The Bucktails were one of the Civil War's hardest fighting regiments. Acting as skirmishers for the Union Army, these Pennsylvania sharpshooters were the equivalent of today's Army Rangers. William P. Robertson and David Rimer have written a seven novel series that follows the adventures of two frontier lads who stand the test of fire at Dranesville, Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. Also detailed are the brutal marches, lousy rations, inept generals, and fearful diseases that made survival a true test of courage for these young riflemen. Robertson and Rimer create historical fiction that's easy to read and loaded with action. These books are as realistic and hard-hitting as the Civil War itself and contain a wealth of information about the Bucktail Regiment.
A NOVEL-BY-NOVEL HISTORY OF THE BUCKTAILS
William P. Robertson and David Rimer did extensive research before writing each of their Bucktail books. The history guided the plot, not the other way around. The three primary sources the authors found most useful were HISTORY OF THE BUCKTAILS by O.R. Howard Thomson and William H. Rauch (an actual member of the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteers), BUCKTAILED WILDCATS by Edwin A. Glover,and PENNSYLVANIA BUCKTAILS A PHOTOGRAPHIC ALBUM OF THE 42ND, 149TH, AND 150TH PENNSYLVANIA REGIMENTS by Patrick A. Schroeder. Here is a brief account of the historical events that occur in each novel:
HAYFOOT, STRAWFOOT: THE BUCKTAIL RECRUITS
After the Civil War began with the firing on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 volunteers to squelch the Rebel menace. The first Pennsylvanian to offer his services was Thomas Leiper Kane. He set up his headquarters at the Bennett House Hotel in Smethport, PA, and began recruiting a company of McKean County men that would form the nucleus of his new rifle regiment. The name of the regiment came about by accident when James Landrigan, the first man to sign the muster roll, walked across the street, cut the tail off a deer hanging in a meat market, and stuck the tail in his hat. Colonel Kane saw this as the perfect symbol for his group of crack shots and hunters and soon the caps of all who enlisted sported deer tails or pieces of deer hide. The colonel then marched his recruits through the wilderness to Emporium where they were joined by other hardy woodsmen from Cameron County. This force continued on foot down the Sinnemahoning Creek until they reached Driftwood. A company from Elk County joined them there and helped construct rafts that were used to get the regiment to Lock Haven. At Lock Haven the Bucktails boarded a train that took them to Camp Curtin in Harrisburg where the men receiving their training as soldiers of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. The Bucktails were designated as the 13th Pennsylvania Resrves. Other names they went by were the First Pennsylvania Rifles, the Kane Rifles, and the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteers. In Harrisburg, Kane gave up command of the regiment to Colonel Charles Biddle because Biddle had served in the Mexican War and had more experience training troops. In December of 1861, the Bucktails were dispatched to Northern Virginia and saw their first real action at Dranesville. Although grievously wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Kane was instrumental in the first Union victory of the war when his men defeated a Confederate force trying to outflank the Yankee line.
THE BUCKTAILS' SHENANDOAH MARCH
After the Battle of Dranesville, the Bucktails wintered at Camp Pierpont near present-day Langley, Virginia. Colonel Biddle left the regiment to serve in Congress, and an election was held among the men to choose a new commander. Hugh McNeil was picked over Thomas Kane to become colonel. In the spring of 1862, the regiment then proceeded to Falmouth, Virginia, where McNeil fell sick to the fever. Soon after, the Bucktails were divided into two units. Four companies followed Lieutenant Colonel Kane to the Shenandoah Valley to cut off Stonewall Jackson, who had gone north on a foraging raid. The other six companies, under Major Roy Stone, were dispatched to the Peninsula to help in General George B. McClellan's Virginia invasion. Kane's men chased Jackson the full length of the Shenandoah Valley before being defeated at Harrisonburg. Kane was wounded and captured during the battle. The lieutenant colonel was exchanged in time for the deadly night fight at Catlett's Station, Virginia, and then he and his Bucktails aided the Union retreat after the Second Battle of Bull Run. Kane's gallantry got him promoted to general when the regiment was reunited in September 1862, at Alexandria, Virginia.
THE BUCKTAILS: PERILS ON THE PENINSULA
The six companies of Bucktails under Major Stone were involved in some of the hardest fighting of the war in June of 1862 on the Virginia Peninsula. When General McClellan was withdrawing his army from an unsuccessful probe against Richmond during the Seven Days Campaign, they saw action at Mechanicsville, Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines' Mill, New Market Cross Roads, and Malvern Hill. Colonel McNeil rejoined his command at Harrison's Landing on the James River, and Major Stone was sent back to Pennsylvania to recruit men for two new Bucktail Regiments, the 149th and 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers. McNeil's Bucktails, meanwhile, were in the thick of the action during the three-day Battle of Second Bull Run at the end of August. Afterward, they rejoined Kane's men in September 1862, at Alexandria, Virginia.
THE BUCKTAILS' ANTIETAM TRIALS
The book begins with the Bucktails' storming of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. The regiment then proceeded with McClellan's army to Antietam Creek in Maryland where they bivouacked with Fighting Joe Hooker's I Corps. On the evening of September 16th, the Bucktails, acting as Union skirmishers, made first contact with Robert E. Lee's Confederates near the East Woods. After Colonel McNeil was killed in a charge across a plowed field, the First Pennsylvania Rifles chased the Rebs into the woods and engaged in a firefight with them through the night. The next morning the Bucktails blasted Trimble's brigade near the Mumma farmhouse until they ran out of ammunition and had to withdraw. The regiment was then held in reserve and missed the action in the Cornfield and at Bloody Lane.
THE BATTLING BUCKTAILS AT FREDERICKSBURG
The Bucktails' first action after Antietam came in a skirmish with Rebel cavalry near Warrenton, Virginia, on November 16, 1862. Soon after, General McClellan was relieved of command of the Union Army and replaced by General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside ordered the Bucktails to Fredericksburg where the Confederates had taken up defensive positions atop a hill across the Rappahannock River. The Bucktails were positioned on the far left of the Union line opposite Stonewall Jackson's Rebels. During the attack of December 13th, the Bucktails, now under the command of Captain Frederick Taylor, found a gap in the Confederate line and burst through. If reinforced, the Rifles could well have won the battle. Instead, the Rebs poured deadly fire into the Bucktails from three sides, and the regiment suffered their worst casualties of the war. Withdrawing from Fredericksburg, the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves then participated in the disastrous Mud March before going into winter camp at Belle Plain, Virginia.
THE BUCKTAILS AT THE DEVIL'S DEN
In February of 1863, the Bucktails were recalled to the defenses of Washington and set up their winter camp at Fairfax Station, Virginia. While serving there, the regiment fought many small skirmishes with Rebel guerrillas and the Gray Ghost, John Mosby. They were pitted against these irregulars until Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania. Marching furiously north, the Bucktails finally overtook the rest of the Union Army at Frederick, Maryland. As part of the Fifth Corps of the Federal Army, the Bucktails were then called the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteers. After a double-time all-night march, the 42nd reached the great battle at Gettysburg on noon of the second day's fight, July 2, 1863. The Bucktails were rushed to the top of Little Round Top just in time to repulse a wild Rebel charge. They stopped the Rebs and then pushed them downhill and on across Bloody Run to the vicinity of the Devil's Den. Colonel Taylor was killed while scouting the strength of the Rebels that evening. On July 3rd the Bucktails were sent to the left of the Wheatfield to silence a Confederate battery. In the process they outflanked the Devil's Den, forcing Rebel snipers to withdraw. During that day's action, Sergeant James Thompson of Company G captured an enemy battle flag, for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
THE BUCKTAILS' LAST CALL
After Gettysburg, the Bucktails shadowed Lee's retreating Rebels, who escaped across the Potomac River. The rest of the summer of 1863, the 42nd Pennsylvania refitted near Rappahannock Station, Virginia. It wasn't until the end of November that the Bucktails saw major action again when they participated in General George Meade's futile Mine Run Campaign. In the spring of 1864, Meade was replaced by General U.S. Grant, who attacked the Rebels in the Wilderness from May 4th through the 6th. The Bucktails fought sparingly there until engaged in a sharp battle with the Confederates' rear guard. From May 8th until May 20th, the 42nd, now under the command of Major Ross Hartshorne, fought brutal trench warfare at Spottsylvania Court House. On May 30, 1864, the Bucktails saw their final action at Bethesda Church before mustering out of the army. They stayed an extra day after their term of service expired to make sure enough troops were in rank to defeat the charging Rebels.
Born in Philadelphia, CHARLES BIDDLE fought in the Mexican War and was promoted to major for his bravery at the Battle of Chapultepec. He was a lawyer in civilian life and a graduate of Princeton University. He was 42 years old when he again enlisted in the army as lieutenant colonel of the Bucktails. On June 12, 1861, he was elected colonel of the regiment because of his previous war experience. He resigned his command after being elected to Congress in October of 1861. After the war, Biddle was editor of the Philadelphia AGE. He died on September 28, 1873.
The Bucktail Regiment was the brainchild of THOMAS LEIPER KANE, who was born on January 27, 1822 in Philadelphia. After studying in Paris, Thomas learned the lawyer's trade from his father, a Federal judge. Kane was an abolitionist and a friend of the Mormons before the outbreak of the Civil War. He also founded the town of Kane, Pennsylvania. He gave up his colonelcy of the Bucktails to Charles Biddle, so his regiment would receive proper military training. Lieutenant Colonel Kane left the Bucktails on September 7, 1862, when he was promoted to brigadier general. He rose from his sick bed in Baltimore to fight with his brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, Kane built the famous Kinzua Railroad Viaduct to transport coal from his mines in McKean County to the Buffalo, NY market. He died of pneumonia on December 26, 1883.
HUGH MCNEIL worked for the United States Coast Survey and the U.S. Treasury Department before moving to Warren, Pennsylvania where he was employed by the Warren Bank. He was 31 years old at the outbreak of the Civil War and elected first lieutenant of Company D after enlisting in the Bucktails. On January 22, 1862, he was elected colonel of the regiment at Camp Pierpont, Virginia. Typhoid fever kept McNeil out of the Peninsula Campaign, but he rejoined the Bucktails in time to fight the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was shot and killed at the Battle of Antietam on September 16, 1862.
CHARLES FREDERICK TAYLOR was born on February 6, 1840, at West Chester, Pennsylvania. After a year at the University of Michigan and a tour of Europe, he managed his father's farm near Kennett Square. Taylor was elected captain of Company H of the Bucktails. He displayed his bravery at the Battle of Harrisonburg, Virginia, when he tried rescuing the wounded Lieutenant Colonel Kane and was captured. After being exchanged, he took command of the Bucktails as the senior ranking officer. He was wounded at Fredericksburg and promoted to colonel soon after. At age 23, he was the youngest colonel in the Union Army. Taylor was killed on July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. A monument was erected on the battlefield near the Devil's Den to mark where he fell.
W. ROSS HARTSHORNE, born January 26, 1839, was made adjutant of the Bucktails after serving as first lieutenant with Company K of Clearfield County. He was promoted to major before the Battle of Gettysburg and took over command of the regiment following Colonel Taylor's death. After the Bucktails mustered out of service on May 31, 1864, Hartshorne reenlisted in the 190th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers as their colonel. On March 13, 1865, he was brevetted brigadier general for "conspicuous gallantry and meritorious services throughout the war." Hartshorne died on January 12, 1905, and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Curwensville, Pennsylvania.
GUNS USED BY THE BUCKTAILS
The first guns the Bucktails received were inferior Harper's Ferry muskets that were only accurate to a short distance. Those were .69 caliber smoothbores and fired a one-once round ball. The usual load used by the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves was three buckshot and one ball, or buck 'n' ball. The Bucktails referred to this load as "three cheers and a tiger." The kick of these smoothbores when fired was so great that it often knocked the men off their feet. To solve the problem, three dimes were rammed down the barrel to fill the chamber and eliminate the back action. The Bucktails only carried these muskets during their first scouting mission to Piedmont and New Creek, Virginia, in July of 1861. The regiment was ordered back to Camp Curtin in Harrisburg soon after news of the Union defeat at Bull Run reached them.
On August 6, 1861, the Bucktails were issued Springfield and Enfield muskets at Camp Curtin. These guns had rifled barrels and were accurate up to 700 yards. The Springfield fired hollow based .58 caliber Minie balls. The Enfield bullets were slightly smaller at .577 caliber. The average Bucktail rifleman could load and fire these weapons three times a minute. The Springfields weighed almost ten pounds while the Enfields were a pound lighter.
Before embarking on the Antietam Campaign in September of 1862, the Bucktails were issued Sharps rifles. These were .52 caliber breechloaders that fired paper cartridges. A rifleman could fire ten shots a minute using these guns. Because he didn't have to work a ramrod to load a Sharps, the Bucktail could remain under cover while feeding cartridges into his piece. Such guns greatly increased the firepower of the regiment. A Sharps rifle weighed 8 3/4 pounds.
The Bucktails got even better guns before they fought in the Wilderness in early May, 1864. These were Spencer repeaters that held seven shots in a magazine that ran up through the gun stock. As the joke went, a rifleman could load the Spencer on Sunday and shoot it all week. After firing, a flick of the lever ejected the spent cartridge and brought the next shell into position. A practiced shooter could get off a shot every three to four seconds. The gun shot "modern" rim-fire .52 caliber ammo and was accurate up to 2,000 yards. The rifle was also extremely hard hitting. At a distance of 150 feet, its bullet would penetrate through thirteen inches of timber. The Spencer, which weighed ten pounds, was reportedly Abraham Lincoln's favorite rifle, and the president target practiced with it regularly in the park behind the White House. The Bucktails carried these rifles until they mustered out of service on May 30, 1864.
THE NEW BUCKTAILS
After the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves performed gallantly during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Major Roy Stone was sent back to Pennsylvania to raise more regiments of Bucktails. By the end of August, the 149th and 150th units had been organized. The Battle of Antietam, however, brought an abrupt end to further recruitment when the New Bucktails were rushed to Washington to guard the capital. In February of 1863, the riflemen were sent to Belle Plain to complete their training. Soon after their arrival in Virginia, Roy Stone was promoted to command his own brigade consisting of the 149th, 150th, and 143rd Pennsylvania Volunteers. Leadership of the 149th then fell to Lieutenant Colonel Walton Dwight, who whipped his soldiers into fighting shape in time for the summer campaign. The 149th received their baptism of fire during the Chancellorsville action, performing ably for General Hooker's Union Army. Gettysburg, though, was the regiment's crowning achievement when they withstood Rebel cannon bombardments and unrelenting infantry attacks for over two hours during the first day's battle near McPherson's barn. The 149th lost 80% of their men at Gettysburg and were then brought back to regimental strength with draftees of questionable bravery. This left a small core of battle-tested veterans to lead the Bucktails in the gruesome Wilderness and Spottsylvania Court House Campaigns that put them in harm's way for two grueling weeks of combat. Equally brutal were the Battle of Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg. Add a tour of duty guarding the infamous Elmira Prison Camp, and the New Bucktails visited every circle of Civil War Hell. The trials of the regiment are chronicled in Robertson and Rimer's novels THE BUCKTAIL BROTHERS OF THE FIGHTING 149TH and THE BUCKTAIL BROTHERS: BRAVE MEN'S BLOOD.
THE 190TH BUCKTAILS
The 190th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry unit was organized in the field after the Battle of Bethesda Church on May 31, 1864, by newly-promoted Colonel Ross Hartshorne. Hartshorne led the original Bucktails until they mustered out of service, and half of his old command joined his new regiment once they learned that they'd be fighting under the Bucktail flag. After a fierce skirmish with the Rebs in White Oak Swamp on June 13th, the 190th marched to the James River and crossed it on transports to join the left flank of the Union Army on the Dimmock Line before Petersburg. Their lieutenant colonel was Joseph Pattee, and John Wolfe was their major. The Bucktails spent the rest of June, all of July, and the first half of August in strengthening the Union fortifications around the Rebel city. On August 18th and 19th, they were assigned skirmish duty while the rest of the Fifth Corps destroyed part of the Weldon Railroad. During this action, the 190th Bucktails were surrounded by the enemy and over 700 of them captured, including Colonel Hartshorne. For the survivors, the winter months were difficult, as well. On December 7-12, the regiment participated in the infamous Applejack Raid, and on February 5-8, 1865, battled the Rebs near Dabney's Mill. On April 1st, with Lieutenant Colonel Pattee in command, the Bucktails breached the angle in the Rebels' line during the Battle of Five Forks. The next day, they began the pursuit of Lee's army that had abandoned Petersburg to escape south. A grueling eight-day chase ensued with a 42-mile forced march on April 8th needed to catch the Confederates at Appomattox Court House. The Bucktails then pushed the Rebels back into the town where they surrendered on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865. To fully appreciate the gallantry of the regiment, read William P. Robertson's novel, THE 190TH BUCKTAILS: CATCHIN' BOBBY LEE.