“The Harpers Ferry Cowards” is not an enviable nickname, but it is the one with which the 126th New York Infantry was stuck after September 15, 1862, the date that saw the largest capture of United States troops until the Battle of Bataan roughly 70 years later. The regiment, which had been active for a mere 21 days, was stationed on Maryland Heights and had been successful in fending off Joseph Kershaw’s brigade on September 12 and 13, but when the 126th observed their colonel, Eliakim Sherrill, being carried from the field after receiving a wound to the face, a few companies lost all bearings and fled. After the surrender on September 15, the 126th was paroled at Camp Douglas in Chicago until November.
In retrospect, the treatment these New Yorkers received for cowardice and the reputation they bore seems difficult to validate (after all, only about 20% of the regiment fled, while the rest stood their ground), but Civil War era notions of masculinity were far too strict to excuse them; they would remain the Harpers Ferry Cowards until their actions at Cemetery Ridge on July 3 reinforced their honor. An account of the regiment’s experience by Captain Winfield Scott (not to be confused with the Winfield Scott of The Anaconda Plan) during Pickett’s Charge bathes the regiment in golden light: “That cheer struck terror into the heart of the wavering foe, and nerved to desperation and deeds of valor the boys in blue.” Scott’s account is a romantic one, extolling the bravery of the 126th, men who were cowards no more. “Thus officers and men, with perfect composure, and in confidence, formed the line,” he writes; “They poured in a terrible fire upon us. We answered it with another more terrible.”
After a less than respectable showing on the slopes of Marye’s Heights in December 1862, the 127th Pennsylvania Regiment found itself in desperate need of an opportunity to redeem itself on the field of battle. Could a mulligan assault on the same ridge be the key to restoring their honor? Assigned to Hall’s Brigade in Gibbon’s Division for the duration of the Chancellorsville Campaign, they now had a chance to find out.
By the spring of 1863, the Army of the Potomac was itching for another shot at the Confederates. The 127th Pennsylvania – colloquially known as the Dauphin County Regiment – now considered itself to be a hardened veteran regiment, mocking newer regiments that carelessly discarded their blankets and extra layers of clothing in anticipation of combat. As part of the detachment under General John Sedgwick designated to assault the Confederate line from Stafford Heights as Hooker led his main army around the foe, Gibbon’s division would again cross the Rappahannock River on pontoon boats, capture the town of Fredericksburg, and march on the Confederate position at Marye’s Heights.
On May 2, Lieutenant Colonel Hiram C. Alleman and Major Jeremiah Rohrer were called before General John Gibbon, who reminded them that their section of the line would be particularly weak during the battle based on the division’s formation, “and General Lee knows it; so both of you will be held responsible if you allow yourselves to be surprised.” To ensure his point had been made, Gibbon then added, “You will be held liable, and will certainly be shot.” Perhaps, as the regiment’s later conduct would suggest, these words should have been taken closer to heart.
The Dropkick Murphys is a popular American Celtic Punk band known for their combinations of punk rock and bagpipes. Their songs are filled with Irish pride and often have something to do with hard partying and whiskey. However, in their 1999 album The Gang’s All Here, the Murphys took on the topic of Irish soldiers in the American Civil War. The song “The Fighting 69th” was first sung by the Irish band The Wolfe Tones on their 1993 album Across the Broad Atlantic. The album features several songs dedicated to Irish immigrants to America and holds a certain fascination for the Irish American. The Wolfe Tones version of the song is a more traditional-sounding Celtic song detailing the journey of Irish immigrants as “they sailed away/and they made a sight so glorious/as they marched along Broadway…and from there they went to Washington/and straight into the war.” When the Murphys released their version of the song in 1999, they added their signature punk anthem sound to make their version a hard rocking ballad dedicated to the men of the Irish Brigade.
Meg Sutter ’16and Megan McNish ’16report from Gettysburg College’s Special Collections in Musselman Library. In this episode, they present a Civil War diary and ink well used by Lewis W. Tway of the 147th New York.
Meg Sutter ’16and Megan McNish ’16report from Gettysburg College’s Special Collections in Musselman Library. In this episode, they present a Civil War housewife used by Lewis W. Tway of the 147th New York.
Clark Alving Gardner was born on June 20, 1839, to Peleg and Julia Gardner in Rodman, New York, a town in Jefferson County. He was the oldest of five children. On July 31, 1862, at the age of twenty-three years, Gardner enlisted in the Black River Artillery, and was called to service on September 11 of the same year.
The Black River Artillery originated from Sackett’s Harbor, New York, located off the Black River Bay in Jefferson County. The 4th, 5th, and 7th Battalion units of the Black River Artillery were consolidated to form the 10th New York Heavy Artillery regiment on December 31, 1862, shortly after Gardner had joined and one day before President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Continue reading “A Man of Mystery: An Introduction to Mr. Clark Gardner”
By the time that Private Constantine Dickerson and the 67th New York Volunteers were called up from reserve on the morning of July 3rd, 1863, two Confederate attempts to take Culp???s Hill from Union defenders had already been repulsed. As Major Gen…
By the time that Private Constantine Dickerson and the 67th New York Volunteers were called up from reserve on the morning of July 3rd, 1863, two Confederate attempts to take Culp’s Hill from Union defenders had already been repulsed. As Major General Edward Johnson launched a third assault, Union defenders called for support. Brigadier General Alexander Shaler and his brigade of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, among them Private Dickerson and the 67th, had been held in reserve near the Spangler House since 9 am. Reserve status, however, by no means meant being detached from the fighting. Wounded men had been passing through their ranks all morning, and stray rounds passed overhead. For Dickerson, a veteran, these hallmarks of battle were nothing new. Dickerson had enlisted with the 67th New York (also known as the 1st Long Island) for three years in August of 1861. He had been a part of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks (where his unit suffered 170 casualties), and Malvern Hill Not two months prior to the clash at Gettysburg, he had fought in the Chancellorsville campaign, storming Marye’s Heights. On the morning of July 3rd, however, surrounded by the familiar sounds, sights and smells of battle, as well as his comrades of almost two years, enduring a wait for battle that must have also been familiar, Dickerson went AWOL (absent/away without leave).
For Sergeant Humiston, the photo of his three children was more than a comfort in his dying moments. Had he not taken it with him into battle and died grasping it, in all likelihood Humiston’s tombstone in the Soldiers National Cemetery would have read “Unknown,” leaving Mrs. Humiston and her children to speculate as to how their soldier died. Instead, the Humiston family was given closure and could move forward with their lives. The families of 979 soldiers buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery were not as fortunate. One example of this is the tragic deaths of three brothers in Co. “B,” 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Adam, Enos, and Samuel Cramer each received a mortal wound while their regiment defended a line of battle directly west of the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary on July 1, 1863. When the 1st and 11th Corps were forced to retreat back through Gettysburg toward Cemetery Hill, these men, their commander, Colonel Robert Cummins, and many other Union casualties were left to the care of the jubilant Confederates. Adam and Enos died on the 1st, but Samuel, with his left arm and leg amputated, lingered for eight more days before succumbing to his wounds on July 9th. His brothers are buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in graves marked unknown, but when Samuel’s body was moved for burial, it was sent with a note detailing the death of his brothers and confirming his identity. (These men are distant relatives of the author of this post.) Continue reading “The Children of the Battlefield: The Picture that Identified Sergeant Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Volunteers”