Hero Highlight: Byron Talman, 22nd NY Cavalry by Guest Author Anne van Leeuwen
Introduction by Vicki Masters Profitt, Illuminated History:
Last spring, I came into contact with Jon Tallman, a descendant of the Perinton, New York, Talman family. I asked Jon if he would be interested in writing a Hero Highlight about Byron Talman for Illuminated History. Jon declined because he felt the story should be told by a direct descendant. Jon gave me contact information for Anne van Leeuwen, Byron’s great-great-granddaughter. Anne is descended from Byron through his daughter, Ida Mae Talman. Anne graciously accepted the offer to write a Hero Highlight about her ancestor. Here, in Anne’s words, is
While this article is about Perinton’s Byron Talman (1838-1909) and the capture of Confederate raider Harry Gilmor, it is largely about the 22nd NY Cavalry, sometimes called “the Rochester Cavalry.”
The 22nd NY Cavalry existed during the last eighteen months of the Civil War, when fighting closed on the Confederate capital in Virginia. Much of this time, the 22nd NY Cavalry regiment was assigned to the 3rd Division of the Cavalry Corps. The 3rd was commanded by Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, who had established his reputation at Gettysburg. The Cavalry Corps was under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Alfred T. N. Torbet who reported to Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Sheridan’s battle experiences included Stones River, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga.
The 22nd participated in two great campaigns — the Overland Campaign and the (Shenandoah) Valley Campaign. During the Overland Campaign, Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps was attached to Grant’s Army of the Potomac as it progressed southward toward the Confederate capital, fighting battles at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. When battle lines became entrenched at Richmond and Petersburg, Grant made Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps into the autonomous Army of the Shenandoah. Their mission was to halt Confederate military operations in western Virginia and to eliminate the threat of attack on Washington. The Valley Campaign fought battles at Opequon (Winchester), Cedar Creek, and Waynesboro. All of these battles, from the Wilderness to Waynesboro, are considered major battles, critical to the war’s outcome. The 22nd fought them all within a six month period and suffered high casualties.
The legacy of the 22nd and the Cavalry Corps is significant. When the war began, the Union Army had no effective cavalry. In contrast, the Confederacy had the illustrious cavalryman J.E.B. Stuart. By the end of the campaigns, Stuart had been removed and the reputations of Generals Sheridan, and Custer were established. In his farewell address to the division, Custer said, “In the past six months, although confronted by superior numbers,… you have never lost a gun, never lost a color, and have never been defeated.”
At Perinton in October 1863, Talman was among the first to enlist in Company A of the 22nd NY Cavalry. As more men volunteered, Companies B through M were formed. Talman was 25, had a wife, and had already sailed the Atlantic and Mediterranean. His father was an abolitionist who had campaigned for Lincoln in Perinton and Rochester. Talman was a First Sergeant during the Overland Campaign. For the Shenandoah Campaign, he was commissioned as an officer in Company H. Later, he would command Company M and would frequently be in command of the battalion or regiment.
Talman received a gunshot wound to his left arm at Opequon (Winchester). There are several accounts. General Custer reported, “The enemy upon our approach delivered a well-directed volley of musketry, but before a second discharge could be given my command was in their midst, sabering right and left.” Talman’s brother, a journalist and historian, wrote, “he was shot in the left arm while leading a charge, but fought on until, faint from loss of blood, his colonel forced him to the rear.” In his promotion to Captain and to the command of Company M, the Army record cited his “gallant and meritorious services at the Battle of Winchester, Va.” One press release stated, “the [22nd NY Cavalry] regiment captured four of the nine battle flags,” and credits Talman among others. These flags were presented by Custer and Sheridan to Secretary of War Stanton.
Major Harry Gilmor was a Confederate raider who destroyed railroad bridges near Washington in Maryland and West Virginia. As the Confederacy grew desperate, Gilmor terrorized civilians and burned towns, such as Chambersburg, PA, entirely to the ground.
According to another regimental history of that time, Sheridan had scouts, Union soldiers who had been selected with for their courage and fitness for this dangerous work. They tracked Gilmor, and on 4 Feb 1865, they found him in bed, sound asleep, his revolver on a chair nearby. Gilmor was imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
Byron Talman’s role in Gilmor’s capture is unclear. The story was not told during Talman’s life, but it is consistent with the known facts.
- Was Talman ever a scout for Sheridan? In the Monroe County Mail for 13 Feb 1919, Talman’s brother says, “In the Battle of the Wilderness, Byron led a squad of troopers detailed to carry dispatches between Gen. Grant and his corps commanders [who included Sheridan] and half the time was inside the Confederate lines.” This is consistent with deployment of the regiment at the Wilderness.
- Was Talman serving as Sheridan’s scout in February 1865? The Army record indicates that he was present but unattached to a unit from January through March 1865.
- Was Talman involved with Gilmor’s capture? In the Monroe County Mail for 19 Feb 1929, Talman’s brother writes, “It was he, single-handed, who captured Major Harry Gilmor, the Confederate officer, after pursuing him three days and three nights without sleep. It was a bit singular that the two men, both large and powerful, were almost doubles.”
This account of “single-handed” capture mocks Gilmor, who was an exceptional braggart, boasting in the newspapers and defying his pursuers. If Talman was indeed alone when he captured Gilmor, he was certainly one of many involved in the pursuit.
After the war, Talman lived a quiet life as a farmer in the Midwest and was buried in 1909 near his grandchildren in Williams, Iowa. Tragically, an 1896 tuberculosis epidemic had taken the lives of his grandchildren — except my grandfather Frank.
 The 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, by SC Farrar, 1911. This unit also served in the Army of the Shenandoah, and many of its soldiers were from Chambersburg, which was burned by Gilmor.
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