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.
In May, 1863, General Pleasanton relieved General Stoneman from command of the cavalry corps and Buford, Gregg, and Duffie took over as division commanders. It was charged with outpost duty from Falmouth to Warrenton Junction. General Hooker divined Lee’s plans to invade the North and ordered General Pleasanton to make a reconnaissance to discover the intentions of any Confederate troops on the Fredericksburg–Culpeper road. Accompanied by two infantry brigades the corps moved out June 9, 1863, with orders to cross at Beverly and Kelly’s Fords and to unite at Brandy Station.
The Second Cavalry was a part of the regular brigade of Buford’s division. The regiment moved out at dawn and was soon across the Rappahannock River. Since Stuart intended to move north on this same day to screen Lee’s movements, the Confederates were massed near Beverly Ford where they came into contact at once with the Union troops. From now until five in the afternoon, the fighting was continuous.
Two battalions of the Second, one under Rodenbough and one under Canfield, were soon detached and sent to the front. This latter officer, who was the commander of Company M, the newest regiment, soon fell, pierced by a bullet. Rodenbough’s battalion was hotly engaged in dismounted action until relieved by Leoser’s battalion. During this time the entire regiment was subject to a well-directed artillery fire. Finally, orders came to charge this same artillery, which was done with much zest, causing it to limber up and gallop away. Soon after a halt was ordered, the regiment was instructed to advance with the Sixth Cavalry. Leoser’s battalion went forward as skirmishers, followed by the regiment, and were soon charged by an enemy force.
The men now mounted and moved forward at a gallop with sabers drawn. They rode pell mell at the astonished enemy, who soon turned and fled. Catching up with the Rebels, our men dealt saber blows and fired their pistols on every side. There was no halting to take prisoners. Friend and foe were mixed together, dealing blows to right and left. The charge carried across the plateau to the valley beyond where fresh enemy troops were moving to the attack. The Second was then rallied and formed for further action. Soon it was engaged in a dismounted fight with the enemy in a nearby wood. About five in the afternoon the regiment was relieved from the front line. Later it returned to the north side of the Rappahannock when General Pleasanton withdrew his whole force.
In this battle the Union cavalry found itself for the first time during the war, and it dealt such blows to the Confederates that the latter no longer said the Yankees were not worthy opponents. The prestige of the Southern cavalry was also lowered because General Stuart allowed his command to be surprised and his headquarters with all of his papers to be captured. The Second was in the front at the surprise of the Confederates, and later fought so tenaciously that it lost sixty-eight killed and wounded out of a present strength of 225 men.