Letters of a Civil War Soldier: Chandler B. Gillam, 28th New York Volunteers, with Diary of W. L. Hicksby Ellen C. Collier
Chandler B. Gillam wrote his wife faithfully during the two years that he was in the 28th New York Volunteers. His letters described the regiment’s food and housing and discussed generals and politics. He yearned for his home and worried about
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This book blends two first-hand accounts of life in the Union Army during the opening years of the Civil War.
Chandler B. Gillam wrote his wife faithfully during the two years that he was in the 28th New York Volunteers. His letters described the regiment’s food and housing and discussed generals and politics. He yearned for his home and worried about his farm.
W. L. Hicks kept a diary which he entitled , “History of the 28th New York Volunteers.” His manuscript was found amid the hundred letters in the Gillam collection. Hicks recorded the regiment’s organization, activities, and leadership changes, and told stories about military life.
Gillam and Hicks were among the first to enlist when President Lincoln called for volunteers after South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861. They and almost 800 other men from Western New York were formed into the 28th New York Volunteers. Like most volunteers, they were eager to fight to suppress the rebellion and save the Union. They did not think the war would last long.
After a month in training, the regiment moved to Washington, D.C., where it paraded before President Lincoln on July 4th. It then marched to Martinsburg and areas near Harper’s Ferry. Placed in a division under General Robert Patterson, the men expected to march forward to Winchester and prevent the Confederacy from reinforcing southern forces in Manassas. Instead, Patterson marched his division back to Charlestown. When the Union lost the first battle of Bull Run, morale sank, and Gillam wrote on August 6, 1861, that “if all the Gens. do as Patterson did, the war will last a good while.”
The waiting for action continued through the fall, although grumbling decreased after Maj. General Nathaniel Banks replaced Patterson in command. On October 21 the regiment marched to Edward’s Ferry where they saw the sad results of the Union loss at Ball’s Bluff. Gillam wrote on October 23, “Our men will not show much mercy when they go into battle which will come off this week.” His hopes for action were again disappointed.
By the beginning of 1862 it was clear that Stonewall Jackson would be the main challenge of the 28th New York. In April 1862 Company I of the 28th participated when Jackson attacked General James Shields in a battle for Winchester. Gillam wrote the rest of the 28th was not involved in that battle but they took part in the chase.
After Shields’ Division withdrew, Banks’ men were the only Union forces left in the Shenandoah Valley, while Jackson’s forces were reinforced. On May 25, the Confederate forces attacked the right wing of Banks’ Division. Although the left flank where the 28th was fighting was holding its own, its leader, Colonel Dudley Donnelly, received orders to retire. The 28th was the last regiment to leave the field. Gillam and Hicks wrote of Winchester citizens adding to the Confederate shelling by firing from their windows.
Winchester continued to change hands and by June 7 the 28th New York was back in Winchester. Gillam wrote of the May 25 fight, “Well, I have had a chance to be in one fight. I tell you the shells and solid shot don’t sound very nice whistling over a person’s head and the bullets flying round his head; it is not very nice music.”
The regiment’s second battle in Virginia was at Cedar Mountain. In July 1862 General Banks’ forces moved toward Warrenton, and Confederate forces under Jackson sought to cut them off. The First Brigade moved toward Cedar Mountain and Banks sent orders to hold the position. When the rest of the corps arrived on August 9, the First Brigade was ordered into the woods facing a cleared wheat field. Across the field was another woods where the Confederates had artillery. The First Brigade advanced through artillery fire and hand to hand combat and captured two cannon. Confeder
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