Review of Upton biography

#Reviewing Emory Upton: Misunderstood Reformer

J.P. Clark  January 1, 2018

Emory Upton: Misunderstood Reformer. David J. Fitzpatrick. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.

Upon finishing David Fitzpatrick’s excellent biography of Emory Upton, a reader might wonder why there has been only one other modern biography, Stephen Ambrose’s slender and flawed Upton and the Army (1964). Upton is a marvelous subject for a biographer. His efforts to improve military professionalism, though only partly successful in his own life, guided a younger generation of reformers whose work still influences the American military today. For instance, Secretary of War Elihu Root claimed to be following the path outlined by Upton while creating the system of career-long professional education from initial functional training through staff colleges and culminating in a generalist war college.[1] Moreover, Upton’s life provides an excellent vehicle for illuminating key aspects of the middle decades of the nineteenth century: the religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening; the trauma of the Civil War; the reaction to corrupt politics in the Gilded Age.

In addition to being significant and representative, Upton’s story possesses the third trait necessary for successful biography—it is packed with dramatic scenes: a spectacular charge across one of the war’s most terrible killing grounds resulting in a battlefield promotion to brigadier general; a glamorous around the world journey to study foreign armies; a mysterious suicide at the height of life. Arguably Upton’s career was no less interesting and was certainly more consequential than his well-documented contemporary George A. Custer (both were born in 1839).

Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick’s sub-title “the misunderstood reformer” is apt. In the absence of a good biography, interpretations of Upton in various histories have suffered for the lack of personal context. He has been rendered as a cut-out figure on to which others projected their enthusiasms or fears. Samuel Huntington hailed Upton as, along with William T. Sherman and Stephen B. Luce, one of the “creative core” founding a new professional ethos.[2] Yet to fit the work of Upton and these others into his argument for a specific mode of civil-military relations, Huntington offered a distorted—and sometimes factually incorrect—account of their work. More common, however, has been the negative portrayal forcefully argued by Russell Weigley, the most influential historian of the institutional history of the U.S. Army. Weigley castigated Upton for having “injected poison into American civil-military relations.”[3]

Upton dabbled in several fields—tactics, professional education, personnel policy, and military organization—but his work had a coherence because he instinctively grasped the interconnections among these disparate topics.

Due to the dominance of Weigley’s view, Fitzpatrick confesses that when he began his work on Upton, he too accepted the conventional wisdom and only aspired to make Upton “a three-dimensional figure and place his ideas in their contemporary context.” In so admirably achieving that aim, Fitzpatrick has overturned the orthodox view of Upton in such a thorough and objective manner that it will likely remain the definitive biography of Upton.

New biographies benefit from the recent scholarship, and much ink has been spilled since the 1960s. Fitzpatrick incorporates the best of a range of Civil War and Gilded Age scholarship, but this biography is particularly enriched by Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr.’s exhaustively researched history of the regiment Upton commanded from 1862-1863.

The other notable new source material comes from a previously overlooked collection of letters between Upton and his wife, Emily Martin. Though the relationship of Emory and Emily did not match the personal or intellectual depth of that between Carl and Marie von Clausewitz, the Uptons’ letters do add a poignant human aspect reminiscent of Vanya Eftimova Bellinger’s excellent biography, Marie von Clausewitz.

The heart of this biography, however, is the account of Upton’s career as a military reformer from the end of the Civil War until his suicide in 1881. Upton dabbled in several fields—tactics, professional education, personnel policy, and military organization—but his work had a coherence because he instinctively grasped the interconnections among these disparate topics. For instance, tactics fit for well-trained regulars might not be suitable for a hastily trained army of volunteers. Each aspect of an army’s organization, leadership, equipment, and tactics had to fit into a coherent whole—none could be taken in isolation.

A critical factor enabling this unity was the overwhelming influence of the Civil War on Upton. He had no involvement in frontier constabulary duty, and so remained focused on what today we would call the “most dangerous” rather than the “most likely” contingency. The reader can determine whether this was a strength or weakness, but it did allow an admirable internal coherence to his reforms meant to prepare the army for a war employing large volunteer armies. Over the course of his career, Upton sought to improve tactics, military policy, education, and personnel systems. In 1878, he advanced his most ambitious proposal, a system of regional depots serving both regular and volunteer units. This system would provide some peacetime training for citizen-soldier officers and non-commissioned officers. For regular officers, Upton advocated an expanded and more rigorous system of professional schools paired with frequent rotation through assignments to prepare them for whatever role the chance of war might thrust upon them. Upton’s other great cause was the limitation of political influence on the army.

It is natural to assume influential thinkers are necessarily imaginative, but Fitzpatrick notes this was not the case with Upton. His ideas were firmly rooted in his Civil War experiences. What set Upton apart as a thinker was the critical detachment that allowed him to more objectively view the accomplishments of the Union Army than many of his peers. He knew that trained volunteers became excellent soldiers in time, but they did not start out that way. Upton’s goal was to completely avoid a repeat of muddle he experienced in the summer of 1861 as the Union army formed and fought in a slapdash manner.

Throughout Upton, Fitzpatrick offers criticism when warranted. Much of this centers upon Upton’s unfinished Military Policy of the United States, which was published posthumously in 1904 at the direction of reforming Secretary of War Elihu Root. As already noted, Upton was aware of the failings of Union generalship. His private correspondence contains criticisms of generals “not fit to be corporals,” while the recommendations for reform in his earlier report of the tour of foreign armies (1878) are an implicit criticism of high command and staff work during the war.[4] But in Military Policy, Upton muted these criticisms of regulars. He hoped the work would inspire Congress to establish a framework for the rapid mobilization of effectively integrated armies of professional and citizen-soldiers organized by the federal government. To make this case, Upton deliberately overstated the past effectiveness of regular army officers and units.

These flaws in Military Policy contributed to the later misunderstanding of Upton’s ideas. Though elsewhere in word and deed he had made clear the requirements for a successful military leader, complacent regulars could see in Military Policy “proof” of their inherent superiority. This feeling did not originate with Upton, which existed even before he came into the army. Fitzpatrick notes that as a cadet in the 1850s, Upton was socialized into this already prevalent way of thinking. Nonetheless, by providing such a comprehensive, forceful articulation of the sentiment, Upton’s work (copies of the unfinished manuscript circulated the army in the two decades before its publication) became a totem and enabler of the regulars’ sense of entitlement without instilling a corresponding sense of responsibility.

The regulars’ snobbery repulsed John MacAuley Palmer (West Point 1899), a contrarian army officer, writer, and reformer who wanted a system of universal military service. Just as Upton had fallen prey to the polemicist’s temptation of distorting oversimplification, Palmer did the same to Upton, charging that he had tried to introduce foreign, mainly German, ideas into American military policy. This claim was ironic as Upton wanted to alter the American volunteer system while Palmer’s main inspirations were the Swiss and Australian militia systems. Nonetheless, Palmer claimed Upton hated citizen-soldiers, and the idea took root.

Too often we are ignorant of the origins and take for granted many aspects of military training, education, doctrine, leadership, and organization.

Beginning in the 1950s but continuing throughout his long career, Weigley took up and expanded Palmer’s critique, adding an anti-democratic hatred of civilian authority to Upton’s alleged sins. Upton did want to reduce the power of the secretary of war, but Fitzpatrick situates these ideas within the context of the Civil War and Gilded Age; in short, the origins of Upton’s thoughts were American and far more complex than the alleged desire to replicate Prussian militarism. Nonetheless, once again, Upton’s books served as a useful and easily cited symbol for a larger, diffuse feeling far bigger than Upton. Unfortunately, in using Upton as his exemplar, Weigley erred twice. He misstated the general mood of the late-nineteenth-century army, claiming it was sunk in “Uptonian pessimism;”[5] and in his portrayal of Upton, Weigley vastly oversimplified Upton’s work.

Ambrose’s biography perpetuated the main elements of the Weigley interpretation. This is odd, for while Weigley’s subject was the entire history of the U.S. Army and so a certain lack of fidelity regarding individuals could be expected, Ambrose was a biographer. His role was to provide a full, nuanced appreciation of his subject. Unfortunately, he did not. Thankfully, David Fitzpatrick has succeeded. Too often we are ignorant of the origins and take for granted many aspects of military training, education, doctrine, leadership, and organization. By understanding the hard-experience that gave rise to these foundational aspects of the military profession, there is still plenty of opportunity to continue Upton’s work in improving it.


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Some Reviews

Upton’s Regulars Review

Recently I opened the Amazon page selling my book Upton’s Regulars and discovered these remarkable reviews of which I had been previously unaware.  Since I don’t have an agent, I thought I would post them on my blog which I haven’t use much this year or last.

“As Cilella explores in this book, the common soldiers of the regiment offer a remarkable look at the ordeal of the conflict.”

—Army History

“A complex and very valuable work for anyone with an interest in the Civil War, the soldier’s experience of war, and the veteran.”

—New York Military Affairs Symposium

“One of the most detailed, scholarly treatments of a volunteer Civil War regiment ever produced. . . . A distinguished contribution to the regimental history shelf in particular and Civil War literature in general.”

—Blue & Gray Magazine

“A rich portrait of one of the war’s more celebrated regiments. . . . This is an important piece of scholarship that deserves the attention of any serious student of the American Civil War.*”

—Journal of Military History

“This is a veritable tour de force of lucid prose and primary source research that raises the bar significantly for future regimental histories. . . . The author mined the letters and diaries of over 120 of the regiment’s members in order to tell their tale. And what a story it is! . . . A first-rate work that should appeal to anyone with an interest in regimentals in general and New York units in particular. Highly recommended.”

—Civil War News

“This detailed and thoroughly researched tome is narrative history at its finest. . . . This monumental work is sure to be the standard reference on the 121st New York Infantry for the foreseeable future.”

—New York History

“One of the most complete Civil War regimental histories to come down the pike in quite some time. It is reminiscent of the turn of the century unit histories that were written by the veterans themselves in terms of size and scope. … Cilella utilizes the letters, diaries, and memoirs of over one hundred and twenty officers and enlisted men from Otsego and Herkimer counties in upstate New York to tell the fascinating story of men at war; their thoughts and opinions on just about every subject that is germane to them, from local gossip to their reasons for fighting in the first place…. Cilella uses a good mix of narrative and contemporary sources to create a compelling story of the experiences of the common citizen soldier in the Civil War. This is a must read for anyone interested in the period.”

—The Past in Review

“Narrative history at its finest. . . . This monumental work is sure to be the standard history of the 121st New York Infantry for the foreseeable future.”

—The Freeman’s Journal (Cooperstown NY)

“Few are the new regimental histories of the Civil War that go much beyond battlefield actions and the casualties list. Cilella presents this upstate New York units history from the men’s point of view, from recruitment to discharge and beyond. Using diaries and letters, we get not only the story of their extensive role in 25 engagements of the Civil War, but also the soldiers views of just about everything slavery, politics, family, the officers who led them, and their friends who served beside them expressed either around the campfire or in a letter. A throwback to the regimental histories compiled in the 19th century but with even more attention to the men on the ground, this is a very readable and informative volume; highly recommended.”

—Library Journal (starred review)

“This is an evocative, engaging, and often exciting portrait of a regiment that has been probed by historians before—but never with such a fine brew of deep scholarship and skillful writing, and never with such perception about not only military life, but also the political and social forces behind the lines. Salvatore Cilella has made a unique and highly readable contribution to Civil War literature.”

—Harold Holzer, Co-chairman, U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

“In a powerful and moving narrative, Cilella examines the men who served in the 121st New York infantry, from their rural backgrounds through vigorous warfare. This well documented study also explores how the survivors, only one-fourth of those who joined up, lived after the war. This book not only takes its place among the best of regimental histories, it serves as a model for the kinds of studies needed to understand the transformation of a war to preserve the union to one committed to a new birth of freedom.”

—Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln

“Cilella provides a remarkably full account of the 121st’s soldiers and their circumstances as they enlist, train, march off, and experience three years of the Civil War. His research on their experiences and attitudes is impressive, even amazing. Well written, informative, and analytical, it’s everything an excellent regimental history should be. I strongly recommend it.”

—Steven Woodworth, author of Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861–1865

“Cilella wonderfully captures the experience of the common man in the Civil War as represented by those who were part of the campaigns of New York’s 121st Infantry.”

—D. Stephen Elliott, President and CEO, New York State Historical Association and The Farmers’ Museum

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William Remmel, 121st New York. Lost at Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864

Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr.

During the summer of 1862 William Remmel turned nineteen years old. An intelligent, sensitive boy who respected and loved his parents, Remmel became a devoted hard working student to whom learning came easily. He deeply valued his education, a trait he learned from his German born parents who settled in Fulton County just east of Herkimer County.   In 1854, when fire destroyed the family home the family moved west, just over the line into Herkimer County to the village of Devereaux.

William and his four brothers were sent to Fairfield Academy or Seminary for their education. Founded in 1803 and located ten miles from the village of Herkimer, the school “noted for its beauty of scenery, and pleasantness as a Summer Residence” employed ten teachers for its 389 students in 1859. Its administration managed an annual budget of $14,000 per year—the sixth largest in the state including New York City schools. Fairfield received $600 per year from the New York Board of regents from a pool of $40,000 in the Literature Fund in a statewide competition. The academy’s courses ranged from Latin and the classical languages to biology and oil painting. Unaffiliated with any particular religion, the school offered a business course or college preparatory for men and a five year course for women comparable to a college degree. It gave “special attention” to those “preparing for college. Peculiar advantages for music and oil painting,” the school’s brochure explained.   Tuition for “Common English” was $4 per semester; “Higher English” cost a dollar more, ancient languages were $6.   In addition to the basic fees, school supplies were charged as needed.   Room and board cost $4.75 per term.

As a student William Remmel exploited every opportunity to support his tuition and other expenses at school.   The summer term ran from March 26 through July 2d in 1862. During that time, he busied himself with schoolwork with the hope that improved writing skills would allow him to teach.   He received no financial assistance from the school or from home: his schoolwork depended on his labor in summer and winter breaks. Very much on his own, William searched for work in the area around school. In February of 1862, he survived a bout with the measles, missed classes, but returned to make them up successfully. During the winter of 1861-1862 he earned $20 dollars and the school promised to hire him during the coming semester. He assured his parents that he would be home for only a week and needed to return to school to earn money for the next term.[1]

The progressive school catered to families of influential means and to boys like Remmel regardless of a family’s financial condition. The school ultimately contributed many men and boys to Herkimer County’s manpower needs of the war and particularly to the 121st.   Although Remmel rarely spoke of his school mates, the 121st became home to Adam Clarke Rice, Fred Ford, Wilbur Lamberson, all from Fairfield; Thomas Arnold, from Herkimer and Angus Cameron who enrolled at Mohawk—all Fairfield Seminary students at one time.   Rice, Ford and Cameron were staunch antislavery men. All were mustered into Company C and every one of them perished during the war. [2]

In the March-July term, Remmel returned to take Geometry and Trigonometry while “sweeping halls and splitting wood” while living frugally—“sometimes I do not have a penny in my purse,” he told his parents. Occasionally, his parents would send him a dollar or two along with a special medicinal “syrup” for his vague “anxiety attacks.” That summer he sought work in the Fairfield area with the hope of wages higher “than near home.” On July 6, four days after school closed for the summer, he found work with a farmer a mile from Fairfield. It offered the hope of making $20 to $35 providing enough money for yet another fall term beginning August 22. His parents, now back in Fulton County fully expected William to return to school for the fall semester.

The next letter his parents received dated August 31 and postmarked New York City came not from a student, but from Private William Remmel, a member of Company I, the 121st New York Volunteer Regiment. His letters implied that he was lured from his studies by the several bounties and soldier’s pay to join the army. The previous spring his father refused his plea to answer Lincoln’s first call for 75,000 men. Remmel threatened his father that if another call came, he would answer it. His decision to join without telling his parents was probably done for money. He traveled alone to Camp Schuyler. Unaware of his actions, William’s parents did not travel to camp to see him off.[3]

William Remmel found that the heat, which withered many did not bother him. He told his parents that he actually enjoyed himself at Herkimer and could not wait to get “to the seat of war.” He too sat for “embrotypes” (sic) which he sent home with friends.

William Remmel’s parents did not make the trip from Fairfield to see him off. The boy who worked on a farm in upstate New York a few months earlier and a serious student before that, described the scene at the Mohawk train station once he arrived in New York—“I am writing to you from the largest city in America,” he began. “Many were the tears shed by relatives and friends at our parting and there could be seen in the faces of all an expression of deep sorrow at the moment of our departure.”

William Remmel, just coming off a convalescent leave at home, delayed in re-joining the 121st in Washington because of the raid.   He spent two days in Philadelphia when Early attacked the rail lines between Baltimore and Philadelphia. He reported a “great excitement” in town as he cooled his heels waiting to reach the 121st.[4]

Cedar Creek

William Remmel disappeared. As the 121st pulled back on the ridge with Lamb’s battery, “the enemy was so close upon us,” Clinton Beckwith wrote, “that we were obliged to abandon the effort” to recover the wounded “and they fell into the hands of the enemy.”   One of the five missing or captured listed in the official returns, Remmel fell unseen. The next day, John Hartwell led a detail to look for the dead and the wounded—specifically “for three of our boys still missing.”   He reported that hundreds of the dead remained unburied many of whom had been “stripped stark naked” by the ladies of Middletown. He claimed that many of the wounded were murdered after surrendering and all were “robbed of everything even to a penny pocket comb.”   William Remmel was not found.

James McCurry was on the burying detail the next day. Everyone was up at “sunrise all busily burying the dead.” The 121st initially carried Remmel among the missing, but eventually changed his status to “killed in action.”   For years his family hoped he had spent the last few months of his life at Andersonville.   Eyewitnesses reported seeing him there.   Well into the 20th century, his sister vainly tried to determine his fate. She held out hope to the end that he would be found alive and return to his family. By war’s end, most presumed he died at Cedar Creek. A year earlier Remmel wrote his brother that he was as fit and tough as ever. He fully expected to complete his three year term of enlistment “if some careless bullet does not waylay me.”[5]

Eyewitness accounts by members of the 121st New York corroborated Jubal Early’s description of Confederate plundering of the Union camps.   One veteran of the battle wrote year’s later that the rebels “were gorging themselves on the luxuries found in our abandoned camps when Sheridan took the offensive.” Besides the testimony of the cruel treatment John Douw received, John Ingraham wrote home a few days after the battle describing the dire situation the wounded encountered after the battle.   Both Douw and Burrell were robbed. The rebel soldiers “took about 100 dollars in greenbacks and a gold watch from” Burrell, “and even the rings off his fingers. Robbed him of everything he had but the clothes he had on. They took a large amount of money from Captain Douw. They robbed all of our boys that fell in their hands wounded. They took 53 dollars…from Mert(on) Tanner and his photographs. He begged of them to let him have them but they would not.” Most of the survivors of the 121st were reluctant to tell William Remmel’s sister the truth. He probably had been stripped and robbed either as he was dying or dead—making his identification impossible if he received a disfiguring wound.[6]

For years after the war, William Remmel’s family, particularly his sister, Ada Remmel Benson tirelessly pursued his fate.   She tried desperately to accept the notion that he survived the initial Federal rout at Cedar Creek but languished in Andersonville where he died.   By 1910 she admitted that “he probably died there.” She remained convinced that his comrades identified him at the infamous prison on December 16, 1864—in tatters.   Frank Mumford, in Company E was wounded at Cedar Creek. He swore that he and William stood in line together at Andersonville.   Mumford said that they were taken first to Libby prison where they were held for a month. Supposedly, Mumford tried to talk to him but Remmel would not engage in conversation.   From Mumford, Ada learned that William’s head wound healed and the wound in his arm became gangrenous.

Sporadically throughout the remainder of the century, Ada and her family wrote members of Company I and anyone else who would listen, to determine what happened to her brother.   Adelbert Jaycox told Ada that he “always supposed William was killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek”…and coldly added, “Never heard anything different.” Treat Young, another Company I soldier imprisoned at Andersonville until he returned to the regiment in November of 1864, reported that Remmel was wounded and missing, “but no one knew positively” if he was “killed or taken prisoner.”   Young never saw Remmel there.   Young was wounded at the Wilderness. A report passed on to his wife and family indicated that he had been killed. Even the church bells tolled noting his “passing.” No one knew differently until he returned from Andersonville.   He advised Ada to pray for guidance and relief from her anxiety.

Another company mate John Willsey, who knew the Remmel brothers, adamantly insisted that William was not taken prisoner “for he died on the field.”   Merton Tanner, Cyrus Westcott, E. W. Ostrander, Charles Downing, and Charles Merrill all gently responded to her with conflicting reports of his fate.   Egbert Olcott referred the Remmel family to Washington with no answers.   The Christian Commission after searching its records suggested that William might have been wounded and sent to a hospital.

John Kidder responded from New York City to the family in an undated six page letter on Port Warden’s stationery (probably 1888 since he thanked her for her $3 contribution to the Gettysburg monument) that the Remmel family should be allowed some pension money. He explained that he was granted convalescent leave when the regiment reported William “lost” at Cedar Creek.   He guessed that father Remmel might be eligible for William’s last two military pays and any back bounty. In a postscript, Kidder told the family of William’s valor and his “exalted opinion” of him. Kidder’s language left no question that he understood that William died at Cedar Creek. In the next decade, on unsigned and undated Port Warden stationery entitled “List of men of the 121st who died in the Service (Civil War)” John Kidder recapitulated the war and its toll on the 121st New York.   In four categories he listed the names of those who died from disease, those who were accidentally killed, those killed in action and those who died since the war’s end. For those killed in action, he listed the place and date. Kidder listed Remmel as killed at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864.   He harbored no doubts that Remmel was killed in action and did not languish in Andersonville.[7]

In the spirit of reconciliation, Ada Remmel Benson knew that if her brother was still living, “he would cherish towards the southern soldier the same kindly, warm, loving and magnanimous spirit that is cherished by the survivors of the blue and gray.”   Brother Caleb joined the 121st in September 1864 at age 18.   Assigned to Company I, he was badly wounded in the head above the right ear, in front of Petersburg at Fort Fisher on April 2, 1865. Joe Heath saw him fall but left him for dead. He recovered but his wound caused him numbness and other untold maladies for the rest of his life. He married in 1878.   After moving west to Indiana, he and his new bride lived on his $4 per month government pension and as a railroad engineer. He died in 1887.[8]

Robert Bradshaw shared William Remmel’s story. The latter enlisted with Company E as a transfer from the 18th New York after Salem Church and according to once source; he fell at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 10, 1864.   Another source indicated that he died at the Wilderness five days earlier. A conflicting family narrative passed down to later generations insisted that Bradshaw, like Remmel, died at Andersonville on either August 15 or 24, 1864 and laid to rest there in grave 6685.[9]

[1]French, Gazetteer, 125-134.

[2] Rice, The Letters and Writings of the Late Lieutenant Adam Clarke Rice of the 121st Regiment, N. Y.Volunteers (Little Falls: Journal and Courier Book and Printing Press, 1864), 5. Hereafter Rice, Letters.

 [3] The William Remmel Papers, Letters and Papers, 1862-1924. Manuscript Collection 597. Folders 1 and 13, Special Collections, UAL, Fayetteville. Hereafter cited as Remmel, Papers.   Remmel’s letters are replete with mentions of money or the lack of it. In his letter from New York as the train was leaving from Herkimer and Little Falls, he mentions giving more than $75 to different friends to be passed on to his parents; 1910 Reunion Report, Ada Remmel Benson, letter to C. J. Westcott, August 4, 1910, 14.

 [4]Remmel, letters, to his parents, July 21, 1864.

[5]James McCurry, diary entry, October 20, 1864; William Remmel, letters, to his brother, Augustus, October 28, 1863; Hartwell, Ibid, diary entry, 20 October, 1864, letters to his wife, October 20 and 25, 1864, 300-304.

 [6]Keith S. Bohannon, “’The Fatal Halt’ versus ‘Bad Conduct’ John B. Gordon, Jubal Early and the Battle of Cedar Creek,” in Gary W. Gallagher, The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 56-84; Horatio C. King, “The Battle of Cedar Creek,” A Paper read December 3, 1883. Personal Recollections of the War of the Rebellion: Addresses Delivered Before the New York Commandery, MOLLUS 1883-1891. Edited by J. G. Wilson and T. M. Coan, M. D. (New York: Published by the Commandery, 1891). Reprint by the Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, North Carolina, 1992). Vol. I, 37. Ingraham, Letters, to this parents, October 23, 1864. Early used a battalion to the clear the camps of rebel plunderers “and drive the men to their commands.” Later he learned the problem was larger than he first understood it causing him to send all of his “staff officers who could be spared to stop it….” Jubal Early, Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek,” B&L, IV, 528.

 [7] Remmel, letters, 1865-1897, letter Adelbert Jaycox to Ada Benson, February 7, 1897; letter to Ada, fromTreat Young, January 16, 1907; letter to Caleb from Olcott, August 25, 1865 from Richfield Springs; letterto Caleb from Colonel N. P. Chapman, Judge Advocate, Military Commission, Washington, September 24,1865; letter to Caleb from William Clayton, Delegate of the Christian Commission, November 16, 1866from Winchester, West Virginia; NARA, 1910 Reunion Report, letter Ada Remmel Benson to C. J.Westcott, August 4, 1910, 15; William Remmel, Military and Pension Records.   Kidder’s list is in the Manuscript Department of the NYSHA Library, Miscellaneous Manuscripts:“List of men of the 121st whodied in the Service (Civil War) handwritten on Stationery of the Board of Port Wardens, New York, 189_”.

[8]NARA, Caleb Remmel, Military and Pension records. Caleb died of a puss abscess on August 13, 1887 in Peru, Indiana.

[9];; Annual Report, 1903, NYSAG, #36, 19.

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   Upton’s Star

Recently, National Park Service ranger Eric Mink at the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania Battlefield Park, posted a blog regarding Major General Emory Upton’s promotion after the battle of Spotsylvania Court House.  The blog was prompted by a visitor’s question, which noted that a monument dedicated in 2002 to the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery at Cold Harbor, recorded Upton as a Colonel. Upton had led the ill-fated attack on the Salient at Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864. Based on Upton’s exploit, two days later, General Grant ordered an all out assault on the salient that rivaled in savagery all preceding battles. It provoked an eighteen hour melee in an unrelenting rainstorm producing a bloody, muddy quagmire. How was it that Upton was still a colonel two weeks later when we have it on the authority of two reliable witnesses that Upton was promoted on the field May 11, the next day?

The most prominent authority was U. S. Grant. Writing in his memoirs in 1885 he asserted that he had authority to make battlefield promotions:

“Upton brought his prisoners with him, but the guns he had captured he was obliged to abandon. Upton had gained an important advantage, but a lack in others of the spirit and dash possessed by him lost it to us. Before leaving Washington I had been authorized to promote officers on the field for special acts of gallantry. By this authority I conferred the rank of brigadier-general upon Upton on the spot, and this act was confirmed by the President. Upton had been badly wounded in this fight.”[1]

On May 13, Grant recorded a lull in the fighting and contradicted his assertion that he promoted Upton in the field. Taking advantage of the inaction, Grant recorded that he “wrote to Washington recommending Sherman and Meade for promotion” along with Hancock, Wright, Gibbon and Humphreys and “Upton and Carroll to be Brigadiers. Upton had already been named as such, but the appointment had to be confirmed by the Senate on the nomination of the President.”[2]      Grant included a copy of his letter to Stanton dated the 13th as documentation of his actions that day. It is interesting that he singled Upton out as “already…named.” Stanton replied via telegram the next day. He reported that Wright, Humphreys, Schofield, and Wilson had been nominated and confirmed two days earlier. “The Brigadiers you name shall be appointed.”[3] On May 15, Stanton telegraphed Grant: “There are eight vacancies for Brigadier Generals. If you deem it expedient to promote any officer on the field for gallant conduct you are authorized to do so provisionally and your appointment will be sanctioned by the President and sent to the Senate.”[4]

In addition, General Meade wrote to Washington on the 13th presenting officers for immediate promotion for their “distinguished services in the battles of the ‘Wilderness’ and ‘Spotsylvania CH’” including Upton.[5]

A second source for the saga of Upton’s promotion to Brigadier comes to us in a convoluted way. It substantiates Grant’s claim of battlefield authority, but because the narrative was written after 1885, it may rely on Grant’s Memoirs and not an eyewitness. On the other hand, the account is so richly detailed, that it compels the reader to admit some authenticity.

The account comes from Brevet Major General Martin T. McMahon, a Medal of Honor winner and aide-de-camp to General George McClellan during the war. After the war, McMahon became a lawyer and New York City’s corporate counsel. He served as U. S. Minister to Paraguay from 1868 to 1869.   After serving various private and public offices, McMahon became a member of the New York Assembly in 1891 and then the State Senate from 1892 to 1895. In 1896, he was elected Judge of the Court of General Sessions which a held until his death in 1906.[6] In 1893, McMahon introduced a bill into the New York State Senate establishing a three-man commission to cooperate with the United States Monument Commission to lay out Chickamauga Park and mark the disposition of New York troops.[7] His narrative of Upton’s battlefield promotion reached the public through Isaac O. Best’s Upton’s Regulars: History of the 121st New York Volunteers published in 1921, sixty years after the war began.[8]

Best wrote his history using several sources, but he relied heavily on one source—the memoirs of Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, a private in Company B, 121st NY. Best, writing in his foreword cited regimental records, regimental and brigade commander reports, diaries of several books already published covering the same events. Beckwith gave Best “permission to quote ad libitum from” his “memoir/diary/account.”[9]

Beckwith’s memoirs appeared in serial form in the Mohawk Democrat (Mohawk, NY) beginning on July 5, 1893 and concluding July 4, 1894. The publisher and Beckwith sounded the same refrain. Beckwith recounted that he had been asked on many occasions “ to write a story, giving army experiences from my own standpoint, and having at various times read different histories of the later war, and reminiscences of comrades, published in many various” sources which seemed “so different from my own and seemed so unnatural, strained and stilted, that I have concluded to write in all its stages, as experienced by myself.”[10]

The “memoir,” thirty years after the fact was based almost primarily on Beckwith’s memory. During the war he kept a diary but as he affirmed in his pension petition, he left his bible and diary along with his knapsack and blanket in preparation of an assault at Mine Run in December 1863. When the ill-advised attack was cancelled, Beckwith returned to his camp “we found our knapsacks and blankets had been overhauled and my Bible and papers were missing.” [11]

Included in Beckwith’s narrative, which Best used virtually verbatim, was Beckwith’s encounter with McMahon. Best did not explain how Beckwith knew or interacted with McMahon, nor did Beckwith. Beckwith wrote: “Since the war I have had the pleasure upon many occasions to meet the gallant soldier, who was chief of Gen. Wright’s staff at the time the assault at Spottsylvania, under Gen. Upton, was made, and the following account of the inception, organization and execution of the battle is from his own lips, and was told me by him recently, and in answer to some inquiries I had been making of him…”[12]

At first it seems implausible that a private in Upton’s regiment, who had been reduced to the ranks after being promoted to corporal, i. e., Beckwith; would know or have the occasion to speak with a former Brevet Major General and later Medal of Honor winner; McMahon. The connection came through politics and the New York Monuments Commission. Beckwith and McMahon were both loyal Democrats, a rarity after the war in the north. Beckwith had made a name for himself as a building contractor earning several state construction contracts. McMahon had introduced civil war military monument legislation in 1893. At the same time, New York State Governor Roswell P. Flower appointed Beckwith to the commission and gave him an honorary title of “colonel.” Eventually Beckwith would be the Chairman of the Commission overseeing monuments to New York Troops at Antietam and General Wadsworth at Gettysburg.[13] His obituary called Civil War veteran Beckwith “ a dominant power in Herkimer County politics and of considerable prominence in Democratic political circles” in the state.[14]

Beckwith went into considerable detail with McMahon’s narrative. Half way through his weekly columns, in January 1894, Beckwith began the saga of Upton’s attack on the Salient, May 10, 1864. He devoted his entire January 31 column to McMahon’s version of how Upton won his star, which Best copied word for word in his History of the 121st (pp. 138-140). McMahon was certain that Upton received his star the following morning, May 11 and in one particular statement declared that Upton “cut off his eagles and we got some thread and had the stars sewed on his shoulder, and he rode directly to his command to show them his preferment.”[15] Were Beckwith and McMahon influenced by Grant’s memoirs? Undoubtedly. Beckwith admitted as such: “General Grant, in his memoirs, mentions its commander (Upton) and it (the 121st NY Volunteers), an honor great because no other regiment was mentioned.”[16]

The documentary evidence convincingly refutes the assertions made by Grant that he promoted Upton on the battlefield and McMahon’s that Upton’s impromptu act of cutting off his eagles and replacing them with his stars actually happened. Grant’s is probably closer to what actually happened. He probably did promise Upton he would promote him, but did he have the authority to do so before he left Washington? It would not be out of the realm of possibility that Stanton or Lincoln told Grant that he would have as much leeway in control of his command as possible without interference from Washington.

The two issues—battlefield authority and the actual conferring of the promotion on Upton, demand re-statement here for context and continuity. Eric Mink has ably demonstrated the chain of evidence in his blog mentioned above. Several private and military individuals lobbied for Upton’s promotion. In April 1864 Upton told his sister Maria “General Meade has informed me that without ‘political’ influence, I will never be promoted. Although the rank of a general may never be conferred on me, yet I hope to leave my friends abundant proof that I earned the honor, but that it was unjustly withheld.”[17]

Upton claimed that he first saw his promotion in a letter to Maria:

“Headquarters, 2nd Brigade, June 7, 1864

My dear sister Maria,

Your letters of May 29th and June 30 are received.

I first saw my promotion in the papers on June 1st.   I was very glad; for, two hours after, as I wrote you, we went into action.

I am disposed to think that it will be better in the end for me to have received my promotion at this late date. The reasons for my promotion are gratifying to any soldier.

It will be entered upon the records of the War Department that I was promoted for “gallant and distinguished services” a record that will help me through life, and one of which you will be far more proud than had it been conferred simply for political reasons.

Ames and Kilpatrick rank me, but today I would not exchange my reputation for theirs and I am sure that I have more friends for it is contrary to the instincts of all regular officers to seek promotion through political influence.”[18]


As Mink has convincingly shown, the Senate in executive session, approved Upton’s promotion dated May 28, 1864 effective May 12, “for gallant and distinguished services in the eight days battles in the Old Wilderness and at Spottsylvania Court House”, not for the attack on the Salient.[19] Upton wrote to Maria on June 4 that “I have been constantly in command of the 2nd Brigade. The officers of the 1st Brigade have petitioned to have me made a Brigadier General and assigned to that Brigade, but it was not done.”[20]

By mid-July, Upton had still not received his promotion. In a letter of apology, Samuel Fletcher Chalfin, the Assistant AG, wrote on July 15, 1864: “I have the honor to inform you that in consequence of the delay, at the War Office, in forwarding your commission as Brigadier General, the Secretary of War has directed that you be credited with acceptance as of June 19, 1864, the date at which the commission would probably have reached you by due course of mail.”[21] Upton’s commission is dated June 9, 1864.[22] Mysteriously, Upton signed and dated his Oath of Office for the rank of Brigadier, July 1, 1864. Writing in 1885, Grant’s erstwhile confidant, Adam Badeau published his three volume military history of Grant and hewed the party line. After Spotsylvania, Badeau wrote: “Next day (May 11), he (Upton) was named a brigadier-general, having won his spurs on the field.” And then a few pages later: “the day after the battle, Grant nominated Wright, Gibbon, and Humphreys, major-generals, and Carroll and Upton, brigadiers.”[23]

What of the comment that Upton made makeshift stars and paraded around to let his troops see it? There is no evidence that it happened. If it had, surely one of the men in the regiment or the brigade would have written about it. Remarkably, the two witnesses who were closest to Upton never mentioned it. Isaac O. Best, the author of the 121st’s history, never served with the regiment when he was transferred from the 16th New York in May 1863. He was immediately detailed to clerical duty in the office of Adjutant General of the 2nd Brigade. Upton was made commander of the 2nd two months later. Best bragged that the “position gave him the advantage of a close observer—for all the orders from the higher authorities and all the reports of the brigade and regimental commanders passed under his hand, and he was able to estimate more fully the character of the services rendered, and the estimation in which those services were held by the superior officers.” [24]

Upton’s adjutant though most of the war, Francis W. Morse, writing in his memoirs in 1866 cites the official promotion order honoring Upton for his “meritorious and gallant conduct during the battles of the Wilderness and for the Battle of Spottsylvania Court House, on the 12th of May 1864.” There is no mention of the assault on the Salient.[25] In a letter to Major Henry Galpin of the 121st NY dated May 30, he refers to Upton as a Colonel. [26] Upton’s promotion was mentioned by John Lovejoy of the 121st as early as May 17, but not for his heroics on the 10th at the Salient: “Our Colonel was promoted to General for saving the battle on the 12th.”[27] On May 30, Commander of Company I, John Kidder convalescing in an Annapolis hospital, explaining to his wife the attack on the salient, referred to Upton as “General.”[28] On June 7, Captain James Cronkite, acting commander of Company I, referred to Upton as “colonel.”[29]

Daniel Holt, surgeon in the 121st, a man who commented on practically everything, referred to Upton as early as May 14th and again on June 1st as “General” in letters to his wife.[30] The Reverend John R. Adams, the 121st’s chaplain wrote his wife on June 9 describing the overland campaign: “General Sedgwick, he was killed—a noble officer, and a great favorite in the army. Wright is his successor, and Colonel Upton is made brigadier.”[31] John Hartwell, a sergeant in the 121st told his wife on May 16 that the regiment was being relieved after a long slog. “In the afternoon had Brigade Inspection by Gen. Upton. He was very pleasant to us and found no fault but tried to encourage all.” Two weeks later, at Cold Harbor on June 1, Hartwell reported that the “enemy were driven out of their breastworks from a charge made by Gen. Upton with the first Division.” And again on June 23: “I went with 10 men to guard Gen. Upton’s HQuarters.”[32]

The Fifth Maine was a part of Upton’s Brigade and two of its members recorded the events of the day. One supports McMahon’s narrative, the other makes no mention of Upton’s promotion. Company E’s Corporal William Holmes Morse’s diary is most revealing. His entry for May 16, 1864 reads: “Colonel Upton makes his appearance with a star on his shoulder. He has had command of our brigade for some time, and is now sure enough a brigadier general.” Unfortunately, Morse took the shorthand original diaries and transcribed them into a ledger book. The author/editor of the published “diaries” William Caynor admits in his introduction that Morse “was constantly perfecting his experiences through time in order to publish his diary.” As he transcribed the original diaries, Morse “continued to integrate more experiences to his diary” that were obviously not in the original. Morse died in 1900 so he potentially had access to Grant’s, Badeau’s and possibly even McMahon’s version in Beckwith’s narrative of the 121st NY.   The latter is extremely likely since the 121st and the 5th Maine formed a strong camaraderie during the war, a relationship they continued in the post war years. [33]

The Reverend George Bicknell, official historian of the 5th Maine in Upton’s 2nd Brigade makes no mention of Upton’s charge on the salient. He wrote of the “brilliant results of the charges of the Second Corps on the morning of the twelfth,” when “General Upton sent orders to the regimental commanders to impart the glorious news to the boys who were then on the march to aid in establishing a new line.” Bicknell’s history was published in 1871 and he was undoubtedly unconcerned about Upton’s rank.[34]

What then, are we to make of the story of Upton’s promotion? Grant probably did not have “official” authority to make battlefield promotions until May 13—three days after the charge on the salient. When he wrote his memoirs in the early 1880’s, he did remember Upton as he singled him out in his narrative. Why remains a mystery. Why didn’t close associates Francis Morse and Isaac Best make note of it? As for McMahon’s elaborate, detailed account; he probably did promise Upton a promotion, as Wright and Meade probably did, but his story of the new stars replacing the colonel’s eagles and Upton showing them off to his men, is just not true. Questions remain as to why he shared the story with Beckwith; did he ever relate the story to anyone else; what were his motives; did he ever leave an account in his own hand; if so, has it survived?

[1]Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, New York: Charles Webster Co., II, 224-225. Hereafter Grant, Memoirs.

[2] Grant, Memoirs, 234-235.

[3]The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Mississippi State: Mississippi State University, Vol. 10, January 1-May 31, 1864, 435-436. Hereafter, Grant Papers.

[4]Grant Papers, 436.

[5]Grant Papers, 437.

[6]The New York Times, April 22 and 25, 1906.   Hereafter NYT.

[7]NYT, April 10, 1893. The following year, McMahon introduced a bill to establish a monument to Baron Steuben in Steuben County at the cost of $25,000. NYT, February 8, 1894.

[8]Isaac O. Best, History of the 121st New York State Infantry, Chicago: James H. Smith, 1921. Hereafter, Best, 121st.

[9]Best, 121st, v-vi.

[10]Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, “Three Years With the Colors of a Fighting Regiment in the Army of the Potomac, By a Private Soldier,” Mohawk Democrat, July 5, 1893. Hereafter Beckwith, Colors.

[11]National Archives Building, RG 94, Pension Records. Affidavit, May 12, 1913. Hereafter NAB.

[12]Beckwith, Colors, January 24, 1894.

[13]Beckwith Obituary, Herkimer Telegram-Record, February 9, 1926 and Herkimer Telegram-Record, September 14, 1920. Wadsworth’s statue was dedicated October 6, 1914.

[14]Beckwith Obituary, Herkimer Telegram-Record, February 9, 1926.

[15]Beckwith, Colors, January 31, 1894 and Best, 121st, 139.

[16]Beckwith, Colors, June 27, 1894.

[17]Holland Land Office Museum, Batavia New York, Letter to Maria, April 10, 1864. Hereafter HLOM.

[18]HLOM. Also in Peter S. Michie, The Life and Letters of Emory Upton, Colonel of the Fourth Regiment of Artillery, and Brevet Major-general, U. S. Army, New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1885, 116. Michie heavily redacted this letter leaving out references to Adelbert Ames and Judson Kilpatrick, Upton’s classmates at West Point. Hereafter HLOM and Michie, Upton.

[19]In Executive Session, Official Copy of Confirmation to Accompany General Upton’s Commission. S. F. Chalfin Asst. Adjt. General.

[20]HLOM. Michie chose to use only one paragraph of Upton’s original letter. Michie, Upton, 108. The family provided Michie with their heavily edited and abbreviated transcript. The original in the HLOM is complete. Wilson included a portion of this letter in his Recollections, 447-448.

[21]War Department Letter, S. F. Chalfin to Upton, July 15, 1864.

[22]Cover Form/Letter to Upton from S. F. Chalfin, Asst. Adjutant General dated June 9, 1864.

[23]Adam Badeau, Military History of Ulysses S. Grant from April1861 to April 1865, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1885, 165 and 185-186. Hereafter, Badeau, Grant.

[24]Best, 121st, v.

[25]Francis W. Morse, Personal experiences in the War of the Great Rebellion from December 1862 to July 1865. Albany: Printed but not published, 1866, 88.

[26]Letter Morse to Henry Galpin enclosed in letter of John Kidder, Captain Company I, 121st NY to his wife, May 20. New York State Historical Association, 121st Collection. Hereafter NYSHA, 121st.


[27]John Lovejoy to his mother, May 17, 1864. NYSHA, 121st.

[28]Cronkite to his wife, May 30, 1864, Kidder Papers, NYSHA, 121st.

[29]James Cronkite to John Kidder, June 7, 1864, Kidder Papers. NYSHA, 121st.

[30]Dr. Daniel Holt to his wife, Sunday May 14th and Wednesday June 1st, 1864. “Copy of Letters Written by Daniel M. Holt Assistant Surgeon 121st Regiment N. Y. Vols., 2s Brigade, 1st Div. 6th Corps, Army of the Potomac, to his Wife, While in the Service of the United States, From September 1st, 1862 to October 17th, 1864 at which time he was discharged the Service because of Physical Disability.” In Herkimer County Historical Society Collections, 1867.

[31]Letter of John Ripley Adams to his wife, June 9, 1864. Adams, Memorial and Letters of Rev. John R. Adams Chaplain of the Fifth Maine and the One Hundred and Twenty-First New York Regiments During The War of Rebellion, Serving From the Beginning to its Close. Cambridge: University Press. Privately printed, 1890, 153.

[32]John F. L. to his wife, May 16, June 1, and June 23, 1864 in Hartwell, John F. L, To My beloved Wife and Boy at Home: The Letters and Diaries of Orderly Sergeant John F. L. Hartwell. Edited by Ann Hartwell Britton and Thomas J. Reed. Madison NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson, 1997, 229, 235, 242.

[33]William L. Caynor, Sr., Without a Scratch: Diary of William Holmes Morse, Color Bearer of the 5th Maine Infantry, William L. Caynor, Sr., 2007, 236.

[34]George W. Bicknell, History of the Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteers. Portland: Hall L. Davis, 1871, 321-322.


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Michael Hartford writes his last three letters of the War!

Head Quarters 121st NYS Vols

Before Petersburg, VA.

January 20, 1865

My Dear Sister Kate

It has been a long time since I received your kind letter of the 1st. Although I have neglected you, I have not forgotten you or Mother.  Soldiering may colour a man’s heart and forget there is a God sometimes, yet his heart is in the right spot, and no matter what happens to him he never forgets home and its associations.  Perhaps I might have answered yours sooner than this, but I could not do it contentedly until this afternoon and now I do not promise you a lengthy or interesting letter.  A day or so ago I wrote Bill in regard to enlisting which may surprise him considerably knowing as he did, that I always objected to his being a Soldier until the present when I urge him to go just at the time he is thinking of it.  As I – said to him then a man or boy can’t do better now than go in the Army or Navy for one year, especially if he can get $1,000 for it.

There is no news from here just now and appearances indicate that it will remain as quiet for a longer time.  Of course a salute was fired in haven of Fort Fisher and Gen’l Terry and Vice Admiral Porter, but that took only a few minutes and left as before doing nothing but sucking our thumbs, eating and sleeping.  The weather is quite moderate but is terribly rainy of late ending with the hardest rain storm I have ever seen.  Geo Elliott was over to see me a few days since looking well and apparently in good spirits at the prospect of two more years in the Army.  He seemed well posted with the affairs of Ilion.  He told me that he heard while there that my vote was rejected on election, but could not say why.  He did not know it to be so, as he was not present.  Had only heard it was so.

By the way.  What is the reason you are not as happy as you anticipated before you married.  Doesn’t En do all he can for you, or ought to do for you.  Isn’t he kind and indulgent or is he self-willed and tyrannical.  Does he use too much liquor and come home at a late hour of the night, or does he flirt or what is the trouble?  It can’t be anything very serious as you never before mentioned it to me.  Perhaps you are apt to build air castles and feel terribly grieved when they tumble to the ground.  Have you endeavored to find out where the fault is; whether with you or En.  Does he forbid you from attending parties as of yore or don’t you get enough pin money?  If not too much trouble give me a catalogue of grievances and perhaps I can prescribe a remedy.  I am sorry to hear you do not find matrimony what you expected.  But I shall not say anything more about that affair, only that I haven’t the letter you spoke of, i. e. the one En wrote me in regard to your intended marriage.  Not only that but I haven’t any letters that I have rec’d since I have been out here.  I invariably destroy them as soon as answered and shall also continue to do so as I decidedly object to having others read my private letters.

But au revoir.  Will write soon

Yours so ever       Mike D. Hartford

Richmond, Va.

May 23, 1865     9:15 PM

My Dear Sister

Ho! for home and civilization!!!  Tomorrow we bid this city farewell (I can’t say an affectionate one) yet I have fought, bled, and nearly died for it a number of times.  Neither is it all my fancy was want to paint it.  It is like the Confederacy – a failure.

As I have before said we leave here tomorrow for Washington D.C. and home.  It will take about ten days to reach Washington and as soon after as possible we are to be mustered out which will no doubt be in June.  It is thought by some that we will first go to New York before being discharged, but I’m of a different opinion.  If it was left optional with me, I would be discharged here.  I shall not describe Richmond until I an one of the World’s People.  My descriptive powers are vague with a pen and I shall not bore you with nothing, since I see such fair prospect of getting up home once again.  I am getting home sick for the first, I have always kept it down until this but know oh! my, I want to go home!  But au revoir.  Will write from National Capital next and in the mean time hope you will not let your impatience be master of you as it is of

Your brother

M D Hartford

Arlington Heights

Washington D. C.

June 3, 1865

My Dear Sister

We arrived yesterday about noon after a long tiresome march of at least 140 miles.  We were detained two days by a very severe storm at Chesterfield Station.  Our route brought us through Fredericksburg, the scene of two very cutting defeats, and found it in a bad state.  We are now encamped something like four miles from Washington, but do not expect to be able to visit it as there are no passes allowed to us enlisted men.  Have not heard when we might be mustered out.  Saw the 152nd N.Y. yesterday.  The 2nd and 5th Corps are encamped near us while Sherman’s army is laying between Baltimore and Washington.  Edwards is all right.  The letter accompanying this should have been sent from Richmond but missed the mail.  So I carried it to this point.  But au Revoir

Yours + C


Have received Jane’s letter of May 31.

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Michael Hartford rants against New York Governor Seymour and the Copperheads

Camp of the 121st NY

Nov. 4, 1864

My Dear Sister

Again have I been favored with a letter from you detailing the accounts of the Copperheads about Ilion and vicinity of which I hear so much of late.  Since my last letter to you, nothing of importance has transpired in this department and we are again settling down in our old camp from which (Confederate General Jubal) Early so unceremoniously rousted us on the morning of the 19th (of October, the Battle of Cedar Creek).  Perhaps he will try it again, but he will have to come Earlier (pun!) than before if he hopes to surprise us again.  I assure you (that) a sharp lookout is kept in the direction he is supposed to be and unless we have some very bad management he will not be allowed to approach very near unless he wants to fight.

The weather of late has been very unsettled.  High winds and frequent showers prevailing to a great extent.  The mud is also increasing making travel very difficult.  But as I don’t have to do any marching just now, I am not particular as to the weather.  As it’s less than ten months that I have to be a soldier unless I re-enlist which I think of doing.  What do you think of it?  Can I get your approval or do you think when I have served three years, I have done my share?  I don’t say I shall enlist but I think of it.  But if mother objects very strongly, I will not.

I received a letter from Mr. Merry (?) in the last mail.  He felt confident of Lincoln’s election.  By the way, what do you think of Gov. Seymour now?  He ought to be hung.  If I thought he had been changing my vote, I’m damned if I wouldn’t kill him if I lived to get home again.  A neat game that was he tried to play on Republicans.  Casting dead soldier’s votes for the Cops (copperheads).  But the game is up and the sentence of imprisonment for life is none too hard.  So Elder Groves is a Cop. too, is he?  The Old Grey headed traitor ought to be sent to Fort Lafayette until he takes the oath of allegiance.  (I) am very, very glad Bill is going (to) be called a Cop. and that Enos is true to the old flag.  How does Kate make it go keeping house?  But I must close.  Au revoir.  Write when convenient and oblige your loving brother,     Mike, D. H.



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The 121st New York moves into the Shenandoah Valley

After its sucessful defense of the Nation’s Capital, the 121st and the 6th Corps moved up to the Shenandoah Valley.  Confederate General Jubal Early and Federal General Sheridan manuevered to keep each other from joining their respective main armies.  Michael Hartford responded cryptically, “How well they succeed I leave for the world to judge.”

In his next three letters, he relays front line information to his family back home.

Near Berryville Md.

Sept 12th 1864

My Dear Sister

Another of your ever welcome letters has been in my possession for a few days but I have been unable to answer it sooner because of our mail communications being so poor.  It leaves but twice a week.  I cannot find words to express thanks for the kindness you have shown in forwarding papers, magazines, stamps, money, etc.  It was more than I had a right to expect from you and they are more highly appreciated for that reason.  I think more of the magazines than of any of the other articles, since we have been at this deportment and find more time to read than in the Army of the Potomac.  Perhaps some day I shall be able to repay you for your kind acts so generously shown a poor soldier, “One of Lincoln’s hirelings” as we are called by the Copperheads.

There is no war news from this part of the would-be Confederacy.  This owing perhaps to the fact that Sheridan and Early are playing the same games and play into each’ others hands.  Sheridan wants to keep Early in the Valley while Early is maneuvering to keep Sheridan from going to help Grant.  How well they succeed I leave for the world to judge.  We have had considerable rain here of late and very great moderation of the weather.  During our resting spells in camp we are discussing the merits of the different candidates for the Presidency.  Like all political discussions where more than two are engaged -it waxes hotter and louder in proportion to it until finally a Col. informs us thru the medium of an orderly to “dry up that infernal noise in camp”.  We acquiesce from necessity but the quietness is of short duration.  Some body will cry out “Hurrah for Abell when the discussions will again break out carrying everything with it like the “Deluge” of olden times.  I am well pleased to see you do not fear to express your mind fully on politics and on the side of right, justice and humanity, and if I only felt as sure of Bill is vote as of your sympathy I would rest content.  I should very much regret having Bill vote to counteract all the little good I might have done in this rebellion.  By the way, speaking of the rebellion it is my opinion that if the people will only properly support the government and furnish Grant men he will end the war in a short time.  Grant’s letter to Washbourne(?) expresses all that need be said on the subject.  But we will not talk any longer on it.  I remind you that you must be very careful and not have too much strength … (unreadable) …

What little I could say of soldiering would amount to little perhaps to a man if he had fully made up his mind to enlist, but if it’s not too late I would say to Enos, “Don’t enlist”.  If he has fully made up his mind to come try to persuade him that he had best come only in the artillery.  It is a great deal easier and just as safe.  There he can both ride and walk, has no load to carry or any picket and other duties subject to infantry men.  If he is bound to come by all means have him come out in the artillery rifled field pieces if he can but artillery at all hazards.  If Bill has a war fever have him do the same.  I do not want to see either one of them out here if it is possible to remain at home.  Soldiering is not the best trade in the world and I advise all do not intend to it a calling not to learn the trade.  But I will not trouble your patience any longer on this theme.


Harrisonburg Va.

Sept 27, 1864


As there is a mail going out tomorrow morning I shall embrace the opportunity of writing you a few lines informing you of my continued good health and safety.  Although we have had no general battle since last Thursday at Strasburg.  Genl Early’s army is completely broken up fleeing to the mountains for safety.  In their great hurry to escape us they abandoned artillery, baggage wagons, ambulances and arms of every description.  It is the only great victory of the war.  We captured 27 pieces of artillery and prisoners without number.  We have driven him (Early) over 70 miles or completely out of the Shenandoah valley and he himself had to flee for his life.  We are now something over 100 miles

from Harper’s Ferry and are compelled to draw all our supplies from there by teams.  It is therefore very doubtful if we will be able to stay up here any great length of time.  But the mail leaves at daylight and it is now almost dark.  You will therefore see the necessity for my being exceedingly brief.  Remember me to all friends and say to them that I am still true to the Union and Old Abe.  Pleasant dreams and a grand good time at the Fair.

Send me some paper and envelopes and oblige your loving son

Mike D. Hartford


Near Cedar Run Va.

Oct 16th, 1864

My Dear Sister,

Your very very kind and interesting letter of the 6th, accompanying the package of paper and envelopes has been received and read with pleasure and delight owing somewhat perhaps, to the fact that I had not heard from you before in a long, long time.  There have been some conflicting movements here of late and which have ended in leaving us at this point. (about 2 1/2 miles from Strasburg) Soon after we fell back to Strasburg, our Corps was sent to Front Royal to guard against a repetition of Early’s famous flank movement which compelled us to fall back on Boliver Heights with more haste than grace in August last.  Here we remained for a day or so when we were ordered to report at Petersburg immediately and started for that place but had made a single day’s march when the order was countermanded and we were ordered back to Sheridan’s Department.  The order reached us at Ashby’s Gap while en route to Alexandria but it then being night & we had already made a good march Gen’l Wright decided not to return until morning and we accordingly went into camp for the night.  The next day we moved back to this place.  Why all this happened is more than I can tell but surmise the reason of our return was because Gen. Longstreet, (who recently superseded Early) attacked our forces knowing we were absent and every hour getting farther from this place.  However it was not a very serious affair and did not last long or amount to any certain sum.  It is useless to speculate on the future movements of either Army as you or I have no means of knowing them.  But of one thing I feel confident if Gen.  Longstreet choose to act on this offensive he could be accommodated by calling on Sheridan.  By the way did I ever tell you that Sheridan swears like a veteran at all times and places, worse than your brother Mike ever did.  He will one day f eel as poor Mike did when the D — 1 called for him and Mike was hid behind the “door”.  But then he is a brave officer and understands military strategy.  I like him far better than our Corps commander Wright.  I think Wright has a hankering after” McClellen democracy.

I haven’t time to answer your letter at length today or I would do it willingly.  As it is there will be “no rest for the weary” until after election, certain, and perhaps not then.  But I shall keep the old maxim before i.e. “nil desperandum” and hope for better times.  Do not send the paper I spoke of in my last.  Your last was received.  Use all your influence to have Bill vote for Lincoln & Johnson.  Regards to friends and do not forget your brother

Mike D. Hartford


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