History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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