Sunday, August 25, 2019

Benjamin Franklin Davis: Service in the 1st U S Dragoons

Benjamin Franklin Davis graduated from West Point July 1, 1854 and was commissioned a brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th U S Infantry.  Upon graduation he returned to Aberdeen, Mississippi where he awaited orders to travel to his duty station Ringgold Barracks, which was just north of the Rio Grande River about 100 miles up river from Brownsville, Texas.   After a 5 month leave of absence Davis arrived at Ringgold Barracks and joined Company C, 5th U S Infantry on December 24, 1854.  Colonel Gustavus Loomis of the 5th Infantry commanded the post.  Brevet 2nd Lieutenants Stephen D. Lee (Company D, 4th Artillery) and David H. Brotherton (Company G, 5th Infantry), classmates of Davis's at West Point, were at the camp when Davis arrived, having preceded him by about two weeks.

Brevet 2nd Lt. Davis's stay at Ringgold appears to have been uneventful.  The post returns show him at the fort from December 24, 1854 until June 23, 1855.  On May 23, 1855, Benjamin F. Davis and four of his classmates William D. Pender (2nd Artillery), Alfred B. Chapman (3rd Artillery,) John T. Mercer (6th Infantry) and Horace Randal (8th Infantry) were appointed 2nd Lieutenants, "to take rank therein from March 3, 1855" in the 1st Dragoons to fill the vacancies of field officers in that regiment.

Between 1848 and 1853 the United States gained over 1.5 million acres of land from Mexico and England through conquest, treaty and land sales.  As the country expanded westward military forces were needed to establish forts along the major transportation corridors to protect immigrants and settlers from the Indians.  They also patrolled the boarder between Mexico and the United States to help prevent depredation from Indians, Mexicans and Americans on both sides of line separating the two countries.  The Dragoons were in the forefront of the military's efforts to establish forts as well as in their dealing with the Indians.   Benjamin Davis and a number of his classmates would be actively engaged in fort building, scouting and in periodic battles and skirmishes with the Indians in some of the countries most remote and inhospitable environs between 1855 and the fall of 1861.

2nd Lt. Davis left Ringgold Barracks on June 23, 1855 in route to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he arrived on  August 3, 1855.  On September 23 Davis, Pender and Chapman left Fort Leavenworth headed for Jefferson Barracks near St Louis and eventually to Fort Columbus on Governors Island in New York Harbor.  Davis and Pender arrived in New York on October 2, 1855.   They departed the fort on October October 25, 1855, presumably by ship, with a detachment of recruits in route to New Mexico Territory to join their regiment.

On January 15, 1856 2nd Lt. Davis and the recruits under his jurisdiction arrived at Fort Fillmore, New Mexico territory.  The fort was on the Rio Grande not far from the boarder with Mexico.  It had been established in 1851 to protect immigration routes between El Paso and Tucson.  Davis was temporarily attached to Company B, 1st  Dragoons (that assignment was made official March 5, 1856) who were at the fort under the command of Captain John W. Davidson (West Point Class of 1845).  He would remain at the fort throughout February and March 1856.  On April 15, Davidson, Davis and Company B, 1st Dragoons departed Fort Fillmore for their permanent home Fort Stanton.

                              Map of Forts in New Mexico Territory

Benjamin Davis arrived  at Fort Stanton with Company B on April 24, 1856.  The military post at Fort Stanton, which is southeast of Albuquerque, and northeast of Fort Fillmore was established in 1855 to  protect settlements along the Rio Bonita and control the Mescalero Apache.  In 1856 the fort was staffed by Company B, 1st Dragoons, Company A & E, Third Infantry and Company E 8th Infantry   Four days after his April 24 arrival,  Davis was sent out on detached service to a grazing camp near the fort.

                             Fort Stanton, circa 1887

B. F. Davis returned to Fort Stanton from the grazing camp on May 19, 1856.  On  May 21 he left the fort on a scout with Captain Davidson to the Pecos River in an attempt to open communications with Captain John Pope who was attempting to drill artesian wells in the Llano Estacado in Texas.  Davidson & Davis would not arrive back at Fort Stanton until June 16, 1856.

Company B of the 1st Dragoons would remain at Fort Stanton through July 1856.  Orders were issued July 28, 1856 transferring Company B to Fort Thorn.  Fort Thorn, originally called Cantonment Garland after John Garland was located about 50 miles northwest of Fort Fillmore on the west bank of the Rio Grande.  Davis and Company B left Fort Stanton on August 11, 1856 to establish a grazing camp near Fort Thorn.  They arrived at the grazing camp in early September. where they were joined Companies D, G & K, 1st Dragoons.

Company B  left the grazing camp October 19 headed for Tucson about 340 miles northwest of First Thorn where Major Enoch Steen was directed to establish a fort.   Steen was not happy with the facilities at Tucson so he headed south about 60 miles to the Calabasa (Calabaza) Ranch  near the Santa Cruz River where he found good water and abundant grass. Calabasa Camp/Ranch was a stone fortress erected by the Mexicans in 1837 south of Tumacacori, New Mexico (now Arizona).   B. F. Davis and Company B, 1st Dragoons arrived at Camp Calabasa  November 2, 1856.  Steen  would name his new post, established at the ranch, Camp Moore.  The camp commanded by Steen, was originally garrisoned by 2 squadrons of the 1st Dragoons containing 253 men and 228 serviceable horses.   Company B was commanded by Captain Davidson, Company D  by 1st Lt. Milton Carr, Company G by Captain Richard S. Ewell,  and Company K by 1st Lt. David H. Hastings.

   Map of (Camp) Calabasas and Fort Buchanan

Captain Davidson left Camp Moore on leave of absence on December 28, 1856 leaving 2nd Lt. Benjamin Davis in command of Company B.  He would not return until October 1857.   In January 1857 Davis left the post on detached service with 34 troops in pursuit of Indians.  Captain Ewell was also in the field with men of G company marking the wagon road to Rio San Pedro.  In March B. F. Davis would again be on detached service, having left Camp Moore on March 9, in pursuit of deserters.  He did not return until sometime in April.

On May 2, 1857 Captain Richard Ewell, 2nd lieutenants Alfred Chapman and Benjamin Davis left Camp Moore with 103 rank and file and headed in a northeasterly direction through the Chiricahua Mountains in search of Indians.  Ewell established a camp in the mountain stronghold of the Apache on May 12 and went on a 7 day scout with Chapman and 65 men in search of the Indians who eluded them.  A day after arriving back at his base camp Ewell struck out again in search of his nemesis.  The second night out Ewell found the Apache and was engaged in hit and run fighting with them for several days before disengaging and heading off to join Colonel Benjamin L. E. Bonneville's  (West Point Class of 1815) Gila River Expedition.  Colonel Bonneville had organized the expedition to punish the Indians for the death of Indian Bureau agent Henry L. Dodge, who had been captured and killed by the Mogollon in early February 1857.   The Coyotero and Mogollon Apache had increased their raiding and depredation in the area, in part because they were unhappy with the increased U S military and civilian presence in their ancestral homeland.  Ewell's command arrived at Bonneville's Gila River depot on June 8, 1857.

  Once all the the forces were organized to participate in his expedition Colonel Bonneville split his command into 2 columns a northern one commanded by Colonel William W. Loring and a southern one under the command of Lt. Colonel Dixon S. Miles (West Point Class of 1824).  Loring lead his troops out of Albuquerque on May 1.  He arrived at the Gila River depot on May 18.  Loring engaged the Mimbres Apache (who had no involvement with Dodge's death) on May 24, 1857 at their camp in the Black Range in what is now the Gila National Forest in Grant and Sierra Counties in New Mexico.  He killing 7 warriors, captured 9 other and recovered  about 2000 head of sheep that had reportedly been stolen.

Lt. Colonel Miles lead the southern column of about four hundred men, which was composed of detachments from Companies B, D, G and K  of the 1st Dragoons, Company K of the Mounted Rifles, Companies C, F, and K of the 3rd Infantry and Company B of the 8th Infanty.  The column was accompanied by a group of  guides and spies made up of Puebla Indians and Mexicans under the command of  2nd Lt. Alexander McD. McCook (West Point Class of 1852).  Miles split his command into 2 wings.   He commanded the left wing.  Richard S. Ewell commanded the right. The columns were advancing westward from Fort Fillmore along both sides of the Gila River in search of Apache.   According to official reports, "after a march of twelve days from the depot on the Gila River" Ewell's troops, which separated from Miles column on June 24,  "came upon a band of Coyotero and Mogollon Apache" at their village along the Gila River near Mount Turnbull  on June 27, 1857. Ewell's forces charged the Indian camp "killed twenty-four; took twenty-seven prisoners, captured or destroyed their property;  and rescued a Mexican boy from captivity."   The battle was over with in less than an hour.  Two officers and 7 enlisted men of Ewell's command were wounded including 2nd. Lt. Benjamin F. Davis who was "shot in the knee in a personal encounter with an Apache".  Ewell noted in his report: "the wounded were promptly attended by Assistant Surgeon John M. Haden before the action was over".  Official reports also indicate "great credit given by commanding officers to the following named officers and men:  Alfred B. Chapman and Benjamin F. Davis".  Davis's wound would put him on sick leave at Fort Thorn until August 5 when he would return with  his company to Fort Buchanan.

To be continued.

Most of the information in this post comes from the "Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916" and  "U. S. Returns from Regular Army - Non Infantry Regiments, 1821 - 1916.

The information on Ewell and his action against the Chiricahua Apache comes from Richard S. Ewell A Soldiers Life by Donald C. Pfanz, The Univesity of North Carolina Press,  Chapel Hill and London, 1998 pg 92-93.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

An Officer, A Gentleman And An Ornament to His Country: The Life of Benjamin Franklin Davis, Part V

Thirty one year old Colonel Benjamin F. Davis and the 8th New York Cavalry moved from Hagerstown, Maryland to Pleasant Valley On October 25, 1862 in preparation for crossing the Potomac River at Berlin (present day Brunswick) on the 26.  After crossing the river Henry Norton noted  in Deeds of Daring the command "marched a number of miles into Virginia and made camp for the night.  It was rainy, cold and a disagreeable time."   Originally Major General McClellan had intended leaving Davis in Maryland to guard the upper Potomac with Arno Voss, John R. Kenly and Jacob M. Campbell's commands however, he appear to have moved into Virginia without having received the order to remain in Maryland.  For the next three weeks Davis, the 8th New York and the other regiments of  Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton's Cavalry Division would be engaged almost daily in skirmishing with the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia as both tried to locate the forces of the other and screen the movement of their respective armies.

October 27 found the 8th New York pursuing Confederate cavalry from Purcellville toward Snickersville along the Snickersville Turnpike.  An article in the October 31, 1862 New York Daily Herald reported: "the Eighth New York under Colonel Davis  was sent on a reconnaissance along the turnpike toward Winchester.  It was understood a rebel force was stationed at Snickersville about 15 miles from here.  When the advance squadron of the regiment, under Captain Pope, reached within two miles of Snickersville the rebel pickets appeared on the right and left of the turnpike and fired at our men.  Shots were exchanged, the enemy falling back and our men advancing...  At every turn in the road the rebel skirmishers appeared in increasing force."  As the Eighth New York continued their advance along the turnpike "the right platoon reached the enemy first near a belt of woods, the remainder of the squadron followed on a charge.  The rebels were dispersed.  Beyond there was a large open space completely commanded by rebel artillery planted on rising ground behind.   As soon as our men debouched from the woods the artillery opened on them. One shell killed 5 of our horses and wounded two or three of our men."  The squadron was then ordered to rejoin the regiment drawn in a line a short distance to the rear.  Having ascertained the position of the enemy the regiment returned to Purcellville."  

Henry Norton also described the action along the turnpike: "On the morning of the 27th, we broke camp and started for the rebs.  Our cavalry was on the advance of the  army.  The rebel cavalry covered the retreat of their army...We marched along until we came to Snicker's Gap.  The Colonel marched the regiment up the mountain to see what was there.  We were marching by fours, and had gone but about one-half mile when we found the "rebs".  They had a cannon planted in the road, and when we were near enough, they fired the gun.  It was loaded with canister.  The balls hit some of the horses, and made quite a commotion among the boys for a few minutes.  The order was given to about face and retreat.  Away the regiment went down the road faster than they had come up".

After the engagement Colonel Davis noted in a report to Alfred Pleasonton that he had "driven the enemy through Snickersville, that his advance was fired on from the gap and he lost 1 man killed and 5 horses by the bursting of a shell".  Actual losses included 1 enlisted man killed, 1 enlisted man wounded and 5 enlisted men missing.

 Cavalry Action Near Snickersville from Harpers Magazine

On October 29, 1862 Major General  J. E..B. Stuart headed east from Jefferson County, Virginia through Snickers Gap with Brigadier General Fitz Lee's Cavalry brigade, commanded by Colonel William C. Wickham and Major John Pelham's horse artillery.   On October 31 Stuart advanced along the Snickersville Pike to Mountville where he routed three companies of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry before coming in contact with George Bayard's command farther east near Aldie.  Fearing federal forces that were reportedly approaching from his rear Stuart disengaged late in the day and retreated to Middleburg.

 Area of Operations in Loudoun County, November 1-2, 1862.

On November 1, 1862  Stuart was informed Pleasonton was advancing with his division southward toward Philomont from Purcellville.  Stuart moved the 3rd Virginia Cavalry and Major Pelham's horse artillery from Middleburg to Union (present day Unison) and arrived there before Pleasonton. Stuart's cavalry skirmished with Pleasonton's forces  near the town of Philomont for most of the afternoon.  Colonel Davis's 8th New York, the 8th Pennsylvania, the 3rd Indiana and guns of Lieutenant Alexander C. M. Pennington's horse artillery engaged the rebel cavalry west of town.  Norton commented on the fighting at Philomont.  He said: "When General Davis came upon the rebels, he never waited for them to attack him.  He would cast his eyes over the field, and he could tell in a minute what to do.  He would take them on the flank and would go for them heavy.  He would drive them every time he attacked them."  By days end Union cavalry had  pushed Stuart's forces westward toward Union where they would make a stand on November 2nd.  Davis's command did not suffer any losses in the engagement.

North Fork Beaverdam Creek Ford between Philomont & Unison

The scene of the fighting moved westward on November 2, 1862.  At dawn Pleasonton left Philomont, moving toward Union.  In addition to his cavalry and horse artillery his command had been reinforced with several infantry regiments.  The troops from both sides spared back and forth for most of the day.  Pleasonton continued to exert pressure on Stuart's command as Stuart made a fighting withdrawal southwestward along the Unison Road buying time as he retreated.  In his dispatch book for November 2nd Pleasonton noted:  Colonel Davis captured 3 prisoners this morning and thinks he has 2 men badly wounded".  Later in a dispatch to Randolph Marcy, McClellan's Chief of Staff Pleasonton reported: "The cavalry dismounted under Colonel Davis 8th New York have behaved markedly well." 

Looking eastward from Unison toward Philomont

 Late in the evening, as darkness shrouded the battlefield, the Confederate cavalry withdrew toward Upperville where, according to Civil War in Loudoun Valley "many spent the night huddled in their blankets in a family graveyard among the headstones".  The 8th New York Cavalry under Colonel Davis was engaged most of the afternoon with other forces of Pleasonton's command.  Davis's command captured 3 prisoners and had several men wounded during the days fighting.  Pleasonton noted in his November 2 dispatch to Randolph Marcy, McClellan's Chief of Staff: "The cavalry dismounted under Colonel Davis 8th New York have behaved markedly well."

Looking eastward toward Unison from Quaker Meeting House site

Fighting occurred east of Upperville on November 3.  Pleasonton's command had been augmented by troops of Brigadier General William W. Averell's cavalry brigade and Captain John C. Tidball's horse artillery.  When the 8th New York Cavalry arrived on the field Colonel Davis had Company H dismount and fight on foot.   According to Henry Norton "every fourth man stayed with the horses... We marched along until we came to the edge of the woods...where there was a stone wall.  One of our men saw a "reb" off about a half mile, and fired at him without orders.  There was a rebel battery off to our right, and when they heard the shot, they turned their guns that way and commenced firing.  We must have been just the right distance off for the shells exploded right over our heads.  Soon we heard a yell.  It was General Davis with the rest of the regiment, charging the rebels.  We went back where our horses were, mounted, and on we went."

After the days fighting had ceased on November 3 Stuart departed Upperville and headed westward toward Ashby Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Stuart briefly turned over command of  Fitz Lee's cavalry to Colonel Thomas Rosser so he could confer with Stonewall Jackson at Millwood.  Rosser would head the Confederate cavalry southward toward Piedmont Station (present day Delaplane) on the Manassas Gap Railroad where he hoped to join up with Wade Hampton's Brigade which was in route from Front Royal.  When Rosser arrived at Piedmont Station Hampton was not there so Rosser moved westward toward Markham.  Rosser would be engaged in a "minor skirmish" with Union forces commanded by Averell at Markham.

 Area of Operations  in Fauquier County, November 3-4, 1862

November 5, 1862 would find both Stuart's and Pleasonton's cavalry at Barbee's Crossroads (present day Hume) south of Markham.  The crossroads was an important intersection of four roads about 12 miles northwest of Warrenton.  Barbee's Crossroads was named after Joseph Barbee who built a tavern at the intersection   about 1790.  Stuart's troops arrived first.  He deployed Fitz Lee's  command (under Rosser) on the right and Hampton's on the left of the main road leading south out of town.  They were supported by Pelham's horse artillery.  Pleasonton arrived about 9:00 a.m.  He positioned his two brigades of cavalry and Pennington's artillery to assaulted the rebel line.  A savage fight ensued.  

Colonel B. F. Davis's 8th New York was in the thick of the fight.  General George McClellan addressed the fighting in his official report noting:  "About 12 m today Pleasonton's cavalry met and attacked Stuart's command of about 3000 cavalry and 4 pieces of artillery at Barbee's.  Colonel Gregg with the 8th Pennsylvania and the 6th U. S. Cavalry moved on the right and turned his (Stuart's) position.  Colonel Davis with the 8th New York attacked the enemy's left and Colonel (John F.) Farnsworth with the 8th Illinois moved against the center.  A largely superior force charged Colonel Davis's 8th New York but were gallantly met and repulsed."  Davis had his horse killed under him.

Area of Operations in Fauquier County November 5, 1862

Henry Norton mentions the fight at Barbee's in his history of the 8th New York Cavalry.  Norton wrote"  We marched along (on November 5) until the middle of the afternoon, when we came to Barbee's Crossroads.  The rebels had made a stand to hold us in check.  When we came within a mile of the crossroads we went into the fields.  After marching nearly one hundred rods, we came to a knoll that hid us from view.  There we halted...the general dismounted Company I and one other company to fight on foot." Davis deployed the dismounted men behind a stone wall and attempted to take a Confederate battery which was firing at the 8th New York.  He was unable to capture the battery however.   "We were glad when Davis came and marched us down under the knoll out of range" of the artillery.  "After we went under the know the rebels lost track of us. They made out where the dismounted horses were, and made a charge on them.  Then the General got in one of his counter charges.  It was not long before he came over the knoll and gave the command to right wheel and come on.  It was cut and slash.  When the rebels saw us they were under such headway that many of them could not stop their horses and rode past us and were taken prisoners.  Those who could, wheeled their horses and got out.  We went for them heavy, and killed a number and wounded a good many."

Norton also mentioned that Pleasonton was watching the 8th New York.  "When the rebels made the charge on us: Pleasonton "said to one of his aides:  The Eighth New York is a goner.  When he saw that we had driven the rebels back, he slapped his hands and yelled out:  Bully for the Eighth New York."  

A correspondent writing from Barbee's Crossroads, under date of November 5 wrote, in part, as printed in Frank Moore's The Rebellion Record, 6th Volume; "Colonel Davis had taken his regiment on the right, and placing two squadrons in a hollow, concealed from sight had dismounted one squadron and placed the men behind a stone wall, where there was a small detachment of the sixth regulars.  Captain Houston lead the charge of the (1st) North Carolina Regiment...When he halted to form his own regiment, seeing the squadron deployed, he shouted, Only one squadron and then gave the command to charge.  With a fearful yell the rebels in a solid column, with sabres flourishing, and pistols and carbines cocked, dashed at the squadron of Col Davis's regiment, expecting its speedy annihilation.  Colonel Davis, who was watching the rebels from the knoll, behind which his two (mounted) squadrons were formed, dashed from the hollow, and bringing them around to the right, awaited the assault for a moment.  At the same instant the dismounted men behind the wall opened fire as the North Carolinians came near.  Then Colonel Davis, with his two squadrons, dashed at them.  Sabres glistened, carbines cracked, and men rent the air with cheers.  The rebel regiment wheeled about and fled as fast as their horses could carry them, and screaming like a troop of wild Indians, Colonel Davis, with his squadron chased them shouting and cheering as they went."    

Colonel Davis wrote an official report of the battle.  It was found by another blogger, reportedly, in the National Archives.  The report does not appear in the Official Records.  It is included in its entirety below.

“Dec. 5, 1862
I have the honor to submit herewith in compliance with the 742 Article Army Regulations, the following report of the operations of my regiment at the fight at [Barbee’s] Cross Roads on the 5th of November.
On leaving Piedmont in the morning the regiment was placed in rear of the leading section of artillery and followed in this order until we came up with the enemy.  The guns were placed in position and I was directed to support them, but before the regiment was formed I was ordered by Gen. Pleasonton in person to move towards a mill which was on our right and front and operate in that direction.  By taking advantage of hollows and ravines we reached the mill unmolested but on attempting to pass the crest were met by severe fire of spherical case from the enemy’s artillery which was posted on a commanding eminence about 600 yards to our left and front.  The enemy’s cavalry could also be seen in large force in the other end of a field about a quarter of a mile distant.  The regiment was halted momentarily behind the crest and dispositions made to attack.
Capt. [Hobert] Mann’s squadron was dismounted and sent along a stone wall which was somewhat in the direction of their guns, with orders to drive away their skirmishers and if he could get close enough to pick off their gunners.  The other three squadrons were then moved over the hill into the field and placed behind some high ground to screen them from the artillery fire, which was at this time very severe.
The enemy’s cavalry were also hidden from view by high ground at the other extremity of the field.  Capt. [Edmond] Pope’s, a small squadron of fifty men, was then thrown forward as skirmishers toward a piece of woods to the right and front.  The regiment opposite to me proved to be the 1st North Carolina and the commanding officer seeing Capt. Pope’s squadron and supposing it to be alone immediately ordered the charge.  The Captain ordered his men to rally in the corner of the field to my right and rear and the enemy came dashing after him at full speed and with loud cheers.  From an eminence on which I was standing I galloped back to the Reserve Squadrons, brought them up over the hill and charged the enemy somewhat obliquely just as the main body had arrived nearly opposite to our position.  Although less than half their numbers the charge was made with such vigor and intrepidity that he hesitated, pulled up, opened fire with pistol and carbines and finally as the leading files were closing upon him, turned about and fled in the utmost confusion.  The men followed with the greatest eagerness close up to the reserves, sabering and taking prisoners at every step.  Knowing that a regiment was in reserve ready to call on in case the pursuit was followed too far I ordered the men to rally in the woods on our right already referenced to.  This was done but owing to the confusion that necessarily follows a successful charge, not without considerable delay.
I should have mentioned that a part of the enemy’s leading squadron had anticipated the main body and had reached the corner of the field in pursuit of our skirmishers when they were opened upon by a sharp fire from Capt. Mann’s dismounted squadron, and driven back, most of them making their escape through the woods on the right.  Quite a number of prisoners also made their escape in the same manner for want of a reserve to pick them up.  As soon as the command was rallied, Capt. Pope’s squadron was again thrown forward in the woods as skirmishers and was fast gaining a position to their left and rear when the 3rd Indiana reached me as a support.  I ordered it forward to attack the enemy now in full retreat, and informed Major [George] Chapman that I would follow closely and give him support.  Whilst proceeding to execute this order the Major was called by a counter order from Gen. Pleasonton to go to the rear and support guns.  I then recalled Capt. Pope and moved the regiment to the front but by this time the enemy’s columns had safely retreated and taken up a position with their artillery a mile or so in rear.  Understanding no pursuit was to be made I repaired to the rear and reported myself to the general in person.
The result of the charge was five of the enemy left dead on the field, one captain and fifteen non-commissioned officers and privates taken prisoners.  We had one man “Pat [Peter Kelley]” of Co E killed by a blow from a saber and six wounded.  Two of the wounded who were taken prisoner report that the enemy buried that night six of their men who were mortally wounded in the charge.  I cannot conclude this report without claiming for the cavalry service in general and my regiment in particular that this was a complete and thorough repulse of a charge of cavalry by a counter charge, although the enemy outnumbered us at least two to one.  In regard to the conduct of the officers and men I can make no discrimination.  As far as I could see and hear every officer and man behaved in a courageous and soldier like manner.
The charging squadrons were those of Capt. [Benjamin] Foote and [George] Barry.  Capt. Pope also rallied part of his men in time to join in the charge.  The field officers, Lt. Col. [Charles] Babbitt & Major [William] Markell and my Adjt. Lt. [Albert] Ford were in the thickest of it and did good service.
I am Sir, Respectfully, B. F. Davis
Col. 8th New York Cavalry”
To be continued.

Some information in this presentation regarding the strength and disposition of Confederate forces is derived from "The Perfect Lion: The Life and Death of Confederate Artillerist John Pelham by Jerry H Maxwell.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Long Standing Tradition: Sharpsburg Elementary Decorating Graves at Antietam National Cemetery for Memorial Day

Although "Decoration Day" had been a tradition for a number of years, throughout the country, after the Civil War "Memorial Day" was not officially established until May 30, 1868.  

Major General John Alexander Logan, who had served with distinction in the Army of the Tennessee, is recognized as having established Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was then called, when on May 5, 1868, as national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in General Order No. 11 he made the following proclamation: 
General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit. We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic. 

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us. Let us, then, at the  time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan. 

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective. By order of 

Decorating graves for Memorial Day has been a long standing tradition at Antietam National Cemetery, which was established in 1866, on the outskirts of Sharpsburg, Maryland, the site of the bloody Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.  One part of that tradition has stood for over 30 years as the 5th Grade Class at Sharpsburg Elementary walks through town from the school to the cemetery and upon arrival will assist the National Park Service in placing American Flags in front of each of the more than 5000 headstone and small square numbered markers designating graves of the unknown.

They do it in record time as well.  This year all the flags were placed in 47 minutes.  That is quite an accomplishment!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Dateline Brandy Station, Virginia June 9, 1863: A Fateful Encounter at Dawn

As dawn approached about a mile from Beverly Ford on the north side of the Rappahannock River the morning of June 9, 1863 Brigadier General John Buford's Cavalry Division was waking from a fitful sleep.  Included in that division was a brigade commanded by Acting Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Davis.*  Davis's command had been selected to spearhead the attack of the right wing of the Union Cavalry.  They were to cross the Rappahannock at Beverly Ford than advance in conjunction with the left wing, which was ordered to cross at Kelly's Ford about six miles downstream, toward Culpeper Courthouse, where they expected to encounter the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Everything was in place for what the northerners thought would be a surprise attack.  Events did not play out as planned however.

Map Beverly Ford and Environs

About 4:00 a.m. Davis's command silently mounted their horses and headed toward Beverly Ford.  They arrived at the ford about four-thirty.  As the cavalry horses stepped into the stirrup deep waters of the Rappahannock they and their riders were shrouded in mist rising from the river and any sounds they made were muffled by the noise the streams generated when it passed over a timber crib dam just upstream of the ford.  

The Rappahannock River near Beverly Ford

Benjamin Davis, who wore a Mexican serape to ward off the morning chill, led the advance as his command dashed up the southern bank of the Rappahannock.  He was followed closely by two squadrons of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry who were in turn supported by the 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry and the 3rd Indiana.  Just after crossing the river, much to their surprise, the northerners encountered two pickets, Fleet and Bob James, from the 6th Virginia Cavalry.  The James brothers fled, firing their pistols in the air to alert their comrades as they headed in a southwesterly direction from the ford toward a stand of timber about a quarter mile in their rear.  The Union troopers followed the retiring Confederate pickets down the Beverly Ford Road.

Captain Gibson of the 6th Virginia heard the picket fire and gathered his command for action.  When he saw the James brothers come into view followed by the 8th New York Cavalry he ordered his line to fire at the attacking Yankees.  Lt. Henry C. Cutler of the 8th New York was the first casualty of the day when he took a bullet in the neck from one of Gibson's troopers.  Captain Gibson's small force delayed the Yankees momentarily before they were forced to make a hastey retreat toward their own lines themselves.

Benjamin Davis brought up the 8th Illinois Cavalry to support the New Yorkers under his command.  The Union cavalry branched out on both sides of the Beverly Ford Road and headed southward.  Their advance was met by a charge from additional troops of the 6th Virginia under the command of Cabell Flournoy.  Flournoy's surprise, vicious counterattack halted the Union advance, which was pushed back in disarray.

Beverly Ford Road (Davis was wounded at the bend in the road just south of where the road intersects the Beverly Ford road from the east.) 

Benjamin Davis saw his troops break.  Realizing he needed to regain the initiative and rally his disorganized forces the gallant and brave officer raised his saber above his head and trotted down the Beverly Ford Road toward the Confederates.  When about 75 yards in front of his command Davis turned in the saddle to face them with his back to the enemy.  With raised saber he reportedly shouted "Stand Firm 8th New York" several times.  

A Confederate lieutenant with the 6th Virginia, Robert Owen Allen, saw Davis in the road.  Realizing the officer was in an exposed position and unaware of his presence he raced toward his unsuspecting prey.  Benjamin Franklin Davis's attention was focused on his command and he failed to realize Lt. Allen was approaching him from behind until it was almost too late.  Upon hearing Allen's horses's hoofbeats he turned in the saddle and raised his saber to strike Allen.  Allen dodged the blow and at the same time raised his pistol and sent a bullet into the Union officers forehead.  Davis fell to the ground mortally wounded at a bend in the road not far from Beverly Ford.

Mortal Encounter by Don Stivers Depicting Davis's Wounding

Site of Davis Wounding on the Beverly Ford Road

Sometime before 6:00 a. m., Benjamin Davis's comrades gathered the grievously wounded officer up in a litter and transported him back across the Rappahannock to the Hamilton House.  In route the litter bearers encountered Reverend Samuel L. Gracey, Chaplain of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  "Who is that boys?" Gracey reportedly said.  "Colonel Davis Sir."  "Is it possible!"  "Noble fellow"  Is he badly wounded?" Gracey asked.  "A mine ball through the head, sir!" replied a litter bearer.  Gracey then noted:  "He is insensible, his hair matted and clotted with blood.  God have mercy on this brave, noble, patriotic soldier the hero of Harpers Ferry."  Davis wound breath his last before the sunset on June 9, 1863.

Colonel and Acting Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Davis's body would be transported to Washington by train, where it would be embalmed before being shipped to New York for burial.  On June 20, 1863 Davis's remains were interred in the cemetery at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.  He now reposes there next to Alonzo H. Cushing and one space away from his commander at Beverly Ford Major General John Buford.  May these American heroes from a by gone era rest in peace.

*  Confederate general JEB Stuart referred to Benjamin Davis as an "Acting Brigadier General" in his official report about the Battle of Brandy Station.  Davis was the Colonel of the 8th New York and while he had been recommended for promotion to Brigadier General that appointment was not confirmed before his death, most likely, because, being from the south, he had no support in Congress which had to approve all military appointments.  He lead a brigade and at times a division as a colonel for months before his death.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

One Family's Sacrifice Exemplifies The True Cost of the Civil War

When studying or discussing the American Civil War we often focus on statistics and those statistics usually include a numerical listing of the casualties: those killed, wounded, captured or found missing  after any skirmish or major engagement.  What we many times fail to communicate or consider is what all those casualties signified, someone's loved one, a family member, a father, son, brother, uncle, nephew or cousin.  Real men with real hopes, ambitions and desires.

One family from Mississippi via Alabama and Louisiana lost five boys in the war, four brothers and a cousin of the brothers.  Due to family circumstances and the death of the parents of the brothers, when they were all less than fifteen years old, all the boys were raised by the family of the cousin, that is, they grew up together in the same household near Aberdeen in Monroe County, Mississippi.

Although raised together, at least for a time, the young men fought on different sides during the war.  One served with distinction in the Union cavalry and the other four, one of whom proudly carried the colors for his regiment, fought for the Confederacy.  Three were killed in or went missing in battle, in Virginia, the fourth died as a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland and the fifth took his own life within years of returning home to Mississippi after the war.  One of the soldiers is buried in the cemetery at the United States Military Academy at West Point another is buried at the Confederate Cemetery at Point Lookout.  The location of the remains of the other three is unknown.  Here is their story in a little more detail.

The brothers, including the eldest Benjamin Franklin and the three youngest, Francis Marion, Christopher Columbus and Augustus Romalus are four of the six sons of Benjamin E. And Matilda Davis.  They were born in Perry County, Alabama between 1831 and 1840.  In the fall of 1840 the boys, their parents and their other brothers William Owen and Thomas Jefferson, moved to Union Parish, Louisiana where their father opened a store northeast of Farmerville.  Their mother died in 1843 and their father passed away on or about June 26, 1846.  The orphaned brothers moved to Monroe County, Mississippi where William Taylor became their guardian.  Taylor, a successful planter, was the husband of Matilda Holladay's older sister Agnes Portatier. The cousin of the Davis brothers, James H. Taylor was the son of William and Agnes.

Benjamin Franklin Davis was a career army officer.  After graduating from West Point July 1, 1854 as a brevet 2nd lieutenant he was assigned to the 5th U. S. Infantry in Texas.   In March 1855 he transferred to the 1st U. S. Dragoons and served with them in New Mexico Territory and California until November 1861 when he headed east with the 1st U. S. Cavalry.  Captain Davis lead a squadron of cavalry at the Battle of Williamsburg that routed the enemy and helped save a Union artillery battery.  In June 1862 Davis was promoted to Colonel and assumed command of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  He trained them to be an elite fighting force and helped lead the 8th New York and portions of five other cavalry regiments in a daring escape from Harpers Ferry, Virginia into Maryland and Pennsylvania on the night of September 14, 1862. After the Battle of Antietam Colonel B. F. Davis was assigned to brigade command.  He was commanding a brigade of cavalry under Brigadier General John Buford when he was shot from the saddle and mortally wounded by Lt. Robert Owen Allen of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, early in the morning, on June 9, 1863, near where Beverly Ford crosses the Rappahannock River during the Battle of Brandy Station.  Colonel Davis's body was taken to West Point and interred in the cemetery on the grounds of the United States Military Academy.

Augustus Romalus Davis, a lawyer in Monroe County, Mississippi in 1860 and the youngest of the 6 Davis boys was the first to enter the Confederate Army.  He was 20 years old when he enrolled as a private in the Van Dorn Reserves in February 1861 at Aberdeen, Mississippi.  The Van Dorn Reserves would become Company I, 11th Regiment Mississippi Infantry.  Davis was ordered into the Confederate Service on April 26, 1861. The regiment formed in Corinth, Mississippi , a major railroad hub, on May 4, 1861 and soon headed to the theatre of war in Virginia.  He was with the regiment when they mustered into Confederate service May 13,1862 at Lynchburg. A. R. Davis would serve as a private in Company I  from his enlistment date until April 21, 1864 when he was promoted to ensign.  His compiled service records note he was absent from the regiment sick at Strasburg in September and October 1861.  He received a $50.00 bounty in February 1862 when he reenlisted and was given a 2 month furlough. November and December 1862 found him absent from the regiment  recovering from wounds.  He was killed in action on August 18, 1864 at the Battle of Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg, Virginia in the waning months of the war.

Francis Marion Davis, known as Marion by his friends and family, was about 13 years old when his eldest brother left Mississippi for West Point. They might have met twice more before the civil war, once when Benjamin Davis had a summer furlough from the military academy between his 3rd and 2nd class year and again when Benjamin came home after graduation and before heading to Texas in December 1854.

 In 1850 Marion was living with his guardian William Taylor's family.  Marion was still  in Monroe County, Mississippi when he enlisted as a private in Company I, 11th Regiment Mississippi Infantry in November 1861.  By this time the 11th Mississippi and Marion's younger brother Augustus  were already in Virginia.   Marion would serve with the regiment throughout the winter, spring and early summer of 1862.  He also would receive a $50.00 bounty and a furlough in February 1862 after re-enlisting. In late June and early July 1862, when the 7 Days Battles were occurring around Richmond,  Virginia the 11th Mississippi was brigaded with the 2nd Mississippi as part of Evander Laws Brigade of William H C. Whiting's Division.  Marion Davis would appear on the list of missing in action from the 11th following the Battle of Gaines Mill, June 27, 1862.

Christopher Columbus Davis was probably born in early 1839 as he was sandwiched between Marion and Augustus.  He would have gone to Mississippi with his 5 brothers after his fathers death.  The 1850 Census shows him living with his cousin Sarah E. Clopton and her husband Dr. John H. Clopton.  William Taylor appear to have been his guardian.

Christopher would enlist as a private in Company D (William Beck's Company), 2nd Regiment Mississippi Infantry on April 27, 1861 for twelve months.  At the time of his enlistment Christopher was listed as a 21 year old farmer from Pine Grove, Tippah County, Mississippi.  He stood 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall, with blue eyes, black hair and a dark  complexion.  One wonders if he resembled his older brother Benjamin who stood 5 feet 9 or 10 inches tall and weighted about 130 pounds in 1849 when he was 18 years old.

The 2nd Mississippi was mustered into Confederate service May 10, 1861 at Lynchburg, VA. Christopher was present with his company throughout 1861.  On February 9,  1862 he received  a $50.00 bounty for re-enlisting for 2 years.  C. C. Davis was listed on the Roll of Honor for action at 2nd Manassas August 28-30 where he was the regimental color bearer.  Private Davis was present at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 and would have been engaged when John Bell Hood's Division made a successful counter-attack against the Union 1st Corps between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m.  Christopher was wounded in the right arm during Hood's counterattack and left on the field.  He was captured, sent to Fort Delaware as a POW and later exchanged in December 1862, after which he rejoined his regiment.

On February 16, 1863 Private Christopher C. Davis was promoted to 4th Sergeant.  He was with the 2nd Mississippi at Gettysburg although he did not participate in the fighting on July 1st because he was sick.  Sergeant Davis would be wounded in both legs while carrying the colors during Pickett's Charge.  He would be captured July 5, 1863 and taken to a hospital  either in or near Gettysburg.  On July 19, 1863 Christopher was transferred to A hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania.   On October 4, 1864 C.C. Davis arrived at Hammond General Hospital at Point lookout, Maryland as a POW.

On January 26, 1864 Christopher C. Davis "galvanized" when he became a sergeant in the 1st U. S. Volunteers.  He officially mustered into Federal service on May 1, 1864 at Norfolk, Virginia.  He deserted August 2, 1864 and entered Confederate lines at Suffolk, Virginia.  In September 1864 Davis was promoted to ensign to rank from August 25, 1864.

Christopher Davis survived the Civil War and returned to Mississippi after the Confederate troops surrendered only to take his own life by suicide several years after returning home.  In a letter written by D. J. Hill, who was a member of the 2nd Mississippi, to Rufus R. Dawes, of the 6th Wisconsin, on September 12, 1893, Hill noted C.C. Davis may have taken his life due to "the grief over the loss of his four bothers during the war, coupled with the defeat of the Confederacy." (See Note at bottom of page)

James H. Taylor was born March 9, 1839 in Monroe County, Mississippi, the son of William and Agnes Taylor.  He spent his teenage years growing up with four of the Davis brothers who were his cousins.  On June 25, 1861 James Taylor would join for duty and enroll as a private in the Hamilton Guards which became Company B, 20th Regiment Mississippi Infantry.  By October 1861 he would be a 4th Sergeant.

The 20th Mississippi  originally served with John B. Floyd's Brigade in Western Virginia after mustering into Confederate service before being transferred to Tennessee in early 1862. In February  the regiment was sent to reinforce Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.

 James H. Taylor was captured at Fort Donelson on February 16, 1862 and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago as a POW.  Sergeant Taylor was exchanged in September 1862 near Vicksburg, Mississippi and rejoined his regiment which remained in the western theatre.  Taylor was captured a second time, at Brownsville (Edward's Station) on May 16, 1863  during the Vicksburg Campaign.   He was sent to Fort Delaware as a POW in June and later transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland on September 20, 1863.  Taylor died at Point Lookout on August 22, 1864.  He was buried in the Confederate Cemetery at the prison.

Maybe it is a blessing the Davis brothers parents proceeded them in death so they did not have to experience the loss of four of their six sons because of the fratricidal conflict that was the Civil War.  One must also wonder how difficult it must have been for William and Agnes Taylor when they realized that 5 boys they had helped raise were casualties of this great American conflict.  It must not have been easy to put their shattered lives back together.

Most of the information in this post related to the military careers of the Davis brothers and their cousin who served with the Confederacy is derived from their Compiled Service Records.

Note:  The Hill letter to Rufus Dawes, who met C. C. Davis on the field of Gettysburg on or about July 5, 1863 is in the Special Collections at McCain Library at the University of Southern Mississippi (Dawes (Rufus R.) Letters, Collection M30).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Benjamin Franklin Davis: The Measure of a Man in the Words of his Peers.

What most historians know about this Alabama born, Louisiana and Mississippi raised orphan, who spent his short adult life as an officer in the United States Army, can be summed up in a couple of paragraphs.  The vast majority of what is known is positive, but not all.  This dearth of information has lead me on an exhaustive search in an attempt to bring to light something more definitive and insightful about this young man.  The following is the result of that ongoing research extracted from the written word of his family, friends, colleagues and peers.

William F. Dowd, a Mississippian, who would serve as a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, had this to say about his young friend Ben Davis in a letter he wrote January 2, 1850, supporting Davis's application to the United States Military Academy at West Point: "Davis is a young man of about 18 years of age of unblemished reputation of very superior mental endowment - also if educated at West Point I feel soon will prove an ornament to the service and an honor to his country."

Benjamin F. Davis was admitted to West Point July 1, 1850.  Upon graduation, in 1854, the brevet 2nd Lieutenant was assigned to the 5th U. S. Infantry.  In March 1855 he transferred to the 1st U. S. Dragoons.  He would serve with the dragoons in New Mexico Territory and California from 1856 until late 1861.

On page 56 Executive Documents The House of Representatives 1st Session of the Thirty-fifth Congress in documentation referring Captain Bonneville's 1957 Gila River Expedition it is noted: "Great credit (was) given by the commanding officer to the following named officers - Alfred B. Chapman and Benjamin F. Davis.  

In the fall of 1861 orders were issued to transfer almost all the regular army troops from the west coast, east, so they could serve in the rebellion. To do this volunteer regiments had to be raised in California, Washington and Oregon to replace them.  In August 1861 the governor of California was looking for an officer for the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry Battalion.  In recommending Lt. Davis for this position to both California's governor and Lorenzo Thomas, the army's Adjutant General, Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner, commander of the Department of the Pacific, had this to say: "General in raising the volunteers from this state, I find it indispensably necessary, for economy as well as efficiency to have a cavalry officer of experience and ability to command the five companies of cavalry.  There was no suitable man to be found out of the army, and at my request  the governor of California has given the commission of Lt. Colonel of Cavalry to Lt. B. F. Davis of the 1st Dragoons.  I have known this young officer since he entered the army and I know him to be one of the best officers in it.  He is from the south but a firm loyalist to the government.   Between August and November 1861 Davis reportedly "whipped the raw recruits of the 1st California Cavalry into 1st class horse soldiers."

Captain B. F. Davis came east with his regiment in November 1861.  By early 1862 he would be serving in the defenses of Washington, prior to joining the Army of the Potomac for the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, where he would be commended for his action at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862.  While at Camp Sprague, on the outskirts of Washington Captain Davis "trained" George B. Sanford, the 1st Lieutenant of Company K 1st U. S. Cavalry.  Sanford noted in  "Fighting Rebels and Redskins: "To Captain Davis more than any other one officer I am indebted for whatever I afterwards became in the service.  He was a thorough officer ... and never missed an opportunity to impart the instructions that I required...He required me to study and recite to him daily.  On the march he taught me to notice the character of the country, the advantages of positions for attack and defense, sites for camps etc.  At a halt he would practice with me in the saber exercise and give me instructions in posting pickets and sending out scouts.  If I did not appreciate his kindness at the time, I certainly have since."  Sanborn also mentioned "Captain Davis was a handsome man of about twenty-eight years...He had gained some reputation for his gallantry in action with the Apache.  He was as loyal as he was brave, and nothing but his early death prevented him from reaching very high rank in the service."     

 By mid June 1862, Benjamin Davis would be on leave, sick at Willard's Hotel in Washington D.C.  About this time however the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry was looking for a new commander and George Stoneman recommended Davis.  Davis's commission as Colonel of the 8th New York was backdated to June 25, 1862.   He would not take over command of the regiment in the field in Maryland until mid July 1862.  

At first the 8th New York Volunteers did not think very highly of their West Point educated  regular army colonel but this is what several members of the regiment had to say after they became better acquainted.  

On July 29, 1862 a member of the 8th New York wrote a letter to New York's Governor Morgan.  He said "You will not think it amiss if I give you the public judgement already pronounced in the 8th Cavalry Regiment upon the quality of it's head....The bearing of our colonel among us has given us a lofty example of the hard-working soldier and of the man of honor, at home in his work, quiet, thoughtful, cheerful, of few words, and, like the weight of a pendulum of a clock, in ceaseless and noiseless influence on all of the wheels.  His quarters and their furnishings are as plain as those of any other officer, that is, as plain as plain can be, and no one rises in the morning and finds him abed.  That he means to do his duty is evident, and no one is left in doubt that he expects the rest of us to do ours.  He has no favors to ask for himself.  That is both evident and striking.  I dare say your Excellency will recognize that as a peculiarity; but it is also the secret of true dignity and freedom....To the office of the Chaplain he has shown himself respectful and considerate, in making it useful and impressive, and so have all the officers - to his gray hairs courteous and kind.  In reproof to officers I hear no instance of impatience, and none have been administered in the presence of subordinates.  In this record I believe I have the camp's unanimous concurrence."  

Henry Norton noted in Deeds of Daring History of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry, that Colonel B. F. Davis “was a military man clear through, the right man in the right place.  He was a strict disciplinarian, and brought the regiment down under the regular army regulations.” 

The 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry, and Colonel Davis were ordered to leave Relay House, Maryland for Harpers Ferry, Virginia on August 28, 1862.  Once at Harpers Ferry they were primarily charged with protecting the Winchester and Potomac Railroad that ran from Harpers Ferry to Winchester, Virginia and breaking up the 12th Virginia Cavalry.  The 8th New York and 5 other regiments of cavalry were trapped in Harpers Ferry when Confederate forces commanded by Stonewall Jackson surrounded the town on September 13, 1862.  Colonel Davis was instrumental in facilitating and helping lead the Union cavalry escape from Harpers Ferry on September 14, 1862.  For this action he was breveted Major in the regular army and given command of a brigade by Major General George B. McClellan.  Davis would lead a brigade as a colonel until his untimely death at Beverly Ford, Virginia during the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station.

In his official report following the Battle of Brandy Station Major General Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac reported: we "would have captured his (Beckham's) guns but for the untimely loss of the brave and accomplished Colonel B. F. Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry, who while commanding a brigade, charged at the head of his column into the midst of the enemy and was shot through the head."

Brigadier General John Buford, who commanded the 1st Division, which Davis's brigade was attached to, wrote: "this success was dearly bought, for among the noble and brave ones who fell was Colonel B. F. Davis.  He died in front, giving examples of heroism and courage to all who were to follow.  He was a thorough soldier, free from politics and intrigue, a patriot in its true sense, an ornament to his country and a bright star in his profession."

In Annals of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Reverend Samuel Levi Gracey Chaplain of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and, for a time, the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps, who saw the insensible Davis being carried from the field (at Beverly Ford) in a litter wrote: “Here comes a rough litter bearing an officer.  Who is that boys?  “Colonel Davis sir!” “Is it possible!” Noble fellow!  “Is he wounded badly”  “A minie ball through the head, sir!”  He is  insensible his hair matted and clotted with blood. God have mercy on this brave, noble, patriotic soldier the hero of Harpers Ferry.”  This is our hastily breathed prayer, as we linger for a moment,  and then hurry on to join our command.” 

In writing his Personal Recollections of the Civil War Brigadier General John Gibbon, who also had ties to the south from growing up in North Carolina, wrote in a June 9 letter: “he (Davis) was killed in the fighting up the river either yesterday or today…I regard his death as the greatest loss this army has met with in a long time.  He ought long ago to have been promoted, but such men, I am sorry to say, seldom get positions to which their merit and service entitle them.”  

In another letter dated June 11 John noted: "Poor Davis was killed while gallantly charging at the head of his brigade….I feel very sad when I think of him, and he is a very, very great loss to this army.”

Brigadier General Marsena Patrick's notation in his diary for June 9, 1863 read:  "Pleasonton has been engaged up the River, in a severe fight, which cost us the life of our best Cavalry Officer - Col. Benjamin F. Davis."

In an article written for Harpers Weekly titled  "The Battle of Brandy Station" General Wesley Merritt noted" “the leading brigade of Buford’s Division was commanded by Col. B. F. Davis, 8th New York Cavalry, a captain in the 1st U S Cavalry…The battle was hotly joined and Davis had fallen mortally wounded.  He was dearly beloved throughout the command, and many a veteran of the old 1st and 2nd Dragoons drew his chin grimly to his breast and with clinched teeth awaited the shock of battle determined to do his share in avenging the death of this hero."

Merritt also noted in Personal Recollections-Beverly Ford to Mitchell's Station,  "He (Davis) was a gallant man, an ambitious soldier, a courtly gentleman.  A southerner, like the idolized chief of the first division (Buford), he stood firm by the flag under which he had received his qualifications and commission as an officer; he died for that flag, under that flag fell to soon, but oh! so bravely."

Elias Beck, surgeon of the 3rd Indiana Volunteer Cavalry did not have the same high regard for Colonel B. F. Davis as did many of his fellow officers.  Beck remarked in  June 10, 1863  letter to his wife that we:  "had a fight, our brigade commander Colonel Davis was killed...Davis was a regular, a Mississippian by birth, a proud tyrannical devil and had the ill will of his whole command.  I bet he was killed by our own men.”  He noted in another part of the letter: There was "general rejoicing among our brigade that Davis was killed he was such a tyrant.  A West Point man and a southerner - proud spirited - he led the 8th New York Cavalry in a charge & was 20 feet ahead of his men when his body was pierced by balls."    

In a History of the 3rd Indiana CavalryWilliam N. Pickerill painted a different picture of the regiments opinion of Davis.  Pickerill wrote: “Colonel Davis was an officer of the regular army, a strict disciplinarian…was regarded as one of the best subordinate cavalry commanders of the army.”

George W. Newhall also commented about B. F. Davis in the Battle of Beverly Ford in The Annals of the War Written by Leading Participants North and South.  Newhall recorded: “he  (Davis) fell in a moment mortally wounded on the further bank, and should be remembered with special honor for he was a southern man and a graduate of West Point.  He was called “Grimes” by all his army friends and was the beau ideal of a cavalry officer.  He was borne back in a blanket just as Pleasonton gained the southern bank of the river.”

In the years after the Civil War and Colonel Benjamin F. Davis's untimely death at age 31 encomiums were still being written about the gallant American soldier.  

In Three Years in the Federal Cavalry Willard W. Glazier wrote: “ In the early part of the engagement (Brandy Station) fell Colonel B. F. Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry.  His loss was a subject of great lamentation.  He had distinguished himself for great sagacity, wonderful power of endurance and unsurpassed bravery.”

Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac  served with Benjamin Davis at Fort Tejon in California before the Civil War.  Lettermen wrote in
 Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac,  "This officer, who so successfully extricated his regiment from Harper's Ferry when the post was surrendered by General Miles - who fought so gallantly on our march through Virginia in the autumn of 1862 - had been my companion in more than one campaign among the Indians; my messmate at stations far beyond the haunts of civilized men.  This long, familiar intercourse produced the warmest admiration for his noble character, which made him sacrifice friends and relatives to uphold the flag under which he was born and defend the Constitution of his country."

For many years the survivors of the 8th New York Volunteer Cavalry would hold a reunion in June on or close to the anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station. George H. Chapman remembered Colonel Davis at the 1881 reunion.  He noted in his address that "Colonel Davis was a competent officer, a stern disciplinarian and a man of strong character.  Had his life been spared I have no doubt he would have gained great distinction.  I always think of him as a man who was entitled to much credit for being faithful to the flag when almost everyone who was surrounded by the same influences proved faithless...It required strong conscientious conviction and moral courage to sustain him, and all in like situation, in remaining faithful to the flag and standing with the north.  Let his memory be revered."

Henry L. Abbott, who graduated 2nd in the same West Point Class as Davis, noted in a book he wrote titled Half Century of a West Point Class 1850 to 1854,  that Davis was a Captain of Cadets.  Abbott also wrote on page 18: “He took part in all the battles and skirmishes of the Army of the Potomac after that of South Mountain, always with so much credit to himself, as to be regarded as having very few equals and no superiors in the cavalry branch of the service.  He commanded a brigade of the 1st Division of Pleasonton's Cavalry Corps for many months, and was over and over again recommended for promotion to the grade of Brigadier General...The request that his body might repose at West Point was granted by the Secretary of War.  It is the fitting place.  He was a gallant son of his Alma Mater, and an honor to his class and to the Academy.”

And maybe one of the final and most fitting remarks regarding the life and career of Benjamin Franklin Davis was written by Major General George B. Davis in an article about Harpers Ferry published in the Journal of the U. S. Cavalry Association May 1, 1913.  General Davis noted: "Colonel Davis, affectionately known as "Grimes" by his friends and admirers who were many and enthusiastic - was to valuable a man to permit to be cooped up again (as at Harpers Ferry), or employed in escorting his own forage and rations...and was immediately assigned to the command of a brigade of cavalry by General McClellan.  Here he was at his best, and Grime's Davis's best was something beyond the common...In one of the early combats of cavalry against cavalry of which the year 1863, and those following were to see many, he was killed while leading his brigade - not upon a place - but upon a mounted force of the enemy, of equal if not superior strength; and so the gallant spirit passed, in the tumult of battle, "to where beyond these voices there is peace."  A photograph, dating probably from the late summer of 1861, is - or was, one of the cherished possessions of the Army Mess at the Military Academy, which in life, not less in his untimely death he so much adorned."