Civil War Letters, Miniature Paintings – Gen. Isaac Stevens, Capt. Hazard Stevens 79th NY Highlanders
Civil War Letters and Miniature Paintings – Gen. Isaac Stevens and Capt. Hazard Stevens– 79th NY Highlanders – This incredibly rare and historically significant grouping was discovered in an early 19th century, roll top, oak desk, some ten years ago, by the buyers of the desk. The desk, most likely the possession of Captain Hazard Stevens, 79th NY Infantry (Cameron’s Highlanders) and Medal of Honor winner, was purchased at an antiques auction in the state of Washington, where Captain Stevens and his father, Gen. Isaac Stevens, also of the 79th NY and KIA at the Battle of Chantilly, in 1862, lived. The grouping includes 19 miniature pencil sketches and watercolor paintings; all of the art work was executed by Private Edward Henry, Co. E, 79th NY Infantry. Henry apparently gave Gen. Stevens his art work, as well as illustrating several of Stevens’ letters home. Sketches and paintings include: scenes in the Beaufort, SC area, where the 79th NY first went into action at the war’s onset, depictions of Ft. Sumter; scenes in the southeastern Virginia theatre, where the 79th went, after their South Carolina service; scenes depicted here include; Confederate batteries, a battle scene, Hampton Roads littered with sunken vessels from the Monitor and Merrimac fight. Almost all of the art is signed “E. Henry”; two have his unit, 79th NY, accompanying his signature; many exhibit labeled locations. In addition, to these wonderful paintings and drawings, are letters written by Gen. Stevens, up until the actual day of his mortal wounding; also, many letters written by Capt. Hazard Stevens during the war. Stevens, awarded, after the war, the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the capture of Ft. Huger, in Virginia, in 1863, left the service, at the war’s end with the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. Numerous additional, post-war Hazard Stevens documents are included in the grouping. Information below details a general inventory of the entire grouping, as well as the biographies of Gen. Isaac Stevens, Brig. Gen. Hazard Stevens and war record of Edward Henry. Any interested parties are welcome to contact Perry Adams Antiques for additional information regarding this rare grouping. We have had all of the art, archivally mounted and framed, in two period frames; all of the letters have been professionally inventoried, numbered and housed in acid free, PVC Mylar.
Summary of Grouping:
- 27 war dated letters; 10 letters by Gen. Isaac Stevens including one written to his wife on the day he was killed; 17 letters written by Hazard Stevens
- wartime newspaper clipping describing the Battle for Ft. Huger
- Group of pre-war Stevens family documents and letters
- Large grouping of postwar letters and documents relating to the Stevens family and Hazard Stevens’ Medal of Honor
- Sketches and drawings by Edward Henry:
1 Pencil drawing of a plantation
2 Pencil drawing of the graves of the 79th New York Highlanders near Beaufort, SC in envelope addressed to Oliver Stevens, Boston, Mass.
3 E. Walker’s Plantation near Beaufort, SC
4 Pencil drawing of the bay at Beaufort, SC
5 Pencil drawing of Gen. Stevens’ headquarters at Beaufort, SC
6 Pencil drawing (on linen) of boats and steamer on a river
7 Pencil drawing or print of a caricature of fish in the Bay of Commencement , Tacoma, Washington
8 Drawing of steamer Planter passing Ft. Sumter
9 Drawing of camp of Gen. Stevens’ Division at Newport, News, Va. (on linen)
10. Drawing of unknown battery under command of Gen. Stevens
11. Drawing of rebel pickets on Jamestown Island, Va.
12. Drawing of military action
13. Drawing of Secessionville near Ft. Sumter, SC
14. Drawing of Gen. Stevens’ headquarters and Old Battery at Stono River, SC
15. Drawing of Gen. Stevens’ headquarters at Beaufort, SC
16. Cabinet Card photograph of Gen. Stevens in prewar civilian clothing
17. Pen and ink sketch by unknown artist of a father and daughters
Isaac Stevens during the American Civil War
1st Governor of Washington Territory
November 25, 1853 – August 11, 1857
Appointed by Franklin Pierce
Succeeded by LaFayette McMullen
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from Washington Territory’s at-large district
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1861
Preceded by James Patton Anderson
Succeeded by William H. Wallace
Born March 25, 1818
North Andover, Massachusetts
Died September 1, 1862 (aged 44)
Resting place Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Margaret Hazard Stevens
Children 5, including Hazard
Alma mater United States Military Academy
Allegiance – United States of America – Union
Service/branch – United States Army
Years of service – 1839–1853; 1861–1862
Rank – Brigadier General – Union Army major general; Major General (posthumous)
Commands – 79th New York Infantry Regiment; 1st Division, IX Corps
Battles/wars – Mexican-American War; Yakima War; American Civil War; Battle of
Isaac Ingalls Stevens (March 25, 1818 – September 1, 1862) was the first Governor of Washington Territory, serving from 1853 to 1857. He was accredited as a founding member of the Territorial University of Washington, now known as the University of Washington today. He also served as a U.S. Congressman, and a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the American Civil War until his death at the Battle of Chantilly. He was appointed posthumously to the grade of Major General of volunteers.
Stevens was born and raised in Massachusetts, leaving his home state for the United States Military Academy at West Point in the late 1830s. He graduated in 1839, at the top of his class, and served for a number of years with the Army Corps of Engineers. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1840.
Stevens was the adjutant of the Corps of Engineers during the Mexican-American War, seeing action at the siege of Vera Cruz and at Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Churubusco. In the latter fight, he caught the attention of his superiors, who rewarded him with the brevet rank of captain. He was again cited and brevetted for gallantry at the Battle of Chapultepec, this time to the rank of Major. He participated in combat at Molino del Rey, and the Battle for Mexico City, where he was severely wounded. He later wrote a book on his adventures, Campaigns of the Rio Grande and Mexico, with Notices of the Recent Work of Major Ripley (New York, 1851).
He superintended fortifications on the New England coast from 1841 until 1849. He was given command of the coast survey office in Washington, D.C., serving in that role until March 1853.
Isaac Stevens (c. 1855–1862)
A firm supporter of Franklin Pierce’s candidacy for President of the United States in 1852, Stevens was rewarded by President Pierce on March 17, 1853 by being named governor of the newly created Washington Territory. (The position also included the title of Superintendent of Indian Affairs for that region). Stevens chose to add one more duty as he traveled west to the territory he would govern: the government was calling for a surveyor to map an appropriate railroad route across the northern United States. With Stevens’ engineering experience (and likely the favor of Pierce yet again) he won the bid. His party, which included Dr. George Suckley, John Mullan and Fred Burr, son of David H. Burr, spent most of 1853 moving slowly across the prairie, surveying his way to Washington Territory. There he met George McClellan’s party that had surveyed the line between the Puget Sound and the Spokane River. He took up his post at Olympia as governor in November that year.
As a result of his expedition, Stevens wrote a third book, Report of Explorations for a Route for the Pacific Railroad near the 47th and 49th Parallels of North Latitude, from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Puget Sound, (commissioned and published by the United States Congress) (2 vols., Washington, 1855–1860).
Stevens was a controversial governor in his time. Historians consider him even more controversial, for his role in compelling the Native American tribes of Washington Territory by intimidation and force to sign treaties that ceded most of their lands and rights to Stevens’ government. These included the Treaty of Medicine Creek, Treaty of Hellgate, Treaty of Neah Bay, Treaty of Point Elliott, Point No Point Treaty, and Quinault Treaty. During this time, the Governor imposed martial law to better impose his will on the Indians and whites that opposed his views. The consequent political and legal battles would soon overshadow the Indian war. When Stevens was met with resistance, he used the troops at his disposal to exact vengeance.
His winter campaign against the Yakama tribe, led by Chief Kamiakin, and his execution of the Nisqually chieftain Leschi (for the crime of having killed Stevens’ soldiers in open combat), among other deeds, led a number of powerful citizens in the territory to beg President Pierce to remove Stevens. Territorial Judge Edward Lander and Ezra Meeker (an influential private citizen) were both vocal in opposing Stevens—Lander was arrested as a result, and Meeker was simply ignored. Pierce sent word to Stevens of his disapproval of the governor’s conduct, but refused to remove his appointee. Opponents of Stevens ultimately lost public support, as the majority of the citizens of Washington Territory considered the governor to be on the side of white settlers and Meeker to be overly concerned with the “Indians”.
As a result of this public perception, Stevens was popular enough to be elected the territory’s delegate to the United States Congress in 1857 and 1858. The tensions between the whites and the Native Americans would be left for others to resolve—Stevens is often charged with responsibility for the later conflicts in eastern Washington and Idaho, especially the war fought by the United States against Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, but these events were decades away when Isaac Stevens left Washington State for good in 1857.
In April 1856, Governor Stevens removed settlers whom he believed to be aiding the enemy and placing them in the military’s custody. Governor Stevens then declared martial law in Pierce County to ensure a military trial for those settlers. A declaration of martial law for Thurston County would soon follow. Nonetheless, only the territorial legislature possessed the authority to declare martial law, and a bitter political and legal battle ensued. Stevens would be forced to repeal the declaration and fight subsequent calls for his removal. Steven’s decision to use martial law was the result of his determination to enforce a blockhouse policy in the war against the Indians of the Puget Sound region. Indian raids on scattered settlements and an intimidating attack on the city of Seattle in February 1856 resulted in Governor Stevens considering that defensive measures would be significantly more effective with the limited number of men at his disposal; the white population should be concentrated at specific strongly protected points. For that reason, the volunteers under Stevens command built a series of forts and blockhouses along the Snoqualmie, the White, and the Nisqually rivers. Once completed, Stevens ordered the settler population to leave their claims and take temporary residence in these safer areas.
Once Stevens proclaimed martial law, he raised a new and more significant issue. Stevens’ proclamation of martial law in Pierce County stated: ”Whereas in the prosecution of the Indian war circumstances have existed affording such grave cause of suspicion, such that certain evil disposed persons of Pierce county have given aid and comfort to the enemy, as that they have been placed under arrest and ordered to be tried by a military commission; and whereas, efforts are now being made to withdraw, by civil process, these persons from the purview of the said commission. Therefore, as the war is now being actively prosecuted through- out nearly the whole of the said county, and great injury to the public, and the plans of the campaign be frustrated, if the alleged designs of these persons be not arrested, I, Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of the Territory of Washington, do hereby proclaim Martial Law over the said county of Pierce, and do by these presents suspend for the time being and till further notice, the functions of all civil officers in said county.”
On May 11, 1856, attorneys George Gibbs and H. A. Goldsborough sent a letter to the Secretary of State denying that the war situation throughout the territory and especially in Pierce County was as grave as Governor Stevens had declared at the time of proclaiming martial law. They ascertained that the allegations made against Charles Wren, John McLeod, John McField, Lyon A. Smith, and Henry Smith, were based wholly on suspicion and that the only factual evidence was that on Christmas Day a party of Indians had visited McLeod’s cabin and had forced him to give them food. Gibbs and Goldsborough declared that: ”The sole object of the proclamation was to get half a dozen obscure individuals into his absolute control, and to demonstrate that he, Isaac I. Stevens, could, on the field offered by a small Territory, enact, at second hand, the part of Napoleon.” The territorial organic act designated the governor as “commander-in-chief of the militia thereof” but there were not a regularly constituted militia in existence. Stevens assumed his powers from his control of local volunteer troops which had been organized to meet the necessities of the situation, but had not been authorized either by the federal government or by the territorial legislature. Stevens position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the territory had a broad administrative responsibility but possessed no direct military power to go with it. On May 24, 1856, following a legal opinion rendered by Judge Chenoweth regarding his legal position that he had no legal power to declare martial law, Governor Stevens rescinded his proclamation in Pierce and Thurston counties.
After the Civil War began in 1861, and following the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, Stevens was commissioned in the Army again. He was appointed as Colonel of the 79th New York Volunteers, known as the “Cameron Highlanders.” He became a brigadier general on September 28, 1861, and fought at Port Royal. He led the Second Brigade of the Expeditionary Forces sent to attack the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. He led a division at the Battle of Secessionville, where he personally led an attack on Fort Lamar in which 25% of his men were casualties.
Stevens was transferred with his IX Corps division to Virginia to serve under Major General John Pope in the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run. He was killed in action at the Battle of Chantilly on September 1, 1862 after picking up the fallen regimental colors of his old regiment, shouting “Highlanders, my Highlanders, follow your general!” Charging with his troops while carrying the banner of Saint Andrew’s Cross, Stevens was struck in the temple by a bullet and died instantly. He was buried in Newport, Rhode Island at Island Cemetery. In March 1863, he was posthumously promoted to major general, backdated to July 18, 1862.
Hazard Stevens, Isaac’s son, was also injured in the Battle of Chantilly. He rose to become a general in the U.S. Army and an author. Together with P. B. Van Trump, he participated in the first documented ascent of Mount Rainier.
A small monument in Ox Hill Battlefield Park commemorates the death of Stevens.
Stevens County, Washington, and Stevens County, Minnesota, were both named in his honor.
Two U.S. Army forts were named for Stevens—Fort Stevens in the Union defenses of Washington, DC and Fort Stevens in Oregon. The latter was active from 1863 until 1947 to protect the mouth of the Columbia River.
The Isaac Stevens Camp #1, Washington State Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, is named in his honor.
Stevens Hall on the campus of Washington State University was named for him.
The city of Lake Stevens, Washington, and Lake Stevens is named for him.
The town of Stevensville, Montana, is named for him.
Isaac Stevens Middle School in Pasco, Washington, and Isaac I. Stevens Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, are named after him.
Stevens Peak and Upper and Lower Stevens Lake in Northern Idaho (just south of Mullan, Idaho) were named after him by Capt. John Mullan.
But, Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains of Washington on US Highway 2 is named after John Frank Stevens (no relation), a locating engineer for the Great Northern Railway.
Born – June 9, 1842; Newport, Rhode Island
Died – October 11, 1918 (aged 76); Goldendale, Washington
Place of burial – Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island
Allegiance – United States of America; Union
Service/branch – United States Army
Years of service – 1861–1865
Rank – Union army Major; Union Army brigadier general
Unit – 79th New York Volunteer Infantry
Battles/wars – American Civil War
Battle of Chantilly
Battle of Fort Huger
Awards – Medal of Honor
Other work – Federal revenue collector, attorney, politician
Hazard Stevens (June 9, 1842 – October 11, 1918) was an American military officer, mountaineer, politician and writer. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Union army during the American Civil War at the Battle of Fort Huger. Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump made the first documented successful climb of Mount Rainier on August 17, 1870.
Early life and the Civil War
Stevens was born in Newport, Rhode Island on June 9, 1842, the son of Isaac I. Stevens and Margaret Hazard Stevens. In 1854, his father became the first governor of the new Washington Territory and the Stevens family moved to Olympia, Washington. Both father and son volunteered in the Union army during the Civil War and served in the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry. Hazard Stevens was a major and assistant adjutant general. Hazard was wounded and his father, by then a general, was killed in the Battle of Chantilly on September 1, 1862. For his contribution to the capture of Fort Huger, Virginia, on April 19, 1863, Stevens received the Medal of Honor on June 13, 1894. Stevens was mustered out of the Union Army volunteers on September 19, 1865. On January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Stevens for appointment to the brevet grade of brigadier general of volunteers, to rank from April 2, 1865, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination on March 12, 1866.
After the war and the ascent of Mount Rainier
After the war, Stevens returned to Washington to care for his widowed mother, working initially for the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and then as a federal revenue collector in 1868. He then met P. B. Van Trump, who was working as the private secretary to Marshall F. Moore, the seventh governor of the territory. Both men were interested in climbing Mount Rainier and on August 17, 1870 they completed the first documented ascent of the mountain.
The Stevens Van Trump Historic Monument along the Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park was erected to commemorate the historic first ascent of the mountain. Nearby is the Stevens Canyon and Stevens Ridge, both named after him.
Stevens joined the bar in 1871, representing the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in their prosecution of lumber theft cases. In 1874, Stevens investigated British claims on the San Juan Islands at the request of President Ulysses S. Grant.
Hazard Stevens during his second ascent of Mount Rainier in 1905.
In 1874, Stevens moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts near Boston. He then entered the Massachusetts state legislature as a reformer in 1885. He successfully lobbied for the preservation of Boston’s Old State House. He was unsuccessful in a run for the United States Congress. In 1887 Stevens was admitted to the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati by right of his descent from Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lyman.
Stevens climbed Mount Rainier a second time in 1905 on a trip organized by The Mazamas, an Oregon mountaineering club.
Stevens established the Cloverfields Dairy Farm in Olympia, Washington in 1916. Now on the National Historic Register, the former farm is the site of the present Olympia High School.
Later in life, Stevens wrote “The Life of Isaac Ingalls Stevens”, a noted biography of his father in addition to many papers on the Civil War. In 1918, while in frail health, he presided over the ceremonial placement of a memorial marker to Bureau of Indian Affairs agent Andrew Bolon in Klickitat County, Washington and, the following day, suffered a stroke of paralysis. He died unmarried shortly thereafter and is interred at Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island Plot: Lots 650-653.
Medal of Honor citation
Captain and Assistant Adjutant General, U.S. Volunteers. Place and Date: At Fort Huger, Va., April 19, 1863. Entered service at: Olympia, Washington Territory. Born: June 9, 1842, Newport, R.I. Date of issue: June 13, 1894. Citation: Gallantly led a party that assaulted and captured the fort.
|Residence was not listed; 35 years old. Enlisted on 5/13/1861 at New York City, NY as a Private. On 5/28/1861 he mustered into “E” Co. NY 79th Infantry He was Mustered Out on 5/31/1864 at New York, NY|
79th New York Volunteer Infantry
The 79th New York Volunteer Infantry was a military regiment organized on June 20, 1859, in the state of New York. Prior to the American Civil War it was one of the three regiments that formed the Fourth Brigade of the First Division of the New York State Militia. The Fourth Brigade included the 11th and the 69th regiments. The 79th gained fame during the American Civil War for its service in the Union Army.
Organization and pre-civil war:
Created as a social club in New York city in the fall of 1858, the Highland Guard or 79th New York was created with the help of the St. Andrews and Caledonian societies of New York and wealthy financial backers like Samuel M. Elliot and James Cameron, the brother of the secretary of war. The organization had no actual connection to the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Scotland. Only in name and in tartan did they identify with the 79th of the British Army.
Their original duty was to parade, train as heavy artillery, and also provided a guard for the Prince of Wales when he visited the United States and did the same for the Japanese ambassador. The unit started as a Scottish American fraternity. The 79th, without knowing it, set themselves up to take part in nearly every major engagement of the civil war and become one of the most known and traveled regiments in the Union Army.
Civil War Service – 79th New York Infantry
Departure for federal service
When the war broke out in 1861, the Highlanders were mobilized and, as the regiment was under strength, new men were quickly recruited before they left New York City. Under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Mackenzie Elliott, the regiment was mustered into service for a three-year duration on 29 May 1861, and attached to Mansfield’s command, Department of Washington.
On 2 June 1861, the Cameron Highlanders, 895 men strong, complete with pipe band, marched down Broadway on its way to Washington. Passing through Baltimore, the Highlanders received a good welcome—in contrast with the reception the 6th Massachusetts Militia had received a few days earlier. Arriving in Washington, the regiment served in the defenses of the capital until the middle of July when it was attached to Sherman’s Brigade, Tyler’s Division, in McDowell’s Army of Northeastern Virginia, for the advance on Manassas.
First Bull Run
At the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, the Third Brigade of Tyler’s Division, under Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman, consisted of four regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery. As one of those infantry regiments, the 79th New York Infantry experienced some of the fiercest fighting and suffered some of the highest Union casualties at First Bull Run (referred to by the Confederates as First Manassas) although, to begin with, it appeared that they would miss the action. As Confederates fled from the initial Union attack and withdrew up the hill past the Henry House, Private Todd stepped out of line calling to Colonel Sherman, “Give us a chance at ‘em before they get away”. His sergeant, a British Army veteran, dragged him back into line, growling “shut up your damned head – you’ll get plenty of chance before the day is over”.
Sherman, in obedience to orders, committed his regiments piecemeal to the capture of Henry House Hill. He first sent the 2nd Wisconsin who, still wearing their militia gray uniforms, were shot to pieces by both sides. When the Wisconsin boys were eventually driven back, the 79th were ordered forward. Led by their colonel, James Cameron, brother of President Abraham Lincoln’s first secretary of war, Simon Cameron, they charged three times over the dead and wounded of the 2nd Wisconsin. Unluckily, in the smoke of battle, they mistook a Confederate flag for one of their own and ceased firing. It was a costly mistake – “As we lowered our arms and were about to rally where the banner floated we were met by a terrible raking fire, against which we could only stagger”. Retreating back down the hill they saw Colonel Cameron lying dead in the yard of the Henry House. He had been killed by the Confederates’ second volley.
The Highlanders eventually retreated from the plateau and sank sullenly behind the brow of the hill to nurse their wounds. There they remained for two more hours while the attack was pressed by other Union regiments with an equal lack of success, until all were finally driven from the plateau by Confederate reinforcements. It then acted as a rear guard during the Federals’ ignominious retreat to Washington. The regiment sustained one of the heaviest losses of the battle, losing 32 killed, including their commanding officer, 51 wounded (eight mortally) and 115 captured (including Capt. James A farrish of Company B who was wounded) or missing—a total of 198 – 22 percent of its strength!
On their return to Washington, following the First Battle of Bull Run, the Highlanders, having sustained one of the highest number of casualties among Union regiments engaged in the battle, were employed building defences around the capital, helping to construct a series of forty-eight forts and other defences plus 20 miles of trenches. The whole project had to be carried out with just picks and shovels. It was backbreaking work; one of the men recalled it as “the hardest kind of manual labor.” “Spades were trumps” quipped one New Yorker “and everyman held a full hand”
On the morning of August 14, 1861, the Highlanders, together with the 13th and 21st New York volunteer infantry regiments, mutinied and demanded an adjustment of certain perceived grievances. The men felt tricked when the three-month volunteers were allowed to return home while they, three year-volunteers who had performed their duties equally well, were not permitted to return to New York. They were further incensed that they were unable to quit the army, unlike their officers who had the privilege of being able to resign their commissions. They also objected to having a new colonel, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, appointed on 30 July to replace James Cameron (killed at First Manassas), rather than being able to elect their own commander as was the custom with militia units. The situation was exacerbated by a shortage of junior officers brought about by wounds, capture or resignation. In just over a month, the regiment had lost its colonel, major, nine of its 10 captains and a number of lieutenants. Fueled by alcohol, the men finally refused to carry out any further duties.
These fledgling soldiers were undoubtedly naive as to the seriousness of their actions, believing that, as freemen, they could exercise their democratic right to do whatever they saw fit. They were quickly disabused of these unmilitary notions when Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, blaming the regiment’s own officers for allowing the unrest, appointed a regular army officer with orders to mow the mutineers down if they did not immediately surrender. A battalion of regular infantry, supported by a squadron of regular cavalry and a battery of artillery, was lined up facing the 79th, firearms loaded and ready for use. When the mutineers, who had not anticipated such a response to their complaints and whose own arms were stacked, were ordered to cease their mutiny, they recognised the futility of their position and speedily submitted. The whole matter was handled quickly and efficiently and was a most salutary example to any other regiment that might consider similar disobedience. Twenty-one members of the 79th who were considered to be the ringleaders of the revolt were sent to the hell of the prison at Fort Jefferson, Florida, on the Dry Tortugas, Florida, and the 79th’s regimental colors were taken away, which McClellan then kept in his own headquarters until the regiment redeemed itself some months later.
A contemporary account in the publication Harper’s Weekly noted, “The scene during the reading of the order of General McClellan was exceedingly impressive. The sun was just going down, and in the hazy mountain twilight the features and forms of officers and men could scarcely be distinguished, Immediately behind his aide was General Porter, firm and self-possessed. Colonel Stevens was in front of the regiment, endeavoring to quiet his rather nervous horse. In the rear of the regulars, and a little distance apart, General Sickles sat carelessly on horseback, coolly smoking a cigar and conversing with some friends. At one time during the reading a murmur passed through the lines of the mutineers, and when the portion of the order directing the regiment to surrender its colors was read a private in one of the rear lines cried out in broad Scotch tones, “Let’s keep the colors, boys!” No response was made by the remainder of the regiment. Major Sykes at once rode up the line to where the voice was heard. It would have been more than the soldier’s life was worth had he been discovered at the moment in pistol range by any of the officers.”
The regiment took part in the expedition to Port Royal Ferry in January 1862 and saw action at Pocotaligo, South Carolina, in May, but not before becoming part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division of the Department of the South in April.
In June, the Highlanders were part of the expedition to James Island and took part in the Battle of Secessionville, where Brigadier General Henry W. Benham, who was in temporary command of the brigade, ordered a bloody and foolhardy assault on the Confederate positions. Instructed not to undertake any offensive operations Benham, over the objections of his division commanders, ordered a futile attack on Confederate general, N. G. “Shanks” Evans.
The position was surrounded by a swamp and defended by rifle pits. Although first attack was made by the 8th Michigan, whose history was closely intermixed with the 79th, the two regiments sharing a mutual respect and close friendship, swapping hats and playing pranks with each other. So close was their comradeship, the two regiments were often referred to as the “Highlanders” and the “Michilanders.”
The 8th Michigan’s assault was cut down by a murderous fire before reaching the enemy lines and the 79th, moving to their support, fared no better. Trapped, without reinforcements, the Highlanders were forced to retreat across open ground. Three futile assaults had been made with the loss of 683 Union soldiers, while the defenders lost only 204. The Highlanders alone lost 110 men out of 474 engaged, but their bravery was recognized by the Confederate Charleston Mercury, which said, “Thank God Lincoln had only one 79th regiment.” Brigadier General Benham was relieved of command, arrested for disobedience of orders, and his appointment revoked by Lincoln.
On 12 July the regiment began its transfer to Newport News, Virginia, where it arrived on the 16th to become part of the 9th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac.
In August 1862, the regiment was involved in Pope’s Campaign in Northern Virginia and, just a year after the death of James Cameron at Bull Run, the regiment was once again fighting over the same battlefield. Manassas was once again to prove unlucky for the 79th as their colonel, Addison Farnsworth was wounded. Morrison, returning from a wound received at Seccessionville, was put in command of the regiment. At Chantilly on 1 September 1862, while approaching the crossroads of the Warrenton and Little River turnpikes, the Union forces collided with Stonewall Jackson’s men who were formed in a line in front of Ox Hill facing southeast near Chantilly Mansion.
In the ensuing battle, Cameron’s successor as regimental commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, now in command of the division, led his old regiment for one last time. Under an overcast sky, which threatened rain, Stevens organized the 79th into three lines and took them into the attack. As they advanced across the blood soaked battlefield he ran past the body of his own son, who lay critically wounded. Calling “Follow me, my Highlanders” Stevens was killed instantly by a bullet through his temple as he took the regiment colors from the sixth color bearer to fall. He died amid the cheers of victory with the color staff gripped firmly in his hand almost at the same time and nearly on the same ground as Major General Philip Kearny.
The primary opposing unit faced by the 79th was the 6th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment of Louisiana Tigers fame, led by Irish-born Major William Monaghan. The 6th Louisiana was the most thoroughly Irish of all the Tiger regiments, with the result that the battle in a raging thunderstorm devolved into Celt-on-Celt, hand-to-hand combat, and eventually sputtered to an indecisive end in rain and darkness. A survivor with the Confederate troops said, “We camped on the field, sleeping side by side with the dead of both armies. It was very dark; occasionally the moon would come from under a cloud and show the upturned faces of the dead, eyes wide open seeming to look you in the face.”
The Highlanders had sustained heavy losses— nine men were killed, 79 wounded (one mortally) and 17 missing, a total of 105. “I have never seen regular troops that equaled the Highlanders in soldierly bearing and appearance,” commented General Sherman on the 79th’s performance.
On 12 March 1863, Stevens was posthumously confirmed major general to rank from 18 July 1862. After the war, the surviving members of the 79th sent the same blood-stained flag, for which he given his life, to his widow.
Remainder of 1862
During the Maryland Campaign of September 1862, the 79th saw action at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. During the latter battle, the Highlanders fought near Burnside’s Bridge and were deployed as skirmishers leading an advance along the Sharpsburg Road near the Sherrick House. Despite heavy Confederate fire, they pressed on, managing to drive in part of Jones’ Division and capturing a battery of artillery. However, the arrival of A. P. Hill’s troops drove the 79th back into the suburbs of Sharpsburg, where they engaged in a vicious firefight around the Sherrick House. In spite of heavy fighting, the regiment escaped relatively lightly with only 40 men killed, missing or wounded.
Following Antietam, the regiment saw duty in Maryland, and in December took part in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
The 79th participated in the ill-fated “Mud March” of January 1863. In February, Colonel Farnsworth resigned his commission as a result of the wounds he had received at Second Bull Run, and David Morrison was promoted from captain of Company E to command from 17 February.
The regiment, as part of the 9th Corps, joined the Army of the Ohio in April and two months later was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, of the Army of the Tennessee preparatory to joining the Vicksburg Campaign. They travelled by side-wheel steamer down the Ohio River, which was described as being of such shallow draft “it could sail on a heavy dew”, and broke their journey at Louisville to spend a riotous couple of nights in the town’s bars and “parlor houses”, a euphemism for brothels, before arriving at the front.
A few days later, as Sherman rode down his column, on the march towards the town of Jackson, he was startled to be greeted by a loud cheer. Knowing his men were not usually so demonstrative he looked around to see who was showing such uncharacteristic enthusiasm. He saw the 79th New York newly arrived to join his unit. The last time they had met was in the camps around Washington after 1st Manassas when the fresh recruits had been roundly cursing him. Matured into veteran soldiers, they could now appreciate Sherman’s merits and were delighted to see their ex-brigade colonel.
The regiment was too late to take part in the Siege of Vicksburg, but instead was sent to Jackson to tear up rail tracks and destroy the Mississippi Central Railroad at Madison Station.
August found the regiment back once more with the Army of the Ohio, in time to take part in Burnside’s campaign in East Tennessee, seeing action at Blue Springs, Lenoir and Campbell’s Station.
Battle of Fort Sanders
At Fort Sanders (known by the Confederates as Fort Loudoun), Knoxville, the Highlanders helped inflict a massive defeat on Longstreet’s troops. The position, a bastioned earthwork, was on top of a hill, which formed a salient at the northeast corner of the town’s defenses. In front of the earth- work was a 12-foot-wide ditch, some eight feet deep, with an almost vertical slope to the top of the parapet, about 15 feet above the bottom of the ditch. It was defended by 12 guns and, according to different sources, 250 or 440 troops, of which the 79th provided 120
Longstreet ordered the brigades of Humphreys’ Mississippians and Bryan and Wofford’s Georgians, approximately 3,000 men, to make a surprise attack on the fort. The night of 28 November was bitterly cold as the Confederate troops quietly moved into position just 150 yards from the fort, but, in spite of their caution, the defenders overheard them and were prepared for the coming assault.
At first light, the Confederates began their attack, struggling through telegraph wire entanglements which the Federals had stretched between stakes a short distance in front of the ditch. In spite of this obstacle the Rebels managed to reach the ditch with relatively light casualties, but it was there that their problems began. They found that there were no scaling ladders with which to climb the slope up to the parapet and the situation was further aggravated by the ground being frozen and covered in sleet which caused the soldiers to lose their footing and fall. In spite of this, some men did manage to reach the top by climbing on the shoulders of their comrades and were able to place their colors on the parapet. There then followed vicious close quarter fighting during which First Sgt. Francis W. Judge of Company K, 79th NY, grabbed the flag of the 51st Georgia from their color bearer and, in spite of a concentrated and deadly fire, was able to return in safety with his trophy into the fort. Judge, who was born in England, was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his action.
Longstreet’s men were eventually forced to retreat to the yells of “remember James Island” from the elated Highlanders. The 79th sustained only nine casualties out of a total Federal loss of 20 killed and 80 wounded. They had inflicted terrible punishment on the Confederates who lost 813 men, killed, wounded and missing.
In January, the 79th was reinforced for about two months by the 51st New York Infantry and the 45th, 50th and 100th Pennsylvania Infantry, taking part in fighting at Holston River and Strawberry Plains. In April, the Highlanders rejoined the Army of the Potomac in time to fight at the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, being engaged in the assault on the salient known as the “Mule Shoe.”
It was at Spotsylvania that the original Cameron Highlanders were to fight their last engagement. Again they faced Longstreet’s hard fighting veterans and once more the 79th drove them from the field, losing five more men killed or mortally wounded in the fight. Their colonel, David Morrison, was wounded and command was passed to Colonel Laing. As the regiment stood in line on the bloody battlefield, the men received the order for muster-out, their term of enlistment having expired on 13 May 1864.
End of the war
Those veterans whose term of enlistment had expired returned to New York City, where they were discharged. Less than 130 of the regiment’s original members were left. Those with unexpired service were sent to guard Confederate prisoners bound for Alexandria. These men were later formed into companies A and B, which formed the nucleus of the “New Cameron Highlanders” that Col. Samuel M. Elliott had received authority to recruit on 4 May. In November 1864, companies C and D, made up of new volunteers, were added to the regiment, and Company E joined in January 1865. A further company, F, was organized in the field from recruits received in March 1865.
The new regiment served at Cold Harbor, Bethesda Church, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad and Poplar Springs Church. In October, they were appointed provost guard of the 9th Corps, taking part in the Appomattox Campaign.
After Robert E. Lee’s surrender, the regiment moved back to Washington and took part in the Grand Review of the Armies on 23 May 1865. It continued duties at Washington until the men were eventually mustered out of Federal service on 14 June 1865, whereupon the regiment returned to state militia status. Ladies of the New York Scottish Society sent new glengarries for the regiment to wear for their re-entry into New York City.
During the war, the 79th New York lost 198 killed, plus 304 wounded or missing, out of a total enrollment of 2,200.