At noon the regiment, with others of the brigade, engaged the advance of Ewell's Corps.

I should state here that on the morning of July 1st the pickets of the First Brigade, on the road to Cashtown, were driven in by a force advancing from that direction. The Second Brigade was ordered to prepare for action. The Sixth New York was placed on the right of the brigade, on the road to Mum-masburg, where it dismounted and deployed on foot. At one time the Sixth New York Cavalry was thought to have been captured, so fierce were the attacks made by the enemy's infantry and artillery upon us before the army corps, under General Reynolds, the vanguard. of the infantry at Gettysburg, had arrived. The Sixth, in conjunction with other regiments of the brigade, made a good stand in the direction of the Heidlersburg Road, and succeeded in holding back the Rebel line until the arrival of the Eleventh Corps.

July 2d,— The regiment engaged the advance of Longstreet's Corps at Round Top. The Confederates appeared to secrete themselves in every available position not directly exposed to the Union lines. Whenever the effects of their deadly aim uncovered their hiding places the Sixth New York, with the other regiments, was employed in dislodging them from their stronghold.

Gen. Daniel Butterfield, who was chief of staff of the Army of the Potomac at the battle of Gettysburg, has given, in the North American Review, to the Sixth New York Cavalry the credit of making the first attack upon the enemy at the opening contest at Gettysburg — on the morning of July I, 1863. This was on the ground where Buford Avenue, at the north of the town, is now laid out, and precisely where the beautiful monument of the Sixth New York Cavalry has been erected at an expense of upwards of $10,000.

It has always been the feeling in the cavalry that but for this attack opened by the Sixth New York upon the enemy's forces, and thus detaining them until our main army arrived, another story of the battle of Gettysburg would be told.

It deserves to be mentioned that on July.2 and 3, 1863, two companies of the Sixth New York, F and H, under command of the intrepid Maj. William P. Hall, operated in another direction. This detachment had moved up the York River, Va., in June, 1863, under orders from General Dix, and had cut Lee's communication with Richmond. This movement of the detachment, with other troops sent by General Dix, had the effect of drawing from the enemy important forces that would undoubtedly have been sent to Lee's assistance at Gettysburg. This action resulted in the bringing on of the battle of Baltimore Cross Roads, which was fought on July 2d, and which, without doubt, contributed directly to the success of the battle of Gettysburg.

After the battle of Gettysburg the regiment served in connection with the brigade and division in General Pleasanton's Corps, participating in the battles of Beaver Creek, Funkstown, Williamsport, Boonsborough, and Falling Waters. Then crossing the Potomac and moving by Purcellville and Salern, it encamped near Catlett's Station. During the remainder of the service of the Army of the Potomac for that year (1863), it engaged in the Rappahannock campaign, including the battles at Culpeper, Raccoon Ford, Stevensburg, Morton's Ford, and the other operations undertaken by the Cavalry Corps against the enemy until it retired to camp in winter cantonments at Culpeper, Va., where it was employed in guarding the country between the Union lines and the Blue Ridge.

On June I, 1864, the regiment re-enlisted. On May 3d it crossed the Rapi-dan and engaged in the Wilderness campaign under General Grant. The regiment accompanied the Cavalry Corps in all the operations undertaken by General Sheridan, participating in the famous raid around Richmond and in the battles at Trevilian Station, Winchester, Cedar Creek, Fisher's Hill, and, in fact, in the whole series of engagements fought by Sheridan's Cavalry in the Valley during that year, until December 3Oth, when it moved to Loudoun Valley to assist in covering the left flank of the army, after which it retired to Lovetts-ville for winter encampment to observe the country between the Potomac and the Blue Ridge.

At the battle of Yellow Tavern, Va., June 11, 1864, the time the Rebel General Stuart was killed, the regiment charged down the Brook Pike and went into and entered the line of the first defences about Richmond, being the first Union regiment to get so close to the Confederate Capital.

February 23d and 26th, the regiment resumed its active operations with the First Cavalry Division under Sheridan, and marched to Winchester and Staun-ton. It assisted in the final defeat of General Early's army, near Waynes-borough, and in the destruction of the several railroads and the James River Canal, until the cavalry rejoined the army under General Grant at Petersburg. The regiment moved with the division, March 28th, on Dinwiddie Court House, and engaged the enemy in front of Five Forks, Scott's Cross Roads, Liberty Church, Sailor's Creek, and in nearly all the battles until the surrender at Appomattox, April 9, 1865.

Later on, the regiment accompanied the cavalry under General Shericlan to North Carolina, to engage in a campaign against Johnston's army; but before the command reached the scene of operations news was received of its surrender.

June 17, 1865, the regiment was consolidated with the Fifteenth New York Cavalry (Johnson's Cavalry), forming the Second Provisional New York Cavalry, but was ordered to be mustered out of service, August 9th. ' It was retained, however, for further service at Elmira, N. Y., until October 4, 1865.

The number of battles, engagements and skirmishes in which the whole or a part of the Sixth New York Cavalry was engaged is 143. The number of killed, wounded, and missing aggregated 472. Medals of Honor have been awarded by the Secretary of War to four of the enlisted men.