The Last Charge of the 6th Michigan for at Least One Man
by Gordon Thorsby
It was at Falling Waters, Maryland in July, 1863, that Robert. E. Lee had almost completed the Army of Northern Virginia escape from Pennsylvania. Union General Meade had pulled his army close but never too close to prevent a sudden strike by Lee. Other Generals did not think the same. Union cavalry General Judson Kilpatrick saw a potential opportunity. Unfortunately for many Union troopers under Kilpatrick’s command, his opportunities were too often punctuated with disaster. At Falling Waters, it was one of the disastrous opportunities.
Brigadier General George Custer ordered a small command to dismount and carefully approach Confederate lines to scout their position. Kilpatrick approached Weber and changed the order directing Major Peter Weber of the 6th Michigan Cavalry to take his two Companies of B and F and charge “the Rebel breastworks yonder there.” Weber, a Grand Rapids native, was stunned to hear the order. He could not believe it but he accepted the order and prepared his squadron of men. Kilpatrick then ordered Custer to follow Weber’s
squadron in “and when they get there, you will follow in with a clean-up charge, now stand firm and wait my order, and get those men on with it!” A cavalry regiment against a Confederate seemed ludicrous but Kilpatrick was famous for stunts like this.
Private George T. Patten and 23 remaining men in this squadron from the two companies included cousin Lyman Griffith, 27, and his Uncle Thomas, in his thirties. Lyman and Uncle Thomas immediately realized the futility of the order. Another squadron of 34 men were added made for an attacking force of 57 men. Patten quietly understood the consequences but saluted in recognition of the Major’s order.
The men pulled up in a tight formation. They moved off slowly through a woodlot and Major Weber brought the column to a halt and brought the men in close. “This job we have before us I know you are going to do with great courage and without flinching. This charge is for our homeland…the future of our country…the banner we have carried through thick and thin. You have not had a chance to write your families in a long time so you may want to do it now."
The note Patten then wrote had been started at nearby Williamsport and stopped unfinished with his final thoughts.
“My dearest Mother, I fear this may be the last letter you may ever hear from me. I have time to tell of my love you, dad, and Little Georgie and to tell you that I died with great courage for the sake of my country and the future of my son and all family who come after me. My
greatest regret is that this final act of courage robs me of my youth and fatherhood for my son. Uncle Thomas and cousin Lyman are with me in this courageous charge we are about to make on dug in Rebels at a battlefield near the Potomac River in West Virginia.”
Cousin Lyman and Uncle Thomas did survive the reckless charge.
George Patten did not. He was found on the field the next day, killed instantly, 14 July, 1863.
Added Note: In the charge, Confederate Brigadier General J. J. Pettigrew, a Division Commander in Pickett’s Charge, met his death.
Source: Letters of George T. Patten