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 Fourth Regiment, New York Volunteer Cavalry, was organized in New York City, and Yonkers, Westchester County. In the early part of May, 1861, a small command known as the " Lincoln Greens " was organized (not mustered) by Major Byron. A few weeks later Major Byron went West to accept a staff appointment, and C. F. Dickel assumed the responsibility of raising a cavalry regiment, with the Lincoln Greens as a nucleus, having the financial backing of Mr. Louis La Farge. The name was changed to " The New York Mounted Rifles," and subsequently was officially designated as the Fourth New York Volunteer Cavalry. The rendezvous was first at Williamsburg, L. I.; then at Elm Park, and in July it was again changed to Yonkers, where, on the 10th of August, 1861, two companies were mustered into service. By September 15th, eight companies were mustered into the United States service, and transferred to Washington, D. C., where two more companies joined soon after. In October, 1861, the regiment, fully equipped and mounted, crossed the long bridge and encamped near Alexandria, Va., Col. C. F. Dickel commanding.

About the 1st of November, camp was changed to Hunter's Chapel, and the regiment became part of the division commanded by Brig. Gen. Louis Blenker. Drills, picket duty, and reconnoissances constituted the winter work of the regiment. In March, 1862, the division broke camp and moved into Western Virginia, where it became a part of General Fremont's command, which returned to the Shenandoah Valley late in May and followed Jackson's Confederate army up the Valley. The regiment was engaged at Strasburg, Har-risonburg, Cross Keys, and Port Republic during this campaign. In August, 1862, the regiment was attached to General Sigel's Corps, and participated in all the engagements of that command, including Cedar Mountain, Manassas, etc.

During the winter of 1862-63, the regiment camped at Stafford Court House, Va., under the command of Louis Palma di Cesnola, who had succeeded C. F. Dickel as colonel. Two more companies joined at this time, making the full complement of twelve companies. On the organization of the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, the Fourth was assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division, and continued as such under various commanders, until February, 1865, when, owing to the muster-out of eight companies by expiration of term of service, the remaining companies were consolidated with the Ninth New York Cavalry. Colonel di Cesnola was wounded and taken prisoner at Aldie, June 17, 1863; Maj. W. R. Parnell was wounded and taken prisoner at Upper-ville, June 21, 1863, but escaped from Staunton, Va., in the following August.

In January, 1864, the command of the regiment devolved upon Lieut. Col. W. R. Parnell, who remained in command during the year, with the exception of a short time, when Colonel di Cesnola was in command, he having been exchanged in May, 1864; but, during the greater period of his subsequent service Colonel Cesnola commanded the brigade. The following is a summary of skirmishes, actions and general engagements in which the regiment took part during its service from 1861 to 1865:

1861.— Annandale. 1862.— Strasburg, Woodstock, Harrisonburg, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Sulphur Springs, Cedar Mountain, Rapidan River, Waterloo Bridge, Bristoe Station, Salem or White Plains, Bull Run, Centre-ville, near Fairfax Court House, Ashby's Gap, New Baltimore, Aldie, Snicker's Gap, Charlestown, Fredericksburg, Snickersville.

1863.— Grove Church, Rappahannock Station, Somerville, Hartwood Church, New Hope Landing, Kelly's Ford, Chancellorsville campaign, Rapidan Station, Snicker's Gap, (second time,) Brandy Station, Stevens-burg, Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville, Gettysburg, Brandy Station, (second time,) Rappahannock Station, (second time,) Culpeper, Somerville Ford, Raccoon Ford, (twice,) Rapidan, Madison Court House, Orange Court House, Stevensburg, Morton's Ford, Jack's Shop, Culpeper, (second time,) Bristoe Station, Oak Hill, Beverly Ford, Bealeton Station, Oak Hill, (second time,) Rappahannock Station again, Muddy Run, Germanna Ford, Robertson's Tavern, Parker's Store, Mine Run, Ely's Ford, Culpeper Court House again.

1864.— Sperryville, Barnett's Ford, Beaver Dam Station, Wilderness, Piney Grove Church, Spotsylvania, Paniunkey River, Trevilian Station, Malvern Hill, White House, Jones' Bridge, Samaria Church, Prince George Court House, before Petersburg, Lee's Mills, Deep Bottom, Charles City Cross Roads, Millwood, White Post, Crooked Run, Berryville, Cedarville or Front Royal, Summit Point, Halltown, Smithfield, Shepherdstown, Leetown, Bunker Hill, Opequon, Winchester, Mount Jackson, Luray, Port Republic, Mount Crawford, Newtbwn, Jones' Brook, Cedar Creek, Fisher's Hill, Nineveh, Rood's Hill.

1865.— Raid around Richmond, Five Forks, Surrender of Lee, (Appomattox).


In May, 1861, efforts were made by a number of persons, among whom was Christian F. Dickel (who had for a long time carried on a riding academy, and who had been in the German army), to organize a regiment of cavalry. For some time they had difficult work. A company raised by Major Byron, who had headquarters at the Astor House, and recruiting offices at Nos. 37 and 39 Bowery, had been in existence some time, but he had only been able to raise 115 or 120 men.

On the return of the " three months' men," a number of the members of the Twelfth Regiment, N. Y. S. M., with Capt. Ralph H. Olmstead, of Company K, joined the organization, when the name was changed to New York Mounted Rifles, and so rapidly did the numbers increase, that C. F. Dickel was appointed colonel, and the rendezvous was changed from Elm Park, S. L, to Yonkers. Thereafter the regiment was known as a Westchester organization, and was mustered in as such on the 29th of August, 1861, by Captain Larned, U. S. A., as the Fourth New York Volunteer Cavalry.

About the 10th of September, 1861, the battalion, composed of Companies A, B, C, D, E, and F, were sent to Washington where they did duty for some time mounted, but without arms, being attached to Blenker's Division. The officers were chiefly old soldiers, some from the British Army, while others had served in Mexico and on the frontier. They used the winter of '61 to advantage, and on the " advance " in '62, the regiment readily took the front rank in all the manoeuvres under Sumner and others, until their transfer to the Mountain Department, under General Fremont.

In November, 1861, Colonel Dickel resigned, and for some time the regiment was commanded by Ferries Nazer, the lieutenant colonel, who was well known in the theatrical world of New York, twenty years ago.

In September, 1862, Louis P. di Cesnola, a graduate of one of the best European military schools, and a man of fine soldierly qualities, was appointed colonel, and the regiment at once showed his master hand. He was soon appointed to the command of the brigade, and the command devolved on Lieut. Col. W. R. Parnell, one of the original members of the regiment, and subsequently first lieutenant of the First U. S. Cavalry. He was promoted to captain and brevet major for gallant and meritorious services in the Indian wars, and is now on the retired list, residing in California.

The regiment was never a day absent from the scene of active operations; it served with credit under Fremont, Rosecrans, Sigel, Pope, and Stoneman, as many flattering encomiums bestowed on it by these commanders can testify. Starting from a numerical strength of 700 men, and having added to it at various times from 900 to 1,000 recruits, it numbered scarcely 100 men for active duty when discharged — the deficiency being accounted for by loss in action, deaths from wounds and disease, disabilities, etc. It performed much arduous and hazardous service, scouting and reconnoitering, being invariably successful, and seldom suffering any loss.

At Strasburg, Va., on the 1st of June, 1862, a small portion charged on the rear guard of " Stonewall" Jackson's retreating army, comprising the Fourth Virginia (" Black Horse ") and other cavalry, and caused a vigorous stampede, which the horses and men were too exhausted to follow up.

At Cross Keys, Va., the regiment opened the battle in skirmishing order, and afterwards rendered itself, conspicuous by its determined resistance to several charges made on Schirmer's Battery by the Rebel forces, a resistance which was successful in saving the battery from capture, besides inflicting severe chastisement on the enemy, and killing the Rebel General Ashby. Continuing with the army during Pope's retreat, the regiment performed meritorious service by bringing up the rear, and destroying bridges in the face of the enemy's advance, and having several severe skirmishes.

At Manassas (Second Bull Run), co-operating with the First Michigan Cavalry, it made the only cavalry charge during the battle, under the direction of Gen. John Buford. This was successful in checking the enemy's advance and saving many thousands from being captured. At Kelly's Ford, on the 17th of March, 1863, much credit was awarded to the regiment for its conspicuous gallantry. At Aldie, on the I7th of June, while a portion of our cavalry was driven back and nearly captured, the regiment opportunely arrived, and by a spirited charge, turned apparent defeat into a glorious victory for our arms, completely routing the enemy, and cutting off nearly 100 men, with a battle flag — all of whom surrendered and fell into the hands of the First Massachusetts Cavalry. In this engagement Colonel di Cesnola was captured, after his horse had been shot under him. He was immured in Libby Prison for ten months.

Following the retreating enemy to Middleburg and Upperville the regiment made several charges, in one of which — at the latter place — General Kilpatrick was rescued from the enemy's hands by a squadron led by Captain Mann, after being abandoned by another regiment with which General Kilpatrick had charged.

On the 16th of September, after chasing the enemy from Brandy Station across the Rapidan, and while a portion of the regiment was on picket at Raccoon Ford, 24 men were captured by the enemy after being surrounded, and 1 officer and 2 men killed. The little party could not possibly have been surrounded but for the careless and ignorant way in which the line of pickets was formed. For this disaster, however, and before any official report had been made, and, further, under the impression that a whole squadron had been captured, the regiment was prohibited by General Pleasanton from carrying its regimental colors. That this was an act of great injustice every officer and man in the brigade was convinced, and repeated efforts were made to obtain a court of inquiry on the matter so as to have the blame, if any, put on the proper party. It was granted, but never convened. A full statement of the circumstances sent to the Secretary of War resulted in having the order rescinded on January 6, 1864, on the ground of " meritorious service."

The order did not, discouraging and unjust as it was, alter the true soldierly qualities of officers or men, as both regimental and brigade commanders can attest.

At Trevilian Station, on the nth and 12th of June, the regiment was engaged in the hottest part of the fight, losing heavily in officers and men, but taking upwards of 100 prisoners with their arms and equipments. On the nth, after driving the enemy for nearly three miles, a portion of the regiment charged and recaptured Trevilian, after General Custer had been forced to retire, holding the position until reinforced.

On the 29th of July, the regiment, detached on a reconnoissance, reached White Tavern, four miles from Richmond, and was several times cut off from the brigade; but by careful manoeuvring escaped without the loss of a man, and brought in several prisoners.

At White Post, near Newtown, Va., on the nth of August, the regiment again opened the fight and stubbornly contested the advance of the enemy for five hours until reinforcements arrived.

At Front Royal, on the 16th of August, the regiment (numbering at this time 150 men) charged on a regiment of Wickham's Brigade, which was driving our skirmishers, capturing in the charge the battle flag of the Third Virginia Cavalry, besides many prisoners. In this charge Captain Mann, while gallantly leading his squadron, was killed — having been shot through the heart. A series of charges were afterwards made, in concert with the Sixth New York Cavalry, on Cobb's Legion of infantry which had crossed the river and deployed on our left, resulting in the capture of their battle flag (which fell to the Sixth New York), and from 250 to 300 prisoners. The total number credited to the regiment in this short but spirited engagement was 12 officers and 119 men, and the entire affair was characterized by the division general as " superb."

The regiment participated in the battle of Winchester as body guard to General Sheridan. As its term of service had expired, it was detailed as a guard to accompany the colors captured in that and the subsequent fight at Fisher's Hill, to Washington. Some 200 members who had been recruited subsequent to the organization of the regiment were transferred to the Ninth New York Cavalry. They served all through the campaign, closing up with the great cavalry fight at Five Forks, and were subsequently at the surrender of Lee, and in the Grand Review at Washington.

After the close of the war the surviving members of the Fourth New York Cavalry organized a " Veteran Association " which still exists and holds its meetings and reunions at stated times. On one of these occasions General di Cesnola presented to the Association the original flag carried by the regiment during the first part of the war.

In his speech of presentation, General di Cesnola explained how the guidon, already in shreds, and weather-beaten a quarter century ago, was preserved and is still in existence. " You remember," he said, " that at Aldie, in Virginia, on the 17th day of June, 1863, our regiment was ordered to charge several times in succession a force of cavalry in front of us which outnumbered the Fourth New York Cavalry ten to one; it was a senseless order, and a foolhardy and reckless act, which cost our regiment many precious lives; but we obeyed it. At the fifth charge to which I led you on that memorable day, my horse was shot dead under me. I was wounded by a sabre cut on the head and a rifle bullet in my left arm, and you thought me dead; but I was only stunned by the blow. The enemy picked me up and sent me to Libby Prison. My personal effects were forwarded from our regimental headquarters to my family in New York, and with them inadvertently went also a package which contained the ' field orders,' which you see before you, and the flag. After the war I was preparing to go to Europe on a consular mission, and while packing up my effects the flag was discovered among them. Doubtful if I should ever return to this country, I made a present of it to a life-long friend. For the last twenty-three years he has preserved our banner with reverent and loving care, and we owe him our heartfelt thanks for it. When he heard of the formation of this Association, he generously sent the flag back to me, knowing that I would be glad to have you become the custodians of it once more, and during the rest of your life. Let us keep it, then, my dear comrades, with jealous care, and never forget that if our old battle flag is to-day in our possession, we owe it to those brave members of our regiment who shed their blood in its defence, End preserved it for us to this day."