"You will of course leave this camp, Sir"[Civil War] and [1st New York Volunteer Infantry]. Union Colonel John Frederick Pierson Archive, 1859-1933, consisting of over 145 items (letters, documents, and booklets) mostly relating to the near-mutiny of the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry. J. Frederick Pierson served as a colonel in Co. "H" until he was shot through the chest at the Battle of Chancellorsville and taken prisoner by the Confederacy. But before that, he quarreled with other regimental officers, which resulted in arrests and court-martials. Many of these documents deal with that ongoing and disruptive affair. Overall, this archive has been well cared for and is presented in two binders. A few documents demonstrate weakness at the folds, some with tape repairs which have stained.
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", 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.
Many of the earliest documents in this archive regard the New York National Guard (7th New York Regiment, Co. "K"), to which Pierson belonged. One such document is an 1861 roll of the members of the 7th New York, Co. "K", which includes Pierson, and a list of Co. "K" members killed and wounded during the Civil War.
After Pierson joined the New York 1st Infantry, Co. "H", on June 27, 1861, he became involved in "the Recruiting business" for the regiment, even using family members, such as his brother Charley, to help. (Several letters are included from J. Frederick to Charley, one pleading, "You must help me. . . . Can I get any men there?") Documents from this period also include invoices of purchases for military equipment, including military weapons; promotions; and more. Also included are various general orders listing the promotions of Pierson; lists of "the Officers Mess of Company H" (June 14, 1861, four days after participating in the Battle of Big Ethel); a military appointment of Pierson to captain in the 1st New York signed by New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan (May 27, 1861); a military appointment of Pierson to major signed by Gov. Morgan (July 29, 1861) with a document signed by Adj. Gen. J. Meredith Reed Jr.
Trouble began to surface for the 1st New York in early 1862 as the regiment became involved in the Peninsula Campaign in southeastern Virginia. In a letter from Col. Garrett Dyckman at Newport News, Virginia, Pierson finds out that many of the men under Dyckman were hostile to them: "I occasionally receive a hint that the clique business is still flourishing in the Regt but it does not show itself to me. It appears as if Cl. Co. Bj. & Sil. Cannot come to an understanding in what manner they shall remove those above them or who shall fill the vacancies if removed therefore each appears to work on his own hook. The officers in the Regt who are against both of us are (I may as well write their names) Clancy, Coles, Yeamans (Silva against me), Bjorg, (Shaw against you) Hamilton (against you) Campbell (against me) Melville (against me) Hyde, & Carpenter, those not mentioned are either friends, or men of well balanced minds, who would think cliquing too contemptible a business for them to enter into."
Matters got worse when Major James T. Clancy was placed under arrest on July 17, 1862. Two other officers were dismissed in a directive from President Lincoln and carried out by Special Orders No. 179 (included) issued by the War Department on August 2, 1862. Then in a letter to War Secretary Edwin Stanton (a fair copy is included), Pierson reports the strange desertion of Col. Garrett Dyckman when ordered to the front lines ("At Yorktown he left the Regiment, and has not reported since"). Several others also deserted. In this letter, Pierson asks Stanton to dismiss all of them from the army because they "have proved themselves to be worthless officers, if not cowards" (August 24, 1862). Included in this archive are holograph statements dated September 8 & 10, 1862, from two of the accused, Capt. William Coles and Major James Clancy. In their statements, they explained their absences from the regiment (Coles cited "Cholic" and Clancy blamed his "horse being lame from a wound"). According to another document, Cole was found guilty of being absent without leave and neglect of duty; his punishment was the suspension of rank and pay for one month, along with a public reprimand in general orders. Clancy, who was removed from his appointment, was reinstated later in September (documents are included). Pierson has endorsed each statement by Cole and Clancy with an endorsement arguing that both had intentionally deserted. In a significant letter dated September 15, 1862, to Brigadier General David Birney from Annapolis, Maryland, Pierson explains the unfortunate affair. (Two copies of this letter are included, one being Pierson's retained copy). After the military trials of Cole and Clancy, Pierson wrote his father on October 10, 1862, "I am making a big fight here now, and go around full of impudence and bowie knives. . . . The men are enthusiastic over my return." Likely, Pierson felt better about his prospects because the day before, he received his commission as colonel of the 1st New York (signed by Governor Morgan and included). In another letter to his father dated December 27, 1862, Pierson reports on the day that Clancy returned to his position in the regiment. "Upon his arrival, I demanded 'Wht are you doing here sir?' 'I am here by order of the Secy. Of War.' Permit me to see the order Sir? He gave it to me and I quietly whistled Yankee Doodle and unhesitatingly endorsed it thus 'The position previously occupied by Mr. Clancy was regularly filled before the date of this order, and he cannot therefore be restored. . . .' I handed it to him and said 'You will of course leave this camp Sir.'. . . Mr Clancy backed out. . . . If he prefers to contest the point he can give me much trouble."
On December 29, 1862, General Hiram G. Berry, commander of the division, praised Pierson for improving the regiment: "In justice to your endeavors to make the Regm't under your command one of the best in this Division, I beg leave to say that you may have positive proof of the value set upon these exertions. That, since your promotion to your present position your Regiment has improved beyond my expectations, although I knew of your previous worth as an officer. When the First New York joined my Brigade at Fair Oaks, its discipline was very poor. The habits of many of its Officers were such as to demoralize. . . . I am happy to say that through your exertions many worthless officers have been got rid of." (Three fair copies of this letter are included.)
By then, however, a serious quarrel had broken out between Pierson and Clancy. Letters of accusation between the two are included. Pierson's impudence became obvious to his own commanding officer, Brigadier General David B. Birney, who got involved, writing an ALS from the 1st Division headquarters on June 13, 1863, which reads in full: "The conduct of Colonel Pierson has been very insubordinate and I am told by Gen'l [Hiram G.] Berry has tended greatly to relax discipline in his Brigade. I am confident his release from arrest is because of . . . statements made to the secy of War by the influential friends of Col. Pierson. I would urge that no decision be made before Major Clancy and Gen'l Berry both are heard." Pierson himself had been placed under arrest the very next day. To his utter embarrassment and chagrin, he "was taken by the Enemy and subsequently thrown into a Richmond Prison. While the disgraceful fact that I was captured while under arrest at the rear of the Army was published in the Papers. As my conscience Sir, and my memory both acquit me of ever having neglected my duty or committed any Military Offence." Earlier in [January] 23, 1862, Berry sent a letter to Major Henry W. Brevont [a fair copy is included] suggesting that the regiment was dysfunctional and thus should be disbanded: "I have to say that the three field officers of this Regt. are very unfriendly to each other, and since its connection with the Brigade, they have done all they could to render each others places uncomfortable. This fight has of course descended to the line Officers sending one way and many another, and so to the Rank and file, until it came to pass that there was no discipline in the Regiment. I do not mean to say that there are no good Officers, for there are quite a number of good and deserving ones but from the quarrel existing between the field Officers, and from the trouble occasioned by some disorderly officers of Line the Regiment has suffered extremely. . . . Lieut. Col. Pierson is in arrest. Major Jas. Clancy is in arrest also. [Berry then lists the names of eight other officers who have been arrested in connection with the crippling quarrel.] I would recommend that the recommendations of General Birney, General of Division, to break up the Regt. and place the members with the 37th N.Y.V. be carried out or that the whole lot of the officers now under arrest be got rid of." Many more letters and documents concerning this affair are included. This fascinating episode in the life of a promising young officer and an honorable New York regiment is worthy of more research.
This archive contains many other letters (many of which are fair copies) and documents signed by numerous Union officers, such as requests for leaves of absence; various directives, many issued by Pierson; general orders; "orders for the government of the Police Guard" (August 10, 1861); invoices, such as one from the Depot of Army Clothing and Equipage (April 10, 1862); a list of members of the "First Regmt. Inf. N.Y.U.S.V." killed and wounded in the Civil War; letters of promotion recommendations; a document certifying that Col. Pierson "has been exchanged as a prisoner of war. . . . He will join his Regiment without delay" (signed by E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adj. Gen., October 5, 1862); and more.
Several post-Civil War items are also included: The Union Club (1867) containing the constitution, rules and list of members and officers of the exclusive New York City social club (Pierson is listed as a member); The Seventh Regiment Gazette (January 1933), with an obituary of Pierson; The New York National Guardsman (June 1933); and the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Seventh Regiment Gazette (August 1933) with an article on Pierson.
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