General Buford chose the area to defend, keeping in mind the protection of the high ground just south of town. With just two small cavalry brigades of over 2,000 men, he held a large part of the Confederate army advancing on Gettysburg in check.
His delaying actions allowed time for the advanced segments of the Union army under General John Reynolds to make the scene of the fight and reinforce against the swarming Confederates.
August 27, 1863
HEADQUARTERS FIRST CAVALRY DIVISION, August 27, 1863.
Lieut. Col. C. Ross SMITH, Chief of Staff, Cavalry Corps.
Colonel: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of the First Cavalry Division, from its crossing the Potomac at Edwards Ferry, on June 27, to its crossing of the Rappahannock on August 1: After passing the Potomac on the upper pontoon bridge, the division marched over almost impassable roads, crossing the Monocacy near its mouth by a wretched ford, and bivouacked on the east side of the mountains, 3 miles from Jefferson, being halted there by the whole train of General Stahel’s division blockading the road through the mountains.
June 28, the division moved through Jefferson, and went into camp near Middletown, for the purpose of shoeing and refitting. June 29, the Reserve Brigade was detached and moved to Mechanicstown. The First and Second Brigades moved through Boonsborough, Cavetown, and Monterey Springs, and encamped near Fairfield, within a short distance of a considerable force of the enemy’s infantry. The inhabitants knew of my arrival and the position of the enemy’s camp, yet not one of them gave me a particle of information, nor even mentioned the fact of the enemy’s presence. The whole community seemed stampeded, and afraid to speak or to act, often offering as excuses for not showing some little enterprise, “The rebels will destroy our houses if we tell anything.” Had any one given me timely information, and acted as guide that night, I could have surprised and captured or destroyed this force, which proved next day to be two Mississippi regiments of infantry and two guns.
June 30, the two brigades moved out very early to go to Gettysburg, via Fairfield. At the latter place my advance ran upon the force referred to. I determined to feel it and drive it, if possible, but, after a little skirmishing, found that artillery would have to be necessarily used Resolved not to disturb them, for fear cannonading from that quarter might disarrange the plans of the general commanding. Fairfield was 4 or 5 miles west of the route assigned me, and I did not wish to bring on an engagement so far from the road I was expected to be following. I immediately turned my column toward Emmitsburg without serious molestation, and was soon on my proper road and moving on Gettysburg, where I had reason to suppose I should find some of General Stahel’s [Kilpatrick’s] cavalry. We entered Gettysburg in the afternoon, just in time to meet the enemy entering the town, and in good season to drive him back before his getting a foothold. He withdrew toward Cashtown, leaving his pickets about 4½ miles from Gettysburg.
The night of the 30th was a busy night for the division. No reliable information of value could be obtained from the inhabitants, and but for the untiring exertions of many different scouting parties, information of the enemy’s whereabouts and movements could not have been gained in time to prevent him from getting the town before our army could get up.
By daylight on July 1, I had gained positive information of the enemy’s position and movements, and my arrangements were made for entertaining him until General Reynolds could reach the scene.
On July 1, between 8 and 9 a.m., reports came in from the First Brigade (Colonel Gamble’s) that the enemy was coming down from toward Cashtown in force. Colonel Gamble made an admirable line of battle, and moved off proudly to meet him. The two lines soon became hotly engaged, we having the advantage of position, he of numbers. The First Brigade held its own for more than two hours, and had to be literally dragged back a few hundred yards to a position more secure and better sheltered. Tidball s battery, commanded by Lieutenant Calef, Second U.S. Artillery, fought on this occasion as is seldom witnessed. At one time the enemy had a concentric fire upon this battery from twelve guns, all at short range. Calef held his own gloriously, worked his guns deliberately with great judgment and skill, and with wonderful effect upon the enemy. The First Brigade maintained this unequal contest until the leading division of General Reynolds’ corps came up to its assistance, and then most reluctantly did it give up the front. A portion of the Third Indiana found horse-holders, borrowed muskets, and fought with the Wisconsin regiment that came to relieve them. While this left of my line was engaged, Devin’s brigade, on the right, had its hands full The enemy advanced upon Devin by four roads, and on each was checked and held until the leading division of the Eleventh Corps came to his relief.
After the fall of General Reynolds, whose advance troops partially drove back the enemy and made heavy captures of prisoners, the enemy brought up fresh troops, and engaged General Doubleday’s command, which fought bravely, but was greatly outnumbered and forced to fall back. Seeing our troops retiring, and their need of assistance, I immediately rushed Gamble’s brigade to Doubleday’s left, and dismounted it in time to render great assistance to our infantry, and to check and break the enemy’s line. My troops at this place had partial shelter behind a low stone fence, and were in short carbine range. Their fire was perfectly terrific, causing the enemy to break and rally on their second line, which made no farther advance toward my position.
Shortly after this, I placed my command on our extreme left, to watch and fight the enemy should he make another attack, and went to Cemetery Hill for observation. While there, General Hancock arrived, and in a few moments he made superb disposition to resist any attack that might be made.
My division bivouacked that night on the left of our position, with pickets extending almost to Fairfield.
The zeal, bravery, and good behavior of the officers and men on the night of June 30, and during July 1, was commendable in the extreme. A heavy task was before us; we were equal to it, and shall all remember with pride that at Gettysburg we did our country much service.
July 2, the division became engaged with the enemy’s sharpshooters on our left, and held its own until relieved by General Sickles’ corps, after which it moved to Taneytown, and bivouacked for the night.
The next day, July 3, it moved to Westminster, to guard the trains of the army at that point.
July 4, the division marched toward Frederick, en route to Williamsport.
July 5, reached Frederick, drew supplies, and remained all night. July 6, the whole division (the Reserve Brigade having joined the night before) marched at 4 a.m. toward Williamsport, to destroy the enemy’s trains, which were reported to be crossing the Potomac into Virginia. At about 5 p.m., when near Saint James’ College, the enemy’s pickets were discovered, driven in, and preparations made to capture the town. The enemy was driven handsomely to within half a mile of his trains, at the town, when he came out strong enough to prevent our farther progress. General Merritt’s brigade, with Graham’s battery, was on the right, Colonel Gamble’s (First) brigade on the left, and Colonel Devin’s (Second) brigade on the left rear as reserves. The enemy made an attack upon Gamble, who had posted his men under shelter, and who held his fire until the rebel line came within short carbine range, when he opened upon it, doing terrible execution, and driving it back into its stronghold. This was repeated with similar success. In Merritt’s front the enemy made no direct attack, but were so obstinate that General Merritt could not dislodge them without too much sacrifice. The enemy, however, attempted to turn our right with a brigade of infantry. This attempt was most admirably foiled by General Merritt.
While our hottest contest was in progress, General Kilpatrick’s guns were heard in the direction of Hagerstown, and as they grew nearer, I sent word to him to connect with my right for mutual support. The connection was made, but was of no consequence to either of us. Just before dark, Kilpatrick’s troops gave way, passing to my rear by the right, and were closely followed by the enemy.
It now being dark, outnumbered, and the First and Reserve Brigades being out of ammunition, Devin was ordered to relieve Gamble and a portion of Merritt’s troops. This being done, I ordered the command to fall back, Devin to hold his ground until the entire road to the Antietam was clear. Devin handsomely carried out his instructions, and the division bivouacked on the road to Boonsborough.
The expedition had for its object the destruction of the enemy’s trains, supposed to be at Williamsport. This, I regret to say, was not accomplished. The enemy was too strong for me, but he was severely punished for his obstinacy. His casualties were more than quadruple mine.
Colonel Chapman, with his regiment, dashed off to the road leading from Falling Waters to Williamsport, and destroyed a small train of grain, and returned with about 40 mules and their harness.
At Williamsport, Captain Graham fought his battery with marked ability, and to the admiration of all witnesses. The officers and men behaved with their usual courage, displaying great unwillingness to fall back, and requiring repeated orders before they did so.
July 7, the division moved to Boonsborough, the Reserve Brigade camping well in advance on the Hagerstown road, after having a successful cavalry brush with the enemy’s advance, of which I have as yet received no report.
July 8, the enemy attacked at 5 a.m., and the fighting lasted until about 5 p.m. He was driven back about 4 miles, when the division then bivouacked for the night.
July 9, attacked the enemy at 4 p.m. and drove him handsomely about 2 miles.
July 10, attacked the enemy at 8 a.m. and drove him through Funkstown to his intrenchments beyond Antietam, when he came out with a heavy force of infantry and artillery and gave battle. The division held the crest on our side of the town like veterans until its ammunition was exhausted. Howe’s division, of the Sixth Corps, was in easy supporting distance, but had no orders to aid me. At 3 p.m. I could no longer reply with carbines, for want of cartridges, and consequently ordered the division to fall back. A brigade of the Sixth Corps then began to advance, but did not occupy the position that I held when I left the field.
There was splendid fighting on the part of the division on the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. There was no faltering or hesitation. Each man went to work determined to carry anything in reason. For the particulars I refer you to the reports of the brigade commanders.
July 11, the First and Second Brigades moved in the afternoon to the vicinity of Bakersville. The Reserve Brigade was detached.
July 12 and 13, remained at Bakersville, and pushed pickets to within 800 yards of the enemy’s intrenchments at Downsville.
July 14, at 7 a.m., the division was ordered to advance, and at 7.30 o’clock it was discovered that the enemy had evacuated during the night. The few remaining scouts were run into the rear guard of Lee’s army, which was soon seen in front of Kilpatrick, who had advanced from the north. Kilpatrick was engaged. I sent word to him that I would put my whole force in on the enemy’s rear and flank, and get possession of the road and bridge in their rear. The division succeeded in getting the road, and attacked the enemy in flank and rear, doing him great damage, and scattering him in confusion through the woods and ravines. Our spoils on this occasion were one 10-pounder Parrott gun, one caisson, over 500 prisoners, and about 300 muskets. General Merritt came up in time to take the advance before the enemy had entirely crossed, and made many captures. The enemy’s bridge was protected by over a dozen guns in position and sharpshooters on the Virginia side. As our troops neared the bridge, the enemy cut the Maryland side loose, and the bridge swung to the Virginia side.
July 15, the division moved to Berlin. July 16, moved camp to Petersville. July 17, remained at Petersville.
July 18, crossed during the afternoon, and encamped near Purcellville.
July 19, marched through Philomont, and encamped on Goose Creek, near Rector’s Cross-Roads.
July 20, marched to Rectortown. Detached General Merritt with his brigade to hold Manassas Gap, Gamble to hold Chester Gap, and Devin, with all the train, moved to Salem.
July 21, Merritt in Manassas, Gamble near Chester Gap, finding it already in possession of a superior force of the enemy. General Merritt and Colonel Gamble each had a fight and made captures, for particulars of which see their reports.
July 22, wagon train sent to Warrenton in charge of Sixth New York Cavalry. Devin moved toward Barbee’s Cross-Roads.
July 23, whole division concentrated at Barbee’s Cross-Roads, and remained until the 26th, when the division took position at Warrenton and Fayetteville, picketing the Rappahannock River from Sulphur Springs to Kelly s Ford.
During the whole campaign, from June 27 to July 31, there has been no shirking or hesitation, no tiring on the part of a single man so far as I have seen; the brigade commanders report none.
To General Merritt and Colonels Gamble and Devin, brigade commanders, I give my heartfelt thanks for their zeal and hearty support. Neither of them ever doubted the feasibility of an order, but on its reception obeyed its dictates to the letter.
My staff–Captains [Charles E.] Norris, Keogh, [Craig W.] Wadsworth, and Bacon, and Lieutenants Mix, P. Penn Gaskill, Dean, [Albert P.] Morrow, [Malcomb H.] Wing, and [George M.] Gilchrist–were always on hand, and gave me much valuable information from where the fire was hottest, and were of immense assistance in conveying orders on the field of battle, and seeing that they were obeyed. During the campaign they were all under heavy fire on different occasions, and for coolness and gallantry cannot be excelled in this army.
Lieutenant [Aaron B.] Jerome, signal corps, was ever on the alert, and through his intrepidity and fine glasses on more than one occasion kept me advised of the enemy’s movements when no other means were available. Surgeon Hard, Eighth Illinois Cavalry, surgeon-in-chief to the division, deserve great credit for his zealous and untiring attention and labors with the sick and wounded. Through his exertions their sufferings have been greatly alleviated, their wants supplied, and many lives saved. Many wounded soldiers are indebted to him for his timely aid on the battle-field, who, but for his energy, would have shared the fate of many poor fellows who had less attentive surgeons.
I transmit with this the reports of the brigade commanders.
The First Brigade captured 854 head of beef-cattle and 602 sheep at Chester Gap, which were turned over to the subsistence department at Markham, July 24.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, JNO. BUFORD, Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding.