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Historical Sketch
of the 43rd
by Maj. John L. Newman

History
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.

At the Battle of Gettysburg the Forty-third New York Infantry, Neil's Brigade, Sixth Corps, occupied an important position on the extreme right of the Union line, at Wolf's Hill. In company with the Sixth Corps the regiment marched from Manchester, Md., on the night of July 1st, and arrived on the field in the afternoon of the 2d, having made a forced march of 36 miles. For this unparalleled effort the Sixth Corps received its reward; for by its arrival the Fifth Corps, which had been held in reserve, was enabled to go to the relief of the Third Corps on the left, where the latter had been righting at fearful odds with Longstreet's forces; and, soon, the Sixth Corps was also ordered to that part of the field to support the wavering Union line. But Neil's Brigade was sent to the right to reinforce General Slocum and the Twelfth Corps.

An attack was made by Slocum on the morning of the 3d for the purpose of retaking the rifle pits which Johnson's Confederate Division had captured on the previous evening. The rebels fought furiously to retain them, for they hoped to turn General Meade's right flank and rout his army. But Neil's Brigade, passing to the right of the Union line, attacked Johnson's left, who, finding his troops thus outflanked, vacated the breastworks and withdrew to the farther side of Rock Creek. Ewell's Corps was thus prevented from working around the right of the Union line and gaining the Baltimore Pike, where General Meade had parked his wagon trains and ammunition and located his hospitals. If Johnson had succeeded, the result would have been most disastrous.

The loss of the Forty-third at Gettysburg was small as compared with most battles in which it took part with the Army of the Potomac, particularly in comparison with Second Fredericksburg, where a few weeks before it had come out of the fight with a loss of 19 killed, 62 wounded, and over 100 missing. But its loss at Gettysburg was keenly felt when Captain Gilfillan fell in the charge of July 3d at Wolf's Hill. A gallant officer, he met death bravely, and " fell with his face to the foe." He had been mentioned in general orders for gallantry at Fredericksburg only a short time before.

Of the ten companies in the Forty-third, five companies were recruited at Albany; one in Otsego County; one in Montgomery County; one in Washington County; and two in New York City. The regiment, under command of Col. Francis L. Vinton, left Albany September 17, 1861, and arrived in Washington on the 22d, where it was mustered into the United States service and assigned to Hancock's Brigade. Before starting on the Peninsular Campaign, the regiment exchanged its smooth bore muskets for Austrian rifles.

The first engagement in which the Forty-third participated was at Lee's Mills, near Yorktown, Va., in which the first man killed in the regiment met his fate, on the 28th of April, 1862. On June 27th occurred the fight at Garnett's Hill where the regiment lost 2 killed, 40 wounded, and 29 missing. In this affair the Forty-third held an important position on the extreme right of the line.

At Harrison's Landing, in July, 1862, the regiment was consolidated into five companies, and a detail was sent home to Albany to recruit five new companies if possible. This was speedily effected, and in September five new companies, composed of superior material, marched down State Street in Albany, on their way to the front, almost equaling in numbers the original regiment. They carried a beautiful silk flag, a present from the ladies of Albany, to replace the tattered but honored colors which the regiment had carried up to that time.

These five new companies, after a short stay in a Camp of Instruction at Alexandria, Va., joined the Forty-third immediately after the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862. The regiment, now encamped at Hagerstown, Md., presented a finer appearance than ever before in its existence. Its ranks were well filled with excellent material. Albany justly and proudly claims the Forty-third as an Albany regiment, ten full companies having been raised there to complete its organization.

Soon after the Battle of Fredericksburg, in which the regiment was engaged, the famous " Light Division " was formed to do skirmishing, outpost duty, forced marching, and similar duty in the Sixth Corps. The regiments chosen for this purpose were the Thirty-first New York, Sixty-first Pennsylvania, Fifth. Wisconsin, Sixth Maine, and Forty-third New York. The command was entrusted to Gen. Calvin E. Pratt, former colonel of the Thirty-first New York. The " Light Division " went into camp at Belle Plain, Va., for the winter, where it underwent a thorough drill to fit and prepare it for its peculiar duties. \

On May 3, 1863, the Light Division was assigned the task of storming Marye's Heights, a line of hills south of and near the City of Fredericksburg, Va. The assaulting column was led by the Sixty-first Pennsylvania and Forty-third New York, the latter being the first to plant its colors on the enemy's works. The assault was successful, the troops capturing the entire line of entrenchments, together with some guns belonging to the Washington Artillery. The Forty-third lost about 65 men in this attack, including Captain Knickerbocker and Lieutenant Koontz. Pushing on to Salem Church, on the road to Chancellorsville, where the main army was fighting, the Sixth Corps encountered there a strong force of the enemy. Unable to dislodge them, Sedgwick withdrew his corps across the river at Banks' Ford. Through the negligence of a staff officer, the Forty-third was not notified of the movement, and extricated itself from its perilous position with difficulty, losing a large number of prisoners in the movement. Capt. Douglas Lodge was killed here while on the skirmish line. General Sedgwick complimented the regiment for the gallantry and soldierly qualities displayed in rejoining the corps under such trying circumstances.

The Light Division was disbanded soon after, and the Forty-third was assigned to General Neil's Brigade, on the special application of that officer. With this command it participated in the battle of Gettysburg, and, on November 7, 1863, in the brilliant affair at Rappahannock Station where the Sixth Corps added fresh laurels to the many already won. In this engagement the regiment lost 10 men, killed and wounded, including Sergeants Moorhead and Christopher, two worthy and efficient officers.

The Forty-third shared in the Mine Run campaign, after which it went into winter quarters at Brandy Station, Va. While there four companies re-enlisted, December 24,1863, and received the usual furlough of thirty days.

In the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5 and 6, 1864, Getty's Division of the Sixth Corps, to which the regiment belonged, held the right of the line. In the terrific flank attack made by Gordon's Georgians the right was driven back and doubled up, throwing it into great confusion. In the melee that ensued, Color Sergeant Hackett and the color guard were captured and taken to Ander-sonville Prison. Some of Hackett's fellow prisoners maintain that he never surrendered the colors to the enemy, but that he wore them concealed about his person, and that the flag was thus buried with him when he died in the prison pen. Corporal Davis who carried one of the guidons when he was captured, preserved it in the same way, and before his death sent it to Albany by a fellow prisoner who was paroled. It was in this battle that Colonel Wilson, Major Fryer, Captain Wallace, and Lieutenant Bailey were killed.

Col. B. F. Baker, of the Forty-third, in an address at the reunion of the regiment, in speaking of Colonel Wilson and Major Fryer said that they were men of exceptionally noble character. Each one was an only son of a widowed mother, and each entered the service of his country at the first call for troops. They served honorably, without a blemish on their record from the beginning of the war to the moment of their death, honored, beloved and admired throughout the whole corps. They resembled each other strongly in personal appearance. Both were tall and commanding in stature; both were gentle in manner,modest, unobtrusive, and conscientious gentlemen. They loved one another like Damon and Pythias, and whenever release from the care and duties of their position made it possible, they sought each other's society. They tented together, and almost every interest was held in common. In their lives they were lovely, and in their deaths they were not divided.

At the battle of Fort Stevens, July 12, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel Visscher fell while leading an assault on that memorable field, within sight of the dome of the Capitol, while the men of his gallant little regiment, fighting under the eye of President Lincoln and inspired by his presence, won fresh honors and renown.

While passing to Washington on its way to Fort Stevens, the regiment received a beautiful silk flag which was sent to them as a present from the Albany Burgess Corps. The flag was carried by the regiment during the rest of the war, and was brought home in honor to Albany.

In the spring campaign of 1864, the Forty-third became so depleted by casualties in battle and loss from disease, that it only numbered 4 officers and 76 men when the fighting ended at Spotsylvania. Some recruits were received while in front of Petersburg, prior to starting for the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. But the regiment was still small in numbers, and when the officers and men, who had not re-enlisted, left for home September 21, 1864, the Forty-third was consolidated into a battalion of five companies, under the command of Lieut. Col. Charles A. Milliken.

The battalion was actively engaged in all of Sheridan's battles in the Valley, suffering a severe percentage of loss in the hard fighting which fell to its lot in that bloody campaign. On the field of Cedar Creek the men, acting under orders, succeeded in picking up enough good Springfield rifles to arm the entire battalion, after which their old Austrian rifles were turned over to the Ordnance Department.

The regiment was mentioned on many occasions in general and special orders, while the rank and file, in many instances, were honored by the State and by Congress with brevet commissions for service in the field. At Fredericks burg, May 3, 1863, the men captured three cannons from the famous Washington Artillery of New Orleans. At Spotsylvania Capt. Daniel Burhans captured two rebel flags, and when last seen was cheering on his men to the second line of works where he fell.

Anthony Knifer, of Company E, captured the colors of the Forty-fourth Georgia Infantry, May 10, 1864, at Spotsylvania, and delivered them to Colonel Bidwell, the brigade commander. Private James Connors received a personal letter from General Sheridan and a Medal of Honor from the Secretary of War for the capture of a Confederate flag in the fight at Fisher's Hill, Va., September 22, 1864. Sergeant Frank Shubert captured two flags in the final assault on Petersburg, April 2, 1865, for which he received a Medal of Honor from Congress. The regiment captured a flag at Sailor's Creek, Va., April 6, 1865, the staff of which they used for their own flag, their own staff having been shattered by a shot at Petersburg, while in the hands of the color bearers. The flag of the Forty-third on the rebel staff is now in the Bureau of Military Records at Albany.

In General Orders, No. 53, Headquarters Army of the Potomac, May 19, 1863, the following officers and enlisted men were especially mentioned for gallantry and distinguished conduct in the battles of Marye's Heights and Salem Church: At the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, Sergt. W. H. Stebbins was mentioned for distinguished bravery, and, also, at the Battle of Opequon, September 19, 1864.

Sergt. George Anderson, a color bearer, distinguished himself in the battles at Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek.

The United States Congress issued brevet commissions for " gallant and meritorious service " to Col. B. F. Baker, Lieut. Col. C. A. Milliken, Adjt. Thomas Lynch, Lieut. Col. William H. Terrell, and Maj. Richard L. Annesley.

Col. William F. Fox, in his book, " Regimental Losses in the American Civil War," says:

" The Forty-third New York was a fighting regiment, and was known as such throughout the corps and at home. It was assigned to Gen. W. S. Hancock's Brigade, and participated with that command in its brilliant manoeuvre at Williamsburg. It was selected as one of the five crack regiments to form the famous ' Light Division' of the Sixth Corps, the division which took such a prominent part in the successful storming of Marye's Heights. The three field officers, Colonel Wilson, Lieutenant Colonel Fryer, and Major Wallace were killed in the Wilderness campaign, At Spotsylvania the regiment, though thinned and shattered, was one of the twelve picked battalions which General Upton led in his historic charge, and in which the Forty-third with its usual dash captured some of the enemy's flags. The Third Brigade bore the brunt of the battle at Fort Stevens, Washington, D. C., where the Forty-third fought under the approving eye of the President, and helped save the Capital from Early's invading army. Lieutenant Colonel Visscher commanding, was killed in this action."

Colonel Fox also says: "The loss of officers in the Third Brigade, Second Division, Sixth Corps " — to which the Forty-third belonged — " was without a parallel in the war, the five regiments losing 72 officers, killed in action."

The loss of the Forty-third in officers killed or mortally wounded was as follows:

At the Wilderness, Col. John Wilson, Lieut. Col. John Fryer, Maj. William Wallace, Lieut. John M. Dempsey, Lieut. Richard Castle, Lieut. David Meade, and Lieut. Theodore S. Bailey; at Fort Stevens, Lieut. Col. James D. Visscher; at Marye's Heights, Capt. Hugh B. Knickerbocker, and Lieut. George H. Koonz; at Salem Church, Capt. Douglas Lodge; at Gettysburg, Capt. W. H. Gilfillan; at Spotsylvania, Capt. David Burhans; and at Winchester, Lieut. John B. Carter.

The regiment participated with the Sixth Corps in all its battles in the Army of the Shenandoah, and shared in the final glorious consummation at Appo-mattox. The official records show that during its campaign the regiment sustained a total loss in battle of 692 in killed, wounded, and missing. It was mustered out of service, July 27, 1865.

 

New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
Last modified: March 27, 2006
URL: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/43rdInf/43rdInfHistSketch.htm

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