On the evening of August 1, the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters trudged into Bealton, a stopping point along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad located in Fauquier County. The next day, renowned photographer Timothy O’Sullivan stopped by to take images of the soldiers at rest. Specifically, he toured the bivouac of the 93rd New York Volunteers, a headquarters guard regiment, which encamped at a dusty settlement called Germantown. One member of the 93rd described Germantown as a village of “two houses,” lacking “society, and good water.”
Despite these poor accommodations, the soldiers of the 93rd New York welcomed the photographer’s visit. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin C. Butler called out nine of his ten companies (Company H was unavailable) and formed them up to have their pictures taken. Additionally, O’Sullivan took photographs of the company officers’ mess and the regimental field and staff. By the time he had finished, O’Sullivan had cataloged the regiment in a manner that had never been done for any other regiment attached to the Army of the Potomac. Nearly every member of the regiment had been captured on wet-plate, formally or informally.
It was an interesting moment for the 93rd, considering the blood-letting in store for it. The 93rd New York had been raised in the summer and autumn of 1861, but after two years of service, it had experienced a comparatively bloodless war. The regiment left Albany in March 1862 with 980 officers and men, but two months after reaching the front, it received an assignment to the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters guard. Although it was present for the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, it had suffered miniscule losses because it stayed safely behind the lines, operating as the army’s provost.
In April 1864, while the 93rd New York sat quietly at Brandy Station, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade reassigned it to front line duty. (Specifically, Meade wanted to replace the 93rd New York with a regiment he liked, the 114th Pennsylvania.) On April 21, First Lieutenant Waters Whipple Braman wrote to his fiancée, informing her of the sudden change. Eager for a chance to fight, Braman explained, “The 93rd are at last B-r-i-g-a-d-e-d, and those beautiful colors so long borne, and so galliantly at Hdqrs, are at last to pay a maiden call upon the rebellious sons of our respected Uncle. . . . Adieu to Hdqrs, Wall Tents, ‘soft bread,’ extra baggage and the kindred luxuries. Come ‘Hard-tack’ and whatever hardships are connected with a soldiers life. I am ready for it, and willing to do my duty and if ever I do come out of this war (of which I have not a doubt) I mean to have it said that I ever did my duty.”
After the reassignment, the 93rd New York’s chance to bleed for the Union came swiftly. As part of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps, the 93rd New York took a brutal beating at the Battle of the Wilderness. Over the course of two days, May 5 and 6, 1864, the regiment lost 260 officers and men. From May 8 to May 19, it lost another forty-five at Spotsylvania Court House. At North Anna and Totopotomoy, from May 22 to May 31, it lost another thirty-seven. Finally, at Cold Harbor, it lost another five.
The shockingly high losses in the 93rd New York appalled Captain Braman, who had been promoted during the campaign and transferred to the staff of Maj. Gen. David B. Birney. “I do not wish to boast,” he wrote his fiancée, Maggie Getty, “but the loss of three hundred officers and men and they name they bear in this Division is sufficient praise. But what can compensate for the loss of friends, that we have marched, tented, messed, and lived with for over two years[?]”
What follows are images of the companies photographed by O’Sullivan on or about August 4, 1863.
This is Company B. The only officer in this image is 2nd Lieutenant George Bushnell, who can be seen reclining at left-center. As of June 14, 1864, Company B reported five killed and twenty wounded, included Bushnell.
This is Company D. The two officers seated in front are Captain Henry P. Smith (left) and 1st Lieutenant Silas Hubbell (right). On June 14, Company D reported five killed and twenty wounded.
This is Company I. The officers in front are (left to right) Captain Nathan J. Johnson, 2nd Lieutenant Jay H. Northup, and 1st Lieutenant Norman Eldridge. On June 14, it reported four killed (including Eldridge), twenty-two wounded, and six missing.
This is Company K. The officers in front are (left to right) Captain Samuel McConihe, 1st Lieutenant Robert Robertson, and 2nd Lieutenant William Ball. On June 14, it reported one killed, one mortally wounded, and twenty-seven wounded.
Lt. Waters Whipple Braman of the 93rd New York was eager to leave the headquarters guard, that is, until he fought at the Wilderness.