The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment: Creation and Civil War Service

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The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment: Creation and Civil War Service

Creation of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, also known as “Rush’s Lancers,” was formed in 1861 in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers. The regiment was organized by Colonel Richard H. Rush, a Philadelphia native, and included many recruits from his neighborhood in Germantown. Initially, the regiment was named the Philadelphia Light Cavalry and the 70th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers before being re-designated as the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was unique in its early use of lances, a suggestion made by Major General George B. McClellan. These lances, modeled after those used by Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops, were nine feet long with an eleven-inch, three-sided blade. However, the lances proved ineffective in battle and were eventually replaced with more conventional cavalry weapons like the Sharps carbine rifles in 1863.

Early Service and Deployment

The regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac and quickly saw action in Virginia. It participated in the Peninsula Campaign and the Maryland Campaign, providing valuable reconnaissance, scouting, and skirmishing services. The regiment’s early engagements included the Battle of Hanover Court House, where they captured a company of North Carolina infantry, and the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, where they were routed and driven from the field.

Key Engagements and the Use of Lances

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s most notable early engagements included the Battle of White Oak Swamp, the Battle of South Mountain, and the Battle of Antietam. The regiment also served as the provost guard during the Battle of Fredericksburg, guarding the bridges to the rear of the Center Grand Division.

The use of lances earned the regiment the nickname “Rush’s Lancers.” However, the lances were soon ridiculed as “turkey drivers” and proved impractical in the dense and chaotic conditions of Civil War combat. By May 1863, the regiment had retired its lances in favor of Sharps carbines, significantly improving its combat effectiveness.

Battle of Brandy Station and Gettysburg

One of the most significant moments for the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry came during the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, the largest cavalry engagement of the Civil War. The regiment, now part of the Reserve Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division under Brigadier General John Buford, led a charge against Confederate artillery at St. James Church. Although the charge was repulsed, it was described as one of the most “brilliant and glorious” cavalry charges of the war.

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry also participated in the Battle of Gettysburg. Arriving at night on July 2, 1863, the regiment fought dismounted on July 3, engaging in intense combat and losing 12 men.

Overland Campaign and Shenandoah Valley

In 1864, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was transferred to the Army of the Shenandoah and participated in the Overland Campaign. The regiment saw action in several key battles, including the Battle of Trevilian Station under General Philip Sheridan. The regiment’s original enlistments expired in September 1864, leading to a reorganization for an additional three years of service.

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry continued to fight in the Appomattox Campaign, contributing to the final defeat of Confederate forces. Following the surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865, the regiment was ordered to Washington, D.C., where it was consolidated with the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry and the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry to form the 2nd Pennsylvania Provisional Cavalry. The combined regiment was mustered out on August 7, 1865, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Casualties and Recognition

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry suffered significant casualties during its service. The regiment lost seven officers and 72 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and three officers and 86 enlisted men died of disease, totaling 168 deaths. Additionally, 11 officers and 222 enlisted men were wounded, and six officers and 204 enlisted men were captured or went missing.

One member of the regiment, Captain Frank Furness, received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry during the Battle of Trevilian Station. On June 12, 1864, Furness carried a box of ammunition across an open space under enemy fire to relieve an outpost with depleted ammunition, allowing it to hold its position. This act of bravery earned him the Medal of Honor on October 20, 1899.

Post-Civil War History and Legacy

After the war, the men of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry returned to civilian life. The regiment’s legacy is preserved through monuments and historical records. Two monuments dedicated to the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry were erected at the Gettysburg battlefield. The main monument, featuring four lances, was placed in 1888 by the State of Pennsylvania. Another monument is dedicated to Companies E and I, representing their placement on the left flank of the Union Army during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment’s history is a testament to the bravery and resilience of its members. From their early use of lances to their significant contributions in key battles, the regiment played a vital role in the Union’s efforts during the Civil War. Their legacy continues to be honored and remembered as an integral part of American military history.

For more detailed information, you can visit the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment Wikipedia page.

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