Historical Markers
"The Bucktails" Historical Marker
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The Bucktails

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
US 6 at Courthouse, Smethport

Dedication Date:
August 8, 1949

Behind the Marker

Thomas L. Kane
Thomas L. Kane
Without a doubt, the Bucktails are Pennsylvania's most famous Civil War unit. The regiment first formed in April 1861, when Thomas L. Kane sought permission to raise a company of riflemen from among the hardy woodsmen of McKean County. Each man who came to the regiment's rendezvous point wore civilian clothes and a buck's tail in his hat-a symbol of his marksmanship.

Indeed, the marksman test for joining the unit was unique at this early stage of the war. Most volunteers who joined the Union army did not have much proficiency with a weapon, let alone the newfangled rifled-muskets first introduced in the 1850s.

After the muster, Kane moved his men south to the Sinnamahoning River, where they constructed rafts. On April 26, more than 300 men boarded three large rafts for the voyage downriver to the West Branch of the Susquehanna and from there to Harrisburg, where they hoped to join the troops assembling there.

Educated in England and France, Kane was a lawyer who had founded the town named after him in McKean County, and who had the distinction of being arrested by his father, a U. S. district judge, for his anti-slavery stance. In 1858, largely because of his sympathy for the Mormons, he mediated the dispute between that sect and the federal government and prevented a full-scale war from erupting in the Utah Territory.
Photograph of Bucktail Robert Valentine.
Bucktail Robert Valentine

In May of 1861, Kane's companies were joined with others who had arrived at markerCamp Curtin, in Harrisburg, to form a full regiment of infantry, nicknamed the Bucktails because of the deer tails in their caps. The men hailed from the counties of Tioga, Cameron, Warren, Elk, McKean, Clearfield, Perry, Carbon, and Chester.

Officially designated the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the unit was also known as the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles, and the Kane Rifles. Although elected colonel by his men, Kane, recognizing his lack of military skill, deferred to a more competent leader and instead became lieutenant colonel.

The Bucktails were divided in half in the spring of 1862. Four companies served under Kane's leadership in the Shenandoah Valley, while the other six fought on the Peninsula at Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, and Glendale. The regiment also fought at Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. By that time, heavy casualties had so reduced the strength of the Pennsylvania Reserves that the division was detached from active duty and sent back to Washington to rest and refit.

When Lee's army in June of 1863 crossed the Potomac River and Union troops moved north in pursuit, the Lincoln administration sent reinforcements from the Washington garrison to bolster the strength of the field army. Two brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves, among them the Bucktails, marched to join the Army of the Potomac. Led by Brigadier General Samuel W. Crawford, the Reserves became the Third Division of the Fifth Corps.
Marksmen Wanted Bucktail recruiting broadside.
Marksmen Wanted Bucktail recruiting broadside.

The Bucktails went into action at Gettysburg late in the afternoon of the second day. The First Brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves formed along the crest of Cemetery Ridge just north of Little Round Top and, led by Crawford, charged the oncoming Confederates as disorganized fellow Yankee soldiers fell back to reform their lines.Colonel Charles F. Taylor of the Bucktails was in front of his regiment, too, encouraging his veterans.

The impetuous Reserves charged across Plum Run Valley (now called the Valley of Death) and halted at the stone wall on the eastern border of the Wheatfield. Armed with Sharps Rifles instead of the standard rifled-muskets, the Bucktails' hot fire forced the Rebels to withdraw across the trampled wheat. But Taylor, carelessly exposing himself, was killed as the regiment reformed and went into line of battle.

After the battle of Gettysburg, the Bucktails remained in service until they were mustered out in June 1864. Those who re-enlisted were absorbed into the new 190th Pennsylvania, also known as the 1st Veteran Reserves. During the Bucktails' three years of fighting, the regiment had a total of 1,165 officers and men. Of these, 162 soldiers were killed in battle or died from their wounds; ninety died of disease, accidents, and in Rebel prisons; and another 442 men were wounded but recovered.

Promoted to brigadier general, Kane resigned in late 1863 due to ill health. He died in Philadelphia in 1883 and was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. A year later, though, in large part due to petitions signed by the residents of Kane, the general's remains were moved to a memorial chapel erected in the town he founded. Today, this chapel, which is administered by the Mormons, is open to the public.
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