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    "I have notified them to leave at once. They will go at once for they know me very well."

    [1st New York Volunteer Infantry]. Union Colonel John Frederick Pierson Archive, consisting of over thirty letters and documents dated from May 13, 1862, through December 29, 1863. J. Frederick Pierson, a particularly skillful and intelligent narrator and writer, became colonel of the troubled 1st New York Volunteer Infantry regiment while having serious grievances against several other officers, including General David Birney and General Hiram G. Berry. Pierson was arrested at least twice while others involved were court-martialed. Many of these letters deal with that ongoing and disruptive affair. Overall, this archive has been well cared for and is organized and presented in one binder.

    John Frederick Pierson (1839-1932), the son of a New York steel merchant, was privately educated in New York City. He joined the New York National Guard in 1857 (7th New York Regiment, Co. "K"), but once the Civil War broke out, he was attached to the 1st New York Infantry, Co. "H", at the age of twenty-two as a lieutenant. He quickly climbed up the rankings (captain in May 1861, major in July 1861, lieutenant colonel in September 1861, colonel in October 1862, and breveted a brigadier general in March 1864). He was wounded twice, once at the Battle of Glendale and once more seriously on May 3, 1862, at the Battle of Chancellorsville (he was shot through the chest or shoulder). After his recovery, he was captured at Bristol Station, Virginia, and taken as a POW to Libby Prison in Richmond. He mustered out with the two-year regiment on June 25, 1863. After the war, he joined his family's business, the Ramapo Iron Works. The 1st New York mustered into the Army of the Potomac for two years, the first U.S. regiment to serve that length term. They were first assigned to Fort Monroe, Virginia, then ordered to Big Bethel. From there, they went to Newport News. The regiment was active in several battles, including Big Bethel, Glendale, second Bull Run, and Chancellorsville.

    In the first letter of this archive, Pierson writes from Newport News, Virginia, on May 13, 1862, of his visit to a military hospital at Camp Hamilton where he saw the "realities of war": "They are filled with the wounded from the Army of McClellan, and some harrowing scenes were. . . . In one hour is saw Twenty patients brought in and thus it goes on all day. A secessionist who had been struck in the leg with a shell was brought in and his leg amputated. . . . A Frenchman was brought in whose head was battered in by the blow of a musket. I saw this brains beat and ooze through the fearful fracture. One man had received a bullet directly in the centre of his chest and as he breathed the air whistled through the wound. I turned to him sorrowfully a few minutes to find him dead."

    On July 24, 1862, Pierson notified his father that he was "now in command of the Regmt. This morning I commanded the Brigade. Court martial took our senior officers away. Our Gen'l Berry is down with the fever, after him I am the third ranking Officer." According to this letter, this promotion occurred following the Seven Days Battles (June 25 through July 1, 1862). He narrates in great detail his regiment's participation on June 30 at Frayser's Farm and White Oak Swamp, where General McClellan's army faced General Lee, who was supported by Stonewall Jackson, A. P. Hill, and James Longstreet. Pierson gives details of his participation in those battles, which were ultimately won by General Lee's army. "The morning of the 30th we moved off the road to a position in an apple orchard commanding the Charles City Road. . . . About 11 o'clock alarm came of the Enemy firing on our rear. Troops were moved to different points to check his advance, we were hastily thrown across the Chas. City Road. Then firing in another direction, and another, all around us down the road came galloping an aid, and almost breathless told our Gen'l the Enemy were coming up another road, to our rear. In double quick we moved across the orchard, leaving by our General's order knapsacks, canteens, everything. Winding through the woods we finally were ensconced out of sight, in some bushes, bordering on a field. . . . I rode out and looking over the field, saw our batteries planted opposite the mouth of the road, and pouring along it shot & shell. The Rebels charged & charged, but swept away like chaff before the wind, by our canister & grape, and musketry too supporting, fell back down the Road. Then shell after shell went whizzing after them." Pierson's account continues, though this is only a partial letter.

    On October 1, 1862, while staying at Williard's Hotel in Washington, D.C., Pierson writes to his father mentioning his "property, both man & beast." Later in the letter, he informs his father that he is sending "Ned and Solomon by water," likely two servants.

    The 1st New York Volunteer Infantry was a troubled regiment, largely because of discipline problems. Trouble began to surface for the 1st New York in 1862 when the regiment became involved in the Peninsula Campaign in southeastern Virginia. Matters got worse for Pierson and the regiment as Pierson informs his father on August 25, 1862: "Col. Dyckman I[?] left at Yorktown under arrest. Major Clancy came with the Regm't , also under arrest awaiting sentence. Landing at Alexandria, I had but eleven commissioned officers, and no sooner had we touched shore, than all of them but two went away, leaving me positively alone with 580 of the hardest characters N.Y. City could produce, and in a city where liquor was to be had on every side. I marched the Regm't to the railroad, running from Alexandria to here, and then was obliged to remain in the street for some four or five hours, awaiting cars. In spite of my exertions, my men got liquor abundantly, and many got drunk. Most of my officers were arrested in the street for drunkenness also. I threw personally some ten of my men on the train, dead drunk. . . . . Gen. [David] Birney saw the whole affair, and thinks the First a very bad undisciplined and demoralized Regm't. and probably attributes it to me. At any rate , he yesterday relieved me in command of it." On October 5, Pierson reports of an episode when he met General Birney at Willards Hotel in Washington, D.C., just weeks after Birney had Pierson arrested. But Pierson was surprised by a "very warm recognition" from the general who told him that General Kearney was the one who had placed Pierson "under arrest and much against his [Birney's] protestations." After giving more details, it becomes obvious that Pierson was confused and angry over the misunderstanding, but also relieved when Birney "advised me to join the Regt." According to the next letter in this archive (dated October 9, 1862), New York Governor Edwin Morgan worked on Pierson's behalf, visiting General Henry Halleck at least twice.

    Much of Pierson's trouble had to do with Colonel Garrett Dyckman, who was hostile to him. In his October 9 letter, Pierson records an encounter with Dyckman following Pierson's testimony against him in a military court. The encounter took place in the afternoon when Pierson met "Dyckman coming back on horseback. 'So,' said he. 'You are on that game too.' 'Exactly,' I replied. 'My postion is defined, you see now how I Stand.' 'Very well,' continued the Col. 'I have charges to prefer against you, and there will be no let up now. You'r house will humble.' I laughed and told him my House was built on a rock he couldn't reach, the rock of Temperance, and he'd better do his best." In a letter dated October 17, Colonel Pierson reports to his father that Dyckman has been discharged from the army, "the poor drunkard." Pierson records more closure to this episode in a November 1, 1862, letter to his father in which he quotes Special Order #30, which listed five officers, including Major James Clancy, directed by President Lincoln to be "dismissed the Service of the United States." Pierson writes that "if tomorrow's setting sun shines on them in my Camp its expiring beams will disclose them both tied to a tree, side by side. I have notified them to leave at once. They will go at once for they know me very well. . . . I have reason to be proud-joining the Regmt at random, unknown & unknowing, the junior officer and pitted against every other one. I have wiped them all out, and am now its Colonel."

    Also included is a retained copy of a report written by Pierson addressed to War Secretary Edwin Stanton requesting that Major James Clancy, who had been removed for disorderliness and drunkenness, not be restored to the regiment. Pierson holds little back in this three-page report against Clancy, including his accusation that Clancy "fought several (three) Duals in one weeks time, all growing out of Drunken Quarrels while indulging in his almost nightly orgies [September 10, 1862]." Despite Pierson's efforts, Clancy succeeded in getting back into the regiment and causing more trouble for Pierson. In a letter dated December 31, 1862, Pierson tells his father that "Birney has taken up Clancy's side, and together with [General Hiram G.] Berry is trying to force him on me and get me in trouble. . . . Last night an order came from my friend Birney placing me under the closest arrest, as though a murderer, and ordering me not to leave my tent without the most urgently necessity, nor to hold communication with any one. As before he assignes no reason or cause. I am perfectly easy, however, he can prove nothing against me. . . . Not content with this he has ordered Clancy to assume command."

    In a letter written from "Camp near Potomac Creek Va." On April 3, 1863, Pierson notes that he spoke to General Joseph Hooker: "Fighting Joe is somewhat susceptible to flattery and pleased with praise. . . He approved of my plan viz to re-organize the Regmt and again take the field. And assured me of his cooperation and influence." Many more letters and documents, including special orders, concerning this troubling affair are included.

    In late 1863, Colonel Pierson left the 1st New York to represent the Great War Meeting, held at the Cooper Institute on December 3, 1863. According to a seven-page retained copy of Pierson's report to the Great War Meeting committee dated January 6, 1864, his assignment was to "visit the Army of the Potomac for the purpose of presenting to the soldiers the inducements at present offered for re-enlistment." Included with the report is a retained copy of a letter to War Secretary Stanton dated December 29, 1863, introducing Pierson and requesting that he be allowed to "proceed to the Army of the Potomac for the purpose of aiding in inducing New York Troops now in the field to reenlist."

    Also included are two special orders and a printed notice from the headquarters of the New York City Association of Union Ex-Prisoners of War dated May 2, 1893, notifying members when the next meeting would take place.


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