89th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment


Part One: Organization and Enlistment

Despite the optimistic views of the majority at the time, that is that the war would be over in short order, President Lincoln in July of 1861 saw the need for longer term volunteers for the Union Army. That July, President Lincoln requested from Governor Morgan of New York, who in his turn on July 25th called for 25,000 New York men to enlist for three year terms. By August, various depots were established around New York to raise the necessary units.

The Honorable Daniel S. Dickinson, the former Senator from the State of New York, received authority on August 29th, 1861 to raise a regiment of infantry. This Regiment was organized under Col. Harrison Stiles Fairchild. The Regiment was raised in central New York, from Broome, Delaware, Livingston, Monroe, and Schuyler counties. The companies were recruited principally as follows: A, at Havana; B and H at Binghamton; C, at Mount Morris; D, at Rochester; E, at Norwich and Oxford: F, at Whitney Point; G, at Windsor; I, at Delhi; and K, at Corbettsville. The 89th formally joined together at Elmira late in November, where they lived in barracks and where they were mustered into the service of the United States on Dec. 4th ,5th , and 6th of that 1861.

The regimental officers at mustering in were:

Colonel: Harrison S. Fairchild
Lieut. Col.: Jacob B. Robie
Major: Daniel T. Everts
Adjutant: John E. Shepard
Quartermaster: Cornelius H. Webster
Surgeon: Truman H. Squire
Assistant Surgeon: William A. Smith
Chaplain: Nathaniel E. Pierson

The 89th , now formed and mustered, left promptly for Washington on Dec. 6, 1861. They became known as the Dickinson Guard. They traveled through Pennsylvania on two separate trains. One train was involved in an accident, but apparently without significant injury. Arriving in the vicinity of the Washington outskirts, the 89th was assigned to the Army of the Potomac in the defense of Washington. Those early days were spent establishing their camp, drilling in military fashion, and getting familiar with their weapons. They were issued muskets, not the hoped-for rifles. Most of the men had the opportunity to visit the nation's capital, and many had photographs taken to send to loved ones. Disease, boredom and homesickness, not war, were the problems the men faced at this juncture. The men were anxious to have news of the war and even moreso to have news from home. Mail call and mustering for pay were the most longed-for events, and the only other thing coming close was hoping for or dreaming about a furlough. For the 89th , the first camp out of New York, which they called Camp Clay, was not to be home for long. They were soon to leave for further south.

Part Two: 1862 and 1863

The 89th was assigned in January, 1862 to Burnside's Expedition to North Carolina. They travelled by transport from Virginia into the Atlantic to North Carolina. The journey took many of the New Yorkers on their first ocean voyages. They were nearly four weeks aboard ship, including time lying in harbor. They first were encamped near Hattaras Inlet, but late in February were ordered to move to Roanoke Island. There they established a rather comfortable camp that they called Camp Dickinson. From this base, they landed on the mainland and were engaged at the Battle of South Mills, North Carolina on April 19th. In this action there were 4 men wounded and 2 missing. After long marching in the spring conditions, including showers and a drizzling rain on their return, they arrived back in their camp feeling they were part of a victory. They remained at Camp Dickinson until July 10th when they left for Norfolk, Virginia, arriving on the 12th. This was after McClellan's failed 1862 Peninsular Campaign, and the Union armies were left consolidating their strongholds near the coast. By mid August they were on the move again.

The 89th , still part of the Ninth Corps moved to northern Virginia, and encamped near Fredericksburgh. Unknown to them, they were approaching the time of their most severe fighting. This was about the time that Lee was planning his first major invasion of the North. Lee's army crossed the Potomac into Maryland in September, but readers may recall that his movements were known through the fortuitous find of the orders of movement. The 89th was among the units at the Battle of South Mountain. Here they attacked the invading Rebel Army. They had 2 killed and 18 wounded that September 14th, 1862. As the Union army followed slowly after the retreating Rebels, the 89th was along. Lee arranged his army near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and the Battle of Antietam there on September 17th resulted when McClellan finally attacked the confederate positions. This battle has the painful distinction of resulting in more American deaths and woundings in one day than ever had before or since occurred. The 89th was in the last assault of the day, and as all of the others had, it failed in the end. The 89th had losses of 18 killed, 77 wounded, and 8 missing. The following day, McClellan failed to press, Lee retreated, and the Maryland campaign was over. The 89th stayed in the vicinity, and camped near Harper's Ferry, Maryland, recovered when the rebels retreated back to Virginia. In November, General Burnside replaced General McClellan, and the 89th, who had now been under the command of Burnside since January, found themselves moving with the Army of the Potomac into northern Virginia.

By the end of November they were in the vicinity of Fredericksburgh, Virginia. There on December 13, 1863, a great battle was fought. The 89th was arrayed in the Third Division (General Getty), First Brigade (Col. Rush Hawkins), and was held mainly in reserve, but a seldom discussed event occurred on Dec. 11th involving 100 men from the 89th, one of the many heroic efforts nearly lost in history. This part in the history of the 89th will be mentioned separately below. The Battle of Fredericksburgh, largely fought on the 13th, but straggling in to the 15th of December produced frightful loss for the Union Army. In all, about 12,000 Union soldiers fell that day, about 9,000 of them attacking "the wall" at Marye's Heights. The 89th had losses of 4 killed (two of these dying later from wounds), 25 wounded and 1 missing. General Burnside's only major battle was a disaster in the eyes of historians. The Army of the Potomac could muster no further serious action that winter. Burnside was disgraced and replaced.

In February of 1863, the 89th left northern Virginia and moved to the vicinity of Newport News, Virginia. They were out of tents again, this time in log barracks. They were in this area until moved against Suffolk, Virginia in March. Officially, the Siege of Suffolk took place April 11 through May 4, 1863, and the 89th was involved in many aspects of this action. This included the capture of a rather large battery, known as Battery Hugar on April 19th , and a successful attack on confederate positions on May 3rd at the Providence Church Road. In the siege, the 89th had 3 killed and 10 wounded. In June, the troops were on the move again, this time to a camp near Norfolk, Virginia. From here, they were part of the 1863 Peninsular movements, mindful of the defeats in the same regions the year before. By late July there was talk of the drafted men coming to fill the depleted ranks, and camp life was again routine, then suddenly on July 31st, they found themselves on board ship again, this time in the Adalaide, and ended in Charleston Harbor region. From their base on Folly Island, the unit was involved in the support of the various actions against the installations in Charleston Harbor, including Battery Wagner and the recapture of Fort Sumpter. They were in the region until later April of 1864 when they were moved back to Virginia.

Part Three: 1864 and 1865

The movement back to Virginia landed the 89th on the southeast peninsula again. They joined the Siege of Petersburg. Between May 5th and the fall of 1864, when most of the Regiment was mustered out, there was the construction of works and there were long stretches in the rifle pits with bullets flying overhead constantly. Artillery duels abounded, and this trench warfare presaged the later ones of WW I in Europe. One soldier of the 89th wrote in July of that 1864, "I do not know what to write. It is the same here one day and samer the next. All the difference I can see is I washed my shirt yesterday and write a letter today and tomorrow I can stick my fingers in my mouth and wait for it to come night. I hear the roar of cannon the crack of rifles and the whiz of ball every day till it has become like the roar of a dam to a miller. I do not know that it is going on only noticing it if it stops for a while." During this time, the 89th 6 wounded, of whom one died. They also were involved in the Battle of Cold Harbor in June of 1864, where they suffered 3 deaths, 15 men wounded, two of whom later died, and an additional 2 missing. By August, many of the men considered their three years to be up, and were itching to get to their long missed homes. Mustering out was delayed until November for most of the original three year men. Muster records indicate that few of the men reenlisted despite the offer of a bounty for doing so. In Company I for instance only seven of the company re-upped. The Regiment officially although the character was much changed by the loss of the hardy veterans, continued in the service in Virginia. They were present at the final assault on Petersburg, and took part in the Appomattox Campaign in April of 1865. They were apparently present at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th when Lee surrendered to Grant. The unit was officially mustered out of service at Richmond, Virginia on August 3, 1865, bringing to an end almost four years of toil and death for these New Yorkers in the defense of their country. Theirs was a small part in the whole aspect of the war, but for these participants of the Eighty Ninth New York Volunteer Infantry represented some of the most profound experiences of their lives.

In the aggregate, the unit losses were as follows:

Killed in action: 4 officers and 49 enlisted men.
Died from wounds: 2 officers and 52 enlisted men.
Died of disease and accident: 1 officer and 158 enlisted men.
Of those who died, 13 were in the hands of the enemy at the time of death.

Crossing the Rappahannock

December 11, 1862. The Army of the Potomac, under the command of General Ambrose Burnsides was north of the Rappahannock River, with Lee's army occupying the town and the heights just south of town. Rebel sharpshooters and artillery were arrayed to prevent the federals from crossing the river. Gen. Burnside planned to send his army across on three pontoon bridges, but laying the bridges was a formidable task for the engineers. Early on the morning of the 11th, Col. Fairchild received an order from Gen. Burnside to detail four officers and one hundred of his men to cross the river in boats, dislodge the rebels, and secure the area for the safety of the bridge construction. The four officers were: Captain Frank Burt of Company K, Captain James Hazley of Company B, Captain Seymour Judd of Company G and First Lieutenant Wellington Lewis of Company H. The men gallantly crossed the river in boats under covering fire of rifle and cannon, but facing the entrenched rebels on the southern shore. They succeeded in getting across, leaped out of their boats, and in short order captured the houses used by the sharpshooters. They captured 60 confederate soldiers and four officers in their raid. They secured the southern shore, allowing the bridge to be safely completed, and were among the earliest men occupying the town of Fredericksburgh. In the official reports, the action was highly commended. The report of General Wilcox, commanding the Ninth Corps, to which the 89th was attached, closed with the statement that the list of the 100 men involved was attached, but the attachment list has apparently never been found. A compilation was reconstructed after the war, but was never verified. Many of those who took part recalled later that Gen. Burnside promised medals to all who took part, and it is known that on the evening of Jan. 2, 1863, a letter was read to the Regiment from President Lincoln praising the conduct of the men, further fueling the talk of medals. There were, however, never any medals for these heroes.

Colonel Fairchild

Harrison Stiles Fairchild was born in Cazenovia, New York August 4, 1820. Before the war he was a banker. He was, as we have noted, the regiment's colonel at its organization. In a somewhat unusual pattern for a New York Volunteer unit, Col. Fairchild remained with the regiment for the duration of its service. On March 13, 1865, he was promoted to Brigadier General by brevet for meritorious services. He was mustered out with the regiment at Richmond on August 3, 1865. After the war, he was a stock broker, real estate agent, and helped veterans as a U.S. pension claim agent. He died January 25, 1901, and is buried in Rochester, New York.