History of Warren County, Chapter 19

CHAPTER XIX

FIFTY-EIGHTH AND EIGHTY-THIRD REGIMENTS

Colonel Curtis, of Warren, Authorized to Raise a Regiment - Is but Partially Successful - Its Consolidation with Another Fractional Command - The Field Officers - Regiment Proceeds to Fortress Monroe - Its Services in that Department - Ordered to Beaufort, N.C. - Transferred to the Army of the James - Charging Fort Harrison - Subsequent Services - Muster Out - Eighty-Third Regiment - Where Recruited - Becomes Part of the Fifth Corps - Hotly Engaged During the Peninsula Campaign - Its Losses - Second Bull Run - Fredericksburg - Holding Little Round Top at Gettysburg - Worthless Substitutes and Drafted Men - Final Movements.

FIFTY-EIGHTH REGIMENT.

In the autumn of 1861 Hon. Canton B. Curtis, of Warren, was authorized to recruit a regiment of infantry in the northwestern part of the State. He succeeded in rallying under his colors five companies, or what was then termed the One Hundred and Fourteenth Regiment. About the 1st of November he left Warren with nearly two hundred men, and proceeded to Huntingdon, Pa., where the major portion of his men were assembled. Subsequently they were ordered to Harrisburg, and finally to Camp Curtis, near Philadelphia. Meanwhile, J. Richter Jones, having received the requisite authority from Governor Curtin, was also engaged in the task of recruiting a regiment, designated the Fifty-eighth, in the city of Philadelphia and vicinity. He, also, failed to recruit but five companies. Hence, by mutual agreement of Jones and Curtis, their respective commands were consolidated, and the combined force received for its designation the lowest number - the Fifty-eighth. A regimental organization was effected February 13, 1862, by the selection of the following field officers: John Richter Jones, of Sullivan county, colonel; Carlton B. Curtis, of Warren county, lieutenant-colonel, and Montgomery Martin, of Philadelphia, major.

On the 8th of March the regiment left its camp, near Philadelphia, and proceeded by rail and water transportation to Fortress Monroe. The day of its arrival was signalized by the renowned contest between the Merrimac and Monitor. About two months later it formed part of an expedition, sent on transports to Norfolk, under General Wool. This movement resulted in the occupation of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newtown, Gosport, and the Navy Yard. In October it was ordered to Suffolk, and soon after participated in a movement against the enemy on the Blackwater.

Early in January, 1863, the regiment was embarked, with a force under command of General Foster, for Beaufort, N.C. Thereafter, until towards the close of April, 1864, its campaigns were confined to that State. Although it fought no battles of moment, nor lost but few men in action, it rendered active, arduous, and very efficient service. Its gallant commander, Colonel Jones, was instantly killed by a rebel sharpshooter in an action at Bachelor’s Creek Station, N.C., May 23, 1863. Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis was promoted to fill the vacancy, but resigned July 2, 1863. Captain Cecil Clay then became the ranking officer, and continued in command of the regiment until its term of service expired.

Together with many other troops, the regiment was transferred by boats from North Carolina to the Army of the James about May 1, 1864. On the 9th the division had a sharp encounter with the enemy, in which the regiment lost twenty killed and wounded. At Cold Harbor, on the 1st of June, the regiment engaged in a charge and drove the enemy into his intrenched line, sustaining a loss of thirty-five in killed and wounded. Again on the 3d did the Fifty-eighth behave so handsomely that it was specially complimented by army correspondents.

On the evening of September 28 a considerable portion of the Army of the James moved across James River on muffled pontoons. The brigade of which the Fifty-eighth formed a part had the advance, and at sunrise skirmishing commenced. As the Union columns pressed forward, the rebels fell back to the forts and defenses, which were in full view, extending from the river north to the vicinity of White Oak Swamp. The brigade was immediately ordered up, and the Fifty-eighth and One Hundred and Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiments were selected to lead the charge upon Fort Harrison, the principal defense. A public road led directly to the fort, and the ground in front, over which the charge must be made, was open and ascending for about twelve hundred yards. The public road mentioned was at the center of the charging troops, the left of the Fifty-eighth resting upon it. Fifty yards from the fort the ground rises quite suddenly to the crest, just in rear of which was the ditch with abatis in front. The fort mounted sixteen guns, two of them one hundred pounders. Forming for the desperate work, the two regiments moved forward at a regular pace until within five hundred yards, when, in the face of a storm of shot and shell that swept their ranks, they rushed forward as one man until they reached the little ridge in front of the fort. Here all, with one accord, dropped to the ground under partial shelter; but only for an instant, for at this moment General Ord came dashing up, and, inspired by the presence and daring of their chief, the men sprang forward with wild shouts, passed the abatis and the ditch, and scaling the parapet, drove the enemy in rout and confusion from the fort.

The colors of the Fifty-eighth, which had three times fallen in the desperate onset, were planted upon the parapet by Captain Clay, who, with his adjutant, was among the first to enter the work. As Captain Clay, who had just taken the flag from the hands of the fallen corporal, attempted to raise it upon the fort, he received two gunshot wounds in the right arm. The flag itself was completely riddled, and the staff twice shot off. Of the nine officers and two hundred and twenty-eight men who advanced, six officers and one hundred and twenty-eight men were either killed or wounded.

On the afternoon of the same day these two regiments were ordered to attack the Star Fort, situated a mile to the left of Fort Harrison and near the river. Filled with fiery zeal by their success in the morning, they moved gallantly forward, scaled the ramparts, and spiked the guns; but’ weakened by their severe losses, the rebel gun-boats playing upon them, and supports failing to come at the critical moment (Where was Ord?) they were obliged to fall back, and the advantage, dearly purchased, was lost. They returned to Fort Harrison and all night long were engaged in throwing up a skillfully planned line of earthworks. The next day the enemy attacked in heavy force and with determined valor, but was repulsed with great loss.

Thenceforward until its muster out the regiment was actively engaged in various fields, but was not an active participant in battle. After the suspension of hostilities it was assigned to duty by detachments in the lower counties of Virginia, under orders from the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was finally mustered out of service at City Point January 24, 1866.

The Warren county men in the regiment served chiefly in Companies F and G, among them being Captains Lucius Rogers and Olney V. Cotter.

EIGHTY-THIRD REGIMENT.

This regiment was organized at Erie soon after the expiration of the term of Colonel McLane’s three months regiment. It was composed of nearly three hundred members of the old regiment; besides others from the counties of Erie, Crawford, Warren, Venango, and Mercer. They rendezvoused at Camp McLane, where, on the 8th of September, 1861, they were mustered into the United States service for three years, with Colonel John W. McLane as their commanding officer.

On the 18th of the same month the regiment proceeded to Washington, D.C., where it was assigned to the Third Brigade of Porter’s Division, afterwards known as the First Division of the Fifth Corps. It soon attained a high state of proficiency in drill, etc., and was considered one of the model volunteer regiments of the army. It participated in the Peninsula campaign, beginning with the so-called seige of Yorktown and terminating with the retreat of McClellan to Harrison’s Landing. At Hanover Court House, at Gaines’s Mill, where Colonel McLane was killed, and where two hundred and sixty-five others of the regiment were either killed, wounded, or captured, and at Malvern Hill, where forty were killed and one hundred and ten wounded, the Eighty-third won imperishable honor. Again, at the second battle of Bull Run it was warmly engaged, losing about seventy-five in killed and wounded, but at Antietam it had an opportunity to pour but few volleys into the enemy’s ranks. Its losses at Fredericksburg were six killed and thirty wounded, and at Chancellorsville only some four or five were wounded.

The regiment reached the battlefield of Gettysburg on the morning of the 2d of July, and with its brigade was posted on Little Round Top. Here it fought desperately and assisted in repulsing repeated charges of Longstreet’s men, though it lost another gallant commander in the person of Colonel Vincent, who fell mortally wounded. The losses in the regiment were comparatively slight, however - since it fought, for the most part, from behind rocks - being eight killed and thirty-eight wounded. During the following winter its ranks were increased by the addition of four hundred drafted men and substitutes, a large proportion of whom proved to be entirely worthless. Subsequently the regiment participated in the movements, battles, etc., of the Fifth Corps, losing heavily in all of the chief engagements fought till the expiration of its original term of service, which occurred September 18, 1864. It then contained about three hundred and fifty effective men. Of these about one hundred were mustered out, and the balance, composed of veterans and recruits, was organized in six companies; and known as the battalion of the Eighty-third. Finally, after following Lee to Appomattox to his defeat and surrender, these men were mustered out at Washington, D.C., June 28, and were disbanded at Harrisburg, Pa., July 4, 1865. The Warren county men who served in this regiment were scattered among various companies; hence at this late day it is found impracticable to make individual mention of them.

SOURCE: Page(s) 192-195, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887