Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Three days after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor on April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued an emergency call for troops to help defend the nation’s capital. Thomas Leiper Kane (1822–1883), scion of a prominent Philadelphia family, helped raise a mounted rifle regiment in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier counties of Cameron, Elk, McKean, and Potter. The unit would be known as the Forty-Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Reserves, and the First Bucktail Regiment. As the regiment was being organized one of the recruits ornamented his hat with a tail from a deer’s carcass and others copied him and so the regiment became known as the Bucktails.

Kane believed the region’s sturdy lumberjacks, raftsmen, farmers, and woodsmen could forage for themselves, shoot ably, and make up an excellent rifle company. He was correct. Recruiting posters were distributed and headquarters were opened in Emporium, Cameron County, Benezette, Elk County, and Smethport, McKean County. Approximately seven hundred men were recruited to fill seven companies.

On April 23 three hundred men under the command of Kane marched to Driftwood, Cameron County, where they constructed large rafts to float down the Sinnemahoning River to Lock Haven. They then traveled by rail on the Sunbury and Erie Railroad from the Lycoming County seat to Harrisburg where they were eventually mustered in at Camp Curtin. Once at camp Kane’s group was augmented by another company from northern Pennsylvania, one from Chester County, and another from Perry County to meet the requirement of ten companies to complete a regiment. The regiment was known by many different names including the First Pennsylvania Rifles, the Kane Rifles, and the Thirteenth Regiment of the newly formed Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. As part of the Union army the unit officially became the Forty-Second Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, forever to be popularly known as the Bucktail Regiment.

The Bucktail Regiment saw action at many battles and is considered to be among the hardest fighting and bravest units of the Civil War. The Bucktails fought at two dozen battles, among them Gettysburg, South Mountain, Spotsylvania, and the Wilderness. They fought in all of the sixteen major Eastern Theater battles except Chancellorsville because they were needed to guard Washington, D.C. Their losses were staggering. Of the 1,200 men who fought as Bucktails, 11 officers and 151 enlisted soldiers were killed or died of wounds; 1 officer and 92 soldiers died of disease; 29 officers and 395 soldiers were wounded; and 12 officers and 24 soldiers were captured or reported missing in action.

To commemorate the regiment’s bravery the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) erected state historical markers at the McKean County Courthouse, Smethport, in 1949 (pictured) and along the Bucktail Trail Highway at Driftwood the following year. In 1980 PHMC unveiled a marker honoring Kane at the Thomas L. Kane Memorial Chapel in Kane, also named in his honor.

 

2013 Marker Dedications

April 13 Rebecca Harding Davis, Washington
April 14 SPAHS Basketball Team, Philadelphia
May 1 Patrick C. Boyle, Oil City
May 15 Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia

 

The editor acknowledges the assistance of Richard C. Saylor, archivist with the Pennsylvania State Archives and author of Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania’s Civil War Veterans Who Became State Leaders, published by PHMC in 2010.