Today marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Opequon, or Third Winchester. While the cavalry was primarily involved in the larger fight at its culmination, with the first of the large scale charges that became its hallmark under Sheridan, they still had a busy day.
Rather than try to hastily sketch the battle into a blog post, I have decided to let one of the participants tell the story in his own words. For those desiring more in depth information on the battle, I strongly recommend The Last Battle of Winchester by Scott Patchan. It is the best treatment of the battle that I’ve seen.
The closest commander to the source for my purposes is Reserve Brigade commander Colonel Charles R. Lowell. He served through the Peninsula campaign as a lieutenant and captain in the 6th U.S. Cavalry before he was selected to command a regiment of volunteers, the Second Massachusetts. This was his first major engagement as a brigade commander.
The Reserve Brigade consisted of four regiments of cavalry for this battle. Since Colonel Lowell commanded the brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Casper Crowninshield commanded the 2nd Massachusetts. He was the senior regimental commander. Captain Eugene M. Baker commanded the 1st U.S. Cavalry. The 2nd U.S. Cavalry was commanded by Captain Theophilus F. Rodenbough until he was severely wounded near the end of the day’s fighting, then by Captain Robert S. Smith. Lieutenant Gustavus Urban, the former regimental sergeant major, commanded the 5th U.S. Cavalry. The 6th Pennsylvania, under command of Major Charles L. Leiper, was ordered to the remount camp at Pleasant Valley, Maryland on September 8th and was not present for the battle.
Colonel Lowell’s report for the period encompasses two weeks of maneuver by the brigade, so I have excerpted his words on the battle:
“September 19, marched at 2 a.m.; reached Opequon at Seiver’s Ford before daybreak. The enemy’s picket-line was driven in by Second U.S. Cavalry and Second Massachusetts Cavalry, about forty prisoners being taken, and the opposite bank of the creek occupied in a line of about three miles, the right connecting with the First Brigade. A very gallant charge was made by Second U.S. Cavalry on one of Breckinridge’s batteries, but was repulsed, the infantry supports being well placed behind rails breast high, a simultaneous charge by the First Brigade being also repulsed. Soon after noon the whole line was advanced to the Martinsburg pike; the brigade was necessarily much scattered. Two squadrons of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry joined the charge of the Second Brigade on the enemy’s infantry; the rest of that regiment got mixed up with the skirmish line of Averell’s division. The First, Second, and Fifth U.S. Cavalry advanced toward Winchester, on the left of the pike; charged a battery supported by infantry and cavalry; captured two guns, with their caissons and most of the horses and drivers. What part of these regiments could be rallied assisted in the subsequent charge of the First Brigade upon a brigade of the enemy’s infantry. After dark the brigade was moved through Winchester and camped two miles out on the Valley pike.”
The Reserve Brigade’s total casualties for the battle were 103, including killed, wounded and missing. This was a little more than a third of the First Division’s 288, but the brigade was roughly half the size of Custer’s First Brigade and Devin’s Second Brigade. One of the men of the Reserve Brigade, First Sergeant Conrad Schmidt of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, earned the Medal of Honor during the battle, but that will be detailed in a separate post.
I was not able to identify the members of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry killed during the battle. Regimental casualties included 3 men killed, 3 officers and 8 men wounded, 1 officer and 5 men missing or captured. Those of the three regular regiments are listed below.
1st U.S. Cavalry
First Sergeant Henry Montville, Co. C, KIA
Corporal Jacob McAtlee, Co. G, KIA
Private Ledoux Lewis, Co. I, KIA
Private John Siedler, Co. C, KIA
One officer and 13 men wounded, 6 men missing or captured.
2nd U.S. Cavalry
Captain James F. McQuesten, serving on brigade staff, KIA
Corporal Edward Sheehy, Co. K, KIA
Two officers and 17 men wounded, 1 officer and 7 men missing or captured.
5th U.S. Cavalry
Lieutenant Richard Fitzgerald, Co. I, KIA
Corporal Michael Howard, Co. E, KIA
Private Albert Bigmore, Co. G, KIA
Private Henry Curry, Co. I, KIA
Three officers and 9 men wounded, 12 men missing or captured
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 1st, 2nd and 5th U.S. Cavalry
National Archives, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
National Archives, U.S., Register of Deaths in the Regular Army, 1860-1889
OR, Series I, Volume 43, part 1, page 111. (task organization and commanders)
OR, Series I, Volume 43, part 1, page 117. (casualty totals)
OR, Series I, Volume 43, part 1, page 490. (Lowell’s report)