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In Remembrance of Their Comrades at the Battle of Aldie

The 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Dedicates a Monument in 1891

The following is an excerpt from the book A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers by Benjamin W. Crowninshield, Major First Massachusetts Cavalry and Brevet Colonel U.S.V. This excerpt includes the 1891 address given by Charles Davis to former members of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in dedication of a monument to their fallen comrades at the Battle of Aldie, June 17, 1863. More about the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry at this battle can be found in the article: "Henry Lee Higginson and the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry at the Battle of Aldie.")

1st MA Cavalry emblem

The ceremonies at the monument were short and impressive, and a fitting commemoration of the twenty-eighth anniversary of this bloody contest, the history of which is best told by Major Charles Davis, who briefly spoke as follows:


"Beneath a sky as blue as the field on the glorious flag that floats proudly over a free, united, and prosperous country, we are assembled to dedicate this monument erected to commemorate an event in the history of the nation. When I gaze into the faces of my comrades in arms, when I look back nearly a third of a century; when I recall the incidents of the camp, the march, the bivouac, and the battle, a feeling indescribably tender gathers around my heart as I think of the gallant fellows that, with us, under the red, white, and blue banner of the Union; rode side by side, and followed the guidon of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. Those were the days when experience and hard service made us men of ideas.

"We learned to make three days' rations last six days; that is, to sparingly eat one hardtack, and, aided by cold water, imagine we had eaten two. We also learned how to kill a pig within hearing of the provost guard without letting it squeal... We also learned to endure fatigue and hunger, to suffer from heat and cold, to face danger and even death, not for gain or glory, but to up-hold the flag and preserve the Union.

"Twenty-eight years ago to-day, in the afternoon, on this field of Aldie, the Union forces under Kilpatrick met the Confederate forces under Stuart.

"It was strictly a cavalry battle, probably the hottest fight of the war. No such encounter, no such daring bravery, had before been exhibited by the cavalry of either army. The fire was murderous, the charges and counter-charges were superb and grand. The 1st Massachusetts Cavalry fought as brave men could fight to stem the tide that bore them back, until the whole right gave way upon this bloody field where many a loved comrade met a soldier's death.

"Of the 294 comrades, representing eight companies of the regiment engaged in the action, our loss was 198.

"I do not propose to recall the scenes of excitement of that day. This monument bears upon its panels a roll of honor that will be read by future generations, and teach lessons of patriotism and reverence for the flag to the youth of America when we are forgotten. Neither do I, at this time, propose to recall the daring deeds and acts of bravery on Aldie and other fields, for the brilliant record of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry will soon appear in its regimental history, and every living comrade may then live over again the days of his campaigns; but I will read an extract from the official report of our beloved Colonel Horace Binney Sargent:—

At this time the second squadron, Captain Tewksbury in command, arrived, and charging, with Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis and Major Chamberlain (then not on duty), drove the enemy a short distance. The latter soon rallied, however, and, coming back in overwhelming numbers, the squadron fell back through a ravine to a hill beyond, occupied by a third squadron under command of Captain Adams. The fourth squadron, Lieutenant Davis commanding, now charged up the road, but was immediately cut off and the largest portion killed, wounded, or captured. At this time the third squadron advanced a short distance, but were met by a most severe flank fire from the enemy, who then occupied the road and the field beyond, the stone wall being lined by their sharpshooters. This squadron fell back a short distance with frequent loss.

"The enemy which confronted us that day was Fitzhugh Lee's Virginia brigade, consisting of the 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th Virginia cavalry and Breathed's battery; commanded by Colonel Thomas Munford, who in his report says:—

In each of these successive charges the enemy suffered terribly, as his flank was exposed to our sharpshooters, who would give them a fire as they advanced and one as they returned.

"I quote this to show that, while our men fought bravely, victory was impossible, as the enemy was in ambush on either flank.

"On this field I've left scores of loved comrades twenty-eight years ago. To-day I lift my eyes to heaven and thank God that we are permitted to live in a country enjoying the blessings of liberty and peace, where sectional feeling is unknown and where the glorious flag we fought to save floats protectingly and lovingly alike over those who wore the blue and the gray. Who will to-day speak of "Yank" or "Johnny" except in the pleasantry of comrades and old soldiers? Who will doubt the friendship of the blue and the gray? Who will say that the country is not united when I tell you that this plat of ground where our monument rests was given by its owner, Mr. Dallas Furr, who once was known as one of Mosby's men? This generous, graceful action on the part of Mr. Furr embodies the sentiment contained in the beautiful lines:—

No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the grave of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;—
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.*

"This monument we dedicate to the memory of our comrades who fell at Aldie. It bears upon its face the badge of our beloved regiment. Upon its panels are inscribed the names of our fallen braves. As, we salute the dead and wipe away the silent tear, we feel that we can ask no higher honor than the proud consciousness that we once wore the crossed sabres of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry."


At the conclusion of this address the comrades left the monument, and wandered over the battleground, easily recognizing the positions occupied by the different squadrons, and each spot of interest was visited. June 17, 1863, was thoroughly discussed. Many familiar loved names were softly spoken. "Here we buried comrades ___, ___, ___." "Here it was that Sergeant Odell called 'Rally round the colors, boys.'" "Here is where Sergeant Teague charged the stone wall." "Behind this stone wall is where the sharpshooters were first." "Over that hilt is where the 5th Virginia were charging." "There is where Comrade Peck found Major Higginson." "Here is where we buried fourteen in one grave." "Here"—but Major Davis calls, and as the veterans were grouped together in the dooryard of Mr. Furr for the last look over the field, with bare heads, the silence was broken by a comrade presenting that question so familiar to every member of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, "Well, boys, who next?"

The monument is a plain stone of Concord granite, and bears the following inscription:—

1st Massachusetts Cavalry monument  

JUNE 17, 1863

Benjamin W. Crowninshield, A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers (Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1891), pp. 477-479.

Image at the top of this page: Emblem of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. Image above: Monument of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry at Aldie, Virginia. Note the side panels to the left and right; these are images from the sides of this monument.

* Excerpt from the poem "
The Blue and The Gray" by Francis Miles Finch.

Special thanks to Brian Pohanka for providing this material.


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