Historical Sketch of the 5th New York Independent Battery
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 Fifth New York Independent Battery of Light Artillery was organized at Brooklyn, N. Y., August 15, 1861. At its organization it was intended that it should form a part of Sickles' Excelsior Brigade.
It was mustered into the United States service November 8, 1861, with Elijah D. Taft as captain, and, leaving Brooklyn on the 16th, was ordered to Washington. It was stationed near the Capitol until March, 1862, when it accompanied the army to the Peninsula, although it was not equipped or mounted. It was attached to the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac, composed at that time almost entirely of regular batteries.
Col. (afterwards general) H. J. Hunt, commander of the Artillery Reserve, says in his official report: "Captain Taft, finding his battery could not be mounted in time to take part in the campaign, volunteered its services for the Artillery Reserve, among the batteries of which the officers and men have been distributed. Captain Taft, his officers, Lieutenants Henderson, Denike, and Russell (the latter wounded at Yorktown), his non-commissioned officers and men, have served faithfully, efficiently, and usefully." The officers and men, while serving thus with other commands, took an active part in the fighting at Fair Oaks, and in the Seven Days Battle. Embarking at Harrison's Landing, Va., August 9, 1862, it sailed to Aquia Creek, Va., where it landed and marched to Falmouth, Va., near Fredericksburg, and reported to General Burnside. After being under his command about fifteen days the battery was re-embarked and proceeded to Alexandria, Va., reporting to Colonel Hays, commanding Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.
Its equipment of four twenty-pounder Parrott rifled cannon was received in time for the battery to join General McClellan's army on the Maryland campaign, the men being afforded an ample opportunity to test the efficiency of these heavy field pieces at the battle of Antietam. In this campaign the battery was attached to the Reserve Artillery of the Fifth Army Corps, which, at that time, was under the command of Gen. Fitz John Porter.
At Fredericksburg, Captain Taft was stationed with his four heavy guns on the left of the Union line, from which position he shelled the enemy on the opposite side of the river. Although his command sustained no casualties in this battle his guns rendered good service, having thrown 221 shells during the action. In December 1862, the battery was placed in the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac. At the battle of Marye's Heights, May 3, 1863, it occupied a position during the preliminary fighting near where it stood at the previous battle.
At the battle of Gettysburg, Taft had six twenty-pounder Parrotts, or three full sections; and his guns were the only ones in General Meade's entire army on that field which were heavier than the ten-pound rifles or twelve-pound Napoleons used by the other batteries. At this time Captain Taft was in command of the Second Brigade of the Reserve Artillery, Army of the Potomac.
Leaving Taneytown, Md., on the morning of July 2d, the battery arrived at Gettysburg about 10:30 a. m. In the afternoon it was ordered to report to General Howard on Cemetery Hill, where it went into position about 5 o'clock in the old cemetery, and engaged one of the enemy's batteries on the north, with four guns; and one on the west with two. Taft was engaged also on the third day at intervals during the greater part of the day. One of his guns burst at the muzzle, and became useless. In the two days' fighting the battery fired 557 rounds of shell and shrapnel.
Private John C. Begg was killed by the explosion of a caisson limber while coming on the battlefield, July 2d; Private Anton Thalheimer was shot through the bowels with a rifle bullet in the third day's fight, and died that night. Sergeant Dillon and Private Wittenberg were wounded, the latter severely.
In the fall of 1863 the majority of the men re-enlisted for the war, and returned to New York on a thirty days' furlough. Rejoining the army in time for the spring campaign of 1864, the battery was actively engaged at Spotsyl-vania, where three of the men were killed. An order having been issued for a reduction of the Reserve Artillery, the Fifth New York Battery was ordered to Washington, and on May 19, 1864, left the front. It was stationed at Fort Craig, in the defenses of Washington, south of the Potomac River, until July 12, 1864, when it reported to General Wright, commanding Sixth Army Corps, in Maryland. In August it was transferred to the Nineteenth Army Corps, commanded by Gen. William Emory, and with that corps participated in the following battles: Opequon or Winchester, September 19, 1864; Fisher's Hill, Va., September 22, 1864; New Market, September 24, 1864; and Cedar Creek, Va., October 19, 1864
On June 5, 1863, Captain Taft was assigned to the command of the Second Brigade, Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac, holding that position until February, 1864, during which time the battery was commanded by First Lieut. J. P. Denike.
On August 7, 1864, Captain Taft was assigned to duty as chief of artillery, Nineteenth Army Corps, then in the Shenandoah Valley. During General Sheridan's victorious campaign the battery was commanded by First Lieut. J. V. Grant.
The battery remained in the Shenandoah Valley until the close of the war, and was mustered out of service at Hart's Island, New York Harbor, on July 6, 1865, after a continuous service of nearly four years.
The following officers were in command of the battery when it was mustered out: Capt. E. D. Taft, First Lieut. J. V. Grant, Second Lieuts. Thomas Riker and T. J. Skallon. Gen.. H. J. Hunt, chief of artillery, Army of the Potomac, in a private letter, says: " Captain Taft organized his battery under my direction in the fall and winter of 1861-62, and he served during the whole war under my command, except for a short period when detached. He was in every respect an excellent officer, brave, skillful, painstaking, a good administrator and disciplinarian. His battery was among the best in the Army of the Potomac. It did its full share of the fighting and did it well. Its excellent service was due to the character and qualities of the captain, and I had frequent occasion to commend him for gallantry and good conduct. His battery being an independent one, he could not receive the promotion usually conferred on an officer of his character and merits."
Among the casualties which occurred in the, battery the following were taken from the muster-out-rolls on file in the office of the Adjutant-General, at Albany, N. Y.: Anton Thalheimer: Killed in action, July 3, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pa. Adolph Wittenberg: Killed in action, July 3, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pa. John C. Begg: Killed in action, July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pa,, by the accidental explosion of a caisson. Thomas Newman: Killed in action, May 18, 1864, at Spotsylvania, Va. Durando Russell: Wounded, April 19, 1862, at the Siege of Yorktown, Va. Michael Ryan: Wounded in action, September 16, 1862, near Antietam, Md. James H. Biggs: Wounded in action, May 18,1864, at Spotsylvania, Va. Edward Flynn: Wounded in action, May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Va. Stephen Wagner: Wounded, June 27, 1862, at Glendale, Va., while serving with Battery E., Second United States Artillery. George Woods: Wounded in action, November 29, 1863, at Mine Run, Va. August Zehorsh: Wounded in action, May 18, 1864, at Spotsylvania, Va. James Sullivan: Missing in action, June 26, 1862, at Mechanicsville, Va., while serving with Battery K, Fifth United States Artillery. James H. Lyon: Captured, May 9, 1864, at Hawkins' Church, Va.; died, September 10, 1864, in Andersonville Prison. Frank Hoffmeyer: Drowned, May 28, 1864, while bathing at Arlington, Va. Laban C. Bertram: Died of disease, December 19, 1862, in hospital, at Washington, D. C. Theodore G. Cook: Died of disease in camp, at Harrison's Landing, Va. Josiah Crowley: Died of disease, in hospital, at Washington, D. C., September 3, 1862. John J. Snediker: Died of disease, August 20, 1862, in hospital, at Baltimore, Md. John Terbitt: Died of disease, July 15, 1862, while in camp, at Harrison's Landing, Va. Henry E, Halsted: Died of disease, July 6, 1862, while in camp, at Harrison's Landing, Va. James Higgins: Died of disease, February 5, 1864, in hospital, at New York City.
There were several others who were killed or wounded while serving temporarily with the Fifth New York Battery; but as they were on detached service their names and records are borne on the rolls of the respective batteries to which they belonged.