Thirty-eighth Regiment, The 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, Part 1



History of Thirty-eighth Regiment,
The 9th Pennsylvania Reserves A

Part 1

The Ninth Regiment was organized at Camp Wright, near Pittsburg, on the 28th of June, 1861, under the direction of General M'Call. Eight of the companies composing it were recruited in Allegheny county; one in Crawford, and one in Beaver. At the time of its organization there were over forty companies in camp, recruited in the western part of the State, under the call for seventy-five thousand men. The companies included in this regiment had been in camp from the early part of May, and had been studiously drilled in elementary tactics. The election for field officers resulted in the choice of Conrad F. Jackson, Colonel; Robert Anderson, Lieutenant Colonel, and James M'Kinney Snodgrass, Major. The two former had seen service in the Mexican war. The latter was at the time Major General of the Eighteenth division of the State militia. The men generally had had no previous military experience. Immediately after its organization, the officers commenced a regular series of regimental and officers' drills, by which it was brought to a good degree of discipline.


[Pittsburg Rifles]
The Pittsburg Rifles

Left to right, front row: Hartley Howard, George T. Robinson, George W. Dilworth;
back row: John Copley, George J. Hazlett, Abner Updegraff Howard


On the 22d of July, the regiment was ordered to Washington. Leaving Pittsburg on the 23d, it proceeded to Harrisburg, where it was supplied with arms and equipments, and from thence proceeded to its destination, arriving at daylight of the 26th. Bivouacking a half mile east of the Capitol till evening, it marched to the Seventh street road, a distance of two miles, where it established its first camp. On the 28th the regiment was mustered into the United States service. Remaining in camp until the 5th of August, it was moved to Tennallytown, where was established the general camp of rendezvous for the Reserves, under the command of General M'Call. Here was established a regular routine of camp and picket duties, and details of parties to work on the fortifications in the vicinity. Major Snodgrass was assigned to superintend the construction of what was afterwards named Fort Gaines, and continued there until the work was ready to receive its armament. From the 9th to the 16th of September the regiment was on picket duty at Great Falls, several miles up the Potomac. Here the rebels were for the first time encountered, holding the opposite bank. As opportunity offered they sent their leaden compliments across, which were promptly acknowledged. This exchange of civilities continued daily. On the 21st of September, the Harper's Ferry smooth-bore muskets and the equipments received at Harrisburg, were exchanged for new Springfield rifled muskets and complete equipments, by the entire regiment, except company A, which was armed with Sharp's rifles, the private property of the men. On the same day it was reviewed by General M'Clellan, accompanied by his staff, General M'Call and staff, Governor Curtin and suite, the Secretary of War, and others.

On the 9th of October, the regiment broke camp at Tenallytown, and marching by the chain bridge, crossed into Virginia, and occupied a position near Langley, in line with the army of the Potomac, on its extreme right. Here the division went into winter quarters, and the discipline was made more stringent than before, as the enemy was supposed to be in the immediate front. In the organization of the corps which was here made, the Ninth was assigned to the Third Brigade, commanded by Colonel M'Calmont.1 A school for regimental officers was established for the brigade, which was regularly attended, and which, with the schools in the different regiments for company officers, was of great service in the establishment of discipline and in preparation for successful manoeuvring in the presence of the enemy. On the evening of the 19th of November orders were received from Headquarters directing Major Snodgrass to proceed, with five companies of the Ninth Regiment, to make a reconnoissance of the enemy's lines in the neighborhood of Hunter's Mills, eight miles in front of our line. Information had that day been received that the rebels were engaged in advancing their lines, and as a review was to be held on the following day, it was deemed advisable to verify the rumor. Accordingly at ten o'clock that night, taking companies A, B, D, F and G, with a guide, and two mounted orderlies, the Major proceeded to the locality indicated and made a thorough examination of their position. Finding them unchanged, he returned and reported the result, arriving soon after daylight. Scarcely had the detachment come within our lines, when a body of rebel cavalry was discovered on its trail, but too late to do any harm.

On the 20th of December, General E. O. C. Ord, who had succeeded Colonel M'Calmont in the command of the brigade, was ordered by General M'Call to proceed with his command to Dranesville, for the double purpose of securing forage, and of driving back the enemy's pickets. At two o'clock P. M., near Dranesville, a considerable body of the enemy was met, and as the Ninth Regiment was on the right of our column, it was soon briskly engaged. When first encountered his line was concealed from view by a thick wood, and considerable doubt existed whether the troops, which were now within sixty or seventy paces, were friends or foes. The men were impatient to fire and Colonel Jackson could with difficulty restrain them; an officer of the regiment had reported that they were the Bucktails, and the Colonel, that he might avoid the fatal error of killing our own men, was determined not to attack until he knew whom he was fighting. The impression that the Bucktails were in front was strengthened by one of the enemy calling out "don't fire on us." One of our men improdently asked, "are you Bucktails?" the answer was, "yes, we are the Bucktails, don't fire."2 Nor did they fire until they received a full volley from the rebel line. The order was then given to open, and the action soon became spirited. After posting the artillery General Ord gave the word to advance, "Kane at the head of his regiment leading. His and Jackson's regiments required no urging."3 The enemy was soon routed and the victory was complete. General M'Call, who came upon the field in the midst of the engagement, says, "Here was the Ninth Infantry, Colonel Jackson, who had gallantly met the enemy at close quarters, and nobly sustained the credit of the State. * * * The number of killed found in front of the position occupied by the Ninth Infantry, Colonel Jackson, is, in my estimation, proof enough of the gallantry and discipline of that fine regiment." The loss was two enlisted men killed, and two officers and eighteen enlisted men wounded. General Ord mentioned in his offricial report as worthy of notice for gallant conduct Colonel Jackson, and Captains Dick and Galway, and recommended a list of seventy-one officers and privates "for reward for their gallant conduct."

Upon the return of the regiment to camp it was ordered to erect permanent winter quarters. The ground was unfavorable, but by thorough draining and grading the quarters were made comfortable. The winter passed with the usual routine of duty and schools of discipline, and without any further collision with the enemy beyond occasional picket rencounters. On the 15th of March the regiment broke camp and marched to Falls Church, where it met the entire division, and thence turned back towards Alexandria, the enemy for whom the army was in search having withdrawn from its position at Manassas. It finally halted at Bailey's Cross Roads. The camping ground here was unpleasant and the water bad. The Reserves were now attached to the corps commanded by General M'Dowell, under whom they remained until they were ordered to the Peninsula. After remaining sometime at Bailey's, the regiment moved to Manassas and occupied quarters vacated by the enemy. On the 18th of April, it moved to Catlett's Station, where it encamped, the whole division being again united. Remaining until the first of May it was ordered to move in the direction of Fredericksburg, and arrived at Falmouth on the 4th. While here Colonel Jackson was ordered to take charge of the parties detailed to rebuild the bridge which the enemy had fired and destroyed, when he withdrew.



[9th PA Reserves at Camp Wright]

9th Pennsylvania Reserves, likely at Camp Wright. (Sketch courtesy John Carnprobst)

Preparations were made by M'Dowell's Corps for marching overland to join the army operating in front of Richmond, and the cavalry and a portion of the Reserves were already on the way; but the appearance of a heavy force of the rebel army in the Shenandoah Valley under Jackson, rendered this movement impracticable. A part of M'Dowell's Corps was retained for the protection of the Capital, and the Reserves were ordered to proceed to the Peninsula by water. In compliance with this order the Ninth broke camp on the 10th of June, and embarking on the steamer Georgia, proiceeded to White House, whence by easy marches it moved to Mechanicsville, arriving on the 19th. Here the division was assigned to the corps commanded by General Fitz John Porter. On the morning of the 20th, the regiment was ordered on picket duty, and was posted along the Chickahominy, within speaking distance of the rebel lines. For three days it remained in position without relief, and on the 23d was under arms until one o'clock P. M., when it was ordered to Mechanicsville. The noise of the enemy at work in a thick wood, concealed from view, excited apprehension. Accordingly companies C and G were ordered to cross the creek and ascertain the purpose of their activity. A sharp skirmish ensued, in which the enemy was driven back to his reserves. The two companies then retired and rejoined the regiment with a loss of one wounded.

On the 26th of June, the Ninth took part in the battle of Mechanicsville, and was stationed, in the early part of the battle, in support of the Third Brigade, much exposed to the enemy's fire. Later in the day he commenced massing his forces on our left, when the Ninth was marched by the flank and took position to the right and partially in support of the Twelfth, where it maintained itself with unwavering ranks under a heavy and continuous fire. During the succeeding night, it was placed on guard in position stretching from our rifle-pits to the river, and on the following morning was left to cover the withdrawal of the division to Gaines' Mill. This difficult duty was successfully executed in broad day-light, in face of an enemy stung to madness by the bitter repulse of the previous day. "In fine," says General M'Call, in his official report of this battle, "our killed had been buried, our wounded had been sent off by seven o'clock A. M. on the 27th, and not a man, nor a gun, nor a musket was left upon the field. The regiments filed past as steadily as if marching from the parade ground."

Porter's Corps was drawn up in battle line at Gaines' Mill, and the division, as it arrived, was posted in rear, as a reserve. By two o'clock P. M. the enemy had attacked along the whole line, and by four o'clock the entire second line and reserves had been brought into action, and were desperately engaged. The Ninth was ordered to the support of the Sixty-second Pennsylvania and the Ninth Massachusetts regiments. With difficulty it passed a swampy ravine on its way, raked by the fire of the rebel infantry; but it reached the designated position in good order, and the three regiments were commanded to charge the enemy, now glorying in his strength, and pressing forward with confidence. The charge was successfully made; but advancing too far in pursuit of the retreating column, they were in turn counter charged, attacked in flank, and were obliged to yield the ground so gallantly won. Re-forming, they again and again returned to the onset, but were unable again to move him from his position, though they held their ground, and at night retained their place in the front line.

Retiring across the Chickahominy during the night, the Reserves two days later commenced the march across White Oak Swamp towards the James River. After crossing White Oak Creek, General M'Call was ordered to take position at the junction of the New Market, Charles City and Quaker roads, to repel any advance of the enemy from the direction of Richmond. The disposition was accordingly made, facing to the right flank, with Meade's Brigade on the right, Seymour's on the left, and Reynolds', now commanded by Colonel Simmons, in reserve. In front of the line of infantry, Randall's Battery was stationed on the right, Cooper's and Kern's opposite the centre, and two German batteries, Deitrich's and Kennerheim's, on the left. The Ninth Regiment was posted in support of Cooper's Battery. At half past two P. M. the pickets were attacked, and at three the battle opened in earnest. The left flank being exposed, the enemy sought, by attacking in heavy force, to turn it. To avert the threatened disaster, the Fifth and Eighth, under command of Colonel Simmons, were sent to support it, and by obliqueing to the left, to meet his advance. But the great superiority of his numbers enabled him to mass his troops on all points of our line, and while the attempt upon the left was in progress, attacks were simultaneously made upon the centre and right. Cooper's Battery was repeatedly charged, and at each time by fresh troops; but they were as often swept back by the deliberate fire of the artillery and the steady fire of the Ninth. During a short interval when this regiment was withdrawn to support a regular battery on the left, Kern's Battery having fired its last charge, and failing to receive a supply, was forced to withdraw. The enemy seeing this became emboldened, and made a determined charge upon Cooper's Battery, capturing it. At this juncture the Ninth returned to its place, and finding the guns lost, charged upon and re-captured them. In this charge William J. Gallagher, of company F, captured the standard of the Tenth Alabama, killing the rebel color bearer.4 Earlier in the battle, when the enemy had advanced within a few feet of Cooper's guns, the Ninth charged and drove him back at the point of the bayonet to his second line, where the fight became terrible, and one of his standard bearers fell badly wounded. On seeing it, William Tawney, of company I, rushed forward and caught up the flag, carrying it back into our lines. As the command fell back over the ground which had been held by the Seventh Regiment, and on which its flag had been dropped, seeing it, this same William Tawney rushed forward through a storm of bullets and caught it up, carrying both flags off the field.

The most desperate fighting the Ninth had yet experienced was on this hotly contested field, and though the Third Brigade was terribly shattered, the division held its ground against vastly superior numbers, successfully protected the road on which the immense trains were moving, saved the two wings of the army from being separated and destroyed in detail, and withdrew from the field in good order and in its own good time.5

Falling back to Malvern Hill, it was assigned a place in reserve and was under fire of the enemy's artillery, but not actively engaged. During the following night it moved with the entire army to Harrison's Landing, where supplies awaited its arrival, and where it enjoyed a few days of much needed rest. Here the army occupied an intrenched camp, secure from attack, and the line of supply was well assured. The enemy subsequently moved some light batteries to the right bank of the James, and succeeded in throwing a few shells into it, but were soon driven away, and a picket line established so as to completely shield it from future attempts. The Ninth, together with the Tenth and Twelfth regiments, were engaged in this duty. As the troops advanced, the enemy, together with the inhabitants, for a radius of three miles around, withdrew, leaving the district clear. Details were established to guard the new line, and the Ninth remained engaged in this duty until the 16th of August. In the meantime the Army of the Potomac had withdrawn from the Peninsula, and was proceeding to join the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Pope. The Reserves were the last to leave, and embarking upon transports moved up the Potomac to Acquia Creek, and debarking, thence marched to Falmouth Heights. Resuming the march after a brief halt, they moved via Kelly's Ford, through Rappahannock Station, Warrenton, New Baltimore and Hay Market, to meet the right wing of the rebel army under Jackson, in the vicinity of Manassas Junction. This forced march of five days without adequate supplies of provisions, with the enemy hanging on flank and rear, proved one of the most exhausting which it was ever their lot to endure.

On the 29th of August, the division arrived in the neighborhood of Groveton, and on the afternoon of that day a rebel battery was discovered posted on its left, six hundred yards away. The Ninth and Tenth regiments were ordered to reconnoitre the ground and ascertain the enemy's strength and actual position. When within one hundred yards of his lines it was found that his guns were supported by a large force of infantry, which opened a murderous fire upon them, and from which they withdrew under cover of our guns. A stronger force was then sent forward, when he hastily abandoned the ground. On the 30th, the regiment was on the extreme left flank of the division and of the union line. Very soon after the battle commenced the enemy outflanked us on the left, and gave the Ninth an enfilading fire which inflicted most grievous injury; but notwithstanding this, it was the last to leave the line, and the withdrawal was executed in good order. It re-formed under cover of Cooper's Battery, where the Third Brigade was posted for its support. Orders were soon received to fall back to a point five hundred yards to the rear, and re-form, but were scarcely executed when the line in front gave way, and it was ordered to retire across Bull Run. Here the regiment reformed under command of Colonel Sickel, the senior officer of the division then on the field, under whose orders it marched to Centreville, arriving at ten o'clock P. M. The battle was disastrous to our arms, and particularly so to this regiment, losing heavily on account of its exposed position. Not the lack of valor on the part of the brave men here engaged, but a want of harmonious composition and movement of the army, made the result of the great slaughter and the hard fighting, vain.

Continue with Part 2.


Return to the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves Home Page. For further information write to 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, c/o 1887 Old Ramsey Rd., Monroeville, PA 15146.
Thanks to Jim Owston for the photographs of Pittsburgh Rifles and Dedication of Gettysburg Monument!
(c) December 2019