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Rochester's Forgotten Regiment:
The 108th New York in the Civil War

By terence G. Crooks

Chapter Four:
Stand by Me, Boys of the 108th

Second Lieutenant Samuel Porter of Company F was a proud young man and, like most proud young men, had little tolerance for what he considered to be incompetence. That he felt insulted there was no doubt. He chaffed at the idea that a First Sergeant, who had not been with the regiment since it left Bolivar Heights, the previous October, was promoted to the captaincy of Company F. upon his return in late December after the battle of Fredericksburg. Porter felt professionally shamed and would “be pointed out as the Lieut. that was ‘jumped’.”1 The odd, pseudo-comic episode began with the death of their major at Antietam and the promotion of Captain Pierce to the majority. Consequently Company F was left without a captain and First Sergeant (now Captain) Byron P. Thrasher of Company F, who at 21 was two years older than Porter received the promotion on September 17, 1862 and later was mustered in as Captain of Co. F. on March 1, 1863.2 Apparently, what upset Porter most was not the actual promotion of Thrasher but rather the fact that the proper etiquette was not followed. With the death of George Force, the rank of major automatically devolved on to Captain Pierce, the senior captain. The resulting vacant captaincy in company F should likewise devolve on to the First Lieutenant, in this case George Loder. Porter, as Second Lieutenant of the company should move up to the First Lieutenant and First Sergeant Thrasher should take over Porter’s previous position. This process was the proper sequence. After Antietam, Pierce ignoring the protocol for some reason, recommended Thrasher to take his vacated captaincy and thereby "jumped" over Porter. Just after the battle of Fredericksburg, the irregular promotion was revealed and Sam Porter was insulted since, with the intended resignation of George Loder, Porter believed that he should have been next in line for the captaincy. Strangely enough, two days before the battle of Fredericksburg, Sam explained to Pierce his “determination not to accept the Captaincy “ but, when he was not even given the chance to decline it, he was furious. To his father, Porter admitted that he could no longer feel “ the same respect either for our Major or our Colonel.” Pierce had “lost by his deceit all claims that he ever had to the title of Gentleman” while Colonel Palmer “by his blind acceptation of the Major’s recommendation has laid himself exposed to the charge of imbecility.”3

The process of promotion may not have been followed, yet it does seem odd that Porter would get so upset about a position that he claimed not to desire. To adapt Hamlet, the Second Lieutenant perhaps “doth protest too much”. He was a young man who had been raised to be aware of his social responsibility and standing within the community. Before and during the war his father, Samuel D. Porter, and his mother, Susan F. Porter, were both actively engaged in the anti-slavery movement in the Rochester area. Susan Porter was an active member of the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society and the elder Porter used his sister’s barn to hide slaves who were on their way to Canada. Shortly after the failure of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Sam senior helped Frederick Douglass avoid a Virginia arrest warrant and allowed the black leader to escape to Canada.4 The Porters, Farleys and Pecks were related and prominent families in Rochester society so the members of each family were keenly aware of their social position and responsibility. Consequently Sam Jr. naturally accepted the family attitude to slavery and would welcome the advent of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1863. Major Pierce, on the other hand, openly opposed the emancipation of the slaves as a war objective. He explained:

I will not jeopardize my life or become an invalid for life from exposure and fatigue, hunger and cold, simply to restore 3,000,000 of brutes to freedom. Before the first of January I could meet a rebel and face him; now I can’t. Formerly when a reb on picket or any other place asked me, "What are you fighting for?" I could answer, proudly too, For the restoration of the Union - now when one asks me I have to hang my head or else answer, for the nigger. (emphasis in original) 5

Such an attitude would be reflected by a number of officers in the Federal army and would not be kept private. To have a man such as Pierce as a superior officer and to be embarrassed by such a man was a blow to Porter and his family’s honour. Even though he claimed otherwise, Sam obviously felt cheated out of something that should have been his. He briefly contemplated resignation but soon realized “that the same feelings that prompted me to enlist hold me in the army and I feel that it is my duty to remain with the Regt.” 6The example set by his parents still guided and sustained him.

On the other hand, the war was over for Colonel Oliver Hazard Palmer but not due to
“imbecility” as Porter suggested. Before the battle of Fredericksburg, Palmer had a request for
“a leave of absence to visit home to attend to some important private business” approved by the Secretary of War. He departed for his leave on December 20,1862 with the intention of returning to active duty in the new year but upon arrival home he realized that “he severity of the service had broken” and “completely prostrated” him so that “was not able to return until the forepart of March, and then not in a state to justify a repetition of the trial of active service in the field.” For the 48 year old Colonel, the strain of command had taken an enormous toll. On his way back to the regiment in March, he stopped in Washington and, in an interview with Edwin Stanton, he asked to be relieved. Like many others, Palmer had sacrificed his personal pursuits, ambitions and left his loved ones to follow “a duty which I owed my country and which I could not resist without loss of self respect.” Now his health was precarious so he left his request with Stanton. The Secretary, with some reluctance, relieved Palmer of command of the 108th New York and effective on March 2, 1863, the Colonel resigned with an honourable discharge .Painfully aware of his lack of military experience, he had taken command when no one else would, guided his boys through Antietam and finally the horror of Fredericksburg. Palmer was neither a gifted soldier nor commander but he certainly was not the craven coward that Hitchcock’s memoir has created. The Colonel cared for his men and, to the best of his ability, he fought for the Union. On March 12, 1863, at the regimental headquarters in Falmouth, Oliver Hazard Palmer, in an emotional farewell address, took leave of the "brave and noble men" of the 108th New York. Sam Porter’s anger had not subsided since in his letter to his sister of March 12,1863, he mentions nothing of Palmer’s departure.7

With the start of 1863, the second winter of the war, the humiliation of the Army of the Potomac under Burnside was exacerbated by the fiasco called "The Mud March" in late January. Combined with the useless slaughter at Fredericksburg, "The Mud March" brought morale to its lowest ebb. In the early days of the New Year, while the rest of the army struggled in the mud, the 108th New York endured loss and acquisition. The men learned of the post-battle death of Bob Collins, one of the four company ‘F’ men wounded by the artillery shell before the advance at the edge of town. When the shell hit the curb and exploded Bob Collins " had his left leg taken off close to his body and it was cut in two 4 times besides and the foot was cut in two." Collins had been laying on his "left side with his gun across his hips" when the shell struck his gun "near the lock crushing both of his legs and sending splinters of iron, wood, stone and brick, flying in every direction." Collins’ blood splattered his tent-mate Charles Clark who was also seriously wounded. Dr. John F. Whitbeck, the 108th’s surgeon, amputated the leg in the make -shift hospital on the same street and, despite the appearance of recovery, Collins later died.8 On Feb. 11,1863, the farmhand, Russell Disbrow of Company F, died from consumption. He had survived the explosion on Caroline Street, the horror of Fredericksburg and the fury of Antietam, but stood little chance when his respiratory disease was exacerbated by the debilitating rigor of army life. To be a blacksmith, like his father and brother, held no appeal for Russell so instead, he went soldiering. The smoke and grime of battle was far more exciting than the life of a blacksmith. In just over six months from his enlistment, Private Disbrow wasted away and died alone near Falmouth.9 After Fredericksburg Dr. Whitbeck and Assistant Surgeon, Thomas Arner, not only attended the large number of wounded but also had to cope with the outbreak of typhoid fever, dysentery and ‘blackfoot’ which raged through the sodden, lutulent and unhygienic encampment.10 Whitbeck and Arner, horribly overworked and exhausted, soon had enough and both resigned their commissions, effective January 6 & 13, 1863, respectively. Since the regiment was down two medical officers, Dr. Owen Munson, late of the 84th New York, was mustered in on February 17,1863 as Surgeon of the 108th New York.11 The man who replaced Dr. Thomas Arner was, like Lt. Col. Charles Powers, a Canadian from Kingston, West Canada.

Francis Moses Wafer was one of many thousands of Canadians who served in the civil war and then were forgotten. He was born near the town of Kingston on July 3, 1830. Originally he left school at the age of thirteen in order to help his father on the farm, but he continued to educate himself in “literature, languages and natural science”. Later, he worked as a land surveyor and used his earnings to put himself through medical school. “He was accepted by Queen’s Medical Faculty in the fall of 1861, did well in his studies”, especially practical surgery, "completed his second year and then enlisted in the Union forces at Albany."12 His motive to depart may have been more than simply the desire for adventure. Apparently his father had a severe drinking problem which was a well-known embarrassment and held Francis, his younger brother John and younger sisters, Catherine Margaret, Elizabeth, Agnes and Martha “in comparative obscurity.” Evidently the alcoholic father was the source of local slander so Francis
felt compelled to “win a name for our house that will put all slanderers howling.” 13 On March 9,1863, Wafer “bade farewell to friends and Kingston"” and took the sleigh-stage that connected at Cape Vincent with the trains to Watertown, New York. Unfortunately, he chose to leave during a raging blizzard and a “violent southwest wind filled the tracks with snow which was as deep as the horses bellies, faster than the few sleighs traveling could keep it open.” He missed the evening train from Cape Vincent but took one the next morning and arrived in Albany at 2:00 p.m. on March 10 where he encountered the improbably named Dr. T .V .P. Quackenbush, the Surgeon-General for the state of New York. Quackenbush must have wondered about the 32 year-old, whiskered Canadian whose slender, almost frail, build did not auger well for the rigors of field service. However, it was the third year of the war and a doctor was a doctor, so Quackenbush processed the Canadian recruit. After successfully negotiating the various exams and red tape in Albany, Dr. Wafer was appointed as the Assistant Surgeon of the 108th New York, with the rank of First Lieutenant. Coincidentally, while Wafer waited for Governor Seymour to sign his commission, Colonel Palmer of the 108th had come to see the Governor. Palmer was pointed out to Wafer, but apparently left little impression on the doctor.

When the new Assistant Surgeon arrived in Washington, he encountered other members of the 108th New York. Captain Boyce A. Cox and Lieutenant William W. Bloss "were just leaving the service" when Wafer met them in Washington.14 Bloss had received a severe wound in the nose while he was raising the colors at Antietam after the standard bearer, Miles Casey, was shot. A ball crushed the bridge of his nose and had such a debilitating effect that Bloss was forced to leave the service. For Cox, the records on are not clear but he was dismissed from the service on March 6,1863.15 The new doctor also met the newly appointed Colonel Charles Powers who was also headed back to the regiment at Falmouth. While convalescing in Washington, Lt. Col. Powers suffered the bizarre experience of being dismissed from the service in mid-February and promoted to the colonelcy of his regiment two weeks later.16 Major Pierce now became the Lt. Colonel and 28 year old Harmon Hogoboom, former captain of Company B, assumed the majority.17

Although the Colonel and the Assistant Surgeon, arrived together at the camp near Falmouth on March 18,1863,18 it was unlikely that Powers traveled in the same manner as Wafer. Early that morning, the doctor left his Washington hotel and took a steamer to Aquia
Creek in order to catch the train to Falmouth. Upon arrival at the train depot, Wafer suddenly realized the train had nothing “but box freight cars” to transport the passengers. The train “was soon crowded with passengers, principally soldiers” so Francis Wafer decided to “ride upon the
top” of the freight cars. Since the weather was mild, the doctor thought that a roof seat would be pleasant but he had not allowed for the cinders from the smoke stack of the train which burned the roof-top riders for most of the trip to Falmouth. After he managed to rid himself of the smell of burnt wool and had retrieved his luggage, Wafer met and dined with his fellow medical officers, Surgeon Munson and the 21 year old William Ely, the other Assistant Surgeon.19 A few days after his arrival at camp, the new doctor, as a devout Catholic in a predominantly Presbyterian camp, became anxious to find a priest and soon made the acquaintance of Father William Corby of the neighboring Irish Brigade. Corby invited Wafer to share a meal which the doctor accepted. After the meal, Corby recounted the St.Patrick’s day celebration earlier in the month and spoke fondly of the "horse, sack, foot. wheelbarrow and greased pig races" while he smoked his pipe "like a true soldier".20 Perhaps Corby mentioned how the Irish celebration was interrupted by the thunder of artillery from the guns in the fight at Kelly’s Ford which forced the Irish Brigade to fall in for a march. However the brigade was soon told to stand down and the revels restarted as "the boys enjoyed themselves the remainder of the evening."21

The 108th New York had endured the dark days of December,1862, but now, in the new year of 1863, watched the despair of the army transform and be reborn as pride and hope. Burnside was gone and Joe Hooker, despite his reputation as a professional roué, demonstrated that he could rebuild the army both physically and emotionally. Camps were cleaned up, as well as improved quality and variety of food, and consequently the hygiene and health of the troops improved, along with their confidence in Hooker to lead them against Lee. At the end of April, Hooker made his move. Hooker’s plan “was to move a column

up the Rappahannock to a point so far above Fredericksburg as to secure the unopposed crossing of the river, which column, descending rapidly along the right bank; should uncover the fords nearer to Fredericksburg, so as to allow the whole army  to be thrown upon Lee’s left flank.

Hooker’s intention to turn Lee’s left flank was actually a continuation of Burnside’s plan from January which unfortunately turned into the debacle of the Mud March and cost the amiable but hapless Burnside his job. To hold Lee in place while the flanking column moved, Hooker left Sedgwick’s 6th Corps and Reynolds’ 1st Corps as well as Gibbon’s Division of the 2nd Corps, at or near Fredericksburg. In order to maintain Lee’s attention in the wrong direction, Hooker sent Doubleday’s Division of the 1st Corps 20 miles south on the Rappahannock to Port Conway where they “made a show of building a bridge” and “actually crossed troops in boats” over the river.22

Just before the move northward, an incident occurred within French’s Division that may have had historical repercussions for the 108th New York. George Washburn in his regimental history recalled that “before the move to Chancellorsville an emeute occurred in disobeying orders in our division, which had been ordered out for drill and parade.” Apparently two “nine months regiments refused to comply with the order as their time was near out” and they saw no reason for the extra drill or parade. General French working himself up into a furious rage, complete with “fiery” blink, ordered the 108th New York and the 14th Connecticut “to proceed with loaded guns to the camps of the recalcitrant regiments and bring them or shoot. They came out without further dallying.”23 Washburn was diplomatic enough not to name the regiments but, at that time, there were only two nine months regiments from Pennsylvania in French’s Division. One was the 130th Pennsylvania which was due to muster out on May 23, 1863, and the other was the 132nd Pennsylvania to be mustered out on May 24, 1863.24 The former adjutant of the 132nd Pennsylvania was Major Frederick L. Hitchcock, the same man who penned the memoir about the supposed cowardice of Colonel Palmer and the regiment at Antietam. Hitchcock’s recollection does not specifically mention the event with the 108th New York and the 14th Connecticut but, at one point, he pondered that after “a man has honorably and patriotically served his full time and is entitled to discharge, it would seem pretty hard to force him to go into battle and be killed or wounded.” Quickly he added nevertheless, “as a matter of fact, nearly this whole campaign was overtime for most of our regiment,yet the question was not raised.25 If it was not an issue then why mention it at all? Hitchcock’s memoir appeared 10 years after Washburn’s regimental history and perhaps the old adjutant may have used the aspersions at Antietam to pay back the 108th New York.

On April 28, the 108th New York with the rest of French’s Division as well as Hancock’s Division struck camp and headed north out of Falmouth. Now in command of the Second Brigade, to which the 108th New York belonged, was Brigadier General William Hays, a forty-four-year-old West Pointer and Virginian. The other significant change was the addition of the 12th New Jersey Volunteers, who, although formed at the same time as the 108th New York, had been attached to the defenses of Baltimore until December, 1862 and therefore was the only regiment in the brigade with no combat experience.Z26 Moving northward for a mile or two on the Warrenton Stage Road, the New Yorkers then filed to the left on an “unfrequented road through a dense second growth of pine” which ran along the Rappahannock River to Banks’ Ford 27 as the Third, Fifth, Eleventh and Twelfth Corps continued northward then swung west towards the upper fords of the Rappahannock. As part of the turning column or the western pincer on Lee’s left flank, the two divisions of the Second Corps were responsible for the lower fords so over the next two days, the 108th New York constructed approaches for artillery or helped build bridges at Banks’ Ford and at U.S. Ford. Upon completion, the regiment crossed at U.S. Ford then proceeded south in order to rendezvous with the other Corps of the turning force who had crossed the Rappahannock farther north and were converging on Chancellorsville. On April 30, the 108th New York and the rest of the division arrived and bivouacked about a mile north of Chancellorsville on the U.S. Ford road.28 Hooker’s plan so far had worked admirably. All that was needed was for the army to continue the advance out of the area known as the Wilderness and move rapidly against Lee’s flank. On the first day of the battle, May 1, the New Yorkers were not actively engaged. Originally, they were “designated as the advance guard" in their division’s movement southeast on the Orange Plank Road towards Todd’s Tavern but the march was soon aborted “when positive orders were received to fall back to the position held in the morning.”29For the 108th, the only event of note occurred when the regiment passed the crossroads of Chancellorsville and noted the presence of the other Rochester regiment, the 140th New York of Sykes’ Division, since knapsacks, “marked 140 N Y V “, were seen “lying by the side of the road.”30 The hesitation to push the advance through Chancellorsville and the subsequent recall back to the morning position was the beginning of the end for Hooker’s plan and his army. His intention had been to move the turning force beyond the wilderness forest which surrounded Chancellorsville so that the fight could take place in the relatively open ground to the east. However Lee had audaciously divided his army at Fredericksburg and had sent nearly two divisions of the First Corps as well as Jackson’s Second Corps westward to attack Hooker, while Barksdale’s and Early’s brigades held on to Fredericksburg. Lee’s attacks on the western pincer of the Federal advance on May 1st instilled a fatal caution into Hooker who pulled his men back into the Wilderness and, unfortunately, turned the initiative over to Robert E. Lee, who made him pay dearly for his temerity.

Saturday morning, May 2nd, “broke clear and beautiful”. Scarcely “anyone seemed to realize he was on a battlefield, so still was everything around.”31 The 108th had slept on their arms and “early on the 2nd we were under arms and drawn up on the left hand side of the road” that ran north from Chancellorsville into U.S. Ford Road. Here the 108th lay and waited quietly.32 Soon the morning sun evaporated the dull dampness of the previous night and a glorious spring day unfolded. Some firing was heard at mid-morning on the left of the division in the area of Catherine Furnace which triggered the usual proliferations of rumors. Someone claimed that Lee was retreating, his troops were moving off to the west. Other doomsday soothsayers claimed that the army was being flanked. Yet the quiet returned as the day resumed its summer-like pace and the 108th waited. Dr. Wafer perhaps re-thought his decision to enlist. Some “foreboding” must have gripped him as he nervously tinkered with the medical supplies and awaited his first battle. Newly appointed First Lieutenant Sam Porter thought of his loved ones in Rochester and wondered about the welfare of his older cousin, Porter Farley, who served in the 140th New York.33 Sam had suffered a minor foot wound at Antietam but had survived unscathed through the debacle of Fredericksburg. He hoped his luck would hold for another day. The nineteen year-old Porter looked up to the new colonel, Charles Powers, yet distrusted Francis Pierce, the new lt. colonel, the man who had promoted Thrasher. Pierce, ten years Porter’s senior, seemed to see himself in the role of an older brother to Sam.34 However, Pierce had already fallen in Sam’s estimation and after the upcoming battle, Porter’s attitude to the older officer would turn bitter and virulent.35 On the other hand, in Charles Powers, also a decade older, Sam had a “Beau Ideal of a soldier”, someone he could respect and rely on. Sam Porter knew that Powers would see him through whatever lay ahead.36

The afternoon wore on and the shadows started to lengthen as the sun began its descent in the western sky. Suddenly, to the west where the Eleventh Corps was deployed, a few “musket shots were heard” that “were very soon followed by volleys of musketry which soon increased into a roar.” Artillery fire was “freely mixed in, and we could distinctly hear cheering or rather yells which some recognized as those of the enemy.” Thomas Grassie, the balding, mutton-chopped Chaplain became unusually animated “frequently exclaiming ‘we are beating them.’” Born in Scotland and raised on Presbyterian ideals, the newly ordained 32 year-old reverend must have felt an understandable affinity for Oliver Otis Howard, “widely known as the Christian soldier,” and in his excitement proclaimed the Eleventh Corps was “fighting and they are commanded by a good man, General Howard, and he is sure to beat them." But as the shells and uproar increased, “a loud rumbling noise mixed with the jingling of chains came from the direction of [the] Chancellorsville house.”

Soon,

a long string of supply waggons [sic] appeared from the woods the mules on the gallop and among these were gun limbers separated from the guns, beef cattle running wild and many men of all branches of the service, some bareheaded but all unarmed. This mixed crowd of course seemed to have but one object in mind viz. to put all possible distance between themselves and the sounds of battle. 

Like a storm from the west Jackson’s Second Corps howled down the Orange Turnpike, struck the exposed right flank of the Eleventh Corps, and caved it in, causing the “stampede” that Wafer witnessed. Chaplain Grassie must have reconsidered his confident prediction when an artillery shell passed between himself and the doctor and “went crashing into the woods in the rear.” For a brief moment, the doctor realized that he “would be literally ‘staring Death in the face’”, nevertheless he quickly recovered and set about his medical work near the frontline with his regiment.37 To another member of the 108th, the “panic was indescribable.” The men of the Eleventh Corps “were seized with fear, and, seemingly bereft of reason, came pouring through the woods, frantic with grief and terror stricken at the sight of the yelling devils behind them.” In an effort to stop or even slow the mob, officers used their swords to knock down some of the men, while gunners swung sponge-staffs at them. The air was filled with cries of “All ist veloren; vere ist der pontoon?” Many took off down the turnpike to Fredericksburg and into the waiting arms of the Rebels. The Eleventh Corps refugees received no sympathy from the men of the Second Corps who would attempt to turn the Confederate tide that had swept over Howard’s men.38 In order to stem the momentum of Jackson’s assault, the 108th and the rest of Hays’ Brigade were formed in a line, facing west, on the north side of the Orange Turnpike,” a good half mile from the Chancellor house." Hays’ troops supported Berry’s Division from Sickles Third Corps, but were not engaged since darkness and disorder brought an end to the Rebel assault.39 As the darkness deepened, Sam Porter had a chance to witness the frightful majesty of "an artillery duel in the night." "The fused shells could be seen for half a mile and looked beautiful" as "their burning fuses lit up the now darkening air."40

Battles of Chancellorsville and Salem Church
(taken from National Park Service website)

Lee, as could be predicted, once he attained the initiative never let go of it. As soon as Hooker stumbled and cautiously withdrew back into the Wilderness around Chancellorsville, Lee took the measure of his opponent and found Fightin’Joe wanting. In front of a force almost twice the size of his own, Lee had ignored all the rules and once more divided his army. He had sent Jackson on a flanking march to the west and did to Hooker what Hooker had planned to do to him. So by the morning of May 3, the Army of the Potomac, minus the Sixth Corps, was gathered in the shape of an elongated defensive U around the roads leading to U.S.Ford, the only avenue of retreat. On that first Sunday in May, the deployment of Hays’ Brigade remained essentially as it was on the on the previous evening. The 130th Pennsylvania formed the left of the brigade, followed by the 108th New York, the 12th New Jersey and on the far right the 14th Connecticut which, as Major Ellis pointed out, "was unsupported on the right."Z41 In other words, similar to the Eleventh Corps on the day previous, Hays’ right flank was in the air and vulnerable, even though the brigade line was entrenched.42. The formation was also compromised by the fact that the Jerseymen’s right overlapped the left of the 14th Connecticut and therefore the line did not present a uniform front. Before the sun rose on the Sunday morning of May 3, A. P. Hill’s light division attacked Major General Hiram G. Berry’s Federal division behind which Hays’ Brigade formed the second line. Dorsey Pender’s North Carolina Brigade of A.P. Hills’ Division of Jackson’s Corps broke the right side of Berry’s line and moved on to engage Hays’ Brigade. As the North Carolinians approached the Union support line, it became clear that the Confederate left overlapped the Union right. The left flank regiment of Pender’s force, the 13th North Carolina, curled around the exposed right flank of the 14th Connecticut and hit the Yankees in the front and flank.43 To compound the problem the men of the Fourteenth “opened fire before they could see the Rebels” and this made their “Resistance less strong than it might have been.” Already shaky and taking fire from two directions, the Connecticut troops broke and “fell back with some little show of order”44 which in turn caused the domino effect down the brigade line of the Union defenders. In a contrary memory, the regimental historian of the Fourteenth Connecticut recalled that the Nutmeg state men withdrew in “good order” with their wounded and even paused to pick up their knapsacks. He felt that the efficacy of the unit was impaired by the presence of the 12th New Jersey which overlapped the left company of the Connecticut line. “Company B’s attention was about equally divided between the enemy in front and the friends in the rear.”45 The 12th New Jersey, in its initial combat, held on by refusing their right “until the line had swung around to nearly a right angle with the original line.”46 When the right half of the brigade collapsed, the brigade commander, William Hays, was captured in the ensuing confusion. With the loss of the brigadier general, brigade command devolved onto Col. Levi Maish of the 130th Pennsylvania. At this critical juncture, the Second Brigade was virtually in two parts so Maish claimed that he took over what was left of the 108th New York and 130th Pennsylvania still remaining on the field. As the regiments moved backward in an attempt to re-establish a coherent line, the colonel was accompanied, for some reason, by Major Harmon Hogoboom of the 108th New York. Rifle and artillery fire, blinding smoke, as well as falling trees and splintered flying fragments of wood only increased the confusion and panic for the remnants of the Second Brigade. Soon Col. Maish was brought down by a severe hip wound and the command went to Col. Willets of the 12th New Jersey but he had already fallen wounded before the Rebel breakthrough on the right. Consequently brigade command devolved onto Charles Powers “but he was not for some time after made aware of this, the fate of the General being unknown, consequently the Brigade having no commander, each Colonel drew his regiment out of the difficulty as he might be able.”47 Powers saw the rebel breakthrough on the right. He watched as the Jersey regiment barely hung on, then calmly ordered the 108th to change front while under fire. He urged the men to “Stand by me, boys of the 108th - don’t lose your colors” and the men “stood stalwart”. As the 108th became more fully engaged with Pender’s North Carolinians, the toll of the wounded climbed. Otho Gash of Co. ‘A’ had his left thumb shot off while James Hinds of Co. H, who held the state colors, also suffered a wound to the left thumb and was forced to relinquish the flag to another. Captain Byron Thrasher, whose appointment had generated Sam Porter’s outrage, fell with an excruciating leg wound when a bullet split the femur of his right leg, just above the knee joint. Thrasher would die from the wound at the end of May, 1863 at the Armory Square Hospital. The fight continued to rage. John Wright, recently promoted to sergeant of Company K, stood in the front rank of the double battle line. A Rebel minie! ball hit Wright in the left hip but his comrade, who fired from the rear rank and whose rifle passed over Wright’s right shoulder, added to the agony of the hip wound when his rifle flash permanently blinded the sergeant’s right eye. In the midst of the pandemonium, Sam Porter marveled at the equipoise of the Colonel as the regiment fought "splendidly" for the next hour. When Powers foresaw that the New Yorkers "were likely to be surrounded", he ordered the men off the field.48 Then, according to Powers, that "part of the command then under me, consisting of the One hundred and thirtieth Pennsylvania Volunteers and the One hundred and eighth New York Infantry, moved back in good order to the opening originally occupied by the corps."49

The withdrawal of the 108th New York and what was left of the brigade was aided by the timely arrival and counterattack of Carroll’s First Brigade of French’s Division on the left flank of Pender’s men as the latter broke through the Union right. Federal lines eventually stabilized and Powers’ command "formed a second line in support of rifle-pits” that were

occupied by the First Brigade, Colonel Carroll commanding. The position was retained unmolested and without any active operations until the night of the 5th, or the morning of the 6th , instant, when, about 3 a.m., the command was moved back across the river, recrossing at the United States ford."50

For the 108th New York, the third battle in a little more than eight months was over. They had entered the battle with probably less than 400 of the 980 men who had departed Rochester in the late summer of ‘62. They left the battle with 52 fewer.51 Despite Hooker’s blustering and congratulatory order,52 the men realized that they had been bested again and at least one member of the 108th wished that Hooker “would not try to smooth over our disaster quite so much. We that were in the fight know we were whipped.” The army may well have been whipped but they were not defeated. Sam Porter was "just as ready to cross the river as ever before, and if anything more willing."53 What was left of the 108th New York54 and the rest of the Army of the Potomac once more pulled itself together and prepared for the next round in a war that appeared to be endless.

Chapter Three

 

Endnotes

1Porter-Letters, Dec. 20 & 28, 1862.

2Phisterer, vol. 4, p.3280.

3Porter-Letters, Dec. 20, 1862 ; Phisterer,vol.4, p.3278.

4Alma Lutz, "Susan B. Anthony and John Brown", Rochester History, vol.15,no.3 (July 1953), p.16.

5Pierce, p.167-68.

6Porter-Letters, Dec. 20,1862 to Father

7Palmer-Diary, pp. 99-101 ; Porter-Letters, March 12, 1863 to his sister.

88.108th New York, p.238; Pierce, p.162.

9Application for pension by Mrs. Almeda Disbrow (mother), Box 36601, cert.# 265846, filed Sept.,1888, National Archives (NA) Washington, D.C. ; personal communication with Mr. Ken Byrd, Disbrow descendant, see previous chapter fn.59.

10108th New York, p.38 ; Francis M. Wafer, Two Years in the Army of the Potomac or Events in the Campaigns in Virginia and Maryland, the Diary of a Surgeon( Kingston, Ontario:Queen’s University Archives, Francis Moses Wafer Collection, Locator #3178), p.13. The diary is unpublished and will be hereafter cited as Wafer-Diary.

11Phisterer, vol.4 pp.3281,3273,3278. Dr. Arner was suffering from consumption and did not live long after his resignation. The young doctor was a favorite of the men and was missed. On the other hand, Dr. Whitbeck, while competent, was viewed by the troops as unfeeling and unsympathetic and would not be missed at all (Pierce, p.165).

12H. Pearson Gundy, "A Kingston Surgeon In The American Civil War", Historic Kingston, number 7,1958, p.43.

1313Letter of Francis Wafer, May 2nd,1864. The letters of the doctor are unpublished and typescripts of originals, as well as the originals, are held by Queen’s University Archives (see fn 10 above for details). Hereafter cited as Wafer-Letters.

14Wafer-Diary, pp.3-9 ; Wafer-Letters , March 14th, 1863.

15108th New York, p.26, and Phisterer,vol.4, pp.3273-74.

16Colonel Charles Powers, 108th New York Volunteers, Compiled Service Records, 49520,National Archives (NA), Washington, D.C. Hereafter cited as Powers-CSR.
The incident involved a series of mishaps and fouled red tape. Powers applied for medical leave on Dec.13,1862 which was ignored. In the new year, with Dr. Whitbeck’s support, Powers got 20 days leave on Jan.19 and reported to Washington where, on Jan.27, he was given a further 15 days. By Special Order 57, Powers was granted another 15 days which would extend the leave until at least the end of February. At this point the foul up occurred when Special Order101 "dismissed" Powers from the service, as of Feb.10, when he was in Washington "without proper pass and failing to report to Head Quarters". Obviously, the dates of the leaves had not been communicated to the upper echelons. What happened during the last two weeks of February and the early part of March is not officially recorded. Phisterer simply records "dismissed, February 10,1863; order of dismissal revoked, no date.",vol.4, p.3279. The above incident was gleaned from material in Powers-CSR.

17Phisterer, vol .4, p.3276,3279.

18Wafer-Diary, p.10, Wafer-Letters, March 25,1863.

19Wafer-Diary, Ibid.

20Wafer-Letters, March 25,1863.

21Peter Welsh, Irish Green and Union Blue, The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, ed.., Lawrence F.Kohl and Margaret C. Richard,(New York: Fordham University Press,1986),p.79.

22Second Corps, p.214-15.

23108th New York, p.39; 14th Connecticut, p.115.

24Dyer, Part 3, p.1615-16.

25Frederick L. Hitchcock, War From the Inside, p.204.

26Dyer, Part 3,p.1361-62.

27Wafer-Diary, p.15, O.R.,25,1, p.379.

28O.R., 25,1, p. 379, p.375.

29Ibid., p.375.

30Porter-Letters, Letter to Mother, dated May 1st ,1863.

31Wafer-Diary, p.18.

32Wafer-Diary, p.18, Porter-Letters, May 3, May 7, 1863.

33Wafer-Diary, p.6, 108th New York, p.301, Porter-Letters,’"May 3 ‘Late’".

34Pierce, pp.159, 161.

35Porter-Letters, May 24-25?. In this letter to his father, Sam’s frustration with Pierce seems to explode onto the page. He states that he is tired of the negativity expressed by the officers and goes on to accuse Pierce as a source of "treason". He claims that "Pierce [emphasis in original] is a Copperhead of the worst kind. He is a man of no principle and were it not more profitable than any thing he can turn his hand to he would leave the army as soon as possible. His reputation has always been very good in the Reg’t but the more thinking are beginning to see his shallowness and hypocrisy." A good deal of Sam’s reaction was probably also generated by Pierce’s unconcealed disgust and contempt with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Afro-American race [ Pierce, p.151,157,167-168.]. Porter’s mother and father were quite active in the abolition movement and were good friends with Frederick Douglass.

36Porter-Letters, May or June, 1863. Internal evidence suggests that the letter was written in May, probably shortly after the battle.

37Wafer-Diary,p.18-19 ; Bruce Catton, Glory Road (New York: Doubleday & Company,1952), p.175.

38108th New York, p.44 ; Second Corps, p.229.

39O.R.,25,1, p.375.

40Porter-Letters, May 7,1863, Wafer-Diary, p.19.

41O.R.,25,1, pp.376, 377.

42Edward G. Longacre, To Gettysburg and Beyond,( Highstown, N.J.:Longstreet House,1988), p 98Hereafter cited as To Gettysburg and Beyond ; Walter Clark, editor, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, 5 vols. (Raleigh: E.M. Uzzell, Printer and Binder,1901) rpt. Broadfoot Publishing Company(Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot Publishing Company,1996),vol.1,p. 669. Hereafter cited as North Carolina Regiments

43O.R.,25,1,p.377.

44Boys from Rockville,p.126.

4514th Connecticut, p.122.

46O.R.,25,1, p.378.

47O.R.25,1,pp.375,378 ; 108th New York, p.213 ; Wafer-Diary,p.22.

48Porter-Letters, May 3,7,1863 ; Phisterer,vol.4,p.3280. 108th New York, pp.42, 270; 108th New York, p.333.

49O.R.,25,1, p. 375-376. According to Longacre , the 130th PA broke and as they fled, sliced through the New Jersey troops which in turn created the disruption for the 12th NJ. (To Gettysburg and Beyond, p.99). Powers makes no mention of the event in his report nor does Major Hill of the 12th NJ.

50O.R.,25,1,p.376.

51Pierce, p.165 ; Porter-Letters, Jan.6,18 ; O.R. 1,25, p.177.

52O.R.,25,1, p.171.

53Porter-Letters, May or June,1863.

54 Just over 1000 men left Rochester the previous August (108th New York,pp.10-16)Wafer explains on p. 23 of his diary that the regiment went into the battle "scarcely numbering 350". The O.R. lists losses to the 108th as "52" [O.R.,25,1, p.177].

Chapter Three

New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
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