1st West Virginia Cavalry
Dr. Henry Capehart is by birth and education a Pennsylvanian, born in the county of Cambria, March 18, 1825. He located as a physician in Bridgeport, Ohio, in September, 1849, from whence he entered the military service, and was commissioned surgeon of the First West Virginia Cavalry, September 10,1861. He was a fine horseman, and an ardent admirer of the noble animal.
The regiment was recruited from the western counties of Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and western Virginia, at a time when the Government was not organizing cavalry regiments. It was composed of superior material, mostly young men from the farms, experienced horsemen and marksmen, who could break and tame the wildest colt, or pierce the head of a squirrel in the top of the tallest hickory with a rife bullet. When the regiment entered the field mounted and equipped, with its complement of field, staff and line officers, and led by Prof. Carl Colby’s famous silver cornet band, all mounted on milk-white horses, the regiment well caparisoned, with jingling and flapping trappings, the riders all young and handsome, it was a beautiful and inspiring an organization as ever graced the armies of the United States. This the citizens of Clarksburg, Cumberland, Martinsburg and Winchester will no doubt cordially admit, though the uniforms may not have been their favorite color.
Its first active service was in the mountains of West Virginia, by detachments, scouting and doing picket and outpost duty to the various infantry commands holding the mountain passes and guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. These duties in the wild, mountainous region, infested with Confederate scouts, guerrillas and bushwhackers, soon developed in the officers and men that individuality, courage and daring which distinguished them throughout the period of their service.
In the spring of 1862, it was brigaded with other cavalry regiments, under the command of General Hatch, and participated in the operations in the valley of the Shenandoah and its neighborhood under General Shields, Banks, McDowell, Schenck and Fremont, though some of the companies were separated. Capt. C.C. Krepps, with a company of the regiment, put the enemy’s cavalry, panic stricken, to flight, and gained possession of the bridge at Port Republic, and but for orders to the contrary, would have destroyed it, thereby cutting off the retreat of Stonewall Jackson. In the darkness of night preceding the battle of Cedar Mountain, Captains Steele and C.C. Krepps, with two companies, rode through General Jackson’s camps, creating great apprehension and confusion, at the same time capturing a number of prisoners. As our army was retreating from second Bull Run, the regiment met the then famous Black Horse Cavalry in a hand-to-hand charge, and damaged it so badly that it was never again heard of under that name. This marked the regiment for outpost duty in the defenses of Washington, and Fairfax Court House, Centerville and Chantilly, with frequent reconnoissances to Warrenton, Salem, Aldie, and Upperville. The brilliant Colonel Mosby, while at Warrenton Junction, his favorite stamping ground, once fell upon the regiment (in a surprise) when the men were preparing their mid-day meal and grazing their horses, but, springing to arms, fighting at a disadvantage, on foot and utterly unprepared, repulsed and drove Mosby’s command, capturing some thirty prisoners, including the celebrated Lieutenant Dick Moran, mortally wounded, when we followed him (Mosby) in a horse race for several miles.
In the spring of 1863 the regiment received its Spencer rifles, which added materially to its efficiency in its subsequent fights under the reckless and dashing Kilpatrick. It bore the leading part in repelling a charge of General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry in the streets of Hanover, Pennsylvania, taking Colonel Payne and over a hundred of his men prisoners. It covered and held out guns against Stuart’s charge at Hunterstown, Pennsylvania. It was conspicuous for holding the low gap at the left of Round Top the last day’s fight at Gettysburg, against vastly superior numbers; repeatedly repelling assaults, and finally forming an important part of the charging column under the glorious Farnsworth, who penetrated the enemy lines near the Devil’s Den, and hastened the retreat of the Confederate army from the battlefield of Gettysburg. It was also foremost in the charging and fighting of Kilpatrick’s division in its pursuit of Lee’s army. At the pass at Monterey, single-handedly, during the night of the 4th of July, under Major Charles E Capehart, it captured or destroyed upward of eight miles of Lee’s ammunition and supply train, and took as prisoners an entire Confederate brigade, with its commanding general. It also fought with the best at Boonesboro, Hagerstown, Williamsport and Falling Waters.
In the Mine Run campaign the regiment did its full share of duty. The army going into winter quarters the regiment was sent home on veteran furlough. To speak of individual acts of gallantry would be to mention almost every officer and private in the regiment. It may be said, too, that it was always accorded the first rank in every command with which it was associated. It was always conspicuous in the advance against the enemy, covering the rear in a dangerous retreat, and led in more than one forlorn hope. It was never in retreat except before overwhelming numbers, while on no occasion did it lose its organization, and was as nearly invincible as any body of men ever was. Indeed, at a banquet to the regiment in Wheeling at this time, one of the speakers, a minister of the gospel, remarked that ‘the bare thought of the boys paring their nails made him sad for he regarded it as a waste of so much brave material.’
General Davies, of Kilpatrick’s division, having reported that Surgeon Capehart, through a knowledge of the country roads, and some adroit strategy, as well as fighting, had saved his command from capture on Meade’s retreat from Mine Run, and with recommendations from Kilpatrick, Custer, Pleasonton and others for exceptional military aptitude, the surgeon became the colonel of the veteran First West Virginia Cavalry. Recruited to the strength of 1200, the regiment took part under General Crook and Averell in the raid against the railroads of southwestern Virginia. At the same time General Sigel moved up the Shenandoah Valley, which was part of the grand movement of all the armies under Grant. Sigel was defeated by Breckinridge; Colonel Strother, the celebrated author, facetiously remarked: “Crook was tearing up the railroads and Sigel was tearing down the turnpike.” In General Hunter’s movement on Lynchburg, the regiment charged round the city. In the retiring movement, it recaptured artillery that had been taken from our army, drove the enemy by hard blows from the gaps on the line of march, and in not a few desperate encounters covered the retreat of Hunter’s famine-stricken and wasting army, and so punishing the enemy as to cause him to abandon pursuit. It resumed the struggle in the valley of the Shenandoah, on its return from Hunter’s ill-starred campaign; met the enemy’s cavalry at Bunker’s Hill, drove it to Stephenson’s Depot, and when the infantry arrived, fought and carried the left of the line against cavalry and infantry in the brilliant and hard-contested victory of General Duval over General Ramseur, capturing many prisoners. Two days later it reconnoitered as far as Cedar Creek, and made its way back to Winchester in complete order, though hotly pursued all the way by a much larger force of the enemy’s cavalry. Had the information obtained been accepted by General Crook, his retreat across the Potomac a day or two later would have been avoided. In the engagement and retreat out of the valley the cavalry covered the flank and rear of Crook’s army.
The enemy’s cavalry, under General Bradley T. Johnston, Imboden and McCausland, having invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania, and burnt Chambersburg, General Averell was sent to intercept them. After recrossing the Potomac, the enemy passed south of Cumberland, captured and destroyed our station of supplies at New Creek, and reached Moorefield, where they rested in fancied security, enjoying the rich fruits of the raid. Averell was ordered from Washington to pursue and attack them to the death wherever found. Their outpost and picket was captured by day by the First West Virginia Cavalry without firing a shot. They were then charged and routed on one side of the river at early dawn. Fording the river, the First West Virginia Cavalry charged Imboden and McCausland on the other side, who had now become aroused, and formed to meet us. We swept the enemy’s battle-line from the wheatfield and their ambush in the cornfield and timber, chased them rapidly up the slope, through the woods, crowded them on to the narrow mountain road, pursuing the remnants over six miles. The enemy believed that no quarter would be given on account of having burned Chambersburg, hence, comparatively few offered to surrender, and an unexplained number, therefore, were killed outright, though many were wounded and hundred were taken prisoners, while all the booty with which they had been laden, from a spool of cotton to a bolt of silk, was spilled, leaving in our hands artillery, flags, guns and equipage.
In Sheridan’s victory at Opequon, or Winchester, over Early, the cavalry played an important and decisive part; Custer’s bugles sounding the charge revived the drooping spirits of the somewhat discouraged infantry; the First West Virginia Cavalry carried everything in its front, scaling the heights and taking the forts. It was here that the brilliant and daring fighter Lieutenant Donnelly fell.
After the battle of Fisher’s Hill, General Sheridan relieved General Averell from the command of the division. Whereupon Col. William H. Powell was placed in command of the division, and Colonel Henry Capehart transferred to the Third Brigade, composed of the First, Second and Third West Virginia and the First New York Lincoln Cavalry, all tried regiments; the First New York, as well as the West Virginia regiments, having gained unusual distinction. The colonel’s brother, Major Charles E Capehart, who succeeded to the command of the First West Virginia, came from the West, soon after recovering from sounds received at Donelson. An athlete and of great physical strength, with a keen eye and a cool head, and an accomplished swordsman, probably no one else in the either army rode harder or straighter or wielded a more deadly sabre, or who could dare or do more with a regiment than he could with the First West Virginia Cavalry. Later, General Sheridan was pleased to designate it as “Capehart’s Fighting Brigade.”
The brilliant cavalryman and author, Captain King, writing recently of the brigade, says that “he envied its leader his command,” and that “its doings were as familiar to him as household words.” Under its new leader it soon became conspicuous in the army, and the pride of West Virginia; but a mark for the slings and detestations of disloyal Virginia. On the first day of its new leadership it knocked out General Imboden, Johnston and McCausland, and drove them on the run for fifteen miles, capturing many prisoners, and everything they had on wheels. At Nineva, it met the brigade of General Tibbits in flight down the valley before General McCausland. Taking the fight off Tibbits’ hands, the West Virginia Brigade brought McCausland’s onward career to a very sudden termination; whipped him to disorderly flight, captured over 400 prisoners, including 21 commissioned officers; took his artillery, battle flags and ambulances, and hunted him eight miles in less than forty minutes. This Sheridan pronounced the cleanest victory of the Shenandoah.
In the morning of the “phenomenal battle” of Cedar Creek, it held securely all the fords from Buckton to Front Royal, without allowing so much as a hoof of the enemy’s cavalry to pass over, not, however, without killing and wounding a number of them as day was breaking – much to Early’s disappointment, as he counted on their cooperation. Later in the day it rode with Custer on the left, and also with him on the right, in the charge that was decisive of the battle. After several important reconnoissances, it went into winter quarters near Winchester for a brief period.
The bold Colonel Mosby has certainly no good reason for recalling a certain Thanksgiving Day about this time with any pleasurable or glorious emotions. “The boys” had just finished dinner, supplied by the U.S. Sanitary Commission, and were reveling in the happy sensations produced by the consumption (with a perfect appetite) of turkey and cranberry sauce, prime roast beef, plum pudding and other things, at this time particularly appreciated by them. Mosby, having either captured or routed a foraging part of the Sixth Corps, came riding down in hot pursuit; drove in the cavalry division picket, and even fired into General Tibbits’ headquarter tents. First in the saddle, the First West Virginia fell upon the bold marauder, forced him to disgorge his captures of men and wagons, took some of his men, and drove him for ten or twelve miles, when not a vestige of him or his command was visible, escaping by the by-ways, the ravines and the woods; his escape was due to the fleetness of his steeds. In winter quarters the regiment reached its highest state of discipline and drill, equaling any in the service. General Sheridan not only pronounced it his “fighting brigade,” but, on seeing still more of it, claimed it to be the most efficient brigade of cavalry in the service of the United States.
As the movement of Grant, at Petersburg, was beginning, the brigade was assigned to the division commanded by General Custer. On the third day’s march, taken out of its proper place in the column, the brigade started, at three o’clock in the morning, in the lead of Sheridan’s 12,000 cavalry, moving up the valley, with orders to move with great caution, as the enemy was known to be near and in considerable force. Camp was hardly more than cleared before the blaze of rifles from either side illuminated the woods in the gloom of an extremely dark morning. A sweep forward and General Rosser was again running for dear life. The crossing at Mount Crawford was fortified, and the bridge, with the flooring taken up, was prepared for burning by the enemy. Swimming the swollen river, the First West Virginia and First New York attacked the enemy in flank and put him to rout, taking many prisoners, when the flames were subdued, the floor of the bridge relaid, and the column, with its artillery and wagons, passed on undisturbed. General Rosser was pursed on the run for twenty miles, and so closely that he failed to burn or injure the bridge over Middle River. General Early now collected all the force he had at his disposal, in a stronghold at Waynesborough, where he had erected substantial fortifications, well supplied with cannon, and resolved to defend the position to the last extremity. Custer, with his division alone, appeared in his front. Sending a brigade to demonstrate on the flank, at the sound of Custer’s bugle-blast the rest moved for the works; Capehart’s brigade charging through the enemy and fording the river, reached their rear. Dazed and confounded by Custer’s brilliant audacity, they threw their hats in the air, cheering and applauding the deed, and surrendered to the extent of some 1400, with their fortifications, cannon and equipments; the unquestionably courageous Early (Rosser with him) escaping in flight.
Under orders from Custer, Capehart passed Rock Fish Gap, a position of such strength that it might have been held against great odds for an indefinite period, and continuing, at Greenwood, a depot of supplies, we captured a locomotive and cars, with several pieces of artillery. General Early having reached Greenwood Station, left there accompanied by a salute from the rifles of the advance of the First West Virginia. The affair was all over before Sheridan heard of it. When he came up, he threw his arms around Custer’s neck, thanking him effusively, adding that it had taken a load from his mind, as he expected considerable difficulty in getting possession of the Gap, and anticipated a delay of at least some days before accomplishing it. The West Virginia Brigade camped for the night at Afton Station, where its colonel, with his staff, had the felicity of partaking of a wedding supper with the bride, bridesmaids and other charming ladies, in a cottage draped with clinging vines, amid rocks and trees, all of which was enlivened by the beautiful music of the brigade band.
The tempting viands, untouched by the groom and his male companions, who had levanted at the approach of the detested West Virginians, were tastefully laid on the table in the dining room. The airy spirit of the fair ladies was at first decidedly chilly and forbidding, corresponding well with the cold, drizzling rain, of freezing mud and darkness without. Their hearts soon melted, however, before the warm-hearted and attractive young soldiers; brave all of them, in war, but mild in peace, who had in a measure forced their company upon the fair ladies, and with song, music and dance, all went merry as a marriage bell till break of day, when the boys were again in the saddle on the march. The continuation of the movement was comparatively an unobstructed, triumphal progress, through leaving more or less of terror, and the destruction of public buildings, railroads, and the canal in its path, carrying thousands of slaves, men, women and babes to freedom. Passing hard by the gates of the Confederate capital, in view of the stupendous fortification of Richmond and Petersburg, Grant’s great guns from his works boomed out on the air in recognition of Sheridan’s arrival, which must have fallen on Lee’s ears as portents of his fast-coming doom. Waiting for a supply train, now necessary in the altered circumstances, having hitherto lived on the enemy, Custer’s troops, at least, met with profuse hospitality from their comrades of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac.
We were freely reminded that we would meet a superior class of troops, in the veteran regiments of the Confederate army, as compared with those we had vanquished in the Shenandoah. We replied that such things like that had no terror for us, we simply proposed to whip Lee’s cavalry wherever we met them. Approaching Dinwiddie C.H., the West Virginia Brigade was in charge of the supply train, which had literally to be carried through the deep mud and quicksand of that region. A hurrying aide relieved or brigade of this duty by another force, and ordered us to report with all possible haste to General Sheridan – near the Court House. When near there, General Custer came galloping down the White Oak road from General Sheridan, and pulling up his horse, communicated orders to move the brigade up the road to oppose the advancing enemy, and said at the same time, laughing, “General Sheridan and those fellows up there don’t know whether school is going to keep or not,” to which the West Virginia colonel replied: “Well, General, it will keep a while, anyway, when the boys get there.” Most of Sheridan’s force (the infantry not yet up) was retreating before the enemy, both infantry and cavalry, and some of it badly scorched and cut up, and all in a bad enough way. Our West Virginia brigade took position at the intersection of the Chamberlain Creek and White Oaks roads, repulsed the enemy’s cavalry charge with heavy slaughter, and stood there like a fortress, repelling repeated attacks of both infantry and cavalry. During the night it held the extreme advance single-handedly, while its band enlivened the darkness and gave the impression to the enemy of an infantry reinforcement, the enemy sullenly retiring before morning. At Five Forks, one of the most important battles of the war, as to its far-reaching effect, that was fought, the brigade, with Well’s brigade, charged (mounted) the enemy’s right flank, where were Fitzhugh Lee, R.H. Lee and Rosser, and quickly routed them, to which, as Custer says, “the victory was mainly due.” Lieutenant W.W. Blackmar, who was transferred from the cavalry in the southwest, and commissioned in the First W.Va. cavalry, and now of Capehart’s staff, was promoted by Custer on the field of Five Forks for brilliant personal daring; during the entire engagement he rode in the front rank in the thickest of the fight, and without a superior for ability.
General Sheridan, however, more than a mile away, has it that the cavalry here was held in check; and through some inexplicable blunder has Coppinger marked on the map in his memoirs as in command of the West Virginia Brigade, instead of commander Capehart. Coppinger never had any connection with the West Virginia Brigade, and never was in command of the brigade, while it is not probably that he led a mounted charge during his career. In the preparation of Sheridan’s memoirs (made hastily), he also commits several important errors. In regard to the extraordinary success at Little Sailor’s Creek, relating to the cavalry, Sheridan was over two miles distant; here he has the opposing forces in entirely different positions from the true ones (of course inadvertently). The record, however, if meager, due to the rush of events, confirms the facts as here given. In the morning, not without some fighting and loss of life, the First West Virginia, cut out from Lee’s army an immense train and 13 pieces of splendid artillery, some of it never having been fired, and imported from England. In the afternoon Ewell’s Corps was facing the rear, toward Richmond, and the Sixth Corps was battering away with artillery, at pretty long range, with little or no effect, Ewell being in a strong position on high ground on the opposite side of the creek. In the assault afterwards the Sixth Corps met a bloody repulse, which General Sheridan, back to General Wright, was overlooking. On the same side of the creek with Ewell, and in his rear, at right angles to him, was Anderson’s Corps, in triple line, with some temporary intrenchments of rails and earth, preparing to sweep the cavalry from the line of retreat. Anderson’s Corps was composed in part of Pickett’s Division, immortal for the charge at Gettysburg. None of the Union Cavalry, excepting the West Virginia Brigade, was in close proximity to the enemy, or in the death, though the First New Jersey, of Crook’s Division, made a gallant, if ill-directed charge off on the left, but was swept off the field with heavy loss; and Anderson’s road was clear, though of course threatened. The West Virginia Brigade, under cover of a declivity, got within short rifle-range of Anderson’s Corps, and was breathing the horses. The Colonel (a solitary horseman is seldom fired on by a large body of men) passed over the brow of the hill and was making a circuit to reconnoiter the enemy, when, to his surprise, Anderson’s men rose and delivered a fire, and in looking back he saw it was directed at Custer, who had unexpectedly arrived with his bodyguard, carrying fluttering battle-flags captured from the enemy, his horse was just falling to the ground and giving the peculiar shriek of death, with a bullet through its heart. The Colonel hurrying up to Custer, suggested that the moment was opportune for a charge, the enemy’s muskets being in considerable part empty, to which he answered, with the characteristic smile of battle on his face: “Charge ’em, charge ’em.”
The command numbered about 1400. The formation, already made, one regiment in line, supported in the center by two regiments in column of squadrons, and one regiment supporting the right line, also in column of squadrons. The undertaking, on onset against seven or eight times its number of Lee’s veterans. Colonel Capehart in the forefront, with his bugler, Tom Custer and Colonel Allen, of the Second West Virginia, on either side; at the blast of the bugle, 5000 iron hoofs were in motion. The speed increasing from a trot to a mad run, though the order perfect, the troopers, with sabres flashing, the firing of pistols and carbines, shouts and yells – with all the noise and uproar possible – surged over the works and rode smashing through the battle-lines, sabering and shooting all who offered resistance; the Confederates, thrown off their balance and panic stricken, the little handful ten times magnified in its audacity, the enemy began throwing down their arms and surrendering wholesale, though not without several isolated encounters to the death, in one of which Tom Custer received a bullet in the cheek, which came out near the near; shooting his antagonist dead, he came smiling , and waving his captured battle flag.
Captain Stevens, of the First New York, took in General Ewell and staff, who stood in the rear of his own corps, confronting the Sixth, across the creek, and Anderson’s left. On the colonel of the brigade coming up, he now with the cavalry in rear and the Sixth Corps in front, and the truce men communicating to the Sixth Corps, Ewell’s command laid down its arms to the West Virginia Brigade; the full numbers surrendering, with those from Anderson, to the brigade, amounting to about 8000, including Ewell and seven other general officers; an event that at any other time would have sent the North wild with enthusiasm, but with the events pending, exciting but little attention. The Sixth Corps took no prisoners and the rest of the cavalry comparatively few, and those mostly stragglers. Ewell’s command having fought off the Sixth Corps with Sheridan and Wright, more or less successfully, and marched off the field of officers of the West Virginia Brigade, was for the most part unaware of its surrender until it was ordered to stack arms and had marched some distance from them to a meadow on the Harper farm. It will, however, be admitted that the Sixth Corps has the most brilliant history of any corps in the army, if it was not in it with Custer’s men. Custer, prevented by the death of his horse from riding in the charge with his bodyguard, soon came up and engaged in a somewhat prolonged conversation with General Ewell, who believed the end was near. Generals Kershaw and Pickett, the latter of Gettysburg fame, were among the captured. Pickett remarked to General Ewell in regard to the West Virginia Brigade: “General, this cavalry pays no more attention to battlelines than if we were men of straw.” In recognition of the kindness and courtesy of Captain Stevens to General Ewell, his distinguished captive presented him with his field glass, accompanied with a kindly note.
From Nomozine Church to Deep Creek the brigade had the advance and drove the cavalry before it, while taking many prisoners. Custer marched both by night and by day. In a sharp skirmish with the First and Second Brigades, at Appomattox Station, he captured the trains of supplies coming up from Lynchburg on the railroad to meet Lee, the West Virginia Brigade supplying the engineers to run off the trains.
On the approach of night, Custer learned that Lee’s reserve artillery and trains lay directly in his front, on the road to Lynchburg, whither Lee was directing his wasting and famishing army. Guarding this reserve was a strong force of infantry and artillery. Forming line, the West Virginia Brigade moved in intense darkness through the forest until nearing a field, when it was met by a blaze of canister and musketry, which developed the position of the enemy’s guns and battle line, and proved the signal for a charge, with the result of driving the enemy from the field in disorder, taking many prisoners and the guns. Following up the success rapidly, the brigade rode over the reserve with little or no opposition; taking possession of the numerous wagons and cannon, with the teams of horses all attached ready to move, and now across Lee’s line of retreat, it picketed well out towards Appomattox Court House and within a short distance of the Confederate army. Relieved by Smith’s Brigade, of Crook’s Division, it partook of coffee and an hour or two’s rest.
In the gray of morning, the West Virginia Brigade is again in the saddle. Custer’s Division is probably the most efficient body of horse for its numbers the world has ever seen; horses and men are worn and jaded by constant hard marching and hard fighting, both by night and by day, and the uniforms and accoutrements are worn, battered and tarnished by hard knocks, exposure to all sorts of weather and mud; but hope beats high and nerves both horses and men to deeds of reckless daring, even those most faint of heart. You see Custer at the head of the column: he with the long, flowing, yellow hair – a model of a cavalryman – if wearing more gold lace than is customary, and finer dress; but he wears it well, and his bodyguard is till in his train, with the fluttering battle flags taken from the enemy. He is conducting the division out along the higher ground to Clover Hill, on Lee’s flank, with the intention of leading a charge into the Confederate army. The sun at Appomattox is beginning to light up the scene, over the somewhat depressed plain, in which lies Appomattox Court House and the army of the doomed Confederacy. At some distance to the rear and right of Custer, you see another large body of cavalry. It is the division of the slower and more conservative, but sturdy, Devin, which is supporting Custer. Now look somewhat further to Custer’s rear, slightly southwest of the court house. They are Birney’s colored troops, on the double quick, – somewhat obscured by the woods, their tongues out and white eyes bulging, and panting from their rapid march, looking more determined than the blood hounds of the enemy that have hunted their race in the preceding generations. Birney, under Sheridan’s orders, is placing them facing the court house and across the highway to Lynchburg, by which Lee hopes to make his retreat; the remainder of the 24th Corps following near by.
General Smith, with his command, is considerably to the front of the colored troops, his artillery injudiciously advanced. The Fifth Corps, under the splendid and untiring Griffin, are marching as if their lives depend upon it; they had been marching and fighting since reaching the Peninsula – three years ago – when, at Gaines’ Mill, single handed, they fought Lee’s army to a drawn battle; and at Malvern Hill, with no more than their original numbers, routed Lee in confusion, and if their leader had had his way, Lee would have been destroyed. Away across the woods, nearly east of the court house, and out of sight, is the Second Corps, under the brave and accomplished soldier Humphreys, in close proximity to Lee’s rear, and ready to spring on him at a word, they who had waded through fire and blood under Hancock. Not far away, under the fine soldier of Wright, is the Sixth Corps, whose record for hard marching and hard fighting is unexcelled, if equaled, part of whom stood alone with the cavalry in stemming Jubal Early’s victorious tide at Cedar Creek.
The sun at Appomattox is now out in full force, its rays reflecting from the bayonets, guns and equipment of the vast array. And all the panoply of war is seen – horse, foot and artillery – with its various attendants. Yet, to an onlooker taking in the general scene, all is silent as death – quiet enjoined on either side and the ground more or less yielding; not so much as the curling smoke or the sound of a solitary rife shot. The troops are seemingly moving to their appointed places as stalking phantoms of the dead and gone armies marshaling for the Last Judgment.
General Gordon, in the van of the Confederate army, has been quietly preparing to break through and sweep their enemy from Lee’s way of retreat. Almost without a sign of warning, and hardly expected, rifles are cracking and cannon are roaring. Gordon is making his assault. Smith, before pointed out, comes tumbling back with the loss of artillery and some killed and wounded, and is passing away to the left, while Lee’s cavalry is driving Crook back with the remainder of his command in more or less confusion. But staggering before the hot fire of Birney’s colored troops, who swarm out to meet him, with other infantry confronting, Devin and Custer in flank and rear, the latter saluted by Confederate batteries, Gordon is tumbling back broken and disordered, all hope gone; and even pursued in some cases, with the capture of some of his officers, greatly to the wounding of their dignity – by colored troops.
But see! A white flag is up. The mounted officer who bears it is coming from the direction of the court house, towards Custer’s column. He reaches it at the head of the West Virginia Brigade. Colonel Capehart and the officer proceed along the column to Custer. He said to Custer: “I have the honor to bear compliments of General Longstreet to the officer in command, and to say that General Lee and Grant are in correspondence touching the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and to request a cessation of hostilities until the result is made known.” If that is so, it seems a breach of good faith that they have been trying to fight their way out in the meantime. Custer, his face beaming with animation, gripping the rim of his hat with his right hand and giving it a few spasmotic jerks, as is his habit, replies: “Tell General Longstreet that I am not in command of all the forces here, but that I am on his flank and rear with a large cavalry force, and that I will accept nothing but unconditional surrender.” But, turning to Colonel E.W. Whitaker, his chief of staff, he says to him: “Go over with this officer and bear my message to General Longstreet.” Becoming impatient, Custer turns over the command to Capehart (who commands the division to the end, Custer’s authority having been enlarged, leads in the finale, grand review at Washington) and says to him: “I am going over to see what is going on,” following his chief of staff, having communicated what had occurred to Sheridan. On taking command, Capehart throws out a skirmish line to the outer edge of the timber between him and the enemy, which becomes immediately engaged in a brisk fusillade. The advance brigade is promptly ordered to their support; and a charge is on the point of being made. The fire reaching Sheridan’s ears, he is saying to some Rebel officers, considerably to the left rear of Capehart’s column: “Oh, that’s some of Merritt’s” (Merritt commanding the cavalry nominally) “cavalry making a charge” as if he would rather fight than not; and a man or two killed of no moment anyway. But the rattle-headed Confederate colonel in front of Capehart, swearing and talking of death in the “last ditch” in preference to surrender, is finally squelched by peaceful means, with the assistance of the same officer who had appeared with the flag truce, and all is again tranquil.
Custer is having words somewhat warm with Longstreet, and more or less suspecting that there may be a scheme on foot to gain time and make another attempt to break the meshes in which Lee is enveloped, and demands from Longstreet immediate surrender or direful consequences; Longstreet parleying and fencing, unwilling to surrender to Sheridan, much less to Custer, or giving the cavalry the credit of bringing it about, only desirous of having it effected by Lee and Grant themselves.
Make way! Grant, the great commander of all the armies of the Republic, is coming through the lines; unassuming, muddy, shabby in dress, and mounted on his well known pony, though as daring a rider as any in all his hosts, with his staff, all in finer array than himself. The impetuous Sheridan, his Irish blood at boiling point, is suspicious of some unfair play, and is desirous to cut the knot by the sword. Grant, more wise, and always perfected balanced, quiets him down, and proceeds with him and other high officers in his train to meet Lee (resplendent in a new and gorgeous uniform), at the McLean house. The surrender is consummated and the war practically ended.
To give even the leading results in the career of the regiments composing the West Virginia Brigade, not forgetting the exceptionally gallant regiment, the 1st N.Y. Lincoln, would require a volume. Colonel Capehart, in his congratulatory order and farewell address to the division, which had captured in the final campaign more men, cannon, battle-flags and other material of war than all the rest of the army combined, said: “All I ask of the historian is that he write me the commander of the Third Cavalry Division.” And it may be said that the West Virginia colonel who succeeded him, uses in his office the chair in which Grant sat while conferring with Lee, and drawing and signing the terms of the surrender at the McLean house.
Grant had brought the greatest war of modern times to a close within a year; and would doubtless have captured or destroyed Lee during that memorable summer, but for some of those purely accidental circumstances to which war is proverbially subject, with the failure of certain subordinates to meet reasonable expectations.
And while Sheridan and Sherman have sounded their own trumpets; and not always with a full measure of justice to Grant, as well as their subordinates, Grant was the genius, the reliance, the tenacity and courage, the electric power that strengthened all, from Sherman and Sheridan to the private in the ranks, to fight on and endure to the end.
The following are Custer’s recommendations for Capehart’s promotion and his order, printed from the autograph, assigning the command of the division to him:
Headquarters 3d Cavalry Division
Middle Military Division, April 18, 1865
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
I have the honor to submit the following recommendation for the promotion of officers of my command.
First. That Colonel H. Capehart, 1st Virginia Cavalry, Commanding 3d Brigade of this Division, be promoted with full rank of Brigadier-General U.S. Volunteers, to date from March 1, 1865. Colonel Capehart, by his skill in handling his brigade, and in the personal gallantry displayed in the engagement at Mt. Crawford, on the 1st of March, by which the enemy were driven with heavy loss from the burning bridge and the way opened before us in our march up the valley, was the first to inaugurate that series of successes which characterized our movement to the James River. At Waynesboro, he bore a leading part in effecting the rout and capture of Early’s forces. In the late campaign from Petersburg to Appomattox Court House, Colonel Capehart has been second to none in the display of marked ability, untiring zeal and energy, as well as unsurpassed personal gallantry and daring. At Dinwiddie Court House he was particularly conspicuous. At Five Forks I attribute our success mainly due to the unified efforts of Colonels Capehart and Wells. While at Sailor’s Creek the brunt of the engagement was born by Colonel Capehart’s Brigade, which in every charge was led by its gallant commander. At Appomattox Station, the 8th inst., Colonel Capehart again rendered himself conspicuous by his skill and bravery, and to him is much of the credit due, for the successful termination of that obstinate engagement, which resulted in our capturing twenty four pieces of artillery, beside a large number of prisoners, wagons, etc., to say nothing of the influence this engagement had in deciding the fortunes of the following day.
I earnestly trust this recommendation will be favorably considered.
G. A. Custer, Brevet Major-General.
Headquarters 3d Cavalry Division,
Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865.
Colonel Capehart, Commanding 3d Brigade.
Colonel: In accordance with orders from Major-General Sheridan, I have been placed in command of the 1st and 3rd Divisions of Cavalry. You will, on receipt of this order, assume command of the 3d Cavalry Division.
G. A. Custer, Brevet Major-General
[Source: Loyal West Virginia from 1861 to 1865, by Theodore F. Lang]
Organized at Wheeling, Clarksburg and Morgantown July 10 to November 25, 1861. Attached to Cheat Mountain District, W. Va., to January, 1862. Landers’ Division, Army of the Potomac, to March, 1862. Shields’ 2nd Division, Banks’ 5th Corps, and Dept. of the Shenandoah to May, 1862 (8 Cos.). Milroy’s Cheat Mountain District, W. Va., to June, 1862 (4 Cos.). Shields’ Division, Dept. of the Rappahannock, to June, 1862 (8 Cos.). Buford’s Cavalry Brigade, 2nd Army Corps, Army of Virginia, to September, 1862 (8 Cos.). Milroy’s Independent Brigade, 1st Army Corps, Army of Virginia, to September, 1862 (4 Cos.). Unassigned, Defences of Washington, D. C., to February, 1863. Price’s Cavalry Brigade, Defences of Washington, D. C., and 22nd Army Corps, to April, 1863. 3rd Brigade, Stahel’s Cavalry Division, 22nd Army Corps, to June, 1863. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, to December, 1863. Unassigned, Dept. of West Virginia, to March, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, W. Va., to May, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, W. Va., to June, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division, W. Va., to November, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, Middle Military Division, to February, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, to July, 1865. (Co. “A” attached to Averill’s 4th Separate Brigade, 8th Army Corps, Middle Department, March to June, 1863. Averill’s 4th Separate Brigade, W. Va., to December, 1863. 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, W. Va., to April, 1864. Kelly’s Command, Reserve Division, W. Va., to April, 1865. 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, W. Va., to July, 1865.)
SERVICE.–Action at Carnifex Ferry, W. Va., September 10, 1861 (Detachment). Romney, W. Va., October 26 (Co. “A”). Guyandotte, W. Va., November 10 (Detachment). Wirt Court House November 19. Capture of Suttonville, Braxton Court House, November 29. In support of Garfield’s operations in Eastern Kentucky against Humphrey Marshall December 23, 1861, to January 30, 1862 (Detachment). Skirmishes in Clay, Braxton and Webster Counties December 29-31. Jennies Creek, Ky., January 7, 1862 (Detachment). Regiment engaged in scouting, picket and outpost duty and guarding Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in West Virginia till March, 1862. Expedition to Blue’s Gap January 6-7. Hanging Rock Pass, Romney, January 7. Bloomery Gap February 13. Bloomen February 15. Advance on Winchester, Va., March 5-12 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Phillippi March 20 (4 Cos.). Battle of Winchester March 23. Monterey April 12 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Buffalo Gap May 3 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). McDowell May 7 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Scouts to Roane and Clay Counties May 8-21. Giles Court House May 10 (Detachment). Strasburg June 1. Cross Keys June 8. Port Republic June 9. White Plains June 10. Expedition to Madison Court House, Culpeper Court House and Orange Court House July 12-17. Near Culpeper July 12. Cedar Mountain August 9 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Orange Court House August 13. Pope’s Campaign in Northern Virginia August 16-September 2. Rapidan August 18. Freeman’s Ford, Hazel River, August 22 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Kelly’s Ford August 22. Sulphur Springs August 23. Waterloo Bridge August 23-25. Buckland Bridge, near Gainesville, August 28 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Groveton August 29 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Bull Run August 30 (Cos. “C,” “E” and “L”). Lewis Ford August 30. Chantilly September 1. (2 Cos. at Antietam, Md., September 16-17.) Ashby’s Gap September 22. Expedition to Thoroughfare Gap October 17-18. Gainesville October 18. Near Warrenton November 4. Reconnoissance to Snicker’s Ferry and Berryville November 28-30. Snicker’s Ferry November 30. Moorefield, W. Va., December 3 (1 Co.). Near Moorefield, W. Va., January 5, 1863. Cockletown, Pocahontas County, W. Va., January 22. Scout from Centreville to Falmouth February 27-28. Beverly April 24 (Co. “A”). Warrenton Junction May 3 (Detachment). Winchester June 13-15 (Cos. “C” and “K”). Hanover, Pa., June 30. Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3. Hunterstown July 2. Monterey Gap July 4. Smithburg July 5. Hagerstown July 6. Boonsboro July 8. Hagerstown July 11-13. Falling Water July 14. Expedition from Fayetteville, W. Va., to Wytheville July 13-15 (2 Cos.). Shanghai July 16 (Co. “A”). Wytheville July 18-19 (Co. “A”). Near Hedgesville and Martinsburg July 18-19 (Co. “A”). Near Gaines’ Cross Roads July 23. McConnellsburg, Pa., July 30. Averill’s Raid through Hardy, Pendleton, Highland, Bath, Greenfield and Pocahontas Counties, W. Va., August 25-31 (Co. “A”). Rocky Gap, near White Sulphur Springs, August 26-27 (Co.. “A”). Expedition to Port Conway September 1-3. Culpeper Court House September 13. Raccoon Ford September 14-16. Robertson’s Station September 16. Raccoon Ford September 17-18. White’s Ford September 22-23. Bristoe Campaign October 9-22. James City and Bethesda Church October 10. Near Culpeper, Brandy Station and Griffinsburg October 11. Gainesville October 14. Groveton October 17-18. Gainesville, New Baltimore, Buckland’s Mill and Haymarket October 19. Catlett’s Station November 7. Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2. Raccoon Ford November 26-27. Averill’s Raid from Lewisburg to Virginia & Tennessee Railroad November 1-17 (Co. “A”). Droop Mountain November 6 (Co. “A”). Averill’s Raid from New Creek to Salem December 8-25 (Co. “A”). Regiment on duty at various points in West Virginia till May, 1864. Averill’s Raid on Virginia & Tennessee Railroad May 5-19. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, between Bloomfield and Piedmont, May 5. Abb’s Valley, Jeffersonville, May 8. Grassy Lick, Cove Mountain, near Wytheville, May 10. Doublin Station May 12. Rude’s Hill and New Market May 14. Lewisburg May 20 (Detachment). Hunter’s Raid on Lynchburg May 26-July 1. Staunton June 8. White Sulphur Springs June 10. Lexington June 11. Scout around Lynchburg June 13-15. Near Buchanan June 13. New London June 16. Diamond Hill June 17. Lynchburg June 17-18. Snicker’s Ford June 18. Liberty June 19. Buford’s Gap June 20. Catawba Mountains and about Salem June 21. Snicker’s Ferry, Va., July 17-18. Carter’s Farm, near Stephenson’s Depot, July 20. Newtown July 22. Kernstown, Winchester, July 24. Falling Waters July 24. Martinsburg July 25. Hagerstown July 29. Hancock July 31. Williamsport and Hagerstown August 5. Near Moorefield August 7. Williamsport August 26. Martinsburg August 31. Bunker Hill September 3-4. Stephenson’s Depot September 5. Darkesville September 10. Bunker Hill September 13. Berryville and near Brentsville September 14. Centreville September 14. Charlestown September 17. Winchester September 19. Fisher’s Hill September 22. Mt. Jackson September 23-24. Forest Hill or Timberville September 24. Brown’s Gap September 26. Weyer’s Cave September 26-27. Battle of Cedar Creek October 19. Dry Run October 23 (Detachment). Milford October 25 (Detachment). Nineveh November 12. Rude’s Hill, near Mt. Jackson, November 22. Expedition to Gordonsville December 19-28. Gordonsville December 23. Sheridan’s Raid from Winchester February 25-March 25, 1865. Mt. Crawford February 28. Waynesboro March 2. Charlottesville March 3. Augusta Court House March 10. Haydensville March 12. Beaver Dam Station March 15. White House March 26. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9, Dinwiddie Court House March 29-31. Five Forks April 1. Namozine Church and Scott’s Corners April 2. Jettersville April 4. Amelia Court House April 5. Sailor’s Creek April 6. Stony Point April 7. Appomattox Station April 8. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Expedition to Danville April 23-29. March to Washington, D.C., May. Grand Review May 23. Mustered out July 8, 1865.
[Source: Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, by Frederick Dyer]
Regiment lost during service 10 Officers and 71 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 126 Enlisted men by disease. Total 207.
[Source: Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, by Frederick Dyer]
The Ground Trembled as They Came: The 1st West Virginia Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign, Civil War Regiments, Vol. 6, No. 3, November 1999, by Beth A. White and Steve Cunningham.
Monument to the 1st West Virginia Cavalry at Gettysburg
1st West Virginia Cavalry from Historical Marker Database
1st West Virginia Cavalry State Regimental Battle Flag from West Virginia State Museum
1st West Virginia Cavalry from Wikipedia
1st West Virginia Cavalry – West Virginia Adjutant General papers at West Virginia State Archives
1st West Virginia Cavalry from National Park Service
1st West Virginia Cavalry from The Civil War in the East
1st West Virginia Cavalry from Ohio Civil War Central
1st West Virginia Cavalry by Linda Cunningham Fluharty
War Experiences of Samuel Wheeler, Private in the First West Virginia Cavalry by Linda Rees Heaton, West Virginia History, Fall 2012
Medal of Honor Recipient Honored at Monterey Pass – The Record Herald