The Third West Virginia Cavalry was organized in the spring of 1862 as a part of
the United States Army, with Lt. Col. David H. Strother, Major John L. McGee, and
Adjutant Barnabus Powell.
Gen. William Averell
Gen. Franz Sigel
Gen. David Hunter
Lieutenant Colonel Strother had a national reputation as an artist and litterateur,
and was among the first in this country to illustrate his own literary productions
of Southern life and events, prior to the war, in Harper's Magazine
under the nom de plume of "Porte Crayon." During the first two years
of the regiment's service in doing guard and scouting duty by company detachments,
which were stationed from the Shenandoah to the Kanawha Valleys; during this
time Colonel Strother was performing special service on the staff of General
Averell, Sigel and Hunter.
Gen. Robert H. Milroy
Colonel McGee had seen much active service in the war prior to his promotion into
the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. He also served as "chief of staff" with General Milroy.
On the 18th of July, 1861, Company A, 1st West Virginia Cavalry, recruited and mustered in at
Morgantown, W.Va., was the first cavalry organization raised in the State; it was mustered into
service as the "Kelley Lancers," J.L. McGee, captain; and at once reported
to General B.F. Kelley, at Grafton, whence it was ordered to New Creek (Keyser),
W.Va., and on General Kelley's advance on Romney, took part in that expedition,
and together with the Ringgold cavalry charged the enemy's works. This charge
was delivered with fine spirit and most satisfactory results, the whole of
the enemy's artillery, stores and flags being taken without the loss of a man.
General Kelley, in his official report to the War Department remarks: "I must be
pardoned, however in calling the attention of the country to the brilliant charges
of the cavalry under Captain Keys and McGee. I venture to say they are unsurpassed by
any in the annals of American warfare."
This advance was soon followed by the surprise of the Rebels at Blues Gap; in which
the Lancers were again conspicuous, resulting in the capture of a number of prisoners,
three pieces of artillery and the entire camp equipage of the enemy, and driving the Rebel
forces to the eastern slope of the Alleghenies, thus transferring the field of active
operations to the Valley of Virginia.
Captain McGee was promoted to major of the Third West Virginia Cavalry,
October 2, 1861.
Gen. John C. Fremont
The several companies and battalions in the Third Regiment rendered conspicuous
service. As early as June, 1862, Company C, Capt. Seymour B Conger, was attached
to General Fremont's command. When in pursuit of "Stonewall" Jackson in his retreat
up the Shenandoah Valley, Captain Conger and his company frequently engaged the enemy,
and received special mention from General Fremont, upon the occasion of a splendid dash
made by the company at the bridge near Mount Jackson; when the retreating
enemy had fired the structure, Captain Conger's gallant charge saved the bridge,
and General Ashby barely escaped capture.
Captain Lott Bowen, Co. E, displayed the qualities of the brave soldier in the
vicinity of West, Sutton and Bulltown in western Virginia under General Roberts.
Lieutenant Timothy F. Roane, in command of the same company, charged, routed, killed
and captured many of Imboden's and Jackson's troops near Clarksburg, at Simpson's Creek
and Jane Lew, in the early party of May, 1863. In the reorganization of the Army of
the Potomac, January 31st, 1863, Companies A and C were detailed for special
duty at General Sigel's "Grand Reserve Division" headquartes. Company H, in
command of Capt. W.H. Flesher, was at Parkersburg, from May 1 to August 31,
1863; Company G, Capt. John S. Witcher, was in Col. Rutherford B. Haye's Brigade
in the Kanawha Valley.
Gen. Alfred Pleasanton
In June, 1863, Captain Conger, with Companies A and C, was attached to General
Pleasanton's Corps, Buford's Division, Colonel Devin's Brigade, and participated
in the battles of Brady Station, Beverly Ford, Stevensburg and Upperville, Virginia.
A characteristic episode of the war, and one which very forcibly illustrates the
estimation in which the West Virginia troops were held, occurred while General Milroy
was in command at Winchester. A reconnoissance of considerable force had been repulsed with
a very serious loss to our troops, and it was determined to send out a strong
force to develop the full strength of the enemy. The General, looking over
the detail which had been made for the expedition, remarked that he would
like to have some West Virginia boys at the front of the movement. Colonel
McGee, Inspector-General, and Chief of the Staff of the Division, at once
volunteered to take command of the advance guard with three companies of West
Virginia Cavalry, one company of the 1st West Virginia and two of the Third
West Virginia Cavalry; it was so ordered, and the three companies, about 60
men all told, took the road far in advance of the main column.
At Fisher's Hill two Rebel pickets were observed, and Colonel McGee deployd his
command sending out parties to either side, while, with about thirty men, he took up
the march to the summit, which was approached by a narrow road cut in a precipitous side
of the hill. When near the summit the two men in advance dashed back in perfect panic,
shouting the report that they were followed by a thousand Rebs in full charge.
To countermatch on this narrow road in the presence of the enemy was impossible,
so the only alternative was to fight. Colonel McGee at once gave the order
and with drawn sabre led the charge.
Just at the summit the road turns sharply out of the woods leading thence straight
away over an open plateau; at this turn the opposing Rebels were in full charge and
the charge of the West Virginians delivered with such impetuosity, that the Rebel column was
split and doubled back upon itself, and no more spirited hand-to-hand fight
was seen during the war than that here enacted, and it was kept up with most
heroic vigor until the enemy was completely routed and sent flying up the
valley. It was afterward learned that the Rebel force numbered about 100 men,
commanded by Major Myers, and their loss was one killed, several wounded and
five prisoners; while we had two men seriously wounded, one mortally, one
horse killed; the horse ridden by Colonel McGee in the charge received five
bullet wounds, but the rider escaped unhurt.
Lee, in his advance into Maryland detached Ewell's Corps (variously estimated at from
35,000 to 50,000 men) to pick up Milroy on the way. This they found no light morning's \
work. But after three days' hard and continuous fighting against hopeless odds, Milroy,
with ammunition exhausted, completely surrounded and cut off from supplies
or communication, determined to hold a council of war.
But before going to the council, Colonel McGee told the author that the general took
him aside, and in the most impressive manner, told him: "I have been persuaded to call
a council of war. It may decide to surrender, but I will never surrender to any damned
Rebels. If the council decide to surrender, I want you to get your three companies
of West Virginians together, and at their head we will go to Harper's Ferry
or to hell."
In narrating the incident the Colonel remarked that although he had been for three days
almost constantly under fire and two nights on the outpost line, he would have most
cheerfully accepted the challenge, never doubting that they would reach their proper
destination. But fate ordered otherwise, and the next morning the General broke the Rebel
line and marched with 5000 men of his command into the Union lines.
April 16, 1864, Major Lott Bowen, at Buckhannon, was ordered by General Sigel to proceed
with his battalion to Clarksburg, thence by river and railroad to Charleston, Kanawha.
May 10, 1864, the regiment, in command of Major Conger, was with General Averell in
the battle of Wytheville, Va. Averell made special mention of the regiment
At Staunton, Virginia, June, 1864, the regiment was assigned to Colonel W.H. Oley's
2nd Brigade, thence to the Kanawha Valley, under Oley and Duffie. August 7, 1864,
General Averell fought the battle of Moorefield, W.Va. The 3rd Cavalry was in command
of Major John S. Witcher. The fight was one of the most signal victories for the Union cause
during the war. General Averell in his report of the battle says:
The brigadier-general commanding congratulates the officers and men of the division upon
the brilliant success achieved by their victory at Moorefield, on the morning of the 7th
inst.... But with out exultations is mingled a profound grief at the loss of Major
Conger, 3rd West Virginia Cavalry, who found death as he had always wished,
in the front of battle, with heart and hand intent upon the doing of his duty.
Brave, steadfast and modest, when he fell this command lost one of its best
soldiers, and his regiment and general a friend. The men who followed him
in the charge will never forget his glorious example, or that of the gallant
Lieutenant Leonard Clark, who fell by his side."
Gen. George Crook
In the reorganization of the Army of West Virginia, August 31, 1864, General George Crook,
commanding; General Averell, commanding division; Colonel Wm. H Powell, commanding the Second
Brigade, in which the Third West Virginia Cavalry was a part under command
of Major Lott Bowen. And still later, on the 19th of September, the same organization
was preserved except the Third Cavalry, which was commanded by Major John
S. Witcher, and Colonel Henry Capehart, commanding Second Brigade.
At the battle of Fisher's Hill, September 22, Lieutenant-Colonel McGee was in command of
the Third Cavalry. On September 23, 1864, General Averell was succeeded in command of
his division by Colonel Wm. H. Powell.
During the months of January and February, the Third Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel
McGee, were stationed near Winchester, Va., doing picket duty, making frequent
reconnoissances up the valley.
Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan
On February 27th, the regiment broke camp and moved with the cavalry corps commanded
by Major General Sheridan up the valley to Staunton, and participated in the battle
of Waynesboro, Va., on the 2nd of March, defeating General Early, and pushing on the same
evening to Greenwood Depot. The next day the command moved to Charlottesville, and
thence with the command of General Sheridan on his great raid, which resulted
in the destruction of more than fifty miles of the James River Canal, many
miles of railroad, besides other public property.
The command arrived at "White House" on the 19th of March, where it remained in camp
until the 24th, marched thence via Charles City Court House, and crossed the James River
at Deep Bottom.
On the morning of the 1st of April, a desperate engagement took place, in which the
Third Cavalry bore a conspicuous part. On April 2nd, at Ford's Station, the Third Regiment,
under Lieutenant-Colonel John S. Witcher, charged and drove a brigade of Confederate
cavalry, killing the Confederate General Pegram. The regiment continued to do duty in all the
exciting and closing scenes terminating with the surrender at Appomattox on
the 9th of April.
The regiment lost during the war in killed and died of wounds, six officers and forty
enlisted men; died of disease or in prison, one hundred and thirty-six.
From Loyal West Virginia From 1861 to 1865, by Theodore E. Lang, Baltimore, MD,
The Deutsch Publishing Co., 1895
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