58th 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.

The Fifty-eighth Regiment was composed almost entirely of men of foreign birth. Various nationalities were represented in its organization, composed of Poles, Germans, Danes, Italians, Russians, and Frenchmen, most of whom were recruited in New York City. It was organized by consolidating some regiments which had failed to complete their organization.

In August, 1861, Colonel Wladimir Krzyzanowski, a Polish officer who had seen service in the Polish war, was authorized by the Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, at Washington, to recruit a regiment, and he succeeded in enlisting about 400 men, whom he called the United States Rifles. Colonel Frederick Gellman, under the same authority, recruited a partially formed regiment named the Morgan Rifles, in honor of the Governor of the State.

The Morgan Rifles was formed largely by consolidating with it three other bodies of recruits, known respectively as the Polish Legion, the Gallatin Rifles and the Humboldt Yaegers. The Fifty-eighth New York Infantry was formed October 19, 1861, by the consolidation of the United States Rifles and Morgan Rifles, the former furnishing four companies and the latter six to complete the minimum regimental number of companies and men. Krzyzanowski was commissioned colonel, and Gellman lieutenant colonel. The men who composed the regiment had been mustered into the United States service at New York City on various dates between August 27 and November 5, 1861. The regiment left the State November 7, 1861, and proceeded to Washington where it was assigned to Bohlen's Brigade of Blenker's Division, a division containing three brigades, whose regiments were composed almost wholly of men of foreign birth.

Leaving Washington on the 13th it crossed the Potomac, and entering Virginia marched to Hunter's Chapel, where it joined the division. It remained encamped here during the ensuing winter, excepting one month in December and January, when it was placed on picket duty at Annandale Church.

On March 18, 1862, the Army of the Potomac broke camp, and with it Blenker's Division. The regiment entered on a series of fatiguing marches in bitterly inclement weather which lasted thirty-eight days, during which the men suffered severely for lack of tents and rations. Leaving Hunter's Chapel the division marched to Burke's Station, Fairfax Court House, Manassas Junction, Warrenton, Salem, Paris, Millwood and Winchester, arriving at the latter place on April 20, 1862. After resting for two weeks at Winchester, the division started, on May 2d, under command of General Rosecrans, and after crossing the mountains marched into West Virginia by way of Romney, and joined General Fremont's army. On May 24, 1862, Fremont started for the Shenandoah Valley in pursuit of General Jackson's Confederate forces.

The first experience of the Fifty-eighth under fire occurred at the Battle of Cross Keys, Va., an engagement in which General Fremont's army encountered a Confederate corps under command of " Stonewall" Jackson. In this battle the regiment, under Colonel Krzyzanowski, made a bayonet charge in which the enemy's line was driven back about one hundred yards, their gallantry on this their first battlefield eliciting words of praise from General Bohlen in his official report. The report of Captain Schirmer, of the light artillery, speaks also of the " great gallantry " with which the regiment supported his guns during one period of the battle. The loss of the Fifty-eighth at Cross Keys was, 7 killed, 18 wounded, and 4 missing; total, 29. The Union forces after pursuing Jackson to Port Republic went down the Shenandoah Valley to Middletown, where Gen. Franz Sigel relieved Fremont of the command. A reorganization of the corps followed, upon which the Fifty-eighth was assigned to the Second Brigade of Schurz's (First) Division, and Colonel Krzyzanowski was placed in command of the brigade.

Sigel's forces, which had been designated the First Corps, Army of Virginia, left Middletown on July 8th, and marched via Front Royal and Luray to Sperryville, where they encamped until the 8th of August, 1862, when they marched to the assistance of Banks's Corps, which had encountered the ubiquitous Jackson in the bloody battle of Cedar Mountain.

Sigel's Corps formed a part of General Pope's army, and with it the Fifty-eighth participated in the actions of Freeman's Ford, August 22d; Sulphur Springs, August 23d; and Waterloo Bridge, August 24th. Under command of Maj. William Henkel the regiment was actively engaged in the Second Battle of Manassas, August 29-30th, in which it sustained a loss of 14 killed, 32 wounded (including those mortally so), and 11 missing; total, 57- Major Henkel was severely wounded, but remained on the field for three hours after he was hit. The command of the regiment devolved then on Capt. Frederick Braun.

After the Manassas campaign the Army of the Potomac marched through Maryland on its way to Antietam, leaving the Third Corps and Sigel's Corps — now the Eleventh — in the defences of Washington. The Eleventh Corps — Sigel's — remained encamped near Fairfax and Centreville, Va., until the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, when it marched to Falmouth and back to Stafford Court House, where it went into winter quarters. In the meantime Colonel Gellman and Major Henkel resigned their commissions and left the regiment.

The Fifty-eighth, under command of Captain Braun, broke camp at Stafford Court House, April 29, 1863, and marched to Chancellorsville, where it was engaged in that disastrous battle. On the evening of May 2d, when Jackson made his famous attack on the Eleventh Corps, he found that corps in no position to repel a flank attack, although repeated warnings of the impending danger had been transmitted from the Union pickets to Eleventh Corps headquarters. When the Confederates struck the right of the Eleventh Corps, about 5:15 p. m., they encountered enough resistance from Devens' Division to check their swift advance long enough for Schurz's Division to change front and meet them. Schurz's regiments held the ground for a half hour or more, and then finding that the enemy overlapped their line on either flank fell back, stopping from time to time to deliver their fire. The Fifty-eighth New York shared in this fighting, during which the gallant Captain Braun, who was in command, was shot and fell from his horse mortally wounded. Capt. Emil Koenig then assumed command. In this fighting, on the evening of May 2d, the regiment lost 31 in killed, wounded, and missing, out of 238 officers and men engaged. The regiment was not engaged during the succeeding days of the battle, after which it recrossed the Rappahannock with the army, and, marching in a rain storm, accompanied the Eleventh Corps back to its abandoned camps at Stafford, which were speedily reoccupied by the wet, tired and defeated troops.

Defeated, but not discouraged, a month later the men left their camps and started northward on the Gettysburg march as bravely and cheerily as if it were their first campaign. Leaving Stafford on June 12th, the regiment, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Otto, marched that day to Hartwood Church; thence to Centreville, after a long, hard day's march; thence to Goose Creek, where it encamped a week; the Potomac was crossed at Edwards Ferry on the 25th, the column arriving at Jefferson, Md., late that night; next day, to Middletown, where a two days' rest was had; and thence to Ernmitsburg, Md., where the Eleventh Corps, under command of General Howard, was resting on the morning of July 1, 1863, the day on which the battle opened at Gettysburg. At this time the Fifty-eighth numbered 11 officers and 211 enlisted men, " present for duty equipped," as shown by the returns of the muster made the previous day.

During the night of June 30th — the night before the First Day's Battle — Capt. Emil Koenig was ordered to take 100 men of the regiment, and make a reconnaissance in the direction of Creagerstown, where, as it was said, some of the enemy's cavalry had been seen. After marching about five miles, and not seeing any signs of the enemy, Captain Koenig halted his command and gave his men an opportunity for rest and sleep. But he soon received a despatch ordering him to return with his detachment immediately, as the corps had already started on a march to Gettysburg.

It was 9 a. m. on July 1st, when Koenig and his men, returning to Emmitsburg, arrived at the abandoned camping ground of the regiment. Here he was joined by a squad of men belonging to the Fifty-eighth who had been on picket during the night. With this picket detail and the 100 men already mentioned, Captain Koenig had more than half of the regiment with him. He started promptly to overtake the corps, pushing on with all possible speed, but was unable to do so, as he was ordered to march with the wagon train. A passing shower of rain drenched the men and damaged the roads; but although the water came down in torrents the shower did not extend to Gettysburg. About four miles from the town heavy cannonading was heard, and the men, leaving the train, pressed forward at a fast pace, arriving at Gettysburg about 3:30 p. m. After some delay in finding the corps, the detachment rejoined the regiment and brigade on Cemetery Hill. In the meantime the remainder of the regiment, composed of two companies, were engaged in the battle of the First Day on the north side of the town, and had fallen back through the streets to Cemetery Hill, with the rest of the army. In the evening Lieutenant Colonel Otto was detailed by General Schurz, the division commander, to act as his chief of staff, leaving the regiment under the command of Captain Koenig.

During the battle of the Second Day, the Fifty-eighth lay in support of the artillery on Cemetery Hill, which in the afternoon was heavily engaged with the Confederate batteries on Benner's Hill. A perfect storm of cannon projectiles was hurled against the position of the Eleventh Corps, the exploding fragments dealing death and wounds throughout the ranks of every regiment. Adjt. Louis Dietrich was struck by one of these missiles and killed, while several others in the regiment were killed or wounded during this artillery fire. Among the mortally wounded were Capts. Edward Antonieski and Gustave Stoldt.

At dusk Hays's Louisiana Brigade and Hoke's North Carolina Brigade assaulted the Union position on East Cemetery Hill, and attaining a temporary success charged up the slope and through the line of cannon in Wiedrich's Battery, driving the gunners from their pieces. Led by General Schurz in person the Fifty-eighth and One Hundred and Nineteenth New York hastened to the rescue of the artillery, but the assailants were repulsed without their assistance. As another attack was momentarily expected, the Fifty-eighth was ordered to remain, one of its companies, under Lieutenant Schwartz, being sent out as skirmishers to ascertain the direction in which the enemy had retired.

On the morning of the 3d the regiment moved to the right of the road leading into Gettysburg (Baltimore Pike), and took a position behind a stone fence on the left of Wiedrich's Battery. Lieutenant Schwartz with one company was sent forward to take possession of the houses on the outskirts of the town. He did so, and during the day the Confederate sharpshooters kept up a continuous fire on these houses, during which Miss Jennie Wade, who remained in her house, was killed while busily engaged in baking bread for the Union soldiers close by.

The enemy having evacuated the town during the night of July 3d, Schwartz sent out ten of his men as a patrol to gain information. The citizens by quiet signs indicated the houses in which some of the enemy might be found, and on entering them several Confederate sharpshooters were found asleep, and captured together with some men who were awake. The Confederate officers in withdrawing their troops had neglected to notify these sharpshooters. Shortly after, Lieutenant Lauber with twenty men was sent into the town, and these two squads returned with about 200 prisoners.

The regiment joined in the pursuit of General Lee's defeated army, and recrossing the Potomac on the 19th returned to Virginia and the scenes of its former campaigns.

In September, 1863, the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps were ordered to Tennessee to the assistance of General Rosecrans' army, which was shut up in Chattanooga. The long journey was made by rail, the troops taking the cars in Virginia, and passing through Washington, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Colonel Krzyzanowski still retained command of the brigade, while the regiment was commanded by Capt. Michael Esembaux. While encamped near Chattanooga, about 200 of the original members re-enlisted for the war, and receiving the customary veteran's furlough of sixty days, returned in a body to New York City, January 26, 1864, where they received a grand reception and ovation from the mayor, city officials, and the German citizens.

Prior to this furlough the regiment, under command of Captain Esembaux, was present at the midnight battle of Wauhatchie, Tenn., on October 28, 1863, and at the storming of Missionary Ridge, November 23, 1863, although suffering but slight loss.

During the years 1864 and 1865, the regiment was stationed at Bridgeport, Tenn., and along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, on garrison duty and In guarding the railroad communications of the army. The Eleventh Corps, having been merged in the newly-formed Twentieth Corps, in April, 1864, Colonel Krzyzanowski was left without a brigade, and returned to the command of his regiment. In September, 1865, the war having ended, the Fifty-eighth New York proceeded to Nashville, Tenn., where it was paid off and discharged, October 1, 1865.