5th New York Cavalry’s chaplain recounts the fight at Hanover, Pa.
“The Picket,” a Civil War monument in downtown Hanover, Pennsylvania, commemorates the June 30, 1863, Battle of Hanover during the Gettysburg Campaign. This now little remembered fight significantly delayed Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart from his quest to rendezvous with the Army of Northern Virginia in southern Pennsylvania and may have influenced the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg the following three days. Postcard from the collection of Scott Mingus.
The Battle of Hanover has been the subject of several books, the earliest being William Anthony’s book in the first half of the 20th century and the most recent being a book by Licensed Battlefield Guide John T. Krepps (A Strong and Sudden Onslaught: The Cavalry Action at Hanover, Pennsylvania). In between have been a series of other treatments, including Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi’s Plenty of Blame to Go Around: J.E.B. Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.
One of the early eyewitness accounts was the chaplain of the 5th New York Cavalry, Louis Napoleon Boudrye.
He favorably remembered the hospitality of the Pennsylvanians, who “made the welkin ring”, an old now archaic expression for making the heavens sing with joy.
That joy would turn into tragedy for some horse soldiers from the Empire State.
June 28th. Gen. [Alfred] Pleasanton reviewed the division, and reorganized the entire force. We are now the Third Division of the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, with the gallant [H. Judson] Kilpatrick in command. The first brigade consists of the 1st Vermont, 1st Virginia, 18th Pennsylvania and 5th New York, Brig. Gen. [Elon] Farnsworth commanding. Brig. Gen. [George Armstrong] Custer commands the 2d brigade, composed of Michigan regiments.
Gen. [John] Buford commands the first division and Gen. [David M.] Gregg the second division; the whole force forming the most efficient cavalry corps ever organized on this continent. To-day Gen. [George G.] Meade superseded Gen. [Joseph O.] Hooker in the command of the Army of the Potomac.
June 29th. At 10 A. M., with its new commander, the division moved to Pennsylvania, passing through Walkersville, Woodsboro’, Ladiesville, Mechanicsville, Taneytown, and finally Littlestown, Pa., where we were received with the greatest demonstrations of joy by the people. A large group of children, on the balcony of a hotel, waving handkerchiefs and flags, greeted us with patriotic songs, while the men made the welkin ring with their cheers. How different was such reception from that we had been accustomed to have given us by the inhabitants of Virginian villages!
June 30th. The column moved early to Hanover, where we were again enthusiastically received by the citizens, who furnished refreshments liberally to the troopers, as each regiment entered and passed through the town. This enjoyable state of things continued until about 10 o’clock; and while the Fifth was receiving the attentions of the people, the sudden report of a cannon was heard from one of the neighboring hills. At first this was taken as a friendly salute for our troops, but the deception was soon removed by a fierce charge of Rebel cavalry under immediate command of Gen. Stuart, upon the unsuspecting column in the street, sending terror to the people, especially to the ladies and children, who were paying their compliments to their defenders. With his accustomed coolness and bravery, Maj. [John] Hammond, in command of the regiment, quickly withdrew from the street to the open field near the rail road depot, ordered the boys into line and led the charge upon the Rebels, who then possessed the town. The charging columns met on Frederick street, where a hand to hand conflict ensued. For a few moments the enemy made heroic resistance, but finally broke and fled, closely pursued by.our men. They rallied again and again but were met with irresistible onsets, which finally compelled them to retire behind the hills under cover of their guns.
In less than fifteen minutes from the time the Rebels charged the town, they were all driven from it, and were skulking in the wheat fields and among the hills of the vicinity. The dead and wounded of both parties, with many horses, lay scattered here and there along the streets, so covered with blood and dust as to render identification in many cases very difficult. Meanwhile, Gen. Kilpatrick, who was several miles beyond the town, at the head of the column, when the attack was made, arrived upon the field, and took personal charge of the movements. These were ordered with consummate skill, and executed with promptness and success. His artillery, well posted on the hills facing the Rebels, and well supported, soon silenced the guns of the enemy, and compelled him to retire in the direction of Lee’s main army. He left not less than 25 dead in the streets and fields, and his wounded by far exceeded this number. We captured 75 prisoners, including Lt. Col. [William] Payne, who commanded a brigade [actually a regiment], and one stand of colors, the flag of the 13th Virginia cavalry. This was the trophy of Sergt. [Thomas] Burke, Company A. Our entire loss was nine killed, thirty-one wounded and a few prisoners. Among the killed was Adjutant [Alexander] Gall, who fell while gallantly charging the enemy in the street. The fatal ball entered his left eye, and passed through his head, killing him instantly.
The citizens of Hanover, who so nobly cared for our wounded in the hospitals during and after the battle, and assisted us in burying the dead, will long remember that terrible last day of June.
The brave boys, who had so valiantly defeated the enemy, though taken by surprise, built their bivouac fires and spent the night on the field of their recent victory.
July 1st. At 11 A. M. the 1st brigade moved to Abbottstown, to Berlin, and pursued Rebel cavalry from this place to Rosetown, capturing several prisoners, and returned to Berlin at midnight and bivouacked.
July 2d. The division moved to within two miles of Gettysburg, thence to New Oxford and Hunterstown, where we fought till dark. This was the extreme right wing of our army, while engaged in that great conflict, which decided the fate of the Rebellion and saved the Republic from ruin.
Source: Historic Records of the Fifth New York Cavalry, First Ira Harris Guard, by Louis Napoleon Boudrye (Albany, NY: S. R. Gray, 1865), pages 64-66.