While researching for the 150th Commemoration of the Pennsylvania Campaign, I found a great diary detailing the role that the New York Militia had in protecting Pennsylvania from the invading Confederate army. The diary excerpts are from “Our Campaign Around Gettysburg” written by John Lockwood of the 23rd New York State National Guard. This small diary was published in 1864 to describe the events that took place prior, during, and after the Battle of Gettysburg, as he experienced it.
This diary goes into a lot of detail about their camping exploits, as well as the daily life of a militiaman. You read accounts about the regulars and volunteers who served in the Army of the Potomac, but the role of the militia is more or less overlooked. This diary opens the door to a lesser known history of the Pennsylvania Campaign. Sometimes, the battle history overlooks the campaign as a whole, but I find that the human interest story is just as important as the battle that was being fought.
The 23rd New York State National Guard was called upon for Federal service on June 16th, 1863. The 23rd New York State National Guard was ordered to Pennsylvania by the governor of New York on Thursday, June 18th, 1863; just one day after the famous 7th New York Militia was called out. The 23rd New York Militia was comprised of ten companies commanded by Colonel William Everdell. They were attached to the Department of the Susquehanna under the command of General Darious Couch, and were part of General William Smith’s Division, as part of the 6th Brigade under the command of General Jesse Smith. The 6th Brigade consisted of the 23rd New York, 52nd New York, and 56th New York State National Guards.
After parading through Brooklyn in full uniform, with rations cooked, they made their way to a steamboat bound for Philadelphia. They would take the train to Harrisburg, reaching there just after day break on June 19th. Their final destination was Fort Washington, where they were assigned as part of the garrison there.
Upon their arrival in Pennsylvania, many Harrisburg residents were surprised to see the militiaman wearing the uniform that was similar to that of a Confederate soldier. Before their departure from Brooklyn, the 23rd New York received permission from the New York Quartermaster to wear their grey uniforms with black facings on the shoulder straps and scalloped cuff facings, very similar to that of the 7th New York Militia. The collar was taped out in black and so were the trouser legs. They wore the traditional French kepi with a black band piped in black trim with the numbers “23” placed on the front. Instead of being the traditional white webbing, the accoutrements were black leather. There is a possibility that the men cut out white Greek crosses and had sewn them on their shell jackets so they would not be mistaken as a Confederate soldier.
Seeing the tents already pitched by the earlier arrival of other New York units, the men of the 23rd New York Militia began working on earthworks as well as reconnaissance of the area. Drill and meals were also held at strict times during the day. During the evening, the men bunkered down in their tents.
Within a few days, the 23rdNew York was ordered to shift their camps to make room for the arrival of newer troops entering Fort Washington. According to Lockwood, “The first step was to clear tents. Before each door arms were stacked, and on a blanket spread on the ground were rapidly piled knapsacks, haversacks, blankets, boots and shoes, tinware, rough boxes, shelving, and an indescribable variety of loose matter; altogether an astonishing mass of tent furniture. Next was the order to strike tents.”
Once you tear down the camp, you need to establish a new area to encamp. The new camp had been established on a hill with a steep slope. The men would use pick, shovel and spade to level off the ground the best that they could. Lockwood explains in great detail how the soldiers of his command pitched their tents. “First, you must level off a rectangular plot some six feet by seven as a foundation for your structure. (This description refers to the “A” tent, ours being of that pattern.) Then you must set your tent-poles in such positions as that the tent, when pitched shall preserve nicely the rectilinearity of the street and its own equipoise. After that the canvas is stretched into proper position by means of pegs driven firmly into the ground on every side. Then follows carpentry work. Three of four joists, if you can procure them, are laid flat on the ground and half imbedded in the soft earth, and across these is fitted a board flooring. A pole is next adjusted close under the ridge pole of the tent to accommodate a variety of furniture, whose shape or appendages suggest such disposition. And finally, a rack or framework is set up next the rear wall of the tent, for the support of the muskets of the mess.”
Once your tent has been erected, “Room must be found for four to six muskets, according to the number of the mess and as many knapsacks, haversacks, belts, blankets, rubber-cloths, canteens, sets of dishes (!), boots or shoes, a box to hold blacking and brushes, soap, candles, etc. Besides these, there is apt to be, an assortment of towels, handkerchiefs, stockings and other articles of apparel which the owners thereof have lately washed, or have gone through the motions of washing, and have hung up overhead to dry, where they are forever flapping in your face when you stand upright in the tent. The blankets and knapsacks are at night used to eke out the appointments for sleep, the first to soften the floor to the bones of the sleepers, the second to serve for pillows.”
On July 1st, the 23rdNew York was ordered out for campaign. Lockwood recalled “We were ordered to provide ourselves with two days’ cooked rations and to move completely equipped, with our packed knapsacks, blankets, and all the paraphernalia of a marching column. This included a square of canvas, two of which buttoned together, constitutes what is called a shelter-tent, for the accommodation of two men. This pointed plainly enough to a vigorous campaign, and every man was pleased with the prospect.”
As the men marched out on the Carlisle Road, cheering and singing was heard from the ranks. A few hours later, fatigue sat in. The weight of the equipment, the hot sun and road conditions took a toll on the men. Soon stronger men began to carry extra portions of the load, relieving the load of a fellow messmate. Officers began to dismount so that their horses could carry some of the knapsacks until the horses “sandwiched out.” One soldier managed to buy a wheel cart and pay a young boy to roll his baggage beside him. On average each man carried about forty-four pounds, but some men carried even more depending on how much personal items they had packed away in their knapsack.
By ten o’clock that night, the men were able to bivouac in a cloverfield. Many men slept on the ground where they halted. By three o’clock in the morning of July 2nd, the men arose and began marching. Near Carlisle, the sounds of the battle were heard. The men were confused as to why they were not moving. Were they to advance into Carlisle or were they ordered to backtrack toward Harrisburg? During the wait, several men did not prepare their rations as ordered or they had eaten their rations the day before.
Several hours had passed since the halt and many men stood with arms in hand. Soon shelter halves and rubber blankets began to appear along the road attached to fences for protection from the sun. Others made their way to the shade of the trees. By noon, just about every man in the 23rd New York Militia had taken to the shade.
Foraging parties that were sent out, returned reporting that a river was close by. The men took some time to relax until the officers called them back into the ranks because they were there to observe any Confederate activity that may be approaching Harrisburg. Lockwood recalled coming to a farm house where a crowd had grown, “Among them a bevy of girls, healthy-looking, fair-skinned daughters of Pennsylvania farmers.” They had baked all kinds of goods for the New Yorkers, but by the time the 23rd New York Militia got to the farm house, the ladies had stopped baking and the men got nothing.
Taking a ferry across the river, the 23rd New York Militia began marching and soon came to another halt. Lockwood recalled seeing all of the farms that dotted the landscape. “It would be interesting to know what farm house for miles around the central halting place was unvisited on that day by some representative of the New York or Brooklyn militia. We find our comrades seated decently at the table, positively eating with knives and forks, and drinking tea whitened with real cream! The turn of our crowd came soon. Fresh bread and butter, ham sweetmeats, pickles, tea and all without stint; and besides, clean white dishes to eat off!”
Shortly afternoon came and the men began marching back toward Harrisburg. The straggling became a problem, halts were made and men were stepping out of ranks to get into the shade. This was due to non disciplinary regulations from headquarters, something that General Couch will issue on July 3rd. The columns of infantry marched until sunset when they encamped near Orr’s Bridge.
The next day on July 3rd, the men were up at 3:30 in the morning. By five o’clock, the men began marching. Soon wagons were brought forward and light marching orders were given to lighten the load that the soldiers carried. General Jesse Smith recalled “The weather was very warm, the men marched with their knapsacks packed, their blankets rolled, their haversacks supplied with two days’ ration, and their cartridge-boxes with 40 rounds. They suffered greatly from this first march, and were compelled to leave their knapsacks and many other things that were afterward much needed.” Knapsacks and blankets were loaded in the wagons reducing the amount of weight to thirty pounds that each soldier carried. The men were able to march in fine spirits without getting bogged down.
Before noon, they entered the small town of Kinston. After some “persuasive force,” the soldiers purchased bread, pies, butter and eggs from the town and surrounding farmers. Marching in the hot sun, the 23rd New York Militia finally entered Carlisle around sunset.
The next morning, on July 4th, the men were up and ready to begin their daily march. Passing through Carlisle the soldiers of the 23rd New York Militia turned to the east toward SouthMountain. They were marching toward Mount Holly Gap. At the mouth of the gap, the column continued to climb the mountain gap when it was halted.
As the afternoon came, the skies began to cloud and the sound of thunder was heard. As sounds of the approaching weather were coming closer, the men began to look for shelter. Many unrolled their overcoats and pulled out their rubber blankets. As the men were encamped near a mountain stream, the rain set in, picking up in intensity. Lockwood recalled “Over against the mountain wall before and above us there hung in mid-air a vast sheet of water which the howling wind flapped to and fro in the gorge terrifically; while the blinding lightning and crashing thunder seemed to issue together from the mountain itself.”
During the evening, the men started to see the creek cresting and knapsacks began floating down stream. “The calm mountain brook had become a raging torrent, threatening the whole gorge with overflow, carrying angrily down stream of knapsacks, officer’s valises, etc.” Soon orders were given to move forward and the men marched in good humor to get out of harms way. As the soldier began to move, halts were again called and as the mountain streams kept rising they were thankful when orders of forward were again given. General Jesse Smith in his report recalled: “The road led through the SouthMountain, and was very narrow and muddy. The men marched through mud and water, oftentimes knee deep. The Twenty-third Regiment, having had some of its men nearly drowned while fording a stream, had to stop for the night.”
By five o’clock in the evening, the men were able to start fires, cook coffee and try to dry their clothes as best as they could near a mill on SouthMountain. Orders were soon given and the men found themselves marching along roads that had turned into clay, sucking off their shoes and forcing men to fall. Once the men were away from the mountain streams, the saw other New York militiamen who had began to straggle. After marching seventeen miles, night came and rubber blankets were laid on the ground where the men went to sleep.
The next day, the militiamen who had rested near Laurel Forge marched to Pine Grove. With orders to move onto Newman’s Cut, the march proved difficult following the up and down movements of the mountain ridge. The recent rains had made the mountain roads a muddy mess.
By July 6th, the militiamen came out to the crossroads following the ridge of South Mountain to Cashtown where they bivouacked. The New Yorkers were ordered to harass Confederate General John Imboden’s wagon train of wounded soldiers, as he retreated from Cashtown to Williamsport, Maryland. The New Yorkers had arrived a day too late.
On July 7th, the militiamen awoke and began breaking down their bivouac. The soldiers filed onto the Chambersburg Pike to Greenwood, then turning left onto the road leading to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the soldiers had made their way into MountAlto (Altodale/Funktown). There, several men placed their feet into the little Antietam Creek and some even bathed in its water. Several of the men heard of the nearby site where Captain Cook was arrested in 1859 for his role in John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry.
On July 8th, the New Yorkers marched through MountAlto and Quincy. They arrived in Waynesboro where they went into camp on the Hagerstown Pike, west of town. At Waynesboro, the men pitched their tents and rested all the next day. After the morning report was given, many soldiers received passes to go into Waynesboro. Many others enjoyed the cool water of the Antietam Creek near Iron Bridges.
On July 10th, the 23rd New York and 71stNew York went on reconnaissance on the Waynesboro Road where Lockwood recalled standing on a hillside about two miles from Waynesboro and roasting in the sun. This area is the small rise along Forge Road. Toward evening, the soldiers marched back to camp.
The following afternoon, there was a general movement toward Leitersburg, Maryland. The men could hear cannonading in the distance in the direction of Funkstown. By July 12th, the soldiers had made their way to Cavetown and were overtaken again by a severe thunderstorm.
The next morning, the militiamen marched toward Boonsboro. Several of the men had thought that maybe, perhaps, they would receive an order to head to Frederick where they would board a train and head back to New York, but such an order was yet to be given.
On July 14th, the Confederate army had escaped into West Virginia at Falling Waters. Several of the officers and men had found out through the Baltimore paper that New York was in a riot over the drafts. The next day, the militiamen were given orders to move to Frederick City where they were to board the train that would take them to New York via Baltimore and Philadelphia. They would arrive back in New York on July 19th, 1863. The New Yorkers had covered more than one hundred and forty-five miles from their arrival in Harrisburg to Frederick, Maryland. On July 22nd, the soldiers of the 23rd New York Militia were officially mustered out of service.