Letters and Correspondence of the

72nd New York


Early War


July 28, 1861

I have the honor to report that my regiment is principally from the State of New York, about one-half from the Western part, and the other from the city... Seven companies are armed with the smooth bore percussion musket, 1842. (Altered) Seven companies have a fair knowledge of company and battalion drill, but are deficient in the manual of arms. Three companies having joined within a week are almost raw recruits.

Col. Nelson Taylor, Commd'g.


August 7, 1861

We left Staten Island two weeks ago in good spirits. I however never was so disgusted before at the effects of rum. All the officers were drunk. Half of our company were laying about like brutes.

Many a mother bade her son adieu, sorry to expose him to the temptations that he must meet in the Army. While they are praying for them their sons are playing a game of cards or laying drunk on the ground. I sincerely thank god for giving me parents who taught me, by a Godlike example, to shun all vice.

Charles W. Gould, Co. I


Fall, 1861

Such a collection of men was never before united in one body since the flood. Most of them were the scum of New York society, reeking with vice and spreading a moral malaria around them. Some had been serving terms of penal servitude on Blackwell's Island at the outbreak of the war, but were released on condition of enlisting in the army of the Union, and had gladly accepted the alternative.

Joseph B. O'Hagan, Chaplain, Excelsior Brigade


History of the Third Regiment, 1902

October 21st the rebels were firing at a passing vessel, when a large shell landed on Maryland soil without exploding. The shell was picked up and taken to camp, the cap extracted, and it was supposed all the powder as well, the shell then being used as a plaything. The next day John W. Rouse, of Company E, put a live coal in the opening and pushed it in with his foot, when the shell exploded, injuring ten men of whom Michael Daly and John W. Rouse, both of Company E, died of their injuries.

Sgt. Henri LeFevre Brown, Co. B


December 9, 1861

I came to Dunkirk in the State of New York about 40 miles west of Buffalo and everyman from the rich merchant down to the poorest labourer left their homes wives & family to fight for one of the most holy causes that was fought for.

1st Sgt. Patrick Anderson, Co. E




April 16, 1862

There has been a great change in reguard to General Sickels Brigade since I heard from you last - General Sickels has lost his commission as brigadeir General and we are no longer united states volunturs but have received the name of the 72 regt New York Volunturs- I suppose that it will be a disappointment to you to get a letter from Vieiginia but I am there and there is a plenty of cecesh here too - we are camped on rebel captains farm and are within about 6 miles of the main army of the enemy...

Pvt. Emerson F. Merrell, Co. I


May 5, 1862

Very soon this firing became more constant and incessant, and was evidently from large bodies of troops advancing toward my position, and at the same time my pickets began to retire a little, and reported that the enemy were advancing in strength. I had sent Lieutenant Fry back to report to you and request that a regiment might be sent to my support, and at this time the Seventieth Regiment, Colonel Dwight, arrived. Four companies, with my own reserve, were immediately sent forward to the threatened point, the other six companies remaining as a reserve in the center. The enemy continued to advance, and drove in my pickets, who retired fighting without confusion, the enemy following and pouring in deadly volleys. I sought still further re-enforcements, which you brought up in person. My regiment at this time having entirely exhausted their ammunition, after four hours' fighting withdrew into the road, after having lost severely in killed and wounded.

Lt. Col. Israel Moses, Commanding Regiment (Williamsburg)


May 6, 1862

It was ascertained that the enemy had evacuated Yourktown and with drew all of their forces to Williamsburgh a place about 10 miles from Yorktown and Hookers division started in pursuit and on Monday May 5 I witnessed a most bloody battle as you will probably hear by the papers...when I came to go out the next morning look around over the field it was a sight enough to sicken any one- there was 200 killed wounded and missing in our regment 59 were killed 84 wounded 57 missing...

Pvt. Emerson F. Merrell, Co. I


June 22, 1862

I have not seen a bit of pure water since we left Yorktown I had drank water here that I would not wash my hands in at home...

Pvt. Emerson F. Merrell, Co. I


July 4, 1862

The firing was kept up briskly on both sides for about three-quarters of an hour, when the fire of the enemy sensibly diminished, and only a few shots were fired by them. Believing that they had concluded to withdraw, I ordered my men to cease firing, but to lead. This they did, and set up a loud cheer. This seemed to provoke the enemy, who cheered in turn, and advanced out from the woods in force so near that they could be seen, and opened a destructive volley from the left and front. As they advanced I ordered the firing to be renewed, and so rapidly and steadily was it kept up that the enemy withdrew in haste.

Col. Nelson Taylor, Commanding Regiment (Malvern Hill)



Second Bull Run


September 4, 1862

Well I am alive and well as could be expected - for we have been on the march and fighting for about a month back - our Brigade fought old Stonewall Jackson at Kettle Run on the 26th of Aug and gave him a good sound licking and followed him about 15 miles to a place called BULL RUN it is a hell of a place there we cornered ol Stonewall and his crew...until he was renforced by the whole of the rebel army in Virginia.

Pvt. Emerson F. Merrell, Co. I


September 6, 1862
Our position was hardly taken when the line of troops in our front, belonging to regiments never before under fire, gave way under a dashing attempt of the enemy to turn the left of our line. Gradually the left gave way, struggling hand-to-hand for life and their colors, until the line was broken up to the left of my command, rendered almost powerless by the influence and presence of the disorganized troops breaking through my line and preventing my firing until the enemy were actually in our ranks in overpowering numbers. We fell back 300 yards to the edge of the timber, and again formed line and advanced skirmishers forward to the line we had just left.
Capt. Harmon J. Bliss, Commanding Regiment




December 18, 1863

The Cornel then rode up to us and he said now company disploy yourselfs as shirmishers and make every shot tell and hold the ground to a man. We then unslung our knapsacks an fixed our rifles for a charge when the major came up and gave the command forward on a double quick. We then had to run across a big soft mudy field which had had corn planted and across a big ditch for about 5 hundred yards all the time under fire from the enemy who lay in the woods and we could only see the flash of their guns while we had not as much as a straw to cover us, and it put one in mind of a swarm of bees which had just hived. I come off verry lucky although the bullets came as close to me as they could come with out hurting me one burnt my hair and I got one in the pants below the knee and one in the coat tail and one struck a knapsack. That I have for a shield for my head. I offered a short prayer to God for my safety and I believe he heard me and save my life. Our company lost 4 men and it is a wonder that they were not all killed we laid on our belly and fired and loaded and if we got up you would have 30 or forty shorts fired at you. But the worst of it was at night when the wounded commenced to get cold it would melt a heart of stone to hear the dozen of them within 10 yds of me and as soon as it got dark I went and give them water and covered them up with blankets and one orderly sargeant asked me my name that I had gave water and covered and during the night he commenced calling my name and some of the others commenced to and it was awful to hear the moans and asking fur us to carry them off the field. We laid there for forty eight hours when we were releived by General Carrs brigade we then went back a short distance and made some coffe and laid down to sleep and had only got to sleep when we were ordered to get up and ready to move and make no noise we then went on a double quick to bridges where we crossed over...

Pvt. James Dean, Co. C


December 24, 1862

The papers say that we are in the best condition that we were ever in and are all eager for a fight - but it is all humbug this army has been growing more and more demoralized since the 2d battle of Bull Run and this battle (or rather this slaughter) has put on the finish…I will not hesitate at all to telling the truth any longer - for the last two years people have not been allowed to express his apinion and the Editors of the papers have not been allowed to print the truth...

Pvt. Emerson F. Merrell, Co. I



March 27, 1863

There is one thing that I do rejoice in & that is I think I have done my duty as a soldier for my Country as near right as I new how. At least I have one the love & good wishes of all the Oficers in the 3rd Reg. I one the love of my first & brave Captin Brown who fell at his post at Fare Oaks & also our next Captin Willard who fell while fiting at Williamburg & also our third Captin who fell at the Battle of Bristo Station. He is the one that Promoted me to Corp. The loss of our Captins tell plainly what we have been through. Three of them have fallen in Battle. How terrible is War. Oh I do hope it may soon have an end.

Pvt. Hiram D. Stoddard, Co. B




May 7th, 1863

We lay in line of Battle all night and as the Sabbath morn came in the picets in front of our line commenced firing. Soon the Battle commenced with fury on the left but verry soon we were all ingaged. Soon we forsed them back our fire being to hot for them. But a short time after this they threw a verry heavy force on the left of our Brigade & broke through the line & got on our flank & in that way our Regt suffered A cross fire. But we Hang to them till our little Col Stevons was killed and the orders came for us to fall back out of the woods through an open field so as to draw them out so as to Cut them down with grape and canister. So we did as the Gray Backs came out to charge on our Battries. We piled them up in heaps and they fell back in confusion.

Pvt. Hiram D. Stoddard, Co. B


May 9th, 1863

We finished the breast works by day break and as the last stick was laid on the works the pickets begain firing and I was out cutting down brush when they came, when the bullets came to thick for when I got over the works the fighting and the musketry was terrific and the cannon, the sound of shell schreching and bursting was truly magnificent and subline although some poor fellows was sent to his long home by every shell. They then advanced on us and we became engaged hotly when some of the cowards broke when our leutenant ran out and cut them with his sword and sent them back. It was then he got hit as soon as he got hit he let a groan and fell on his back threw his pistol away and unbuttoned his coat and pants and pressed his hands on his stomach and then died as brave an officer as was in the Service. Our second leutenant was shot through the arm while cheering the boys on to do their work. The cornel was then shot in the stomach and first quivering and then expired. The troops on our left then gave way when we cheered them to their works and they fired a few more volleys but the rebels marched up in coloms 4 or 5 deep and got over the works on our left and the first thing we knew was we were receiving a fire on our flank we then had to run and it was then we lost a good many men.

Pvt. James Dean, Co. C


May 8, 1863

It was during this brief but severe engagement that our brave colonel, William O. Stevens, while gallantly directing our movement, fell, dangerously, if not mortally, wounded. In consequence of the nearness of the enemy and the severity of the engagement, it was impossible to carry him from the field. After the fall of our noble colonel, the enemy, rendered bold by their momentary success, advanced more rapidly on our flank and front, and attempted to capture our colors, but the steadfast devotion and bravery of my regiment repelled their attempt, and, although the conflict was hand to hand, and their force far superior in numbers to our own, the four who successively seized our colors were made to bite the dust, and the colors of the regiment were borne in safety from the field.

Maj. John Leonard, Commanding Regiment




July 6th, 1863

Many of my comrades are no more, our Brigade suffered severely we were marched out so that the rebels could see our line. We were then ordered to lay down, the shells then began to come over us and they had a splendid range of us we lay thus under the fire for 2 hours when the rebels drove in our pickets and advanced and we had to give way it being to hot a place but we contested the ground inch by inch and after the beats got out and order restored we advanced under a murderous fire and drove the rebels off the ground that we lost in the morning. On the large field when our artillery was stationed it was all abandoned the horses being all killed and the rebels took and turned it on us but they had no chance to use it on us we charged on them with the bayonet 3 or four times and retook it all again. I was number one on one gun, there was a rebel color bearer shot and I tried hard to capture the colors but I was to late a sargeant of company E got it. We fought from daylight still dark or was rather under fire all the time when our regiment came out at night all we could count was 21 men.

Pvt. James Dean, Co. C



Aug. 15, 1863

At 2 p.m. we were ordered to advance across an open field in line of battle, the left of our regiment, which formed the extreme left of the brigade, resting on a cross-road, the line running parallel with the main road and in rear of the peach orchard. We remained in line of battle about two hours, under a most terrific fire of shot and shell, when we were pressed so hard on the left flank that we were obliged to fall back. This we did in as good order as the circumstances would permit.

At this time I was wounded in the arm and side, and a few minutes after had my horse killed. I was now obliged to give up the command to Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard, who fought the regiment after I left. He and the rest of the officers were indefatigable in their exertions to rally the men, who were still hard pressed and obliged to fall slowly back to the crest of the hill from which the brigade started in the morning, where they rallied, and, charging across the field, retook their guns and one battle-flag belonging to the Eighth Florida Regiment, together with a large number of prisoners, all of which they brought from the field.

Col. John S. Austin, Commanding Regiment



Aug. 12th, 1863

I would like to visit the battle field of Gettysburg with you all there I could give you some idea of the formation of a battle and there I could point out to you where I fought and took five prisoners one of them was a captin. That place will long bare the marks of a hard and bloody battle. Since I wrote you last Willie Lovell of Co B has died of a wound received at Gettysburg. He was shot through the leg and had his leg amputated. His sister was with him when he died. She took his remains home and has them intered by the side of this mother. He was a good soldier. One that was always at his post. He received his wound fighting and refusing to yeald one inch of ground to those traitors till he was shot through the leg and was obliged to leave the field.

Pvt. Hiram D. Stoddard, Co. B


Wapping Heights


July 28th, 1863

We have been engaged in another fight at Mannasas Gap... General Spinola of our Brigade rode along our lines and Cheer us up. We were put into the line of Battle and there told what we had to do. There were no use in telling us that for we could see what we could do. The word was given us to advance we marched through a corn field and came to ditch about 10 feet deep and as many wide. It was like the sink hole in the corner of the Hitchen Garden, we clambered up and were received by a volley from the rebels. We then sent up cheer after cheer and on a charge that was witnessed before we droved them 2 miles without even stopping and would have drove them further had we not received orders. We drove 2 or three lines and I know that some of them was wounded with the bayonets of our men I do not want to brag but I gave one of them an inch of steel my self. You ought to see them rebs throw away their guns and belts. I never was so tired in my life as I was on that charge.

Pvt. James Dean


July 27th, 1863

Pretty soon orders came for the old Ex to prepare for a charge to drive them out of their rifle pits. So we drove a load into our guns and then our Gen. formed a brigade line and then orders advance in line. We marched slow to the top of the hill and then fired a volley into them and then the orders were charge baynets double quick. So on we went making the air ring with our cheers (did we dive them) yes we drove them over three lines of their rifle pits taking prisoners as we went.

Pvt. Hiram D. Stoddard, Co. B


Aug. 15, 1863

At this time the Excelsior Brigade, of which my regiment forms a part, was ordered to charge the heights and drive the enemy from their position.

With a yell that would have done credit to a band of demons, our boys sprang to their feet and rushed upon the foe. The first and second heights were carried in the face of a severe fire, when the enemy opened from the opposite hill with a four-gun battery, and the men, who were now completely exhausted, were ordered to hold the position, of which they had so gallantly taken possession.

The next morning at daylight it was discovered that the enemy had retreated. Moved forward to Front Royal, and remained about two hours, and then marched back through the Gap, and encamped for the night 6 miles beyond.

Col. John S. Austin, Commanding Regiment


August 10th, 1863

I would have given any amount to have you stand on the hill that we formed a line on before we started, the colors were unfurled and let to the breeze. The officers encouraging the men at last Gen. Spinola now boys of the Excelsior Brigad give them Hell and placing himself in front on his horse, with sword drawn and pistol, gave the order to advance by saying come boys. That was enough and with a yell they started and kept each a yell or cheers that is dismayed the rebs and it was a grand sight to see them drop their guns and take off their belts and leave in all haste. We drove them about 2 miles without ever getting checked once.

Pvt. James Dean




History of the Third Regiment, 1902

Sergeant-Major Lyon was shot through the left side at the first fire, completely disabling him. Private Young, who was near, ran to him and, learning Lyon's condition, managed to get the Sergeant-Major on his back, and although the rebels were all about them, succeeded in reaching the thick bushes, and returned to the regiment without further injury. Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard advanced to meet them, and on learning that Lyon was helpless, ordered some men from the line to relieve Young, who was completely exhausted. This act on the part of Private Young, undoubtedly saved the life of Sergeant-Major Lyon, as the woods were set on fire by shell, later, and many wounded men were burned.

Sgt. Henri LeFevre Brown, Co. B




May 16th, 1864

Oh my Dear Dear parents the lord alone has spared my life to drop you a line once. We have fought some of the most terable battles of the war for nine days. We were in battle evry day. On the 12th of this month our corps charged on the Rebbels works. Took eight thousand prisnors, three Gen, one Magor Gen by the name of Johnson. Took 19 Cannon. But after we had taken the works the Rebs fought desporate to re take them back they could not. Old Co B has lost 8 wounded. The prisnors we have taken say that they were never whipped so bad before.  They seem to be afraid of Gen Grant. We are now neared to Richmond this way than ever before. Our regt in the past nine days has lost 140 killed and wounded.

Pvt. Hiram D. Stoddard, Co. B


History of the Third Regiment, 1902

The second charge was made at 6 P.M. That particular part of the rebel works on which this assault was directed, proved to be the key-point of the main line, and was the position of the heaviest fighting of May 12th. This point has gone into history as, "The Bloody Angle, at Spottsylvania."

Sgt. Henri LeFevre Brown, Co. B



Our thanks to those whose contributions have made this page possible: Diana Firth who has provided to us the nearly 75, war-time, letters of James Dean who served until the end of the conflict; Phil Palen and the Gowanda Area Historical Society for allowing us access to the letters of Hiram J. Stoddard of Busti, New York; Sam Sandoli and Francis Lynch for permission to present portions of the collection of letters from Emerson F. Merrell who died at Chancellorsville. The full collection of Merrell letters along with biographical information is contained in the book, Come Cry With Me and is available for purchase from Mr. Sandoli.


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