When folks ask me why I insist on visiting the grave sites of people associated with the 1st U.S. Chasseurs (or 65th NY Volunteers), I’m not sure that I am always able to explain it well.
Certainly visiting a quiet graveyard often otherwise empty of visitors is not quite the same as visiting the beautiful Sailors Creek, Malvern Hill, Antietam, or Cedar Creek battlefields. But just as putting oneself on the fields where these horrific battles occurred, visiting the last resting place of a member of the Chasseur regiment, or a commander of their unit, is a way for me to acknowledge the connection to a person of note from the regiment’s history. I also feel strongly that paying respects to these brave veterans is always a good thing, particularly in a world which often forgets its history, or what it owes to those who came before us. Often their very sacrifices are why we live as well as we do today. I think there is an OCD element of it for me as well: as a completist I am anxious to visit as many Chasseur officer and soldier graves as possible. With great web resources like Findagrave.com revealing new information all the time, it is always possible to visit another Chasseur grave.
One day late in 2019 I traveled directly from track practice to Bergenfield, NJ to visit the grave of Captain Frederick T. Volk. As his 1864 daily diary was an outstanding source for me on the time the 65th NY spent as prison guards at Johnsons Island prison camp in Ohio, as well as the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania (the latter battle where Volk was twice wounded and forced to spend much of the rest of the year recovering), my visit to his grave, once discovered on line, became imperative. I had spent two visits to Syracuse University to read and transcribe Volk’s diary, so in some way I felt I had gotten to know him.
Captain Frederick T. Volk, 65th NY Volunteers (photo courtesy of the New Jersey Department of State)
I found Volk’s grave easily within the churchyard cemetery, within the first three minutes of my visit. A flag which had been placed there by another visitor was on the ground, so I put it back upright, as well as cleaned up the dried grass which had been thrown over the grave by mowing, before taking my picture.
Capt. Frederick Volk’s grave
South Presbyterian Church, Bergenfield, New Jersey, where Volk is buried
The connection between a soldier or officer who wrote a letter, a diary, or a memoir, and the grave where he lies buried is a strong one, at least for me. An amateur historian who spends time reading the work of such soldiers is struck by how they reveal the humanity of the writer. And I guess the fact that they ended up in a graveyard, large or small, often seemingly forgotten in the twenty-first century, makes my own short visits, with accompanying pictures, and sometimes the planting of a flag, seem significant or at the least justifiable.
Recently I found a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham to his local newspaper, the Tiffin Weekly Tribune. The letter was dated October 3, 1864, and it was published in the Tribune on October 7, 1864. I knew of the newspaper, as one company of the 65th New York Volunteer Infantry had been recruited and formed from Seneca County, Ohio volunteers, with Higginbotham (whose name is spelled in two or three different ways in the record) as their captain. Through the efforts of the Ohio Historical Society, as well as researchers at Bowling Green University, not only had many of the letters of the Ohio members of the 65th NY regiment been preserved, but they had been indexed as well. These letters served as a treasure trove for me as I researched my history of the 65th NY, but I had missed a few, including this particular letter. Its contents were very important for me, but the timing of the letter was even more significant.
Good Letter From Baltimore—A Tribute To The 1st U.S. Chasseurs.
Baltimore, Oct. 3, 1864
Dear B——: I am delayed here on account of our communications with Sheridan being interrupted by guerillas, but intend to leave for Harpers Ferry tonight, and proceed up the valley with a train tomorrow, and hope to gain the Regiment in a few days.
I had hoped to visit Tiffin, and see you before this, thinking that some notice would be taken of the return of my old company, in which case I certainly would have gone out with them. I will not attempt to conceal the fact that I am somewhat hurt to think that the citizens of Tiffin, should so overlook the services of as brave a company as ever left the state of Ohio, or any other State in the Union. They were no hireling soldiers, bought up so much a pound. When the rebellion first broke out, the President called for men to defend the capital, and they responded, not asking how much was the pay, or how much the bounty. What company, or Regiment can show a better record then they? They are an honor to the country and State from which they came. These men patiently endured all the hardships that fall to the lot of a soldier, always looking forward to the day when they would march home in triumph. The bones of their comrades have been left on every field from Fair Oaks to Petersburg, and all who knew them must admit that they did their whole duty. Yet, there was no authorized person to say to them on their return, “we thank you” in the name of your town and county.
I tell you the time will come when they will be honored as they deserve to be. When their backs are bowed by age, and their hair is grey, another generation will point to them and say, he was at Fair Oaks, or Malvern Hill. He fought with McClellan at Antietam, or helped form that living bulwark which rallied back the enemy at Gettysburg. They have seen many other hard fought fields, and never turned their backs to the enemy except at the word of command. The oldest guard of Napoleon might envy them their fame, for they never saw such fields as Spotsylvania and the Wilderness.
I only mention to say what I would have been proud to say in a more public manner, for I know the worth of that little band of veteran heroes.
Higginbotham’s disappointment that the men of Company K, men from Tiffin and the environs of Seneca County, Ohio, had not been given the welcome they deserved back home when their three year terms ended on September 1, 1864 was palpable. Like others from the 65th New York, however, Higginbotham himself had decided to re-up as a veteran volunteer. He was not only on his way to rejoin the regiment after a time recovering from illness after his capture at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864, but he was on his way to take command of the regiment.
Writing on October 3, 1864, and anxious to return to the regiment, Higginbotham obviously could not know the future. He did know, however, that the 65th had played a key role in the key victory at Opequon Creek on September 19, 1864 (also known as 3rd Winchester), and had then served as skirmishers at the front during the follow-up battle of Fisher’s Hill, on September 22, 1864. The Chasseurs had followed up those two victories over General Jubal Early’s Confederate force by helping General Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah in its move south, up the Shenandoah Valley, in what became known as “The Burning,” when the Union army destroyed thousands of barns, took animals and grain, and left the Valley as a burned out wasteland no longer capable of serving as the primary source of food for General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. General Early’s Confederate force at this point offered little resistance, and, it was widely believed in the Union Army of the Shenandoah, was finished as a force that could offer much resistance to Union control of the Valley. In fact, the Union 6th Corps, of which the 65th NY was a part, had even begun its march back towards rejoining the Army of the Potomac in mid-October, with it services apparently no longer needed by Sheridan in the Shenandoah.
In fact, Early had been reinforced by General Lee, and he was planning a surprise attack on Sheridan’s Army. With signs of his army’s presence in the environs of the Union Army’s position behind Cedar Creek, just south of Middletown, Virginia, becoming evident, the 6th Corps was recalled, and it counter-marched back to its former comrades in the Army of the Shenandoah. So Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham would be rejoining the regiment there.
On October 19, 1864, General Early struck Sheridan’s army in his absence, while he was in Winchester returning after discussions about his future plans now that Early had seemingly been routed out of the Valley. Though Sheridan hurried to rejoin the army and in fact helped turn what had been a Union rout into an important victory at Cedar Creek by the end of the day, in the meantime the 65th New York had faced a serious setback, losing 90 men as casualties, including twenty-one killed. My great-great grandfather, Sergeant Timothy Carroll of Company H, was among the wounded. Most notably, the new regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham, was killed at the head of his troops in the early morning, just as he ordered his men to fall back under the pressure of the heavy Confederate attack and the regiment’s position was becoming untenable.
I had managed to find Lieutenant Colonel Higginbotham’s gravesite on line in looking for an image of him on Google. To my surprise, he was not buried either at the Winchester National Cemetery, where over a dozen fellow Chasseurs, victims of the Battles of Opequon Creek, Fishers Hill, and Cedar Creek, are buried. Nor was he buried in his Seneca County home. Rather, he was among the graves in the vast and beautiful Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, along with several other members of the regiment. After a long drive dealing with the seemingly ever-present traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I managed to find Higginbotham’s grave rather easily, unlike other Chasseur graves in Green-wood, and take a picture. The cemetery is vast and gorgeous, a serene retreat within the busy and urban Brooklyn neighborhood where it is situated. And now that I have what could very well be Lt. Colonel Higginbotham’s last letter, in which he praises his own regiment and its role in the War, I once again have a connection between the man in life and at his rest.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, 65th NY commander killed at Cedar Creek October 19, 1864, and the inscription on his gravestone (The Green-Wood Historic Fund Collections )
Grave of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higginbotham, Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York (photo by author)
Another Chasseur officer associated with the Green-wood cemetery is Captain William Tracy. Killed at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, in a devastating late afternoon Confederate attack on the Union right flank, just where the Chasseurs were positioned, he was buried on the battlefield, and his body never recovered. However, his family built a memorial to him nonetheless at Green-wood.
Captain Tracy’s memorial at Green-wood Cemetery (photo by author)
Many of the Chasseurs are buried at National Cemeteries, so visiting them is rewarding to me. After walking over the horrible Cold Harbor battlefield, called by 6th Corps Colonel Thomas Hyde “The Golgotha of American history,” I made sure to find the one Chasseur who I knew was buried in the beautiful cemetery there, and place a small flag by his gravestone.
Winchester National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, contains the graves of about a dozen members of the regiment, so I not only visited the cemetery as part of my research tour of the Shenandoah Valley battlefields of 1864, but also placed flags next to those Chasseur graves which I was able to identify based on the cemetery records and the records of the regiment.
65th New York graves, identified by the flags placed besides the grave markers, at Winchester National Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia (photo by author)
The grave of Private John Miller, Co. K, 65th NY, in the Cold Harbor National Cemetery, killed June 3rd, 1864 (photo by author)
Similarly, though it took literally miles of walking with my daughter Rachel throughout the Arlington National Cemetery to find the resting place of Private John Dougherty, mortally wounded on June 3rd, 1864 at Cold Harbor, it was worth it to bring a reality to the name on the record, and to connect that horrific Union defeat to the men of the 65th New York Volunteers. Finding many other Chasseur graves at Arlington as well, after Rachel had found the record of their presence there and conceived the idea of the two of us visiting them together, brought an even more profound sense of that special place than it normally invokes in a visitor. And the chance to visit my own great uncle and aunt’s graves there (Harry Roulett being a veteran of three American wars of the 20th century) added to the reasons for visiting. Finally, at Arlington there are several generals to see associated with the 65th New York volunteers. General Frank Wheaton, division commander at Cedar Creek, is buried there. So is General “Baldy” Smith, corps commander at Fredericksburg. And the graves of General Horatio Wright, division commander of the Chasseurs in 1864, then their 6th Corps commander upon the death of General John Sedgwick on May 9, 1864 at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Nearby Wright’s grave, both near Robert E. Lee’s Arlington mansion, lies the grave of Army of the Shenandah commander General Philip Sheridan. Finally, General Lawrence Graham, brigade commander of the Chasseurs during their training and early in the Peninsula Campaign, is also buried at Arlington.
General Frank Wheaton, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
General William F. “Baldy Smith, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
General Philip Sheridan, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
General Lawrence Graham, Arlington National Cemetery (photo by author)
Private John Gallon, killed at Spotsylvania (photo by author)
The Arlington National Cemetery grave of Private John Dougherty, 65th NY Volunteers, mortally wounded on June 3rd at Cold Harbor (photo by author)
Colonel Hyde also said of Cold Harbor “It is very interesting to revisit the battlefields of the war, but I never heard any one who was engaged there express a wish to see Cold Harbor again.” I know my visit to the grave sites of the Chasseurs killed there helped me to reflect on the terrible nature of the battle there.
(photos by author)
Sometimes when I am searching for graves of 65th New York officers or soldiers, I have to look in a vast cemetery like Brooklyn’s Green-lawn, Boston’s Forest Hills, or Philadeplhia’s Woodlands, which are lovely enclaves within an urban sprawl, scenes of arboretums and nature’s splendor. General John Joseph Abercrombie’s gravesite at The Woodlands was not too hard to find thanks to the researchers at Findagrave.com who had identified its location for me beforehand. Abercrombie commanded the Chasseur’s brigade at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill.
The Grave of General John Joseph Abercrombie, Brigade commander of the Chasseurs in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, with the author’s daughter Rachel (photo by author)
On the other hand, the grave of General Nelson Cross, the 65th NY’s brigade commander at the Battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, was so hard to find even though I had an idea of the section of the cemetery where he was buried (The Field of Manoah), that I had to return a second time, this time armed with a knowledge of his exact plot, having walked past it during the first search with my old friend Andy. Luckily it was a pleasure to catch up with my dear friend and former history colleague, who graciously hosted me for both trips, and even found the grave of Colonel Henry Fiske in New Hampshire’s High Street Cemetery on my first trip north. Fiske, originally from the 67th New York Volunteers, the regiment which combined with the Chasseurs on September 1, 1864, was the final regimental commander of the Chasseurs. Cross’ simple grave caused me to miss it the first time, though we found it easily enough during the second visit.
General Nelson Cross’ grave is the stone in the foreground in the photo on the left (photos by author)
(photo by author)
Like my visit to Captain Volk’s grave, I sometimes take arguably crazy drives by myself given that my end goal is simply finding a grave site or two. Other times, a trip for other reasons can include a brief stopover at a gravesite. I have even taken trips to see a significant grave (say General Emory Upton, for example, brigade commander of the Chasseurs and leader of an epic and famous May 10th, 1864 assault at Spotsylvania which included the Chasseurs acting as skirmishers), and stopped at a less significant gravesite “on the way.” Say, Colonel Silas Titus, very briefly the 65th NY’s brigade commander in 1863.
General Emory Upton’s grave in Auburn, New York (photo by author)
Colonel Silas Titus’ grave in St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse, New York (photos by author)
Then there are simply the hardcore(or ill-advised?) trips to see a particular grave whether or not it is significant to the regiment. A trip to Litchfield, Connecticut to see the grave of General Henry Wessells, the brigade commander of the Chasseurs for a week during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, comes to mind here. He did have a connection to the regiment, after all, if a tenuous and brief one. And it was a beautiful hike through a quiet snowy cemetery to try and find him. An earlier nice drive up to Litchfield County had enabled me to visit two other officers associated briefly with the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Skinner, very briefly regimental commander from January 11th to January 20th, 1865 and Colonel James Hubbard, briefly brigade commander in February to March, 1865, including at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run from February 5th to 8th. They at least were conveniently each buried in the nice, small Forest View cemetery in Winsted, Connecticut.
General Henry Wessels’ grave in Litchfield, Connecticut (photo by author)
(Photos by author)
Among my jobs for the past fourteen years has been working as a staff coach at a running camp in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It is always a pleasant and productive week accompanying my own cross country team at camp. And the drive home at the end of the week has afforded me a number of trips to historic sites over the years, for example to two of President Franklin Pearce’s homes, to President Calvin Coolidge’s farm, as well as to the birthplace of President Chester Arthur. But it is the visits to the graves of three generals associated with the 65th New York regiment that I best remember. General John Sedgwick, called “Uncle John” and beloved by the men of the 6th Corps, of which he was their commander, hailed from Cornwall Hollow Connecticut. On May 9, 1864, at Spotsylvania, as he inspected an artillery position on the front lines, he was killed instantly by a Confederate sharpshooter positioned almost a half mile away. Moments before he had joked with one of his soldiers about ducking from the sharpshooter’s fire, saying “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He was the highest ranking officer of the Union army killed during the war, and General Grant, who was in disbelief at his death, said in his memoirs that it was equivalent to the loss of a full division of the Army of the Potomac.
General John Sedgwick’s grave, in a beautiful little cemetery near his home in Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut (photo by author)
Another year on the way back home from running camp I went further afield, seeking to finally visit the grave of General Joseph Hamblin, the long-time commander of the 65th New York, and eventually their brigade commander. Hamblin’s grave in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, was a bit out of the way for me, and I would have to brave the summer traffic on a Saturday going on to the Cape in a driving rainstorm, but as I had used Hamblin’s letters home as a major source for my book about the regiment, I felt particularly strongly about seeing his grave at the Woodside cemetery. As I finally arrived at the cemetery, after the brutal traffic onto the Cape of that week’s summer renters, the rain developed into a torrential downpour. Having gotten used to searching cemeteries by now, and having seen a photo of Hamblin’s grave on Findagrave.com, I managed to drive to a part of the not-so-large cemetery which looked promising, and sure enough I saw a grave that had to be his! The rain beat down, and I sat in the car and waited it out. After a half an hour it lightened just a bit, and I walked to the grave, which was indeed Hamblin’s. It was a bit overgrown with shrubs, and a swarm of mosquitoes arose to attack me in the waning rain as I took my pictures, but making it to Hamblin’s grave was one of the most satisfying of all of my Civil War cemetery quests. And, as a bonus, in Taunton, Massachusetts, at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, on the way to the Cape, lay General Darius Couch, the Chasseurs’ division commander on the Peninsula Campaign, including at their first two big battles at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill. He was also their division commander on the slow march to Antietam in September 1862.
General Darius Couch’s grave in Taunton, Massachusetts (photo by author)
General Joseph Hamblin’s grave at Woodside cemetery in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts (photo by author)
Along with Joseph Hamblin, Generals John Cochrane and Alexander Shaler, the first two commanders of the regiment, and with it from its inception, were the two regimental commanders whose graves I felt it most important to visit. Cochrane, a Hamilton College graduate like me and my eldest daughter, New York City Democratic Congressmen, New York State Attorney General, and Radical Republican candidate for Vice-President on the Fremont ticket in 1864, was an interesting character. He called in a speech for arming the South’s slaves in November 1861, which was very early in the war for such a position, and he had been at the center of controversy after the Battle of Fredericksburg when he, along with General John Newton, visited Washington, D.C. secretly to meet with President Linclon and express their concern with General Ambrose Burnside’s army leadership. Shaler, second-in-command to Cochrane at the war’s start but the brains behind the training of the regiment, had served as major in the famous 7th New York Infantry, which had helped protect Washington in the tense early months of the war. He would go on to become New York City Fire Commissioner, Mayor of Ridgefield, New Jersey, and a founder of the National Rifle Association. His grave in Ridgefield, New Jersey was relatively easy to visit on the way South in 2012 on the first trip associated with my research on the 65th New York Volunteers. Cochrane, buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, just north of Albany, New York, was also easily visited on the way to family vacations in Saratoga, New York. His simple grave belies his status as an important politician in New York state.
General John Cochrane’s grave, Albany Rural Cemetery (photo by author)
Shaler’s grave in Ridgefield, in the small cemetery behind the English Neighborhood Reformed Church, is much more ostentatious and noticeable, befitting a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, won for his actions leading the charge on Marye’s Heights during the 2nd Battle of Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863. Though the surroundings of the little cemetery are less impressive and now quite developed, Shaler does retain a nice resting place all things considered.
General Alexander Shaler’s grave in Ridgefield, New Jersey (photo by author)
A grave site which I have often visited, as it happens to be in Salem, New York, the site of a wonderful Bed & Breakfast called the Bunker Hill Inn which my family has stayed at regularly for years, is General David Russell’s. Russell, the division commander of the Chasseurs at the Battle of Opequon Creek on September 19, 1864, was killed in battle there while bravely organizing the crucial counterattack which helped save the day for the Union Army of the Shenandoah and led to an enormous Union victory for Sheridan’s army. Last summer I revisited for the third time, taking a picnic lunch and communing with this brave General, who, after being shot in the side with a likely mortal wound, bravely responded to one of his subordinates who asked if he was badly hurt, “It makes no difference at such a time as this. Order your brigade to charge!”stuffing his shirt into the wound and drawing his sword. Shortly after, he was killed instantly by shrapnel from an exploding shell. He was a widely admired and liked commander, and his loss was felt acutely by his comrades.
General David Russell’s grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Salem, New York (photo by author)
One of the best cemeteries for a Civil War buff to visit is at West Point. Not so far from my own home, I have been able to visit more than once. It is a beautiful site, overlooking the majestic Hudson River, and packed with some of the biggest names in American military history. A few are directly connected to the Chasseurs, including 4th Corps commander Erasmus Keyes, corps commander of the 65th NY volunteers during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Also Brigadier General Ranald Mackenzie, brigade commander briefly in the winter of 1864-1865, and General John Newton, division commander of the Chasseurs at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.
General Erasmus Keyes’ grave, West Point, New York (photo by author)
Brigadier General Ranald Nackenzie’s grave, West Point, New York (photos by author)
General John Newton’s grave, West Point, New York (photo by author)
General Winfield Scott’s grave at West Point. He was a towering figure in American history, and overall Army commander early in the war. (photo by author)
With a few more 65th New York officers’ graves still to see, as well as higher-ups like General Henry D. Terry, the Chasseurs’ division commander during the Battle of Rappahannock Station, the Mine Run Campaign and when the Chasseurs served as prison guards at Johnson’s Island in Sandusky, Ohio in the winter and early spring of 1864, my “Cemetery Walking” is likely to continue. Since Terry’s grave is outside Detroit, Michigan, that one may be awhile.
But with five Chasseur graves in Tiffin, Ohio’s Greenlawn cemetery, and Captain Sam Kisinger, friend of Capt. Volk, buried in Toledo’s Woodlawn cemetery, a trip to Ohio seems to be in the offing. Such a long and ambitious trip needs to be combined with other things besides grave visits of course, and with the New York Mets visiting Cincinnati next July, and the homes of Presidents Taft and Hayes within reach, along with General Grant’s birthplace and the homes of Generals Sherman and Sheridan, I think I can find enough to do to justify the long drive to get there.
Meanwhile, the grave of Lieutenant William Byron, mortally wounded in the April 2, 1865 Petersburg Breakthrough attack, in the small rural Hauber cemetery near Andover, New York is intriguing. Not exactly in a place nearby or on the way to anything, so that one may be awhile as well. But Lieutenant Colonel Egbert Olcutt, briefly the 65th NY’s brigade commander when he assumed command after the wounding of General Hamblin on October 19, 1864 at the Battle of Cedar Creek, located in the Cherry Valley Cemetery in upstate New York, looks doable. And since Cherry Valley is quite close to Cooperstown, I think a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame with my daughter Rachel looms.