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Archive of Documents from the “best fighting colonel in the Cavalry Corps,” According to Custer
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These letters, orders, and reports detail the Civil War service of A. W. Preston, who rose from Captain of Company D to colonel of the 1st Vermont Volunteer Cavalry, before he was killed in battle in June 1864. Among the highlights are a two-page summary of his unit’s actions during and after the Battle of Gettysburg; letters and orders sent to Preston; and certifications of lost supplies. These certifications provide vivid first-hand details from one of the most active regiments in the entire Civil War. The 1st Vermont Cavalry ranks fifth in losses of men among cavalry regiments. It was second to none in its capture of 29 Confederate cannon. From the Spring of 1862 to the Spring of 1865, it was involved in 76 battles and skirmishes. Four of its members earned the Medal of Honor, and it accounted for three of eight medals awarded for colors captured at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

ADDISON W. PRESTON. [CIVIL WAR. VERMONT.]. Official papers of Preston, an officer in the 1st Vermont Cavalry, 1862-1864. 50 items, including: 14 letters and orders to Preston; 2 undated and unsigned draft letters apparently in Preston’s hand; 21 certificates regarding lost supplies, 1862; 6 clothing and ordnance returns and receipts; 1 other document; and 6 covers; condition very good.

Inventory #23879       Price: $2,000

Addison Webster Preston (1831-1864) was born in Burke, Vermont, and moved as a child to Danville. He entered Brown University, but left due to ill health. He sailed to Australia and then to California, where he spent several years before returning to Danville. Preston enlisted as a captain in the 1st Vermont Cavalry in September 1861, and was promoted to Lt. Col. in September 1862. He was wounded at Hagerstown in the Gettysburg Campaign and again two months later at Culpeper Court House. Appointed colonel on April 29, 1864, he was killed in action on June 3, 1864, at Hawe’s Shop, Virginia. He left a widow and two children. Brigadier General George A. Custer said over his body, “There lies the best fighting colonel in the Cavalry Corps.”

EDWARD B. SAWYER. Manuscript Document Signed by M. A. Stone, Lt and Acting Adjt, Order to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Headquarters, Picket Detachment, Grove Church, Va, October 13, 1863, 2:35 a.m., 1 p.

You will at once withdraw all of your pickets (sending an officer to the fords for that purpose) and when done, return with your command to this place, coming in on the trot

            During operations in northern Virginia against General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry, this order followed the October 11 Battle of Brandy Station (“In this engagement nearly the whole cavalry force of the armies of the Potomac and Virginia confronted each other....”). The regiment camped two miles beyond the Rappahannock. This order draws in pickets to rejoin the division at Bealton Station to cover the left flank of the Second Army Corps.

Other highlights include a statement of the loss of horses and equipment of John W. Woodward, tragically killed two months after his fiancée’s death.

Prominent correspondents include four Autograph Letters Signed from Adjutant General (and later Governor) Peter T. Washburn of Vermont.

Additional Documents:

Inventory of horses, Autograph Document, undated:

List of 54 persons, descriptions of approximately 71 horses, and valuation, ranging from $65 to $115 per horse.

ADDISON W. PRESTON. Draft, Autograph Document, undated (c. July 1863):

            “This certifies that the late John Worthington Woodward was a duly commissioned captain of Co. M of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, that in an encounter with the enemy at Aldie March 2, 1863 his horse was shot under him and he lost, (taken by the enemy) a valuable brass mounted saddle & bridle costing him some fifty dollars, also a good sabre & revolver worth at least thirty dollars.

            “I farther certify that near Hagerstown where he was killed in action July 6th 1863 he lost a valuable Black Hawk mare worth two hundred dollars also a good brass mounted Saddle & bridle worth forty dollars together with sabre, revolver & other uniform to the value I should think of nearly one hundred dollars more & that he, nor no other one according to my best knowledge or belief has received any pay for the same from any agent or officer of the government.[1]

ADDISON W. PRESTON. Draft, Autograph Document, undated (c. July 1863):

I have the honor to report; that in the engagement at Hunterstown, July 2nd 1863 this Regiment was deployed as skirmishers on the right of the second Brigade, and to the front and right of Elders Battery  It was here subjected to a severe fire from the enemy guns  I remained in the position until the [Devision?] retired  In this engagement I have no loss to report.”

On the verso:

“When our forces retired from Hagerstown in the afternoon I was ordered by Col Richmond Comding Brigade to act the rear guard and I disposed my command accordingly.”

“We was severely pressed in front and on right flank by the enemy and twice nearly surrounded. When the charge was made upon Elders Battery about two miles from Hagerstown I sent the 1st Batt to assist the 5th N York in support of the Battery while I repulsed a flank attack with the balance of my command  Cap Beeman with one squadron whom I ordered to hold a strong position, being cut of[f] was ordered to surrender. He cooly replied ‘I dont see it’ and escaped by leaping a fence upon his extreme right flank[2]

ADDISON W. PRESTON. Draft Letter to “Captain,” Autograph Document, undated (c. November 1863):

I have the honor to state that in pursuance to instruction from Div HeadQuarters in reference to the deserters who came into our lines: refered to in inclosed communicate from HeadQuarters 2nd Army Corps  I dispatched a staff officer to ascertain the facts, and who reports: that after much labor he ascertained that the deserters referd to came into the Brigade stationed near Stony Mountain Col Powers 108 N York Inftry Comdg who represents that they came into a detachment of his command stationed near Mortons ford where the deserters crossed  This post I believe was establish when the Cavalry force was for the most part withdrawn to go on the late raid to B Church and has since repaired there. This pass is very near the ford and on a line with the pickets of this Brigade  Consequently any one crossing at Mortons Ford would encounter this force immediately  No force can pass the picket line of this Brigade unobserved  Yet it is quite possible that a person in a very dark night might stealthily pass through But nothing of this kind has come to my observation

Receipt, Autograph Document Signed, November 12, 1861:

List of Quartermasters property turned over by Lieut A S Dewey Regimental Q Master to Capt A W Preston Co D 1st Vt Cav of Burlington Vt on or about the 12 day of November 1861: 105 Cavalry Horses

ADDISON W. PRESTON. Autograph Document Signed, March 9, 1862 (four copies, three signed). Statement of Loss of Stores

The regiment to which my company belongs was ordered to march to Washington D.C.  I was ordered by Col Jonas P Holliday comdg the Regt to leave in charge of Lt. A S Dewey Regtml Q.M. for transportation such stores as could not be carried on the Co. teams. I have learned unofficially that said property was transported to Sandy Hook Md and there fell in to the hands of the enemy and consequently lost

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, May 24, 1862 (three copies, two signed):

The following articles for which I am responsible in being transported from Strosburgh Va to Winchester Va on board of my co. wagon were captured by the enemy together with team and other co. property The wagon was with regimental train under charge of Regt QM Lt A.S. Dewey and wagon master P. J. Stone 1st Vt Cavalry

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document, June 30, 1862:

The portion of the Regt to which my Co. belonged was ordered to charge the Enemy Posted beyond the Village of Luray C.H. Va  In so doing along a sharp engagement ensued the enemy were repulsed and pursued nearly two miles, in the pursuit the following stores were lost and could not be recovered

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document, July 18, 1862 (two copies):

In an advance march by a portion of this Regt upon the enemy, near Liberty Mills Va, my Comp formed the advance guard. While thus acting a portion of my men fell into an ambuscade of the enemy, and the following property was lost

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document, August 2, 1862:

In an engagement with the enemy at Orange CH Aug 2nd 1862 my comp was deployed as skirmishers dismounted on the [left?] of the town  During a brisk engagement that followed the following stores were lost

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, August 8, 1862, for March 25, 1862:

The Regt to which my Company belongs being ordered to the Shenandoah Valley I was ordered by Col James P. Holiday commanding Regt to leave all extra horses and horse equipment in the charge of H. C. Paige, Post Quarter Master, where he following list of stores was left and have not since been in my possession  no receipts were given

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, August 8, 1862, for April 17, 1862:

The Regt to which my Company belongs was ordered to charge the enemy and capture a Battery planted beyond Mt Jackson in so doing two men of my Co were unhorsed their horses with equipment escaping to the enemy Five Saddle Blankets were also lost in the charge

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, August 8, 1862, for July 12, 1862:

in morning towards Culpeper a portion of my company forming the advance Guard were repulsed with the loss of one man with arms horse and equipments  The following is a list of the articles thus abandoned

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, August 8, 1862, for July 18, 1862:

A portion of my company formed the advance guard in the advance made upon Gordonsville. When near Liberty Mills it fell into an ambuscade, and was cut off from the rest of our forces. Four men were thus captured two of whom afterwards escaped to our lines, the horse of another soldier was killed and the horse equipment left in the hands of the enemy

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, August 8, 1862, for August 2, 1862:

in a cavalry engagement, my company was ordered to dismount and deploy as skirmishers under fire of the enemy being pressed back two horses and their equipments were left in the hands of the enemy with other stores herein mentioned.

List of clothing distributed to Company D, 1st Vermont Cavalry, Partially Printed Document, August 13, 1862 (two copies):

List of 52 men with distribution of 21 flannel sack coats, 20 trousers, 19 flannel shirts, 2 drawers, 22 pairs of cavalry boots, and 25 pairs of stockings.

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document, August 22, 1862:

In an engagement with enemy at Kelly Ford Aug 22 1862 I was ordered to press the enemy as vigorously as possible. In so doing I charged upon a force of Infantry posted in woods and was repulsed  The following list of stores was left upon the field

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document, September 1862 (two copies):

I certify on honor that during Gen Popes Campaign in Virginia the stores enumerated below were lost under the following circumstances

During the campaign the Regiment of which my company belongs were on constant duty, comprising long and rapid marches, out post duty and frequent engagements with the enemy  it was impossible  under the circumstances to convene bords of survey to condemn unserviceable and worn out property consequently I was oblige to abandon such property not having transportation for it

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document Signed, September 10, 1862, for August 22, 1862:

The Regt to which my Comp belongs was ordered to press the enemy as vigorously as possible when it charged the enemy and was repulsed by a body of Infantry lying in ambush  Three horses with equipments were left on the field

Special Orders No. 40, Autograph Document Signed, October 20, 1862:

Lieut. Col. Preston 1st Vermont Cavalry is authorized to proceed to Vermont for the purpose of purchasing horses to remount the Regiment.

J. Tibby to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, November 18, 1862:

The following is a copy of a telegram this day sent you viz:

Telegram of 12th from St. Johnsbury received and referred to General in Chief, who states that Order No. 338 does not apply to you.”  [Special Order 338 directed all officers in the Army of the Potomac to join their commands within 24 hours of November 10.]

Special Orders No. 8, Handwritten Transcription, May 4, 1863:

Lieut. Col. A W. Preston, First Regt Vermont Cavalry is hereby detailed to hear and determine offences within and for said Regiment now punishable by a Regimental or Garrison Court Martial....

Peter T. Washburn to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, June 5, 1863:

Whenever our brave boys have a fair chance, they do credit to themselves and to the State; and if they have occasionally met with a reverse, they are apparently determined, that its memory shall not stand against them.

Peter T. Washburn to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, August 7, 1863:

Yours of July 18 asking authority to raise a regiment of Cavalry, was duly received, and was referred to the Governor. He directs me to say to you, that he should regard it as a great misfortune to the 1st Vt Cavalry to lose so good an officer: and that no authority has been given by the War Department to raise another regiment of Cavalry in this State, nor any information received, that they would like to have one raised.

Order of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Document Signed, September 4, 1863:

You will report at once to Capt. Geo. U. Mead, Division Quarter Master, who has papers of importance that require your immediate attention

Peter T. Washburn to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, September 17, 1863:

I enclose commissions for Capt. Cummings and Lieuts. Trussell and Moore of Co. D, in accordance with your recommendation of the 10th inst. You may have difficulty in procuring the 2d Lieut. to be mustered in, on account of Gen. Order No. 182. But as that order is dated June 1st I think you can probably succeed.

            “I am directed by the Governor to say to you, that he wishes all vacancies in commissioned officers of your regiment filled immediately. If you are in command of the regiment, you will please forward recommendations without delay.

George T. Balch to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, October 8, 1863:

Your letter of 3d inst has been received. I enclose the decision of this office in a case similar to yours in which you will see indicated the means of obtaining data for marking Ordinance Returns, where papers have been lost or destroyed. You can include all the quarters in one return. Blanks are enclosed.

Peter T. Washburn to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, October 30, 1863:

Yours of the 25th is received. On the 8th of the present month commissions were enclosed to you for Capts Edwards & Hazelton, 1st Lieuts. Stone & Wheeler, & 2d Lts. Hyde, Clark & Sibley. The letter was directed to you, and not to Col. Sawyer. If, after waiting a reasonable time, the commissions are not received, you will please inform me, and I will issue new commissions.

Extract of Special Orders No 297, Handwritten Transcription, November 17, 1863:

Upon the recommendation of the Medical Director of this Army the following named officers will proceed to Washington, and report for treatment to Surgeon R. O. Abbott

Lieut Col A. W. Preston, 1st Vermont Cavalry

Statement of Loss of Stores, Autograph Document, December 1863, for August-September, 1862:

the Waggons were all of the time between the dates above indicated separated from the Regt and were not under my control, consequently it was impossible for me to turn Said stores over or prevent their losses.

Gerge F. Balch to A. W. Preston, Partially Printed Document Signed with a Stamp, December 16, 1863:

Your return of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores pertaining to Company ‘D’ 1st Vermont Vol Cavalry for 4th Qr ’61 & 1st 2d & 3d quarters of 1862 have been examined in this office, and referred to the Second Auditor for settlement.

Eugene Consigny to Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, Autograph Letter Signed, April 8, 1864:

Yesterday, I forwarded to your address, through my Cousin Col Barney, a request for a recommendation, in order that I may obtain a position as Clerk in the War Dept…. it is impossible for me to be discharged or transferred to the Invalid Corps, as the Surgeon in Chief, sends in such papers only at stated periods, and should I wait, I should loose the Chance I have now offered me. I was examined by his Surgeon, Executive, whose Certificate he approved, and which I lent you with a credential from the AAA Genl of this Div, I  The Hon P. Baxter who has most kindly interested himself in my behalf, wrote to me last Sunday, with a request that I should call on him. I did so, and he informed me that he had made personal application at the War Dept, and the only paper I required was a few words from my Capt approved by you. I am not acquainted with our present Capt, therefore, Col, I took the liberty to address you.

Col, please, allow me to repeat that having a widowed Mother and four young Brothers to support, only a few words from you, would secure me a situation I could hold, as the duty would not be onerous, and was I discharged today I would not be able to do any thing else but office work, and my Mother & Brothers have no one else to look to, for their daily bread; Was I the only sufferer, Col, I would not trouble you, and appeal to your kindness, but I feel that I must exert myself to keep my promise, made to a dying Father, five years ago

Eugene Consigny (1841-1900) was a sergeant in Company M of the 1st Vermont Cavalry. He was promoted four times before mustering out in August 1865.

Collection also includes other equipment inventories and six envelopes addressed to Preston.

[1] The son of Rev. John H. Woodward, the regiment’s chaplain, John W. Woodward (1839-1863) was the Captain of Company M. In May 1863, he received the word that his fiancée Hattie Chadwick had died from a fever. On July 6, a rebel bullet entered his forehead on the Williamsport Road outside Hagerstown. After his body was recovered, his father accompanied it back to Vermont, where he was buried beside his fiancée under the inscription, “These two fondly united in life are not divided in death.” His father resigned as chaplain days later and returned to his congregation. Burlington Free Press (VT), 24 July 1863, 2:4; Collea, First Vermont Cavalry, 189-90.

[2] Preston included this incident in his report of the regiment’s actions from June 30 to July 8, that appeared in the Rutland Weekly Herald (VT), 6 August 1863, 3:1-2. It also appeared in the Burlington Free Press (VT), 31 July 1862, 1:1-2.

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