Benjamin Franklin Davis
|Died||June 9, 1863 (aged 30–31)|
near Brandy Station, Virginia
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1854–1863|
|Unit||U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment|
|Commands held||8th New York Cavalry|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
Benjamin Franklin "Grimes" Davis (1831 – June 9, 1863) was an American military officer who served in Indian wars, and then led Union cavalry in the American Civil War before dying in combat. He led a daring escape from the Confederate-encircled Union garrison at Harpers Ferry.
Born in Alabama, Davis was appointed from Mississippi to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1854. Among his classmates was Jeb Stuart. Wounded while fighting the Apache in frontier New Mexico, at the outbreak of war Davis decided to stay with the Union, and was promoted to captain, 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment, July 30, 1861. Davis had two brothers who served in the Confederate States Army in the 11th Mississippi Infantry; neither survived the war. Davis served as lieutenant colonel, 1st California Cavalry, in the fall of that year, first in Washington, D.C., then in the Peninsula and Rappahannock campaigns.
Commissioned colonel of the newly formed 8th New York Cavalry on June 25, 1862, Davis was leading that unit on September 14, stationed with the defending force at Harpers Ferry, after the town had been invested by troops under Stonewall Jackson. Finding his commanding officer Col. Dixon S. Miles unable to protect the force from bombardment and ready to surrender his troops, Davis and fellow officer Lt. Col. Hasbrouck Davis with his 12th Illinois Cavalry determined to fight their way out northward out of the encirclement.
Crossing the Potomac River on a pontoon bridge under cover of night, 1,300 Union cavalrymen quietly escaped, overwhelming or avoiding Confederate pickets assigned to cover the winding road north. While moving in pitch black darkness, Davis came across an artillery wagon train belonging to Confederate Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, and using his deep Mississippi-accented voice, ordered their unsuspecting commander to change direction and accept his unit as cavalry escort. As sunlight broke, the wagon drivers were startled to discover drawn pistols from their blue-clad escort, and as a result Davis's command not only escaped to Union lines at Greencastle, Pennsylvania, by morning September 15, but also captured Longstreet's forty-wagon reserve ordnance train with no losses. Davis was promoted to major, U.S. Army, for his exploit.
Trooper of the 8th New York Cavalry
Davis led the 1st Brigade of Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton's cavalry division through the ineffectual "Stoneman Raid" in the Chancellorsville Campaign. In the Gettysburg Campaign, Davis led the brigade in the Battle of Brandy Station. In the early hours of June 9, 1863, Davis's men charged a South Carolina artillery battery near Beverly's Ford and were met by a strong cavalry counterattack, which sent most of the brigade reeling. Davis himself refused to fall back and challenged all comers to combat. He twirled his saber with one hand, firing his Colt revolver with the other until he ran out of ammunition. Confederate Lt. O. R. Allen of Major Caball E. Flournoy's regiment charged at Davis, hugging his horse's neck to evade Davis's saber slashing, then fired his pistol three times at point-blank range. The third shot struck Davis in the forehead, killing him instantly.
Davis was a man of rough manners and a stern disciplinarian. One of his troopers described him as "a proud tyrannical devil" as likely to be killed by his own soldiers as by the Confederates. The Provost Marshal General of the Army of the Potomac, Marsena R. Patrick, described him as "our best cavalry officer". He was buried in the West Point cemetery.
- Longacre, p. 51.
- Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: McKay, 1959; revised 1988. ISBN 0-8129-1726-X.
- Longacre, Edward G., The Cavalry at Gettysburg, University of Nebraska Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8032-7941-8.
- Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Houghton Mifflin, 1983, ISBN 0-89919-172-X.