First Brigade Three Years’ Troops

President Lincoln and his advisors did not long entertain the notion, so prevalent up to, and even after the firing upon of Sumter, that the war would be ended and the Southern Confederacy subdued before the summer was well advanced. April had not indeed run out its course before the President was made, by the logic of events, to comprehend that a long and desperate civil conflict must be prepared for and that it would require a tremendous draft upon the men and money of the nation to save it from total wreck. The day for temporizing and half-way military measures had flown by, and on May 3, 1861, the President called for thirty-nine regiments of infantry and one of cavalry to serve for three years or during the war. Although the number of men thus summoned was so small in comparison with the hosts of later years, the length of the term of enlistment is evidence that the government at last appreciated the magnitude of its task. Governor Olden did not receive the requisition upon New Jersey, which was for three regiments of infantry, until the 17th, More than enough companies were organized and awaiting the mustering officer, and the Governor, in announcing this fact to the War Department, added that “If the occasion required their services, this State would willingly furnish twice as many regiments to serve during the war.”

From these companies were formed the First, Second and Third Regiments of the three years’ service. They were furnished with camp and garrison equipage by the State, but were armed by the United States. Company E, Captain Charles N. Pelouze, of the First Regiment, Colonel William R. Montgomery, and Company B, Captain Henry C. Gibson, of the Third, Colonel George W. McLean, were Camden County volunteers. The three regiments left Trenton on June 28th, and reported to General Scott at Washington on the following day. Their movements up to and on the day of the battle of Bull Run have been recorded in the history of the three months’ men. After that engagement the First and Second went into camp near Alexandria, and thither the Third was ordered from Fairfax, where it. had been posted during the battle.

On July 24th Governor Olden was notified that the government would accept five additional regiments, “to be taken, as far as convenient, from the three months’ men and officers just discharged; and to be organized, equipped and sent forward as fast as single regiments are ready, on the same terms as were those already in service.” The Fourth Regiment, Colonel James H. Simpson, with which William B. Hatch, of Camden, went out as major and was promoted to colonel, was mustered on August 20th, and, with Captain William Hexamer’s battery, was forwarded to the front on the 21st. It comprised in part four full companies raised in Camden County as follows: A, Captain Charles Meves; F, Captain Napoleon B. Aaronson ;G, Captain Henry M. Jewett; and H, Captain John Reynolds. The regiment camped with the First, Second and Third near Alexandria, and the four were early in August combined as the First New Jersey Brigade and placed under the command of that illustrious and dauntless soldier, General Philip Kearny, who had already distinguished himself as a fighter in Mexico, Algeria and Italy, and against the Indians on the frontier, and whose death at the battle of Chantilly, August 30, 1862, was to deprive the army of a commander in whom military skill and personal courage combined to form the ideal brigadier. In recalling the grand reputation which this brigade achieved under Kearny and other chiefs, it is a most proper cause for local pride that Camden County contributed to its ranks six full companies that shared in its perils, its victories and its honors. They were among the men who had so endeared themselves to his lion heart, that when he was offered the command of Sumner’s division he refused to accept it because he would not be permitted to take his Jersey regiments with him.

The Third Regiment received its baptism of fire in an ambuscade in which it fell at Cloud’s Mills on August 29th, and on September 29th, Kearny had the whole brigade out for a reconnaissance of the enemy’s lines at. Mason’s Hill. On October 14th a detachment of the First emptied several saddles of a Confederate cavalry force which it encountered, and lost three or four killed. After spending the winter inactively the brigade, which was attached to General William B. Franklin’s division, was, on March 7, 1862, pushed towards Manassas, the First Regiment, which had been the last to leave Centreville on the retreat of July 21, 1861, having the honor of being the first. to occupy the place on the second advance.

On the 10th the brigade colors were unfurled over the abandoned Confederate works at Manassas, eight companies of the Third leading the advance. On McClellan’s preparations to transfer the army to the Virginia Peninsula the Jersey regiments, which had been placed in the First Division of the First Army Corps, moved to Catlett’s Station, where they remained from April 7th to the 11th, when they retraced their steps to Alexandria and embarked for York Point, York River, on the 17th. May 5th they advanced to West Point under command of Colonel Taylor, Kearny having been promoted to the command of the division, and on the night of that day the First Regiment captured at. a charge and held a position which two New York regiments had proved unable to maintain. Its gallantry was testified to by a correspondent. of the New York Times, who wrote that “The line was as firm as a division in a column at. review. Colonel McAllister, when the enemy broke, bravely pursued them some distance. This firm and determined movement decided the result, and the rebels made good their retreat.”

These minor plays on the great chessboard of the campaign had fitted Taylor and his men for the first of the important battles in which they were destined to enter. On June 27th they left camp on the south side of the Chickahominy River, and crossing that dank and sluggish stream at Woodbury’s bridge, plunged into the thick of the fight at Gaines’ Mills, where Fitz-John Porter’s and McCall’s lines were giving way under the impact of the enemy’s pressure. Swinging full into the face of the Confederate musketry and artillery fire, the brigade fought the rebels at a distance of four hundred yards and was badly hurt, until Taylor ordered a charge that drove them out of the woods into an open field, where he met their reserves and was compelled to fall back. The Fourth Regiment, four companies of which were Camden men, was sent into the woods by order of one of McClellan’s aids, and there sustained the brunt of a fight at close quarters. Five hundred of its number were taken’ prisoners. Colonel Simpson was one of the unfortunates, and in letters dated from prison in Richmond he thus described the action and sequel,

“The regiment was posted in the wood to sustain the center in the battle near Gaines’ Mill, and nobly did it hold its ground until about an hour after the right and left wings of the army had fallen back. Mine and the Eleventh Connecticut were the last to leave the front, and only did so when we found that the rest of the army had given way and we were literally surrounded by the infantry and batteries of the Confederate forces. Being in the woods, and. trusting to our superior officers to inform us when to retreat, and not being able to see, on account of the woods, what was going on towards our right and left — we continued fighting an hour, probably, after every other regiment had left the ground. The consequence was inevitable. We were surrounded by ten times our number, and though we could have fought until every man of us was slain, yet humanity, and, as I think, wisdom, dictated that we should at last yield.”

In a subsequent letter to his wife, Colonel Simpson stated that fifty-three enlisted men were. killed and one hundred and twenty-one wounded, out of the six hundred whom he took into action. Captain Meves of Company A, was killed, and Lieutenant Charles Meyer, of the sallie company, wounded. The brigade had gone into the fight with twentyeight hundred in its ranks, and but nine hundred and sixty-five answered to their names when the roll was called in camp at midnight. The First Regiment lost twentyone killed, including Major David Hatfield, seventy-eight wounded and sixty missing. The Third had thirty-four killed, one hundred and thirty-six wounded and thirty-five missing. Lieutenant-Colonel McAllister, in his report of the participation of the former command in the battle, spoke of Captain Pelouze, of the Camden company, as one of whom “too much cannot be said in praise.”

In 1894, John Beech, a sergeant with Company B, gave the following account of the events at Gaines Mill to the National Tribune:

On the 27th of June, 1862, at 3 o’clock p.m., my regiment — the 4th New Jersey — was sent into the fight at Gaines’ Mills to relieve a Pennsylvania regiment. We remained until near dark, when we were relieved by the 11th Pennsylvania, and then retired out of the woods, where we had been fighting, into an open field, and formed line of battle. It was nearly dark, and on emerging from the woods, we faced by the rear rank, which made the left of the regiment the right (as we stood), my company (B) being nearest to the troops standing in line of battle in our front. “What troops are those?” suddenly enquired our colonel (Simpson). “Don’t know; but we will find out,” replied Lieutenant Shaw, and he started off towards them on a dog trot. He had gone about fifty yards, when one of them put up his rifle and blazed away at him, cutting his sword belt. “Now you know who they are,” he sang out, as he rejoined the company. “Left face! forward, by file right!” sang out our colonel, his intention being to take a new position under cover of a bush camp, but before we could execute the movement the enemy had opened. “Lie down 4th battalion!” sang out our colonel, just as the 11th Pennsylvania was driven out pell-mell on top of us, followed by the exultant enemy. It seemed almost impossible for anything to live in such a fire, and the Johnnies must have killed a good many of their own men as they followed up the 11th Pennsylvania.

They ordered us to lay down or arms, and it was folly to do otherwise, as we were entirely surrounded by Longstreet’s division, and no Union troops were anywhere near, all having retreated. Just then a rebel captain came up to Lieutenant-Colonel Hatch, (since dead of wounds received at Fredericksburg), and demanded his sword. “I surrender to no inferior,” he replied, as he defiantly broke the blade across his knee and flung away the scabbard. They allowed our colonel, I think, to retain his sword on account of the gallant defense he had made.

We slept at Longstreet’s headquarters that night, and the next day they marched us into Richmond, amid the taunts and jeers of the populace, and up Main street to Libby, where we were searched. They took my diary from me and a letter containing money for a birthday present for a sister, which I had failed to mail, which was very fortunate for me, as I afterwards found out, for, after looking at them, to my surprise, they handed them back – no doubt thinking them worthless. After washing, they took our names and we passed upstairs. The next day, Sunday, the rebs paraded with our colors and those of the 11th Pennsylvania. As they passed Libby we gathered at the windows and defiantly sang “Hail Columbia” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” On Monday, the 30th, we moved out of Libby to another prison, a little further up the street, where we remained until the 15th of July, when we were marched over to Belle Isle. This was over a year before Comrade Meadville was captured, according to the statement reprinted by The TRIBUNE, from the Pittsburgh Leader, and there were some prisoners there (though not many) when we got there.

Much has been written about prison-life and its sufferings, yet none but those who experienced it can realize what it cost us to remain true to our country through it all. I kept a diary of daily occurrences, as also our bill of fare, but will not intrude upon your valuable space by going into details. Three thousand five hundred of us were exchanged on the 5th of August, 1862. Who will ever forget that terrible march from Belle Island to Aitkens’ [Aiken’s] landing, or the contrast between us and the rebels who were exchanged for us, and whom we passed on the way? No doubt some of your readers were there.

But I must not forget to relate a little incident that happened on the Island, as showing that the boys, notwithstanding their surroundings, were fond of a joke. Of course we had no trouble to eat all the rations they gave us, so I took the money spoken of and went into business; that is, I bought flour and made flapjacks out of flour and water, and then sold enough to pay for the flour and divided the rest among my tent mates. One day one of my company, named Sam Farrell, who put up in another tent, came to me and wanted to trade a drawing of tea for some cakes. The very thought of tea made my mouth water, so the exchange was soon made and the drawing of tea put over the fire. Bending over the old tin cup, I waited until my patience was exhausted. “What is the matter with the tea, anyhow; there is no strength in it,” I exclaimed. Over in another tent, Farrell and the other boys were grinning from ear to ear at the sell. The fact was, they had stewed it three times and as often dried it, and then sold it to me, and when we met they wanted to know how I liked my tea. But I forgive them!

JOHN P. BEECH, Sergeant, Co. B, 4th N.J.V.I. TRENTON, N. J.

Two years later, on May 5, 1864 Sergeant Beech was at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. For his gallant actions that day he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on June 5, 1894.

During the night after the battle the shattered brigade recrossed to the right bank of the Chickahominy, and at midnight of the 28th took up the line of retreat by way of Savage Station and White Oak Swamp to James River. A sharp fight occurred at White Oak Creek, where the Jerseymen occupied a position of peril between the opposing lines, and were lucky to escape damage by hugging the ground as the shells flew over them, They passed Malvern Hill on July 1st without being called into the battle then raging, and reached Harrison’s Landing, on the James River, on the morning of the 2d.

Col. Hatch was exchanged and returned to the 4th New Jersey on August 5, of 1862.

On August 24th the brigade landed at Alexandria, McClellan having abandoned the Peninsula and transferred his army by water to the Potomac. Three days afterward it was pushed forward to Bull Run Bridge and the old battlefield. The First Regiment had three hundred men fit for duty; the Second, two hundred and fifty; the Third, three hundred and seventy-five; and the Fourth, seventy-five. On this day, the 27th, the opening of Pope’s battle of Bull Run, it fought for several hours a more superior force of Stonewall Jackson’s corps, losing nine killed and three hundred and ten wounded, missing and prisoners. Colonel Taylor was severely wounded, and died on September 1st. Compelled to relinquish the field, the brigade retired to Cloud’s Mills, but in a week was on the march again with McClellan’s pursuit of Lee into Maryland, Colonel A. T. A. Torbert having succeeded Taylor in command. On September 14th it won the battle of Crampton’s Gap by a splendid charge up the side of a steep acclivity, capturing enough Springfield rifles to arm the Fourth Regiment, which had been equipped with smooth bores. This regiment, which had lost its colors at Gaines’ Mill, captured two stands of rebel colors at Crampton’s Gap.

Colonel Hatch wrote the following report after the battle:

Report of Col. William B. Hatch, Fourth New Jersey Infantry, of the battle of Crampton’s Pass.

CRAMPTON’S PASS, MD., September 16, 1862.

Lieut. H.P. COOKE, Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen., First New Jersey Brigade.


I have the honor to report that, in compliance with orders received on the 16th instant from Col. A.T.A. Torbert, then in command of the brigade, I took position with the Fourth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers in rear of the Second Regiment, forming part of the second line of battle. The Second Regiment had engaged the enemy, who held a strong position behind a stone wall at the foot of the mountain with a large force of infantry. I then received orders to charge the enemy. I advanced across a plowed field of 400 yards in extent under a heavy cross-fire from the enemy’s artillery, which was planted on the mountain slope, driving him from every point in front of us. We leaped the walls, and continued, in pursuing over the mountain into the gorge and up the next ascent to its summit, the enemy retreating in disorder into the valley below. We took many prisoners, including a large number of officers, among whom was Col. Lamar, wounded, and is adjutant; also two stand of colors. In the eagerness of pursuit we ran over two other rebel flags, which were picked up by a New York regiment. Among the spoils of the engagement obtained by us were a sufficient number of Springfield rifled muskets to equip my whole command, who were previously armed with an imperfect smooth-bore musket.

Where officer and men fought with such determination it is impossible for me to make an exception for brave and gallant conduct during the engagement. My officers bravely cheered on their men, who advanced with unflinching steadiness, and maintained their alignment with almost the precision of a battalion drill. On the list of casualties of the day the most to be regretted is Adjt. Josiah S. Studdeford, who was instantly killed after we had reached the gorge between the mountain cliffs. He had borne himself gallantly, everywhere cheering the men to victory. Ten killed 27 wounded; total, 37.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

WM. B. HATCH, Col. Fourth New Jersey Volunteers.

At the battle of Antietam, on the 11th, the Regiment relieved Sumner’s corps at midnight and was not actually engaged, although it was for six hours exposed to a hot artillery fire.

After Antietam, replacements were furnished to the regiment, including Captain William R. Maxwell of Camden, New Jersey, who was transferred in from the Tenth New Jersey Volunteers. Both men had been present at the first meeting in Camden after the Fort Sumter attack in 1861.

At Fredericksburg, December 13th and 14th, it saw hard fighting on the left of the line, and Colonel William B. Hatch was fatally wounded in leading the Fourth Regiment to an assault. Previous to this the Fifteenth and Twenty-fourth Regiments had been added to the brigade and it had been placed in the Sixth Corps. At Chancellorsville, on May 3, 1863, it was for two hours and a half engaged with Longstreet’s veterans near Salem Church, and the casualties footed up five hundred and eleven men killed, wounded and missing.

In the battle of Gettysburg it embraced the First, Second, Third and Fifteenth Regiments and Hexamer’s battery, the Fourth Regiment being on provost duty at Washington. It was on the picket line during the decisive fighting of July 3d, and on the 4th joined in the pursuit of Lee.

While Grant was marshaling the army for the grand advance, the Tenth New Jersey Regiment was assigned to the brigade. Company A, Captain Isaac W. Mickle; Company E, Captain George W. Scott; Company H, Captain John R. Cunningham, and Company I, Captain John Coates were recruited in Camden. The brigade had three-days of fighting in the Wilderness during the first week of May, 1864, and on the 10th took part in the celebrated charge on the Confederate works near Spottsylvania, in which a thousand prisoners and several guns were captured. On the 12th it was in the furious assault of that day and the subsequent struggle over the rebel entrenchments, “the intense fury, heroism and horror of which,” Edward A. Pollard wrote, “it is impossible to describe.” This was the awful and stubborn contest in “the bloody angle,” and no command suffered a heavier loss than did the five Jersey regiments. They were driven from and retook the Galt House on the 14th, and until the 18th were participants in skirmishes along the North Anna and Tolopotomy Rivers. At Cold Harbor, June 1st to 3d, they were constantly under fire. The terms of service of the First and Third Regiments had expired on May 23d, but they remained at the front to take part in the battle of Cold Harbor. They reached Trenton on June 7th, and were mustered out on June 23d. Of the two thousand and sixty-eight officers and enlisted men who had left the State capital on June 28, 1861, only three hundred and forty returned for muster out, of whom one hundred and thirty-nine belonged to the First and two hundred and one to the Third Regiment. The Fourth, with the exception of the men who had re-enlisted, returned from the front August 19, 1864, and was mustered out on the next day; it came back with four hundred and twenty-four privates and officers, while it had taken one thousand and thirty-four to the field three years before. The re-enlisted men of the First and Third, which ceased to exist as organizations, were at first transferred to the Fourth and Fifteenth, but were subsequently consolidated into the First, Second and Third Battalions, and, with the Fourth, Tenth and Fifteenth Regiments from that time until February, 1865, constituted the First Brigade. The Fourth thus kept up its organization through its re-enlisted men, and thus has an unbroken history until the termination of the war.

In July, 1864, the brigade was sent with the Sixth Corps to check Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and on August 17th delayed his advance for six hours at Winchester. On September 19th it was in the direct assault upon the rebel front at Opequan, and was gallantly instrumental in sending the enemy “whirling up the valley.” On the 22d, at Fisher’s Hill, it repeated its achievement, and at the battle of Cedar Creek, on October 19th, it formed on the left of the line and fought steadily to maintain its ground, but was finally overwhelmed and forced to retire. When Sheridan, however, arrived upon the scene and turned defeat into victory it reformed and did its duty in the charge that repulsed Early and ended the war in the valley. On December 1st it rejoined the Army of the Potomac; April 2, 1865, it helped to take the Confederate entrenchments on the Boydton Plank Road, in front of Petersburg, and it was close to Appomattox when Lee’s surrender was made. Thence it was ordered to Danville, Va., and not until May 24th did it march through Richmond on its way northward. On June 2d it encamped five miles from Washington, where the regiments were mustered out. At Trenton they were dissolved, and this scarred and storied command ceased to exist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.