William Noble’s Regimental History
History of the Seventeenth Connecticut by Colonel William H. Noble
excerpted from the History of Fairfield County
by William H. Noble
Notices of Individual Officers
In the formation of the Seventeenth all the towns of the county were represented, though some furnished only a few members. It was officered as follows:
Colonel, William H. Noble, of Bridgeport, commanding; brevetted brigadier-general on recommendation of Gen. Grant.
Lieutenant-colonel, Charles Walter, of Bridgeport. Born in Denmark; came to America when young, private in Capt. Speidel’s company of the First Connecticut; promoted to be first lieutenant and made aide-de-camp on Gen. Tyler’s staff at the battle of Bull Run, where he was captured and spent a year afterwards in rebel prisons; on his return was made lieutenant-colonel of the Seventeenth, and was killed at Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863. He was a man of high education, civil and military, and a speaker of several languages, a fine musician, and an accomplished artist.
Major, Allen G. Brady, who had seen service as lieutenant-colonel in the three-months’ regiments; enlisted and brought Company B to the regiment, and was made its major; was wounded at Gettysburg and transferred to the Veteran Reserve.
Adjutant, A.H. Wilcoxson, of Norwalk, who was in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, where he distinguished himself by coolness and daring. He was promoted to be captain of Company I, and afterwards to be lieutenant-colonel of the regiment; was mortally wounded at Dunn’s Lake, Fla., and died afterwards at Tallahassee while a prisoner.
First surgeon, Dr. Robert Hubbard, then and still a distinguished physician and surgeon of Bridgeport, who was soon promoted to be acting medical director of the Eleventh Corps, which distinguished position he held till failing health compelled his resignation.
First assistant surgeon, Dr. Robert D. McEwen, of Stratford, who remained with the regiment until he resigned, on Folly Island, S.C., November, 1863.
Second assistant surgeon, Dr. Elijah Gregory, of Bridgeport, who remained with the regiment til its muster out; since deceased.
Quartermaster, First Lieut. Hanford N. Hayes, of Bridgeport, who resigned his position, July 18, 1863.
Sergeant-major, Theodore Gray, of Bridgeport; afterwards promoted to be captain of Company K.
Quartermaster-sergeant, John S. Ward, of Bridgeport; afterwards promoted to be quartermaster, and mustered out with the regiment.
Commissary-sergeant, Josiah L. Day, of Danbury; discharged for disability, March 6, 1863; succeeded by Edwin D. Hurd, of Fairfield.
Hospital steward, Jesse S. Nash, of Bridgeport; discharged for disability,Dec. 29, 1862.
Assistant adjutant, Henry W. Chatfield, of Bridgeport; afterwards promoted to be sergeant-major, and for gallant conduct at Chancellorsville, in rallying and re-forming the regiment, promoted to be adjutant, serving with distinguished gallantry at Gettysburg, and killed in action at Dunn’s Lake, Fla.
Captain of Company A, Douglas Fowler, of Norwalk; a captain in the three months service, afterwards captain in the Eighth Connecticut; promoted to be lieutenant-colonel for gallantry at Chancellorsville, and killed in the first day’s battle at Gettysburg.
Captain of Company B, Charles A. Hobbie, of Darien; who was wounded at Chancellorsville, captured in Florida, and imprisoned at Andersonville.
Captain of Company C, James E. Moore, a soldier of the Mexican War, and a captain in the three months’ service. A faithful officer, serving with distinguished gallantry at Chancellorsville, and killed in the first day’s fight at Gettysburg.
Captain of Company D, William H. Lacy, of Bridgeport; wounded at Chancellorsville, and resigned in May, 1863. He was succeeded by Lieut. William H. Hubbell, of Bridgeport, who was successively promoted to be adjutant, captain of Company D, and major of the regiment.
Captain of Company E, Henry P. Burr, of Westport; served with distinguished gallantry at Chancellorsville (where he was taken for a short time prisoner) and afterwards at Gettysburg, where, at the close of the battle, he was in command of the regiment.
Captain of Company F, Enoch Ward, of Norwalk, who raised his company in three days from nothing to one hundred and two men; resigned in March, 1863, on account of ill health. He was succeeded by Lieut. Henry Allen, of Norwalk; afterwards promoted to be major and lieutenant-colonel of the regiment, which position he held to the close of the war, his three predecessors having been killed or mortally wounded in action.
Captain of Company G, James E. Dunham, of Bridgeport; in the winter of 1862 and 1863, promoted to be provost-marshal on the staff of Gen. Devens, First Division, Eleventh Corps; badly maimed at Chancellorsville by the fall of his horse, and unable to march as captain; resigned to accept the position of Captain and provost-marshal of the Fourth District of Connecticut. He was succeeded by Lieut. Wilson French, of Stratford, who was on picket at Chancellorsville with his company, and met the first onslaught of Stonewall Jackson’ assault; also wounded at Gettysburg, and for a short time prisoner; afterwards provost-marshal of the Eastern District of Florida, and then captured and taken to Andersonville.
Captain of Company H, Enos Kellogg, of New Canaan; a gallant officer; in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and in the trenches on Morris Island. At Volusia, Fla., with only fifty men, seventy-five miles from any other Union force, he so fortified his position, aided by Lieut. Ruggles of Company K, that he frightened off the rebel captain Dickenson with his artillery and two hundred mounted rifleman.
Captain of Company I, D.O. Benson, of Greenwich, who died early in his service at Baltimore, and was succeeded by Adjt. Wilcoxson, afterwards lieutenant-colonel.
Captain of Company K, J.J. McCarthy, of Fairfield; a very gallant officer; marked for his behavior as such at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and in the trenches on Morris Island; was specially selected to head any dangerous or difficult post on picket or skirmish line; a bold and fearless officer; resigned at Folly Island in the winter of 1863.
The regiment had no chaplain at its organization, but the Rev. Alexander R. Thomson, D.D., of the Second Congregational Church of Bridgeport, while the regiment was in camp, filled the place of two or three chaplains, procured them a chapel tent and a library of five hundred volumes, and was most active in every work to promote the interests, spiritual and temporal, of the regiment. He would have gone out with the regiment as its chaplain could he have obtained leave of absence from his congregation; he afterwards visited them at Baltimore, and held there their first divine service and a grand temperance-meeting. The regiment, from its colonel down, reveres and loves him.
He was succeeded by the Rev. William Hall, who joined at Antioch Church, November, 1862, and continued with the regiment through the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and until November, 1863.
Muster to Brooke’s Station,Virginia
The Seventeenth Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers was organized in an hour of national gloom and disaster: from the commission of its colonel to its departure for the front no bright sky rifted the war cloud; yet the youth who filled its ranks, and the people of the county who backed them, neither quailed nor quaked.
The Seventeenth was the first localized regiment of the State. It was from the start known as the Fairfield County Regiment. With few exceptions, its ranks were filled by her sons. The people of the county made it their pride and the outlet of their affection and patriotic effort.
Our War-Governor, Buckingham, at first doubted whether Fairfield County alone could put a regiment into the field as rapidly as the greed for troops at the front demanded. It was a most trying hour. The soul of the North, unflinching before disheartening reverses, aroused to mightier effort.
The leading men of the county, who had asked for appointment of Col. Noble, and that the regiment might be made up of her sons, quieted the Governors doubts: they at once turned all their energies to fill its ranks at the earliest moment. Towns and individuals devoted to this their time and resources. Their liberality and energy kept full abreast of their faith in the cause of the Union.
On July 23, 1862, William H. Noble, of Bridgeport, was commissioned as Colonel of the Seventeenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers. In less than thirty days therefrom, the regiment could have marched a thousand men to the front.
Their camp was on that lovely ground now forming the larger part of the Bridgeport Seaside Park. Not a more healthful or readily reached ground could have been found. Sea-bathing, fresh breezes, easy access from every point, vicinity, and town, and the railroad whose lines stretched through the county and state – all made its choice a wise forethought. Its charming position, thus so widely made known, doubtless won its choice for a park.
The Regiment In The Service
Aug. 28, 1862, the regiment was mustered into the United States service. On September 3rd following it took rail for the front. A short time previous, Maj.-Gen. Franz Sigel, through Capt. Lyon, one of his staff, had asked consent of the regiment to join his Eleventh Corps. He was eager to swell his force, which was then without a Connecticut regiment. The officers of the Seventeenth gave their unanimous consent to be so assigned. When it broke camp at Seaside Park the members of the whole regiment felt, in the words of the refrain, that they should soon “fight mit Sigel.”
The date of the departure had been made known to the homes of the county; friends and kindred of the regiment turned out a vast throng of anxious hearts and patriotic sympathy to say farewell. Outside of Bridgeport, whose citizens crowded en masse, there came thousands by rail and country road to bid adieu to brothers, fathers, and friends; there were many sad and many cheerful partings. As a whole, the soldiers were elated and hopeful. Youth, pride in such a service, and the novel duties and scenes in which they were soon to act gave the “enchantment of distance” to a life filled with hard- ship, danger, and death
The regiment moved (except from New York to Amboy) from Bridgeport to Baltimore by rail, with orders to report to Gen. Wool, there commanding. It arrived in Baltimore on the next day, September 4th, about dark, and marched to the extensive railroad depot and store-shed of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, of which the colonel took possession for shelter, and refused to move until ordered by Gen. Wool.
On reporting to Gen. Wool late the night of arrival, the colonel was ordered to hold his command in readiness for orders from Washington. In the meantime the Union men of Baltimore, anxious for their city in the face of the disasters beyond, were fearful of sudden raids of the enemy in force. They had looked over this regiment, so conspicuously quartered in the centre of their city, and expressed flattering admiration for its make-up and bearing. They soon hinted and “guessed” that we should not be allowed to go farther, and that they wanted such a regiment there as much as anywhere. They had evidently interviewed Gen. Wool in force or visited Washington. A few days afterwards he sent down orders to the regiment to shift quarters to Fort Marshall, a temporary earthwork on the high ground east of the city, commanding the city, harbor, and surrounding country. It was to act as a reserve and supporting force for a New York artillery regiment, which formed the garrison.
Our position was in every respect irksome and distasteful. The garrison was made up of very different material from the regiment. It had been recruited in New York and Brooklyn, and was led with a very lax rein of discipline. The association was bad. Besides, Col. Belger, the post quartermaster, refused the regiment the shelter which on post and as a reserve to the garrison they had a right to demand. he paid no heed to the re- monstrations of the regimental quartermaster, Lieut. Hayes, or to those of the colonel. Every military man knows that regiments in the field and in active service can see hard- ships and exposures which will sicken and thin out a force in the position of ours at Fort Marshall. Men make light of all sorts of things on forced marches or in action which will tell heavily on them in the quiet camp.
Under this state of things the colonel of the regiment, out of the regular channels of communication, wrote what he intended as a private letter to Gen. Sigel, stating the annoyances suffered and the insulting rebuffs of Col. Belger, reminding him of our original purpose to join his command, and asking his aid to effect that end. It was supposed that in some way without following the lines of red tape and those regular channels, he would find means to cut the tape and get us into the field. Nothing was heard from him or about this matter for a month.
In this state of things, about Oct. 15, 1862, Col. Noble called upon Gen. Wool to lay before him the grievances of the regiment in regard to its own equipage and Col. Belger’s neglect of our military rights. He found that venerable officer very irate. He confronted the colonel with the letter to Gen. Sigel, which had just arrived in its travels through the regular channels, with due and ample “respectful reference”. Nothing that Col. Noble could say at all cooled the general’s wrath. He did not exhibit the letter or its endorsements, one of which doubtless was for the regiment to report at Washington. At any rate, he immediately ordered the colonel to take his regiment by rail to Washington, and leave Baltimore before the next day at noon. This was late at night, and in those days of ample apparel, equipage, and transportation it was not an easy task to load a thousand men and all their belongings early in the morning. The order was filled, however. By eleven o’clock next day everything was on board ready to move to Washington, and before twelve the regiment had moved from the city of Baltimore. But so crowded were the rails by army travel and transportation that the regiment only reached its destination about dusk. On application next morning at headquarters it was ordered to march through the city to Tenallytown and encamp at Fort Kearny, in the defenses of Washington. At this post the regiment was immediately put to work in intrenchments. It expected to have been sent along to Sigel, and did not like the delay. It very likely worked with less will at its task of digging than it would have done except in the face of its disappointment. At any rate, after several reports of its not being good diggers had been made, orders came for the regiment to embark at Georgetown on Nov. 5, 1862, and to proceed by the way of Alexandria and the Manassas Railroad, and to report to Gen. Sigel at Gainesville.
It reached this place on the third evening after its departure from Fort Kearney after dark. It first struck upon Gen. McLean’s brigade. That gallant officer at once desired to take it into his command, and seemed very happy over the chance. It was made up of Ohio men, all but one regiment of whom were Americans, the One Hundred and Seventh Ohio of the brigade being mostly German. The Seventeenth now seemed well pleased with its camp and at home; no more grumbling at any lot was heard from the command. But of its hardships in extent and variety the regiment had as large a share as falls to the lot of any command. Soon after we joined his corps Gen. Sigel rode into our camp with his staff, and accompanied by the beautiful wife of Prince Salm-Salm, to thank us for our persistence in joining his command.
The Eleventh Corps was at this time the reserve of the Army of the Potomac. The brigade and division in which the Seventeenth was were guarding Thoroughfare Gap, in the Bull Run Mountains. After a stay at Gainesville of about two weeks, an order came at midnight–as such things usually came–to be ready to move at daylight in the morning. Our march was northward to Hopewell Gap and Antioch Church on the same range. Af- ter some days here, like midnight orders were sent in to move in the morning. Our march that day was from Antioch Church towards Chantilly. Our first night was spent in the splendid winter quarters of the rebel force, and our destination was Chantilly. There, in the midst of wide plains and a very rich and fruitful country, the regiment held its camp with its brigade and corps till orders came again to send to hospital all disabled, to be ready in the morning for march. This was the beginning of our seven days’ march as reserve of Burnside’s movement on Fredericksburg.
The regiment had by this time become pretty well seasoned to military duty in the field. The knapsacks, stuffed at first with photographs, writing material, and all sorts of home-traps, had wonderfully shrunken. On the previous marches the Ohio boys had shown them some pretty long legs, but on this seven days’ march the Seventeenth made them stretch theirs, with interest added. As is known to most, the regiments alternate front and rear every day, the regiment at the front always having the brightest outlook and, somehow or another, marching the easiest; that in the rear seems to drag along with tiresome step, and often lags when at the front they make good time.
At Bacon’s Race-Course Church, about two days’ march from Falmouth, the terrible cannonade of the conflict of Fredericksburg was distinctly heard, and the next day, at noon, the news of Burnside’s repulse was announced to the regiments. The corps, however, kept on to Falmouth, after a night’s rest at which place they were ordered back to camp at Stafford Court-House. This was the place where the Seventeenth, which had saved its rations in going down, gave a supper to an Ohio regiment, which had eaten up all its own. This brotherly act was never forgotten by the Ohio boys.
At Stafford Court-House, passed on our march to Falmouth, the regiment arrived back about December 16th and made camp in the woods. It was one of the most picturesque winter-camps that could be imagined. On each side of a street, running up a gentle slope of pine-forest, the regiment built huts, with camp-fires in front. The sight of their cheerful blaze step by step up that ascent was at night cheering and lovely.
About the 20th of February an order came to break camp and march to Belle Plain. This was again in reserve to Burnside’s army, on what is known as the mud-march. Our movement was ordered to follow up a contemplated second attack on Fredericksburg, but which purpose the storm and the miry state of the roads thwarted.
At Belle Plain the regiment and division were ordered to occupy the huts of the force which had moved towards Fredericksburg. These were constructed, with great neatness and much ingenious architecture, along brinks and declivities of ravines. But such good quarters were only our lot for a very few days. The return of their former occupants from their unsuccessful move required out evacuation of their quarters. The regiment soon returned to Brooks’ Station, near its old camp at Stafford Court-House, and hutted for the winter.
Our regiment was ordered into a forest of oak and beech and all the woods of Virginia. The ground was covered with snow, but axes were plenty, and the regiment soon sheltered itself in fine style. Here the time passed quietly in drill and camp-duties.
Chancellorsville and Gettysburg
On the 26th of April, 1863, orders were issued to take in haversack seven days’ rations, put everything in light marching order, and be in readiness for movement the next morning at daybreak. On that day the regiment marched westward to near Hartwood Church, and encamped for the night. This route was that of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps. Early the next morning movement was made towards Barrett’s Ford, on the Rappahannock. This river was then crossed on a pontoon-bridge by night, and the regiment bivouacked for a few hours’ rest some mile or so beyond, in the adjacent woods. Here the Twelfth Corps passed it early in the morning, and all moved on towards Germania Ford of the Rapidan.
Some of the forces ahead of us had not so good luck as the Eleventh Corps, and many were forced to ford the river in a high state of flood, which was strong and up to their necks. The Seventeenth, however, and most of the Eleventh Corps, passed on a temporary bridge, and bivouacked for the rest of the night some mile or two beyond. Early the next day the movement was resumed, and about five o’clock in the afternoon the battle-ground of Chancellorsville was reached, near the Hatch house, which was made the headquarters of our brigade and division. This was the home of a man formerly from Milford, Conn., but as arrant a rebel as if a native Virginian. Our camp for this night was at the west of this Hatch house.
The next morning the regiment was put in line along the Culpeper road to receive Gen. Hooker. The whole corps were placed in similar positions. About eleven o’clock the general, with a brilliant staff, rode down the lines in review.
In the afternoon of that day the commander of our brigade, Gen. McLean, ordered the right wing of the regiment to be posted around the west and south borders of the Hatch house garden, which was in the rear of the Hatch house and south of the Culpeper Road. This was to be under the immediate command of Lieut.-Col. Walter. The left wing of the regiment, under the immediate command of Maj. Brady, was ordered into position along the Culpeper Road in support of Dykeman’s Battery, which was stationed south of the road, and facing south. Col. Noble was ordered to take his position between the two wings, which were some rods apart, and to have oversight of the action and conduct of each.
The whole theory of the expected battle seemed to look for an attack from the south, and all the troops of the brigade and corps in sight of our position were aligned under that idea. Col. Noble was the next day, May 2nd, appointed officer of the day for the division, and as such had inspection of the picket-lines thrown forward to the south of our position and to the west of the Hatch house, in the wilderness.
When on his rounds, a cavalry vidette rode up from the front, with information of heavy forces of the enemy passing along our front towards the rear. He was told to ride to headquarters and give the information at the Hatch house, which was pointed out to him. Afterwards, during the day, another horseman rode up to our position with like information, and was again directed to report at the adjacent headquarters to Gen. Devens and Gen. McLean. He rode up to the front of the house, where they were seated.
At this time two companies of the regiment–Company G and Company I–were on picket in dense woods at our right, on the border of the wilderness. About five o’clock in the afternoon of May 2nd sharp firing of some light cannon was heard on our right. It seemed to be light field-pieces, and was supposed to be what is called a jackass-battery. All was quiet for a while, and then came a sharp, nervous firing on our right announcing an attack of the enemy driving in our pickets; this was the skirmish-line of Jackson’s force. Large masses of the enemy soon poured down upon our flank, and the air seemed full of missiles. The shell fell among the horses of Dykeman’s Battery and killed one; others screamed and burst fast over the battle-ground.
At this time, Col. Noble rode past Lieut.-Col. Walter to the front of the garden, where the right wing lay on their arms, as ordered, to inspect the coming in of his two companies on picket, Col. Walter, like the left wing, lay down at his proper position in the rear of his wing, rose as if to watch the progress of the action or perhaps out of respect for his commanding officer. As Col. Noble, having hailed those companies and directed them to our position turned to take his position between the two wings as ordered, Col. Walter again, as was supposed, resumed his recumbent position. But he was undoubtedly at this time shot, as the ball which killed him struck him in the forehead. When the colonel returned to his position, he found that Dykeman’s Battery had limbered up and fled down the Culpeper road, and on looking farther to the front supposed he saw Maj. Brady with the left wing holding a corn-house at the north of the Hatch house and off the Culpeper road firing at the enemy, but he was mistaken. Maj. Brady had retreated with the left wing soon after the battery which he supported had fled.
At this time the right wing of the regiment still held its position around the Hatch house garden. It continued to hold it till all the regiments and Union force at the right had passed to the rear, and towards our left.
The crushing force of Stonewall Jackson’s attack was in such irresistible mass, with such steady and unabating fire, that the air seemed full of whizzing rifle-balls. Their advancing light artillery threw a storm of shells down the lines of retreat. At this time the right wing of the Seventeenth retreated from the position around the Hatch house, and met Col. Noble, who had been looking for his left wing, with the news of Col. Walter’s death. The right and the two companies who were out on picket passed with him to the first lines of the Schurz division, of which the Ninety-fourth New York had changed its position from parallel to a right angle with the Culpeper road and facing the attack of the enemy. Whilst Col. Noble, with the aid of his adjutant, Lieut. Chatfield, and the captains of the right wing, was reforming this line in rear of said regiment, its colonel was shot dead, and his regiment, under a terrible fire, broke and threw the entire force in inevitable retreat. In fact, lingering any longer in such an unequal contest would have been madness, all troops on the right having long since passed to the rear.
The Seventeenth moved along down the Culpeper road deliberately. While thus proceeding its colonel was shot through his left arm, severing the main artery, and, bleeding to exhaustion, he was guided and kept on his horse by two of his soldiers, after having given them his watch and money, and made ready to surrender himself, as he was unable to go alone. They led him to a field-hospital in the rear of the Chancellorsville House. Here his horse, which had been wounded near the Hatch house and borne him so far, died.
The regiment after this fell under the command of Maj. Brady, and was the next day moved from the right to the left of the army’s position.
In Greeley’s “American Conflict,” where he speaks of that “grand burst of Stonewall Jackson with seventy-five thousand men upon the exposed flank of the Eleventh Corps,” the Seventeenth Connecticut is the only regiment specially noted and commended for its action. At page 357 of his second volume the tremendous result of that attack is thus noted: “In a moment the First Division, Gen. Devens, was overwhelmed, its commander being among the wounded, and one-third of his force, including every general and colonel, either disabled or captured. Driven back in wild rout down the Chancellorsville road, upon the position of Gen. Schurz, it was found that his division had already retreated, and an attempt made to rally and form here proved abortive. The Seventeenth Connecticut, which bore a resolute part in the effort, had its lieutenant-colonel killed and its colonel wounded.”
The Seventeenth had a list of one hundred and twenty killed, wounded, and missing in this fight. That night it made a brave stand near headquarters, at Chancellorsville House, and remained there all night supporting a battery, while the Third Corps was flung into the gap. The regiment was not again in action during that battle. Col. Noble was sent home by Dr. Hubbard, the acting medical director of the corps, and was unable to leave home for thirty-four days.
The regiment, after the council of war had decided upon the transfer of our forces to the north side of the Rappahnanock, was ordered into camp not far from its old quarters at Bowles Station. Here it remained till June, when, on Lee’s invasion, the regiment followed the Army of the Potomac on parallel lines to the march of the enemy till their movements culminated in the battle of Gettysburg.
The regiment was in the midst of that first day’s fight, on the other side of the town, and west of its final battle-ground. Lieut.-Col. Fowler, commanding regiment, and Capt. Moore, were instantly killed; Lieut. Chatfield, who was beside Col. Fowler, had his knapsack and uniform riddled, and his sword–a relic of Revolutionary history– broken in splinters, yet received not a scar. On that day, too, Capt. French was wounded in his right arm while gallantly commanding his company. Maj. Brady received a shell contusion upon his shoulder, which caused a disability, resulting in his transfer to the Veteran reserve Corps, Capt. Allen was also slightly wounded; of the other officers it is needless to say more than that they conducted themselves with gallantry and without reproach. Gen. Ames, who then commanded the brigade, uttered to the colonel, when he rode upon the battle-field, on the third day, no word but of commendation of the conduct of the whole regiment.
The colonel, who had been at home recovering from his wound, was, when he reached Washington, unable to find first where the regiment was and then how to reach them. When a route was directed the crowded state of the one railroad which conducted all the army-supplies, and a forty-mile horseback-ride only enabled him to reach the battle-field on the afternoon of the third day. He found the regiment stationed at the north side of the Cemetery Hill along a stone wall–a position which it had held, under orders, since the first day’s fight. By death and capture it had been reduced to a handful; not two hundred men could be put into line. The next morning the colonel found himself in command of the brigade, Gen. Ames having assumed command of the division, whose commander, Gen. Francis C. Barlow, had been severely wounded in the action.
It was very evident, on the morning of the 4th, that the enemy were in full retreat. The whole force of the division moved into Gettysburg and well out to the right, finding no indications of the enemy, except an occasional shot on the picket-line, which showed that they were feigning presence in force.
On the morning of the 5th the wagons of the enemy could be distinctly seen moving rapidly to the rear and southward. Everything betokened that they had left a strong picket-line in front only to make a show of resistance and to protect their retreat.
On the morning of the 6th the Eleventh Corps moved with the rest of the army in pursuit of Lee. The marches were not very rapid, and till we reached Hagerstown no portions of the enemy were encountered by our part of the Union army. At Hagerstown, Md., our division was within gunshot of the rebels’ lines. It was evidently a weak sham. The earnest appeal of Col. Von Gilsa, who commanded a brigade of the division, to be allowed to attack their flimsy front, is well remembered. Permission was not accorded. All seemed hesitation and timidity as to any forward movement upon the retreating enemy, who were evidently penned up between the Potomac and our lines. After spending two days in the vicinity of the rebel outposts, and near the battle-field of Antietam, a march was made upon the enemy’s lines, only to find him escaped across the Potomac.
On the march from Gettysburg a large portion of the regiment was without shoes, the whole of it in a very sad and tattered condition, the result of continuous marching and constant exposure to the weather and rough soldiering.
But of its conduct throughout all this campaign too much cannot be said in praise. Fairfield County may be proud of her sons. Their conduct in the first day’s fight at Gettysburg in striving to repel the onslaught of the enemy, and during the rest of the battle holding their post at foot of Cemetery Hill, was all that could be expected of any troops. Gen. Gordon, late senator from Georgia, who was in command of the enemy’s troops which charged upon the lines of the regiment at Gettysburg, meeting Lieut.-Col. Allen during his late seat in the Senate, learning that the colonel was of the Seventeenth Connecticut, said to him that of all the trouble he ever had to force a retreat from any troops, he had the hardest work with the Seventeenth Connecticut at Gettysburg; that it didn’t seem to know how to get away from its position, however strong the force attacking.
South Carolina to Muster Out
After the pursuit of Lee had ceased on his retreat from Gettysburg, and while the forces were marshaling for a new conflict, a sudden order came for the Ames and Von Gilsa brigades to take rail to Alexandria and embark for Fortress Monroe. After arrival there the brigades again took transport, and were landed about August 21st on Folly Island, S.C. They had hardly got into camp when a detail of a thousand men was ordered, under Col. Noble, into the siege-trenches on Morris Island, approaching Fort Wagner. This was a reserve force, and in protection of the artillerymen and of the siege-works. On this duty the regiment lay for forty-eight hours close under the fire of Wagner, and under shell showered by Forts James and Moultrie.
The brigade was afterwards quartered a short distance below the siege-works of Wagner. For about a fortnight on that island they were most of the time under fire from the enemy’s batteries. While there they saw the first gun fired upon Sumter from the great siege-works guns of Gen. Gilmore, and remained there until the ruins of that fort looked like a sand-bank or the debris of some great brick edifice. Several of the regiment were killed and several others badly wounded by the bursting of shell and the breaking of solid shot down through the splinterproofs. Lying under these cannon-balls and shell protections, without the excitement of attack and real conflict, was about the most trying work the regiment ever did.
Before we left the island, Gen. Ames took the officers of his brigade up into the high tower of the lighthouse, a short distance below Fort Wagner, where a good view was obtained, through a telescope, of the conditions and ruins of Sumter. He then said to them to them that it had been proposed that his brigade should organize for a night-attack upon said fort, and asked us if he should ask for us the duty. The officers unanimously desired Gen. Ames to solicit the place for us. But such was not to be our task. The navy claimed it as their prize, and made an abortive attempt to capture the fort. Although in ruins as to its walls, it was found to have been made stronger than ever by sand-bags and fallen masonry. The attack had been delayed too long; the right time was when we volunteered for the duty.
After the fall of Wagner till February only one military event deserving notice occurred to the regiment. About the middle of October there came by night an urgent order from Gen. Vodges, commanding the forces on Morris Island, saying that the enemy were about to make an attack in great force on its northern and western sides by floats down from Secessionville, and ordering out the division to resist the attack. On this occasion the Seventeenth was under arms and in line of march twenty minutes before any other regiment reported. This was noted by Gen. Ames to the colonel of the regiment as highly complimentary to his command. But the alarm proved entirely false; no attack was made.
The remainder of the fall and winter was spent by the Seventeenth upon the island under drill and on a brief expedition under Gen. Schimmelpfennig to John’s Island as a diversion to hold in check the removal of the troops of the enemy farther north to meet and resist some movement of our own forces. There was only a small skirmish on our approach to John’s Island, in which several of the regiment were wounded slightly. During a part of the winter Gen. Ames’ absence at the North threw the command of the brigade upon Gen. Noble, whose principal task was drilling its six regiments in field- movements.
At Christmas and New Year’s the Seventeenth received a heavy consignment from the people of Bridgeport and Fairfield County, who sent boxes to individuals and general stores for the hospital and for the good of the regiment. There came a large and varied supply, under the care of Lieut. Hayes, their former quartermaster, and Dr. L.H. Norton. It was welcome Christmas cheer to gladden the hearts of the soldiers.
On the 22nd of February, 1864, orders came to strike out tents and make everything ready for Florida. The next morning we took transport for Jacksonville. The repulse of Gen. Seymour’s advance into Florida, at the battle of Olustee, where the Sharps’ rifles of Hawley’s regiment alone saved us from a terrible reverse, had called for this reinforcement of our brigade to Florida. On our arrival at Jacksonville general orders were issued creating two divisions, of which Gen. Ames and the forces under him constituted one, Gen. Noble commanding Ames’ brigade. The forces advanced outside to the north and west of the town and intrenched. An attack from the enemy was felt to be possible from any quarter of that traversible country, and the forces were for a month aroused at three in the morning to prepare for an attack.
About April 15th the whole force at Jacksonville was broken up. Gen. Ames was ordered North to the Army of the Potomac, and his brigade left in Florida. The Seventeenth was ordered to relieve the Tenth Connecticut at St. Augustine, and took transport immediately for that ancient city. It seemed as if the regiment was to be laid up in lavender for the rest of its service in that lovely, quaint, old place. But the seeming did not prove the reality; the mass of the regiment never had harder or more taxing service than in Florida. The climate in the summer and fall is not particularly healthful. One of the companies of the regiment garrisoned the old Spanish Fort San Marco, the others were quartered in the old government barracks.
We had hardly got well settled in our quarters when an order came from Gen. Birney, then commanding in Florida, for Col. Noble to go with all his regiment, except one company, to Volusia, Fla. The regiment moved on the morning of the 25th of April, and made Volusia after a three days’ march. Volusia is but a hamlet of a few houses on the St. John’s River. After a few days the post was visited by Gen. Birney, who had proceeded up the St. John’s River and disembarked near Pilatka with several regiments, and thus reached our post. At this place Gen. Birney ordered a company of the Seventeenth to be stationed in guard of the crossings of St. John’s River at Welaka and Sanders. They had hardly been posted a week before all were gobbled up by the enemy, who crossed the river in strong force. They might just as easily have captured the fifty men left at Volusia, but were frightened away by the intrenchments made there under Capt. Kellogg and the track of an army-wagon, which they mistook for that of artillery.
Just after this Gen. Birney was relieved, and Gen. George H. Gordon placed in command of Florida. Under him Col. Noble was invested with the command of all the country east and south of the St. John’s River, and of the forces within that area. These consisted of two colored regiments, the Seventy-Fifth Ohio and his own regiment.
About the 10th of June the Seventeenth, together with the other regiments in Gen. Gordon’s command, numbering about two thousand men, was organized at Jacksonville for a raid and flank march upon McGilet’s Creek. The expedition started at midnight on transports under conduct of the navy gunboats, and landing was made about three in the morning and march commenced. During all that day, which was one of the hottest of the season, the regiments marched along the close roads of Florida, and late in the afternoon, after a very fatiguing flank march, the force under Col. Noble joined that of Gen. Gordon, who had marched straight out from Jacksonville. The enemy’s works were found to be of no great consequence, and, having destroyed its barracks and stores, the regiment moved, with the rest of the forces, back to Jacksonville, and thence to St. Augustine. Lieut.-Col. Wilcoxson commanded the regiment.
No sooner had we arrived at Jacksonville than an order came reversing things. Gen. Gordon was ordered to the Army of the Potomac, and Gen. Birney replaced in command of Florida.
About the 29th of July, Gen. Birney, still in command of Florida, ordered another raid on the enemy’s unseen and insignificant works. Col. Noble was ordered with the Seventeenth, and all the force under his command, and all the horses in St. Augustine, and all the loyal Floridians, to rendezvous at Picolata, on the St. John’s, there to take steamer and connect with Gen. Birney at a point upon the Black River. The force was gathered and the connection made, and proceeded with Gen. Birney to Baldwin, on the Cedar Keys Railroad. Col. Noble was at this time placed in command of Baldwin, and, having under his command a battery of Rhode Island artillery, two regiments of colored troops, and other forces, was ordered by Gen. Birney to hold and garrison that place and build a log fort. But Gen. Birney had hardly completed these orders and returned from Jacksonville to see our condition before news came that he was succeeded by Gen. Hatch.
Gen. Hatch withdrew the Seventeenth from Baldwin, and established it in post at Magnolia, to hold which post and construct a fort it was then ordered, Capt. Kellogg being in command of the portion of the Seventeenth Regiment at that place. But Col. Noble was ordered by him the next day to burn the few buildings and to make a raid with some cavalry, artillery, and three regiments, making a four days’ march, and coming in at Magnolia, where he established a post garrisoned by the Seventeenth, and awaited the arrival of the expedition. This was accomplished, and the Seventeenth relieved from duty at Magnolia and returned to St. Augustine.
Soon after, Gen. Hatch took command of Florida. While Col. Noble was at Magnolia he ascertained that heavy effort was being made in Lower and Middle Florida, east of St. John’s, to recruit companies for the enemy. Orders were given to Col. Noble to detail part of his own regiment and the Seventy-Fifth Mounted Rifles to proceed up the St. John’s along its eastern bank, while Col. Noble, with artillery and several regiments and a detachment of Massachusetts cavalry, proceeded by steamer up the St. John’s and Dunn’s Lake, to follow up the expedition of said regiments. After landing on said lake on a day’s march the Seventy-fifth was met returning to St. Augustine, having captured a captain and twenty of his enrolled men, who were afterwards imprisoned in the fort at St. Augustine.
Soon after this Gen. Hatch was succeeded in command by Gen. Scammon, and all raids abandoned except a miserable one which resulted most disastrously to the regiment. Gen. Scammon had learned of a lot of cotton stored on the borders of Dunn’s Lake, and directed Col. Wilcoxson, with teams and a sufficient force, to gather it in. The order was obeyed and the cotton gathered. The force was about started on its return home when it was attacked by about two hundred of Dixon’s Mounted Rifles. The attack was sudden and unexpected. They are easily made so in Florida, which is pretty much all one pine wood.
A summons to surrender was unheeded by Col. Wilcoxson, and fire opened. Seeing no hope of escape, Lieut.-Col. Wilcoxson and Adj. Chatfield attempted to cut their way through the enemy. Adj. Chatfield was instantly killed, and Col. Wilcoxson shot through the shoulder, of which wound he afterwards died at Tallahassee. The regiment in these officers lost two gallant and able men. Two captains and about fifty men were captured and sent to Andersonville.
Prior to this, Col. Noble, the day before Christmas, 1864, while crossing from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, in company with two officers of other commands, was captured by the enemy’s scouts about halfway betwixt these places. He was taken across the St. John’s River to Tallahassee, to Macon, Ga., and finally to Andersonville. While there the force of the 17th that had been captured at Dunn’s Lake, and in a subsequent raid of the enemy in the rear of St. Augustine, was brought into that prison. The officers were Capt. French, Company G; Capt. Betts, Company F; Lieut. Ruggles, Company K; Capt. Quien, Company C.
After this cotton expedition and the captures, the regiment passed a quiet and uneventful winter and spring. About the 1st of June, 1865, it was ordered by Gen. Vodges, then commanding Florida, to Jacksonville. While there it was sent out on provost-duty in various places, and was employed in reconstructing the Baldwin and Jacksonville Railroad.
About the 1st of July it was ordered to take transport for Hilton Head, to be mustered out of the service, and at that post, on the 19th of July, 1865, ended its duties as part of the army of the republic during its great struggle.
On no occasion had the people of the country had reason to regret the exertions they had made to put it in the field. Its gallant service had been an honor to them and to the State; no charge ever was or could be made upon them of flinching from any true military duty. In post at St. Augustine or in the field it never failed to win the respect and affection of all with whom it came in contact. In this the Seventeenth stands alongside of the glorious record of all the Connecticut troops in the war.
The regiment, leaving unnamed the towns which contributed in small numbers, received its quota from the following sources:
Company A, all from Norwalk, excepting eighteen from Wilton; Company B, all enlisted from Stamford and Darien; Company C received fifty-eight from Danbury, from Bethel sixteen, from Ridgefield twelve; Company D, forty-four from Bridgeport, seven- teen from Monroe, from Huntington nine; Company E received fifty-one from Westport, twenty-five from Newtown, fourteen from Bridgeport, ten from Weston; Company F, almost all from Norwalk, except fourteen from Wilton; Company G, Ridgefield, fifty- three, Bridgeport, twenty-three, Redding, twenty; Company H, mostly from New Canaan; Company I, mostly from Greenwich; Company K, thirty-five from Bridgeport, Fairfield, thirty-five. In all these companies there were members from other towns, making up the quota of the regiment,–a thousand and one men.
There were individuals in every town most active in promoting the enlistment of this regiment whose services should not be forgotten. The distinguished inventor of the sewing-machine, Elias Howe, Jr., was very active this service, himself enlisted as a private in the ranks, and on one occasion, by permission of the Secretary of War, advanced the pay of the regiment, about fourteen thousand dollars, on the march towards Fredericksburg.
The materiel of this regiment was of a character among the privates fit to have officered a dozen regiments. Wherever stationed they were commended for the morale and soldierly characteristics.