3rd West Virginia Cavalry

HISTORY

The Third West Virginia Cavalry was organized in the spring of 1862, with David H Strother, lieutenant-colonel; John L. McGee, major and Barna Powell, adjutant.

Lieutenant-Colonel Strother had a national reputation as an artist and litterateur, and was among the first in this country to illustrate his own literary productions of Southern life and events, prior to the war, in Harper’s Magazine under the nom de plume of “Porte Crayon.” During the first two years of the regiment’s service in doing guard and scouting duty by company detachments, which were stationed from the Shenandoah to the Kanawha Valleys; during this time Colonel Strother was performing special service on the staff of General Averell, Sigel and Hunter.

Colonel McGee had seen much active service in the war prior to his promotion into the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. He also served as “chief of staff” with General Milroy.

On the 18th of July, 1861, Company A, 1st West Virginia Cavalry, recruited and mustered in at Morgantown, W.Va., was the first cavalry organization raised in the State; it was mustered into service as the “Kelley Lancers,” J.L. McGee, captain; and at once reported to General B.F. Kelley, at Grafton, whence it was ordered to New Creek (Keyser), W.Va., and on General Kelley’s advance on Romney, took part in that expedition, and together with the Ringgold cavalry charged the enemy’s works. This charge was delivered with fine spirit and most satisfactory results, the whole of the enemy’s artillery, stores and flags being taken without the loss of a man.

General Kelley, in his official report to the War Department remarks: “I must be pardoned, however in calling the attention of the country to the brilliant charges of the cavalry under Captain Keys and McGee. I venture to say they are unsurpassed by any in the annals of American warfare.”

This advance was soon followed by the surprise of the Rebels at Blues Gap; in which the Lancers were again conspicuous, resulting in the capture of a number of prisoners, three pieces of artillery and the entire camp equipage of the enemy, and driving the Rebel forces to the eastern slope of the Alleghenies, thus transferring the field of active operations to the Valley of Virginia.

Captain McGee was promoted to major of the Third West Virginia Cavalry, October 2, 1861.

The several companies and battalions in the Third Regiment rendered conspicuous service. As early as June, 1862, Company C, Capt. Seymour B Conger, was attached to General Fremont’s command. When in pursuit of “Stonewall” Jackson in his retreat up the Shenandoah Valley, Captain Conger and his company frequently engaged the enemy, and received special mention from General Fremont, upon the occasion of a splendid dash made by the company at the bridge near Mount Jackson; when the retreating enemy had fired the structure, Captain Conger’s gallant charge saved the bridge, and General Ashby barely escaped capture.

Captain Lott Bowen, Co. E, displayed the qualities of the brave soldier in the vicinity of West, Sutton and Bulltown in western Virginia under General Roberts. Lieutenant Timothy F. Roane, in command of the same company, charged, routed, killed and captured many of Imboden’s and Jackson’s troops near Clarksburg, at Simpson’s Creek and Jane Lew, in the early party of May, 1863. In the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, January 31st, 1863, Companies A and C were detailed for special duty at General Sigel’s “Grand Reserve Division” headquarters. Company H, in command of Capt. W.H. Flesher, was at Parkersburg, from May 1 to August 31, 1863; Company G, Capt. John S. Witcher, was in Col. Rutherford B. Hayes’ Brigade in the Kanawha Valley.

In June, 1863, Captain Conger, with Companies A and C, was attached to General Pleasanton’s Corps, Buford’s Division, Colonel Devin’s Brigade, and participated in the battles of Brady Station, Beverly Ford, Stevensburg and Upperville, Virginia.

A characteristic episode of the war, and one which very forcibly illustrates the estimation in which the West Virginia troops were held, occurred while General Milroy was in command at Winchester. A reconnaissance of considerable force had been repulsed with a very serious loss to our troops, and it was determined to send out a strong force to develop the full strength of the enemy. The general, looking over the detail which had been made for the expedition, remarked that he would like to have some West Virginia boys at the front of the movement. Colonel McGee, Inspector-General, and Chief of the Staff of the Division, at once volunteered to take command of the advance guard with three companies of West Virginia Cavalry, one company of the 1st West Virginia and two of the Third West Virginia Cavalry; it was so ordered, and the three companies, about 60 men all told, took the road far in advance of the main column.

At Fisher’s Hill two Rebel pickets were observed, and Colonel McGee deployed his command sending out parties to either side, while, with about thirty men, he took up the march to the summit, which was approached by a narrow road cut in a precipitous side of the hill. When near the summit the two men in advance dashed back in perfect panic, shouting the report that they were followed by a thousand Rebs in full charge. To countermarch on this narrow road in the presence of the enemy was impossible, so the only alternative was to fight. Colonel McGee at once gave the order and with drawn sabre led the charge.

Just at the summit the road turns sharply out of the woods leading thence straight away over an open plateau; at this turn the opposing Rebels were in full charge and the charge of the West Virginians delivered with such impetuosity, that the Rebel column was split and doubled back upon itself, and no more spirited hand-to-hand fight was seen during the war than that here enacted, and it was kept up with most heroic vigor until the enemy was completely routed and sent flying up the valley. It was afterward learned that the Rebel force numbered about 100 men, commanded by Major Myers, and their loss was one killed, several wounded and five prisoners; while we had two men seriously wounded, one mortally, one horse killed; the horse ridden by Colonel McGee in the charge received five bullet wounds, but the rider escaped unhurt.

Lee, in his advance into Maryland detached Ewell’s Corps (variously estimated at from 35,000 to 50,000 men) to pick up Milroy on the way. This they found no light morning’s work. But after three days’ hard and continuous fighting against hopeless odds, Milroy, with ammunition exhausted, completely surrounded and cut off from supplies or communication, determined to hold a council of war.

But before going to the council, Colonel McGee told the author that the general took him aside, and in the most impressive manner, told him: “I have been persuaded to call a council of war. It may decide to surrender, but I will never surrender to any d____d Rebels. If the council decide to surrender, I want you to get your three companies of West Virginians together, and at their head we will go to Harper’s Ferry or to hell.”

In narrating the incident the colonel remarked that although he had been for three days almost constantly under fire and two nights on the outpost line, he would have most cheerfully accepted the challenge, never doubting that they would reach their proper destination. But fate ordered otherwise, and the next morning the general broke the Rebel line and marched with 5000 men of his command into the Union lines.

April 16, 1864, Major Lott Brown, at Buckhannon, was ordered by General Sigel to proceed with his battalion to Clarksburg, thence by river and railroad to Charleston, Kanawha. May 10, 1864, the regiment, in command of Major Conger, was with General Averell in the battle of Wytheville, Va. Averell made special mention of the regiment in this.

At Staunton, Virginia, June, 1864, the regiment was assigned to Colonel W.H. Oley’s 2nd Brigade, thence to the Kanawha Valley, under Oley and Duffie. August 7, 1864, General Averell fought the battle of Moorefield, W.Va. The 3rd Cavalry was in command of Major John S. Witcher. The fight was one of the most signal victories for the Union cause during the war. General Averell in his report of the battle says:

“The brigadier-general commanding congratulates the officers and men of the division upon the brilliant success achieved by their victory at Moorefield, on the morning of the 7th inst…. But with out exultations is mingled a profound grief at the loss of Major Conger, 3rd West Virginia Cavalry, who found death as he had always wished, in the front of battle, with heart and hand intent upon the doing of his duty. Brave, steadfast and modest, when he fell this command lost one of its best soldiers, and his regiment and general a friend. The men who followed him in the charge will never forget his glorious example, or that of the gallant Lieutenant Leonard Clark, who fell by his side.”

In the reorganization of the Army of West Virginia, August 31, 1864, General George Crook, commanding; General Averell, commanding division; Colonel Wm. H Powell, commanding the Second Brigade, in which the Third West Virginia Cavalry was a part under command of Major Lott Bowen. And still later, on the 19th of September, the same organization was preserved except the Third Cavalry, which was commanded by Major John S. Witcher, and Colonel Henry Capehart, commanding Second Brigade.

At the battle of Fisher’s Hill, September 22, Lieutenant-Colonel McGee was in command of the Third Cavalry. On September 23, 1864, General Averell was succeeded in command of his division by Colonel Wm. H. Powell.

During the months of January and February, the Third Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel McGee, were stationed near Winchester, Va., doing picket duty, making frequent reconnaissances up the valley.

On February 27th, the regiment broke camp and moved with the cavalry corps commanded by Major General Sheridan up the valley to Staunton, and participated in the battle of Waynesboro, Va., on the 2nd of March, defeating General Early, and pushing on the same evening to Greenwood Depot. The next day the command moved to Charlottesville, and thence with the command of General Sheridan on his great raid, which resulted in the destruction of more than fifty miles of the James River Canal, many miles of railroad, besides other public property.

The command arrived at “White House” on the 19th of March, where it remained in camp until the 24th, marched thence via Charles City Court House, and crossed the James River at Deep Bottom.

On the morning of the 1st of April, a desperate engagement took place, in which the Third Cavalry bore a conspicuous part. On April 2nd, at Ford’s Station, the Third Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel John S. Witcher, charged and drove a brigade of Confederate cavalry, killing the Confederate General Pegram. The regiment continued to do duty in all the exciting and closing scenes terminating with the surrender at Appomattox on the 9th of April.

The regiment lost during the war in killed and died of wounds, six officers and forty enlisted men; died of disease or in prison, one hundred and thirty-six.

[Source: Loyal West Virginia from 1861 to 1865, by Theodore F. Lang]

SERVICE

Organized December, 1861. Attached to Railroad District, West Virginia, to March, 1862. Railroad District, Mountain Department, to May, 1862. Unattached, Mountain Department, to June, 1862. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 1st Army Corps, Army of Virginia, to September, 1862 (Cos. “A” and “C”). District of West Virginia, Dept. of the Ohio and Dept. of West Virginia. Unassigned, to March, 1864 (Regiment). Milroy’s Command, Winchester, Va., 8th Army Corps, Middle Department, to February, 1863 (Cos. “D” and “E”). 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 8th Army Corps, to June, 1863 (Cos. “D” and “E”). 4th Separate Brigade, 8th Army Corps, to June, 1864 (Cos. “F,” “H” and “I”). 4th Separate Brigade, Dept. of West Virginia, to December, 1863 (Cos. “F,” “H” and “I”). Bloody Run, Pa., Dept. of the Susquehanna, and Scammon’s Division, Dept. of West Virginia, to July, 1863 (Cos. “D” and “E”). McReynolds’ Command, Martinsburg, W. Va., Dept. of West Virginia, to December, 1863 (Cos. “D” and “E”). 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, West Virginia (1 Co.). 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, West Virginia (3 Cos.). 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, West Virginia (2 Cos.), to March, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, West Virginia, to May, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, West Virginia, to November, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Corps, Middle Military Division, to February, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, to June, 1865. Companies “A” and “C” attached to Headquarters, 11th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, September, 1862, to December, 1862. Headquarters, Grand Reserve Division, Army of the Potomac, to February, 1863. 3rd Brigade, Cavalry Division, 22nd Army Corps, to June, 1863. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, to November, 1863. Ordered to Dept. of West Virginia November, 1863.

SERVICE.–Duty in Railroad District, Mountain Department, to May, 1862. Monterey April 12. Skirmish at Grass Lick, W. Va., April 23. Franklin May 5. Raid to Shaver River May 30 (Detachment). Strasburg and Staunton Road June 1-2. Harrisonburg June 6. Cross Keys June 8. Near Mt. Jackson June 13. Pope’s Virginia Campaign August 16-September 2. Groveton August 29. Bull Run August 30. Aldie October 9. Near Bristoe Station October 24. Chester Gap November 16. Dumfries December 12. Wardensville December 22 and 25. Petersburg, W. Va., January 3, 1863 (Detachment). Williamsport, Md.. February 9. Truce Fork, Mud River, W. Va., February 20. Winchester March 19. Reconnaissance toward Wardensville and Strasburg April 20. Fisher’s Hill, Strasburg Road, April 22. Lambert’s Run April 22. Near Simpson’s Creek April 30. Grove Church May 4. Janelew May 5 (Co. “E”). Strasburg May 6. Operations about Front Royal, Road Ford and Buck’s Ford, May 12-16. Piedmont Station May 16. Brandy Station and Beverly Ford June 9. Winchester June 13-15 (Cos. “D” and “E”). Upperville June 21. Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3. Boonesborough, Md., July 8. Benevola or Beaver Creek July 9. Funkstown July 10-13. Falling Waters July 14. Shanghai, W. Va., July 16. Near Hedgesville and Martinsburg July 18-19 (Co. “C”). Hagerstown July 29. Hancock July 31. Kelly’s Ford July 31-August 1. Brandy Station August 1. Averell’s Raid through Hardy, Pendleton, Highland, Greenbrier, Bath and Pocahontas Counties, W. Va., August 5-25 (Cos. “E,” “H” and “I”). Affair near Franklin August 19. Jackson River August 25. Williamsport, Md., August 26. Expedition to Leesburg August 30-September 2. Advance to the Rapidan September 13-17 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Culpeper Court House September 13 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Fisher’s Hill September 21. Bristoe Campaign October 9-22 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Morton’s Ford October 10 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Stevensburg and near Kelly’s Ford October 11 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Brandy Station October 11 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Brandy Station and Fleetwood October 12 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Auburn and Bristoe October 14 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Oak Hill October 15 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Averell’s Raid against Lewisburg and the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad November 1-17 (Cos. “E,” “H” and “I”). Cackletown November 4 (Cos. “E,” “H” and “I”). Droop Mountain November 6 (Cos. “E,” “H” and “I”). Advance to line of the Rappahannock November 7-8 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Near Little Boston November 24 (Detachment). Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2 (Cos. “A” and “C”). Averell’s Raid from New Creek to Salem and Virginia & Tennessee Railroad December 8-25 (Cos. “E,” “F” and “H”). Scammon’s Demonstration from Kanawha Valley December 8-25 (Detachment). Near Wayne Court House, W. Va., January 27, 1864 (Co. “G”). Near Hurricane Bridge February 20. Averell’s Raid on Virginia & Tennessee Railroad May 5-19. Grassy Lick, Cove Mountain, near Wytheville, May 10. Wytheville May 10. Hunter’s Raid to Lynchburg May 26-July 1. Hamlin May 29. Lexington June 11. Near Buchanan June 13. Otter Creek, near Liberty, June 16. Diamond Hill June 17. Lynchburg June 17-18. Liberty June 19. Buford’s Gap June 20. Catawba Mountains and about Salem June 21. Snicker’s Ferry July 17-18. Bunker Hill July 19. Stephenson’s Depot July 21. Winchester July 21-22. Newtown July 22. Kernstown, Winchester, July 24. Martinsburg July 26. McConnellsburg, Pa., July 30. Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign August 7-November 28. Near Moorefield August 7. Franklin August 19. Martinsburg August 25. Williamsport August 26. Big Springs August 29. Martinsburg August 31. Bunker Hill September 2-3. Martinsburg September 4. Stephenson’s Depot September 5. Darkesville September 10. Bunker Hill September 13. Near Berryville September 14. Battle of Winchester September 19. Fisher’s Hill September 22. Mt. Jackson September 23-24. Forest Hill or Timberville September 24. Browns Gap and Mt. Sidney September 26. Weyer’s Cave September 26-27. Charlestown September 27. Mt. Jackson September 28. Nineveh November 12. Rude’s Hill November 20. Near Mt. Jackson November 22. Raid to Gordonsville December 19-28. Liberty Mills December 22. Jack’s Shop, near Gordonsville, December 23. Sheridan’s Expedition from Winchester February 25-March 25, 1865. Mt. Crawford March 1. Occupation of Staunton March 2. Waynesboro March 2. Charlottesville March 3. Augusta Court House March 10. Haydensville March 12. Beaver Dam Station March 15. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Dinwiddie Court House March 29-31. Five Forks April 1. Namozine Church April 3. Sailor’s Creek April 6. Appomattox Station April 8. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Expedition to Danville April 23-29. March to Washington, D. C, May. Grand Review May 23. Mustered out June 23, 1865.

[Source: Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, by Frederick Dyer]

LOSSES

Regiment lost during service 6 Officers and 40 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 136 Enlisted men by disease. Total 182.

[Source: Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, by Frederick Dyer]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eby, Cecil D., Jr., ed.; “With Sigel at New Market: The Diary of Colonel D. H. Strother.” CivWar 6 (Mar l960): pp. 73-86.

Strother, David H.; A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War: The Diaries of David Hunter Strother. [Ed by Cecil D. Eby, Jr.] Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Pr, 1961. 294 p.