A Regimental History of the
Twentieth Regiment, New York State
The United Turner Rifles
1861 - 1863
compiled by Gary Kappesser
from original sources
Table of Contents
Organized at New York City May 6, 1861. Left State for Fortress Monroe, Va., June 13. Attached to Fortress Monroe and Camp Hamilton, Dept. of Virginia, to May, 1862. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Dept. of Virginia, to June, 1862. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 6th Army Corps, to May, 1863.
SERVICE.--Duty at Fortress Monroe and Camp Hamilton June 15 to August 26, 1861. Hampton, Va., August 7. Bombardment and capture of Forts Hatteras and Clarke, N. C., August 28-29. Duty at Fortress Monroe and Camp Hamilton September 13, 1861, to May 10, 1862. New Market Bridge, near Newport News, December 22, 1861. Reconnaissance to Big Bethel January 3, 1862. Tranter's Creek and occupation of Norfolk and Portsmouth May 10. Duty at Norfolk till June 9. Ordered to join Army of the Potomac in the field June 9. Seven days before Richmond June 25-July 1. Savage Station June 29. White Oak Swamp and Glendale June 30. Malvern Hill July 1. At Harrison's Landing till August 16. Movement to Fortress Monroe, thence to Centreville August 16-28. In works at Centreville August 29-31, and cover Pope's retreat to Fairfax Court House September 1. Maryland Campaign September 6-22. Crampton's Pass, South Mountain, September 14. Battle of Antietam September 16-17. At Hagerstown, Md., till October 29. Movement to Falmouth, Va., October 29-November 19. Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., December 12-15. "Mud March" January 20-24, 1863. At White Oak Church till April 27. Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6. Operations at Franklin's Crossing April 29-May 2. Maryes Heights, Fredericksburg, May 3. Salem Heights May 3-4. Banks' Ford May 4. Three years men transferred to 3rd New York Battery and to Battery "F" 5th United States Artillery May 6. Regiment mustered out June 1, 1863, expiration of term. Regiment lost during service 8 Officers and 53 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 58 Enlisted men by disease. Total 120.
Many Germans who fought for the Union had come to the United States in a wave of immigration triggered by the political unrest and revolutions that rocked the German states between 1830 and 1849. Unlike previous German immigrants, who came to escape famine or an economy transformed by the Industrial Revolution, these refugees came for political freedom. The most influential among them were refugees of the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 in the German states and were known as “Forty-Eighters.” The Forty-Eighters brought with them a philosophy of political idealism and social radicalism based on a violent hatred of tyranny. Like their countrymen who immigrated before them, these political refugees brought the social customs and traditions of their homeland, including the popular “Turner” societies, a half-century-old fraternal organization.
The Turner societies, or turnvereins, which still exist today, trace their roots to a gathering near Berlin in 1811. Their charge was to foster nationalism and patriotism through a program of disciplined physical training and gymnastics. The name “Turner” seems to come from the German turnen, “to perform gymnastics,” an adaptation of the French tourner, meaning “to turn.” Turner societies sprouted up throughout the German-speaking territories until their radical espousal of German unity and representative government led authorities to suppress them in the 1830’s.
When the Forty-eighters immigrated to the United States, turnvereins blossomed quickly in the new land and soon became a strong voice in the German community for political, social, and religious reform. The societies were also centers of literary and cultural studies and gymnastic exercise. Many local turnvereins also had associated military organizations called Turner Rifles or "Turner Schützen". Their dual purpose was marksmanship and protection of the society members in the often violent environement where they lived. In 1855 the Turners ventured into American politics with a strong anti-slavery stance and naturally gravitated to the newly formed Republican Party. The following year they endorsed John C. Fremont for president. Fremont, who would later become a Union major general, ran on a slogan that shines considerable light on his supporters’ political leanings: "Free speech, free press, free work, and a free Kansas."
In the late 1850’s Lincoln, who was shaping up as a potential presidential candidate, was in frequent contact with German-American groups, and in 1859 he acquired ownership of a German-language newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. At the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago, Lincoln supporters courted the 42 German-born delegates present with a platform that opposed slavery and supported homestead legislation and equal rights for immigrants. With their help Lincoln won the Republican presidential nomination. Afterward, prominent Forty-eighters who controlled a large part of the German-American press campaigned vigorously for Lincoln in their communities. President Lincoln rewarded the more prominent German-Americans with diplomatic and consular posts and other executive appointments.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Forty-eighters enthusiastically recruited troops for the Union effort, and members of Turner societies enlisted en masse. From their own experience, these men knew what happened to liberty in a country divided into clashing principalities. If a free government was to continue to exist in their adopted country, the Union would have to be protected at all costs.
On April 15, 1861, the New York State legislature authorized the mustering in of 30,000 volunteers for the state militia. Turners from the New York City area began volunteering and promptly filled five companies – A through E – of an all-Turner regiment. These companies were officially enrolled in state service on April 27, 1861, and were followed by another five companies of Turners, enrolled on April 29. The existing "Turner Schützen" organizations formed the nucleus and provided the leadership. Engelbert Schnepf had been a Captain in the pre-war Williamsburg Turner Schützen and would become a Major in the new Regiment. The companies were recruited principally: A in Newark, N.J. and vicinity; B, C, E, and F in New York City; D in New York City, Albany, Poughkeepsie, and a few men in New Jersey; G in New York City, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Syracuse, and in Newark, N.J.; H in New York City, Brooklyn, Hudson, Morrisania, Saugerties, and Union Hill; I in Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and College Point, and K in New York City, Brooklyn, and in New Jersey. On May 6, 1861, Companies A, B, C, and E were mustered into the service of the United States for three months. Companies F, G, H, I and K were mustered into Federal service for a two-year term. On May 8 Company D was mustered in for three months’ service. Later the term of U.S. service for Companies A through E was extended to May 6, 1863, to match the term of the other companies. All 10 companies were organized into the 20th New York Volunteers, the “United Turner Rifles,” on May 11, 1861.
A committee of ladies called the “Turner Sisters,” supplied underclothing, bandages, lint, etc, sufficient for each man. The State furnished uniforms about the middle of May, which were subsequently ornamented in the field by changing the blue welts and facings to green; the stripes and chevrons of the non-commissioned officers, and the shoulder straps of the officers were also changed to green, after the fashion of European riflemen, the regiment having been designed for a body of sharpshooters.
To command the 20th New York, the Turners elected Max Weber, a Forty-eighter who had been an officer in the Army of the Grand Dutchy of Baden and had fled to America after a failed uprising. Frederick Kapp, prominent New York City lawyer and editor of an influential German-language newspaper, presented Colonel Weber with a sword. At the presentation ceremony Kapp summed up the Forty-eighters vision of what the war meant for German-Americans: “A German soldier has a double fare in this war. He enters for his adopted country, and he has to do honor for the German name. He will show the world that the German stands in the foremost ranks of fighters for freedom."
On the evening of May 30 1861, Colonel Weber was the guest of honor at a meeting of the German Liederkranz (choral society) of New York. He accepted a gilt cartouche and a sword belt. Frederick Kapp, president of the society, gave the principal address of the evening. Kapp's speech stressed the dual obligations of the German soldier in America; he fought for his adopted country but also fought for German honor and to show that Germans defended liberty everywhere. Like other ethnic leaders, Kapp on such occasions made use of his public forum to call attention to what Germans were doing.
The newly formed regiment was encamped at the Turtle Bay Brewery and park, located along the East River between 43rd and 45th Streets. An article in the June 6 Evening Post describes the encampment and the new recruits.
On June 13th, the United Turner Rifles received its flags and left New York. The whole day was, in the words of the New York Times, a German pageant for the city. All of the German social and cultural organizations took part. In his enthusiasm, the Times reporter compared the German soldiers to ancient Greeks:
Those who have not forgotten their Homer will remember that in the second book of the “Iliad” the poet relates that when Grecian warriors disembarked from their ships, they amused themselves with quoits and other athletic games upon the beach...The Turners are experts in all that the old Greeks regarded as desirable in physical education. They can climb like cats, bound like deer, fight like men, and run a-foot like Indians.
The Twentieth New York Infantry formed at Forty-second Street and Second Avenue, while an escort waited for it at Union Square. The escort outnumbered the soldiers; it included men from several different choral and Turner organizations, as well as German firemen and bandsmen. The huge procession made its way to City Hall, where the flag presentation ceremony occurred.
In the absence of Mrs. Charles E. Strong, who was originally scheduled to make the presentation, the Honorable Samuel B. Ruggles did the honors. Several flags went into the hands of the United Turners. Ruggles long address played heavily on the ethnic theme. From the steps of City Hall marched Germans of former ages who battled the slave-holding despots of Rome, in Ruggles's words, and he hailed the representatives before him from the land of poetry and song who came to America seeking freedom. And so on. The speaker assured his listeners that, coming as they did from a land cursed with disunity, they would struggle for unity in America. And that was just for the American flag portion of the affair. Another flag - black, red, and yellow for Germany - was handed over, as was a splendid guide flag in red silk and handsomely embroidered bearing the motto “BAHN FREI” (Clear the Way). All of its flags in hand, the Twentieth New York Infantry then marched through the Bowery and Canal Street to the docks at North Moore Street, where it boarded the steamer Alabama for a voyage to Fortress Monroe. The regiment was stationed at Camp Hamilton adjacent to the Fort. Located at Tyler's Point near Hampton Creek, the officers quarters were at the summer residence of former President Tyler.
At Camp Hamilton the Turners followed a routine of drill, entertaining one another during leisure hours with concerts and gymnastic routines. The audience for these talent exhibitions sometimes included General Benjamin Butler, commander of the Union Department of Virginia, which was headquartered at the fort. The celebration of the Fourth of July 1861 at Camp Hamilton is reported in Harpers Weekly July 27, 1861:
A grand concert had been projected by the Twentieth Regiment for the evening; but unexpected orders to parade in the fortress before General Butler, in the morning, disconcerted the general plan, and it was thought by the Colonel that no entertainment would be offered in the evening. But Captain Myers, of Company A, was not satisfied with this, and they determined to take hold of it alone. They gathered a large quantity of evergreens, and planted them on Broadway, the main street in camp, so thickly that it resembled in the dusk of evening a small forest. In the absence of candles or other lights they placed oyster and clam shells in all parts of the trees, and with oil and wick they speedily improvised brilliant lights, that shed a flood of light upon the grounds. At eight o'clock the bugle gave the signal for the commencement of the concert, and speedily the benches about the musicians' stand were occupied by the officers and wives and invited guests, while the soldiers standing ranged themselves in front. The scene was most beautiful and picturesque. Hundreds of tiny lights gleamed among the dark branches of the evergreens, and partially lit up the forms of the soldiers in their gray uniforms as they were gracefully grouped about. The best decorum was preserved at all times. The Germania Band, Herr Steigler leader, favored the assemblage with fine selections from operas and the German composers, most creditably and excellently executed. At intervals a glee club, made up of members of the singing bands of New York, sang some choice glees, under the leadership of Lieutenant Bennecker, of Company F, and Sergeant Prieth played several pieces in excellent style upon an accordeon. A large quantity of lager bier was rationally discussed by the company, and at ten o'clock the concert was closed by the sound of the drummer's tattoo. The affair was a grand success, and every one expressed his delight with the music. An equally pleasant concert was given the previous night by Captain Brackling, of Company B, the only company from Newark, and the affair passed off most agreeably. The Germans certainly know how to enjoy themselves under all circumstances, and their mode of enjoyment gives pleasure and a relief from the monotony of camp life to others who do not know how to discover the bright side of the picture. The health of Colonel Weber's regiment is most excellent.
The July 3 1861 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle reported that "The 20th Regiment of New York have ordered fifty barrels of lager beer from Baltimore to refresh themselves on the occasion" of the Fourth of July celebration.
The health of the regiment may have been excellent but its weapons and shoes were already in need of replacement. Weber penned the following letter to New York Adjutant General Merideth Reed.
HeadQuarters 20th Regt. N.Y.S. Vols.
Camp Hamilton July 8th, 1861
J. Merideth Reed, Jr.
I have the honor to call the attention of the Adjt. Genl. to the defect of the firearms used in my Regt. After a few shots fired some of them became bent, others entirely useless, and fears are entertained that they may even explode, thereby injuring the men.
As it is one of the first requisites of a soldier to confide in his arms, and a state of things must not be detrimental to the efficiency of my Regt. you are therefore respectfully requested to furnish the Regt. with arms that can be relied on in any emergency. My regiment is also badly in want of shoes, those received from the State of New York are entirely worn out, and as soldiers cannot appear barefooted on parade or march in this way, this deficiency must soon be remedied. Hoping that you will perceive the urgent necessity for the Articles in want. I feel confident that through your influence with the proper authorities the Regt. will soon be provided with them.
Your obt. Servant
Max Weber, Colonel
The Turners' first taste of war occurred at Hampton bridge on August 7. Following the first Battle of Bull Run, Confederate General Magruder sent a force of 2000 men under Colonel Robert Johnson to make a reconnaissance of Hampton and Newport News. Magruder read an erroneous report in the New York Tribune that General Butler intended to occupy Hampton, dispossess the inhabitants, and use the town as a camp for runaway slaves. He decided to destroy the historic old colonial village. Shortly after dark on August 7 the expedition rode into town. The citizens were quickly alerted that the town was to be burned and soon each of the four cavalry companies was busy setting fire to a quarter of the town. A short encounter with the pickets of the 20th NYSV was the only opposition encountered. General Butler's official report follows:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF VIRGINIA,
Fortress Monroe, August 8, 1861.
SIR: I have the honor to report that the First Vermont Regiment were embarked on Monday morning for New Haven, their time expiring on the 9th instant, which would be the time of their arrival. I had arranged that Colonel Carr's regiment, the Second New York Volunteers, should be transferred from Old Point to strengthen Newport News.
You may remember that I said to you, when I had the honor of an interview at Washington on Saturday, that a demonstration on the part of the enemy would be made within the coming week. On my return, Tuesday morning, I found various indications thereof. On Wednesday, about 2 o'clock p.m., the patrol of Colonel Weber's regiment discovered the enemy in force at New Market Bridge, about 2½ miles from Hampton. About 4 o'clock they took one Mayhew, a deserter, who had swum the creek near New Market Bridge and delivered himself up, and brought him to me for examination. From his statements I learned his name, Mayhew; that he is a native of Bangor, Me., who, having landed in Georgia as a seaman, was impressed in a Georgia regiment, known by the name of "Baker's Fire Eaters." He is intelligent, and appears to be truthful. He stated that five regiments, including two Louisiana; one Alabama regiment, under Colonel Ex-Governor Winston; one North Carolina and one Georgia regiment, with two portions of battalions of artillery, and 300 Louisiana Zouaves, a picked battalion, left Yorktown and Williamsburg on Sunday, and marched to the neighborhood of Big Bethel, where they encamped until Tuesday. On Wednesday, at 11 o'clock, they marched to New Market Bridge, where they formed in order of battle, expecting an attack from me. They had eight guns; one rifled gun, two 32-pounder howitzers, two long 24s, and three smaller guns. This force was under the command of General Magruder. The regiments had numbered in the neighborhood of 1,000 men each, but had been reduced by sickness at Yorktown; Mayhew's own regiment numbering but 650, 325 being sick with the measles. As near as I could gather, comparing his account with the notes I had from others, the enemy's force was a little rising 5,000 men, although Mayhew represented it at 7,000. He further stated that it was understood in camp that an attack was to be made on Newport News, the force being then bivouacked but 5 miles from that point.
Dispositions were immediately made, such as seemed proper, for re-enforcing Newport News in case of an attack, or repelling an attack upon the troops encamped between the fortress and Hampton in case one was made. After riding through the camps and giving final instructions, I rode over to the bridge at Hampton, 30 feet of which nearest the town we had before removed, and at 11.20 o'clock, when I left, everything was still. A few minutes before 12 o'clock the enemy made an attempt to burn the bridge, and for that purpose attacked the guard thereon, who were protected by a barricade of planks. The enemy were driven back with the loss of 3 killed and several wounded. No casualties occurred on our side.
The enemy then proceeded to fire the town in a great number of places. By 12 o'clock it was in flames, and is now entirely destroyed. They gave but fifteen minutes' time for the inhabitants to remove from their houses, and I have to-day brought over the old and infirm, who by that wanton act of destruction are now left houseless and homeless. The enemy took away with them most of the able-bodied white men.
A more wanton and unnecessary act than the burning, as it seems to me, could not have been committed. There was not the slightest attempt to make any resistance on our part to the possession of the town, which we had before evacuated, as you were informed by my last dispatch. There was no attempt to interfere with them there, as we only repelled an attempt to burn the bridge. It would have been easy to dislodge them from the town by a few shells from the fortress, but I did not choose to allow an opportunity to fasten upon the Federal troops any portion in this heathenish outrage.
The town was the property of the secession inhabitants of Virginia, and they and their friends have chosen deliberately to destroy it, and under circumstances of cruel indifference to the inhabitants, who had remained in their homes, entirely without parallel. Indeed, for two months past, since Hampton has been within the power of my troops, and during the month that we occupied it, every exertion was used by me to protect the property from spoliation and the inhabitants from outrage, and I can safely say that $100 would cover all the damage done there in occupied houses. That there has been some appropriation of furniture by the troops from unoccupied houses is most true, but it had been substantially all taken from them and stored in the Seminary building. I knew this course would meet the approval of the Commanding General, but in a single hour the rebel army devoted to indiscriminate destruction both public and private buildings, the church and the court-house, as well as the cottage of the widow.
I confess myself so poor a soldier as not to be able to discern the strategical importance of this movement. I had fortified the churchyard with earth embankments, which were not destroyed by the fire, while the hymn of praise and the voice of prayer went up in the church on the last Sabbath of its occupation by Massachusetts troops. The poor citizens were told by their friends that this destruction was to prevent the use of their village as winter quarters for our troops. But I am sure it never entered my mind, and, I take leave to believe, the mind of the Commanding General, that there was the furthest intention of wintering any portion of the Federal troops at this point outside the garrison. We had believed that we were to follow the track of our Northern birds southward with the approach of frost.
No demonstration was made by the enemy save the burning of a deserted village, and to-day nothing has been done by the enemy except to withdraw his troops across New Market Bridge. I regret the military necessity, to which I yield the cordial recognition of my judgment, which called for the withdrawal of the four regiments and a half, which caused the evacuation of Hampton; not for our sakes, but because of the loss which has thereby been brought upon the inhabitants. This act upon the part of the enemy seems to me to be a representative one, showing the spirit in which the war is to be carried on on their part, and which perhaps will have a tendency to provoke a corrresponding spirit upon our part, but we may hope not.
Most respectfully, your obedient servant,
BENJ. F. BUTLER,
Frederick W. Fix of Company G recalls the incident at Hampton Bridge.
On the night of August 7th, 1861, between the hours of 11 and 12 o'clock, when the relief came to me and Comrade Loecher, we noticed before the other two comrades were posted that there was something wrong in the village. As we stood at the end of the bridge crossing Hampton creek, which was barricaded at its end with barrels filled with sand to protect us from the enemy at any time necessary, I noticed that men were crossing the street and called the attention of my comrades to it. I told them at the time that I would fire as soon as I saw any more. They cautioned me not to do so until sure, as they were afraid to alarm the whole line, probably without any cause. Just at this time (the houses being built close to the water's edge) I noticed two rebels coming out between the first and second houses and without any further hesitation opened fire on them. The carnage that followed only a man who was present at the time can describe. It was lucky for us that the rebels had no artillery otherwise our barricades of sand would have been to no avail. As it was, the four of us could keep a regiment at bay. At that moment, as if by magic, the village was aflame from one end to the other.
The Regiment saw its first real combat in late August, when a detachment of five companies was assigned to a naval amphibious expedition to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. The objective was to capture Forts Clark and Hatteras that controlled the inlet from the Outer Banks to the coast of North Carolina. On the morning of August 28, the Federal fleet began the bombardment of Forts Clark and Hatteras, which was continued throughout a part of the day, until several of the ships were compelled to put out to sea for fear of being blown too near the shore. During the bombardment, efforts were being made about three miles north of the inlet to land the troops including the New York 20th Volunteers through the Hatteras breakers. In these attempts, all available boats were smashed. Two hulks, which had been towed from Fort Monroe for the purpose of assisting the landing, were then filled with troops and slowly allowed to drift into the breakers by means of a cable attached to an anchor and passed around a windlass fixed in the deck of each hulk. Late in the afternoon, when the wind came to blow fresh from the east, the position of the troops in the hulks became most perilous, and for a time there were serious doubts about a successful rescue. Finally, the Fanny, after several unsuccessful backings into the breakers, succeeded in getting lines on board the hulks and towing them to calmer waters. The 318 troops mainly from the New York 20th Volunteers, who had effected a landing were left on shore in face of an enemy twice their numbers. As nightfall approached, rough weather forced the Admiral to withdraw the Naval vessels for fear of wrecking them on the coast. This left Weber’s small force at the complete mercy of the Confederate garrison at Hatteras. The soldiers and sailors of the Federal fleet were fully aware of this critical situation. Aboard the Admiral’s flagship, a war correspondent wrote: “The feeling throughout the ship…was that we were beaten…During the night the secessionist might make our soldiers prisoners, reinforce their own forts, repair damages, and be ready to show that they were not easily vanquished.” Ashore, the officers and men discussed the possibility of capture and tried to make themselves comfortable in the rain. The following day, the Federal fleet moved into position and began to shell the forts. The weather was clear, the sea was calm, and after three hours of bombardment the Fort surrendered with its garrison of over seven hundred men. Throughout the North, the news of this victory was received with great rejoicing. Coming so soon after the defeat at Bull Run, it increased morale considerably. Weber's official report follows.
FORT HATTERAS, N. C., September 5, 1861.
SIR: I take the first opportunity which is offered to me by the arrival of a steamer from Fortress Monroe to report to you the action of the troops who were landed and acted under my command in the capture of Fort Hatteras.
On Wednesday morning, the 28th ultimo, at 10 o'clock, the landing of the troops commenced. The surf was running very high, and continued to run higher and higher, so that but 318 men could be landed. The condition of these troops was of course a very bad one. All of us were wet up to the shoulders, cut off entirely from the fleet, with wet ammunition, and without any provisions; but still all had but one thought--to advance.
I appointed Captain Von Doehn, of the Twentieth Regiment, who has been acting adjutant of Camp Hamilton for the last three months, to act also here in that capacity, had the troops formed in line counted, and reported to me as follows: 45 men of the regular artillery regiment stationed at Fort Monroe, Captain Larned and Lieutenant Lodor; 45 men of marine soldiers of the Minnesota; 68 men Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers, Captain Jardine; 102 men Twentieth Regiment New York Volunteers; 28 men Union Coast Guard, Captain Nixon; 28 men, sailors (artillery), making a total of 318 men.
I had all reasons to be very cautious, having but a small force, and the more, as we saw the enemy re-enforce the fort all the time.
Our distance from the first fort (Clark) was about 3 miles. I sent Lieutenant-Colonel Weiss, with 20 men of the Twentieth Regiment, to make a reconnaissance, and ordered Lieutenant Wiegel (ordnance officer of General Butler's staff) to accompany him. The latter soon returned, with the report that Lieutenant-Colonel Weiss took one cannon (dismounted), and that the troops commenced to evacuate the first fort. I then ordered Captain Von Doehn and Captain Hoeffling's company of the Twentieth Regiment to re-enforce Lieutenant-Colonel Weiss, and to take possession of the fort (Clark). This order was carried out immediately. Lieutenant-Colonel Weiss occupied the fort, himself took the first secession flag, and hoisted the American. Myself followed with the rest of the troops, when the Navy commenced firing upon us, shells bursting right over us and in our midst, so that a further advance was impossible. Two shells burst in the fort, wounding one of my men slightly in the hand. I still held the fort occupied, sent an American flag along the beach, and the firing ceased.
I then ordered Captain Nixon, with his 28 men, to take possession of the fort during the night, put out pickets towards the second fort, and to watch the enemy very carefully. Captain Jardine with his company occupied the beach near the second fort, in order to prevent the enemy from cutting off our troops in the first fort, and myself with the rest of the troops retreated to the landing place, where we bivouacked.
During the night nothing of importance occurred. The next morning, as soon as the firing of the fleet commenced, I advanced with all my forces, ready to take the second fort as soon as the firing would cease. I ordered Captain Meyer's company and Adjutant Kluckhuhn, of the Twentieth Regiment, to cross the beach where the camp of the enemy was evacuated. A color and quartermaster's stove were found there. (The color was afterwards delivered to Commodore Stringham, who claimed the same.) A rifle 6-pounder was also landed, and I ordered Lieutenant Johnson, of the Union Coast Guard, to advance with it as far as possible and to fire upon the secession steamers, which was done with great success; they soon left entirely. We remained thus four hours in this position, the shells bursting over us, when at last the white flag was hoisted on the second fort.
Captain Nixon, the nearest to the fort, prepared immediately to meet the enemy, and was the first who entered the fort. Lieutenant-Colonel Weiss, Captain Von Doehn, and myself followed; the troops remained 50 yards distant from the fort. I ordered also the surgeons--Dr. Fritz, of the Twentieth Regiment; Dr. Humphreys, of the Ninth Regiment; and Dr. King, of the Navy--to assist dressing the wounded.
I take also the opportunity of mentioning Captain Larned and Lieutenant Lodor and the marine officers, who have rendered me great assistance, and I am greatly obliged to them for their support during the whole expedition.
Though the troops of my regiment had but little occasion to distinguish themselves, I think it still my duty to say that all of them did their duty in every respect.
I have the honor to be, your most obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Fort Hatteras.
On August 30, 1861, companies from the 20th New York and the 9th New York (Hawkins Zouaves) were ordered to occupy Fort Hatteras. Food and water were in short supply and the troops began foraging. The 9th New York was commanded by a nativist named Rush Hawkins who found it convenient to entirely blame the Germans for stealing from the local residents. He reported his allegations to General Wool. On September 12th the Turners were ordered to return to Fort Monroe on the steamer Spaulding. After the war, Thomas G. Willis of Hatteras Inlet submitted a claim to the United States for items including stock of provisions, household furnature, a boat sail and library that were removed from his property and taken to Fort Hatteras. In his claim, he identifies both the 9th and 20th Regt. N.Y. Vols as responsible.
On the night of October third, 1861, a tremendous thunder storm flooded a part of the camp of the Turners at Camp Hamilton, so that the tents of Companies A and B stood two feet under water. Although the soldiers were busily engaged all night in removing the water by cutting canals, they did not succeed in their endevours until the next day when the sun came to their assistance. A cart which stood in the water had been decorated by some joker with a white flag on which had been written: "DELUGE OF THE THIRD OF OCTOBER, 1861."
During the summer and fall of 1861 the regiment engaged in a number of patrols up the peninsula from Camp Hamilton. On November 11 they were engaged in a skirmish with Rebel pickets at Sinclair's Farm. On December 22, a minor battle was fought at New Market Bridge. There, six men and one officer were wounded. August Schweizer of Company K was captured but then paroled February 23, 1862 at Newport News. An account of the incident is reported in the December 28, 1861 New York Herald on page 4. The report may have been written by a member of the regiment, and may contain some exaggeration of numbers. The story follows:
Gallantry of our German troops.
Fortress Monroe, Va. , Dec. 23, 1861.
The monotony of camp life here at Camp Hamilton was broken yesterday by the intelligence that an action of some magnitude had taken place between a detachment of 150 men of the Twentieth Regiment New York Volunteers, in command of Major Engelbert Schneff, and about seven hundred rebel soldiers. The particulars of the affair are as follows: - Major Schneff having lost a man from his command the day before, left Newport News on Sunday morning at eleven o'clock at the head of one hundred and fifty men, and wended his way towards Newmarket Bridge in search of him. Arriving near the bridge, the Major detailed some of his men to cross the creek, and charged them to search closely in the woods, as the man might have hidden himself from the enemy, who was seen about the place for several days previous. The reserve was placed behind the Newmarket Bridge (that is, where the crossing formerly was), and another detachment at Sinclair's Farm. The position of our men had scarcely been taken up, when the skirmishers of the Twentieth regiment discovered the enemy, consisting of three companies of infantry, among them one company of negroes, who appeared in the front, and made an attack. The left flank was attacked at the same time by two squadrens of cavalry, who came dashing along at a terrible gait and deafening yells. Our men stood their ground manfully, and, as soon as the proper moment came to fire, that cavalry being near enough (about 150 yards), the order to fire was given, and obeyed with alacrity. The reserve drove the cavalry back, killing several of them while retreating.
The skirmishers on the other side of the bridge were recalled by the Major, and owing to the bridge having been destroyed, they were compelled to swim across, hotly pursued by the enemy.
The pursuit of the rebels was so determined that a hand to hand engagement occurred. The pursuing party was joined by the negro soldiers, and Captain Stumpf, of the Twentieth regiment, was struck upon the back with the butt end of a musket, but not severely hurt.
Major Schneff hereupon took a position, deploying his entire force along the river banks as skirmishers, and a terrible fight ensued. The enemy fired by companies, whereas the fire of our men on the pursuers was by files and so rapid that one rebel officer and a private that stood on the other side were killed and tumbled into the river on their faces. The enemy hereupon withdrew as fast as possible, firing as they ran, leaving their dead and wounded behind. Six men of the Twentieth regiment were slightly wounded. The enemy's loss, as far as ascertained, was ten killed (three were picked up yesterday and seven today) and probably twenty or more wounded. One of the latter was brought off the field and treated by Assistant Surgeon Heiland of the Twentieth regiment. Several horses of the cavalry were also killed. The corpses of the two men who fell into the creek floated off with the tide, and acting Brigadier General Weber sent a detachment off to pick them up, if possible, to have them decently interred.
One of the bodies only was found, and in the center of the forehead was a hole from a bullet, which evidently was the cause of the death of this poor man. In his pockets were found a number of letters, and by that we ascertained that his name was John Hawkins, Adjutant of the Alabama Minute-Men. On his coat the buttons bore the letters A.M.M. About thirty dollars in shinplasters was also found on his body, and a small bag, slung about his neck, contained nineteen dollars in gold. The bills were on the banks of North Carolina and Virginia, and as low as ten cents in value. The enemy had retreated about three hundred paces, and having again taken up a position, commenced to pour a terrible fire upon Major Schneff''s command, without, however, doing any execution. The shower of bullets was so terrible that the houses, trees, and fences in the vicinity were completely riddled. The Turners, however, being greatly inferior in strength, kept a safe distance and did not reply to this fire.
Immediately after the fight commenced, Major Schneff, seeing that he had to cope with a force of three to one, sent off an orderly to Newport News, and also a messenger to acting Brigadier General Max Weber for reinforcements. General Weber instantly dispatched the six companies of the Twentieth regiment, in command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Weiss, stationed at Camp Hamilton, and in company with Captain H. M. Burleigh, Provost Marshal of the camp, proceeded to the scene of action. Brigadier General Joseph B. T. Mansfield also hastened to the battlefield, heading the remainder of the Twentieth regiment battalion at Newport News, and the Second regiment, New York volunteers.
The Union Coast Guard, in command of Colonel D. W. Wardrop, being anxious to participate in the affair, were in marching order in the shortest possible time, and marched to Hampton bridge where they were kept in reserve. Such was the anxiety of the Coast Guard to be in the fight that a number of them smuggled themselves into the ranks of the Twentieth regiment, and were only discovered after having crossed the bridge. The other regiments of General Weber's brigade were very much disappointed in not being able to march forward and mingle in the impending battle, as they thought.
When General Weber arrived at the scene of action the fight was over, and the enemy was still visible in the distance, on the retreat. General Weber, however, received information that several of the men belonging to Major Schneff's battalion were missing. He thereupon sent Lieutenant Colonel Weiss in command of one company across Newmarket Bridge to follow the enemy in quest of the missing Turners. Colonel Weiss found three men who had been sent ahead as skirmishers before the action, and had the enemy during the entire action between them and the Twentieth regiment, but had remained undiscovered by the rebels, lying in the woods. Shortly after the arrival of the reinforcement, headed by General Weber from Camp Hamilton, Brigadier General Mansfield and staff, accompanied by the Second regiment, NYSV, Colonel J. B. Carr, came to the scene of action.
The enemy, however, had by this time probably reached a distance of five miles, and the bridges being taken up our men could not march in pursuit. Numerous trophies were captured by the gallant Twentieth. One beautiful saddle, belonging evidently to the horse of an officer that had been shot, was brought back to Newport News, as also numerous muskets, sabres, and pistols.
The engagement commenced about one o'clock and lasted until after three. Acting Brigadier General Weber and General Mansfield complimented Major Schneff highly on his bravery and the steadiness of his men. The Twentieth regiment acted with the precision of regulars, and not the first man was found to waver or fall back. Dr. Heiland, Assistant Surgeon of the Twentieth regiment, accompanied the battalion and proved himself not only a very proficient surgeon, but also a brave and courageous soldier. His ambulances and instruments were in readiness as soon as the first volley was fired, and to his care and skill it is owing that the few men wounded are in such good condition. None of our men who were hit by the enemy's shots are fatally wounded. Julius Kummerle of Company G was shot in the arm; Christian Tuebner, Company K shot in the elbow and above the wrist; Orderly Sergeant Roehhr of Company I of Williamsburg was wounded in the neck, but not fatally. The names of the other three I could not ascertain, they being at Newport News.
The rebels, although retreating before the steady fire of our men, behaved bravely; but their smoothbore muskets, notwithstanding well handled, were no match against the sharp and deadly rifle, handled with murderous aim by the gallant Twentieth regiment. The main fight began at Sinclair's farm; but the enemy's line extending to Newmarket Bridge, and the Twentieth regiment men being in a body there, the rebels concentrated their entire force at that point.
By the spring of 1862, the Regiment must have needed more men, as a recruiting party was established by the following Special Orders no. 52.
Hdqtrs, Dept. of Va etc.
Fort Monroe Va Feb 22d 1862
Captain Lorenz Meyer, Sergeant Gustav Seiffart Co. A and Corporal Heydenreich Co. H and Private Otto Laenger of Co. E, all of the 20th Regt, N.Y.S.Vol. are hereby detailed as a recruiting party for their Regiment.
They will proceed to New York City whence Capt. Meyer will report by letter to Maj. Sprague, 1st U.S. Inftry. Superintendent of the recruiting service for the State of New York.
Having procured the requisite number of recruits to fill the Regiment, Capt. Meyer will report the fact to Major Sprague that the party may be ordered to rejoin its Regiment.
By Command of Maj. Gl. Wool
Wm. D. Whipple
Asst Adjt. Genl
Private Laenger is reported as having deserted from the recruiting service Nov. 1, 1862 at New York City
In the spring of 1862, the New York 20th was rearmed. It had been issued smoothbore muskets prior to leaving New York, a fact which caused enough grumbling in the ranks to be noted by the New York Tribune in its coverage of the regiment’s flag presentation ceremony and send-off parade. A strong tradition of rifle marksmanship existed within the German-American community, and was without doubt a popular activity among the vigorous and active Turners. They regarded themselves as an elite unit, a RIFLE regiment, entitled to better weapons. As rearmed on the Peninsula, most of the regiment received U.S. Model 1841 rifles.
Considered by many to be the most attractive weapon ever adopted by the U.S. service, the Model 1841 “Mississippi” rifle had become obsolescent in the decade prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. It lacked any provision for attachment of a bayonet, and had a fixed rear sight that hindered effective long range shooting. The 1841 was superseded by the Model 1855 rifle, which provided a bayonet and a long range rear sight, and featured an increase in caliber from .54 to .58. Also included in the 1855 was the Maynard tape primer system, a highly touted replacement for percussion caps meant to increase the rate of fire.
The Mississippi rifles were not simply discarded, however. It was decided to upgrade the Model 1841 to prolong its useful life. Most of the alterations involved fitting of saber bayonets of various patterns, and the addition of long range rear sights. The largest single batch of alterations was done for New York State in 1861. New York was fortunate enough to obtain 5,000 Remington made Model 1841 rifles from the Watervliet Arsenal. The state entered into a contract with E. Remington & Sons for the attachment of Collins saber bayonets to these rifles. The supply of bayonets fell short, however, and only 3268 rifles were done.
The state still wanted to do something with the rest of the rifles, and was able to secure 1600 Model 1842 musket bayonets from Springfield Armory. These were fitted to the rifles by Frederick H. Grosz. The Grosz alteration was very economical. The muzzle end of the barrel was turned down to the diameter of the bayonet socket, and the brass front sight blade repositioned behind the turned down section. A bayonet stud was added under the barrel. The Grosz alteration of a Model 1841 made by Remington under contract in 1849, was issued to Company F of the 20th New York. The Mississippi rifles issued to the regiment include both the Grosz altered arms and the saber bayonet equipped Remington alterations. Company K and parts of Companies A and B received Austrian Lorenz rifles, which were the same caliber.
Over the next several months, the Turners remained stationed at Fort Monroe, participating in several skirmishes in the area. A change in command came in May 1862, when Weber was promoted to brigadier general and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Weiss rose to command of the 20th. Weiss, a clerk in a New York City insurance office at the war’s outbreak, claimed prior service as an Austrian army officer and a major in the British Foreign Legion during the Crimean War. Domineering and haughty, he refused to associate with officers of lesser rank. He would later describe the 20th New York as “a very overbearing, turbulent, socialistic body of men who lacked discipline.”
The Turners witnessed the historic battle between the Monitor and Merrimac on March 9, 1862. A sketch of the event by Sergeant Charles Worret of Company G was published in Harper's Weekly soon thereafter. The battle was a “draw” and the Merrimac remained a menace lurking around Sewell’s Point. As long as the Merrimac was a factor to be reckoned with, Commodore Louis M. Goldsborough, in command of the Union fleet in Hampton Roads, refused to send adequate naval supplies to General McClellan. Without the support of the guns of the fleet, McClellan would not make an assault on the Confederate fortifications at Yorktown. His peninsular campaign was at a standstill.
Abraham Lincoln decided to go down to Fort Monroe “to ascertain by personal observation whether some further vigilance and vigor might not be infused into the operations of the army and navy.” Accompanied by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Brigadier General Egbert L. Viele, Lincoln left Washington just before dusk on May 5, 1862. They arrived at Fort Monroe on May 7, and the president and his party landed at the Old Point Comfort Wharf. Accompanied by General Wool, they reviewed the troops at Camp Hamilton including the New York 20th Volunteers. Afterwards, a conference was held and it was decided that an attempt must be made to capture Norfolk, the base of the Merrimac. Deprived of her base, the Merrimac would be forced to withdraw up the James River to Richmond or else attempt to run past Forts Monroe and Wool.
The question was just where on the Chesapeake Bay shore should the landing be made? The next day, Friday, May 9, Chase, General Wool and Colonel Thomas J. Cram set out with the Miami and a tug to make a reconnaissance of the shoreline east of Sewell’s Point. They arrived at a place called Ocean View, the Miami going in to within 500 yards of the shore. They had discovered a good landing place, no more than five or six miles from Fort Monroe, capable of receiving any number of troops and communicating with Norfolk by passable roads.
Four regiments including the New York 20th Volunteers were loaded at once into transports at Fort Monroe. The troops landed at Ocean View without interference. Lincoln, Chase, Stanton, and General Wool went to Ocean View the next morning, Saturday, May 10. They found the troops had already gone forward under the command of now Brigadier General Max Weber. Chase and General Wool followed the troops. Lincoln and Stanton returned to Quarters No. 1 at Fort Monroe to await results. The troops advanced overland to Norfolk, where they were met by the mayor of the city. The Navy Yard was found in flames, fired by the Confederates just before they had evacuated the city. Late that evening, Chase and General Wool returned to Fort Monroe. They went straight to the President’s room at Quarters No. 1 with the good news, “Norfolk is ours!” Stanton was so delighted that he hugged the dignified General Wool. The next morning, Commodore Goldsborough arrived with the electrifying news that the Confederates had blown up the Merrimac just off Craney Island at 5:00 am. Now that the Merrimack was no more, the entire Union fleet could be sent up the James and York Rivers to support General McClellan’s campaign against Richmond. The Turners remained at Norfolk until June 9, camped at the Norfolk fairgrounds. The official corresponance follows.
DEPARTMENT OF VIRGINIA,
Fort Monroe, Va., May 12, 1862.
SIR: On the 9th of May (Friday afternoon) I organized a force to march against Norfolk.
On Saturday morning, the 10th of May, the troops were landed, under the direction of Colonel Cram, at Ocean View, and commenced the march toward Norfolk, under the direction of Brigadier-Generals Mansfield and Weber, who proceeded on the direct route by way of Tanner's Creek Bridge, but finding it on fire, they returned to the cross-roads, where I joined them and took the direction of the column.
I arrived by the old road and entered the entrenchments in front of the city at 20 minutes before 5 p.m. I immediately proceeded toward Norfolk, accompanied by the Hon. Secretary Chase, and met the mayor and a select committee of the common council of Norfolk at the limits of the city, when they surrendered the city, agreeably to the terms set forth in the resolutions of the common council, presented by the mayor W. W. Lamb, which were accepted by me so far as related to the civil rights of the citizens.
A copy of the resolutions have been already furnished you.
I immediately took possession of the city, and appointed Brig. Gen. Egbert L. Viele military governor of Norfolk, with directions to see that the citizens were protected in all their civil rights. Soon after I took possession of Gosport and Portsmouth.
The taking of Norfolk caused the destruction of the iron-clad steamer Merrimac, which was blown up by the rebels about 5 o'clock on the morning of the 11th of May, which was soon after communicated to you and the President of the United States. On the 11th I visited the navy-yard, and found all the work-shops, store-houses, and other buildings in ruins, having been set on fire by the rebels, who at the same time partially blew up the dry-dock.
I also visited Craney Island, where I found thirty-nine guns of large caliber, most of which were spiked; also a large number of shot and shells, with about 5,000 pounds of powder, all of which, with the buildings, were in good order. So far as I have been able to ascertain we have taken about two hundred cannon, including those at Sewell's Point batteries, with a large number of shot and shells, as well as many other articles of value to the Government.
Troops have been stationed at the navy-yard, Craney Island, Sewell's Point, and other places.
JOHN E. WOOL,
P. S.-- Please to inform me what orders the President gave the flag-officer, Goldsborough, in regard to the removing of the guns from Norfolk to Fort Monroe. The flag-officer says he received verbal orders to remove the guns.
JOHN E. WOOL,
WAR DEPARTMENT, May 16, 1862.
Maj. Gen. JOHN E. WOOL,
Commanding Fortress Monroe:
I have the honor to transmit to you the following order.
P. H. WATSON,
Assistant Secretary of War.
Order thanking General Wool for the capture of Norfolk.
The skillful and gallant movements of Maj. Gen. John E. Wool and the forces under his command, which resulted in the surrender of Norfolk and the evacuation of strong batteries erected by the rebels on Sewell's Point and Craney Island and the destruction of the rebel iron-clad steamer Merrimac, are regarded by the President as among the most important successes of the present war. He therefore orders that his thanks, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, be communicated by the War Department to Maj. Gen. John E. Wool and the officers and soldiers of his command for their gallantry and good conduct in the brilliant operations mentioned.
By order of the President, made at the city of Norfolk on the 11th day of May, 1862.
EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
In June the regiment was ordered to join the Army of the Potomac near Virginia’s Chickahominy River as part of the 3d Brigade, 2d Division, VI Corps. The 20th’s distinctive, well-kept uniforms and characteristic Hardee hats, together with their fresh, undepleted ranks, made for a striking contrast with the 3d Brigade’s other regiments, which for months had been battling their way toward Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital.
Weiss was anxious to fight and boasted to his fellow brigade officers of the blood he would spill. He got his chance in the Seven Days’ Battles before Richmond. At the Battle of White Oak Swamp on June 30, the 20th New York’s large, fine array drew more than admiration from their enemy: the Confederate artillery complimented the Turners with a shower of shell. Colonel Thomas Hyde of the 7th Maine, another regiment in the 3d Brigade, described the Turners’ response as a wild flight led by Colonel Weiss that left the field littered with knapsacks and Hardee hats. Brigadier General John W. Davidson, 3d Brigade commander, described the scene more generously as the “20th N.Y. losing its formation.” Major-General William B. Franklin reported that "the troops immediately got under cover of the wood…". Apparently the Turners split in two directions and became disorganized. During this period, 51 members of the regiment were captured by Stonewall Jackson's troops and sent to Belle Isle prison. One of these was Friedrich Meyer of Company H. His personal recollections are as follows:
The main body of the army decamped on June 28; but our division, which was assigned to cover the retreat, advanced in order to mask this movement. At first light the 20th Regiment took up a position opposite an enemy battery and was greeted by a heavy rain of shot and shell. Only four men suffered wounds and one of our batteries soon silenced our adversaries; but we still had to stand to arms for twenty four hours, and many of us, among them, unfortunately, myself, still had to work hard strengthening our fortifications.
At 2:00 a.m. the next morning our supply column pulled out; and the remainder of our stores, including vast amounts of provisions, weapons, tools, articles of clothing, and many sutler goods, were burned. We then left our positions, but not before enemy bullets wounded some of the men in our rear guard. Our retreat was in very good order but extremely arduous. After daybreak the hot sun scorched our necks. There was little food and hardly time to eat. We had nothing to drink but foul marsh water. Our only rest came when, five or six times, we were ordered to form a line of battle at potential danger spots in order to buy time for the rest of the army to complete its retreat. Afterwards, though, we had to march double quick; and this more than made up for the short time we had spent standing still.
Around sunset our division was relieved. A murderous battle broke out at Savage Station between the pursuing enemy and the division which had replaced us at the rear of our army. Our colonel wanted to lead our regiment into battle, but was forbidden to do so by the general, as we were too tired to perform effectively. The colonel nevertheless ordered us to move double quick back toward the fighting. We were of course unaware of the general's order, and we followed our colonel. When we neared the battlefield he announced that we would fall on the enemy's flank and led us away from the road through a thick woods. It was pitch dark and we could not even see our hands in front of our faces. We soon fell out of order and lost our way. After blundering around for three hours, we moved in the direction of the cries and shouts made by the wounded near Savage Station. When we finally emerged from the woods and found the road, the battle was already long over. Thanks to this clever maneuver we had managed to lose not only our brigade, but also our division. The rear guard informed us that we had better march as quickly as possible to White Oak Swamp, because the bridge over it was to be burned by sunrise. Meanwhile, it began to rain. The road became so muddy and boggy that our feet constantly got stuck. It was impossible to march in proper order. We came upon many broken or abandoned wagons; and the road was littered with discarded packs and other equipment. Soon three regiments - the 20th Indiana, the 20th Illinois, and the 20th New York- became mixed together. Repeated calls of "here twentieth, here twentieth" only added to the confusion and made the disorder worse. Finally, perhaps a half hour before dawn, about 150 of us reached White Oak Swamp. About 300 - 400 had arrived earlier, while the rest had collapsed from exhaustion along the road. Without further ado every one of us simply lay down in the mud for an all too brief sleep.
By 8:00 a.m. all of the stragglers had been collected and our division, which again served as the rear guard, was formed into a line of battle. Our position lay between two hills. Our left wing ended in a wooded area and another woods stood not far from our right. The other regiments in our division, which also were deployed on low ground, were not visible from our positions. Only a single battery sat on the hill behind us, and I am convinced that most of our people believed that our regiment had been left to face the enemy alone. We stayed there for perhaps three hours, during which time (as I later heard), an artillery captain named Mott reported to Davidson, our brigadier, that enemy batteries had been placed on several hills on the other side of the swamp. Mott was abruptly told to "mind his own business." Suddenly, though, we came under a frightful bombardment. I hope never again to experience such a hail of shells. The colonel and most of the officers immediately fled the field without giving any indication of what the men should do. The colonel even abandoned his horse. Most of the regiment, in the wildest disorder, followed their example.
My brother and I, Captain Hoym, our company commander, and about 10 men on the left wing of our company remained in the line. We had been given no orders to leave. As we thought about our situation, it became clear that we were in no greater danger from bullets than were those who were fleeing. Our division commander, General Smith and his adjutant also bolted from the field. When he passed near us we asked him for some kind of order to tell us what to do (should we remain there? Should we retreat?), but he was in such a rush that he did not answer us.
Captain Hoym was then wounded in the foot, and we dragged him into the woods on our left, washed his wound, and tried to bandage it as best we could. Not long after this we saw enemy cvalry ride down the nearest hill and through the position we had just abandoned. I went with another man from my company in the opposite direction, deeper into the woods - partly to fetch more water and partly to see if there was any way to escape, as the cavalry had already cut us off from the rest of the army. Before I had a chance to see very much, we were surrounded by the enemy and taken prisoner.
The Seven Days Before Richmond ended in the battle of Malvern Hill in which Federal artillery played the dominant role. The 20th NY volunteer infantry stood in reserve. The Army of the Potomac then retired to Harrison's Landing on the James River. There, at least ten men of the regiment died of disease during the month of August, 1862. On July 4, 1862, Weiss resigned his commission for medical reasons. He was replaced by Colonel Ernst von Vegesack. A number of company commanders and lieutenants also resigned at this time. The prisoners of war were paroled at Aikins Landing on August 5 and returned to the Regiment. The members of the band were mustered out August 9. On August 19 the regiment was ordered to withdraw from Harrison's Landing, and by August 21 had returned to Fort Monroe.
On August 22 the 20th NYSV were loaded onto the steamship Empire City and along with other units of the Sixth Corps sailed up the Potomac River. They were to support Pope's army in the upcoming battle of Second Bull Run. Originally scheduled to land at Aquia Creek, they were re-routed to Alexandria Virginia. They bivouacked at Camp California. On August 28 they were ordered to form column and march, but the order was cancelled because of a lack of horses to pull the wagons and cannon. On August 29 the regiment arrived in Annandale Virginia but were again halted by General William F Smith due to lack of ammunition. By the time the regiment and Sixth Corps arrived at Centreville, the battle had already been fought and lost. The regiment returned to Camp California and remained there until September 6.
During the night of September 6, the Turners crossed the Long Bridge over the Potomac and set up camp at Offut's Crossroads. Notified that Lee's army had invaded Maryland, they marched to Rockville MD on September 8, Darnestown on September 9 and reached Buckeystown on September 12. Up ahead, rebels had been detected in Jefferson's Pass and the 33rd and 20th New York were ordered to support the 9th New York and drive them out of the pass. Jefferson's pass was an opening in the Catocton Mountains. On the other side lay the little town of Jefferson. After removing unnecessary clothing and equipment, the men pushed up the eastern side of the mountain as fast as the rough terrain would allow. Their dark blue uniforms could be seen as they struggled among the rocks and trees of the mountainside. The pass was guarded by Captain R. P. Chew's Virginia Battery supported by a detachment of Captain T. H. Holland's 2nd Virginia Cavalry, who chose not to contest the ground and retreated hastily. As the men mounted the top, they had a magnificent view of the valley below with the spires of Frederick in the distance. About 3:00 p.m. screened by skirmishers, the troops descended into the village of Jefferson. To their surprise, they were greeted by crowds of cheering Marylanders who offered them flowers and milk to drink. They camped there until September 14 when they marched to Burkittsville at the foot of South Mountain near Crampton's Pass. As part of the Sixth Corps, they were in reserve at the battle for Crampton's Pass. The next day they moved into Pleasant Valley near Rohersville.
At 3 A.M. on September 17 the regiment was ordered to march to join the battle of Antietam; about twelve miles away. The 20th NYSV was leading the Third Brigade and the entire Sixth Corps. They moved in double-quick step. At 9:30 that morning they crossed Antietam Creek at a ford near the Pry House. Moving down the Smoketown Road, at 10:00 A.M. the brigade moved into an open field, with orders to reinforce Federal positions in an area known as the West Woods. The rest of the Sixth Corps did not follow. Sixth Corps commander Franklin was directed by General Sumner and then ordered by General McClellan not to commit his other brigades. The 20th New York wavered for a moment and then rushed forward with a yell through a storm of bullets toward a small building known as the Dunker Church. Shrapnel and canister knocked men down by the handful. Suddenly, the colors moved out in the center of the line. The Germans leveled their rifles with their menacing saber bayonets, charging gallantly upon the enemy and driving them until they were abreast of the little Dunker Church. The Confederate batteries on the ridge six hundred yards south of the Dunker Church and Cooke's hastily reorganized regiments unleashed a hellish barrage into Von Vegesack's Germans. Monstrous gaps appeared in the line, leaving a gory wake in its path as it neared the southern edge of the West Woods. Major Thomas Hyde of the adjacent 7th Maine Regiment went over to Colonel Vegeseck and told him they were specially singling him out, as his colors were held so high, and advised lowering them a little. "Let the wave: they are our glory," said the stubborn old Swede. Von Vegesack and his officers rode behind the men, pushing them on until Confederate fire from the West Woods forced the regiment to lay low behind a rise in the ground along the nearby Hagerstown Turnpike. There the regiment was showered with Confederate shell and canister from the West Woods for more than nine hours. This was the last Federal attack against the confederate center that day. Friedrich Meyer of Company H recalls his personal experiences at Antietam:
Reveille sounded very early, at 2:00 a.m. on September 17. Without any breakfast, we moved at top speed toward the battle at Antietam Creek. Around 9:00 a.m. we marched through the very pro-Union town of Lorrisville (Rohrersville), whose inhabitants cheered us and gave us water and apples. But we could not stop here, and continued forward across the rocky ground. We waded across Antietam Creek, which was swift and up to our bellies. On the other bank we encountered many wounded men, who had dragged themselves to the rear. As we advanced further the ground became more and more thickly littered with corpses. We formed into a line of battle at the edge of a woods. Shouting "hurrah," we advanced in close formation over the dead and wounded , through fields and past the still glowing remains of burned buildings. We climbed over three fences. As we scaled the second of these our company commander was killed by a sharpshooter's bullet in the chest. Our second lieutenant, a young and recently promoted man (Albert Ritz from Braunschweig), took command. He carried out his duties with an intelligence and coolness which surprised me.
Meanwhile, we encountered the Rebels at close quarters in a cornfield. We charged and threw them back over some high ground. No sooner had we gained this high ground, though, than we came under murderous fire from enemy batteries, which cut a swath of death and destruction through our ranks. We were ordered to lie down, so that our artillery could return the fire. Just as I threw myself down, a bullet struck the thick overcoat which I carried rolled over my chest. More than once I had thought to discard it on the march, because it was tight around my chest. Now it saved my life. The bullet, which had enough force to knock me over, penetrated the overcoat and struck me on the arm. It felt as though I had received a hefty blow from a club, and the arm was very sore for several days.
Our capture of this high ground was important to the outcome of the battle, and we had to hold it at any cost. We were deployed in a skirmish line to keep the enemy in check. We held this position at the extreme front of our line for 24 hours before we were relieved.
After we were relieved, we went into the nearest woods, where bullets were still whistling overhead. Fatigued by our efforts, we fell asleep. During the middle of that day the enemy sent over a flag of truce to request a cease-fire for a few hours in order to bury the dead. For some unfathomable reason the cease-fire was granted. Without even burying their own dead, the enemy used the cease-fire to slip away under the cover of night. Early in the morning of the nineteenth we set out in pursuit. We marched across the frightful looking, very foul smelling battlefield into the town of Sharpsburg, which was much shot up by bullets, and then even further toward the Potomac, near which we camped for the evening. Since then we have been moving around in the area between Sharpsburg, Hagerstown, and Williamsport. We have camped in several places, often quite near Sharpsburg. Most of our time has been spent on patrol duty.
In his post-battle report, Irwin cited the men of the 20th New York for their unyielding sang-froid under intense fire. He also noted von Vegesack’s courage. The regiment suffered 145 casualties before being relieved the next day.
HDQRS. THIRD BRIG.,
SECOND DIV., SIXTH CORPS,
Camp near Williamsport, Md., September 22, 1862.
MAJOR: In obedience to a division order, I have the honor to report that on the 14th instant this brigade was ordered to support Brigadier-General Brooks, who was engaged with the enemy at Crampton's Pass. It moved rapidly and steadily through Burkittsville. The shells thrown at its flank from the battery south of the pass did no injury. The crest of the mountain was reached after dark, and finding that the enemy had broken and that General Brooks had marched in pursuit into the valley, I reported to him just beyond the pass, and by his order established the Seventh Maine, Twentieth, Thirty-third, and Seventy-seventh New York Volunteers close in rear of Captain Ayres' battery, and sent forward the Forty-ninth New York Volunteers as skirmishers by the road leading to the Catoctin Mountain. Several prisoners were taken during the night.
We were encamped at the pass until Wednesday, the 17th, when we moved with the division toward Sharpsburg, near which very heavy and continuous firing was heard, and about 10 o'clock a.m. we formed on the field of battle near Antietam Creek, on the left of the First Brigade, and were instantly ordered into action by Major-General Smith, two of the regiments, the Thirty-third and Seventy-seventh New York, as skirmishers on the right, the Seventh Maine, Forty-ninth and Twentieth New York in line. The brigade, animated by the words and example of General Smith and by its own officers, dashed at the enemy in high spirits and good order, and was soon hotly engaged with them, but they could not endure our charge, and broke in confusion. A severe and unexpected volley from the woods on our right struck full on the Seventy-seventh and Thirty-third New York, which staggered them for a moment, but they closed up and faced by the rear rank, and poured in a close and scorching fire, driving back and scattering the enemy at this point. As soon as my line was formed, facing the belt of the woods and the open ground to its right, the men were ordered down. Pickets were posted on the crest of a small hill along our front, and all kept in readiness to hold firmly to the position or to attack. A battery of the enemy advanced and played with severity along my flank and through the line of the Twentieth New York, which, from the nature of the ground, was compelled to refuse its left, and thus received the fire along its entire front. Sharpshooters from the woods to the right and to the extreme left also opened upon us. Shell, grape, and canister swept from left to right. The practice of the enemy was rapid and very accurate, and in a short time our loss was very heavy, and the dead and wounded encumbered our ranks. They were carried to the rear to a temporary hospital, where Asst. Surg. Richard Curran, Thirty-third New York Volunteers, was assiduous in his attention to the wounded…
…The Twentieth New York Volunteers by its position was exposed to the heaviest fire in line, which it bore with unyielding courage and returned at every opportunity. The firmness of this regiment deserves very great praise. Colonel Von Vegesack was under fire with his men constantly, and his calm courage gave an admirable example to them. Each of their stand of colors is rent by the balls and shells of the enemy, and their killed and wounded is 145. This regiment was under my own eye in going into action and frequently during the battle, and I take pleasure in strongly testifying to its bravery and good conduct...
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
W. H. IRWIN,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade, Smith's Division.
Maj. CHARLES MUNDEE,
During the fall and winter of 1862, the regiment moved with the Army of the Potomac and participated in the First Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, a disastrous Union defeat, on December 13. After Fredericksburg, General Burnside had a plan to renew the offensive. He resolved to move a short distance up the Rappahannock, then cross the river and circle to the south to get behind Lee. On January 20, 1863, he issued a proclamation: “The auspicious moment seems to have arrived to strike a great and mortal blow to the rebellion, and to gain that decisive victory which is due to the country.” Then he formed the army in columns, and as a band played “Yankee Doodle,” the men, including the New York 20th Volunteer Regiment set off. The skies were cloudy that morning, but the air was filled with optimism.
Fog moved in at dusk; by dark rain had begun to fall. The rain came down harder as the night progressed. By morning, it was falling in torrents, and the roads were dissolving into ribbons of mud. The pontoon and artillery trains became backed up in a two-mile long tangle, delaying the crossing of the Rappahannock all day. Wagons sank up to their wheel hubs, and artillery pieces became mired so deeply that neither 12-horse teams nor gangs of 150 men hauling on ropes could pull them out. Dozens of horses and mules died of exhaustion. The men slipped, foundered and fell sprawling, their shoes sucked off by the mud. The rain continued for nearly four days. By the time the storm abated, the army and its animals were worn out, and there was nothing to do but call off the movement and return to camp. The episode became known as Burnside’s "Mud March".
After the mud march, the 20th went into winter quarters with the VI Corps near White Oak Church, Virginia. During the months in winter quarters spent drilling and simply waiting for spring, the regiment elicited more comments about its appearance. “Their drill surpassed that of any regiment of regulars, and the exquisite neatness they displayed in their dress and in the care of their equipments, together with the perfection of their movements, made them the finest appearing regiment in the service when on parade,” wrote George Stevens of the 77th New York Infantry. When Major General Joseph Hooker, the Army of the Potomac’s commander, reviewed the 2d Division, the Turners of the 20th escorted him. "As the regiment and cavalcade appeared on the field, it was a brilliant pagent; first came the brigade band, one of the finest in the army; then the pioneers of the Twentieth, their axes, shovels and picks polished so that they glistened in the sunlight like burnished silver; then the Twentieth regiment, in column by company, marching with step as perfect as though all were directed by a single will; following the regiment rode General Hooker on his supurb white horse, a head and shoulders above all his cavalcade."
Among foreign soldiers, the Germans were noted for their musical learning and accomplishment. A New York private wrote “Friend Elvira” from Virginia in 1863: “I heard some splendid singing last night by the 20th N.Y. a German Regt…. They all belong to the society of Turners of which the celebrated Max Webber is leader. I went over to their camp and heard them and then they went over and serenaded General Patrick.”
The favorite of the Germans seems to have been their stirring soldier song “Morgenroth,” which they sang in their native tongue when on the march and about the campfire. They also delighted in fold and national melodies of the homeland, and in patriotic and martial songs of their adopted America. Their bands were among the best in the army.
On March 10, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation that all men absent without leave for whatever reason, who returned to their units by April 1 would be received with no other punishment than forfeiture of pay for the time that they had been gone. Those not back by that deadline would be treated as deserters if caught. This had a happy effect in the 20th NYSV. The Returns of Men Joined for the first quarter of 1863 (ending March 31) include Felix Hehne, Frederick Zinke, and John Rosen of Company G, and Joseph Hasslinger of Company I; all of whom are reported as having returned from desertion. Other Company returns likely had similar entries.
As winter ended and warmer weather dried the roads of northern Virginia, Hooker prepared his army to battle the Confederates again. Of particular concern to the Union command was the impending expiration of the army's 38 New York regiments' two-year enlistment terms. Soldiers’ letters home and other writings from camp suggest the main conversation topic in the New Yorkers’ camps during this time was the expected return home. Rumors about the coming expiration date swept through the ranks, including one that the government had decided to retain every regiment as long as needed.
There was considerable controversy about just when the expiration date should be. In two-year regiments such as the 20th, feeling was strong that the service term had begun on the date their companies were accepted into state service, generally sometime in the last two weeks of April 1861 – and not when they were sworn into Federal service at the beginning of May. Realizing the New York troops were crucial to Hooker’s planned campaign against the Confederates across the Rappahannock, the Union War Department offered bounties and guaranteed future furloughs to the two-year men to entice them to reenlist. In the end, however, most of the New Yorkers remained unpersuaded.
Aware of the New Yorkers’ imminent departure and anxious to insure sufficient manpower for his spring campaign, Hooker decided to intervene. On April 20, he issued General Order 44 of the Army of the Potomac, and ordered it read at the head of each company in every two-year regiment. The order said the New York regiments would be discharged two years from the date they were mustered into Federal, not state service. The New Yorkers did not receive the order happily; many vowed they would not fight another battle. Soldiers of the 20th New York presented their officers with petitions expressing their firm belief that April 29, the date most of the unit’s companies had enrolled in state service, was the date their term of service would expire.
On April 24, 1863, the U.S. Solicitor General issued an opinion on “Questions as to the commencement of the term of service of the New York two year men,” stating that the New Yorkers’ discharge date should be two years from the day of organization and acceptance as companies into state service. The opinion cited as precedent a ruling from July 24, 1861, that said 90-day Ohio volunteers were entitled to Federal compensation from the date of their organization and acceptance as companies by the state. The opinion never reached the New Yorkers, but it is clear that Hooker was aware of it. The generals from Hooker on down did not want to accept the legal opinions of their advisors in the Adjutant-General's office. The following letter documented in the Official Records of the War of Rebellion illustrates commanding general Hooker's desire to bend the law and intimidate his subordinates to his purposes.
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA.,
April 30, 1863.
Brig. Gen. J. GIBBON,
Commanding, &c. :
Your dispatch to General Butterfield, respecting an anticipated mutiny among six companies of the Thirty-fourth New York Regiment, received. In answer, I am instructed to say that Generals Meade and Sickles, in similar cases, had the refractory men surrounded by a guard, and informed that if they persisted in their insubordination they would do so at the peril of their lives. Those generals were informed by the commanding general that they would be sustained in any course they found it necessary to adopt to enforce obedience. The commanding general is at present absent from camp.
The official statement from the Adjutant-General's Office shows that the term of service of the Thirty-fourth New York Regiment expires June 15 and 16, 1863. If, however, the regiment is one of those originally mustered into the State service for two years, and into the United States service for three months, and subsequently transferred by the Governor of New York to the United States for the unexpired portion of the State service, the term of service is to be reckoned from the date of the original muster into the State service, which may be earlier than that above mentioned.
Very respectfully, &c.,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE
April 30, 1863.
Much would depend on how soon Hooker could launch his campaign. Only five of the two-year regiments were due out in April, but there would be thirteen out in May and seventeen in June. Some numbers of these were sure to be lost to the army. As for the others, Hooker and his generals had to ask themselves how hard such troops would fight if they were thrown into battle knowing that in a matter of days or a week or two they would be free of the army and back home in the embrace of their families. The Sixth Corps' General John Sedgewick, for one, had no doubts on the matter. No troops with but a few days to leave, he wrote home, are going to risk much in a fight. Furthermore, since by law the mustering-out had to take place where each regiment enlisted, they might have to be started home as much as a week before their time was up.
In working out this final plan, Hooker had under his command 134,800 fighting men of all arms. This was not, as he well knew, as impressive a total as it seemed. The two-year and the nine-month regiments were causing headaches. Already five of the April 1861 regiments were on their way home or about to leave. The 7th New York, the most celebrated of the prewar militia units that had joined up right after Fort Sumter, set off for Manhattan and mustering-out on April 26. I hear their hurrahing before I come off picket, a diarist in a neighboring regiment wrote. Other short-term regiments, however, saw their celebrations end abruptly. The 130th Penn. Lay close to us, and they are in our Brigade, Corporal Edward Wade of the 14th Connecticut wrote home on April 25. Their time is out on Wednesday next and if they dont feel happy then I dont know what it is to be happy. But these happy Pennsylvanians, nine-months' men, ran up against an unyielding War Department, which announced that by its calculations they still had another month to serve.
In similar circumstances the 1st New York determined to stand up for its rights. The 1st was a veteran outfit of good reputation, serving in Phil Kearny's old division and at Glendale on the Peninsula suffering more casualties than any other Yankee regiment in that fierce battle. The New Yorkers said they had signed their papers for two years on April 22, 1861, and now their time was up. The army said their service began when they took up a posting in Federal service at Fort Monroe on May 25; they would only be mustered out on May 25, 1863. The First N.Y. Volunteers stacked their arms and declared their term of enlistment had expired, a diarist in their brigade reported. The 17th Maine Vols. Are guarding the First N.Y. Vols. Who are all under arrest. The matter would end peacefully and the men of the 1st New York would serve out their time - or their extra time - but not before their wartime casualty roll saw eighty names added to it.
Throughout the army, generals shifted short-term men to behind-the-lines postings - provost marshal units, guards for depots and communications, headquarters assignments, labor battalions, ambulance details - or simply left them in camp. Most two-year regiments contained some number of three-year men as well (men who were now truly embittered at their lot), and in their skeleton units they were shifted to the rear.
General Andrew A. Humphreys, commanding a division in the Fifth Corps, had to wonder how his men would stand up in a fight when six of the eight regiments were nine-months men, all of them due out in May. The corps commanders were told they could leave their short-term men on duty in the rear. In the Fifth Corps one two-year regiment was already gone and a second was soon to go, but the half-dozen nine-month regiments due out in the latter half of May were expected by stern General Meade to stay the course.
The morning of April 28 was a busy one in the Union camps, as the army began preparing for its attack on Chancellorsville. Eight days’ rations and 60 rounds of ammunition were issued to the men of the VI Corps, and at noon the men were ordered to fall in. They marched six miles through thickets and bogs and camped in the rain without fires about 2 ½ miles from Franklin’s Crossing on the Rappahannock River. The VI Corps was assigned to cross the river on pontoon bridges and demonstrate in front of nearby Fredericksburg to divert attention from Hooker’s main attack at Chancellorsville.
In the First Corps Tuesday, April 28, 1863 was marred by incidents of mutiny. Certain of the men in the 24th New York argued that their terms of service had begun when they signed their papers, not when the regiment was accepted into Federal service, and therefore they were not going to spend these last days in the army being shot at. They laid down their arms. Promptly two Wisconsin regiments were paraded before the mutineers with loaded muskets and the division commander, James S. Wadsworth, made a few pointed remarks that seemed to shake the protesters. The 24th New York agreed to march off on one last campaign. In the 26th New York of the First Corps, 100 two-year men also laid down their arms in disputing their actual date of enlistment. Provost Marshal Patrick assigned them to a labor battalion until the mater was settled: "think we will put them to burying dead horses.. ."
During the night, as pontoons were being carried down to the river, the men of the 20th New York grew increasingly uneasy about the impending battle. Von Vegesack had stated his reasons for coming to the United States and offering his services to the Federal effort in a letter dated November 9, 1862 "…only to win some military honors and thereby obtain promotion in my native country". After Antietam, his men were acutely aware of his motives. Writing to the Swedish Minister in Washington D.C. in a letter dated on the banks of the Rappahannock, 1 May 1863, Vegesack confided "Many of my officers have told me that the general belief among the soldiers in the regiment is that I would lead them against any battery whatsoever and into the hottest death in order to win promotion to general, and I would be prepared to sacrifice every man in the regiment for this". Just before daylight on the 29th – the day the New Yorkers believed their enlistments expired – they were awakened by the sound of gunfire and cannon as Brigadier General David A. Russell’s 3d Brigade crossed the river in boats and drove the Confederate pickets from their rifle pits. At 6:00 A.M. Colonel von Vegesack received an order for his men to fall in behind the 49th New York Infantry.
After the order was relayed to the men, the regiment’s officers were handed a petition signed by 35 members of Company A and representatives of several other companies. In it, the signers stated that their enlistments expired that day, and demanded to be discharged. A total of 201 men of the 20th then laid down their arms and ignored orders to fall in. A second order to fall in came at noon. It, too, went unheeded. The Turners’ officers, including von Vegesack, did little either to persuade or force the men to obey. There were no threats, no pleas not to dishonor the regiment.
Military authorities moved quickly to punish the soldiers, and on May 1 a court-martial was held on the banks of the Rappahannock River. After a two-hour trial, the 201 soldiers were found guilty of mutiny and misbehavior before the enemy. They were sentenced to forfeit all pay, bonuses, and allowances, to be dishonorably discharged, and to spend the rest of the war in prison doing hard labor.
On the night of May 2, while the convicted Turners were on their way to prison, the rest of the regiment crossed the river to participate in the May 3 capture of Fredericksburg. The next day, the VI Corps retreated to Banks’ Ford after being battered at nearby Salem Church. Brigades under Jubal Early charged the Sixth Corps. The Confederate rush swept everything before it. The Yankee skirmishers fell back fast, and the charge reached General Neill's line. Major Thomas Hyde, acting as an aide de camp for General Sedgewick, reports what happened:
They came on in three lines, about 16,000 strong, and were so near that regimental, brigade, and division commanders with their staffs could be plainly seen. Our brigade was commanded then by General Neill, called "Beau Neill" in the old army. I saw him draw his little sword as deliberately and gracefully as if at West Point on parade, and then made the dreadful mistake of giving the order "Forward! Third Brigade!" We were in a beautiful position on the hillside, but down we charged into the ravines below that had already broken the formation of our numerous enemy. I took the right of the regiment, and it was soon cut in two, we going down one ravine and Colonel Conner down the other. General Neill and staff were all hors de combat and Colonel Conner wounded in less time than it takes to tell it, and the little brigade had smashed itself to pieces against ten times its numbers.
The shock was terrible. Hyde ran his horse to the rear and passed through Rigby's battery. Then Colonel Von Vegeseck of the 20th New York went down, and it seemed to break the fragile bonds holding his regiment together. The 20th New York broke under Confederate attack, ran to the rear, and could not be rallied. More than 200 Turners were killed, wounded, or otherwise lost that day.
On May 6, 1863 the members of the regiment who had enlisted for a three year term of service were transferred to two New York artillery units, the Third New York Independent Light Artillery Company and Battery "F" , Third New York Light Artillery. On the same date, the remaining men of the 20th were back in New York City, where they were mustered out of Federal service on June 1. They found the German-American community in an uproar. Already angry over rumors that German units of the XI Corps were responsible for the Union defeat at Chancellorsville, New York’s Germans heard about the Turners’ mutiny before the 20th arrived home. The men’s’ conviction and sentence enraged the city’s German-Americans, and they exploded into action.
Aware of their political strength and of Lincoln’s desire to keep it on his side, German-American leaders mobilized to pressure the Republican administration for a pardon for the convicted Turners. Similar lobbying had worked earlier in the war, when German-American pressure won the promotion of Brigadier General Franz Siegel, a Forty-eighter, to major general and corps commander.
Two prominent lawyers and German-language newspaper editors, Friedrich Kapp and Sigismund Kaufmann, orchestrated the pardon campaign. Kapp had been a New York delegate to the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago, and Kaufmann had helped found New York City’s Republican party.
Letters and petitions to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, and to Lincoln flooded into Washington, D.C., requesting a pardon for the Turners. Many writers stressed the patriotism and unselfish motives that had led the men to volunteer at the war’s outbreak. Others claimed the mutineers had sincerely believed they were justified. The officers of the regiment signed a letter extolling the uniform good conduct and soldierly behavior of the imprisoned men. Even Brigadier General Marsena R. Patrick, provost marshal general of the Army of the Potomac, supported the pardon.
On May 22, U.S. Senator Edwin Morgan, former governor of New York, wrote Stanton to request the immediate pardon of the men. He noted in his letter that Kapp and Kaufmann had been useful in organizing German-American support for the Union cause, and that both men had been presidential electors in 1860. Stanton responded immediately to Morgan’s letter by asking the judge advocate general, Brigadier General Samuel Holt, to report on the case. “It will give me great pleasure to recommend the clemency…if it be found consistent with the service,” Stanton promised. Lincoln became personally involved in the case and ordered a report from Holt.
The case summary Holt delivered to Lincoln on July 23 was not sympathetic to the convicted men. Holt quoted the solicitor general’s opinion of April 24, but still dated the beginning of the Turners’ two-year term from May 11, when the 10 companies were united into the 20th New York, and not April 27 and 29, when the individual companies were enrolled by the state. The report mentioned the Turners’ sincere confusion over when their enlistments expired, but Holt stressed that military discipline could not be maintained, “if the opinions of enlisted men were allowed to determine what movements or duties were to be or not to be preformed.” Holt warned the president to consider how far the pardon of these men “is compatible with the maintenance of military discipline and the public safety which depends on it.”
On August 10 Lincoln penned a brief note on Holt’s report: “The persons spoken of within are hereby pardoned for the unexecuted part of the sentence.” Three weeks later, on September 1, the convicted men of the 20th New York were released from prison at the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters in Germantown, Maryland and returned home to New York City. “The 20 Vols. Came down and gave me a serenade,” General Patrick wrote. "They sang their songs very sweetly, and being educated men, in many instances there was great ability…displayed by them… They took a very affectionate leave of me, and some of these poor fellows actually shed tears… "
In September of 1863, former Lieutenant Colonal and now Colonel Engelbert Schnepf attempted to re-organize a Veteran regiment. General Order 191 of the War Department dated June 15, 1863, authorized a bounty of $552 for veteran soldiers to re-enlist, and $175 for new recruits. The attempt failed and those men who had enlisted were transferred to the 16th Regiment New York Cavalry on October 14, 1863.
The veteran society of the 20th Regiment, New York Volunteers was organized in April, 1865 for social, historical, and benevolent purposes, to preserve the momentoes of the Civil War, to help the needy, and to protect the widows and orphans of the members. The society held a reunion every year to celebrate the departure from New York to the seat of war, and another to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Antietam. On these occasions, the members came from all parts of the country.
The Turners’ supporters continued to petition Washington for honorable discharges for the men so they could receive back pay and bounties. On April 4, 1866, Special Order 152 set aside the sentence of the court-martial and restored the men to duty so they could be honorably discharged and have their accounts settled by the paymaster general.
Almost three decades later, in October 1894, the commissioner of pensions requested that the War Department determine whether several court-martialed soldiers of the 20th New York, who were then applying for pensions, had been honorably discharged. After an exhaustive investigation, the acting secretary of war declared invalid the special order of April 1866, which set aside the court-martial’s sentence. He based the decision on a law that forbade modification of any lawfully convened court-martial’s rulings.
The veterans of the 20th New York and their supporters continued to lobby Washington to regain their honorable discharges and their right to pensions. Bill after bill was introduced in Congress for the relief of the men both as individuals and as a group, but no legislation was enacted for years. Finally on February 27, 1905, the “Act for the Relief of Certain Enlisted Men of the Twentieth Regiment of New York Volunteer Infantry” was signed into law. The 201 mutineers received their honorable discharges, dating from June 1, 1863, and the 42-year-old controversy was resolved.
The veterans of the 20th New York came to regard the battle of Antietam as their finest hour. Perhaps the earliest stone monument to commemorate a regiment at Antietam was erected by the survivors of the 20th New York. Erected in honor of those comrades who fell in the battle, it was dedicated in the National Cemetery on September 17, 1887, the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Many surviving members of the Regiment were present. New York Turnverein president C. Thognges made the opening address and Charles Lorch recited "The Battle of Antietam". Colonel Louis Finkelmeier of Brooklyn was the orator of the day. Mrs. Ottile Gerth (Othelia Gehrt), who was the "daughter of the regiment" in 1862 also made an address. She was a remarkable woman who accompanied the 20th New York Regiment during a considerable part of its field actions as a nurse and camp attendant. Men who were wounded at Antietam such as Jacob Leier and Erhard Futterer recalled how she accompanied them and other wounded when they were sent to Baltimore.
Twenty-six survivors of the regiment gathered in 1910 to dedicate another monument. This one marked the spot of the farthest advance of the Turners, and is the one located by the Visitor Center. It bears the symbols of the Turner Movement: the owl, wisdom; the wreath, athletic glory; the sword, military prowess; and the torch, learning.
For many years after the war, the veterans of the 20th New York and its ladies’ auxiliary annually celebrated the anniversary of the battle. The surviving Turners made frequent trips back to the old battlefield along Antietam Creek. One of their last large battlefield tramping excursions was a train trip from New York City to Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry, Antietam, and finally Washington D.C., made in September 1906, the 45th year of the unit’s organization. Probably less than twenty Turner veterans made it back for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.
After the Civil War, Max Weber served as an American diplomat in France and then as a Federal tax collector in New York City, where he died June 19, 1901. Funeral services were held at his late home, 453 Willoughby Avenue. More than a thousand people filled the street in front of his home, including survivors of the 20th NYSV. General Franz Siegel spoke in English and at length about his life long friend. Pall bearers were all officers of the Turner Rifles including Herman Bennecke, Fritz Letzeiser, Charles Lorch, Henry Kleber, Moritz Sternberg, and Paul Gmehlin. The remains were taken to the Cemetery of the Evergreens where Weber was buried with full military honors.
Baron Von Vegeseck returned to the Swedish army, where he eventually attained the rank of major general. Francis Weiss worked briefly as a New York City policeman and then as a legal clerk. Engelbert Schnepf was a saloon-keeper in Brooklyn until his death in 1880. The members of the veterans society erected a monument to Schnepf at the Lutheran Cemetery there.
References on the United Turner Rifles – 20th New York Volunteer Infantry
Burton, William L. Melting Pot Soldiers The Union's Ethnic Regiments 1988 Iowa State University Press. Discussion of Turner movement in U.S. and description of Turners sendoff from N.Y. in May 1861.
Cameron, James L. The Troubled Turners. The Gun Report (magazine) Vol. XXXI, 12/85. pp. 66 – 70. Good narrative history of regiment – provides discussion of rifles used etc.
Dornbusch, Charles. Military Bibliography of the Civil War. Vol. I.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion N.Y. Thomas Yoseloff 1959. Page 1412 – 1413. Brief summary of service history.
Hyde, T.W. Following the Greek Cross – Memories of the Sixth Army Corps. 1897. The author commanded the 7th Maine, which fought next to the 20th New York in major battles. He provides glimpses of what the Turners were doing in the Seven Days before Richmond and at Antietam.
Kvist, Roger. 1997. "America is, However, the Most Curious Country Under the Sun" The Civil War Letters of Colonel Ernst Von Vegesack, 1861 - 1863. The Swedish-American Historical Quarterly Vol. XLVIII No. 3, pp. 130-152.
Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. 1906. Personally conducted tour. The 20th (Turners) regiment of the City of New York to Gettysburg, Antietam, Harpers Ferry and Washington. Microfilm – New York Public Library Call # ZH-IAG p.v. 577, no.2.
Meyer, Friedrich. The Narrative of Friedrich Meyer – A Germin Freiwilliger (Volunteer) in the Army of the Potomac. Translated and edited by Anders Henrikkson. Civil War Regiments vol. 6., pp. 1 – 22. 1998. Regimental Studies, Inc. an affiliation of Savas Publishing Co. First person account by a member of the Regiment with good detail for White Oak Bridge and Antietam.
Miller, C. Eugene and Forrest F. Steinlage. Der Turner Soldat - A Turner Soldier in the Civil War. Calmar Publications. Louisville, KY. 1988. 118pp. Provides a good history of the Turners up to Antietam.
Muller, Bart R. The Twentieth New York (United Turner Rifles). Short typewritten manuscript in files at Antietam battlefield. Provides description of uniforms, flags, and the Turner movement.
New York Daily Tribune. May, 1861. Account of the Turners receiving their battle flags in front of City Hall and leaving for the seat of war.
Official Records of the War of Rebellion. Battle reports by unit commanders. Good accounts of amphibious landing at Hatteras Inlet and battle of Antietam.
Pfisterer, Frederick. New York in the War of Rebellion 1861-1865. Vol. 3 pp. 1958 – 1959. Summarizes the history of the regiment, engagements, casualties, and officers
Priest, J.M. Antietam, The Soldiers’ Battle. Oxford University Press 1989. 394 pp. Detailed account of regiment at Antietam. ( I have excerpted portions).
Sears, Stephen Chancellorsville , Houghton-Mifflin Co. Boston 1996. Provides details of Turners at Chancellorsville. ( I have excerpted portions).
Stevens, George T. Three Years in the Sixth Corps. S. R. Gray, Albany, N.Y. 1866. 436 pp. The author was a surgeon in the 77th New York and provides a first hand description of the Turners at Antietam and escorting Hooker during the spring of 1863.
U.S. Senate. Relief of Certain Enlisted Men of the Twentieth Regiment of New York Volunteer Infantry. Report No. 4075. February 18, 1905. Summary of hearings to restore Honorable Discharge to 198 men pardoned by Lincoln after mutiny at Chancellorsville.
U.S. House of Representatives. Congressional Record – House. February 11, 1905.
Virginia Maritime Museum. Photo of steamer “Alabama”. Paddlewheel steamer used to transport the Turners from New York to Fort Monroe.
Wiley, Bell Irwin. The Life of Billy Yank – The Common Soldier of the Union. Louisiana State University Press. 1952. P. 169. recounts letter telling how well the Turners sang.
Yandoh, Judith. Mutiny at the Front. Civil War Times Illustrated. May/June 1995. Pp 32-36. A good summary of the Turners history with emphasis on the mutiny at Chancellorsville and the events in its wake including the pardon by Lincoln and the special act of Congress. I have borrowed heavily from this source in the document above.
This document was compiled from the source documents listed above. In some cases entire paragraphs were extracted. The sources were not cited in the body of the text because it was felt that this would detract from the document's readability. My objective in compiling the information is not to claim original research, but rather to assemble as complete a history of the 20th New York Volunteers as possible in one document, and to provide this information to family members and descendants of the regiment. Two of my Great-grandfathers served with the regiment. Philip E. Kappesser was a private in Company E. Frederick William Fix was a corporal and color guard in Company G. Both enlisted from Syracuse New York.
Gary Kappesser April 14, 2003