The 6th Cavalry (“Fighting Sixth'”) is a regiment of the United States Army that began as a regiment of cavalry in the American Civil War. It currently is organized into aviation squadrons that are assigned to several different combat aviation brigades.
The 3rd US Cavalry Regiment was organized on 3 May 1861 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was commanded by COL David Hunter, and second in command was LTC William H. Emory. The Regiment’s designation was changed to the 6th U.S. Cavalry on 10 August 1861 due to a reorganization of US Cavalry regiments; the Regiment of Mounted Rifles took on the name of the 3rd Cavalry instead. The troopers were recruited from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Western New York. Arriving in Washington D.C. by company between 12 October and 23 December, the regiment joined the Union Army of the Potomac and began its training with a strength of 34 officers and 950 men. Due to supply shortages, all but one squadron was equipped as light cavalry, armed with pistols and sabers. It wasn’t until 10 March that the rest of the regiment received carbines. The 6th Cavalry left winter quarters on 10 March 1862 and was assigned to General Philip St. George Cooke‘s command, who ordered them to make reconnaissance in Virginia of Centreville, Manassas Junction, and Bull Run. On 27 March, the regiment embarked for Fort Monroe and arrived three days later.
Upon arrival, the 6th Cavalry served as forward scouts for the Army of the Potomac’s advance units throughout the Peninsular Campaign and received its baptism of fire on 5 May 1862 after the Siege of Yorktown. After pursuing General Joseph E. Johnston‘s force of retreating Confederates through the city, the armies met at the Battle of Williamsburg on 5 May, and the 6th Cavalry made a name for themselves when CPT Sanders executed a bold counter charge into the teeth of Confederate artillery and a superior force of horsemen and managed to drive them off. The 6th Cavalry continued to serve as scouts for the Army of the Potomac until the evacuation at Harrison’s Landing, where they served as rear guards for the evacuating forces. Arriving in Alexandria on 2 September 1862, the 6th was in near constant contact with the Confederates for three months and engaging in skirmishes such as those at Falls Church, Sugarloaf Mountain (Maryland), Middletown, and Charleston. The regiment marched to the Rappahannock River on 24 November and remained in the vicinity until the men marched on Fredericksburg on 12 December.
During the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 6th Cavalry sent a squadron across the pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River in order to reconnoiter the enemy positions. The Confederate’s infantry line was developed, and the squadron withdrew after receiving fire from an enemy artillery battery, losing 2 men and 8 horses wounded. After reporting this information to General Ambrose Burnside, the Union commander, the regiment was withdrawn to Falmouth, where it remained encamped until 13 April 1863. The 6th was one of the Union cavalry regiments that participated in Stoneman’s 1863 raid, and during the action, LT Tupper and 10 troopers managed to capture General J. E. B. Stuart‘s chief quartermaster.
On 9 June 1863, the 6th Cavalry fought in the Battle of Brandy Station after crossing the Rappahannock River. During this famous engagement, the regiment charged the Confederates and lost 4 officers and 63 men killed, wounded, or captured out of 254 engaged. Charging the Confederate guns, LT Madden was hit by an exploding shell, and LT Kerin was captured when the regiment began reforming from the charge. The troopers were moved to the extreme right of the line in order to repulse a Confederate flank attack and charged into the action. Here, LT Ward was killed, and LT Stroll was wounded. LT Stroll was fired upon as he fell and the soldiers who attempted to bear him away were shot down by rebel gunfire. The 6th was to be rear guard of the retiring Union force, and, led by LT Tupper, it checked the enemy at every stop and prevented the harassment of the column. This was one of the most serious cavalry actions of the war, and the 6th lost a quarter of its troopers.