Saturday, July 7, 2007

Skirmish at Funkstown

Today is the anniversary of the skirmish at Funkstown, Maryland between the 6th US Cavalry and the 7th Virginia Cavalry on July 7, 1863.

Thoroughly defeated at the battle of Fairfield a few days before, the 6th Cavalry consisted of about 200 troopers under the command of Captain Ira Claflin. Claflin had been serving as the regimental commisary prior to the disaster at Fairfield. With him was Lieutenant James F. Wade's squadron of Companies D and K, who had also missed the battle of Fairfield while serving at Cavalry Corps headquarters, as well as the remaining veterans of Fairfield.

The 6th Cavalry was dispatched on a reconnaissance along the Funkstown Road. On arriving in the vicinity of the town, they encountered elements of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, one of their foes from Fairfield. Captain Claflin drove in the enemy's pickets and deployed the regiment for battle, seeing his unit outnumbered by large numbers of the enemy in the town. He positioned himself with the advance guard about 150 yards in front of the main body of the regiment.

Two companies of the 7th Virginia were initially sent forward against the skirmishers of the 6th U.S., who fired a volley and then fell back upon their battleline. During this part of the engagement, Captain Claflin was wounded in the shoulder, and Second Lieutenant Nicholas Nolan of Company B assumed command as the senior remaining officer present. Ironically, he had rallied and retreated with the remnants of the regiment as the senior remaining officer at Fairfield.

The 7th Virginia then charged as a regiment, striking the 6th U.S. both on its front and on its right flank. Nolan describes the remainder of the action in his official report as follows.

"I immediately proceeded to the front, where my advance guard was posted, when I saw the enemy preparing to charge my command. I then made preparations to meet them, but, being overpowered by superior numbers, was forced to fall back; inflicting, however, great damage to the enemy in a running fight of 4 1/2 miles, my command losing 59 men in killed, wounded, and missing; 10 of the above men were brought in dead by the First U.S. Cavalry same afternoon."

The 7th Virginia maintained the pursuit until reaching the area occupied by Buford's 1st Cavalry Division, where they drew up and fired a volley. The volley was answered by a charge, and the 7th Virginia then withdrew at the double-quick, pursued by Union troopers. Buford's troopers gave up the chase when the 7th Virginia was joined by reinforcements from the 11th Virginia.

The actual losses of the 6th Cavalry were 85 killed, wounded and missing. Outnumbered and overwhelmed twice in four days, the remnants of the regiment participated in the battles at Boonsboro, Funkstown and Falling Waters. Interestingly enough, Lieutenant Nolan was appointed assistant inspector general of the Regular Reserve Brigade in brigade Special Order number 43 on August 11, 1863.

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