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B.F. Davis

B.F. Davis

Federal (USA)


Benjamin Franklin Davis


(1831 - 1863)

Home State: Mississippi

Education: US Military Academy, West Point, NY, Class of 1854

Command Billet: Brigade Commander

Branch of Service: Cavalry

Unit: 5th Brigade, Cavalry Division

Before Antietam

Davis was appointed first to the 5th U.S. Infantry in Texas, as Brevet 2nd Lieutenant, but transferred to the 1st U.S. Dragoons on March 3, 1855. He served from New Mexico to California, including a wound received on June 27, 1857, on the Gila River Expedition in a clash with Apache Indians. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Company K on January 9, 1860.

Like so many of his fellow Southern-born soldiers, Davis had every expected reason to follow his home soil at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was, however, a fiery loyalist to the Union. At least two of his brothers served the southern cause in the Army of Northern Virginia - both of them in the 11th Mississippi Infantry, and both would be killed in battle before the war's end. Early in 1861, he was "covertly" commissioned to the 1st California Cavalry, but deserted from them when his 1st Dragoons shipped out for New York. On July 30, 1861, he was promoted to Captain of Company K, 1st Dragoons.

In June 1862, to improve their prospects of being properly mounted and equipped, officers of the 8th New York Cavalry volunteers requested that Stoneman appoint a regular cavalry officer to command of the regiment. The regiment, badly cut up recently at Winchester VA, had yet to be issued horses and proper arms and felt that they soon would be disbanded and spread among other regiments. Stoneman, aware of Davis' abilities and command style, appointed Davis to lead the regiment. Captain Davis was mustered in as Colonel of the 8th New York on July 11, to date to June 25.

On the Campaign

With the danger present of having Major General John Pope's lines of communication to Harper's Ferry cut off, General John Ellis Wool wired Davis on August 28 to "have your regiment ready to start... by Saturday at the latest." On the 30th, the regiment entrained for Harpers Ferry. The 8th New York was assigned to the vedette line running from Summit Point to Kearneysville (based at Harpers Ferry. The primary object, as stated in Davis' orders, was to protect the Winchester Rail line as well as to break up the 12th Virginia Cavalry.

By the 13th of September they were essentially 'bottled up' with the garrison at Harpers Ferry. Davis created and argued the plan to get the Cavalry out, which was executed on the night of Sept 14-15. During their escape the troopers briefly fought with Confederates near Sharpsburg, and captured (part of?) General Longstreet's reserve ammunition train (consisting of about 80 wagons) on the Hagerstown Pike near Williamsport MD.

The troopers and their captured wagons, along with infantry prisoners and a large herd of beef cattle, reached Greencastle that morning. Davis' southern accent, using his deepest drawl in the pre-dawn darkness, had allowed him to order the wagons onto the northern road, unquestioned by the southern drivers. As daylight arose, the wagon drivers began to notice that their escorts were wearing blue, not gray. One driver asked Private Norton the name of his outfit. "The 8th New York," he replied with a smile. "The hell you say!" exclaimed the incredulous driver. "A change of governments was probably never more quietly or speedily effected," claimed a proud Federal trooper in describing the capture.

Davis and the 8th joined the rest of Gen Pleasonton's Cavalry at Antietam, but were kept largely in reserve on the 17th.

The rest of the War

Although shown in the official Order of Battle as Brigade Commander, Davis was probably given the 5th Brigade command just after the battle proper.

In the spring 1863 cavalry expedition known as "Stoneman's Raid," Davis led his brigade consisting of the 8th Illinois, 3rd Indiana, and the 8th and 9th New York regiments.

On the morning of June 9, 1863 Col Davis was killed in combat at Beverly Ford (near Brandy Station).

References & notes

Much text above from a bio sketch on J. David Petruzzi's Buford's Boys website (now gone). The photo above was published in Allan Tischler's Harpers Ferry Cavalry Expedition (Winchester: Five Cedars Press, 1993), from the original at the USAMHI. His gravesite is on Findagrave.

His younger brother Christopher Columbus Davis was on the Campaign and wounded and captured at Sharpsburg.

More on the Web

See more about the "escape" from Harpers Ferry in a post on behind AotW. Sharon Murray posts excellent details about Davis and his family on her blog The Epitaph.


10/1831; Perry County, AL


06/09/1863; Beverly Ford, VA; burial in USMA Post Cemetery, West Point, NY