Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 1863: Warren County & the 54th Mass. Colored Troops

In April 1861, free black men in the North and the South volunteered to fight for their states.  Militia companies of African Americans volunteered to fight on both sides, but in the North, all were turned down by politicians and bureaucrats who felt it was a "White Man's War."  Several black militia companies volunteered their services to Virginia to defend their state from a Northern invasion.  The Commonwealth of Virginia thanked the volunteers for their patriotism but declined to accept them into the army.  The confederate Congress approved the War Department's plan to allow blacks to work in the war plants and to enlist in noncombatant roles in the army: cooks, teamsters, hospital stewards, ambulance drivers, engineering battalions, etc.  In 1862, free black cooks assigned to the army were authorized a pay of $15 per month.  In June 1861, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law allowing "all male free persons of color between the ages of 15 and 50"   to enlist in the military.  In April 1861, two "Native Guards" regiments of free African Americans, commanded by black officers, were created by 1,400 volunteers in New Orleans.  The "Native Guards" were incorporated in the Louisiana State Militia.  After New Orleans was captured by Federal troops, the "Native Guards" regiments were mustered into  the Federal Army by General Benjamin Butler as the Corps D'Afrique.  In 1862, Kansas began to enlist African Americans in their "Indian Brigades."  In South Carolina, Union General David Hunter armed runaway slaves and formed the First South Carolina Volunteers Regiment.

In December 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, effective on January 1, 1863, which freed slaves in the rebellious states.  However, there were still no official Union regiments of black troops in the Federal Army.  The Federal Government had no provision for raising black troops so it looked to the state militias.  Some states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania did not want to raise black regiments.  On January 26, 1863, Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton accepted the offer of  Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew to raise three black regiments: the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments (Colored) and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment (Colored).

Governor Andrew realized the 54th Regiment, being the first black regiment raised in the North, would be the model after which other states could follow. Andrew and Frederick Douglass agreed the 54th Regiment should consist of only educated, freeborn blacks - no runaway slaves. The regiment was commanded by white officers and black non-commissioned officers.  Captain Robert Gould Shaw, of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was commissioned as the Colonel commanding the 54th.  Captain Norwood Hallowell, of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the 54th.  Louis Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass, was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of the 54th. 
Lacking a sufficient number of qualified volunteers in Massachusetts, it was decided recruiters would be sent to other Union states.  with the aid of Douglass   and Mayor George L. Stearns, of Bedford, $5,000 was raised to start the regiment.  Douglass led a group of recruiters throughout the Northern states, including New Jersey. An enlistment bounty of $100 was paid to each recruit. 
Three Warren County men accepted the call to arms: James Furman, of Washington, enlisted in Company E of the 54th.  Isaiah [or Isaac] Cass, of Hackettstown, joined Company C of the 54th.   John Richardson, of Blairstown, enlisted in Company B of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.  By May 14, 1863, there were 1,000 recruits in the 54th Regiment.  the regiments trained for 100 days at Camp Meigs in Readville, Mass.
Copyright 1999-2013: Jay C. Richards      

May 25, 1863: Lt. James Prall after the Battle of Chancellorsville

On May 25, 1863, after returning from the battle of Chancellorsville, Lieutenant James Prall, of Company I (the "Belvidere Company") of the 31st NJ Volunteer Infantry, wrote, "Dear Father and Mother: It is with the greatest pleasure that I can sit down this Monday morning to write to you once more and say that I still are well, never felt better than I do this morning.  Now our breakfast has come up.  I will stop and eat.  We will have ham and eggs, good coffee, hard tack &c &c.
"Well now I have eaten a very hearty breakfast and I will try and finish the letter.  I would have written yesterday but was on duty and had not time.  On Friday we moved our Camp about a quarter of a mile.  We still have a very nice Camp.  We have had very warm and dry   weather here for some time.  It has been as warm here as I ever saw it in Jersey in July but last night it clouded up and got quite cool again and now looks as though we were agoing to have a storm. I hope it will rain for it is very dusty here and I think it much pleasanter if it would rain and lay the dust.
"The 137th Regiment Pennsylvania Vols. of our Brigade started for home this morning.  They are the first that goes out of our Brigade.  We will be home about the 18th or 20th of June.  There is no signs of any move here now.  Adjutant [John] Schoonover [11th NJ Infantry Regt.] was here yesterday.  He is looking well.  I have been looking for Mr. [Frederick] Knighton [Chaplain, 11th NJ Regt.] to come over for some time but he has not come yet. I hear he is going home [to Belvidere] soon.
"I received Clark's letter on last Thursday.  I was glad to hear that you was all well.  I received one from Rebecca the same day.  I was sorry to hear that she had not been very well, has had the Rheumatism.  She says Bartley was there when she wrote.  I have been looking for one from May.  I think I have not received any from her since I wrote to her. How does she like her new house?  I find by Clark's letter that he is down on [General Joseph] Hooker and thinks he displayed very bad generalship and says this was the greatest defeat of the war. Well now Clark, I think you are greatly mistaken.  It certainly was not half so bad as the [General Ambrose] Burnsides fight where he crossed the River.  I don't believe our loss was near what the papers say it was and I are well satisfied that the Rebs loss was far greater than ours and I think that Gen. Hooker displayed as good generalship as any general we hever had.  You can't tell by the papers any thing about it.  The whole army almost think the move was a good one and still have all confidence in him.  They did not come back in such a demoralized condition they did when they came back before.  He had various reasons for retreating back here.  I don't think it was because he did not know how to handle his men.  If he is left in command and of this army and it is still necessary to cross [the Rappahannock River] he will do it and if he gets ready before our time is out I are ready and willing to cross again with the army.  I for my own part have always been a McClellan man and you are but I don't think he is the only man. I should like to see him take command of the army once more and Hooker to take charge of a part of it for some of the troops think there is not more like Hooker.  But to finish up about this I will say that I think this war is nearing an end than any of us thinks for I think & hope it may in a few months more come to an end. 
"Father I had a letter last evening from John Wyckoff about buying out J. R. Dey's store.  He said he and Mr. Davis had talked to you about it (as I had requested).  Now the County and I think that Davis & Wyckoff both is good business men and if there can be any business there we can do it and if I do not make up my mind to come back here [to the Army] again I should like to have this place   but I will not say positively that I would take it until I get home for I may make up my mind to come back again.  This Rebellion must be put down and if the Government does except [sic] more Volunteers, and I think it will, I think there will be inducements to come back again.  I want to see the end of this war.  I would like to be out there to help end it.  I like the soldiers life and I would as soon be here as any where but I will not say any thing more about this now.  It will be time enough to talk about it when I get home.  Hoping this may find you well and enjoying the comforts of a good home of which the Soldier is deprived.  And so I close, James."
Copyright 1999-2013: Jay C. Richards 

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 1863: Lt. Charles Butts & 11th PA. Cavalry at South Qua

On May 2, 1863, Lieutenant Charles Butts and the men of Company I ["The Belvidere, NJ  Company"] of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Regiment were in the Blackwater area of Virginia on the road to Sommerton.
Lt. Butts' report to his major stated, "I was on picket on the Sommerton Road on Sunday, May 2nd, 1863. About 5 o'clock p.m. I ascended a large pine tree in front of the enemy, and with the aid of a marine glass [telescope], saw the enemy's pickets with knapsacks on ready to march.  I reported this fact to Colonel Foster, at 10 o'clock, p.m., Sunday.  Later in the night the enemy fired, which I took to be a signal gun.  Between 12 and 1 o'clock at night, a deserter came into my station and reported the enemy retreating.  I immediately sent the deserter with a statement of facts to Colonel Foster, commanding the forces in front of Sommerton Road.  I then advanced with my cavalry picket, consisting of 15 mounted men of Company I, 11th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, and found the enemy's rifle-pits at Brother's house deserted. 
"As I advanced, I found the road badly obstructed with timber, rails, and brush.  I removed them as soon as possible and had proceeded a short distance beyond this obstruction, when I came to a large fort across the road, a short distance this side of Mr. Wright's house, 5 miles from Suffolk.  I moved to the right of the main work and jumped the ditches and rifle-pits, and urged the horses over the parapet of the left wing of the fort. One horse fell into the ditch below but was soon got out;            then proceeded about one mile on the main road above the fort when I learned that the enemy from the Edenton Road had crossed over by way of Darden's Mill, and struck the Sommerton Road at Mr. Pitt's house, about 6 miles from Suffolk.  At this place I received an order to remain at the above mentioned fort until reinforcements came up.  Colonel Foster leading, ordered them forward.  I immediately fell back to the fort, leaving my pickets out, found the entrance and removed the obstructions, leaving the road clear for the column to pass through when they arrived. 
"About two o'clock, a.m., Monday morning, May 4 [sic], '63, Major Samuel Wetherhill, 11th Pa. Cavalry, in command of two companies, A and E of the 11th PA. Vol. Cavalry, came up.  The Major ordered me to take the advance with my 15 men, giving me 5 of Company A in addition, making 20 in all, and pursued the enemy as fast as possible.  I hastened my pursuit to Leesburg, some 15 miles south of Suffolk.  At this place the road forks, one going to Sommerton and the other to Holy Neck Chapel, here the enemy divided his force, sending the heavy artillery on the Sommerton Road for several miles, and then bearing to the right, came into the road leading to South Qua at Holy Neck Chapel.  All their wagons, light artillery and infantry took the direct road to Holy Neck Chapel, and from thence to South Qua, where they crossed the Blackwater River.  As it was necessary to send back dispatches, and, at different times, some prisoners, that I had captured, my force was reduced to five men; and as I had taken some prisoners at the last named place, I could not follow any further on account of not having any men to accompany me, as it would have been necessary to leave what men I had to guard the prisoners I had taken at this place. Here the enemy's rear guard was about ten minutes ahead of me; it consisted of one brigade of infantry, 4 pieces of artillery, and one company of cavalry. 
"I have the gratification to report that I captured, with my little command, 48 rebel soldiers, with all their arms and accouterments; 6 citizen prisoners, and one rebel sutler, with his wagon and two horses."
Copyright 1997-2013: Jay C. Richards 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 1863: Battle of Chancellorsville

On January 21, 1863, General Ambrose Burnside was replaced by General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.  After retraining the troops Hooker felt they were ready to take the offensive again in April 1863.  On May 1, the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock river at United States Ford and approached Chancellorsville, Virginia.  Confederate troops rushed up from Fredericksburg and the battle began on May 2, 1863.

The Confederates engaged skirmishers from Belvidere resident Colonel Edward Campbell's 15th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment at a plain at the foot of Salem Heights.  The 15th NJ held the plain so rebel troops shifted their forces to the right of the Federal lines. 

Colonel Robert McAllister's 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment was held in reserve with the rest of 3rd Corps at this time.  The 11th NJ moved into the woods to form a line of battle late in the day.

The Federal 11th Corps was hit by a large Confederate force and was routed, pushed from the battlefield, and the Second Division of the 3rd Corps was called up to counterattack at the plank road.  Near dawn on May 3, McAllister and his men were ordered to form a line of battle with the 11th Massachusetts Regiment along the plank road to form a second battle line.  To the left of this line was the 2nd New Jersey Brigade, and in front was the 1st Massachusetts Regiment.  In the rear, the artillery batteries were firing over the heads of their infantry.

McAllister, of Oxford Furnace, wrote in his report, "The enemy made two attacks during the night but did not force our lines. With some changes at dawn of day, we waited the attack of the enemy...The attack was made half past four a.m. and increased in severity until eight and a half a.m., when the line in front gave way; also the regiments of our brigade on my right.  I then changed the front of the regiment slightly, and I returned the fire of the enemy briskly.  The battle was now raging with great fierceness; many of the officers were wounded; two had been killed; large numbers of our wounded men had gone to the rear; and both flag staffs had been completely severed by the bullets of the enemy.  The enemy now pressed my right so heavily that I was compelled  to change my front and form a line with the Second NJ Brigade on my left and General [Alexander] Hays' Brigade on my right.  We sustained this position for some time, losing heavily, when the line on our left gave way, and we fell slowly back under a withering fire of grape and canister.  I formed the regiment on the hill in rear of the battalions, and soon afterwards, with the corps in that vicinity, charged across the fields towards our earthworks, which the enemy had just entered."

After the battle had raged for approximately two hours, the left flank of the 1st Massachusetts began to weaken.  The rebels broke through and began to attack the 1st Massachusetts.  The Confederates attacked on three sides of the Federal lines.  The Federal right flank began to collapse, and the 2nd NJ Brigade began to pull back.  the 11th NJ Regiment held their line and prevented the 2nd NJ Brigade from being outflanked, giving the 5th NJ Regiment the chance to capture an enemy flag.  The artillery positions were lost to the Confederates, but when the Federal troops pulled back to the second line of battle, they counterattacked and recaptured the artillery positions.  The Confederate forces attacked again, gradually forcing the Federal troops to give up the artillery positions again.  
McAllister reported, "They were driven out, and a large number of prisoners taken, mostly of the Second NJ Brigade; our forces could hold it but a short time, when we fell back with the remainder of the troops and joined our brigade, which had fallen back some time before.  With the brigade we came within the entrenchments."
General Daniel Sickles, commanding the 3rd Corps, reformed the line of battle near his headquarters.  The 11th NJ stayed on the field of battle while the Corps pulled back to reform.  Among the last to leave the field were Colonel McAllister, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Moore, and Adjutant John Schoonover.  McAllister came to General Sickles and said, "Here I am with the remainder of my regiment; where my brigade is I cannot tell."  Sickles answered, "Fall into this line without reference to organizations.  You are all my men.  We must hold this line if every man of us should fall."
Sickles' 3rd Corps held the line for several hours of uninterrupted fighting.  McAllister's 11th NJ lost 20 men killed, 115 wounded and 11 missing that day.  The 11th Massachusetts was completely destroyed - only Captain Gammon and eight men survived.  The captain approached McAllister and said, "I am here with eight men and would like to fight with you."  McAllister welcomed the Massachusetts men into his regiment to continue the fight.
Sickles' Corps held off General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's Virginia Division and had repelled five bayonet charges.  The NJ troops of the 3rd Corps  had captured eight Confederate flags.
McAllister wrote, "Both men and officers of my Regiment acted nobly, stood well, and fought well; to praise some might do injustice to others; but I cannot pass without personally mentioning Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, who was of great assistance, and acquitted himself with honor; also, the heroic conduct of Captain Kearny and Adjutant Schoonover, who were of incalculable advantage in leading and bringing the men forward.  The color-bearer, Sergeant Albert DuPuget, displayed unusual coolness and bravery.  They all deserve  promotion for meritorious conduct."
On the other side of the battle line, Campbell's 15th NJ Regiment had charged to the turnpike with its brigade under heavy fire.  In a fight at the turnpike, the regiment lost three men killed and 20 captured.  At noon, the 15th NJ was moved to the extreme left of the battle line.  the regiment marched through the town and up to Salem Heights.  At 4:00 p.m. the regiment formed a line of battle and charged through woods against Confederate troops positioned behind a wall and ditch.  The fight raged until 8:00 p.m., when the regiment was forced to withdraw because of a lack of support     from other units.  The regiment lost 130 men killed, wounded or missing in action. 
Chaplain A. Haines, of the 15th NJ, wrote in his journal, "The Color-Sergeant Eugene Hicks, of Clinton [actually of Asbury, Warren County], a fine, noble-looking young man, whose name was on the list for promotion, fell with the colors in his hands, pierced with a bullet through the brain.  Corporal Samuel Rubadon seized the falling flag and carried it right forward through the rest of the fight."
The men of the 31st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Honeyman, had moved up to support the 29th NJ Regiment on May 1.  Honeyman wrote in his report, "Friday, May 1st, occupied my position undisturbed.  Saturday, 2nd, firing commenced at eight o'clock a.m., from the enemy's batteries.  Sergeant Aaron W. Davis, Company G [from Hope] was wounded - struck above the ear with a piece of shell.  the firing was very heavy ans was directed principally at the batteries.  My position was held without difficulty until ordered to be evacuated.  After all the troops had fallen back, the enemy's fire slackened, enabling me to bring over the river our batteries and to effect a crossing without loss.  Rejoining the brigade near Falmouth Station, without scarcely any time for rest, we were pushed forward rapidly up the river throughout the remainder of this excessively warm day.  The endurance of both officers and men was wonderful, although a number gave out.  Late in the evening, encamped near United States Ford, crossing the river at this point at three o'clock a.m., Sunday, the 3rd instant.  At sunrise, having arrived at our position on the field, near the extreme right, I formed line of battle in support of an advanced line and remained here during the day and night, awaiting an attack - the firing part of the time being near and heavy.  Monday, p.m., 4th instant, moved half a mile further to the right, sent out four companies on picket under the command of Captain B. F. Howey [of Knowlton Township], of Company G, and threw up rifle-pits.  the enemy being reported near and in force, a general alarm was created soon after dark by the firing of one of the pickets, followed by the firing of the regiment next on my right, the firing becoming general, part of the regiment which was formed in rear of my command as support also fired.  That none were killed seemed almost miraculous, the clothing of some being riddled with balls."
Copyright 1997-2013: Jay C. Richards

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

April 24, 1863: Lt. James Prall & the 31st NJ Regt.

On April 24, 1863, Lieutenant James Prall, of Company I, 31st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wrote to his parents in Belvidere.  Some of this letter became illegible because of water damage.  

Prall wrote, "Dear Father & Mother: I once more this afternoon endeavor to write to you  another letter to let you know how I am getting along.    I are still enjoying the blessing of good health  for which I are very thankful...I got a letter from Marsh Summers.  He is getting better.  He say he is in Philadelphia.
[Marshall Summers, of Belvidere, enlisted in the 3rd New York Cavalry in December 1861 and transferred to Company G of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry in April 1862.  He was wounded in the face by two saber cuts at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, was captured & paroled. He was killed in action at Culpepper Plantation, VA on October 13, 1864.]

"I have been telling you that we have been expecting to move for sometime.  I meant a forward movement of the whole army.  We have moved out of Camp. We moved on last Sunday morning before daylight.  We started about three o.c. in the morning and moved about three miles down the Potomac on a very nice plain along the river near where [we] have our Reviews.  Our whole Brigade is laying near us now.  Such weather as we have had this week ought to be scarcer this time of year.  We have had but one clear day.  Rained all the week and today it rains and blows...We are lying in our shelter tents and I do say I are not much in favor of shelter tents in stormy weather.  In dry weather they are about as good as any.  We are still expecting to move [and] still keep eight days rations in hand all ready packed, ready to move out at one hours notice but if it keeps on raining I don't think we will move very soon for the roads will soon be as bad as they were in the winter.  But I hope we will soon have nice weather again.  We have a fine view of the Potomac River here.  I suppose that we have about eight weeks to stay yet our time will be out on the Seventeenth day of June. That will soon slip away but we can't tell what that time may bring forth.  Governor Parker is down here in the army of the Potomac. He is to be here tomorrow.  I suppose he will Review this Brigade if it does not storm.  We have not received any pay yet nor we don't know when we will but I hope we will soon.
"Elijah Burd is in our tent now getting the mail ready to go out but I will not send this until tomorrow for I thought I will get one to night so now I will stop and finish this letter tomorrow.
"It is now Sunday evening.  I received Clark's letter of the 13th.  I was glad to hear that you was all well and I received a notice again from Washington that there was another letter there for me which I will have to send the notice to  [H.D.] Swayze again and he will send it on to me.  When you write to me again let me know whether you have the letters that you   send with money in Registered or not.  I think you must or they would not stop there.  The paymaster came down to day and I expect he will pay us tomorrow or Sunday.  You need not send me any more money now until I write for it again.  Col. Jonathan Cook from Trenton, the man that receives the money for the New Jersey Soldiers and sends it home for them, was here to day and will be here when we are paid and I will send what money I can spare with him the same as I did before.  I received a letter from Thomas Lommasson to night.  He is about the same as he has been for some time.  I will be glad for him when his time is out for he has had a hard time of it.  I will now close for this time and write you again as soon as we get our pay and let you know  what I send home.  Hoping this may find you all enjoying the same good health that I are, I remain your son, James Prall.  Write as often as you can, all of you."
[Thomas Lommasson (or Lomason), of Oxford (now White Township), was discharged by the regimental surgeon on May 31, 1863.]
Copyright 1999-2013: Jay C. Richards 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

May 1863: 27th NJ Regt. loses the DeGraw brothers

In April 1863, General Samuel Powhatan Carter, the Union district commander, planned an expedition to drive the confederates out of Kentucky.  Carter assigned command of the cavalry brigade to Colonel Wolford of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, and Colonel George W. Mindil, of the 27th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was assigned command of the infantry brigade.  Mindil was now in command of the 27th NJ, the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Regiment, the 103rd Ohio Infantry Regiment, and Lieutenant Abram Calvin Wildrick's Indiana Artillery Battery of six rifled Rodman ten pounders.  The expedition was successful in capturing the town of Monticello and driving the Confederates into Tennessee on May 1.

The expedition started its march back to Somerset, Kentucky.  During this return, Joseph DeGraw, age 28, and his brother Lemuel, age 25, of Rockaway Township and/or Hackettstown, died.  One brother died of dysentery in camp on May 2, and the other drowned in the Cumberland River during a river crossing.  The State and Regimental records disagree as to which brother died in what manner. 

At Stigold's Ferry on May 6, the 2nd Tennessee and the 103rd Ohio crossed the Cumberland River without incident.  Most of the 27th NJ crossed safely, but the last flatboat containing 50 men from Companies A, B, C, G, and L were dumped into the river when the boat capsized in a six-mile per hour current.  Some men managed to swim ashore after freeing themselves of their heavy packs, and some managed to hold on to the ropes that strung across the river, but Captain John T. Alexander, of Company B, and 32 men were pulled to the bottom of the river by the current.  The regimental history states Lemuel DeGraw was the one who drowned.  however, the State of New Jersey's 1863 Register, printed by the Legislature, states it was Joseph DeGraw who drowned.

David DeGraw and the men of the 27th NJ did not have much time to mourn the dead because the 9th Corps marched toward the Mississippi River at Louisville on June 4.

Copyright 1999-2013: Jay C. Richards