New York was the first state to supply volunteer cavalry regiments to the Union Army, in 1861. The 10th NY Cavalry was one of these early regiments. The 10th NY was nicknamed the "Porter Guards," in honor of Colonel Peter Buel Porter of Niagara Falls NY, who served with distinction during the War of 1812 and later as Secretary of War under President John Quincy Adams.
Recruiting started in western and central New York State in August 1861, and the Tenth received its numerical designation on December 12, 1861. The first 2 battalions (8 companies) took a train to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on Christmas Eve 1861. Here they encamped for 2-1/2 months and received their initial training.
The Tenth New York served in the Army of the Potomac for the duration (they were mustered out in August, 1865) and participated in many of the largest and bloodiest cavalry fights of the war. Their story is full of bravery and heroism, for example: John Ordner, a young German-born captain who was unjustly accused of wrongdoing, and returned to the regiment only to be killed while leading his company in a charge. Noble Preston, a mild-mannered commissary lieutenant who led a decisive charge when a company officer was killed. He was severely wounded during the charge, and was awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery. Burton Porter, a kind-hearted officer who sent his horse home after it saved his life twice. He was taken prisoner, escaped, was recaptured, and escaped again to find that he had been left for dead and his beloved horse sold. (He found the new owner and bought the horse back.) Their bravery is all the more conspicuous when one remembers that at the start of the war, the men and boys of the Tenth were raw recruits indeed. They were farmers, law and medical students, sign painters, storekeepers, blacksmiths, teachers. Matthew Henry Avery, who commanded the regiment for most of the war, was a minister's son and a bookseller before the war! Many had never ridden a horse before, and most of the officers had never seen military service. Both officers and enlisted men had to develop military skills as they marched and fought.
The Tenth’s total casualties were among the highest experienced in the Union cavalry regiments. Nine officers and 97 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded in action; 18 officers and 217 enlisted were wounded; 9 officers and 245 enlisted were missing; 120 enlisted died of disease (actually, far less than many cavalry regiments); and one officer and 31 enlisted men died as prisoners of war (many at the infamous Andersonville camp.)
Cavalry units usually saw more action than the infantry did, although casualties were generally less severe due to the more fleeting and chaotic nature of cavalry fights. The Tenth fought both mounted, with sabre and pistol, and dismounted, with carbines. Cavalry units often saw harder fighting in "skirmishes" than in the larger, more well-known battles. The experience of Saddler Sgt. William Weygint was typical. He personally took part in sixty-three regular engagements where artillery was used, and in twenty-four skirmishes. He had two horses shot out from under him. But Weygint was lucky: he survived his ordeals without a scratch.
The Tenth was raised in the counties of Erie, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Fulton, Steuben, and Onondaga. Organized at Elmira NY, it was mustered in from September 27 to December 23, 1861 to serve a term of three years.
Commanding the unit for most of its time in service was Major Matthew Henry Avery, who was born in Middletown Springs VT, on March 27, 1836. The son of a Congregational minister, he owned a book and stationery business in Syracuse at the outbreak of the war. Avery, caught up in the patriotic fervor prevalent in the North when the bluecoats were defeated at Bull Run, raised a company of cavalry at Syracuse and was soon appointed as captain. In September of 1861, Avery's Company A was mustered into service and transferred to Elmira where the other companies were to gather.
On Christmas Eve, 1861, eight companies of the Tenth NY boarded a train bound for the little-known town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They arrived on Christmas Day and were given a quiet, but warm welcome by the town’s residents. Albert Chandler of Company B wrote this letter home just before the Tenth left Elmira:
Letter datelined “Head-Quarters Porter Guard Cavalry, Barracks No 2 Elmira,” Dec 23, 1861:
I am about to leave Elmira and bid farewell to the surrounding hills and pleasant Seanerye
we take our Departure of Tuesday the 24 at 10 Oclock AM we all feel well and cheerfull in consequence of it
we have got all of our clothing compleat also our sabers sabers knots--belts harvey sacks and Canteens the harvey sacks is used for the purpos of careing our provisions so I shall be oblige to keep the satchell to cary my clothing in untill I receive my Roll Bag which I shall get when we get our horses & sadles
we are going to gedesBurg I do not know wether it is in virginia or pensylvana But alternate(?) it is on the Line some whare . . .
This all now write as soon as you here from me when we get down to ---- I shall write as soon as we get settled in our new home ---b take good care of --- and also your selfe my Love to all Give pa my coat Hat ---- that I have set home when you write to me again tell me whether you got those things that I sent home by -------- or not Good By A.F. Chandler”
Chandler did not survive the war. He died of disease in November, 1862.
The regiment trained in Gettysburg for 72 days, where they learned to drill dismounted, and were instructed in saber exercises. But except for some officers, the men did not receive horses until the summer of 1862. Once their training was completed, they were ordered to guard railroads, sometimes armed only with sabers. As was typical early in the war, each company of 100 men was issued only 10 carbines.
Early on, the Tenth also suffered problems common to many volunteer regiments: poor leadership and internal strife. Its commander, Colonel John Lemmon, was a wealthy businessman who had held a largely ceremonial position in the state militia, but understood little of military matters. The regiment divided along “pro-Lemmon” and “anti-Lemmon” lines. Eventually, Colonel Lemmon exacted his revenge, dismissing officers who had gotten on his bad side. Lemmon was frequently absent from the regiment and most of its day to day operations were supervised by Lt. Colonel Irvine and Major Matthew Henry Avery. (Later, Colonel Lemmon left the regiment under suspicious circumstances, and some of the dismissed officers not only were reinstated, but distinguished themselves in battle.)
After the issue of horses, various companies of the Tenth were detailed on various duties—as orderlies, escorts, scouts, and guards. Eight companies were detailed to defend Washington, D.C., south of the Potomac, as of August 31, 1862. Again, this was typical of the early war; Army commanders did not understand the tactical importance of cavalry and therefore did not always make the best use of it.
The following excerpts from the letters of Manning Austin of Company G give an idea of the character of the Tenth’s service in 1862:
Guard Duty in Maryland, Spring 1862
Letter datelined Perryville (Md), March 10, 1862:
"We have been brought here to guard the railroad and the ferry boat...you take the army out of the state of Maryland and she would secede in no time and the bridges would be burnt, the railroads destroyed and all resources cut off from our southern army....I have bought me a pistol, for I do not like to stand guard with nothing but our old sabre, for there has been some sentinels killed here."
Although this duty was tedious, and the men longed for the issue of horses, on April 4, Company A, guarding the bridge over Back River, near Baltimore, made an important capture of a schooner laden with recruits and material for the Confederacy.
Letter datelined Washington, D.C., Aug. 17th, 1862:
"...Joe has been down town today...went down to the White House to see Abraham [Lincoln], and he had the good luck to see him...He was coming from the War Department with another man and passed...within three feet of him...His house is open for soldiers to see it. Some of the boys were in it yesterday. They said the rooms were covered with paper velvet and the carpets were velvet."
The Tenth’s first “real” fight was at Leesburg, Virginia in September 1862:
Letter datelined Camp Corcoran, Va., Sept. 18-20, 1862:
"...as we passed through Washington, we went by the President's House and the Col. had us march up in front of it. As we passed by, the President came to the window and took a good look at us. He is a noble looking man....The first Battalion of our Regt.[four companies] has been in one fight,....Wednesday last. Maj. Avery took some infantry and one battery and the first Battalion....reached Leesburg, where they (rebels) made a stand. Our men made a charge upon them along a road that was lined by trees on each side, where there were a lot of rebel infantry posted. As our men made a charge, they were exposed to a cross fire from the enemy. As our horses were green, they did not make an effective charge and they had to fall back. The artillery was sent forward and a few shots scattered the enemy...drove them from the town and captured a baggage train and the standard flag...held it about an hour and then fell back.... Report came in yesterday that McClellan had got Jackson surrounded on three sides and the Potomac in his front...McClellan gave him four hours to surrender, but instead...he went to fighting and our army threw them in to the Potomac and was cutting them all to pieces."
However, their brigade commander, Judson Kilpatrick, wrote a glowing report on the above action, commending the 10th NY. He didn’t mention the green horses. Horses had been issued to the Tenth between July 25 and late August, so Austin’s statement that the horses were green is accurate. The scenario of charging down the road, through cross fire, would be repeated at the Battle of Middleburg the following year, but with better results.
The Tenth participated in picketing and scouting in Virginia’s “Northern Neck” peninsula in the winter of 1862-3 and the early spring of 1863, during which time they were engaged in several skirmishes. On November 16, several men of Company H were captured while on picket near the U.S. Ford.
In December, Co.L, under Lt. George Vanderbilt, along with 2 companies of the 6th PA Cav, was detailed as escort to Major General William Smith, Sixth Army Corps. While on this duty, they witnessed the Union defeat at Fredericksburg. For the men of company L this was a sobering experience, and they probably realized that they were “in it for the duration.”
In the spring of 1863, the Tenth accompanied General Stoneman on his arduous but futile raid. They covered 600 miles in ten days, at enormous cost to men and horses. Men and horses dropped by the wayside and were left to their own devices—some to be captured by the enemy. If a horse gave out, the trooper removed its tack and put it on a fresh horse. One soldier described the march:
“halting just long enough to feed—never exceeding two hours—did we urge our horses along, traveling hundreds of miles during the time. It was no uncommon occurrence during the last days of the march to see men fall asleep in their saddle and drop to the ground from fatigue and exhaustion.”
Although the raid had been costly, it did have one positive result: the once-green horsemen of the Tenth had endured a great test. They now considered themselves “graduates of the rough school of war,” and were thoroughly comfortable in the saddle. They were spoiling for a good fight.
This was the largest all-mounted cavalry battle of the war. Many 10th New Yorkers remembered Brandy Station as the most thrilling of all their fights. Finally, the entire regiment was brought together rather than being scattered on various assignments. Five hundred men were mounted and fit for duty that day in June 1863, and after all the difficulties of the previous year, esprit de corps was high.
Unfortunately for them, they would suffer from the poor judgement of their brigade commander. In the spring of 1863 the Tenth was brigaded with the 2nd New York and 1st Maine, under the command of Colonel Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick’s nickname, “Kill-Cavalry,” was well deserved. He typically engaged the enemy without any thought of their strength or position. To makes matters worse, he usually sent his troops in piecemeal, rather than as a unified force. These tactical failings squandered the lives of his men for little or no gain.
Kilpatrick’s use of his brigade at the Battle of Brandy Station is a case in point. After the Confederates had swept Wyndham’s brigade from Fleetwood Hill, Kilpatrick sent the Tenth in to take the hill. His timing, as usual, was bad. As Kilpatrick delayed his assault, the Confederates regrouped and brought in reinforcements. As the Tenth charged uphill—“the regiment was well in hand, the formation perfect”--they were hit on the right flank by Cobb’s Legion. Lt. Burton Porter, who was adjutant to Lt. Colonel Irvine, recalled:
“The regiment swept up the hillside where they were met by a greatly superior force that had been concentrated on that point as they key to the situation . . . It was a hand to hand struggle now. Here many of our brave boys went down. The rebel line that swept down upon us came in splendid order, and when the two lines were about to close in they opened a rapid fire upon us. Then followed an indescribable clashing and slashing, banging and yelling . . . we were now so mixed up with the rebels that every man was fighting desparately to maintain the position until assistance could be brought forward.”
The Tenth could not take the hill; they had their hands full merely extricating themselves from the situation. Kilpatrick followed with the 2nd NY, and they in turn were swept away. As the men of the Tenth were attempting to reform, the fleeing 2nd broke through their lines, throwing the Tenth into disarray. Finally the 1st Maine, Kilpatrick’s last regiment, went in. They finally succeeded in breaking through the Confederate lines, but then found themselves surrounded in the Confederate rear. As they tried to break back through towards their own men, Kilpatrick, by this time wild with excitement, urged the 2nd and 10th to reform and charge. “On, the Harris Light! On, the Tenth New York!” he cried, and they went back into the melee. From then on, according to Kilpatrick, “the fight was one series of . . . charging, rallying, and . . . charging until ordered to retire.”
By battle’s end the Tenth had suffered severe losses—between 85 and 100 men killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. In fact, the Tenth took one fifth of the total Union losses in the fight. The 10th’s commanding officer, Lt. Col Irvine, only recently returned from sick leave, had fought bravely. Major Avery recalled:
“I never saw so striking an example of devotion to duty. He rode into them slashing his saber in a measured and determined manner just as he went about everything else, with deliberation and firmness of purpose. I never saw a man so cool under such circumstances.”
But when Irvine’s horse fell with him, he found himself wounded and surrounded by Confederates. He spent 4 months in Libby Prison until he was exchanged. His health broken, he never again saw active service, although he campaigned actively on behalf of soldiers in Confederate prisons.
2nd Lt. John B. King, a 41-year-old preacher, was taken prisoner, his arm shattered by a bullet. He was also shipped to Libby, where he died of his wound a few weeks later. Lt. William Robb of Company D fell beneath his horse and was killed by a “sabre-thrust through the body” when he refused to surrender.
Tactically, the Battle of Brandy Station—the greatest cavalry battle of the Civil War—was a draw, and statistically, the Confederates had the edge. But the “high brass” in the Union Army were pleased with their cavalry’s performance, and the confidence of the Confederates was shaken.
Guy Wynkoop wrote of the battle:
Letter datelined “near Centerville Va,” June 16th 1863:
. . . A week ago to day we were across the Rappahannock fighting Stuart at Brandy Station and having pretty warm work, but guess we left our mark. A cavalry charge is a very exciting affair, but I must confess that I dont think too much such excitement conducive to health - What our exact loss is I do not know. Lt. Col. Irvine was wounded and captured, Lt. Robb killed & Capt. Gitman & Lt. King wounded - Some forty enlisted men missing, but how many of them were injured I am unable to say - I am speaking of our regiment. Our Company was very fortunate having but one man wounded - I saw a Sergt. from another regt. who was right by my side shot dead. As one of our men remarked I didn't care anything about their ‘small shooting’ but the music of shells bursting around was not altogether pleasant to the ear . . .”
Here Colonel J. Irvin Gregg’s Third Brigade engaged three brigades of Stuart’s cavalry. As Colonel Gregg feared his forces would be repulsed--the First Maine's flank was exposed--the Tenth New York charged gallantly up the road in column. They were raked by fire from dismounted Confederate cavalry hiding behind a stone wall. The Tenth lost 30 men killed, wounded, or missing, including three of their officers. But the charge was successful, and “their furious assault pushed Stuart out of the woods.”
Noble Preston wrote of the engagement:
“Early next morning I rejoined the regiment at the front. When I reached it they were some distance beyond Middleburg, and had just received orders to clear the road through a piece of timber by a mounted charge. The narrow highway was flanked on the right by a heavy stone wall, behind which, as well as the large trees in our front and in the wheat field to the right, the dismounted Confederate cavalry was posted. From these concealed positions they poured a deadly fire into our ranks. The fight for the possession of this important point was very obstinate, but was finally decided in our favor, the enemy being driven from their cover to the open county beyond. In the engagement around Middleburg the Tenth New York Cavalry lost heavily in killed and wounded, Lieutenants Hawes, Boyd and Beardsley being among the former.”
Preston also recounted the story of one “old soldier” who performed his duty gallantly:
"We continued to force them back until Middleburg was reached on the 19th. Here an old man of Company A, Thompson B. Beckhorn, came to me and requested horse and arms that he might engage in the pending fight. He had been exchanged and forwarded from Washington, having been in a Confederate prison pen for a long time. The old man was an enthusiast in his devotion to country, and had no patience with shirks and bummers. I told him to wait till the fight was over, when I presumed his company commander would provide for him. ‘Excuse me, Lieutenant, but I don't think it would be right for me to wait while my comrades are fighting. My feeble efforts might turn the battle,’ he said. Soon after he secured a carbine and ammunition and took an advanced position on the skirmish line in an open field. Screened by a little depression in the ground in which he lay, the constant puffs of smoke from his carbine indicated his determination to impress upon the enemy the fact that Thompson B. Beckhorn was back again. When a little later, our flank was turned and we were compelled to fall back, Beckhorn was made prisoner again. Poor old man! He never saw home nor friends again--dying not long after in a Southern prison pen.”
Beckhorn died in Andersonville prison November 15, 1864. Young Preston himself also displayed the kind of bravery which later would earn him a Medal of Honor:
"The regiment being out of rations and forage, Mayor Avery, who was in command, asked me if I could not get a light supply up to the front in some manner. I hastened back and had a wagon loaded with supplies and returned to Middleburg. Near the village I met General Gregg, who inquired why I had brought a wagon into such close proximity to the enemy. Upon my explaining to him the pressing wants of my regiment he reluctantly gave his consent for me to proceed. The wagon was taken to the front and rations and forage issued to the regiment while it was fighting.”
Colonel J. Irvin Gregg reported:
“Brigadier-General Gregg arrived upon the field, and directed me to drive the enemy from his position....After carefully reconnoitering the position of the enemy, I ordered the Sixteenth and a part of the Fourth Pennsylvania to deploy and charge at the double-quick across the open space intervening between me and the enemy, bringing the First Maine up to their support. The hill on the left of the wood was carried in gallant style, the First Maine pushing through and several hundred yards beyond the woods, where an entire brigade of cavalry was drawn up ready to charge. The enemy still held possession of the woods and stone walls on the right of the road, and I feared for a moment we would be repulsed; but at this juncture the Tenth New York, under Major Avery, charging gallantly up the road in column, and the First Maine, Sixteenth and Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry pushing through the woods, the entire position was carried.”
The Tenth arrived in Gettysburg exhausted after a three-day forced march, with less than half the regiment’s original strength, and only 300 horses in serviceable condition. The Tenth was actively engaged on July 2 in the affair with Walker's “Stonewall” Brigade, of Johnson's Division. On 2 pm the Tenth reached the intersection of the Hanover Road and Low Dutch Road, and contacted two regiments of the 11th Corps who were deployed as skirmishers on the far right flank, along Brinkerhoff’s Ridge. At 3 p.m., the Tenth relieved the infantrymen, and tried to hold their ground against the 2nd Virginia Infantry with their small force of skirmishers. Eventually the Confederates realized that they vastly outnumbered the 10th, advanced, and forced them to retreat. At that point, the Tenth received support from the 3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery and the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, and the Virginians fell back. This determined resistance, which lasted until sundown, caused the "Stonewall Brigade" to be withheld from the assault on Culp's Hill, weakening the force of that attack.
The Tenth was in Irvin Gregg's Brigade, and hence in reserve on the 3d. On the evening of the 3d it took an advanced position, where it encountered an artillery fire by which several were killed or wounded.
In his article “Gettysburg in Calm and Combat,” Noble Preston summarized the Tenth’s actions on July 2 and 3:
“Immediately on our arrival [on July 2] the Tenth New York was placed on the skirmish line, encountering the Confederate infantry in considerable numbers. General Gregg had taken the precaution to have the rail fences on both sides of the Bonaughtown road taken down, so as to be in readiness for any emergency. On our right was a field of tall, ripe wheat and beyond this the woods, which intervened between us and the ground on which our barracks once stood. In our front Johnson’s Confederate troops advanced to meet us over the same field formerly used by us as a drill ground. Skirmishing was continued until late in the evening, other portions of the division becoming gradually engaged in the meantime. Afterward we moved to the right rear of the Twelfth Corps, where we joined the infantry fighting in the timber, our dismounted men doing excellent service with their carbines. In our falling back before superior numbers of the enemy Lieutenant B. F. Loundsbury together with several enlisted, were taken prisoners.”
Colonel J. Irvin Gregg, commanding the Third Brigade, Second Division, of the Cavalry Corps wrote of this engagement:
“On July 16, at 1 p.m., the enemy attacked in force and drove in my vedettes and reserve, consisting of two squadrons of the Tenth New York Cavalry. Fortunately, however, the First Maine Cavalry had been ordered out a short time before on that road after forage, and checked the enemy's advance about 1 mile in front of my position.
Finding that the enemy was outflanking and slowly driving back Col. Smith's command, I sent two squadrons of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, under command of Maj. Young, about 3 p.m., to
The enemy still continuing to extend his skirmish line and to throw forward fresh troops, at 4 p.m.
I sent one squadron of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry to support the left of the line.
At 5 p.m. moved up the balance of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry and all of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry excepting one small squadron, left in reserve to support the battery, and my entire force became engaged; and from this time until dark the fight raged without cessation, the enemy making repeated and desperate charges, endeavoring to break my center.
About 6.30 p. m. three squadrons of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry, under command of Col. Taylor, reported to me, and were posted about 100 yards in rear of my center, in reserve. The Tenth New York Cavalry was posted on the right, on the Martinsburg road, on which the enemy made several demonstrations during the engagement, but were gallantly repulsed . . .
Too much credit cannot be awarded to the officers and men of this command for the gallantry displayed in resisting for eight hours and finally repulsing the attack of a force outnumbering it at least three to one, supported by eight pieces of artillery.”
Manning Austin of Company G gives a dramatic personal account, in a letter datelined Camp Bristow Station, Va., July 23, 1863:
"....The one [horse] that I had before this one I have now, I had shot in the bat. [battle] of the 16th last at Shepherdstown above Harpers Ferry on the Potomac river . . . the next morning [the 16th] our Regt. was ordered out on picket upon the Winchester Pike . . . everything went off well until about one o'clock when the Rebs advanced and made an attack upon our outpost pickets. They gave the alarm so that the reserve had time to mount their horses & form ready to give them a volley . . . before we fell back to our main force (which was about a mile back) . . . I soon overtook the reserve as they were forming in line in a piece of woods. On came the rebs, not a man stirred until they got very close to us. Then came the words ready, aim, fire. I tell you we poured a deadly volley into them . . . had the good effect to check them & make them retreat. We followed them to the edge of the woods. We soon had skirmishers thrown out . . . ordered to dismount as carbiniers. We did not have to wait long . . . before they again advanced upon us. They came with twice our number, but they could not drive us from our cover, for the first one of them that showed himself was shot to bite the dust . . . they got round our left flank and got so that they had a cross fire upon us & pick us off from behind the trees. At the same time, they opened their batteries upon us, the shells began to burst over our heads, so that it got too hot for us. We fell back from tree to tree. I got onto my horse as quick as I could. We fell back under cover of a knoll. As we were rallying, our Lieutenant was hit with a ball, wounding him very bad. We formed and held our ground. Our guns then opened upon their batteries . . . silenced . . . all but one, which they got down to the edge of the woods. They opened upon us with grape & cannister . . . our men got perfect range of them and gave them a 12 pound shot which struck their caisson and exploded it . . . a ball struck my horse in the breast on the left side close to the wind pipe . . . [he] begun to quiver . . . I jumped off and he fell dead . . . before rebellion shall triumph, let my bones bleach in the sunny south . . . "
Here Gregg attempted to dispute the passage of the Rappahannock at that place by the Confederate army. It was a bold move and a vigorous effort, but the Confederates greatly outnumbered him. The Tenth, which had been sent across to the south side of the river early in the day, covered the retreat of the 4th and 13th Pennsylvania, which were being hard pressed by "a strong force of infantry and cavalry." The Tenth lost heavily in the engagement and retreat which followed, taking 53 casualties: 28 MIA, 3 killed, and 22 wounded. Sergeant Tallman, who had the honor of carrying the 2nd Division colors, was killed. The battle was a victory for the Union.
Major Avery also described the Battle of Bristoe Station on Oct. 14:
“At daybreak the enemy advanced a heavy force of infantry, which the Tenth held in check for some time. Major Avery ordered the Fifth Squadron, under Lieutenant Johnson, to charge with the saber. This was gallantly done, and further checked the enemy's advance. Lieutenant Johnson was killed while leading this charge.”
In 1864, the cavalry was increasingly used to wage “total war” against the South. The Tenth participated in numerous raids, intended to disable lines of supply for the Confederate army. The expedition to Stoney Creek Station in December is typical of this work. At the same time, the Tenth also fought in several large battles, including the largest all cavalry battle in the Civil War (Trevillian Station.)
In late May of 1864, after Gregg’s cavalry division formed a screen that allowed the Army of the Potomac to cross the Pamunkey on May 28 unimpeded, they had a severe and obstinate fight at Hawe’s Shop. Gregg succeeded in driving Hampton’s and Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry divisions and Butler’s brigade from the field. Although the battle took place right in front of Federal infantry, Meade declined to help; the battle was won by cavalry alone “after an all days contest.” The Tenth, fighting dismounted from a very bad position, sustained a greater loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners than any other regiment. The popular young Sgt. John W. Vail, and QM Sgt. Samuel Baker, were both KIA here.
Justus G. Matteson writes home about some of his experiences during the "Trevilian Raid", in his
letter dated June 27, 1864:
"We have just returned from a raid of over two weeks [the Trevillian Raid] I have been in three hard Cav fights since I wrote last [Trevilian Station June 11-12, White House June 20, and St. Mary’s Church June 24], and under shelling five or six times besides. Our Co. [L] has had sixteen killed wounded and missing this season. 4 killed 10 wounded and 2 missing. I have not been touched yet and am well and enjoy myself as well as can be expected in these times & plase.
"It has been vary hot here for two weeks. no rain in that time untill yesterday & to day. it sprinkled yesterday & has just rained a little to day, but not half enough to lay the dust. there is scarcley a day passes but some one of the regt is sun stroke. I came near it several times.”
The Battle of Trevillian Station was the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War, and one of the hardest fought, with extreme gallantry and bravery on both sides. (Anyone interested in this battle should read Eric Wittenberg’s superb book Glory Enough for All.) On the afternoon of June 11, the Tenth, fighting dismounted, helped rescue Custer’s brigade--which had been surrounded--from imminent destruction. Their losses were severe [22 killed or wounded] for the short time actually engaged. German-born Capt. John Ordner of Company A, only 26 years old, was killed while leading the charge to the station. 1st Lt. Noble Preston, nicknamed the “Fighting Commissary,” rallied the troops when Ordner fell. He a minie ball to the hip while “voluntarily leading the decisive charge at the station,” for which he later received the Medal of Honor. Sgt. Major Herbert E. Farnsworth also received a Medal of Honor for “voluntarily carrying's message which stopped the firing of a Union battery into his regiment, in which service he crossed a ridge in plain view and swept by the fire of both armies.” Capt. Frederick Tremain, and artillery officer who served in the battle (and later became Lt. Col. of the Tenth), wrote: “On the 11th ... we met the rebel cavalry corps and licked them like the old boy; fought all day--stopped at dark.” But General Sheridan failed to press his advantage on the following day. Several regiments, including the Tenth, were held in reserve. On the 12th, the Confederates repeatedly beat back Union assaults and Sheridan was forced to withdraw. Wittenberg makes a convincing case that had Sheridan defeated the Confederate cavalry at Trevillian Station, the war might have ended months earlier.
For a capsule history of the battle, click here:
Gregg’s Division was left to guard the retreat of Sheridan’s cavalry and wagon trains from Trevillian Station, and was nearly destroyed here by a superior force. Late in the day the Confederates intercepted a message indicating that they faced only a single division and about 4 p.m., moved in for the kill. The fight was mostly dismounted and at very close quarters. Capt. Tremain called this “the hardest cavalry fight any portion of our [cavalry] corps has ever experienced . . . General Gregg said he never saw men fight so. They out-numbered us four to one, it was just the hottest place you ever heard of. They charged up to within a few steps of where I stood.” The Federals were compelled to fall back but Gregg handled the withdrawal masterfully, and Sheridan’s wagons were able to pass without failing into Confederate hands. The Tenth lost 22 officers and enlisted men here, including Co. F’s Capt. Wilkinson Paige (32 yrs old), killed in action.
This was typical of the raiding and destruction carried out by the Federal cavalry in 1864. Here is how Pvt. Justus Matteson saw it:
"Dec 1st our division went on a requinoisance to Stoney Creek. we started at 4 in the A. M. drove in the reb pickets about day light. we struck the RR at Duvals station, destroyed the station, a steem saw mill, barell factory, stone houses, one train of cars, tore up some distance of the track, got 7 or 8 wagons and trains. allso took 4 pieces of artillery, spiked them, and rolled some of them into a pond. could not get them off for the want of teams. took 187 prisoners in the scrape. our reg't had one man killed, one mortaly wounded, and eight severly. two of the latter wer of our co. one Corporeal John G. Hicks of Cortland. they wer both wounded in the arm. Daniel Ansinger of our Co had his hat shot off. I had a hole through my sleeve.”
Colonel Avery wrote that the 10th was “on the extreme left, in the skirmish line and was about to make a dismounted charge.” Lt. Colonel Frederick Tremain had requested that he be placed in the position of danger in command of the skirmish line, but Colonel Avery asked him not to unnecessarily expose himself, since “The Tenth had too often seen him under fire to require needless evidence of his bravery in this his first battle as their Lieutenant Colonel.” Then Col. Avery received notice that General Davies had been wounded, and to take command of the 1st Brigade. A mounted officer was sent to notify Lt. Col. Tremain that he was now in command of the 10th. He took a ball to the hip as he was conversing with the messenger. He was transported the following day 15 or 20 miles, arrived exhausted, and died about 5 p.m. the next day. Doctors found that the ball had penetrated deeper than they had thought; the wound had been mortal from the start.
General Crook dismounted the brigades of Gregg and Smith and ordered Davies to charge the Confederate works. In his report Crook wrote: “Davies made one of the finest charges of the war, riding over and capturing their works and its defenders.” The 10th held the far left of the line and engaged in a charge and severe hand to hand fighting. Col. Avery was later breveted to Brigadier General for his conduct here. Noble Preston wrote of Sailor’s Creek “where so much glory and enthusiasm prevailed that the men seemed to forget the great physical strain they were under and the hard fighting they were doing.” Corporal Andrew Bringle and Sergeant Llewellyn P. Norton received Medals of Honor for bravery here for charging the enemy and capturing a field piece.
The Tenth fought up to the very end of the war. Sgt. James Carey received a Medal of honor here for “daring bravery and urging the men forward in a charge.”
The return march to Petersburg followed, where the regiment remained in camp a short time before proceeding to Washington. On April 23 to 29, the regiment made an expedition to Danville.
On May 23, the 10th NY participated in the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac in Washington, D.C.
By an order of the War Department, dated June 17, 1865, the Tenth and Twenty-fourth New York Cavalry Regiments were consolidated, and the new organization designated the first New York Provisional Cavalry, with Matthew Henry Avery as colonel.
On August 3 and 4, 1865, the 1st Provisional Cavalry was mustered out of the service at Syracuse, N.Y. Finally, the boys of the Tenth could go home. Some returned to the places of their birth, to settle down and raise their families. Others scattered to the winds, seeking new opportunities the rebuilding nation offered.
Despite being widely scattered, many of the veterans kept up a correspondence with their comrades, and the Tenth had a large and active veteran’s association that was successful in getting a battle monument placed at Brinkerhoff’s Ridge in October of 1888. Four years later, the regimental history was published, and today it is considered by historians to be one of the best cavalry regimentals. The last (70th) reunion of the Tenth New York Cavalry was held in 1913.
Austin, Manning, Company G, 10th N.Y. Cavalry. 16 letters dated March 1862-November 1864. Posted online at: David G. Phillips Co., Inc. Sale #106, United States & Foreign Covers & Postal History, January 27, 2001. http://www.stampauctioncentral.com/c/c1061.htm
Chandler, Albert F. Letter dated Dec. 23, 1861. (Original for sale on EBay.)
Martin, Samuel J. Kill-Cavalry: The Life of Union General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.
Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000.
Matteson, Ronald G., Justus in the Civil War, Letters from a private in Co. L, 10th NY Vol. Cav., 138 pages, Walworth, NY: self-published, 1995.
Porter, Burton B. One of the People: His Own Story. Colton, CA: self-published, 1907.
Preston, Noble Delance. “Campaigning Under Gregg: What a Cavalry Officer Saw and Heard in the Early Summer of 1863; Gettysburg in Calm and Combat.” The Philadelphia Times, March 29, 18--. Published online at: http://www.gdg.org/Research/Other%20Documents/Newspaper%20Clippings/v6pt1b.html
Preston, Noble Delance. “Historical Sketch of the 10th Cavalry.” In: 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.
Preston, Noble Delance. History of the Tenth Regiment of Cavalry, New York State Volunteers, August, 1861, to August, 1865, by N. D. Preston, with an introduction by Gen. David McM. Gregg. Published by the Tenth New York Cavalry Association. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1892.
Rummell III, George A. 72 Days at Gettsyburg: Organization of the Tenth Regiment, New York Volunteer Cavalry. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1997.
Tremain, Lyman. Memorial of Frederick Lyman Tremain, late Lieut. Col. of the 10th N.Y. cavalry, who was mortally wounded at the battle of Hatcher's run, Va., February 6th, and died at City Point hospital, February 8th, 1865, by his father. Albany: Van Benthuysen's Print House, 1865.
Wittenberg, Eric. Glory Enough for All: Sheridan’s Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. Brassey’s Inc., 2001
Wynkoop, Guy, "Wynkoop, Guy; 10th N.Y. Cavalry, Co. H., Letters (1862-1863), 2 items," New York State Library, Cultural Education Center, Albany, New York, New York State Library Manuscripts and Special Collections, Collection Call Number: 19402, [8 pages]. Posted on:
Copyright Christopher H. Wynkoop, 2002-3.