Image: Pvt. Ezra C. Goodwin, Co. D, 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry

22 01 2020
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From FindAGrave.com. Publication source not known.





Pre-Tour Reading: 69th NYSM Command

9 04 2019

Head on over to Damian Shiels’s Irish in the American Civil War for this read on The Men Who Led the 69th New York on the Bull Run Battlefield.

The tour is May 11. Remember, rain or shine. We’ll meet at the Stone Bridge parking lot at 9 AM. Dress for the weather.





Preview – Herdegen,”The Union Soldier in the American Civil War”

2 10 2018

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New from Savas Beatie is Lance Herdegen’s The Union Soldier in the American Civil War. This slim (154 pp) tome is touted as a “quick reference guide” to all things Billy Yank, and is divided into 34 chapters of varying focus. A sampling:

  • A Concise Timeline of the Civil War
  • Organization of the Union Army
  • Camp Life
  • Hardtack, Pork and Coffee
  • The Wounded and the Dead
  • Church and Faith
  • Discipline and Good Order
  • Load in Nine Counts
  • United States Colored Troops
  • Prisoners of War
  • Researching Your Union Ancestor
  • Civil War Points of Interest

This is a handy guide that should be useful for the newcomer, but seasoned CW consumers will find it of interest as well.

You can read my interview with Lance Herdegen on an earlier work, The Iron Brigade in History and Memory, right here.





Image: Capt. Henry Alanson Barnum, Co. I, 12th New York Infantry

18 09 2018
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Later Brig. Gen. Henry A. Barnum (Library of Congress)

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Thrice wounded Henry A. Barnum demonstrates the cleaning of his Malvern Hill injury (https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/culps-hill-part-4-licensed-battlefield-guide-charlie-fennell/)





Custer’s Monroe

5 08 2018

Last week we took a family trip to Ann Arbor, MI – we watched Liverpool FC humiliate the hated Manchester, Utd. before a crowd of 101,000 in the Big House (capped off by a sweet Xherdan Shaqiri bike). On the way back home, we took a little side trip to nearby Monroe, MI, home to George and Libbie Bacon Custer. (I realize there are more Custer related sites to see in Monroe, and I realize there are other non-Custer related sites to see there, but this was a fly-by.) You can read young Custer’s memoir of the First Battle of Bull Run here, here, and here. Click on the images for full size versions.

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Entering Monroe

The Custer monument at Elm and North Monroe St.

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Woodlawn Cemetery, Custer-Reed Family Plot

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Marker to GAC’s Father, Mother, Brother

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Father

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Mother

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Brother Killed at Little Big Horn

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Nephew Killed at Little Big Horn

First Presbyterian Church, Washington St. Site of GAC’s marriage to Elizabeth (Libbie) Bacon on Tuesday, February 9, 1864. After the ceremony, the couple repaired to the General’s winter headquarters in Culpeper, VA. More on that place in another post to come. Read local coverage of the wedding ceremony here.

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Hiram Berdan Recruits His Sharpshooters

18 01 2018
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Colonel Hiram Berdan from this site

While skimming though one of the newspapers from which nearly all the soldier accounts archived on this site are gleaned, I came across this little bit regarding the recruitment (actually, the recruits in this case are applicants, so this is more like interviewing or auditioning than recruiting) of Col. Hiram Berdan’s famous sharpshooter regiment. I thought many of you might find it interesting, as did the Yates County Chronicle on 8/1/1861. I was unaware of the proposed winter grays, and got a kick out of Hiram going all Quigley Down Under on the whining applicants.

From the New York Herald.

Berdan’s Regiment of Sharpshooters — Interesting Examination of Applicants at Weehawken. – This corps of riflemen was some time since accepted by the government, and in the interval the selection of the men has proceeded with considerable activity. Col. Berdan, who is one of the best, if not the best, marksman in the United States, has restricted the qualifications for joining to the following terms: The candidate (who is allowed to use his own rifle), before being enrolled, is tested as to his skill, and required to shoot with precision enough to put ten consecutive balls within and average distance of five inches from the center of a target, placed at the distance of six hundred feet. The range of each shot is measured from the center point of the target to the center of the bullet hole, and the sum total of these distances must not exceed fifty inches. This precision is imperatively required, and no person is accepted into the regiment who cannot fulfil all that is set forth above. Upon this point Col. Berdan is decided, and an excess of even a small fraction of an inch beyond the limits prescribed, disqualifies the applicant. The regiment is being recruited from all the States, and will number about 1,500. The Governor of each State is charged with the selection and enrollment of the men, but in Missouri, where the gubernatorial department is rather in confusion, Frank Blair is to raise and command the quota of that State. — The number so far recruited in New York State does not exceed seventy, very few of whom are from our city. An agent is stationed at Albany for the examination of candidates there, and Colonel Berdan’s Secretary, Mr. J. Smith Brown, is the agent in New York. His targets and grounds are located on the heights back of Weehawken, where, for a few days past, the examination of candidates has been going on. Yesterday some twenty five or thirty Swiss riflemen from the city and vicinity proceeded to the ground and tried their skill. Many of them have already seen active service in the Alps, at the Crimea, and in the last Italian campaign; but whether on account of their disuse of firearms while engaged in business in New York, or other reasons, their marksmanship did not come up to the required standard. The shooting of course was excellent and seldom equaled; but as the Colonel exacts the very creme de la creme of skill, no one of them had the confidence enough in his abilities to submit to the rigid test. The weapons used were generally of exquisite workmanship, and may of them were the regulation Swiss ordnance rifle. Many complaints have been made that the requirements are too strict, and that such precise shooting could not be made by the Colonel himself. To stop these grumblers, Colonel Berdan, while on the ground Monday afternoon, leisurely took up the rifle and put ten balls in the target, at a total distance of eleven and a half inches from the center, or at an average distance of one inch and a half for each ball. Col. Berdan is at present in New York. He has telegraphed to Secretary Cameron for a mustering officer, and as soon as a reply is received the regiment will be rendezvoused at Weehawken, preparatory to their departure for the seat of war. The drill will not be according to the usual manual, inasmuch as the men are intended to deploy in small squads in the field of battle and manoeuvere at will in picking off commanders, officers and artillerists of the enemy. A code of signals will be adopted among the men to warn each other of the approach of the cavalry – the only effective branch of the service in cutting up riflemen. The men will also be drilled to load and fire in lying, sitting and other postures, and to make their weapons effective if possible at a range of five hundred to one thousand yards. The uniform will be green throughout for summer and gray for winter, without any appendages or brass buttons or plates that might serve to make the men targets. — The uniforms are intended to so assimulate to the colors of nature as to render the men almost indiscernable to the enemy, thus permitting them without any extra risk to themselves to approach and pick off their foes. Col. Berdan is devising a model for an improved rifle which, when manufactured, will be supplied to those of the regiment preferring them to their own private arms. It is expected that the men will be encamped at Weehawken in the beginning of next week.

Yates County Chronicle, 8/1/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Bull Run at Gettysburg: James McKay Rorty

10 12 2017

On Dec. 2, I was in Gettysburg for a gathering of friends. Arriving on Saturday afternoon and the meeting not set to begin until 6 pm, I decided to “get my steps in” and did a little loop on Hancock Ave. from the Alexander Hays statue to the First Minnesota July 2 monument and back, stopping at each marker along the way. This meant there was a lot of back and forth and backtracking. While there were plenty of Bull Run connections along the way, let’s just take a look at one: Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery.

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Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, at Gettysburg

You’ll recall that Private James McKay Rorty of the 69th New York State militia was captured at First Bull Run, escaped from prison in Richmond and made his way back to Washington (read his Bull Run account here, and also read a more complete biography of Rorty here). Mustered out of the militia, he subsequently enlisted in what was designated the 5th Regiment of Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade (read his letter to his father explaining his rationale for enlistment here). This turned out to be a battery of New York Light artillery – he had expected it would be cavalry – though his record of formal attachment to specific batteries thenceforth is murky. Regardless, by May of 1862 Lt. Rorty was serving as ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Israel B. Richardson.

At Gettysburg, now Captain Rorty was ordnance officer on the staff of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who had succeeded Richardson upon the latter’s mortal wounding at Antietam and was then in command of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. Technically, Rorty was in command of the non-existent 14th New York Independent Battery of the Irish Brigade. [UPDATE – while the battery did not serve in the field as a unit at Gettysburg, its sections did in fact exist. They were divided up between other units, including the 1st NY Independent Battery. Rorty it appears was always on detached duty. Thanks to reader David L Shultz. See below for a history of the battery from Vol. II of The Union Army.] At the same time, Rorty maintained his association with Irish Nationalist organization the Fenian Brotherhood, and was recording secretary in the group’s Potomac Circle. You can read about Fenians in the Civil War here – there’s a lot to it, and it’s not always what you think. Long story short, Rorty was a big deal in “the movement.”

On the afternoon of July 2, Rorty became anxious to join in the fighting, and petitioned his boss for assignment to a combat unit. Hancock acquiesced, and some time that day Rorty was placed in command of the 122 men and four 10 pounder Parrot rifles of Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery, 2nd Corps’ Artillery Brigade. Late in the day, the battery was in place in the Plum Run Line that helped repulse the assault of Longsteet’s Corps’ assault on the Peach Orchard salient. The battery lost one man killed, eight wounded, and 13 horses rendered unserviceable.

On the morning of July 3rd, Rorty’s command was moved to a point about 250 yards south of the now famous “copse of trees” believed by most to be the focal point of General Robert E. Lee’s assault known as Pickett’s Charge. During the artillery barrage that preceded the infantry advance, Rorty advanced his guns to the stone wall in front of his position, and returned fire. His command began to suffer casualties, and Rorty moved from gun to gun, issuing orders and encouragement. Eventually three of his four rifles were out of action, and Rorty himself stripped down to his shirtsleeves, grabbed a sponge staff, and joined the crew of his last gun. The Captain called for help from the nearby 19th Massachusetts Infantry, and received about 20 men in reply. Then, the Confederate infantry moved out from the tree line to the west.

Rorty’s lone gun continued to fire on the advancing rebels, until the men of Brigadier General James Kemper’s brigade came past the barn of the Codori farm and into canister range. Some time before the advance petered out at the stone wall, Capt. James McKay Rorty was dead, killed instantly by a shot to the head or heart. Nine more of his command lay dead; another eight were wounded.

Two weeks after the battle, Rorty’s brother Richard gathered his remains from where he had been buried on the field and returned them to New York. He was reinterred in Calvary Cemetery on July 19, 1863.

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Rorty’s grave in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, New York, from FindAgrave

[Sketch of 14th New York Independent Battery (2nd Battalion Light Artillery, from The Union Army, Vol. II, p 221: – Capts., William H. Hogan, James McKay Rorty. The battery served with Richardson’s division, 2nd Corps from March to May 26, 1862, when the first section was attached to Battery C, 4th U.S. artillery; the second tp Battery G, and the third to Battery B, 1st N.Y. artillery. On Jan. 16, 1863, the first section was transferred to Battery G, 1st N.Y., and in September these transfers were made permanent by order of the war department, the battery being discontinued. The battery took part in the siege of Yorktown, the Seven Days’ battles, Antietam, Leesburg, Charlestown, Snicker’s gap, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville,  and Gettysburg. It lost during service 2 officers and 3 men killed and mortally wounded, and 4 men died of disease.]