Chapter 20 - History of Wyoming County



THERE were few organizations in the service during the late civil war the record of which is sadder than that of this battery.
Those who go forth at the call of their country to do battle in defense of that country's honor, or to offer their lives if necessary for the preservation of its free  institutions, do so with the expectation of encountering all the hazards of ordinary civilized warfare; and if they fall in battle, or perish by any of the casualties or exposures incident to life in the field, the grief of their surviving friends is not intensified by the reflection that they lingered through slow tortures, such as untamed savages delight to inflict on defenseless captives.

While the war was in progress, and the feelings which it engendered were active, there was room to hope that the tales of cruelty toward Union captives in southern prisons might be exaggerated; that the common feelings of humanity were not thus outraged, and the usages of civilized peoples thus violated. Fifteen years have passed since then, and time has only brought more damning proof that the horrors were not all told.

The 24th battery was raised principally in the counties of Wyoming, Monroe and Livingston. Wyoming was represented in it by the men whose names follow:

Henry Chadbourne, William B. Chapin, Timothy E. Shockenay, Arcade; W. B. Bulkley Charles Bulkley, Castile; John Baker, Covington; William B. Blake, A. L. Colver, Thomas McGuire, James McGuire, Michael McGuire, William Roach, J. B. Lee, George S. Hastings, William Alburty, Francis M. Alburty, Lemuel Andrews, Mark Andrews, George L. Atwood, Roswell Barnes, Hartwell Bartlett, B. Frank Bachelder, Rufus Brayton, Robert Buck, Paul Calteaux, James Calkins, William S. Camp, John Chapman, A. W. Comstock, William W. Crooker, Charles H. Dolbeer, George Duryea, Joseph Duryea, John Filbin, Charles W. Fitch, Thomas Fitzgerald, Jonas E. Galusha, Charles B. Griffith, Albert Griffith, Thomas Grisewood, Charles Hathaway, Charles H. Homan, George B. Johnson, George W. Keeney, Abram Lee, Abram Lent, John McCrink, James McCrink, Patrick Marren, J. W. Merrit, J. Gile Miner, L. Newcomb, H. C. Page, George W. Piper, A. Piper, Philander Pratt, John Qninn, Sydney S. Rathbone, Porter D. Rawson, Elias Richards, Albert Richards, Le Grande Rood, Pembroke J. Safford, Phares Shirley, Mason C. Smith, Samuel Stoddard, Edward Welch. Oliver Williams, Perry; Marlon K. Mosier, Wethersfield; Dennis Flinnegan, Hector C. Martin, Warsaw.

The town of Perry was more largely represented in it than any other in the county. The first enlistments were in the latter part of September and in October of 1861. Its place of rendezvous was Fort Porter, Buffalo, where the company remained till the middle of November, when it went forward to Albany. There the men were formed into the rocket battalion, under Major Thomas W. Lion, formerly an English officer, who claimed to be the inventor of a wonderful fire rocket, and who told so plausible a story to the Secretary of War and the chief of artillery that they were induced to incur the expense of a practical test The battalion when organized consisted of two companies, A and B, each numbering eighty men. They were mustered into the service December 6th, 1861, and the next day left Albany for Washington, where they remained six months experimenting with the new projectile.

The advantages claimed for Lion's rocket were the great distance to which it could be thrown, its capability of setting on fire everything of a combustible nature, and of frightening horses. The results of experiments with this rocket were not satisfactory. It was found that it could not always be relied on to go where it was sent, but like an unskillfully thrown boomerang it would return to hurt the one who threw it. One of the men in a letter giving an account of their experiments with it, stated that their target, which was an army blanket, was stolen by some graceless scamp while they were firing at it.

During the six months in which these experiments were being made there was little to vary the easy daily routine of camp life. As usual in such cases jealousies and animosities arose among the officers and men, for light camp duty is not the most favorable for developing soldierly qualities.

After the rocket project was abandoned the battalion was changed to batteries A and B, light artillery. The men from Wyoming were put in battery B; but were soon made an independent four-gun battery, and ordered to Newport barracks. At this time the battery consisted of but eighty men. The chief officers were Captain Jay E. Lee, First Lieutenant Lester A. Cady, and Second Lieutenant George W. Graham.

In August, 1862, G. S. Hastings was authorized to raise recruits for this battery, and in less than a month about 60 young men from Perry and its vicinity left to join the battery at Newport barracks.

It is worthy of remark that about $6,000 was raised by subscription to pay bounties to these men, for at that time the government had not offered the bounties which it afterwards paid recruits. In due time they arrived at their destination, and on the 19th of October orders were received designating the company the "24th Independent Battery of Light Artillery, New York State Volunteers." George S. Hastings and Fred. Hastings were made respectively additional first and second lieutenants.

The battery remained at Newport barracks about five months, during which time the boys were called out on one scouting expedition, and one trip to Newbern. On the nth of December two detachments of the battery went with General Foster, and participated in the battles of Kinston, Whitehall and Goldsboro. After their return they remained at Newbern till about the middle of the next March (1863). At that time a feint was made on that place by the rebels, and soon afterward they advanced on Plymouth and Washington, N. C. About the 1st of April the 24th was sent to Plymouth. There it remained almost a year. Stables were built, guns parked, and occasional scouts as cavalry were made.

In June Captain Lee was discharged on a surgeon's certificate, and Lieutenant Cady promoted to the captaincy, J. S. Hastings taking his place, and C. H. Holden receiving a second lieutenant's commission. During this time the older members of the battery whose terms expired reenlisted; but the numbers were so reduced that two lieutenants (Hastings and Dolbeer) left. The winter of that year passed very pleasantly with the men of the battery, but the spring brought a change.

On the 17th of April, 1864, the cavalry of the rebels attacked the pickets of the garrison, and it soon became evident that something more than a feint or raid was intended. The garrison consisted of 1,900 effective men, under General Wessels. Non-combatants were removed during the following night, and preparations made to resist the attack. Desultory firing was kept up during the night, and the next day it was steadily maintained till about 5 P. M., when an advance was made and earnest fighting commenced. The rebel artillery, consisting of about forty pieces, opened fire on the works, and the artillery of the defenders replied with such terrible precision that it was believed half the artillerymen of the enemy were put out of the fight. Of course a detailed account of this battle cannot be given here. It may be briefly stated that during the night of the 18th the rebel ram "Albermarle" succeeded in driving away the naval supports of the garrison, and taking a position where her guns could be used with effect. During the day and night of the 19th the forces of the enemy assumed more advantageous positions, and on the 20th made a simultaneous assault on the entire Union lines, and at the same time sent a column into the town. It is said that in endeavoring to repel this assault the 24th battery did effective work, "hurling disorder and death into the ranks of the enemy; and not until the rebels seized the muzzles of their guns did the cannoniers fail in their work." The garrison reluctantly surrendered, only when their works were so completely invested and fiercely assailed as to render destruction certain.

The Union loss, notwithstanding their strong breastworks, was about 180. That of the rebels was not positively known, but was stated in the Raleigh papers at 2,200. When it is remembered that the garrison of 1,900 defended the town against a force of 12,000 during four days, and only surrendered when further resistance would have been certain destruction, no suspicion of a want of bravery will be entertained.

Hitherto the 24th had known no hardships. Now, in their first battle, they had fought "vainly but well." Fortune had not favored them, and they were captives in the hands of unpitying foes. One of them, in an account which he gave of the surrender, said:

"Stripped of arms, mortified, sick at heart, we were penned by rebel guards and allowed to take a night's rest on the greensward. As the sun lowered we took a view of our once pleasant and happy camp. How desolate and dreary was it now! Proud in our strength, we had been conquered. How much of passion, hate and revenge rankled in the bosoms of even those who would be Christians. Our comrades killed, the battle lost to us, our friends at home frightened, anxious, full of sorrow, our prospects for freedom from this degrading imprisonment far in the dim, dim future."

A number of the men of the battery were made prisoners during the fight, and were taken to the prisons at Florence and Charleston, from which some never returned.

On the next day those who had surrendered took up their march under rebel guards, who were loaded with the plunder they had taken from the town, much of which they were compelled to throw away. On the 25th of April they arrived at Tarboro, where the officers were separated from the men and taken to Richmond. The men were then taken on platform cars, by way of Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and Macon, to Andersonville. On their arrival there they had their first sight of Captain Wirz. One of them described him thus: "Suddenly, as if it had been the devil himself, this fiend made his appearance through or near one of the fires. Short in suture, stooping figure, ill shaped head, awkward limbs and movement, a deep set ugly eye, and a tongue reeking with profanity - such was Captain Wirz."

Andersonville has been so often described and its loathsome horrors so minutely depicted that no recapitulation is needed here. Clara Barton says of it:

"After this, whenever any man who has lain a prisoner within the stockade of Andersonville would tell you of his sufferings - how he fainted, scorched, drenched, hungered, sickened, was scoffed, scourged, hunted and persecuted - though the tale be long and twice told: as you would have your own wrongs appreciated and your own woes pitied, your own cries for mercy heard, I charge you listen and believe him. However definitely he may have spoken, know that he has not told you all. However strongly he may have outlined or deeply he may have colored his picture, know that the reality calls for a better light and a nearer view than your clouded distant gaze will ever get; and your sympathies need not be confined to Andersonville while similar horrors glared in the sunny light, and spotted the flower-girt garden fields of that whole desperate, misguided and bewildered people. Wherever stretched the form of a Union prisoner there rose the signal for cruelty and the cry of agony, and there day by day grew the skeleton graves of the nameless dead."

Father Hamilton, who was there to administer the rites of the Catholic church to the sick and dying, said of what he found there: I saw a great many men perfectly naked, walking about through the stockade. They seemed to have lost all regard for delicacy, shame, morality, or anything else. I would frequently have to creep on my hands and knees into the holes the men had burrowed in the ground, and stretch myself out alongside of them to hear their confessions. I found them almost living in vermin in these holes. They could not be in any other condition than a filthy one, because they got no soap and no change of clothing, and were there all huddled together."

Mr. Merril, in his "Record," says of the cruelties inflicted on prisoners there:

"Several times they ceased to issue rations for a day, and even two days; cause - some few of our number had dug a tunnel in order to escape, and to punish these, thousands of starving men were deprived of the morsel that would barely keep the breath of life in them from day to day. They shot men; cause - they had reached over the dead line for water or for a cracker that was a foot beyond it. They chased men with dogs, and these dogs did bite and mutilate them, from the effects of which they died; cause - they were attempting to escape. They put prisoners in chain gangs and in stocks; they whipped them at a whipping-post; they hung them up by the thumbs; cause - these prisoners attempted to escape. They did force prisoners to be vaccinated with poisonous virus, and but few that were vaccinated lived. They beat and kicked sick soldiers who were too ill to keep up in line of march, and last of all, when they had killed by inhuman treatment and cruelties, they buried our friends and comrades in an indecent manner that even barbarians could not have excelled."

During seven months these men were kept in this prison, and in that time famine, pestilence and cruelty accomplished their work. About half their number died there, and of the remainder many returned with broken constitutions and permanently impaired health.

The following are lists of the members of this organization who died while in the service of the United States - taken from Mr. Merrill's "Record."

Killed in battle. - Pierce Fitzpatrick, Wilbur M. Hoyt, George F H. Robert Turner.

Died of disease while in the U. S. service.- Lemuel Andrews, L. M. Beers, Rufus Brayton, Murray Grant, G. H. Keith, William A. McCrary, Michael McGuire, Darius Munroe, F. D. Otis, O. M. Truair.

Died at their homes while in the service.- Ira Billingham, James McVey.

Died after reaching the Federal lines.- J. E. Gelusha, Samuel Nichols, William F. Nichols.

Died at Charleston prison. - William Ainsworth, Porter D. Rawson.

Died at Florence prison. - John Bertley, William Blood, John Brooks, Orren S. McCrary, James MsCrink, Henry McNinch, George W. Piper, A.  Piper, Stephen Root, George W. Stevens, Samuel Tirrell, Chauncey Wetmore.

Died at Andersonville prison.- William Alburty, William Armstrong, George B. Atwood, John Baker, Roswell Barnes, Hartwell Bartlett, B. F. Bachelder, W. D. Blake, James Button. Paul Calteaux, James Calkins, Charles Carnahan, Henry Chadbourne, H. V. Clute, A. W. Comstock, B. F. Corbin, Morton Crosby, George Crounce, A. L. Culver, Edwin Eastwood, John Filbin, Charles W. Fitch, Thomas Fitzgerald, James Flynn, Charles B. Griffith, Albert Griffith, Charles Hathaway, W. F. Hosford, E. H. Hunter, George W. Keeney, Sylvanus King, L. H. Lanham, Abram Lee, Abram Lent, John McCrink, Archibald McDonald, Charles A. Marean, H. C. Martin, J. Gile Miner, Riley J. Newton. Philander Pratt, Thurmon Rich, Le Grand D. Rood, Pembroke J. Safford Laban H. Shank, Phares Shirley, Timothy F. Shockensey, Mason C. Smith, Henry Tilton, Edward Welch, Oliver Williams, Emmet Wood, George B. Johnson.

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