The Brave “Old Bucktails”

Image from the National Music Museum

Some Recollections of the Late War.

[Late of the Forty-Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers.]



Those who saw General Burnside on the morning of December 13, 1862, say that his countenance wore a look of anxiety and depression quite unusual. It was perhaps the most momentous day of his life. No one appreciated better than he the difficulty and hazards of the task before him, and his mind must have been burdened with misgivings. The prospect for winning a victory was not encouraging. His well-laid plans, so far, had failed. The unexpected delay in crossing the river had dissipated all his hopes of taking Lee by surprise. No strategy or rapid maneuver would avail now. If he beat his adversary at all, he must seek him in his own chosen position or fight at fearful disadvantage. The Confederate position was one of great strength naturally, and when elaborately fortified and defended by at least eighty thousand determined, disciplined veterans the Rebels might with good reason feel tolerably secure.

Briefly stated, the position of Burnside’s army before the battle was something like this: Sumner’s grand division, composed of the Second Corps, under couch, and the Ninth, (Burnside’s own,) commanded by Wilcox, occupied the right of our line, being in and about the town and extending some ways below to a considerable stream called Deep Run. Then came Franklin, with the Sixth Corps under W.F. Smith and the First commanded by Reynolds. The cavalry, under Bayard, were also with Franklin, whose lines reached some three or four miles below Fredericksburg. Hooker, with the Third Corps under Stoneman and the Fifth then commanded by Dan. Butterfield, was to support Franklin or Sumner, as the exigencies of the battle might demand. Below Deep Run, along Franklin’s front, there was a plain, from one to two miles wide, between the river and the wooded hills on which were planted the enemy’s batteries. The Richmond and Fredericksburg railroad and the road to Port Royal, which cross this valley, were fringed with fences and thick hedges which, with some deep ditches that had evidently answered the purpose of fencing, afforded shelter to the Rebels and would impeded the progress of our troops. General Lee expected that the main attack would be made on this part of his line, and had placed his most trusted lieutenant in command there. Stonewall Jackson would hold it if anybody could. Stuart with his cavalry and light infantry protected the flank, his line, which extended to the river, being formed at right angles with Jackson’s infantry. He would have an enfilading fire on our lines when they advanced.
Burnside proposed that Franklin, who, with the addition of Stoneman’s two divisions, (Birney’s and Sickle’s,) which were to support him, had about sixty thousand men at his disposal, should make a vigorous attempt to beat Jackson and get possession of the railroad, by which the Rebels received their supplies from Richmond, and at the same time send in Sumner to storm the heights opposite the town. If these movements succeeded, or even if the railroad could be taken and held, Lee would have to retreat. The principal attack on the left was to be made by Gen. Reynolds with the First Corps, consisting of three divisions — Gibbon’s, Meade’s and Doubleday’s. Gibbon joined the Sixth Corps on the right. Meade, with the Pennsylvania Reserves, came next, being directly in front of the railroad crossing which it was intended to seize. Doubleday’s division was drawn up nearly at right angles with Meade, facing Stuart.

A dense fog hung over the valley of the Rappahannock on the morning of December 13, delaying active operations several hours during the earlier part of the day. The artillery kept pounding away; however, and there was considerable skirmishing in the forenoon. Meanwhile Meade, supported by Gibbon, had advanced fully a half-mile and taken position beyond what was called the Bowling Green road, and was forming his line to assault the intrenchments in his front, his division having been selected to lead the attack. Meade had three brigades. The First, under Col. Sinclair, was composed of the First Rifles (Bucktails), the First, Second and Sixth Regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves. The Second Brigade was commanded by Colonel Magilton, and consisted of the Third, Fourth, Seventh and Eight Regiments of he Reserves and the 142d Pa. Vols. The Third Brigade, commanded by Gen. C.F. Jackson, consisted of the Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Reserves. Sixteen pieces of artillery were attached to his division. Stuart was pitching solid shot and shells into Meade’s lines. Doubleday answered vigorously, keeping the Rebels at a respectful distance.

Shortly after noon, everything being ready, Meade advanced, with the Sixth Reserves thrown out as skirmishers. Our batteries opened on the enemy’s position. Jackson’s guns thundered back. More than two hundred pieced were in full play. “The direction of Meade’s advance brought him against Lane’s and Archer’s (Rebel) brigades,” writes the correspondent of the Boston Journal, whose graphic description of the battle is the best ever printed. “They were on the railroad and in the woods. There was a gap between the brigades, and there Meade drove the entering wedge. It was a fierce and bloody contest along the railroad, in the woods, upon the hillside, in the ravine, on the open plains and on the crest of the ridge. The fourteen guns on the hill poured a murderous fire into Meade’s left flank. The guns by Deep Run enfiladed the line from the right, while in reserve were two full brigades — Thomas’s and Gregg’s — to fill the gap. But notwithstanding this Meade, unsupported, charged down the slope, through the hollow, up to the railroad and over it, routing the Fourteenth Tennessee and Nineteenth Georgia of Archer’s and the whole of Lane’s brigade. With a cheer the Pennsylvanians went up the hill, crawling through the thick underbrush to the crest, doubling up Archer and knocking Lane completely out of line. It was as if a Herculean destroyer had crumbled with a sledge-hammer stroke the keystone of an arch, leaving the whole structure in danger of immediate and irretrievable ruin. Gibbon ought to have been following Meade, driving up the hill through the gap, but he halted at the railroad.” Gibbon’s division were hotly engaged, made a gallant charge, the General himself being wounded, but were unable to force the enemy’s position and keep up with Meade.

Doubleday had his hands full attending to Stuart. Several divisions which were to support Meade had not even been ordered to advance. The Pennsylvania Reserves were struggling alone. Stonewall Jackson was quick to take in the situation. His line was broken. Meade had cut it in two. The Pennsylvanians must be driven back, or the day was lost to his chief. Massing all his available forces, he hurled them with terrible energy and effect upon Meade’s front and his exposed flanks.

A member of Company E of the  Bucktails, Sergeant J.V. Morgan, who participated in the fight, says in substance: “Our brigade — the First — occupied the right of Meade’s line. We moved forward about 12 o’clock. The enemy defended his first line along the railroad with great determination, but the steady advance and accurate fire of our brigade were irresistible, and the moment the rebels seemed to waver orders were given for us to charge. Rushing forward upon the run, we leaped a deep ditch, drove the enemy from a cut of the railroad and pressed them back to their second line before they could re-form their broken ranks. The Rebels threw down their arms and fled in confusion. Following them up, we came to a third line, where we found several stacks of guns which the enemy in his haste to get away had abandoned. The First and Third Brigades had broken clear through the enemy’s line, taking about 300 prisoners. So far our success was complete. The victory was won. Unfortunately, however, we had no support, and pretty soon long lines of Rebels came down upon us in front and on both flanks. Yet believing that help would surely come, we fought on until our last cartridge was expended, and then fell back to avoid being captured. Our Company had four killed and twenty-one wounded. Henry Jackson had both legs torn off by a shell, yet he insisted on sitting up while being carried to the rear on a stretcher, and even begged a chew of tobacco from his comrades. He died that night. William M. Morgan was shot through both lungs and left upon the field. In his pocket diary, which I have before me, I find recorded in his own hand that he laid upon the battle-field from Saturday afternoon until the following Tuesday, without care of any kind, and with no food save a few crackers which he happened to have in his haversack; and that upon his arrival at Libby prison, in Richmond, to which place he was conveyed in a freight car, he received no treatment whatever except the bathing of his wound by his fellow-prisoners. He died — of course. The death of Henry Rote, another comrade, was tragical and extraordinary. Henry was a man of great piety, and frequently engaged in prayer. In the uproar and confusion of the battle he got down upon his knees to pray, and while in this attitude was shot dead.”

“A battery which had an oblique fire upon our position raised the mischief with us,” adds Lieutenant-Colonel (then Captain) Niles, “”One shot knocked over seven of my men. We were badly cut up. Our ranks were much broken, and there were not men enough left to close them up. Each man stood up — a brigade in himself — and blazed away. Wallace Moore, of my company, having used up all his ammunition, took some thirty rounds from his fallen comrades, and standing up with no-one near him, fired them at the advancing Rebels. The order to fall back was repeated several times before the men could be persuaded to start, and even then, as long as they had a cartridge left, the boys insisted upon facing about occasionally to make a stand and let drive with their rifles. The Bucktails were not worth a copper to retreat.”

Captain Charles F. Taylor (brother of the renowned traveler, Bayard Taylor,) commanded the Bucktails at Fredericksburg, and was wounded. The Captain was only about twenty-two years of age. He was shortly after promoted to Colonel, but enjoyed his well-earned laurels only a short time, being killed at Gettysburg in July following.

Gen. C.F. Jackson, commanding Meade’s Third brigade, was killed, and Col. Sinclair, another brigade commander, was severely wounded. But perhaps the greatest individual loss on that part of the field was the death of Major-General Geo. D. Bayard, in command of the cavalry, who was killed by a shell. Gen. Bayard was but twenty-eight years of age. He was expecting to be married very soon to an estimable young lady, upon whose heart the death of her hero must have fallen with crushing weight. But, dear reader, hers was only one among a thousand or more tender hearts that ached and were desolate on learning the result of that fatal day.

The attack on the left was not renewed. Of the sixty thousand men whom Franklin had at his disposal that day less than twenty thousand were engaged at all, and not more than ten thousand were in action at any one time. That fifty thousand soldiers should be allowed to lean passively on their muskets while a mere division or so of their comrades were being overwhelmed and crushed by thrice their number must ever remain one of those mysteries which genius and generalship may be able to understand; but common-sense and patriotism will always look upon such “strategy” with suspicion and regret.

Of the troops who participated in the battle a large proportion were Pennsylvanians. Tioga county was well represented; and having no achievements of the Forty-fifth to relate this time — our division was in reserve during the fight — it becomes a pleasure not unmixed with sadness to notice, so far as I know, the fruitless valor displayed by other men from this county on the luckless and bloody field of Fredericksburg. In Meade’s First brigade were two regiments whose movements were watched with a deal of interest by many anxious readers of the AGITATOR during the war. I allude, of course, to the Bucktails and the Sixth Regiment of the Reserves.

Company E of the Bucktails, many of your readers will remember, was composed mostly of young men from Wellsboro and the adjacent townships; and on making inquiry one is astonished to discover how very few of the original members came back. Dranesville, the battles n the Peninsula, the second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and many other minor engagements in which the Regiment bore a prominent part — beig often deployed as skirmishers and always filling a place of danger and trust — together with long marches and three years and a half of exposure, had thinned their ranks until barely a corporal’s guard of the old boys remained. The Company, it is hardly necessary to mention, was commanded most of the time by Captain A.E. Niles, who, though twice grievously wounded and for several months a prisoner in the hands of the enemy, managed to pull through. He came out as Lieutenant-Colonel, and is with us to-day, reclining on his laurels, well preserved, and modest as ever; and, with his trusty rifle — which he has not forgotten how to use, as many fine bucks have found to their sorrow — on his shoulder, the Colonel is just as eager now to guide a squad of his cronies in search of bear-meat and venison as he was to lead a skirmish line of Bucktails twenty years ago.

Of the members of Company A of the same Regiment, recruited in the northern part of the county, who of course shared the same fate and are entitled to as much credit, I knew but little during the war, but have met many of them since — some maimed and with empty sleeves.

What has been said of the Bucktails will apply in most part to the Sixth Regiment of the Reserves. The tow regiments were much of the time together, in the same brigade. They fought side by side. Their dead are buried beneath the sod of the same battle fields — from Dranesville, 1861, to Bethesda Church, 1864. They marched together, tented on the same grounds and were disbanded about the same time. There was however, but one company from this county in the Sixth. Some of the finest young men of Wellsboro and the vicinity buckled on their armor and went out with Julius Sherwood in the spring of ’61; and alas! how easy it is to count the number of those who came back. Captain Jas. Carle commanded the Company at Fredericksburg, as he did most of the time during the war.

Among those who fell that day perhaps the memory of none is greener in the hearts of the people of Wellsboro than that of Lieutenant R.M. Pratt, of the Sixth Reserves. I knew him well. Reuben was not only a faithful soldier, but a gentleman of culture and refinement as well. Yes, and more than that; for he was a devout Christian. I remember very well that a few years before the war Mr. Pratt, with another young men from the borough, came up here on the hill to establish a Sunday school. They succeeded; and I will undertake to say that the good seed which was sown that summer did not fall on stony ground. A prize was offered to the scholar who should recite the longest lessons, and I have now before me a neat pocket Bible which I have kept more than a quarter of a century. On its fly-leaf is written, “Presented by R.M. Pratt;” and whenever I take up the book, which is less often that it should be, I am reminded of one who, in common with thousands of other young men, sacrificed a life full of hope and promise — offering it freely as an atonement, so to speak, for the shortcomings of his race and his country.

And while writing of soldiers from Tioga county who fought at Fredericksburg let us not forget the 136th Pennsylvania Volunteers. In this regiment, which was commanded by Colonel Bayne, now member of Congress, were at least two companies from this county. “We (the 136th) went into the fight some two miles below Fredericksburg,” says Sergeant C.W. Barlow, who participated in the engagement and was wounded, “and drove the enemy from his breastworks along the railroad. Our Color-Sergeant being shot down, Corporal Petty, of the color-guard, seized the flag, and planting the staff firmly in the ground, the brave little fellow fired thirty rounds before our Regiment was rolled back by the enemy. We were on the right of the Reserves, [evidently in Gibbon’s division]. Theodore Bacon, of our Company [A], was killed, and William Gridley and Moses Locey died of wounds soon after. The overcoat of Harlan Prutsman, our First Sergeant, was riddled with bullets, yet he escaped without a scratch.”

The writer was acquainted with only some of the members in Company A — Company D, I think, was also from this county, and was commanded by Captain Phillips — which was recruited and commanded most of the time by Captain John J. Hammond, with John I. Mitchell and R.C. Bailey as Lieutenants. Michell wore a Captain’s bars on leaving the service; and it seems to me that we have heard that name occasionally — if not oftener — during the last dozen years. It is a name which the people of this county have honored very many time with pleasure, and honor to themselves. But now Senator Mitchell does not belong to us in the sense in which he once did. We have lost him. He has gone up higher — a good deal higher. So rapid, indeed, has been his promotion that, although scarcely turned the corner of middle-age, only one step intervenes between the position he now occupies and the topmost round of the ladder which leans against the suffrages of a free people. What if this great big Nation of ours should have to come up here among the hills and hemlocks of Tioga county for a President? Well, more surprising events than that have happened.

But whither am I drifting? Our next will tell something of the assault on Marye’s Hill.

The Wellsboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennyslvania) Mar 20, 1883

The Brave “Old Bucktails.”


Last Thursday and Friday the survivors of he famous “Bucktails,” or the first Rifles Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, was held at Williamsport. It was the first time since the war that many of the brave men who shared the privations of the field and the thrilling scenes of the war had looked into the eyes of their comrades. Twenty-two years have furrowed their faces and whitened their beards, but their hearts are still warm with fraternal love as when they marched shoulder to shoulder in the ranks of the grand volunteer army of the Union.

The famous Bucktails was the Forty-second regiment from the State and it was organized May 31, 1861. It was also called the First Pennsylvania Rifles, and Kane’s Rifles, being commanded at first by Col. Thomas L. Kane. The regiment took a very active part in the war, and the excellent marksmanship of the sturdy mountaineers and the bucktails worn in their hats soon made them well known and feared by the Rebel soldiers. The regiment took a gallant part at Gettysburg and there lost its brave Colonel Taylor, and many of its men. It was subsequently led by Colonel Hartshorne through that battle and until it was mustered out in June, 1864. Many of the men re-enlisted and were transferred to the One Hundred and Ninetieth regiment. By the death of Colonel Taylor Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Niles, of this borough, became commanding officer, the regiment not being large enough at that time for a Colonel. But Niles was wounded at Gettysburg, and thereafter Hartshorne was the active commanding officer until the following fall, when Niles was forced to leave the regiment because of his wounds.

In every important battle during the war the Bucktails faced the enemy. They were usually ordered to perform light infantry duty in skirmishing, and they never failed to drive out the Rebel sharpshooters. After this work was accomplished the Bucktails were formed in a solid column to share the heavy work of the battle-field. They never flinched. Their faces were always to the foe. The “bucktails” on their hates became the symbol of all that is brave and true in soldierly character.

In the spring of 1861, when Northern hearts were burning with indignation because of the insults offered to our flag by the traitors at the South, there appeared in the AGITATOR of the 17th of April the following notice:


In consequence of the existing deplorable crisis of affairs in the Southern part of this Confederacy the Governor of Pennsylvania has recommended and the Legislature has passed a law for the better arming of the State. The latest dispatches assert that the President has called upon this State for sixteen regiments for the purpose of preserving the Union as our fathers made it and enforcing its laws. In obedience to the calls of true patriotism the undersigned would respectfully call upon the young men of Tioga county to meet them on Saturday, April 20th, 1861, at two o’clock p.m., at the Wellsboro House, in Wellsboro, where we will receive the names of such volunteers as wish to form an independent uniformed rifle company. The Wellsboro Brass Band will be present.


Short as this notice was it was enough to arouse the patriotism of this borough and the whole county. The ladies began making flags, and soon the Stars and Stripes were floating from all the principal buildings in town. In that hour, when our flag was being trampled in the dust by Southern traitors, it was thrice dear to Tioga county’s sons, and they stepped forward and offered their lives in defense of the Republic.

The first company organized consisted of eighty-seven men under Captain A.E. Niles. Almond Wetmore was First Lieutenant and Samuel A. Mack was Second Lieutenant. This company, together with Captain Sherwood’s company, started for the front by way of Troy in 78 wagons on Wednesday, April 24, 1861.

On the 3d of May the three companies from this county, under Captain A.E. Niles, of this borough, Philip Holland, of Lawrenceville, and Hugh McDonald, of Tioga, together with the companies raised in Potter, Elk, Clearfield, McKean and Cameron counties, were formed into a regiment at Camp Curtin near Harrisburg, and the following officers were elected: Colonel, Thomas L. Kane; Lieutenant-Colonel, T.B. Eldred; Major, Julius Sherwood. a correspondent of he New York Tribune, who was writing from Harrisburg, said: “One of hte most notable instances of persevering patriotism and determination is that of the mustering of the ‘Wild-cats’ of this State by Col. Thomas L. Kane, of McKean county, the very heart of the ‘wild-ca district.’ He traveled over 500 miles on his horse, enlisting three hundred and seven men in thirteen days. Over one-half of these men are ‘crack’ shots who are armed with their own rifles. They came into this city bearing a huge pair of buck horns in front and each man having the tail of a deer ornamenting his soft felt hat. They have been mustered in and form a regiment with the companies from Tioga county, who have the same characteristics. These men are in earnest, and when they draw the trigger of their rifles they do not intend to waste powder.”

One remarkable characteristic of this regiment was that when it was organized almost every trade and profession known in this country had a representative in his ranks.

On the 26th of June, 1861, the AGITATOR learned from a private letter that the “Wild-cat” regiment left Harrisburg on the 22d for the South, to begin its active and memorable career at Cumberland.

In another private letter dated Jul 18th the first engagement of the “Wild-cats” is chronicled. The boys went up the Potomac from Cumberland and met a detachment of rebels whom they quickly whipped. The “rebs” couldn’t stand the superior marksmanship of these “wild-cats” from the wooded districts of Pennsylvania. By this time the regiment had come to be generally known as the “Bucktails” and under this honored name it became famous throughout the North and the South. A special order from the War Department allowed this regiment alone to wear the bucktails in addition to the regulation uniform.

The surviving veterans of the gallant Bucktails made their headquarters during the reunion at the City Hotel in Williamsport last week. On the balcony of the house a fine stuffed buck was mounted. This was contributed by the boys from Clearfield county, who also produced the tattered battleflag that belonged to the regiment. That flag was presented to the boys when they started out in 1861. It is now stained with the blood of a gallant Bucktail and is riddled with rebel bullets.

On Thursday afternoon an election of officers was held at the Reno Post rooms, with the following result: President, General W.R. Hartshorne, of Academia; Vice-Presidents, Colonel A.E. Niles, of Wellsboro, and Colonel E.A. Irwin, of Curwensville; Secretary and Treasurer, W.H. Rauch, of Philadelphia; Chairman of Executive Committee, Captain John P. Bard. In the evening a public meeting was held in the Court-house, Mayor Jone presiding. Addresses of welcome were delivered by Congressman H.C. McCormick and H.C. Parsons in behalf of the city and the Grand Army of the Republic, and they were responded to by ex-Congressman W.W. Brown, who was a Corporal in the regiment. Other addresses were delivered as follows: On Colonel Hugh McNeil, killed at Antietam, by Colonel E.A. Irwin; on Colonel Fred Taylor, killed at Gettysburg, by General W.R. Hartshorne; on line officers killed in battle, by Captain L.W. Gifford, of St. Mary’s; on enlisted men killed in action, by Captain John P. Bard, of Curwensville. Impromptu addresses were made by Dr. W.C. Doane, of Williamsport, and Sergeant W.H. Rauch, of Philadelphia.

Image of 1914 Buckails Reunion from Rootsweb.

Dr. W.C. Doane read the following poem, written by Mr. M.H. Cobb, who was editor of the AGITATOR during the stirring scenes of the war:

Six and twenty years ago —
When the tide of war’s alarms
Made the fires of Freedom’s altar brightly glow,

From these hills the sturdy yeomen
Answered to the patriot call,
Moved by sternest purposes all,
Sworn to fight the fight as treason’s foemen.

Resolved they gathered then —
Form workshop and from field,
Our liberties to shield —
The best defense of all — a wall of living men;

Nor shrank they from the trial —
The mothers and the wives;
The treasures of their lives
They laid upon the altar with noble self-denial.

They questioned not, they gave,
Those hero wives and mothers,
Sones, husbands, lovers, brothers,
To find returning welcome or perish with the brave.

And thus they marched away —
That band of hardy yeomen,
And worthier foes than they
Never were matched with foemen;
In many a bloody fray,
Wherever MEN were wanted,
The Bucktails led the way
And bore the brunt undaunted.

As face to face we stand
We raise familiar faces,
A shattered, grizzled band;
And many vacant places.
Yet, brothers, not in vain
Did these our comrades perish,
They rise, they live again
In memories we cherish.
They fought the fight — they bought
A purer, higher freedom,
Their sacrifices wrought
The death of what was fraught
With all that blighted Edom.


Ho, Bucktails! listen while I sing
Of a most wondrous transformation
Which happed anent that grewsome thing
Which killed a crime and made a Nation.
Some of you know, and maybe all
That every buck’s a double-ender,
And some perhaps have had a call
To make a choice or else surrender.
I never hunted much, but yet
If left a choice I’d choose the latter,
Because the horns are bad, you bet,
When an old buck goes on a batter.
And yet the buck’s tail came to mean
A mighty dangerous thing to Johnny,
He ducked his head when that was seen
Borne by the Bucktail lads so bonnie.

On Friday morning a business meeting was held and a Monument Committee was appointed. A motion prevailed declaring it to be the desire of the “Bucktails” that their Monument Committee be instructed to urge upon the Commission appointed by the Governor the consolidation of the appropriations to each regiment and battery of Pennsylvania, the same to be applied to the erection of a memorial building on the battle-field of Gettysburg.

It was also decided that the next reunion should be held at Bradford, McKean county.

At three o’clock on Friday afternoon there was a parade in the following order: Platoon of policemen under Captain John Stryker; Chief Marshal D.R. Foresman and aides, Colonel A.H. Stead and Chaplain Woodruff; Fisk Military Band; Companies D, G and B, National Guard, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas W. Lloyd; the Bucktail veterans; carriages in which were Mayor Jones, General Harshorne, Colonels Niles, Irwin and other officers of the Bucktail regiment; Twelfth Regiment Drum Corps; Reno Post and Barrows Post.

In the evening a camp-fire was held at the Court-house, which was largely attended. Captain John P. Bard presided. Addresses were made by Comrades Brown, Smith, Allen, Truxem, Corcoran, Hartshorne, Irwin, Freeman, Dr. Doane and others. The “little orderly,” Comrade Rauch, furnished amusement by several German dialect recitations. Excellent music was furnished by the Fisk Military Band. The camp-fire proved a very happy and interesting affair, and at its conclusion all were loath to depart.

After the close of the camp-fire the “Bucktails,” escorted by the members of Reno Post, and headed by the Fisk Military Band, proceeded to the Reno Post rooms, where an elegant lunch was served.

There are about three hundred survivors of this historic regiment, and something over one-half that number were present at the first reunion. Many of the men wore the same bucktails that graced their hats when they went down to the front in ’61, and which gained for them a national reputation for endurance and bravery.

Over twenty veterans from this county were present.

Including the original number and the recruits to the Bucktails during the war, about two thousand men belonged to that regiment. Think of it, — seventeen hundred brave men waiting on the other side for the great reunion when the scattered three hundred grizzled veterans shall join them!

The Wellsboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) Oct 25, 1887


When President Lincoln called for troops to serve for three months, the War Department directed the State of Pennsylvania to furnish seventeen regiments. The Keyston State responded with twice that number, and thousands of men were sent back to their homes after reaching Harrisburg. Among those who reached Camp Curtin too late was a battalion from the “wild-cat” district. They were commanded by Thomas L. Kane, a brother of the Arctic explorer. They came floating down the Susquehanna river on rafts, and they were 300 strong, each armed with his hunting rifle and wearing in his hat the tail of a deer. When they found that they were too late, they decided not to return home but to await further developments.

Then came the meeting of the Legislature, and the act was passed authorizing the enlistment of the fifteen regiments of Pennsylvania Reserves to serve for three years or the war.

On June 12, 1861, the Bucktail regiment was organized as follows: Colonel, Charles J. Biddle; Lieutenant-Colonel, Thomas L. Kane; Major, Roy Stone; Captain Co. A, Phil. Hollands; Captain Co. B, Langhorn Wistar; Captain Co. C, J.A. Eldrid; Captain Co. D, Hugh McNeil; Captain Co. E, Alanson E. Niles; Captain Co. F, Dennis McGee; Captain Co. G, Hugh McDonald; Captain Co. H, Charles F. Taylor; Captain Co. I, W.T. Blanchard; Captain Co. K, Edward A. Irwin. Thomas L. Kane had been elected Colonel, but he believed that the regiment should be commanded by an officer of experience, and so he resigned and recommended the election of Captain Biddle, a veteran of the Mexican war and a thorough disciplinarian, in his stead.

The regiment was designated as the Thirteenth Reserves, the First Rifles, the Kane Rifles, and the 421 of the line; but the name by which it is known to all “Yanks” and “Rebs” is the “Bucktails.”

Upon going to the front the Bucktails were attached to the Second Brigade of the Reserves, commanded by the then Brig. Gen. George B. Meade. That fall Colonel Biddle was elected to Congress and resigned the command. At Dranesville, December 20, 1861, the Bucktails won the first victory for the army of the Potomac. At that battle Lieut. Col. Kane was seriously wounded and Captain McNeil was soon after made Colonel.

Six companies of the regiment were in the Peninsula campaign. At Mechanicsville Companies E and D were left to guard a detached position and were captured. At Charles City Cross-roads Captain Phil. Hollands was killed and Generals McCall and Reynolds were captured.

Shortly after, Major Stone resigned to recruit a “Bucktail” brigade under special orders from the War Department. He was made Colonel of the 149th, and Captain Wistar became Colonel of the 150th.

The remaining four companies commanded by Kane were sent to aid Fremont in the Shenandoah valley. At Harrisonburg Kane was wounded, and as Captain Taylor refused to leave his chief, both were captured.

The regiment was at Second Bull Run, after which, in recognition of his own gallantry at that battle and at Callett Station, Kane was made a Brigadier-General. Captain Irvin, of Company K, was made Lieutenant-Colonel, and Captain Niles, of Company E, was promoted Major.

The Bucktails participated in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. At the latter engagement McNeil was killed. Captain Taylor of Company H, a brother of Bayard Taylor, then became Colonel. Lieut.-Col. Irvin resigned on account of wounds and Major Niles succeeded him, and Adjutant, now General, W.Ross Hartshorne, was promoted to Major.

At Gettysburg the regiment suffered severely. Colonel Taylor was killed and Lieut.-Col. Niles and three Captains were wounded.

The brave men were at the front during that terrible campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg, and this famous regiment filled the cup of its glory to over-flowing by fighting the battle of Bethesda Church after its term of service had expired.

Many of the men re-enlisted, and these, with the other re-enlisted men of the Reserve Corps, were formed into the 190th regiment, of which Major Hartshorne was made Colonel.

Including the original number and the recruits to the Bucktails during the war, about 2,000 men belongs to the regiment. There are not less than 300 of these brave men left, and they are scattered in 28 States of the Union to day. Last year 11 joined the 1,700 and more on the other shore, and it will not be many years until there will be a grand reunions of them all on the other side of the dark river.


Col. S.D. Freeman, of Smethport, who was the first Surgeon of the Bucktails, says that several erroneous statements have been published regarding the origin of hte use of the buck’s tail as a symbol for the regiment. He says that after the enlistment of the regiment in 1861, Capt. W.T. Blanchard, of Co. I, and Col. Kane, were discussing the question on the streets in Smethport, McKean county. A large deer was hanging cut in front of a market opposite the public square. Blanchard noticed it and said, “Why not take a buck tail?” Kane replied, “That’s just  the thing!” They went over and cut the tial off that deer and the hide was cut up into small pieces and put on the soldiers’ hats. The first man to wear the bucktail was James Landragan, of Kane. He attended the reunion last week.

The Executive Committee of the Bucktails desire to thank the citizens of Wellsboro for their assistance and generosity and the ladies of Co. E for their activity in arranging for the entertainment of the visitors.

The Wellsboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) Oct 21, 1890

The Seven-Days Fight.

Forty-nine years ago this week the famous “Bucktails” were under fire in the seven days’ battle in front of Richmond, beginning at Mechanicsville and ending at Melvern Hill. Two companies of this regiment were recruited in Tioga county. It was in this battle that Capt. Phil Hollands and Orrin Stebbins, who was the Agitator’s correspondent known as “Colonel Crocket,” were killed and many of the Bucktails wounded or captured.

So far as is known, the only survivors of the two companies under Capt. Phil Hollands and Capt. Alanson E. Niles are as follows: A.K. Sayles, Westfield; Eli B. Seamons, Westfield; Luther Wiles, Nelson; J.V. Morgan, Wellsboro; Wallace M. Moore, Iowa; E.A. Allen, Washington, D.C.; Lorenzo Catlin, Charleston; William W. English, Delmar; John English, Morris; James Olmstead, Tiadaghton; B.B. Potter, Michigan; William Pitts, Mansfield; Eugene Stone, Delmar; O.B. Stone, Corning; A.F. Spicer, Washington state; Henry Varner, Corning; Peter B. Walbridge, Wellboro; Geo. A. Ludlow, Aberdeen, South Dakota; George O. Derby, Wellsboro; Jacob Cole, Wellsboro.

Wellboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) Jun 28, 1911

Battle of Dranesville image from Wikipedia


Veterans in Wellsboro Celebrate the First Union Victory.

Last Wednesday evening the veterans of Wellsboro who are survivors of the fight at Dranesville, December 20, 1861, with other comrades and their wives and a few invited guests, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the first Union victory. They arranged for a banquet at the Hotel Wilcox and some after-dinner speaking. The event was enjoyed by all who were fortunate enough to be present.

At the tables were seated about seventy-five persons among the number being the following members of the regiments in the Sixth Pennsylvania Reserves which participated in the victory which caused the North to take heart in ’61: Company H of the Sixth — Major George W. Merrick, Ransford B. Webb, D.D. Holiday, Job Wetmore, James Hazlett, Almon Wetmore, Asa Warriner; Company E of the First Rifles, or “Bucktails” — Geo. O. Derby, William W. English, J.V. Morgan, Peter D. Walbridge and Henry Varner, of the 12th regiment — Nelson H. Robbins and James N. Herbert.

The banquet was all that could be desired. Messrs. R.L. Tomb & Sons, the new proprietors of the Hotel Wilcox, made a fine first impression, the menu being excellent in every detail and the service of the best. The patriotic decorations of the dining-room were excellent in arrangement. Everybody was in good spirits and the hour passed quickly.

Comrade George O. Derby was the toastmaster. He read letters of regret from Hon. Henry M. Foote, of Washington, D.C., who enlivened the occasion with reminiscences and anecdotes of his comrades, also letters from Capt. George A. Ludlow, of St.Cloud, Florida; Benj. B. Potter, now in Michigan, and Harry C. Bailey, who recently went from Mansfield to Oregon, an a number of other  comrades.The toastmaster then called on his comrades and the guests about the board for entertainment. Brief addresses in reminiscent vein, with anecdotes, humor and congratulation were made by the following persons: R.B. Webb, W.W. English, Major Geor. W. Merrick, J.V. Morgan, Dr. J.M. Gentry, Hon. F.H. Rockwell, Rev. C.G. Langford, Rev. A.C. Shaw, D.D., Rev. John O’Toole, Rev. P.H. Hershey, Rev. F.P. Simmons, Prof. W.H. Longstreet, Supt. E.E. Hubble of the Corning M.E. district, Prothonotary E.J. Channell, Arthur M. Roy and N.H. Robbins. It was near midnight when the company dispersed, the universal opinion being that it had been a well-spent evening.

The engagement at Dranesville was a bloody skirmish between Federal and Confederate foraging parties. It was the first time that a Union victory could be claimed in any considerable action in which any Tioga boys were engaged and it caused great rejoicing in the North. It was particularly of moment to the people of this region because the Tioga county boys there got their baptism of fire. George Cook, the first man from Tioga county to fall in battle, was killed at Dranesville. His memory lives in the name of the George Cook Post, G.A.R., of Wellsboro. Capt. Alanson E. Niles, of the Bucktails, was wounded there, and a number of other Tioga county boys. The people at home, as well as the men at the front began to realize fully after Dranesville what war really meant.

The Confederate left 43 dead and dying on the field. Their wounded numbered 143, and eight men were missing, a total of 194 casualties. The Union loss was seven killed, 61 wounded, and three missing; total, 71. Lieutenant Colonel T.L. Kane, of the Bucktails, was wounded in the mouth. Four captains also were wounded.


From the Agitator files of 1861 we extract the following notes, some of which were contained in the letters of “Col. Crocket,” who is remembered as Orrin Stebbins, of Company A of the Bucktails. He was a regular correspondent of the Agitator, among others from the front, till he was killed in the battle of the Peninsula, in 1862.

The members of the Bucktail regiment were feeling quite despondent about the first of December, 1861, because of the resignation of their Colonel Charles J. Biddle, who had been elected to Congress.

“Last Thursday,” said Crockett, under date of Dec. 8, 1861, “a large foraging party from Gen. McCall’s division went out to the vicinity of Dranesville. They brought back 24 loads of wheat, 19 of corn, five of potatoes, two of brick, 27 hogs, 40 hams, seven horses, five negro slaves, five prisoners, and turkeys, geese, duck, chickens, etc., by the wagon-load. Another party from Smith’s division had still better success.” This shows what war meant to the inhabitants between hostile armies. The Rebels cleaned up everything that the Federals left.

In its issue of Dec. 25th the Agitator contained a full report of the battle of Dranesville. This is an extract: “For some days previous to the battle about a hundred of the enemy’s cavalry had been in the habit of coming down to Dranesville and foraging between there and the Potomac. Gen. McCall determined to attempt their capture. He ordered the Third Brigade, consisting of four regiments commanded by Gen. Ord, to Dranesville for that purpose and to forage. Forty or fifty wagons were taken along.

“The skirmishers of the Sixth regiment were fired upon by the Rebels in ambush. The Bucktails returned the fire. After a few rounds a Rebel battery opened up on our men, but with little effect as the falls passed over their heads. The Rebels it seems had knowledge of the attack and were prepared to meet our boys. The Rebels were concealed in a thicket and did not leave it during the fight.

“When our forces charged the enemy was completely routed, their retreat hastened by a galling fire from the Pennsylvania Reserves, leaving the {field?} strewn with their dead and wounded. Our men loaded their wagons with the forage the Rebels had abandoned. 17 loads of hay, 22 loads of  corn in the ear, the  arms, accoutrements and clothing the Confederates had thrown away in the panic.”

Mr. M.H. Cobb, who was in Washington, wrote home that “the Tioga county boys gave a glorious account of themselves.” He spoke of Capt. A. E. Niles as a fearless leader, who received a bullet through his lung. George Cook was shot through the heart; Benj. Seely got a bullet through his cheek; Tom Conway a slight wound over the eye; Charles Yahn a wound in the cheek. The Bucktails lost three killed, one in Co. E, and thirty wounded. Mr. Cobb adds, “Tioga county sent no cowards to the front.”

Lewis Margraff, of Wellsboro, was taken prisoner at Dranesville.

Soon after New Years, 1862 in the Virginia camp, the regiments which participated in the Dranesville fight were presented with their battleflag by Hon. Galusha A. Grow. Inscribed in letters of gold on the white stripes was “Dranesville, Dec. 20, 1861.”

The Wellsboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania Dec 27, 1911


Looking Back Half a Century or More to Incidents of Those Days.

The report of the fiftieth anniversary of Dranesville printed in the Agitator last week reminds some of us a couple of our most interesting war relics — reminders of the great conflict that are sure to attract the attention of the observing visitor in Grand Army Hall. One of these is the original muster roll of Company H of the 6th Pa. Reserves. Naturally, the paper, written fifty years ago, is somewhat faded, but remarkably well preserved, as though some one had taken good care of it. The document was presented to the Post by Captain R.B. Webb, a year or two ago, and is now in a substantial frame and will be cared for as one of our most valued mementoes of the civil war.

What makes the paper peculiarly interesting to me is that it is in the beautiful handwriting of Erwin R. Atherton, one of my boyhood companions, and whose name appears on the list with the pathetic remarks written later on by another hand — “Died, June 12, 1862.”

Many old-timers who read this will remember Erwin Atherton. He was a Charleston boy and taught school several terms before the war. Members of his company say he was a good soldier, it is nothing against him that he died of disease instead of being killed in battle. Twice as many soldiers died of disease as were killed or died of wounds during the war. And it often required more courage to meet death uncomplainingly — to die by inches in hospitals, as many poor fellows did — than to be killed in a great battle where the inspiration and excitement of the conflict made it comparatively easy to face the music and to die if necessary.

Look over the names on the muster roll of Co. H when you are in G.A.R. hall and see what happened to the boys during the war and then look around and see how many of them are left.


Alanson E. Niles

The other relic referred to is the vest that Captain Niles, of the Bucktails, had on when he was shot through the right lung at Dranesville. The vest, with a ragged hole in front showing where the bullet went in may be seen behind the glass in our “show case” in the Hall. We all remember Captain Niles. The mere mention of his name carries me back sixty years instead of fifty. Along in the late forties or early fifties “Lant.” or “Shiner,” Niles, as we affectionately called him, taught school at the old Young (if that isn’t too much of an Irish bull) schoolhouse that stood near where the little church on “Mount Zion” now stands, a couple miles east of Wellsboro.

Niles was a good teacher all right. If he was as strict a disciplinarian in the army as he was when teaching young ideas how to shoot ten years before the war, Company E of the Bucktails had to walk the chalk line and do it scientifically.

Image from roster of Co. G, 45th Pennsylvania Infantry

I know he scared me out of a year’s growth (more or less) one day when I was a kid, telling me what he would do if I didn’t quit walking across the floor between the boys’ and girls’ sides of the house, which I thought I had a perfect right to do without asking permission of his “Royal Nibs.” Of course he had told us what we could do and what we mustn’t do in good plain English; but much of the English language was like Greek to me in those days. And I have thought since that the big boys used to grab my hat and run off with it just to hear me take on in French and yell after them, “Sacre cochon donne moi mon chapeau!” (D__n pig, give me my hat) I was big enough to know that “sacre” was a bad word because my father had promised to skin me alive, or something of that kind, if he ever caught me using it. Anyway, I never said “sacre” or its equivalent unless I thought the occasion required it. All of which carries us back to the old days — the care-free school days of the long ago! The days of the spelling schools, when the big boys and girls met occasionally of an evening when the days were short, on Shumway Hill at the Round Top, in Dartt Settlement, or at the Young schoolhouse, to choose sides and “stand up and spell down,” and then (if we had spunk enough to ask them and they didn’t give us the mitten) go home with the girls.

The days of the husking bees, apple cuts and sociables, where the boys and girls played “wink and catch ’em,” “ring round the rosy” and other delightfully silly games which with the trimmings and incidentals that go with that sort of thing, were dear to the heart of every healthy boy and girl, and always will be as long as boys are boys and girls are girls! The good old days of Auld Lang Syne! How much of the fag end of life do you suppose some of us would give — if we had it to give — to be back there a year, or a month even?

But there it is again — always wanting something we haven’t go. When we are kids we want to be grown ups. When old and gray nothing looks quite so good as the happy-go-lucky days fifty, sixty, maybe seventy years ago. Why not take our “medicine” as it comes and quit finding fault? Take it as we used to take our castor oil and our quinine, fifty years ago. Nasty and bitter was it? Sure. But the blamed stuff was good for what ailed us then, and whatever the Great Physician prescribes for us now must be all right!


The Wellsboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) Jan 3, 1912

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One Response to “The Brave “Old Bucktails””

  1. searcher Says:

    Company D was all Warren County, PA.

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