|Unit History Project|
Calvin Shaffer was born June 12, 1827. He married Anna P. Pelham on Sept. 27, 1858 in the Palenville M.E. Church, Catskill, Green Co., NY. Their first of three daughters, Minnie (my great-great aunt), was born in Brooklyn, NY on April 24, 1861.
From February until August 9, 1862 he actively recruited men for the 5th Regt. New York Volunteer Artillery and was mustered into Co. B of this regiment in New York Harbor as a 2nd Lt. with rank from July 31, 1862. He was Commissioned 1st Lt. by NY Gov. Ed. Morgan on Dec. 23 of that same year with rank from Oct. 26.
His regiment was attached to the 8th Army Corps, Middle Dept. in defense of Baltimore, MD. While on duty there he supervised the construction of parapets (walls of earth and stone) at Ft. McHenry where forty-eight years earlier on Sept. 14 Francis Scott Key composed the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” while being detained aboard a British warship during the bombardment of the fort.
Following his discovery of dissension and an attempt to disgrace and court martial Col. Samuel Graham, the regiment commander whom he supported and advised, he resigned his commission on April 11, 1863. His ‘fraudulently altered’ resignation which now read ‘on the grounds of confessed incompetency’ was accepted by the War Dept., A.G.O. in Washington on June 20, 1863.
After a review of his appeal by the Adjutant General of the Army in Washington, his resignation was amended and he was granted an Honorable Discharge.
Col. Graham was personally exonerated of all of these false charges by President Lincoln shortly after and resumed his command of the regiment.
During the late spring, summer and fall of 1863 1st Lt. Shaffer recruited men for a soon to be formed 15th Regt. New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery. He was mustered in as Captain, Co. F of this regiment on Dec. 3, 1863 with rank from Nov. 29, 1863.
Co. F, when organized, joined companies A to E already on duty at Ft. Lyons, VA where the regiment, under the command of Col. Louis Schirmer, served as infantry and heavy artillery in the 2nd and later the 4th Brigade, DeRussy’s Div., 22nd Corps until March 1864. It was at Ft. Lyons on June 9, 1863 when a large number of men from the 15th were reported ‘accidentally killed’ by the explosion of a magazine. During March and April, 1864 the regiment was assigned as Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac.
In May of 1864 the regiment saw their first action while attached to Gen. U.S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac, 1st and 3rd Battalions in the Heavy Artillery Brigade, 5th Corps. They suffered forty-four casualties in three days of close combat in the Wilderness on May 5-7: 1 officer and 3 enlisted men killed, 31 enlisted men wounded, 4 of whom later died of their wounds, 1 officer wounded to later recover and 8 men missing for a total of 44.
During the month of May the Army of the Potomac fought almost constantly against Gen. R.E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia at Spotsylvania Court House, Laurel Hill, Harris Farm (Fredericksburg Road), North Anna River, Jerico Mills, on line of the Pamunkey and Totopotomy in support of the infantry and cavalry of the 3rd Div., 5th Corps. The 15th Regt., N.Y.V. Heavy Artillery suffered 229 casualties in these battles including 45 killed.
June 1864 found the 15th attached to the 1st Brigade, 3rd Div., 5th Corps and started out the same way May ended at both Cold Harbor and Bethesda Church through June 3. That day they were transferred to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Div. Of the 5th Corps while still fighting at Cold Harbor. The battles of Cold Harbor, June 1-12 and White Oak Swamp, June 13, cost the regiment an additional 14 casualties: 4 killed, 10 wounded.
On June 17 began the ‘Siege of Petersburg’. It lasted until April 2, 1865.
Co. F of the 15th Regt., Shaffer’s, was attached to Artillery Reserve, Army of the Potomac from June until December 1864 at which time they rejoined the rest of their regiment, attached to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Div., 5th Army Corps since August, before Petersburg.
The 15th Regt., and several other Union heavy artillery regiments, despite the fact that they were probably not properly trained to do so, served as infantry during many of the battles and skirmishes which took place from the siege of Petersburg to the surrender at Appomattox Court House.
During the absence of Co. F the 15th distinguished itself at Welden Railroad August 18-21 where 14 of their regiment were killed and 75 wounded, 13 of them whom would not survive, and at Poplar Grove Church from September 10 through October 2 and at Hatcher’s Run October 27-28.
From December 6 to 11 the regiment supported the 5th Corps infantry at Hick’s Ford Raid and of February 5-7, 1865 again at Hatcher’s Run.
By March 28 Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, entrenched at Petersburg, were feeling the pinchers of Grant and his Army of the Potomac, who, having severed rail lines of supply and telegraph lines of communication, began his struggle to move his army south, leaving Richmond vulnerable.
The second battle of White Oak Swamp took place March 29-30, the 15th losing 22 more men killed or fatally wounded. Gen. Philip Sheridan and his cavalry had joined Grant on March 26 and on April 1 led the Union Army in the famous battle of Five Forks, where a man from the 15th received the Congressional Medal of Honor, defeating Gen. George Pickett of Gettysburg fame (Pickett’s Charge, July 3, 1863), capturing this vital cross road. The 15th N.Y. Vol. Heavy Artillery fought in this critical victory.
On April 2 Grant’s Army assaulted Lee’s weakened lines at Petersburg and Lee retreated to the west toward Amelia Courthouse. By April 3 Petersburg was occupied by Union troops, Richmond surrendered and President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet has fled to Danville, Va. It was the beginning of the end of the Confederacy and the war.
From April 4-8 continuous left-right flanking maneuvers to the west and southwest toward Appomattox Court House forced the confederates westward, cutting off Lee’s attempt to escape with his army, or what was left of it, in a southerly direction. Under the leadership of Generals Grant and Meade, Sheridan’s and Custer’s cavalries led the way.
Finally on April 8, Gen. Custer and his cavalry blocked the retreat route of Lee’s army at Appomattox Station and the next day, April 9, 1865, Palm Sunday, Gen. R.E. Lee surrendered his army to Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. The men of the 15th N.Y. Vol. Heavy Artillery were present at Appomattox Court House.
On April 12 Gen. Joshua Chamberlain of Maine, the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for leading the 20th Maine at the Battle of Getteysburg and the future Governor of Maine, was accorded the honor of accepting the formal surrender of the flags and arms of he Army of Northern Virginia.
Three days later John Wilkes Booth .mortally wounded President Lincoln.
In early May the 15th Regt., still attached to the 5th Corps, began its march to Washington, D.C. nearly retracing its path of battle of May and June of the previous year. They passed through Richmond and through or near many battle sites stained with both Union and Confederate blood and still littered with battered, rusted arms, cannon and caissons and the visible bones of both the Blue and the Gray.
Upon reaching Washington they camped at Arlington Heights, the former home of R.E. Lee and the future site of Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River , from where came the name of their Army, overlooking the Capitol, White House and the partially completed Washington Monument. The construction of the obelisk was halted during the war.
On May 23 nearly 200,000 Union soldiers began a two-day Grand Review up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol past the White House. As Gen. Chamberlain described the spectacle in his “Passing of the Armies”, (he had been invited to join President Johnson and his Cabinet on the reviewing stand); “Now the First Brigade: this of New York, the superb 5th, 140th, ant 146th, and the 15th Artillery, their equal in honor.” The proud surviving victors marched.
The 15th Regt., commanded by Major Julius Dieckman was honorably discharged and mustered out August 22, 1865 at Washington, D.C., having, during its service, lost by death, killed in action, 2 officers, 82 enlisted men; of wounds received in action, 6 officers, 67 enlisted men; of disease and other causes, 3 officers, 225 enlisted men; total 11 officers, 373 enlisted men; aggregate, 384; of whom 63 enlisted men dies at the hands of the enemy.
Capt. Calvin Shaffer was promoted to Major on August 28, 1865 with rank from June 2 and breveted Lt. Col. at his discharge on August 22.
Displayed here are Brevet Lt. Col. Shaffer’s engraved sword, his business card embossed with a colored depiction of his ‘Civil War Veteran’s Medal’ as well as an original of that same medal.
This sword he carried while serving in both the 5th and 15th Regts., New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery from August 9, 1862 until his discharge August 22, 1865 and it is ‘proudly displayed with all the honor and respect which it deserves.’
Col. Shaffer died September 20, 1903 and is buried in the Village of Catskill Cemetery (Thompson Street Cemetery), Catskill, NY.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History