78th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch

By Bvt. Capt. John W. Peck

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.

Although the Seventy-eighth was classed as a New York City regiment its companies came from various parts of the State. Only three were recruited in the City of New York, while the others came from Rochester, Utica, Buffalo, Bath and Suspension Bridge. One company — K — came from Michigan. These companies were sworn into service at different dates between October, 1861, and April, 1862.

The regiment adopted the name " Cameron Highlanders;" but it was unable to complete an organization until April 26, 1862, when it obtained the required strength by the accession of the men recruited for the Eagle Brigade by Col. Daniel Ullman, who, thereupon, was commissioned colonel of the Seventy-eighth. The field officers were: Colonel Daniel Ullman, Lieut. Colonel Jonathan Austin, Major Henry C. Blanchard

The regiment left New York on April 29, 1862, and proceeded to Washington. After encamping there for about three weeks it was ordered to Harper's Ferry, Va., where it arrived May 26th, in company with other troops which were hurried to that point on account of General Banks's retreat down the Shenandoah Valley, and Jackson's pursuit. In June, the Seventy-eighth was assigned to Greene's Brigade of Augur's Division, Banks's Corps, in which command it was present at the battles of Cedar Mountain and Second Bull Run.

The designation of Banks's Corps was changed to that of the Twelfth, General Mansfield succeeding Banks in the command. General Augur having been wounded at Cedar Mountain, General Greene was placed in command of the division.

Lieut. Col. Jonathan Austin commanded the Seventy-eighth at the battle of Antietam, the regiment going into action with 12 officers and 209 men. Colonel Goodrich, of the Sixtieth New York, who was in command of the brigade, was killed early in the fight, and the command of the brigade devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Austin. Capt. Henry R. Stagg took charge of the regiment. Entering the action early in the morning Greene's Division was actively engaged until noon or after, having pushed its way into the woods behind the Dunker Church, where it held the most advanced position on the entire Union line, and held it for two hours or more. The Seventy-eighth fought with conspicuous gallantry, executing every movement as steadily as, if on battalion drill. Capt. Peter M. Mitchell was killed, and Lieut. Peirson B. Peterson fell mortally wounded. The official report mentions " the daring and courage of Lieutenant Colonel Austin," and " the valuable services of Lieutenant McGregor of the Seventy-eighth New York, the latter having charge of the skirmishers."

After the battle of Antietam the Army of the Potomac occupied Harper's Ferry and Maryland Heights for a few weeks while refitting and preparing for a fresh campaign, and then started in pursuit of Lee, with the expectation of bringing on another battle. When the army moved into Virginia the Twelfth Corps was left to guard the fords of the Potomac and garrison Harper's Ferry, and it did not leave Maryland for the front for several weeks after the main army had gone.

In December, 1862, the Seventy-eighth, in company with the corps, moved southward again through the Loudoun Valley and marched to Fairfax Station; thence after a short stay to Dumfries, and then to Brooke's Station, where it went into winter quarters.

On April 27th the regiment broke camp and marched with the corps to Chancellorsville, where, under command of Capt. W. H. Randall, it was engaged in the fighting of May 1st, 2d and 3d. It went into the fight on May 1st with 15 officers and 307 men. The regiment built breastworks in the woods, which it held during all the fighting, until by the withdrawal of the troops on the right and left the brigade was obliged to retreat. The regiment lost 12 killed, 51 wounded or mortally wounded, and 68 missing or captured; total, 131. Lieut. Charles A. Courter was killed on Sunday morning, May 3d. After the battle the army recrossed the Rappahannock River, and marching in rain and mud returned to the camps from which they had started on this disastrous campaign only ten days before.

In the spring of 1863, several changes occurred in the field and staff. Colonel Ullman, who had not served with the regiment since its organization, was made a brigadier, January 13, 1863. Lieutenant Colonel Austin resigned about the same time; and Major Blanchard, who succeeded Austin, resigned April 12, 1863. Maj. Henry R. Stagg, who had been promoted from a captaincy, resigned May 13, 1863.

On May 30, 1863, Herbert von Hammerstein was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Seventy-eighth New York. He joined the regiment soon after and assumed command. On June I2th the corps left its camps at Stafford Court House and Aquia Landing, and, starting northward, commenced the long march that was to bring it to Gettysburg. On June 3oth, while in bivouac at Littlestown, the corps was mustered for pay, at which time the Seventy-eighth reported 8 officers and 190 men present for duty. With this comparatively small force the little regiment marched upon the field of Gettysburg.

Slocum's Corps — the Twelfth — arrived at Gettysburg on the afternoon of the first day's fighting, after a forced march from Two Taverns, where Slocum received news that the enemy had been encountered in force. On receiving the information Slocum put his columns in motion promptly, and arrived at Rock Creek, just as the First and Eleventh Corps, after retreating through the town, were taking position on Cemetery Hill.

Geary's Division, to which the Seventy-eighth New York belonged, was ordered to the extreme left of the Union line, where the troops bivouacked that night in the immediate vicinity of Little Round Top, two regiments of the division occupying that eminence. Early the next morning — July 2d — the division was ordered to Culp's Hill, where it rejoined the corps, and built breastworks along its front on the summit of the ridge. The entire line of the Twelfth Corps on Culp's Hill lay in the thick woods that covered the hill and the slopes in its front, the timber extending down to Rock Creek and up the opposite hills. The corps held the right of Meade's army. The brigade — Greene's held the left of the corps, and joined Wadsworth's Division of the First Corps.

The second day passed uneventfully until 4 o'clock, when the Confederate artillery on Benner's Hill — opposite Culp's Hill — opened a strong fire on the Union right, which was directed mostly against East Cemetery Hill. Battery K, Fifth U. S. Artillery, and Knap's Battery placed five guns in position in the woods on Culp's Hill, near the point in Greene's line held by the Seventy-eighth. In the artillery fight which followed, the batteries lost several gunners and drivers. The men of the Seventy-eighth volunteered to supply their places, and assisted during the entire engagement in carrying ammunition from the caissons to the guns. While engaged in this work one of the regiment was killed and another wounded.

The enemy's guns were silenced after a contest of an hour and a half, and at 6 o'clock in the evening Colonel Hammerstein received orders to take his regiment to the front in support of the skirmishers. Crossing the breastworks and moving down the slope through the woods, the regiment deployed on the skirmish line just in time to relieve the pickets, who were falling back before the advance of the enemy, which was being made in force. Johnson's Confederate Division having crossed Rock Creek was advancing to attack Greene's Brigade, which alone was holding Culp's Hill, the other troops of the Twelfth Corps having been ordered to the left in support of Sickles.

The Seventy-eighth made a stubborn resistance on the skirmish line, and as the shadows of evening deepened in the forest defiles of Rock Creek, the flashes from their rifles glowed with an angry light. Retreating slowly up the hill they joined the brigade behind the breastworks, taking position next to the One hundred and second New York. The Confederate advance was close behind; but as the men of the Seventy-eighth, leaping over the works on their return, uncovered their front, a line of fire ran along the whole front of Greene's Brigade, from which the assaulting column recoiled and fled to the base, of the hill. Johnson's troops renewed the attack, making repeated efforts to dislodge the gallant brigade, whose regimental flags, one and all, bore the emblem of the Empire State. General Greene, assisted by small but timely reinforcements, held his ground, and at 9:30 p. m. the discomfited enemy withdrew to await daylight before attempting further efforts.

At 3:30 a. m. the men of the Seventy-eighth refilled their cartridge boxes, a fresh supply of ammunition having been brought up. They had no sooner done this, when Johnson's troops, reinforced during the night by three more brigades, raised their charging yell and rushed upon the works. But during the night the entire Twelfth Corps had returned, and the advancing Confederates encountered deadly volleys at all points of the line from Slocum's veterans. For seven hours the woods echoed with the crashing musketry. At 7:14 a. m. the Seventy-eighth was relieved and sent to the rear a short distance to clean their rifles and replenish their ammunition. At 9 a. m. the regiment resumed its place in the works, and again took up its deadly work. The Confederates never fought better; but at 10 a. m. Slocum gave the order for a general advance and the enemy was driven out of the woods, back to the line of Rock Creek. The battle of the third day, so far as Culp's Hill was concerned, was over.

As the regiment fought most of the time from behind breastworks its loss was comparatively small. Still, out of the 198 who were present, 30 were killed or wounded. Maj. William H. Randall was shot and severely wounded while gallantly discharging his duties. The official report states that " Adjutant Postley was conspicuous for the coolness and zeal with which he kept the regiment supplied with ammunition under a very hot fire."

The Twelfth Corps joined in the pursuit of Lee, and recrossing the Potomac returned to Virginia. A few weeks were spent in picketing along the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, and then, in September, the corps was ordered to Tennessee to the relief of Rosecrans' army at Chattanooga. Together with the corps, the Seventy-eighth made the long journey by rail from Washington. Leaving Virginia on September 24th, the brigade arrived at Murfreesborough, Tenn., on October 6th, where it encamped until the 24th. It then went by cars to Bridgeport, Ala., and from there marched to Wauhatchie Valley, six miles from Chattanooga.

While encamped at Wauhatchie the brigade was attacked at midnight, of October 28th, by part of Longstreet's Corps, and a desperate battle ensued which involved the Eleventh Corps also. The enemy were successfully repulsed. General Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, says in General Orders No. 265, that " the repulse by General Geary's command of greatly superior numbers, who attempted to surprise him, will rank among the most distinguished feats of arms of this war." General Greene was wounded in the face, the ball passing through the upper jaw. The Seventy-eighth New York, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Hammerstein, took 15 officers and 169 men into this action. They were held in reserve, and so suffered but a slight loss. The official report, in speaking of this surprise at midnight, says: "The promptness with which the Seventy-eighth New York fell into line and took position was commendable."

The regiment was not engaged at the battle of Lookout Mountain, November 24, 1863, it having been placed on picket at Wauhatchie. The other regiments of the brigade participated in this famous battle, where they achieved a brilliant success. After the battle the Seventy-eighth went into winter quarters, where it remained until the opening of the spring campaign, in May, 1864. In the meanwhile, Hammerstein was promoted to the colonelcy, and Capt. Harvey S. Chatfield was commissioned lieutenant colonel. The Twelfth and Eleventh Corps were consolidated, forming the Twentieth, with Gen. Joseph Hooker in command. The old brigade remained as the Third Brigade of the Second (Geary's) Division, and the men still wore the white stars on their caps, the Twentieth Corps retaining the honored badge of the Twelfth. Colonel Ireland, who commanded the brigade after General Greene was wounded at Wauhatchie, remained at its head.

On May 2, 1864, the Seventy-eighth, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Chatfield, broke camp at Stevenson, Ala., and marching via Bridgeport, Shell-mound, Whiteside's and Chattanooga, joined the brigade, at Lee's Mills, Ga., on May 5th, which with Sherman's entire army was moving southward on the Atlanta campaign. The regiment was actively engaged at the battles of Resaca, Dallas, Pine Knob and Kolb's Farm. On June 20th Colonel Hammerstein reported for duty and resumed command. As the army advanced the men were under fire almost every day, fighting and skirmishing.

On July 12, 1864, by order of the War Department, the Seventy-eighth was consolidated with the One hundred and second New York, and from that time its honored name ceased to appear in the records of the campaign. Some of the officers were retained in service, Hammerstein and Chatfield taking command of the consolidated regiment without loss of rank. The subsequent history of the Seventy-eighth is identical with that of the One hundred and second New York, which served with honor and renown to the close of the war.