1st Veteran Independent Battery's Civil War Newspaper Clippings
From Cowan's Battery.
Camp Near Banks' Ford,
May 6th, 1863.
Messrs. Editors: Our Battery left camp a week ago yesterday, in a rain storm, and marched to the same place where we took positions on the heights below Fredericksburg, the 11th of December. Owing to halts made on the route, it was half past three o'clock next morning, before that position was reached.
An hour passed, and a volley of musketry a short distance below the heights in front of us, gave the information that the Pontoons were crossing the river, where Franklin crossed before. Our corps crossing in boats, a mile below us, in plain sight. Some shelling was done during that day, and the next, but we retained our position till eight o'clock Saturday night, when Reynold's corps having withdrawn from the crossing below, following Sickles' corps up the river, our corps crossed. The Battery following the infantry, went into position on the opposite side of the river, and spent the moon light hours in watching. At three o'clock Sunday morning, the corps moved on the road to Fredericksburg, Newton's Division in advance, our Division (Howe's) following.
We had scarce moved a thousand yards with the Battery when Newton's advance was heard driving the enemy out of Fredericksburg; it was just about daybreak. We halted in the road, being within a quarter of a mile of the lower side of the city.
As day broke, we could see the enemy drawn up all along the hills behind the rifle pits, and manning their forts, three of these forts being in front of our Division. At a little past five o'clock, Cowan's and Ayres' Batteries, all the artillery at present in the Division, were placed in position a few rods from the road, toward the heights, and soon opened fire.
From that time till ten o'clock, the Battery shelled the three forts, and received their fire in return. A shell was thrown from the third gun, sighted by Corporal Dempsey, which exploded a limber chest in one of the forts. It was his first trial as an officer, he having been recently promoted from the ranks.
We found afterward that the Captain of the battery and a General were killed in, and near this fort by our shells that morning. At 11 o'clock A. M. it was determined to carry the heights immediately. Newton's Division, (3d,) started first on the right, the 7th Massachusetts and 36th New York being part of the first line. With a wild cheer they ran up the steep hill on open ground, the enemy firing shells among them with great rapidity. We had a fine view of them as they charged over the works and drove the enemy out. Our Division gave one cheer for them and rushed forward; they had a mile to run up the hill, to reach the forts. On they went, out Batteries firing as fast as they could load, over their heads, and bursting shell in every part, till they too, had taken the rifle pits and drive the enemy from the forts, in wild confusion over the hill, when we ceased firing.
The officers of almost every regiment in the Division have since told me, in speaking of this, that, Cowan's Battery did the most execution, made the best shots they ever saw, and that their men were so exhausted with running a mile up hill, that had not our Battery shelled those forts, and almost stopped their fire, the infantry could not have taken them; these gentlemen, some of them, were in the skirmish line, some distance in advance of our battery, and had a fine view of all our shots, in the morning.
Three brass twelve pounders, were left in these forts, with the limber chest we exploded, and three others. Several dead men and horses lay about.
They left the guns without spiking them.
At one o'clock P. M., we had taken quiet possession of one of these forts with our battery, and were viewing the effects of our fire.
After halting two hours, the order came to advance again, and we followed the Division on the plank road to Culpepper. Brooks' and Newton's Divisions were in advance of us, and driving them till about five o'clock, when they had a terrific fight in front of a long line of woods, which the enemy held in force. This Battle lasted till dark, our Division being in sight in the rear, and held a short time in reserve, then thrown out in line to the left of the road to guard the flank. We followed, and held this position till 9 o'clock P. M., when we were ordered by Col. Tompkins, Chief of Artillery for the corps, to leave it and take position in front just in the rear of our first line, which had fell back from the wood a short distance. This position we held all night, and till dark next day.
Meanwhile Lieut. Atkins, who had been sent over the river at noon, (when we occupied the heights) with the fourth gun to get the axletree mended, came back over the river before 6 o'clock with the guns, battery waggon, and forage, our four baggage wagons and the officers mess wagon.
He enquired the road we had marched, and was directed to the left, on another road.
He followed the road past the forts, and went on a mile beyond, meeting with no pickets or any troops whatever, and supposed of course, they must have advanced, when he suddenly came upon the rebel pickets, sitting by the roadside. Sergeant Sears was riding by his side, and the waggons were a few rods behind them. The pickets jumped up, caught their rifles, and said, "Is the enemy coming?" "Yes," replied the Lieutenant, who had no pistols, and expected soon to be travelling toward Richmond. They seeing then, who he was, instead of presenting, and ordering him to surrender, said, "I know who you are, you're an enemy," and ran, waving their hands, and shouting to a battery of guns, not fifty rods distant, to fire; infantry being near it, who immediately advanced. Sergeant Sears had started back, closely followed by Lieut. A., and they turned the waggons, and started on a run.
Before the last waggon had started, the first shell from the battery struck beside it, and they ran nearly a mile, shelling all the way, when turning out of the road to avoid a tree fallen across it. One waggon ran against it, at the same time a horse on the gun fell in a mudhole in the road and the whole train was stopped; some of the mules broke loose and ran, others became unmanageable under the fire poured into them, and the enemy being not far in the rear, three wagons and the forage were left. The gun battery, waggon and remaining property were all saved, to the credit of all concerned. As soon as day broke we saw the enemy busily entrenching themselves, through the thin line of woods on the left of the road in front of us, and at six o'clock our battery opened fire on this point and for three hours threw shells enough to remind them that Cowan's Battery, was just there, and only wished they would just show themselves in front of the woods; this they were careful not to do, as shell after shell exploded just where we intended. From ten o'clock till four o'clock p. m., silence reigned, only an occasional shot told an enemy were near. During this time some troops opened communication with Bank's Ford, two miles from our battery, and when we heard of it at noon—and that although surrounded, except about a thousand yards near the ford, and even that spot not beyond the reach of their guns—we felt quite safe, and waited with perfect confidence the coming struggle for our lives, for we could not withdraw till dark without immediately receiving a fire in the rear. At four o'clock the long expected attack commenced, our skirmishers began to fire all around. The main attack came from the heights back of Fredericksburg, nearly forty thousand men attacking our little division, who held a line nearly, or quite, two miles long. They stood it nobly. The Col. of the 6th Vermont supported a brass battery and hid his men so the enemy thinking it unsupported, a regiment charged on it. The Col. made his men lay quiet till the enemy were near enough to cross bayonets, when they suddenly jumped up and poured in a volley killing and wounding nearly one-half and took rest prisoners, sending them to the rear immediately. Cowan fired rapidly into the woods in our front till dark, when Howe's Division being nearly used up and rapidly falling back on the road to the Ford, and only one regiment in our front, he was ordered to retreat toward the ford also.
Giving the order to load, gun after gun was fired, then immediately limbered started down the road, and before the last shell had exploded and the smoke cleared we were several rods away. At 9 o'clock we at the Ford; here we stood nearly four hours, waiting orders to cross, while every few minutes a shell exploded on or near the bridge, few yards distant. At one o'clock A. M., were ordered over the river, and had just crossed, when two shells exploded on the middle of the bridge where two minutes before our Battery passed; several more struck around us as we ascended the hill on this side: at 2 o'clock we were safely over, the whole corps following.— Yesterday afternoon we moved back to this spot, which is two miles from the Ford. A storm commenced last night, and continued to-day. Our Division suffered severely, the 7th Maine, and 33d N. Y. terribly. Ayres battery had seven wounded. Cowan's battery is praised by everybody who saw it fight, from Gen. Sedgwick down, and I am happy to state not a man was hurt. One man had a ball through his coat, however. Every man did his duty faithfully, and though all were tired when we reached here last night, we have only one sick to-day.—You will hear what has been done by Hooker, before this reaches you. I tell you briefly what I saw and what concerns our battery. I remain as ever,
Yours truly, J. W. C.
From Cowan's Battery.
Battle Field near Gettysburg, Pa.,
July 4th, 1883.
MESSRS. EDITORS.—We marched from Fairfax, marching every day for five successive days, crossed the Potomac at Edward's Ferry the 27th ult, reached Manchester, Pa., the 30th ult., rested July 1st and at 9 o'clock p. m. marched for this place, passing through Littletown, and reaching here eighteen hours from the time we started, a forced march of thirty-six miles, making about one hundred and fifty miles traveled in six days.
The 1st and 2d corps were just beginning to be heavily engaged when we reached here at 3 o'clock p. m day before yesterday. We listened to the fighting that day, and yesterday the whole of both armies fought in real earnest.
This Brigade of artillery was at first the only reserve, then one battery of it after another was called in till all entered before night.
Cowan's 1st Independent New York Battery was detailed to fight with the 1st corps and was in the front of Longstreet's corps. The battery did most excellent service but suffered more than in all the former battles in which they were engaged. First Lieut. Wm. P. Wright was shot through the right lung, the ball entering his breast and coming out at the back below the shoulder blade, severe hemorrhage resulted and he is considered dangerously wounded. First Lieut. Johnson was wounded in the thigh. Privates Peto, James Grey, McElroy and Billings were killed outright, and Henry Hitchcock had a thigh so mangled by a shell that he died this morning. Privates Gates and H. Clark were slightly wounded, Serg't Kimbark, also, but he is on duty now, Corporal McKenzie was wounded in the leg, not severely however.
Capt. Cowan had holes shot through his coat, and when his men were shot down and both Lieutenants carried from the field wounded, threw off his coat and worked a gun himself.
None of the wounded men of the battery are now considered dangerously injured. There has never been such artillery firing during any previous battle we have fought in, and our loss in artillerymen, both men and officers was fearful. The enemy must have suffered terribly.
Fighting ceased at dark, our men holding the field and in some places having driven the enemy from it. No fighting to-day. Yours &c,
J. W. C.
I hurriedly scrawl these few lines sitting on the field in our ambulance waiting for the renewal of the battle. The friends of the battery will be glad to know who is hurt.
Yours in haste,
J W. C
ON THE FIELD NEAR GETTYSBURG,
July 4th, 1863.
Dear Sir!—Willie was wounded yesterday severely, but we hope not dangerously. He is in Corps Hospital, (6th Corps) receiving every attention possible. Please find names of killed and wounded on opposite, and if possible inform their friends. The Battery has covered itself with honor.
The enemy was severely punished yesterday. Some 2,000 prisoners were taken within ten yards of the muzzles of my guns.
James Gray, Otis C. Billings, Jacob Y. Mc- Elroy, Edward Peto.
Lt. W. P. Wright, right breast.
Lt. W. H. Johnson, hip.
Sergt Kimbark, forehead slight.
Corp. C. McKenzie, foot severe.
Private Henry Hitchcock, thigh mortal.
" Chas. H. Gates, both legs severe.
" Henry W. Clark, leg.
" Thomas Sherman, forehead slight.
We buried our dead last night. They were all killed instantly. Henry Hitchcock is undoubtedly dead before this. I am unhurt. My horse was wounded and I received a Minnie ball through my coat at the same moment Will was wounded. ANDREW COWAN.
The above is an extract from a private letter from Capt. Cowan to D. Wright received this morning.
From Cowan's Battery.
Camp at Middletown, Md.,
July 9, 1863.
MR. EDITOR:—In my hurried scrawl the day after the battle, many interesting items concerning the Battery were necessarily omitted.
Capt. C. with two batteries, supported by Webb's Brigade, of the 2d Corps, (Hancock's) received the desperate charges of Rickett's Division, Longstreet's Corps. Our line was weak there, and nothing but the most determined resistance saved it from being pierced at that point. At one time, the enemy got within thirty yards, and some of them within ten yards of his guns, which were pouring double charges of cannister into their ranks, making huge gaps every moment, but they closed up, and came on, till Gen. Webb rallied his men, fired his revolver into the nearest of them, and by a desperate charge drove them back.
It was while they were so near, that in one minute, five of Cowan's men were shot, one falling with three balls in his brain, as he was putting in a charge of cannister. The man who shot Lieutenant Wright was not fifteen yards distant; and another made a hole in Capt. C.'s coat at the same time. Both were cheering on their men, who with loud cries, were shouting for "more cannister;" "Give it to 'em." Not a man flinched, and the brigade who supported them bear witness to their bravery, at the time when it was necessary to be brave. Just after the charge, when it was necessary to advance the guns a few yards, to pour in a galling fire on their backs; the boys say Capt. C. rushed them on, shouting "Come on boys!" "Come on quick, and give it to 'em!" "Sweeten 'em!" "I'll give every one of you a gold medal." And they did "come on" and "sweeten 'em." After the charge had been repulsed, these men, begrimmed with powder, their tongues cleaving to the roof of their mouths; drank eagerly from the dirty sponge buckets; and some were even thirsty enough to drink water from a basin where the wounds of some poor fellow had been washed.
When the 9th Mass, (Irish,) went past the battery on a charge, as Cowan was moving up his pieces, Mike Smith—a driver—seeing the green flag, rose up in his stirrups, the balls flying around him, tossed his cap in the air, shouting "Be jabbers! give it to 'em boys, hurrah for the auld flag."
The Battery remained in front till morning of the 5th inst., when it was relieved, and two hours after, started with the Corps after the retreating enemy.
We overtook them about 6 o'clock in the afternoon, near Millerstown, seven, miles from the battle field, and shelled them until their wagons went through the Gap, protected by Ewell's Corps. We were up before daylight on the 6th inst., ready to follow them, but as they held the Gap in force, we did not go through the town of M. until 5 P. M. Marched all night and the next day, (yesterday,) passing through Emmettsburg, and stopping in the mountains last night; came on this morning in a drenching rain, and reached here the middle of this afternoon.
The Battery has been unharnessed twice within eight days, about two hours each time.
We have marched thirty miles within forty-eight hours; the roads muddy, and for the last ten miles, rocky and mountainous; the rain falling heavily most of the time. Horses nearly shoeless; and ready to drop with fatigue. Men tired, but cheerful as ever. Yours in haste,
J. W. C.
From Cowan's Battery.
Camp near Warrenton, Va.,
Aug. 13, 1863.
MR. EDITOR.—Since my last, we have had some very long, wearisome marches, and arrived in camp a mile from this place, July 25th.
It closed a campaign, never to be forgotten by this army. Half the trials and privations, hopes and fears, which found birth lived and died, during those seven weeks, must ever remain unwritten. Almost as soon as we arrived here, Colonel Tompkins left to go North for conscripts. He was absent about a fortnight, during which time Capt. Cowan commanded the brigade.
Lieut. Kelly having resigned July 17th, Sergeant Van Etten received a commission a few days since, bearing that date.
Lieut. Van Etten distinguished himself during the battle of Gettysburg, and has earned his commission most honorably.
Lieut. W. H. Johnson, who was wounded in the hip at Gettysburg, recovered sufficiently to join the Battery, and resume his duties last week. We hear occasionally from Lieut. W. P. Wright, who is still at Gettysburg.
The weather for nearly four weeks has been very warm indeed, and as a consequence, sickness has increased. Only one man is reported sick in Cowan's Battery to-day.
We occupy a pleasant grove half a mile from the town on the road to New
Baltimore. It is the same grove occupied by Gen. McClellan's headquarters when that General was relieved from command last November. The boys have a large swing in the shade, and enjoy themselves hugely.
We obtain no ice this season, and few of the palatable articles so plenty last August at Harrison's landing, and perhaps the men are none the worse for it.
Blackberries have been very plenty; acres are covered with them.
Warrenton is the picture of desolation; not a thing to eat, drink or wear, can be obtained at any price, and many families depend almost entirely on our commissary for the necessaries of life.
We see no prospect of a move at present, though no furloughs are granted.
But I must close for to-night.
Yours, &c., J. W. C.
BRANDY STATION, VA.,
April 25th, 1864.
MR. EDITOR:—The following is a copy of a letter received from the Adjutant General, State of New York. Please give it a place in your columns.
State of N. Y, Adjutant General's Office,
Albany, April 18th, 1864.
CAPTAIN ANDREW COWAN:
Comd'g 1st Ind. Battery, N. Y. S. V.,
Brandy Station, Va.
CAPTAIN:—I have the honor to inform you in reply to your communication of the 30th ult., that the 1st Independent Battery, New York State Vols., are entitled to the name of the 1st Veteran Battery, New York State Vols, and will be borne on the Register of this Department accordingly, I am, Captain,
Signed, JOHN T. SPRAGUE,
You see that we take the lead of all New York State Batteries. Ninety (90) officers and men have re-enlisted out of one hundred; the whole number who were eligible to do so. The Battery is now full to overflowing. It numbers one hundred and sixty-five (165) good men and true, and five (5) officers, though neither officer or man has been on recruiting service since its organization in 1861. We now represent twelve (12) counties of New York State, also parts of Maine, Vermont, and Pennsylvania, but we still hail from "Old Cayuga." There are still remaining on the rolls of the Company only fifty-eight (58) out of one hundred and fifty two (152) officers and men, who left Auburn, December 2d, 1861. Ours is the only organization, I believe, that has gone forth from Cayuga County without the "Stars and Stripes" at its lead. Through twelve engagements we have fought without a flag, and I have no doubt we will continue to do so unless our Cayuga friends chance to think of us. We don't like to call on any other county, though without doubt Steuben or Saratoga would willingly furnish one—if you don't hear a good account of us in the coming struggle it won't be because we don't try. Every man will fight.
ANDREW COWAN, Capt.
1st. Vet. Battery, N. Y. V.
A letter from Sergeant O. R. Van Etten, of Cowan's Battery, dated on the field of battle near Gettysburg, July 4th, has just reached us, in which he writes that the rebels charged to within thirty feet of the guns of the battery.— Capt. Cowan is said to have shown splendid bravery, and the men of his command fought like heroes for four hours, their guns becoming so heated as to have to be cooled with water.
Advertiser and Union
Local, Literary, Miscellaneous.
Auburn, August 7, 1863.
Sergeant O. R. Van Eaton, of the 1st Independent Battery N. Y. V. (Cowan's) has been promoted to be 2d Lieutenant, for gallant conduct at Maryes Heights and Gettsburg.
Cowan's Battery, which distinguished itself so prominently in the battle at Gettysburg, was raised in Auburn and vicinity under the auspices of Secretary Seward.
A Voice from the Army.—The Auburn advertiser publishes the following significant army letter:
NEAR BERRYVILLE, Va.,
September 6, 1864.
MR. EDITOR:—The following is the result of a vote taken yesterday in the 1st N. Y. Independent Battery:
The actual vote next November will show five for Lincoln to one for McClellan. I am confident this will be the result not only in this battery but throughout the whole Army of the Potomac. "Little Mac" was once our idol, but his association with men whom we believe the enemies of the country has produced an entire change in our feelings toward him. No compromise with traitors. No peace without Union are our watchwords. Copperheads we despise.
Capt. 1st N. Y. Battery.
COWAN'S BATTERY AT GETTYSBURG.—Mr. Samuel Wilkeson's account of the battle of Gettysburg, furnished to the press, is a most thrilling and eloquent description, and has the following mention of Cowan's Battery, which Auburn may well be proud of:
The rebels were over our defences. They had cleaned cannoniers and horses from one of the guns, and were whirling it around to use upon us. The bayonet drove them back. But so hard pressed was this brave infantry that at one time, from the exhaustion of their ammunition, every battery upon the principal crest of attack was silent except Cowan's. His service of grape and canister was awful. It enabled our line, outnumbered two to one, first to beat back Longstreet, and then to charge upon him, and take a great number of his men prisoners.
CASUALTIES N COWAN'S BATTERY.—We find the following list in the New York Times of yesterday:
COWAN'S NEW YORK BATTERY—KILLED.
Privates James Gray, Otis C. Billings, Jacob Y. McIlroy, Edmund Peto. [The first two and the last one named were from Venice, Cayuga County.]
Lieut. Wm. P. Wright—right breast, probably mortally.
Lieut. Wm. H. Johnson—hip.
Sergt. A. C. Kimbark—head, slightly.
Corp. Alex. McKenzie—foot, severely.
Private Henry Hitchcock—thigh, mortal.
Private Chas. H. Gates—both legs, severe.
Private Henry W. Clark—leg.
Private Thomas Sherman—head, slight.