Pete's November 1997 Article.


"Those Famous Bucktails" by Pete Bennett

Responding to President Lincoln's call for volunteer troops to rise to the defence of the Union, following the confederate bombing of Fort Sumter, in April, 1861, Thomas Leiper Kane began recruiting young men from the northern tier counties of Pennsylvania. Kane, an influential businessman in McKean County, and his lieutenants, were successful in recruiting enough young men to fill 7 companies (approximately 700 men). Many of these men were lumberjacks, raftsmen, and farmers accustomed to living in the rugged mountainous areas of the "Wildcat" district, which is now comprised of Elk, McKean, Potter, and Cameron counties. This region of the state was called such because a politician named Hiram Payne once stood up in a caucus and stated to the delegates that he represented more wildcats than anyone in the room. After that his district was referred to as the "Wildcats District" of the Keystone State.

Kane believed that the farmers and lumbermen of the region would make an excellent rifle company. These soldiers would already be expert marksmen and no man would be able to join the regiment unless he could prove his skills with a weapon. Accordingly, no person would be mustered in the group unless he could present a buck tail as proof of his expertise as a rifleman. Thus the regiment received its famous nickname, “Bucktail Wildcats." Wildcats for the part of the state they came from and Bucktail signifying their skill as a marksman. This buck tail which they placed on their hats became a badge of honour, pride and distinction for the men. In addition to their rugged appearance, the men had their own particular “wild-cat” yell, which was said to had sent chills up the spines of the rebels that day at the Devil’s Den at the battle of Gettysburg.

Recruiting posters and headquarters were set up in the three counties. John Eldred signed men up at a hotel in Emporium, Cameron County. Thomas B. Winslow recruited men at a tavern in Benezette, Elk County. While Kane and William Blanchard mustered men into the outfit at the Bennett House in Smethport, McKean County and on April 27, three hundred men under the command of Kane who had now been appointed Colonel of the regiment met at Driftwood on the Sinnemahoning River. There it was determined that the group could build rafts and float down the river to Lock Haven. Once in Lock Haven the troops could take a train to Camp Curtin in Harrisburg. This was all necessary because Kane and his men first went to Emporium where he had planned on taking the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad to Harrisburg but found that it was not completed that far north yet. So, he marched his recruits to Driftwood. No railroad that far either and the men were ask to chip in to buy logs to construct the rafts to float to Lock Haven on. The logs were purchased from Sackett's Saw Mill there and the completed rafts were 65 feet by 16 feet in size. Three of these vessels were constructed. On the flagship was placed Colonel Kane's horse "Old Glencore" as well as a pole which flew the American flag and a of course, a “buck tail”.

When the regiment reached Lock Haven they found the governor had refused to pay their passage on the Sunbury and Erie Railroad to training camp. Governor Curtin believed he had enough troops and he hoped this maneuver would cause the men to go home. Fortunately, a Mr. L. A. Mackey paid for the regiment’s ticket of $480.00 from Lock Haven to Harrisburg.

Once at Camp Curtin, another company from Northern Pennsylvania, a company from Chester County and a company from Perry County joined Kane's group to complete the required 10 company regiment, and officially, the group was designated the 1st Rifles, 13th Reserves, 42nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Rifle (sharpshooter) Regiment of the newly formed Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. As part of the federal army, they became the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, forever known as the “Bucktail Regiment”.

The men had several difficulties in their attempts to fight for the Union, right from the start of their training. When they received their firearms, they were given Harpers Ferry muskets from the Mexican War. This upset the Bucktails because they had been forced to send their better weapons home prior to being issued the inadequate ones. These muskets had a terrible kickback action which the men remedied by putting dimes down the butt end of the barrel in order to seal the percussion mechanism thereby solving the recoil problem.

The regiment trained there at Camp Curtin until June 1861, when it was detached, along with the 5th regiment, to the assistance of General Lew Wallace in the Cumberland, Maryland area. Upon their return from Maryland, they joined the balance of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps which had been mustered into service by the federal government and was now attached to the Army of the Potomac in and near Washington D.C. The regiment was mustered in May 29-June 11, 1861 and stayed throughout the Civil War and were mustered out on June 11, 1864 and were known by three names: Kane's Rifles, the 42nd Pennsylvania Bucktails and the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves.

The 42nd Pennsylvania Bucktails fought at Ball's Bluff, Cross Keys, Frayser's Farm, Bethesda Church, Strasville, Woodstock, Mount Jackson, Harrisonburg, where the Bucktails were credited with killing Gen. Turner Ashby, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mills, New Market, Cross Roads, Malvern Hill, Catletts Station, Groventon, Fredericksburg, Dranesville, Gettysburg, Gainesville, Fredricksburg,1st Manassas (Bull Run), 2nd Manassas (Bull Run) South Mountain, Antietam, Bristoe Station, Rappahannock Station, Mine Run, North Anna, Spotsylvania, Totopotomoy and the Wilderness.

They fought in all of the 16 of the Major Eastern battles except Chancellorville The reason for missing that battle is that they were held back to stand guard duty at Washington, DC. Their last battle was Mechanicsville Road on May 30, 1864 just 12 days prior to being mustered out of service.

During these engagements the effectiveness of Kane's skirmishing tactics was evident by the success of the Bucktails to inflict pain, injury and death on their enemy opponents. Lincoln personally requested that the outfit be given Spencer breach loaders which helped the Bucktail Wildcats save the day at Gettysburg.

Some statistics for the Bucktail Regiment;

 

Of the 1200 man Regiment:

11 Officers and 151 Enlisted soldiers were killed or died of wounds.
1 Officer and 92 Enlisted soldiers died of disease.
29 Officers and 395 Enlisted soldiers were wounded.
12 Officers and 243 Enlisted men were captured or were reported missing in action.

Some interesting notes about the “Bucktails”:

*The present 42nd Pennsylvania Bucktails today are reactivated as a Unit in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. It was chartered by Congress and recognized by the Grand Army of the Republic on September 12, 1888 as the Sons of Union Veterans and patriots at heart. They are keeping alive the memories of over 360,000 men that lost their lives in the Union Army.

*The model for the lumberman on the monument at Driftwood was Private Smith E. Gutherie a regimental veteran who lived to see the monument dedicated on April 27, 1908. He died on July 31, 1917 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery there in Driftwood  overlooking his statue.

*The monument was first propose by a Reverend Leonard M. Gardner of York, PA in a speech at the Oak Hill Cemetery on September 14, 1906, in preparation for the fiftieth anniversary of the departure of the regiment in 1911.

*The Honorable Josiah Howard sponsored House Bill #1046 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on May 14, 1907 to fund the monument and it was passed on June 13, 1907 authorizing $2500.00 for the project.

*Now please note that I called the figure on the monument a “Lumberman” because the statue is not that of a soldier, but rather, that of a lumberman. A committee was formed and the people of Driftwood at first favored the idea of a soldier on their monument, similar to that which stands at Gettysburg, but the group was split with some wanting a sharpshooter kneeling on one knee aiming a rifle. Finally, they compromised voting for the lumberman figure, believing that the Bucktails, at the point of their departure from this place, were, in the committee’s words, “just lumbermen-plain and simple”.

*The original site planned for the monument was to be at the corner of Walnut St. and Driftwood Ave. between the Brookbank Mercantile Store and the Curtin House Hotel and land was given by Driftwood Borough the state to build upon. But, when it was finally erected it was situated closer to the original site of the departure of the men, at the corner of Main St. and Driftwood Avenue.

*Today the monument is situated in the center of the east and west bound lanes of State Route #555. If it had only been built 50 feet to the northeast, today it would be in the Driftwood Playground/Park (the former site of the Curtin House)

* Thomas Leiper Kane may have been the first volunteer for the Civil War and was certainly the first person to volunteer to raise a fighting unit.

*The monument was completely restored in 1996 Much of the credit for this project goes to John Imhof of St. Marys, historian and a member of “Co. K Bucktail Re-enactors” . The group raised more then $7000 for the restoration, with most of the money coming in the form of a grant from the Emporium Foundation. Some money also came from a donation by the Bucktail Chapter of the Retired Officers of America and attorney Rich Masson of Ridgway. Becky and Mark Titchner of Ridgway and Tim Case of Emporium also donated their time and talents. Much support was also afforded the group by citizens of Driftwood and from throughout Cameron County. Special thanks should go to Basil Buchanan, Elwin Bliss and Bob Lapsley of Driftwood for their help on the project.

I suggest you visit Driftwood and see the beautiful end results of their hard work. The granite base is clean, the statue is shining, the cannon’s are newly painted and flowers are planted all around the base. Good for another 90 years.

A rededication ceremony was held in August of 1996 with an encampment by the Re-enactment regiment, many who were descendants of the original Bucktails. John Imhof historian and a member of the re-enactors was the Keynote Speaker. The ceremony was well attended by many descendants of the original “Bucktails” including Jim and Mary Ryan whose ancestor, Corporal John H. Ryan served with Company B, Arthur W. Hartzell, grandson of Isaiah Hartzell also of Company B and Thomas Kane’s granddaughter Virginia Kay Afrika.

*John Imhof, Local historian of the Bucktails has written a book, to be released in early 1998, entitled “Gettysburg, Day Two a Study in Maps“. For those interested in it you may contact John at (814)-781-1654.

* The statue is located about one quarter mile south of the intersection of State Routes 555 and 120 in the borough of Driftwood. Plan your visit soon.

Till next time....


I received this...by my email..

Pete,

Just read the Bucktail article and I enjoyed it. It was a good thing the Bucktails were mustered out prior to Cold Harbor or there would not have been anyone left to muster out. I want to pass along a couple of notes to you for historical accuracy. The name Bucktails and the famous deer tail came when a recruit named John Lundgren in Smethport cut the tail from a deer hanging in front of a butcher shop when that company was preparing to march to Emporium. Also, at Gettysburg the Bucktails used their much loved Sharps Infantry Rifles. The Spencer Carbines were not issued by them until 1864 almost at the end of their service. Your reference to Devils Den was interesting as a small group of Bucktails did drive Longstreet's sharpshooters  nuts there by picking them off when they would stand to reload thereby exposing themselves. A Knisely from Co. C (Cameron Co.) was wounded there.  Longstreet had to have a company drive the small group out to prevent further casualties to his sharpshooters. At the battle of Harrisonburg, VA in the 1862 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley a Bucktail is credited with the death of Turner Ashby, Stonewall Jackson's Cavalry commander in the Shenandoah. The Bucktails were usually used as skirmishers in many of the major battles due to their marksmanship skills and noted fighting abilities. Your article was great reading as always. I really enjoy your columns.

Bill Bogart -Emporium, PA


This further by email..

Pete,

The "John Lundgren" mentioned in Bill Bogart's E-mail was James Landrigan, who would have been incensed because everyone got his name wrong, something that bothered him all his life (source: Landrigan's pension application, National Archives). Landrigan was six feet tall and weighed 160 pounds. While that qualifies as "bean pole" today, then this lumberman was considered to be one tough customer; implications are that one did not want to get into a fight with him. At the time of his enlistment, he was going blind in one eye due to a pre-war accident (he claimed that he was struck in the face by a ball, i.e. baseball or the like). He lost the use of the eye completely after the war which made up for the fact that he came out of the war unscathed, an amazing feat when you consider what the Bucktails went through. (Source: Pension; G.A.R. records, McKean County Historical Society)

Dennis Brandt, Red Lion, PA

I thank both of the writers for their input.


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