As the sesquicentennial gets closer, I’ve been looking more in depth at the actions of the troopers of the two regular regiments (1st and 5th US Cavalry) that participated in the cavalry battle at Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863. Unfortunately, Captain Marcus A. Reno’s report was not included in the Official Records, and I’ve been unable to locate a trace of it anywhere. Reno commanded multiple companies of the 1st and 5th US Cavalry in the battle. Neither of the regimental commanders present in the field accompanied the expedition.
It’s unclear why the regulars were included in the expedition, since their parent brigade was not sent, and neither was the entirety of each regiment. Much like their parent unit, the Reserve Brigade, it appears that the expedition’s commander, William W. Averell, intended to use them as a reserve for his volunteer regiments. While active in the fighting, they were entered into the fighting late, and some were primarily responsible for keeping the ford open so the expedition had an exit route.
What I have been able to find are the comments from the monthly regimental returns of both regiments. A roll up of the 1st US Cavalry’s strength and the comments from each of the companies that participated in the battle are listed below. This is the first monthly return from the regulars I have encountered which included commentary from individual companies. It’s interesting to note how few officers were present in the regiment even prior to the beginning of major campaigning in 1863.
Regimental strength: 4 officers, 398 men (excepting Capt Reno, commanding 1st & 5th US Cavalry detachment).
KIA: 1 (Pvt Jacob Deeds, Co. C)
WIA: 4 (Pvt James Graham, Co. A; Pvts Cooper and Payne, Co. K; and Pvt John J. Lee, Co. M)
MIA: 1 (Pvt Robert Mickles, Co. K)
Deserted: 1 (Pvt James Riggs, Co. M).
Horses: 14 killed, 2 missing.
Company A: 1 officer, 76 men present for duty (1st Lt Joseph Hoyer)
Record of events: “Were detailed on picket duty with the Regt March 2d. Returned to camp March 4th . Left camp with the Regt on the morning of the 16th. Encamped 6 miles from Kelly’s Ford, Va. Priv. James Graham slightly wounded, three horses gave out and died.”
Company C: 0 officers, 48 men present for duty
Record of events: “Co left Camp Allen, Va Mar. 16th marched to near Kelly’s ford on the Rappahannock River & encamped. Participated in the engagement of the 17th near Kelly’s Ford, Va. Lost one man & 3 horses killed. Ret’d to Camp Allen, Va.”
Company E: 0 officers, 80 men present for duty
Record of events: “Left this camp on the 16th day of March. Encamped at Morrisville, dist. Marched 25 miles. March’d next day to Kelly’s Ford, on the Rappahannock River. Met the enemy – the engagement lasted until sundown, left the battlefield, encamped at Morrisville. Left camp at daybreak and encamped at Camp Allen, dist. march’d in 3 days 60 miles.”
Company H: 0 officers, 65 men present for duty
Record of events: “Left Camp Allen 16th march & marched up the Rappahannock river & crossed at Kelly’s Ford on the 17th. Engaged with the enemy, returned to Camp on the 18th March ’63.”
Company K: 1 officer, 67 men present for duty (2nd Lt and former Co. K first sergeant John McDonald)
Record of events: “Engaged in action beyond Kelly’s Ford, on the Rappahannock, 20 miles from Camp Allen on March 17, 1863. Pvts. Payne & Cooper, wounded, Pvt. Robt Mickles missing. 1 horse missing and 1 killed.”
Company M: 2 officers, 72 men present for duty (Capt John Feilner, 1st Lt Edward T. Benton)
Record of events: “Left Camp Allen Va. Mar 16 ’63. Engaged with the enemy at Kelly’s ford on 17 Mar/ 63, returned on the 19/ 63. Four horses killed, Pvt John J. Lee slightly wounded, Pvt Jas. Riggs deserted while the enemy were advancing on line – carrying with him Arms, Horse & Equipments.”
Source: NARA, Returns of Regular Army Regiments, 1st U.S. Cavalry, March 1863, images 110-111.
Note: This post also cross-posted on the blog The Battle of Kelly’s Ford.