There is one other Civil War soldier, besides Corp. William H. Rihl, from the 1st NY Lincoln Cavalry Regiment, who is buried locally, in Cedar Hill Cemetery. Rihl was killed on June 22, 1863 during the great invasion of Pennsylvania by Gen. Lee’s army prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. The other soldier’s name is John Schmidt (25), who enlisted on August 1, 1861, as a private for three years in Co. I, 1st NY Lincoln Cavalry. Under what circumstance was Schmidt killed and why was he buried in Greencastle-Antrim?
The book The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry From April 19, 1861 to July 7, 1865, was written by William H. Beach. Beach wrote the book, based upon his diary, “regularly kept during the entire four years; from letters written home, and from diaries and communications of comrades. For the details of related events all available authorities have been freely consulted.” Beach wrote the book very much as an historical novel, that draws the reader into the events and the men who lived the history. This regiment, the first one raised in the Union, was assigned to protect President Lincoln and the capital in Washington City. Besides the Lincoln Cavalry, it was also unofficially known as the Carbine Rangers, the Sabre Regiment, and the First United States Volunteer Cavalry. Companies A, B, D, E, G, H, I, L, and M were primarily raised in New York City. Co. C was from Philadelphia, PA, Co. F from Syracuse, NY, and Co. K from Grand Rapids, MI.
Companies within the 1st NY Lincoln Cavalry Regiment were detached, when and as needed, for scouting purposes, fighting, aggravating the Confederates and delaying their progress. On July 3, 1863, Maj. Quinn, with a battalion, left Bedford, PA and stopped in McConnellsburg on the afternoon of July 4th, where they stayed until the next morning. McConnellsburg had seen the Confederates come and go many times, over the past days. The torrential thunderstorms, lightning, rain, and wind, which followed the Battle of Gettysburg, spanned a great distance geographically from Adams, Franklin, and Fulton Counties in PA into Washington County, MD.
Col. Lewis B. Pierce, Field & Staff of the 12th PA Cavalry, was in charge of the cavalry within the brigade in McConnellsburg. He had received no orders from his commander and only rumors were heard of the state of the conflict between Union and Confederates. Capt. Abram Jones, Co. A, and Capt. Ezra H. Bailey, Co. K, of the 1st NY Cavalry were also part of the Union troops in McConnellsburg. From Beach’s book, “Captain Jones and Bailey were talking over the situation, and the lack of definite news. They were impatient to do something. Bailey proposed that Jones take the regiment, pass to the rear of Lee’s army, and then join the army of the Potomac or return, as might seem best.” Pierce finally agreed to the plan and ordered 100 men from each regiment to go with Capt. Jones. Jones left in the morning on July 5, 1863. They stopped for a respite in Mercersburg, where it was discovered that only 80 men were accounted for from the 12th PA Cavalry Regiment and the 1st NY numbered more than 100. It seems that some of the 1st NY pickets had deserted their posts to join their comrades headed south. News of the retreat from Gettysburg had reached Mercersburg; word was that a wagon train, 17 miles long, was headed to the Potomac. Jones asked for a local guide to accompany him and the Union cavalry headed south, taking today’s Mercersburg Road, PA Rt. 416, which becomes the Cearfoss Pike, MD Rt. 58. This road converges in Cearfoss (known as Cunningham’s Cross Roads during the Civil War) with the Williamsport Pike, PA Rt. 63, becoming the MD Rt. 63. MD Rt. 63 goes all the way to the Potomac River at Williamsport, MD with a place to ford the river, which was the destination of Lee’s retreating troops. Jones stopped his men at Cunningham’s Cross Roads at a bluff, running parallel to Route 63, and took a small contingent of men to the top of the bluff. He could see neither end of the retreating wagon train. Imboden’s men were strategically placed about every half mile among the walking wounded and the wagons carrying those too injured to walk. Jones returned to his men, and, “… rode along his column, telling the men to do their best. “If you get into close quarters, use your sabres. Don’t strike, but thrust!”” Jones left 50 men of the PA 12th behind, as backup. He timed his attack between Imboden’s groups of “guards.” Union Lt. Franz Passegger of Co. L, 1st NY, went to the rear to attack and to hold off the next group of Imboden’s guards. Lt. Charles Woodruff, Co. F, 1st NY, scattered his men along the convoy of wagons. “They directed the drivers to “Turn off there!” Pointing to the cross road and through the fields. As these orders were given with emphasis, and reinforced with uplifted sabres or cocked revolvers, they were promptly obeyed.” Capt. Irwin, with the men of the 12th PA, spread his men along the length of the wagon train and kept the drivers moving as fast as they could travel toward Mercersburg. Jones then gathered his men to the rear of the group of Confederate wagons, still on the pike, and waited for Imboden’s next group of “guards” to attack. While waiting, Jones saw a large, driverless covered wagon, with a six-mule team, crowed with wounded soldiers. It was blocking the road. He called to a young African American man, “Can you drive that team?” “Yes,” he answered. He jumped on the wagon, stuck his head inside, and said, “By golly, you toted me off. Now I tote you off!” The young man jumped onto the saddled mule and off they went toward Mercersburg.
Unfortunately, at this point, the author of the book, William Beach, stopped giving details of the battle that ensued between Captain Jones and Imboden’s guard, who finally moved forward along the wagon train and engaged in fighting Jones and his cavalrymen. It was during this time that John Schmidt, Co. I, 1st NY Lincoln Regiment was killed, just 13 days after Corp. William H. Rihl had also lost his life. The “Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1893, Volume II, Rosters of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Regiments of Cavalry, for NY,” states that John Schmidt was, “killed in action, July 5, 1863, between Green Castle and Williamsport, Md.”
continued his account by writing that the Union detachment reached Mercersburg about midnight. More than 600 horses and mules, 134 wagons (included plunder from the people of Pennsylvania), two pieces of artillery, and 645 prisoners were taken. Three hundred of the prisoners were wounded at Gettysburg. Three men were killed, a few wounded, and several horses were hurt. John Schmidt and Alexander McMillan were among the three soldiers killed. Alexander’s record is slightly different from Schmidt’s. McMillan was 21 when he enlisted on August 25, 1861, Co. A as a private. He was, “killed in action July 5, 1863, at Cunningham’s Cross Roads. There are no records of where McMillan was buried.
I have been unable to find any records of how Schmidt’s body got to Greencastle, considering Beach’s account indicates that all the cavalrymen in the detachment, involved in the battle with Imboden’s men at Cunningham’s Cross Roads, went to Mercersburg. Schmidt, because he is buried in PA, is included in the PA Civil War burial records. He is buried in Section D, Lot 22, in the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Because Cedar Hill Cemetery did not open until 1870, Schmidt’s body was most likely buried in one of the graveyards of one of the local churches, and then reinterred after Cedar Hill opened. There is no way of knowing whether John was married or had children. Did his family visit his grave after the war was over? John Schmidt’s headstone was provided by Franklin County and is accompanied by a GAR marker. It reads: JN. P. SCHMIDT, CO. I, 1ST N.Y. CAV.
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