Battery M at Cedar Creek 1864
A few weeks ago we mentioned that the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading was one of the units which were among the First Defenders of the National Capital when the Civil War began. This military unit, commanded by Capt. James McKnight of Reading, served throughout the war and won high praise from the commanders of the Army of the Potomac.
In 1864, Colonel Buell estimated that of the 107 men in the Ringgold Artillery, then constituted as Battery M of the U.S. Fifth Regiment, “84 were Pennsylvania Dutchmen from Berks, Schuykill and Lehigh –all native Americans- 12 Americans of English descent and 11 Irishmen.” The names of the sergeants of the company read like a Berks County register – Daniel Yoder, Philip Weidner, William Beckhart, John Gerhart, and Frederick Volkman.
Every school child knows the story of Sheridan’s Ride, the sensational rallying of the troops which were suffering defeat at Cedar Creek until Gen. Philip Sheridan rode into the fray on his foaming steed to infuse new spirit into the men.
Bore Brunt of Attack
During the early stages of the battle it was Battery M of the Ringgold Light Artillery that bore the brunt of the Confederate attack. In the first encounter the battery lost ten men and one of its guns. The gun was later retaken by a Vermont Company. After the defeated Federal troops took up new positions all of the guns of the battery were captured by a brigade of South Carolina troops; again it was a Vermont brigade which came to the rescue and recaptured the equipment belonging to the Pennsylvania men. During the fighting in this second position Battery M lost heavily. Only 27 men were fit for duty when the lines were reformed.
This handful of men, now commanded by Daniel Yoder, continued to pour double canister gainst the foe, long after other contingents had retreated. When the fighting was ended Gen. Horatio Wright commended the men for their valor. To Captain McKnight he said “Your Pennsylvania Dutchmen don’t seem to know when they are whipped.” To which McKnight replied: “By God general, most of them don’t know when they are killed.”
Major General Philip Sheridan at Battle of Cedar Creek. Source: http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/civilwarintheeast/p/cedarcreek.htm