Henry Coddington Meyer.

Civil war experiences under Bayard, Gregg, Kilpatrick online

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1862, 1863, 1864







The Knickerbocker Press

(g. p. PUTNAM'S Sons)
New York





DURING December, 1895, I received a letter
from General Walter C. Newberry, of
Chicago, who during the Civil War commanded
the 24th New York Cavalry. In this the General
wrote :

" My Dear Major Meyer :

" You will remember how urgent the boys were
last summer for a history of the Regiment to
be prepared. I resolved then to gratify them
and am engaged on it now. I want you to aid
me to the extent of giving me a detailed account
of yourself — nativity, date of birth, former ser-
vice, engagements that you were in that led up
to your promotion, your service with us, your
wounding and incidents accompanying it, your
period of treatment in the Hospital, your civil
record since, and be kind enough not to be at
all modest in setting it all forth. I shall not
use your language, neither shall I give you
credit for the biography, and you may drop all
modesty with me and give it to me in full. You
may have kept something of a diary or there
may be some old letters that you have written
which will give me some record by dates of the
Regiment's service. I want it all."

In 1896 I complied with this request to the
extent of giving a brief account of my service



in the Army. Since then, members of my
family and a few personal friends have asked
me to incorporate in this account incidents that
I recalled, some of which they had heard me
relate, asserting that they would be of interest
to my grandchildren.

The following story is my attempt to accede
to these requests. I am naturally proud of hav-
ing had the privilege of serving under the Gen-
erals I have mentioned, and the story recited
in the following pages is in accordance with my
recollection of events that occurred over forty-
five years ago.

Henry C. Meyer.
New York, May, 1911.


Chapter T 1

Enlistment; Journey to Regiment; First Picket
Duty; Raid to Fredericks Hall.

Chapter II . . . . . . . .8

Night after Battle of Cedar Mountain; Death of
Captain Walters at Rapidan; Retreat from
Rapidan; Battle at Brandy Station.

Chapter III 13

Second Battle at Bull Run; Destruction of Sey-
mour's Squadron; Death of Compton; A
Wounded Soldier's Heroism; Fitz-John Porter's
Message to Kilpatrick; Longstreet's Assault
on Left of Pope's Army; To Alexandria to

Chapter IV 20

Refitting at Ball's Cross Roads; Skirmishing
around Centerville; Advance after Antietam;
Soldier's Opinion on McClellan's being Super-
seded; Battle of Fredericksburg; Death of

Chapter V 23

Detailed at General Gregg's Headquarters; The
Stoneman Raid.

Chapter VI 27

Gettysburg Campaign; Battle at Brandy Sta-
tion; Wounded at Stuart's Headquarters.



Chapter VII 33

Battles at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville.

Chapter VIII 42

Crossing the Potomac; Scenes in Frederick and
Liberty; Girls' Boarding School at New Wind-
sor; March to Gettysburg.

Chapter IX 47

Second and Third Days of Battle at Gettysburg;
Gregg's Cavalry Engagement on the Right;
Repulse of Stuart.

Chapter X 54

Day Following the Battle at Gettysburg; Com-
pelling Citizens to Assist in Burying the Dead;
Scenes in Gettysburg; Nick Finding John
Burns; Following up Lee's Army; Wounded
Confederates Left Behind.

Chapter XI 58

Return to Virginia; Crossing at Harper's Ferry;
Battle at Shepherdstown; Confederate Prisoner
Reporting the Condition of a Cousin in Con-
federate Army; Advance from Sulphur Springs
to the Rapidan.

Chapter XII 62

Transferred to General Kilpatrick's Head-
quarters; Battle on Retreat from Cul-
peper; Battle at Buckland's Mills; Granted
a Furlough; Recommended for a Commission;
Appointed a Second Lieutenant; Leaving Gen-
eral Kilpatrick.

Chapter XIII 71

Joined 24th New York Cavalry at Auburn,


N. Y.; Trip to Washington; At Camp Stone-
man; March to Join Army of the Potomac;
Experience at Battle of the Wilderness; First
Sight of General Grant.

Chapter XIV 78

At Spottsylvania ; Finding Confederate Dead in
Breastworks; Selected to Guide a Division to
a Position for Night Assault; Sent to Wash-
ington for Ammunition.

Chapter XV 86

Experience at North Anna and Cold Harbor;
General Grant and Confederate Prisoner;
Crossing the James; Assault on Works at
Petersburg; Wounded; At Field Hospital;
Journey to City Point and Seminary Hospital
at Georgetown, D. C; Removal to Dobbs
Ferry; Convalescence.

Chapter XVI 96

General D. McM. Gregg, General Kilpatrick,
Colonel Henry C. Weir, General Walter C.
Newberry, Colonel William C. Raulston, Gen-
eral L. G. Estes, General E. W. Whitaker,
Captain Theodore F. Northrop.

Appendix A 103

Appendix B 109


Henry C. Meyer .
Corporal Henry E. Johns .
General Judson Kilpatrick
Colonel Henry C. Weir .
General D. McM. Gregg .
General George A. Custer
General E. W. Whitaker .
Captain Theodore F. Northrop
General L. G. Estes .
Colonel W. C. Raulston .
General Walter C. Newberry .



Civil War Experiences


/^N the day Fort Sumter surrendered I was
^^ seventeen years old, having been born April
14, 1844. Like other boys, I proposed enlisting,
but my father refused consent; and at that time
youths under eighteen years would not be ac-
cepted without the consent of parents. In July
of the following year, when the news of McClel-
lan's retreat on the Peninsula was published, I
was satisfied that the Government would need
more men, and having carefully considered the
matter, and being then eighteen years of age,
T decided to go without my father's consent.
Seeing a newspaper item to the effect that Cap-
tain Mallory, of the Harris Light Cavalry, had
arrived in New York, and proposed to enlist
some men for that regiment, I called upon him
at the Metropolitan Hotel and made known my
desire. He informed me that his recruiting
of&ce was not then arranged, though he had
engaged a room a little farther up Broadway,
and his sergeant was preparing to open it. He



seemed reluctant to take me, and talked to me
as though I were too young to go, and as if
I did not realize what I was about to under-
take. I assured him that I had considered the
matter well, and that I was physically strong;
and that if he would not accept me I would
try to enlist in Duryea's Zouaves, who were, at
that time, enlisting men. He then told me to
go up and see his sergeant and that he would
come up later. I found the room, but the ser-
geant, however, had not yet unpacked the papers.
On getting them opened he said he was unable
to make them out, whereupon I asked him to
let me examine them, and proceeded to make
out my own enlistment papers, the sergeant
watching me. While I was thus engaged, a man
with his arm off came in. He had just that day
been discharged from the hospital, and inquired
what steps he should take to get a pension, hav-
ing been attracted by the flag hanging out of
the of&ce window. I noticed the sergeant was
particularly anxious to get him out of the room,
evidently not considering him a desirable ac-
quisition to facilitate recruiting. I explained
to the man what he should do. The sergeant,
when he saw me make out my enlistment papers,
remarked, ^^ They won't keep you long in the
ranks, because they can get better work for you
to do," or words to that effect. I did not then
comprehend what he meant, but my subsequent
experience explained it. I was then sent to the


examining physician, examined, passed, and
sworn in for three years' service.

That niglit I went to my home, at Dobb's
Ferry, on the Hudson River, and reported what
I had done, intending to leave for Washington
the next morning, when I was promised trans-
portation. This interview with my parents was
quite unpleasant, as my father was very angry
and my mother in great distress. At that time
both my father and his friends regarded my
action as worse than foolish and almost as bad
as though I had done something disreputable.
Indeed, as I was afterwards informed, one gen-
tleman, remarked, "Well, that is too bad; that
boy has gone to the devil, too."

The following morning I bade my parents
good-bye, feeling that if I were wounded or
cripx^led I should not care to return home for
them to take care of me. Subsequent letters
from home, however, removed that feeling. The
following night, having received transportation,
I sailed as the only passenger on a freight trans-
port from a pier near the Battery to South
Amboy. I well remember my feelings as I
watched New York receding in the distance,
there being no excitement or hand-shaking or
waving of flags such as accompanied the de-
parture of the first troops that left New York
for thirty days' service the year before. From
Amboy I went on a coal train to Philadelphia.

On landing at Walnut Street wharf I went


into the soldiers' refreshment room, maintained
by the citizens of Philadelphia, which was open
night and day, and at which all soldiers passing-
through the city were fed free of charge. It
was about two o'clock in the morning, very hot,
and I was tired and depressed. Hence, when
invited to j)artake of some refreshments, I was
unable to do so but contented myself with eating
a few pickles.

I then Avalked across the city to the Baltimore
depot, which was then at the corner of Broad
and Pine Streets, and took a passenger train for
Baltimore, which I reached about seven o'clock
in the morning, sitting up, as there were no
sleeping-cars in those days. On arriving in Bal-
timore I walked to another part of the city to
take the train for Washington. Meanwhile I
wanted some breakfast. Going into a place
which I supposed was a restaurant, I found that
the only thing they could offer me was ice-cream.
I thereupon ate some, and soon after took the
train for Washington. In a few moments the
Philadelphia pickles, the hot night, and the Bal-
timore ice-cream i3roduced most severe cramps,
and I was in a very distressed state of mind,
fearing that I would never be able to reach the
front, but would have to submit to the mortifi-
cation of being returned home.

Arriving in Washington, I went to Willard's
Hotel, and, after a good sleep, was able to take
my dinner that evening. I had on citizen's


clothes and Avas not recognized as a private
soldier in the United States Army, so the head-
waiter assigned me to a seat at a table where
General Halleck, the Commander-in-Chief of the
Army, sat opposite.

That evening, my uncle, E. V. Price, who was
in Washington, met me at the hotel and took
me to General Pope's room. The latter had just
arrived in Washington to take command of the
Army of the Potomac. My uncle procured a
pass from him to enable me to go through the
lines and join my regiment, the Second New
York Cavalry (Harris Light). It was stationed
at Falmouth, Virginia. J. Mansfield Davies was
the colonel at that time, and Judson Kilpatrick
the lieutenant-colonel. My uncle, who knew
Colonel Davies, introduced me to him that even-
ing at the hotel. The following morning I ac-
companied him on the boat to Aquia Creek and
reached the regiment on the evening of that day.

In two or three days I received my uniform
and a horse was given to me. The fact that I
had been seen coming into camp with the Colonel
led some of the non-commissioned officers and
men of my company to assume that I did not
intend to serve in the ranks, but would likely
be commissioned shortly and probably be jumped
over them, who had already been out some time,
though they had not been in any battle, their
previous service being confined to drilling and
a skirmish or two. This made it very unpleas-


ant for me, and for a short time I was subjected
to some little annoyance.

As I wore to the front the best suit of citi-
zen's clothes I had, a man in our company by
the name of Rufus West proposed to buy them
and agreed to pay me eleven dollars for them.
That night he deserted and joined Mosby's com-
mand, having made the remark before leaving
that he did not " projDOse to fight to free niggers."
He owes me the eleven dollars yet.

In a day or tAvo I was assigned to picket duty
with a man of my company, on the Rappahan-
nock River, with instructions to keep a sharp
lookout, as they said a female spy was expected
to cross at that point. My comrade was Henry
E. Johns, who enlisted from Hartford, Con-
necticut. He appeared to take pity on me, and
that evening we discussed our families and our
affairs ; and at that time a warm attachment was
formed, which lasted throughout the war, and
since. As we were to remain on guard all night,
he suggested that we should take turns, each
being on watch, two hours on, and two hours
off. Before morning I found it extremely diffi-
cult to keep my eyes open, and several times
walked to the river and washed my face in order
to do so. Just before daylight it was my turn
to go to sleep ; when I awoke and looked around,
I found no one on watch. Looking beside me I
found my comrade, also asleep. The place at
which we were posted was inaccessible in the


night from oiir lines, because it was at the foot
of a deep ravine. I don't imagine any female
spy crossed at that i^oint. If we had been
caught asleep, however, it would have been an
embarrassing position for both of us to have been
placed in.

A few days later the Harris Light Cavalry
made a raid in tlie neighborhood of Fredericks
Hall, Virginia, in which movement the command
marched some ninety miles in thirty hours. This
was hard on the men, and many of them were
confined to their tents on their return to camp,
from saddle boils and lameness, for a day or
two. I found it difficult to keep awake on the
march and picket, yet I was able to do duty
without interruption.

On this raid the regiment destroyed consider-
able prox>erty, and many of the men carried
away all sorts of things for which they had
no use. Indeed, I heard Colonel Kilpatrick
laughingly remark that one fellow, in his zeal
to have something, actually had a grindstone on
his saddle in front of him. After carrying it
about a mile he concluded, however, that he had
no further use for it, and dropped it in the road.


A FEW days afterwards tlie regiment marched
through Culpeper and reached the battle-
field of Cedar Mountain late on the day on which
that engagement was fought. We approached
the battlefield through what w^ould be called the
rear, where we first saw the horrible sights
accompanying a battle, which are always dead
horses, broken caissons, bodies lying on the
ground, and the wounded. On the front line
these sights are not so prominent.

The regiment was pushed to the front and
placed on picket duty, I being posted on the
edge of a piece of woods overlooking a valley,'
on the opposite side of which was Slaughter
Mountain, where Stonewall Jackson's army was
supposed to be.

While at my post on picket that night, an
incident occurred w^hich made a deep impression
upon me, doubtless due to the time and place
and the incidents of the preceding two weeks.
Before leaving home, I had promised my mother
that I would read at least one verse in my
Testament each day. Not having done so that
day was due to the fact that we had been march-
ing and to the excitement attending the reaching



of the battlefield and being put in position. I
then took out my pocket Testament and went to
a picket fire near where I was, leaning over to
read a verse or two by its light, when I heard
a rustle in the bushes. Immediately I grasped
my weapons and was on the alert, when a colored
man crawled through the bushes and said to
me, '^ What 's that you got there, a Testament? "
On admitting it, he said, " Do you know the
chapter General Washington always used to read
before he went into a fight? '' I told him I did
not, whereupon he said, " You turn to the Ninety-
first Psalm." '^ Now," he said, " you read it."
I then read aloud :

" Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare
of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence.

" He shall cover thee with His feathers and
under His wings shalt thou trust; His truth
shall be thy shield and buckler.

" Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by
night nor for the arrow that flieth by day.

'' Nor for the pestilence that walketh in dark-
ness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at
noon day.

" A thousand shall fall at thy side and ten
thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not
come nigh thee."

At the reading of each of these verses he ex-
claimed, " You see, he did n't get hit." The con-
traband evidently was perfectly sincere in the
belief that if I read this verse before a battle


I would never get hurt. He then went away.
This incident, coupled with the facts that I had
only been about ten days away from home, that
I had seen the horrible sights of the battlefield
the previous afternoon, that I could see the
enemy's camp-fires across the valley, and that
I was wondering what fate was in store for me
the following day, — all tended to impress this
incident upon my mind.

The next morning the regiment advanced to
the Rapidan River, presumably with the object
of searching for the flank of Jackson's army.
Just above the ford, which I think was Robert-
son's, was the residence of the Confederate Gen-
eral Taliaferro. Our picket line was between
the house and the river. Captain Walters of
my regiment had arranged Avith Mrs. Taliaferro
to have breakfast at her house. She and her
niece were engaged in a good-natured altercation
with some of the men of my company, she re-
peatedly remarking, " I want you men to under-
stand that I am the granddaughter of Chief-
Justice Marshall of the United States." When
she had said this several times an Irishman of
my company remarked, " And who the divil is
he anyhow? " The disgust on her face may well
be imagined. I had been polite in my remarks
to her when she turned upon me and asked,
"Aren't 3^ou from New Orleans?" I told her,
"No," that I was from New York, when she shook
her head sadly and said, "Well, I 'm surprised


that apparently such a nice young man as you
should be engaged in such a wicked cause as
this/' The laughter of my comrades which
greeted this remark was followed by their teas-
ing me the rest of the cami^aign, calling me,
" The nice young man and the wicked cause."

About this time the pickets began firing, when
Captain AYalters remarked, '^ I will go doAvn and
see Avhat the matter is." He mounted his horse,
started down the hill toward the ford, and in
a moment or two was brought back dead, their
sharpshooters having sliot him through the heart
immediately after he left the house. This Avas
the first time I had heard bullets whistle.

That night Stonewall Jackson's moA^ement to
the flank and rear of Pope's army resulted in
the recall of the caA^alry and a night march
through Culpeper to Brandy Station. We bi-
A^ouacked for the night, but did not unsaddle.
About daybreak we AAere attacked. Although
I heard bullets whistle at the Rapidan RiA^er,
where Captain Walters AA^as killed, this was tlie
first real engagement 1 was in. In the early part
of it we AAere supporting the skirmish line.
Later in the day the battalion in which my com-
pany AAas made a charge, led by Major Henry
E. DaAies, in AA^hich a number were killed and
.wounded, and some confusion ensued by reason
of a railroad cut, into which the command rode,
its existence not being knoAvn when the charge
was ordered. Prior to this, in the retreating


movements of that morning, my horse, which
had become blind from the hard marching of
the night before, fell in a ditch with me. He
struggled out, and I was able to remount him,
though we were quite hard pressed by the
advancing enemy.

The Harris Light Cavalry was one of the regi-
ments of General George D. Bayard's brigade,
which for sixteen successive days was under fire
and engaged in most arduous service in covering
the retreat of Pope's army and watching the
fords on the Rappahannock River to detect the
crossing of General Lee's troops. This con-
tinuous service terminated with the second
battle of Bull Run, where Lieutenant Compton,
the only remaining officer with my company, was
killed. This occurred the evening before the last
day of the battle.


THERE had been some very severe fighting
on the ]3art of King's division. We ap-
proached the field from Manassas Junction,
arriving about nine o'clock. As we were riding
through this division, the men called out, " What
regiment is that? " When we told them they
arose and cheered us, for we had been with
them on a former occasion. Then, as we were
approaching the Centerville pike, Kilpatrick
rode down the column calling out, " General
MacDowell wants the Harris Light to take a
battery." " Draw sabres.'' We drew sabres, put
our cap bands under our chins, and turned into
the pike, then to the left, moving a short dis-
tance, and then into a field, also on the left,
forming in column of squadrons. It was then
too dark to see any distance ahead. My position
was within one or two of the flank of my
company, where I heard Kilpatrick order my
squadron to go out into the road to charge this
battery, which we could not see. As we were not
the last squadron in the column, which happened
to be Captain Seymour's, he said, " Never mind,
take the last one," which was fortunate for us.
In a moment or two we heard the clatter of



the horses' hoofs on the pike, and then saw a
sheet of fire from the enemy's lines some distance
ahead, which I understood was on the edge of
a piece of woods. This fire was also doing dam-
age to our columns exposed to it, when the order
was given for us to " wheel and retire," where
we could get under cover.

From this unfortunate charge only eleven men
came back that night. It was said that they
were subjected to not only the fire of the enemy
but also from our infantry on the right of the
road, who, hearing the clatter of the horses'
hoofs, and unable to see what caused it, assumed
it to be a charge of the enemy's cavalry, when
they also opened fire. It was felt at the time
that the ordering of this charge was a blunder,
and yet it was one of the many blunders from
which our volunteer army constantly suffered
in the early years of the war. Kilpatrick was
severely criticised in the regiment for it that
night and the next day; little, however, was
ever said about it in the reports. Whether Kil-
patrick acted under superior orders or on his
own initiative, I never learned.

A few minutes after the regiment had retired
a short distance. Sergeant Griswold came up
and reported to Kilpatrick in my hearing that
the enemy were advancing their lines, that our
wounded were being captured, and that Lieu-
tenant Compton of my company had been killed,
and he showed where a bullet had passed through


the collar of his coat as he wheeled when asked
to surrender. Kilpatrick called for somebody to
go with him as an orderly, as he wanted to find
General Bayard and General McDowell. This
I did, holding his horse while he was in con-
ference witli these generals that night.

The next morning we recovered the body of
Lieutenant Compton, of whom we were very
fond, and we succeeded in making a coffin out
of three cracker-boxes from which we took out
the ends; wrapping him in a blanket we buried
him in this cracker-box coffin at the corner of
the old stone house on the Centerville Pike.
His friends subsequently recovered his remains.
We all felt rather blue over the loss of comrades
in the affair of the night before, which had
seemed to us so needless.

Among the pathetic incidents of that morning
was one which indicated the unselfish heroism
of a young soldier. Early in the day some of
our men were looking over tlio battlefield of the

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