6th U.S. Cavalry, Charles Russell Lowell, Lawrence Williams, Peninsula Campaign, Samuel Whitside, Slatersville, William P. Sanders
On May 9, 1862, the 6th U.S. Cavalry engaged in its second battle, just days after the skirmish at Williamsburg. No official report of the encounter was ever published, as the regiment was part of the vanguard of the Army of the Potomac and in near constant motion for the next several weeks. Friend Bob O’Neill was kind enough to bring this report to my attention. He found it at the National Archives, and we weren’t aware of its existence when our history of the regiment went to print. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that it has been published. What follows is part of a draft of the report of Major Lawrence Williams, who commanded the regiment during the engagement, dated May 20, 1862.
“…report in relation to an engagement between the 6th Regular Cavalry and that of the Rebels which occurred at Slatersville on the 9th Inst. The advanced Guard of the army arrived at this point about 3 o’clock p.m. During a short halt for the column to be closed up supposing the enemy from the skirmishing that had taken place, to be in force, it was intimated by the General Commanding in a report of Lieut. [Farquahar], his aid, that a detachment of the Rebel Cavalry consisting of 25 or 30 might be cut off, by a detour upon the town. A portion of Capt. Lowell’s Squadron consisting of 55 men and Capt. Sander’s Company of 32 men, were ordered out for this purpose. The force was large in proportion to the work to be performed, but it was so from fear of accident. In fifteen minutes after the head of the column was put in motion, it arrived nearly to the point where its road debouched upon the undulating ground before the hamlet. Here a vidette of the enemy was discovered partially concealed by the woods, which skirted the right of the town. On approaching hearer, he was discovered to be one of a troop of cavalry, wheeled to the right about, on the signal given by him of our advance, supposing this to be the party referred to by Lt. Farquahar, the column was put to the gallop, and on reaching the open was ordered to charge, led by Capt. Lowell; the impetuosity and gallantry of the men and officers to perform this order, was only equaled by the rapidity of the enemy’s retreat. This was on a road which ran between a rail fence and the woods before alluded to, and in the direction of some out houses, although the firing from these buildings on the enemy’s reaching them, was for a moment very rapid, and in volleys, leading to the belief that Infantry was in ambush; and another troop of cavalry suddenly discovered on the right showed that this force was underrated, the gallantry of our men and the speedy retreat of that portion of the enemy already encountered, was reassuring. At this moment, and before Capt. Sanders company had fully emerged from the woods, another squadron of the rebel cavalry heretofore concealed suddenly appeared on the left[. Fearing it would make a junction with the force with which Capt. Lowell was engaged and enable it to rally Capt. Sander’s company was suddenly diverted from the road through a gap in the fence, and ordered to charge it. It was scarcely necessary to give the order; It was as boldly, as gallantly and as successfully as the first, although it was apparent that the force of the enemy was greater than our own, even at this juncture, that conviction became startling on the appearance of still another squadron which rushed forth in full career to the support of that so successfully put to flight. The whole cavalry force now on the field was 87 Federal and about 400 Rebels. So great however was the consternation of the first squadron, charged by Capt. Sanders & Lowell they were incapable of mutual support. Fearing that the handful of men now in hot pursuit of the enemy, would be taken in the rear by the squadron which had so unexpectedly come to his (the enemy’s) support, Capt. Sanders’ company was immediately diverted, wheeled about and gallantly charged the advancing relief.
“The result considering the numbers of that this handful of men had so gallantly engaged was ridiculous. The enemy was thrown in the wildest confusion, and retreated pell mell toward its supports in town.
“Whilst our column was in hot pursuit, Lt. Farquahar reported to me that he had discovered some Rebel Infantry in the woods which menaced a successful return of our little force, the recall was therefore immediately ordered to be sounded and Capt. Sanders’ company was withdrawn, Capt. Lowell in the meantime had pursued his foe through the town, and so far, as to be beyond the reach of the bugle call, but, with a prudence equal to his bravery also withdrew his command, and our troops retired in good order from the field. [The enemy ?? to discover] the paltry number before which he had so disgracefully fled. The officers of the Regiment engaged in this affair were, Capts Sanders and Lowell, Lieut Hutchins, Whiteside and Coats, their coolness combined with the most fearless disregard of life was what won the day. Nothing could exceed the conduct of the men, though most of them had never been under fire before, they were not only fearless, daring and determined in their attack, but as self possessed and as easily handled as veterans upon drill.
“The following is a list of the casualties
Killed: Private Kline Company K, Private Merkel, Irish and Ohara Company E Total 4
Wounded: Cpl Campbell and Morris Company E, Private Ortott, Kennedy, McDowell, Palmer, Neff Company E and Carothers Company K
Missing: Private Ellis, Craig & Finch Company E
Total Killed 4, Wounded 8 Missing 3 Grand Total 15
Rebel loss 1 officer killed 1 wounded, 5 men killed & about 20 wounded.
“The two successive and successful charges of Capt Sanders with his 32 men upon two squadrons of the enemy, was particularly plucky, deserves the highest praise, and contributed greatly to the success of the day.
“It was reported by some of the Negroes in the town that two of our men who were killed, were first taken prisoners and afterwards shot in consequence of not being able to follow when the enemy retreated from the town. Their bodys certainly showed evidence of this, and it is mortifying to report that in one instance the fingers of one man were cut off for the trifling value of his rings. The rebels were well mounted, but their horses were not in very good condition, more of them were armed with double barreled shotguns, loaded with buckshot, besides pistols and sabres.
“Capt Lowell’s clothes showed evidence of many an unsuccessful aim
“Lt. Hutchins received a slight contusion from the falling of his horses
“Lt. Farquahar of the Engineers behaved with great gallantry and coolness
“Lt. Whiteside’s conduct was equally commendable with the rest of the officers”
The officers the report refers to are Captain William P. Sanders, Captain Charles Russell Lowell, Lieutenant Benjamin Hutchins, Lieutenant (former regimental sergeant major) Samuel Whitside, and Second Lieutenant Francis Ulric Farquhar of the engineers, a 1861 graduate of the military academy.
Source: National Archives, RG 391: Records of the US Regular Army Mobile Units, 6th Cavalry, Regimental Letters Sent 1861-1864, Vol 1 of 12, NM-93, Entry 814