History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

Monthly Archives: March 2020

The First Captain of Company K, and the Colonel of the 125th Regiment

I will begin a series of bios of men with a connection to Schaghticoke who served in the Civil War with the first Captain of the company primarily raised in Schaghticoke, Company K, and continue with the heroic Colonel of the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment, George Lamb Willard.

John VanWort Vandenburgh

John V.W. Vandenburgh was the original Captain of Company K of the 125th. According to the “Regimental History of the 125th”, he was born in Schuylerville in 1833 and received a good education. After working as a carpenter and a master builder he went into the hardware business.  And there is a John V.W. Vandenburgh in the U.S. Census for the village of Schaghticoke in 1860- a 26- year- old hardware merchant with a wife, Lizzie.

While working in the hardware business, John set off on a military career as well. In 1856 he formed a N.Y.S. Militia unit called “the Black Plumed Rifles” and moved on to the “Ellsworth Zouaves” in 1858. The Regimental History calls him “the best drilled officer in the N.Y.S. Militia.” He was a friend of George Willard, Colonel of the 125th. The records of the N.Y.S. National Guard reflect this experience. John V.W. Vandenburgh was a Captain in the 29th Regiment in 1858, 1862, and 1863- and then a Major in the 106th and 107th Regiment in 1865 and 1867, after the war. Company K certainly started the war with an experienced leader, albeit not in combat.

 

john vandenburgh's muster card                                 John V. W. Vandenburgh’s NYS Muster card

 

George Bryan of Schaghticoke and Company K refers to Captain Vandenburgh in several of his letters home to Jennie Ackart. On September 25, 1862, he wrote, “At one time the shot and shell flew all around our company, yet not one moved from his place until ordered to by our captain. I sat next to the Captain smoking a cigar; none need doubt the courage of Captain Vandenburg.” He also refers to him as having accompanied the body of Ezra Burch home- Ezra died of typhoid fever while the company was paroled in Chicago in the winter of 1862, after having been captured at Harper’s Ferry. But Bryan was upset that Vandenburg only brought the body as far as Troy.

In January of 1863, Bryan stated that “he would make a good Field Officer.” But by March his opinion had changed. Bryan had been reassigned to Company D, and he stated “I have a good captain. He is far ahead of Captain Vandenburgh as concerning his morals.” By May, he stated that Vandenburgh had “been dismissed from the service of the US for altering a pass, but a slight offence to be dismissed from the service. He thinks he will be reinstated again. Time will tell.” In one part of Vandenburgh’s service records, it states he was dismissed on April 22, 1863 for disability, in another that it was for being absent without leave and altering a pass.

The Regimental History adds that John had received a 30-day sick leave in December 1862, extended by 40 days by a furlough. Some paper work was apparently lost, ending in John first being accused of being AWOL, then of falsifying a pass. After an appeal to President Lincoln, he was recommissioned on May 31, 1864, though he didn’t get reassigned to a regiment.

john vandenburgh letter

This letter was attached to Captain Vandenburgh’s record card.

 

An article in the “Troy Times” on June 13, 1865, reported that Captain Vandenburgh of the 125th had been promoted to Major.

After the war, John remained in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands until 1868. Better known simply as “the Freedmen’s Bureau,” this organization attempted to ease the transition of southern slaves to freedom by helping them find work and by providing education. Its mission was weakened by lack of funding by the time John left in 1868.  He then became a contractor in Washington, D.C., and acted as an aide to Henry D. Cook while he was Governor of the District of Columbia.

A tantalizing article in the “Saratoga Sentinel” on May 5, 1881 in the Stillwater column reports on Major John V.W. Vandenburgh, “a native of this town,” who “arrived here a few days ago from the wilds of Colorado.” It states that before the war, he was the captain of a “suave” (Zouave) company, and that he led his company to the front when the war began. “He survived the war”- quite an obvious statement, I should have thought- but perhaps the most that could be said about his service, given his problems, and “has been successful in many of his speculations, including some heavy jobs in Washington.” He was visiting George H. Lansing in Stillwater. What does “heavy  jobs” mean? His obituary states he was “engaged in mining and contracting in the West,” returning home when his health failed. (The Evening Star, August 27, 1892)

I have been unable to find John in any census after the war except the 1890 Veterans Schedule, when he merely stated that he had served in 1862.  He did stay in touch with the 125th Veterans Association, which gave his address as Brooklyn. He died in at Carroll Springs Sanitarium in Forest Glen, Maryland on August 12, 1892. 1892, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  John’s widow, Elizabeth M. applied for a widow’s pension on April 27, 1899 in Washington, D.C..

john vandenburgh tombstone

Tombstone of John VW Vandenburgh at Arlington National Cemetery

 

George Lamb Willard

George Willard was the first Colonel of the 125th Regiment. According to the Willard Genealogy, he was born in New York City in 1827, the son of John Moses and Susan Lamb Willard. John Willard was born in Saratoga in 1794. He began a career as a merchant there, then moved to New York. He died in 1834, leaving many young children. George enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the Mexican War. He was cited for gallantry at Chapultepec and promoted to Lieutenant. An 1847 enlistment book of the U.S. Army records he was 19- years- old, with hazel eyes, brown hair, a clerk who was 5’7” tall. The 1850 US Census listed Willard as a Lieutenant, aged 22, in a garrison in Milam, Texas.

george willard

George Lamb Willard

In 1854 George married Mary Gould Plum, the daughter of banker and businessman Elias Plum from Troy, NY.  I don’t know how he met her, perhaps through General John Wool, prominent citizen of Troy and another hero of the Mexican War.  The 1861 Troy City Directory shows George as a boarder in the Plum home, 57 2nd Street, now Historic Rensselaer County.  By the time the Civil War began, George was a Major in the 19th U.S. Infantry. When what became the 2nd NY Infantry Regiment began recruiting at the start of the war, the organizers tried to get Willard as its Colonel. At that point, the Regular Army refused to release him.

By the time the 125th began recruiting in July of 1862, the Army had realized that these volunteer regiments needed qualified Colonels, and they did release Willard. The Troy “Times” was full of stories about Willard’s imminent arrival to become Colonel all during July and August. He got there just in time to take charge as the regiment left on September 1 for Virginia.

george willard muster card

New York State Muster Card for George Willard

 

Of course George was in charge of the 125th when the whole garrison at Harpers Ferry was surrendered to Stonewall Jackson a couple of weeks later. He testified at a government investigation shortly afterwards that his men hadn’t even gotten to fire their weapons. A few sources say that the 125th ran from the Confederates. That was not the case, though the men later felt they had to overcome the shame of having to surrender without firing a shot.

At the battle of Gettysburg, George was put in charge of a brigade. He was shot and killed on the evening of July 2, 1863. A marker put up years later by his men marks the spot.  A small fort built during the war in Fairfax County, Virginia was named for him.

 

george willard gettysburgh

Marker to Colonel Willard on the battlefield at Gettysburg

 

George’s body was returned home to Troy for burial. His body lay in state at his wife’s home,  and a funeral procession accompanied his body to Oakwood Cemetery, where he was interred on July 9.

Mary Willard remained in her father’s house the rest of her life. She applied for a widow’s pension in 1864, but certainly didn’t need it. The 1870 US Census recorded her father as a leather dealer with real estate worth $90,000, and a personal estate of $400,000. She never remarried and died in 1888, aged 50.

 

george willard tombstone

Tombstone of George and Mary Willard at Oakwood Cemetery, Troy

 

 

 

The Schaghticoke Boys

c. 2014

I am now researching and writing the next section of the history of the town of Schaghticoke- c. 1920- while the “Mechanicville Express” is publishing the previous section , the town c. 1900. All of this will eventually go online, but meanwhile, I think I will put up the book I wrote in 2014 about all the men I could find with a connection to the town who served in the Civil War. I recently revised it. I have posted a couple of the bios previously, but there are hundreds more.

Introduction:

 

This document includes all the men I could find who fought in the Civil War and were in Schaghticoke for any period of time, before, during, and/or after the war. Some of the men were born here, some returned here just after the war; some came to town long after their service. Some never lived in Schaghticoke, but came to town to enlist in Company K of the 125th New York Infantry Regiment or other regiments.  I found them in various sources: the listing in the Schaghticoke portion of Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880; in the special listing of veterans in the 1865 New York State Census, the Schaghticoke portion; in the 1890 US Veteran Schedule- the only portion of the 1890 Federal Census which survived; on the official record cards of New York State Regiments; in Elmwood and St. John’s Cemeteries; in the official NYS list of men in the 125th Regiment; and in random places.

One might ask why I set out to do this, or why I included men who had only a tiny connection to our town- for example, just enlisting here. I feel that these men were truly the “greatest generation.” They were all volunteers (though men were drafted for the war), who fought and lived in awful conditions for a noble purpose- preservation of their country.  Some made the greatest sacrifice – their lives- knowing that their loved ones might never retrieve their bodies. Others suffered from illness or injuries incurred in the war all the rest of their lives. While I feel all Civil War veterans deserve more recognition than our society gives them, I can at least illuminate the lives and thereby honor those connected with our town.

In order to write about them, I primarily used the resources of ancestry.com, which includes the Federal Censuses, the record cards kept by New York State regiments, the Federal Pension index, the New York State Draft books of 1863, the reports of many Town Clerks of New York State in 1865 (with the exception of Schaghticoke, unfortunately), records of many of the Soldiers and Sailors Homes, some records of U.S. tombstones requested by Civil War Veterans, and other items. In my office, I have transcriptions of the 1855, 1865, 1905, 1915, and 1925 NYS census portions for Schaghticoke, and the records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches. The Rensselaer County Historical Society (now the Hart Cluett Museum) has the probate records for the county, and records of the Veterans Association of the 125th. The latter included a roster of the 125th, plus information on the men at the time the association was formed, about 1888. A unique resource is “Friend Jennie,” a transcription of the Civil War letters of George Bryan of Schaghticoke, written home to his friend Jennie Ackart, edited by Joseph Stickelmyer. George was a Lieutenant in the 125th Regiment, the Rensselaer County Regiment. Company K was primarily composed of men from Schaghticoke.

Jennie_Ackart_Revised

George Bryan’s letters to her are a great source of info on his Civil War experience

I also used the website of the NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs for information on the battles of each regiment. The site also includes the roster of each regiment, allowing me to confirm the service of the men. Most of the local men served in New York State Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Engineer Regiments. A few served in the U.S. Army, a few in the U.S. Navy. A few served in regiments from other states. For them, I found that the information online about the regiments of other states was not nearly as complete as New York’s- at least as far as I could find. I also used http://www.fultonhistory.com, where millions of pages of New York State newspapers have been digitized. Unless otherwise indicated, I took the photographs.

In writing about the men, I created as complete a biography as I could. I listed names of their families, cognizant of interest of genealogical researchers. I speculated a bit about why they might have enlisted and what the effect of their service was on them. I kept thinking about the parallels with the current veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose trials after their service have been so publicized. I also discussed, as much as I could, their lives before, during, and after the war.

Well into his service as a soldier, in September 1863, George Bryan wrote home to his friend Jennie about why he enlisted. The draft had just been instituted. He said, “I suppose you all have dread of going in the Army, at times I can not blame you or anyone else, but as our Country needs our help, I for one am willing to share the hardships and dangers of it. …we have had some very hard times and some very pleasant times and to put the good and bad together I think I am satisfied to try it all.” There are two reasons given: to help the country and to “try it all.” Later in the same letter, George added that he often felt he should be at home, helping his aging parents, but “how can I…stay at home and let others do the fighting?” He states he enlisted because “I could not content myself at home. I would work hard all day and night I would go out..somewhere until late…I saw it was killing me and I was getting less contented every day. I thought it better to go to war and try my luck there.” So, here is a third reason: discontent with his career and life path- “finding himself.” George rose to become a lieutenant, finding he was good at being a soldier and leader.

Men all over the state and the North were subject to “war rallys”(sic), with haranguing speeches from prominent citizens, day-by-day accounts of the course of the war in the newspapers, and recruiting tents in every town. As the war went on, larger and larger enlistment bounties were offered. Men in our local 125th N.Y. Regiment, joining in August 1862, got $140, a huge sum at the time. The recruiting poster proclaimed  “ho! for the sunny south,” and urged the recruits to “Preserve the Union” and “Protect the Constitution.” And after Lincoln instituted the draft in 1863, men wanted to join the unit they preferred, perhaps getting a bounty, rather than be drafted. Bounties to join the 125th and the 169th, the other Troy regiment, reached almost $1000 by early 1864.  One man I researched got a bounty of $1300, an enormous sum at the time.

Most of the Schaghticoke men served in a New York State regiment. New York provided more men to the Union Army than any other state. Regiments of 1000 men were recruited all over the state from just days after the war began to 1865. At the beginning, men enlisted for nine months, but it soon became clear that the war would be long, so enlistments moved to two, then three years, and some were for the duration of the war. In the end, the State had formed 194 Infantry, 40 Artillery, 25 Cavalry, and 3 Engineer Regiments. Some were recruited in just one county, like the 125th, others were made up of men from all over the state. In addition, after the Emancipation Proclamation at the end of 1862, 4000 black men from New York State enlisted in U.S. Colored Regiments.

 

While the men of Schaghticoke served in many different regiments during the Civil War, Company K of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment was primarily recruited in Schaghticoke in August of 1862. The 125th was the second Rensselaer County regiment of the war. The first was the 2nd New York, recruited primarily in Troy in April 1862. The 125th left Troy for Virginia about September 1, 1862. On September 15 they were captured en masse with 10,000 others when Harpers Ferry was surrendered to General Stonewall Jackson. The Confederates didn’t have the means to deal with so many prisoners of war, so the men were sent to Camp Douglas, Chicago, which served as a “parole camp.”

camp douglas

Camp Douglas, Chicago

By Chas. Shober & Co. – https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3a17854/, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54607619

In early 1863, the men were “exchanged” and sent back to the front in Virginia. Their first major battle was Gettysburg in July, when the regiment suffered 139 casualties. They went on to fight at Spotsylvania Court House, and the siege of Petersburg, ending up at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Of the 1000 men who went off to war, 127 were killed or died of wounds and 285 wounded over the course of the war.

A side story of the 125th is the number of men who were captured by the Confederates during the war. I have only tried to deal with those from Company K.  Captured while on picket duty near Mine Run, Virginia on December 1, 1863 were W.O. Carr, Douglas Fisher, C.E. Stratton, John Conlin, and James Simon. Forty men of the 125th were captured in all. Somehow Simon was freed, but the others ended up at Andersonville Prison, where they died in the summer of 1864.  Jason Robbins, Arteus Loomis, and Andrew Jackson Doty were captured during a battle on the Po River in May of 1864. They were sent to Andersonville, but were transferred to the new stockade at Florence, South Carolina when it opened in September, and survived to be “exchanged” at the end of the war in April 1865.  Conditions in both Confederate and Union prisoner-of-war camps were horrible, but those at Andersonville were especially cruel.

The letters of George Bryan begin after the capture of the 125th Regiment at Harpers Ferry in September 1862. During his time in parole camp in Chicago, he reported that morale was low, some men deserting, others ill due to the poor living conditions. But after the return of the regiment to winter camp in Virginia, he wrote to Jenny, “You ask me how I would feel if ordered to go into Battle. That is a question that is quite hard to answer, but to tell you just how I feel about it, if I was ordered out to fight, it would be just what I have long wished for. I enlisted to fight and do not mean to go home to stay until I have seen some more fight. Yet I hope I may be prepared to meet my God if it should be my time to fall…I shall never give up a loaded gun again to all the rebels in the south.” A month later, after lots of guard duty, he wrote, “I would much rather risk my life in battle than to be out so often all night in rainy weather, one is a slow death, the other honor or a quick death.” As time went on and George experienced battle, he found he really liked being a soldier. In late 1863, he wrote, “Do not think I am tired of a soldier’s life as I am NOT.” George was shot and killed by a Confederate sniper on June 16, 1864. The 125th was mustered out, as were most regiments, in summer 1865.

I have tried to follow the lives of all of the soldiers until the end. Today we are very aware of the effects of service in war on soldiers. Some soldiers seem to sail through the rest of their lives untouched outwardly, though I can say as the wife of a Vietnam veteran, that being in battle changes men in some way forever. Other men have to live with varying degrees of physical and mental disability. In the case of these men, the physical disabilities are sometimes evident in the records. It’s hard to know if those who died relatively young had had their lives shortened by the harsh living conditions of soldiers in the war, or by some sort of war-related injury, and it’s rare to find out that they had mental disabilities.

 

Men disabled by their service in the war were entitled to a pension right from the start, based on an 1862 law. The amount they received depended on the gravity of the disability. Widows received a pension based on total disability. In 1890, the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization founded by and for Civil War Veterans, lobbied for a change in the system. Veterans who became too disabled for manual labor could apply for a pension at any time. A change in 1906 ruled that old age itself justified a pension. The pension system created the first large bureaucracy in the history of the nation. The card index, on ancestry.com and family search.org, is amazing, containing thousands and thousands of men and widows. And the pension applications themselves run to 100 pages or more, documenting many details of each man’s service. A flaw in this account is that I have not applied for the pension papers of all of the veterans. At least two thirds applied for them- and I have included that information in each biography. Widows mostly applied very soon after their husbands died, sometimes a good insight into death date of veterans.  But they cost $80 apiece, a prohibitive amount for me.

AlexanderPBush pension card

a typical pension card…..there are many thousands in Washington, plus the 100-page plus pension files that go with them

The Grand Army of the Republic, founded in 1866, was composed of men (and a few women) who served in the Civil War. It was the first organized advocacy group in American politics, and worked to secure veterans’ pensions.  At its peak in 1890, it had 490,000 members. Five members were elected President of the U.S. It was composed of a department for each state and posts in individual communities within the states.

The Schaghticoke GAR post, Post Hartshorn No. 487, was organized June 3, 1884. The charter members were Edward E. Pinkham, John Hines, Jr., Lewis Hunt, Elbridge D. Green, Daniel H. Tarbell, Henry Campbell, Thomas McMillan, Herbert H. Dill, Lorenzo Guest, Jesse B. Armstrong, Eugene Munn, John H. Conde, Charles H. Wolf, John Bacon, Michael O’Keefe, Leander White, Charles Turner, and Timothy Hurley. Interestingly, only Bacon, Wolf, and Guest were veterans of the 125th, in addition to Hartshorn, for whom the post was named. From what I have seen, they did a good job of marking the graves of veterans, especially in Elmwood Cemetery. And the local American Legion post continues to replace the flags yearly.

Dave McMahon, author of “Peril in the Powder Mills,” pointed me to the section about Civil War vets in “Stand Proud Sonny,” the memoir about early 20th century life in Schaghticoke by Art Herrick. I think it is worthwhile to quote him extensively, as we gain such great insight into the later years of the veterans of the war. I know that the men also marched in “Decoration Day” and 4th of July parades, just as Vietnam veterans do today.

 

“As I got around town, I began to see more and more old men and found that they were veterans of the Civil War. I must have become acquainted with over one hundred of them. I think I helped their day to have some meaning, listening to their stories as they refought many a famous battle for me. …On Decoration Day they would put on their G.A.R. uniforms and be driven to the cemetery for a ceremony that included several speakers. The Fife and Drum Corps of the Washington Engine and Hose Company would play music…After the ceremony the veterans would put a potted plant on each soldier’s grave, a flag marking each one to make it easier to find. …

These veterans all belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic and met at stated intervals in a regular meeting room.  At first, when their numbers were large, they would have a county-wide encampment. Grounds had been cleared and leveled and possibly two thousand men would be encamped for a week in tents.  This encampment was just past the bridge in the village and the outlines of it may still exist.”

 

I will begin by telling the stories of the local Civil War veterans who were “Schaghticoke Boys,” the men of Company K and other companies of the 125th NY Infantry Regiment, then move on to veterans of other units. And I will begin with the officers, including a few not from town as they were the officers of the “Schaghticoke boys,” then move on to the enlisted men, alphabetically.