Chapter 24 - History of Wyoming County

CHAPTER XXIV.

HISTORY OF THE 136TH REGIMENT NEW YORK STATE VOLUNTEER INFANTRY.

WITHOUT recalling the circumstances of the time, the story of raising and arming volunteers in the late summer and the early autumn of 1862 reads like romance. Five times the ninety days which Seward's hopes had led him to prophesy as the time that would be required to crush the Rebellion had passed; great armies had been put into the field; repeated reverses had overtaken them; the peninsular campaign had ended disastrously; armed opposition to the government had grown into the most formidable revolt of modern times; the Confederate army, flushed with success, a second time menaced Washington.

In August, 1862, the struggle had not continued long enough to exhaust the loyal States, or to seriously tax their resources; it had been sufficiently severe and protracted to arouse their whole people.

The need of soldiers was great; the people felt deeply that their institutions were in peril; the pretensions of the Confederate government had assumed an importance which the loyal North was unwilling to accord them in the spring of 1861, and volunteers answered the call of the government as fast as they could be armed and organized for service.

The 136th regiment of infantry was raised at this time. Its ranks were filled from the counties of Wyoming, Livingston and Allegany, which then constituted the 30th senatorial district of New York. The 130th regiment, recruited from the same localities, had been mustered into the service a few days previous.

Three full companies of the 136th regiment were filled in Wyoming county, - Company D, Captain Augustus Harrington; Company E, Captain Henry B. Jenks; Company H, Captain E. H. Jeffres. Captain Harrington received authority to raise a company of volunteers, and commenced recruiting for the new regiment August 18th; and on the 29th of the same month he reported with a full company at Camp Portage, for muster. This was the first company in camp, and was recruited in about a week. Captain Jenks reported with a full company September 1st; Captain Jeffrey's company was filled soon after.

Companies A and K were recruited in Allegany, and Companies B, C, F, G and I in Livingston county.

The 136th regiment was mustered September 25th, 1862, at Portage, Livingston county, with the following field and staff officers: Colonel, James Wood, jr.; lieutenant-colonel, Lester B. Faulkner; major, David C. Hartshorne; adjutant, Campbell H. Young; surgeon, B. L. Hovey; first assistant surgeon, Edwin Amsden; second assistant surgeon, Charles F. Warner.

The regiment left Camp Portage October 2nd. At Elmira its arms and equipments were issued. October 4th it went into Camp Seward, on Arlington Heights, which was its first encampment on rebel territory. From Arlington it moved to Fairfax Court house, Va., where it was attached to the 2nd brigade of the 11th corps, with Von Steinwehr as brigade commander, and Sigel, conspicuous with the recent renown of Pea Ridge, as corps commander. This regiment was occupied in picket duty on the advanced line of the army, and it suffered the hardships incident to changes of food, climate and habits - in short, to the change from civil to military life in time of war. Only three captains in the regiment were on duty November 9th. Company D, which left Portage 94 strong, reported only 45 men for duty November 26th.

The battle of Antietam was nobly won, and Lee hurried across the Potomac September 18th. Yet for more than a month McClellan's army remained in Maryland, and so this victory was rendered barren. Then the Array of the Potomac was reorganized. Burnside was placed in command. Sigel had a grand division, which formed the reserve, in which was the 136th regiment. December 10th it left camp at Germantown, Va., and marched to the front. The regiment was reduced in numbers, but the men that were left had hardened; and gained the bearing and acquired the habits of soldiers. After the second day's march the sound of cannonading on the Rappahannock told that a battle was in progress; but the regiment reached Falmouth just after the army had recrossed the river from its disastrous attempt to carry the rebel works behind Fredericksburg. It soon moved up the river to Banks Ford, where it did picket duty in face of the enemy. Pontoons and artillery arrived on the 20th of January, 1863, and batteries were placed in position on the 21st; but, in consequence of a severe storm, the projected movement was reluctantly abandoned. Before the army could move the rebels had strengthened their position, and further offensive operations at that point were impracticable.

From Banks Ford the regiment went into camp at Stafford Court-house, Va., where it remained until the last of April, when it crossed the river at Kellogg's farm, and moved to Chancellorsville. There the brigade to which it was attached made a reconnaissance to the right of the 11th corps, under General Barlow, and captured nearly one thousand prisoners. While the 136th was absent on this reconnaissance the 11th corps was driven from the field, and the guards and camp equipage left behind by the regiment fell into the enemy's hands.

The brigade then took position in the rear of General Sickles command, in time for the 136th regiment to witness one of the severest conflicts of the war.

After Chancellorsville the regiment went into its old quarters at Stafford Court-house, where it remained until Lee again assumed the offensive, when it moved at about equal pace with the enemy to Hagerstown, Md., where the regiment remained a short time.

July 1st, at 5 P. M., the 136th regiment left its camp at Hagerstown, and at 11 A. M., July 2nd it reached Gettysburg, making in this time the remarkable march of thirtyeight miles. This regiment was a part of the first brigade that reached the battle field. It was assigned a position fronting Gettysburg from the face of Cemetery hill, where it remained from the morning of the 2nd until the evening of the 4th of July. The battle raged fiercely, but these men did not waver amid the thunder of cannon, the plowing of shot and shell, the rattle of musketry and the groans of the wounded and dying. This decisive victory rolled back the tide of rebel invasion, and struck the army of Virginia a blow from which it never recovered.

The 136th regiment remained with the Army of the Potomac until September 23d, when the 11th and the 12th corps were detached from this army and sent under Hooker to the relief of Rosecrans at Chattanooga.

When Hooker's command reached Lookout Mountain, from its summit the enemy saw his disposition of the Union forces, and their first camp had hardly become quiet at night when the roar of artillery, the screaming of shells and the rattle of small arms opened the grand and awful spectacle of a battle at night. The rebels made a fierce attack on General Geary. They were intrenched on a steep hill, and the 136th New York, the 73d Ohio and the 33d Massachusetts were ordered to charge. Under the lead of Colonel Smith of the 73d Ohio these three regiments drove the enemy from this strong position, and their heavy loss told how gallantly they had borne themselves in the conflict

After this engagement the regiment, with its brigade, crossed the Chattanooga and joined the command of General Thomas. Every duty assigned it here was successfully done. It was engaged in the battle of November 25th, which terminated the three days conflict by which Bragg was driven back into Georgia.

The 11th corps was then ordered to the relief of Burnside at Knoxville. The weather was severe. Many of the men marched on the frozen ground, with feet nearly bare. Without rations, haversacks, knapsacks, tents or blankets, the hardships of this march cannot be described. They were severe, probably beyond any other campaign of the war; but there was very little murmuring.

As this re-enforcement approached Knoxville, the rebels fell back without further struggle. The regiment then returned to the Wahatchie valley, and went into comfortable winter quarters.

The army was reorganized for the spring campaign. Hooker had the 20th corps, and the regiment was attached to the 3d brigade of the 3d division. Resaca was the first battle of the campaign, and to the 136th this was the most destructive of all its engagements. The 3d brigade was ordered to storm the rebel works. In making this charge the 136th regiment crossed an open field, exposed to the bullets of rebel sharpshooters, and in face of a murderous fire of artillery and musketry from behind formidable intrenchments. In this charge it suffered a loss of more than one-fourth its effective force, and did all that bravery could, although the works were not carried.

From Resaca the regiment marched with its brigade to Pallas Church, where it met the enemy. The next engagement was the battle of Peach Tree Creek. During this action, while the Union regiments were moving to repel a charge of the enemy, a rebel color bearer advanced in front of his regiment and confronted this. The color bearer of the 136th at once advanced to meet him, and these daring soldiers of the blue and the grey stood defiant in the face of two armies. The bold rebel was instantly shot; his colors were captured and flaunted in the face of the foe. A soldier avenged his comrade by the death of the man who had slain him, and recovered the colors. As this captor was bearing it away a loyal hand slew him, and the thrice captured flag was retaken. It now hangs among the war trophies in the military bureau in Albany, with other captured rebel battle-flags.

The regiment took an active part in the masterly series of maneuvers in northern Georgia by which Sherman outflanked Johnston and beat him in battles, after which he defeated Hood, and forced that Confederate commander to abandon Atlanta.

In that grand march of our army from Atlanta to the sea the 136th regiment sustained its reputation and won fresh laurels. The hardships of that memorable campaign were shared by these now veterans; marching through swamps, fighting and foraging through the Empire State of the south, no force could withstand our brave soldiers, no danger intimidate, no obstacle hinder. From the 15th of November, when Sherman left his base of supplies and turned his back on the ruins of Atlanta, through all that stretch of hostile territory occupying every town on the line of march, overcoming every force sent against him, carrying Fort McAllister by assault instead of besieging that stronghold, to the 21st of December, when our victorious army reached a new base and occupied Savannah, every day had its story of heroic endurance and soldierly achievements, to which the 136th regiment contributed.

And, when the history of that bold anabasis shall be fully written, and the men who fought and established the theory of the genius who planned that dazzling campaign shall receive their share of its glory, no mean place will belong to these loyal men, who left the valleys and hills of Wyoming to take up the musket and the sword in defense of the Union established by the fathers.

From Savannah the regiment moved northward with its brigade. Columbia was captured February 17th, and the evacuation of Charleston by the Confederates then became a military necessity. Hardee was defeated March 16th, and four days later Johnston was conquered. Then came the occupation of Petersburg, and the fall of Richmond and the surrender of Lee, and the great rebellion was ended.

From Richmond the 136th regiment moved over the field of Chancellorsville, and across the territory where it learned its first lessons in war three years before, to Washington; at last freed from danger and no longer menaced by the foe its valor had helped to vanquish. Thence it was transported to Rochester, where the regiment was discharged from the service it had so faithfully performed.

Then came a fresh marvel of history. These men, so long accustomed to the license of camp, returned to the peaceful pursuits of civil life, and without social disturbance were transformed from soldiers into orderly and industrious citizens of the government they bravely fought to save.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1860