by Patrick A. Schroeder
One of the most recognizable and distinguished units to serve in the American Civil War was the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (13th Reserves), popularly known as the Bucktails. Those wishing to enlist in the regiment needed to demonstrate their skills as marksmen in order to be accepted into its ranks. These eager recruits principally came from Crawford, Warren, McKean, Elk, Tioga, and Cameron Counties. The celebrated symbol of the unit originated when the volunteers attached a bucktail to a pole that flew the stars and stripes aboard their vessel as they voyaged down the Susquehanna River to the seat of war. But even earlier, the habit of sporting a bucktail on their caps was credited to James Landregan, who served with the McKean County Rifles (Company I), and survived the war. Others began adjorning their own caps with bucktails, and the 13th Reserves were thus set apart from the typical Federal soldier by their distinctive plumage. In fact, there was a shortage of bucktails to go around, and the men often wrote home imploring of their friends and relatives to send as many bucktails as could be secured. This allowed the fortunate recipients to, not only select the best bucktail for his own adornment, but enabled them to turn a tidy profit by selling these coveted items to comrades. The Bucktails soon won a popular following by their distinctive evocation of the hunterís skill. Subjected to public scrutiny the unit was challenged to meet higher expectations than what was expected of the typical Northern regiment. The Pennsylvanians, who hailed from what was known as the "wildcat district," were up to the challenge: and thanks to a cadre of capable officers, they saw their promise to fulfillment. Exuberant energy and patriotic spirit made these soldiers thirst for battle.
These Pennsylvanians saw early action in the war at the Battle of Drainesville, Virginia, on December 20, 1861. Then, in something that may be unique to Civil War history, the regiment saw fighting on two different fronts simultaneously. Colonel Thomas L. Kane commanded four companies in the Shenandoah Valley, and Major Roy Stone led the additional six companies on the Virginia Peninsula with the Army of the Potomacñboth contingents rendering distinguished service. Kane's men figured prominently at Harrisonburg, Cross Keyes, and Cedar Mountain, while Stoneís soldiers were equally gallant at Mechanicsburg, Gaines' Mill and Charles City Crossroads. Upon reunification of the regiment, they consistently displayed consistent courage and tactial ability on the battlefields of Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. Sometimes the Bucktails stood and fought in a line of battle, but often were detailed as skirmishers and sharpshooters where they could employ their deadly talents more effectively. They had the advantage of carrying Sharps Rifles in 1863, and Spencer Repeating Rifles in 1864.
On June 11, 1864, the Bucktails who enlisted after the initial musterin of the regiment, had to serve out the remainder of their term with the 190th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. In the last year of the war, these carried on their proud traditions established byt their original unit.
The gallant service of the original Bucktails led to the call for an entire brigade of Bucktailed regiments for which recruiting began in the summer of 1862. This brigade was to be commanded by veteran officer Roy Stone. Recruiting for this Bucktail brigade progressed rapidly, but was cut short by Leeís invasion of Maryland in September, 1862. In the end, only two Bucktail regiments managed to take the fieldñthe 149th and 150th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Enlistees for the 149th came from a wider section of Pennsylvania than the volunteers for the 13th Reserves or the 150th. The 149th recruited heavily in Clearfield, Potter, and Tioga counties as well as Allegheny, Clarion, Crawford, Franklin, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, Lebanon, Luzerne, Mifflin and Perry, while the 150th was predominatly raised in the Philadelphia and Crawford County areas, with a smattering of men from Lancaster, McKean, Mifflin, Northumberland, Snyder, and Vanango Counties.
Though these regiments were recruited in admiration of the noble Bucktail regiment in the field, the original Bucktails felt as if these newcomers were latching on to their famous coattails, and derisively dubbed them the ìBogus Bucktails.î The men of the new Bucktail regiments, sought to placate the prideful veterans with a gift of a new stand of national colors. Time would show that these ìBogus Bucktailsî were worthy of their more famous predecessors. Initially called into service during the 1862 Maryland Campaign, the two regiments served for a time in the vicinity of Washington, DC. One company had the illustrious honor to be assigned the duty of protecting President Abraham Lincoln, and thus served until the end of the war as his bodyguard. The greatest trial by fire for these two regiments came at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. During the desperate struggle, both units distinguished themselves on that bloody field for steadfastness, agressiveness, and discipline, at a cost of 586 killed, wounded and captured. The following day, the original Bucktails shed their blood below Little Round Top and into the Wheatfield.
Serving side by side in teh same brigade, the next blood-letting for the 149th and 150th came during the horrendous fighting at the Battle of The Wilderness in early May, 1864. They continued on with the Army of the Potomac through the actions at Spotsylvania, and in the June 18, 1864, assault on Petersburg. In August, 1864, the two regiments again saw heavy combat along the Weldon Railroad. With the numerical strength of each regiment greatly reduced, they were withdrawn from the lines and sent to Elmira, New York, in early February, 1865. Here they served out the rest of the war, performing guard duty over Confederate prisoners and assisting at the rendezvous camp for Federal draftees.
The Bucktails did the Keystone State proud and earned a noted place in the pantheon of Civil War regiments. Their legacy has had the admiration of many over the years and their fame remains strong today.
Patrick A. Schroeder