The Hardtack Regiment

A Brief History of the
154th New York Volunteer Infantry

By Mark H. Dunkelman

Written for my friends at Western New York’s
Echoes Through Time Learning Center and Civil War Museum

October 2012

The 154th New York was one of hundreds of Union army regiments raised in the North during the summer of 1862 in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 300,000 three-year volunteers. In a way, the 154th was an afterthought. Under Lincoln’s call, only one regiment was required of the New York State senatorial district composed of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. It was to rendezvous in Jamestown, Chautauqua County, at a fairground converted to quarter the volunteers, called Camp James M. Brown to honor a fallen officer. During that summer’s recruiting drive, enthusiastic war meetings were held throughout the two counties. Enough volunteers from Chautauqua County gathered at Camp Brown to form the 112th New York. In the meantime, Addison G. Rice, an attorney from Ellicottville, then the Cattaraugus County seat, secured permission in Albany to raise a second regiment. Eight companies enlisted for Rice’s regiment in Cattaraugus County. The other two were from Chautauqua and anticipated joining the 112th Regiment; their assignment to Rice’s regiment caused some disappointment, which wore away as time passed and the bonds of esprit de corps tightened.

The 154th New York Volunteer Infantry was mustered into the U.S. service at Camp Brown on September 24-26, 1862, under Addison Rice as provisional colonel (he was never commissioned). The unit numbered 948 officers and enlisted men. Three-quarters of them were farmers, a higher percentage than usual among Union regiments. Most of them were of British descent. There were half fewer foreign-born than typical of the Union army, and only three mixed-race men and one Native American. A great number of familial relationships were represented. One out of ten men had a brother in the regiment, and there were eight pairs of fathers and sons.

Following the customary presentation of colors by a local dignitary and an emotional farewell to family and friends, the 154th departed Jamestown by train on September 29, 1862, and traveled by way of Elmira, Williamsport, Harrisburg, and Baltimore to Washington, where it arrived October 2. The men crossed the Potomac River into Virginia and pitched tents on Arlington Heights below Fort Richardson to form Camp Seward. There they marveled at the sights of the river, the capital beyond, and the surrounding countryside, and began to become acclimated to army life. On October 12, they marched for Fairfax Court House, arriving the next day. There the regiment was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The names of the commanders of corps, division, and brigade—Franz Sigel, Adolph von Steinwehr, and Adolphus Buschbeck—indicate a strong German presence in the 11th Corps. This ethnic imbalance was much to the distaste of the largely American born and bred 154th New Yorkers.

From November 2 to 19 the 11th Corps marched to Thoroughfare Gap in the Bull Run Mountains and, after a brief stay, backtracked to Fairfax. During this movement the men of the 154th witnessed the desolate Bull Run battlefields, foraged for provisions for the first time, and took sick and were sent to hospitals in significant numbers. Colonel Rice had returned home soon after the regiment reached Virginia, as prearranged, leaving in command Lieutenant Colonel Henry C. Loomis, a veteran of the 64th New York beloved by the men. On its return to Fairfax on November 19, the 154th met its new colonel, Patrick Henry Jones, a native Irishman, Ellicottville attorney, and veteran of the 37th New York. The regiment was fortunate to be commanded by battle-tested veteran officers of high caliber in Jones and Loomis. From December 10 to 17, 1862, the 154th marched from Fairfax to the vicinity of Falmouth, on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, site of the recent disastrous defeat of the Army of the Potomac. Here the men picketed the riverbank, fraternized with the enemy, and built the first of many winter camps of tent-covered log huts. Their stay was interrupted by the dismal Mud March of late January 1863, when a downpour stopped a Union army thrust. Back in Falmouth after that depressing farce, the miserable men had to construct a new camp—only to move a few days later to the vicinity of Stafford Court House and do it all over again. In March 1863 the new bivouac was christened Camp John Manley in honor of a federal employee from Cattaraugus County known as “The Soldier’s Friend” for his work in Washington on behalf of the county’s soldiers and their families. It was at Camp John Manley that the 154th New York earned the nickname “Hardtack Regiment,” when the men engaged in unscrupulous trading for that army staple with the German members of their brigade.

As the spring campaigning season approached, Joseph Hooker replaced Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac and Oliver Otis Howard of Maine replaced Franz Sigel at the head of the 11th Corps, much to the disgust of the German element. A memorable moment for the 154th occurred on April 10, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the corps. Although individual members of the regiment saw Lincoln on other occasions, this was the only time the unit as a whole witnessed the Commander in Chief.

Three days later Buschbeck’s brigade broke camp and marched up the Rappahannock to Kelly’s Ford. There it remained for the next two weeks, picketing the riverbank and foraging the countryside, in an opening gambit of the Chancellorsville campaign. On the evening of April 28, 1863, with the rest of the 11th Corps and two others having arrived at the ford, the 154th New York and the 73rd Pennsylvania set off in boats across the Rappahannock and drove a few Confederate cavalry pickets from the opposite shore. They looted the wealthy Kelly plantation and took the rear as the army’s right wing made its way across the Rapidan River at Germanna Ford and on to the vicinity of Chancellorsville.

Hooker had divided his army in an attempt to trap Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at a disadvantage. Lee now stymied Hooker by doing the same and sending Stonewall Jackson on his famous flanking maneuver, which brought Jackson’s overwhelming force against Howard’s unsuspecting, unprepared, and poorly positioned 11th Corps, crushing it in one of the most famous routs of the war. Thus the 154th New York’s baptism of fire came under the worst possible circumstances. The 1st and 3rd Divisions of the 11th Corps were crushed and sent reeling by Jackson’s surprise attack, fleeing past the 154th’s position near Dowdall’s Tavern in a panic-stricken mass. The regiment took position in a shallow rifle pit at the far left of a line that included the rest of Buschbeck’s men and rallied fugitives from the other divisions. As the inexorable enemy charge neared, the line to the 154th’s right—with the exception of a portion of the 73rd Pennsylvania—retreated into the woods at the rear of the clearing. Finally the 154th and the remaining Pennsylvanians fell back in a chaotic race through the darkening forest. Scattered elements fought with other units the following day—and suffered more casualties—before the regiment was reunited and spent the remainder of the battle along the United States Ford Road, retreating across the Rappahannock along with the rest of the army and returning to Camp John Manley on May 7.

Disease, discharges, detachments, and desertions had reduced the 154th New York to 590 officers and men present at Chancellorsville. In the battle the regiment lost 240 men killed, wounded, and captured, a 40 percent casualty rate and the fourth highest regimental loss total in the Army of the Potomac. Twenty-three bullets had struck the regiment’s national flag and its staff, but the color-bearer, Sergeant Lewis Bishop of Company C, was unhurt. Among those lost was Colonel Jones, wounded and taken prisoner. Lieutenant Colonel Loomis resumed command of the regiment but resigned at the end of May. By then the 154th had left desolate Camp John Manley and set up a new camp in a pleasant grove near Brook’s Station. They named it in honor of the regimental adjutant, Samuel C. Noyes Jr., killed at Chancellorsville.

Major Dan B. Allen (a former law student of Colonel Jones) commanded the regiment when it left Camp Noyes on June 12, 1863. The ensuing march carried the men through northern Virginia and central Maryland, where they endured hot, dry weather and dusty, fatiguing marches and welcomed a friendly reception and refreshments from Maryland Unionists. On July 1, 1863, the regiment marched from Emmitsburg, Maryland, into Pennsylvania. That morning fifty lucky men of the 154th, under command of Major Lewis D. Warner, were detached to make a reconnaissance toward Sabillasville, Maryland. The remainder of the regiment arrived on Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg that afternoon as a battle raged to the north and northwest of the town. In mid-afternoon the 154th and its brigade—now commanded by Colonel Charles R. Coster—was ordered to the front to cover the retreat of the 11th Corps from its position north of Gettysburg. The small brigade rushed down through town, dropped off a regiment at the railroad station, and sent the rest up Stratton Street across Stevens Run to John Kuhn’s brickyard on the northeastern outskirts of town. Coster’s men took position behind the post-and-rail fence marking the northern boundary of the brickyard, the 134th New York on the right, the 154th New York in the center, and the 27th Pennsylvania on the left.

Soon after Coster’s small force took position, the Confederate attack commenced. Two brigades—three North Carolina regiments led by Colonel Isaac Avery and five Louisiana regiments commanded by Brigadier General Harry Hays—swept into view, cresting the rise to the 154th New York’s front and advancing through a wheat field toward the brickyard. The Confederates outnumbered Coster’s force more than two to one and their lines outflanked the Union force on both ends. On the 154th’s right, the 134th was badly bloodied and forced to retreat. As they did so, Colonel Allen ordered the 154th to fall back the way it had come, to the left and back onto Stratton Street. There they found the 27th Pennsylvania had fled and the enemy was in control of the path of escape. In the ensuing melee, most of the regiment was captured. As Corporal George J. Mason of Company K summed up, “The few that did get away were the best runners and the most exposed to danger.”

The 154th took 265 officers and men into the brickyard fight at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Of them, 205 became casualties, most of them captured, a 77 percent casualty rate. (Two other soldiers became casualties in the subsequent two days of fighting.) That evening only three officers and fifteen enlisted men rallied on Cemetery Hill. The subsequent return of some forty stragglers and Major Warner’s detached fifty boosted the regiment’s number to roughly 100.

Among the mortally wounded at Gettysburg were the color-bearers, Sergeant Lewis Bishop, who carried the national flag, and Corporal Albert Mericle of Co. H, who carried the state flag. The national flag was apparently lost to the enemy, although no Confederate is known to have claimed its capture. First Sergeant James W. Bird and Captain Matthew B. Cheney of Company G both rescued flags from the battlefield, the 154th’s state banner by Bird and colors of the 134th New York by Cheney. But uncertainty clouds the matter of the colors at Gettysburg.

Sergeant Amos Humiston of Company C became the regiment’s most famous casualty after his corpse was discovered a short distance from Kuhn’s brickyard holding an ambrotype photograph of his three children. The publicity attending the incident and its aftermath—Humiston and his family were identified by means of the photo, inspiring another great wave of publicity—struck a chord in the nation’s heartstrings. The media propelled the story. Articles and poems were published in newspapers and magazines, songs were composed, and the faces of Humiston’s three children became familiar to Americans on carte de visite photographs and the covers of sheet music. The Humiston saga continued when it inspired the establishment of a home for soldiers’ orphans in Gettysburg, to which the family briefly moved. Like the soldier whose act of love was its inspiration, the Homestead orphanage also met a melodramatically tragic end.

Unlike the Chancellorsville prisoners, who were paroled shortly after their capture and lingered awaiting their exchange at Union army-operated parole camps in Maryland and Virginia, the Gettysburg prisoners were denied paroles and underwent a horrific incarceration at Belle Island in the James River opposite Richmond, and later at prison camps at Andersonville and Millen, Georgia, Florence, South Carolina, and elsewhere. The prisoners of war suffered severely from poor rations, unsanitary conditions, exposure, overcrowding, crime, boredom, and malaise. About sixty members of the regiment died as POWs, roughly a third of those captured at Gettysburg and thereafter.

The battered remnant of the Hardtack Regiment left Gettysburg on July 6 and made a zigzagging march through western Maryland as the army pursued the enemy. When Lee’s army escaped across the Potomac into Virginia on July 14, the men expressed disappointment. More marching eventually carried them to Catlett’s Station, Virginia. On August 8, 1863, they boarded railroad cars and rode to Alexandria, where they established a camp and were assigned to duty guarding conscripts and escorting them to the front. This relatively easy work occupied them until September 26, when in reaction to the Union defeat at Chickamauga, Georgia, the 11th and 12th Corps were detached from the Army of the Potomac and sent west under command of General Hooker to support the Army of the Cumberland, besieged in Chattanooga. In a remarkable feat of logistics, the large force was efficiently and quickly moved by rail from Washington through Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee to Bridgeport, Alabama, where the 154th arrived October 2. The men rode in old boxcars, which they stripped down to the frames and roofs. A hearty reception in northern towns enlivened the trip. The regiment numbered 161 on arrival in the war’s western theater. The following day a group of exchanged Chancellorsville prisoners arrived and boosted the number present for duty to 250.

With General Ulysses S. Grant in overall command of the Union’s western forces, the regiment did not have a long interlude of quiet in northern Alabama, which they found to be rugged and backward. On October 27, 1863, Hooker’s easterners marched to the relief of the besieged force in Chattanooga. The following day, as the 154th spearheaded the move into Lookout Valley, it charged a hill near Wauhatchie and had the satisfaction of driving its Confederate defenders in retreat. Private Hiram Straight of Company C, who lost a finger, was the regiment’s only casualty of the skirmish. This minor affair marked a signal development. In occupying Lookout Valley, Hooker’s command linked with the Army of the Cumberland and opened the famous “Cracker Line,” reopening communications and breaking the siege. For about a month after arriving in the Chattanooga area, the 154th camped on a row of hills footing Lookout Mountain, ignoring the ineffective shelling from enemy batteries atop the mountain and jibing with their comrades from the western armies.

Colonel Patrick Henry Jones was exchanged and rejoined the regiment on November 22, 1863. That day the 154th moved through the city of Chattanooga to the vicinity of Citico Creek, where it skirmished in the following days and suffered six men wounded. Otherwise the Hardtack Regiment’s role in the great Union victory at Chattanooga was insignificant—which did not stop the men from trumpeting the dramatic triumph in their letters home. After the Confederates were defeated and driven back into Georgia, Major General William T. Sherman chose the 11th Corps to accompany his force to the relief of a Union army besieged in Knoxville, Tennessee. The ensuing march from Cleveland to Louisville, Tennessee, and back to Chattanooga took from November 29 to December 17. Short rations, worn-out uniforms and shoes, and cold and inclement weather marked one of the hardest marches the regiment endured in the war.

On returning to Lookout Valley, the soldiers built a comfortable winter camp. After the regiment was briefly assigned to unload boatloads of rations onto wagons at Kelley’s Ferry in January 1864, it returned to Lookout Valley and took quarters in an abandoned camp, which it proceeded to fix up. Surrounded by the dramatic landscapes of the great Union victory at Chattanooga, the men’s morale was high. From this camp they made a reconnaissance from March 30 to April 1, 1864, to Trenton, Georgia, and back. April saw the consolidation of the 11th and 12th Corps to form the 20th Corps, under command of General Hooker. The 154th was assigned to its 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division. Colonel Jones retained command of the regiment and Colonel Buschbeck still led the brigade, but Brigadier General John White Geary now commanded the division. The 20th Corps joined the Army of the Cumberland, part of an army group commanded by General Sherman.

The 154th New York left Lookout Valley on May 4, 1864, and commenced the campaign in northern Georgia that resulted in the fall of Atlanta. This campaign was unlike any the Hardtack Regiment had experienced in the east with the Army of the Potomac—a largely unrelieved string of marches, battles, and skirmishes over rugged terrain that consumed most of the summer of 1864 and whittled away at the ranks. The regiment numbered approximately 250 men when it embarked. It suffered 110 casualties in the summer’s fighting, a loss rate of more than 40 percent.

Just four days after the campaign opened, on May 8, 1864, Geary’s 2nd Division attacked Dug Gap, atop Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia. The regiment clambered up the steep, wooded slope while under fire, to which the Confederates added boulders sent rolling from above. The men halted for a moment beneath the palisades of rock at the mountain’s crest, to catch their breath before charging the summit. Then Color Sergeant George Bishop—brother of color-bearer and Gettysburg casualty Lewis Bishop—planted the flag on the crest and was instantly killed. Several men were shot in succession trying to retrieve the fallen banner. Corporal Allen Williams of Company D was finally successful. He was promoted to sergeant on the battlefield, and carried the flag for the remainder of the war. Sergeant Stephen Welch and Private Charles W. McKay of Company C rescued a wounded comrade, Corporal George Greek, while under fire of the enemy, an act of bravery for which they were awarded the Medal of Honor in the postwar years. The 154th suffered 55 casualties at Dug Gap, among them Colonel Jones, who was injured in a fall from the cliffs and sent to the rear to convalesce. Command of the regiment devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Dan Allen.

As Sherman’s armies drove the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Major General Joseph E. Johnston farther south along the axis of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, the 154th fought at Resaca (May 15, 6 casualties); New Hope Church (May 25-June 1, 9 casualties); Pine Knob (June 15-16, 26 casualties); near Kennesaw Mountain (June 18-28, 7 casualties); and Peachtree Creek (July 20, 7 casualties). Colonel Jones returned to duty in June and took command of the brigade, Colonel Buschbeck having been discharged. The siege of Atlanta during August 1864 was marked by work on massive and elaborate entrenchments, picket duty and cannonading, the resignation of General Hooker (regretted by the men), and the return of Private Sidney Moore of Company D, the only member of the regiment to escape successfully from the prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, who brought news of suffering comrades there. The campaign ended with the fall of Atlanta on September 2. This event, widely considered a key element in the 1864 reelection of Abraham Lincoln, was consequently one of the regiment’s most significant victories. Members of the 154th voted almost unanimously for Lincoln. Together with the rest of the 20th Corps, the regiment established a camp in Atlanta and attended to routine duties during a period of general rest. Lieutenant Colonel Dan Allen resigned and Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Lewis Warner assumed command. Some fifty recruits replenished the regiment’s lean ranks. The monotony was broken on a few occasions. Under Sherman’s orders, members of the regiment helped with the evacuation of the city’s civilians. The 154th also was sent into the countryside to forage for provisions and tear up railroad track on expeditions that proved to be dress rehearsals for General Sherman’s coming campaigns.

The 154th New York embarked on the legendary March to the Sea on November 15, 1864. The regiment’s route took it through the Georgia towns of Social Circle, Madison, Milledgeville, Sandersville, Davisboro, Louisville, and Springfield, to the defenses of Savannah. Along the way, the men foraged for provisions and ate heartily, wrecked railroads and bridges, destroyed factories and mills, and—no doubt—plundered homes. With a couple of exceptions, they also had close calls escaping capture by enemy cavalrymen. During the siege of Savannah, frequent artillery fire by Confederate batteries and a gunboat caused 8 reported casualties in the regiment, and an unknown number of minor wounds that went unrecorded. The campaign ended in triumph with the fall of Savannah. Geary’s division was the first to enter the city and consequently was assigned as the garrison force. The 154th set up a camp of homey huts on the parade ground south of Forsyth Park and spent an enjoyable time patrolling the city and admiring its charms. They celebrated the holidays and cheered news of the Union victory at Nashville and their own Patrick Henry Jones’s promotion to brigadier general. Jones, however, went north sick and missed the ensuing campaign.

The 154th New York left Savannah on January 27, 1865, and marched up the swollen Savannah River to Sister’s Ferry. The regiment crossed into South Carolina on February 4 and in the ensuing weeks proceeded through Robertsville, Blackville, Lexington, Winnsboro, Rocky Mount, Chesterfield, and Cheraw. Destruction in South Carolina—especially during the early stages of the march—exceeded that in Georgia. The 154th burned the courthouse and jail in Chesterfield. The devastation lessened in North Carolina. The 154th marched through desolate countryside to Fayetteville, where it camped on the grounds of the U.S. Arsenal (which army engineers destroyed the next morning), and on to Goldsboro, where communications were again established and the Carolinas campaign officially ended. But Sherman still faced an active opponent and the war dragged on. The 154th was sent on a round-trip expedition to Kinston to load a wagon train with supplies. During the movement, 12 members of the regiment were captured while foraging in Greene County; their captors apparently executed two of them in cold blood.

Brigadier General Jones returned and assumed command of the brigade. The 154th left Goldsboro on April 10 and tramped via Smithfield to Raleigh, where it arrived April 14. During the march news arrived of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox. The regiment camped behind the insane asylum at Raleigh, and it was there that the men received the news of the assassination of their beloved President Lincoln. The 154th had moved to Jones’ Crossroads when news came of the surrender of General Johnston’s Confederate army to General Sherman. On April 30 the regiment left Raleigh and marched for Washington. It proved to be a tough slog through North Carolina and Virginia, made at a blistering pace in extreme heat. The men marched with colors flying and drums beating through Richmond, the fallen capital of the Confederacy, and saluted General Lee’s residence as they passed. Near Chancellorsville they went over their old battlefield and gazed at shallow graves and scattered bones and skulls. On May 19 they reached Cloud’s Mills, near Alexandria, Virginia, where they awaited their final acts as Union soldiers.

On May 24, 1865, Sherman’s army marched in the Grand Review through the avenues of Washington. General Jones rode at the head of the 2nd Brigade; Colonel Warner led the 154th New York. After the triumphant parade, the 154th camped near Bladensburg, Maryland. There on May 30 Governor Reuben E. Fenton of New York presented the regiment with a new stand of colors, the gift of Cattaraugus County. There on June 11, the regiment was mustered out of the service. It numbered 351 officers and enlisted men, roughly a third of the total that mustered in almost three years before. Of the 1,065 men who served in the 154th New York, 232 died in the service, 22 percent of the total.

The regiment left Washington on June 12 and traveled by rail to Elmira, arriving on June 14. There the men spent nine days impatiently awaiting their final pay and discharges. On June 22 Colonel Warner gathered the regiment to bid it farewell. On June 23, the men received their final pay and were discharged, to wend their way home as civilians.

The history of the Hardtack Regiment did not end with the Civil War. In the postwar years, members of the 154th New York were involved in numerous veterans’ groups, notably the Grand Army of the Republic. GAR posts were named after nine members of the 154th; only a handful of New York State regiments had more soldier post namesakes. Posts were instrumental in erecting soldiers’ monuments throughout Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. When Sons of Veterans groups were organized, at least three camps in Cattaraugus County were named in honor of officers of the 154th. Several former regimental officers were elected or appointed to political positions in New York State and elsewhere. Hundreds of the veterans received pensions from the federal government, including one (Private Francis Patterson of Company G) who became involved in the largest pension scam of the postwar era.

Reunions of company comrades were held months after the war ended, but when Colonel Warner called for a reunion of the 154th in 1869, he invited veterans from other regiments as well. These gatherings led to the formation of the Cattaraugus County Veterans’ Association, whose crowning achievement was the erection and dedication in 1914 of the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building in the county seat, Little Valley, which long housed the county historical museum. The 154th New York Regimental Association organized in 1887 and held its first reunion the following year in Ellicottville. For years thereafter, the regimental veterans gathered at different towns in Cattaraugus County, until the old soldiers dwindled and the reunions stopped in the early twentieth century. In 1890 a group traveled to Gettysburg for the dedication of the regiment’s monument on Coster Avenue, site of their fight in Kuhn’s brickyard. Other veterans, in groups or singly, made pilgrimages to other battlefields in other years. They treasured their wartime relics and commemorated their service with homemade and commercially produced goods. They wrote and published memoirs of their service.

In 1879, nine years before the 154th’s regimental association was formed, a lawyer from Ellicottville named Edwin D. Northrup issued a flyer announcing his intention to write a history of the 154th New York. Although Northrup seemed to have little in common with the veterans, he won their backing and spent almost two decades corresponding with, interviewing, and borrowing materials from them. Finally, in 1897, Northrup issued a flyer announcing his book’s imminent publication. But he had done so without permission of the publisher, and the deal fell through. To the disappointment of surviving veterans and their loved ones, Northrup shelved the project. Except for a tiny fragment, his lengthy manuscript was lost. His papers, however, survive at Cornell University, including many relating to his work on the 154th’s history.

With the failure of Northrup’s history and the passing of the veterans, the 154th New York was largely forgotten until the second half of the twentieth century, when the present author and the late Mike Winey began to study it independently. Having learned of Mike’s work, I proposed collaborating on a regimental history in 1972. Our book The Hardtack Regiment was published in 1981. We were gratified to rescue the reputation of a hard fighting and long-suffering regiment from oblivion. I’ve been pleased to carry on the work ever since.


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