The Eighty Ninth New York Volunteer Infantry
This site is dedicated to the men of the 89th who nobly served their hometowns, their state and their nation in the great conflict. It is hoped that those searching for their ancestors can find a bit of information about them and about the times they struggled through. To date, most of the research has focused on Company I, but every effort will be made to include what is known of the men of other companies as well. The depictions of battles are not meant to be exhaustive or complete, but rather to be slanted towards what it is felt the men of the 89th were thinking about these conflicts and events.
Please feel free to contact me with additions, deletions or corrections at firstname.lastname@example.org
Organization and Enlistment
Despite the optimistic views of the majority of the populace at the time, that is that the war would be over in short order, President Lincoln in July of 1861 saw the need for longer term volunteers for the Union Army. Prior to that time, most volunteers were enlisting for three-month terms of service. That July, President Lincoln requested from Governor Morgan of New York, who in his turn on July 25th called for 25,000 New York men to enlist for three-year terms. By August, various depots were established around New York to raise the necessary units.
The Honorable Daniel S. Dickinson, the former Senator from the State of New York, received authority on August 29th, 1861 to raise a regiment of infantry. This Regiment was organized under Col. Harrison Stiles Fairchild. The Regiment was raised in the southern tier and central New York, from Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Livingston, Monroe, and Schuyler counties. The companies were recruited essentially as follows: A, at Havana; B and H at Binghamton; C, at Mount Morris; D, at Rochester; E, at Norwich and Oxford; F, at Whitney Point; G, at Windsor; I, at Delhi; and K, at Corbettsville. With patriotic fervor, the various companies gathered together near their homes, and had inspiring send-offs. The experience of the men called the Delaware Rifles, later to become Company I, may have been typical. In October, the company was drawn up in front of Hunter’s Hotel in Delhi. There were addresses by the Honorable S. Gordon and the Honorable C. Hathaway, followed by “an impressive prayer” by the Reverend Eggleston. Following this, the men marched through the village escorted by the Fire Department, the Delaware Battery (another unit forming at the time) and no doubt many cheering folks along the festive way.
The 89th formally joined together at Elmira late in November, where they lived in barracks and where they were mustered into the service of the United States on Dec. 4th, 5th, and 6th of 1861.
The regimental officers at mustering-in (December 1861) were:
Colonel: Harrison S. Fairchild Biography of Col. Fairchild
Lieut. Col.: Jacob B. Robie
Major: Daniel T. Everts
Adjutant: John E. Shepard
Quartermaster: Cornelius H. Webster
Surgeon: Truman H. Squire
Assistant Surgeon: William A. Smith
Chaplain: Nathaniel E. Pierson
The 89th, now formed and mustered, left promptly for Washington on Dec. 6, 1861. They became known as the Dickinson Guard. Company I, which had been raised in Delhi, initially called itself the Delaware Rifles. They traveled through Pennsylvania on two separate trains. One train was involved in an accident, but apparently without significant injury. Arriving in the vicinity of the Washington outskirts, the 89th was assigned to the Army of the Potomac in the defense of Washington. Those early days were spent establishing their camp, drilling in military fashion, and getting familiar with their weapons. They were issued muskets, not the hoped-for rifles. Most of the men had the opportunity to visit the nation’s capital and many had photographs taken to send to loved ones. Disease, boredom and homesickness, not war, were the problems the men faced at this juncture. The men were anxious to have news of the war and even more so to have news from home. Overly optimistic predictions of the imminent collapse of the Southern cause were rampant. Mail call and mustering for pay were the most longed-for events, and the only other thing coming close was hoping for or dreaming about a furlough. For the 89th, the first camp out of New York, which they called Camp Clay, was not to be home for long. They were soon to leave for further south. Before leaving however, Senator Dickinson presented the Regiment with its Colors on the last day of 1861.
The 89th was assigned in January, 1862 to Burnside’s Expedition to North Carolina. They traveled by transport from Virginia into the Atlantic to North Carolina. The journey took many of the New Yorkers on their first ocean voyage. They were nearly four weeks aboard the ship Aracan, including time lying in harbor. They first were encamped near Hattaras Inlet, but late in February were ordered to move to Roanoke Island. There they established a rather comfortable camp that they called Camp Dickinson.
The Eighty Ninth at the Battle of South Mills/Camden, North Carolina
One of the objectives of the Burnside Expedition was to threaten Norfolk, VA by way of the southern approach. Accordingly on the 17th and 18th of April, 1862, the third division with Brigadier General Reno commanding, embarked on transports from Roanoke Island bound for the Pasquotank on the north of the Albermarle Sound, and debarked a little south of Elizabeth City. The object of this move was to destroy locks that allowed the movement of Confederate gunboats from Norfolk across the Dismal Swamp to Albemarle Sound. The 89th was part of the fourth Brigade, commanded by Col. Rush Hawkins, the colonel of the 9th NY. This brigade included the 9th and 89th NY, and the 6th NH regiments. The strength of the 89th was recorded as 650 men in the reports. The fourth brigade was the first to land, the other two regiments’ transports having gotten delayed by about four hours at the mouth of the river. Col. Hawkin’s brigade left at about 3 AM for their objective, a bridge at South Mills, that they were to take and hold. They however, whether due to darkness, poor guidance or bad judgement, marched some ten miles out of the way, and were passed by the later arriving, but fresher troops, which included the 21st MA and 51st PA regiments along with a small artillery unit of three pieces manned by Marines. Col. Hawkin’s men were ordered to follow. The heat and dust were now said to be oppressive, and many men were exhausted by the time they reached enemy positions some four miles further. Most of the regiments had large numbers of stragglers. General Reno was just about to order a halt for rest and a meal, the men having not eaten formally all day, while marching since dawn (or before), when the body came under fire. The advance guard had failed to see the concealed and entrenched rebel forces.
Under fire from Confederate artillery, Gen. Reno immediately began an advance, and it was then mid-afternoon. The 51st PA was ordered to the right to try to flank the defenders, advancing through a wooded approach with its barberry underbrush, and with the 21st MA following. They engaged the rebel left line after meeting and pushing the skirmishers back, and gradually they weakened it. The 6th NH remained to the left of the approaching road, with the small artillery unit, and continued to harass the enemy right, while slowly advancing. The 9th NY and 89th NY were ordered to follow the path of the 51st and 21st in support. For reasons that are not clear, Col. Hawkins ordered his regiment, the 9th NY, to charge across the open field with the 89th in support and following, instead of making way in the woods, as General Reno insisted he ordered. The 9th reached about 200 yards from the entrenched rebels, where they were met by an explosive artillery barrage of grape and cannister with a destructive musket volley, which halted the charge. They then moved slowly right towards the woods, some joining the 51st, and now the 89th was in the lead and continued to advance. The effect of the (probably unauthorized) charge on the defending rebels, though, did allow the 51st and 21st to over-run the enemy’s left flank and the confederates retreated, leaving their works and some artillery. In the final attack of the 51st and 21st, the defiant color-sergeant of the rebel defending regiment was shot.
The time was then approaching dark. While some officers wished to pursue the retreating rebels, others felt they had insufficient ammunition for another battle, and most felt that the men were exhausted. In the end, the men laid on the field of battle resting with their arms until ordered to withdraw at about 10 PM. The march back to the boat landing was most arduous due to showers that turned the road to mud, said to be from three to fifteen inches thick. On return to their boats just before dawn of the 20th, the men had marched 35 (the fourth brigade had marched about 45) miles in heat and then mud, and had fought a heated battle with little nourishment the whole time, all in the course of about 24 hours.
Sketch of the Battle That Was Published in New York Newspaper Shortly After the Battle
NPS Colorized Map of the Battle as Sketched by Sneden
The confederate reports indicated a defense with about 600 infantry composed of the 3rd Georgia and a North Carolina militia, along with a company of cavalry and four artillery pieces. The union estimate was of about 1800 defenders. Colonel Wright, the Confederate commander of the battle estimated the attacking strength at about 5000 men. The truth is that the numbers of combatants that day had no overwhelming superiority of numbers or materiel on either side. Both sides claimed the battle as a victory. The union position was that the rebels retreated from their defensive positions, and suffered heavily. They claimed Norfolk would have been frightened by the defeat. The Confederate position was that the Yankees failed to pursue their withdrawal, and left the region the next day in their boats, leaving behind powder and wounded, surely indicating they were the defeated. The locks were not destroyed.
In the aggregate, Union army reports state there was one union officer killed and nine wounded, and 12 enlisted men were killed while ninety-two were wounded. There were thirteen enlisted men listed as missing. There were no deaths in the action from the 89th, but there were four men wounded (possibly Lt. William Cahill of Co. A, Cpl. Averill Harris of Co. A, and Pvts. Benjamin Craft of Co. C with Patrick Sullivan of Co. A) and two (possibly Sgts. Michael Buckley and Sidney Gwynne, both of Co. D) listed as missing. Some twenty or so Federal wounded were left behind with an assistant regimental surgeon, and most were later paroled. Confederate army reports of their casualties are not clear, although the captain in command of the artillery unit was killed. An aggregate Confederate casualty number of about 70 killed, wounded and missing was given in a report to General Robert E. Lee. Regardless of the views of outside observers and historians, the men of the 89th who took part in the battle felt they had been part of a victory. They arrived without further incident back on Roanoke Island a bedraggled, weary lot of men.
The 89th remained at Camp Dickinson until July 10th when they left for Norfolk, Virginia, arriving on the 12th. This was after McClellan’s failed 1862 Peninsular Campaign, and the Union armies were left consolidating their strongholds near the coast. By mid August they were on the move again. Burnside’s corps was moved to northern Virginia to join with Pope’s Army stationed at the Rapidan River. The central leadership in Washington was calling for McClellan’s Army on the Peninsula to return, and Lee was not waiting for the combination to be completed. His army, purposely divided, came behind Pope’s forces, forcing Pope to move north, taking the pressure off from Richmond, and then defeated Pope’s army at Bull Run. McClellan was slowly getting his forces north, but again Lee was on the move.
The Maryland Campaign
The 89th, still part of the Ninth Corps, moved to northern Virginia, and encamped near Fredericksburgh. They were on detached duty guarding bridges, and were not fighting at Bull Run, General Pope’s great defeat. Unknown to them though, they were approaching the times of their most severe fighting. Lee was planning his first major invasion of the North. Lee’s army crossed the Potomac into Maryland early in September, writing to President Davis that he would take the war to the north, and was secretly hoping that the decisive battle against McClellan could be fought in the north. Lee’s army moved north behind the screen of South Mountain. His plan was calculated against heavy numerical odds, but he counted on the habitual sloth of McClellan and the great faith he had in his soldiers. Readers may remember that in that early September of 1862, as Lee’s army left Frederick, Maryland, one of his officers lost the written orders, found later by the Union army, and this was in the hands of General McClellan by September 13. General McClellan moved to meet the invasion, no longer a secret. The 89th was among the units at the Battle of South Mountain/Boonesborough, where the armies clashed in Maryland.
|General Robert E. Lee||
General George McClellan
This map shows the position of Fairchild's Brigade and the Battery they were detailed to protect on the 14th. This position is south of the main conflict around the National Road. It does not show the position of the North Carolina Regiments which tried to overtake the Union left.
All combatants had been marching long and hard the days prior to, and for many also including that Sunday of battle. Detailed in the Third Division, under General Rodman, in the First Brigade led by Col. Fairchild, the 89th was then under the temporary command of Major Jardine. The regiment was intended to be a support unit, but while they were arrayed protecting a battery, Battery E of the Fourth Artillery probably led by Captain Clark, they were surprised and attacked by elements of four North Carolina Regiments. These, portions of the North Carolina 2nd, 4th, 12th, and 13th (according to Confederate records, while the Union records report them as North Carolina 2nd, 3rd, 13th, and 30th ) were under the command of Brigade General Anderson, a part of the division of Major General D.H. Hill, of Longstreet’s Corps. They attacked through a cornfield, yelling as they charged. The rebel aim was the capture of the battery, hoping in so doing to flank the extreme left of the Union lines at South Mountain. In this defense, the 89th had the major role. The other regiments of the brigade were already in line of battle and trudging up the slope further ahead. The 89th repelled the attack, saved the battery, and possibly the left of the whole line. When the battery was secure, they were moved further up the mountain in support of the attacking brigade. Fighting continued until darkness set in, although the further action of the 89th was very limited. They had 3 killed (privates Christopher Knight of Co. K; and Levia Moore and Uri Morse both of Co. G) and 18 wounded (including Lewis Heath, a sergeant of Co. G; and private Edward Porter of Co. G, who died thirty one days later in hospital and Lewis Simpson of Co K, wounded in the knee and requiring amputation. He died May 1, 1863 at home) that September 14th, 1862. They also captured 30 prisoners. The Confederates withdrew during the night after the battle at South Mountain. General Lee reported hearing that Crampton’s Pass had also been taken, and with his army divided in enemy territory, he felt it would be better to concentrate his forces together at Sharpsburg. On the morning of the 15th, the Union army awoke to the news that the Confederates had indeed left, and considered their actions the day before as part of a great victory. But the invaders were not destroyed, and on the same day it was confirmed that Harper’s Ferry had surrendered to the rebels. Union cavalry fanned out looking for the Confederates, and soon discovered their route. On the afternoon of the September 15th, the ninth corps left the vicinity moving in pursuit and by the 16th was encamped on the east shore of the Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburgh. On the 16th, the Union forces held a significant numerical superiority, but the cautious McClellan took the day to study the situation.
McClellan finally attacked the well-entrenched confederate positions on the 17th. This battle, called Antietam or Sharpsburg, has the painful distinction of having resulted in more American soldiers killed and wounded in one day of battle than there ever had before or since occurred. The 89th was still part of the Ninth Corps under Burnside. This corps was on the extreme left line of the Union array again on that day. The main Union objective was to cross the stone bridge, and then to take the heights beyond. Another portion of the command, which was to include the 89th , was detailed to ford the Antietam Creek further to the left (south) to aid in the assault on the heights. If accomplished, this would permit flanking fire on the right of Longstreet’s central forces. The bridge was defended by two veteran Georgia Regiments, the 2nd and 20th , along with a small battery on the heights above commanded by Captain Eubank. All of these were under General Robert Toombs, leading a brigade of General David R. Jones’ Division of Longstreet’s Corps. Successive assaults on the stone bridge first by the 11th Conn., then by the 6th NH and 2nd Maryland regiments were each repulsed by the Georgians with heavy Union loss. Finally the 51st NY and 51st PA regiments succeeded in crossing the bridge at about 1 PM, and were rapidly followed by the remainder of the division. Meanwhile General Rodman’s Division including the 89th , managed to cross the ford further along. This section was poorly defended by the depleted 50th Georgia Regiment. Lacking sufficient guns and failing to have any reinforcements to defend, all of the Georgia Regiments of the Confederate right line were withdrawn by General Toombs to the heights. Partway up the slope was a stone wall, carefully defended, and the whole slope was partly wooded, providing ample cover for the rebel defenders. The whole of this part of the Union force attacked and drove the confederate forces before them, capturing the heights, several batteries including McIntosh’s Battery, and elements even moved into the town of Sharpsburgh beyond. At about that time, detached units of General Toombs own brigade (the 17th and remainder of the 50th Georgia Regiments) arrived, and as is more often represented in history, the division of General A.P. Hill arrived on the field, having just marched from Harper’s Ferry. They immediately shelled and attacked the left flank of the Union forces just after the Union success in the capture of the high ground. The Union forces were ordered by General Burnside to withdraw, although the Confederate report language says the Union forces fled in disarray back to and across the stone bridge. Undoubtedly there are elements of truth in both sides’ reports, but whichever is the most accurate, the ground so painfully gained by the Ninth Corps was lost very quickly, all except the bridge which remained under Union control. In the earlier assault, Private Thomas Hare of Company D of the 89th captured the colors of some South Carolina Regiment, which was later presented to General Burnside. Pvt. Hare was killed a short while later. Darkness brought an effective end to the conflict of September 17th, 1862. The 89th had total losses of 19 killed (which included Cpl. William Beers of Co. C; Pvts. Solomon Brown of Co. C, Charles Courtney of Co. G, George Eaglesfield of Co. K, Daniel Edson of Co. G, George English of Co. F, Nathaniel Forrest of Co. A, and Henry Francisco of Co. A; Cpl. Lyman Mills of Co. K; Sgt. Adam Needick of Co. B; Cpl. John Pixley of Co. A; Sgt. Nicholas Rulapaugh of Co. C; Pvts. Stephen Scovel of Co. H, George Sherwood of Co. F, Adelbert VanAntwerp of Co. C, and Samuel Wasson of Co. A; Sgt. William Wick of Co. A; Pvt. Lanora Wilson of Co. C; and possibly Linus Morse of Co. H); 77 wounded (which included Pvts. Joseph Andrews of Co. F, Franklin Bacon of Co. H, and Andrew Bartholomew of Co. F who died from his wounds about two months later; Sgt Charles Booth of Co. F who had to be discharged in the January following; Pvt. Thomas Brown of Co. G; Cpl. Jehiel Cameron of Co. B; Pvt. Milton Cresson of Co. G who was also captured but paroled about six months later; Pvts. Dewitt Gilbert, Philip Grodwant of Co. G, James Holden of Co. A, and Willis Humfrey of Co. C; Sgt. William Perkins who later returned to Co. G and was wounded again in 1864; Cpls. Thomas Piersall and Franklin Plunkett of Co. G; Pvt. Almon Reed of Co. F; Pvts. Milton Tompkins and Samuel Twitchell both of Co. G; Pvts. John White, Patrick Hughes and Stephen Wood of Co. I; Cpl Alexis Jones, Co. I;Lt. Garrett VanIngen of Co. F; and probably Richard Gray who died September 22nd 1862 from wounds); and 8 missing (including Pvts. Martin Dewey and Joseph Swagart both of Co. G) at the Battle of Antietam. Some of those listed as missing probably deserted. One of the missing, George Gray of Co. I was listed in a letter from Robert Bowne to the Delaware Express newspaper.
The following day, McClellan failed to press, Lee retreated that very night, and the Maryland campaign was essentially over. The 89th stayed in the vicinity, and camped near Harper’s Ferry, Maryland, recovered when the rebels retreated back to Virginia. On November 5th , General Burnside replaced General McClellan, and the members of the 89th, which had now been under the command of Burnside since January, found themselves moving with his Army of the Potomac into northern Virginia.
The Fredericksburgh Campaign
|General Robert E. Lee||
General Ambrose Burnside
The 89th Crossing the Rappahannock December 11, 1862. The outline of this special event sets the stage for the activity of the 89th to follow. Readers interested in the proper sequence should see this link first.
After the advance of the 89th had crossed and done their deeds, the remainder of the 89th crossed likewise in boats, while the middle bridge was being completed, then in relative safety. The 89th was ordered to move into the city and secure it, and was one of the first units to occupy Fredericksburg. During the afternoon and evening of the 11th, most of the rest of the Army crossed the bridges, and arrayed itself for the coming assaults. The 89th was on the left of the Union line by the 12th. During that day, the 12th of December, there was shameful looting and destruction of the homes and businesses of the people of the suffering City of Fredericksburg, largely uncontrolled by the officers of the Union army. There was little military action that day as Burnside went over more details of the planned assault, and as Lee further fortified his defenses, and shifted his personnel to meet his foe most efficiently.
Early on the morning of the 13th of December, Franklin’s wing, the largest in this army, was to attack the right of the Confederate forces, where Jackson’s Corps were waiting. This was a little southeast of town near Prospect Hill. The only unit however that got into action early was that division led by General Meade, and they succeeded in breaching the first line of defense in the woods, but having no real support, they were driven back by Rebel reserves. Burnside later testified that he repeatedly directed Franklin to get his entire command into action, but there was no haste in getting this enacted by General Franklin, and eventually the action on the Union left failed. This also meant that there was no disruption from the flank to the main body of the Rebel defenders on the heights south of the city. Sumner’s wing now faced the enemy across open ground sloping upward towards the entrenched forces of General Longstreet, fully prepared to meet the attacks, and eager for the opportunity to defend their homeland.
Sumner had General Darius Couch’s Corps with General French’s Division commencing the attacks. This started about eleven AM, and was slow to pick up momentum, as the Union forces slowly drove Confederate pickets away. When the pickets retreated behind their works, the attacks began in earnest. Union artillery attempted to soften the works with barrage after barrage, but their firing did not have the desired effect. French’s forces gallantly attacked and were repulsed, and these men were followed by the division led by General Winfield Hancock, who likewise failed to reach the Confederate positions. The next wave was led by General Oliver Howard with a similar fate.
The last charges of the day were those of General Orlando Willcox’s divisions, but by the time this had all transpired through the deadly day of fighting, the brief December daylight was nearly gone. Willcox first had the division under General Sturgis attack, and like all before, that one failed, and the final assault of the 13th of December was made by General Getty’s Division, including the 89th. They formed and moved south across the old canal bed, through a marshy area. Their target was the right of the heights (near the present day National Cemetery). Some elements of the Ninth Corps succeeded in getting to within about ten yards of the stone wall and held that position under exposed fire for up to seven futile minutes before being withdrawn by General Getty. While in that forward position, they were nearly surrounded by musket fire from their front, from the flanks, and even from their rear. By this time, the Confederate defenders in this vicinity of the battlefield included General Thomas Cobb’s Brigade of Georgian Regiments (16th, 18th and 24th ), a part of General LaFayette McLaw’s Division; portions of General J.R.Cooke’s Brigade of North Carolinian Regiments (apparently the 25th, the 24th having been withdrawn shortly before the final assault), a portion of Ransom’s Division; and these had been joined by portions of General James Kemper’s Brigade of Virginians (1st, 3rd, 7th, 11th, and 24th ), loaned from Pickett’s Division further to the right. All of these were under the immediate command of Brigadier General Robert Ransom, Jr. Meanwhile, straggler elements of the 83rd PA and 20th ME regiments had taken some shelter after their own attack failed, and were returning fire on the Confederates, but some of this fire was inadvertently aimed at their own comrades, the last assaulting units, who had gotten in between during their charge. The final attack failed, as had all the prior ones of the day.
And, with the last charge over, the fighting ceased with the darkness, and the 89th retreated to the town. On the 14th, Burnside contemplated another round of assaults, but these never materialized. During the 14th , the 89th held a position near Caroline Street. On the 15th, all of the forces were withdrawn back across the river to the north bank. The great battle was over.
This map portion shows the positions of the final assaults of the day, with Gen. Getty's Division, including the 89th on the far Union left.
The Confederate Army units actually engaged on the 13th of December on the heights south of Fredericksburg were only a small portion of General Longstreet’s whole command. The number has been estimated at about 5,000. Many of the Rebel casualties were from Union artillery barrages. Total losses for the three days from the Confederate forces were reported by the Medical Director on January the 10th 1863 as having been 458 killed and 3,743 wounded men. The Confederate reports seldom detail missing or captured men, so this number is hard to ascertain. Of the total though, the best numbers for casualties on the heights, the focus of the repeated Union assaults, showed that there were 20 killed and 486 wounded. The Union losses were staggering in comparison. The Ninth Corps alone, which included the 89th , had 8 officers and 103 men killed, and 44 officers and 1,023 men wounded. In the right grand division of Sumner, there were 62 officers killed, 310 wounded and 1 missing, while there were 461 enlisted men killed, 3,971 wounded, and there were a total of 639 soldiers missing. The whole of the Army of the Potomac for the battle had 1,284 soldiers killed and 9,600 soldiers wounded. There were reports of 1,769 missing. Confederate reports indicated about 900 prisoners from the battle.
The 89th had losses of 4 killed (including Dean Van Buren, Wagoner of Co. C, who was killed on the 11th). Twenty five men were listed as wounded (including Pvt Henry Clay of Co. A, Pvts. Clinton Earnest of Co. G and [probably] David Johnson of Co. F, and poor Pvt. Willis Humfrey of Co. C, previously wounded at Antietam and then back in action with his unit) and 1 missing. Two of the wounded men later died of their wounds. General Burnside’s only major battle as the Chief Union General was a disaster in the eyes of historians. While one more major assault was planned by General Burnside, weather, not enemy soldiers defeated that effort. The Mud March was Burnside’s last attempt at crushing the Rebel forces, but the sticky red clay roads of the then wintery Virginia made the movement of an entire Army impossible. The Army of the Potomac could muster no further serious action that winter. Burnside was disgraced and replaced in January of 1863.
In February of 1863, the 89th left northern Virginia and moved to the vicinity of Newport News, Virginia. They were out of tents again, this time in log barracks. Their status was rather comfortable, but short-lived. They were in this area until moved to Suffolk. They arrived in that region on March 14 as reinforcement for the men of the 7th Corps already there. Here they contructed and manned defensive positions.
The Siege of Suffolk
General James Longstreet
General John Peck
Suffolk, Virginia, some 30 miles from Norfolk, had been held by Union forces as something of an advance position to protect Norfolk and to watch Rebel movements in the peninsula between the James and Albermarle waterways. Suffolk, at the head of the Nansemond River was a small city but important as the junction point of two Virginia railways, the Petersburg and Norfolk, and the Seaboard and Roanoke. Suffolk was also flanked on its east by the great Dismal Swamp, which afforded a formidable natural barrier to movement. That spring the Union forces were under the command of Major General John J. Peck. There were rumors and some intelligence indicating that Lieutenant General Longstreet was planning an attack on Suffolk, with the ultimate goal of liberating Norfolk. This would have permited the Confederate ironclads to work against the Union blockade and open the James waterway back up to the relief of the interior of Virginia.
On April 11th of 1863 a large force of Confederates arrived and promptly overran advanced posts of the Union defenders. The forces of the Confederate Army here, under the command of the veteran Gen. Longstreet was in the neighborhood of 30,000 men. Later with the consolidation of his forces and the arrival of troops from North Carolina, the number may have been 38,000 men. The Union defense had considerably fewer men. Early in March the number was probably about 9,000 in the area, but by late March it was more on the order of 15,000. By the end of the Siege, the defense had been reinforced to about 29,000 Union soldiers. These were spread over a defense radius of works amounting to almost 15 miles.
A significant assault on April 11th followed the capture of the outposts, but an alarm had been effectively given, and the Northern forces repulsed the attacks that day. Over the next several days, probing attacks on the flanks of the defenses failed to find fundamental weaknesses, and before long the larger army of the Southerners laid siege on the defenses of Suffolk. Officially, the Siege of Suffolk took place April 11 through May 4, 1863, and the 89th was involved in two important aspects of this action. They were posted in one of the concentrated defensive areas, locally called forts, and theirs was a secondary line of defense. They were part of the division of Gen. Getty which held a difficult and nearly eight mile section of the defense. He reported that his men created nearly 8,000 yards of rifle pits and nearly 2,000 feet of parapets seven feet high, cut 10 miles of new road and created several bridges for passage over small creeks and swamp areas.
But, on April 19th a detachment of the 89th was instrumental in the spectacular capture of a Confederate position. Rebel artillery commanders posted batteries, after the April 11th sweeping of Union positions away from the west bank of the Nansemond, at various locations in order to counter Union gunboat effectiveness and hopefully command the river. They also regularly shelled Union defenses on the opposite banks. On April 14th one of the gunboats, the Mount Washington, was severely damaged in its movements on the river, and the other gunboats were withdrawn to safer locations. This left the eastern bank of the Nansemond at higher risk of a successful Rebel crossing and assault. General Getty and Lieutenant Lamson of the Navy concocted a plan to capture the battery on Hill’s Point. This battery was behind earthen works and was staffed by men of the Fauquier Artillery under the command of Captain Robert Stribling. There were two companies of infantry attached to and protecting the battery, with plans for rapid aide from other nearby infantry in the event of attack by Yankee soldiers. The men at the battery were from Companies A and B of the 44th Alabama Infantry. There were three 12 lb. cannons and two 20 lb. cannons in this battery, which were arrayed towards the river. On the evening of April 19th six companies of the 8th Conn Regiment, 130 men in all, together with about 150 men of the 89th, under the command of Lt. Col. England, embarked on the gunboat Stepping Stones. Lieut. Lamson accompanied with four small boat howitzers. The gunboat landed about 300 yards from the battery, the men scrambled ashore through the mud and attacked the battery from behind. In very short order the 5 cannon were captured along with officers and men of the artillery including Captain Stribling totalling 59, and at least 71 infantrymen including 5 officers. The Union advance was quickly reinforced and converted to a defensive position for an expected Rebel counterattack. This counterattack did not occur that night or even the next day, but the Union forces were withdrawn on the night of the 20th with the Confederates never really menacing. The action freed the gunboats for return activity on that portion of the Nansemond, and effectively on others too, as two other river batteries were withdrawn by the Confederates to prevent similar surprise capture. The capture of this battery was a disappointment and embarrasment to the Southerners and a great deal of finger-pointing as to responsibility and blame ensued after the event.
The Union loss in this highly successful assault was 4 dead and 10 wounded. Of this number, two of the dead (Jehial Smith, Pvt. of Co. F and Lt. Marvin Watrous of Co. B) and six of the wounded (including Pvt. Charles Fiske, Co. F who died three days later and possibly William Utter, Pvt. of Co. F) were from the 89th detachment. During the next several days the 89th remainded in its positions, the men mainly in rifle pits, but in good spirits.
On May third, General Getty ordered a reconnaisance of the region along the Providence Church Road. The 89th and 103rd NY regiments led the movement. As they advanced, they overran a number of positions. There were no causalties in the 89th that day according to official reports, yet we know from other records that there were three wounded men of Co. I, namely Pvt. John Davidson, who made a miraculous recovery only to die convalescing at home in Delaware Co.; Pvt. John Thompson, and Lt. Henry Epps; and also Pvt. Whitney Moore of Co. G who was discharged for his disability some six months later. On the night of May third, the Confederates abandoned all of their siege positions and withdrew back towards the Blackwater River. The Siege of Suffolk was over. Norfolk was safe for the time. In the siege, the 89th had a total of 3 killed (the other not named above may have been Pvt. John Clemens of Co. D) and 10 wounded.
In late May, the troops were on the move again, this time to a camp nearer Norfolk, Virginia. From here, they were part of the 1863 peninsular movements, mindful of the defeats in the same regions the year before. By late July there was talk of the drafted men coming to fill the depleted ranks, and camp life was again routine, then suddenly on July 31st, they found themselves on board ship again, this time aboard the Adalaide, and ended in the Charleston Harbor region.
From their base on Folly Island, the unit was involved in the support of the various actions against the installations in Charleston Harbor, including Battery Wagner and the siege of Fort Sumpter. During their time in South Carolina, the 89th was transferred from the old Ninth Corps to the Tenth Corps. While in this theater they were not involved in combat. There were a number of deaths from disease however. The water quality and sanitation on the island were at times very poor, and diarrheal illnesses were common. Some of the men who died on Folly Island were: Pvts. Harvey Davis of Co. E, George Durfee of Co. H, and Ransom Frost of Co. G; Sgt. Ira Jacobs of Co. I; Pvts. Delos Letts and Isaac Swallow of Co. A, John Sweet of Co. B, James Watrous of Co. G; and Monroe Williams of Co. K.
They were in the region until later April of 1864 when they were moved back to Virginia. Sometime in the spring of 1864, the new recruits were arriving to fill the companies, some badly depleted by the ravages of war and disease. It is unlikely that there was much drill time for these men who were about to experience the life of the infantryman in earnest.
|General P.G. T. Beauregard.||
General Benjamin Butler
In April, the 89th left South Carolina and joined the massing troops on the southeastern part of Virginia. Early in May they were part of the grand design of General Benjamin Butler’s campaign to attack Richmond from behind Lee’s Army, then facing the forces of Grant and Meade further to the north. Butler, with nearly 30,000 men was to move up the south side of the James River, and invest Richmond from the south. The Confederate forces there were under the command of General G. T. Beauregard, who happened still to be in North Carolina with most of his troops, and the total number of defenders for the South early in May was just some 3000 men (including War Department clerks), with another 2000 defending Petersburg. As history has shown however, Butler barely moved, and missed any opportunity to meet his major objective. A secondary objective was the destruction of the railroad between Richmond and Petersburg to its south. This was only partly accomplished and never to a damaging point. Instead, the expedition holed up defensively, rather than pursuing the offensive, in a position only a few miles east of the Richmond to Petersburg turnpike and railroad, and only fifteen miles from Richmond. General Beauregard used the Union ineptitude to bring up men totalling close to 20,000, and himself went on the offensive against Butler’s forces. Although the Union lines were secured, it then was easy for Beauregard to envelope and contain the Union ‘invaders’, who moved back to near Bermuda Hundred. General Beauregard was even able to send badly needed men to Lee.
The 89th was in the second division under General John Turner, of the Tenth Army Corps commanded by General Quincy Gillmore. They were involved in several of the skirmishes of this campaign, but the only official casualties occurred at the one called Proctor’s Creek on May 12th. Here 5 enlisted men were wounded, and one was killed. The wounded included Pvt. James Little and Cpl. Thomas Thompson of Co. I.
|General Robert E. Lee||
General Ulysses S. Grant
On May 30th, the 89th was among units transferred from the 10th to the 18th Corps. Now, in the second division under General John Martindale, they were assigned to the first brigade under General George Stannard. They were transferred to the Army of the Potomac and moved towards Cold Harbor, Virginia. Grant and Lee had been shifting and moving from the Wilderness, through Spotsylvania and Totopotomoy, and on June 1st ended up near Cold Harbor.
There on June 3, another great disaster for the Union forces ensued when forces, principally those of General Hancock, assaulted the well constructed works of the rebels, and met disasterous fire. For a week or so after, trench warfare with artillery and sniper fire abounding was the order of the action. Fortunately, the 89th was not among the units decimated in the attacks of June third, but did suffer some casualties in the days following, while in the works. Some of the works for the Union were as close as forty yards from those of the Confederates. Anyone exposing himself or even his head in those forward positions was literally risking his life during the long June daylight hours. During those twelve days in June, three enlisted men were killed outright (including Lawrence Kain, Cpl. of Co. H) and two more died of wounds. Among those dead from fighting at Cold Harbor were Winfield Carrier, Pvt. of Co. H, who had enlisted less than four and a half months earlier; Clinton Hart, Pvt. of Co.E; and Sgt. Thomas Hepesaul of Co. G. Thirteen others were wounded but recovered. These latter included Pvt. Jackson Dyer of Co. F; Cpl. Jacob King of Co. F; and Sgt. James Mahew of Co. H. Two men were reported as missing and these probably were Wilson Dean, a Pvt. of Co. A and William Law, a Pvt. of Co. I.
When it was clear to Grant that frontal assaults on a well entrenched enemy was not an answer to the destruction of Lee’s army, he decided to withdraw. On the 12th of June, 1864 the largest part of the army left the rifle pits and the artillery positions at Cold Harbor. The army was going to attempt a rapid movement, to come from the south of Richmond before Lee could ascertain and adapt to the new position. This next major battle was another of the stunning failures to execute what seemed to be sound military strategy, and again the 89th was along for the ride.
The plan looked in mid June as if it might be a success, as by June 15th Grant’s army was south of the James, with Lee’s still north of the James, and just then learning where the Federal army had moved to. Back at Petersburg, then a great rail hub, the Confederates numbered only about 2000 men, with 7000 more still down near Bermuda Hundred keeping Butler’s men in check (see above under the Richmond campaign). General Smith, with the 89th being a part, was in the lead, and as the outmanned General Beauregard, still the commander of the Confederates of the region, testified after the war, Petersburg was all but captured at that time, only the Union generals failed again to capitalize on their strength. Smith’s attacks on the 15th actually broke the defenses, but there was no further movement, in fact, the orders from General Smith to his troops were to build defensive positions again. On the 16th of June, there were nearly 50,000 Union soldiers in the immediate vicinity, and now there were about 9,000 Rebel defenders, but incredibly, the attacks did not come until evening, and were barely repulsed. The effects of the delays were the obvious though, that is that Lee had time to get his army south just in time.
On the 17th, the attacks were enough to break the defensive lines, but General Beauregard skillfully pulled his men back to and held a secondary defensive line closer towards the city. On the 18th, the attacks again were miserably coordinated, and in fact did not occur in many areas along the line until just after Lee’s army poured into the (until then) poorly defended, and in some spots undefended works. In general, the attacks of the 18th of June were failures. By that night, the city of Petersburg was behind strong Confederate defenses, and the two armies once again faced each other across no-man’s land from the partial safety of rifle pits and supporting trenches.
The 89th was initially a part of the first brigade, under General George Stannard, then the third brigade under General Adelbert Ames, but each time in the Second Division, commanded by General John Martindale, of the 18th Army Corps. This was the Corps under General Smith, which had made up the lead elements of the assaults on the first day’s attacks near Petersburg. On the 15th for instance, the brigade led by General Stannard was the lead element of the attack in one area, and captured works near the Appomatox River. The detailed record for the 15th through the 18th of June is very sketchy in regards to the second division, so we are not aware of the actions of the 89th during those early days of the Petersburg campaign. Clapper Eldridge (one of the new recruits) and James Groves, Pvts. of Co. H; Albert Lybolt, Pvt. Co. A; Benjamin Rosselle and William Snow, Pvts. in Co. H; and Eliphalet Weed, Jr., a Pvt of Co A all were killed in the first three days’ actions. Also on June 16th, supposedly just after an assault, Lt. Col. Theophilus England was killed, shot through the head. Reportedly, he was ministering to a wounded Rebel soldier when shot, and he died instantly. Some of the wounded in this phase from the 89th included Seymour Judd, Capt. of Co. G wounded on the 16th, but who died a little over two months later; Silas Manning, Pvt. of Co. A; Delos Payne, Pvt. of Co.F (and another new recruit) who died of his wounds just under two months later; Charles Peck, Pvt. of Co. C; George Pittsley, a Pvt. of Co. F who died on June 18th; and Pliney Russell, Cpl. of Co. G.
By the 18th of June, the 18th Corps was relieved of their forward positions. Later in the month, portions were sent back to Gen. Butler’s lines temporarily. During the month of July, the 89th was assigned to the rifle pits, two days in and two days on reserve away from the front. Then, on July 29, they received orders to move to be in support of a planned major assault, to be carried out by Gen. Burnside’s Ninth Corps. This, another in a whole series of Union miscues, mistakes or lost opportunities, fortunately did not affect the 89th much that day. On July 31st a large explosion set off in a mine dug beneath a series of Confederate works was to be the focal point for a assault onto and then over the Rebel defenses of Petersburg. The assault began well, but hesitated, then sputtered to a stop, and ended with southern fire into the massed northern men in the crater, like shooting fish in a barrel. The 89th witnessed the explosion, but were not called on to move forward.
The failure of the Crater, as it has been called, left the two sides in the siege warfare again. More men of the 89th lost their lives in these later activities, including Elijah Atwater and Samuel Fitch, Pvts. of Co. K; Hiram Foster, Pvt of Co. H; Albert Jones, Pvt. of Co. I; Mason Smith, Pvt. of Co. G; and Lucius Traver, a Pvt. of Co. C. Wounded men in this trench warfare included James Mallan, a Pvt. of Co. B, and Abisha Stephens, a Pvt. of Co. G.
The stunning successes of the Southern army in the spring to summer campaign in Virginia were enormous, but came at a different kind of price. The move to protect Petersburg that followed Grant’s move south also kept Lee’s army bottled up in close contact with Grant’s army for the rest of the war. Their inability to get out and manuever also meant that they never again could threaten outside their Capitol region. General Lee’s hopes had to be distant ones, relying on General Hood in the Georgia and Tennesse regions to try to defeat Generals Sherman and Thomas, and on General Early in the Shenandoah Valley fighting General Sheridan to keep that line of supply and support open. If there had been major victory by the Southerners in either realm, then the pressure might come off Lee. In the end, of course, each of these failed, and the hopes for a Confederate victory of one army against another with it. Even so, and unfortunately for the Union forces around Petersburg and Richmond, there was still war to fight where they were, and the 89th faced severe trials yet.
By August of 1864 many of the men of the 89th could do little else but dream of the end of their three-year terms, just weeks away. Some few men had re-enlisted, enticed by the huge bounties offered by the governments to do so, and the recruits were settling into the company they were assigned to, but the character of the regiment was much changed. After nearly three years of battle and disease, relatively few of the original men were left. Many probably hoped to coast out their last few weeks in some reserve capacity, but the war would not let them be.
Chaffin’s Farm/Fort Harrison/Fort Gilmer
Late in September of 1864, north of the James, the Union army added another of the series of movements against the Confederate positions. On the 28th, the Eighteenth Army Corps, General Edward Ord commanding, crossed the river James at night with portions of the Tenth Army Corps, to prepare assaults against Rebel positions. General Charles Heckman commanded the second division, in which the 89th NYVI was a part of the third brigade, which was led by Col. Fairchild at this juncture. The second division was to skirt easterly through the edge of woods to come at Fort Harrison from the east, just after the first division was to have taken the fort across the open approach. The first division accomplished their goal of storming and capturing the fort. The second division however got broken in the woods, the brigades separated, and were delayed in getting into action. This, as is often the case, let the defending Confederates be better prepared, and the attack on the neighboring Fort Gilmer was repulsed.
In this action, the 89th had 3 men killed (including John Poole, Pvt. of Co. E, and Joseph White, Pvt. of Co. G); 1 officer and 15 men wounded (including Willard Blinebry, Cpl. Co. I, who was captured and paroled, but who died three weeks later of his wound; Sgt. Harvey How of Co. F, who died the same day; John Mallon, Pvt. of Co. B; and possibly Stephen Lawrence, Pvt. of Co. A), and had 3 officers (Lt. Henry Epps of Co. I; Lt. Thomas Groody of Co. B; and Capt. Henry Roome of Co. E); and 17 men (including Hiram Brown, Pvt. Co. I; George Folmsbee, Pvt. of Co. A; Henry Foote, Pvt. of Co. K; Cpl. Daniel Mains of Co. I; Charles Everson, Cpl of Co E, and John Reed, Pvt. of Co. E) missing. Charles Everson, for one, was imprisoned at Salisbury Prison. He was later exchanged. The Eighteenth Corps had a total of 2,328 casualties, which included the death of Gen. Hiram Burnham leading his brigade of the first division, and the wounding of the Corps commander, General Ord. It was a difficult day for the men of the 89th , many with only one month to go in their terms.
The Confederate troops that the 89th faced on the September 29th were probably of General Charles W. Field’s division of Longstreet’s Corps, and the indications of later reports are that they faced principally General Maxcy Gregg’s brigade, composed of the Third Arkansas, as well as the 1st , 4th and 5th Texas Regiments. The Rebel entrenchments may also have been manned by General John Bratton’s brigade of South Carolina men from the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th Regiments, and the Palmetto Sharpshooters. Later in the day reinforcements included units of Pickett’s Corps and R.H. Anderson’s Division of Longstreet’s First Army Corp. Casualty reports are not available for these units. On the following day, Confederate troops massed for and made an assault on Fort Harrison to try to retake it, but this attack failed.
After this battle, the Eighteenth Corps took positions in the trenches to the side of Fort Harrison, which they occupied most of the month of October.
The Battle of Fair Oaks
On October 26th, just days after the completion of the mustering-out of the three years men of the 89th, the Eighteenth Corps, now under the command of General Godfrey Weitzel, left their positions in the works near Fort Harrison, (renamed Fort Burnham in honor of the fallen General in charge of its capture the month before). Many of the regiment had been mustered into the service the same month, and had very little, if any, drilling or battlefield experience. These men would have had to rely on the hardy veteran troops in their midst. They marched with three days rations towards Seven Pines, crossing at the head of White Oak Swamp. They met Rebel forces strongly posted behind their fortifications near Fair Oaks, where a battle ensued. This was very near the ground of the Battle of Fair Oak previously. About two in the afternoon, battle lines were formed, and the third brigade, commanded by Col. Fairchild, of the second division, now led by General Charles A. Heckman, was designated the charging party along with Col. Cullen’s brigade of the first division. This battle, for the 89th, was to be one of the saddest in their military history.
About 4 PM, the third brigade, composed of the 19th Wisconsin and 89th and 148th NY regiments valiantly charged the works, across about 800 yards of open ground, but found them much too strong to take by storm. Those in the front managed to reach about 150 yards from the entenchments, facing withering fire, but got no further. The men did not flee, but took slight shelter in something of a gully, and remained until there was an order to retreat. Then the shattered remnants of the brigade formed a new line with Col. Fairchild, and collected as many of the wounded men as they could. Sometime about five in the late afternoon, the Confederates sallied forth from their fortifications and captured large numbers of the Union forces of the two advance brigades along with six regimental colors. To the credit of the color sergeant Smith of the 89th, the regimental flag was restored to the regiment.
By then, darkness was coming on, and to add to the misery of the day, it rained as well. The 18th Corps retired that night, and wearily marched back to the same works they had occupied a couple of days before, the last unit arriving at 4 PM on the 28th of October.
In the action of the 27th, the second division losses were three officers and nine enlisted men killed, seven officers and ninety one men wounded, and six officers and three hundred and eighty men missing. Of this total, the casualties to the 89th were as follows: 2 officers (these were Lt. Col. Wellington Lewis, who died in May of 1865 materially from that wound and 1st Lt. Albert Burt of Co. K) and 3 enlisted men killed, and four other enlisted men who were wounded later died of their wounds; 1 officer (Lt. George Hughes of Co. K) and 32 enlisted men were wounded (including Pvts. John Mann and Charles Scott of Co. C, and Pvt. Charles Loomis of Co. A), but recovered. Ninety eight men were missing in this battle, leading to an aggregate loss to the regiment of 139. The men known to have been captured are listed in Table form
Table: Men of the 89th Captured at Fair Oaks
Soldier Company Veteran Rank Release
Baker, Adolf A N Pvt. Paroled
Barrick, James F N Pvt. May 1865
Brown, Edward K N Pvt. Paroled
Brown, Edward M. K N Pvt. Paroled
Burns, Edward K N Pvt. Paroled
Carmichael, Tho. K N Pvt. Paroled
Collins, James F N Pvt. Paroled
Corbett, Timothy K N Pvt. Paroled
Covert, Abram K Y Pvt. Paroled
Daly, Frances D N Pvt. Unknown
Debau, William K N Pvt. Paroled
Deery, Edward F N Pvt. Paroled
Douglass, Charles K N Pvt. Paroled
Dumas, David A N Pvt. Paroled
Essler, John D N Pvt. 2/28/65
Florence, James K N Pvt. Paroled
Frost, John K N Pvt. Paroled
Harmin, Frank K N Pvt. Paroled
Harrin, Albert K N Pvt. Paroled
Harrington, Wm. F N Pvt. 2/6/65
Harris, Henry K N Pvt. died 1/65
Held, George K N Pvt. Paroled
Hickey, John K N Pvt. Paroled
Hinch, John K N Pvt. Paroled
Hoffman, George K N Pvt. Paroled
Kavannagh, Sylvester K N Pvt. Paroled
Kity, William K N Pvt. Paroled
Knapp, George A N Pvt. Paroled
Lamb, Rodman F N Pvt. Paroled
Latourno, Joseph A N Pvt. Unknown
Lawrence, Charles K N Pvt. Paroled
Martin, John A N Pvt. Unknown
McGinness, Arthur F N Pvt. Paroled
McKee, John K N Pvt. Paroled
Moore, Samuel K N Pvt. Paroled
Myers, Henry D N Pvt. Unknown
Myre, John A N Pvt. Unknown
Nelson, H. S. K N Pvt. Paroled
Newton, George H N Pvt. 5/1/65
Patterson, George K N Pvt. Paroled
Patzack, Charles A N Pvt. Unknown
Pixley, Lorenzo F N Pvt. Unknown
Purnell, George K N Pvt. Paroled
Reilly, Michael D N Pvt. Paroled
Rossiter, Edward A N Pvt. Unknown
Ryan, Patrick D N Pvt. Unknown
Sharp, William K N Pvt. Paroled
Smith, John F N Pvt. Paroled
Solomon, Solomon A N Pvt. Paroled
Specht, Joseph A N Pvt. Paroled
Stewart, William K N Pvt. Paroled
Stone, Peter A N Pvt. Unknown
Strain, William K N Pvt. Paroled
Stringham, George B Y Pvt. Paroled
Thomas, David I Y Pvt. Unknown
Wagner, George D N Pvt. Unknown
Zends, Erhardt K N Pvt. Paroled
Of the men captured at the second battle near Fair Oaks in the 89th, only three were veterans and moreover forty five of the men listed in the table above were mustered into the service of the Union army less than four weeks before this battle. Clearly, this was not a charge made by battle-experienced soldiers. Patrick Ryan, as an example, was mustered into Company D’s service on October 13th, exactly two weeks prior to the ill-fated charge. It is thought that several of the men captured were also wounded, but the records are not clear on this point. In his report dated October 31st about the operation of October 27th, Brevet Major General Godfrey Weitzel, the commander of the Eighteenth Army Corps at the time took blame for the failure. He stated that he had personally reviewed the enemy works and felt they were defended only by three pieces of artillery and a relatively small number of men, actually dismounted cavalry. He also felt that the delay between his order to attack and the actual attack time left the Confederated forces too long to reinforce, and prepare for the attack.
In fact, the rebel forces were prepared for the attack. General Longstreet had ordered the divisions under Generals Field and Robert Hoke to move into defensive positions anticipating the area of attack. The area along the Williamsburg Road that Colonel Fairchild’s Third Brigade attacked was defended by the division under General Field. Casualty reports for Field’s division for the 27th have a total of 64, of which total only 9 were reported killed. General Longstreet reported nearly 600 Federal soldiers captured. Eleven stands of Union colors were captured, and many of these were taken by the 5th South Carolina regiment. The 5th South Carolina was a part of Bratton’s Brigade of Field’s division, although General Bratton was not in command at the time of this battle. His brigade was led that day by Col. Joseph Walker, of the Palmetto Sharpshooters.
During the later fall of 1864 and early winter of 1865, the activity of the 89th while remaining in the Petersburg and Richmond vicinity, did not involve much combat. The Union forces were able to vote in the 1864 Presidential election which brought Old Abe back for another term. Both armies in the area waited for news of fighting particularly in Tennessee and Georgia, and the 89th , transferred to the new Twenty Fourth Corps in December, probably celebrated the news of the capture of Savannah at Christmas time with the rest of the Northern citizens, and the fall of Charleston in February. And, when General Sherman’s forces began their long move north to join with General Grant, and when General Johnston determined that he could do no more than annoy General Sherman, the Union forces knew they were moving towards the final push. The stage was set for the last major fighting of the long and bloody Civil War, which had already taken the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.
Some overtures for peace were cast in that late winter of 1865, and President Lincoln hoped for an end with no further bloodbaths, but General Grant believed that one more major conflict was in the offing. The Confederates held on to slim hopes, although morale was very poor, desertions were very high, and new recruitment was almost non-existent. Still, as long as there were supply routes open, the Rebels were entrenched behind formidable defensive works. Late in March, the Union forces prepared for a spring assault on Petersburg. In the meantime, Lee assigned General John Gordon to try to punch through Grant’s defenses at Fort Stedman. The Federals rallied after being taken by surprise, and crushed the attack. This then was the last offensive move that Lee’s army made.
The first division of the 24th Army Corps crossed the James River from the north bank and then crossed the Appomatax River, and on the 29th of March of 1865, arrived near Hatcher’s Run. On the 30th and 31st this division drove the confederates back from advanced lines to their main lines, moving ever closer to the last defense of Petersburg. General Grant called for a general assault against Petersburg on April second. The 24th Army Corps under General John Gibbon had the assignment of assaulting some works in the protection of Petersburg, and as it turned out their assignment was one of the toughest ones of the day. The 89th was a part of the fourth brigade of the first division under General Robert Foster and the brigade commander was Col. Harrison Fairchild. The fourth brigade was composed of the 8th Maine, the 89th, 148th, and 158th New York, and the 55th Pennsylvania Regiments.
Fort Gregg was a palisaded earth and log structure with loopholes for muskets, and fronted by a kind of moat. There was artillery support for the defenders, and inside were stubborn and grim men. At about one in the afternoon the attack commenced, and gallantly the men charged into a hail of lead. As they struggled across the moat, and helped one another up the steep parapet, there was twenty minutes or so of hand to hand combat before the garrison of the fort was overwhelmed. As soon as Fort Gregg fell, the neighboring Fort Baldwin was evacuated and occupied by other troops. Many Union regiments claimed to be the first in the fort, but General Foster reported that he could not decide who should have been afforded the honor, as they happened almost simultaneously. The 89th made one of the claims of first colors in the captured fort. Once in the fort, there were 57 bodies of defenders counted.
In this action Major Frank Tremain, leading the 89th , was killed at the fort. Also killed were three enlisted men, which included George Vermilyea, a Pvt. of Co. H. Wounded men, numbering 10, included William Atwater, Pvt. of Co. F, who died a little over three weeks later, Pvt. John Conway of Co. K, Sgt. George Englis of Co. K, Pvt. Charles Mack of Co. H, and Pvt. William Schism of Co. F, who died on April 15th of his wounds.
On April third, Petersburg was found abandoned, and the first division was on the march in pursuit of the fleeing Army of Northern Virginia. They were on the march towards Lynchburg, and overtook the enemy near Rice’s Station on the 6th of April. On that day, over-running the positions of the enemy cost the 89th one man killed (Pvt. Elwood Gates of Co. H) and 11 wounded (including David Ramsey, a Pvt of Co. D).
On the 8th, they resumed the march, reaching Appomattox Station, and on the 9th were about four miles from Appomattox Courthouse. Here skirmishing ensued with the 89th in a lead position preparing for assault when the word came that hostilities had ceased. Lee had surrendered to Grant, and for the men of the Eighty Ninth New York Volunteer Infantry, the war was finally over.
The unit stayed at Appomattox Courthouse until April 17th, and then over the next few days, the Twenty Fourth Army Corps marched slowly back towards Richmond. They reached the city on April 25th, 1865, and encamped on the north side.
Over the next few months, the 89th had various duties including Provost assignments. The unit was officially mustered out of service at Richmond, Virginia on August 3, 1865, bringing to an end almost four years of toil and death for these New Yorkers in the defense of their country. Theirs was a small part in the whole of the war, but for these participants of the Eighty Ninth New York Volunteer Infantry this part represented some of the most profound experiences of their lives.
In the aggregate, the unit losses were as follows:
Killed in action: 4 officers and 49 enlisted men.
Died from wounds: 2 officers and 52 enlisted men.
Died of disease and accident: 1 officer and 158 enlisted men.
Of those who died, 13 were in the hands of the enemy at the time of death.
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