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PA Civil War Volunteer Soldiers


Thirteenth Cavalry, One Hundred and Seventeenth Regiment


13th Cavalry, 117th PA Regimental History

Regimental History


In September, 1861, James A. Galligher, of Philadelphia, received authority from the Secretary of War, Hon. Simon Cameron, to raise a squadron of cavalry, to be known as the Irish Dragoons, and to be attached to the Irish Brigade, then being recruited in the city of New York, under command of General Thomas Francis Meagher. A camp was established at Frankford, near the city of Philadelphia, and recruiting at once commenced. Companies A, B, C, and D had been organized at this camp, and E in the city of Pittsburg, when authority was given to increase the squadron to the full strength of a regiment. The original squadron was ordered to Baltimore, where it was joined in July, 1S62, by company F, recruited in Cumberland county, company G, in Lycoming county, and H, I, and K at the camp at Frankford, and in August following, a regimental organization was effected, with the following field officers: James A. Galligher, Colonel; Peter C. Shannon, Lieutenant Colonel; Henry A. White, Martin J. Byrne, and Michael Kerwin, Majors. While in Camp Carroll, near Baltimore, the regiment was mounted, fully armed and equipped, and was employed in drill, aud guard and patrol duty. Company L, recruited in Pike and Wayne counties, joined the regiment here.

On the 24th of September the regiment was ordered to Point of Rocks. Three companies were employed in guarding the line of the Potomac, between Berlin and Edwards' Ferry, and the remaining ones in scouting in Loudon and Jefferson counties. Numerous bands had been organized for carrying on an illicit trade with the enemy, which had been accustomed to cross the Potomac on this part of the line, and spies and informers were busy in passing too and fro. In breaking up these irregular practices, the regiment rendered efficient service. On the 7th of January, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Shannon was honorably discharged and Garrick Mallery, Jr., was commissioned to succeed him.

On the 3d of February, Colonel Galligher was ordered to proceed to Winchester with his command, and report to General Milroy. Upon its arrival, it was assigned to the brigade of General Elliott, and was at once employed in severe guard and scout duty. In March, company M, recruited in Philadelphia, joined the regiment. Winchester is the center of a network of roads, over a majority of which the enemy could move at any season of the year; it was, at this time, out of supporting distance of any considerable Union force, far removed from a depot of supplies, and possessed no strong natural positions for defense. The valley was infested with bands of rebel cavalry, their leaders familiar with the ground, and glorying in feats of activity and daring. From the time of its arrival in this department until the opening of the battle of Winchester, prelude to the battle of Gettysburg, the regiment was constantly engaged in picket, scout, patrol, and escort duties, participating in three reconnoissances in force, having part in numberless skirmishes, and losing in the meantime, upwards of two hundred and fifty officers and men; killed, wounded, and missing.

On the 12th of June, General Milroy sent out two strong reconnoitering parties up the valley, on the Strasburg and Front Royal roads. "The One on the Strasburg road," says General Milroy, in his official report, "consisted of the Eighty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Thirteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, and one section of Battery L, Fifth United States Arti1lery, all under command of Colonel Schall, of the Eighty-seventh. This reconnoissance was conducted with energy, in pursuance of instructions, and its results were in every way satisfactory. The expedition proceeded up the valley, the cavalry in advance, but within supporting distance of the infantry, and artillery, until it had arrived within two miles of Middletown, at which place a messenger from Major Kerwin, who was in command of the cavalry, announced to Colonel Schall that a superior force of cavalry of the enemy had been discovered in line of battle, immediately north of Middletown. The infantry and artillery were immediately concealed, the former in a dense grove to the right, and within one hundred yards of the road, and the latter behind a ridge. Our cavalry retired, skirmishing with the enemy, until he was drawn within reach of the fire of the infantry. Upon the first fire of our infantry, the enemy retreated precipitately, followed by our cavalry, which pursued bevond Middletown." [quoted from Moores Rebellion Record, Vol. VII, page 29, Docs.] In this gallant affair, which opened the battle of Winchester, and gave Milroy his first definite knowledge that a heavy force was in his front, the enemy lost eight killed, ten wounded, thirty-seven prisoners, thirty horses and equipments, and a large number of small arms. The regiment charged with the saber in pursuit of the flying foe, but fortunately lost but one wounded in the entire engagement. It was actively engaged during the two following days, and in the evacuation and retreat on the 15th, covered the rear of the retiring column. It arrived at Harper's Ferry with General Milroy, at noon of that day. The regiment entered the engagement with an aggregate, rank and file, of six hundred and forty-three. The field return made at Harper's Ferry on the 16th, showed but three hundred and twenty-one, a loss during the four days of three hundred and twenty-two, in killed, wounded, and missing.

The regiment remained in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry until its evacuation by General French, on the 30th of June, when it moved to Frederick, Maryland, and on the 8th of July to Boonsboro, where it joined the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, on its way from Gettysburg, and was assigned to the Second Brigade Colonel J. Irvin Gregg, of General D. McM. Gregg's Division. After the return of the army into Virginia, the regiment was encamped for some time at Amissville, and subsequently at Jefferson. While at the latter place, Colonel Galligher was honorably discharged, on account of injuries received by the fall of his horse while on duty in the valley, and was succeeded in command by Lieutenant Colonel Mallery, and shortly afterwards by Major Kerwin, who was promoted to Colonel, Major Dewees, to Lieutenant Colonel, and George F. McCabe to Major. In the cavalry engagement at Culpeper, on the 11th of September, the regiment participated, after which it was detached for duty at Catlett's Station, re-joining the brigade at Culpeper, on the 10th of October. While here, an additional company, recruited in Huntingdon county, under Captain H. H. Gregg, joined it.

While the army was lying in the neighborhood of Culpeper, the rebel leader sought by a sudden movement to the right, to come in upon its flank and rear. This compelled a rapid retrograde movement on the part of Meade. On the 12th of October, the regiment, while on picket duty at Jefferson, on the south side of the Rappahonnock, opposite Sulphur Springs, was suddenly attacked, the enemy coming on in heavy force. The Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry soon came to its assistance, and the two regiments made a determined stand. In the afternoon, the enemy having come up in great numbers, again attacked with violence, and drove back this little force which had made a gallant resistance, and before it could make good its escape across the river, took a large number prisoners. The Thirteenth lost one hundred and sixty-three in killed, wounded, and missing, most of them prisoners. After crossing the river, the command was engaged during the three succeeding days, with the cavalry, in covering the rear and flank of the army in its retreat to Centerville, being almost constantly engaged in skirmishing with the enemy's advance.

On the 24th, the regiment was ordered to duty at Army Headquarters, relieving the Second Pennsylvania Cavalry. Company G was soon after detailed for duty at the Headquarters of the Second Army Corps, where it remained until the middle of April, 1864. Near the close of November, when returning from the advance of the main army to Mine Run, the regiment was joined by two additional companies, recruited in Huntingdon county, under command of Major George F. McCabe. During the winter, it was assigned to duty on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, with headquarters at Bristoe Station, the command being distributed along the road for its protection against the guerrillas of Mosby. On the 1st of January, 1864, it joined the brigade in a reconnoissance, which took it from Warrenton, through Front Royal, Salem, and Paris, returning on the 3rd. The weather was excessively cold, and the troops were subjected to untold suffering on the march, nearly a third of the entire command being frost bitten. On the 8th of February, the fifteen companies were consolidated into twelve, and George F. McCabe was commissioned to Major.

On the 3rd of May, the Thirteenth was ordered to duty with the Ninth Corps, and in the march to the Wilderness, covered the rear of the corps, which was in the rear of the entire army. It participated in the severe fighting from the 5th to the 11th of May, and in the flank movement of the army past Spottsylvania Court House, had the advance, driving in the pickets of the enemy.

On the 26th of May, the regiment returned to the brigade, joining it at White's Tavern. The cavalry under Sheridan, consisting of three divisions, commanded by Merritt, Wilson, and Gregg, was now on a raid towards Richmond. [Correction - Sheridan did not have Gregg's 2nd Division with him on this raid.] At Beaver Dam Station, the rebel guard was routed, a vast amount of stores were destroyed, and four hundred Union prisoners on their way to Richmond, were released. At Hawe's Shop, on the 28th, while stretched out upon the march, the Union column was suddenly attacked in flank by the enemy's cavalry and infantry under Stuart. [This is an error by Bates, as Stuart had died of wounds on May 12, 1864. On the 28th at Hawes Shop, Wade Hampton was in command.] Gregg's Division soon became hotly engaged, each side determined to hold its ground. Finally, after seven hours of continuous fighting, the enemy was routed, and driven three miles, the track of his routed columns being strewn with his dead and wounded. Captain John Kline was killed in this engagement, and Captain Patrick Kane mortally wounded. The entire loss was ten killed, and thirty-five wounded and missing.

Soon after his return from the Richmond raid, Sheridan again led his cavalry towards Lynchburg, with the design of breaking up one of the enemy's main lines of supply. [Gregg's Division marched on this raid.] At Trevilian Station the enemy's infantry in force was met. A severe engagement ensued, in which some advantages were gained, and the railroad track torn up for a considerable distance; but the enemy having concentrated his forces, proved too strong for a further advance, and Sheridan withdrew and returned to White House.

With the army trains which had assembled here, Sheridan started on the 22nd of June for the James. Crossing the Chickahominy at Jones' Bridge, on the 23rd, the division encamped at night at Charles City. During the night, the First Division passed in the rear with the trains. On the morning of the 24th, Gregg moved upon a road running at right angles with the Charles City Road, parallel with the Chickahominy, and about four miles from it. When three miles out, the Second Brigade, which was in advance, met the enemy's pickets, and pushed them back upon his main line, in strong position near St. Mary's Church. Line of battle was immediately formed, the Second Brigade in an open field, its right extending across the road, and its left connecting with the First Brigade, a part of which was formed so as to extend the line parallel with the road, a half mile to the rear, to protect the flank. With slight skirmishing, which occasionally increased to a sharp encounter, the day passed until half-past four, when the enemy having felt the lines, and being well informed of the strength of the division, attacked along the entire front with his cavalry corps, supported by a brigade of dismounted men. Though outnumbered and hard pressed on all sides, the division held its ground for two hours, displaying a steadiness and courage rarely excelled. Finally, being out-flanked and sorely pressed, the order to retire was given. As it began to fall back, the enemy redoubled his efforts to break through and capture the guns; but in all his attempts he was successfully foiled, and not a gun nor a caisson was lost. In this engagement the regiment lost three officers and thirty men in killed, wounded, and missing.

On the 30th, the regiment crossed the James, and marched up to the Proctor House, and on the 1st of July, moved to the support of Wilson's Cavalry Division, hemmed in by the enemy, as it was returning from a raid upon the Danville Railroad. Two weeks later it was engaged with the division in its descent on the Jerusalem Plank Road, and on the 26th, joined in the demonstration across the James, meeting the enemy at Malvern Hill, and at Lee's Mills. In the meantime, Captain H. H. Gregg, with one hundred and fifty men, who had been detached from the regiment, and assigned to duty at the headquarters of the commissary of subsistence, while in charge of the cattle herd, numbering between two and three thousand, was attacked by a powerful body of rebel cavalry, which came suddenly in upon him near Coggin's Point, and though making a mutual resistance, was overpowered and captured with the entire herd, and hurried away into the rebel lines.

On the 29th od September, the regiment was hotly engaged at Wyatt's Farm, losing two officers and fifteen men in killed, wounded, and missing; again, on the 22nd of October [Bates made an error here, it was on the 27th], at the Boydton Plank Road, and on the 8th and 9th of December, at Hatcher's Run, where it suffered severely, Captain Nathaniel Sneyd being among the killed.

On the 5th of February, 1865, the Fifth and Second Corps, with Gregg's Cavalry, moved from their quarters in front of the rebel lines, and crossing Gravelly Run, came upon the enemy in the afternoon, who, having massed his forces, made a desperate charge in three lines of battle, but was met with so deadly a fire, that he was forced to give way. The cavalry then moved by Ream's Station to Malone Bridge, over the Rowanty River, and thence to Dinwiddie Court House, skirmishing lightly by the way, but meeting no determined opposition. On the evening of the 6th the enemy attacked, near Dabney's Mills, with great impetuosity, but was finally checked and driven. General Gregg was among the wounded.

About the middle of February, Colonel Kerwin received orders to move to City Point, and thence proceed by transport to Wilmington, North Carolina. Before departing, a large number of recruits were received, and the entire command was well equipped and mounted. Upon its arrival at Wilmington, it reported to General Schofield, and after a rest of a few days it was ordered to march and open communication with General Sherman, then on his way up through the Carolinas. The line of march was taken along the Cape Fear River, and on the 13th of March, a detachment of the regiment communicated with Sherman, at Fayetteville, the army of the east saluting the army of the west. Crossing the river at Elizabethtown, the regiment reported to Sherman on the 19th, and was assigned to the Third Brigade of Kilpatrick's Division, of which Colonel Kerwin took command. Soon after the surrender of Raleigh, Hampton's Cavalry was encountered just outside the town, and the brigade, with the Thirteenth in advance, drove the rebel chieftain twelve miles, dislodging him from every position which he took, and until checked by his infantry. On the 13th, the regiment [had] entered Raleigh, and its tattered flag was displayed from the dome of the capitol. In the buildings were found forty-two flags, trophies of the war, gathered from both of the contending armies.

After the surrender of Johnston, the regiment was ordered to Fayetteville, and Colonel Kerwin put in command of the post. It was soon ascertained that irregular bands were moving about the country and plundering the inhabitants. A detachment of twenty-four men, of company F, was sent out, which pursued one of these bands into South Carolina, capturing most of the party, and returning the goods found to their owners. This summary action put a stop to further depredations. On the 14th of July, the regiment returned to Raleigh, and on the following day proceeded by rail to City Point, Virginia, and thence via Baltimore to Philadelphia, arriving at Camp Cadwallader on the 19th, and on the 27th was finally discharged.

By Harold Hand, Jr., author of One Good Regiment
-- First Regimental History of the 13th Pa Cavalry --


(Note: The brief history of the regiment was taken verbatim from the work entitled "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865," by Samuel Penniman Bates, pub. By Harris B. Singerly, 1869-1871. I have added some bracketed notes to correct errors made by Bates, and a few other minor grammar corrections which are inconsequential.





117th Regiment

Co. A | Co. B | Co. C | Co. D | Co. E | Co. F | Co. G | Co. H | Co. I | Co. K | Co. L | Co. M | Unassigned Men | Officers | History





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