Livingston Co MI


            (Battles and Leaders)

"Each man felt... that he was summoned to a ride of death." - Captain H. C. Parsons, 1st Vermont Cavalry

Brevet Brigadier General, Elon John Farnsworth
Farnsworth's Charge and death - Gettysburg

National Archives

A tragic footnote to the carnage of July 3 occurred in the farm fields and woods south of Big Round Top. Elon J. Farnsworth, a newly appointed brigadier general, led his brigade of Union troops to Gettysburg and into his first and last battle. Born in Livingston County, Michigan in 1837, Farnsworth briefly attended the University of Michigan before he left the school and joined General Albert Sidney Johnston's "Mormon Expedition" in 1858 as a civilian foragemaster. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Farnsorth enlisted in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, commanded by his uncle, with the rank of 1st lieutenant. Assigned to headquarters of the cavalry corps, Farnsworth served faithfully on the staff of General Alfred Pleasonton, who probably was the chief sponsor of his sudden promotion to brigadier general on June 29, 1863, the day before the battle of Hanover, Pennsylvania.

General Farnsworth spent the next several days with his brigade on various assignments and flanking duty until the afternoon of July 3, when he was ordered to make what became a hopeless charge into the rear of Confederate General John B. Hood's Division, resulting in his death. "Farnsworth's Charge" as it has come to be known, was primarily made by the 1st Vermont Cavalry under the command of Lt. Colonel Addison W. Preston. Captain Henry C. Parsons, commanding Company L, 1st Vermont, accompanied Farnsworth that day. Fifty years later, Parsons returned to Gettysburg and spoke on his experiences at the same location where they took place. Following are the highlights of his speech of July 3, 1913:

"It is remarkable that the most deliberate and desperate cavalry charge made during the Civil War passed so nearly unnoticed that the attention of the country was first drawn to it by reports of the enemy. The charge was directly ordered by General Meade and immediately after it was made he sent a congratulatory dispatch, and yet when the report went up that Farnsworth was killed and the regiment that he led all but annihilated, this order was withheld from the Official Report. The friends of Farnsworth attacked Kilpatrick for having ordered a wanton waste of life and he remained silent. If the charge had been on any other part of the field, or at an earlier hour of the day, it would have commanded wide attention. As it was, it was witnessed only by the enemy and by the few men at the batteries.

"After the repulse of Pickett, Meade's attention was drawn to an apparent movement of the enemy's troops towards the right. His left wing was peculiarly unprotected. Law's brigade was firmly lodged on the side of Round Top, and the valley to which Longstreet's eye turned so eagerly was open. An order reached Kilpatrick to hurl his cavalry on the rear of Law's brigade and create so strong a diversion that Lee's plan would be disclosed. At the moment of receiving this order Kilpatrick's forces were widely scattered. Custer was fighting with Gregg, the Reserve was with Merritt, the 5th New York was on the skirmish line, nothing was within striking distance but the 1st West Virginia and the 1st Vermont. The 1st West Virginia was sent across the open fields and against the 1st Texas Infantry and was repulsed after a second charge with great loss. The first and third battalions of the 1st Vermont were sent under cover of all the guns that could be brought into position over fences, through timber and up rocky sides of Round Top directly in rear of Law's brigade. They received the direct enfilading fire of three regiments, and of a battery of artillery. They drew two regiments out of line and held them in new positions, breaking the Confederate front and exposing it to an infantry charge if one had been immediately ordered. So bold was their assault that the Confederates received it as the advance of a grand attack, and finding themselves exposed to infantry in front and cavalry in the rear, were uncertain of their position.

"The whole number who rode in the charge was about three hundred. Their casualties were sixty-five. Their prisoners were one hundred and twenty. They rode within the Confederate line nearly two miles and the regiment, instead of being annihilated, is reported as having taken part in subsequent engagements.


"The Cavalry under Kilpatrick went into position on the left… about noon of the third day. When the cannonade that preceded Pickett's Charge opened (,) General Farnsworth rode out … and I think Kilpatrick joined him. I was sent for and at that moment saw a long skirmish line moving towards us and crossing the high rail fence that surround(s) the Bushman farm. I was ordered to take a squadron, charge this line as foragers and if I drove them back to ride to cover of the stone house and wait for orders or support. As soon as the cavalry appeared the enemy fell back behind the fences and we rode down, receiving their fire, with the loss of one man and two horses. I immediately ordered Lieut. Watson to take twelve men, to ride out and throw down the fences and expected (a)signal to charge. They rode out under a fierce volley, threw down the fences and reported to me, 'Your order is executed; (George S.) Brownell is dead.' Their skirmish line fell back in confusion, a squadron was sent to my support but the order to charge did not come. We remained some time in this advanced position and saw part of the magnificent movement towards Little Round Top. When recalled, we rode back under fire without loss. Kilpatrick came towards me with spirit: 'Captain, the jolliest fight I ever saw; four men with revolvers riding down a line of infantry delivering their fire and driving them back; you are a soldier.'

"I was at last able to say: 'You are mistaken, I was not there. I did not even see it. Send for Lieutenant (Alexander G.) Watson and thank him.'

"There was an oppressive stillness after the day's excitement. I rode to the front and found General Kilpatrick standing by his horse. He showed great impatience and eagerness for orders. The great opportunity, which was to have hurled his two brigades across the open fields upon the right and rear of Pickett's broken columns had been allowed to pass. As I turned away an orderly dashed by shouting: 'We turned the charge, nine acres of prisoners.' In a moment an aide came down and Kilpatrick sprang into his saddle and rode towards him. The verbal order I heard delivered was: 'Hood's division is turning our left; play all your guns; charge in their rear; create a strong diversion.'

"In a moment, Farnsworth rode up. Kilpatrick impetuously repeated the order. Farnsworth, who was a tall man with military bearing, received the order in silence. It was repeated. Farnsworth spoke with emotion: 'General, do you mean it? Shall I throw my handful of men over rough ground, through timber, against a brigade of infantry?'

"Kilpatrick said: 'A handful! You have the four best regiments in the army!' Farnsworth answered: You forget, the first Michigan is detached, the 5th New York you have sent beyond call, and I have nothing left but the 1st Vermont and the 1st West Virginia, regiments fought half to pieces. They are too good men to kill.' Kilpatrick turned, greatly excited and said: 'Do you refuse to obey my orders? If you are afraid to lead the charge, I will lead it.'

"Farnsworth rose in his stirrups and leaned forward, with his sabre half-drawn; he looked magnificent in his passion and cried: 'Take that back!' Kilpatrick rose defiantly, but repentingly said: 'I did not mean it; forget it.' For a moment, nothing was said. (Then) Farnsworth spoke: 'General, if you order the charge I will lead it, but you must take the awful responsibility.' I did not hear the low conversation that followed, but as Farnsworth turned away, he said: 'I will obey your order.' They shook hands and parted in silence. I recall the two young generals at that moment in the shadow of the oaks and against the sunlight, Kilpatrick with his fine gestures, his blond beard, his soft hat turned up jauntily and his face lighted with the joy that always came into it when the charge was sounded. Farnsworth- heavy browed, stern and pale but riding with conscious strength and consecration… two men opposite in every line of character, but both born to desperate daring.

"The direction of our guns was changed… (and) the artillery duel began. A shell shrieked down the line of my front company a few feet above their heads, covering them with leaves and branches. We rode out in columns of fours with drawn sabres. After giving the order to me, General Farnsworth took his place at the head of the 3rd Battalion.

"As the 1st Battalion rode through the line of our dismounted skirmishers who were falling back, they cried to us to halt. As we passed out from the cover of the woods, the 1st West Virginia were falling back in disorder on our left. A frantic horse with one leg torn off by a cannon ball rushed towards us for protection. We rode rapidly to the left and then to the right, across a depression at the left of a stone wall. The sun was blinding and Captain (Oliver T.) Cushman, who rode at my right, shaded his eyes and cried: 'An ambuscade!' We were immediately upon the enemy, and the deadly (Confederate) volley was fired, but it passed over our heads. It was the most concentrated volley I ever heard. Taken by surprise, they had shot over us. With the head of the column we cleared the fence at the right and formed under cover of a hill. The 3rd Battalion under Major (William) Wells, a young officer who bore a charmed life and was destined to pass through many daring encounters… moved out in splendid form to the left of the 1st Battalion, and swept in a great circle to the right around the front of the hill and across our path, then guiding to the left across the valley and up the side of the hill at the base of Round Top. Upon this hill was a field enclosed with heavy stone walls. They charged along the wall and between it and the mountain directly in the rear of several Confederate regiments in position and between them and the 4th Alabama. It was a swift… charge over rocks, through timber, under close enfilading fire. The rush was the war of a hurricane. The direction towards Devil's Den. At the foot of the declivity the column turned left, rode close to a battery, receiving the fire of its support, and swept across the open field and upon the rear of the Texas skirmish line. Farnsworth's horse had fallen; a trooper sprang from the saddle, gave the General his horse and escaped on foot. Captain Cushman and a few others with Farnsworth turned back. The 1st Battalion was again in motion. The enemy's sharpshooters appeared in the rocks above us and opened fire. We rode obliquely up the hill in the direction of Wells, then wheeling to the left between the picket line and the wall. From this point, part of my men turned back with prisoners. The head of the column leapt the wall, into the open field. Farnsworth, seeing the horsemen, raised his sabre and charged as if with an army. At almost the same moment his followers and what remained of the 1st Battalion cut their way through the 15th Alabama, which was wheeling into position at a run and offered little resistance. We charged in the same direction but on opposite sides of the wall that parallels Round Top and within two hundred paces of each other.

"Sergeant (George H.) Duncan, a black-eyed, red-cheeked boy, splendidly mounted, standing in his stirrups, flew past me with his sabre raised and shouted: 'Captain, I'm with you!' and threw up his left hand and fell. My horse recoiled over his dead body, my men swept past and I was a moment alone on the field. The enemy ran up crying 'Surrender!' as if they did not want to shoot me, but as I raised my sabre a gun was planted against my breast and fired; my horse was struck at the same moment and broke frantically through the men, over the wall and down the hill. Corporal Waller overtook me from the left and riding close supported me on my horse. As we rode on he told me how Farnsworth and Cushman fell together.

"I doubt if an order was given beyond the waving of a sabre after the first (order). The officers rode at the front and the men followed and as the officers fell the men pressed on more furiously. In that charge the private in the last file rode as proudly as the General. Farnsworth fell in the enemy's lines with his sabre raised, dead with five wounds, and received a tribute for gallantry from the enemy that his superiors refused. There was no encouragement of on looking armies, no cheer, no bravado. There was consecration and each man felt as he tightened his sabre belt that he was summoned to a ride of death."

H. C. Parsons, July 1913

Article Contributed by Janice Farnsworth


Elon John Farnsworth b. July 30, l837 son of James Patten Farnsworth and wife, Achsah Hudson of Green Oak Michigan. In l857 he was a student at the Univ of Ann Arbor MI.

In l86l he returned home and joined the Eigth ILLinois Cavalry organized by his uncle, Col. John Franklin Farnsworth. He was apptd asst. quarter-master, then elected Captain of Company K and served in the Peninsula Campaign at Virginia. Early in l863 he was acting Lieut. Col. and Chief Quartermaster of the Fourth Army Corps. He was under the command of General Pleasanton. In May of l863 he was an aide on Pleasanton's staff.

June 29, l863 on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg he was commissioned Brigadier-General of Cavalry. He, being on detached duty at the time, the commission did not reach him. The commission was among Gen. Pleasanton's papers at his headquarters until after the battle in which he lost his life.

He was, however, immediately assigned to the command of a brigade in Kilpatrick's cavalry division, comprising the First Vermont, First West Virginia, Fifth New York and Eighteenth PA regiments. As the battle was coming on, it was impossible to procure the uniform of his rank. Gen. Pleasanton generously placed his own wardrobe at his service, and on the field of Gettysburg, he wore one of Pleasanton's blue coats, decorated with a single star.

Late on the third day of the battle, July 3, l863, after Pickett's charge had been repulsed, Farnsworth's brigade occupied a position on a wooded hill to the left of Round Top. Immediately in front were the enemy's skirmish line and the First Texas regiment posted behind a rail fence. The First West Virginia regiment was ordered to charge the Texans, with a battalion of the First Vermont as skirmishers. It charged in gallant style only to receive a volley, the deadly fire of which caused them to recoil. The regiment rallied and charged again, and a second time it was compelled by the storm of bullets to fall back, with its ranks greatly thinned.

It was then that Kilpatrick, angered by the failure to dislodge the Texas regiment, ordered the charge that has been the subject of much discussion, and general, though not universal condemnation. The ground was bad for cavalry movements. The objective point was the rear of Law's Confederate brigade, intrenched on the sloping sides of Round Top. The intervening ground was hilly and uneven, while stone walls, rail and worn fences of that section greatly increased difficulties to be encountered.

At various points of advantage were regiments of Confederate Infantry and artillery. It was a charge by a shattered remnant of a brigade into the midst of a well posted army of infantry. It has been called by a Confederate witness, "a mad charge by a mad leader". Astonished by an order that seemed to have little purpose other than the slaughter of his brave soldiers, Farnsworth, who had the true soldier's regard for his men, asked Kilpatrick if he really meant he should throw his handful of men over the broken ground before them, remarking "These are too good men to kill".

The impetuous Kilpatrick hotly retorted: "Do you refuse? If you are afraid to lead your men, I will lead them myself"!

Rising in his saddle, burning with indignat- ion, Farnsworth passionately but calmly replied, "Take that back! I ask no man to lead my men forward"! There was a moment's silence and then Kilpatrick with a magnanimity creditable acknowledged his error and the two commanders engaged in conversation not heard by the others.

General Farnsworth soon rode to the head of the Third Battalion, consisting of about two hundred men, the remnant of the First Vermont, and ordered the charge. With drawn sabres they rode through the Confederate skirmish line, into the fields beyond, over the fences, and made as bold a dash for Lee's army as if they had been supported by the entire Union forces! While the First Battalion, in advance, was extricating itself from the Fourth Alabama, whose volley it received within a few paces, and which was the first intimation of the presence of the Confederates at this point, Gen. Farnsworth, with the Third Batalion, circled to the right towards the enemy line of battle. Skirting a low hill to the rear of Law's brigade, this few score of gallant men, led by their general literally entered the jaws of death!

Charging along a stone wall beween the hill and Law's brigade, they were exposed to the close enfilading fire of several Confederate regiments on the right and of the Fourth Alabama on the left. They emerged from this only to receive the close fire of a battery, and here the remnant of this band broke into three parties. General Farnsworth still unscathed, rode some distance farther, until his horse fell under him.

A trooper dismounted. Farnsworth sprang into the saddle, wheeled, and followed by a few troopers, (Confederate reports say there were not more than ten with him when he fell) --at full gallup, charged again and then again--

Incredible as it seems, General Farnsworth with Capt. Cushman and about ten of the Vermont troopers, on the return charge, penetrated in safety very nearly to the point where they first entered between the hill and the stone wall in the rear of the Confederate column. A few more strides and they would have been out of reach of rebel bullets, and the intrepid commander would have lived to attain greater rank and distinction but for one last rash act: the culmination of courageous consecration.

On the extreme right of the enemy's line of battle was the Fifteenth Alabama. Dashing along the stone wall in their rear, Farnsworth saw approaching a small detachment of the First Battalion of his brigade from which he had long been separated. Raising his sabre as a signal to follow, he cleared the stone wall and charged the Fifteenth Alabama. Here he fell with five mortal wounds in his body and his riderless horse tore through the enemy lines. Farnsworth died in the saddle. There was however no wound to his face or head. He is buried in Illinois.

Elon John Farnsworth, Brig. General His line of descent from Matthias Farnsworth b. l6l5 at Farnworth, Lancashire, England to Lynn MA and then Groton MA and wife, Mary Farr:

Their son, Samuel Farnsworth b. Oct 8, l669 8th child (of eleven children) m. Dec. 12, l706 Mary Whitcomb, the widow of Simon Willard who d. l706 and dau of Josiah Whitcomb of Lancaster, MA. Samuel Farnsworth and Mary Whitcomb Willard Farnsworth had issue:

l. Mary Crew Farnsworth b. l707 m. Jonathan Page Jr. b. June 5, l7l0

2. Samuel Farnsworth Jr. b. l709 d. unm Killed by Indians on May 2, l746 at Fort No. 4, Charlestown, NH which he founded together with brothers David and Stephen l740

3. David Farnsworth b. Aug. 4, l7ll at Groton MA m. l735 Hannah Hastings. He was a founder of Fort No. 4

4. Abigail Farnsworth b. l7l3 m. Mr. Thompson

5. Stephen Farnsworth b. l7l5 m. Eunice Hastings sister of Hannah Hastings (above)Stephen also Fort No. 4 founder Note: their half brother, Moses Willard married a third sister, Abigail Hastings. He also was killed by Indians at Fort No. 4.

l.8.3 p.359 David Farnsworth b. l7ll m. l735 Hannah Hastings On Apr 20, l757 David was one of four taken prisoner by a party of 70 French and Indians and carried throught the wilderness to Canada. Seventeen days after his arrival at Canada he escaped thru the wilderness alone and thereafter moved his family to Hollis N.H. After serving in the Revolution he and his family moved to Vermont.

l. Hannah Farnsworth b. l739 m l758 John Tarball of Groton, MA She d. l829

2. Mary Farnsworth b. l739 m. l762 Elisha Rockwood Jr of Groton MA He b. l740. She d. l756. Their children are Hannah l763 and Molly Rockwood b. l764

3. Eunice Farnsworth b. l74l m. l759 Oliver Parker of Groton MA He b. l738 She d. l767 Their children Rebecca, Eunice, Elizabeth, Simeon and Oliver Parker

4. Relief Farnsworth b. ca l743 m. l77l Reuben Tucker of Townsend MA Res: Digby Nova Scotia Their children: Reuben, David, Charles


Samuel Farnsworth b. l750 m. Anna WASSON b. l75l d. l842 He d. l83l. He was a drummer at the battle of BunkerHill and a pensioner for his services in that war. He was a resident at that time with his father Lieut David Farns- worth and mother, Hannah Hastings at their home at Hollis N.H. He later removed to Stoddard, N.H. and from there to Eaton, Lower Canada, in l799.

6. David Farnsworth Jr. b. l760 d. l778 He was executed by the British at Hartford, CN, as a spy. He was l8 years old. He was a drummer at both Cambridge and Bunker Hill battles in l775.

Samuel Farnsworth and his wife Anna Wasson had issue:

l.8.3.5.l John Farnsworth b. l783 m. l809 Sally Patten b. ca l787 dau of Colonel John Patten of Surrey Maine. They removed to Eaton, Quebec with his father Samuel Farnsworth and mother, Anna Wasson in l8l2. They later moved to MI state He engaged in surveying. He d. l844

2. Samuel Farnsworth b. l784/5 m. Tabitha Barlow Res: Eaton, P.Q. He d. l852 He was one of Eaton's lst cattle men.

3. David Farnsworth b. l787 m. Phebe Lathrop Res: Dudswell, P.Q. He d. l868

4. Eunice Farnsworth b. l789 m. Asa Grosvenor. Res: New York.

l.8.3.5.l John Farnsworth and wife, Sally Patten had issue at Easto, P.Q.:

l.8.3.5.l.l James Patten Farnsworth b. l8l0 m. (1) in l834 Achsah Hudson b. l8ll She d. l853 He m. (2) the widow, Mary Amelia Halleck.

2. Mary Farnsworth b. l8l2 m. l835 Augustus Cotton at Michigan She d. l890 their issue: Ansorietta and John A. Cotton

3. Charlotte Farnsworth b. l8l4 m. Joseph Holden -- Thomas, Sarah, Frank Holden

4. Sarah Farnsworth b. l8l6 d. l840 unm.

5. Eunice Farnsworth b. l8l8 m. l842 Dr. Nicholas Hurd Their issue:

l. Fred Hurd b. l828 Lost at sea l875

2. Genevieve Hurd b. l850 d. l873 m. George F. Wright Res: CA

6. Gen. John Franklin Farnsworth b. l820 m. l846 Mary A. Clark, dau of John and Mary Clark. Res: MI engaged in surveying with his father, James Patten Farnsworth. Was admitted to Ill- inois Bar Assoc. Res: St. Charles, Ill. l842 Was elected to Congress 35th thru 42nd.

He raised the 8th Reg. of Ill Cavalry at the outbreak of the Civil War. Became Brig. Gen. on Nov. 29, l862. Battle of Bull Run and Rap- ahannock Mar. l862. Battle of Peninsula cam- paign summer l862. His reg. in the advance from Williamsburg to Mechanicsville under Gen. Stoneman, chief of cavalry for the army who selected the 8th Ill Cavalry as one of his brigade. On Sep ll, l862 he captured Sugar Loaf Mountain, an enemy signal post. Then on to Frederick, MD. At the battle of Antietam he became a colonel and attended battles at Purceville, Philamont, Upperville, Barber's Cross Roads, Chester Gap, Amesville and Little Washington. At Falmouth, opposite Fredericks- burg Va Nov. 22 l862. On Nov. 29, l862 he was raised to Brig. General. He received severe injuries about the close of the camp- aign of l862 and resigned l863. Elected to Congress l863 and served thru to l873 and raised the 7th Illinois Cavalry during the winter of l863 on orders from the War Dept. His old regiment produced 2 Brig. Gen's, 5 Brig. Gen's by brevet, 2 Colonels and 3 majors of cavalry in the regular army. In l873 he ret'd to his law practice.

l.8.3.5.l.l James Patten Farnsworth and his wife, Achaah Hudson had issue at Green Oak, MI - Robert Farnsworth d. young

p.375 2. GENERAL ELON JOHN FARNSWORTH b. July 30, l837 at Green Oak, MI died July 3, l863 age 26 at Gettysburg, in saddle, of 5 mortal wounds. Buried at Illinois.

3. Julius Farnsworth b. l855 child of James Patten Farnsworth's 2d wife. Elon came from Farnsworth men who fought in the French Indian Wars, the Revolution, the war of l8l2 and the Civil War. He died unmarried, a hero of Gettysburg. thus ended his own line of fighting Farnsworths. He is buried at Rockton, Illinois

p.377 Gen. John Franklin Farnsworth and his wife, Mary Clark had issue at Washington, D.C.

l. John Farnsworth b. l855 m. Mary Henderson dau of General Thomas J. Henderson and wife Henrietta (Butler) Henderson. Their issue - Gertrude b. l889, John b. l891, Eunice b. l892

6. Joshua Farnsworth

Source: Farnsworth Memorial Rev. 1974 by R. Glen Nys
Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth