monument at Gettysburg marking the high water mark of the Confederacy- including the 125th
July 1-3, 1862- 150 years ago-, the Union and Confederate Armies clashed in and around the small city of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Even people who know nothing about the Civil War know of the battle of Gettysburg. For those of us in upstate New York, this is the closest Civil War battlefield, which lets us know that it marks the farthest north the Confederate armies reached in the war, or as they call it at Gettysburg, “the high water mark of the Confederacy.” Gettysburg is about 350 miles from Schaghticoke, about 225 miles south of Binghamton, NY.
At the beginning of the summer of 1863, the Confederacy was in trouble. The Union Armies were growing and putting more and more pressure on Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capitol. In the West, the Union Army of the Tennessee under General Ulysses S. Grant had Vicksburg, Mississippi under siege. If Vicksburg fell, the Mississippi River would belong to the Union, and Confederate communications with the western part of its territory would be ended. It was increasingly difficult to supply the Confederate Armies, with the South having been fought over so many times. The solution of General Robert E. Lee to this dilemma was to invade the North. He had been stopped in his previous effort, in September 1862, at Antietam, Maryland, but set out again, heading for Pennsylvania. Lee and his Army had success at the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia on May 3, 1863. He moved on. He also hoped that continued success would bring the aid of Great Britain.
This time the invasion was halted at Gettysburg, where the Union Army of the Potomac with 90,000 men under General George Gordon Meade defeated 70,000 Confederates under Lee over the first three days of July. 11,000 men, about 5,500 on each side, died over the three days. On July 4, Vicksburg fell. The two losses sealed the eventual defeat of the Confederacy, though the bloody war would go on for almost two more years.
That’s the big picture, but let’s makes it more local. The Rensselaer County Regiment, the 125th NY Infantry Regiment, fought at the battle of Gettysburg. About 500 of its men were involved, with losses of 26 killed, 104 wounded, and 9 missing, about ¼ of its number. The 100 men of Company K of the 125th were almost all from Schaghticoke and Pittstown.
The 125th had spent the winter and spring in camp at Centreville, Virginia, being trained, but also suffering some boredom. The “Troy Times” newspaper reporter, Henry Wheeler, had reported a spirited baseball game between men of the 125th and an artillery battery from Pennsylvania on April 29. Then he reported that at the end of June, the 125th had marched from Centreville, crossing the Potomac River on a pontoon bridge, plodding all night into Maryland, reaching Monocacy Junction Maryland on June 28. They marched 50 miles in 4 days, 3 of the days in the rain. Then on June 29, they marched to Uniontown, Maryland, 33 miles in one day, also in the rain. They rested on June 30, and stragglers had a chance to catch up. We know now that the long march occurred as the Union Generals finally figured out where the Confederates were headed and sent its Army to meet them.
Col. George Willard, killed on July 2 at Gettysburg
On the first day of the battle, they were still arriving at the field, but the 125th was in place in Gettysburg on July 2, the bands playing as they deployed near Cemetery Hill. They watched the fighting at Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard all that day from behind a stone wall, finally going into action at 7 p.m., as the sun was setting. The Union Army was being pushed back and had to be stopped or the battle would be lost. They charged General Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade, driving it back in fierce fighting. Their Colonel, George Lamb Willard, was killed in the assault, along with 100 others, in just a half an hour.
map from the NPS showing the location of the 125th at the time of Pickett’s Charge
On July 3, they were back behind their stone wall. They suffered through several hours of an artillery barrage by the Confederates before Pickett’s Charge at 1:30 p.m. Fortunately, the Confederate artillery was aimed a bit long, and the cannon shot and shells landed beyond them. When the barrage ceased, they watched as Pickett’s Charge, the valiant attack of 12,500 Confederate infantry over a mile toward entrenched Union positions, came toward them, opening fire when ordered. A few of the Confederates made it to the wall, but they were quickly killed, and the survivors retreated with 50% casualties. The battle was over. The 125th was located just a few yards from the grove of trees that was the focal point of the charge, and is labeled today as “the High Water Mark of the Confederacy.”
July 4 it rained on the dead and wounded. People at home knew that there had been a great battle by that time, and must have been very anxious about their soldier relatives. The “Troy Times” reported on July 11 that Company K, mostly made up of men from Schaghticoke, had lost Lafayette Travis, killed, and Lt. Lee Churchill, Sgt. WW VanSchaack, Corporal McMurray, Morgan Wood, C. White, J. Mabb, WN Tice, George Kelsey, HL Bliss, CJ Crandall, J. Conlon, JK Simons, W. Fisher wounded, and AJ and CJ Doty, missing. This is not a terribly accurate list, as I will explain later. In addition, the “Troy Times” reporter, who was a soldier, and not just a reporter with the troops, had a foot shot off in the battle. The intrepid young man was already reporting again by July 8.
We are fortunate to have both the account of the “Troy Times” reporter of the battle and that of our own Lt. George Bryan, of Schaghticoke, who wrote home about the battle to his friend Jennie Ackart. The reporter wrote, “How well, nobly, and bravely the men fought. …they pressed forward to wipe out forever the name of Harpers Ferry.” The 125th had traveled from Troy to the front in September 1862, just in time to surrender with 10,000 other Union troops, when they were surrounded by General Stonewall Jackson’s Army at Harpers Ferry. Though the surrender was not their fault in the slightest, it had earned them a reputation as cowards, which they now erased forever.
Lt. George Bryan of Schaghticoke described his experiences in the battle of Gettysburg in letters home
George Bryan wrote of his own experiences at Gettysburg, “I was in the sharpest of the fight but did not get a scratch. There were men killed on all sides of me…I do not see how I escaped unharmed…I was no coward, I would sooner be killed than be called a coward. ..after the fight, the dead and wounded lay very thick, so thick that you had to be careful not to walk on them.” Of the artillery barrage preceding Pickett’s Charge, he wrote, “…It was like one loud peal of thunder. Pieces of iron filled the air like hailstones.” Then on the night of July 3, after the battle was over, “I laid down to sleep, but it was impossible to sleep. Just over the fence…was hundreds of wounded…some praying, some cursing, others groaning and dying.” For two days, he and his men were sent out to go over the battlefield, and pick up weapons left behind. Then they marched away,..”there was such a stench that it was hard to stay near the field…the ground was still covered with dead men and horses, and destroyed cannons, old guns and broken wagons.” This was the baptism by fire for the 125th- none of the men had known how they would react in battle; now they knew.
Monument to the 125th on the battlefield at Gettysburg
George also wrote of men he knew who were killed or wounded. My own research has found that Sgt. William VanSchaack, a 42-year old family man from the village was severely wounded. He never went back to the 125th, but did serve in the Veterans Reserve Corps, made up of men who had been ill or wounded and were well enough to guard Washington, D.C., but not to go back to regular duty. He was able to practice his trade as a sign, carriage and ornamental painter while in Baltimore, before coming home. However, he was disabled by his wound, and died in 1885.
Morgan L. Wood, the 22-year old 4th Corporal, was wounded as well. He was also a painter, apprentice to and only son of carriage painter William Wood. Morgan died of his wounds on July 21 in a hospital in Newark, New Jersey. His body was transported home for burial in Elmwood Cemetery.
One of George Bryan’s good friends, Chauncey Crandall, was also wounded. He was 19 years old, son of a farmer from town. Chauncey had been ill for some time in fall and winter of 1862, but recovered. After the battle, George reported that he had been wounded in the shoulder and “lay out in the rain all night. He was quite weak and exhausted. I did not think it was dangerous. I went to see him…” But George had to march on with the regiment, leaving Chauncey in a makeshift hospital He died July 9, and is buried in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg in Section A, site 90. This is the cemetery dedicated in November of 1863, where President Lincoln gave his now famous “Address.” Why his parents did not have his body transported home, we do not know.
monument in the Gettysburg National Cemetery marking the spot where Lincoln spoke
New York Monument at the Gettysburg National Cemetery
James E. Mabb was a 34-year old farmer with a family. His military record card reports he was “sick” as of July 2, but he certainly was wounded. Years later he reported that he had been wounded in the shoulder and leg. He survived the war, though somewhat disabled, and lived until at least 1900.
John McMurry was an Irish immigrant who lived in Pittstown just before the war. He was 18, and a good soldier, who was promoted to Corporal just before Gettysburg. He was wounded in the battle and lost an arm. He recovered at the hospital at Fort Schuyler in New York harbor, and was discharged from the service in December. John lived on his pension for the rest of his life. He married, but had no children, participated in the Veterans Association of the 125th, and lived until at least 1900.
William Tice was 25 years old when he enlisted in the 125th. He had worked both as a farmer and a cooper before the war. He had gone absent without leave in winter of 1862, but returned to duty in the spring of 1863. He was wounded at Gettysburg, but returned to duty, only to be wounded again in August of 1864. He recovered again, and made it through the rest of the war. He came back to Schaghticoke and made kegs for the Schaghticoke Powder Company for a while. He moved to Michigan, where his parents already lived, and stayed there the rest of his life. He was active in the Grand Army of the Republic- the big association of veterans- and survived until about 1890.
Lafayette Travis was a wagon maker from the area, who enlisted in the 125th at age 23. He was killed on July 3 – probably during Pickett’s Charge. His body was returned home and is buried in the Millertown Cemetery in Pittstown.
Chauncey White was also killed at the battle of Gettysburg. He was a farm laborer born in Stillwater, who worked at farms all around the area before he enlisted in the 125th at age 27. He also was absent without leave for the winter of 1862, but returned to duty in April. He was married to a woman named Malissa Myers from Schaghticoke, and they had two small children. She thought he had died at the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862- so maybe he didn’t go home when he was AWOL? I’m sad to say I don’t know where Chauncey was buried, though the National Cemetery at Gettysburg includes the graves of many “unknowns.” Atwater Lohnes, another local man, who was in the 104th NY Infantry, was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg and died there in August. I did not find where he was buried either.
The biggest loss for the 125th NY Infantry Regiment was its Colonel. George Lamb Willard was killed in the attack on the evening of July 2. His body was immediately returned to Troy and he was buried from his father-in-law’s home, 57 2nd Street, (now the Rensselaer County Historical Society) on July 9. He is in Oakwood Cemetery.
the author of the blog at the 125th monument on the battlefield at Gettysburg
The Battlefield at Gettysburg is well worth a visit. There is a gorgeous museum and the battlefield is filled with beautiful monuments. The National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation offer many specialized tours. If you like crowds, go this summer. If not, it will be there whenever you are ready to go. You can stand on the exact spot where the Schaghticoke boys of the 125th stood, peering across the field as Pickett’s men advanced, and put yourself in their place as they experienced a pivotal battle of the Civil War.
Sticklemyer, Joe, “Friend Jennie”
NY Monument Commission, “New York at Gettysburg”
Clark, Champ, “Gettysburg”
“Troy Times”, articles from June-July 1863
Ancestry.com: NYS Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts
Federal Census: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890. 1900. 1910. 1920
NYS Census: 1855, 1865
Cemetery records of Rensselaer County