|Unit History Project|
By C. T. S. Pierce
On the 26th of July, 1861, the Secretary of War authorized Col. Othniel DeForest, of New York City, to raise a regiment of cavalry. By the last of the following September there had been gathered on Staten Island, New York Harbor, the nucleus of a fine cavalry brigade. From this assemblage of recruits was organized the Fifth New York Cavalry, known as the " First Ira Harris Guard," in honor of Senator Ira Harris of Albany. New York City had contributed liberally of men, though whole companies and parts of companies were raised in Essex, Wyoming, Allegany and Tioga Counties. A Jew men were also obtained from the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey. No bounties were paid to recruits; but a bounty of $100 was promised to be paid by the United States, at the expiration of term of service.
On the 1st of October, 1861, on Staten Island, New York Harbor, the field and staff of the regiment were mustered into the service of the United States for three years by Capt. L. S. Larned of the United States Army. The muster took effect from this date. October 31st, the regiment was inspected for the first time by Lieut. Col. D. B. Sackett, of the United States Army. The last company had now been mustered in, and the command stood with a strength of 1,064 men
In November, 1861, the regiment was ordered to Annapolis, Md. On the 28th, the men pitched their tents about three miles from the city, at " Camp Harris," where they were drilled and instructed by that thorough disciplinarian, Gen. John P. Hatch, also of the United States Army. The last of March, 1861, the regiment broke camp, having been ordered to the Shenandoah Valley to report to Gen. Hatch, commanding cavalry under General Banks. It reported to him at Harrisonburg, on May 3d. The regiment served in Banks' campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, its first skirmish being at Port Republic, on May 2, 1862. From this time on until the close of the war it saw continuous active service. During July, it did picket and scouting duty along the Blue Ridge and in Central Virginia. On August 2d, under General Crawford, it was engaged in a cavalry battle at Orange Court House, Va. In Pope's campaign it participated in the battles of Cedar Mountain, Groveton, Second Bull Run. and Chantilly.
The fall and winter of 1862 and 1863 were spent in Virginia doing outpost under command of Major General Stahel, In June, 1863, General Pleasanton reviewed Stahel's Division, after which the entire force was reorganized, it becoming that famous Third Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, with General Kilpatrick in command. The First Brigade consisted of the First Vermont, First W. Virginia, Eighteenth Pennsylvania, and Fifth New York, Brigadier General Farnsworth commanding. General Custer commanded the Second Brigade, which was composed of Michigan regiments.
The division then started on the Gettysburg campaign, during which the regiment was constantly engaged. General Farnsworth was killed at Gettysburg, and the regiment lost heavily in officers and men at Hanover, Pa., Gettysburg, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, and Boonsborough.
The Fifth Cavalry, commanded by Col. John Hammond, of Crown Point, N. Y., had already signalized itself under its intrepid leader, General (then Major) Hammond, in the sanguinary struggles of the Army of the Potomac, with its desperate foe, the army of General Lee. On the 30th of June, 1863, at Hanover, Pa., fourteen miles from Gettysburg, this regiment was the first to exchange shots and cross sabres on free soil with the daring and desperate invaders who fought under the justly celebrated leader of the Confederacy, Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. That accurate military critic, the Comte de Paris, himself a participant in most of our great battles of the War of the Rebellion, speaks in his work upon our Civil War of this engagement as " the bloody battle of Hanover." The Fifth New York Cavalry, under Colonel Hammond, bore the brunt of the attack, and, after repelling the charge, charged the foe in turn and gloriously drove him from the field. The sad and long list of casualties in killed and wounded attest the desperate character of that conflict. This was the real beginning of the famous battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. Then this command, with the brigade and division to which it was attached, under Kilpatrick and the lamented Farnsworth, hung upon and harassed the enemy in the vicinity of Gettysburg until, in the early morning of July 3d, the regiment took a position on our extreme left, the Fifth supporting Elder's U. S. Battery. Lieutenant Elder was a glorious type of the born soldier, here commanding a battery of the regular army, who only wanted to know " if John Hammond, and his famous New York troopers were with him," to brave the most daring deeds. Here at the base of Big Round Top, just before Pickett made his famous charge, this cavalry went over ground today deemed impassable for horse, gallantly, desperately, charged the enemy's infantry and in a large degree diverted Lee's forces, so that the mad, grand, historic charge of Pickett proved a brilliant but disastrous failure, and " the blood-flecked tidal wave of fratricidal war" here receded and so continued, until it settled into the blessed calm of national peace.
On July 16th, the regiment recrossed the Potomac, at Harper's Ferry. On September 13, 1863, it crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford, and the same day fought at the battle of Culpeper Court House. It participated in all the cavalry fights of that fall, south of the Rappahannock, including Russell's Ford, James City, Brandy Station, Groveton, and Buckland Mills. Many of the regiment re-enlisted during January, 1864, and were mustered in as veterans. A thirty days' furlough was promised them, but not given until General Kilpatrick returned from his raid on Richmond, in March.
On the 22d of April, 1864, the Army of the Potomac was reviewed by Lieutenant General Grant, on the plains near Stevensburg, Va., and General Sheridan was placed in command of the Cavalry Corps. May 4th we crossed the Rapidan at Germanna Ford and opened up the battle of the Wilderness. During this campaign our engagements occurred daily and our losses at Parker's Store, Wilderness, Milford Station, Ashland, and on the Wilson Raid at White Oak Swamp, Stony Creek, and Reams' Station, were very heavy.
On the 5th of August, 1864, we took transports at City Point for Washington,
D. C., and arrived at Geisboro Point on the 7th. After a six days' rest the regiment
was detailed to escort a despatch bearer from Washington to General Sheridan in
the Shenandoah Valley, making a seventy-five mile march in twenty-two hours. The
regiment was made sad, August 3Oth, by the departure of Col. John Hammond, who
had been its commandant from its entrance into active campaigning, first as major
and then as lieutenant colonel. By his gallantry in battle and courteous treatment
of his men he had won the love and respect of all. The regiment was also an active
participant in Sheridan's brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. At the
battle of Cedar Creek, on the 19th of October, 1864, no regiment equaled [sic]
the success of the Fifth New York, as the following receipt will show:
In November of this year the regiment was ordered to act as escort for General
Sheridan, and occupied that position until the following April. The following
is the last order ever issued to the regiment:
In compliance with orders from the commanding general the regiment will leave Stevenson's Station this p. m. at 3 o'clock, en route to New York City for final discharge. Transportation will be furnished for officers' horses to place of muster-out. The regiment will march for the depot at 12 m. Every officer and enlisted man will be in camp to march promptly at that hour. En route home and until final discharge, it is earnestly hoped the regiment will sustain its good name.
After four years of hardship and honor, you return to your State to be mustered
out of service, and to return once more to a peaceful life among your friends
and loved ones. In a few days you will be scattered, and the Fifth New York
Cavalry will be no more. The hardships you have endured, the comforts of which
you have been deprived, the cheerful and proud manner in which you have always
done your duty, and the successes you have met with on the battlefield, have
won the admiration of every general officer under whom you have served. Surpassed
by none, equaled [sic] by few, your record as a regiment is a glorious and honorable
one. May your future lives be as prosperous and as full of honor to yourselves
as the past four years have been to your country, to your State, and to the
Fifth New York Cavalry.
The regiment was mustered out at Hart's Island, New York Harbor, July 19,
1865. Its enrollment and losses were as follows:
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History