Though the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is over, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues. Just after Gettysburg, in mid- July 1863, the Federal government instituted the first ever draft. It was clear that even with all the volunteers, more men were needed for the armed forces. All men from 20 to 45 were required to enroll. This set off violent draft riots in Troy and New York City. Poor Irish immigrants resented that the wealthy could buy their way out of the draft and that their black competitors for low wage jobs couldn’t be drafted- yet the war had become a fight for their freedom.
draft wheel in the collection of the NYS Div. of Military and Naval Affairs
Once the riots were put down, the draft proceeded without incident at the office of the Provost Marshall in Troy. From July to October of 1863, the Troy “Times” reported daily news of the draft from all over the Northeast- mostly oddities, like a dead man being drafted. As with the draft for Vietnam, men were classified. Class I included all men from 20-35 and unmarried men as old as 45. Class II included married men from 35-45. The draft only took men from Class I.
In early July 1863, the “Times” printed the forms which men could file for exemptions from the draft. Exemptions could be obtained on the basis of physical or mental disability, if a man was the only son of a widow or aged couple dependent upon him, if a man was the brother of children of 12 years or younger having no parents, or the father of motherless children 12 years of age or younger. In a family where there were two or more sons dependent on the mother or aged parents, the mother would choose which son would be exempt. No one convicted of a felony could be drafted. Men could pay $300 or hire a substitute to avoid service, the portion of the law which set off the riots.
Some unscrupulous men made quite a business of becoming substitutes, then deserting and enlisting under another name. As higher and higher bounties were paid for enlistees as the war went on and on, the unscrupulous would also enlist for the bounty, desert, and re-enlist under another name.
The list of those subject to the draft was completed on July 10. In Pittstown, there were 398 white men and 1 colored man in Class I, 145 white men in Class II. In Lansingburgh, which included the southern section of today’s Schaghticoke, class I included 635 white men and 15 colored, class II, 229 white men and 1 colored man. In Schaghticoke, evidently smaller in population than Pittstown because of its truncated size (southern border on the Deep Kill), there were 269 white men and 4 colored in Class I and 142 white men in Class II.
The draft was finally conducted beginning at the end of August for the Congressional district including Rensselaer County and southern Washington County. Only men for one town were drawn each day in the Provost Marshall’s office in Troy. When the draft was conducted for Schaghticoke on September 3, the quota was just 77 men. The “Times” reported that in a few towns, including Lansingburgh, the conscripts gathered and marched through the streets in a celebratory way, an interesting response. The newspaper began to identify the occupations of some of those drafted in Troy.
Meanwhile, drafted men began to file exemptions, which the paper also reported. In Schaghticoke, nineteen men filed notice of physical disability; four paid the $300, four were aliens, and evidently not subject to the draft. One man was the father of motherless children, one the only son of a widow, two were too young, and one a non-resident. Six were transferred to Class II, evidently newly married or aged out. Twenty men were reported “held open.” I don’t know what that means. Only 21 men were left, less than a third of those drafted. And after examining the list of men, I can only find three who actually served in the military- two in the Navy, one in the Artillery.
Apparently, the men who continued to volunteer for the military through the draft period counted toward each locality’s required total for the draft up until mid-October 1863. The “Times” eventually reported in November that enough men had volunteered in Troy so that no one in the city would have to be drafted. This was a very complicated system to be sure. Perhaps this accounting is why only three Schaghticoke men ended up serving after being drafted. I found that just a few more than that ended up serving in Pittstown. I would love to know how the draft turned out elsewhere, as having only three men enlist of 77 drafted seems a big waste of time, money, upset, and manpower to conduct the exercise.
Our local boy, George Bryan, Lieutenant in the 125th NY Infantry, wrote home to his friend Jennie Ackart on September 7, 1863, “I know you are having very exciting times in Schaghticoke about the draft,” and “I saw a paper from Troy, the list of drafted from Schaghticoke…I do not think there will be more than half of the number drafted come as they will pay the $300.” George speculated if he would pay to get out if he were home and subject to the draft, but concluded he wouldn’t have had the money. In fact, as I stated, just four men paid the $300. William H. Buckley was a fairly well-off farmer, and Chauncey Kinney a young married farmer, not well-off, but perhaps supported by his father, who lived nearby. Daniel Viall was a young carpenter with lots of family support, and Humphrey Stearnes, a 32 year old married shoemaker. From this sample, these were not the stereotypical type of person predicted to buy his way out- wealthy land or factory owners.
Apparently at the same time there was a rumor that George was going to resign his commission and come home, but he denied that vigorously to Jennie. He said, “Jennie, I often feel as though I had ought to be at home with my father and mother as they are getting to be quite old…Yet how can I be a soldier and stay at home and have others do the fighting…I am going to be where my Regiment is.”
So George and the local regiments continued to serve. The 125th NY and the men of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, went from Gettysburg to camp at Elk Run, Virginia, just west of Washington, D.C. George and many other men were sick following Gettysburg. He had what he called “intermittent fever,” and was unable to eat for days. Somehow he survived, never being hospitalized, finally being “as well as ever” by September 1.
In the wider war, Union troops were defeated at the battle of Chickamauga, Tennessee on September 19-20. As a result, two Army Corps were moved from the Army of the Potomac in Virginia to the West, including the Washington County Regiment, the 123rd NY Infantry. General Lee sought to take advantage of this and attack, trying again to get at the city of Washington, D.C. This meant that after a hiatus, the 125th New York again was engaged in battle. Over several days in October 1863, the Union Army under Generals Meade and Warren and the Confederates under General A.P. Hill skirmished in the area around Bristoe Station, Virginia, slightly west and south of Washington.
The major engagement, called the battle of Bristoe Station, occurred on October 14. The Union Army was gradually retreating toward fortifications at Centreville, Virginia when the Confederates came upon it. Rebel General Hill ordered an attack without much thought or preparation. The Unions soldiers were all behind the railroad, well protected by its embankment, as the Confederates charged. According to the website of the Bristoe Station Battlefield, many of the same men who faced each other at Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg were facing each other again. The 125th was right in the middle of the line. George Bryan wrote to Jennie that the attacking Rebels “fell like grass before a sigh (sic).” The 125th captured 500 prisoners and a number of cannon with very little loss. They moved on after dark to the fortifications at Centreville, having won a decisive victory.
Map of the battle of Bristoe Station. The 125th is just above the word Owen in the center of the Union line
The Troy “Times” reported that the 125th had been in a battle just a day later, though it took a few days for the whole story to emerge. By October 16, a partial list of killed and wounded was printed. “hearts will beat anxiously until further tidings are received from Colonel Crandell’s noble regiment.” (Colonel Crandell had taken over the 125th after the death of Colonel Willard at Gettysburg.) The October 20 edition featured a long first-person account by the “Times” reporter in the regiment. “We whipped the rebels yesterday afternoon at Bristoe Station…the regiment made a grand charge and drove the enemy to its works.” The official report by Colonel Crandell was printed on October 28. All of this information must have been read avidly by the families of the men.
In a letter to Jennie, George Bryan reported that John Bacon of Company K had been wounded. John was eventually discharged as his wounded leg didn’t heal well enough for him to return to duty. A second Company K man, George Wolf, was also wounded. He served through the end of the war, but was thereafter reported as “permanently impaired.” Interestingly, Bryan did not mention that two men from Company K, William Carr and John Conlon, somehow had been captured during the action. They ended up at Andersonville Prison in Georgia, where they died in August and September of 1864.
During November, several lieutenants and sergeants of the 125th transferred to become officers in the newly forming U.S. Colored Troops. One, Jacob Francis Force , was a local man. Another local, Henry Lay Bliss, transferred in March 1864. . A large percentage of black men in the North enlisted to fight in the Civil War after the publication of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states, and added ending slavery to the original focus of the war, reunification of the country. The “colored troops” were led by white officers. Veteran soldiers who were ambitious for promotion and zealously anti-slavery left their units to become these officers.
Jacob Francis Force was born in Stillwater in 1843, the son of John, a shoemaker, and Hannah Adams Force. He enlisted in Schaghticoke in Company K in August 1862 with the others, a private who gave his occupation as clerk. He had been promoted to First Sergeant by June, so must have had some talent as a soldier and leader. The Regimental History of the 125th records that he could call the roll of the 100 men of the Company from memory as its orderly sergeant. When he departed to become a lieutenant in the 22nd Regiment US Colored Troops, the men of Company K present him with a saber, belt, and gloves, in honor of his excellent service as their sergeant.
Jacob was promoted to Captain by May 4, 1864. His troops were heavily involved in the battle for Richmond and the siege of Petersburg through 1864. He was wounded in September 1864 in an assault at Fort Harrison and was discharged for disability following the removal of some inches of bone from his upper left arm. This life-long disability did not prevent him from attending Albany Medical College and becoming a doctor by 1871. He had married a woman named Sarah who was from Valatie, by 1868, as by the 1870 census they had a 2-year-old son named Frank.
The Forces had moved to Minnesota by the 1875 census, when they had a second son, Charles. Jacob was a doctor in Minnesota for many years. He also lectured at the Minnesota college of Physicians and College of Pharmacy and was director of a life insurance company. Jacob was definitely involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, the association of Civil War veterans. A photo shows him standing next to the monument to the 125th Regiment at Gettysburg, probably about the time of its dedication in 1888.
Dr. Force at the 125th Monument at the battlefield at Gettysburg
In 1901, Dr. Force applied for a passport and headed for Europe. By 1912 he was a retired doctor in Pasadena, California, when he applied for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution. He lived in Pasadena until his death in 1924. His name appears on plaque 38 of the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Also during November, on the 19th, President Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate the new cemetery on the site of the battle of July 1-3. I have always read, and read again in Sandy McBride’s most recent wonderful article in these pages, that at the time, what came to be known as Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was poorly received. But the Troy “Times” newspaper printed the following report on the ceremonies on November 20, 1863.
“The address of Mr. Everett was one of his most elaborate productions. There seems to be universal disappointment that he should have confined himself so closely to history and a rehearsal of it; still his eloquent exordium and brilliant peroration compensate in great measure for apparent heaviness of historical detail.” The paper printed the closing paragraph of the two-hour speech by Edward Everett, the featured speaker of the day.
The paper went on, “President Lincoln’s address is so crisp and characteristic that we give it in full (also with indication of the applause of the crowd). There was long continued applause at the end.” An interesting contradiction to the conventional wisdom.
On the 23rd of November, the 125th Regiment, as part of the 2nd Corps in the Army of the Potomac, moved from camp near Centreville, Virginia, heading southwest, crossing the Rapidan River, aiming for General Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. This territory had been fought over at least twice already in the war, and was only a few miles from the future site of the battle of the Wilderness. The Armies ended up facing off across a stream called Mine Run. The 2nd Corps under General Warren was on the far left of the Army. Interestingly, General Joseph Bradford Carr of Troy commanded another part of the Army.
On November 28, the 125th Regiment was put on picket and skirmishing duty. Both activities were dangerous, putting the men in the closest contact with their enemies. The Regimental History of the 125th noted that their Colonel, Colonel Crandell, had the men build shelters so that no one was killed or injured. The previous regiment on duty had had to operate in an open field and suffered a number of casualties.
George Bryan wrote to his friend Jennie in letter dated December 5, that “I escaped safe although there was quite a number of shots fired at me.” The skirmish line was two hundred yards from the enemy, and the men on duty were relieved during the day. They had to leave their small earthwork shelters, about three rods (1 rod=16.5 feet) apart and run back to the regiment in the woods. “As soon as we showed any part of our body the Rebs would fire a volley at us.” Bryan, as Sergeant, had to run from post to post, so was under fire more than the others. He said he began to feel he was “fire proof.” He also reported that the 1000 man regiment was “getting very small.” Between desertions, injuries, deaths, and furloughs, it numbered just 231 men.
On November 29, the Union Army lined up to face the rebels, who had had time to entrench and build formidable earthworks. The men knew they would face stiff resistance and would suffer many casualties, but were ready to fight. At the last moment, the generals, with General Meade in command, decided the odds were too great and on the night of November 30 quietly withdrew the whole army, back across the Rapidan to winter camp around the city of Washington.
Now a major disaster befell the 125th Regiment, and especially Company K. When the Army retreated, the officer on duty, who was not from the 125th, neglected to send word to those exposed pickets. On December 3 the Troy “Times” reporter who was also in the 125th stated that it was feared that the pickets had been captured by the Confederates, but it was too early to know. Finally on December 12, the paper published a list, company by company of the forty-one pickets who had in fact been captured by the Confederates, including five from Company K. All of the captives were a privates, except for a couple of Corporals, and one Sergeant, Job Grant of Schaghticoke. The families of the soldiers reading the paper must have been in agony waiting to know. The other Schaghticoke boys were Douglas Fisher, Fred Scharp, James K. Simons, and Alexander Whyland.
Of course all 1000 of the men of the 125th had been captured by the Confederates just two weeks into their service at the fall of Harpers Ferry in September 1862. At the time, they were in a parole camp in Chicago for a couple of months, exchanged, and returned to duty. Perhaps they and their families thought something similar would happen this time. Unfortunately, the policy of both armies changed about this time. Captives had been exchanged one for one by both armies, but with the addition of the thousands of “colored” soldiers to the Union Army, the Confederates refused to treat them the same as the white captives. The Union response was to refuse to exchange captives, and the Confederates did the same. This resulted in a soaring prison population on both sides.
The Mine Run captives were first sent to Richmond’s Libby Prison and nearby Belle Island. Officers generally were held at Libby Prison through the war, and the privates and NCO’s went to Belle Island. A team of military surgeons from the Union Army inspected the prisons at the time and found the conditions beyond horrible, on to cruel. At first packages from the families were allowed, through a couple of conduits, but later not.
In early 1864 the Confederacy opened a new prison at Andersonville, Georgia, in the southwest part of the state, partly because it was a more isolated and hence secure location than Richmond, partly because theoretically there was more food available nearby. The captives of the 125th must have been among the first men transferred there in February. I will tell the rest of their sad story this summer.
sign near the location of the 125th at Mine Run
Mine Run..the wooded slope beyond it was denuded at the time of the battle. The 125th would have had to cross the stream and go up the slope while exposed to Confederate fire
Virginia is filled with preserved battlefields from both the Revolution and the Civil War. Many are National Park Service sites, some are State sites. Mine Run falls through the cracks because the battle never happened. It is little written about in accounts of the war, except of course the history of the 125th Regiment. Virginia and the National Park Service provide directions to various key locations of the Union and Confederate Armies for the days leading up to December 1. The NPS ranger at Petersburg was most helpful in providing me with information to help find the right spot. The area is quite rural and undeveloped, and not prosperous. There are a few historical markers, but a lot is left to the imagination of the visitor. My husband and I stopped at the stream, and worked to cut down all the trees in our minds, and people the heights with entrenched Confederates, the land by the creek with pickets.
The other Rensselaer County Regiment, the 169th, had a very different summer and fall. While the 125th headed to Gettysburg, they marched through Virginia to its coast- near Portsmouth- in mid-July. On August 2 they boarded a steam transport and sailed to Charleston, South Carolina.
The Union had decided that it was time to re-take the forts and city where the war began. On July 18, a direct assault on Fort Wagner had failed, resulting in many casualties. It was that battle that made dead heroes of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and many of his men in the 54th Massachusetts, a “colored” regiment. By the time the 169th arrived, the army and navy had settled into a siege. The Regiment encamped on Folly Island, just south of Charleston, and rotated in and out of manning the siege lines. Fort Wagner fell on September 7, 1863, but Charleston held out until 1865. The 169th stayed on until the end of the year. The Troy “Times” also reported on the developments- or lack of them- in the siege at Charleston, and about any illnesses or injuries of men of the regiment. In general their problem was illness from the poor living conditions, especially contaminated water, rather than injuries in battle.
With both of our local regiments in place for the winter, I will move on to other topics in this column. The information in the preceding columns is from the “Regimental History of the 125th,” George Bryan’s letters in “Friend Jennie,”, the “Troy Times”, and the newsletter of the 169th by Steve Wiezbicki, plus online records of New York State.