41st New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch

Taken from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg) by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.

July 3, 1893.

At the first outbreak of the Great Rebellion the German citizens throughout the Northern States rallied promptly and unanimously to the support of the Union, their loyal action in the hour of need doing much to dispel the cloud of doubt and uncertainty that hung over the land. The first three regiments raised in St. Louis were composed of Germans. In New York City thousands of Germans tendered their services at the firing of the first rebel gun on Fort Sumter. During the war fully 175,000 men of German birth or descent enlisted in the Union Army.

In the beginning of the war it was natural and proper that this foreign element should organize into regiments by itself, and select leaders from their own class, choosing men whose military ability and gallantry had made them distinguished in foreign wars. Among these patriots who came to the front at the first call to arms, and around whom his countrymen rallied, was Leopold von Gilsa. He had served in the Schleswig-Holstein war, with the rank of major, but at the close of that war came to the United States and became a citizen. He was engaged in teaching when the Rebellion broke out, but bidding his pupils adieu he tendered his services to his adopted country. He was given the colonelcy of the Forty-first New York Infantry, a regiment which he was largely instrumental in organizing, and which contained a great number of German soldiers who had served with him in Holstein.

This regiment was recruited at Conrad's and Landmann's Parks, in New York City, under special authority of the United States War Department. The recruiting was carried on under the auspices of the Union Defense Committee, R. A. Witthaus, Esq., a patriotic citizen, assisting materially in the work. The regiment was composed almost exclusively of Germans, of whom about 700 had fought in the Prussian Army against the Danes, in the war of 1848-1851. Twenty-three of its thirty-three officers were veterans who had seen service in European campaigns. The choice for lieutenant colonel fell on Emil Duysing, a lieutenant of the regular army of Hesse-Cassel, and fresh from the Danish war.

Eight companies were raised in New York; Company G was recruited in Philadelphia, Pa., and Company H in Newark, N. J. Company F was permanently detached, November 20, 1861, and reorganized as the Ninth New York Independent Battery. Company A, known as the " De Kalb Zouaves," was organized before the war, and the newly formed regiment adopted the name. A fine band of twenty-five pieces, with a drum corps of twenty, were attached to the command.

On June 19th a set of colors, including the National flag, the State flag, and a pair of guidons, were presented by Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Witthaus and Miss Pauline A. Witthaus, of New York. The regiment was drawn up in a hollow square and Colonel Von Gilsa, on receiving the colors, replied in behalf of his men with a feeling and patriotic speech. The ceremony was participated in by the donors of the flags, Hon. George Folsom, Hon. George Bancroft, Frederick Kapp, Esq., and the Liederkranz Society, in the presence of members of the Union Defence Committee, other distinguished guests, and a vast crowd of enthusiastic friends and spectators.

The regiment was mustered into the United States service, June 9, 1861, and a month later left New York, 1,041 strong, for Washington. It arrived there July 10th, and on the 16th crossed the Potomac into Virginia, encamping at Fort Runyon. It was assigned to General Runyon's Division, with which command it was present at the Battle of First Bull Run, though not actively engaged. The division rendered important service, however, in covering the retreat of the army from that disastrous field.

After serving in various brigades the Forty-first was assigned in October, 1861, to Stahel's Brigade, of Blenker's Division. This division was detached from General McClellan's army in April, 1862, and ordered to the Shenandoah Valley, where it was to join General Fremont's command; but it did not arrive there until May 9th. The condition of the men when they arrived, according to General Fremont, “was not such as could have been desired.” They were worn and exhausted by hardships scarcely credible, and in spite of efforts to supply their wants, a large proportion were without articles of first necessity for service in the field. Of shoes, blankets, and overcoats there was especially great need." In fact, the German regiments which composed Blenker's Division, had been shamefully neglected by the War Department. These loyal troops had no friends at court; but, though overlooked and neglected, they endured all without a murmur, and throughout the battle summer of 1862 fought as readily and bravely as if every requisition had received attention.

At the Battle of Cross Keys, Va., June 8, 1862, Stahel's Brigade was hotly engaged, the Forty-first New York acquitting itself with honor in this its first battle under fire. In June, 1862, the troops in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia were reorganized into three corps, and designated as the Army of Virginia, those formerly under the command of Fremont forming the First Corps of that army. This corps was placed under the command of Gen. Franz Sigel, and the army under Major General Pope. Under this new arrangement Stahel's Brigade found itself in Schenck's (First) Division, First Corps, A. V.

Under command of Lieutenant Colonel Holmstedt the Forty-first fought at the Battle of Manassas, August 29 and 30, 1862, where the regiment lost 103 in killed and wounded. Among the killed was Lieut. Richard Kurz, who fell in the action on August 30th.

After this battle Sigel's Corps was assigned to duty in the defences of Washington, with headquarters at Stafford Court House, Va., where it remained until the Chancellorsville campaign, in May, 1863. In the meanwhile the corps designation was changed to that of the Eleventh Corps, Army of the Potomac, and General Sigel was succeeded in command by Gen. O. O. Howard.

On April 28, 1863, the Forty-first broke camp at Stafford Court House, and marched away to Chancellorsville. The regiment numbering 371 present for duty was under the command of Maj. Detleo Von Einsiedel, Colonel Von Gilsa being in command of the brigade.

The Eleventh Corps held the right of the Union line at Chancellorsville, being in position in the woods along the turnpike. Von Gilsa's Brigade held the extreme right of the corps, and the Forty-first New York the right of the brigade. On the afternoon of May 2d, Von Gilsa advanced his pickets, who sent in word that large masses of the enemy were forming on the right flank of the Union Army and were preparing to attack. Von Gilsa transmitted this information promptly to his superiors in command, but unfortunately no attention was paid to it. No reinforcements were sent to the threatened point, and of the troops on that part of the field no disposition was made to meet the impending attack. The Eleventh Corps remained in the position which it had taken, faced to the south, while Stonewall Jackson's troops were marching to attack its flank from the west.

When the attack came, Von Gilsa and his regiments were not surprised. They knew it was coming and were calmly awaiting it, although they were aware that through the neglect or incompetency of someone they were in a false position. Lieutenants Searles and Boecke of the Forty-first were stationed on either side of the pike with a detachment of sharpshooters, at some distance beyond the termination of the Union line. As Jackson's skirmishers advanced they struck these sharpshooters who, falling back slowly as they exchanged shots, gave the alarm.

Jackson had seventy regiments of infantry and several batteries of artillery. His force numbered fully 28,000 men. His troops were formed for the attack in three lines, the first line being over one mile long. Opposed to this veteran army was the Eleventh Corps alone, which, owing to the absence of its strongest brigade — Barlow's — did not number 9,000 men,— and was out of position at that. Even had they been in position to meet this attack, Jackson's line, one mile long, would have reached around them on either flank.

And yet the Eleventh Corps made a sturdy fight. These troops did not fall back until over 1,800 of their number had fallen and 600 had been captured. Retreating slowly through the forest, their muskets flashing defiantly through the gloom of the nightfall, they retarded Jackson's victorious advance so that two hours elapsed before the Confederates reached the Twelfth Corps' position at Fairview.

The Forty-first New York, on whom the first attack fell, fired three well-directed volleys, and then retreated, stopping from time to time to rally with other regiments at various points and deliver their fire. Some of the men joined in the stampede, usual under such circumstances, but the body of the regiment moved steadily, and in company with the brigade formed again at General Hooker's headquarters where it protected three batteries. General Devens, who commanded the division, speaks highly, in his official report, of Colonel Von Gilsa's resolute exertions in rallying the retreating columns and checking Jackson's advance. The casualties in the regiment aggregated 6l in killed, wounded and missing.

On June 12, 1863, the Eleventh Corps left its camp at Brooke's Station on the Aquia Creek Railroad, and started on the Pennsylvania campaign. The nine companies of the Forty-first were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Von Einsiedel, the brigade being still under the command of Colonel Von Gilsa. The corps arrived at Emmitsburg, Md., on June 30th, and was engaged the next day in the battle of the First Day at Gettysburg. But the, Forty-first was not engaged in this fighting on July 1st. The regiment, its nine companies now numbering 14 commissioned officers, 187 enlisted men and 17 musicians, did not arrive at Gettysburg until 10 o'clock in the evening of the first day. It went into position on Cemetery Hill where it was engaged during the fighting on the Second and Third Days, sustaining a loss of 76 in killed and wounded. Lieut Reinhold Winzer was killed in this battle.

In August, 1863, the brigade was transferred to the South Carolina Coast • where it was assigned to Gordon's Division, Von Gilsa still retaining command of the brigade. The regiment remained in the Department of the South one year, during which time it was engaged in the affair at John's Island, S. C., February II, 1864, where it lost 14 in killed and wounded.

The term of enlistment of the original members of the regiment expired June 10, 1864, whereupon Colonel Von Gilsa, with 360 men and officers, tailed from Hilton Head to New York, where, on the 2Oth, they were met and received by a deputation of German citizens and a committee of the Common Council. In their march through the city they were escorted by the Fifth Regiment, New York Militia. This part of the Forty-first Regiment was then mustered out.

The Forty-first had received during the war about 800 recruits or substitutes, of whom 520 remained in the field under command of Lieutenant Colonel Von Rnsiedel, having been consolidated into a battalion of six companies. One entire new company of recruits — F — joined the regiment in November, 1863. In August, 1864, this battalion embarked at Hilton Head and proceeded to Washington, where it was assigned to the Twenty-second Corps; and, subsequently, in September, to the Army of the Shenandoah. In December, 1864, the battalion was ordered to Bermuda Hundred, Va,, where it was placed in Ferrero's Division, Army of the James. It was mustered out December 9,, 1865, under command of Capt. Alfred Theinhardt, at City Point, Va, Colonel Von Einsiedel died, August 23, 1865, of disease. He was a gallant officer and had commanded the regiment in nearly all its battles.

Historical Notes

By Lieutantent Charles Bornemann

Our regiment— the Forty-first New York — encamped during the night of June 30th at Emmitsburg, Md. About 2 o'clock in the morning of July 1st, we received an order to detail 200 men, fully equipped, under command of Capt. Clemens Knipschild, to arrest all the farmers and civilians in the vicinity of Emmitsburg. At that time I was sergeant major, and received the order personally. By a mistake the 200 men were allowed to leave the camp without blankets and knapsacks. About 7 o'clock in the morning of July 1, 1863, the regiment was ordered to march to Gettysburg; but at this time the 200 men had not returned.

Colonel Bourry, commanding our brigade, to whom the facts were reported about the absence of the 200 men, ordered the regiment to the rear guard to wait for them, and at the same time to escort an ammunition train to Gettysburg. We arrived at Gettysburg about midnight, July I, 1863, and took position behind a stone fence, near Cemetery Hill. In the morning early, July 2d, the regiment was ordered to move near the entrance or gate of the Cemetery to cover the batteries on Cemetery Hill. While doing so the batteries of the enemy shelled us, the regiment losing several men killed and wounded. On the afternoon of July 2d, we were ordered to advance to a stone fence again, about 300 or 400 feet in front of our batteries, as we could plainly see the enemy advancing in three lines. Between each line was a distance of about 500 feet or more. We were in our new position when the battle commenced. During the attack the enemy broke through our regiment, and four companies of the Second Battalion were driven nearer to Gettysburg. Our line then had the form of a triangle as far as I could observe. As we had lost several officers killed and wounded, I was ordered to take charge of a company on the evening of July 2d. During this battle of July 2d, the enemy made a charge on the batteries in the rear of us,— on Cemetery Hill,— and a cannon came hurling down the hill in our ranks and killed or wounded a man.

In the morning of July 3, 1863, heavy firing was heard on our left, and many shells exploded in our line, wounding several of our men. On this day I was ordered to look for the four companies of our regiment, which were pushed back July 2d, and found them right in front of Gettysburg. Capt. Henry Arens, who took command of these four companies, told me that he had lost several men by the enemy's sharpshooters, July 3d. On July 4th the regiment was together again, and marched into Gettysburg. It took a position in the public square where it remained for some time; but towards evening the regiment was ordered back to its old position on Cemetery Hill.

On July 5th, about 6 o'clock, p. m., we started from Gettysburg in pursuit of the enemy to Williamsport, where we could see the rear, guard of the enemy crossing the river. From there we marched to Alexandria, Va., and em-barked for Charleston, S. C., where the regiment remained until mustered out of service in August, 1864.

The Forty-first New York was mustered into service on June 6, 1861, and left New York City July 8, 1861. It was at the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, but not in action, after which it marched back to Washington, and stayed there four days. Crossing the Long Bridge again into Virginia, it moved to the heights opposite Georgetown or Chain Bridge, where our men built Fort De Kalb. From here we were transferred to Blenker's Division, then encamped at Hunter's Chapel. On March 10, 1862, we broke camp and started towards Richmond; but at Warrenton Junction we received orders to march through Manassas Gap, and report to General Fremont. We went up the Shenandoah Valley as far as Mount Jackson, then came back and were engaged at the Battle of Cross Keys, Va., June 8, 1862. We had more fighting at Sulphur Springs, Waterloo Bridge, and Rappahannock Station. We marched to Culpeper Court House on our way to Cedar Mountain, but we arrived too late for the battle. Then we went to the Rapidan. From there we marched to the Second Battle of Bull Run, August 29-30, 1862. After the battle we retreated and passed through Chantilly; came nearly to the Potomac, and marched to Centreville; there we remained in camp about four weeks, and then marched to Gainesville, Aldie Gap, Chantilly, Fairfax Court House and Station, Dumfries, and to Fredericksburg, December 15, 1862, arriving there at the close of the battle. From here we marched to Stafford Court House where we encamped for about four weeks. Leaving Stafford we marched to Aquia Creek, and thence to Brooke's Station, where we remained in winter quarters till April 26, 1863.

We then started on the Chancellorsville campaign, crossing the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford. At Chancellorsville, we were engaged in battle on May 2 and 3, 1863. We recrossed the Rappahannock again at United States Ford, and marched back to Brooke's Station.

We left there June 12, 1863, and marched to Centreville, Leesburg, and Goose Creek, crossing the Potomac June 24, 1863, at Edwards Ferry; thence to Burketsville, Middletown, Frederick City, Adamsville, and along South Mountain to Emmitsburg and Gettysburg.

We left Gettysburg July 5, 1863, marching back to Emmitsburg, Frederick City, Middletown, Boonsboro, Hagerstown, Sharpsburg and Williamsport; thence to Hagerstown, Middletown, Marysville, and Jeffersonville to Berlin where we recrossed the Potomac. From here we marched to Leesburg, New Baltimore, Warrenton Junction and Alexandria, where we arrived August 6, 1863. Here the regiment embarked for Charleston, S. C., where it arrived August 13, 1863, and encamped on Folly Island. On September 7, 1863, we marched to Morris Island, near Fort Wagner, where we witnessed the bombardment of Forts Sumter and Moultrie by our fleet. On the 9th we returned to our camp at Folly Island. September 16th-18, we were under arms early every morning fearing an attack by the enemy. September 22d the regiment passed in review before General Gordon, our new division commander, and on the 25th we were reviewed by General Gilmore, the department commander. November 13, 1863, the regiment was ordered to go to Kiawah Island, where we camped on Vanderhorst's Farm. We crossed a muddy creek with the intention of attacking a sugar mill during the night; but by some delay of the troops the attack was postponed, and we returned to Folly Island.

On November 26th we received 337 recruits, and on December 2d, 119 recruits. December 24th, 3 officers and two men of our regiment were ordered to Legareville on the Stono River. The next morning (Christmas) we were attacked by the enemy, but the war vessels, Pawnee, Marblehead, and C. P. Williams took part in the fight, and the enemy was repulsed with heavy loss. February 5, 1864, the regiment was reviewed by General Terry. On the 6th we marched again to Kiawah Island, to Vanderhorst Farm, to Seabrook Island, to the Sugar Mill, and thence to John's Island where we had an engagement with the enemy in which the regiment lost several men killed and wounded. On the I2th, having burned the Sugar Mill, we returned to Folly Island February 22d at 5 o'clock, P. M., the regiment broke camp and marched to Pawnee Landing, on its way to Florida, but receiving counter orders returned to its camp on Folly Island.

April 21st the regiment went again to John's Island on picket duty, but returned the same day at 9 P. M. April 23d, 150 men went to Cole's Island on picket duty and returned to camp April 26th. April 29th the regiment was again on picket duty at Cole's Island, returning to camp May 1st. May 21st, an expedition went to John's Island and returned May 22d. June 6th, the regiment left Folly Island for Hilton Head to be mustered out of service, which finally took place at New York City, August 27, 1864.