Marker Text: At the call of Col. Thos. L. Kane, 100 Civil War volunteers assembled here on Apr. 24, 1861, to go to Harrisburg. Tails of buck deer, worn as distinctive insignia, provided the name of the famed 42d Regiment, of which they were the core.
Location: On U.S. Route 6 in front of the McKean County Court House, Smethport, PA. Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1948. Two other markers are in front of courthouse, “Smethport” and “McKean County.”
Monument to the men who served during the Civil War from this county in front of the McKean County Courthouse.
In the weeks following the surrender of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and with other southern states considering succession. Abraham Lincoln issued a request on April 15, 1861 for 75,000 volunteers to sign up for 90 day enlistments. In communities both north and south, they took action to form military regiments for a fight they knew that was about to happen. This marker in McKean County, Pennsylvania observes the formation of one among hundreds that were to form in the coming months and one of Pennsylvania's most famous Civil War units, called the “The Bucktails.”
Thomas L. Kane, an abolitionist lawyer from Pennsylvania, was at his home in Philadelphia, taking a break from his railroad and mining interests, when the call came. The adventurous young man immediately wired Governor Andrew Curtin with this message: "Will you accept a Company of horse to be raised by me in Elk and McKean Counties. I can leave tonight and bring down my men in a week. My offer of service is unconditional."
His offer was accepted and by April 17th he was in Smethport, Pennsylvania recruiting men from McKean, Cameron, and Elk counties. He chose this area to recruit because he was familiar with it and he knew this area had the type of men with the rifle skills to build an effective regiment. The men in this region of Pennsylvania knew how to take care of themselves in this rough wilderness area. Men possessing a determined character and had strong, rugged physical abilities, and accustomed to handling guns. The mix of Kane's bold personality combined with the patriotic passion that ran high due to the announcement of the recent firing on Fort Sumter, recruiting men occurred quickly.
The Bucktails marker in front of McKean Co. Courthouse with McKean County marker in the background on the right.
Kane eventually ended up with 315 men who would become apart of a three brigade system of 1,165 soldiers. Of the thirteen regiments of infantry spread throughout these brigades, only one, the 13th was a rifle regiment. The 1st Pennsylvania Rifles obtained their famous moniker of "The Bucktails" even before they began their service in the Union army. The story is told that recruit James Landregan stood outside the McKean County Courthouse (near where this marker is) when he looked across the street and noticed a freshly killed deer hanging in the window of the butcher shop. For a reason known only to him, he went to the shop, removed the tail, and mounted it to his cap. Kane, when he saw the emblem, decided to call his unit of tough woodsmen the "The Bucktails". Each man was to have his own bucktail, taken from a deer he personally slew and served as a witness to their skill as a marksman with a rifle. A less common name for the regiment was the "Bucktailed Wildcats" as most of the men came from what was known as the Wildcat District. The district was famous for the boisterously savage nature of its men most of whom were rugged individuals over six feet tall.
Thomas L. Kane was educated in England and France, Kane was a lawyer who had founded the town named after him in McKean County. Kane 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.
The Bucktails officially were designated the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the unit was also known as the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles, and the Kane Rifles. Kane was elected colonel by his men, but Kane recognizing his lack of military skill, deferred to a more competent leader and instead became lieutenant colonel. The men hailed from the counties of Tioga, Cameron, Warren, Elk, McKean, Clearfield, Perry, Carbon, and Chester. In the spring of 1862, the Bucktails were divided in half. Four companies served under Kane's leadership in the Shenandoah Valley, while the other six fought in the Peninsula Campaign at Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, and Glendale.
The Bucktails fought with distinction at Drainesville, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Charles City Crossroads, Harrisonburg, Port Republic, Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. They gained such a reputation as excellent sharpshooters and skirmishers that Secretary of War Stanton requested an additional brigade of Bucktails in 1862. Twenty companies were raised and formed the 149th and 150th Pennsylvania regiments. They also called themselves the Bucktails, but their adoption of the name and the deer tail was not taken well by the original companies, who mockingly called these upstarts the "Bogus Bucktails" or the "New Bucktails”.
Prior to Gettysburg their most famous encounter was at the Battle of Harrisonburg, where they clashed with Stonewall Jackson and Turner Ashby. During the battle they, killed Turner Ashby east of Harrisonburg, where a monument in memory of Ashby exists today. Although outnumbered by nearly five to one, they inflicted such high casualties that Confederate General Dick Ewell honored them by allowing the 1st Maryland to attach a captured bucktail to their colors.
After the battle of Gettysburg, the Bucktails remained in service until they were mustered out on June 13, 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 or in Confederate prisons; and another 442 men were wounded but recovered.