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1st Maine Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
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The official list of battles in which the regiment bore a part:
2nd Bull Run
Fortification of Richmond
Ground Squirrel Bridge (called Church in )
St Mary's Church
Text by Candace Kanes
Images from Maine Historical Society
John Parris Sheahan, ca. 1870
Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society
John Parris Sheahan was a faithful correspondent to his family in Dennysville from the time he joined Co. K of the 1st Maine Cavalry in August 1862 until he was mustered out in July 1865. He wrote about politics, the war, the officers in his regiments, the death his brother, who was also a soldier; his concerns about his younger brothers enlisting, and falling in love.
Sheahan's letters, which he urged his father to save, and which were passed down to his son, offer a remarkable glimpse into an articulate and thoughtful soldier, who was concerned about his own future and that of the nation.
A son of John and Eleanor Sheahan of Dennysville, John Parris Sheahan was born Sept. 28, 1842. He was 21 when he enlisted in the cavalry. Like many soldiers, he initially was excited and enthusiastic, both about the cavalry regiment and about the war.
Before long, however, Sheahan's letters home reflected a new attitude. He began to worry, after numerous Army of the Potomac defeats, that the enthusiastic Rebels would prevail. In March 1863, he wrote, "The south are determined to have their Independence and they will have it and no soldier in the Army of the Potomac doubts but they will get it."
Letter from John Sheahan to his father, July 4, 1863
Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society
He continued, suggesting that the argument that the Confederacy did not have enough money and supplies to win was not convincing. After all, Sheahan wrote, the same thing was said about American Patriots during the Revolution.
In January 1864, he wrote, "How little did any of us then think that it would grow into a gigantic war filling our country with men maimed for life," referring to the men and boys who answered the first call for soldiers in 1861. He added, "The spring campaign will commence the fourth year of the most bloody war the world has ever seen. I hope it may put an end to the Rebellion but oh I fear not."
Like other soldiers, he sometimes wrote about the humanity of the Confederate soldiers and described friendly interactions when soldiers from opposite sides encountered one another on picket or other non combat occasions.
Sheahan bristled at the treatment of privates -- which he was -- and also of conscripts, who he said were treated like dogs. He thought his own captain was being unfair to him. Sheahan had been praised by other officers for his bravery and coolness under fire. Several officers suggested he should -- and would -- be promoted. But when promotion did not come, Sheahan appealed to his father back in Maine to do what he could to get the young soldier a commission, even if it cost him several hundred dollars.
In part, Sheahan wanted a commission so he could earn higher pay. He wanted to study to be a doctor -- and he wanted to get married.
John P. Sheahan POW journal, 1864
Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society
John P. Sheahan's life changed in November 1863 when his brother Sgt. William Sheahan was killed at Rappahannock Station. William, who was about 27, had enlisted on July 15, 1861 in Co. F of the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment. Several times, the brothers had managed to visit one another when their regiments were encamped in the same area.
Several months later, he wrote to his parents of his continued sorrow at William's death. "He died a most brave and gallant soldier," Sheahan wrote.
At about the time of William's death, John Sheahan began a serious study of infantry tactics and other subjects, part of his effort to pass an exam and get a commission. In March 1864, he got his wish. He was discharged from the 1st Maine Cavalry and commissioned as a 1st lieutenant in Co. E of the 31st Maine Infantry.
Two younger brothers, Edmund (Ned) and Henry, joined the 31st Maine at the same time.
At some point while camped in Western Maryland, Sheahan met Lizzie (Mary Elizabeth) Shriver. He wrote home about her and, in February 1864 told his parents he was engaged, but that they would not marry until four years after the war ended and he had finished school.
Lt. John P. Sheahan, 31st Maine, ca. 1864
Item Contributed by
Maine State Archives
In July 1864, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Crater and served some seven months in various Confederate prisons before escaping in early 1865.
Sheahan was mustered out on July 15, 1865 and he and Lizzie Shriver married on August 16, 1865, in Carroll County, Maryland. Sheahan enrolled at Maine Medical College at Bowdoin, graduating in 1867, with degrees as a physician and a dentist.
Sheahan also had an interest in geology, which he persued while he and Lizzie lived in Canada for a brief time. They also went back to Maryland and he earned an A.M. from Western Maryland College in 1874.
By 1880, the couple were living in Washington County, near where Sheahan had grown up. He practiced medicine and dentistry there, continued his interest in geology, and developed an interest in photography. They had two sons, John and William H., who was named for the brother killed in the war.
John Sheahan died in 1894. In 1940, his son William, then living in Pennsylvania, donated his father's letters to Maine Historical Society. Sheahan wrote of the letters that they were "all in dated envelopes just as my father arranged them before his death. I have read them all over before sending them, there are heart aches in many of them."
This First Maine Cavalry Regiment lost the greatest number killed in action of any cavalry regiment in the army: 15 officers and 159 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded; 3 officers and 341 enlisted men died of disease during the Civil War.
The regiment is honored by a monument at Gettysburg.
Organized at Augusta and mustered in
Companies A, D, E and F moved to Washington, D.C.
Companies B, I, H and M moved to Washington, D.C.
Companies C, G, K and L moved to Washington, D.C.
March - July
Companies C, D, F, G, I, K & L
Moved to Warrenton and attached to Abercrombie's Brigade, Williams' Division, Banks' 5th Army Corps, and Dept. of the Shenandoah
Reconnaissance to the Rappahannock (Co. C) and to Liberty Church (Detachment)
Reconnaissance to Culpeper Court House
Join McDowell at Manassas Junction, attached to Bayard's Cavalry Brigade, Dept. of the Rappahannock
July 10 - May 15
Companies A, B, E, H & M
Ordered to Harper's Ferry, W. Va. and attached to Miles' Railroad Brigade for guard duty along Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
May 15-June 17
Moved to Strasburg and operations in the Shenandoah Valley atached to Hatch's Cavalry Brigade, Banks' 5th Army Corps, and Dept. of the Shenandoah
Action at Woodstock
Strasburg (Companies H & M)
Retreat to Williamsport
Reconnaissance to Front Royal
Regiment scouting on the Rappahannock attached to Bayard's Cavalry Brigade, Army of Virginia
Reconnaissance to James City
Battle of Cedar Mountain
Pope's Campaign in Northern Virginia
Stevensburg, Raccoon Ford and Brandy Station
Fords of the Rappahannock
Mountsville, Centerville, Chantilly and Germantown
September 7 and 12
At Frederick, Md.
Salem, New Baltimore and near Warrenton
Battle of Fredericksburg
April 29-May 8
Louisa Court House
South Anna Bridge near Ashland
Operations on Northern Neck (Detachment)
Brandy Station and Beverly Ford
Battle of Gettysburg
Shephardstown and near Harper's Ferry
Halltown and Charlestown
Advance from the Rappahannock to the Rapidan
Culpeper Court House and Hazel River
Bristoe Campaign. attached to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps
Gaines' Cross Roads
Warrenton or White Sulphur Springs
Auburn and Bristoe
St. Stephen's Church
Advance to line of the Rappahannock
November 26-December 2
Mine Run Campaign
New Hope Church
Expedition to Luray
Reconnaissance to Front Royal
Near Salem (Detachment)
Kilpatrick's Raid to Richmond
Beaver Dam Station
Fortifications of Richmond and Brook's Turnpike
Old Church and Near Tunstall Station
May 3-June 15
Battle of Todd's Tavern
North Anna River
Ground Squirrel Church and Yellow Tavern
Brook Church or Fortifications of Richmond and Meadow Bridge
May 31-June 1
About Cold Harbor
Sumner's Upper Bridge and McGee's Mills
Sheridan's Trevillian Raid
Black Creek, Tunstall Station
White House, St. Peter's Church
St. Mary's Church
Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond
Warwick Swamp and Lee's Mill
Near Sycamore Church
Dinwiddie Road near Ream's Station
Stony Creek Station
September 29-October 1
Poplar Springs Church
Vaughan and Duncan Road
Attached to 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps
Boydton Plank Road or Hatcher's Run
Old members mustered out
Stony Creek Station
Dabney's Mills, Hatcher's Run
March 28-April 9
Dinwiddie Court House
Namozine Church and Jettersville
Fame's Cross Roads and Amelia Springs
Sailor's Creek and Deatonville Road
Briery Creek and Farmville
Appomattox Court House. Surrender of Lee and his army.
Duty at Petersburg and in the Dept. of Virginia
A hero charges to dusty glory at Aldie
The Federal cavalry underwent organizational transformation after Maj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac in winter 1863. He coalesced the army’s dispersed mounted regiments into a cavalry corps replete with divisions and brigades. Hooker understood the “hitting power” and maneuverability inherent in large cavalry units, advantages well understood and utilized by the hard-charging Confederate cavalry; horsemen deployed in large numbers could move fast and strike deep in enemy-held territory.
Promoted to colonel in March, Douty commanded the 1st Maine when events took the regiment north in June 1863 as Robert E. Lee sent his infantrymen tramping toward Pennsylvania.
Commanded by J.E.B. Stuart, Confederate cavalrymen screened the mountain passes through which Union scouts might spot Lee’s infantry marching down the Shenandoah Valley. In 90-degree heat on Wednesday, June 17, two Confederate cavalry brigade supported by four cannons moved into position to guard the roads leading west from Aldie, Va. to Ashby’s Gap and Snickers Gap in the Bull Run Mountains. The Confederates deployed “in a strong position on a ridge of hills covered with stone walls back of” of Aldie, Tobie wrote.
Confederate lines extended across “the Middleburg and Snicker’s Gap roads,” according to Tobie, and “their skirmish line occupied a stone wall on the eastern slope of the hill and a long ditch behind some hay stacks.”
While charging Confederate cavalry west of Aldie, Va. on June 17, 1863, Union troopers came around this curve in the Snickersville Turnpike in columns of fours; the view is from the Confederate positions. Pursuing two 1st Maine Cavalry companies late in the battle, Col. Calvin Douty reached the road at this spot after riding uphill from the left. He was soon shot and killed, likely within 100 feet on the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry monument. (Brian Swartz Photo)
Fighting broke out in late afternoon; Confederate troopers fired from behind the stone walls or met their enemies on horseback. “The cavalry was hotly engaged,” recalled 1st Lt. Henry Hall, Co. H, 1st Maine. “The charges and counter-charges were superb and grand.”
Commanded by Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, Union cavalrymen pushed their Confederate foes “back a full half mile to some high stone fences (walls)” beyond the Furr House, Hall wrote later. “A regiment of dismounted cavalry had been placed” behind those walls.
As Federal troopers approached them, the Southern cavalrymen “received Kilpatrick’s men with a murderous fire, which literally covered the field in front with dead and dying, and sent the others flying in disorder to the rear,” Hall wrote.
Just west of the tight curve in the Snickersville Turnpike (shown in previous photo) stands the monument to the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. Confederate troopers hidden behind a stone wall ambushed the hard-charging Bay Staters and blew them to smithereens. The 1st Maine Cavalry’s Col. Calvin Douty was shot from his saddle very near this spot. (Brian Swartz Photo)
Two mounted Confederate regiments charged the “retreating troops, and drove them back in wild confusion,” he said. “Kilpatrick now called lustily for help.”
Minus four companies detached a while earlier, Douty was leading the 1st Maine Cavalry “up the left bank of Little River” when Kilpatrick’s courier reached him, Hall said. A bugler sounded “fours right about”; Co. H led the way as the regiment crossed a road and rode north “up through a sparsely wooded field” to its hilly crest, where Union artillery commanded by Capt. Alanson Randol fired on the enemy.
Capt. George Armstrong Custer guided the 1st Maine into position near Randol’s guns, and Douty ordered his companies to assemble “as fast as they arrived” atop the hill, Hall said. He watched as “Kilpatrick’s broken regiments came up the hill in our front and passed to our right and rear, routed and demoralized.”
At that moment, Calvin Douty hovered somewhere on the 1st Maine’s left flank, “attending to the formation of the companies as they arrived,” Hall recalled.
Riding among his fleeing horsemen, Kilpatrick crested the hill and suddenly “saw an unbroken front of live men, with glistening sabres drawn.” He “instantly stopped,” Hall said.
“His moistened features were covered with dust; his countenance was dejected and sad; and fire and the flash of his eye were gone, and he looked indeed ‘a ruined man,’” Hall observed.
“What regiment is this?” Kilpatrick blurted.
“First Maine!” at least a dozen troopers shouted.
“The response was electric,” Hall realized. “Then we heard the old, familiar, clear-ringing tones, and saw his countenance brighten to a smile, [and] his eyes flash.”
“Forward, First Maine!” Kilpatrick cried. “Are there twelve men who will follow me?”
The sun was low in the Virginia sky as Kilpatrick turned his horse west. Joined by Custer, he and Pvt. Dennis Murphy, a 1st Maine trooper serving as his orderly, spurred their mounts.
“With deafening yells and flashing sabres,” some “forty boys of Co. H, followed by Co. D … charged down the hill” and collided with “the victorious rebels, brave, bold determined fellows,” Hall remembered that decisive charge. Troopers fought with pistols and sabers; “some of our boys fell here,” and so did Confederate riders, who “felt the steel borne” by the Maine troopers.
Four 1st Maine companies remained behind near Randol’s cannons.
Confederate and Union cavalrymen collide during the Battle of Aldie, Va., fought on Wednesday, June 17, 1863. Confederate cavalrymen sweep downhill from the left; Union troopers charge from right to left. The 1st Maine Cavalry was heavily involved in the fighting, and the unit’s commander, Col. Calvin Sanger Douty, was killed late in the battle. Artist Edwin Forbes drew this sketch on Wednesday, June 24. (Library of Congress)
Then the Confederate regiments broke, and Johnnies and Yankees rode intermingled “in the dusty darkness” along the Snickersville Turnpike, “where it was scarcely possible to distinguish friend from foe,” Hall recalled. He almost sabered a wounded Co. H trooper, then chased away a few enemy soldiers attempting to capture the Mainer.
In the melee Hall flew over his horse’s head as the animal went down; “I instantly rolled over into the ditch” alongside the road and dodged horse hooves as more Maine troopers charged past, he said.
Beside the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry monument at Aldie stands this stone wall, which runs almost north-south across the adjacent fields. Dismounted Confederate cavalrymen knelt behind this same stone wall late on June 17, 1863 and ambushed the Massachusetts cavalrymen; the same Confederate troopers also shot and killed Maine’s Calvin Douty near this spot as he followed two 1st Maine Cavalry companies in a wild charge. (Brian Swartz Photo)
As Kilpatrick ordered the Maine boys to charge, Douty evidently did not lose “any time in getting to the head of the charging column,” Hall recalled.
But another source claims that Douty, his attention diverted elsewhere, did not initially notice the charge, but chased after his two Kilpatrick-led companies.
A 1st Maine Cavalry eyewitness confirmed that assertion. Hailing from Lewiston, Pvt. William Howe caught up with Douty after the Maine boys slammed into the mounted Confederate cavalry. Douty rode hell-bent for leather toward the thick dust kicked up by hundreds of horses.
Today asphalt covers the narrow Snickersville Turnpike (Route 734), a winding country lane that gradually rises to the northwest after diverging from the Ashby Gap Turnpike (modern Route 50) a mile west of Aldie. Fields separated by fences and stone walls border the road; the bucolic landscape remarkably resembles the scenery across which the 1863 cavalry fight ebbed and flowed.
Their spirited charge funneled the 1st Maine troopers westward into the Snickersville Turnpike; as they struck the Confederate cavalry, the Maine boys spread the fight into the adjacent fields. Not far behind his men, Douty rode parallel on their right (or north), his route bringing him uphill on a converging course with the Snickersville Turnpike to the south.
Steering a wider course to Douty’s right, Howe saw “there were a few scattering men still in the open field.” Turning his horse’s head about 45 degrees to the southwest, Howe rode “into the cloud of dust,” where “no one was then individually visible” except for “a lone horseman charging up the line leaping obstacles and every obstacle that lay in his path.”
Howe “followed closely in his wake” and finally “saw that it was Col. Douty,” who this day rode “on his old white horse.”
The cavalry charge created a “line of smoke and dust … stretching from the summit of the hill to the base and no man could tell where the dividing front between friend and foe ended,” Howe said. Union troopers “charged on and up the slope, and I followed” Douty to “the terminus of the field.
“At the point where the road turned in a right angle to the left, he espied me in his wake,” Howe noticed.
The cavalry fight at Aldie ebbed and flowed across these fields and hills bordering the Snickersville Turnpike. The stone wall on the left was defended by dismounted Confederate cavalrymen during the June 17, 1863 battle. Eight companies of the 1st Maine Cavalry charged across this same site late in the battle and broke the Confederates’ left flank. (Brian Swartz Photo)
His sword thrust above his head, Douty shouted, “Where is the head of the regiment?”
“The [Confederate] cannonading from the heights had ceased in large measure,” so Howe thought that the 1st Maine Cavalry “was in possession of the hill.” He pointed toward the summit.
Digging in his spurs, Douty steered his horse through “an opening in the fence” and “over a pair of bars and through a dugout road in the side of the hill,” Howe noticed as he rode behind Douty. The road was “skirted on the right by a heavy stone wall” that intersected another stone wall at a right angle “about twenty rods” away, Howe described the topography.
This stone wall “ran over the brow of the hill, leaving the field open beyond the intersection,” he said.
Heavy fighting had left the “dugout [road] literally filled with dead and dying men and horses.” Still riding hard behind Douty, Howe saw him “turning [his horse] to the right to go into the open field beyond.” Douty still rode “with his sword hand raised.
“This one last moment “I last saw him alive,” Howe realized. “Just then a volley came from behind the stone walls and the Colonel fell, my horse was wounded and I received a slight wound in the right ankle.”
Hauling on the reins, Howe “ran as if my life depended upon my speedy flight — and jumped my horse over the fence [to the left] on the other side” of the Snickersville Turnpike.
“I just escaped another volley from the stone wall,” Howe noticed as Confederate bullets whizzed past him. “When I made the leap over the fence (a leap for life) and went sailing down the canyon, I believe it was the largest leap ever made by man or beast, for my horse’s feet did not strike ground for several rods.”
As his horse landed hard, “I was … severely thrust upon the horn of my saddle.” Howe and his mount raced uphill “towards the woods on the high ground at the other side.”
There waited the four 1st Maine Cavalry companies that had not charged. In pain from his damaged groin — “the injury has since been a serious disability,” he wrote years later — Howe pushed his lathered horse onward to where the other Maine troopers gazed across the battlefield.
Watching Howe approach, Maj. Stephen Boothby of Portland “came forward and asked if I knew where was the Colonel,” Howe recalled.
Reining his horse, Howe pointed to the stone wall-crowned hill. “I told him he was yonder on the heights dead[,] I believed,” Howe remembered.
The news stirred a violent reaction. “The very air was blue with flashing words that fell from Boothby’s lips,” Hall recalled; pausing only briefly, Boothby ordered the four companies to charge “on the right (north) side of the road” to aid their hard-pressed comrades in Companies D and H.
Boothby’s men “had a hard fight down by the sheds and the hay-stacks on the right,” but led by Lt. Col. Charles Smith, the four detached 1st Maine companies arrived and joined the charge. The reinforcements “quickly got in on the rebel left and cleared the field,” remembered Hall, who now rode a captured Confederate horse.
“Then the second charge and the most irreversible ever known was made by the old First Maine Cavalry,” Howe described the savage charge that carried the day. “Inside of two minutes the life of this indomitable hero was avenged, the heights captured, and Colonel Douty’s body recovered from that point where I last saw him in life.
“His wound was two buckshots under the right armpit which must have entered the heart,” Howe remembered.
Near Douty lay other Maine troopers, including “the dead body of” Capt. George Summat, “with one leg terribly crushed and broken,” Hall reported.
The wild charge broke the Confederate lines, and Kilpatrick claimed a victory.
Dover residents held a hero’s funeral for Calvin Sanger Douty on Saturday, June 27. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people attended, and a large procession accompanied the hearse to the cemetery.
“The services were exceedingly solemn and impressive, and the immense throng present testified to the respect felt for Colonel Douty by his neighbors,” a newspaper correspondent reported.