of the 2nd Cavalry
Taken from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg)
by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga.
Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.
By LIEUT. COL. MORTIMER B. BIRDSEYE.
The Second New York Cavalry was organized in July, 1861, at Washington, D.
C. Col. J. Mansfield Davies having recruited six full companies in and about New
York, was ordered with them to Washington, where he was joined by two companies
from each of the following States: New Jersey, Indiana, and Connecticut.
It was at first thought to organize the twelve companies into a regiment for the
regular army, but the Secretary of War finally decided that this could not be
done, and there being the most men from New York, Colonel Davies was directed
to report to Governor Morgan for an assignment of a regimental number, and commissions
for the officers. As the First New York Volunteer Cavalry was then organized and
mustered into the service, Governor Morgan designated the regiment as the Second
New York Cavalry. It was at this time decided to name the organization the"
Harris Light Cavalry," in honor of United States Senator Ira Harris, of Albany,
N. Y., who had been of great assistance to Colonel Davies in raising the six companies,
and, later, through his influence at Washington, in securing the companies from
New Jersey, Indiana and Connecticut. In token of the name, Senator Harris presented
the regiment with a flag, bearing his likeness and the inscription "Harris
Light Cavalry." This flag the regiment proudly carried and gallantly defended
on many a hotly contested battlefield for four long years.
Governor Morgan commissioned J. Mansfield Davies as colonel; Judson Kilpatrick,
of New Jersey, as lieutenant colonel; Henry E. Davies, Alfred N. Duffie and Otto
Harhaus as majors; Julius Lorell as adjutant; William H. Vallance as quartermaster;
and Charles E. Hackley as surgeon. A full complement of staff and line officers
were commissioned at this time, among which was the afterwards widely known novelist,
Edward P. Roe, who was commissioned as chaplain.
Col. J. Mansfield Davies remained in the service but a short time, when Kilpatrick
became colonel, and Henry E. Davies lieutenant colonel. Subsequently Davies and
Harhaus were promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment. Under these efficient
officers the regiment rapidly improved in discipline and drill.
Colonel Kilpatrick, having been promoted to a brigadier general in June, 1863,
Colonel Davies was promoted to the same rank the following fall, leaving Colonel
Harhaus in command of the regiment. He continued in command until August 29, 1864,
when he was mustered out on expiration of his three years' term of service. Maj.
Walter C. Hull was then promoted to colonel, and commanded until he was killed
in battle at Old Forge, Va., November 12, 1864. Lieut. Col. M. B. Birdseye then
commanded the regiment until Capt. Alanson M. Randol, of the regular army, was
made colonel of the regiment in January, 1865. He commanded the regiment most
of the time until June 23, 1865, when it was mustered out of the service.
The regiment was in the Army of the Potomac during its entire service, except
while with General Sheridan in the" Valley," the fall and winter of
1864, returning to Fredericksburg in March, 1865, and taking part in the various
battles leading up to Appomattox.
The" Harris Light" was twice recruited to nearly its full complement
of enlisted men, there being upwards of 2,800 names carried on its rolls at various
times. Many of the officers were promoted in the regiment, and some to several
grades. Notwithstanding this, there were, at different times, 185 different commissioned
officers in the regiment. Many of these officers came from the ranks. Of its original
officers, Kilpatrick and Davies became major generals of volunteers, and Duffie,
Whitaker and Randol became brigadier generals. Some 43 officers and about 400
men were carried on the rolls at the time the regiment was mustered out.
The regiment was depleted during service by 9 officers and 112 men killed on various
battlefields; 2 officers and 234 men who died of disease or other causes; 20 officers
and 226 men wounded; and 14 officers and 545 men captured or missing. Record shows
that the regiment was engaged in 177 different battles and skirmishes during its
service, and was at different times serving under the following brigade and division
commanders,- Generals Bayard, Kilpatrick, Gregg, Wilson, Custer, Davies, McIntosh,
and Pennington; and that it was under General Sheridan from the time he came to
the Army of the Potomac until Lee's final surrender. Its last year's service was
in Custer's famous Third Cavalry Division.
There are many officers and enlisted men of the" Harris Light Cavalry" deserving of special mention for their valorous deeds, as well as many exploits
of the entire command. But space will only permit of a brief sketch. One of the
sad events and a great loss to the regiment, was the death of that gallant young
officer, Col. Walter C. Hull, who was killed at the head of his regiment while
leading a charge against Col. Tom Marshall's Virginia Cavalry, at Old Forge, Va.,
November 12, 1864. Again, in the loss of the dashing Irish officer, Maj. Joseph
O'Keefe, who fell riddled with bullets, in the desperate charge on the enemy's
breastworks at Five Forks.
Sad, indeed, were the trials of the brave Maj. Edward W. Cook, who, taking 100
picked men from the regiment, officered by Capt. Jno. F. B. Mitchell and Lieut.
William R. Mattison, joined Col. Ulric Dahlgren on his famous raid to Richmond
for the liberation of the suffering Union prisoners on Belle Island. Dahlgren
was killed on this raid and Cook captured, Mitchell and Mattison bringing back
into our lines about one-half of the command. Major Cook was held prisoner nearly
one year, and suffered all the horrors of death from the enemy's inhuman treatment,
and, as a result, died a few years later.
It was the gallant Capt. E. W. Whitaker, at the time serving on General Custer's
staff, who, with a detachment of picked men, made a long and forced march in winter
time from Winchester, Va., over the mountains into the Moorefield district, and
captured the famous Rebel raider, Harry Gilmore. Again it was Capt. Robert A.
Landon who captured the dreaded guerrilla chieftain, Mosby, at Beaver Dam Station,
Va., in 1863.
This regiment has the honor of being the only Union regiment that passed the outer
line of defenses surrounding Richmond during its occupation by Confederate forces.
This was on the Kilpatrick raid, in the spring of 1864, when General Kilpatrick,
at the head of his first command, the old" Harris Light," accompanied
by a section of Ransom's Battery, boldly pushed down the Brook Pike through the
outer line of defenses and threw forty odd shells from his three-inch guns into
the outskirts of the Confederate Capital.
Again, this regiment is entitled to the credit of opening up the" ball"
in the immediate vicinity of Appomattox; for it was the" Harris Light," led by Lieut. Col. M. B. Birdseye, that charged into Appomattox Station (three
miles from where Lee's main army was camped) about sunset, April 8th, and captured
three railroad trains, loaded with supplies for Lee's almost famished army. The
road leading from the Station to Appomattox Court House was at this time filled
with the Confederate wagon trains, under escort, coming for the much-needed supplies.
The regiment finally succeeded in driving the enemy back along this road and capturing
about a half mile of their wagon train, when General Custer came dashing on to
the scene with the balance of the Third Cavalry Division. By this time General
Lee had sent forward a large force of cavalry and infantry, supported by a couple
of horse batteries. It was now about dark, and a struggle commenced for the possession
of that wagon train. Later, General Merritt came up with his cavalry division
and became hotly engaged. The enemy stubbornly contested every rod of their train
until 2 o'clock in the morning, when they retired to and beyond Appomattox Court
House, leaving us in possession of three miles of their train. Again, soon after
daylight on the morning of the 9th, the regiment was engaged with the enemy, and
continued under fire until Lee's final surrender.
On April 6, 1865, at the battle of Harper's Farm, or Sailor's Creek, as the infantry
call it, the "Harris Light" made an important capture of prisoners,
securing Generals Ewell, Custis Lee, and Bushrod Johnson, with 4,200 officers
and men of their commands.
Soon after the close of the war the survivors of the old regiment formed themselves
into an association known as "The Harris Light Cavalry Association," and have held their annual reunions since.
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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
March 15, 2006