The Fifth New York Cavalry in the Civil War
Vincent L. Burns, McFarland
Vincent Burns’ book is based on a war journal kept by Louis N. Boudrye, the 5th New York Cavalry’s chaplain. He also combed through letters, newspaper accounts and other material to compile a comprehensive history of one of the war’s longest-serving cavalry units.
Mustered in on Staten Island in 1861, the 5th was sent to the Shenandoah Valley, first seeing battle in March 1862 outside Harrisonburg, Va. The following months brought a series of Union defeats in the Valley, though the 5th did cover Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ army’s retreat from Winchester to safety in Maryland. Banks’ after-action report mentioned “with praise Colonel [Othneil] De Forest, of the Fifth New York Cavalry, who by his energy saved a large train.”
The Gettysburg Campaign saw the 5th fighting in Hanover, Pa., on June 30, scouting on July 1 and playing a supportive role in the Hunterstown cavalry battle on July 2. As for July 3, 1863, Burns calls it “their luckiest day of the war”: During attacks ordered by brigade commander Judson T. “Kill- cavalry” Kilpatrick at South Cavalry Field, the 5th was “essentially out of the action.”
In December 1863, 205 of 327 men in the regiment reenlisted. Part of the 5th would participate in the ill-fated Kilpatrick–Dahlgren Raid, and 14 of those men were captured and sent to Andersonville.
During the Overland Campaign, the 5th became part of Colonel Timothy H. Bryan’s 1st Brigade, and was heavily engaged during the Battle of the Wilderness. “Arguably, the engagement fought by the Fifth New York on May 5, 1864,” Burns writes, “standing by itself with only carbines against infantry in the thousands, was the regiment’s finest hour.” Later the unit joined Phil Sheridan’s Army of the Valley, fighting in the Shenandoah until the war’s close.
In the end, Burns pays the troopers a tribute that any volunteer regiment would be proud of: “They learned their trade, mostly by doing it in the field.”
Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.