Bridgeville Remembered

Company K, the “Bridgeville Company”

By John F. Oyler

When Governor Curtin issued his call for volunteers in the summer of 1861, William Boyce recruited a company of men from the Bridgeville area, including many of his close relatives -- seven Boyces and one Lesnett. He was commissioned a captain and made company commander. The company was known as the “Bridgeville Company” and also as “the National Lancers”.

The ladies of the Bethany Presbyterian church quickly produced a battle flag for them that was presented to the company on the steps of the Middlewarth house before they left for induction at Camp Wilkins in Pittsburgh. The Bethany pastor, Reverend C. G. Braddock, presented the flag to Lieutenant Samuel W. Morgan. It was returned to Captain Boyce’s home when the company received its regulation battle flag. It was presented to the Espy GAR Post in 1911 and is on display at the Espy Room in the Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie.

From there they moved to Camp Jones, near Washington, D. C., where they joined nine other companies, forming the First Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. In addition to Lesnett and the Boyces, other familiar names in the company included Joseph Wright, who would later build the Norwood Hotel, and David Shaffer, one of the managers of the Shaffer fulling mill.

An experienced Regular Army officer, George D. Bayard, was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Higgins and Major Owen Jones were the other regimental officers. “The Bridgeville Company” was designated as Company K. Once the regiment was organized, most of the company commanders were replaced with experienced cavalry officers. Captain Boyce was thanked for his efforts in organizing the company and sent back to civilian life. He was replaced by Captain Joseph Williams. Other company officers were First Lieutenant William A. Kennedy and second Lieutenant Samuel W. Morgan.

According to the regimental history, “The men were, for the most part, from the rural districts, well formed and hardy, good riders, and accustomed to the use and care of horses. Few were dismounted by accident or awkwardness while on drill. Some had belonged to militia, cavalry companies, and a few of both officers and men were experienced soldiers; but most were unaccustomed to arms.” Initially the recruits were armed with sabers and pistols. Each company also was issued ten carbines. Before many months they realized the value of the carbines and issued one to each trooper.

According to the official regimental records the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry was involved in 112 engagements or battles during its formal existence, from August 1861 through August 1864. Included were the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. When it was demobilized in September, 1864, four of its companies were consolidated with veterans of the Sixth and Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry to form the Second Provisional Cavalry. They served with the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, until the end of the war. Included in this group was Private Thomas Boyce, of Company K; he died on October 10, 1864.

The regiment was involved in picket duty in Virginia in late 1861 and early 1862. By now Colonel Bayard had been promoted to Brigadier General. On May 25, 1862, the regiment was ordered to join McClellan’s army near Richmond. Before this was achieved they were ordered back to Fredericksburg to join a force opposing Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. They were involved in heavy fighting at Harrisonburg and Cross Keys, before returning to Manassas.

They had “been engaged thirty days in incessant and fatiguing duty, having in that time marched nearly four hundred miles, and skirmished and fought almost constantly, in the face of a powerful and vigilant foe, led by his most trusted leaders.” After a brief respite they joined the Army of Northern Virginia, now commanded by General John Pope. In August they were involved in several engagements with Jackson, culminating eventually in a major battle at Cedar Mountain.

At a critical point in the battle, “A charge of the cavalry was ordered. The first battalion, under Major Falls, dashed upon the enemy, broke his lines of infantry, and turning, fought its way back. Of the two hundred and sixteen men who charged, only seventy one returned mounted, so severe was the enfilading fire of the enemy's infantry from right to left.”

Along with the rest of Pope’s army they fell back to Manassas, where they participated in the second Battle of Bull Run. Following that defeat they became part of the defensive forces around Washington. On December 11, 1862, they participated in a battle at Falmouth, near Fredericksburg, in which General Bayard was killed during a retreat.

Colonel John P. Taylor took over the regiment, now in winter quarters at Belle Plain Landing. The spring campaign found them back in Falmouth; on June 9, 1863, they were heavily involved in the Battle of Brandy Station. They engaged General Jeb Stuart’s forces in a skirmish “using the cavalrymen's true weapon, the saber.” By now the Rebels were moving north toward Pennsylvania. The regiment encountered Stuart again at Aldie, before going to Gettysburg to join General Meade.

It is interesting to note that this campaign was the one in which Stuart independently separated his forces from the main Confederate army, depriving General Robert E. Lee of his most valuable source of intelligence about the enemy. Military analysts believe that this was a contributing factor to the defeat of the Rebels at Gettysburg.

They arrived at Gettysburg at 9:00 am on July 2, 1863. Their contribution to the Union victory is memorialized by an impressive monument depicting a dismounted cavalryman in action. Inscribed on the monument is “At the opening of the artillery fire on the afternoon of July 3 the Regiment was in line to the left and rear of this position with orders from General Meade to "charge the assaulting column should it succeed in breaking the infantry line in front."

After Gettysburg the regiment participated in a series of battles – Shepherdstown, Warrenton, Carter’s Creek, Muddy Run, and New Hope Church – before going into winter quarters. The spring campaign began on April 21, 1864, with a scouting expedition to Falmouth, followed by a major battle at Spotsylvania Court House. The regiment participated in General Sheridan’s “grand raid on Richmond’, getting within three miles of the Confederate capitol in early May.

At Hawes’ Shop the regiment was under heavy fire before being reinforced by General Custer’s Brigade. Company K’s Private Richard Lesnett was severely wounded at Gaines Mill. He died on a vessel taking him to Washington and a hospital. He is buried in the National cemetery at Arlington.

Another Sheridan raid destroyed the Virginia Central Railroad at Trevillian Station. The rest of the summer was spent near Petersburg, with spirited engagements at Reams Station, Malvern Hill, and Gravel Hill. The regiment was officially removed from service on September 9, 1864.

The regiment lost nine officers and eighty seven enlisted men due to combat wounds and one officer and one hundred and four enlisted men due to disease during the war. Eleven enlisted men from Company K died while on duty; three were captured by the Confederates, and two others were missing in action.

It is exciting to realize that a group of young men from this area were active cavalrymen during the Civil War, crossing sabers with Phil Sheridan, George Custer, Jeb Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson. What stories they could tell!

The Author

  • John Oyler's column,
    "Water Under The Bridge",
    appears weekly in the
    Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication.
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