40th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch

Of The 40th
By Lieut. Joseph Murphy

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 organization of the Fortieth New York Volunteers dates from April, 1861, when parts of two companies, then known as the "Advance Guards," and one company known as the " Highland Guards," Captain Mason, were quartered at Elm Park, on the Bloomingdale Road, in the upper part of New York City. After a short stay here, they moved into barracks established in the Althouse Iron Works, corner of Houston and Green Streets, in the lower part of the city, and formed what was then known as the " Constitution Guards," under the command of Col. John S. Cocks, of the Twelfth Militia.

About this time, at the solicitation of the " Mozart Hall Committee," of New York City, it took the name " Mozart Regiment," and although it afterwards received a numerical designation from the State, it was known to the end of the war as the " Mozart Regiment," or Fortieth New York Volunteers.

From this time, until mustered into the United States service, the Union Defence Committee provided for the care and maintenance of the regiment. This committee gave them a munificent outfit, consisting of uniforms, arms (smooth-bore, caliber 69), 200 common and 40 officers' tents, camp equipage, 2 brass 12-pound howitzers, 10 wagons, and 4 ambulances, with teams, and a large quantity of ammunition, disbursing in round figures, the sum of $87,550.

About June 1st the regiment moved to Yonkers, N. Y., on the Hudson River, where it went into barracks in a large brick flour mill and machine shop, on the canal. Here Colonel Cocks, who had commanded the regiment up to this time, was deposed, and Col. Edward J. Riley was put in command.No more recruits being received from the State, except through the State authorities, the organization was completed by taking four companies from Massachusetts,— B, G, H, and K, and two companies from Philadelphia, Pa., F and A.

The regiment was mustered into the United States service by companies, for three years, at Yonkers, between June I4th and July 1st. A committee consisting of Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York City, and Messrs. Prosper M. Wetmore, A. T. Stewart, Moses H. Grinnell, and Judge Pierrepont, representing the " Union Defence Committee," presented the regiment with a stand of colors. The men at this time were encamped in a large field on Vineyard Avenue and High Street, the camp being known as " Camp Wood."

On July 4, 1861, the regiment, 1,030 strong, embarked on steamers for Elizabethport, N. J., proceeding thence by rail to Washington, D.C. Arriving at Washington, the Fortieth encamped at the head of Seventh Street, and on July 17, 1861, crossed the Long Bridge into Virginia. It was stationed at Alexandria to garrison that town, and to guard the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. During the battle of First Bull Run four companies held the road until the last of the great rout had passed, and, when peremptorily ordered to retire, brought off from Burke's Station a large quantity of ammunition and stores.

For several months afterwards the regiment was engaged in building Fort Ward, on the Leesburg Turnpike, assisting to build Fort Lyon, on the old Fairfax Road, in road making, and in picketing at Bailey's Cross Roads, on the Occoquan and Accotink Creeks. In September, the regiment moved out on the old Fairfax Road, and encamped opposite the old " Octagon House," the headquarters of Gen. John Sedgwick, who commanded the brigade. This was known as Camp Sedgwick. Here they were brigaded with the Thirty-eighth New York, Col. J. Hobart Ward, the Third Maine, Col. O. O. Howard, and the Fourth Maine, Col. Hirarn Berry, all crack regiments with commanding officers who were destined to achieve distinction and promotion in the campaigns yet to come.

The Fortieth was now in the First Division of the Third Army Corps, commanded by Gen. S. P. Heintzelman. In November the regiment, with the brigade, moved out about two miles nearer the enemy, then at Munson's Hill, on the Leesburg Turnpike, where it remained until March, 1862, doing fatigue and picket duty, drilling, etc. This camp was known as Camp Sackett, and while here a theatre was built, known as " Sedgwick's Brigade Lyceum," capable of seating about 1,500 people, the actors and actresses coming from Washington to give performances.

On March 17, 1862, the regiment, with the Third Corps, sailed from Alexandria for the Peninsula. At Hampton, the corps awaited the arrival of the whole army, and then moved in the advance towards Richmond, arriving before Yorktown, April 4, 1862. It was assigned to the right centre of the besieging forces, where it was actively engaged in digging trenches, building mortar redans and batteries until May 4th.

On May 4th, with part of the Thirty-eighth New York, all under command of Col. Edward J. Riley, the Fortieth was picketing the front. Having discovered before daybreak that the enemy was evacuating his works, the regiment with others was ordered to charge and seize the forts, and its men were the first to enter. In this advance Company H lost 7 men killed and wounded by the explosion of torpedoes,— the first men killed in the regiment losing their lives here.

After a wearisome march through deep mud and drenching rains, the " Mozarts " arrived before Williamsburg, May 5, 1862, and here occurred their first experience on the field of battle. In this engagement the regiment lost 29 in killed and wounded, their steady bearing under fire and efficient services eliciting the highest praise from the brigade and division commanders.

At Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, May 31 and June 1, 1862, they again distinguished themselves and proved their valor beyond question. The Fortieth, for its conspicuous and distinguished courage was, in general orders, complimented in the highest terms by General Birney, commanding brigade, General Kearny, commanding division, and General Heintzelman, commanding corps. Some idea of the terrible fire of the enemy during the battle of Fair Oaks, June 1st, may be formed from the fact that out of four companies (231 men) engaged with the Fifth and Eighth Alabama regiments, 96 men fell, every member of the color guard being either killed or wounded.

Col. Edward J. Riley, who, on the day previous, was seriously injured by a kick on the head from a vicious horse, was thrown from his horse early in the engagement, and injured so as to be compelled to leave the field. On the 4th of June, 1862, he resigned, and Lieutenant Colonel Egan succeeded to the command.

The many skirmishes and numerous reconnaissance prior to the Seven Days Battle attest the devotion and gallantry of the Mozart Regiment. At the battles of The Orchards, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale, Charles City Cross Roads, Malvern Hill, and Harrison's Landing, Colonel Egan and the " Mozarts " added new glory to their banners, already resplendent with the deeds of patriotism and devotion, and the Fortieth New York became a synonym of perfection in the Army of the Potomac.

After a stay of six weeks at Harrison's Landing we broke camp and marched down the Peninsula to Yorktown. We proceeded thence by boat to Alexandria, and thence by rail to Warrenton, where we arrived August 23, 1862. Here we had an all night's scout, marching near Greenwich, and thence around to Manassas Junction and Bristoe Station, where the cars and stores destroyed by Stonewall Jackson were still smoking. More marching and countermarching, interspersed with numerous skirmishes, and then we met the enemy in pitched battle at Manassas Plains on the 27th of August, 1862. During a period of three days and nights the Fortieth was almost continuously under arms, or engaged with the enemy. Falling back to Centreville on the 1st of September, the Mozarts participated at Chantilly in the last battle of General Pope's campaign. In this series of actions, known as Second Bull Run, the Fortieth lost 147 in killed, wounded and missing. The regiment now sadly reduced in numbers was ordered to Alexandria, where, encamping near Fort Lyon, two weeks were devoted to the double purpose of re-equipment and rest. While here the regiment, owing to its heavy losses and depleted ranks, was consolidated, on September 6, 1862, with the Eighty-seventh New York, and the officers of that regiment were mustered out as supernumeraries; but the men served until the expiration of their terms of enlistment, in the Fortieth.

On the 15th of September, 1862, we were once more en route for a campaign, and a lively march of two days found the regiment at the mouth of the Monocacy River, near Poolesville, Md., where Colonel Egan was placed in command of some troops assigned to him for the defence of the Monocacy Bridge. While occupying this post the Fortieth made frequent raids into Virginia, crossing the Potomac by wading at different fords in that vicinity. In the meantime the main army was engaged on the Antietam campaign.

When the Army of the Potomac moved into Virginia after the battle of Antietam, the regiment was ordered to rejoin the division, and was thrown forward in the endeavor to bring on an engagement at Culpeper. From there, crossing the Rappahannock at Waterloo Bridge, we marched on to Falmouth, and there went into winter quarters November 20, 1862.

On December 13th the regiment was called upon to make another sacrifice. It was the battle of Fredericksburg. We were in the reserve; but when General Franklin made the assault on the left, and Meade's splendid division of Pennsylvania Reserves was forced back, the Fortieth New York and the other regiments comprising Ward's Brigade, were thrown forward to check the advancing, exultant enemy. We were successful, but many of our bravest comrades fell, while the entire loss was more than one-half of the men carried into the fight. The casualties were, 19 killed, 74 wounded, and 30 captured or missing; total, 123.

On March 26, 1863, we participated in a grand review of the Third Corps by Major General Sickles, corps commander, and Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania. On April 8th there was a grand review of the Army of the Potomac on the Plains of Falmouth by President Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army.

On April 28, 1863, we received marching orders, and the men, heavily loaded with eight days' rations, besides their ammunition and equipments, started for Chancellorsville, arriving after a fatiguing march at the United States Ford, on the Rappahannock River, on April 30th. On the morning of May 1st we crossed the river on pontoons. Here the rebels had some earthworks thrown up, which they abandoned on the advance of our troops. After marching about four miles we were halted in some woods where we remained nearly all day. Towards night the firing became very brisk, and we were ordered to the front. Soon everything became quiet, and we slept in the woods along the Plank Road without being disturbed during the night.

During the 2d of May everything remained quiet until afternoon, when some wagons were seen moving to our right and front. Our division — Birney's — was ordered to advance. We soon made our way through the woods, the enemy leaving as quickly as possible. Here the Twenty-third Georgia Regiment was captured by the Berdan Sharpshooters, assisted by our brigade, the wagon train belonging to Jackson's Corps being captured also. While this was going on in our front, Jackson's Corps attacked and flanked the Eleventh Corps, causing them to fall back. Much to our surprise we were ordered back in double-quick time, arriving on the field where we were in the morning, at a place known as Hazel Grove, but better known to the boys as the " Dark Alley." At about 11 o'clock p. M., Capt. George W. Cooney of the Second Brigade Staff, came with orders from General Sickles to, " Form column, fix bayonets and charge; to take no prisoners, but do all the work with the bayonet." He informed us that we were surrounded and must cut our way through. The Mozart Regiment led the charge, which was successful. It was now after dark, and during the desperate fighting attending this movement Gen. " Stonewall" Jackson, the great Confederate leader, was killed.

On Sunday morning, the 3d, the enemy attacked in strong force, and from daylight until 11 o'clock the battle raged with great fury. I never heard such a continuous firing. To my mind the battles of the Peninsula were as nothing in comparison to it. Our army was never in better spirits, and I never saw them fight better. Our troops fell back slowly about a mile beyond the Chancellor House. The enemy did not dare to follow, but threw a few shells at us during the afternoon.

During the 4th, we threw up some rifle pits to protect us from the rebel shells. Skirmishing was kept up all day, and towards night the enemy brought out some artillery and commenced shelling us, but doing very little damage. On the morning of May 6th we recrossed the river, and marching back to our old camp reached there towards dark, wet, covered with mud, and completely used up.

May 29, 1863, the three years' men of the Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth New York Volunteers, and the members of the One hundred and first, and Fifty-fifth New York, who had already been consolidated with these regiments, were transferred to the Fortieth New York. From this time they were known and recognized as a part of the " Mozarts," making up to this time the remnants of five glorious fighting regiments which, like the Fortieth, had been reduced by severe and terrible losses sustained in battle, to less than the minimum number required by army regulations.

The regiment broke camp on June 11, 1863, in the afternoon and started on the Gettysburg campaign, passing on the march, Warrenton, Bealton Station, and Catlett's Station, reaching Manassas on the 15th after a very fatiguing march. Here we lay in the rifle pits along Bull Run doing picket duty until the 17th, when we marched to Centreville, passing over part of the old battlefield of Bull Run, where we stayed until the 19th, when we again took up the line of march. Arriving at Gum Springs, we encamped there until the 25th, when we again broke camp, and after a severe and fatiguing march of more than thirty miles that day, crossed the Potomac River at Edwards Ferry on pontoons. We then marched up the towpath of the Baltimore and Ohio Canal to the Aqueduct Bridge, over the Monocacy River, and halted for the night. The greater part of this march was made in a severe and drenching rain, marching in wet clothes, which made it more trying. Resuming our march on the 26th, we passed through Jefferson, Middletown, Frederick City, Boonsboro, over South Mountain, through Crampton's Pass, and Taneytown, arriving at Emmitsburg, Md., late in the afternoon of June 30th.

In the early morning of July 2d, we pressed forward over the Emmitsburg Pike, and were soon in bivouac at Gettysburg, in the grove of oaks opposite the famous Wheatfield, where we were shelled by the enemy at a lively rate. Crossing the Wheatfield and passing in the rear of the batteries, we moved by the flank through Smith's Battery, into a position on the extreme left of the Third Corps to the support of Ward's Brigade, at what is known as the " Devil's Den," where we held the extreme left of the corps. Here we push in, the fighting being very hot, with the rebels not more than twenty paces off and outnumbering us three to one. But we held Hood's veterans in check long enough to enable Vincent's Brigade to occupy and save the all-important position on Little Round Top.

General Birney, in his official report, says: "The Fortieth New York, Col. Tom. W. Egan, was sent by me to strengthen Ward's line, and led by its gallant colonel they charged the enemy and drove him back from.his advanced position."

General Ward says, in his report: "The valuable services rendered by Col. Tom. W. Egan and his noble regiment, the Fortieth New York (Mozart Regiment), at an opportune moment cannot be overestimated. Their steadiness and valor were not unknown to me, I having commanded them on former occasions. They came to me at the right time, and well did they perform their duty."

On the night of the 2d, the regiment was moved to a position a little to the left of the clump of trees, near which General Hancock was wounded, which position we occupied that night and the next day during the time of Pickett's charge. Although not actively engaged, we were under a murderous fire from the enemy's batteries during all the terrible cannonade which preceded the grand infantry charge of Pickett's and Pettigrew's Divisions. The loss in the Fortieth, at Gettysburg, was: 23 killed, 120 wounded (including the mortally wounded), and 7 missing; total, 150.

The next day — the 4th — we were employed in burying the dead and caring for the wounded, and on the 5th again started for Virginia, with the rest of the army, in pursuit of General Lee. From this time on the regiment continued in service with the Army of the Potomac until December 29, 1863, when the regiment re-enlisted as veterans almost to a man.

Upon the consolidation of the Third Corps with the Second, the Fortieth New York became a part of Ward's (First) Brigade, Birney's (Third) Division, of the Second Corps, in which command it served during the rest of the war. During the Wilderness Campaign, May 5-31, 1864, the gallant old regiment sustained its reputation for hard fighting, losing in this series of battles 358 in killed and wounded in less than a month. It participated in the assault on Petersburg and in the long siege that followed, during which the men were constantly under fire in the trenches. It fought with honorable distinction in the battles of the Weldon Railroad, Deep Bottom, Strawberry Plains, Boydton Road, Hatcher's Run, and Farmville, ending its services on the memorable field of Appomattox.

Colonel Egan's gallant record was recognized by a promotion as brigadier general, and, subsequently, by a commission as brevet major general. Upon his promotion Lieut. Col. Madison M. Cannon succeeded to the command of the regiment, and Maj. Augustus J. Warner was commissioned lieutenant colonel. The regiment was mustered out on Hart's Island, in New York Harbor, July 7, 1865, having been in service over four years with a record for gallantry and hard fighting that was second to none.