44th 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.

One of the first heroes to fall in the War of the Rebellion was Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth. While the body of that young officer lay in state, in the Capitol at Albany, N. Y., some of the patriotic people of that city conceived the idea of raising a regiment from the State at large, in honor of that distinguished young officer. The plan was to select one man from each town and ward in the State of New York, to be chosen by the people of such town or ward. A circular was accordingly published, setting forth the qualifications required of each candidate for membership. The circular provided that the candidate must be an able-bodied man, unmarried, temperate, at least five feet eight inches in height, of good moral character, bring credentials that he represented some town or ward in the State, and pay in to the regimental fund the sum of $20. The circular also provided that applicants for membership should meet at the City Hall, in Albany, on the 8th day of August, 1861. This plan, with some unimportant modifications, was carried out. The regiment was designated as the Forty-fourth New York Volunteers, otherwise known as the "People's Ellsworth Regiment."

At the appointed time and place, applicants appeared for membership from all parts of the State, bringing credentials, paying the required sum into the regimental fund, and asking to be accepted. In many instances there was sharp competition in the towns and wards in selecting their respective representatives. Many sought admission who could not be received. Those who were received were prompted by an exalted purpose. After passing the required examination, those who appeared that day were marched to the barracks. The regiment was filled in a short time. The average age of the men was 22 years; the average height was five feet ten and a half inches. The first field officers were: Stephen W. Stryker, Colonel. James C. Rice, Lieut. Colonel. James McGowan, Major.

Of its first officers, the following had belonged before the war to the famous Chicago. Cadets, part of whom had served with Colonel Ellsworth in the New York Fire Zouave Regiment; Adjt. Edward B. Knox, Captains Larrabee, Conner, and Danks, and Lieut. Harry Kelly. These officers were attracted to the regiment by the fact that it was raised in honor of Ellsworth. Their knowledge and experience were of great value in organizing and disciplining the regiment, and they proved themselves to be excellent officers.

The regiment was mustered into the United States service on the 24th day of September, 1861, for three years, or during the war. While in the barracks, the entire time was spent in drill and discipline. On the 24th day of October, 1861, the regiment left the barracks for the front, 1,061 strong. The men were attired in neat Zouave uniforms, and drill and discipline had added to their military appearance. As a whole the appearance of the regiment was imposing and soldierly.

On reaching New York, the regiment marched down Broadway in column, by company. The reception by the people of New York was inspiring and hearty. After remaining there one night, the regiment proceeded by cars to Washington. The transportation was not all first class. The first night in the National Capital was spent upon door steps and sidewalks. On the ensuing morning a march was made down Pennsylvania Avenue, and by the White House, President Lincoln reviewing the regiment as it passed. A halt of a day or two was made at Kalorama Heights, where the first camp was pitched. Then came a grand, fatiguing review, after which a march was made across Long Bridge to Hall's Hill, Va. The Eighty-third Pennsylvania gave the regiment a supper on its arrival. It was most acceptable, and an act of hospitality that was never forgotten.

The next morning it was learned that the regiment had been assigned to Butterfield's Brigade, of Porter's Division. The regiments of this brigade and their commanders were as follows: Seventeenth New York, Colonel Lansing. Sixteenth Michigan, Colonel Stockton. Eighty-third Pennsylvania, Colonel McLane. Forty-fourth New York, Colonel Stryker.

The fall and winter were passed in squad, company, battalion, and brigade drills, and the routine of camp life. This was relieved by frequent details on picket duty. The officers were required to apply themselves to the study of books of tactics and army regulations, and submit to frequent examinations by the brigade commander. This kind of camp life seemed quite exacting, but subsequent experience proved its utility. General Butterfield was a very strict disciplinarian, but proved himself to be an able and gallant officer.

The space allotted for this sketch will not permit of following in detail the regiment in its .three years of active service. Suffice it to say that it shared with the grand old Army of the Potomac in its marches, retreats, victories and defeats. It mutely endured the experiments of poor generalship. Before the battle of Gettysburg, the regiment had been in the following battles and engagements : Siege of Yorktown, Hanover Court House, Mechanicsville, Games' Mill, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Shepherdstown Ford, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Aldie.

On the evacuation of Yorktown, May 5, 1862, the regiment was detached from the brigade to garrison that place. After remaining a few days on that duty, it was thought by most of the officers that the regiment would not fulfill the high expectations of its promoters and friends by remaining on garrison duty. A petition was presented to General Butterfield asking that the regiment be ordered to the front. This was done. It soon rejoined the advance, and continued in active service during the remainder of its term of enlistment.

A few words ought to be said about the part taken in the battle of Malvern Hill, where the regiment lost 99 in killed and wounded out of 225 engaged. After supporting a battery most of the day on July 1st, about 5 o'clock, p. m., General Butterfield ordered a charge. Lieutenant Colonel Rice was in command. No sooner was the command " Attention " given, than every man was in his place. Colonel Rice said, " Forty-fourth, I want you to charge today as you never charged before." His wish was fully gratified. The regiment advanced on the enemy in a most gallant manner. During the advance the voice of Colonel Rice could be heard above the din of battle, " Men we are Christians and we can die." The enemy were driven from their advanced position and pursued as they retreated in confusion and disorder. While in its advanced position, with masses of the enemy hovering around it, an order being given, the regiment coolly changed front forward on tenth company. The fight was at close range. The shells of our batteries burst in our ranks. The new position was thought to give vantage to the enemy, and the order was coolly executed of " Change front to rear on tenth company." When the ammunition was exhausted, orders were given to retire to the position occupied by the balance of the brigade. It was thought by many that if this charge of the Forty-fourth had been followed up, the right of the enemy could have been turned and a great victory achieved. The regiment lost 44 percent, of the number engaged, and among the wounded were Captain Shaffer and Lieutenant Wood-worth. There were many expressions of mortification and humiliation when it became known that a retreat to Harrison's Landing had been ordered from a victorious field.

At the battle of Second Bull Run, the regiment lost in killed and wounded 71 of the 160 officers and men engaged. About the 1st of October, 1862, the numbers of the regiment were augmented by the addition of two new companies. One came from the central part of the State, and was commanded by Capt. Bennett Hunger. The other was composed almost entirely of students from the Albany Normal School, and was commanded by Captain Kimball, one of the professors of that institution. They were given the letters C and E, respectively, the members of the old Companies C and E being transferred to other companies. They proved themselves to be worthy allies of the regiment, whose fortunes they had joined.

On the night of June 30, 1863, the regiment with the balance of Barnes' Division encamped at Union, Md. At an early hour on July 1st, march was resumed toward Hanover, which place was reached about sundown. During the day the line between the States of Maryland and Pennsylvania was crossed, an event which was celebrated with much cheering and enthusiasm. At Hanover a halt was made for the night, after a fatiguing march. In a short time, however, orders were received, and the march toward Gettysburg was resumed. No halt was made until about 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning of July 2. During the night reports were received of the First Day's Battle of Gettysburg. They were not very satisfactory. During this night's march our troops had an opportunity to experience the difference between the people of loyal and disloyal States. The reception accorded in Pennsylvania was most hearty and inspiring. The army had come in contact with people who believed in the cause in which it was engaged. Weariness was relieved by ladies assembled in groups, singing patriotic songs, while the soldiers joined in the choruses. After resting two or three hours at a point about three miles from Gettysburg, a rapid march was made to the field at an early hour. It soon became apparent that stirring events were at hand. It was observed that the army was being concentrated, and that a line of battle had been formed. During the day different positions were taken by the division. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon, General Sykes, commanding the Fifth Corps, received orders to proceed to the left and front. At the same hour the Confederate General Longstreet proceeded to execute the orders of his chief to envelop and turn the Union left. This was Lee's plan of battle. While the Fifth Corps were en route to take position, General Warren rode up rapidly, pointing to Little Round Top, and urged that troops be sent immediately to occupy that point. Colonel Vincent, commanding Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, was ordered by General Barnes to detach his brigade from the division and occupy that important point. The Confederate General Hood's Division was on the march to occupy the same position. The Third Brigade, by marching in double time, reached Little Round Top a few minutes before the Confederates. The country was wooded, wild and broken. Huge, irregular rocks dotted the surface of the earth, and brush and trees obstructed the view. The line was formed around Little Round Top, conforming to its formation and well down the slope, toward the enemy. By this formation the left was well drawn back forming nearly a quadrant. There was no time to correct alignments nor to throw up breastworks. Instructions were given that this position must be held at all hazards. Each regiment sent out a company as skirmishers, Captain Larrabee commanding those of the Forty-fourth. The writer was assistant inspector general of the brigade, and was directed by Colonel Vincent to ride upon Big Round Top and observe the movements of the enemy. All movements were executed rapidly. The enemy approached in three columns with no skirmishers in advance. His plan of battle was being unfolded. In his report Colonel Rice says: " If he (the enemy) could gain the vantage ground occupied by the brigade, the left flank of our line must give way, opening to him a vast field for successful operations in the rear of our entire army." The skirmishers of the Forty-fourth had not advanced more than 200 yards to the; front when they were fiercely assailed, driven back, and Captain Larrabee killed. A line of the enemy was met near the crest of Big Round Top. In a very short time the slope of Big Round Top and the space between the two Round Tops were thronged with Confederate troops. The Confederate brigades of Law, Robertson and Benning repeatedly assaulted the line held by the Third Brigade. The positions of the Sixteenth Michigan and Forty-fourth New York were first struck; then the fighting gradually rolled around toward the left. Through some misunderstanding of orders, a portion of the Sixteenth Michigan retired to the rear. By an oblique fire to the right, the Forty-fourth was able to aid the Sixteenth Michigan at this critical time. About the same time Colonel Vincent was mortally wounded, and carried from the field. He was a brave soldier and a true patriot. Colonel Rice of the Forty-fourth assumed command of the brigade, and Lieut. Col. Conner succeeded to the command of the Forty-fourth. Colonel Rice in his report says: " Massing two or three brigades of his (Confederate) force, he tried for an hour in vain to break the lines of the Forty-fourth New York and Eighty-third Pennsylvania, charging again and again within a few yards of those unflinching troops." Adhering to his purpose to turn the Union left, the enemy massed heavily on the left flank of the brigade held by the Twentieth Maine. The fighting at this point was desperate and hand to hand. The fire of the attack on the left reached the rear of the Forty-fourth. In fact, the shots from the attack on the right reached the rear of the left of the brigade, and the shots from the attack on the left reached the rear of the right of the brigade. Hood's (Confederate) Division numbered at the battle of Gettysburg, more than 7,000 men. It was divided into four brigades of about equal strength. Regiments belonging to the brigades of Law, Robertson and Benning were engaged in the assaults on the Third Brigade, which carried into battle only 1,141 muskets. When his ammunition was gone, Colonel Chamberlain, of the Twentieth Maine, seeing fresh troops of the enemy forming to make another charge, anticipated the movement and ordered his own regiment to charge. It was a critical moment. That gallant regiment responded promptly. As they advanced with fixed bayonets the front line of the enemy gave way and carried confusion to those in the rear. Pursuing with a half-right wheel, the Twentieth Maine cleared the valley in its front. The battle on this part of the line was ended. The flanking column was driven from the field. The attempt to turn the Union left had failed. About 9 o'clock that evening, Colonel Chamberlain advanced with his regiment and drove the Confederates from Big Round Top, which position was thereafter held.

On the morning of July 3d, the brigade was relieved and took position in reserve near the left centre. It was not again actively engaged. The Forty-fourth lost in killed and wounded more than 34 percent, of the number engaged. Among the killed were Captain Larrabee and Lieutenants Dunham and Thomas. They were excellent officers and mourned by the entire regiment. Among the wounded were Captains Bourne and Munger and Lieutenant Zeilman. Company A went into the battle with 40 muskets, and lost of that number 21 in killed and wounded.

General Longstreet in his book entitled, " From Manassas to Appomattox," says: " We were on Little Round Top grappling for the crowning point. The brigade commanders there, Vincent and Weed, were killed, also Battery Commander Hazlett and others; but their troops were holding to their work as firmly as the mighty boulders that helped them." In his report, speaking of the Fifth Corps, General Meade says: "Major General Sykes immediately sent a force to occupy Round Top Ridge, where a most furious contest was maintained, the enemy making desperate but unsuccessful efforts to secure it." Major General Slocum, in his report, says: "About half an hour before the attack on our left, the Fifth Corps was moved to the support of that part of our line. The attack was made by the enemy in strong force and in great spirit and determination. Had it been successful the result would have been terribly disastrous to our army and to the country. The arrival of the Fifth Corps at the point of attack at so critical a moment, afforded it an opportunity of doing service for the country the value of which can never be overestimated. Of the manner in which this opportunity was improved I need not speak. The long list of its killed and wounded attests more strongly than language can the valor of its officers and men." Major General Sykes, in his report, says: "Night closed the fight. The key of the battlefield was in our possession intact. Vincent, Weed and Hazlett, chiefs lamented throughout the corps and army, sealed with their lives the spot intrusted to their keeping on which so much depended."

Brigadier General Barnes, in his report, says: " Colonel Vincent, on being detached, proceeded promptly to the position assigned him. It was upon an elevated and rocky hill known as Little Round Top. Its defence was of the utmost importance." Col. James C. Rice, in his report of the Third Brigade, says: "Although this brigade has been engaged in nearly all of the great battles of the Army of the Potomac, and has always greatly distinguished itself for gallant behavior, yet in none has it fought so desperately or achieved for itself such imperishable honors as in this severe conflict of the 2d inst." Lieutenant Colonel Conner, in his report of the Forty-fourth, says: " It affords me great pleasure to be able to state that both officers and men behaved with the greatest coolness and bravery, not a single case of cowardice having come to my attention."

The space allotted allows only brief mention of the doings of the regiment subsequent to the battle of Gettysburg. It took part in the following engagements and battles: Jones' Cross Roads, Williamsport, Rappahannock Station, Mine Run, Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor, Siege of Petersburg, and Weldon Railroad. In every place the regiment sustained its record for faithful and devoted service, and every call to duty found it ready. The marches, exposures and battles were patiently and bravely undergone.

The number promoted from the ranks attest the quality of the men. The promotions were principally to other commands, and in many instances those transferred rose to be commandants of regiments. The record of the regiment in this respect is a remarkable one. On the 24th day of September, 1864, orders were received for the regiment to proceed to Albany for the purpose of being mustered out. The full term of three years had been completed. There were regrets as well as joys on leaving the army. Those who had joined the regiment since its organization and those who had re-enlisted were drawn up in a separate line. Those whose term of service had expired were drawn up in another line near to and facing them. In this manner were separated those who had shared the hardships and vicissitudes of war. Much feeling was manifested. Those who remained were consolidated with the One hundred and fortieth New York and One hundred and forty-sixth New York. The regiment was mustered out on the 11th day of October, 1864. Muskets were stacked, accoutrements were turned in, uniforms were laid aside, and those who had survived their three years of service were citizens again. They severally returned to the towns and wards whose representatives they were, to report the manner in which their trust had been performed. The record made was an honorable one. It must not be forgotten, however, that many noble comrades failed to respond at the muster-out. They had laid down their lives that the Republic might live. The dew of Heaven will gently fall upon their heroic graves, and a grateful Nation will honor them.