Chapter 18 - History of Wyoming County

CHAPTER XVIII.

FIFTH NEW YORK CAVALRY, OR FIRST IRA HARRIS GUARD - "ELLSWORTH'S AVENGERS."

EARLY in the Rebellion, both in numbers and effectiveness, the cavalry of the rebels was far superior to that of the Union forces. Having been made aware of this deficiency, the military authorities at once set about the work of supplying it. On the 26th of July, 1861, the Secretary of War authorized Colonel Othniel De Forest, of New York city, to raise a regiment of cavalry, and by the last of September of that year he had gathered on Staten Island the nucleus of a cavalry brigade. From his recruits Colonel De Forest organized the 5th N. Y. cavalry, which was called the "First Ira Harris Guard," in honor of Senator Ira Harris, of Albany, under whose patronage the organization was accomplished. The men of this regiment were largely furnished from New York city, though companies and parts of companies were raised in Wyoming, Allegany, Essex, Tioga and Orange counties, and a few men came from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey. Wyoming county was represented in this regiment by the men named below:

Merrit D. Chaffee, G. L. Piatt, E. D. Toilet, Luke S. William, Attica; George D. Rathbun, Castile; Charles Whitney, Eagle; Wesley Barnard, Thomas Donlin, William E. Briggs, John W. Barnard, Wilson Cummings, Joseph Coggon, Peter Freeman, P. A. Graves, Franklin S. Huestis, William D. Lucas. James H. Rice, Charles B. Thomas, Gainesville; Alfred W. Nourse, Genesee Falls; Horace Aiken, Joseph D. Axtel, Milton Bonnet, George W. Dodge, Samuel Falson, Lucius Griffith, Martin Granger, William Pickett, Dwight Patridge, John Smith, George W. Wells, William H. Wells, Willis Washington Wheeler, Pike; William Hutton, Asa A. Lather, Warsaw.

No bounties were then paid to recruits, and a bounty of only $100 was promised to be paid by the government at the expiration of the term of service.

On Staten Island the regiment was quartered in what are termed A tents, and the place was called "Camp Scott," in honor of the veteran who was then closing his active military labors. The first and second battalions received their horses during the month of October, and began to receive instructions in mounted drill. On the 31st of the same month the regiment was inspected for the first time by Lieutenant-Colonel D. B. Sackett, of the United States army. At that time the last company had been mustered in, and the command numbered 1,064 men besides the officers. On this day of inspection the regiment was mustered for pay, and on the 6th of November was paid. That time the men were paid in gold and silver, but they were not again encumbered with the precious metals.

On Monday, November nth, the regiment was presented with two beautiful flags, one by the Common Council of the city of New York, and the other by Misses Kate Harris and Mary F. Blake. The presentation speech was made by Senator Harris.

The regiment left its rendezvous on the 18th of November and arrived at Baltimore on the 19th. While it was here the 3d battalion drew horses and equipments, and on the 25th the regiment made its first march, from Baltimore to Annapolis. On the 28th it pitched its tents about three miles from the city, at a place which was named, in honor of its patron, Camp Harris. In this camp it remained till the last day of March, 1862, when it broke camp and prepared for the realities of field service.

During the month following it was almost constantly on the move, but was not engaged in any fight. On the 6th of May, about four miles from Harrisonburg, the rebel colonel Turner Ashby was encountered, and' a sharp engagement ensued. The rebel force consisted of picked cavalrymen, and the quality of the 5th was tested for the first time. In the conflict one man was killed, two wounded, and one, Sergeant William H. Whitcomb, taken prisoner. He effected his escape, however, before leaving the field.

May 12th the 5th had a skirmish with the enemy at Woodstock, and on the 21st General Hatch, with about 150 of the regiment, made a successful attack on Ashby's forces, driving them many miles, and killing, wounding and capturing several, without the loss of a man.

About this time Company H, which had been in the Luray Valley with General Sullivan, and had been engaged in quite a number of skirmishes, rejoined the regiment.

On the 23d of May, 1862, General Banks received information, through messengers of the 5th, that a sudden attack had been made by Stonewall Jackson on Colonel Kenley's force at Front Royal. Companies B and D of the 5th were sent to Colonel Kenley, and arrived just as the rebels came upon the garrison from the hills and down the valley.

The cavalry charged them in a gallant, manner, but were compelled to retire because they were greatly outnumbered, flanked, and almost surrounded. In this charge the gallant young officer Lieutenant Dwyer, of Company B, was mortally wounded, and Captain A. H. White, of Company D, and Adjutant Griffin were taken prisoners.

The valley was at that time cleared of Union troops, and the rebels began to throw their forces across the Blue Ridge to attack the main Union army in front of Washington; leaving only a strong picket line at the foot of the valley opposed to the Union army in Maryland. The 5th regiment, which had been divided in the retreat, advanced from Harper's Ferry and from Williamsport. The former column met the enemy at Charlestown and repulsed them; and the latter advanced on Martinsburg, drove the pickets through the town, captured several prisoners, a wagon, muskets, ammunition and an American flag. They also recaptured several of the officers and men lost at Front Royal, and among them Adjutant Griffin.

This encouraging advance took place May 31st. On the 4th of June the regiment advanced to Winchester, where its fragments were reunited. Companies B and D, however, which had distinguished themselves at Front Royal, were detached from the regiment to serve on a battery.

Nothing noteworthy occurred after that till the 6th of July. On that day a squad of cavalry was encountered at Sperryville, and the 5th was victorious in the fight. July 8th the regiment engaged in a skirmish with the enemy at Culpepper Court-house and drove them through the town, capturing fifteen prisoners. On the 17th the 5th had a skirmish at Orange Court-house, and on the 18th it returned to Rapidan Ford. A large portion of Company A was captured while doing picket duty at Barnett's Ford.

On the 2nd of August the regiment was engaged in a brisk battle at Orange Court-house, under General Crawford. The rebels were driven back with a loss of 50 prisoners, including a major, a chaplain and two lieutenants.

On the 17th of August, 1862, detachments from the 5th N. Y. cavalry and the 1st Michigan, under Colonel Brodhead, went to Louisa Court-house and captured General Stewart's adjutant-general and several important dispatches.

On the 20th of August the regiment advanced to Kelley's Ford, and in a general engagement there acted as support to a battery which was exposed to a terrible fire. On the 24th it participated in a severe engagement at Waterloo bridge, but suffered little loss. On October 20th the regiment was ordered to do picket duty at Chantilly, and it continued to picket and patrol the country till the 28th, when it went to Centreville, and the next day to Manassas Junction and back to Chantilly.

During the month of November the regiment was engaged in picketing and scouting. On the 29th the men of the 5th, in command of Captain Krom, of Company H, went with an expedition under General Stahl into the Shenandoah valley. On their arrival at Snicker's Ferry, on the Shenandoah, the rebels annoyed them by firing from houses beyond the river, but they were soon attacked and defeated with a loss of two lieutenants, thirty-two privates, one stand of colors and several wagons, one of which was laden with tents and provisions. On the 30th the expedition returned to Chantilly. After the close of the campaign of 1862 the 5th made its camp at Germantown, and spent the winter in picketing and scouting. During this time Mosby's guerrillas gave much trouble, and on the 23d of March, 1863, they gave the regiment a lively chase, inflicting on it serious injury. April 21st it received a new and beautiful flag, which was presented by the city of New York. On the 3d of May the 5th engaged in another hand-to-hand fight with the Mosby cavalry, in which it defeated the enemy and captured twenty- three wounded men. May 30th it had a sharp but short contest with Mosby's men again, and took from them a twelve-pound howitzer. June 30th, while the regiment was at Hanover, Va., it met the rebel cavalry under General Stewart, in a hand-to-hand conflict, in which it lost 9 men killed, 31 wounded, and a few prisoners. The rebels were routed with heavy loss. In this engagement Adjutant Gall was killed.

A volume of history would be required to follow .this gallant regiment through all its marches^ campings and conflicts, until the close of its term of service. Indeed, a history of the regiment was written by Rev. Louis N. Boudrye, chaplain of the regiment, which is in book form. It is but justice to the author to state that this sketch was compiled from his work.

In July, 1863, the regiment won a series of victories over Stewart's cavalry. Its most important engagement in the campaign of that year was on the nth of October, at Brandy Station.

The regiment had its quarters for the winter of 1863-4 at a point known as "Devil's Leap."

February 28th, 1864, a detachment of the 5th accompanied Colonel Ulric Dahlgren on his raid to Richmond. The purpose of this was to release Union officers and men confined in prisons there, and to destroy the mills, workshops, materials, stores and public property of the rebels in that city and vicinity, and to cut off their railroad communications. In this expedition fifteen of the regiment were captured; the others returned March 12th.

To the 5th was accorded the honor of opening the battle of the Wilderness, May 5th, but it paid dearly for this honor, for it lost heavily. Subsequently it shared the varying fortunes of the Army of the Potomac, until the close of the war.

In the history written by Mr. Boudrye one hundred and seventy-two distinct engagements or fights in which the regiment participated are mentioned. Of these, one hundred and nineteen were termed skirmishes.

The regiment numbered when it left for the war, 1,064 men. While in the service 5 officers were killed, 22 were seriously wounded, 19 were made prisoners, 4 died of disease, 10 were dismissed by court-martial, 5 discharged, and 37 resigned; 75 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded, 236 were seriously wounded, 517 were captured, 114 died in rebel prisons, and 90 died of disease. Only 167 of the original veterans remained when the regiment was mustered out in July, 1865. The commanders of the regiment during its term of service were Othniel De Forest, John Hammond, and Amos H. White.

FORTY-FOURTH N. Y. VOLUNTEER INFANTRY.

The 44th New York volunteer infantry was organized at Albany early in the autumn of 1861. It was more commonly called "the Ellsworth regiment," or " Ellsworth's Avengers," having been raised by an association which sought in this way to honor the memory of one of the most conspicuous of the early victims of the war for the Union, as well as to powerfully promote the objects of the war. It was also sometimes called "the people's regiment," from its consisting of picked men from all over the State, of exceptional character and physique.

The field and staff officers (nominated by the association's committee) were: Stephen W. Stryker, colonel; James C. Rice, lieutenant-colonel; James McKown, major; William Frothingham, surgeon; Charles L. Bissel, assistant surgeon; Loomis H. Pease, chaplain; Edward B. Knox, adjutant; and Frederick R. Mundy, quartermaster.

After receiving a beautiful flag from Mrs. Erastus Corning, and being reviewed by Governor Morgan and a committee of the Ellsworth Association, the regiment left Albany for the front on the 21st of October, 1,061 strong. A week later it encamped at Hall's Hill, Va., near Washington.

The following winter the 44th did picket duty along the Leesburg turnpike. On the 21st of March, 1862, it sailed from Alexandria for Fortress Monroe, whence on the 1st of April it marched for Yorktown.

After garrisoning Fort Magruder, the 44th left that post on the 15th of May, and a few days after set out for Gaines's Mill, on the expedition to Hanover Court-house. On the 27th it bore a leading part in the sanguinary battle at that place, holding the field with the 2nd Maine against superior numbers, and suffering terrible loss. The 44th, having exhausted its ammunition, was on the point of charging when reinforcements arrived. The regiment lost 30 killed and 70 wounded. Its flag was pierced by more than forty balls and four times shot down. The enemy were finally routed.

During the next month the 44th did picket duty along the Chickahominy, and on the 27th was engaged in the battle of Gaines's Mill. An extemporized earthwork thrown up and defended by this regiment on the Union left proved the salvation of that part of the line.

The Ellsworth men were next in action at Turkey Bend, and next came the battle of Malvern Hill, July 21st. It is recorded that in the charge of the 44th in this action "Colonel Rice halted his men four times under the fire of the enemy, and as carefully aligned them as though they had been on a dress parade. He charged a brigade of rebels, took their colors and more prisoners than he brought men of his own alive out of the charge."

In August, 1862, the 44th fought in the second Bull Run battle, coming out of it only 87 muskets strong. It was held in reserve at Antietam, and was actively engaged at Shepardston Ford. After a variety of camping and marching experiences the regiment found itself in the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13th, under a destructive fire.

On the 30th of April, 1863, the regiment led the advance of the Army of the Potomac to Chancellorsville. After a large part of the line had been driven in by "Stonewall " Jackson in the battle of the 2nd of May, Couch's corps, with the 44th N. Y. on the right, repulsed his repeated assaults, inflicting fearful loss upon the rebels.

The next fighting was at Middleburg, June 21st, and the next at Gettysburg, July 2nd, when the 44th lost 1 1 1 o killed and wounded, among the former Captain Larrabee and Lieutenant Dunham. In November the regiment fought at Rappahannock Station and Mine Run.

The 44th bore itself gallantly and conspicuously in Grant's Virginia campaign of 1864; beginning with the Wilderness on the 5th of May, where it lost 60 killed and wounded in half an hour, but gravely held the ground. On the 7th it fought at Spotsylvania Court-house, receiving a repulse after a gallant and bloody struggle.

It fought with its accustomed bravery at North Anna, Bethesda Church and Petersburg in May and June, and last on the Weldon Railroad, in August. September 24th it was mustered out and left for home, reaching Albany on the 29th, where it was honored with a brilliant reception, Governor Seymour delivering an address. But 14 officers and 170 enlisted men returned.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1880