18th Pennsylvania Cavalry troopers described the Battle of Hanover – Part 1
The 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry was primarily recruited in July 1862 in Philadelphia and several counties throughout the state — Greene, Crawford, Dauphin, Washington, Allegheny, Lycoming, Cambria, and Montgomery. In August and November they were mustered into Federal service at Camp Simmons near Harrisburg. They moved to the Washington, D.C., area in December and held their first mounted drill on Christmas Day. They fought in 1863 in several battles and participated in the Gettysburg Campaign in the Army of the Potomac.
On June 30, 1863, Confederates attacked the 18th’s column south of Hanover, Pennsylvania, and temporarily split the regiment in two. It was one of the opening acts of what became the Battle of Hanover, a nearly forgotten battle today which impacted famed Rebel General J.E.B. Stuart’s ability to link up with Jubal Early’s infantry which was operating in central and western York County.
Here are a few eyewitness accounts of the Hanover fight from members of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
In 1863 this building was the Central Hotel, which served as Union headquarters for much of the Battle of Hanover. Members of the 18th Pennsylvania would pass by the hotel.
THE BATTLE OF HANOVER
By Captain H. C. Potter, 18th Pa. Cavalry.
The division left Littlestown about 8 o’clock A. M., in the following order: Kilpatrick, with his staff and bodyguard, 1st Ohio, Custer with the 1st, 5th, 6th and 7th Michigan; then the artillery, then Farnsworth (Richmond did not command a brigade then) with the 1st Vermont, 1st West Virginia, and 5th New York. Behind them came the ambulance, wagons, horses and pack mules, and last of all the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry.
Our regiment was the last to leave, and I did not leave there until 10 A. M. When starting, Lieut.-Colonel William P. Brinton, in command, ordered me to pick my men and remain about a mile in the rear. I took about twenty men each from L and M companies. At this time I carried a carbine. We proceeded, making inquiry of eyeryone if any ” Johnnies” had been seen, but none had been. After going a few miles, I was joined by Captain Freeland of my regiment. He rode with us for a while, and he and the men he had with him left, taking a road to the right. (Most of us that day wore our cape overcoats.)
As we neared Hanover, a little after 11 o’clock, we came to a stream across the road (no bridge) where we watered our horses. While watering, a farmer came from a house close by calling to me “The rebs have taken my horses and cows.” I went with him to his barn, when he showed me the empty stalls and pointed out in the distance a small body of troops who had with them one of those old-fashioned Conestoga wagons. These troops had on blue coats, and I thought it was Freeland. I told the farmer I would have his stock returned to him and left, not being satisfied in my mind. I sent Corporals Street and Dannenhower to see who they were. They came back saying it was Freeland.
We went on, these troops getting closer and their numbers increasing. I was suspicious as their guidon was very red. When about a mile from the town the road they were on turned sharply into the one we were on, and about sixty of them came out directly in front of us. They called on us not to shoot, but surrender saying, “We’ve just captured some of you’ns,” and they would not shoot. When we got very close to them we fired and charged (this was the first shot fired); they scattered and we went through them. It did not take them long to recover and they came after us. We ran toward the town and a bend in the road brought into view the rear of our regiment dismounted.
Hearing the firing in their rear they were mounting their horses and some of them joined us in driving them back. It was here that I was joined by Adjutant Gall (I first called him Lee) of the 5th New York. He rode with me at the head of the first set of fours. He did not get far, when he fell from his horse. We were again driven back and this time the whole regiment joined in and we drove them to a standstill. It was here up a lane, with a high, stiff post and rail fence on each side, the cutting and slashing was done and for a few in the very front it was a hand-to-hand fight. It was here General Custer came dashing up in the field behind us, shouting ” Drive them,” but for a short time neither side would give way. Custer went back for more troops, but before they arrived the enemy dropped a shell (the first fired) in our midst, when we gave way and fell back to the edge of town, when the 5th New York came to our assistance. This practically ended the affair. Elder’s Battery was by this time brought into Market Square and a few shots were exchanged with the one gun the enemy had in action. The 5th New York and 18th Pennsylvania were the only troops actively engaged on our side, and the ” rebs ” at no time had over 700 or 800 and but one gun that they used.
Lieut.-Colonel Payne was not captured as Stuart says. We lost no wagons or ambulances, and the enemy were never near them. Lieut.-Colonel Payne ventured too near town, had his horse killed and in his hurry to get away, fell in a tan vat. We killed a Confederate colonel and buried him, with three or four men, where they fell, inside the fence and not far from the creek. The whole affair was an accident, and had they gathered up our little command (as they did others) without making a noise about it there would have been no so-called battle of Hanover.
More accounts to come in Part 2.