On 30th October 1864 the famed 69th New York Infantry suffered one of it’s most embarrassing moments of the war, when a large number of its men were captured having barely fired a shot. In the latest post I have used a number of sources to explore this event, seeking to uncover details about those men captured– who they were, how long they had served, what became of them. In an effort to consider why this mass-capture occurred, the post also examines how veteran soldiers defined ‘old’ and ‘new’ men, and provides detail on a number of the 69th POWs who decided to take up arms for the Confederacy.
In the widow’s and dependent pension file research I conduct into Irish soldiers in the American Civil War, one year crops up again and again– 1864. Grant’s strategy of applying relentless pressure in both the Eastern and Western Theaters was ultimately a war-winning one for the Union, but it carried with it a staggering human cost. From an Irish perspective, I find the period of 1864-5 by far the most intriguing of the conflict. It was a year that appears (though there is a need for significant analysis in this area) to see a large number of first-time Irish soldiers enlisting to take advantage of the major economic incentives available for service. It was also a year that saw the effective destruction of many of the old ‘green flag’ ethnic units, notably those serving in the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. Losses, combat fatigue and high troop turnover meant that few of the famed regiments and brigades from 1861 and 1862 that continued their service escaped without blots on their military record. In the East, engagements such as Ream’s Station (see here) and Second Deep Bottom were testament to the failing fighting strength of many such units. The Irish Brigade was no exception. By mid-June 1864, the Brigade, which had already received an infusion of new men before the Overland Campaign commenced, was so reduced in numbers that it was effectively broken-up, with the core New York regiments forming part of what became known as the ‘Consolidated Brigade’ of the First Division, Second Corps. It was as part of this Consolidated Brigade that the 69th New York suffered perhaps it’s greatest embarrassment of the war– the mass capture of large numbers of it’s troops while on picket duty outside Petersburg on 30th October 1864.
The events of the evening of 30th October 1864 have long held an interest for me, as they suggest the almost complete disintegration of the 69th New York as an effective front-line unit. But just what men made up the 69th New York at the time? How many were recent recruits? How many were substitutes? Where were they from? In order to look into this I have analysed both the roster of the 69th New York and the New York Civil War Muster Roll extracts to build a picture of the men captured and their fate. But first it is appropriate to explore the events of the 30th October themselves, an evening when so many of the 69th fell into Rebel hands.
The 30th October found members of the Consolidated Brigade holding a portion of the line around Fort Davis and Fort Sedgwick. The previous evening, elements of the division had launched sorties against the Confederate line; a sally by the 148th Pennsylvania had been followed around 8.30pm that evening with a raid by the 88th New York, as Lieutenant Colonel Denis Burke led 130 men against the Rebel picket line in an area known as the Chimneys, opposite Fort Sedgwick. It may have been these probes that elicited the Confederate response the following evening. The next night both the 69th New York and 111th New York of the Consolidated Brigade were on picket duty. Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Husk of the 111th was in overall command of the picket detail, and reported that some of the men were talking across the lines to the Rebels, an activity which he ordered stopped immediately. Then, sometime between 7 and 8pm, the Rebels silently sent out a force of around 150-200 men to try and snare their opponents. As they crawled flat on the grass towards their target, few of them could have expected the dramatic success which their operation would achieve. (1)
Second Lieutenant Esek W. Hoff of the 111th New York was sitting by his fire at Post No. 1 of his regiment’s picket line when he heard a group of men approaching from the adjacent positions, held by the 69th New York. Presuming it to be his relief, he got his men ready to move out. Stepping aside to let the fresh troops past, Hoff noticed the men’s blue caps and light blue overcoats, but something seemed amiss; the trousers their relief were wearing were gray. Realising his mistake, Hoff dashed off to tell Lieutenant Colonel Husk that Confederates had penetrated the line and were capturing his men. Crucially, Hoff failed to alert Post No. 2 of the intruders’ identity, thereby sealing their fate, as the Rebels swept on down the line. Each picket post in succession mistook the enemy for their relief, until nearly all of the 111th New York’s picket had been ‘gobbled.’ The Confederate strategy had seen them penetrate the Yankee picket line in the 69th New York’s sector, before fanning out left and right to gather up as many prisoners as they could (for an intriguing analysis of this action, see Brett Schulte’s post at Beyond the Crater here). The unfortunate Lieutenant Hoff and the men of the 111th New York had fallen foul of one wing of this thrust– the 69th New York were faring little better against the other. (2)
As Esek Hoff was experiencing what was likely his worst day of the war nearby, Co. Wexford’s Lieutenant Murtha Murphy of the 69th New York was overseeing his portion of the picket line opposite Fort Davis. He recalled how the left of that line rested on an ‘almost impassable’ swamp, which broke his connection with the pickets beyond, while his right connected with the 63rd New York. Murphy’s pickets had orders to fire at intervals of five minutes, which they did for much of the evening, until his Sergeant caught sight of a group of men advancing towards their position from the left front. As with Lieutenant Hoff, the Sergeant assumed the men were their relief, but just to be sure he hailed them. Receiving no answer, Murphy’s men opened fire, which the Rebels answered. They could hear other pickets of the 69th running through the brush off to their left, not realising at the time that they had all been captured and were being herded to Confederate lines. As the firing continued, a sharpshooter from the 3rd Division eventually arrived, informing Murphy that all the men to his left had either been captured or had run away, leaving their muskets behind them in the trenches. When they counted the cost of the evening’s events, the scale of the disaster became clear. For negligible loss, the Confederates had captured 247 men– 82 soldiers of the 111th New York and 1 officer and 164 men of the 69th. (3)
The investigation was immediate. Hoff and other officers on the line were arrested, though ultimately no charges seem to have been brought. Colonel McDougall of the 111th New York pointed to the previous desertion of ten men of the 69th New York to the enemy while serving on this portion of the line as an indication that the Rebels had learned details of their dispositions. This was a view endorsed by Brigadier-General Miles, who thought that ‘deserters from the Sixty-ninth were rebels and informed the enemy of the position of our line.’ Intriguingly, Lieutenant Robert Milliken, commanding the 69th, included in his report a breakdown of the ‘new’ and ‘old’ soldiers of the regiment on the line that night. Of the total, he said they broke down into ‘New men (recruits recently arrived), 190; old soldiers, 40; total, 230. Old commissioned officers, 2; acting lieutenants, 3; total, 5. Of this number 1 old commissioned officer and the 3 acting lieutenants, with 141 new men and 23 old men, were captured.’ (4)
One of the questions I was keen to answer was what constituted a ‘new’ man and who were regarded as ‘old’ men. Was the distinction one of pre-1864 enlistments, or did it literally refer to those soldiers who had joined the regiment in previous days? But firstly I wanted to examine the question of deserters potentially providing information to the enemy. Analysing the unit roster for details of those who deserted the regiment during the month of October revealed 12 men, listed in Table 1 below, though given the often partial nature of these records this is almost certainly not a comprehensive list.
|Reynolds, Michael||Pte.||20||None||Jamaica||08/10/64||Sailor||England||08/10/64||In NY|
|Simmons, George||Pte.||24||C||Brooklyn||19/01/64||Sailor||New York||10/10/64|
|Kelly, James||Pte.||22||C||Brooklyn||28/01/64||Laborer||Canada||10/10/64||From camp|
|Dorman, Thomas||Pte.||19||H||New York City||03/09/64||20/10/64|
|Riley, Peter||Pte.||18||C||Brooklyn||28/01/64||Printer||Ireland||24/10/64||From hospital|
|Heffernan, John||Pte.||29||I||Tarrytown||15/09/64||Boatfitter||Ireland||26/10/64||On picket|
|Malloy, William||Pte.||39||I||Jamaica||08/09/64||26/10/64||On picket|
|Howard, George||Pte.||30||C||New York City||15/07/64||Bookkeeper||Canada||?/10/64|
|Clarke, Francis||Pte.||24||F||Wheatfield||21/09/64||?/10/64||From camp|
Table 1. Deserters from the 69th New York in October 1864, Ordered by Date of Desertion. Details drawn from 69th New York Roster & New York Muster Roll Extracts. Co. = Company, Enlist. = Enlistment, Sub. = Confirmed Substitute, Occup. = Occupation.
As can be seen from their desertion dates and locations, the majority of these deserters could not have informed the Rebels about the picket dispositions, but two of them could: John Heffernan and William Malloy. Both of these soldiers deserted while on picket duty with Company I on the 26th October, and both had been in the regiment only a matter of days. None of these October deserters were pre-1864 enlistees, and at least five of them had served less than two months. These men were taking a terrible risk by trying to escape service. Only a month previously, on 26th September, 36-year-old Canadian-born farmer John Nichols had deserted from Company A, only four days after mustering in. A substitute, he was shown no mercy– on the 10th March 1865 was executed by hanging. (5)
|Abbott, James H.||Pte||19||H||Plattsburgh||25/08/64||Yes||Farmer||New York|
|Acorn, Jr., John||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Farmer||New York||Died POW Salisbury|
|Arnold, Martin||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Colier||New York|
|Blenin, John||Pte||H||03/09/64||Died POW Florence|
|Burns, Dennis||Pte||22||I||Schenectady||23/09/64||Laborer||Ireland||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Cole, Franklin||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Farmer||New York||Died POW Salisbury|
|Costello, Thomas||Pte||27||I||New York City||07/09/64||Mason||Ireland|
|Cox, Henry||Pte||19||F||New York City||27/09/64||Cooper||Barbados|
|Cross, Francis||Pte||27||H||Troy||03/09/64||Moulder||Canada||Confederate Oath of Allegiance|
|Darling, William||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Laborer||New York||Died POW Salisbury|
|Denick, John||Pte||24||H||New York City||03/09/64||Yes||Laborer||Germany|
|Diedly, Johan A.||Pte||20||H||Tarrytown||03/09/64||Yes||Cabinet Maker||Germany|
|Eck, Michael J.||Pte||25||H||Troy||03/09/64||Yes||Farmer||Germany|
|Freeman, John||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Laborer||New York|
|Fusia, Frederick||Pte||27||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Laborer||New York|
|Howard, John H.||Pte||29||K||New York City||20/09/64||Yes||Laborer||England|
|Jordon, Charles M.||Cpl||34||H||Troy||03/09/64|
|Kearney, Patrick||Pte||32||I||New York City||14/09/64||Yes||Laborer||Ireland|
|Kearnes, John||Pte||20||C||New York City||20/09/64||Yes||Laborer||Ireland|
|Kennedy, Patrick||Pte||23||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Furnace Man||Ireland|
|Kundegg, Heinrich||Pte||20||H||Harts Island||03/09/64|
|Lawrence, Charles||Pte||18||E||Troy||03/09/64||Yes||Butcher||New York|
|Lindner, John G.||Pte||43||I||Tompkinsville||16/09/64||Cap Maker||Germany||Died POW Salisbury|
|Long, Joseph||Pte||38||C||New York City||27/09/64||Yes||Teamster||Canada||Died POW Salisbury|
|Lynch, Thomas J.||Cpl||26||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Laborer||Canada|
|McCawley, Owen||Pte||39||K||New York City||19/09/64||Yes||Laborer||Ireland|
|Murphy, Thomas||Pte||31||I||Jamaica||02/09/64||Laborer||Ireland||Died POW Salisbury|
|Muzzy, Daniel||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Farmer||New York|
|O’Brien, Bernard||Pte||26||K||New York City||20/09/64||Yes||Watch-Maker||Ireland|
|Penslow, Robert||Pte||18||I||New York City||06/09/64||Bartender||New York|
|Perry, Robert||Pte||25||C||Tarrytown||23/09/64||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Read, George||Pte||24||I||Tompkinsville||17/09/64||Cigar Maker||Germany||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Shannon, John||Pte||26||K||New York City||20/09/64||Boilermaker||Ireland|
|Sickles, John H.||Pte||18||H||Kingston||03/09/64|
|Smith, Clinton G.||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Laborer||New York||Died POW Salisbury|
|Smith, Levi||Pte||35||I||Jamaica||13/09/64||Farmer||New Hamps.||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Taylor, Adny||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Farmer||New York|
|Taylor, Levi||Pte||18||H||Plattsburgh||03/09/64||Yes||Farmer||New York|
|Tembrockhaus, Gerhard||Pte||21||H||New York City||03/09/64||Died POW Salisbury|
|Van Guilder, Longer||Pte||18||H||Troy||03/09/64|
|Wesler, Andrew||Pte||28||I||New York City||14/09/64||Yes||Coalman||France||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Williams, Richard||Pte||20||I||Tompkinsville||12/09/64||Laborer||Ireland||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Bartst, Jacob||Pte||20||C||Jamaica||10/10/64||Cigar Maker||Germany|
|Denny, Patrick||Pte||21||K||New York City||13/10/64||No detail|
|Gannon, Thomas||Pte||38||C||New York City||13/10/64||Tailor||Ireland||Died POW Salisbury|
|Haire, Frank||Pte||23||K||Jamaica||13/10/64||Carriage Maker||Ireland||Died Disease After Release|
|Johnston, John R.||Pte||19||C||New York City||12/10/64||Sailor||New York|
|McCabe, Patrick||Pte||19||K||New York City||11/10/64||Clerk||Ireland|
|Murray, Edward L.||Pte||22||G||Jamaica||03/10/64||Student||New York||Died POW Salisbury|
|O’Callaghan, Edward||Pte||22||K||Tarrytown||14/10/64||Shoemaker||Ireland||Died POW Salisbury|
|Reilley, John J.||Cpl||30||C||New York City||07/10/64||Wheelwright||New York|
|Smith, Michael||Pte||20||K||New York City||11/10/64||Laborer||Canada|
|Stanton, William||Pte||29||C||Tarrytown||13/10/64||Butcher||Ireland||Died Disease After Release|
|Cranney, John||Pte||37||F||New York City||11/11/62||Shoemaker||Ireland|
|Brady, Charles||Pte||30||K||New York City||23/05/64||Tailor||Ireland||Died POW Salisbury|
|Clampett, Patrick||Pte||19||K||New York City||29/03/64||Druggist||Ireland||Enlisted Steward, U.S. Army|
|Hughes, Michael||Pte||23||G||New York City||19/03/64||Yes||Laborer||Ireland|
|Johnston, Robert||Pte||27||K||New York City||29/03/64|
|Kane, Eugene||Pte||19||C||New York City||07/03/64||Clerk||Ireland|
|Leahy, William||Pte||20||K||New York City||10/03/64||Ireland||KIA 25 March 1865, Petersburg|
|Richmond, Peter||Pte||19||C||New York City||12/03/64||Died POW Salisbury|
|Slattery, John||Pte||38||K||New York City||31/03/64||Laborer||Ireland||Died POW Salisbury|
|Traynor, Patrick||Sgt||27||K||New York City||19/03/64||Laborer||Ireland|
|Quinn, Michael||Cpl||19||C||Brooklyn||01/06/64||Died POW Salisbury|
|Decker, Andrew||Pte||25||C||New York City||20/07/64||Yes||Farmer||Germany|
|Irwin, Richard||Cpl||36||C||New York City||22/07/64||Yes||Druggist||Ireland||Enlisted with Confederates|
|Koteba, Joseph||Pte||19||C||New York City||15/07/64|
|McConnell, Joseph||Pte||28||B||New York City||20/07/64|
|Barton, Lewis||Pte||18||G||New York City||21/01/64||Gunsmith||New York|
|Bower, Henry||Pte||18||G||New York City||22/01/64||Laborer||Germany|
|Farmer, Robert||Cpl||22||C||Brooklyn||28/01/64||Carpenter||Ireland||Died POW Salisbury|
|Harney, Matthew||Pte||33||G||New York City||27/01/64||Tailor||Ireland|
|McMahon, John||Pte||22||G||New York City||18/01/64||Died Disease After Release|
|Miller, Henry||Pte||19||G||Brooklyn||21/01/64||Laborer||New York|
|Murphy, Daniel||Pte||19||G||New York City||28/01/64||Scotland|
|Roe, Allan||Pte||23||C||Brooklyn||28/01/64||Sailor||England||Furnished a Substitute|
|Schuitzen, Joseph||Pte||25||G||New York City||19/01/64||Butcher||New York|
|Hutchinson, Elijah||Pte||19||G||New York City||01/02/64||Painter||New York||Died POW Salisbury|
|Tucker, William||Cpl||19||G||New York City||12/02/64||Iron Moulder||Ireland|
|McGrath, Thomas||Sgt||20||C||New York City||27/12/61||Baker||Ireland||Mustered 1st Lieutenant|
|Reilly, John||Pte||19||F||New York City||20/12/61|
|Archabald, William J.||Pte||19||F||Avon||31/08/64|
|Brennen, William||Pte||21||G||New York City||18/08/64||Painter||New York|
|Digan, Bernard||Pte||38||G||New York City||19/08/64||Yes||Laborer||Ireland|
|Quigley, James B.||Pte||22||I||New York City||27/08/64||Laborer||Ireland|
|White, William E.||Pte||28||G||New York City||08/08/64||Yes||Carpenter||England|
|Patchern, George||2nd Lt||26||E||New York City||12/08/62||Clerk||New York|
Table 2. Members of the 69th New York captured on picket at Petersburg, 30th October 1864. Details drawn from 69th New York Roster & New York Muster Roll Extracts. Co. = Company, Sub. = Confirmed Substitute.
What then of the men who were captured on 30th October? I was able to identify 120 of them, and their details are available in Table 2 above. What is immediately apparent is that Milliken’s term ‘new men’ referred to those who had just arrived. If a soldier had been in the ranks since the start of the Overland Campaign, he was deemed an ‘old soldier.’ As we can see in Chart 1, only four of the men I identified as captured were pre-1864 enlistees, with a further 22 having joined up prior to the commencement of the Overland Campaign. The vast bulk (including all bar one of the soldiers clearly identifiable as substitutes) had mustered in during the campaign. 86 of the soldiers had only been with the regiment since August– 60 of them having entered the regiment in September. They were undoubtedly on the whole brand new men, with limited training and experience. A total of 39 of the men were confirmed substitutes, and again the vast majority– 32– had arrived in September. Another substitute had arrived in October, but only one of the substitutes identified had come prior to July. (6)
Among the other interesting details to emerge were the professions of the men. Unsurprisingly laborers dominated (33), followed by farmers (10). Those captured were largely young, with 34 being teenagers and a further 73 under the age of 25. Only 24 of the men were identified as over 30 years-of-age. Chart 2 below illustrates the nativity of the soldiers. Despite the influx of new recruits, it is interesting to observe that Irish nativity still accounted for the majority of 1864 enlistees; the number known to be born in Ireland (43) is almost double the number of men identified as being born in New York (22). For 25 of the men no nativity was recorded, and there were 12 Germans, 6 Canadians and 5 English among the number. (7)
What became of these men once they had been captured on that fateful night? 18 of them were reported has having died as Prisoners of War, the vast bulk in Salisbury, North Carolina. It is likely that some of the other men whose fate went unrecorded met a similar end. A further three men succumbed to disease shortly after their exchange. One returned to the 69th only to be killed in action on 25th March 1865. At least eight of the men sought to escape the horrors of prison life by making a bargain with the Confederates. One of the men was recorded as taking an Oath of Allegiance to the Confederacy (he was subsequently pardoned) while seven more enlisted in the Confederate army. Of these eight men, one was a July enlistee in the 69th but all the others had mustered in during September. I examined the Confederate Service Records for details of where these Galvanized Rebels served (see below). They all joined either the 1st or 2nd Battalions of the ‘Foreign Legion Infantry’, units specifically formed from among Federal prisoners and which supposedly targeted emigrant Yankees.
8th Battalion Confederate Infantry (2nd Foreign Legion Infantry)
Robert Perry, Company D, enlisted on 10th December 1864 at Florence
George Reed, Company B, enlisted on 10th December 1864 at Florence
Andrew Wesler, Company B, enlisted on 10th December 1864 at Florence, recaptured by General Stoneman and released in Nashville on 6th July 1865
Richard Irwin, Company F, enlisted on 13th December 1864 at Salisbury
Tucker’s Regiment Confederate Infantry (1st Foreign Legion Infantry)
Lewis (Levi) Smith, Company I, enlisted on 1st December 1864 at Salisbury
Richard Williams, Company E, enlisted on 7th November 1864 at Salisbury
I could find no record of Francis Cross’s service in the Confederate military (8)
The events of the 30th October 1864 were a major embarrassment to the 69th New York. Analysis of the records of the men captured demonstrates just how much the 69th had been impacted by 1864. As we have seen before on the site (for example here), many 1864 recruits who had joined the Irish Brigade before the Overland Campaign developed their own esprit de corps, and clearly by the autumn of 1864 they were considered old soldiers by many of the volunteers of 1861 and 1862 as well. The huge influx of recruits in September had transformed the regiment, and indeed in many respects it bore no resemblance to the formation that had taken the field in The Wilderness the previous May. But two days after the debacle of 30th October there was better news for the men of the old Brigade. On 1st November 1864, after much effort, Colonel Robert Nugent took command of a newly reconstituted Irish Brigade. He told the troops that ‘In assuming command of the old Irish Brigade, it gives me much satisfaction to know that, although fearfully decimated by the casualties of a campaign, in which its officers and soldiers endured, with a cheerfulness unsurpassed, unusual dangers, hardships, and privations, they still maintain their old reputation for bravery and patriotism. The record of the brigade has been a bright one; it has proved its fidelity to the Union by its courage and sacrifices on many a battle-field. Never has a regimental color of the organization graced the halls of its enemies. Let the spirit that animates the officers and men of the present be that which will shall strive to emulate the deeds of the old brigade.’ (9)
(1) Official Records: 254, Official Records: 258-9, Official Records: 255-6; (2) Official Records: 255-6, 257-8; (3) Official Records: 256, Official Records: 255, Official Records: 257; (4) Official Records: 255, Official Records: 257; (5) 69th New York Roster, New York Muster Roll Extracts; (6) Ibid.; (7) Ibid.; (8) Confederate Service Records; (9) Official Records: 476-7;
References & Further Reading
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Headquarters First Division, Second Army Corps, October 30, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Headquarters First Division, Second Army Corps, November 2, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Hdqrs. Third Brigade, First Division, Second Corps, November 1, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Hdqrs. Third Brigade, First Division, Second Corps, Before Petersburg, November 1, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Headquarters Sixty-Ninth New York Volunteers, October 31, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Camp of the Sixty-Ninth Regt. New York Vet. Vols., October 31, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1. Headquarters 111th New York Volunteers, October 31, 1864.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 42, Part 3. General Orders, No. 1. Hdqrs. 2d Brig., 1st Div., 2d A.
Confederate Service Records.
Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts of New York State Volunteers, United States Sharpshooters, and United States Colored Troops [ca. 1861-1900]. (microfilm, 1185 rolls).Albany, New York: New York State Archives. Ancestry.com. New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900 [database on-line].
New York Adjutant General 1901. Roster of the 69th New York Infantry.