ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SECOND CAVALRY
By Joseph I. Lambert, Major, Second Cavalry
Copyright 1939 Commanding Officer, Second Cavalry, Fort Riley, Kansas
Capper Printing Company, Inc.
Merritt’s force now moved to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where it remained until August 25. On this date it made a reconnaissance toward Kearneysville, in conjunction with the Third Cavalry Division. Here the enemy’s infantry was met and it drove the Union cavalry back to Shepherdstown. At this place Custer’s brigade became heavily involved with the enemy and was forced to retire across the Potomac. After this action the rest of the division took up a position on the right of the main army.
The First Division moved out again on the 28th in the direction of Leetown to reconnoiter the enemy. This movement was made in connection with all the cavalry, which marched in parallel columns under General Torbert. Upon approaching Leetown the Second Cavalry was detached under Lieutenant Harrison to go to Smithfield. Hardly had it started when it encountered a superior force of enemy cavalry. General Merritt soon reenforced the regiment and then the combined forces charged the Confederates, driving them beyond Leetown. The division now continued the march but in a few minutes again encountered the enemy cavalry. The First and Second Cavalry drew sabers and charged at once. In the combat that followed there was much hand-to-hand fighting, but soon the Union troops had the enemy on the run and drove them across the Opequan River at Smithfield. That night the cavalry camped on the heights overlooking this town.
The Confederates threw a strong force of infantry across the river on the morning of August 29, and speedily drove in the Union pickets. The First Cavalry Division was quickly driven back for a mile before it was able to form a stable line. In the Reserve Brigade, the Second Cavalry covered the retreat. The enemy soon penetrated between the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry and the main skirmish line. To prevent the entire regiment from being captured, the Second Cavalry made three desperate charges to intervene between it and the enemy. This was finally accomplished and the Sixth Pennsylvania withdrew behind the screen formed by the Second. The last regiment was now in rear of the rest of the division and was ordered to withdraw through Custer’s Brigade, which had thrown up hasty barricades. Late in the afternoon the Third Division of the Sixth Corps came to the support of the cavalry and the latter then began an advance back to Opequan, which it reached that same evening, crossing the river and establishing pickets on the opposite bank.
After doing picket duty until September 18, 1864, the cavalry moved out early on the 19th as a part of the advance of the whole army toward Winchester. In this movement the First Cavalry Division was ordered to cross the Opequan at Seivers’ and Lockes’ Fords. Stiff opposition was met at once but the enemy pickets were driven in along the river bank. The Reserve Brigade, now commanded by Colonel Lowell, crossed at Seivers’ Ford. The Second Cavalry, led by Captain Rodenbough, who had just returned from the hospital, charged across the creek in the face of a strong enemy fire coming from behind a railroad cut. Here the regiment took several prisoners with but very little loss in its own ranks. At the same time Custer forced a crossing with his brigade at Locke’s Ford. The attack was now pushed vigorously against the Confederates under Breckinridge to prevent him from joining with Early at Winchester. There was a general advance of the whole division about 1:30 p.m. to keep the Rebel’s engaged in this quarter, but it was found their infantry had withdrawn and had been replaced by cavalry. A charge of the Second Brigade disposed of this force and the division again advanced toward Winchester. A little nearer that town the enemy cavalry was again met and this time driven through their infantry and was not again seriously used in this sector. Coming now upon the enemy infantry, the Second Brigade charged with sabers, throwing them into confusion and capturing 300 prisoners. The Reserve Brigade formed on the left of the Second Brigade and rode in formation within 500 yards of the Confederate line of battle. Although reduced to about 600 men, the order was given to capture a nearby battery. The brigade moved forward led by its new commander, Colonel Lowell, and soon came under a withering fire. It passed the guns and came to grips with the enemy in a general melee, driving him from the field. In his first fight after rejoining the regiment, Captain Rodenbough here lost an arm. When the Captain’s horse was shot from under him, First Sergeant Conrad Schmidt, Company K, went to his rescue, mounted the officer behind him and brought him back to the Federal lines. For this brave action the Sergeant was decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor. The First Brigade next made a gallant charge led by Custer. The enemy soon gave way in every direction. In all, six charges were made by the division and in the last all three brigades rode side by side. The enemy abandoned Winchester and hastily retreated up the valley.
Painting Sergeant’s Valor by Don Stivers