“Our brigade made itself gloriously conspicuous…” – Pvt. George Nickels, 89th NY

The following post first appeared on the blog of Antietam Battlefield Guide Dave Maher (Pennsylvania’s Emergency Men) on Dec. 2, 2012.

Sometimes being known around the office as “the Civil War guy” has its perks.  Recently, a colleague came to me with a copy of a letter written on September 30, 1862 by Pvt. George Nickels of the 89th New York.  During the Maryland Campaign, the 89th New York was, along with the 9th and 103rd New York Regts., a part of Col. Harrison Fairchild’s 9th Corps brigade.  At the Battle of Antietam, Fairchild’s brigade would suffer the highest casualty percentage of any Union brigade; nearly 50%.  Of the 368 men in the 89th New York, 103 were killed, wounded, or missing.

Nickels’ letter not only offers us colorful descriptions of Burnside’s push toward Sharpsburg late in the afternoon on September 17th, but also information on the condition of the troops, observations of the countryside in western Maryland, and invaluable information on a comrade who would later be buried in Antietam National Cemetery; Charles Courtney.

As you might imagine, I was pretty excited to read and transcribe the letter, especially since it probably has not been shared anywhere before.  I took the opportunity to annotate many of the names that Nickels mentions also.

Antietam, Md. Sep, 30 1862

Dear Friends:

            I have written one hasty letter since our fight, and you will have probably read a full description of the great battle of Antietam and the brilliant dash of Burnsides troops.  Our brigade made itself gloriously conspicuous and the rebels were scattered before it like sheep, but we were then flanked by a heavy force on our left and were cut down by artillery on the right and front, and to save ourselves from complete destruction we had to fall back, and we did it without running too, and the rebels did not dare to follow us.  We had caused many of them to bite the dust and many, also, of our brave boys were laid low.  I don’t know but Almon[i] and Byron[ii] will get home before you see this, and they will give you the incidents of our march.  Almon, I got a chance to see but I was not able to see Byron, and I can’t find out where they are now, but I think they have got furloughs.  I am very sorry to lose them, it is lonesome in camp with them gone.  I am sorry too for Byron’s great misfortune.  Our first Lieut[iii] and, C Courtney[iv], who had legs amputated, have since died.  Since the battle we have had a little easier times, but having left our knapsacks with our things at Washington we are getting pretty dirty and ragged.  We cannot get papers to write on so you must excuse us and tell friends to excuse us till we can get our pay, or things which we expect soon.  I got Moses[v] letter of the 10th last Sunday and want you all to write after.  I also got a letter from Sarah F.  I should write to Charles now if I had paper.  Orville J. Oliver[vi] has a bad looking flesh wound in the thigh but is now in camp with the rest of the boys, he will, probably, get a furlough for 30 days.  Capt Brown[vii] has resigned and been honorably discharged from the service.  He is going home in a few days.  James[viii] is now doing the duty of Orderly and is kept quite busy.  He stands a good chance of promotion to first seargent [sp].  This is a fine country and there is the most corn, and the best I ever saw.  The farms are large and well cultivated.  The farmers owning from 500 to 1000 acres, and plow large portions of it for corn and wheat.  But wherever we stop the corn, apples poultry are cleaned for miles, and we burn up all the fences.  The government will have to pay the damage.  It makes the country look desolate.  I don’t know whether the enemy will give us a chance to fight him again or not And I don’t care.  We have heard no firing for a number of days.  They say the pickets are only a few miles from us.  But they will have to retire before long.  We will soon be after them If they don’t.  Well I can’t think of anything more to write so Good bye 

            Yours Ever Geo. L. Nickels[ix]


[i] REED, ALMON L.—Age, 22 years. Enlisted at Whitneys Point, to serve three years, and mustered in as private, Co. F, October 22, 1861; transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps, no date.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

[ii] Unable to locate name in roster of 89th New York in Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

[iii] VAN INGEN, GARRETT.—Age, 30 years. Enrolled at Elmira, to serve three years, and mustered in as sergeant-major, December 5, 1861; as first lieutenant, Co. F, May 21, 1862; wounded in action, September 17,1862, at Antietam, Md.; died of his wounds, September 26,1862, at Sharpsburg, Md. Commissioned first lieutenant, October 17, 1862, with rank from May 20, 1862, vice Moses Pieffer [or Puffer] resigned.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

[iv] COURTNEY, CHARLES I.—Age, 20 years. Enlisted, September 9, 1861, at Whitneys Point, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. F, October 1, 1861; wounded in action, September 17, 1862, at Antietam, Md.; died of his wounds, September 29, 1862, at Sharpsburg, Md.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.  Courtney is buried in Antietam National Cemetery.

[v] Possibly PUFFER [or PIEFFER], MOSES.—Age, 36 years. Enrolled, September 9, 1861, at Whitneys Point, to serve three years; mustered in as first lieutenant, Co. F, October 1, 1861; discharged, May 20, 1862.  Commissioned first lieutenant, December 18,1861, with rank from October 1,1861, original.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry. 

[vi] OLIVER, ORVILLE P.—Age, 21 years. Enlisted, September 9, 1861, at Whitney’s Point, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. F, October 4, 1861; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 11, 1861; transferred to Co. G, Nineteenth Regiment, Veteran Reserve Corps, May 19, 1865; promoted corporal, August 1, 1865; discharged, September 12, 1865, at Buffalo, N. Y.; also borne as Orville T. and Orville T.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

[vii] BROWN, ROBERT.—Age, 39 years. Enrolled, September 9, 1861, at Whitney’s Point, to serve three years; mustered in as captain, Co. F, October 25, 1861; discharged, September 28, 1862; again mustered in as captain, same company, November 28, 1862; discharged, October 19, 1861; prior service in Eighth Militia.  Commissioned captain, December 18, 1861, with rank from October 1, 1861, original; recommissioned captain, November 7, 1862, with rank from same date, vice himself resigned.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

[viii] NORTHRUP, JAMES E.—Age, 23 years. Enrolled, September 9, 1861, at Whitneys Point, to serve three years; mustered in as sergeant, Co. F, October 22, 1861; promoted first sergeant, no date; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 14, 1864; mustered in as second lieutenant, October 21, 1864; as first lieutenant, January 11, 1865; discharged, June 19, 1865, at Richmond,Va.; also borne as Northrop and Northrupt.  Commissioned second lieutenant, September 16, 1864, with rank from July 13, 1864, vice G. H. Baldwin promoted; first lieutenant, January 27, 1865, with rank from January 11,1865, vice Baldwin mustered out.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

[ix] NICHOLIS [NICKELS], GEORGE L.—Age, 23 years. Enlisted, October 22, 1861, at Lisle, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. F, October 23, 1861; discharged, May 28, 1863, at Washington, D. C; also borne as Nichols.  From Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901: Registers of the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, & 93rd Regiments of Infantry.

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