The 3rd New Jersey Cavalry near Winchester, Virginia, September 13, 1864: These "butterflies" have the sting of a "wasp"
For those of you unfamiliar
with the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry, originally known as the 1st U.S. Hussars, the
regiment sported, perhaps, one of the most extravagant uniforms in the Federal
Army and that includes all the Zouave outfits that come to mind. “The uniform,” noted the author of an article
in the January 9, 1864, issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, “is a
showy and colorful one, being based on that of the Austrian Hussars. The pantaloons is the usual Cavalry one with
a yellow stripe and the jacket is trimmed with yellow cord. The baldrick and agrete are worn over the
shoulder and across the breast. Instead of
an overcoat they wear a talma, with a tassel over the left shoulder. The cap is very neat and comfortable.”
The author as a 3rd New Jersey Cavalryman on Virginia at a living history in Mantorville,
Minnesota, in 2010. This was the last event Virginia attended before I retired her. The shell
jacket, hooded talma and vizor-less cap were entirely made by hand (the frogging was sewed
on by hand as well) by Connie Adams, an expert seamstress and RN ER nurse at Doctors
Hospital in Nelsonville, Ohio. Note my Blakeslee Box for Spencer carbine rounds. The
heavily retouched and stylized image was made by Jeff Black, a professional photographer
(see his website www.jeffblackphotos.com ), who owns all rights to this image.
A considerably less complimentary description of the same uniform came from a Federal infantryman, who was a prisoner at Andersonville (and had obviously observed this uniform prior to his capture):
“The designer of the uniform must have had an interest in a circuma plantation (planted lilies), or else, he was a fanatical Orangeman . . . Never was such an eruption of yellows seen outside the jaundiced livery of some Eastern potentate. Down each leg of the pantaloons ran a stripe of yellow braid and one half inches wide. The jacket had enormous gilt buttons, and was embellished with yellow braid until it was difficult to tell whether it was blue cloth trimmed with yellow, or yellow adorned with blue. From the shoulders swing a little false hussar jacket, lined with the same flaming yellow. The vizor-less cap was similarly warmed up with the hue of the perfected sunflower. This saffron magnificence was like the gorgeous gold of the lilies of the field, and Solomon in all his glory could not have been arrayed like one of them. I hope he was not. I want to retain my respect for him. We dubbed these daffodil cavaliers “Butterflies” and the name stuck to them like poor relations.”
Regardless of which of the above “uniform” opinions you embrace, one thing is certain, the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry could fight. Armed with Remington .44 revolvers, Spencer carbines and 1860 light sabers, the Jersey boys could hold their own with the best their Confederate antagonists had to offer.
On September 18, 1864, Brigadier General John B. McIntosh, then commanding a brigade that included the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, 3rd New Jersey Cavalry, 5th New York Cavalry, 2nd New York Cavalry, 1st Connecticut Cavalry and one section of Battery M, Second U.S. Artillery that were located near Winchester, Virginia, was ordered by Major General James H. Wilson, to “make a reconnaissance on the Berryville and Winchester pike and to cross the Opequon [River], if possible to find out what force of the enemy consisted of on that road or vicinity.” McIntosh and his troopers eventually forded the Opequon and soon came upon the enemy’s cavalry dismounted on a “high eminence” and secreted in the woods on both sides of the road. After receiving “a hot fire” from these dismounted Rebel troopers, McIntosh ordered his advance regiment, the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, to flank this force. The Ohioans promptly obliqued to their left whereupon the enemy quickly withdrew. “I then pushed on rapidly over the main road . . . [and] overtook some of their dismounted men, who had secreted themselves in a thick skirt of woods.” After directing the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry’s Colonel Suydam to dismount a squad and clean out those woods, McIntosh “kept pushing on [his] advance” until he was informed of the presence of a “strong (Conferate) infantry line in my front.” Calling on Colonel Suydam yet again McIntosh requested that the colonel “charge one squadron of his regiment up the road as hard as they could go.” A 3rd New Jersey participant, probably Sergeant Charles Clunn, described the ensuing dash:
“We were driving them sharply when Gen. Wilson, commanding our division, rode up to us, as we were standing in the road, and ordered Capt. Tom [Thomas G. McClong] to charge with his squadron [Clunn is mistaken; the orders came from Brig. Gen. John B. McIntosh not Wilson] He turns coolly around ‘commands – return carbine, draw saber’ and looking down our ranks you could see nothing but a firm determination to do or die; but it looked forlorn I assure you to charge down on their rifles dealing death all around us; but our gallant captain was there and we all knew the first man who faltered under his vision would meet with a severe punishment. All he asked was to follow him and down he went yelling like no riding fiends – charging right through their lines and down on their second line of battle. No one thought of anything except of following our leader, and full of excitement but what was 100 ft. in our immediate front, and yet we saw our situation – the enemy both in front and rear pouring in their fire – then was time to prove the Commander – I looked at him and I saw the cool look of determination, as he took in at a glance our position, I felt that no man but him could bring us out. Anyone can go in, but after you are caught, to bring you out proves an officer, and as he sat up on his horse – cool as if on parade – every man fell in his place ready to follow our captain where he might lead, and we could there was a wicked sparkle in his eye that meant mischief, and when the order ‘charge’ was given away we went. Then we saw his purpose – it was to charge down on them and drive them to the rear of our forces. We captured the Colonel and nearly all the Eighth South Carolina Infantry, and when we returned, then, Gen. Wilson rode up and complimented Captain Tom on his success – The rebel Colonel told the Captain his whole regiment fired at him . . . The rebel Colonel said it was the most brilliant and dashing affair he ever saw, and he had been in the Army since the first battle of Bull Run.
In his after-action report, General Wilson had nothing but praise for the “butterflies”: “The charge of the squadron of the Third New Jersey Cavalry, which resulted in breaking through the rebel infantry and skirmish line is specially worthy of mention; it effectually opened the way for surrounding and capturing the rebel regiment encountered.”
Captain Thomas McClong (Image from Peter
Lubrecht's New Jersey Butterfly Boys in the Civil
It was experiences, charges and successes like this that led one 3rd New Jersey trooper to amend the public’s initial perception of the “butterflies”:
“This regiment,” he confided to the Millville Republican, a newspaper published in South Jersey, “was distinguished by the name butterflies, which was a very good name as regards their courage but since we have been in this [Shenandoah] valley, they have altered their opinions and we are now distinguished by the name of wasps . . . “
[All 3rd New Jersey soldier quotes are from Peter Lubrecht’s New Jersey Butterfly Boys in the Civil War (The History Press, Charleston, SC, 2011), I highly recommend Lubrecht’s book for anyone interested in the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry. It is the only book that has ever been published on this stellar cavalry regiment and belongs on the shelf of any and all Civil War aficionados; Officers' reports came from the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 43, Pt. 1, 529-531]