The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter 5, Part 6

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

In the uncertain days of '61, when Confederates and Federals were grappling desperately in Missouri, and along the Upper Mississippi for supremacy in that all-important region, a New York soldier gallantly defended Lexington, Missouri, for many days, but eventually was over-powered. A few weeks later, another New Yorker, Frank J. White, son of Judge White, of the New York City Superior Court, organized a troop of cavalry, known as the Parini Scouts. At their head, he dashed upon Lexington, took it from the Confederates, and released his fellow-New Yorker and the other Federal troops imprisoned. Later, the Parini Scouts commanded by major White proved a troublesome band, incessantly harrying the confederate guerrilla chief, Porter. Before the end of the war, young White had become a brigadier-general. Thus we fine a young New Yorker upholding the honor of the empire State in far distant fields.

General Frederick Townsend, of Albany, had reached distinction in State military affairs long before the Civil War. In 1857 he was adjutant-general of the State, and to his efficiency must be attributed the fact that the State troops were ready for the field so soon after president Lincoln

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issued the urgent call, in April, 1861. General Townsend himself led the 3d Regiment into action at Big Bethel. After the emergency was over, and the regiment mustered out of Federal service, in the summer of 1861, Townsend went West and, as a brigadier-general, saw much fighting during 1862 along the Mississippi river and its great tributaries. In 1880, he was again adjutant-general of his native State.

General John Cleveland Robinson, of Binghampton, was a veteran of worthy record. For more than thirty years he was in military service, his war record including the Mexican campaign of 1846-47, and Indian warfare in Florida, Texas, and Utah. He was in command of Fort McHenry when the move to secede came, but he skillfully prevented that United States post from passing into Confederate hands. His subsequent war record show as service inmost of the great battles of the East. He led a division at Gettysburg, but at Spottsylvania received a wound that made amputation of his left leg necessary. General Robinson, nevertheless, remained in the Army until 1869, then retiring with the full rank of major-general of the Regular Army. Three years later, he was Lieutenant-Governor of the new York State.

But space is lacking. In trying to hold the notice mainly to general officers, we have found it impossible to even do this much within the space limitations; the distinguished service of many new York generals had not yet been shown. For instance, the valuable military services rendered to the State and nation by Chest Alan Arthur, who became President of the United States, have not yet been referred to. We might continue the list very much farther. Nothing has yet been said of Major-General George H. Thomas, of troy, who was one of the most capable field officers, known as "the Father of the Army of the Cumberland." Again, Brigadier-General James McLeer's service has been overlooked. He lost an arm in 1862, but thirty-six years later he was still in uniform, then organizing the Brooklyn brigade of New York National guard for Spanish War service. And this brings to mind three Civil War Generals who were very prominent in the Spanish War--General Nelson A. Miles, who was commander-in-chief of the United States Army in 1898; General Wesley Merritt, who commanded the first Philippines expedition; and General Guy V. Henry, who had command of all the troops in Porto Rico. Also, our minister in Spain in 1898 was General Stewart Lyndon Woodford, who enlisted in the 127th New York Volunteers in 1862, and was brevetted brigadier-general for gallantry in action at Savannah, later becoming very prominent in New York affairs. But a halt must be called. The list if too long. We must skip the other generals and regimental commanders and be content that their record is well preserved. And the gallant New York soldiers of lower rank, whose heroic effort to preserve the union exacted in very many cases the full measure of patriotism, are so numerous that even the naming of them is not possible.

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High and low, rich and poor, illustrious and unknown, master and man--all classes that make up the aggressive population of the great Empire state contributed to the rolls of the Civil War forces of the Union, all eager to do whatever State or national duty was asked of them. We find the name Millard Fillmore on the roster of the a military unit in 1861; ex-President Fillmore was a captain of the Buffalo Continentals, at a time when Southern spies and conspirators swarmed on the Canadian side of the Niagara frontier. And many other illustrious Americans were just as eager as ex-President Fillmore to unostentatiously enter upon any war work that would help to sustain the Union in its most critical period. But an end must be brought to this review. The foregoing will at least make it clear that new York State not only put into the field the greatest number of "boys in blue,' but that new York generals were in evidence on almost all fronts during the four years of war.

In finance, New York State carried the Union. A Buffalonian--Elbridge Gerry Spaulding--comes into Civil War history as "the Father of the Greenback." New York provided the sinews of war as well as the men to fight it. new York State, in almost all phases of the war, was predominant--undoubtedly the Empire State. A New York statesman, Seward, had championed the cause of the slave long before Lincoln became prominent. New York munitions of war, and also men, helped "bleeding Kansas" to fight for its rights against the slave States many years before the war began. A New York journalist--Greeley--wielded the most forceful anti-slavery pen in American. A Brooklyn clergyman--Beecher, held the moral determination of Abolitionists upon a noble plane. A New York stateman--Dix--was the first cabinet minister who had courage enough, in the first days of secession, to meet the issue squarely and flash an order to United States officers to "shoot . . . on the spot" any man who would haul down the American flag. The first united States officer to be imprisoned by the insurgents was a New Yorker--the young naval officer, Warden of "Monitor" fame. It was a New Yorker--Lieutenant Doubleday, at Fort Sumter--who sighted the first gun aimed during the Civil War on the side of the Union. The first Union regiment to cross the Potomac and take the offensive on Virginia soil was from New York--Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves--the impetuous Ellsworth., former law associate of Lincoln. When Baltimore threatened to isolate the national capital, and rebellious Marylanders tried to block the other way to Washington--via Annapolis--a new York regiment was one of the two that seized and held Annapolis. A new Yorker--General Winfield Scott--was general-in-chief of the Union armies in the first year of war; another--General Halleck--was general-in-chief during the middle period; and the end of the war found a New Yorker--Halleck--still in Washington as chief-of-staff. So the Empire State had considerable part

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in the direction of the war. And, as we have already stated in earlier pages, New York soldiers, were to be found inconsiderable numbers on almost all war fronts throughout the four years of war. New York's contribution to the navy was also considerable. But for the whole-hearted cooperation of a New York shipowner--Commodore Vanderbilt, who placed his merchant fleet at the disposal of the United States Navy at a time when the latter was very weak--it is doubtful whether the blockade which won the war could have been effectively maintained. But for ingenuity of New York inventors and shipbuilders, and the unflinching devotion to duty of a New York naval officer--Worden of the "Monitor"--naval supremacy might have passed to the South. In diplomacy, New York excelled. But for the efforts of four eminent New Yorkers--General Scott, Archbishop Hughes, Thurlow Weed, and Secretary Seward--the nation might have found itself at war with Britain also, in 1861, over the "Trent" affair. It was an alert New Yorker--Schuyler Hamilton, descendent of the great Federalist,. Alexander Hamilton, and also of a great canal building, Philip Schuyler--who thought of the canal-building plan that brought upon the confederacy "a calamity from which it never recovered." Wherever the danger to the Union was greatest, New Yorkers were present to beat the brunt and find the way out. When the last word was written on the memorable Palm Sunday of 1865, and the terms of surrender were put before General Lee by General Grant at Appomatox Court House, only one Northerner, other than Grant, was present--a new Yorker, Colonel Parker, a full-blooded Iroquois Indian of New York. Colonel Parker, descendent of the talented Seneca chieftain, "Red Jacket," was one of the most trusted aides-de-camp of the commander-in-chief, by the way. And the last shot fired was upon a column commanded by a new York general--Stoneman--six weeks after the surrender of Lee.

Even in the supreme tragedy of the Civil War--the assassination of President Lincoln--we find the name of an illustrious New Yorker also on everyone's lips. When mad Southerners, crazed by the unbearable humiliation of final defeat, dazed by the hopeless poverty that would be their lot for a generation, looked northward with furtive murderous eyes for victims upon whom to wreak vengeance, their gaze fixed upon two great men; their twitching fingers reached out for the life-strings of a great New Yorker as well as the man from Illinois. As the two outstanding leaders of the Union as the cause of all the defeats, disasters, destitution and despair that the south had suffered during the four years of war and--more galling than all else--as the two outstanding champions of four million despised slaves now freed forever from the lash of the Southern slave-owner--Abraham Lincoln and William H. Seward--were marked out for assassination. At the same hour, though in different places they were attacked. The President went to his death, but the Secretary survived the assassin's blow.

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In war welfare work, New York State took the initiative. The United States Sanitary Commission, which "like the guardian angel was always at the side of the soldier in moments of greatest need," giving humanitarian service akin to that of the Red Cross of later wars, was the outgrowth of the efforts of some noble New York women who, in the first month of the war, banded together as the Women's Central Association for Relief, to do what they could to assist men going to war or maimed by it. Although the Sanitary Commission soon became national in its scope, its service was maintained mainly by New York people. The other great welfare organization of Civil War times, the United States Christian Commission had its inception of the desire of a New Yorker, Vincent Colyer, to do Christian work in the camps and hospitals. The Young Men's Christian Association of New York at once took up the work, and the Christian Commission was rapidly expanded into a nationwide organization.

Thus we see that new York wrote her name upon almost every page of Civil War history--as of course she should, being the Empire State. Had she not done so, great would have been her shame; it was only right and proper that the brunt of the war should be borne by the strongest. And it is perhaps not improper or vainglorious for new Yorkers to be glad that their State shouldered all, and more than all, of her burdens during the Great Emergency.

AUTHORITIES.

Phisterer, F., New York in the War of the Rebellion, Albany,. 1890.

Phisterer, F., new York in the War of the Rebellion, 5 vols., published as part of annual report of

Adjutant-General, Albany, 1908.

Alexander, D. S., Political History of the State of New York

Wilson, J. G., Memorial History of the City of New York, 4 vols.

Henderson, G. F. R., Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, 2 vols.

Ropes, J. C., Story of the Civil War.

Draper, J. W., The Civil War in America, 2 vols.

Davis, Jefferson, rise and Fall of the Confederacy.

Grant, U. S., Personal Memoirs, 2 vols.

Nicholay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, a History, 10 vols.

Rhodes, J. F., History of the Untied States from the Compromise of 1850, Vol. III and Vol. IV.

Fry, J. B., New York and the Conscription of 1863.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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