History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Tag Archives: Petersburg

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.

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.

The Spring Campaign: Return to Commemoration of the 150th of the Civil War

The Sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues. The more I research, the more I become convinced that we need to remember and honor the men who served in that conflict, the defining one for our nation. The nation and our state have done little, in my opinion, to celebrate the 150 year milestone, missing a great opportunity to introduce the lessons of the conflict to a new generation. At least I can do my part. My columns about the big spring battles of the East will run a little past the actual 150th anniversary, in May. So if you are interested in seeing reenactors and standing on the ground where the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor happened on the date 150 years later, I would suggest a trip to Virginia in May! The National Park Service has installed a new exhibit at the Chancellorsville Visitors’ Center, which covers the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. I will set the scene for our local boys, the men of the 125th and 169th NYS Volunteer Infantry Regiments.
When we left our Rensselaer County soldiers, they were dug in for the winter of 1863-1864, the men of the 125th N.Y. Infantry in Virginia, those of the 169th N.Y. on Folly Island in South Carolina. Over the winter, both regiments sent their Colonels home to Troy to recruit. The regiments were sadly depleted by death and disease. The Troy newspapers reported the presence of the recruiting parties, and ads sought men to enlist, offering bounties up to $965 for veterans of other units, and urging recruits to join their friends. The 169th even offered a bounty to people who brought recruits to enlist, $15 if the man was a new recruit, $25 if he was a veteran. The 169th recruiting party returned to the regiment by the end of March. An article about the 125th quoted a letter from a soldier of the regiment: “the regiment is small and the boys wish for speedy reinforcements in the way of recruits. So hurry up the young men from Troy…the officers of the regiment are very much liked, but the Colonel more than the rest…he is brave and cares well for his men..” Colonel Crandell and his recruiters did not return to the regiment until early May.
President Lincoln announced a further draft, seeking 200,000 more men countrywide to join the 300,000 drafted the previous summer. There has been much written about the draft, with its provision that men could buy their way out for $300 or hire a substitute. But as with the earlier draft, Rensselaer County met its quota of about 2100 men with volunteers, so that no one was actually drafted.
The Troy “Times” newspaper included many accounts of maneuverings of both the Union and Confederates over the winter, with speculation about the South- did it remain committed to rebellion or was it ready to rejoin the Union? Increasingly, articles debated what would and should happen to the Southern states and to the slaves once the Confederacy had been defeated. This certainly shows that the North fully expected to win, it was just a question of when. On the other hand, I just read a book called Lee’s Miserables by J. Tracy Power, detailing this time period for the Confederates. Much as it would seem unrealistic to us today, Southerners in general were equally confident of victory as 1864 began.
In winter and spring 1864, the “Troy Times” newspaper reported on international, national, and local news, but the emphasis was on the upcoming campaign season, as the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies prepared to resume fighting the Civil War.
The Troy paper was also full of the activities on the home front of the war. Nationally, the Sanitary and Christian Commissions had organized as volunteers to provide needed amenities to the troops and to care for the wounded. Rensselaer County had its own branches of both of those organizations. Sanitary fairs, concerts, and church socials were held in Albany and Troy during the winter to raise money for the national organizations. On the local level, there were two articles in the paper praising a Mrs. Haskell and her group from Lansingburgh who had made knitted mittens and night caps for the men of the 125th New York State Volunteers, one of the local regiments. A thank you letter from the regiment noted that the mittens warmed both the hands and, as evidence of the caring of those on the home front, the hearts of the recipients.
On February 2, 1864 the Troy “Times” reported that the 3rd Army Corps had had a grand ball at the headquarters of General Joseph Bradford Carr of Troy. He was based in a house near Brandy Station, Virginia. For the occasion he had a “dancing hall” erected behind the house, “tastefully decorated and brilliantly illuminated.” Regimental bands from Carr’s division provided the music for the affair, and ladies came from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The supper cost $1500, a huge amount, and the paper stated, “it cannot be better described” beyond stating the cost. The ball was part of “a new system of pleasure to beguile the tedium of camp life during the inactivity of the Army.” I question how much this relieved the boredom of the average soldier, as it seemed to be aimed at the officer corps.
George Bryan, the Lieutenant in the 125th whose letters written home to his friend Jennie in Schaghticoke have informed much of my writing about the regiment, wrote on February 22 that “there is going to be a grand military ball at our corps headquarters tonight. There is a few of our officers going to attend it. I shall not myself.” He did attend a ceremony that day honoring General George Washington on the occasion of his birthday, which he said was wonderful. The illustration is a drawing of the celebration of the 2nd Army Corps for Washington’s Birthday on February 22, 1864.

This drawing shows a grand ball of the 2nd Corps in February 1864.

This drawing shows a grand ball of the 2nd Corps in February 1864.


The 169th NYS Infantry Regiment, the other Rensselaer County Infantry regiment, had spent much of 1863 besieging Charleston, South Carolina from a base on Folly Island . From February 7-12, while their Colonel was recruiting in the North, the regiment marched to nearby Kiawah and Johns Island, South Carolina, burning a plantation and fighting with the Confederates based there. The purpose of the attack was to keep the Confederate soldiers there and prevent them from reinforcing Jacksonville, Florida, which had just been seized by a Union force. The Union army still was defeated at the battle of Olustee, and the 169th was then part of a force moved to reinforce those forces, camping at Jacksonville on February 23rd. At first the men were sad to leave their settled winter encampment near Charleston, but like many after them, they soon discovered the delights of Florida. They were ordered to Fortress Monroe, in Virginia, on April 20 1864, getting ready for the spring campaign season.

The “Troy Times” described one small action of the 125th Regiment, the regiment with our Schaghticoke boys, which interrupted their time in camp. On February 9, 1864 the men were ordered to form up and march from winter camp, just west of Washington, D.C. in Virginia, to cross the Rapidan River at Morton’s Ford and attack the Confederates behind their earthworks. The river was four feet deep and rapid- so the men had a rough time crossing, but took the Confederates by surprise and pushed them back, taking some captives. After spending a night sleeping on the ground, cold and wet, the men recrossed the river and returned to camp. The “Times” reported that the purpose of the attack was unknown, but George Bryan, our local boy, writing home to his friend Jennie Ackart, said that the purpose was “to find out the strength of the Rebel Army in our Front.” He did not participate, he was “sorry to say,” as he was on picket duty. He added, “The Schaghticoke Company done better than ever before, there was not a man but what was in his place and eager to press in. Schaghticoke may feel proud of her Company for they are good and brave men and fear no danger.” The paper reported that at least no men in the 125th were killed or wounded. Bryan added that the cold and wet men were issued whiskey when they returned to camp, and “it caused no trouble save a few felt ‘golly’.”
At some point in the winter, George Bryan got to go home. The timing is unclear from both the dates and the content of his letters. On February 10 he wrote to Jennie, “I am sorry I could not make you a visit while at home but you know that my time was so short that I could not see half of my friends. I did not make a visit at home….I hardly saw my mother an hour.” He said his “orders were not to be trifled with,” and he didn’t dare divert to visit everyone. This seems amazing to me. He was home but didn’t have a minute to see his friends and faithful correspondent Jennie? Especially as he adds that he had a fine time on the trip back to camp. He stopped in Baltimore and visited W.M. VanSchaick, a fellow officer from Company K, who was there recovering from wounds. Plus there was a gap in his otherwise regular letters to Jennie from February 22 to May 14, 1864. I really don’t know where he was all that time.
Jennie must have written to George that she was sad not to see him and afraid she would never see him again. He reassured her on the last point, but indeed, they would not meet again. She must also have written him about girls at home he might like. George is rather coy, saying they are all fine ladies. He writes that his friend Bratt was “a foolish boy to get married, although I may yet be as foolish…” This is the only letter which indicates that either he or Jennie may have considered the other as anything more than a friend. George also asks permission to burn Jennie’s letters to him, as they were starting to take up so much room in his limited pack.

Because of the big gap in George Bryan’s letters, my sources of my information for the upcoming battles are the 125th’s Regimental History, written by Chaplain Ezra Simons after the war, and the “Troy Times”. The 125th was part of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac, which was reorganized during the winter. The commander of the 2nd was General Winfield Scott Hancock, known as “Hancock the Superb.” The 125th was specifically under General Barlow and Colonel Frank- for reference when looking at maps of battles. Everyone, soldier and citizen, seemed to realized that with General Ulysses S. Grant in overall command of the Union Armies that this campaign season would be different. There was tremendous confidence in Grant. His order to General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.”

General Winfield Scott Hancock, "the Superb"

General Winfield Scott Hancock, “the Superb”


General Hancock at the battle of the Wilderness

General Hancock at the battle of the Wilderness


This spring my husband and I went to walk over the territory of the battles of the 125th in the spring of 1864 in Virginia. The overwhelming impression is that Virginia was one big battleground throughout the Civil War. With the Confederate Armies working to capture Washington, D.C. and defend Richmond, Virginia, and the Union Armies working to do the opposite, this was inevitable in retrospect. Richmond and Washington are just about 110 miles apart. We went to Fredericksburg, Virginia to begin our trip. A measure of the overlap of the fighting is that the National Park Service brochure for the area covers the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, Chancellorsville in 1863, and the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. There isn’t a separate park headquarters for each battle. The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House come under the aegis of the “Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania Battlefield Park” with the headquarters at the site of the battle of Chancellorsville. The battlefields are a patchwork of modern residences and shopping malls interspersed with protected sites of battles sprinkled with granite monuments erected over the years by veterans’ groups. The National Park Service couldn’t possibly protect all of the battlefields. At this point the Wilderness is threatened by construction of a Walmart.
So at the beginning of May 1864 the 125th moved out of winter camp with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, marching from winter camp south, crossing the Rapidan River, heading for General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The Union Armies passed over the site of the battle of Chancellorsville the year before and clashed with the Confederates in an area known as “the Wilderness,” just a few miles to the west. The area had been logged over the years for fuel for a local iron industry, so was covered with a dense tangle of second growth forest, making visibility very poor.
The first day of the Battle of the Wilderness was May 5 and the 125th did not participate. On May 6 they were on the left of the Union Line, with all but 104 men on picket duty on the very end of the line. Those men, along with soldiers from two other regiments, moved forward through the thick brush under Lt. Colonel Aaron Myer of Troy, substituting for Colonel Crandell, who was still in recruiting back home. In fierce fighting, Myer was wounded in the thigh and the Regiment had to fall back when they ran out of ammunition. 34 of the 104 had been killed. “The fighting here..was terrific..far more severe than even at Gettysburg…the firing sounded like the roaring of the ocean.” The woods caught fire and burned some of the dead and wounded. Myer died a couple of days later and was first buried on the battlefield, then reinterred back in Troy. The “Times” reported that “the medical branch of the service has greatly improved since last summer. Hospital tents and food adapted to the wounded are brought with the Army and kept near the troops.” The Army had indeed made improvements, but two civilian organizations, the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission had organized nationwide to provide food, clothing, and nursing to wounded soldiers.
Aaron B. Myer, killed in the battle of the Wilderness

Aaron B. Myer, killed in the battle of the Wilderness


the 125th NY was with Barlow and Frank, labelled on the right of the map

the 125th NY was with Barlow and Frank, labelled on the right of the map


Park Service panel showing the conditions in the wilderness.

Park Service panel showing the conditions in the wilderness.


Photo taken spring 2014 near the junction of the Brock and Orange Plank Roads, near where the 125th fought. Monument to Vermont regiments.

Photo taken spring 2014 near the junction of the Brock and Orange Plank Roads, near where the 125th fought. Monument to Vermont regiments.


In prior years, the Union Army paused after each major battle to regroup, but not this year with General Grant in charge. Though the Union Army had suffered 20,000 casualties and the Confederates 10,000 in the two days of the Wilderness, Grants’ generals pushed on after Lee the next day.
By May 8th, 1864 the 125th had marched a few miles south, reaching Todd’s Tavern, on the right of the Union line. They moved forward again on the 9th and crossed the Po River, marching until midnight. Sometime in the confusion of marching, digging, and fighting, five men of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, were captured by Confederate cavalry. They were Aretus Loomis, Archibald Fisher, Andrew Doty, Stephen McPherson, and Timothy Fields. The men were sent to the notorious prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Archibald got there just a few weeks before his brother Douglas died. Douglas had been there since February. The camp was closed in the fall, as the Army of General Sherman approached, and these five, along with the other prisoners who were still well enough to be moved, were sent to the new stockade at Florence, South Carolina. Stephen was shot “on the dead line” there. . There was an elevated wooden “line” a few feet from the prison stockade. If a prisoner crossed the line, he would be shot dead by the guards. This is what happened to Stephen. The other men were exchanged December 31, 1864. Aretus, Andrew, and Timothy survived their ordeal, though Aretus had several long term health issues as a result Archibald died on the ship en route to the hospital at Annapolis after his exchange, so close to salvation. The Fisher family of Schaghticoke had five sons, four of whom enlisted in Company K of the 125th. Two, Archibald and Douglas, died as a result of imprisonment, and two, John and William, survived. John is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.
On May 9, the Troy “Times” reported, “Glory, glory, a complete victory. Rebels on the run, Grant vigorously pursuing.” Both Union and Confederate officers and men immediately realized that this campaign would be different than the previous two years. Then, there would be a battle followed by several weeks of regrouping by both Armies. Under U.S. Grant, the Army of the Potomac just kept fighting. The “complete victory” was certainly an exaggeration. Both Armies were suffering horrible casualties, and Lee certainly wasn’t ready to give up.
125th_Po_River_map
site of Todd's Tavern today.

site of Todd’s Tavern today.

store and gas station across the road from the site of Todd's Tavern

store and gas station across the road from the site of Todd’s Tavern

map of the battle of Spotsylvania..the 125th charged the mule shoe with Barlow and Miles

map of the battle of Spotsylvania..the 125th charged the mule shoe with Barlow and Miles


Another innovation was that both sides began to build earthworks. As soon as they stopped, the infantryman began digging trenches and cutting down trees to form barriers to shield themselves. This became a common practice in later wars, but had not been done very much in the Civil War before this bloody year. The 125th had dug earthworks on the 8th, only to abandon them the next day. May 10 they fought the Rebels again, and again the woods caught fire, causing them to fall back. May 11 they marched all night. Chaplain Simon of the 125th said the men were exhausted from the marching, digging, and fighting.
May 12 was the decisive day of the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, which occurred just a few miles south and east of the Wilderness. The opposing Armies had been facing each other for a couple of days. Much of the Confederate Army was arrayed behind earthworks in the shape of a mule shoe- a salient- subjecting them to attack from two directions. The 125th was in the brigade of the Army of the Potomac which attacked the tip of the mule shoe, again suffering 50-60 casualties, including the death of almost all of its lieutenants. The Union Army succeeded in overcoming the Rebels, but by that point they had built another series of trenches to their rear, flattening out the shoe, so that the battle just continued on a new line. The part of the battlefield including the “mule shoe” is preserved as a National Park Service site. It was so dug up into defensive trenches of all kinds that farmers never replowed it after the war. The trenches survive until today.
me standing in the trenches at Spotsylvania, the 125th charged toward my back

me standing in the trenches at Spotsylvania, the 125th charged toward my back


The Armies fought on for a few more days until Grant moved his men on South, trying to slide around Lee to Richmond. From May 8th to the 21st, the Army of the Potomac suffered 18,400 casualties, the Army of Northern Virginia 13,000.
At that point our letter-writer George Bryan finally writes to Jennie again. On May 14 he reported the results of the battle of the Wilderness and the death of Colonel Myers. “I do not know of any of the Schaghticoke boys being killed. There is lots of wounded officers to be seen here but not many dangerously wounded. I look at them I cannot help but think how long will it be before I am either killed or wounded. But if either you know that it will not be while running away from the enemy, and you know it is glorious to die in such a cause,..” This confirms what I have read elsewhere- that officers were especially liable to wounds and death as they led their men. The men had more opportunity to stay in the trenches and keep their heads down.

By the next battle of the 125th, May 23, Colonel Crandell had returned to his regiment, which had very reduced numbers, just 130 present for duty rather than the 1000 men they began with. He brought some new recruits, who were certainly thrust into fighting with no training. Our correspondent George Bryan reported to his friend Jennie on May 31 that he had twenty men in his company, which should have had 100. He added, “we have to build earth works at night and fight during the day.”
levin crandell 2
The Regiment crossed the North Anna River on May 23 on a pontoon bridge and attacked the rebels again. The North Anna battlefield is a historic site of Hanover County, Virginia, rather than the National Park Service. When I visited there, I was lucky enough to meet the local historian, who directed me to the area where the 125th would have fought, not within the park borders. They crossed the North Anna River almost precisely at this point, next to the modern road north and south. Today the river seems shallow enough to ford. After another inconclusive battle, the Army of the Potomac continued to march south and east, actually passing the Confederate capitol, Richmond, to the east, and ending up near Petersburg, Virginia, just south of Richmond. Like the Wilderness, this was also near a previous battle, this time that of Gaines Mill, part of a series of losses by Union General McClellan in his Peninsular Campaign of June 1862. On May 27 the Troy Times correspondent reported, “ I never saw the army in better spirits for all they have been marching and fighting for the last 24 days. It has every confidence in Grant and there has been scarcely any straggling. Marched 125 miles in a week. “

the 125th crossed the Po River just behind me.

the 125th crossed the Po River just behind me.

The 125th reached Cold Harbor, to the east of Richmond, on June 2, 1864. They quickly learned that the 169th NY, the other Rensselaer County Regiment, was relatively nearby. Where had they been? They had been in the Army of the James, commanded by General Benjamin Butler. That Army had landed on the coast of Virginia, near where the James River entered the Atlantic Ocean, just to the east of Richmond around May 1. This was land that had already been fought over in the war in the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The 169th participated in a series of unsuccessful battles against the Confederates in May, with just a few casualties, called the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. A new tour map of the sites of the campaign, beginning at the National Park Service Headquarters in Richmond, has been produced for the 150th anniversary.
Unfortunately for its men, the 169th had reached Cold Harbor by June 1, when it participated in the first phase of that very bloody battle. On the battle map of Cold Harbor on June 1, the location of the 169th can be found near the Beulah Church. They were in the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Army of the James, under Colonel Devins. Their Colonel, John McConihe of Troy, was killed in the assault that day, shot three times, dying instantly. The mortality for Colonels in the Civil War was very high, leading as they did from the front and on horseback. The casualty total for the regiment was about 80.
Colonel McConihe’s body was returned to Troy for burial. The Troy paper reported, “ a painful gloom has been thrown over the city… he has fallen, sword in hand, bravely leading his noble comrades…”, then detailed all of the funeral preparations, including the order of the units which participated in the funeral cortege from downtown to Oakwood Cemetery, where he was buried. The body, despite being “in a poor state of conservation” lay in state at the County Courthouse. The funeral was June 8 from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Among the attendees was retired General John Wool and the Governor of New York State. McConihe has a very modest tombstone at Oakwood.
When the battle continued June 3, the Confederates were well entrenched, so that in the initial Union assault it is estimated that about 6000 Federals were killed or wounded in one hour. Thankfully for our men, neither the 125th nor the 169th were in the forefront of the battle that day. On the map of the battle for June 3, the 125th would have been at the far left of the Union line, in the reserve. The Troy “Times” reporter in the 125th stated, “From all appearances the armies here are gathering for the life and death struggle. We are to besiege the rebel works.. Our men can charge, they have done it..but we hope victory may be gained in other ways.” The men were willing to fight, but they saw very clearly the carnage that resulted from charging the entrenched foe.
The National Park Service Battlefield for Cold Harbor includes only a small section of the original site. The area is just to the northeast of the city of Richmond, and though it is not extensively built up, it is not rural like the area around the Wilderness. The Park Service ranger directed us to the area where the 125th was located during the battle, which was to the East of the park headquarters, a non-descript area near a gas station, now wooded.
After the initial fighting on June 1 and 3, the Union and Confederate Armies remained in place. The brochure from the Park Service notes that the battle of Cold Harbor showed that well-entrenched Armies were virtually “impregnable to frontal assaults,” a fact that was the story of World War I in the 20th century. A June 9 report in the “Troy Times” from the 125th, dated June 5 at Cold Harbor stated “so close are our lines to those of the enemy that a soldier might throw his hat into the works of the confederates.” There were a few casualties every day, as snipers shot careless men. The total Union casualties for Cold Harbor were about 10,000 men. So the total Union casualties from May 1 to June 12 were about 40,000 men. One can only imagine the trail of dead and wounded men scattered over Virginia from Fredericksburg to Richmond.

this map shows Hancock's men in reserve- including the 125th

this map shows Hancock’s men in reserve- including the 125th


General Grant made one more attempt to end the war in 1864, stealthily moving his Army on June 12 to try to take the vital Confederate transportation and supply hub of Petersburg, just about 25 miles to the south. Though the Union Army had been unable to take Richmond, but if they could take Petersburg, Richmond could not last long. Unfortunately the initial Union assaults on the city were not pressed hard enough and Lee was able to get the Army of Northern Virginia into the city to defend it. The Armies settled down into a nine-month siege.
Where was the 125th in all of this? The Regimental History reported that they marched from Cold Harbor, boarded transports to cross the James River on June 12, marched and countermarched, and arrived at Petersburg in the middle of the night on June 15. On June 16, they were marched from one end of the Union line to the other, then charged the rebels in the vanguard, over hilly terrain on Shand’s farm, under Confederate fire the whole time. They lost 44 men, 14 of whom were killed, “the proportion of loss in killed was greater than in any battle in which the regiment had taken part.” Among the wounded was their Colonel Crandall, who was struck in the face by a piece of artillery shell.
“After the first rush of the charge was over,” a group of officers were conversing in a ravine when “a company of rebels brought a cross-fire to bear upon (them), and Lieutenant (George) Bryan fell. He lingered about a half hour in agony and then passed from earth.” This was George Bryan, our Schaghticoke correspondent. In his final letter to his friend Jennie Ackart, written May 31, he wrote, “I have escaped thus far, but may fall at any moment….it will not be running away from the enemy.” George is buried in Hudsonview Cemetery in Mechanicville.
tombstone of George Bryan

tombstone of George Bryan


Lt. George Bryan

Lt. George Bryan


On June 19, the 125th marched six miles further south, near the southernmost part of the siege at the Weldon Railroad. Skirmishing continued through the whole period. On June 22, they were part of a poorly planned and executed attack to try to cut the Weldon Railroad. The attack failed badly, with the loss of three more of the regiment’s lieutenants. The Regimental history also reports that “the hot weather combined with the poor water…tended to fill the hospital at City Point (the Union headquarters) and to send men home, either temporarily or permanently.” The 125th was again so decimated that it was recombined with a few other units under the command of its own Colonel, Levin Crandall.
Both Confederate and Union armies constructed elaborate fortified siege lines, and settled in for the long haul by the end of June. Ezra Simons in the Regimental History reports that the 4th of July was the first day the men had not heard weapons firing since the first of May. If you have ever been in southern Virginia in the summer, you can imagine the difficult time the soldiers had on both sides through the hot summer. It was dusty when it was dry and muddy when it rained, added to the unrelenting sun and humidity.
I will return to Petersburg later in the year, as the Sesquicentennial continues.