LT. COL. FREDERICK C. NEWHALL’S SPEECH AT THE DEDICATION OF THE MONUMENT TO THE SIXTH PENNSYLVANIA CAVALRY ON THE BATTLEFIELD AT GETTYSBURG, GIVEN ON OCTOBER 14, 1888
Comrades, Ladies and Friends of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry:
We are here to dedicate, and with becoming ceremony turn over to the proper authorities, the memorial stone of our regiment, authorized and paid for by the State, to commemorate our part and portion in the Battle of Gettysburg. It was an excellent inspiration which led to the creation of the Gettysburg Battlefield Association, and the State and personal contributions for regimental and other memorials here spring from a patriotic and grateful impulse. Within certain limits, the privilege is granted to Confederate organizations to mark in the same way the ground on which they fought; and this is a striking illustration of high spirited magnanimity towards those who struggled here so desperately to destroy the Union. But it seemed to me, as I have stood on some commanding spot which overlooks the battlefield for miles around, that it would point a finer and useful sentiment if along the heights and vales where the Union soldiers were arrayed, memorials like this should mark the various stations of that proud line of men, and no reminder anywhere should speak for the baffled host, which was shattered here in assaulting the Union-only the peaceful fields fading out to the dim mountain passes, through which the broken Confederate army had long ago drifted away like a phantom, and left not a vestige behind it.
And I hope yet to see on the battlefield in some fitting place, some dignified worthy memorial to the leader of the Union army; the glad recognition of his services in the Gettysburg days should yield some token of remembrance here, as it has done already elsewhere. Gettysburg is called on our side the “soldier’s battle”, because in the nature of things it was mainly a defensive fight, where the soldier’s determination to hold his ground was of more account for the time than the most skillful maneuvers of the military art. But this does not by any means imply that it was a battle without a leader. Providence seems to have created the field for the purpose, and to have brought the Army of the Potomac to it that a notable victory might be won. But, save by a palpable miracle, such a victory at Gettysburg is not to be won without the highest leadership, and no true soldier thinks that it could be.
Let us remember, then, in dedicating our memorial stone, that first on the Gettysburg roll of honor is our commanding general-the clear-minded, firm-hearted Meade, who, perceiving here an opportunity which Heaven had given into his hands, trusted in God and the valor of the troops, and staked all for himself, his army, and his country on this decisive battle, and won it.
One memory, particularly concerning us, should beyond all question be perpetuated here. Many controversies have arisen over Gettysburg; but there is none as to the priceless services of General Buford. The President of the Pennsylvania State Commission will bear me out when I say that I long ago urged some concentrated action by Buford’s command on this field, to erect a joint memorial to him and to their own organizations, rather than to dissipate in disconnected mementos the record of fame which they earned with him in front of Gettysburg. One of our own regiment, writing of him lately, has said what we all feel to be true of Buford, though none of us might so happily express it. “He was one of those,” our comrade says, “who served faithfully through the heat and burden of the early days of the war, and died before the glory was distributed.” Buford himself, the very essence of modesty, winds up his story of the first day thus: “A heavy task was before us; we were equal to it, and shall all remember with pride that at Gettysburg we did our country much service.” Never was prouder, juster claim more simply and becomingly expressed!
On this field, and for the occasion which has brought us together here, personal matters are small. But one who is allowed to speak for his comrades under such conditions should be able to justify all of his own knowledge what he may say in their behalf. When, in the Fall of 1861, with fat horses, full ranks, and almost gaudy regimental colors, we left Camp Meigs in the pleasant suburbs of Philadelphia for the seat of war near Washington, I had the honor to be the first adjutant of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry; and nearly four years later at Appomattox Court House, when our regiment was represented by a few war-worn veterans, lean horses, and tattered colors which scarcely flapped in the wind, I had the honor to be the adjutant-general of that whole magnificent cavalry corps, the fame of whose splendid achievements is yet ringing through the world. Therefore, I think I have the right to speak for the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, with which as second lieutenant, adjutant and captain I served almost two years, and for the cavalry corps as well, since I served with Stoneman, Pleasonton, and Sheridan, from its organization in 1863 to the end of the war, having been assigned to staff duty without my knowledge or choice, for the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry was good enough for me.
Nobody can respect the other branches of the service more than I do. I honor and admire beyond words the kneeling infantry skirmisher, keeping up his fire across the deadly “Devil’s Den”, below us-the gallant line of Hancock repulsing Pickett’s Charge,–the artillerists standing by their guns on the Ridge, giving shot for shot in such a hostile fire as the world had never seen, or dragging their pieces over rocks and boulders to the summit of Little Round Top, to resist the seemingly resistless rush of Longstreet’s first advance towards that key-point of the battlefield.
But in what I say now, I am speaking as a cavalryman for cavalrymen, because in no other way can I make plain what I think to be our true relation to the Battle of Gettysburg.
There is nothing so striking in the history of the cavalry corps, as our operations in the last campaign against Lee, and the earlier as well as the later operations of the Gettysburg campaign.
Not very long ago, I had the pleasure to receive from a distinguished French officer, the instructor of strategy in one of the great military academies of France, a letter in which he said that the operations of Sheridan’s cavalry, in the last campaign against Lee, were used by him in his military lectures as a model for the best handling of masses of cavalry in war, and I think that the operations of our cavalry under Pleasonton in the Gettysburg campaign deserve as much attention. Splendidly as Sheridan employed it, with his consummate genius, it was not he who created the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. It educated and took care of itself, until Hooker organized it into a corps, and it was in its prime, or very nearly so, in the Gettysburg days, long before Sheridan commanded it.
From my point of view, the field at Gettysburg is far wider than that which is enclosed in the beautiful landscape about us, though, as that which is enclosed in the beautiful landscape about us, though, as we may see it here, it was a battlefield vast enough. On this spot, on the afternoon of the 3rd, a portion of our own regiment came into the fight, and at the same hour, or a little later, while Pickett was charging up Cemetery Ridge-which lies between us and Gettysburg, my brother, in the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, was wounded in a brilliant cavalry charge, seven miles from where we now stand, at Rummel’s farm yonder in the northeast, where Gregg and Custer checked Stuart’s vain attempt to gain the Baltimore Pike, in the rear of the Army of the Potomac. The larger field of Gettysburg which I have in mind is the great territory lying between the battle-ground and the fords of the Rappahannock in Virginia. And while Gettysburg is generally thought of as a struggle which began on the 1st and ended on the 3rd day of July, 1863, the fact will some day be fully recognized that it had its beginning many miles from here, and weeks before the cannon echoed round these hills. When this fact is fully appreciated, only then it will be understood what the cavalry did or the fight at Gettysburg.
The invasion of Pennsylvania being agreed upon in the Confederate councils, General Lee, very early in June, 1863, began to move his infantry and artillery from the old Virginia battlefields of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg into the Shenandoah Valley, by way of the passes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and thence straight on the through Winchester, across the Potomac River into the Cumberland Valley, which lies beyond the same mountain range; looming up so grandly there in the west. To mask this movement, so dangerous to the Union army and to the North, he sent his cavalry under Stuart to cross the Rappahannock at the upper fords, outside of the lines of the Army of the Potomac, which lay under Hooker, some twenty miles below at Falmouth, opposite to Fredericksburg, watching Lee, but with the river flowing between. Hooker, who was a better general at some times than he was at others, had penetrated Lee’s main design, and fearing that only a bubble remained in front of him, determined in that event to prick it and learn the truth. For this purpose, Pleastonton, in command of the Union Cavalry Corps, crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s and Beverly’s Fords, early on the morning of the 9th of June, and at Beverly’s Ford, with mutual surprise, his troops and Stuart’s immediately encountered each other. One of the best contest cavalry battles of the war resulted and lasted all day, bringing sooner or later the whole cavalry force on both sides into action. Stuart had all of his cavalry and we had all of ours; and at nightfall, having learned without doubt that Lee had really started his main army to invade the North, Pleasonton withdrew quite unmolested from the field and awaited Hooker’s further orders; Stuart’s command being badly crippled, and unable to continue the mission on which he had gaily departed the day before. It was at Beverly Ford, then, that Gettysburg was inaugurated; for the result of that cavalry battle was that Stuart, directly confronted now by Pleasonton, and suffering from the damage which he had so unexpectedly incurred, abandoned his projected raid across the Rappahannock, and skirted close to his own army for a time-useless to Lee, and harmless to the Army of the Potomac. It happened that in this grand fight of Beverly Ford, so fruitful as I shall show, of success to our cause at Gettysburg, some three weeks later, with sadly thinned ranks; and even this remnant of its former strength was scattered here, by the necessities of time, to various spheres of duty. On the north side of the Rappahannock, on the day after Beverly Ford, General Pleasonton, on whose staff I was then serving, had all his cavalry out for a review, to see how they had borne the battle. Our regiment was a portion then and always afterwards of the Reserve Brigade of regular cavalry, in the division of the gallant Buford. The regulars were the First, Second, Fifth and Sixth, and what was left of our regiment was in its place in line. In riding past the ranks for inspection, the two generals halted for a moment in front of the Sixth Pennsylvania, and Buford said to Pleasonton, “These men did splendidly yesterday; I call them now the Seventh Regulars.” That was a proud and happy moment for all of you who heard it, for Buford was a man who, as Artemus Ward said of Washington, never “slopped over,” and a compliment from him was sure to have been deserved; and he intended this as a compliment of the highest kind. The losses of the regiment in that battle, in killed, wounded, and missing were, of men and officers, one hundred and forty-seven. Chief of these in point of rank was Major Robert Morris, who was in command; and while I cannot speak by name all of our comrades who in our long service fell by the way, I wish to pay a passing tribute to his memory. He had lived in a narrow and proud circle at home; he was the great-grandson and namesake of the famous Robert Morris of the Revolution, and had a fiery temper which at first he could not curb; but he was a born soldier, and after a little learned by contact that other men were his equals, and from that time he was a model cavalry officer. Riding across the fatal field beyond Beverly Ford, young, erect and graceful, proud of his men as he was proud himself, there was no more gallant figure in the army, as he led the regiment, and the regiment led the brigade. His wounded horse fell on him in that treacherous ground, and he was captured; then Libby Prison broke his heart, and he died there. I speak of him, not merely because he was an officer, and not to single him out, but as an example to remind you all that as we go about our daily avocations and live in the present, as it is our duty to ourselves and others to do, we should not forget those noble spirits, of whatever rank, who fell and could not have the happiness to know that their self-sacrifice was not in vain.
After Beverly Ford, as Lee pressed through the Shenandoah Valley northward with his army, Hooker advanced to the Potomac east of the Blue Ridge, over the old Bull Run battlefield, and sent Pleasonton to the left to get into Loudoun Valley, between the Bull Run Mountains and the Blue Ridge, to see if any of Lee’s army remained on this side of the range. At Aldie, a gap in the Bull Run Mountains, some twelve miles south of the Potomac, the head of Pleasonton’s column ran into Stuart’s men; a savage fight ensued, till Stuart retired. Pleasonton soon pushed after him into the Loudoun Valley, and in a day or two attacked him there with his full force, driving him in an all day fight through Upperville, deep into Ashby’s Gap in the Blue Ridge, by which the rear of Lee’s infantry was then debouching into the Shenandoah Valley. Hooker in the meantime crossed the Potomac undisturbed, and advanced through Maryland to Frederick City, where General Meade relieved him of command. Pleasonton soon followed Hooker to Frederick City, but meantime Stuart, baffled in his efforts to interfere with Hooker’s march, had made a wide detour behind Hooker’s army; crossing the Potomac between it and Washington, and hastening northward into Pennsylvania to make a junction there with Lee. The full effects of this ill-advised adventure on the fortunes of Lee, will some day be notorious. Lee bitterly bemoaned it, and many able Southern writers agree that it was the capstone of all his mishaps, leaving him to grope blindly to his fatal and unexpected encounter with the Army of the Potomac; for the cavalry is an army’s eyes, and Lee’s were lost to him till the afternoon of the second day. Meantime, heedless of Staurt, and protected in front and flank by the vigilance of Pleasonton’s cavalry, our army pushed on rapidly to find Lee, Meade unfolding his troops like a fan before him, and keeping them always between the enemy and the great cities which were threatened by Lee’s march. On the left front, Buford, leading surprised the advance of Lee’s infantry in Gettysburg on the 30th day of June, and drove them out toward the west, beyond Seminary Ridge, in the direction from which they had come. Next morning they returned in heavy force, came on “booming” as Buford said, and while Reynolds, leading Meade’s infantry column, hurried to Buford’s support, the battle of Gettysburg was fairly begun. No one can dispute the facts which I have stated, and no one acquainted with them can deny how great their influence was on the events which were now to follow. Therefore, in your behalf, and in behalf of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, I claim for all who shared in the hard-fought and successful battles of Beverly Ford, Aldie or Upperville, and in the minor cavalry engagements of those days, that the glory won by our cavalry men on those fields belongs to them as Gettysburg men, and should be so accounted to their honor on this battle-ground, and added to that which they justly deserve for their splendid conduct in the three days’ fight.
Let me give you an illustration to enforce this claim. I was late in arriving on the field. I had been sent by Pleasonton with a small party towards York, far off there in the northeast, to see if any of Lee’s army was thereabouts, and it was the afternoon of the second day when, hurrying toward the ridge where the fighting was very heavy, to find and report to General Pleasonton, if I could, I encountered General Sedgwick just leading the Sixth Corps into action. There never was a better commander of a better corps. I had served at his headquarters for a short time, and knew him, and stopped to say a word to him; a fine-looking major on Meade’s staff galloped up with a vivid expression on his face which you do not often see in everyday life, and ordered Sedgwick to hasten forward; matters were evidently serious just in front. There was a fearful crash of musketry, and through the smoke I saw some men with clubbed muskets in their hands. It was just the time when Longstreet’s famous charge of the second day had reached its climax. Sedgwick turned to his leading brigade commander and said, “Hurry up there; never mind forming your brigade; pitch in by regiments!” and nothing could be finer than the way they did it.
This is probably only one of a hundred such incidents which occurred on the field after the battle was fairly joined, but the gallant Sedgwick and his noble corps had not till that hour heard a hostile shot since Chancellorsville, two months before, while we, who had followed the fortunes of the cavalry for the last three weeks, had been in several most important actions, all of them bearing directly on Gettysburg, and two of the lasting all day long; and it so happened that in the Gettysburg campaign not only the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac lost far more men than the Sixth Corps did, but the casualties of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry in killed, wounded and missing were larger than those of the whole Sixth Corps in the same interval, the battle included. Not only so, but the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry had nearly as many casualties in the campaign as fell to the lot of Hunt’s famous Reserve Artillery, which made yonder heights an amphitheater of fire, and had more than befell the whole of Crawford’s Division of the Fifth Corps, though as I see by the map, there is a lot here called the Crawford land, which seems to be held in memory of their renown. The losses of the Cavalry Corps on the actual field of Gettysburg were 849. The Twelfth Army Corps, much larger than the Cavalry Corps, and noted for its share in the battle, lost 1,081. These figures do not mean much, and the percentage of loss sometimes bears but little relation to the value of services rendered. The Sixth Corps at Gettysburg lost 242 men. Sedgwick made a famous march to get here, but came late on the second day, and his mere presence, as he swept on to the field, drove the enemy from his front. Afterwards, he was not seriously attacked. The First Corps lost over 6,000 men. The Second and Third over 4,000 each; Meade’s total loss was 23,000 on this field. Great campaigns and great battles are charged with electricity, and just where the loss will fall depends on where the lightning strikes; but I was speaking of Gettysburg men, and I wanted to show that our regiment and the Cavalry Corps are members in good standing, of that distinguished company.
Let me give you another illustration.
On the Gettysburg battlefield, Merritt, Custer and Farnsworth were brigadier-generals of cavalry, and commanded brigades here. At Beverly Ford the highest rank they had between them was captain. It was there, and afterwards, as we fought our way towards Gettysburg, that their brilliant abilities procured for them their deserved promotion. Poor Farnsworth fell in the low ground at the base of Round Top, on a spot which is almost within sound of my voice; you well know the longer and splendid record of the other two. The claim which I make for them, for you and for all our Cavalry Corps as Gettysburg men, is one which will in good time be recognized by all who ponder on this famous battlefield and strive to appreciate the share which fairly belongs to every organization and arm eventually to be represented in lasting memorials here.
Two officers of our regiment, Captain Cadwalader and Lieutenant Meade, were permanently attached to the staff of the Commanding General; I Company under Captain Starr, and E Company under Captain Carpenter, had also the honor to be on duty at Meade’s headquarters as escort to the General. Both these officers volunteered to act as his aides during the three days of battle, and rendered important and valuable services which the General acknowledged afterwards in many gratifying ways; and General Meade’s good will was a distinction to be proud of. The men on duty with them did hard and excellent work, for there is not in a great army any more arduous post than to be a cavalryman at the headquarters of the chief. There is some escort duty, but this play when compared with the orderly duty, the hard night rides, the bushwhackers in the enemy’s country, the important dispatches to be carried, often into the thick of the fight. I have known lots of cavalry orderlies, each of whom was worth a dozen of some kinds of staff officers who were wandering about, and they often saw as much of a battle as any man in it.
On the third day at Gettysburg, till afternoon, there was not much going on of special interest to our own headquarters, and when General Pleasonton went off to see General Meade some time during the morning, he considerately left some of us staff officers behind to get a little rest, for we had been riding all over the country, day and night, and were completely tired out. I hear a man sometimes say now that he is used up, and I look at him and pity his ignorance of his condition, unless I know that he has been on the Stoneman raid or hustled around on horseback in the Gettysburg campaign.
About one o’clock I was sleeping in the hay-mow of our headquarters barn when an orderly aroused me and said General Pleasonton was with General Meade and wanted two staff officers at once; I was to be one of them, and being somebody else along. So I shook up Captain Walker of the Fifth Regulars, who was close beside me, and we mounted and made for the front. We jogged gently along till we struck the Taneytown Road, and then turned to the right for Meade’s headquarters, which were about a mile up the road, near the Cemetery. Just at that instant the boom of two signal guns disturbed the pervading quiet, and in another instant we were in the midst of the most fearful concentrated artillery fire that gunpowder ever produced. We were in for it. The road was filled with caissons, ammunition wagons, and guns rumbling along in both directions, and suddenly they were in complete blockade, as horse after horse fell dead or wounded in his traces. We drew to the right in the open fields and galloped on over the ditches and low stone walls and that we met with; as I rose to one of these my hat blew off and I tried to stop for it, but already a score of wounded men from the road were lying against the wall. My noble high-strung horse plunged frantically when I checked him, and they begged me for God’s sake not to trample on them, so I dashed on again through the clatter and roar and flying leaves and tree limbs, and in a moment, bareheaded but safe, was at Meade’s headquarters. The General and all his staff were just emerging from the little house where they had imprudently established themselves, close behind our line of battle and at the very center of the enemy’s concentric fire. I reported to General Pleasonton, but in the awful crash from the batteries nearby, and from bursting shells and exploding caissons I could scarcely hear what the General said as he shouted to me to hurry to some place of shelter. In the yard of the house a dozen men and horses lay dead and wounded, and every moment a shell would tear up the ground or smash through the wall by the roadside. The little farmhouse and all about it were threatened with immediate destruction, while the earth trembled in this world-famous cannonade. Two companies of our regiment, as I have said, were at army headquarters and went bravely through this fierce ordeal.
On the morning of the 3rd, the remainder of our regiment, with the Reserve Brigade under Merritt to which we belonged, returning from detached service in the rear of the army, had reached Emmittsburg, which is some five miles south of us by the road we are on. About noon Merritt began his march up this Emmittsburg Road towards the enemy’s right flank, but before he pulled out from Emmittsburg one of those things happened which may make war lively for a cavalryman.
Ulric Dahlgren, a dashing and intrepid officer, who afterwards lost his life under said circumstances in a hazardous raid near Richmond, and should be kindly remembered for his gallant spirit, though we may not approve his somewhat desperate enterprise, had been lately roving around on a private raid, and somewhere behind the enemy’s lines, on the morning of the 2nd, had captured a rebel courier with important dispatches. He immediately hastened to Meade, reaching him that evening, and at his earnest solicitation the Commanding General gave him an order on Merritt for some officers and one hundred picked cavalry, with whom to renew his raiding along the line of the enemy’s communications over there in the Cumberland Valley; and with this order in hand Dahlgren found Merritt at Emmittsburg preparing to move forward. Merritt gave him (pretty reluctantly, I guess) one hundred men from our own regiment, with Captain Treichel, of A Company, in command, and Lieutenants Morrow, Whiteford, White and Herkness, and soon this fine detachment from ours, bearing away to the left and crossing the Blue Ridge at Monterey Pass, was thrashing around in the enemy’s rear, on the wrong side of the mountains for safety or comfort, or for any reasonable hope of accomplishing with such a small party, anything to compensate for the risk they ran. But Dahlgren, little given to count the cost, and not responsible for the detachment, pressed gaily on, while I have understood that Treichel, whit his excellent judgment and care for his command, wished them on any errand but one like that. Near Greenscastle, after various adventures, they came upon a section of the enemy’s supply train, amply guarded by infantry and able to take care of itself; but Dahlgren ordered a charge, to which the party responded with all their might, and in a moment they were in the midst of the wagons banging away and trying to capture the train; but the infantry and cavalry escort was entirely too strong for them and they were soon obliged to beat a retreat, and finally to scatter to avoid the enemy’s close pursuit. Lieutenant Herkness of our regiment was severely wounded and captured, with ten or more of the men, and the whole command was badly cut up, while before Treichel could get the remnant together again the country about him was swarming with rebels retreating now from their bitter defeat at Gettysburg.
I have heard droll stories of how and where Treichel and his party hid themselves away till the danger of capture was past, but their adventures were not in the least amusing to them at the time, as one by one or in little groups they came out from their hiding-places and, on horseback or on foot, made their way back across the mountains to rejoin the victorious Army of the Potomac. I am sure you will all agree with me when I say that they had done their fair share according to their opportunity, and were Gettysburg men in any sense that any man was who, sharing in the campaign with gallantry and zeal, went where he was ordered, and did his duty, and took the consequences.
The best account that I have seen of the conditions existing on the Confederate side at the point where the remnant of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry came into the fight on the afternoon of the 3rd, as Merritt with our regiment in advance pushed up the Emmittsburg Road, has been give in the Century Magazine by the Confederate General Law, who commanded Hood’s division of Longstreet’s Corps, and, holding the extreme right of Lee’s army, was responsible for its protection. He writes like a good soldier and a reasonable man, and it is a pleasure to refer to his narrative and quote it with confidence. The purpose with which he wrote was to show, as well as he could, that on this outskirt of the battle on the 3rd, at the point where he commanded, there was, as he says, at least one little silver lining in the cloud that hung so darkly over the filed of Gettysburg after the disastrous charge of Pickett, but he shows, unconsciously, a good deal more that is foreign to what he had especially in mind, though it is exactly in line with what I wish to demonstrate; and if you will kindly give me your close attention now I will try to make it all clear. It is easy to make it as plain as day, but like many other essential matters connected with Gettysburg it has been lost sight of in controversies about Sickles’ Corps and in cycloramas of Pickett’s charge. The day before, in Longstreet’s famous and almost successful rush for Little Round Top, Law had charged with his own division (Longstreet’s right) across the Devil’s Den and part way up the rocky side of Big Round Top, and the line which he held that night he still maintained on the 3rd, no troops of ours as yet disturbing him at the base of Big Round Top, or from the direction of Emmittsburg. Early in the afternoon, when the cannonade opened which precluded Pickett’s Charge, while Law was looking up the valley towards Gettysburg, watching, as he says, the grand artillery duel, where the hills on either side were capped with flame and smoke, as three hundred guns, about equally divided between the two ridges, vomited their iron hail at each other, he was threatened with a danger to his right. This was the appearance of Kilpatrick’s cavalry which moved up on that flank and commenced massing in the body of timber which extended from the base of Big Round Top westward, toward Kerns’ house on the Emmittsburg Road, just in front of us. I am quoting General Law almost word for word, but trying at the same time, to put into consecutive order his somewhat disjointed narrative. During the previous night, he says, or rather early in the morning of the 3rd, two of his batteries were sent to General Alexander, commanding the Confederate artillery in the center, to assist in the cannonade of the Federal position south of Cemetery Hill, preparatory to Pickett’s assault. Some hours later, about 9 a.m., General Longstreet came over to Law’s position on the right, and instructed him to be ready to attack on his front. Please mark this well; it is very important. Law does not state it for this purpose at all, but clearly shows that Pickett’s proposed assault was known to him long beforehand, and that Longstreet hoped to cooperate with it by moving Law forward on Pickett’s right; but before Pickett had started the Union cavalry, as we have seen, threatened Law at the most sensitive point. As Kilpatrick moved around the base of Big Round Top, Law opened on him with artillery from his own extreme right, and detaching the First Texas Infantry from his main line, rushed it down to the fields midway between Big Round Top and this Emmittsburg Road which we are on, leaving a skirmish line between this regiment and the right of his main line on Round Top, where his artillery was at work. The Ninth Regiment of Georgia Infantry was already at Kerns’ house, to look after the Emmittsburg Road, but Law reinforced it with the Seventh, Eighth, Eleventh and Fifty-ninth Georgia, of the same brigade, and at the same time Colonel Black, First South Carolina Cavalry, reported to Law with about one hundred odds and ends of mounted men and three guns of Hart’s horse artillery. These men and the battery were added to the force at Kerns’ house, and it is risking little to say that on the whole Confederate line at Gettysburg there was hardly a point so well guarded by the enemy as this when Merritt’s little cavalry brigade, lacking one whole regiment-the Sixth Regulars-and the others reduced by detachments, and the fighting and marching in the last three weeks, came up this way from Emmittsburg, and striking Law’s infantry skirmishers a mile or so from here, dismounted and drove them, the carbines and rifles rattling on both sides of the pike, till the enemy’s line was met across the road here at Kerns’ house. It had that confident look of being there to stay, which soldiers appreciate, and either Merritt called a halt, or Law brought him to a stand, just as you may happen to fancy the report of one or the other. I was not on this part of the field myself, and I have had no opportunity to get the particulars from those who were present, but it makes little difference whose version is accepted in a matter of this kind. A brigade of infantry backed by an army in position will stop, if it wishes to, a brigade of cavalry outside the lines of its own army, devoid of support, and simply moving against the enemy’s flank; and neither Merritt nor the men under him had the least idea of breaking through Lee’s right, alone and unsupported.
Kilpatrick , with only Farnsworth’s Brigade of his Division (Custer’s Brigade was far away at Rummel’s farm with Gregg), ignorant of Merritt, probably, as Merritt was of him, had meantime pushed forward through the woods and now appeared in front of the First Texas Regiment of Infantry, which Law, as I have said, had placed in the open between Big Round Top and this Emmittsburg Road. What happened there has no direct relation to our own regiment nor to Merritt’s command, but as it was one of the most striking episodes of this grand batutle, so full of great deeds of war, I will let General Law tell of it in his own words, if only to illustrate once more the soldierly spirit of our cavalry, and how from first to last it gave unsparing aid to the army which triumphed at Gettysburg.
“I had just returned,” says General Law, “to the position occupied by our artillery, which was in the angle formed by the main and flanking lines, when Farnsworth’s cavalry brigade charged the line held by the First Texas Regiment. It was impossible to use our artillery to any advantage owing to the ‘close quarters’ of the attacking cavalry with our own men-the leading squadrons forcing their horses up to the very muzzles of the rifles of our infantry. That portion of the cavalry which covered the front of the First Texas regiment was handsomely repulsed; but the First Vermont regiment, forming the Federal right wing, overlapped the First Texas on its left, and, striking the skirmish-line only, rode through it into the open valley in rear of our main line on the spurs of Round Top. When I first became satisfied, through information from the Texas skirmishers, that Farnsworth’s Brigade was massing in their front, the Ninth Georgia regiment was ordered from Kerns’ house to the support of the batteries, the former position being now safe, s the other four regiments of Anderson’s Brigade were concentrated near that point. Hearing the firing and knowing its cause, the Ninth Georgia came up on a run, just as the First Vermont Cavalry rode through our skirmish line, led by General Farnsworth in person. Instead of moving directly upon our batteries, the cavalry directed its course up the valley towards Gettysburg, passing between the position of our artillery and the main line. Watching the direction they had taken, I sent Lieutenant Wade, of my staff, rapidly across the valley in advance of them, with orders to detach the first regiment he should come to, on the main line, and send it down on a run to ‘head them off’ in that direction. He was also ordered to follow the line to the extreme right and direct Colonel Oates (Fifteenth Alabama) to strengthen his flanking skirmish-line and to close up the gap on the left of the First Texas where the cavalry had broken in. Farnsworth and his cavalry, in the meantime, were riding in gallant style, with drawn sabres and unopposed, up the valley. As they approached Slyder’s house, and as I stood intently watching them, I saw a ragged Confederate battleflag fluttering among the trees at the foot of the opposite ridge, and the men with it soon after appeared, running out into the open ground on the further side of the valley. It was the Fourth Alabama regiment, Law’s Brigade, which had been taken from the main line and sent down by Lieutenant Wade. The men opened fire as they ran. The course of the cavalry was abruptly checked and saddles were rapidly emptied. Recoiling from this fire, they turned to their left and rear, and directed their course up the hill towards the position occupied by our batteries. Bachman’s battery promptly changed front to its left, so as to face the approaching cavalry, and, together with its infantry supports, opened a withering fire at close range. Turning again to their left, Farnsworth and the few of his men who remained in their saddles directed their course towards the point where they had originally broken in, having described by this time almost a complete circle. But the gap where they had entered was now closed, and receiving another fire from that point, they again turned to the left and took refuge in the woods near the base of Round Top. When the last turn to the left was made, about half a dozen of their number separated from the main body and escaped by ‘running the gauntlet’ to the right of the First Texas regiment.
“While these movements were in progress I could plainly distinguish General Farnsworth, who led the charge, and whom I then supposed to be Kilpatrick. He wore a linen havelock over his military cap, and was evidently wounded at the time he entered the woods. Here, with his little handful of gallant followers, he rode upon the skirmish-line of the Fifteenth Alabama regiment, and, pistol in hand, called upon Lieutenant Adrian, who commanded the line, to surrender. The skirmishers in return fired upon him, killing his horse and wounding General Farnsworth in several places.
“As he fell to the ground, Adrian approached him and demanded his surrender. He curtly refused to surrender, at the same time killing himself with the pistol which he still held in his hand. During the afternoon the pickets of the First Texas regiment had been so near the point where the Federal cavalry were preparing for the attack as to hear their voices distinctly when raised at all above the ordinary tone. Just before the charge was made they heard some one say, in an excited, angry tone, ‘Colonel, if you are afraid to attack, by God, I will lead the charge myself.’ I afterwards learned that the speaker was General Kilpatrick, and that the words were addressed to General Farnsworth, who was aware of the difficulties of the movement, and would not have made it if the matter had been left to his own judgment. However this may have been, he certainly bore himself with the most conspicuous gallantry throughout that fatal charge.”
The only comment which I venture to make on such a strange dramatic scene, is this: that if Kilpatrick really dared Farnsworth to charge, it was a crime; for there was not in either army at Gettysburg a more gallant soldier than Farnsworth, and though the story has been told before, I hope it is not true, that he rode to his death with that contemptible taunt goading him to a cruel fate. Here, where we stand, the remnant of our regiment, with Major Hazeltine in command, was on Merritt’s front line, astride the Emmittsburg pike, with Captain W. W. Frazier commanding on the right and Captain J. Hinckley Clark commanding on the left. The Regulars were on their right and left flank, with some behind them in reserve, and Graham’s battery of horse artillery was somewhere on the line. Just in front of Frazier, here at Kerns’ house, some of Law’s infantry had taken possession of the windows and outbuildings, and their fire was very annoying. Graham fired a shot or two into the house, and then it ceased from troubling. The official records of Merritt’s Brigade just at this point were not, and in the nature of things could not be, of a very aggressive character. No one familiar with the circumstances can fail to see that he had far too little force to do anything but create a diversion on this flank of Lee’s army which was strongly and cautiously held. The whole point of the operations of the Union cavalry on this ground has, as I have said before, been almost entirely missed by commentators on Gettysburg, but nevertheless it remains true that at no part of the whole field of battle was a small force of either side used more effectively on the other, without corresponding loss of life.
I have shown you that early in the morning of the 3rd, Longstreet came over here and ordered Law to be ready to attack the infantry of the Army of the Potomac in his front, as a supporting movement to Pickett’s Charge, which was to occur on Law’s immediate left. During the afternoon of the 3rd, when Pickett was charging, and especially after his charge had failed, there never was perhaps a command on any battlefield which needed support so badly as Pickett did, and yet mainly on account, as it may be fairly assumed, of the threatening operations of the Union cavalry on this flank, Law’s Divison on Pickett’s right did not move a single man from the line of battle taken up the day before, except those troops which were sent to oppose the menacing Union cavalry.
The dense fog that shrouded the valley of the Rappahannock when we crossed at Beverly Ford on the morning of the 9th of June seems now like a veil set there that we should not guess the consequences of the first step in the Gettysburg campaign; and the rain which drenched this battlefield on the evening of July 3rd, seems now to have been sent by Providence to wash away the stains of the long and bloody encounter which was finally brought about at Gettysburg. In that three weeks interval of hard cavalry service, all of it bearing directly on Gettysburg, this regiment took a most honorable part. Therefore, standing here, and picturing with swift recollection what I have described of our regiment’s portion in this glorious campaign and battle, we may all join in the well-founded claim that we belong in the front rank of Gettysburg men; and there can be no higher tone.
Colonel Bachelder:–In tendering this memorial stone, designed by Captain Frank Furness, one of our own number, to the care and keeping of the Gettysburg Battlefield Association, I wish to say, as the representative on this occasion of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, that the regiment had the happy fortune to be well officered and well manned, and that it was a regiment of harmony and good will; that it was one in which merit and bravery received encouragement, as is shown by the large number of promotions form the ranks; that its record fulfilled the full term of the war, and is in every part an honor to the State; and speaking now with one voice for the survivors and for those who are no longer with us to be heard, we think that in the Gettysburg campaign we worthily earned this cherished memorial of our services, and deserve that it shall receive your watchful care and protection, to which we now commend it.
SOURCE: Lt. Col. Frederick Cushman Newhall, “Presentation Address”, Dedication of the Monument of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry on the Battlefield at Gettysbur, October 14, 1888 (Philadelphia: privately published, 1889), pp. 8-26.