8 February 2009
In spite of my recent neglect of the subject of the Battle here on the internets, the rest of the interested World continues to feed the machine. To all of you who’ve sent me things, I’m making some time now to catch up with getting all those gems online on AotW, and thanks very much to all for your patience and persistence!
By way of immediate example, above are scans of a carte de visite (CDV) sent by Scott Hann to fill an empty spot on this officer’s bio page. Scott has a massive collection of images and has been most generous in sharing some of the best with us to help put faces with the names of the men at the Battle.
John Reynolds was Captain of Battery L, 1st Regiment New York Artillery (Light) at Antietam. In this post, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the battery’s commander, and feature a first hand – if dramatic and lengthy – description of their experience in Maryland in a contemporary letter written by one of his Lieutenants to a Rochester newspaper.
John A Reynolds (1830-1921) was born in New York City, but moved with his grocer father to Rochester in the 1840s. In addition to being a grocer himself, he played baseball for the Olympic Club, and by the start of the Civil War was an experienced militia officer commanding the Union Greys, a local artillery battery.
In September 1861 he helped recruit and organize a Volunteer battery for Federal service.
On the 25th of October, the company was mustered into service, numbering then 81 men, with John A. Reynolds as captain, Edward (Edwin) A. Loder, first lieutenant, and Gilbert H. Reynolds, second lieutenant. On the 13th of November the company left Elmira for Albany, where it received a sufficient number of recruits to entitle it to two additional commissioned officers. Charles L. Anderson, of Palmyra, and George Breck, of Rochester, were made second lieutenants, G. H. Reynolds being promoted to be one of the first lieutenants. The company remained at Albany until November 21st, when it was ordered to Washington…
Reynolds served through the Valley, Maryland Campaign, and Fredericksburg during 1862, and was promoted to Major on 13 March 1863, leaving his boys for battalion command. He afterward was assigned progressively larger artillery units, and eventually became Colonel and Chief of Artillery of the XX Corps under Major General William Sherman in 1864.
After the War, John Reynolds was an active Veteran – organizing the first Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in New York. He was elected to high State office in the GAR where he also had a run-in [from NY Times] with Joshua Chamberlain in the late 1890s. He was in the shoe business in Rochester before retiring in 1889. He was appointed Postmaster of Rochester by President Harrison in 1890, and held that office until 1894. He lived to the ripe old age of 91.
His brother Gilbert (1832-1913), who had also been a Union Grey since the 1850s, succeeded him in command of Battery L in the Spring of 1863. Gilbert led them only a few months before he was severely wounded – and lost an eye – at Gettysburg in July. The former 2nd Lieutenant George Breck was Captain of the battery thereafter to the end of the War.
George Breck (1833-1925) was a prolific writer. Some of his many newspaper articles, letters, and post-war monographs are readily available today, and give quite a picture of the battery’s service.
In the days immediately after the great battle at Sharpsburg, George Breck wrote the following missive to his hometown paper, the Rochester Union and Advertiser, about what he’d just seen and felt there:
BATTLEFIELD NEAR SHARPSBURG, MD.,
September 18th, 1862.
Long before this reaches its destination you will have heard of the great battle of yesterday, near the place mentioned in the date of my letter. It will be known, probably, as the Battle of Sharpsburg, and known, too, as the greatest and most terrific battle ever fought, as yet, on the American soil. So it is pronounced by many here on, the field who participated in the seven days’ battle before Richmond, and in other engagements connected with the rebellion, and by those who have witnessed the severest contests since the war commenced, What the number of killed and wounded may be I do not know, but it must be very great, and much greater on the Confederate side than on our own, as was evident on going over the battle field this morning. Many, nearly all of our own dead were buried, and the wounded had all been brought off, and so had the Confederate wounded, with few exceptions; but their dead lay in files – in winrows many rods long, and so closely that their bodies touched each other; and then all over the field, wherever the battle was waged, scattered here and there, were the lifeless remains–terribly mangled in some instances by shot and shell of the rebel force. In greater numbers they lay, I was told, in some woods held by the enemy, where were poured shot and canister from our guns and cannon, in the most destructive manner.
Reynolds’ Battery was in the fight from its commencement till near its close, and at times was engaged in very hot work. Before narrating the part we took in the strife, we will inform our readers that we broke up camp at Lisbon, where my last was written, on Friday noon of last week, and took up our line of march on the Baltimore and Frederick turnpike road, passing through Poplar Springs and Ridgeville, arriving at Newmarket quite late at night, where we encamped till the next morning. When we left Lisbon, we expected to march as far as Ridgeville only, but the rebels having evacuated Newmarket, we pushed on to that place, a distance of eleven or twelve miles from Lisbon.
At Ridgeville the Union flag was displayed, which created some enthusiastic cheers amongst our brigades, and at Newmarket there was a still greater display of the good old flag, and one or two buildings were illuminated. The fact of finding such a strong Union sentiment in these towns, or villages, so recently occupied by the rebels, caused our soldiers to give many an energetic cheer on reaching them. A Union man in Newmarket informed me that where our battery encamped the night we were there a rebel battery was placed the night previous, and in the same field, which was his property, two or three thousand of Stewart’s Cavalry were quartered. The rebels had appropriated some twenty-fire or thirty tons of his hay, paying him in part with Confederate scrip and the balance with nothing. They found but few sympathizers in Newmarket.
Saturday we marched to Frederick City, arriving there about six p. m., and encamped on a hill this side of Monococy River a position commanding a fine view of the whole city. Monococy Bridge is a venerable curiosity. It was built in 1809. It is constructed entirely of stone, with four large arches, is about one thousand feet in length, and a view of this structure beneath it, form either bank of the river, is one of the grandest sights we almost ever saw in the way of bridge architecture. Its immensity is one of its most striking features. At the east end of the bridge is a stone tower, resembling somewhat in appearance of a Turkish mosque. Inscribed on it are the names of the builder of the bridge, the architect, the superintendent of the turnpike road at the time of the construction of the bridge, and several other inscriptions.
Sunday morning we marched through Frederick city amidst the waving of flags and the huzzas of the citizens, demonstrating very clearly the loyalty and patriotism of the place. Many of the ladies had Union badges attached to their dresses; boys and girls were decorated with miniature flags; old men looked exultant, and a perfect ovation was received by our troops. Across one of the streets were unfurled the Stars and Stripes, inscribed with the words of the old hero and patriot, Andrew Jackson, “The Union; it must be preserved.” Yes, and it shall be preserved, was the response of every soldier’s heart as he read the sentiment and witnessed the affection displayed for our country’s banner in the city of Frederick. Such demonstrations of patriotism, so unlooked for, had a marked effect in inspiring the Union troops, and they marched along up the steep hills and mountains with a firmer and more elastic step.
We reached Middleton about noon, and just before our arrival Gen. McClellan passed along the road with staff and cavalry escort. The enthusiasm displayed on seeing him was unbounded. We shall have something more to say on this point before closing this letter. During our march cannonading had been heard most of the way, and on reaching the top of Cachotin mountain we saw the smoke of both Federal and rebel batteries on or near the slope of South Mountain. At Middleton we went into a field to rest a little while, but no sooner had we got unhitched than orders came to hitch again and move forward. We did so, taking our position in a small field on the right of the turnpike, South Mountain being about a mile in front of us. We did not unlimber, our services not being needed, or if needed, almost impossible to render any efficient service on account of the nature of the battle ground. A few pieces only of artillery could be served effectively, as no position could be obtained to plant more. The rebels were on top of the mountain in the woods, and artillery was principally used, to ascertain, if possible, the position of the enemy.
About 8 o’clock in the afternoon our forces were drawn up in line of battle, under command of Gen. Hooker, and began to move simultaneously up the slope of the mountain from the right, left and centre. Correspondents have furnished a full account of the battle that ensued, and our battery not being engaged, I shall not attempt to give any description of it myself. Suffice is to say, that soldiers never fought more valiantly than did ours, and never under more, and in all the battles I have witnessed, and never under such disadvantageous circumstances. To attack an enemy many thousand strong, and apparently very securely and safely lodged in mountain fastnesses, to march up a very high and rugged mountain, exposed to the most deadly of fires, in a steady and unbroken line, to encounter the enemy, provided with a strong defence in munitions or war, covered by woods and concealed behind stone walls, and then fairly and squarely beat the enemy, drive him up to the top of the mountain and cause him to fly precipitately down the other side, capture a large number of prisoners, and hold possession of the whole battle ground, this certainly may be called a true and decided victory, and such was the result of the battle of South Mountain, or of Hagerstown Heights, as called by some. We have to mourn the loss of a brave General killed in that desperate engagement Gen. Reno. The Pennsylvania Reserves and King’s Division fought nobly; They were determined to drive the rebels from the mountain at any cost of life, and so they did, and we are glad to say without a great sacrifice of life.
Sunday night, regiments and divisions passed us on the road to Hagerstown, including many of the new troops. Monday morning we saw the 108th N.Y. Regiment. The fineness and newness of the men’s clothes was considerably worn off, and they looked as if they had already seen some hard service. Lieut. Bloss entertained us for a while with some amusing accounts of the experiences the regiment had undergone since breaking up camp on the other side of the Potomac. A child must learn to walk before he can run, and to insist on his doing the latter first, and expect he will do it with the ease and grace of one who has had experience in running matches, is asking and expecting too much. But there is nothing like being “broken in,” and becoming accustomed to a thing.
We took up our line of march again Monday morning, but lay in the road all the forenoon, which was crowded with troops and wagons. The number of wagons in our army is immense, we were about to remark equal to the number of men, but not as bad as that. So much luggage and “stuff” must impede the progress of the army in many instances, when rapid marches have to be made. We passed through Boonsboro late Monday afternoon, and encamped near the town that night. At Boonesboro we saw a number of rebel prisoners, and a citizen told us that the Confederates had passed through there that forenoon in full retreat. Two or three companies of the 8th Illinois Cavalry chased about a hundred of Stewart’s Cavalry through the town and beyond it, making them run their horses as if for dear life. Some captures were made. This citizen also informed us that Jackson and Lee had utterly failed in getting recruits for their army in Maryland. Perhaps three or four hundred joined the rebel ranks, and that was all. The towns and villages which they had invaded were mainly loyal, and in many cases the citizens had fled to Pennsylvania or adjoining settlements for fear they might be impressed into the rebel service. The statements of this gentleman were true, as borne out by facts since learned, and we know what a total failure Jackson has made coming into Maryland. Instead of obtaining thousands to join his rebel horde, he has lost them in killed and wounded on the field of battle, and his deluded army have had all their bright visions of plenty to eat and drink and wear, and a good time generally in our Northern States, dissipated like a dream. We may not be able to “bag” them, as fondly hoped and wished, before they make their escape from Maryland, but we have whipped and dispirited them terribly. Many of the rebel wounded and prisoners say if they are obliged to go back into Virginia again, they will desert the army.
Tuesday morning we moved on towards Sharpsburg, but on arriving at a little settlement called Cheapville, I believe, we found most of our army drawing up in line of battle, on a hill far in front of us, this side of a ravine or river. The Rebels were throwing shells into our advanced forces, but a sharp and lively reply was elicited from some of our batteries which soon silenced the enemy’s. We were stationed in a field on the left of the road till the afternoon, when we moved forward a short distance, crossed the road to our right, marched up a hill and then advanced thro’ a piece of woods, crossed the river, and then went forward about two miles through grass, ploughed, and corn fields, and about 8 o’clock at night, we took up our position near some woods, where the fighting commenced. During this forward movement of our battery, heavy cannonading was going on at intervals, with now and then some infantry firing. While marching up the road, Gen. McClellan, with staff, rode by us, and what do you suppose “little Mac” did. Why he saluted every driver individually, and every cannoneer if marching singly, in the same way. And he did it with that pleasant smile of his, which has been so often remarked about. And this was done by Major General Geo. B. McClellan, who commands all the forces of the Potomac, who ranks over all other generals in our great army, excepting Gen. Halleck. Which of our other great generals ever did this, or is in the habit of doing this, while passing a company of artillery, roughly dressed and roughly looking from the effects of long marches, severe fighting “and hardships of many kinds?” Soldiers have written, and are writing, constantly about the enthusiasm manifested at the sight of McClellan. It is all true, every word of it. We can’t describe it. It beats everything we ever witnessed, and it comes from the heart. McClellan has the hearts of the whole army, every one of them. What a cheering there was yesterday noon, near the close of the battle as he rode along the lines of the different brigades and divisions! The soldiers were perfectly wild with ecstatic delight. Caps, blankets and coats went up in the air, and the men shouted and yelled, and some of them actually cried with joy, at the, sight of their General. They know he is a patriot, and they know he is a soldier. They love him, they trust him, and they will follow him no matter where he leads. And I tell you it is no unworthy love, no unwarranted trust, no following after an inefficient, unskillful and ignorant General. McClellan is a General, a great general. It was exhibited in yesterday’s battle, and has been exhibited in all of his previous battles. He may have been and may be defeated, but it has been and will be, we believe, the result of circumstances over which McClellan has had or can have no control circumstances superceding his power to manage. But perhaps more about Gen. McClellan in a future letter.
At different times last night there was a sharp rattle of musketry by our and the enemy’s pickets, who were almost on a line with each other, in some places so near together that our own pickets quarrelled with the enemy’s, to see which side of a certain fence they should occupy. Very early this morning, I think I may say before daybreak or just at dawn, there was a loud volley of musketry, followed by another and another, which made infantry, cavalry and artillery spring to arms, and which proved to be the commencement of the day’s battle. It was begun by the Pennsylvania Reserves, under command of Gen. Seymour. As they lay asleep, their arms stacked along the edge of the woods, a volley was fired upon them by the rebels, knocking down the guns, but creating no panic or confusion, for immediately the brave boys from the old Keystone State sprung tip, seized their faithful weapons and went to work in good earnest, pouring volley after volley into the rebels ranks, and driving them back. The desperate struggle had begun, and for ten or twelve hours it continued with unabated violence. Occasionally for a few minutes there would be a lull, but then the conflict would be resumed with renewed energy and greater desperation on the rebel side. The volleys of musketry seemed to be louder than ever, and the roar of artillery shook the earth. All our previous battle scenes, observations and experiences were small compared to this. But it is not for me to enter upon a general description of the battle. More graphic and able pens than mine must do it, and have done it ere this. My acquaintance with the scenes, incidents, the various regiments, batteries, &c., associated with and engaged in the terrible conflict is necessarily very limited, as it was necessary for me to remain with our battery, which was in three or four different positions only, and at times, considerably isolated from the main forces that were engaged. The line of battle extended as far as I could judge, about a mile and a half, from a mile to three or four miles this side of the Potomac, and was waged in open fields, woods, on hills and over an extent of ground of hundreds of acres. The rebels, as is customary, fought as much under shelter as they possibly could, but they fought to kill.
We opened with our battery on some high ground in the field, where we encamped during the night, firing on a rebel battery about 150 yards opposite us, more or less concealed by woods. Their reply was directed to our left, principally, where our infantry were engaged, supported by other batteries. We fired for about an hour and a half, when one of Gen. Patrick’s aids, riding up, told Captain Reynolds that the General wanted us to come and support his brigade. We proceeded to do so, marching through a grove and across a ploughed into a grass field. On reaching here Gen. Hooker ordered us to file to the left and try and form in battery on the right of a piece of woods. It was at this time that our forces had been flanked by the enemy and driven back very nearly a mile, and the rebels were charging on them in a corn field not many yards in front of us.
When we went to take a position, Thompson’s battery, attached to Gen. Duryea’s brigade, was engaged in pouring canister into the rebel ranks, then advancing and forcing our troops to retire! It was planted on the brow of a small hill, just this side of the corn field, and we had been ordered to go in with our battery on their left if the ground would admit. It would not admit of our doing so, and an officer rode up and remarked that it would be folly to attempt it. The balls were then flying about us, and onward was coming the enemy. Thompson’s battery continued to fire round after round, but at the loss, either killed or wounded, of nearly every cannoneer, who were being picked off by the rebel sharpshooters. Almost every horse was killed and the pieces were obliged to be left, but were afterwards recovered.
The 105th N. Y. regiment were falling back in a hurry and Gen. Duryea, who was on foot, was trying to rally them in line again. It appeared doubtful for awhile, but it was finally accomplished.
We remained at a rest, our guns limbered, anxious to get to firing if possible, but it was madness to undertake it, unless we wished to lose our pieces, horses, and very probably our lives. We therefore retired with the infantry, they falling back gradually. The cause of their repulse, I have been informed, was owing to new regiments ordered forward for their relief; but they could not or did not stand the destructive fire of the rebels, and so broke and ran, running through the old regiments, and for a time creating a kind of stampede. Matters looked dubious enough about now, and the tide of battle seemed to be going hotly and greatly against us. The rebels were yelling to the top of their voice, confident that the day was theirs. We had lost all the ground that we had gained, and could it be recovered? Patrick’s brigade had borne a noble part in charging upon and driving the enemy, and not until they were out of ammunition did they not until they were out of ammunition did they fall back. And there they checked the advance of the rebel horde, and with the assistance of a battery kept it bay until reinforcements came up. The rebels did not remain long victorious. Fresh regiments of troops came to the rescue, and now the clear and distinct hurrah could be heard, which we knew came from our men, so greatly in contrast was it with the savage yell of the rebels. The hurrah assured us that our troops were recovering their lost ground. The enemy was being driven back.
We were ordered into the field again and opened fire on a battery on the right of the grass field above mentioned. The rebel battery was throwing shot and shell in our midst very lively, and it was a question whether we should be able to silence it. Our ammunition was fast becoming exhausted, our horses not being able to draw a full supply. We would fire what we had and accomplish what we could. The result was favorable. We put a stop to the firing of the hostile battery and have since learned that we damaged it greatly; not, however, without two of our men being wounded. Corporal Peter Proseus from Palmyra, while in the act of pointing and ranging his piece, was struck in both legs by the explosion of a shell. One leg received a terrible flesh wound and the other was broken. He fell, and on going up to him he remarked, “Keep on firing. Never mind me, and be sure you give it to them.” Noble man-a hero, indeed. There he lay with both legs one mangled and the other broken-and both, it appeared, must be amputated but not a murmur escaped his lips. On the contrary, he would not have his gun cease firing on his account, and laughingly said, “I guess I am not hurt so badly after all. He was carried from the field and it is thought both legs will be saved. We saw him this morning and he was in the best of spirits.
Cornelius Roda, from Rochester, was wounded slightly in the shoulder in this engagement. When the retreat took place and the rifle and musket balls were flying in our midst so profusely three of our men were wounded, one quite seriously. Myron Annis, from Scottsville, was wounded in the breast and hand by a ball, the ball lodging in the palm of his hand. He was doing very well from last accounts. Levi Sharp, from Penfield, was slightly wounded in the head. Frederick Deits, from Scottsville, was slightly wounded near his side. Captain Reynolds had a narrow escape. A fragment of a shell passed under his arm, slightly grazing it.
We had six horses killed and wounded, and one wheel disabled.
Our last engagement was in the ploughed field, with a section of another battery, where our guns were served very efficiently. We got out of ammunition, but finding a limber in the field that had been abandoned we went to it and emptied its contents, consisting of about twenty shell and some canister, which we fired.
About noon the rattle of musketry, which had been incessant since daylight and the loud peals of artillery, ceased. The victory was ours. There was cannonading commenced by the rebels not long after, but our batteries silenced it a short time.
The carnage had been awful. Nine of our Generals had been killed and wounded. The nation, will mourn deeply the loss of that venerable and experienced general, Gen. Mansfield. Every general in the field seemed to be foremost in the battle, leading and cheering on their respective commands. They appeared to be regardless, though not reckless, of all danger. And the men! Most splendidly and heroically did they perform their duty. Every regiment in Patrick’s brigade captured a rebel flag!
But again, (I have written too long a letter) and a very unsatisfactory one, it seems, to your correspondent. Many items have been omitted, which, I think, are of interest, but time and space will not admit mentioning them at present, I have watched a spare moment here and there amidst the pressure of business matters to write and writing a letter, for public perusal, under such circumstances or in such a manner isn’t at all satisfactory.
It is very quiet to-day. Occasionally the firing of a gun can be heard. Our dead are being buried, and our wounded have been taken to the various hospitals about the field. Nearly one third of the wounded are Confederates. The rebel dead lie all over on the battle ground What the number of killed and wounded is I am unable to state. Many of our regiments were badly cut up, and the rebel ranks were mowed down in swaths. How many battles like this must there be before… Another one is expected to … Bad news from Harper’s … victories and success of the… State of Maryland.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the organization of Reynolds’ Battery, ¬¶ September, 1861, and the 17th of… are two days that we can never… was a remarkable event in our … as was… name down on the enlistment roll, and the second certainly not less so.
The rebels are gone, have skedaddled across the river. They stole a march on our army last night. Maryland is again free. The traitor Lee will not issue any more of his insulting and treasonable proclamations in this State. A pity we could not have “bagged” Jackson and his horde before he made his escape. The whole army have advanced. We are now encamped in the woods the rebels occupied yesterday. They left all their dead unburied.
A horrible, horrible sight we witnessed on reaching the rebel lines, in the vicinity of which, or on this side our forces were not allowed to pass yesterday. We saw hundreds of dead bodies lying in rows and in piles, and scattered all over, looking the picture of all that is sickening, harrowing, horrible. O what a terrible sight! Some of the rebel wounded were left on the field. Many of the dead had on Federal uniforms. The woods bear marks of the destructive work of our shells. Great limbs of trees are torn off, and a house near the woods is literally riddled by balls. We found a large iron cannon left behind, and every thing indicates a speedy flight of the rebels. We rest tonight to go forward again early to-morrow morning.
The quote above about the first days of the Battery is from Breck’s 1889 address at the dedication of the Battery’s monument at Gettysburg.
Fox, William F. New York at Gettysburg, Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Albany, N.Y.: J.B. Lyon and Co., 1900, vol. 3, p. 1255.
Phisterer’s summary of the unit’s service is:
Battery L, Rochester Union Greys, Capt. John A. Reynolds, recruited principally at Rochester, Palmyra and Elmira, was mustered in the United States service at Elrmira, November 17, 1861. Members of the 1st Battalion, Light Artillery, State Militia, formed part of the battery. It served at Baltimore, Md., and in Dix’s Division, Army of Potomac, from November, 1861; at Winchester, Va., and Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., from May 27, 1862; in the 1st Brigade, Sigel’s Division, Department of Shenandoah, from June, 1862; in the 2d Division, 2d Corps, Army of Virginia, from June 26, 1862; in the 3d Corps and 1st Division, 2d Corps, Army of Virginia, from August, 1862; in the 1st Division, 1st Corps, Army of Potomac, from September, 1862; in the Artillery Brigade, 1st Corps, from February, 1863; with the 1st Division, 1st Corps, at Chancellorsville; in the Artillery Brigade, 5th Corps, from March, 1864; in the Artillery Reserve, Army of Potomac, but attached to the 9th Corps, from January, 1865, and it was mustered out and honorably discharged, commanded by Capt. George Breck, June 17, 1863, at Elmira.
Phisterer, Frederick, New York in the War of the Rebellion, Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1912
The reference to John Reynolds playing baseball before the War is from the Rochester Historical Society [pdf]. More about him from a local history of the Post Office, and an online transcription of his bio from:
Devoy, John, compiler. Rochester and the Post Express; A history of the City of Rochester from the earliest times (etc). 1895.
There’s a brief bio for Gilbert H Reynolds online from the Rochester University Library, in connection with his Papers there.
For those who like to know these things, the Battery was equipped with 6 3-inch ordnance rifles at Antietam.
Lt. Breck’s letter above was transcribed by author Bob Marcotte and posted online at the NY State Military Museum site. See also an excellent introduction to Breck by Marcotte from the same web source.
Marcotte, Bob, ed. Breck’s War: The Civil War Correspondence of George Breck, Battery L, 1st N.Y. Light Artillery. Rochester:R.E. Marcotte, 2005
Breck, George. George Breck’s Civil war letters from ‘Reynold’s battery.’ Rochester historical society publications XXII (1944), pp. 91-149.