The regiment was raised during August and September 1861 from companies raised in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Berks counties by Richard H. Rush, who had been authorized to do so by Governor Curtin. Rush was appointed Colonel of the regiment, with John H. M'Arthur as lieutenant colonel and C. Ross Smith and Robert Morris as majors. At the suggestion of Major George B. McClellan, the men were armed with Austrian lances. After several weeks of training in Philadelphia, the regiment was transferred to Washington, D.C., where it was assigned to the Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac.
The regiment served with the army during the Peninsula Campaign and Maryland Campaign, skirmishing many times but seeing no heavy fighting. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, it served as the provost guard for the Center Grand Division's rear. It was absent during the Battle of Chancellorsville, participating instead in Stoneman's Raid.
In the May 1863, the regiment was rearmed with Sharps carbines and assigned to the Reserve Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division. It fought in the Gettysburg Campaign and Mine Run Campaign. The following year it fought in the Overland Campaign and Sheridan's Valley Campaign among the Valley Campaigns of 1864. In September, the regiment's original enlistments expired, and the unit was reorganized for an additional three years. Following the Appomattox Campaign, it was ordered to Washington, D.C., where it was consolidated with the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry and 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry to form the 2nd Pennsylvania Provisional Cavalry. The combined regiment was sent to Louisville, Kentucky, where it was mustered out in August 1865.