Sunday, February 22, 2015

“So Quietly Laid on the Shelf.”

This tale is about some quarrelsome New York officers. It begins at Gettysburg.

On July 1, 1863, as the 147th New York Volunteers battled near Gettysburg’s Railroad Cut, a bullet struck its commander, Lt. Col. Francis Miller, hitting him on the top of the head. Miller’s horse bolted, carrying the injured rider to the rear. Subsequently, command of the 147th fell to Maj. George Harney, who did not immediately know that Miller’s wound had now made him the senior officer. As it happened, at that moment, Harney had to carry out a crucial order. His brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler, ordered the regiment to fall back to a new defensive position. With Lt. Col. Miller nowhere in sight, Harney delivered the orders, pulling the 147th New York out of its exposed position. Yet, because of the crucial delay caused by Miller’s wounding, the regiment incurred a high casualty rate. It had lost 296 men out of 380, a whopping 77% of those engaged.

Yet, even after July 1, the regiment’s turmoil did not end. The Battle of Gettysburg produced a lengthy dispute among the officer corps, a dispute arising from whispers, doubts about Lt. Col. Miller’s ability to command. To complicate matters, this rift stemmed from partisan politics. When the regiment had organized for service in the summer of 1862, New York State’s Republican governor, Edwin D. Morgan, had appointed all the officers to the regiment. Miller and a majority of the line officers had received their commissions based on political favoritism. Now, it was 1863 and New York possessed a Democratic governor, Horatio Seymour. A small faction of Democratic officers—which included Major Harney—wanted to use this opportunity to advance themselves in rank. As governor, Seymour was responsible for signing all new commissions sent to officers assigned to New York regiments. If the Democratic officers in the 147th could cast doubt upon Miller’s abilities—and his sudden disappearance during the Battle of Gettysburg provided the necessary suspicion—they might find a way to supplant him. The stage was set for a showdown, one that would determine who commanded the 147th in the next campaign.

Here’s what happened:

After Gettysburg, Miller received a furlough to recover from his wound. He received temporary duty, operating as commandant of a conscript rendezvous in Elmira. With Miller absent, Major Harney began the process of applying for the colonelcy (which was then vacant). He canvassed the regiment, asking his fellow Democrats for an endorsement. Next, he asked his division commander, Brig. General Cutler, for an endorsement. It would have been unusual for Cutler to recommend Harney over Miller—since Miller was the duly-appointed senior officer of the regiment—but Harney staged some theatrics, arranging a scene whereby the regimental adjutant, Dudley Farling, presented a sword to him on behalf of the regiment.  Indeed, the sword presentation served as a vehicle to run down Miller’s reputation, as one officer stated, “by [use of] . . . little words—‘when our leaders were all absent but yourself.’—About the same time, it began to be whispered about Oswego that Lieut. Col. Miller had improperly left the field at Gettysburgh.”  The sword presentation had its desired effect. To Cutler, it appeared as if the entire regiment preferred Harney to Miller.

Quite possibly, Harney might have succeeded in his quest for the colonelcy, but he overplayed his hand. He guessed that his promotion might cause some of the Republican officers to gripe. Thus, in October, Harney went to his new brigade commander, Brig. General James C. Rice, asking him if his adjutant could discharge ten officers at will. Of course, Harney did not say that he wished to cull the regiment of its most vocal Republicans. Instead, he asked if he might apply General Orders 100, which stated that any regimental officer could discharge a company-grade officer under his command if that officer had been absent for more than sixty days. Rice—who was also a Democrat and perhaps privy to the scheme—agreed to the request, and thus, on November 5, 1863, ten officers found themselves discharged: Capt. Patrick Slattery, Capt. Edward D. Parker, Capt. George Hugunin, Capt. Delos Gary, Capt. Nathaniel A. Wright, Capt. Patrick Regan, Asst. Surgeon Simon G. Place, 2nd Lt. John F. Box, 1st Lt. William R. Potts, and 1st Lt. Charles Robe. Most of these men were on furlough, recovering from wounds received at Gettysburg.

News of the mass dismissal stirred up anger from Republican newspapers in the 147th New York’s hometown, Oswego. So fumed a writer for the Commercial Herald:

We learn with astonishment that some ten of the very best officers of the 147th regiment have been dismissed from the service. . . . It is said that the dismissal has been accomplished by the intrigue of Adjutant Farling with a certain Brigadier General [Rice], and has for its object the control of the politics of the regiment, and also the appointment of Major Harney to the position of Colonel, over the head of Lieut.-Colonel Miller. The officers removed were supposed to be friendly to Col. Miller, whom Oswegonians know is one of the best and bravest officers in the regiment. It is presumed that with these officers removed, there will be plain sailing in jumping Major Harney over the head of Col. Miller. This act of gross injustice can and must be remedied. Proper representations must be made to the War Department to induce it to reverse its action founded upon perverted statements of the intriguers. The citizens of Oswego should not stand calmly by and see their best officers treated in this manner.

The outrage from the newspapers prompted a response from Adjutant Farling, who, it seems, had been complicit in the scheme. He replied to one of the newspapers, calling the accusation of his impropriety utterly groundless. “The statement you make and publish in your paper,” he declared, “is outrageously false and slanderous, in almost every particular.” He explained that the dismissal of the ten officers had been for their own benefit. He explained that General Order 100, “makes it the duty of the commanding officer of the Regiment, in case of the absence of an officer, sick or wounded, over sixty days, to ‘report’ him to the War Department for ‘discharge,’ in order that his place may be filled by others able to do ‘duty in the field’.” In short, Farling explained, Harney had to discharge his wounded officers, or else report them absent—which would subject them to punishment. Farling continued, “Major Harney declined to ‘report’ any of them, until he was peremptorily ordered so to do by the commanding General of the Brigade. Of course he obeyed orders. . . . Major Harney informed others, among them Capt. Slattery, who, in return, thanked Major Harney for thus informing him, by letter.”

In defending the decision to raise Major Harney to colonel, Farling stated somewhat defensively:

I will add one word more. You seem to intimate that it is akin to criminality for an officer to ask promotion, even after it is well earned. It is not so regarded in the Army. I believe Major Harney has asked from the Governor of New York, the appointment of Colonel of this Regiment. I do not know but Lieut. Col. Miller has done the same. Both have a right to ask for promotion. Gen. Cutler of this Division, and General Rice of this Brigade, both say, in their endorsement of Major Harney’s petition, that he has well and nobly earned promotion to the Colonelcy—that if ‘any officer in this Army has earned promotion Major Harney has done so.’

The Republican officers in the 147th New York called Farling’s explanation utter hogwash. Captain Delos Gary was one of the officers who lost his position. He rejoined the regiment on October 22, only to meet Adjutant Farling, who informed him that he need not have returned at all, as the paperwork had already been submitted to dismiss him. Captain Gary announced: “These [ten] . . . officers  . . .  were somewhat surprised to find themselves pronounced physically disabled by wounds received four months before. . . . I never knew a case, until this, where a wounded officer who had fair prospects of recovery within six months, was discharged within that time. . . . None of the ten discharged officers whom I have seen, not even the four who were present with the Regiment, were informed of the fact that a recommendation for their discharge had been sent in. Had the four officers present with the Regiment been informed of this fact, they could easily have prevented being discharged. But this knowledge was not for them.”

Gary believed that intrigue lay at the heart of the matter. For one thing, none of the other regiments in the brigade had discharged their wounded officers as the 147th New York had done. Gary asked, “But why was this order made for the 147th and not for the 95th N. Y., and the 56th Penn., or either of the other Regiments in Gen. Rice’s Brigade, all of which were similarly situated? Was there any intrigue here? Did any field or staff officer of the 147th say to Gen. Rice, ‘I think these absent officers had better be discharged,’ and was the order made on this suggestion?” When it came down to it, Gary believed that Harney and Farling were the source of the scheme. Gary never overtly accused them of fomenting a scheme based on politics, but he came close to it:

I have stated before that Major Harney was to be an applicant for the position of Colonel, subsequently it appeared that Adjutant Farling was to be an applicant for the Majority, to be made vacant by Maj. Harney’s promotion. Major Harney supported Adjutant Farling’s claims for the Majority, and Adjutant Farling supported Major Harney’s claims for the Colonelcy. It was also understood that Capt. Wright and myself would be applicants for the Majority, in case of a vacancy. Of the ten officers discharged, all, with perhaps one exception were in favor of Lieut. Col. Miller, for Colonel of the Regiment. These officers being discharged their wishes as to who should be Colonel were entitled to no more weight than those of any other private citizen, and Col. Miller’s strength was thereby to that extent weakened, and Major Harney was proportionately strengthened. . . . How fortunate, then, was it for the promotion of the plan of Major Harney and Adjutant Farling, that Gen. Rice ordered this recommendation made, that Major Harney made it without note or commend; that none of these officers learned that it was made until after they were discharged; and finally that these officers, who would have made it very lively for Major Harney and Adjutant Farling in their race for promotion, were so quietly laid on the shelf. It is so fortunate as to bear even a suspicious appearance.

Spurred by Gary’s message, the Republican newspapers in Oswego howled in protest, but it did no good. Nine of the ten officers accepted their dismissal. (Only one, Capt. George Hugunin, fought for his reappointment and won back his captaincy.) Governor Seymour chose to elevate Major Harney to the lieutenant colonelcy and Adjutant Farling to majority, but in the end, the scheme failed in one aspect. Lieutenant Colonel Miller stayed in the regiment, assuming the rank of colonel.

Miller, though, did not hold his new rank for long. On May 5, 1864, at the Battle of the Wilderness, he received a grievous wound to the left side and fell into the hands of the enemy. He spent the next year in a series of Confederate prisons, returning to his regiment just before the surrender at Appomattox. In the meantime, Harney commanded the 147th New York. For a second time, a rebel bullet had achieved what Harney’s ploy had failed to do—it had removed Miller from de facto command. It might be justice, then, that Miller got to command his regiment one last time at Appomattox, but certainly justice did not come to the nine line officers who faced dismissal in November 1863. Their fellow officers had quietly “laid them on the shelf,” never again to share in the glory of the Army of the Potomac.

It is a shame, I think, when the plotters of the world get their way.

Near as I can tell, there is only one artistic depiction of the 147th New York at Gettysburg--this image, Desperate Stand, by Mark Maritato. I presume the officer at the far right is meant to be Lt. Col. Francis Miller.

This is Lt. Col. Francis Miller, the Oswego carpenter who commanded the 147th New York at Gettysburg.
This is Maj. George Harney, the second-in-command of the 147th New York. In November 1863, using the help of his skillful adjutant, he plotted to take command of the regiment, dismissing ten line officers in the process.
This is Capt. George Hugunin, one of the ten officers who faced dismissal on November 5, 1863. He was the only one of the ten who managed to overturn his dismissal and win back his position.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

He Impaled an Enemy Officer

On July 30, 1864, the soldiers of the 45th Pennsylvania found themselves in a tight spot. They constituted part of the Army of the Potomac’s assaulting column at the Battle of the Crater, and by noon, everything had gone to Hell. The Union attack had stalled, and with a Confederate counterthrust bearing down on them, it looked increasingly doubtful that the Pennsylvanians could hold onto the enemy earthworks captured by their corps that morning.

The Pennsylvanians braced for the counterattack, and a swarm of Confederates stormed over the parapet, descending onto them and their comrades from the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Corps. During the melee, a pistol-bearing Confederate officer attacked the commander of the 45th Pennsylvania, Captain Theodore Gregg, demanding his surrender. The meeting did not go well for the Confederate. In a move that surprised everyone who witnessed it, Captain Gregg grabbed the Confederate officer’s pistol, drew out his sword, and ran the Confederate officer through the body with it. The officer fell, mortally wounded. (Incidentally, the sword broke. When the Confederate officer fell, Gregg came away with just a hilt.)

The image of Gregg impaling this unfortunate Confederate officer on his sword imprinted itself onto the memory tablets of every witness who survived the fighting. Indeed, how often did a Civil War soldier get to see an old-fashioned skewering? It did not take long for those who witnessed the remarkable incident to circulate stories about it. On August 5, Private Eugene Beauge, a member of Company G, 45th Pennsylvania, wrote home to his hometown newspaper, the Wellsboro Agitator. He related, “Capt. Gregg, commanding our regiment, was fiercely attacked by a rebel officer, when, seizing a pistol from the hand of his assailant, the Captain knocked his adversary down and ran him through with a sword.”

Another witness, Lieutenant Samuel Haynes, also of Company G, 45th Pennsylvania, wrote home: “Captain Gregg  . . . did some big fighting in the Rebel pits on Saturday. He killed a Rebel officer who led the charge. The Rebel caught Gregg by the throat and placing a pistol at his head demanded him to surrender. Gregg said: ‘You impudent scoundrel, how dare you ask me to surrender!’ and wrenched the pistol out of his hand, knocked him down with it, drew his sword and ran him through the body and left his sword in him. Then Gregg said, ‘You —, I guess you are my prisoner now’.”

Captain Josiah N. Jones, a member of the 6th New Hampshire, in the same division, told comrades about the same incident, although he probably did not see the scene first-hand:

I cannot refrain from narrating one incident told to me. Captain Greggs [sic], of the Forth-Fifth Pennsylvania, an old Mexican soldier, was present near the edge of the crater. A rebel officer on the other side near Greggs, pointed a rifle at his head, and called upon him to surrender. With a quick movement of his arm, Greggs knocked away the hand of the rebel officer, at the same time drawing his sword with the other, and running him through. The officer, impaled with the sword, fell back on the other side of the breastwork. General [William F.] Bartlett, seeing the daring act, unbuckled his sword-belt and presented it to Greggs, saying, ‘Captain, you are more worthy to wear it than I am.’ It was truly a recognition of gallantry by a brave officer.

Of all the reports that described the incident, the least impressive was the one written by Gregg himself. When he submitted his after action report, he could not help but mention the incredible stabbing, but he did not describe it with the same vivid detail used by his fellow soldiers. He wrote, “A large rebel officer, who appeared to be in command of the force, rushed upon me, and catching me by the throat, ordered me to surrender, at the same time bringing his revolver to my head. I succeeded in taking the revolver from him, and after a sharp struggle left him dead on the spot.”

Who was Captain Theodore Gregg? It would be best to describe him as a career military man. He was born in 1820 in the town of Milesburg, Pennsylvania, (then called “Central City”), which made him forty-four-years-old when he fought in the Battle of the Crater. In his late-teenage years, he left Pennsylvania to fight in the Second Seminole War. Once that conflict ended, he served four years in the U.S. Navy, before joining the Regular Army in time to fight in the Mexican-American War. Gregg served as quartermaster for the 4th U.S. Infantry during the Sieges of Monterrey and Veracruz. In fact, Gregg was a friend of Lieutenant Ulysses. S. Grant.

In some ways, I find Gregg’s friendship with Grant more interesting than his behavior at Petersburg’s crater. Gregg’s relationship with Grant became known to his men a few days after the debacle. One day, Gregg insisted on visiting the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters at City Point. Lieutenant Samuel Haynes accompanied him. At first, the sentries would not permit their entry, but Gregg’s feisty demeanor and his insistence that he knew Lieutenant General Grant personally convinced the sentries to let them pass. Haynes recalled:

Yesterday afternoon Captain Gregg and I called on General Grant at his headquarters at City Point. Gregg was bound to see him and insisted on having me go with him. The sentinels didn’t want to let us go in, I suppose on account of our rough appearance. We neither had shoulder straps, vests nor shirt collars on; our pants were stuck in our boots, we hadn’t been shaved for several days and altogether presented a very unmilitary appearance and not exactly the thing in which to appear before the lieutenant general commanding the Armies of the United States. Gregg swore some awful oaths that he had most urgent business with the General and the sentinel let us pass.

Haynes expected a polite conversation, but Gregg insisted on being rude to Grant and his staff officers. He flew into Grant’s cabin and unleashed a furious tirade, letting the general-in-chief and the staff officers learn his opinion of the recent Petersburg operation. Haynes continued, “We rushed in, took off our hats and Gregg opened his battery. I expected that we would get kicked out or be ordered in arrest but Gregg was equal to the occasion. He introduced himself as one of Grant’s old soldiers in Mexico in the same regiment (the Fourth United States Infantry) and then introduced me.”

Although Gregg spoke disrespectfully to Grant, it did not get him arrested. Good-naturedly, Grant listened to his old Mexican-American War colleague. As Haynes explained, “General Grant politely asked us to be seated; then he and Gregg rehearsed their old campaigns and ‘fought their battles over again.’ We stayed an hour. Gregg talked to General Grant very much as he would to me. The General expressed himself very much pleased to meet Gregg and when we were leaving asked us to call again. I don’t think I will call again unless I have some business. General Grant asked Gregg many questions about the members of their old regiment and about the fight of July 30th before Petersburg.”

This tale has led me to conclude a few things. First, Captain Theodore Gregg must have been one of the bravest men in the Union army! What other Union officer could stab a Confederate officer in the gut and then insult the lieutenant general commanding all Union forces just a few days later? My stars, what a bold man! Second, it strikes me that Grant must have been used to hearing Gregg complain, and he knew the best way to deal with a strong-willed man like him was to hear him out. In fact, I’m reminded of an incident that occurred on May 5, 1864, when a frustrated Union general, Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin, threw any equally absurd temper tantrum at army headquarters. According to a witness, Major Theodore Lyman, when Grant heard Griffin’s outburst, he called over to General Meade, asking, “Who is this General Gregg?” Meade replied, “His name is Griffin, not Gregg, and that’s only his way of talking.”

Wait? When Grant heard a random Union general’s outburst, the first name he thought was, “Gregg”? Was he thinking about Captain Gregg, his colleague from the Mexican-American War? Perhaps it is a stretch, but maybe Grant was so used to hearing Gregg’s flare-ups that any outburst triggered his memory of him.

In any event, it is amazing to consider the physical power it must have taken to stab a person through the body with a Model 1850 Foot Officer’s sword. At the Battle of the Crater, this positively medieval form of warfare could be seen in once instance, at least. I’ll bet Gregg remembered that emotionally-charged moment for the rest of his life, and face of his victim—whoever he was—screaming wildly and bleeding out, with Gregg’s shattered sword lodged in his gut.

Gregg died in 1878. He is buried in Eagle Cemetery in his hometown, Milesburg.

Capt. Theodore Gregg, commander of the 45th Pennsylvania, impaled a Confederate officer on his sword.

Friday, February 13, 2015

"No One Can Die Too Young."

On May 10, 1864, Brigadier General James Clay Rice’s brigade (2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 5th Corps) made a probing attack against Confederate earthworks along the Po River. After failing to find a weak point, Rice and his men fell back to their own entrenchments. Shortly after noon, another brigade came to the relief of Rice’s men, but it arrived too far to the left. Thinking that he might be able to call the errant brigade over to the correct position by shouting at it loudly, Rice mounted the earthworks in front of his command. In a minute, he fell back down, struck in the left thigh by a Confederate musket ball. The projectile had nicked the general’s femoral artery and he bled copiously. It took an exceedingly long time for nearby soldiers to apply a tourniquet, but eventually, they stopped the general’s blood loss. Eventually, four men carried him to the rear on a blanket and to a field hospital. Immediately, surgeons performed an amputation, but they worried that Rice had lost too much blood for it to do any good.

Rice’s aide, Lieutenant Archibald McClure Bush, held the general’s hand throughout the surgery, and soon after, he was joined by none other than Major General George G. Meade, who dismounted and came to Rice’s side. According to an account, Rice told General Meade, “I am badly hurt, General, they do all they can for me. I had tried to do my duty but am ready to die for my country.” Meade stayed awhile, giving Rice some hearty encouragement, but soon, he had to move on. Lieutenant Bush stayed with Rice until the end. At one point, Rice stated emphatically: “No one can die too young if, loving Christ, he dies for his country.”

Next, Rice transmitted a goodbye message, one that he wanted Bush to deliver to his wife, Josephine, and finally he asked that Bush roll him over. When Bush asked why, Rice replied, “Turn me toward the enemy, I wish to die with my face to the foe.” Rice said only one more thing, “Pray for me, lieutenant.” Then, he expired.

Rice’s lifeless corpse experienced a lengthy post-mortem tour. After medical personnel boxed it up for transit to Belle Plain, it traveled by ship, first to New York City, under military escort, where it lay at Madison Square Presbyterian Church, and next to his hometown of Albany for a second procession, until finally, mourners committed it to the earth at Albany Rural Cemetery. New York’s governor, Horatio Seymour, even declared May 16 a day of mourning in honor of Rice, requiring all the flags on the capitol grounds to be carried at half-mast.

One particular thing interests me about Rice’s final words. One of his last lines to Lieutenant Bush emphasized: “No one can die too young if, loving Christ, he dies for his country.” This was not the first time Rice had said these lines. In fact, ten days before dying, Rice wrote to his mother, articulating the same sentiment. While his brigade was at Brandy station, Rice penned these words:

We are about to commence the campaign, the greatest in magnitude, strength and importance since the beginning of the war. God grant that victory may crown our arms; that this wicked rebellion may be crushed, our Union preserved, and peace and prosperity again be restored to our beloved country. My faith and hope and confidence are in God alone, and I know that you feel the same. I trust that God may again graciously spare my life, as He has in the past, and yet one cannot fall too early if, loving Christ, he dies for his country.

In modern times, we consider dying too young a tragedy. Probably, a great many people in 1864 thought the same way. Yet, soldiers had to accept the sad fact that men died young all the time. Clearly, that thought weighed heavily on the mind of General Rice as he lived out his final days. Yet, he made peace with the fact that he might die young. His letter to his mother indicated this, and he repeated the same phrase to his aide, Lieutenant Bush.

In pondering Rice’s fascination with the idea of dying young, I conclude that he had only recently come to terms with it. However, the seeds of his acceptance had been planted about two years earlier. It had happened when he watched a young New York Zouave bleed out on the floor of a Washington, D.C. hospital. As Rice marched his brigade into the bloody Overland Campaign of 1864, I’ll bet the memory of the final hours of Sergeant William Hogeboom was not far from his mind.
1st Lt. Archibald McClure Bush, 95th New York Volunteers, stood at General Rice's side as he expired.
Brig. Gen. James Clay Rice, shown as commander of the 2nd Brig., 4th Div., 5th Army Corps.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"The Sergeant Has Halted."

On September 10, 1862, Colonel James Clay Rice (44th New York Infantry) walked into a hospital in Washington, D.C. (He never specified which one, but probably it was either Armory Square Hospital or Finlay Hospital.) As Rice later explained, “It was perhaps ten days after the second battle of Manassas, that I visited one of the hospitals near Washington, for the purpose of ascertaining if any of the disabled of my own command had been borne there, and if so, of speaking to them a kind, cheerful word, always so grateful to a wounded soldier.”

While passing through one of the wards, two strangers—a sister and an aunt of a wounded man–accosted Rice, asking him if he would stand by the couch of their relative while a surgeon amputated his limb. Rice recalled, “They were both weeping, but the wounded soldier, although suffering intensely, met me with a smile and saluted me. I sat down by his couch, and took his hand in mine.”

Rice never mentioned the name of the soldier, but details from his account render it certain that he met twenty-five-year-old Sergeant William B. Hogeboom (Company K, 5th New York Infantry). Hogeboom’s regiment, the 5th New York Zouaves, had been decimated at Second Manassas, losing 297 officers and men. By mid-September, the hospitals in Washington were choked with wounded Zouaves.

Sergeant Hogeboom was in rough shape. He had received a gunshot wound on Saturday, August 30, but had not been removed from the field until Wednesday, September 4. That day, a surgeon dressed his wound and put him on an ambulance to Washington. The next day, Hogeboom endured his first surgery, the physicians deciding it necessary to amputate the damaged limb. When Rice encountered him, it was five days later, and the arteries had commenced to slough away. The surgeons decided that a second amputation was needed.

Hogeboom regaled Rice with the tale of his survival on the field of Second Manassas. He said:


[I] remained where . . . [I] fell . . . , with no food save a few hard crackers left in my haversack; and no water, except that which God gave me from heaven in rain and dew, and which I caught in my blanket.  . . . You know, Colonel, how God remembers us wounded soldiers with rain, after the battle is over, and when our lips are parched and our tongues are burning with fever.


At this point, Hogeboom paused in telling his story, and Rice “noticed that his voice was weaker and his face more pale and deathlike.” Looking to the floor, Rice observed blood trickling down from the rubber poncho on which the sergeant was lying. Clearly, the wound had hemorrhaged. He called a surgeon to the bedside. After a short examination, consulting with other surgeons in attendance, the chief physician told Rice that re-amputation would be useless, saying that, in all probability, Hogeboom would not survive the hour. Rice explained the situation to Hogeboom’s aunt and sister. He remembered, “Tears filled their eyes, and they sobbed bitterly; but their grief was borne as Christian women alone can bear such sorrow. . . . The sister, wiping away her tears, and taking a prayer book from her dress, asked me if I would tell her brother how soon he must die, and if I would read him ‘the prayer for the dying’.”

Rice attempted to talk to the sergeant one last time, but he found it difficult. Hogeboom had grown delirious and seemed to think that he was still on the march. To communicate, Rice pretended to issue orders to the dying sergeant. Rice related:

I went to the couch, and stood beside the dying soldier. “Sergeant” I said, “we shall halt soon—we are not going to march much further today.”

“Are we going to halt, colonel,” said the sergeant, “so early in the day? Are we going to bivouac before night?”

“Yes sergeant,” I replied, “the march is nearly over—the bugle call will soon sound the ‘halt’.”

The sergeant’s mind wandered for a moment but my tears interpreted to him my words.

“Oh! colonel,” he said, “do you mean that I am so soon to die?”

“Yes, sergeant,” I said, “you are soon to die.”

“Well, colonel, I am glad I am going to die—I want to rest—the march has been so long that I am weary—I am tired—I want to halt—I want to be with Christ—I want to be with my Saviour.”

Rice recited the prayer, and then Hogeboom began saying his goodbyes. He took off a ring, kissed it, telling his sister that he must give it to their mother. He said, “Tell my mother, sister, that this is for her, and that I remembered her and loved her, dying.” Then, taking a second ring from his hand, he kissed it, and said, “Sister, give this to her to whom my heart is pledged, and tell her—tell her to come to me in heaven.” Finally, addressing Rice, Sergeant Hogeboom said, “And colonel, tell my comrades of the arm—the brave army of the Potomac—that I died bravely, died for the good old flag.”

According to Rice, “These were the last words of the dying soldier. His pulse now beat feebler and feebler, the blood tickled faster and faster down the bed-side, the dew of death came and went, and flickering for a moment over the pallid face, at length rested—rested forever. The sergeant has halted. His soul is now in heaven.”

Of course, we historians must be a bit skeptical of Rice’s account. He was a religious man and deeply dedicated to his country, so his version of what Hogeboom said in his final moments might not have been word-for-word the truth, but what Rice preferred to hear. However, we have no reason to doubt that this incident occurred. Rice watched a wounded soldier die, that much is certain. I have every reason to believe that Rice remembered this moment for the rest of his life. When he died from a serious gunshot wound two years later—the subject of my next blog post—he met his end the same way as Hogeboom, on the floor of a field hospital, comforted by a superior.

It must rip out a piece of a soldier’s soul to watch a fellow soldier die. But sometimes, watching a brave man die can provide a lifetime of emotional fortitude.

Sergeant Hogeboom was laid to rest at Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.
Colonel James Clay Rice, shown as commander, 44th New York Volunteers.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Marched to Death

On June 17, 1863, the Army of the Potomac’s 5th Corps trudged along a dusty road that connected Centreville to a small village called Gum Springs (modern-day Arcola).  It was a tough march, one that lasted twelve hours. That day, the 5th Corps started out in Manassas Junction. Thus, it covered seventeen miles. Balmy weather slowed the pace of the march and the soldiers suffered intensely under the penetrating rays of the sun. One of the participants, Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, wrote, “We suffered dreadfully on the march to this place for water and the intense heat. We have lost a dozen men or more in the brigade from sun stroke, and yesterday Lt. Col. Gleason of the 25th New York was overcome and died from the sun’s effect, and as soon as we halted, was buried in a little church yard hard by.”

Donaldson’s account is typical. Without fail, the 5th Corps soldiers who wrote about the June 17 hike mentioned the corps’ most famous sunstroke casualty, Lieutenant Colonel Shepard Gleason, age twenty-five. No doubt, it was shocking for them to learn that a regimental commander might die from heat exhaustion. Unlike the enlisted men, Gleason rode his horse and did not have to burden himself with a rifle or tenting equipment. Yet, even that did not save him from death—testament to the intensity of the heat endured on that awful day.

Even more amazing is the fact that Gleason was only nine days short of mustering out. The 25th New York was a two-year regiment. It had left New York City in the summer of 1861 under the promise that it would muster out on June 26, 1863. Recently, the regiment had been lightly engaged at Chancellorsville, but that proved to be its last battle. Probably, the New Yorkers expected to wait out the remainder of their service while in bivouac, but Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia during the second week of June roused the defeated bluecoats from their encampments along the Rappahannock River. The entire army—all 90,000 of them—went ahead with a series of exhausting marches during one of the hottest weeks of the year. That urgency—the need to move quickly after the fall of the Union garrison at Winchester—killed Gleason, and it did so as his enlistment was about to expire.

What baffles me most is the fact that no one made any effort to transport Gleason’s remains back to his home in Rochester. Logic dictated that the regiment could have easily boxed up his corpse and shipped it north. Members of the regiment knew that the army did not intend for the 25th New York to participate in the remainder of the grueling campaign, chasing the Confederates into Pennsylvania. In fact, the order detaching the 25th New York arrived on June 20, three days after Gleason perished. At first, the officers in his brigade considered packaging Gleason’s body, but then decided against it. Writing to the New York Herald, one soldier explained: “In my last letter I mentioned the death of Lieut. Col. Gleason from sunstroke. It had then been arranged to send his remains home; but subsequently it was decided to bury him in this place, and his remains now lie in the graveyard of the old church here.”

The day after the corps arrived at Gum Springs, Maj. Gen. George Sykes issued orders to halt and not resume the march until June 19, when the weather cooled. Amid a terrible rainstorm, the soldiers of the 25th New York formed up to say goodbye to their fallen commander. So continued the soldier who wrote to the Herald, “His burial was an impressive scene: for no more gallant, efficient and popular officer was ever in this corps. Although raining violently, there was a large attendance of officers, besides the entire regiment, attended by the Second United States infantry band. . . . The deceased,  . . . by his talents, which were of a high and brilliant order, and his gallantry, shown in every action, rose to the position he held at the time of his decease. Excepting at Shepherdstown, he took part in every battle in which this army has participated. His name and services, high accomplishments and courtesy will ever remain green in the memory of his old comrades in arms.”

Eulogistic words from the nineteenth-century often brushed over the complexity of a person’s personality, but it is safe to say that Gleason was a popular officer. Few others could boast so meteoric a rise. Back in 1861, Gleason enlisted as a private in the 13th New York Infantry. In October, he transferred to the 25th New York, mustering in as a second lieutenant in Company K. His promotion to lieutenant colonel came on May 9, a few days after his regiment returned from the Chancellorsville battlefield. Thus, he rose from private to lieutenant colonel in less than two years. On June 26, an alumnus from Rochester Collegiate Institute, Robert Wilson, wrote to his favorite professor, informing him of Gleason’s death:

My dear professor:

You will, of course, remember Mr. Gleason who was a member of your class in 1856, when we were reading Cicero. Yesterday’s paper has the announcement of his death from exhaustion or from sun stroke during the late march of his regiment, the 25th N. Y. V. His death was sudden and quite unexpected by his fellow soldiers. He was found dead on the morning of last Thursday. I saw the Colonel under whom he served (Johnson) and he seemed much affected by the death of one for whom his fellow officers and men entertained so much respect and esteem. I have spoken to several of the officers and men of his regiment, and they all, without exception, speak in terms of unbounded praise, not only of the brilliancy and efficiency as an officer, but speak of him also as a true man and courteous gentleman. One of them said to me to-day, that had Mr. Gleason lived, he must certainly have risen to a position of eminence; for in him were displayed those rare qualities of mind, temper and manner, which go to make up the chivalrous soldier and the able officer.

When I learned two years ago that he had enlisted as a private in the old 13th Regiment of Rochester, I could not but feel sad, while I volunteered the prediction that he would not be long in the ranks. I was not disappointed. His talents raised him through all the grades of Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, till, at his death he held the responsible and honorable position of Lieut. Colonel. I am told also that only his modesty forbid him from going another step higher, having refused the position of Colonel but a few weeks since.

I like to remember and keep track of the old members of the Collegiate, and I always consider it a treat when I see one. Among them all there is not one for whom my respect and affection is more profoundly sincere than for Shepherd Gleason [sic]. During our acquaintance in Rochester as fellow students I loved to admire the many noble qualities of his nature, and have always felt proud in being a sharer in his courteous and generous friendship. I feel that in his decease the United States army has lost one of its best officers and the community one of its best citizens.

Sed ne longum sit [Latin for, “Indeed, let me speak briefly.”]: You will pardon me if I have taken too much of your attention with this scribble, for I could not withhold my tribute of respect to the memory of one for whom my affection is equaled only by the exalted opinion I have ever held for his manly excellence and various genius.

Currently, a small gravestone sits in Riga Cemetery, Monroe County, New York, honoring Gleason’s death. If his earthly remains are buried there, then, at some point, friends from Rochester journeyed to Gum Springs to claim them.

The whole story leaves behind some unanswered questions. First, why did the officers of the 5th Corps choose to leave Gleason’s body, leaving it buried in the graveyard of an old Virginia church? Second, which church was it? (None of the accounts say.) Third, how did Gleason’s family manage to recover the remains? I do wonder about the answers.

Regardless, I grimace whenever I contemplate the grueling seventeen-mile march of June 17, 1863, a trek that killed seventeen men in the 5th Corps. One of them, Gleason, had only to survive nine more days in order to go home. Rather than accept the fact that his regiment would be of no practical use in the upcoming campaign, the army chose to march him to death.

Lt. Col. Shepard Gleason