Olyer: Remembering Company K, the 'Bridgeville Company'
When Michael Kraus discussed Pennsylvanians who were involved in the battle of Gettysburg at a recent Bridgeville Area Historical Society meeting, he did not mention Company K of the First Pennsylvania Cavalry.
I asked him about this after the presentation and learned that his only knowledge of that unit was the fact that its original battle flag was on display at the Espy Room at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie.
This convinced me that I should devote a column to them. We actually know quite a bit about them, and they certainly deserve to be remembered.
When Gov. Andrew Curtin issued his call for volunteers in the summer of 1851, William Boyce recruited a company of men from the Bridgeville area, including many of his close relatives — seven Boyces and one Lesnett. He was commissioned a captain and made company commander. The company was known as the “Bridgeville Company” and also as “the National Lancers.”
The ladies of the Bethany Presbyterian Church quickly produced a battle flag for them that was presented to the company on the steps of the Middlewarth House before they left for induction at Camp Wilkins in Pittsburgh. The Bethany pastor, the Rev. C. G. Braddock, presented the flag to Lt. Samuel W. Morgan. It was returned to Capt. Boyce's home when the company received its regulation battle flag. It was presented to the Espy GAR Post in 1911.
From there they moved to Camp Jones, near Washington, D.C., where they joined nine other companies, forming the First Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. In addition to Lesnett and the Boyces, other familiar names in the company included Joseph Wright, who would later build the Norwood Hotel, and David Shaffer, one of the managers of the Shaffer fulling mill.
An experienced regular Army officer, George Bayard, was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment. “The Bridgeville Company” was designated as Company K. Once the regiment was organized, most of the company commanders were replaced with experienced cavalry officers. Capt. Boyce was thanked for his efforts in organizing the company and sent back to civilian life. He was replaced by Capt. Joseph Williams.
Initially, the recruits were armed with sabers and pistols. Each company also was issued 10 carbines. Before many months, they realized the value of the carbines and issued one to each trooper.
According to the official regimental records the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry was involved in 112 engagements or battles during its formal existence, from August 1861 through August 1864. Included were the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Cold Harbor.
When it was demobilized in September 1864, four of its companies were consolidated with veterans of the Sixth and Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry to form the Second Provisional Cavalry. They served with the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps and Army of the Potomac until the end of the war. Included in this group was Pvt. Thomas Boyce, of Company K; he died on Oct. 10, 1864.
The spring campaign of 1863 found the regiment in Falmouth, Va.; on June 9, 1863, they were heavily involved in the Battle of Brandy Station. They engaged Gen. Jeb Stuart's forces in a skirmish “using the cavalrymen's true weapon, the saber.” By now the Rebels were moving north toward Pennsylvania. The regiment encountered Stuart again at Aldie, before going to Gettysburg to join Gen. George Meade.
They arrived at Gettysburg at 9 a.m. on July 2, 1863. Their contribution to the Union victory is memorialized by an impressive monument depicting a dismounted cavalryman in action. Inscribed on the monument is: “At the opening of the artillery fire on the afternoon of July 3 the Regiment was in line to the left and rear of this position with orders from General Meade to ‘charge the assaulting column' should it succeed in breaking the infantry line in front.”
Company K's Pvt. Richard Lesnett was wounded at Gaines Mill the following summer. He died on a vessel taking him to a hospital in Washington. He is buried at Arlington.
The regiment lost nine officers and 87 enlisted men due to combat wounds, and one officer and 104 enlisted men due to disease during the war. Eleven enlisted men from Company K died while on duty; three were captured by the Confederates, and two others were missing in action.
It is exciting to realize that a group of young men from this area were active cavalrymen during the Civil War, crossing sabers with Phil Sheridan, George Custer, Jeb Stuart and Stonewall Jackson. What stories they could tell.
John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reacxhed at 412-343-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.