The 11th Pa. Cav.
The Time That It Did Not Go into Richmond
Editor National Tribune:
...Some of the Cambria County boys used to say if they ever enlisted they would either join the 11th or 12th Pa Cav., as the rebels always ran from the 11th and the 12th always ran from the rebels, so a fellow was pretty safe in either regiment. We always gave a good account ourselves wherever we were, and I think were second to none of the cavalry regiments in the service. I do not intend writing a history of the regiment, but want to give a few sketches of some of its many scouts and battles, and just at present I want to tell the comrades how we didn't take Richmond in February, 1864. General Butler, then in command of the Army of the James, thought that while Lee and his veterans were busy with Army of the Potomac over about Culpeper a cavalry raid might be made into Richmond, capture the officials of the Confederate Government., and release our poor comrades who were suffering in the rebel prisons of Libby, Castle Thunder, Belle Isle, etc. Butler started General Wistar, with about 4,000 infantry, two light brigades of artillery and a brigade of cavalry under Col. Spear, which consisted of the 1st N.Y. M't'd Rifles, 3d N.Y. Cav., 5th and 11th Pa. Cav. and First District of Columbia M't'd Riflemen.* The Calvary was to charge the Chickahominy at Bottom Bridge, dash into Richmond, release the prisoners, tear up things generally. A great many of the boys had provided themselves with plenty of matches, but they only needed them to build fires where we bivouacked, for while we were hot enough in the morning when we tried to cross Bottom Bridge, it was infernally cold that night, and the matches came into good play. The cavalry command left Williamsburg about noon on Feb. 6, marched all night, and, oh, but it was dark. Several times during the night rockets were sent up by Johnnies stationed along the route. We arrived at the top of the hill above Bottom Bridge about 8 o'clock on the morning of the 7th. The supposition was, from what had been learned from the contrabands, that there was no artillery on the rebel side of the bridge. Scouts were sent down to see how things were about the bridge. They found the plank removed, and could hear the Johnnies on the other side getting their artillery into shape and laughing over the surprise they were going to give Yankee. But it became light enough to see we moved down toward bridge. The rebels opened fire on us with their artillery, and as there was no bridge to cross all we could do was to march back up the hill again. At the top of the hill, in an old field, we dismounted, made some coffee and waited for Maj. Wetherell to return, who been sent up the creek with his battalion to see if there was a ford at which we could cross. When they reached Grapevine Ford they found it blocked with fallen trees on both sides of creek, making it impossible to cross the river there. While we were waiting for Maj. Wetherell we could see the Johnnies, a great plenty of them, coming down the hill from the direction of Richmond--infantry and artillery. They planted some light artillery and fired several rounds of shells at us, but as we could not cross the river to get at them and they would not come over to us it was a drawn game all through. We marched back to New Kent Court House, where we spent in the night, and in the morning found ourselves under a covering of snow. This is where the boys' matches came into play On the 8th we returned to Williamsburg and so ended our raid for the release of our prisoners at Richmond. I have often thought since it was a good thing for us that the Rebels did not let us across the bridge, as doubtless there would have been more rather than less prisoners in Richmond after the raid. The boys in camp have lots of fun with those who were on the raid. "How's Jeff Davis this morning? How many of our boys did you bring back from Richmond? What's the price of matches this morning?" etc., etc., could be heard could be heard through the camps.
Long live the National Tribune, and may it always put the saber to those who begrudge the old soldier his little pension. We left home in the '60s while in the prime of life, risking life, many which many lost, to perpetuate our most glorious Union.
J.B. Stalb, Co. G, 11th Pa. Cav., Hasting, Pa.
-National Tribune, Aug. 9, 1906
I am not sure about the First District of Columbia being on this expedition, though they would soon be in the area.
This is a cross posting from New Kent County History.