STORY OF A REGIMENT
A RECORD OF THE MILITARY SERVICE
FIFTY-SEVENTH NEW YORK STATE
WAR OF THE REBELLIN
1861 - 1865.
GILBERT FREDERICK, D. D.
LATE CAPTAIN 57TH N. Y. V. I.
SEPTEMBER 17TH TO SEPTEMBER 19TH 1862.
THE 16th of September was spent by General McClellan mostly in getting his army into position, while General Lee was hurrying his scattered forces together, four divisions being twelve hours away. We haft much the larger force present but “Little Mac” never took the initiative in battle if he could help it, while General Grant always did. General Hooker crossed the Creek on our right and found the enemy posted on the heights near Sharpsburg. He attacked Stonewall Jackson and drove him some distance holding the advanced position during the night. The real battle of Antietam began at daylight on Thursday September 17th. General Hooker had crossed all his corps during the night, the Twelfth Corps following in support. These attacked the Confederates with headlong impetuosity. “The action was furious, the losses monstrous” The advance, however, was met by fresh troops and brought to a stand. From daylight until nine o’clock one corps, the First, had done nearly all the fighting, the centre and left of our line being inactive. General Mansfield had been killed and General Hooker disabled.
The Second Corps now crossed the Creek in the centre of our line. Sedgwick’s division moved across the Hagerstown road and was seeking the enemy near the Dunker Church when a rebel brigade came upon his flank and turned it so effectually that it was doubled and broken, and got to the rear with great loss Next came General French’s division and began its attack near the Roulett House,driving the enemy back to the Sunken Road, taking several colors and three hundred prisoners. Our division crossed the Creek at about 9:30 a. m., the Irish brigade in the lead, and moved into action. The Irishmen advanced steadily and rapidly, under a heavy fire, until they had nearly reached the crest of the hill which overlooks Piper’s. Caidwell’s brigade formed on the left of Meagher’s, and took their place when they fell back for ammunition, then pushed ahead and carried the crest of the hill overlooking Piper’s house. Just beyond is the famous Sunken Road in which is a determined force of the enemy, and Caidwell can go no farther, but soon an attempt is made to turn his flank, and Brooke puts in the Third Brigade.
We are lying behind the hill that overlooks the field of action, every moment expecting to go in. The bullets are whistling over our heads and our hearts are beating as fast as the lead is flying. “Whose head will come off” we are tsking “when we rise and move forward?” The worst part of a battle is this waiting to go in. “Fall in!” The word has come, we jump up, get in line and march steadily in battalion front to the brow of the hill. Now we are in it and the minies are plenty. As we pass the Sixty-Ninth, or what is left of them about a hundred men with colors in tatters, they cheer and we return it. Down the side of the hill toward the Sunken Road the Fifty-Seventh and the Sixty-Sixth charge together and over the ditch they go, stepping on the bodies of the rebel
dead. Yet another charge and we have taken Piper’s house and are in the cornfield beyond.
All along the path of this charge our men have fallen killed and wounded, but victory is ours. Earlier in the day several attacks have been made upon the Sunken Road but without success. It afforded great protection for the enemy and to take it was like taking a fort. In charging forward we captured several prisoners and a stand of colors belonging to the Twelfth Alabama. It was said that the words “Captured by the Fifty-Seventh N. Y. V. I. at Antietam, September 11th, 1862” would be painted on the flag and it be deposited with the war department for safe keeping.
The position of the regiment in the cornfield was not attacked by rebel infantry. In official reports of the Confederates upon this battle, it appears that the rebels fell back to a new line made necessary by the loss of the ground taken by the First Division. A battery, however, stationed on a hill not, far in our front, seems to have had no notion of retiring, for it poured into the standing cornstalks such a pelting storm of grape and canister that each explosion seemed like a rushing mighty wind and a driving hail. It was our office now to hold the position gained and as no firing was done the boys protected themselves by hugging the soil. it is surprising how readily: they dug their noses into the dirt.
The order now came to correct the line and the regiment feji back a little out of the cornfield to the brow of a hill in the rear The same guns helping us up the hill by their grape shot, adding now and again a shell. In the corner of a fence was discovered a pile of potatoes which the boys insisted should also fall back. It was but a temporary break in the ranks, a moment of time, and this charge also was successful, every potato being captured.
We were no better off on the brow of this hill than we were in the cornfield. Here, under our eyes, battery after battery had been broken to pieces by the perfect range of the rebel guns and we, lying on the same spot, began to receive similar treatment. It was interesting to watch the waving of the line as the shots came and passed. Strong men felt inward tremblings and weak men looked
backward as though they would run. One man, at least, found his legs cowardly, though his heart may have been brave. An officer near seeing the danger that, in such a critical situation, if one man were to break all might follow ordered this waverer to lie down. Twice this was done and a third time he arose, then the officer threatened to shoot him if he stirred. As now it was death to run and as he might live if he stayed, he took the chances and remained. However, he never forgot that incident. It seemed to rankle in his breast, and months after, at Falmouth, one night he came into his quarters half intoxicated and as he lay on his bunk kept muttering, first low, than loud and with bitterer accent “Lie down,” “Lie Down,” “Lie down or I’ll shoot you.” Poor fellow, lie was but mortal, and under such a storm of iron how could any mortal stand.
Shelling does not last forever and for some reason this battery ceased firing and left us in peace. This advanced position, including the Sunken Road and Piper’s house was held by our division through the rest of the battle, no further effort being made by the enemy to retake the lost ground. There was fighting enough on our left where Burnside had crossed the Creek and threatened the communications of Ceneral Lee, but in the centre there was quiet the rest of the day.
Francis Walker relates our part of the action thus: “Already the active enemy are searching the gap in Caidwell’s line with skirmishers, followed close by their resolute battalions. Into this perilous space, Brooke now throws the Fifty-Seventh New York commanded by Colonel Parisen, and the Sixty-Sixth New York commanded by Captain Julius Wehie. These regiments, led in person by Brooke, who seems to be everywhere at once, together with the line of Caldwell are now pushed forward in one determined effort to carry the Piper House. As the line presses onward towards Piper’s, Barlow, commanding the consolidated Sixty-First and SixtyFourth New York, sees and at once seizes a tactical opportunity. Changing front forward at the right moment and on the right spot, he takes in flank a body of the enemy in the Sunken Road, pours a deadly volley down the line and puts them to flight, capturing three hundred prisoners and two flags. A determined struggle follows, the enemy even assume the aggressive against Caldwells centre but are beaten off by the quick and resolute action of Barlow, who falls desperately wounded. In vain the Confederate batteries pour canister into our advancing lines, Caidwell and Brooke press on unchecked and in a few moments occupy Piper’s house and the adjacent buildings.”
In this charge our commanding officer falls while leading his regiment flag in hand. Lieutenant-Colonel Philip J. Parisen, died, where a true soldier loves’ to die. Surgeon McKim says of him. “He was one of the bravest men connected with our old regiment. On the day he was killed he was ill and weak. I advised him strongly not to go into action but he insisted as he was then in command. Being too weak to walk he went into action mounted. I pointed out to him the madness of this course but he could not be deterred. I rode with him until my duties compelled me to leave him and a few minutes later his dead body was brought in.”
A letter says: “We had made two or three charges and being about to charge again Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen on horse back seized the colors and called the men to follow him. This they did with a shout, driving the enemy before them, but poor Parisen gave up his life in the charge.”
Major A. B. Chapman now took command of the regiment and was subsequently promoted to the vacant position with rank to date September 11th, 1862.
General Richardson, affectionately called “Fighting Dick,” while directing a battery on the hill near us was struck with a piece of shell and mortally wounded. He was carried to General McClellan’s headquarters at the Pry House and, despite every effort to save his life, died there the following 5th of November. He was only forty-three years of age, having been born at Bennington, Vermont in 1819. His education at West Point had fitted him for his profession as a soldier, as did also his natural qualities. The July before his death he had been promoted to Major-General of volunteers. He was a good tactician, was prompt and brave and well deserved the sobriquet of “Old War Horse.” given to him by his men. It was with a feeling of personal loss that we parted with General Richardson. He was not a fuss and feather soldier. He usually wore a soft hat and fatigue dress, and looked oftenest like a uniformed farmer, but a study of his features revealed intelligent determination, quiet force of character and a fatherliness that made his men believe he was one of them. There has always been a halo around his head since Antietam, for the double reason that he, a general, was killed in battle at our side and also that he was the first general officer thus lost to us.
General J. B. Cox in “Battles of the Civil War” says: “Richardson's division came up on French’s left, and, foot by foot, field by field, from hill to hill and from fence to fence, the enemy was pressed back till after several hours of fighting the Sunken Road, since known as ‘Bloody Lane’ was in our hands, piled full of the Confederate dead who had defended it with their lives. Richardson had been mortally wounded and Hancock had been sent from Franklin’s corps to command the division. Barlow had been conspicuous in the thickest of the fight and after a series of brilliant actions was carried off desperately wounded.”
F. W. Palfry in his account of the battle also makes honorable mention of the Fifty-Seventh. “Richardson’s (First) division of the Second Corps comprised the brigades of Meagher, Caidwell and Brooke. It crossed Antietam at 9.30 on the morning of the 17th at the same ford where the other divisions of the corps had crossed it. It moved southward on a line nearly parallel to the stream. In a ravine behind the high ground overlooking Roulett’s house, the command was formed, with Meagher’s brigade on the right and Caldwell’s on the left and Brooke’s in support. Meagher’s brigade advanced nearly to the crest of the hill overlooking Piper’s house, and found the enemy in strong force in the Sunken Road in its front. After some sharp fighting, with considerable loss on both sides, Caidwell’s brigade was marched up behind it and took its place, the two brigades breaking by company, the one to the front and the other to the rear. Meagher’ s brigade went to the rear to replenish its cartridge boxes, and Brooke’s brigade remained as a support to Caldwell When the smart push on Kimball’s left, before referred to, was made by the Confederates, Brooke hurried into action three of his regiments, the Fifty-Second New York, Second Deleware, and Fifty-Third Pennsylvania, and they with some troops from the left’ of French’s division, the Seventh Virginia and One Hundred and Thirty-Second Pennsylvania dislodged the enemy from the cornfield on their right rear. Brooke moved forward the Fifty-Seventh and Sixty-Sixth New York. Caldwell and Brooke thus united pressed forward gallantly and gained possession of Piper’s house. This was the end of the serious fighting on this part of the line. Musketry fire ceased at about one p. rn. Richardson, still holding Piper’s house, withdrew his line to the crest of a hill, and at about the same time received a mortal wound. Hancock was placed in command of his division.”
Our losses in this battle were very severe. Besides Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen, Lieutenant H. H. Folger Company I was killed while in the cornfield. He was struck by a grape shot and instantly died. Lieutenant H. H. Higbee of Company H was killed while withdrawing to the hill. Captains J. W. Britt, N. G. Throop, Lieutenants G. W. Jones and J. H. Bell were among the wounded. Three officers and sixteen men were killed during the battle and nine men died of wounds thereafter. Six officers and sixty-four men were wounded. Three men were missing. The total loss was 101. This loss, nearly one-third, is the largest that came to the regiment from any previous or subsequent battle during the war. Yet we may not say that , the loss, proportionate to our numbers was greater since the strength of the regiment decreased constantly and later losses may represent a larger proportionate loss. J. E. Snyder of Company C took the prize at Antietam for the number of wounds received, he coming off the field with no less than three.
General Winfield S. Hancock now comes upon the scene as our commander, a relation which he is to sustain until nearly the close of the war. He is called by Gen
eral McClellan from the command of a brigade in the Second Division of the Second Corps and put in charge of Richardson’s division. General Sedgwick is taken from the Second Corps and given charge of the Sixth Corps.
As darkness settles on the hills of Maryland the troops stack their arms on the lines where they have fought, unroll their blankets and lie down for the night. There was not so much noise as is usual after a battle and sleep therefore was less disturbed. Before daylight the next morning all were up and in line, awaiting an attack or orders to attack, but neither came. Breakfast was simple, a cup of coffee, some pork and a few crackers and still no move anywhere along the line. So it continued all day and through the night. McClellan had decided to make a general advance at daylight on the 19th, but as the skirmishers pushed forward they found that Lee had retired across the Potomac. The following are the official reports of the action at Antietarn. The total loss of 97 reported by Major Chapman was afterwards found to be 101.
CAMP BOLIVAR HEIGHTS.
September 24th, 1862.
Lieutenant: I have the honor to submit the following report of the movements of my command during the action of the 17th instant, near Sharpsburg. About noon of that day we became actively engaged with the enemy, our brigade having relieved that of General Meagher. This regiment and the Sixty-Sixth regiment received orders to march on the enemy who were at that time. drawn up in a deep ditch at the foot of the hill on which we were, and from which they were pouring a galling fire into our ranks. Animated by the presence of both their brigade and division commanders, the regiment moved torwarci. with a determined enthusiasm I have never seen excelled. In a few minutes we had cleared the ditch of every living enemy and were driving them in .great disorder through the cornfield beyond. It was during this period of action we lost our noble and gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen and several valuable line officers. We took the colors of the Twelfth Alabama and many prisoners. I am unable to form a very correct estimate of the latter, but they considerably exceed the number of men in the ranks of my regiment.
Remaining a short time in line at the farther end of this cornfield I received orders to move the regiment to the support of a battery on our left and rear. I filed around the foot of the hill under a terrible fire of grape and canister which fortunately caused us comparatively slight loss, being aimed too high. Arriving on the left of the battery, I found General Richardson who was in the act of assigning me my position when he was badly wounded and carried from the field. I then formed on the right of, Caidwell’s brigade and remained in that position until I received orders from the Colonel commanding this brigade to form on the left of the Second Delaware, then posted on the hill on which we remained during the succeeding two days.
It is with gratification that I speak of the general conduct of my command, both officers and men. They acted nobly throughout. I would especially mention Captain N. Garrow Troop (severely wounded); Captain James W. Britt (who, although wounded, refused to leave the field); Captains Kirk, Curtis and Mott; Lieutenant John H. Bell (severely wounded), Lieutenants Jones, Wright, Higbee (killed) and Folger (killed). The medical officers of the regiment: Surgeon Robert V. McKim and Assistant Surgeons Henry C. Dean and Nelson Neely, are deserving of all praise for their care and atten(ion to the wounded and the promptness with which they caused them to be removed from the field.
Among the enlisted men I would especially mention First-Sergeant Lindason of Company F (killed); FirstSergeant John S. Paden Company A (wounded) : Sergeant H. W. Cooper Company H (killed); Sergeant Stobbe Company A (wounded), and Kelley Company A, First Sergeants Hall Company I and Alcoke Company K and Sergeant Brower Company K. ‘The last three I placed in command of companies which had lost officers and sergeants.
I have considered it unnecessary to submit a more elaborate report, insomuch as every movement was made under the immediate supervision of the Colonel corninanding this brigade, who on that day seemed omnipresent.
We took into battle 309 officers and men and lost during the day 97 killed and wourded and three missing. A detailed list of the casualties has already been sent in. I am sir, with much respect, your obedient servant,
A. B. CHAPMAN,
Colonel John R. Brooke commanding Third Brigade in his report of the battle, speaks of the Fifty-Seventh thus
“The enemy having taken post in a cornfield in the rear of Roulett’s farm house, I sent the Fifty-Third Pennsylvania to dislodge them and hold the position and this was done with great gallantry. I then advanced the Fifty-Seventh and Sixty-Sixth New York to relieve Caldwell's lines which were fiercely assailed by fresh troojs of the enemy. Passing his line with steadiness and regularity, he drove the• enemy from ‘the field in great confusion, capturing two colors and covering the ground with dead and wounded. It was here the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen fell, while bravely cheering his men on to victory. Lieutenant J. M. Favill, Adjutant Fifty-Seventh New York Volunteers, after Lieutenant Potts was borne from the field, supplied his place with great gallantry.”
General Hancock commanding the division refers to some, who, “by their position and the occasions presented, had opportunities of acquiring the highest distinction and availed themselves thereof” and then mentions Lieutenant-Colonel Parisen, Major A. B. Chapman and First-Lieutenant J. M. Favill.
General McClellan in his report of the battle also refers to the Fifty-Seventh, saying that with associate regiments, “they now advanced with gallantry, driving the enemy before them in confusion into the cornfield beyond the Sunken Road.”
After the battle Major Davis buried 2,700 dead Confederate soldiers, others had been buried by the rebels themselves. The Adjutent-General of the army reports that “thirteen cannon, thirty-nine colors, upwards of 15,000 stand of arms and more than 6,000 prisoners were the trophies which attest the success of our. armies in the battles of South Mountain, Crampton Gap, and Antietarn. Not a single gun or color was lost to our army during these battles.”
The experience of a member of Company D is so realistic and has so many correspondences in the experiences of others that we reproduce it here. It was in the heat of the battle that a shell burst almost over his head and he was struck with a fragment of it in the right side of the neck and shoulder. It was not painful, he says, but produced rather a pleasant sensation as though he was flying through the air. This was due to the benumbing feeling that comes with such a wound. He could not tell what had happened to him, but after a while felt as though there was a hole through his forehead. Then came a feeling that he was about killed and must die. Several sinking spells followed, he thought of his mother and prayed to the Lord to have mercy on him, then again he faints, and again revives and feels for the hole in his head. He looks around and asks a comrade where he is hit. “Half of the neck and part of the head is torn away” is the response. He begs to be taken off the field so as not to be captured by the enemy and is carried to the little school house in the apple orchard and thence to a barn, where he lay two nights and three days on a wad of hay with ‘the blue sky for his covering. The ladies of the Christian Commission did all they could for the living and the, dying, singing to many of the latter as their souls took flight to the other world. It is one of the strange things of the war that this comrade, seemingly so fatally wounded, is yet living, though crippled. The scars of a soldier who fought ‘for his country’s preservation, for the freedom of an enslaved race and thus for the rights of man in general, are badges of highest honor.
J. H. Brandt, also, gives an instance of common occurance on the battle field. “I was shot through the right shoulder but kept my place until my file-leader Corporal Joel E. Reeland pitched’ forward on’ his face saying ‘My God! I am killed.” Many of the boys were not spared long enough to say even that much.
A letter dated Bolivar Heights, September 25th, 1862 and written by W. H. Hardy, of Company A contains the following items of interest: “Company A is color company. Our former captain ‘A. B. Chapman has been promoted to Major. Company A was led into action at Antietarn by Captain C. B. Curtis, formerly of Company K, ably seconded by Lieutenant Covert. The colors were borne by Sergeant Fraze.r of Company C, Corporals, Parks and Mesler. We had not been under fire two minutes before two of the color bearers, Frazer and Parks fell. Henry C. Housel, although not one of the color guard, threw down his musket, seized the flag and plunged into the thickest of the ‘fight, calling the boys to ‘Come on,’ under a terrific fire which was thinning our ranks at an awful rate. Housel carried the colors for nearly an hour, when his turn came, a minie ball struck him in the throat, when falling he said ‘ Boys protect these colors.’ We lost one killed, Sergeant Cooper. Sergeants Stubbe and Paden, and twenty-one privates were wounded. Andrew Miller who was wounded at White Oak Swamp, was again wounded in the hip, C. K. Garretson and Martin Connelly slightly, N. Reed, lately released from Richmond prison was shot in the hand, David Wright through the leg. Our regiment suffered a heavy loss in the death of Colonel Parisen of Amboy. He was loved and trusted by every man under him. When charging into the cornfield he led us mounted upon Dick, his old faithful horse, and waving his sword. ‘We drove the enemy through the cornfield, over the hill and out of sight. It was here he received his death wound. “I saw him after the fight and he looked as n’atural as though sleeping. He died the soldiers death. “Old Dick,’ as General ‘Richardson is called, was wounded ‘severely in the shoulder by a piece of shell and it is feared he may not survive.. He is a brave old man and is thought everything of by his troops. General Hancock, so famous for his charge at Williamsburg and Malvern Hill is now in command of our division.”
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