History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Tag Archives: Civil War

The End is Here

No, I’m not predicting the end of the world,  but of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The commemoration is almost over.  Of course the Civil War ended more or less with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General U.S. Grant on April 9, 1865. I have not written about the war, or our local regiment, the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry, since the fall. This is because after months of hard fighting and many, many casualties in spring 1864, the tempo of the war changed.  The Union Army was trying to take the Confederate capitol of Richmond, but failing in that, ended up in siege lines around Petersburg, the key Confederate transportation hub just to its south.

The Union Army spent the nine months from the battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864 to April 1865 in siege lines around Petersburg, but the Army didn’t just sit there waiting for spring.  Right at the beginning of that time, the 125th NY participated in a botched Union attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad, south of Petersburg and one of the life lines for the Confederates, on June 22, 1864. Several long-time officers died in the battle, and the regiment found it did not fight as before, with many new and inexperienced recruits. This was a shock to the old-timers.  In the wake of the hard spring campaign, the Union Army took stock of its men, and a number were discharged for illness or disability, including several officers of the 125th. They were just worn down by almost two years of fighting. Throughout the Army, regiments had become so small due to death, injury, and illness, that consolidation was necessary. Four regiments, including the 125th, were made into one, under the command of the Colonel of the 125th, Levin Crandell. This means that what had been 1000-man regiments now numbered 250 or less.

I have neglected Levin Crandell, who became Colonel of the 125th upon the death of George Willard on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. I need to tell you about him especially, as he was almost from Schaghticoke. Levin was born in 1826 in Easton. His parents were Otis and Eliza Crandell, of Rhode Island. The little hamlet still called Crandell’s Corners on Route 40 in Easton is named for them. His father bought a farm and the family moved to Milton in Saratoga County in 1836.  Mr. Crandell made sure Levin got a good education.  He was elected Captain of the local militia regiment when he reached 18, surely indicating a strong interest in the military.  He never served, however, as he moved to Troy in 1845, first working as a clerk in dry goods stores, then becoming the bookkeeper at the Central Bank of Troy in 1854. This was a prestigious and demanding job. The 1860 census showed him as a bookkeeper in Troy, aged 34, with wife Caroline, 30. In 1856 he joined the Troy Citizens’ Corps, one of the most prominent local militias, and the 24th Regiment, N.Y.S. Militia., a predecessor of the National Guard.  He was elected Colonel of the 24th when Joseph Bradford Carr became Colonel of the 2nd NY Regiment in 1861. The 2nd was the first regiment recruited in Rensselaer County for the Civil War.

Levin Crandell, second Colonel of the 125th

Levin Crandell, second Colonel of the 125th

When the 125th Regiment, the second Rensselaer County regiment, began recruiting in August, 1862, the Rensselaer County War Committee asked Levin to act as its Colonel. They expected George Willard to become Colonel in the end, – and Levin knew that- but were awaiting his transfer from the Regular Army. So Levin was the Colonel in charge with the tough job of training the new recruits, as Willard didn’t arrive until just before the Regiment left for the field.  At that point, the committee approached Levin again, first asking if he was consumptive- he was so thin- and having learned that he wasn’t, asked if he would become Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. He did, and served in that position, stepping in to substitute for Willard as needed, until Willard died and Levin finally became Colonel in his own right.

Levin went on to lead the Regiment through many battles.  He was home recruiting during a couple of months in the winter and spring of 1864, but returned in time for the battle of North Anna in May. He was slightly wounded on several occasions, and hit in the face by a shell fragment on June 16, 1864, at the start of the Petersburg campaign. He stayed in service until that December, when he resigned. The Regimental History states that he was a “manly man,” “calm in battle,” and that he resigned “due to home conditions.”

By 1870, Levin lived in Brooklyn, where he was a dry goods merchant with real estate worth $18,000, and a personal estate of $10,000. He and wife Caroline had two Irish servants. She died at some point before 1878, when Levin married another woman named Carrie, who was twenty years younger than he.  The 1880 census showed them still in Brooklyn. He was 53, Carrie 33, and they had two children, Carrie, 8, and Albert, 6 months old. They had a second son later.

Colonel Crandell was very involved in the G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, a member of the post in Manhattan. He applied for a pension in 1891. Levin was very involved in the writing of the “Regimental History of the 125th,” and was present and active at the local reunions of the regiment. He and Carrie moved to Jamaica, Queens around 1900, when he retired from the dry goods business. He had a stroke and died in 1907 at age 80, and is buried in Cyprus Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Returning to Petersburg,   July 4, 1864 was the first time the soldiers had heard no gun fire for two long months, and many, many miles of walking and fighting. The 125th stayed in place until July 26th, then marched north, toward Richmond, as part of the 2nd Brigade. Some of General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry accompanied the infantry. It turned out their goal was to distract the Confederates from the detonation of a huge mine, designed to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses around Petersburg, leading to victory by the Union. The Confederates were distracted by the relatively small battle of Strawberry Plain, but the attack around the mine detonation on July 30 turned into a fiasco for the Union- a disaster for this big opportunity for the new colored troops to test their mettle. But that event, called the Battle of the Crater, has been much written about, and I am trying to focus on the 125th.

Shortly after returning from Strawberry Plain, on August 22, 1864, the 125th marched back south, again part of a Union attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad. This time the soldiers destroyed track for two days. The rails and ties were pulled up, the ties burned with the rails on top of the fire until they were hot enough to bend, rendering them unusable. The Confederates moved to attack, at what is now called the battle of Ream’s Station.  As Colonel Crandell was now in command of the larger unit, the brigade, which the 125th was part of, Captain Nelson Penfield commanded the regiment.  After two assaults and a lot of cannon shelling, the Union lines, filled with inexperienced recruits, gave way. In his history of the 125th, the regimental chaplain Ezra Simons is obviously humiliated by this retreat, but it occurred all along the line.  Captain Joseph Egolf, a veteran of the 2nd NY who reenlisted in the 125th, was badly wounded at this time and about ten men of the old 125th were among 2000 Union troops captured by the Confederates, spending the rest of the war in Libby Prison in Richmond.  The old camaraderie of the Regiment was gone, the men didn’t know each other anymore, with each passing day yet another old comrade left the ranks, one way or the other. Perhaps it was this change, more than “home conditions”, that led Colonel Crandell to resign his commission and go home in December of 1864. Chaplain Simon describes the Colonel in his last battle: “..in a fight lasting (all day)- he was in the saddle all the time, directing and inciting, except as he dismounted to creep up near the enemy to better determine their position.  Three times was he shot at while seeking to reach one of our men wounded at the extreme front of the fighting.” Not bad for a man of forty after two years of war.

Now both Armies settled in for the winter, about 150,000 men. For the Confederates, though they had enough munitions, the food supply was patchy. Many of their supply lines had been severed, either by the Army of the Potomac, or by Union victories in other theaters of operation. Men deserted and went home, especially when they found out that their homes had been invaded by Union armies. They needed to know what had happened to their property and families.

siege mortar at Petersburg

siege mortar at Petersburg

While the Union Army had plenty of food and supplies, they were still uncomfortably situated in siege lines. The battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor had introduced the defensive advantages of trenches; now both Armies worked to build the best earthworks possible. The earthworks were trenches, tunnels, and bombproofs- designed to allow the minimum exposure possible to the enemy. Both sides fired mortars and howitzers at each other randomly day and night. When a soldier could hear that a mortar shell was going to land nearby, he would run for a bombproof, a shelter dug into the ground and covered with sandbags, to make it fulfill its name. Soldiers also built winter quarters. The correspondent for the Troy “Daily Times” in the 125th (H.S.- I’m not sure who he was) stated that the troops made “winter quarters” several times. They would just get settled, then be moved again, for reasons they never understood. Each time they would cut down the once-plentiful Southern pine and make 7’ x 11’ log cabins, with walls about five feet high, a small doorway, and a chimney. The roofs were of canvas, the heat source either a fireplace or a small cast iron stove. Four men lived in each cabin. They had adequate space only because two of them were usually on picket duty at any time.  Sometimes there was enough firewood and decent water to drink, sometimes not, but the newspaper correspondent seemed quite content.

But not all soldiers were “comfortable.” Some years ago, my mother came across the probate file of a soldier of the 16th NY Artillery, also besieging Petersburg. Lyman Brimmer of Troy had named his sister as his heir in his will, which his father contested. In the file was a letter he wrote home to his sister on September 12, 1864. I have corrected the spelling. “We are now right in front of Petersburgh, one mile from it. The shot and shell fly over my head every day as thick as hail stone and if you raise your head above the parapet, a small ball will take it. There is men killed and wounded every day. I have been out on picket five days. I got in last night. I have to lay on the ground with my rubber blanket over me rain or shine. …My hand trembles so I can hardly write.”  Lyman didn’t add that the trembling hand was because he had had fever and ague for a month. On October 7, he was shot “in the bowels,” and the doctor told him he could not live. A fellow soldier reported, “He appeared to be suffering great pain, hollering all the time.” Thankfully, he died that night and was buried.  The story has even a sadder end. Though his sister won the probate fight, the legal costs ate up most of the inheritance. And Lyman was a Union soldier, living in better conditions than the Confederates, before winter chill had really set in. So I guess the conditions depended upon the unit, the situation of the camp, and the original health of the soldier.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg

While the Confederate headquarters was naturally in Petersburg, the besieged city, the Union Army under General Grant built an extensive headquarters at City Point, on the James River to the northeast of Petersburg and southeast of Richmond.  During February, Grant extended the Union lines westward, around the southern side of Petersburg. His Army now numbered 110,000, while the Confederate Army was reduced by desertion to 60,000. In March, General Lee made a last attempt to break the Union line at Fort Steadman, one of the closest Union strongpoints to City Point. The Rebels were initially successful, but the Troy “Times” reported that the Rebels began looting food and equipment as soon as they entered the fort, so that the Union was able to retake it quite quickly, the Rebels then surrendering.”

NPS sign with illustration of Fort Steadman

NPS sign with illustration of Fort Steadman

Meanwhile the other Rensselaer County regiment, the 169th Volunteer Infantry, was in North Carolina.  In Mid-January they had participated in the amphibious Union attack that captured Fort Fisher and closed the last Confederate port, Wilmington, North Carolina.  From there they were in the force that captured Wilmington itself in mid-February.  The war ended in that region when General Joe Johnston’s Confederate Army surrendered to General William T. Sherman and his Union forces on April 16, 1865. The 169th was part of the garrison that stayed in Wilmington. They were mustered out there on July 19, 1865.

Returning to our other local boys, the 125th broke camp at Petersburg on March 29, 1865, and marched westward around the southern end of the siege lines. The Confederate loss at Fort Steadman had gotten everything moving. The 125th’s new Colonel was Joseph Hyde. The 125th was part of the final Union push, which forced the Confederates to abandon their trenches in Petersburg and try to escape westward.  In the Regimental History, Chaplain Simons describes some days of on and off advances, with pauses to entrench, intermittent fighting, and walking on.  By April 2, after the tired soldiers he was with were able to force Confederates to abandon good fortifications with ease, Simons writes that the men began to realize that the end of the war was near.

They heard of the surrender of Petersburg, and of victories elsewhere. The Confederates were running in disorder, abandoning equipment, or surrendering. Walking west about thirty miles over the next four days, the 125th was in the reserve at the battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, though Simons says they captured the supply wagons of the retreating Confederates. This was the last real battle for the Army of the Potomac. Sailor’s Creek is about 45 miles east of Appomattox Court House. There was more fighting on the 7th and 8th, though on the 8th Simons says the men knew that a letter had passed among the generals of the opposing armies. We can only imagine the excitement and anticipation among the men. The 125th marched some more on the morning of the 9th, but paused at noon. According to the National Park Service Ranger at Appomattox Court House, they were about two miles northeast of that hamlet.  Appomattox Court House was and is the name of a small settlement, not of a building. The whole settlement is now a National Park Service site, with the small, more modern town of Appomattox about a mile away.

the courthouse at the hamlet of Appomattox Courthouse

the courthouse at the hamlet of Appomattox Courthouse

Meanwhile the newspapers at home were following developments very closely. On April 7 it was falsely reported nationally that Lee had surrendered. Celebrations began immediately in Troy, and probably everywhere, with disappointment following. News of the real surrender, on April 9, was reported almost as it happened to the waiting populace of the North.

McClean home, site of Lee's surrender. In the hamlet of Appomattox Court House

McClean home, site of Lee’s surrender. In the hamlet of Appomattox Court House

Chaplain Simons wrote of that day,” We could scarcely believe the rumors that came to us of the surrender by General Lee of the rebel army; but about four o’clock the glad news was given that it was really true….Soon General Meade himself rode along the line, with head uncovered, and such cheers as went up to the skies we never heard before, lasting over an hour without any interruption.  Thus, with cheers, and waving banners, and also with booming cannon and playing bands, was greeted this greatest triumph of the war.  …the 9th of April, 1865 will always be remembered by our men…The writer has seen ..that General Grant ordered that there should be no demonstrations of joy; but, if the orders were delivered, they came too late to prevent the spontaneous expression of gladness just described.”

The 125th marched from Appomattox to Burksville, Virginia on April 13. There they heard of the assassination of Lincoln. At the end of April, they headed north, marching via Richmond and Fredericksburg to Arlington Heights, opposition Washington. They participated in the Grand Review on May 23, 1865 when 80,000 men of the Army of the Potomac marched through Washington, D.C., then left for home on June 5. Finally, they were on a train, rather than walking. They reached New York on the 7th of June. Word of this arrival was telegraphed to anxious relatives and friends in Troy.

On June 8th the Troy “Daily Times” reported in detail the fiasco of their arrival home. People assumed they would be on the “night boat”- the overnight steamship from New York to Troy, and hundreds thronged the dock at 5 a.m. When the “Rip VanWinkle” arrived, the soldiers were not on it. The crowd immediately assumed they were on the train and ran across town to the train station. When the Montreal express arrived, there were still no soldiers. At this point the Captain of the “Rip” reported the men were still at Castle Garden in New York. Apparently commercial steamships were reluctant to transport the regiments as the soldiers got drunk and rowdy (what a shock!) Finally word came that the regiment was on a hired steamship. They arrived in Albany about 11 a.m. and would be marching for home on the Troy Road- up the west side of the Hudson.  The trip up the Hudson was about  8-9 hours, so they must have left about 3 a.m. The West Troy ferry generously agreed to carry them gratis across the river.

Meanwhile feverish preparations were being made to greet them at Washington Square, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is in downtown Troy- at the corner of River, Broadway, 2nd, and 1st Streets. A grandstand was built, the alarm of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church sounded, citizens began to hang flags on their houses, Congressman John Griswold got ready to speak, the 24th NY National Guard Regiment made ready to meet them.   Once the men got to Troy, they went to the Armory to have a bite to eat- having had no food since the afternoon before- Evidently the newspaperman was surprised to see only 200 men. At first he explained that some had gone right home, but later in the article realized that the original 1000 man regiment numbered only 214 at this point. Finally 3 p.m. was named as the time of ceremonies.  After the speeches, they were entertained at Harmony Hall, and returned to camp “on the Albany Road”. They were finally paid off on June 15 and mustered out of service.

There are some of the final records of the 125th in the archives of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.  Lt. George Petit prepared the final inventories of the equipment of each of the Companies. Of the original 100 men, he listed just 27 in one inventory of Company K, the “Schaghticoke boys,” and only fourteen in another taken in May, 1865.  I think that the longer list included men who returned in mid-April from imprisonment, hospitalization, and service with detached units, just to be discharged with their original company, plus a few newer recruits. Petit was trying to collect the government’s equipment, but obviously having a hard time.   All but two of the fourteen turned in Springfield muskets, though many were missing parts of the repair kits that accompanied each gun. Most men had haversacks and their half of a tent (two halves were put together to make a whole tent for two men), but no one had a camp kettle or mess pan, and quite a few marks for individual items are crossed out later. Of about 75 men in the original Company K who were from Schaghticoke, seventeen were discharged in June 1865. Others had survived but had changed units, been dismissed for disability earlier, or deserted sometime along the way.

Now the rest of their lives began for the veterans and their families. Nationwide, about 3,500,000 men had served in the war. About 600,000-800,000 had died from various causes. One in thirteen veterans were amputees. Just for comparison’s sake, about 400,000 American soldiers died in World War II.   As with veterans today, some men were improved by their service, some physically and mentally handicapped for life. We are still feeling the political repercussions of the war.

Reading the Troy newspaper just after the war, I am struck by the way the veterans stuck together, right from the start. The paper is full of notices of meetings of the veterans of the 125th to organize attendance at funerals of their fellow soldiers, of men going to call on fellow veterans who were ailing. The official organization of Civil War Veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, was organized in 1866, but the 125th NY Regimental Association was also active right from the start. There were lots of veterans. I feel at first they wanted to maintain their brotherhood, then to help each other. As time went on, they also flexed considerable political muscle, and erected many monuments to their service, all over the country.

G.A.R. post Hartshorn in Schaghticoke, c. 1910

G.A.R. post Hartshorn in Schaghticoke, c. 1910

The sources of information for this article were primarily Ezra Simon’s History of the 125th,
the Troy “Daily Times”, and National Park Service materials on Petersburg and Appomattox Court House.


Back to the Civil War: Fort Fisher and the Schaghticoke Connection.

I know some of you are ready to be done with my writing about the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. I assure you that the Union and the Confederacy were more than ready for the war to be over by the end of 1864. General Grant and the Army of the Potomac were entrenched around Petersburg, Virginia, in the midst of what would end up as a nine-month siege. General Sherman had finished his “March to the Sea,” reaching Savannah, Georgia. The key ports of supply for the Confederate States had been cut off one by one by the Union. The only one left was up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, North Carolina, protected by Fort Fisher.


fortfisher 1

Fort Fisher was constructed at the start of the Civil War to protect the Cape Fear River and Wilmington, North Carolina from the Union Navy. The river provided access for blockade runners, which brought vital supplies to the Confederacy. Unlike many forts, Fort Fisher was never designed to be architecturally impressive. It was pragmatically built of dirt, to absorb artillery fire. Finally, in December, 1864, the Union Army- an expeditionary force from the Army of the James- and Navy- a squadron commanded by Admiral David Porter- attacked the fort. The first attack, with the Army commanded by General Benjamin Butler, failed, but in January, 1865, now commanded by General Alfred Terry, they tried again. 56 Union ships bombarded the fort, and 8000 troops, some from the 169th NY Infantry Regiment, were landed. The 169th NY Infantry Regiment was the final regiment recruited in Rensselaer County.  The fort surrendered at night on January 15. About a dozen Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor for valor in the battle, including one man from Troy.  The closure of the Cape Fear River sealed the fate of the Confederacy. It was now just a matter of time.

fort fisher

On January 16, the fort’s ammunition magazine exploded, killing 200 men on both sides. Controversy has swirled around the explosion ever since, with the Union saying that the Confederates booby-trapped the magazine and the Confederates saying the carousing Union victors were careless.  A diligent researcher named Steve Wiezbicki feels it was deliberately exploded by the Confederates

Four members of a Pittstown family were in Company C of the 169th NY Infantry at Fort Fisher: Herman L. Martinett, age 28, his brother John S., age 34, his brother Charles F, age 40, and Charles’ son Frederick, age 18. Thanks to Mr Wiezbicki, I know that Frederick was killed in the explosion of the ammunition magazine.  In addition a local blacksmith named John Bradley was in Company D of the 169th. He lived in Stillwater after the war, where he died in 1913.

I can claim Herman Martinett for Schaghticoke as he lived in the village at the end of his life and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery. There were actually four Martinett brothers, who moved to Pittstown from Pennsylvania about 1850. They were in the axe business. Herman and his oldest brother, Charles, enlisted in the 169th when it formed at the end of 1862. Herman recruited his other brother, John, and nephew, Frederick, on a trip home in January 1864. After the war, Herman came back home. He and his family moved from Valley Falls to the village of Schaghticoke in 1900. He was still working as an axe polisher at the time of his death in 1903. His second wife, Mary survived until 1938.

My husband and I happened upon Fort Fisher, trying a different route from home to Savannah, Georgia, knowing its importance in the war but not its connection to Rensselaer County. The little town on the peninsula just north of the fort is Kure Beach.  We enjoyed touring the fort, a North Carolina Historic Site, and its wonderful museum. Much of Fort Fisher has been washed away by the tides over the years, but the museum has a great collection of items found through underwater archeology, from the fort and from sunken blockade runners.  We were delighted to find a case in the museum featuring the photo of a Troy man, William Freeman, and the Medal of Honor he won in the battle. We recommend a trip to Kure Beach, North Carolina- a beautiful and quiet town, with both Fort Fisher and a North Carolina State Aquarium plus a gorgeous beach.


The sources of information for this column include the NYS and US census, NYS Civil War records, Civil War pension index, and records of Elmwood Cemetery, plus the newsletter about the 169th by Steve Wiezbicki, and online articles about Fort Fisher.

The Schaghticoke Boys

Several years ago I began researching men with connections to Schaghticoke who served in the U.S. Civil War in honor of the 150th anniversary of that horrible conflict. Before I knew it, I had written 500 pages. This book is now available on the website of the town, somewhat awkwardly, but available. If you go to this link:http://townofschaghticoke.org/content/History and click on the first entry: The Civil War..the book will download in a couple of minutes. The first half talks of men who served in the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was recruited in Rensselaer County, company K mostly in Schaghticoke. The second half deals with men who served in many other regiments. I have written brief biographies of each. They are listed alphabetically in each section, except that the 125th section begins with the officers, with an index at the end.
This book does not have a bibliography. For the most part, I have listed the sources used within each biography. Much of the information came from the records of New York State, which are online at ancestry.com and the website of the New York State Military Museum. Then I used census, church and other records, both on ancestry.com and familysearch.org as well as in my own files, plus google searches. Sometimes I was able to find photographs. I only used those I had permission to use, or ones that were at the website of the Library of Congress or in general in the public realm.
I have had a wonderful time doing this research, and now that I have declared the book “done”, I have a new source of information thanks to the re-enactment group- the 125th NY- which acquired photos of records in the National Archive. so I have a few more men to add. I know that I could find more info if I ordered the pension files of all of the men, but at $80 apiece, that was not possible for my budget. I hope some readers can learn new information about their ancestors through my research. That, along with honoring the men for their sacrifices, was my goal.

The Death of Lt. George Bryan

George Bryan

George Bryan

I was partly inspired to begin writing about our local men in the Civil War because Joe Sticklemyer published the letters that George Bryan wrote home to his friend Jennie Ackart describing his experiences as a soldier in the Rensselaer County Regiment, the 125th. George made me think about the impact of the experiences of being a soldier on the Schaghticoke boys who enlisted. Most of them had never been away from home, much less faced death across a battlefield. As I wrote of the battles of the 125th from September 1862 to June 1864, using George’s letters as a vivid source, I was well aware that the end was coming. I feel I got to know him so well that I genuinely mourn him. He enlisted as an aimless young man who found he had a true talent as a leader of men, and knew he couldn’t go back home and resume small town life. Of course we don’t know what could have been, as he was killed on June 16, 1864 at the start of the siege of Petersburg.
Jennie Ackart

Jennie Ackart

George A. Bryan enlisted in August 1862 as a private in Company K at age 23, listing his occupation as farmer. He had black eyes and hair and was 5’8” tall. He was the child of Benjamin and Ellen Bryan. George was born in 1840 in Stillwater and had two older brothers and a younger sister. Father Benjamin was a farmer, who owned his father’s farm in shares with two sisters. Through the years, Benjamin farmed on his own and with other members of his family, but his sisters seem to have been more successful than he. For example, in the 1870 census, his sister Lydia had real estate of $21,000. Benjamin and family lived in the house with her, but he listed no real estate and a personal estate of less than $2000. Their farm was on Verbeck Avenue.
Interestingly, though many children worked on their fathers’ farms, in the 1855 census, George was a teenage clerk living in the family of the Percys, who were merchants, and in the 1860 census he was a farm laborer on the farm of David Ackart. His older brothers John and Leonard had moved to Iowa and Kansas respectively. Perhaps the whole complicated family situation with their aunts in charge made the boys realize that they should strike out on their own, not counting on inheriting any land in Schaghticoke. Or perhaps the family needed the income that George got from working out, rather than on the family farm.

Lt. George Bryan

Lt. George Bryan

His superiors must have recognized George as a good soldier from the start. He was promoted to Sergeant by October of 1862, while the 125th was in internment camp in Chicago. Over that winter back in camp in Virginia, he wrote that he was studying to be an officer. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on December 11, 1862, having to move to Company D, and to 1st Lieutenant in Company F on November 18, 1863. Though George suffered a couple of sicknesses during his service, went through horrible battles, and certainly lived in primitive conditions, he wrote to Jennie late in 1863, “I would not leave the army. I like it too well. I have done working on a farm. I will not deny that I love the society of my friends and the comforts of home, but I have got used to it now.”

In his last letter, in May 1864, George wrote to Jennie, “I cannot help but think how long it will be before I am either killed or wounded. But if either you know that it will not be running away from the enemy, and you know it is glorious to die in such a cause.” It seems amazing to me that after all he had seen and been through that Bryan maintained that attitude.
Before the Union and Confederate Armies settled in for a nine month siege at Petersburg, there were several Union attempts to take the city. On June 16, the 125th attacked and suffered many casualties. The regimental history describes how “the brave Lt. George A. Bryan” was shot, “A group of officers were standing in a ravine after the first rush of the charge was over,…when Lt. Bryan fell, (shot by a Confederate sniper). He lingered about a half hour in agony and then passed from earth.” The history records extensive biographies for most of the other officers of the regiment, but Bryan had worked his way through the ranks, and was not from Troy, so perhaps the author, Chaplain Ezra Simon, just did not know him as well as many others, and said nothing else about him.
George’s body was returned home for burial in Hudsonview Cemetery in Mechanicville. Thanks to Knickerbocker historian Jon Stevens, I learned that George’s mother, Ellen, had a twin sister who married a Cromwell. They were the daughters of Rebecca Knickerbocker Bradshaw. The sister also had a son, Edward A. Cromwell, who was killed in the Civil War, at the second battle of Manassas. George and his parents are buried in the Bradshaw family plot at Hudsonview. Jon said the cemetery began as a Bradshaw family cemetery.

tombstone of George Bryan

tombstone of George Bryan

George’s parents Benjamin and Ellen moved to Iowa by 1880, settling near another of their sons, John, a farmer. In 1882, in an application for a pension based on George’s service, Benjamin stated that before he enlisted, his son had given them all his pay, except for a small amount for his clothes, and that he had sent home all his military pay as well. Ellen had been bedridden for several years, and had needed expensive treatments at Saratoga. Now that Benjamin was retired, he needed the support his deceased son would have provided. Indeed, they had moved in with John by 1885. Benjamin died in 1887. As for Jennie, or Clarissa Jane Ackart, the recipient of George’s letters, she never married and was a school teacher for many years. In the 1900 census she lived alone. She died at age 69 in 1903 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Were Jennie and George really more than friends? Would they have become so after the war? What would George have become if he survived the war? George’s story was repeated so many times during the Civil War: young and promising men dying in battle. Of those who survived the war, I have found that some seemed to go on as before, while others were irrevocably changed for the better or worse by their experiences. I can’t help but see the similarities in both the Vietnam vets and our new Iraq and Afghanistan vets, though the Civil War group was much, much larger.

Back to the Civil War: the draft, and the 125th and 169th Regiments until the end of 1863

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

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

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 F. Force photo
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

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

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

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.

Schaghticoke at the Battle of Antietam

Recently I visited Antietam, site of the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War, September 17, 1862, partly because I hadn’t been there, but partly because a man from Schaghticoke was wounded in the battle, died there, and was buried in the National Cemetery. I found that out from research at home, and wanted to actually find his grave.
Antietam was the battle which ended Robert E. Lee’s first attempt to invade the North. Just two days earlier, a 12,500 man Union garrison (including the 125th NYS Infantry Regiment, our local men) at Harpers Ferry had surrendered to General Stonewall Jackson, removing that threat to Lee. This encouraged him to move farther North and engage the Union Army under General McClellan in battle near Sharpsburg, Maryland. I can tell you that the Maryland countryside is lush and Sharpsburg still a pretty little town, though nearby Hagerstown has a huge outlet mall.
Nearly 100,000 men fought in the battle at Antietam, with about 23,000 killed, wounded, or missing by the end of the day. Though losses on both sides were heavy, the Union Army held the field at the end of the day, giving them a costly victory. This was the push President Lincoln needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves of the Confederacy. And this ended Lee’s invasion of the North until Gettysburg, almost a year later.

Monument to the 104th NY Infantry Regiment with the corn field in the background at Antietam

Monument to the 104th NY Infantry Regiment with the corn field in the background at Antietam

The National Park Service has done its usual fine job of explaining the battle as one drives around the fields where it occurred. The landscape is approximately what it was in 1862, a mixture of farm fields and groves of trees. The monument erected by the 104th NY Infantry after the war marks its location during the battle, and probably the location of the wounding of our local participant, John Lyons, who was in that unit. Portions of the two armies fought back and forth for a couple of long and bloody hours at the site. The field in the background of the photo was filled with ripe corn, which concealed the soldiers at first, but was soon tramped down.
Antietam was the first time in the war there had been casualties on such a large scale. The little town of Sharpsburg was overwhelmed by the dead bodies of men and horses and by the numbers of badly injured men who needed tending. The local newspaper reported afterwards that every house became a hospital for one of the 12,000 wounded. Both sides were prompted to organize to deal with tending the wounded and burying the dead in a better way after future battles. They had to accept the grim reality of this deadly war.
About 3500 men were buried in the farm fields where they died; but some bodies were never buried. Over time, bodies became exposed in shallow graves. Imagine what we would go through if the fields on either side of Route 40 in Melrose were littered with decaying bodies of men and horses, plus parts of broken artillery pieces and equipment. Finally in 1865 the state of Maryland purchased land to make a proper cemetery. Most of the Union dead were later re-interred there. The Confederate dead were supposed to be in the same cemetery, but the war was too recent and feelings too bitter, plus the impoverished South could provide no funding to help with creating the cemetery, so they were re-interred in three local cemeteries. Some men had been tagged with their names by their comrades, other identities were determined by laborious research, some remained unknown. The burials in what is now a National Cemetery are organized by state. The cemetery was completed in 1867, dedicated by President Andrew Johnson. In 1880 a 21’ tall statue of an Infantryman was added to the grounds

John Lyons was an Irish immigrant to Rensselaer County. He was born around 1830 and married to an Irishwoman named Alicia or Alice, who was born around 1836. They had two children, James, born in 1858, and John, born in 1862. Both children were born in New York, so I’ll assume the couple had arrived in the U.S. by 1858. I cannot find them in the 1860 census. However there are lots of men named John Lyons in that census!
John enlisted in Company K of the 104th NY Infantry Regiment on February 18, 1862 in Troy. He gave his age as 30. In the report of the Pittstown Town Clerk after the war, it states he was born and lived in Pittstown as a farmer, and that he was killed at Gettysburg. I think that is incorrect both in his place of birth and in where he was killed, though he probably lived in Pittstown. On his record card from New York State, it states that he was wounded in action at Antietam on September 7, 1862 and died on September 20. So he was one of the 12,000 wounded tended in makeshift hospitals all over the Sharpsburg area after the battle.

part of the New York State section at Antietam National Cemetery

part of the New York State section at Antietam National Cemetery

From his record card, I learned that John was interred in grave 642 at the Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was very exciting to walk through the morning dew on the grass of the peaceful cemetery and find him, just where he was supposed to be, one in a rank of many similar stones in the New York section. This 21 foot statue of an infantryman is the centerpiece of the cemetery.
tombstone of John Lyons of Schaghticoke at Antietam National Cemetery

tombstone of John Lyons of Schaghticoke at Antietam National Cemetery

this 21 foot tall statue of an infantryman, called Old Simon, is the centerpiece of the Antietam National Cemetery

this 21 foot tall statue of an infantryman, called Old Simon, is the centerpiece of the Antietam National Cemetery

this is the  New York State record card of John Lyons of Schaghticoke

this is the New York State record card of John Lyons of Schaghticoke

Alice was left a widow, with two small sons; one born after his father went off to war. She stayed in Rensselaer County. She applied for a widow’s pension on May 16, 1864. I don’t know where she was in the 1865 census, but by 1870, she was a chambermaid, living and working in the inn of Garrett Groesbeck in the village of Schaghticoke. Her son James, 12, worked in the woolen mill, and John, 7, attended school. By 1880, she and the boys were living with two other families in a house in the village. She was not working, and the boys, 22 and 18, ran a news room. She appears on a list of those receiving pensions in Schaghticoke in 1883, when she received $8.00 per month. In 1890, Alice entered John’s information in the Veterans Census.
In 1900, she remained in the village, but now lived alone in a house that she owned. At age 62 she was running the news room. The census states that she had had two children, both living. Her sons didn’t live in Schaghticoke, but I’m not sure where they were. By the 1910 census, Alice is gone, but I don’t know when she died nor where she was buried. She did well as a single mother, I think. Most young widows would have remarried, but she did not. She took advantage of the pension she was entitled to and supplemented it with her own work and that of her sons, eventually owning her home.
I wonder if Alice ever knew where John was buried, and if she ever got to visit his grave. How ironic for us to know where he is buried, after dying in a chaotic situation after a huge battle, while not knowing were Alice lies, after living out a peaceful life in our small village. It makes me feel very good to have found John and tell you his story so that we may honor his service together.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions
By Chris Kelly

Okay, I admit it; I have an addiction…. to Ancestry.com. Last year I finally broke down and purchased a membership. I have used it for researching my own family tree, but I primarily use it to research people who lived in the town of Schaghticoke.
So, I guess New Year’s is a time to resolve to try to break addictions, but instead I will resolve to continue to pry into the lives of people who lived in our town in the past. The history of our country was made by primarily by the small actions of individuals, and the more I can find out about them, the deeper our knowledge about the town and its development.
For the past months, I have been trying to find out all I can about the men from Schaghticoke who fought in the U.S. Civil War. Ancestry.com digitized the original record cards kept by New York State on all of the men who served in its regiments, and the pension cards created by the U.S. government for all those who applied- soldiers and their widows. Using those documents plus some others, I have been able to find out quite a lot about some of the men. And sometimes what I find is not about the Civil War at all, but so revelatory about either the people or their society.
I’ll just give a couple of examples. First is one that really doesn’t relate to Schaghticoke, but is so much fun… I was trying to find out about a man named Patrick Joice, who showed up in the 1865 census in Schaghticoke. I looked at a Joice family in the city of Troy in 1860, trying to find where Patrick had come from. As I scanned the handwritten census page, I noticed that the occupation of a number of women in the “family” above the Joices on the list was….prostitute! Amazingly, the “head of household”, William Hunter, a 54 year old Irishman, had “keeps house of prostitution” as his occupation. Eight women, ranging in age from 17 to 16, had prostitute as their occupation. The house, which was listed in the 1860 Troy directory as a saloon, was at the corner of Liberty and Hill Street in Troy, a rough part of town. Doing some research, I found that prostitution didn’t become illegal until well in to the 20th century.
Just one more example… I researched a man named Edward Pinkham, who died in Schaghticoke in 1905. He was in a New Hampshire Regiment during the Civil War, after which his family moved to Schaghticoke, where his father James was superintendent of the woolen factory. The first surprise in researching him was to find a full-length photo of him as a young lieutenant in the war online. The second surprise was that though I knew that the family was in Schaghticoke from about 1870 through the mid-20th century, I found that Edward and his younger brother Herbert went to Abilene, Kansas, about 1878, to open a grocery store. Abilene would have been on the frontier at that time. Wild Bill Hickock was Marshall of the rowdy town in 1871. I’m not sure what happened, but though they were in Abilene in 1880, the Pinkham brothers were back in Schaghticoke by the time of Herbert’s untimely death at age 29 in 1881. That foray to the Wild West certainly gives a new dimension to our thoughts about the Pinkham family.
So, look for more detailed information about the ordinary people of our town, Schaghticoke, in my columns over the course of the New Year. And Happy New Year to you all!

John Ellis Wool- Was HE the greatest man ever to live in Schaghticoke?

Tombstone of John Wool in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy

The next time you drive east on Alternate Route 7 toward Troy, take a minute to notice the tall granite shaft sticking up on the side of the wooded hill, just to the left or north. It looks like the Washington Monument, only smaller. It is the tombstone of General John Ellis Wool, in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy. If you haven’t been in the cemetery, turn on in, and head over to the edge of the hill to see the tombstone and the view to the west. Or keep your eye out for the notice of tours of the cemetery. The tombstone is definitely worth a look, as is the rest of the cemetery. The Gardner Earl Chapel is a National Historic Landmark.
I am claiming John Ellis Wool as a product of Schaghticoke, which will not seem true if you Google him. What Wikipedia and I agree on is that John Wool was one of the most important men in the U.S. Army in the 19th century.
John Wool’s great-grandfather Jurgen Woll arrived in New York City from Finland around 1700. One of his sons, James Wool was born about 1725 in New York City. James and his second wife and five of his seven children moved to a farm in Schaghticoke in 1762. The farm was located off Fogarty Road on what is now Wetsel Road. James’son John stayed behind in New York City as an apprentice to a heel and last maker, (a last is a form around which shoes are made), but he and his wife Ann joined his father by the time of the Revolutionary War. John and his brother James, Jr. served in the 14th Albany County Militia under Colonel Knickerbocker. Two of James Sr.’s sons ended up as prisoners of war, confined on British prison hulks in New York Harbor. One died during that ordeal.
In December 1783, the war over, John the heel and last maker decided that he and his family would return to New York City. En route, they stopped in Newburgh. Perhaps he tarried there because of the imminent birth of his sixth child, the future general, John Ellis Wool, on January 31, 1784. John Sr. continued on to New York, and set up a heel shop in the city, returning for his family in August. In July, 1790, John Sr. died, just before the birth of his eighth child. His poor widow sent six-year-old John north to live with his grandfather in Schaghticoke. She remarried and died shortly after. In 1796, grandfather James apprenticed twelve-year old John to a merchant in the new city of Troy. Troy had just been surveyed in 1787 and only had about 500 residents. So John Ellis Wool spent the formative years of his childhood, from age six to twelve, in our town, on his grandfather’s farm.
John Ellis Wool opened his own dry goods store in 1803, quite an accomplishment for a young man of 19. It was on River Street, facing the river, in the downstairs of the building that housed “The Northern Budget” newspaper. The business thrived, and John began to get involved in his community. In 1808 he joined the “Troy Invincibles”, a militia unit, in which he was an ensign. In 1809, the joined the Saint Tammany Association, a civic and political group, which marched in elaborate uniforms in parades. He also married Sarah Moulton that year. She was the daughter of one of his first employers in the city. In 1810, a fire began in the printing office which burned John’s store. His livelihood destroyed, John tried clerking for a lawyer in Troy, and ran for county sheriff, but lost. When the War of 1812 began, Wool enlisted in the Army and obtained a captaincy in the 13th Regiment, due to his militia service.

An interesting sidelight to this career is that John was the executor of his grandfather’s estate when James died in 1805. Why this 21-year-old was the executor and not one of his grandfather’s children, his uncles, we do not know. Perhaps it was in recognition of his intelligence. The will does not survive, but the inventory of the estate is in the files of the Rensselaer County Historical Society. The total value of James Wool’s personal estate was $224.77, almost half of which was debts owed to him by his neighbors. The only animals listed were two cows and eight sheep. The next most valuable possessions were two featherbeds and a fanning mill.
When John Wool joined the Army in 1812, he found his destiny. He was a hero of the War of 1812, promoted to Major after the battle of Queenston, Ontario in 1813, when he served in the regiment of Stephen VanRensselaer. General Van Rensselaer ordered his men to cross the treacherous Niagara River in too few boats at night, then to scale a vertical cliff with the British Army at the top. His nephew Lt. Colonel Solomon VanRensselaer was in the first wave with Captain John Wool. They made it up the cliff and attacked the British. Solomon was badly wounded almost immediately, and Wool stepped in and led the charge, despite the fact that he was also wounded. The attack and invasion ultimately failed, but Wool’s heroism and skill were noted. He served with distinction in the battle of Plattsburgh in 1814, and was promoted to Colonel. By the end of the War, he was Inspector General of the whole U. S. Army.

The original uniform coat of John Wool during the war of 1812-preserved and owned by the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy.

One of Wool’s later responsibilities was to relocate the Cherokee Indians in what came to be called “The Trail of Tears.” He came under criticism at the time because he refused to allow the state militia working with his federal troops to abuse the Indians. He did his job, but was very sympathetic to the plight of the Indians. By 1841, he was a Brigadier General and Commander of the Department of the East. He traveled throughout the East, visiting each of the military installations under his command. He also traveled to Europe to inspect installations there. Wool had come a long way from Schaghticoke.

General John Ellis Wool

During the Mexican War of 1845-1846, General Wool first led his troops 900 miles from San Antonio into Mexico, capturing the city of Saltillo. Then he led his troops in the Battle of Buena Vista, so distinguishing himself that he was awarded a Congressional sword and promoted to Major General. Incidentally, he is the subject of the oldest surviving military photographic image, a daguerreotype of him riding into Saltillo during the War. Wool was mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor of New York in 1850.

the hilt of one of the ceremonial swords given to John Ellis Wool. This one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

After the War, Wool also headed the Department of the Pacific and settled the Indian Wars in Oregon. His letters at the time showed that he was very much against the persecution of the Indians. His reputation as a General was that he was very strict, believed in firm discipline and following the rules to the letter. He did not smoke, used no profanity in a very profane age, and drank in moderation. Interestingly, Wool was only 5’2” tall, but did not need height to have a strong command presence. He felt that honor was man’s chief virtue. But he was no prude. He entertained lavishly, was a wine connoisseur, read widely and often quoted Shakespeare. Throughout his life, he tried to maintain his headquarters in Troy. Wool was famous. He was mentioned as a Presidential candidate in 1852, 1856, and 1860, though he declined any interest in politics.

This glorious hat, one of those belonging to John Wool, is in the collection of the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy.

When the Civil War began, Major General Wool was 76 years old. Despite his age, he rode several hours each day, and was in vigorous health. He also was the General in command of the Department of the East- stretching from the Great lakes and the Mississippi to his home in Troy. His headquarters was in Troy, where he was much of the time. The 1860 census lists Wool and his wife Sarah at their home on First Street, with a family including Mr. Isaac Hart, gentleman, and his wife, plus three female and two male servants, all but one black. Wool was a Democrat, but a determined Unionist, who attended a peace conference in February 1861, after the election of Lincoln.

Wool went to Washington, D.C. as war neared, certainly a strong supporter of his country no matter his political party, and helped with preparations for Lincoln’s inauguration. Soon after he moved his headquarters to New York City and was very active in getting the northern military on a war footing. He drew on arms and ammunition from both the Watervliet and Springfield, Illinois armories to supply new troops. On April 23, 1861 he wrote to Lt. General Winfield Scott, commander of the US Army and his contemporary in age and experience, worried that Washington, D.C. could easily be taken by the new Confederate Army and stating that New York City was ready to furnish him 80,000 men. Wool’s initiative was not appreciated by the more lethargic and perhaps jealous Scott, who ordered him back to Troy. He stated that this was due to Wool’s “feeble health,” not true.

By August Scott was ready to call on Wool for help, offering him command of the Department of Virginia.  Wool served for a year, taking initiative to secure Fortress Monroe, near Norfolk, Virginia, for the Union, vitally important for strategic control of the James River and Chesapeake Bay. He was in command when the Rensselaer County Regiment, the 125th, was among those surrendered at Harpers Ferry in September of 1862. He had told the commander, Colonel Miles, not to surrender under any circumstances.

In June 1862, Wool was transferred to command of the Middle Department of Maryland. As such he was in charge of a major camp of instruction and the defense of many strategic railroad lines.  His last command was back to the Department of the East in 1863. As summer advanced, he was concerned that he kept losing troops from New York City to reinforce General Meade in Pennsylvania. His concern was justified when the notorious draft riots broke out in July 1863 and he had few resources. He complained that there was a confusion of command between state and federal authorities.  At that point he was almost 80 years old, the oldest General to serve on either side in the Civil War. The Army retired him, much to his dismay.

John Ellis Wool returned to his home on First Street in Troy, an extremely celebrated man. Military bands from Troy and Albany came by to serenade him often. By 1867, he was in ill health, but supported five families, relatives of his sister and his wife, on the income from his investments. In 1869 he received an honorary degree from Williams College. Later that year, he fell while walking in his garden, and died shortly after. His funeral, out of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, drew 30,000 people into the streets of Troy. 30,000 people- imagine the scene!
He left bequests amounting to $650,000 in his will, a huge sum at the time. He had investments in 25 different banks. Among the inheritors were RPI and Williams College, several orphan asylums, and his Wool cousins in Schaghticoke. His cousin Benjamin was a blacksmith/farmer in Speigletown at the time, and lived on the original family farm. Wool also gave large sums of money to relatives of one of his sisters and to relatives of his wife.

The tombstone of John Wool being erected in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy

General Wool’s tombstone, quarried in Maine, was the largest single piece of granite to have been excavated to that point, about 60 feet tall. It took four tries for an obelisk to be quarried successfully. It was laboriously moved from Maine to Troy by sea. Mounted on rollers, it was pulled up Hoosick Street by horses, a process which took ten days, and erected in Oakwood Cemetery on an Egyptian-style base, resulting in a total height of about 75 feet. Wool’s home, at the corner of First and Ferry Streets is now owned by Russell Sage College, and is used as an honor students’ dormitory. It still has a Victorian sofa in its living room which was Wool’s. Its wooden parts are carved with his name, plus “Buena Vista”- his important battle in the Mexican War, and “Fortress Monroe,” the fort in Chesapeake Bay which he had responsibility for defending at the start of the Civil War. Fort Wool is close to it today. The Rensselaer County Historical Society owns more of Wool’s furniture, including a beautiful bed, plus one of his presentation swords, his uniform coat from the War of 1812 (a very rare survival), his saddle, a chapeau de bras, and some other uniform parts. The very small coat is proof of Wool’s 5’2” stature. Currently it is a centerpiece of an exhibit at the Candadian War Museum in honor of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. The gorgeous sword is in the War of 1812 exhibit at the Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 2nd Street, Troy.

home of John Ellis Wool on 1st Street in Troy, now an honor student dormitory for Russell Sage College

John Wool certainly traveled a long way from his birth en route to New York City, a childhood spent on a farm in rural Schaghticoke with his grandparents, an early apprenticeship and very little formal education, to total success in the US Army, wealth, philanthropy, fame, and sophistication. He must have been an amazing man. It is the quintessential American experience.

Bibliography: Hinton, Harwood; John Wool, U. of Wisconsin, 1960.
Will of John Ellis Wool in the collection of the Rensselaer County Historical Society
Obituary of John Ellis Wool, “New York Times”, Nov. 11, 1869
1860 Federal census

The Recruitment, Departure, and Early History of the 125th NYS Volunteer Regiment-

By summer 1862 it was clear that the Civil War was not going to be over any time soon. It was also clear that many, many men were going to die in the fighting and that more troops were needed. The “Troy Times”, a daily newspaper in the city, had extensive daily updates on the progress of the war and more specifically on the movements of the 2nd New York Infantry, the Troy Regiment.

Regimental Color of the 125th Regiment, thanks to the website of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs

It seems amazing to me that the 125th NYS Volunteers, the Rensselaer County regiment, was recruited and on its way to Virginia in only six weeks that summer. On July 17, an article entitled “Defend the Country, Uphold the Government” appeared. It advertised a patriotic rally to be held the next evening at the courthouse in Troy to begin the recruitment for another local regiment to enter the fight so that “the government may be upheld, the constitution vindicated, the country preserved, the rebellion crushed, and traitors defeated and punished.” Notice that abolishing slavery was not mentioned. That was not a stated goal of the war at the beginning.

This reproduction of a recruiting poster for the 125th was printed at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown. The sunny South?

An article the next day called the rally “The Great War Meeting,” and reported that doubtless “the towns along the Troy and Boston Railroad will turn out very large delegations” as a special free train just for the purpose had left Petersburgh at 2. This train would have passed through Schaghticoke. And on July 19, the paper reported that 5000 men had attended the rally, so that there was one meeting inside the courthouse, of as many who could fit, and of the “quality” man, and another on the steps outside. Let’s imagine the scene: 5000 men, many young, of all sorts, from many parts of the county, on a hot July evening in the middle of the city of Troy, some jamming the un-air conditioned court house, others gathering around the steps outside, ready for a long evening of inspiring speeches.
The meeting had a formal chairman, one William Kemp, with a vice president from each town. John A Quackenbush, a 31-year old farmer, was the vice-president for Schaghticoke. They adopted a set of resolutions: 1.) that the war should be brought to a speedy end, 2.) that it is a war for preservation and defense, 3.) that there is a need to serve the county and nation, 4.) praising the NYS bounty of $50 offered to each enlistee, 5.) that there is a need to set up recruiting offices and enlist men as soon as possible, and 6.) that Rensselaer County should match the state bounty. The crowd heard a number of people, judges, professors, lawyers, and clergy speak. At one point a heckler in the outdoor meeting called out to them, “why don’t you enlist yourself? The rich should go too!” At 10 p.m. there was music by Jones’ Band and a Colonel Arnold shot off his cannon, “a babywaker.” He left the ramrod in the barrel and it went through the awning and store window of Mr Staude’s Cigar Store – fortunately without hurting anyone

As the month of July went on, towns throughout the county had their own patriotic rallies, designed to encourage new enlistees. Recruiting offices were set up in Troy, and rumors began to fly about who the Colonel of the new regiment would be. Various men advertised themselves as Captains of companies in the new regiment, and offered various bounties. On July 24 there was a meeting of those authorized to recruit for the new regiment, including John VW Vandenburgh and McGregor Steele for Schaghticoke. The night before there had been a war meeting in Lansingburgh, with speeches and a performance by a glee club. Chauncy Filley of St. Louis, who was visiting in town, said he would give $100 to the first five volunteers, and Dr. I.G. Frazier would give $100 to the next five. The August 4 paper stated that there had been a war meeting in Schaghticoke “last Friday night,” which resolved “we see dangers to our unity, prosperity, and our very being as a nation,” and that the town “ought …to furnish speedily its full quota and more.”
On August 5, President Lincoln announced a draft of 300,000 men for nine months. This pushed the recruitment of the local regiment ahead, as it offered bounties to enlistees, which would not go to draftees. About half the necessary 1000 men had been recruited at that point. Another resolution in the paper called for “a vigorous war ..to be waged on a bitter and relentless foe.” This was signed by prominent men of the area, including Amos Briggs, industrialist of Schaghticoke.
The “Troy Times” announced the completion of each company of 100 men as it occurred. By August 11 the Hoosick Falls company was full, and a camp was opened on the river around Glen St. and River St- then the north end of Troy, where the men reported to be equipped and trained. By August 12,800 men had been recruited, but 347 men had filed claims for military exemptions. Most were firemen, who had important jobs at home, but others had varicose veins, liver complaints, defective vision, or amputated toes or fingers. That day, Captain Diamond’s Company from Nassau and Stephentown marched into camp to be mustered in. The paper trumpeted “Mr TD Platt of Stephentown was compelled to shut down his mill and suspend operations on his farm- his working men having all enlisted! Truly the mountaineers are ablaze with patriotism!”
On August 13 there was a war meeting at James Morrison’s hotel in Speigletown. “A large gathering of the citizens of Lansingburgh, Pittstown, and Schaghticoke is expected to take place, as it promises to be the largest gathering of its kind outside the city of Troy.” Several men from Troy, and Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke were to speak, and “a brass band from Troy will be in attendance and discourse some patriotic airs.”
A full company of 101 had been organized by August 15 in Schaghticoke and was headed for camp in Troy. That day the regiment received the designation as the 125th Also the paper reported that George Lamb Willard, who was already in the regular Army, had been released from his unit and would become the Colonel of the newly numbered regiment. Willard arrived in town on August 22. The paper began to speculate about the departure day of the regiment. . At this point the enlistees were to receive bounties from New York State and Rensselaer County, amounting to about $140, some payable upon enlistment, the rest after several months.

In 1861 George Lamb Willard had worked hard to recruit the first Civil War regiment raised in Rensselaer County, the 2nd NY, expecting to become its Colonel. His picture illustrates this column. He was in the regular Army. He had risen to the officers’ ranks following his heroism in the Mexican-American War as a youth, and was a Captain by the time the Civil War began. An Army regulation forbad currently serving officers from transferring to the new volunteer regiments, so he was not allowed to lead the 2nd. By the time the 125th was being recruited in July and August of 1862, the regulation had been changed due to the lack of qualified officers as the numbers of men in the Union Army grew and grew. So just before the 125th shipped out, Willard arrived to become its commander. The “Troy Times” newspaper reported every step of his progress from his base in the Washington, DC area to Troy.
George Willard had married a girl from Troy, Mary Gould Plum. She was the daughter of Elias Plum, wealthy leather merchant and bank president. They lived at 57 Second Street, now the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society. The 1861 Troy City Directory lists George Willard as living there.
As men throughout the county enlisted in the 125th, and the companies reached their complement of 100 men, the newspaper named the men appointed Captains of the various companies. They were lettered A-K, and each company was focused on a town in the county. Captain John VW Vandenburgh, became the Captain of Company K of Schaghticoke. Charles A Picket became its 1st Lieutentant and McGregor Steele its 2nd Lieutenant. From my research, Captain Vandenburgh may have had experience as a New York National Guard officer before the war. I know very little about McGregor Steele, who was only in the unit until December of 1862, when he was discharged for unknown reasons.

But Charles Picket was son of an entrepreneur in Schaghticoke named Lewis Picket. In the years before the War, father and son were melodeon manufacturers, and they started a paper mill after the war. Picket had no military experience as far as I know. The newspaper recorded that Picket’s friend William P Bliss presented him with a sword, sash, and belt, and David Myers a uniform on behalf of his friends of Schaghticoke. William Bliss was the President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill and really a friend of Picket’s father. The sword he presented him survives, owned locally. Myers was a peer of Picket’s, and probably his friends took up a collection to purchase the uniform. The newspaper does report a couple of similar presentations of swords in the regiment, but not the extensive gift that Charles received. We can only speculate about the charisma of the young man who inspired such a gift and/or the patriotism and enthusiasm of the village of Schaghticoke to make such a splendid purchase.

As August 1862 drew to a close, Companies A-K of the 125th NYS Volunteers filled up, 100 men each. Officers were appointed, Colonel Willard arrived. The “Troy Times” reported that its departure was expected any day. The men were mostly in tents in Camp Halleck, located near the Hudson River, at the junction of Glen and River Streets at what was then the north end of Troy.
We can only imagine the scene at the camp- lots of young men away from home from the first time, confusion as to when the regiment would depart, outfitting with new uniforms and weapons, visits from relatives and friends. The camp wasn’t fenced off in any way and was fully accessible to the city. In camp about August 15, a member of Captain Vandenburgh’s company “accidentally shot himself in the hand.” The ball was extracted and the wound dressed. There was also a lot of marching around. On August 21 Captain Myer’s company marched through the city proceeded by Doring’s Band, which “furnished the usual good music.” After saluting the residences of Mayor Thorn, Hon. J.A. Griswold and others, “the company partook of a fine meal at the American House, Alderman Eddy being the generous host of the occasion.” The Saturday before, Captain Esmond’s company had paraded through Lansingburgh.
A lot went into the outfitting a regiment of 1000 men to go to war. In October, the “Troy Times” gave this list: “a full requisition for a regiment calls for the following articles of clothing and equipment: 1015 great coats, 1015 trousers, 1015 blouses, 1015 bootees , 1015 caps, 1030 shirts, 4030 stockings, 2030 great coat straps, 1015 knapsacks, 1015 haversacks, 1015 canteens, 993 privates coats, 343 mess pans, 68 Sibley tents, 28 wall tents, 170 common tents, 1 hospital tent, 161 axes with handles, 161 hatchets with handles, 136 pickaxes with handles, 136 spades, 136 camp kettles, 20 bugles, 10 drums, 10 fifes, 10 camp colors, and 1 national color.” So everyone got a heavy coat, a pair of pants, what we would call a casual or fatigue coat, but they called a blouse, a shirt, a more formal uniform coat boots, a cap, two pairs of socks, a back pack to carry it all, a haversack to carry ammunition and a few small items needed in battle, and a canteen. The mess pans and kettles would be large enough for several men to cook together and the tents big enough for several to sleep together. About half of the men had to carry a digging tool or an axe. They would have to figure out their own bed and bedding.
The “Troy Times” reported the imminent departure of the 1000-man Rensselaer County Regiment for Virginia for about a week in August 1862 before the newly named-125th NYS Volunteer Regiment finally did leave. There must have been much excitement in the camp along the Hudson River as the farm boys and city boys did some marching and bid final good-byes to their families and friends. There was a final delay of a couple of days due to non-payment of the promised enlistment bounties from the county and the state- amounting to $140 in total- a huge amount at the time. But they were finally paid- and either handed over to families or pocketed. It was just a short walk from the camp east to the tracks of the Troy and Boston Railroad. The regiment entrained on 28 cars pulled by two steam locomotives and left at 8 p.m. on August 30. A large crowd assembled at the huge train depot in downtown Troy to watch the train pass through. Many had marched through the streets in a “war procession” to the station. They arrived at the depot just as the train did and “set off vollies (sic) of Roman candles which illuminated the scene. The cars passed through at a very swift pace, presenting a line of fluttering handkerchiefs and joyous faces at each and every window.”
This stirring scene was somewhat spoiled by one of those unexplained train stoppages. The train halted for an hour in south Troy, where some of the men got off to visit friends, and forty didn’t return! The train arrived in New York City at 7 a.m. Spectators waved as they passed Staten Island. After a brief rest at the Park Barracks, the men entrained again in the afternoon, now a total of 976 armed with Enfield rifles. They were fed supper by volunteers in Philadelphia, and then loaded on to freight cars to go on to Baltimore. They suffered their first real discomfort on that journey, from “the fearful jostling of springless cars.” They proceeded directly to Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), through what the newspaper’s correspondent described as “poverty stricken country,” with “rumors of rebels close by.”

If we think for a minute about the men of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, they would have been a mixture of farm boys and mill hands, with a couple of clerks thrown in, none with any military experience. Some had been enticed to enlist by the promise of adventure, others fired by patriotism, still others thrilled with the size of the bounty- more money in hand than they had ever seen before. Perhaps others were unsure what they wanted to do with their futures, and figured, why not? They had done a bit of drilling and marching in camp in Troy, but most had arrived there in mid-August, and they were at the front lines at Harpers Ferry, Virginia by early September, probably never having fired their weapons.
Then the whole 125th Regiment met a horrible fate for men set out to fight the rebels and reunite their country: they were captured en masse when the post at Harper’s Ferry surrendered to the Confederates on September 15, without having fired a shot. The regiment was immediately paroled, as the Confederates had no way to imprison the 12,700 men in total who had surrendered. They were stationed at a parole camp, Camp Douglas, in Chicago for two months. Then they were declared exchanged and returned to Virginia. This was the largest surrender of Union soldiers during the war, but has been little written about. In part, I suppose Union historians didn’t want to examine such a major defeat. In part, a much more important battle, Antietam, with 26,000 casualties in one day, occurred just a couple of days later. Let’s look at this event which was so important to our local regiment more closely.
General Robert E. Lee had achieved several victories through the summer of 1862, and was preparing to invade the North. The Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Virginia stood in his way. It would end up being in his rear as he advanced northward. Stonewall Jackson was sent to take the post with 26,000 men. He conceived a complicated plan of dividing his army in three parts and surrounding the armory and supply depot on three mountains around it. According to Dennis E. Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Jackson succeeded brilliantly in surrounding the town, and began an artillery bombardment on September 15. Colonel Dixon Miles, the Union Commander at Harpers Ferry, had orders from his superior, Major General John G. Wool, to “be energetic and active, and defend all places to the last extremity.” This is an important statement to us in Schaghticoke, as General Wool was raised here and had his home in Troy all of his life. But Miles and his advisors, facing annihilation by the Confederate artillery, surrendered the post on September 16. As Miles himself raised the white flag, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel and mortally wounded. Jackson captured 73 cannon, 200 wagons, about 13,000 rifles, and 12,700 prisoners, at the cost of 289 casualties: the biggest Confederate victory of the war.

General Stonewall Jackson led the Army that surrounded Harpers Ferry.

We are fortunate to have local views of the capture of Harpers Ferry. Joe Sticklemeyer found, edited, and published the letters of George Bryan of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, written home to his friend Jennie Ackart. And the “Troy Daily Times” newspaper continued its comprehensive coverage.
On September 8, the newspaper reported that Constable McManus and Chief of Police Barron of Troy had gone south with twenty men they had rounded up who had deserted from the 125th as it was leaving town the preceding week. They had many adventures, but finally reached the camp in Martinsburg, named Camp Wool,“leaving their friends on the eve of battle” and bringing home 100 letters from soldiers to friends and family. The next day the paper’s correspondent reported that “the enemy are appearing from every direction…if the Confederates march up the heights, Harpers Ferry will be at their mercy. What has the Union done to meet the crisis?” The correspondent was Axiel Ellis, who had worked for the paper and enlisted in the 125th. So it appears that ordinary soldiers were aware of the danger.
Over the next few days, the paper was full of conflicting reports about events at Harpers Ferry. Often stories appearing on the first page of the paper would be contradicted on later pages, as the reporters updated events with new telegrams coming in. On September 15, the paper first stated that General Miles (actually Colonel) and all his command had been captured, “but it is only a rumor of the vaguest sort”, then that there had been no battle at Harpers Ferry. On September 16, the paper reported that the 125th had retreated from Martinsburg to Harpers Ferry, that there had been a battle at Harpers Ferry on Saturday and that Union troops had taken 6000 prisoners! And that Stonewall Jackson had been whipped in three battles. If only that had been true!
After the battle, Axiel Ellis added that during that march from Martinsburg the inexperienced and untrained 125th had “suffered exceedingly” due to their heavy knapsacks, and most men had ended up throwing away “everything except their arms.” From conversations with National Park Service Rangers, I learned that the 125th was at one end of the Union line by September 14. Their location was on a steep side hill leading down to the railroad line, which ran along the Shenandoah River. It must have been frightening for the very inexperienced men from Rensselaer County to be so exposed, but they held their ground. The 126th NY Infantry Regiment broke and ran under the barrage, but with their experienced Colonel, George Willard, the 125th held.
On September 21, the Times reported that several soldiers from the 125th had reached Troy with on-the-spot accounts. One dramatic story reported about the Regiment’s Colonel. “A round shot passed directly under Colonel Willard’s horse. He turned toward the battery from which the shot was fired, took off his hat as coolly as if on parade, and bowed to the enemy.” With an example like that, how could the men do otherwise than stay put!

map of Harpers Ferry from the website of the National Park Service

By September 17 the truth was reported, that the Union had surrendered Harpers Ferry and Colonel Miles had been killed. The September 19 issue gave a full story of the battle, adding that the white flag was “raised to prevent useless sacrifice of life,” but that the men were not happy about it, “a murmur of disapprobation ran along the whole line when it became known that we had surrendered, “though after the surrender, “soldiers on both sides set down to friendly conversation.” The reporter got to see the Confederate commander, Stonewall Jackson. He said “he was dressed in the coarsest kind of homespun, seedy and dirty at that, wore an old hat which any Northern beggar would consider an insult to offer him.” As to the Confederate troops, “the decayed appearance of the rebel soldiers…Ireland in her worst straits could present no parallel.” Also, the reporter was present when Colonel Miles died, and reported his extensive last words very dramatically.

Lt. George Bryan wrote home to his friend Jennie Ackart in Schaghticoke.

On September 25, George Bryan gave wrote his version home to his friend Jennie Ackart. “I suppose you have heard of our misfortune in being taken prisoners by the rebel Jackson’s army. You can judge yourself how I felt when I gave up my gun and equipment to the rebels. I had to march away amidst the cheers of the rebel forces.” George and the 125th were in camp on Sunday morning in Harpers Ferry when the Confederates “opened fire with six or seven batteries on us….they shelled us until dark…they shelled us three or four hours Monday morning” Then the army was surrendered. Bryan already had what became the prevailing opinion of the commander, Colonel Miles: “when the traitor Miles ran up the (white) flag….he was struck by a piece of shell and killed. He met his just reward. At one time the shot and shell flew all around our company, yet not one moved from his place…” Bryan was ready to fight and was deprived of the opportunity.
The US government investigated the facts of the surrender just a couple of months later. They pulled in all the officers involved and questioned them. Colonel Willard testified that the 125th had arrived at Harpers Ferry on September 12. . The Confederate artillery batteries on Loudon Heights- across the Shenandoah River opened fire, and many troops retreated “in considerable disorder.” By September 14, they were located as I described above. There had been rumors that the soldiers didn’t have enough ammunition to fight, giving the General in charge, General Miles, further reason to surrender. Colonel Willard testified that they did have ammunition, but had not been given the opportunity to fire a shot. But he also said, “I felt we were in very desperate circumstances,” meaning they were surrounded. It was easy to blame the defeat on Miles, as he had been killed as he raised the white flag, but by September 15, the Army probably didn’t have many options left.
The Times correspondent Ellis reported that the 125th marched 125 miles to Annapolis, Maryland after the surrender. “The regiment is at present somewhat discontented, dispirited and desirous of returning home until exchanged. The men are much opposed to being retained in camp or garrison.” Rumors swirled about what would become of them. One said that they would be sent to Chicago, another, more hopeful, that Governor Morgan of New York would make arrangements for them to go home. I’m sure that whoever was in charge felt that if the 125th were paroled to their homes, they would never return to the war.
But by the end of September 1862, the 125th was safely, if unhappily, in Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. They had traveled by freight car with rations of “hard bread and partially cooked pork,” but patriotic people along the route had fed them. On the one hand, it must have been interesting for the boys from Schaghticoke to see a part of the country certainly none of them had ever seen before. On the other hand, they were captives in a not-very-sanitary camp. Ellis reported that Camp Douglas, on the shores of Lake Michigan, had comfortable tents, but on October 16, George Bryan wrote to Jennie, “The health of our company is poor. There is about twenty on the sick list.”- out of 100 in the company. George was not feeling well himself, but was still ready to fight, “I should like to meet a rebel hand to hand.” Ellis concurred that the men didn’t want a discharge, were “ready to take up arms, but feel they should have a short furlough.”

This is a photo of the camp of the 2nd Vermont, from the website of the National Archives- the camp of the 125th was undoubtedly quite similar

George described some of the living conditions of the company. The breakfast food was roast corn. Just before the fight at Harpers Ferry, he stated, “I have eaten enough roast corn since I have been out here to fat a hog. You know I used to tell you that hogs eat corn. I think as far as eating is concerned I have degenerated to a hog. I have made many a meal of hard crackers and raw bacon and pork, yet I am well and hearty and like to have a good time as well as I ever did.”
In Camp Douglas on October 16, he reported, “I have no place to sleep but on the ground.” It must have been getting chilly in Chicago in October. Bryan signed that letter as orderly sergeant, so he had already been promoted from his mustering in as a private. By November 2, 33 of the 100 men of Company K were sick, his and Jennie’s friend, Chauncey Crandall was in the hospital, and Ezra Burch had typhoid fever. He died a few days later. He was just the first to die. George wrote, “there is someone to blame from the many diseases of this camp…it is a sickly place around Chicago.” I’m sure that there was no intent to lose men to sickness and death due to bad conditions. Partly the system must have been overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of almost 13,000 men, and partly the sanitation of the time was just not what we have today.
Morale was poor. Axiel Ellis reported that “a spirit bordering on mutiny has been manifested. George added that men were deserting as well. The company was down to 85. At least two of their officers were allowed furloughs. Captain Vandenburgh accompanied the body of Ezra Burch at least as far as Troy, and Lieutenant Steele had a twenty day furlough due to his ill health. Ordinary soldiers did not receive furloughs, however. How could there not be great frustration to just be sitting around- if they couldn’t go fight, why couldn’t they go home?!
In my research into Company K of the 125th, I have found nine men who deserted in October in Chicago: Emery Beauchamp, Thomas Brand, Levi Buffett, Martin Roddy, James Scott, Joseph Slocum, and William Wolf deserted for good. William Martin returned to duty in May, 1863, presumably having spent the winter and spring at home, just in time to be wounded at Gettysburg in July. George Wolf also returned. In general, there just wasn’t sufficient manpower to search for men who went AWOL. And those who returned to duty were allowed to do so, perhaps with loss of pay as a penalty. I also found that musician Francis Hagadorn was discharged for disability in Chicago in March, 1863, long after the 125th had gone back to Virginia. He must have been in the hospital all that time. Josiah Slocum, an old soldier at 44, was also discharged for disability in Chicago, and David Johnson died in December in Chicago.
On the bright side, George told Jennie he was “glad to hear that you have formed an aid society for the benefit of the soldiers.” Only a month or so after the 125th had shipped out, the folks at home were thinking of their welfare. On September 13th “Troy Times” printed a long, long list of items put together by the ladies of Hoosick to the Sanitary Commission, the organization formed to help supply the troops. The list ranged from $150 in cash to quarts of currant jelly, jars of pickles, clothing and fabric for hospital use, pillows, canned tomatoes and onions, woolen socks, bottles of wine, gallons of vinegar, dried fruit, and pairs of pants, stockings, and slippers.
By the time George wrote to Jennie again, it was December 8th, 1862, and the address was “camp near Bullrun, Virginia.” The 125th had left Chicago by train on November 22, and “three days and four nights later” they were at Washington, DC. The 1000 man regiment was down to 675 men and 55 sick soldiers. Some soldiers were too sick to travel, including the “Troy Times” correspondent, Axiel Ellis, who died November 27 in Chicago, leaving a widow and two children.
The regiment received supplies and tents, and then was moved around several times in the vicinity of Centerville, Virginia. Each time George told Jennie about the winterization of their camp, they would have to move again, “but such is the life of a soldier.” George finally received a box that Jennie had sent him on January 2, 1863. “My box had been opened and some of the things taken out. All that was left was the stockings and mittens and some apples and crackers and paper and envelopes…I was sorry when I read your letters and found that most of the things had been lost. Yet I am thankful for them. It is very pleasant to me to know that I have friends at home.” If that was what was left in the box, it must have been incredibly stuffed.
The rations had improved since Chicago. “We have fresh beef once in five days and bread twice in five days; so we fare very well now.” For one supper, George described, “there is three of us in my tent…Fried some bread and meat together, it was kind of hash. We had bread and coffee to eat with it.” The men had to group together and cook for themselves- there was no Army mess as there is now.
For heat in that winter, he said, “We get a pan of coals in our tents and we get seated around it. And can have merry times.” George was keeping busy studying for promotion. They were all waiting for spring and the campaign season to begin.
In February, George described the land around the camp to Jennie. “We are camped on the top of a hill…We are in sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Manassas plains. There is earthworks all around our camp…” He states that 150,000 Rebels had camped in the area the winter before. George also answered questions she had asked in previous letters. What were the prospects of a battle? “we may be attacked before morning and we may stay here a year and not see any Rebels.” How would he feel about going into battle? “I enlisted to fight and do not mean to go home..until I have seen some more fight.”
In March, George reported he had been promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Company D, away from his friends in Company K. “At first I was quite lonesome, but now I am at home; I like the company.” There were raids by the Confederate cavalry quite frequently, and George spent many nights on picket duty. “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 quick death.” Jennie must have asked if he was a Christian, as George replied, “I am far from being a Christian. I am sorry to have to say..” The lousy weather and strain of being on picket duty one night out of three were really wearing him down. He was eager to get going and participate in a decisive battle.
In May 1863 the regiment finally moved, but only about five miles. George went to Washington, D.C. for a day, and came back to find the regiment “encamped in a pine grove. It was the pleasantest place I have seen since I have been in the army. ….the first night I stayed there it was as pleasant a time as I have enjoyed in a long time. From retreat until tattoo the officers all met together around a large campfire. I passed about two hours in telling stories and singing. I wish you could have been where you could have seen us.”
That “pleasant” letter contrasts strongly with a slightly later one in May, where George describes having “seen men that have died in almost all ways, have seen one that was murdered by a soldier, and those that have died of disease in hospitals, and those that have been killed by accident, and some that were killed in battle.” “I used to dread the sight of a corpse, but now it is no new sight.” “Yet one thing we always try and do to those that die in our camp, that is to give them a military burial.”
On June 19, George wrote, “I have just had some lemonade and figs and now have lit my cigar, so you can see that I do not suffer any.” But excitement was building, “we expect a fight here every day.” More and more troops were arriving at camp. “It is so noisy and much exerting here that I cannot have much time to write.”
Those who are familiar with the history of the Civil War will know what fight was coming……but I will deal with it this July.

Frye, Dennis, E. website of the Harpers Ferry National Park:
Stickelmyer, Joseph, ed., “Friend Jennie,” 2009.
“Times Record” newspaper- various editions through July-September, 1862, on microfilm
Website of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/125thInf/125thInfMain.htm