|Original flag of the 13 PA Reserves, lost during 1862 Peninsula Campaign|
The creation of this regiment began not long after the firing upon Fort Sumter by Confederate forces on April 12, 1861. As soon as the day after the bombardment commenced, Thomas Kane, a prominent citizen in the northern section of the state and ardent abolitionist, wrote Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin an offer to raise a company of cavalry. His offer was accepted on April 15th only to be declined on the 16th and changed over to a request for only infantry. Immediately, Kane went to work recruiting his regiment.
Kane would set up his main recruiting station and headquarters in Smethport, Pennsylvania and sent numerous riders to outlying towns and neighboring counties to spread the word of his efforts. His main recruiting tool was a broadside that he published for distribution:
|Battle of Dranesville, VA|
While Kane and his contingent were fighting Jackson in the Shenandoah, the remainder of the regiment arrived on the Virginia Peninsula on June 11th with the Pennsylvania Reserve Division under George McCall. On the 12th, the division began its march towards Richmond, arriving at a point within thirteen miles of the Confederate capital. At this point, reports arrived that Confederate cavalry were raiding the rear areas of the Union army, the Bucktails took part in what would become an ineffective pursuit that only found the destruction that was left behind by the raiders. After some more marching, the regiment arrived at Mechanicsville on the 19th. Upon arriving at this point, the regiment went to work erecting fortifications. Unknown to them, their position, along with the that of the 5th Corps under Fitz John Porter, would be the focal point of a Confederate counter-offensive that would push McClellan's Grand Army away from Richmond.
On June 26th, Confederate infantry began pressing advance Union positions near a vital crossing, Meadow Bridge, on the Chickahominy. Major Roy Stone, commanding the regiment, moved forward with his regiment as well as the 5th PA Reserves to the crossing site. When news came that Union cavalry were being pushed back near, Stone was ordered forward with three companies. Arriving at a crossroads, Stone deployed his three regiments and immediately, Confederate infantry appeared. Two volleys through the Rebels into confusion. The Confederates regrouped and eventually captured the Meadow Bridge, forcing the other three companies of the Bucktails and the 5th reserves back to the main line. The three companies at the crossroads were cut off from friendly forces and immediately came under intense pressure. A vicious fighting withdrawal by Captain Wister and his men of Company B allowed Wister's company to safely reach the main Union defensive line. Major Stone safely directed Company D back to the safety of the Union lines as well.
Captain Edward Irvin's Company K was not so fortunate. Captain Irvin refused to accepted reports and orders to fall back unless it came through official channels and by the time this step was taken it was too late, Company K was surrounded. Irvin attempted to breakthrough the growing rebel line but to no avail and has his company retreat deep into the swamp where they heard the sounds of fighting slowly move away. For the next week, while the two armies fought each other, Irvin lead his company through the swamps with the hope of reaching Fredericksburg. But by July 1st, not having eaten for a week and only gone 5 miles, Irvin and his company decided it was time and surrendered. Irvin and his men were marched to Richmond not as conquerors, but as prisoners.
The remaining five companies of the regiment fought desperately near Beaver Creek Dam and assist in the successive repulses of the Confederate attacks. Despite beating off the Confederates, Porter withdrew his blue-clad legions towards Gaines Mill, with the Bucktails survivors covering the withdrawal and destroy a bridge that would slow the Confederate advance. Successfully destroying the bridge, Stone pulled his men back towards Gaines Mill but unknown to him, portions of Company E and D under Captain Niles were left behind and did not get across the bridge. Niles would resist in the swamps the Confederate advance and after several hours, he would order the surrender. The regimental flag was with Niles and his band of men. To avoid capture, the flag was hidden in the swamp. This flag (pictured at beginning of post) would eventually be found by Confederates and taken to Richmond where it would remain until its fall in 1865 when it was found in an attic. The toll of the fighting at and near Mechanicsville took a terrible toll on the regiment. Major Stone muster only 125 men when he arrived at Gaines Mill. Stone would lead his regiment in the ensuing battle until its position became untenable and withdrew. At Glendale, Stone's men would fight desperately being driven from the original position but not the field. Stone' s regiment would form a line, with remnants of several other regiments, that would hold the Union line together.
After several desperate fights, the Bucktails were reduced to the size of a small company. Fortunately, after briefly being under fire at Malvern Hill, Stone's men would be allowed to take cover under the cover of some bluffs to the rear of the hill. The regiment retreated towards Harrison Landing with the rest of the army and went into camp there. The results of the campaign were staggering with the Bucktails losing nearly 250 men. Colonel McNeil joined the regiment at this point, having recovered from a bout of fever, and broke down when seeing the toll the regiment suffered. The regiment would remain at Harrison's Landing refitting and reorganizing before leaving the Peninsula in the beginning of August. They were again leaving to reinforce a Union army, this one under John Pope.
The four company battalion under Lt. Colonel Kane was consolidated with all the forces that were in northern Virginia into what was called the Army of Virginia. Kane's Battalion was assigned to the headquarters detachment and Kane was back with the battalion following his parole. Kane's men would be responsible for the loss of General Pope's baggage but as a result of the action, Kane was promoted to Brigadier General. At Second Manassas, Kane would put his men into a position covering the Union retreat while the rest of the Bucktails fought with Pope's main army and suffered in the disastrous results. The two entities of the regiment would reunite in Washington, D.C. just as Confederate forces began their advance into Maryland.
Following this intense campaign season of the summer and fall, the Bucktails were just a shell of what they were. Regimental and company officers were all either killed or recovering from wounds with only three officers (two captains and the regimental adjutant) were left to command the regiment. In the enlisted ranks, only two full size companies could be muster out of the all the companies of the regiment. The state of the regiment, and the entire Pennsylvania Reserves, made it abundantly clear to Governor Curtin that his Reserve Corps needed to be given time to rest, refit, and recruit. He petitioned President Lincoln for the division to return to Harrisburg but received no reply. He then petitioned General McClellan directly but was declined when the commanding General found a need for the division. The Bucktails and the Reserve Division passed in review of President Lincoln during Lincoln's visit to the army at Sharpsburg. The regiment would lead the First Corps in the advance into Virginia eventually reaching the area around Warrenton.
At this juncture, George McClellan was relieved of command on November 7th and command given to Ambrose Burnside. The 13th Penn. Reserves, as part of the First Corps, were assigned one of Burnside's Grand Division's, in essence two corps armies within the main army, under William Franklin. The regiment remained in camp until the mid-December when it marched towards the main army massing at Fredericksburg since the middle of November. Arriving there on December 11th, the regiment remained in a state of readiness and was called to action when it was decided that the Reserves would spearhead the assault to carry the heights to the below Fredericksburg. The Bucktails were ordered to support the batteries that were to support the assault and as the assault began, General George Meade, commanding the division, personally ordered the regiment forward. Captain Charles Taylor, commanding the regiment, advanced the regiment into its place in line but diverted when a gap opened within the battleline. Filling the gap, Taylor lead the regiment into a plot of woods penetrating deep into the Confederate line. With two other regiments, the Bucktails pushed on, widening the penetration and losing men at everhttp://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3543108974337368957#editor/target=post;postID=6916533060755805566y step. The advance ground to a halt and came under intense fire from three sides, forcing a withdrawal. The successive brigades of the division advanced but were forced back. Eventually, with no reinforcements in sight and Confederate forces increasing pressure on his division, forced the him to fall back. The PA Reserves had broken the Confederate line but the breach could not be exploited. The Bucktails suffered over 150 casualties for their part in the assault.
Following the fighting at Fredericksburg, the Reserve Division took part in the infamous Mud March of January 1863. With the failure of this march, the Reserve Division, 13th Pennsylvania included, were ordered to the Washington defenses to recuperate and recruit to fill the decimated ranks. Remaining here, they would miss the fighting around Chancellorsville. During this time of relative inactivity, the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves reorganized and the colonelcy was given to Captain Taylor and other positions, regimental and company level, were filled as well.
When word reached Washington that Confederate forces were advancing into Maryland and into Pennsylvania, the regiments of the Reserve Corps petitioned to go to the defense of their home state. Two brigades were sent and the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, marching with the First Brigade, marched into Pennsylvania. Arriving at Gettysburg on the second day of fighting, the Bucktails deployed as Confederate forces swarmed the Union line. After firing a few devastating volleys, Colonel Taylor lead his regiment in a vicious counterattack that pushed the Confederates from initial positions near Little Round Top to the Wheatfield. The attack so disorganized the regiment that men fought with whatever unit was nearby. Several men found themselves engaged with Confederate sharpshooters in Devils Den and were finding difficulty forcing them out. Colonel Taylor, frustrated with the inactivity, stated he would bring up men to continue the advance. Moments later, he would fall, killed by one of those sharpshooters. Command fell to Major Ross Hartshorne, the lt. colonel being wounded in the charge. The Bucktails had taken up a position behind a stonewall, holding there until darkness fell. On July 3rd, the first brigade advanced following the repulse of the Confederate attack on the center, pushing Confederate forces out of the Wheatfield and Devils Den. In this final advance, the Bucktails captured the flag of the Fifteenth Georgia. Sergeant James Thompson of Company G would be awarded the medal of honor for capturing this flag. The regiment would participate in the pursuit following this battle and the campaign of maneuver in the late summer and fall of 1863.
The following spring, as the new campaign season came about, the Bucktails would find themselves marching into the Wilderness in search of the Confederate army. They became engaged with their opponents near Parker's Store where they decimated a charging Confederate cavalry detachment. So intense was the fire, the Bucktails were using Spencer Rifles, that as one Confederate officer attempted to rally his men, one exclaimed, "Cavalry Hell! Cavalry don't carry knapsacks and wear bucktails!" The regiments reputation had preceded it. The regiment would participate in the ensuing battle suffered roughly 37 casualties. The regiment continued onto Spotsylvania Courthouse where after a savage and bloody fight that lasted two weeks, the regiment would suffer 81 casualties. The final casualties the regiment would suffer would be along the North Anna where 5 more names would be added to the rolls.
With the regiment pulled from the line for mustering out, those that re-enlisted were detailed to other Pennsylvania regiments and those that chose to go home did so. Just under 500 men were left from the original regiment and about half of these re-enlisted. Just over 200 returned to Harrisburg, arriving there on June 6th amid a torrent of support from its citizens. The regiment went into camp at Camp Curtin, where it entered service three years prior, and on June 13th, the regiment was mustered out of service (despite never being mustered in for US service). The discharges were made official on June 15th and the regiment's survivors bid farewell to comrades and began the long journey home.
|13th PA Reserve Monument, Gettysburg|
Thomson, Osmon and William Rauch. History of the "Bucktails": Kane Rifle Regiment of Pennsylvania Reserve Corps (13th Pennsylvania Reserves, 42nd of the Line) William H. Rauch: 1906.
Company B, 1st PA Rifles. http://www.pabucktail.com/index.htm.
PA Capitol Preservation Committee. 13th PA Reserves flag image. [accessed 4/26/12]
Unknown author. Staff of the 13th PA Reserves. [accessed 4/30/12]
Civilwar.org. Battle of Dranesville [accessed 4/30/12]
Pabucktails.com. McGee Letter. From the Mauch Chunk Gazette October 9, 1862 [accessed 5/2/12]
Steve Hawks. Stone Sentinals: 13th Pa Reserves Monument [accessed 5/2/12]