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.
On the 7th the brigade marched with the division, crossing the Pamunkey on the second expedition. On the 8th, 9th, and 10th June the march was continued without event.
On the 11th the brigade left camp at 5:00 a.m., moving toward Gordonsville. The Second Cavalry, forming the advance guard, soon encountered the enemy’s pickets, which were driven in and the main body of the enemy engaged.
Captain Rodenbough handled his gallant regiment with great skill and unexampled valor, charging and driving the enemy mounted, and forcing him, as usual, to cover. Captain Rodenbough was here wounded, as also Lieutenant Horrigan, of the Second. Here also Lieutenant Lawless, of the same regiment, was killed. He was a fearless, honest, and eminently trustworthy soldier, “God’s truth” being the standard by which he measured all his actions. The entire brigade was soon engaged, the first on the left, and the First New York Dragoons on the extreme right. On the left of this latter was the Sixth Pennsylvania, and next to the Second Cavalry, now commanded by Captain D. S. Gordon. The Fifth Cavalry was held as a support to the battery. The enemy was driven through a thick tangled brushwood for over two miles to Trevilian Station, on the Virginia Central Railroad, but not without serious loss to ourselves, though we inflicted heavy punishment on the adversary in killed, wounded, and prisoner. Among his wounded was General Rosser, commanding Hampton’s old division and a colonel commanding a brigade was killed, his body, along with most of the enemy’s killed and wounded, falling into our hands. Few less than 200 prisoners, including six or eight officers, were taken by the brigade. The enemy’s retreat finally became a rout, led horses, mounted men, and artillery all fled together in the wildest confusion. Williston, with his battery, took position nearby, and did elegant practice with his guns, planting shells in the midst of the confused masses of the retreating enemy. Trevilian Station was thus gained. In this retreat part of the enemy went toward Gordonsville, while fragments were driven off on the road to Louisa Court House. In their headlong career these latter came in contact with the First Brigade, which, being engaged toward its rear by the advance of Fitzhugh Lee’s division coming from Louisa Court House, was compelled to abandon some captures it had made from the led horses and trains of the force that was engaging the rest of the First Division, as above described. The brigade soon formed a junction and took position to the left rear of the Reserve Brigade. In the meanwhile, Fitz. Lee’s division advanced on the Louisa Court House road and took up a line on the left of the Reserve Brigade, his line being perpendicular to the last. The two parts of the line at this time formed a right angle, the Reserve Brigade occupying the right of the line, to the vortex of the angle, the Second Brigade, on its left, occupying part of the other line, and the First Brigade, with the Second Division, remained in echelon to the left rear, as above mentioned.
On the night of the 11th the enemy retired from our left front and took up position on the Gordonsville front.
About 3:00 p.m. on the 12th the brigade was ordered to attack the enemy’s left, while it was intended that the First Brigade should cooperate on its left, while the Second Brigade of the division was held in reserve. The brigade went into an open field to its right and attacked the enemy’s left flank vigorously. It was slow work, however, and as the enemy was not pressed on the left he concentrated his force on the brigade, and by large numbers and fresh troops, gave the command as much as it could attend to. Still both officers and men stood up to their work, doing manfully all that their former prowess would lead the most sanguine to expect, holding everything they had gained on the left, where the line was weakest, and driving the enemy on the right before them in expectation of a general advance. In thus advancing the right of the brigade was so swung round as to be exposed to the enemy’s attack on its wing. This he was not slow to take advantage of, when a squadron of the Second Cavalry, my only remaining mounted support to the battery, was thrown in to meet the attack. Here again the Second did nobly. Coming up on the right of the Sixth Pennsylvania, which up to that time had been the extreme right regiment in line, they charged gallantly, and, though few in numbers, by the impetuosity of their onslaught, drove the enemy back and protected the right until relieved by two regiments of the Second Brigade (the Fourth and Sixth New York). After these two regiments got in position this squadron of the Second was withdrawn to again act as support to the battery, which was ordered to advance, a good position having been gained on the right. Right gallantly did the battery come up in the midst of a heavy musketry fire, we being at that time so close to the enemy that their shells all flew over us. Planting three guns of the battery in this position, where it dealt the enemy heavy blows, Lieutenant Williston moved on of his brass 12-pounders onto the skirmish line. In fact, the line was moved to the front to allow him to get an eligible position, where he remained with his gun, in the face of the strengthened enemy (who advanced to its very muzzle), dealing death and destruction in their ranks with double loads of canister. It was now dark and I was ordered to retire the brigade, which was done slowly and leisurely, the enemy not advancing. This day the loss of the brigade was heavy for the numbers engaged. The general advance was not made.
I cannot speak too highly of the battery on this occasion. The light 12’s were magnificent. It has always been my good fortune while commanding the Reserve Brigade to have good batteries connected with it, and consequently our standard is high, but Williston and Dennison have always come up to our best expectations, if not exceeded them. At the fight of Cold Harbor, Dennison was inimitable, always in the right place; all orders found him anticipating almost what was intended, rushing his guns in position on the line of battle in the thickest of the fight. These two gallant officers can justly challenge a parallel to their conduct in the history of this war. At 1 a.m. on the 13th the brigade moved with the remainder of the command toward the North Anna, crossing at Minor’s Bridge. On the 14th the march was continued, as also on the 15th, the Reserve Brigade, which formed the advance on that day, building a bridge over the Po River near Spottsylvania Court House.
After this date the march was continued until the 25th, when the command reached the James River, having marched over 350 miles from the time of starting.
The losses in killed and wounded are annexed in tabular statement. As they number more than the loss of the entire rest of the command they sufficiently attest the severe service of the brigade. We lost few, if any, prisoners during the entire trip, ten or twelve men and officers covering all our losses in this way. On the other hand the brigade captured not much less than 500 prisoners in the time included above.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant
Capt. A. E. DANA,
Assistant Adjutant-General, First Cavalry Division