Editor’s Note: In the mid-1940’s the Baldwinsville (NY) Messenger reprinted a lengthy series of articles on the 185th New York and other New York Civil War units from 50 years earlier, originally published in the Baldwinsville Gazette, which detailed the history of the town of Lysander, New York. This article is one part of a sub-series in this set detailing the 185th New York and its experiences at the Siege of Petersburg. I found these articles while searching through the always fascinating Fulton NY Postcards site. This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
Augustus M. Rice, the original author, was a member of Company A, 185th New York. Rice enlisted at the age of 18 as a private on August 22, 1864 in Lysander, to serve for one year. He was mustered into Company A on September 19, 1864 and was discharged on June 3, 1865 in Washington, D. C.1
HISTORICAL REVIEW OF THE TOWN OF LYSANDER
Part 199: Fraternal Feeling Existed Between [1st New York Light Artillery,] Battery B, 122[n]d [New York] Regiment
By Miss L. Pearl Palmer
[SOPO Editor’s Note: The previous entry in this series described the cold early December march of the 185th New York with the rest of Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac and sundry other troops as they embarked on the Stony Creek Raid with a goal of wrecking the Weldon Railroad from Stony Creek to Hicksford, far south of Petersburg. This destruction was intended to discomfit Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia by complicating their supply line, already stretched thin. When we left the 185th New York last time, they were tearing up tracks on the Weldon Railroad south of Stony Creek on December 8, 1864. This entry picks up at that point. For maps and an explanation of this raid, see my posts on Warren’s December 1864 Stony Creek Raid.]
Orders had been given not to light any fires, and the men, wet and chilled from the rain, tried to gather comfort from the sight of the burning railroad ties.
Companies A and B, detailed here as skirmishers and stationed to the right of the highway, were by some oversight of the officers, left behind and narrowly escaped being captured. The vigilant eye of the lieutenant colonel soon discovered their absence [on the night of December 8-9, 1864], and despite the protests of the other officers who claimed that darkness and unfamiliar terrain would make it impossible to locate them, started out in search. [Lieutenant] Colonel [Gustavus] Sniper related his experience as follows:
“I knew the line where our companies were first posted but the men’s position had been changed and not at first finding them, I was a little lost. Dismounting, I led my horse and worked carefully toward the rebel lines. Hearing a slight noise, I crept cautiously along and heard the sharp challenge of a picket who proved to be Sergeant Luther E. Dunham. Finding Company A here, I inquired for Company B. Sergeant Dunham was not positive, but replied—‘We can find it.’ I tied my horse to a bush, and accompanied by Dunham, moved on further to the right, creeping cautiously through the underbrush.
“We soon heard the sharp click of a musket and the challenge ‘Who comes there?’ Knowing the voice to be that of a former neighbor of mine, I answered ‘It is I.’ I then inquired for the rest of Company B. He answered ‘On this same line.’ So I formed the two companies in line and started in pursuit of the main line2, instead of taking the road. I kept in the fields and crept through the underbrush until we struck the main column, which we reached about daylight.”
“We made a short halt and rested and then, though not in condition for marching, we still kept it up until late in the afternoon. That night [of December 9, 1864] we camped in a cornfield. Our rations had run low and to make up for the shortage, Fred Bentley and his comrade went out foraging, soon returning with a pair of fine porkers, weighing about 25 or 30 pounds.
“That night was a terrible one. It rained, freezing as it fell. Many were without blankets and others lacked tents. The suffering was intense. Next morning [December 10, 1864] everything was ice covered. Here we reached our farthest point south, Hicksford, Virginia. After a breakfast of hardtack, ham and coffee, we turned back, retracing our steps northward, and trudging through a forest dripping with water as the morning sun melted the ice covered boughs.
“The following day [December 11, 1864], after marching in the rain and camping in a muddy cornfield, we reached and crossed the Nottawa[y] river. Here Frederick Powell was captured while doing picket duty, a short distance from the place of crossing. So close was the enemy in pursuit that as the rear guard of the 185th crossed the stream and began taking up the bridge, the enemy was upon them.
“Comrade Powell, supposing the three men approaching in blue uniform to be his relief, discovered his mistake too late, when these rebels marched him off to prison camp in Richmond.
“With the approach of winter, the frozen ground made easier going for the wagon trains, but added to the suffering of the men whose ill-fitting shoes frequently blistered their feet, but the object of the regiment had been accomplished, as 25 miles of railroad had been torn up, bridges had been burned, culverts blown out and a large amount of rebel stores destroyed.
“We went into camp in a dense forest back of Mead[e]’s Station near the Gurley house and built winter quarters in an incredibly short time. No plans were spared in building and in laying streets. Our workmanship here was the best of the campaign. Some of the quarters were really models of comfort as the men prided themselves on building tables, chairs, stools and other furniture and fixtures.
“Our quartermaster, by order of General [Charles] Griffin [division commander of the 185th New York], detached a squad of men to forage in the country for material for officers’ quarters. The first expedition proved unsuccessful, but on the second attempt, better results were attained. William Deline of our company was out with both expeditions.
“At this place our company assisted in building a large church 60 feet long. It was of pine logs, hewed on the inside, roofed with tent cloth furnished by the Christian Commission, a platform at one end for the chaplain and furnished with seats made of hewed pine logs set upon legs.
“The roads were in a wretched condition and we were obliged to build or assist in building a corduroy road between our camp and the station where we received our supplies.
“The Sixth Corps having moved from the valley by a happy coincidence the gallant 122nd [New York] regiment was encamped in our old quarters on the Squirrel Level road3, and [1st New York Light Artillery,] Battery B, attached to the same corps with us4, was always near. As Company A of the 122nd regiment and Battery B, were raised in Baldwinsville, there arose a fraternal feeling between members of these organizations, a mutual love and spirit of good fellowship which time can never efface.
“During the winter, visits were exchanged and many pleasant hours passed. George W. Wilson, Sr., visited his son and others in camp, bringing several presents to the boys as well as an abundance of good cheer. He was accompanied by David P. Widrig whom his boys gladly welcomed.”5
The Baldwinsville NY Messenger 185th New York Series, 1945:
- NP: October 4, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 1
- NP: October 25, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 2
- NP: November 29, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 4
- NP: December 6, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 5
- December 13, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 6
- 185th Infantry CW Roster. The NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 26 July 2016. Accessed Augustus M. Rice entry from the 185th New York Roster. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The “main line” was Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps, a Second Corps Division, and Union cavalry, moving south that day down the Weldon Railroad in the direction of Hicksford, Virginia, wrecking as they went. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 122nd New York had participated in Sheridan’s 1864 Valley Campaign, and only moved back to the Siege of Petersburg on December 12, 1864, as Warren’s Stony Creek Raid was winding to a close. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Battery B of the 1st New York Light Artillery was part of the Fifth Corps Artillery Brigade, commanded by Charles Wainwright during the Siege of Petersburg. ↩
- “Historical Review of the Town of Lysander.” Baldwinsville Messenger. November 22, 1945, p. 3, col. 2-4 ↩