86th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch

By: Maj. Samuel H. Leavitt

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 Eighty-sixth Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry, Col. Benajah P. Bailey, commanding, was organized at Elmira, N. Y., November 23, 1861, and mustered into the United States service for three years. The different companies of the regiment were recruited as follows:

Company A, in Syracuse; B, at Addison; C and F, at Corning; D, at Hornellsville; E, at Elmira; G, at Canisteo; H, at Troupsburg; I, at Cooper's Plains; and K, at Woodhull. Eight of these companies were from Steuben County. We left Elmira for the seat of war, November 23, 1861, with 960 men, rank and file, and arrived at Washington, D. C., on the morning of the 24th. We marched immediately out to Bladensburg, where we went into camp; remained there but a short time when we were ordered to Good Hope, Md., where we were stationed until the following December. From Good Hope we moved to various places at which we were encamped for short intervals, finally going to Washington, where we remained on provost and guard duty until late in the month of August, 1862, when we were ordered to the front.

Our first engagement was at Manassas where our casualties were 13 killed, 67 wounded, and 38 missing. After the battle we fell back with the army to Alexandria, Va., remaining in that vicinity for several weeks. Just prior to the battle of Antietam the Eighty-sixth Regiment was at Fort Corcoran, opposite Georgetown, D. C. Our division was hurried off through Washington to Harper's Ferry, making a forced march from there through Pleasant Valley and over South Mountain, but arrived only in time to witness Lee's army in full retreat. We joined the Army of the Potomac in the pursuit.

At the battle of Fredericksburg, the Eighty-sixth was in Whipple's Division, Third Corps, and was stationed in the city on the extreme right of the line. While not seriously engaged in that contest we had a number of men wounded. After the battle we crossed the river on pontoons near the Lacy House and returned to our former quarters.

At the battle of Chancellorsville the regiment took part in three distinct engagements. On the evening of May 1st, after dark, we took position in line of battle in the grounds around the Chancellor House. We held this position until the second, when our division was moved up the Plank Road for the purpose of intercepting a Confederate wagon train, which was moving south on the old Furnace Road. In the rough country beyond Hazel Grove we came in collision with the enemy and after a severe engagement we were driven back to the Grove.

In the meantime General Jackson had struck the Eleventh Corps, doubled them up and driven them back in disorder. Our division was cut off from the main army by the Confederates, and the Eighty-sixth, with other regiments composing the division, had to do some steady fighting to get in touch with our army again. After three attempts we managed to cut our way through the enemy's lines, sustaining severe losses. On coming into the line of battle again with our own army on that Sunday morning, we were directed to support some pieces of artillery stationed south of the Plank Road. The Confederates during the course of that day made many desperate charges for the capture of these guns, but were repulsed. In the afternoon, a more desperate effort than ever was made on that portion of General Sickles' line, west of the Chancellor House, in which attack Lieutenant Colonel Chapin, commanding the Eighty-sixth Regiment, was killed, as were also Capts. D. E. Ellsworth and W. W. Angel; Major Higgins, Adjutant Stafford, and Lieutenant Woodward were seriously wounded. The last-named officer died a few days later. In this battle the regiment was under fire continuously for three days, and lost heavily in killed and wounded.

In the forepart of June we were sent with three or four other regiments up the Rappahannock River to Beverly Ford to support the cavalry, a portion of which crossed the river near Brandy Station, on the 9th of June. Here we had a hot encounter with the enemy, losing 6 men killed and a number wounded. We joined the main army again at Bealton Station, and with diminished numbers took up the line of march to Gettysburg, which proved to be a long and tiresome tramp.

About 1 o'clock p. m., on July 1, 1863, our division of the Third Corps halted for dinner on the outskirts of Emmitsburg, Md., and about twelve miles from Gettysburg. The fires had been barely kindled when the bugle sounded "pack up." The booming of cannon could be heard in the distance, and we were hurried off at double-quick. The hot July sun was blazing down on us, and many fell by the wayside from the effects of the heat. We took position that night on the battlefield of July 2d, near the historic "Wheatfield." Some firing could be heard near the village of Gettysburg, and an occasional shell exploded rather near us. Early in the morning of the 2d we marched to the south and in rear of the rocky cavern known as the "Devil's Den." About noon our brigade (Ward's) was advanced to its position in line of battle, our regiment taking position in the woods beyond the Devil's Den, with the One hundred and twenty-fourth New York on our immediate left, and the Twentieth Indiana on our right. Between 3 and 4 o'clock p. m., the enemy, who had been pressing the right of the Third Corps, which was now far advanced to the front, moved forward in solid column, halting for a moment when they had reached the edge of the woods in our front. They immediately advanced again, rapidly and with fierce yells; but our ranks pouring out a deadly fire checked them, and they were driven back. Rallying again they reformed and fired a sharp volley at us which caused our line to waver some, but we hung on grimly and maintained our ground until 5 p. m. The enemy had pressed the brigade back from the Devil's Den, and had attacked Round Top. Those in our immediate front greatly outnumbered us. Our left flank had been turned and we were forced to fall back, which we did in good order. Our losses in this battle were 11 killed, 51 wounded, and 4 missing. Captain John Warner was among the killed, and Lieutenant Colonel Higgins was seriously wounded.

During the afternoon of the 3d of July, our regiment supported General Hancock and the Second Corps while sustaining the shock of Pickett's charge. No losses were sustained by the Eighty-sixth on that day. The regiment was highly commended by our respective division and brigade commanders, Generals Birney and Ward, for its good conduct on the battlefield of Gettysburg.

On the 5th of July, we left the scene of that great battle to follow up General Lee's retreating army. We crossed the Potomac River at Berlin, and marched up through Loudoun Valley. Later on, and in the same month, we encountered Swell's Corps at Manassas Gap, near its entrance, and drove him back into Shenandoah Valley. This battle is known as Wapping Heights. We afterwards marched on to Warrenton, Va., and were engaged with the enemy at Auburn, Kelly's Ford, Mine Run, and Locust Grove. In the winter of 1864, at Brandy Station, the army was reorganized and the Third Corps was consolidated into one division, making the Third Division of the Second Corps. In January, 1864, most of the men in the Eighty-sixth Regiment re-enlisted, and then went home on the customary veteran furlough of thirty days, returning to the army in February, and then joining the ranks of the Second Corps.

On the 3d of May, 1864, we broke camp at Brandy Station, crossed the Rapidan River at Ely's Ford and entered upon the campaign of the Wilderness, our regiment being made up of 450 men rank and file. On the night of May 4th, we bivouacked on the old battlefield of Chancellorsville, and the next day pressed on to the Wilderness. The survivors who participated in the trials and hardships of those eventful days will remember the desperate fighting at the Brock Road and Po River, in which our regiment had a fierce encounter with the enemy at close quarters, hand-to-hand. We lost 32 men killed, and had a large number wounded. In that engagement every member of our color guard was either killed or wounded, and it was the good fortune of the writer to be able to carry the colors from the field and to save them from capture by the Rebels. The regiment went into the engagement with 300 men, of which number 150 were numbered among the killed, wounded, or missing after the battle. Capt. John Phinney and Adjt. James Cherry were among the killed; and Capt. Samuel Stone was killed the same day at Alsop's Farm, where Capt. Vincent was severely wounded.

At the battle of Spotsylvania, on May 12th, the Eighty-sixth with the Third Division of the Second Corps formed the first line in the attack upon the enemy's works, which were captured together with 16 pieces of artillery which were turned against their former owners. There was good hard fighting that day, and a Confederate division numbering 4,000 men were taken prisoners. On the morning of the 13th our regiment could muster only 75 men. As we had opened the campaign with 450 in active service it will be easily comprehended what rough treatment we received in that ten days of battle. From Spotsylvania we went to Anderson's Farm, North Anna, Totopotomoy, and Cold Harbor. We crossed the James River at Wilcox Landing, and arrived at Petersburg June 15th. We took part in the battles of the next four days.

On the morning of June 16th, we took possession of the enemy's abandoned works. On the morning of the 16th, a shell from a Rebel battery passed through the regiment, and exploding killed Lieutenant Stanton, and wounded several others. We remained in the vicinity for some time, constantly changing oar position but all the while under fire, and losing many of our men killed and wounded. On the 27th of July, with the Second Corps, we marched to City Point, crossed the Appomattox at Point of Rocks, and at Deep Bottom crossed the James River. We encountered the enemy, and at night recrossed the river and fell back to the Petersburg front. And here followed the battle of Reams' Station. After another engagement at Deep Bottom in the month of August we relieved the Ninth Corps at City Point, the latter corps going into the fight at the explosion of the Mine.

On October 27th the regiment bore its part in the battle of Hatcher's Run, where it sustained a heavy loss in killed and wounded. In this action we were completely surrounded by the Rebels. Night came on, and a heavy rain set in; both armies were mixed up. About 1 o'clock in the morning we managed to extricate ourselves, and made our escape with the loss of a few men who were made prisoners by the enemy. Lieutenant Rathbone was among the missing when we made camp again, and he was never heard of afterwards.

We were then marched to the works at Petersburg where we relieved a brigade in Fort Hell. We remained there, living under ground and protected by our bomb proof defences, until December. There was a constant shower of projectiles, big and little, from the Rebel works falling about us during these months. Col. M. B. Stafford, a brave and popular officer, was mortally wounded by the bursting of a shell, and died in the fort, December 1, 1864.

About that time the Eighty-sixth, being relieved from duty at Fort Hell, joined the Fifth Corps, which with the Third Division, Second Corps, took part in the Weldon Raid, going as far south as Weldon, N. C, or near there.

The men suffered intensely on this march from a cold storm of rain which turned to sleet and snow. On February 5 and 7, 1865, occurred the second battle of Hatcher's Run, in which the Eighty-sixth took part. In this position we were at the breaking through of the lines at Petersburg. We crossed through the lines just south of the Boydton Plank Road, marched through the woods in our front, but found that the enemy a short time previous had abandoned their works and were in full retreat. Imagine our joy on beholding our own cavalry passing down inside the enemy's works. We marched through to the left and upon the Boydton Plank Road to the outskirts of Petersburg.

In the morning we turned our backs to the city without having had the satisfaction of entering it. We marched after the retiring army, picking up stragglers and reviewing with satisfaction other unmistakable signs of " the beginning of the end."

The wake of Lee's fleeing columns was strewn with burning wagon trains, camp and garrison equipage, dead and dying horses, and maimed and broken-down soldiers in ragged uniforms of gray. So we marched on, frequently coming upon and skirmishing with the trailing Confederate brigades.

On the 28th, after several attempts to take a piece of artillery which had annoyed us throughout the day, the regiment made a final charge and captured it. Two men of Company C of our regiment pushed through a swamp of alders, within twenty feet of the gun, when the last shot was fired; the enemy abandoned it, and the men took the piece before the smoke had cleared away.

On the next day, April 9th, General Lee surrendered. The excitement was intense, and the enthusiasm unbounded. Men who an hour before had been unable to stand from fatigue, capered about and cut "pigeon wings " with frantic glee. Bands played, flags waved, hats filled the air, the host of artillery and infantry joined in one grand, wild symphony of cannon and musketry that made those in the rear who had not yet heard the good news, think that the greatest battle of the war had commenced.

On the 11th of June we marched back to Burkesville Junction, and after a few weeks of rest made our way with the army to Washington. We marched through Richmond, passing Libby Prison, at that time full of Confederate soldiers; the city was also filled with paroled Confederate prisoners. We arrived about the middle of May at our last camp, at Bailey's Cross Roads, near Washington. We then took part in the greatest military pageant that this continent has yet seen, the Grand Review at Washington. On the 27th of June, 1865, the Eighty-sixth New York Regiment was duly mustered out the service of the United States, after three years and eight months of active duty with the Army of the Potomac.

The total number of men who had been enrolled in the regiment was 1,318. The losses in battle were: killed, 13 officers and 159 men; total, 172. Number wounded, 611. On the 29th of June we broke camp, marched through the city of Washington, and boarded trains bound for our Northern homes.

At Elmira, July 2, 1865, we turned over our arms and accoutrements to Uncle Sam at Barracks No. 1; received our last pay as soldiers, and were finally mustered out. We bade adieu to the stirring life of camp and field to return once more to the peaceful monotony of rural life.

We bade farewell to comrades as brave as any that wore the blue, and as chivalrous as any knight that ever wore plate of Milan steel.

The following is a list of the battles in which the Eighty-sixth Regiment took part:

Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Beverly Ford, Gettysburg, Wapping Heights, Auburn, Kelly's Ford, Locust Grove, Mine Run, Wilderness, Po River, Spotsylvania, Anderson's Farm, North Anna, Totopotomoy, Cold Harbor, Siege of Petersburg, Jones's House, Deep Bottom, First Hatcher's Run, Second Hatcher's Run, Five Forks, Amelia Springs, Farmville, Surrender of Lee's Army, and many skirmishes not included.