The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment: A Short History

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Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General Charles Lewis Leiper. He first served during the Civil War as a Private in the 1st Philadelphia City Troop, Pennsylvania Militia, seeing duty during the July 1861 First Bull Run Campaign. He was then commissioned as an officer in the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry ("Rush's Lancers"), rising to Colonel and commander of the unit. He was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers on March 13, 1865 for "meritorious services during the war". - I enhanced this image from one I found on the Internet. This enhanced image links to the original.

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment: An Original History

Formation and Unique Armament

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, also known as “Rush’s Lancers,” was formed in 1861 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under the command of Colonel Richard H. Rush. Originally named the Philadelphia Light Cavalry, the unit was unique due to its initial armament with nine-foot lances, modeled after Napoleonic-era weaponry. This choice, suggested by Major General George B. McClellan, was intended to create a highly mobile and intimidating force, but the lances proved impractical in the dense forests and varied terrain of the American Civil War.

Early Service and Reorganization

The regiment’s early service included participation in the Peninsula Campaign and the Maryland Campaign. They saw action at Hanover Court House, capturing Confederate soldiers, and played roles in the battles of Gaines’ Mill, White Oak Swamp, South Mountain, and Antietam. During this period, the regiment often served as scouts and couriers due to their mobility. However, the lances were not effective in close combat, leading to their replacement with Sharps carbines in 1863.

Battle of Brandy Station and Gettysburg

The regiment is perhaps best known for its daring charge at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, under Brigadier General John Buford. They led a bold but ultimately repelled assault on Confederate artillery at St. James Church, a moment that highlighted both their bravery and the limitations of cavalry charges in modern warfare. This battle is often cited as a turning point in the effectiveness and reputation of the Union cavalry.

Following Brandy Station, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry fought dismounted at the Battle of Gettysburg. They arrived on the evening of July 2, 1863, and engaged Confederate forces the following day, suffering casualties but contributing to the Union’s defensive efforts.

Later Campaigns and Reenlistment

In 1864, the regiment was transferred to the Army of the Shenandoah and took part in the Overland Campaign and the Battle of Trevilian Station. Under General Philip Sheridan, they engaged in numerous skirmishes and battles, playing a crucial role in disrupting Confederate supply lines and communications.

As the war progressed, the original enlistments of the regiment expired. Many soldiers chose to reenlist, leading to the reorganization of the unit for an additional three years of service. They participated in the Appomattox Campaign, which culminated in the surrender of General Robert E. Lee.

Disbandment and Legacy

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was mustered out of service on August 7, 1865. After the war, they were consolidated with the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry and the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry to form the 2nd Pennsylvania Provisional Cavalry.

The regiment’s legacy includes its notable service in numerous key battles and campaigns of the Civil War. Their bravery and adaptability, from the initial use of lances to the transition to carbines, exemplify the evolving tactics and strategies of the Union cavalry.

Memorials and Honors

Two monuments at the Gettysburg battlefield honor the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. The primary monument, erected in 1888 by the State of Pennsylvania, features a granite structure with four lances, commemorating the regiment’s unique armament and service. Another monument, dedicated to companies E and I, marks their position on the Union Army’s left flank at Emmitsburg Pike.

Captain Frank Furness, commander of Company F, received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Trevilian Station. His actions in carrying ammunition across open ground under fire to support an outpost exemplify the courage and dedication of the regiment’s soldiers.

Final Thoughts

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment’s history is a testament to the innovation, bravery, and resilience of its members. From their unique beginnings as “Rush’s Lancers” to their critical roles in key battles, the regiment’s contributions were significant in shaping the course of the Civil War. Their legacy is preserved through memorials and honors, ensuring that their service and sacrifices are remembered.

For more detailed information about the regiment’s history, you can visit the Wikipedia page on the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment.

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