126th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch
By Maj. Charles A. Richardson
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 One hundred and twenty-sixth New York Infantry was raised in 1862, in the counties of Ontario, Seneca, and Yates, under the call of the President, issued on the 1st day of July, 1862, for 300,000 men.
The regiment was mustered into the United States service at Geneva, N. Y., on the 22d day of August, 1862, with 39 officers and 956 enlisted men, and sent to Harper's Ferry, and there armed. On the 12th of September, a portion of the regiment was ordered to Maryland Heights, where on the following day it was engaged with Kershaw's South Carolina Brigade, supported by Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade of McLaws' Division, until ordered to retire. In this engagement it inflicted a severe loss on the enemy, much greater than it suffered, notwithstanding which, it was basely slandered by cowardly officers of other commands, who sought thereby to conceal their own guilt. In this engagement Colonel Sherrill was severely wounded.
On the 15th of September, 1862, the regiment was surrendered and paroled with the garrison at Harper's Ferry, in all a force of 11,000 men, including the Thirty-ninth, the One hundred and eleventh, and the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York Infantry.
The regiment was sent to Chicago, and being soon exchanged, was rearmed and went into camp and on duty at Union Mills, and afterwards at Centreville, Va., the Thirty-ninth, the One hundred and eleventh, the One hundred and twenty-fifth, and the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, constituting a brigade in Casey's Division, afterwards the Third Brigade, commanded by Gen. Alexander Hays, in Abercrombie's Division.
On the 25th of June, 1863, the brigade was assigned as the Third Brigade of the Third Division of the Second Corps, Gen. Alexander Hays commanding the division, and Col. George Lamb Willard, of the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York, commanding the brigade.
The brigade thereafter participated in all the battles in which the Army of the Potomac was engaged until the close of the war.
The brigade reached Gettysburg at 8 o'clock, a. m., July 2, 1863, and was formed in line on the crest of the ridge south of Ziegler's Grove, and the Bryan House. At 3 o'clock, p. m., when the enemy's artillery, south of the Seminary, opened on our line, it was moved forward to the stone wall.
While here, Companies B, H, and K charged on and captured the Bliss barn, with quite a number of prisoners.
At about 7 o'clock in the afternoon, General Sickles having been wounded, General Hancock, who had been placed in command of the Third Corps with his own, personally conducted the brigade nearly a mile to the left, to the rear of a busby swale, filled with boulders, near the source of Plum Run, through which a portion of Birney's Division of the Third Corps Had just been driven. Here the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York on the left and the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York in the centre, and the One hundred and eleventh New York on the right, charged into the thicket held by the Thirteenth, the Seventeenth, and the Eighteenth Mississippi Regiments of Barksdale's Brigade — the Thirty-ninth New York having been faced to the left to prevent a flank and rear attack on the other three New York regiments. The three New York regiments, although receiving a deadly volley at less than ten paces from the concealed enemy, charged and drove them to the farther edge of the swale, almost at arm's length, where large numbers of the enemy threw themselves down and raised their hands in token of surrender, and the rest fled up the hill pursued by our brigade 175 yards, towards the Emmitsburg Road, when the artillery ,fire from the front and the left became so hot that the brigade fell back to the swale, taking with them several pieces of artillery which had previously fallen into the hands of the enemy. Here Colonel Willard was instantly killed and the command devolved on Colonel Sherrill of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York. Lieutenant Colonel Bull took command of the regiment.
In the meantime the Twenty-first Mississippi of Barksdale's Brigade had swept down from the Peach Orchard, where they had wounded and captured General Graham (late engineer of our New York Commissioners for Gettysburg Monuments), past Bigelow's Battery and across Plum Run and captured Watson's Battery I, Fifth United States Artillery, which was wholly unsupported. Lieutenant Peeples of that battery, seeing our Thirty-ninth New York standing where it had been placed, ran over and induced it to attempt to retake his battery. The Thirty-ninth at once charged, and driving the enemy from the guns recaptured everything which had been lost, and conveyed it safely to the rear. Thus while our other three regiments were driving Barksdale's other three regiments back towards the Emmitsburg Road, our detached Thirty-ninth drove back Barksdale's detached Twenty-first, and recovered from them Watson's Battery.
General Hancock, in his official report, says of Willard's Brigade in this' charge: "There were no other troops on its right or left, and the brigade soon became engaged, losing its commander, Colonel Willard, and many officers and men."
Farther on he says: "General Barksdale of the Rebel service was left on the field mortally wounded.
" The Third Brigade of the Third Division, commanded by Colonel Sherrill, after Colonel Willard's death, made a gallant advance on the enemy's batteries to the right of the brick house (Sherfy's), in which the One hundred and eleventh New York Volunteers, under Colonel MacDougall, bore a distinguished part. This brigade lost nearly one-half its numbers."
General Hays in his official report says: " Colonel Willard, One Hundred and twenty-fifth New York Volunteers, commanding the Third Brigade, was late in the day withdrawn from the division by the major general commanding (General Hancock), and took a prominent part in the engagement on our left. The history of this brigade's operations is written in blood. Colonel Willard was killed, and the next day after the brigade had rejoined the division his successor, Col. Eliakim Sherrill, One hundred and twenty-sixth New York Volunteers, also fell. Col. C. D. MacDougall, One hundred and eleventh New York Volunteers, and Maj. Hugo Hildebrandt, Thirty-ninth New York Volunteers, were each severely wounded, leaving the brigade in command of a lieutenant colonel.
" The loss of this brigade amounts to one-half the casualties in the division. The acts of traitors at Harper's Ferry had not stained their patriotism."
At dusk the brigade returned to a position nearly in the rear of that occupied during the day, and there remained until the afternoon of the 3d. After the shelling had ceased on the 3d, and just before the charge of the enemy on the line of the Second Corps, the brigade, excepting the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, was moved up to the line it occupied the preceding day, now occupied by the Twelfth New Jersey, First Delaware, and Fourteenth Connecticut, of the Second Brigade, so that the line was four ranks deep. The One hundred and twenty-sixth New York was moved to the right of the One hundred and eighth New York and of the Second Brigade, and just in front of the right of Woodruff's United States Battery, so that it was the right regiment of the corps and just opposite the left of the enemy's charging line. Brockenbrough's Brigade of Virginia regiments and Davis' Brigade of three Mississippi regiments and the Fifty-sixth North Carolina Regiment having broken, Lane's Brigade of North Carolina regiments, with the Thirty-third North Carolina on the left, advanced on the extreme left of the charging line.
It is proper to add here, that when the left of the enemy's line had reached the Emmitsburg Road, Captain Armstrong, of the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York, (now General Armstrong, of the Hampton School, Va.,) in command of a detail of skirmishers from the brigade, who had retired his command to the Emmitsburg Road, outside of the enemy's charging line, opened a sharp fire on the enemy's flank, and aided in throwing their left into confusion. This flank movement of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, although not specially mentioned in the official reports, is well remembered by the officers and men of the regiment, and is fully established by the report of the Confederate General Lane, and the statements of the officers of the Thirty-third North Carolina, which was the left regiment of Lane's Brigade, and the left of the enemy's line at the last.
Col. Eliakim Sherrill of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, commanding the brigade, fell mortally wounded near the position of the Thirty-ninth New York during the engagement, and was borne to the rear by two soldiers of that regiment — his own regiment not knowing that he was shot until after the repulse of the enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Bull of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, then being the senior officer, assumed command of the brigade.
Colonel Sherrill died at the Eleventh Corps' hospital at 8 o'clock the following morning — July 4, 1863 — and his body was taken to Baltimore by Surg. Charles S. Hoyt, and there embalmed and sent to his late home in Geneva, N. Y., where it was buried with military honors. His funeral was attended by fully 10,000 people.
The One hundred and twenty-sixth New York was by order advanced, and wheeling to the left it opened an enfilading fire on the enemy, who soon broke in confusion, when the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York charged on their flank and captured many prisoners and several stands of colors, three of which were duly turned over, and the medals authorized by the act of Congress for the capture of colors were issued therefor to Private Jerry Wall, Company B, Private George H. Dore, Company D, and to Capt. Morris Brown, Jr., of Company A. The colors captured by Captain Brown had inscribed thereon twelve battles, one of which was Harper's Ferry.
General Hays in his official report says: " The division captured and turned into corps headquarters, fifteen battle flags or banners." Thus it appears that the One hundred and twenty-sixth captured and turned over three of the fifteen flags captured by the division of thirteen regiments.
In reference to the attack of the enemy on the third day, General Hancock says: " In front of Hays' Division it was not of very long duration; mowed down by canister from Woodruff's Battery and by the fire from two regiments judiciously posted by General Hays on his extreme front and right, and by the fire of different lines in the rear, the enemy broke in great disorder, leaving 15 colors and nearly 2,000 prisoners in the hands of this division. Those of the enemy's troops which did not fall into disorder in front of the Third Division were removed to the right, and reinforced the line attacking Gibbon's Division."
The One hundred and twenty-sixth New York lost in killed, 5 officers and 35 enlisted men; in wounded, 9 officers and 172 enlisted men; and in missing, 10 enlisted men. The missing, in fact, were all killed or wounded; total, 231. According to the official reports there were only four regiments that lost in killed and wounded at Gettysburg more than the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York. The Twenty-fourth Michigan, First Corps, First Division, First Brigade, lost 272; the One hundred and eleventh New York, Second Corps, Third Division, Third Brigade, lost 235; the One hundred and fifty-first Pennsylvania, First Corps, Third Division, First Brigade, lost 223; the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, Second Corps, Third Division, Third Brigade, lost 221.
It may be of interest to note briefly some other facts in the history of the regiment.
At Harper's Ferry its losses in killed were I officer and 15 enlisted men; in wounded, 4 officers and 35 enlisted men; total, 55. It went into the battle of Gettysburg on the 2d of July, with 30 officers and 425 enlisted men, bearing arms. Its loss was 231, as before stated.
On the I4th of October, 1863, when the battles of Auburn Ford and Bristoe Station were fought, there were present 2 field officers, II line officers, and 242 enlisted men.
At Auburn Ford the regiment lost 5 enlisted men killed, and 17 wounded, and on the same day at Bristoe Station, it lost 6 killed and 13 wounded; total on that day, 41. At Bristoe Station the brigade, with the aid of Arnold's Battery, nearly annihilated Cooke's North Carolina Brigade of Hill's Corps, and captured four guns of Mclntosh's Artillery, each regiment drawing off one piece.