Brevet Major General Thomas Casimer Devin stands out as one of the most capable Union cavalry commanders in the American Civil War even when compared with colleagues who were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Devin was born on December 10, 1822, in New York City. He was the oldest son of Michael Devin, born in County Louth, Ireland in 1788 and his wife Jane (Duffy) Devin who was also born in Louth, in 1803. The Devin's immigrated to the United States from "the Wee County", which is located on the eastern coast of Ireland, and settled in New York City.
Thomas Devin had four younger brothers; John Joseph Connolly born on September 25, 1825, Nicholas born on October 10, 1829, Philip Michael, born September 23, 1832 and Michael born in 1834. Michael died at nine months of age of whooping cough. Both John and Philip were merchants in New York City. John died in 1889. Philip died in 1918. Nicholas lived in Boston, Massachusetts prior to his death from bilious fever when he was thirty-seven years old.
Little is known of Thomas Devin's childhood. He appears to have spent all of it in New York City except for five years between circa 1837 and 1842 when he was in Missouri. His father passed away on December 22, 1837, when Thomas was fifteen. His mother died of consumption on February 11, 1843.
Thomas Devin married Elizabeth May Campbell in New York City on December 3, 1846. She was the grandniece of Sir Colin Campbell of Scotland. They had a daughter Jeanette Elizabeth Devin born on September 28, 1848. She would marry Lieutenant Charles Braden (retired) of the Seventh U. S. Cavalry in 1879.
The 1848-1849 New York City Directory lists Thomas Devin as a painter residing at 611 Hudson. Subsequent directories also show his occupation as "painter" until he enlists in the United States Army in 1861. The 1852 Directory indicates he was a retailer of "paint, oil, etc."
Following the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 men to "suppress treasonable combinations and cause the laws to be executed." New York's quota was 13,280. General Winfield Scott requested the governor of New York, Edwin D. Morgan, furnish "100 mounted men from the First Regiment New York State Militia, with their own horses and equipment." In 1878, Thurlow Weed, a newspaper publisher and New York politician, remembered meeting a stranger on the steps of the Astor House in July 1861, "who said he desired authority from the governor to raise a volunteer company of cavalry for immediate service. [The stranger] said his name was Devin, that he was a painter by trade, and that he belonged to a cavalry regiment of the city, from which he could recruit a company in twenty-four hours." Weed later wrote "I was so much impressed with Mr. Devin's bearing and manner that I asked him to come to my room in two hours. Meantime I sent a dispatch to Gov. Morgan, asking him for the appointment of Mr. Devin as captain, to which I received an affirmative reply. He [Devin] returned promptly at the appointed time. He was evidently delighted when I addressed him as 'Captain Devin' saying that he would report next day, and immediately took his leave...The next day, Captain Devin returned with his muster rolls, showing that he had a full company, for which he required subsistence and transportation, both of which were immediately provided and on the following morning Captain Devin and his company were on their way to Washington."
Captain Devin's Company, also known as the Jackson Horse Guards, consisted of one hundred men, principally from Company A of the First New York State Militia Cavalry, from New York City who had volunteered, upon the request of the General Government for some cavalry, for a service of three months. Devin and his company were mustered into the service of the United States at Washington D.C., to date from July 14, 1861.
The Evening Star published in Washington D. C., reported on July 18, 1861, "About one o'clock this morning a detachment of [the] First Regiment of New York State Cavalry arrived in a special train under command of Lieutenant Colonel Devin. Their horses [three hundred and fifty] had arrived several hours before them and had been conveyed to the government stables; so the men marched to their quarters in the first ward. They came over the Northern Central road to Baltimore. The detachment have not been sworn in for any stated period; but it is understood they will serve for three months, after which many of them will volunteer for the war. The officers of this regiment are - Lieutenant Colonel T. C. Devin; Quartermaster, George W. Maxwell; Captains, W. E. Duding, J. F. Barkley, George Mundorf; First Lieutenants Frederick Kuebel, F[rancis] Reiss, K[yrion] Honan; Second Lieutenants John McAuliff, John Haggerty and William McGoldrick."
At least part of the time Captain Devin's Company was in the Washington D.C. area they were stationed at Camp Lyon south of Alexandria, Virginia. While not drilling, Devin's command was engaged in provost duties in the defenses of Washington. The cavalrymen were also engaged in skirmishes in Falls Church, Vienna and Lewinsville, Virginia. At some point Captain Devin was ordered to report to Brigadier General William F. "Baldy" Smith for scouting duties in Loudoun County, Virginia. In late September 1861, Devin was temporarily assigned to the staff of Brigadier General Isaac Stevens where he served as a brigade inspector. When the three month term of service of Devin and his company expired the unit returned to New York and mustered out on October 23, 1861.
Thomas Devin was mustered in as colonel of the Sixth New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, "on the earnest recommendation of General Stevens and Senator [Ira] Harris" on November 18, 1861, by New York City's Mustering and Disbursement officer Colonel Delos B. Sackett. Sackett, who graduated from West Point in 1845, had been an Assistant Instructor of Cavalry Tactics at the United States Military Academy between 1850 and 1855. After quizzing the Irishman, to ensure he was competent to command the regiment, Sackett reportedly wrote "I can't teach Col. Devin anything about cavalry; he knows more about the tactics than I do." At the time the freshly minted colonel stood five feet eight and one half high. He had brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.
The regiment, known as the Second Ira Harris Cavalry, because it was originally intended to be part of the Ira Harris Brigade, set up recruiting headquarters at Number 4 Pine Street in New York City. Volunteering commenced in July 1861 and was completed by October 24th. The various companies mustered into the service of the United States between September 12 and December 19, 1861. The regiment's original camp of instruction, was at Camp Scott which was located at Oldtown on Staten Island. On December 21, The New York Herald reported, "The Sixth New York Volunteer Cavalry, will leave for the seat of war on Saturday Morning next. The regiment is being proficient in their drill, and will give their last dress parade in this vicinity today at their camp at half past two P.M."
Colonel Devin and his Empire Staters left New York for York, Pennsylvania on the New Jersey Central Railroad on Monday December 23, 1861. The New York Times noted, "The men are in an efficient state of discipline, and in numbers amount to nearly nine hundred, and will no doubt prove a valuable acquisition to the service." The dismounted regiment spent the winter in the Keystone State building barracks and stables and receiving instructions in the school of the trooper.
On January 3, 1862, while at his "Camp Harris" headquarters, Devin had an order published in the York Gazette notifying "all vendors of intoxicating liquors who shall hereafter be found furnishing such intoxicating liquors to any of the enlisted men connected with this Regiment, in any quantities or form, that upon proper proof of such offenses, their places of business will be indicted and the full punishment of the law inflicted."
On March 6, 1862, the Sixth New York was sent to Perryville, Maryland to guard depots and stores. Shortly after their arrival in Maryland four companies under the command of Major Floyd Clarkson joined McClellan's Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula.
While Devin and the remainder of his command was camped in the vicinity of Washington D. C., on June 20, 1862, the non commissioned officers and privates of the Sixth New York presented their colonel with "a splendid sabre." The Evening Star reported, "The sabre is gotten up in the approved regulation style and is a very superior article. The scabbard is of very highly polished steel, very richly chased, the devices being swords, battle axes and arrows bound together in bundles...The scabbard bears the following inscription: 'Presented to Col. Thos. C. Devin by the non-commissioned officers and privates of the Sixth New York Cavalry June, 1862'. Accompanying the sabre is a scabbard for service, sword belt, shoulder straps, sash and spurs, all enclosed in a splendid rosewood box lined with white satin." Senator Ira Harris presented the sabre to Devin "as a memorial of trust and confidence from soldiers to an accomplished officer and leader." Upon receipt of the sabre "Colonel Devin replied he had no words to express his thanks for the testimonial. He knew not why he deserved it. All he had ever done was done in the execution of his duty...he had done that duty to the best of his ability, in studying the comfort of hims men and properly disciplining them...He trusted the regiment would never be ashamed of its Colonel; and he pledged himself that his saber would ever be ready to leap from its scabbard in the cause of his country, and the regiment should never be ashamed to follow his lead."
Devin and the eight remaining companies remained in Maryland until July 15, 1862, when they were ordered to Warrenton, Virginia to join Major General Irvin McDowell's command, where they were engaged in scouting south of the Rapidan River.Following Major General Pope's defeat at Second Manassas Devin and his troopers covered the evacuation of Fredricksburg and Aquia Creek.
In a September 30, 1862, letter Colonel Devin wrote, [from August 29 to the 31st], "the 6th Reg[iment] alone held the line of the Rap[pahannock] from Fredericksburg to Rap[pahhanock] Station 40 miles, although constantly threatened by an overpowering force. It was then reinforced by the 4th Reg[iment] Ca[valry] 1 squadron of Infantry and a section of Artillery all under Col. Devin.
The command was then ordered by Gen. Burnside to retire to a position behind Deep Run. The next day it was ordered to retire upon Falmouth which place I reached at 5 P.M. on the day of the evacuation. I was ordered to feed my command and hold Falmouth for two hours after all the other troops had left and then to march to Stafford Court House and hold the place to cover the embarkation from Aquia Creek. I held Stafford for two days and was ordered to fall back to Brooks Station - held that place one day and was ordered to Aquia Creek which I reached as the last regiment marched on the transports - at 1 A.M. embarked my regiment and at daylight was in Wash[ingto]n, having acted as a rear guard covering the right flank of Burnsides Corps for 12 days after Pope had left it - the enemy being on three sides of us our only avenue of escape the Falmouth road. It was reported for a week that we were cut off and it was only owing to the extent of the country we covered and the belief that we had a much larger force that the enemy did not gobble us up. I was so worn out with fatigue that I slept on my horse during the journey to Stafford. For seven nights I had not slept. We arrived in Wash[ington] Friday morning [September 5] and on Sunday at 12 N. [September 7] we were ordered to take the advance of the army through Maryland."
To be continued.....
I would like to thank descendent of Thomas Devin for providing information on his family.