6th West Virginia Cavalry

(formerly the 3rd West Virginia Infantry)

HISTORY

Governor Pierpont entrusted the formation of this regiment to Colonel David T. Hewes, of Clarksburg, a gentlemen well known in the State, with a reputation for skill in military tactics, having for many years held an important office in the militia of the State. The camp or rendezvous, named “Camp Hewes,” was located near the city, and was well supplied with tents and other necessaries for the comfort of the men. As this was the second regiment raised (the first – Colonel Kelly’s – being a three months’ regiment), recruited under the three years’ call, there was little difficulty in procuring the full complement of ten companies. The following show from what counties they were recruited.

Co. A, Monongalia County; Co. B, Harrison County; Co. C, Preston County; Co. D, Preston County; Co. E, Upshur County; Co. F, Taylor and Harrison Counties; Co. G, Harrison County; Co. H, Monongalia County, and border of Pennsylvania; Co. I, Marshall County; Co. K, Ritchie County.

The full quota of companies for the Third Regiment was secured about the 1st of July, when the regiment was organized by general consent by the selection of the following field and staff officers; David T. Hewes, colonel; Frank W. Thompson, lieutenant-colonel; Charles E Swearingen, major; Theodore F Lang, adjutant; John H Shuttleworth, regimental quartermaster; D.B. Dorsey, surgeon; Rev. James W Curry, chaplain.

The formation of the regiment completed, its term of service in camp was short-lived. The field and staff officers made Clarksburg headquarters for a time, but the companies were required for immediate service for the protection of the border counties against the marauding bands of guerrillas that infested that part of the State. So, without the ceremony of a regular muster-in – no authorized mustering officer being at hand – the several companies when full would select their officers, A. Werninger, a city justice of the peace, would administer an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and, with but a day or two of drilling in the facings, they would be supplied with Springfield muskets, altered from the old flint-lock, and hurried away to perform the most exacting and dangerous duty know to the service.

For several months the regiment did this work, occupying the border from Philippi to Suttonville, a distance of one hundred miles.

About the 10th of September came the gladsome order to report for duty at the front. For several weeks prior to this date the officers of the regiment had been urging the authorities to relieve our scattered regiment from the irksome duties of fighting guerrillas, and to permit us to take the field as a consolidated regiment. Beverly was designated as the point at which the regiment was to assemble.

The regiment remained in camp at this place a short time, which was spent in drilling and scouting, when it went into winter quarters in General Milroy’s brigade at Camp Elkwater. The regiment remained at Elkwater until the 1st of April, at which time orders were issued. Milroy’s command was ordered to advance to the front, when the Third Regiment with the balance of Milroy’s brigade turned their faces, on April 5, towards Staunton, marching on the Cheat Mountain and Staunton turnpike. Arriving the following day at Monterey, the command remained there a fortnight or more, soldiering under difficulties that were seldom excelled in the hardships of soldier’s life. The enemy were in strong force at McDowell, 10 miles away, and on the Shenandoah Mountain, 20 miles distant.

On the 12th of April at Monterey we had quite a lively fight; the enemy, 1000 strong, making an attack upon our position, but they were handsomely repulsed by Milroy’s forces. On the 30th of April, Milroy moved his forces to McDowell and went into camp for the night.

On the 1st of May the command was early under arms, and the way to Staunton looked clear, but at the moment when the order of march was given, a dispatch from General Fremont commanding the Mountain Department caused a halt, and the day was spent impatiently waiting; the second day likewise, and thus for several days did we linger in temporary camp awaiting orders, and not till the 7th did we get orders to move, and then the orders were not general.

The 3rd West Virginia, 32nd and 75th Ohio were advanced to Shaw’s Ridge and Shenandoah Mountain in the direction of Staunton. Our scouts soon brought the information that Stonewall Jackson had joined General Johnson, and that their combined forces were advancing towards McDowell, when the three advance regiments were ordered to fall back on McDowell. On the next morning (May 8th) the enemy was seen in force upon the Bull Pasture Mountain, about one and three-quarters miles distant from McDowell, on right and front. About 10 A.M. General Schenck arrived, and the morning and forenoon were taken up in skirmishing. About 3:30 P.M. General Milroy discovered that the enemy were preparing to place a battery that would command our whole encampment, when he received permission from General Schenck to make a reconnaissance for the purpose of obtaining information as to the position and strength of the enemy. Just here I will state that General Schenck, being the ranking officer, became the commander-in-chief of the forces. The troops placed by General Schenck at Milroy’s disposal were the 3rd West Virginia, 25th, 75th and 32nd Ohio, of Milroy’s brigade, and the 82nd Ohio, of Schenck’s brigade. These regiments were by no means full, various companies of each being detailed for special duty.

It only required a few minutes for Milroy to ascertain what he was so anxious to know, and the battle proved to be one of the most stubbornly contested, for the numbers engaged, that took place during the war. The 25th and 75th Ohio, the former under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel W.P. Richardson, and the latter under the command of Colonel N.C. McLean and Major Robert Reily, led in the attack. They advanced in the most gallant manner up the face of the steep hill and attacked the enemy from their front. Numbering less than 1000 men, unprotected by any natural or artificial shelter, they advanced up the precipitous mountain side upon an adversary protected by intenchments hastily thrown up and the natural formation of the mountain, and drove them (being at least twice their numerical strength) over the crest of the mountain, and for one and a half hours maintained – while exposed to a deadly fire – the position from which they had so bravely driven the foe.

At about 4 o’clock, perceiving that the enemy’s force was being constantly increased, the 82nd Ohio, Colonel Cantwell; 32nd Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel E H Swinney, and the 3rd West Virginia, Lieutenant-Colonel F.W. Thompson, were ordered to turn the right flank of the enemy. They obeyed the order with the greatest alacrity, but the enemy observing the design, and having a much superior force, in a handsome manner changed his front to the rear. These three regiments, however, attacked them briskly, and kept up a destructive fire that caused the enemy to waver several times; but fresh reinforcements being brought up to them, and a portion of the same coming down the turnpike, the 3rd West Virginia became exposed to their fire in its front and rear; unable, however, to withstand the fire of the 3rd West Virginia, the latter reinforcements joined the main body of the Confederates and the contest became general and bloody. From 3:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. this small force engaged with undaunted bravery a force of the enemy which could not have been less than 6000 men, and maintained the position from which they had driven them, displaying courage and zeal which has merited the thanks of the country, and proved themselves true representatives of the American citizen soldier.

After nightfall the engagement still continued, the firing of our men being guided only by the flashes of the enemy’s musketry, until the ammunition of almost all the men engaged was wholly exhausted, when, having achieved the purpose of the attack, our forces were recalled, retiring in good order, bring with them their dead and wounded. Whilst the report of this engagement has thus far been general, giving to each regiment engaged its just need of praise, we cannot dismiss the account without referring to a few incidents that came immediately under the writer’s observation relating to the 3rd West Virginia regiment. The attack by the enemy upon our rear, above referred to, was a desperate position for a regiment to be placed in, and nothing but the most intense devotion to duty by both officers and men held them in place. Firing first to the front, and then turning to the rear, the unerring aim of our men did its work, and the “rear” party broke and left that part of the field. As has already been stated, the enemy were protected by a natural position on top of the mountain, while the 3rd West Virginia regiment was partly in an open field and partly (say one company) in a wood, our whole front not being over 100 yards from the enemy. The fights in our front was peculiar in this, that the enemy fired by regiment, and in this order: when they were ready to fire, they would advance quickly to the top of the mountain, exposing just enough of their persons to enable them to discharge their guns; when the volley would be fired, they would as quickly retire from view. In that manner the 3rd West Virginia regiment was engaged with at least two, perhaps three, regiments of the foe.

This must have been so, for the time that would elapse between volleys was not sufficient to enable one regiment to reload. But our own boys soon got the hang of it, and awaited each time the coming of the exposure; our men loaded and fired at will.

As we were in an open field, without breast-works or other protection, we must have suffered greatly but for the fact of the haste with which the enemy fired. The leaden hail went mostly above our heads, and that part (the left) of the regiment referred to as being in the wood, verified this assertion by their appearance when they left the field after the battle, for their caps and shoulders were covered with the bark and buds and twigs of the trees.

And here again we were arrayed against the 31st Virginia (Confederate) regiment referred to in a former chapter as having been mainly recruited by residents of Clarksburg. So close together were the two regiments that they recognized and called to each other.

It required no military genius to grasp the situation and determine upon a retreat from that point. The enemy occupying a natural position for either offensive or defensive operations, with an army of 7000 men against our two small brigades, aggregating only 3700 men, Generals Schenck and Milroy, wisely taking advantage of the darkness of night, withdrew our little army along the road through the narrow gorge which afforded the only egress from the valley in which McDowell is situated, in the direction of Franklin. This withdrawal was effected without loss of a man, and without the loss or destruction of any public property, except of some stores, for which General Milroy was entirely without the means of transportation. This withdrawal to Franklin was made by easy marches on the 9th, 10th and 11th, the enemy all the time cautiously pursuing. The night march after the battle was of course one of great fatigue, for the men were already worn out with the marching and fighting, with little sleep and little to eat, but at 8 o’clock on the morning of the 9th, 13 miles from McDowell, a halt was made for rest and rations till 2 P.M. Upon reaching Franklin, on the 11th, we found that the enemy had followed with a heavy force, and were preparing to attack us. For two days demonstrations were made at different points of our position, but nothing more than skirmishing occurred, when on the night of the 13th the enemy retired to the southward; and thus ended the operations of our army “on the Staunton.”

At Franklin, immediately following the battle of McDowell, General Fremont was placed in command of the Mountain Department when he reorganized his command. General Milroy commanded a brigade in which the Third West Virginia formed a part. The regiment took part in Fremont’s race up the Shenandoah Valley in pursuit of Stonewall Jackson. It bore a gallant part at the battle of Cross Keys, was continued in Milroy’s brigade, in the Pope campaign, taking part in all the battles of that period, viz.: Crooked Creek, Sulphur Springs, Rappahannock Station, Freeman’s Ford, Hedgeman’s River, Waterloo Bridge, Warrenton Springs, Broad Run, Gainesville, Manassas or Second Bull Run, August 28 to 30. After the Bull Run defeat the regiment was put in camp at Fort Ethan Allen near Washington.

September 30, the regiment left Fort Ethan Allen for West Virginia, arriving at Clarksburg on the 1st of October; after a few days’ rest was ordered to Point Pleasant, soon to return to Clarksburg and Buckhannon, when the regiment was divided into detachments to perform out-post duty at Buckhannon, Centreville, Bull Town, Sutton and Glenville. In this detached condition the regiment was respectively in the brigades of General Milroy, Col. A. Moor and General B.S. Roberts.

On May 18th, Brigadier General Averell was placed in command of the Fourth Separate Brigade, with headquarters at Weston. The regiment under Averell’s management was called together again, and in November, 1863, was changed to mounted infantry, and in January, 1864, to the 6th Cavalry.

Under Averell the regiment took a conspicuous part – Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson in command – in all of Averell’s raids, to Rocky Gap, Droop Mountain, Salem raid, Moorefield, and in all the operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and in Kelley’s and Crook’s department.

From the formation of the Mountain Department in May, 1862, under Fremont, until after the battle of Cloyd Mountain in May, 1864, this regiment and the 2nd West Virginia Infantry were in the same brigade. When the regiments were mounted in June, 1863, and the 2nd became the 5th West Virginia Cavalry, the 3rd became the 6th West Virginia Cavalry, the two regiments bearing the same relative rank as when infantry. The two regiments were thus constantly together for over two years, and when their time of enlistment expired, the veterans and recruits of the two regiments were consolidated, taking the name of the 6th West Virginia Veteran Cavalry.

History of the 6th West Virginia Veteran Cavalry

The time of the non-veterans of the Sixth West Virginia Regiment expired in July, 1864. The regiment was reorganized at Cumberland, Md., in the same month. Those re-enlisting were formed into five companies and two new companies added. The regiment was remounted at North Bridge, August 22, and ordered a few days later to report at New Creek where it was consolidated with the Fifth Regiment and was afterwards known as the Sixth West Virginia Veteran Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Latham.

In November, 1864, Colonel Latham, acting under orders from General Kelly, sent Lt. Col. R. E. Fleming, with about 300 men, to Burlington, W. Va., thence to march to Moorefield, in which vicinity a company of the enemy, under McNeill, was believed to be. Colonel Fleming detached 200 men under Major Potts to march by night to the rear of Moorefield, while he with the remaining 100 proceeded directly to Moorefield. Colonel Fleming reached the north bank of South Branch River in the evening of November 27, and there encamped. Hardly 20 minutes had elapsed after dismounting ere the scouts reported that a large force of Rebels lay just south of Moorefield. Hastily mounting, Colonel Fleming ordered a small detachment to cross the river and learn more certainly as to the whereabouts and number of the enemy. These soon returned with the information that General Rosser with 3000 or 4000 men was near at hand. The one piece of artillery was placed in position and the men drawn up on the river bank to await the attack of the enemy. Very soon General Rosser opened fire from the opposite side, which was returned. A vigorous fight was maintained until Colonel Fleming ascertained that detachments of the enemy were crossing both above and below him. Nothing remained for Fleming save to cut his way out in the face of this superior force. The only avenue of escape lay over a narrow wagon road through Mills Gap. Placing the artillery in front, a vigorous firing was kept up in the rear until the gap was reached. Here the artillery broke down and had to be abandoned. In this narrow pass, blockaded by the artillery, a hand-to-hand sabre fight occurred, in which some 50 men were killed, wounded or captured. Darkness ended the pursuit. The remnant retreated to New Creek, riding a distance of some 40 miles in four hours. Colonel Fleming reported to Colonel Latham that General Rosser was moving rapidly to New Creek with at least 3000 men.

The next morning, November 29, this same force captured New Creek, and some of the boys that escaped capture, after swimming or fording the Potomac River, rested their weary limbs in the mountains till the next day, when they returned to New Creek, where the camp was speedily reestablished. Colonel Latham was relieved from duty and the Sixth, under the command of Colonel Fleming, remained at New Creek doing garrison duty until January 12, 1865. Orders were then received to report at Sandy Hook, Md. On January 15, by order of General Crook, the horses were turned over and the regiment went into winter quarters at Remount Camp, Pleasant Valley, where it remained until April 4. Then marched to Harper’s Ferry afoot; thence April 13 to Key’s Ford, and after a night’s rest, back to Remount Camp, and again supplied with horses.

Immediately after the assassination of President Lincoln, the Sixth was ordered to Washington, D.C. A detachment was sent in pursuit of Booth and his accomplices. Dr. Mudd was arrested at Surrattsville, and Booth chased from Maryland into Virginia. The Sixth now having its headquarters on 7th Street, sent out each morning a detachment for escort duty during the trial of the conspirators in the assassination. And the entire regiment commanded by Colonel Fleming, did guard duty on Pennsylvania Avenue between the capitol and Georgetown during the “Grand Review.”

On June 8th, orders were received to report at Cloud’s Mills, Va. Four days later the Sixth returned to Washington, and camped near the south end of Long Bridge where it remained until June 12th. The boys who had reenlisted for “three years more or during the war,” now thought the war over, and visions of home flitted through many a brain. But, alas, orders were received for this regiment, in company with the 2d. Mass., the 14th Pa., and 21st N.Y., to go to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, via Cincinnati and St. Louis. An incident of this trip was a collision on the night of June 20th, at Carlisle, Ill. Three men and seventy-three horses were killed. Daylight showed a mass of broken cars piled high upon each other. Upon the very top of one of these piles, thirty feet above the trestle, which was itself thirty feet above the ground, stood, unhurt, a gallant black steed, “Bismarck,” the property of Lieutenant Brazie.

Fort Leavenworth was reached June 29th, and here they awaited further orders until July 16th. Then came the word that the Sixth should report at Fort Kearney on the Plains, where the work of subduing the hostile Indians awaited them.

The boys of the Sixth had fought many severe battles, endured long marches and untold hardships for Uncle Sam without a murmur. Now, the Civil War having ended, many believed their duty was done. They declared they had not sworn to do duty against the savages and refused to move from Leavenworth.

Major Squires, in command of about one-third of the regiment, was sent to Fort Kearney, while Colonel Fleming remained with the rebellious two-thirds. By dint of much persuasion the objectors were soon brought to terms and moved forward to Julesburg. Major Squires’ command crossed the Platte River and were assigned to escort duty for the overland mail, and as a reward for their obedience never encountered the Indians.

On the contrary, Colonel Fleming’s command had several severe battles with the redskins on this side of the Platte, but in their new method of warfare they proved that the men whose state motto is “montani semper liberi” were equal to the conquering of a savage foe.

One incident occurring soon after the plains were reached, will long be remembered by those interested. While en route to Julesburg, Colonel Fleming with thirteen men and four Pawnee Indians turned aside for a hunt. After riding several miles they saw far ahead a wagon train on fire. Spurring onward it was soon found that the Indians had killed several of the teamsters and driven the rest to the river, and were making off with one hundred and twenty-five mules. Hoping to rescue the mules, Colonel Fleming ordered his men to follow, himself taking the lead. Soon they were in sight of the fleeing foe. Exultingly they followed, wondering to see hundreds of Indians running from a handful of men. Soon the Colonel’s bump of caution suggested treachery, and riding to the top of a hill, he saw that they were being enticed into a narrow canyon, while the surrounding bluffs showed hundreds of savages evidently arranging for their favorite method of encircling their pursuers. A halt was called and orders given to lead a hasty retreat; “speed away for your lives, the river banks is our only hope of escape,” was the command. As they turned to obey the order, the Indians with horrid yells wheeled to follow. The air was full of flying arrows; with tingling scalplocks they urged their horses forward – thoughts of Bull Run, of Cross Keys, of New Creek, of all the dire disasters they had ever experienced flashed through their minds, but this was worse, for who can see a ray of glory in contemplating the loss of his scalp? “That was the only time in my war experience,” said the Colonel, “that despair entered my mind,” and his many narrow escapes were well known to all. He had ridden what proved to be a slow horse that morning – twice he dismounted, the little band forming a barricade to drive back the Indians – but not thus were the boys of the Sixth to perish. The river bank was gained and the Indians put to flight. In this hardly won escape much was learned of savage warfare that served to good purpose in future encounters. Several severe battles were afterwards fought in all of which the Sixth came off victors.

That part of the regiment under command of Major Squires, wintered at Fort Casper, Dakota, while Colonel Fleming’s command remained at Julesburg and Cottonwood Springs. At the latter place the two commands were ordered to consolidate in March, 1866, thence to march to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a distance of 385 miles. This completed the service of the Sixth West Virginia Veteran Volunteer Cavalry. Mustered out at Fort Leavenworth, May 22, 1866, it was ordered to Wheeling, West Virginia, for pay and final discharge June 1, 1866. On the arrival at Wheeling, a banquet was tendered to the regiment at the McClure House. Before the boys separated, Col. R. E. Fleming was given a proof of the confidence and esteem of his fellows officers by receiving from them a handsome gold watch which he proudly wears to this day.

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

SERVICE

3rd West Virginia Infantry

Organized at Wheeling, Clarksburg and Newburg, W. Va., June-July, 1861. Served unattached, Army of West Virginia, to September, 1861. Cheat Mountain, District West Virginia, to March, 1862. Cheat Mountain District, Dept. of the Mountains, to April, 1862. Milroy’s Independent Brigade, Dept. of the Mountains, to June, 1862. Milroy’s Independent Brigade, 1st Army Corps, Pope’s Army of Virginia, to September, 1862. Defences of Washington, D.C., to October, 1862. Unattached, District of West Virginia, Dept. of the Ohio, to March, 1863. Averill’s 4th Separate Brigade, 8th Army Corps, Middle Department, to June, 1863. Averill’s 4th Separate Brigade, Dept. of West Virginia, to December, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, Army of West Virginia, to January, 1864.

SERVICE – Protecting border counties against guerrillas from Phillippi to Suttonville, W. Va., till September, 1861. Rowell’s Run September 6. Moved to Beverly September 10, thence to Elkwater, and duty there till April, 1862. Romney, Hanging Rock, September 23, 1861. Romney September 23-25. Mill Creek Mills October 26. Skirmishes in Clay, Braxton and Webster Counties December 29-31. Elk Mountain March 19, 1862. Advance on Staunton April 5-May 8. Cow Pasture May 7. Battle of McDowell May 8. Bull Pasture Mountain May 8. Reconnoissance to Franklin May 9-11. Franklin May 11-13. Strasburg and Staunton Road June 1-2. Battle of Cross Keys June 8. At Strasburg June 20-July 5. Advance to Luray July 5-11. Moved to Sperryville July 11, thence to Woodville July 22, and duty there till August 9. Battle of Cedar Mountain August 9. Crooked Creek August 12. Pope’s Campaign in Northern Virginia August 16-September 2. Fords of the Rappahannock August 21-23. Freeman’s Ford and Hazel Run August 22. Waterloo Bridge August 23-25. Gainesville August 28. Groveton August 29. Bull Run August 30. Duty in the Defences of Washington till September 30. Moved to Clarksburg, W. Va., September 30-October 1. Duty at Clarksburg, Mt. Pleasant, and outpost duty at Buckhannon, Centreville, Bulltown, Sutton and Glenville till April, 1863. Regiment mounted, Janelew, May 5. Huttonsville July 4. Near Hedgeville and Martinsburg July 18-19. Averill’s Raid through Hardy, Pendleton, Highland, Bath, Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties August 5-31. Huntersville August 22 (Detachment). Jackson River August 25. Rocky Gap near White Sulphur Springs August 26-27. Averill’s Raid against Lewisburg and the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad November 1-11. Cockletown November 4. Mill Point November 5. Droop Mountain November 6. Averill’s Paid to Salem on Virginia & Tennessee Railroad December 8-25. Gatewood’s December 12. Salem December 16. Scott’s or Barber’s Creek December 19. Moorefield December 28. Designation changed to 6th West Virginia Cavalry January 26, 1864.

6th West Virginia Cavalry

Organized from 3rd West Virginia Mounted Infantry January 26, 1864. Attached to 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, Army West Virginia, to April, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, West Virginia, to June, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, West Virginia, to July, 1864. Reserve Division, Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., to January, 1865. Remount Camp Pleasant Valley, Md., to April, 1865. Dept. of Washington, D.C., 22nd Army Corps, to June, 1865. District of the Plains, Dept. of Missouri, to May, 1866.

SERVICE.–Duty at Martinsburg, W. Va., till March, 1864. Operations in Hampshire and Hardy Counties January 27-February 7. Springfield February 2. Moved to Beverly, March, and duty there till May. Winchester April 8 (Detachment). Kablestown June 10 (Detachment). White Post June 13 (Detachment). Wire Bridge and Springfield June 26 (Detachment). Frankfort July 4. Back Creek Bridge July 26. Regiment reorganized at Cumberland, Md., July 7. Remounted at North Bridge August 22, and ordered to New Creek. Duty there till January 12, 1865. Expedition, to Moorefield November 6-8, 1864 (Detachment). Moorefield November 27-28. New Creek November 28. Moved to Remount Camp, Md., January 12, 1865, and duty there till April 4. Duty at Washington, D.C., till June 12. Moved to Leavenworth, Kan., June 12-29, and duty there till July 16. A detachment moved to Fort Kearney, Neb., and duty under Major Squires. Regiment moved to Julesburg and duty escorting Overland mails and operating against hostile Indians at Julesburg and Cottonwood Springs till April, 1866. Moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and mustered out May 22, 1866.

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

LOSSES

Regiment lost during service 5 Officers and 56 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 2 Officers and 172 Enlisted men by disease. Total 235.

[Source: Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, by William Fox]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

On the Plains in ’65, by George H. Holliday, published 1893, 97 pages.