South Mountain by Rick Reeve

South Mountain by Rick Reeve
South Mountain by Rick Reeve depicting the wounding of General Garland

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bucktails!: The 13th Pennsylvania Reserves

Original flag of the 13 PA Reserves, lost during 1862 Peninsula Campaign
The 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, commonly referred to as the "Bucktails" for the distinct unit tradition of sticking bucktail's on their hats, were the first to engage Confederates defending the Frostown Gap as Union forces began the push to turn the Confederate left.

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:

Volunteer Rifles!
Marksmen wanted!
By authority of Governor Curtin, a company will be formed
this week of citizens of Mckean and Elk Counties,
who are prepared to take up arms immediately, to support
the Constitution of the United States and defend the 
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am authorized to accept at once
for service, any man who will bring with him to my 
headquarters a Rifle which he knows how to use. 
Come forward Americans, who are not degenerate from 
the spirit of '76. Come forward in time to save
the city of Washington from capture-- in time to save 
the flag of the Union there being humbled as it 
has been at Fort Sumter.
                                                                                   Thomas L. Kane

Thomas Kane
Kane would have three of companies gathered within a week of issuing his proclamation and it was during this time that the unit would adopt his distinctive insignia. The man credited with the idea, James Landregan, had enlisted in the "McKean County Rifles" and while walking by a butcher shop saw a deer hide and cut the tail off and fixed it to his hat. Colonel Kane noticed the tail on James hat and quickly adopted it has the units nickname and insignia with everyone in hearing distance quickly going to the butcher shop and fashioning tails for there own hats. The men organized by Kane in Smethport, took the oath required for the enlistment and began marching towards Cameron Station where it met another company, the "Cameron County Rifles" and together the two organizations continued the march towards Harrisburg where they would pick up another company, the "Elk County Rifles".  The three companies continued to Sackatt's Saw Mills where rafts were constructed and the three companies under the flag of the Union and a bucktail, the unit floated to Lock Haven where it encamped for the night. Kane and his three hundred and fifteen men then took the railroad to Harrisburg arriving in the city on May 4th. 

Upon arriving, the three companies found difficulty being accepted into service. The state of Pennsylvania quota for regiments to be supplied for service was changed numerous times but eventually it was settled that only 14 regiments would be required of the state.  Kane  and his men were organized and willing to serve but unable to because of a technicality. Eventually Kane received would that his men would be organized into the Seventeenth regiment but this was soon stopped after it was discovered that a regiment of that designation had already been organized and mustered in Philadelphia. Eventually, to take advantage of the massive numbers of men waiting to serve, Governor Curtin and the legislature passed the act creating the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps and placed it under command of Major General George McCall. It was decided that one of the regiments within this reserve corps would consist entirely of rifleman. With it being known that Thomas Kane had organized and fought hard for his three companies to be allowed to serve, several other independent rifle companies petitioned for their companies organized under Colonel Kane. 

Their request was granted and on June 12, 1861, the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves/1st Pennsylvania Rifles was born. Its organization and commanding officers are as follows:

Company A: Anderson Life Guards, Captain Phillip Holland
Company B: Morgan Rifles, Captain Langhorne Wister
Company C: Cameron Rifles, Captain John A. Elred
Company D: Raftman's Guards, Captain Roy Stone
Company E: Tioga Rifles, Captain Alanson Niles
Company F: Irish Infantry, Captain Dennis McGee
Company G: Elk Rifles, Captain Hugh McDonald
Company H: Wayne Independent Rifles, Captain Charles Taylor
Company I: McKean Rifles, Captain William Blanchard
Company K: Raftman's Rangers, Captain Edward Irvin

The regiment was mustered into service for three years and, in accordance with the law creating the reserve corps, elected the regimental officers. In the initial vote, Thomas Kane was elected as colonel, Charles Biddle as lieutenant colonel, and Roy Stone as major.  After being elected as the regiments first colonel, Kane felt obliged to resign his commission and requested the Lieutenant Colonel Biddle be given command of the regiment. His reasoning being that he had no prior military experience and Biddle was a Mexican War veteran. A second election was held with Biddle being named the new colonel and Kane being reduced to lieutenant colonel. In honor of their first commander and his unselfishness, the men of the regiment named their regiment the Kane Rifle Regiment. The regiment would begin its service defending the Mason-Dixon line before marching onward to Cumberland, Maryland to defend that place. 

The regiments first military action would take place was a sharp skirmish near New Creek, Virginia between about 80 men, under Lt. Colonel Kane, and a Confederate cavalry unit. After fending off the ambushing Confederates, Kane with 200 men was ordered to pursue the Confederates fighting another skirmish near Ridgeville, Virginia. After these skirmishes, the regiment was ordered to Harper's Ferry where it was temporarily assigned to the brigade of George H. Thomas in Nathanial Bank's valley army. Eventually the regiment would find itself back with the Reserve Corps in the second brigade under Brigadier General George Meade. 

The regiment would find itself marching into Virginia where again it would fight a sharp skirmish near Hunter's Mill. After this skirmish, Colonel Biddle resigned to take his place in Congress and command fell to Lt. Colonel Kane who would lead the regiment in its first major battle at Dranesville. 

Battle of Dranesville, VA
The were reports coming into Union lines that a Confederate foraging party was at Dranesville and Edward Ords brigade was ordered to drive off the Confederates and obtain supplies for himself. The bucktails were ordered to go on the expedition to further strengthen the Union thrust. Upon arriving at Dranesville, Ord deployed his artillery, cavalry, and two companies of the bucktails to guard the approaches to the town and the remainder of the bucktails were to occupy the Leesburg Pike and investigate the woods in their area of the line. As Kane's men advanced they captured a straggler and sent him to the rear just before receiving orders from Ord. Kane's reaction was to rise in the saddle and say "Foward ,Bucktails, there is fun ahead." His men broke into a run and slammed into a Confederate attack, first slowing the halting the advance in its track. The Confederates eventually fell back and Ord ordered a Union counterattack to push the Confederates from the field. Kane took position with his regiment and advanced. During this advance, Lieutenant Colonel Kane was struck in the face by bullet but his men pushed the Confederates from the field suffering two men killed and just over 20 wounded.  Lieutenant Colonel Kane would find himself in the hospital when the next election for colonel came about and in January, Hugh McNeil was name the new colonel of the regiment. Upon recovery, Kane would created a skirmish drill that was accepted by General McClellan and four companies were assigned for the new training and the regiment, now attached to the first brigade of reserves under John Reynolds, moved to Alexandria where it would await the coming campaign season. 

The regiment would be part of Irwin McDowell's First Corps that was to occupy Fredericksburg and then advance in support of McClellan on the Peninsula. Arriving near Fredericksburg at the end of April, the bucktails went into camp to await orders. At this time, Stonewall Jackson was creating havoc in the Shenandoah Valley and his daring campaign caused Lincoln to keep and then order McDowell's corps to cover Washington and sent troops to capture Jackson. At this time, the four companies assigned to Kane were ordered to remain behind while the remainder of the regiment was ordered to the Peninsula to reinforce McClellan's army. The main body of the regiment arrived on the Peninsula on June 11th. 

The four companies left behind under Kane were called Kane's Scouts and they covered the advance of James Shields Division in its pursuit of Jackson's confederates. Kane lead his men in several skirmishes but possibly most famous of these occurred on June 6th.  Reports came in that a New Jersey regiment had been ambushed and had left dead and wounded on the battlefield. Kane was ordered with one hundred men, to advance and gather the wounded and dead. As they advance, the stumbled upon a Confederate line of battle and a sharp fight ensued. Sending word back that he had found a large force of the enemy, Kane ordered his men to attack. The assault met initial success but the Confederates stubbornly held their ground. Kane was again wounded while leading his men but the momentous moment was to come. After being engaged for a time, a mortally wounded bucktail took notice of a Confederate officer encouraging his men and exposing himself to the fire. The Pennslyvanian, possibly taking his final shot, rose, took aim,and fired. The officer crumpled to the ground, the legendary Turner Ashby was dead.

 Kane remained in his position believing that he was going to be reinforced but after holding his ground, seeing no reinforcements coming, and seeing Confederate strength closing in, he ordered the retreat. Just after the order was given, Kane was captured by the confederates along with several others. The bucktails lost 52 killed, wounded, and captured in this fight...effectively ending their effectiveness as a fighting unit in the valley. The remnants of these four companies would fight at Cross Keys on June 8th, helping to save a battery that was in danger of being overrun.

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.

As the Confederates entered into Maryland, the revamped Army of the Potomac moved out of Washington and into western Maryland. During the march, John Reynolds was ordered to Pennsylvania to take command of the state militia and the new brigade commander for the Bucktails brigade was Truman Seymour.  The Bucktails marched through Frederick and then onto South Mountain where on the 14th, the sounds of battle could be heard. As part of the First Corps, they were ordered to the north and to turn the Confederate left. The 13th Reserves were deployed as skirmishers in a line nearly 300 strong. As they advance, the regiment came under fire from artillery and Confederate sharpshooters. Taking cover among the rocks and trees, the Bucktails began returning fire. Armed with Sharps rifles, the Confederates were quickly outmatched and a rapid advance drove the Confederates back to their main line of defense.  The advance continued with men spaced from two to twenty feet apart and the Confederates were in noticeably superior defensive positions and the 13th suffered dearly. At this point, the 11th Reserves came up in support and both units began pouring fire into the Confederates but were unable to dislodge them Seeing the stalemate that had occurred was sapping the regiment of strength, an officer  rallied the men and the advance picked up. Within moments the officer was wounded in the head and the sight caused the men to become enraged and quickly rushed forward gaining ground rapidly.  For Confederate fortunes, the coming of darkness saved the utter defeat from becoming worse.

Hugh McNeil
Following the fighting, the surviving Bucktails regrouped and marched in pursuit of the Confederates, who were beginning to take up positions outside the small hamlet of Sharpsburg. Arriving opposite the town near Antietam Creek, the men went into camp. The following morning, it was decided that the regiment as well as the entire First Corps of the army would cross the creek to find the Confederate flank and turn it. By four in the afternoon on September 16th, the First Corps was across the creek and the Bucktails were advancing in skirmish order in search of the Confederates.  After advancing a short distance, the men came under fire from Confederate pickets. Quickly, Colonel McNeil deployed the entire regiment and pushed back the opposing picket against the main line that was holding what would become known as the East Woods. The Bucktails came under fire from two Confederate batteries and the veterans of Hood's Texas Brigade under William T. Wofford. The skirmish escalated into a desperate fight for control of the woods. The Pennsylvanians advance gradually going prone within yards of the wood line when the Confederate fire became to intense. The advance continued advancing, if only one or two feet at a time. Eventually, Colonel McNeil, in an effort to force the issue, ordered his regiment to charge. Leading from the front, McNeil would be killed as his men advanced into the woods and gain control of the blood-soaked woodlot. The lose of their commander played heavy on the hearts of the Bucktails. McNeil's successor, Captain Dennis McGee wrote home that the army did not know a braver man then McNeil. The following day, the Bucktails were continue fighting for control of the woods but as the battle escalated, the 13th was pulled from the line to replenish their ammunition and get some rest. But, as the battle took on a nature of his own and cost both sides thousands of men, the Bucktails were again ordered forward but did not see any more significant action.

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 ever;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
Through the course of the war, the regiment had roughly 1,100 men serve within its ranks and of these according to the regimental history lost 858 men killed, wounded, and missing through outs is term of service. For three years, the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves fought in 7 major campaigns as either an entire unit or detachments and became well known among their counterparts not only for their distinctive bucktails but also their marksmanship and while Pennsylvania Reserves are one of the most well know units raised by any northern state, the 13th Pennsylvania is arguably the most famous of the regiments from this division.


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.

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] Battle of Dranesville [accessed 4/30/12] 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]

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