Battle of Fairfield, PA
THE SIXTH REGIMENT OF CAVALRY.
By CAPTAIN WILLIAM H. CARTER, 6TH U. S. CAVALRY.
On July 3d General Merritt ordered the regiment to Fairfield, Pa., on the road leading to Gettysburg from the northwest, to capture a wagon train, the rest of the brigade moving towards Gettysburg by way of Farmington. Fairfield was reached at noon, where two troops were detached to proceed along the base of the mountain, the regiment keeping the road to Gettysburg. About a mile from Fairfield the enemy’s pickets were encountered and driven back to their supports, when another squadron was added to the skirmish line, and the enemy—the 7th Virginia—was driven back to the forks of the road from which their main body could be seen, consisting of about four regiments of cavalry. The regiment was close enough to hear the command “Draw Sabres” of the enemy, as they were formed for the charge. The two squadrons were in between post and rail fences, and could not form line or join those in the fields before they were charged by the rebel brigades under Generals Robertson and Jones. Caught in such a trap the men remained firm, firing and inflicting severe loss on the advancing column, until literally ridden down. Some escaped to the fields and made for the town, but the rebels were there first and Lieutenant Balder, who was ordered to surrender, called on the few men near him to follow and had nearly cut his way out when he fell mortally wounded. The squadron which was on the road near the mountain was also overpowered and hurled back to the town.
It was very unfortunate that the scattered squadrons were not withdrawn instantly from the front of such superior forces for more favorable ground. The regiment paid dearly for the error, losing, besides Lieutenant Balder killed, Major Starr and Lieutenants Tucker, Wood, and Chaffee, wounded; Captain Cram, Lieutenants Bould and Paulding, and Surgeons Forwood and Notson captured. The loss of men was 232 killed, wounded and captured, out of a total of less than 400.
The fight made at Fairfield by this small regiment against two of the crack brigades of Stuart’s cavalry, which were endeavoring to get around the flank of our army to attack the trains, was one of the most gallant in its history and was really a part of the battle of Gettysburg. The efforts of these brigades were frustrated and their entire strength neutralized for the day, by the fierce onslaught of the small squadrons. The regiment was cut to pieces, but it fought so well that the squadrons were regarded as the advance of a large body of troops. The senior officer of these brigades was adversely criticized for allowing his command to be delayed by such an inferior force. Had the regiment not made the desperate stand, the two brigades of Virginians might have accomplished incalculable injury in the Federal rear, before sufficient force could have been gathered in their front. The small portion which escaped retreated to Emmitsburg, joined the brigade the next day, proceeded to Frederick City, Md., July 5, and to South Mountain and Williamsport, July 6, participating in the engagement there with the loss of one sergeant.
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