Historical Sketch

From The 3rd Annual Report Of The Bureau Of Military Statistics

The organization of what was subsequently the Fifteenth Regi¬ment Infantry, N. Y. S. V. (afterwards Fifteenth Engineers), was commenced by J. McLeod Murphy, — at that time a State Senator from New York city, — in February, 1861.

Under the act of April 16th, 1861, the headquarters of the regi¬ment were established at 600 Broadway, New York, and recruit¬ing actively prosecuted, On the 9th of May, the regiment was accepted, and numbered by the State Miliary Board, and an election for field officers ordered; and, on the 11th of May, the election of J. McLeod Murphy as Colonel, Richard S. Dodge as Lieutenant Colonel, and Francis B. O'Keefe as Major, was con¬firmed. On the 3d of, June the camp of the regiment was estab¬lished at Willett's Point, New York harbor, where, on the 17th, it was mustered into the service of the United States, for two years, as infantry. Tents were issued to the regiment, June 3d; uni¬forms, June 12th; and arms (smooth bore muskets, model of 1842, calibre 69), June 28th. To assist in organizing the regiment the Union Defense Committee expended $4,494.07, and the State, up to August 15th, $46,595.03, exclusive of subsistence and quarters.

The regiment left Willett's Pointy by steamer to Elizabethport, June 29th, and from thence by Camden and Amboy railroad to Washington, where it arrived oh the 30th at 6 P. M. On the 20th of July it was assigned to duty as a part of Acting Brigadier General McCunn's brigade; on the 21st, exchanged its arms for long Enfield muskets, calibre 57, and engaged in picket duty between Fall's Church, Bailey's Cross Roads, Theological Seminary and McCloud's Mills, and in slashing timber and throwing up fortifications at Fort Ward, with its headquarters at Fairfax Semi-nary. It remained here until the 29th of October — in the mean¬time having been successively assigned to Gen. Franklin's brigade (August 4), and to Gen. Newton's brigade (September 26).

The efforts of Col. Murphy to secure the organization of the regiment in accordance with his original intention were at length successful. In October (25th), it was ordered, by the War De¬partment, to report to Lieut. Col. Alexander, at Camp Alexander, near the navy yard, for instruction as engineers. This order was complied with on the 29th. The regiment remained under in¬struction until the 19th of March, 1862, when it was assigned to duty as a part of the engineer force under Gen. Woodbury, in Gen. McDowell's (1st) corps, and moved to Fairfax Seminary. On the 10th of April it proceeded to Cheeseman's Landing, and from thence embarked on the Peninsula campaign. During the siege of Yorktown was actively engaged in making roads and bridges, gabions and fascines, and in work in the trenches. The command was necessarily separated and the companies on detached service.

This was the case at West Point, where companies A, B, and E, under the command of Col. Murphy, rendered important service in the preparation of the apparatus which successfully landed Gen. Franklin's division under fire, and materially contributed to secure the victory gained on that occasion. The contrivance used consisted of rafts of pontoon boats lashed two and two to form approaches, and canal boats similarly coupled to continue the floating pier into the deeper water, in the march of the army up the Peninsula, detachments of the regiment preceded its columns, repairing bridges, making roads and clearing obstructions. On the Chickahominy it was employed on five of the immense bridge and causeway crossings of that marsh-bordered stream; and during the grand flank movement to the James, its sturdy arms and untir¬ing energy aided everywhere the progress of the Union forces. On the return of the regiment from Harrison's Landing, it was mustered for difference in pay between "engineers" and "infan¬try," Congress having, in the meantime, passed an act organizing an "engineer brigade," in which it was included. The period of its service as " infantry " was then fixed as from June 17th to Oc¬tober 25th, 1861, and as "engineers" from October 25th, 1861, to June 25th, 1863. It was employed in strengthening the defenses of Washington until the 16th of November, 1862, when it re¬joined the army of the Potomac in the field. After constructing piers for landing stores at Belle Plain, on Potomac Creek, it was assigned to the task of laying pontoon bridges over the Rappa-hannock. This work was commenced on the frosty moonlight night of the 10th of December, 1862. The pontoon train was moved down to the banks of the river, and just at sunrise unloaded at the place appointed, one mile below Fredericksburg. The bridge-layers laid their abutments at 7 A. M., watched by the ene¬my's pickets on the opposite bank, and at 8 1/4 A. M., the entire bridge was laid, with the exception of the last bay. The enemy's skirmishers now rapidly advanced and delivered several volleys into the working party, wounding a number of the men. The fire was returned with great spirit and courage by the remainder of the regiment, who stood to their arms on the friendly shore ; the Union artillery opened, the enemy retired, and the remainder of the work was completed without molestation. At 4 P. M. the regi¬ment was ordered to complete two bridges in front of Fredericks¬burg, from which the workmen of the 50th N. Y. Engineers had been four times repulsed during the day. These bridges had been projected at landings covered by stone walls, houses and cellars, from every loophole of which a deadly fire had been poured on the bridges, defeating all previous attempts to complete them. To overcome this, opposition pontoon boats were manned by oars¬men from the regiment, who ferried parties of infantry across under cover of a tremendous fire of artillery. The movement was entirely successful. Many prisoners were taken, the annoy¬ance removed and ihe bridges hurried to completion. After the return of the army, the bridges were taken up and the boats repaired.

The regiment remained in camp until the movement in January, when it moved on the second expedition under General Burnside, and which was terminated by the state of the roads from a sudden and heavy rain. Instead of laying bridges over the Rappahan¬nock, the order was to construct corduroy roads to enable the ar¬tillery and commissary trains to return to camp; and in this work the regiment participated.

The Chancellorsville campaign opened with the construction of a canvass raft at Port Conway, about fourteen miles below Freder¬icksburg, April 20. On the 28th a canvass bridge was built at Kelly's Ford ; 29th, three pontoon bridges at Franklin's Crossing, and three at the mouth of Pollock's creek; 30th, two at U. S. Ford ; May 4th, one at U. S. Ford; 3d, two in front of Freder¬icksburg, one at Banks' Ford, and one at U. S. Ford—in all, fifteen bridges. The entire brigade assisted in this work. These bridges were of course removed on the return of the army.

The last service performed, by the regiment was on the 5th of June, when two pontoon bridges were laid at Franklin's Crossing for the reconnoissance prior to the advance on the cam¬paign to Gettysburg. On the 13th of June the regiment marched to Aquia Creek, where it was detained twenty-four hours, by order of General Warren, picketing the neighboring fortifications. On the 14th it embarked on the steamer John Tucker, and proceeded to Washington, and thence to New York via Baltimore, Philadel¬phia, and Camden and Amboy; arrived on the 17th, and was mustered out on the 25th of June, 1863.

The regiment left in the field a battalion of three years' men, who were consolidated into three companies (A, B and C) June 17th. These companies were the nucleus for a reorganization of the regiment, which numbered, on the 31st of October, 1864, eighteen hundred and thirty-two men, and which continued in ser¬vice until the expiration of the war.