4th U.S. Cavalry, Army of the Cumberland, Civil War, Elmer Otis, Murfreesboro, Stones River, William Rosecrans
(Originally printed in the Lancaster Daily Evening Express, January 28, 1863)
The Story of a Cavalry Soldier
The Fourth Regular Cavalry at Murfreesboro – Feeling the Position of the Enemy – A Brilliant Charge – A Brigade of Rebel Cavalry Routed – A Personal Adventure – A Hazardous Reconnaissance, &c, &c
Correspondence of the Express…
Murfreesboro, Jan. 14, 1863.
Proud of the deeds of the regiment to which I belong – deeds that I will ever make memorable the battle of Murfreesboro, and that have added new luster to the name of “the Fourth Regular Cavalry,” I undertake, as best I can, to describe the battle of Murfreesboro, at least as far as the 4th Cavalry were concerned.
The vast army under Gen. Rosecrans started from Headquarters on the 20th ult. Our regiment marched twelve miles and encamped at six o’clock the same evening. We remained here over the 27th, while the advance kept skirmishing with the advance guard of the rebel army. On the 28th, we moved three miles further. On the 29th our heart was made glad by the familiar faces of many old friends in the Seventy-ninth P.V. After a chat of an hour we moved six miles.
On the 30th we left our teams and started on an old-fashioned jump, making six miles more in a very short time, and were soon in the front, in the presence of our commander, General Rosecrans. The hero of hard-fought battles was gazing ardently upon the surrounding scenery, and with anxious thought contemplating the chances, and so distributing his grand army to secure a glorious victory. A shell exploded on the brow of the hill, killing a member of Company K. After remaining with the general awaiting orders, he sent Companies G and I down the road to find out the position of the enemy. Off we galloped, and the first thing we knew we were right on top of them; wheeling around, we reported and were ordered to ascertain the position on the left, and also to select positions for our batteries. We returned at dark, and the occasional flash of musketry; and the rolling thunder of artillery, indicated a fierce struggle on the extreme right. On the following morning we were ordered to the front, and to us was assigned the honor and weighty task of rallying the broken ranks of Gen. Johnson’s command, which were returning in great disorder. Having checked them somewhat, we entered the woods, where we found many stragglers, who on our approach endeavored to escape. Some took courage, and the remnants of two regiments were rallied by their Colonels.
It was at this juncture that our artillery, or a good part of it, was taken. While dashing through the woods an officer reported to our Colonel the presence of the rebel cavalry in our rear, and had taken one of our hospitals and three hundred prisoners. Quickly moving round by the right in a half circle we neared an open field on the opposite side of which we beheld a brigade of Rebel Cavalry. We dared not stop to count numbers. We must fight. Our Commander gave the word, “Front, into line, charge!” And such a charge! I have been in several before upon the Indians, but the splendor of this eclipsed them all. Our column, small in number, consisting of but a few companies, closed up, and in good order we advanced. When we neared them they broke. On we came, yelling like so many savages, and scattering them like chaff. Two-thirds of our men were fresh recruits, but nobly and well did they march with the regulars. We recaptured three hundred of Johnson’s men, and brought back with us one hundred and seventy Texas Rangers and Ashby’s Cavalry. Owing to the sudden belching forth of a masked battery, they were enabled to retake their wounded. The rally was sounded, and we formed for another charge, but just then an order came for our Commander, Otis, to move his cavalry on the Murfreesboro pike, the rebels having taken the train in the rear. The Volunteer Cavalry were left in charge of the place of our first encounter, and were compelled to retire. Thus the rebels retook some of their own men and a few of ours.
The brave Captain Long was shot in the arm, but brought up his prisoners. When we came on the pike we found five hundred wagons, one battery and any amount of men, in the hands of the rebels. But when they saw the colors and guidons of the 4th flying they broke, finding temporary shelter in the woods, and leaving all again in our possession. From this time until Sunday morning we were kept watching the rebel cavalry, our horses being under saddle ninety-six hours.
While at the hospital, several rebels endeavored to give us the slip, and your humble servant was under the necessity of putting after three. The first one overtaken proved to be a recaptured Union soldier; the next quietly submitted, but the third was about aiming his revolver and placing me in a dangerous position, which compelled me to do likewise, and, putting my pistol close to his head, I snapped it. I then expected to have my light put out, but the fellow dodged, and when he raised in his saddle found me on the other side with my pistol again at close quarters, and he wisely concluded to give up his pistol and return with me. Pardon this digression, but it shows into what close quarters soldiers are sometimes brought. My rebel acquaintances thought the regulars were thoroughly experienced, and related to me several interesting incidents illustrating the fact.
While we were watching the rebels, the Colonel ordered Sergeants Murphy and Harner to take Company G and get between the rebel pickets, so that they could not see us, and find out their position by their camp-fires. At midnight we mounted the company, while the rain was pouring down on us. Having successfully entered their lines, we were enabled to have a fine view of their camp, although under dangerous circumstances. The little expedition, after two hours’ absence, returned and were reported with honor to Gen. Rosecrans.
On Monday we drove the rebel rear guard two miles, and the fighting was severe. They had two pieces of artillery in the woods, and our skirmishers were dismounted, but kept up a brisk fire until we supported them. Several casualties occurred during this time in our company. Between a raking fire of artillery we had to stand until again supported by a battery, and a regiment of infantry, who, forming in line of battle behind our skirmishers, thrashed the rebels finely. The rebels ceased firing, and we were waiting for something to do, when who should come up but Robert Huay, with his gun upon his shoulder, having before done good service and ready to do more. We are now brigaded for the first time, and our old and faithful Captain is acting Brigadier, and will soon we hope be one.
I have this endeavored to give an account of the doings of the 4th Cavalry, which even to-day, as it passes the line, elicits rousing cheers from the whole army of the Cumberland.
Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to determine the author of this article. More than likely, of course, he was from Lancaster, but he certainly was not the only member of the regiment born there. I was unable to determine anything about Robert Huay either, but I did discover some information on the two sergeants of Company G mentioned in the article.
Martin Murphy was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1832. He was working as a porter in New York City when he was enlisted into Company G, 1st U.S. Cavalry on December 22, 1856 by Captain Gordon Granger. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’9” tall, with gray eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. He was promoted to sergeant during his first enlistment, and was re-enlisted by Lieutenant Warner at Fort Wise, Colorado Territory on November 1, 1861. Sergeant Murphy was killed in action near Ringgold, GA on September 16, 1863 while still serving as a sergeant in Company G, 4th Cavalry.
John Harner was born in Lancaster, PA in 1835. He was working as a carpenter in Rock Island, Illinois prior to his enlistment. Lieutenant Elmer Otis enlisted him into Company G, 1st U.S. Cavalry on November 29, 1856. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’5” tall, with blue eyes, sandy har and a ruddy complexion. He was promoted to corporal during his first enlistment, and to sergeant sometime before December 1862. He was also re-enlisted by Lieutenant Warner at Fort Wise, but five days after Sergeant Murphy, on November 6, 1861. He also fell afoul of bad luck, as he was serving as a paroled prisoner of war at Camp Parole, Annapolis, Maryland when his enlistment expired on April 3, 1865.
The 1st U.S. Cavalry was re-designated as the 4th U.S. Cavalry in August 1861. The officer alternately referred to as the Colonel or Commander was actually Captain Elmer Otis, who commanded the regiment during the battle. As the author describes, the cavalry of the Army of the Cumberland, under former 4th Cavalry officer Brigadier General David S. Stanley, was reorganized in late 1862 and early 1863. The 4th U.S. Cavalry was ultimately assigned to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Colonel Robert H.G. Minty.