1st regiment, New York light artillery, 1861-1865

1st regiment, New York light artillery, 1861-1865

McAfee, Michael

(All CDVs from the author’s collection)

Those of us who collect know that objects or artifacts have life stories of their own, just as people have biographies. They are kept, lost, preserved, passed on, forgotten, or destroyed. Their existences are at the whim of man and nature, and many more are lost than survive. In truth fortunate, otherwise we should be tripping over the refuse of so many generations that we would be immobilized.

However, there are things that we wish would survive, and every so often we collectors are lucky enough to have them not only survive but become available. A little fewer than ten years ago I had an artifact come to me by sheer good fortune. It was a carte de visite album and a couple of its CI)Vs figure in this article.

William P. Wainwright, a prominent New York aristocrat, joined the 29th New York as a major, later transferring to the 76th New York and being wounded at South Mountain before Antietam, before going on to provost marshal duty. Like many officers, he maintained a photograph album, often marking in pencil when each CDV was received, but not always noting the name of the donor. Among his portraits was one of his equally aristocratic brother Charles S. Wainwright. Charles was mustered as major of the 1 st New York Light Artillery in October 1861 and it is Charles who figures prominently in this short history of his regiment. Charles eventually came to command the regiment, and he kept a diary later edited by Allen Nevins and first published in 1962. Nevins’ introduction to A Diary of Battle gives a good account of both brothers and need not be repeated here, but many of Charles’ pithy comments on dress well merit repeating.

The 1st was organized at Elmira and was commanded by Guilford D. Bailey, a Class of 1856 graduate of West Point. In fact Wainwright asked Bailey to lead the regiment after he failed to recruit sufficient volunteers himself. With a West Pointer as its colonel, the regiment was soon up to strength, and on October 19, 1861, it headed for Washington.

Wainwright considered the journey the worst he had experienced since being confined in a closed railroad car with five “bad– tobacco smoking Germans” in Europe.

The Ist never served together as a regiment. Bailey took eight batteries to Washington in October 1861, but four additional batteries entered service in November. The batteries served independently in the Armies of the Potomac, Virginia, and the Cumberland, and were mustered out under Wainwright at Elmira June 21, 1865. They served at Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, the Seven Days, Beverly Ford, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the 1864-65 Virginia Campaign. Bailey died at Fair Oaks trying to spike guns about to be overrun. Despite Wainwright’s sour attitude toward the caliber of the 1 st, it was one of the war’s outstanding artillery units.

While Wainwright’s comments are pithy, photographs of early regimental members show both standard and non-standard uniform jackets were worn. Several unidentified members of Battery B wear jackets with nine– button fronts, while other batteries seem to have the standard 12. In one diary entry Wainwright noted that he preferred a “blouse,” which he described as a “real German blouse of blue flannel; the many plaits keep it loose even when buttoned up close into the neck, so that it always looks neat and trim, and with only a thin silk shirt under it, it is very cool…”

When corps badges were adopted in 1863 Wainwright noted: “No special badges have been ordered for the artillery, but most of them have adopted the corps headquarters badge [bearing the color of the three corps divisions]. I have not ordered it, but allow my men to wear it when they choose. I mean them all to wear their crossed cannon and letters on their caps which will mark them all sufficiently.”

At the end of the war Wainwright described the appearance of his men at the Grand Review: “The cannoneers were mounted on the boxes, all had on good clothes, sacks, and saber belts, with letters and numbers on their caps.” He described himself as wearing a “double-breasted sack” because he lacked a “decent full-dress coat.”

As to the album, a friend who owned a small shop called to say a young man brought in some “old family junk” to see if it had any value, including a book of old photographs. I rushed to see it and found that it was the Wainwright album, with nearly a hundred CDVs of family, friends, members of the 29th and 76th New York Infantry and Ist New York Light Artillery. Fate was kind to me and to history on that day, as the Wainwright album remains intact, a photographic record of family and friends engaged in our great national calamity.

Copyright Military Images Sep/Oct 2001

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