As the fighting at Gettysburg headed for its climax on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, another battle took place behind the Union lines, a clash of the Union and Confederate cavalries that had been contending with each other ever since Brandy Station. The 1st Maine Cavalry, which had fought many pitched engagements as it followed Lee’s army north, could take little of the credit for this battle, though. They were little more than spectators.
Some Maine cavalrymen did play small but sometimes vital roles during the three days of battle as orderlies, riding about and delivering messages. It could be very hazardous duty: Pvt. Edward Cunningham of Co. L was killed on July 3 while attached to Abner Doubleday’s staff. The 1st Maine’s captain, John P. Carson, served as an orderly for John Reynolds and was reportedly at the general’s side on July 1 when Reynolds was killed. Sgt. Ebenezer Johnson also served as an orderly for the I Corps. One of his fellow soldiers remembered him as a “marked character, made so by the fact that he was equally at home in leading a prayer meeting or a charge upon the enemy.” At Gettysburg he did such sterling service that both Colonel Richard Coulter and General John Robinson singled him out for praise. Robinson said Johnson’s “chevrons should be exchanged for the epaulette. When we make officers of such men, the soldier receives his true reward and the service great benefit.”
The 1st Maine Cavalry’s brigade finally reached the vicinity of Gettysburg very early in the morning of July 2. The Maine cavalrymen participated in a little skirmishing that afternoon—nothing even close to the scale of the slaughter on the other side of Cemetery Ridge—and that night were ordered over to the Baltimore Pike to take a position near the artillery reserve. The next morning they returned to the right of the Union line, but weren’t sent in to the fight against Jeb Stuart and his Rebel cavalry until the fighting was nearly over.
“About three o’clock Friday the enemy attempted to turn our right and a smart cavalry fight took place,” William B. Baker, a sergeant in the 1st Maine Cavalry’s Co. D, informed his parents. “Our Regt. was in reserve till about four when the enemy made an attempt to take our battery. The 5th Michigan broke badly and scattered all over the fields but as the rebs advanced our guns opened with grape and quick it was I assure you. When we went up in front and to the right of our battery the rebs sent shell over us quite briskly. Lieut. Hall of Co. H was knocked from his horse by the force of one as it passed near him. He was not much hurt. We expected to charge but did not.”
Stuart realized he had been checked and moved his troopers back into the woods. Baltimore Pike was safe. This part of the battle was over.