THE
STORY OF A REGIMENT
BEING
A RECORD OF THE MILITARY SERVICE
OF THE
FIFTY-SEVENTH NEW YORK STATE
VOLUNTEER INFANTRY

IN THE
WAR OF THE REBELLIN
1861 - 1865.
BY
GILBERT FREDERICK, D. D.
LATE CAPTAIN 57TH N. Y. V. I.

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Chapter I

INTRODUCTION.

IT is now past thirty years since the victorious cheers of the Union Army arose from the banks of the Appomattox and gladdened the heart of the civilized world, yet the echos of these cheers have not died away and may never utterly cease, since every remembrance of the 9th day of April, 1865, brings increasing gladness, wherever its
meaning is understood.

That day of days was such, not as isolated from all other days, but as the climax of four years of desperate and bloody warfare. On the 9th day of April, 1861, Jefferson Davis and his co-conspiritors decided to inaugurate war against the United States by demanding the surrender of Fort Sumpter, and on the same day of the same month four years later their ilistarred confederacy lay, a mass of ruins, at the feet of our victorious army.

As now, after the lapse of many years, after the cooling of local passion and the removal of personal prejudice, we seek the causes of the civil war, it is not difficult to find
that slavery was its first and nearly its sole apology. The differences between the North and the South upon the questions of States Rights and National Supremacy were largely the product of opinions for and against slavery; interpretations of the Constitution were constantly biased by a desire to sustain or destroy this institution; the ever widening estrangement and the ever-increasing strife between the two sections grew out of self-interest on the one hand and moral conviction on the other concerning the right or wrong of human ownership.

The civil war really began forty years before the clash of arms was heard. War or peaceable separation had become inevitable as far back as the twenties. The North was becoming rich through commerce and the South through cotton. The conscience of the North, not largely warped by the material gains of slavery could see more clearly the wickedness of the institution, and the abolition sentiment steadily grew until the election of Abraham Lincoln revealed it in such proportions as to convince the world that it had come to stay. The South, on the other hand, finding slavery profitable insisted upon its extension to new territory, and was imperious in its demands that the authorities of the North should use the machinery of state governments for the return of runaway slaves.

The Missouri compromise, the annexation of Texas, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and the Fugitive Slave Law proved that compromises were temporary and that the two powerful sections so opposite in their theories of government could not long live as one nation, that freedom and slavery were, by their very natures, mutually exclusive and destructive. The declaration that all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the sentiment that the United States of America was the land of the free were in constant conflict with property in man, with the extension of slavery and with evasion of the laws against the slave trade.

We can now see as we did not in the sixties that the civil war must result either in two nations, one of freemen and the other of slaves, or that slavery must die and the whole body of states be free. How often we use to say and hear others say “I’m not fighting for the nigger,” “this is no abolition war,” yet soon we became convinced that slavery was the real bone of contention and that this country ought to be wholly free. There was hardly another civilized nation on the globe that had not abolished slavery, and when President Lincoln issued his preparatory proclamation September 22nd, 1862, for its abolition in such states as should be in rebellion on the beginning of the new year, there was some murmuring, but when the first of January, 1863 had come, the country being thoroughly angered by the fearful defeat at Fredericksburg, hailed the proclamation of emancipation with unfeigned delight. From this time on we were fighting for a free as well as for a united country.

The election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in November of 1860, was the signal for secession. The new President did not take his seat until March of 1861, and in the meantime the government at Washington, being in the control of southern sympathizers, John B. Floyd,
secretary of war, sent to the south .Th0,000 of the best muskets the government owned, besides unknown quantities of accoutrements and ammunition. Washington became the hot-bed of secession plots, whence circulars urging disunion were sent to all parts of the South. On the 20th day of December, 1860, South Carolina passed a resolution seceding from the union and by the following February six other states had done the same. On the 4th of February the poiiticians of seven seceding states met at Montgomery, Alabama, and organized a new nation to be called the Confederate States of America, whose corner stone was the institution of slavery. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, was elected President, and Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President. Nearly all the Southern forts had already been seized and were in the hands of the rebels, the United States regulars had been scattered to the far west and the government vessels sent into foreign waters.

A peace convention suggested by the Virginia Legis lature and approved by President Buchanan, was held in Washington, February 4th, 1861, having representatives from nearly every State except the seven seceding ones. This convention remained in session several days and every conceivable plan was discussed for conciliating the South, but no good came of it, as secession was already determined upon by it’s political leaders. There was very little expectation among them that the North would fight and very little respect for the fighting qualities of those whom these leaders were pleased to call” Mudsils.” There is no doubt that if the unbiased vote of the people of the South had been taken secession would have died a sudden death. The people had never been permitted to determine anything, they had no voice in the convention at Montgomery, it was a convention of politicians.

Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, was inaugurated on the 4th of March as President of the United States; William H. Seward, of New York, was chosen Secretary of State; and Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury; Simon Cameron served as Secretary of War until January following, when he was succeeded by Edwin M. Stanton. Gideon Welles was Secretary of the Navy.

Fort Sumpter in the harbor of Charleston with a garrison of 120 men was fired upon by the seceders under General Beauregard on the 12th of April, 1861, and after thirty-six hours of severe bombardment, in which the fort was badly battered and the buildings set on fire, Major Anderson surrendered and evacuated. Strange to say not a man had been killed on either side.

The war was now on. President Lincoln, April 15th called for 75,000 militia to serve three months, and received 92,000. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee followed the seven states already in secession. The uprising in the North was something marvelous, men flocking from the counting room, the bench, the plow.the office and the study. From May to July 700,000 men enlisted. The number of men who enlisted during the war is one of the surprises of the century as it was the marvel of European nations. The figures, besides the above, run as follows: July 1862, 421,000, August 1862, 87,000, June 1863, 16,000, October 1863 to February 1864, 369,000, March 1864, 292,000, April to June 1864, 83,000, July 1864, 386,000 and December 1864, 212,000. A total of 2,859,132 is the enormous number of enlistments during the four years of which only about 50,000 men were drafted. The strength of the entire force in all departments and places at the close of the war was over one million men.

The war events that immediately preceed the history of our own regiment are not many. The firing on Fort Snmpter had not only roused the North but had inspired secessionists throughout the North. The plot laid for the assassination of Lincoln at Baltimore having failed, the plotters were ready for the next thing that came to hand, hence, when the Sixth Massachusetts militia were passing through that city on its way to Washington they were attacked by a mob led by rank disunionists. Four of the regiment were killed and thirty wounded. About three times that number of the citizens were shot. For a full week Baltimore was in the hands of the mob, bridges east of the city were burned, stores were looted and anarchy reigned. The revolt spread over all Maryland muskets were sent to the city from Richmond, and Jefferson Davis promised them thirteen regiments. It was a moment of terrible suspense for Washington, with enemies in front and a secession camp in the rear. Monster meetings were held in New York and other Northern cities to provide for the emergency. Gen. Butler was on his way to Annapolis with the Eighth Massachusetts and the Seventh New York, followed soon after by the Eighth New York and other regiments. On the 30th of April five steamers and one brig of war met in Chesapeake Bay loaded with troops.

Harpers Ferry and Norfolk Navy Yard were attacked by Virginians and captured, but Washington was now safe. On May 13th Butler stole into Baltimore with a thousand men under cover of a thunder storm and occupied Federal Hill which commanded the harbor and city, treasonable legislators at Frederick City were arrested, Arlington Heights and Alexandria were occupied by the Union Armies. There was a long contest in Kentucky and much fighting in Missouri terminating in our favor. The fighting in West Virginia was constantly favorable. It was here that General McClellan gained the victories that made him afterwards commander of the entire Union forces.

The first battle of Bull Run occurred on July 21st, 1861, General McDowell being in command of the Union Army and General Beauregard of the Confederates. The former had 28,000 men, forty-nine guns, and one battalion of cavalry, the latter,including Johnston’s reinforcements, numbered 32,000 men, with fifty-seven guns. It is interesting to note the names of some of the commanders. In the First Division commanded by Tyler, the brigades were under Keyes, Schenck, Sherman and Richardson; the Second Division under Hunter, had Burnside and Porter; the Third Division under Heintzelman, had Franklin, Wilcox and Howard. Among the rebels were Longstreet, Early, Ewell, and Jackson, the latter getting his soubriquet “Stonewall” at this battle.

“ The battle,” says Sherman, “was one of the best planned battles of the war. " The flank movement to the right was well executed considering, as McDowell said, the troops would stop and pick berries and fill theirS canteens afresh every time they came to water. There was indeed splendid fighting on both sides, a good part of the time. At noon the battle was fairly ours, and streams of rebels were flowing to the rear. When Johnston’s reinforcements arrived from the valley, where Patterson was awaiting the order that General Scott forgot to send, to follow and attack him, the day was won by the Union Army. Johnston’s arrival, however, turned the tide and McDowell’ s army began to fall back to a new position, but, getting started, nothing could stop it. As they would pick berries, so they would go to Washington. Yet there was not a little heroism shown. Beardless boys are known to have left their own regiments where cowardly officers were hiding them in the woods and go to the front line of battle, feeling it a disgrace to be hiding in the woods while the fighting was on.

The losses in the battle were greatest for the confederates, being 1,969 killed and wounded, as against 1,429 of the Union Army, but the latter lost by stragglers on its retreat 1,460 prisoners. These figures show an evenly fought battle and not nearly as great a loss on the retreat as has always been imagined.

Bull Run did two harmful things for the victors:
first, it inflated them with excessive opinions of their fighting qualities, and, as Johnston said, the Confederate Army was more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat. Then came reaction and depression. The South justly said, “if we are such fighters why don’t we take Washington?” for the whole summer and winter passed without entering the Federal Capitol, as Jefferson Davis had promised. On the other hand the defeat at first greatly depressed the North, then reaction set in. Congress was called in special session, and authorized an army of five hundred thousand men, a national loan of two hundred and fifty million dollars, and a large increase of the Navy. Instead of the five hundred thousand men called for, over seven hundred thousand responded—the Fifty-Seventh being among the number. This ready and abundant response of men and means, while encouraging the North, added to the depression of the South, as it dispelled all hope of an easy conquest, and told of a long and exhausting war, the very thing they dreaded most.

General McClellan was now called to command and the thorough organization of the army began.

Most men, up to the time Fort Sumpter was fired upon believed there would be no war at all. Wendall Phillips in his oration on the burial of John Brown, said: “I do not believe slavery will go down in blood. Ours is an age of thought. Hearts are stronger than thought.” The orator did not give due weight to the despotism of passion and the imperiousness of ambition, both of which sought their ends regardless of that highest of thoughts and deepest of loves—-the brotherhood of man. President Lincoln, also, hoped that the better nature of man would assert itself to prevent war. In his first inaugural he said: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle field and patriotic grave to every living heart and hearth all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

So also after the great armies had taken the field most people thought the war would soon end in compromise or in defeat. Army reports issued during the Peninsula Campaign furnish a remarkable confirmation of this fact. General McClellan wrote to Secretary of War, Stanton, from Williamsburg, May 7th, 1862, saying, “I am satisfied that we have one or more desperate battles to fight before we gain possession of Richmond,” and a little later he writes, “The final and decisive battle is at hand.” To those who stood in the riflepits at Petersburgh in the spring of 1865 and remembered Antietam and Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor and Petersburg, to say nothing of western battles, these statements of the then first general in the land, causes wonderment, yet many thousands of people believed as did General McClellan that the war would soon be over.


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