Brief History of the 121st NY Volunteer Infantry

Brief Historical Sketch
of the
121st NY Volunteer Infantry
as written in
The Report of the Gettysburg Monument Committee
of the 121st New York Volunteers
Compiled by Lt. Col. J.W. Cronkite, Chairman,
on authority of the committee.

The 121st New York Volunteers was recruited mostly in Otsego and Herkimer Counties, in July and August, 1862. By special order of the Governor, dated July 19th, 1862, Hon. Richard Franchot, then member of Congress from the Otsego district, was appointed Colonel of a Regiment of Volunteers, and authorized to establish his headquarters at Richfield Springs, Otsego County, and directed to proceed without delay to organize a Regiment of Infantry. Col. Franchot began the work at once., assisted by his capable adjutant, Alonzo Ferguson, and great credit is due them for the prompt and efficient manner in which they placed the Regiment in the field. They had the entire Regiment recruited, assembled at their rendezvous Camp Schuyler, in Herkimer County, and mustered into the United States service August 23d, 1862. The command at the time consisted of 39 officers and 946 enlisted men. It left its rendezvous August 30th, and proceeded to Washington, arriving there on the morning of September 3d, and was assigned provisionally to a brigade under Col. Gibson, with headquarters at Fort Lincoln.

On the march of the army to South Mountain and Antietam battle-fields the Regiment was assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division, Sixth Corps, and remained with that command during its entire term of service. The Brigade was then commanded by Gen. J. J. Bartlett, the Division by Gen. Henry W. Slocum, and Corps by Gen. Wm. B. Franklin. It bore its part in the battles of Crampton's Pass, September 14, and later Antietam; but as it was a raw Regiment it was assigned to duties that did not require any sacrifice of its men.

Col. Franchot resigned September 25th, 1862, to resume his seat in Congress, but before bidding his Regiment adieu he performed a service which ever after received the grateful remembrance of the officers and men, in selecting as his successor Col. Emory Upton, at that time a First Lieutenant in the regular army, under whose command the Regiment made a record second to none in the Army of the Potomac.

From the start casualties of various kinds began to thin the ranks of officers and men.

Our efficient Surgeon, Dr. Wm. T. Basset, was personally known to many of us as a skillful and humane physician, and all felt that in his hands they would have the very best medical and surgical treatment, but camp exposure soon threatened his health and he was obliged to return home; and thereafter Assistant Surgeon Dr. Daniel M. Holt proved himself the most active, humane and capable medical officer we had until in June, 1863, when Dr. J.O. Slocum, then Assistant Surgeon of the 122d New York, was commissioned as Surgeon of the 121st, and under their skillful and sympathetic treatment the health and morals of the men were kept at a high standard.

Our first Chaplin, Rev. J.R. Sage, resigned in June, 1863, and for the next year the Chaplain of the 5th Maine, Rev. Dr. John R. Adams, voluntarily officiated on all necessary occasions as loyally as if assigned to the Regiment. There was always a warm attachment between the officers and men of these two regiments, and for Dr. Adams all entertained a degree of profound respect, friendship and love.

In July, 1864, the term of service of the 5th Maine having expired, the officers and men of the 121st petitioned the Governor of New York to commission Dr. Adams as Chaplain of the Regiment, which he did, and the doctor remained with it to the close of the war.

He was just the kind of man to look after the moral and spiritual welfare of a fighting Regiment like the 5th Maine or 121st New York. Often against the protests of the men he was seen on the battle line coolly encouraging the men or assisting the wounded, sharing the soldiers' danger until the commanding officer felt obliged to order him to the rear to prevent him from being needlessly shot.

He was widely known in the army and respected and loved by all. He was a man of profound though, commanding presence and possessed of superior mental attainments. As a loyal American, a warm hearted and genial friend of the soldiers, and a devout, faithful and successful Chaplain, we can truly testify that Dr. John R. Adams had few equals and no superiors in the army; and while life lasts his sweet memory will never fade from us.

After Col Upton assumed command of the Brigade, the Regiment was commanded at various periods by Lieut. Co. Olcott, Majors Mather and Galpin, Captains Kidder, Douw, Jackson and Major Cronkite.

Very few Regiments in the Army sustained so great a loss of officers and men. The list of casualties is over 62 per cent of the enlistment. It lost sixteen officers killed and four died of disease as follows:

Killed in Action.

Capt. Nelson O. Wendell, Salem Church, May 3, 1863.
First Lieut. U.F. Doubleday, Salem Church, May 3, 1863
Second Lieut. Frederick E. Ford, Salem Church, May 3, 1863
Capt. Charles A. Butts, Spottsylvania, May 10, 1864
Capt. John D. Fish, Spottsylvania, May 12, 1864
First Lieut. Silas E. Pierce, Spottsylvania, May 12, 1864
First Lieut. Edward P. Johnson, (not mustered,) Spottsylvania, May 10, 1864
First Lieut. William H. Tucker, Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864
Second Lieut. Charles F. Pettengill, (not mustered,) Spottsylvania, May 10, 1864
First Lieut. Horatio N Duro, Fort Fisher, Va.,March 25, 1865
Capt. Ten Eyck C. Howland, Sailor's Creek, Va., April 6, 1865
First Lieut John T. Morton, Sailor's Creek, Va., April 6, 1865

Died of Wounds

Capt. Thomas S. Arnold, died May 18, 1863, of wounds at Salem Church, May 3, 1863
Capt. Jonathan Burrell, died October 26, 1864, of wounds at Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864
Capt. John D. P. Douw, died November 11, 1864, of wounds at Cedar Creek

Died of Disease

Second Lieut. George W. Davis, October 20, 1862.
First Lieut. Angus Cameron, November 9, 1862.
First Lieut A. Clark Rice, September 20, 1863.
Second Lieut Samuel B. Kelley, Annapolis, March, 1865.

During the battle of Antietam the regiment together with a battery of artillery, guarded Crampton's Gap in the South Mountain range, and after the battle assisted in burying the dead on that field.

The loss of men from typhoid and camp fevers for the first three months was very large, the men being without tents for six weeks. The Regiment followed the varying fortunes of the Army of the Potomac from that time until the surrender of Lee, excepting the period from July 10th to December, 1864, when it served with the Sixth Corps under Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. It sustained many losses in skirmishes and minor contacts, which were never called battles; but the War Department officially records twenty-five battles in which the Regiment was engaged, and credits it with the capture of seven battle flags. It had several color-bearers shot, but its own standard never fell into the hands of the enemy. Some of its engagements were hand to hand, notable Upton's charge May 10th, 1864, at Spottsylvania, where many were killed in close combat and several men received bayonet wounds. At Salem Church, May 3d, 1863, its loss in killed and wounded was 62 percent of the men engaged, and the contact did not last more than fifteen or twenty minutes. At Rappahannock Station, November 7th, 1863, it captured nearly 700 prisoners and four battle flags. At Winchester, Va., September 19th, 1864, it, with Upton's Brigade was credited by Gen. Sheridan with saving the day when the enemy broke the left of the 19th Corps. At Cedar Creek, October 19th, 1864, the men saved from falling into the enemy's hands one of our batteries by hauling the guns back by hand.

After Lee was driven from Richmond and Petersburg, April 2d and 3d, the colors of the 121st were the first to enter the latter city. At Sailor's Creek, April 6th, in the last desperate effort of Lee to save his army, the Regiment in close combat with a brigade of marines, suffered severely but captured several hundred prisoners and two stand of colors. After Lee's surrender, the Regiment remained in Virginia until the Sixth Corps was ordered to march to Washington to join in the grand review of the Army of the Potomac, in which it participated preparatory to disbandment. It was mustered out of United States service June 25th, 1865, at Washington, and was ordered to Albany, N.Y., for final payment and discharge. By special request the War Department gave the Regiment permission to carry their captured battle-flags to New York with them, and they marched down Broadway with their own colors, tattered and torn by shot and shell, and triumphantly carrying their seven captured battle-flags. Proceeding to Albany the Regiment encamped on the Troy road for about a week, there awaiting the order for final payment and muster-out.

For nearly three years the officers and men of this command had, according to their oath, implicitly and cheerfully obeyed every order of the War Department and their superior officers, but here for the first time, and just on the eve of their discharge, the officer in command of the Albany district gave the regimental officers justification to rebel against his authority by the unwise exercise of overzealous and arbitrary power, and thereby for a brief period incipient mutiny seemed imminent.

It occurred in this way: Col. Olcott being quartered at a hotel in the city. Lieut.-Col. Kidder was in command of the camp, and while necessary camp discipline was observed, the usual rigor of field service was relaxed and drills and dress parades omitted.

The officer in command at Albany, presumable not knowing the war was over, ordered a resumption of daily drills and dress parades. Col. Olcott directed Lieut.-Col Kidder to ignore the order which he gladly did. Then the same officer directed the regimental commander to report every officer and man absent without leave. Col. Kidder reported promptly: "There are no officers or men in this Regiment absent without leave."

Next an officer from headquarters came to the Regiment's camp and demanded that the seven Rebel battle-flags must be given to him to be turned over to the Adjutant General of the State. Col. Kidder, with emphasis, gave the officer to understand "that he would not obey the order, or recognize his authority, with all due respect for the Adjutant General of the State. That the flags were the war trophies of his Regiment, they were the property of the United States, and had been lent to the Regiment by the Secretary of War in person, and they must be returned to that department, and that he declined to deliver them to any one except on the order of the President, Secretary of War or Gen. Grant." The officer left in a huff saying that he would return with troops and take them by force. He carried out his threat in so far as returning at the head of a company of soldiers and again demanded the Rebel flags.

Col. Kidder had anticipated him and instantly ordered a part of his Regiment under arms, and replying again to the officer's demand said: "There are the Rebel flags and here are the soldiers who captured them. If you must have them you can give your men the command to take them away from their captors, and if they cannot defend them I will call out the entire Regiment." It is needless to say the officer considerably crestfallen reversed his men, and marched away to be seen no more by the 121st New York Volunteers.

Learning the Regiment could not be disbanded until after July 4th, the citizens of Little Falls, N.Y. , invited it to a banquet at their Fourth of July celebration there to receive the thanks of the people of Herkimer County, and make their final parade in view of their numerous and admiring friends.

Once more they came in conflict with the Albany authorities. The Albany citizens wished the Regiment to parade in that city July 4th, and obtained an order to that effect from the military commander. Col. Olcott immediately telegraphed the situation to the Secretary of War, who informed the Albany authorities that the 121st New York as a body was furloughed for forty-eight hours, and thus the Albany order was nullified, and the Regiment proceeded to Little Falls by an early train July 4th, where they received a royal welcome: and as a military organization made their final parade under their own shot and shell riddled banner, triumphantly bearing their captured battle-flags amidst the cheers and plaudits of the patriotic citizens.

Next morning early they boarded a special train for Albany, arriving there, found orders from the War Department to march the men to North Pearl Street for final payment and discharge.

With feelings of mingled sorrow and pleasure the men assembled under their war colors for the last time, and after saluting their old flag with cheer after cheer, it was turned in to the Adjutant General of the State for safe keeping, by the Adjutant of the Regiment, Capt. Frank E. Low, who at the same time returned by express the Rebel battle flags to the Secretary of War.

After final payment and discharge papers were received, the military organization of the 121st New York Volunteers vanished from the field of military activity, each member thereof again to assume the individual citizen, but with patriotism quickened by experience, and a riper knowledge of the duties which American citizenship imposes.