The Schroeder Books
Civil War: A Private’s Trial by
Fire in the 5th New York Volunteers—Duryee Zouaves and 146th
New York Volunteer Infantry
Charles Brandegee Livingstone
by SCHROEDER PUBLICATIONS 2008. Softcover,
250 pages, index, more than 50 photos, maps, and illustrations and 16 maps.
ISBN 1-889246-42-5. Price
richly descriptive letters passed down through generations of the Brandegee
family, the author had presented the story of one young man, set on adventure
and possessed with an earnest desire to sever his beloved country during its
most wrenching conflict. Charlie’s
Letters follow young Charles Brandegee from his enlistment with the 5th
New York Infantry (Duryee Zouaves) and later, service in the 146th
New York Infantry, through his entire army experience including his capture at
the Wilderness and subsequent imprisonment at Andersonville and Florence.
Charlie’s story is one of patriotism and hope, cynicism and despair,
valuable for its depiction of the common soldier’s experience.
From the Foreword
students of the American Civil War—be they researcher, buff or historian—the
discovery of an extensive set of wartime letters is invariably a cause for
celebrating. Sitting down with a
huge packet of correspondence, previously unknown to anyone outside the
soldier’s immediate family or his descendants, evokes an excitement not unlike
that of a small child contemplation the beribboned gifts beneath a Christmas
tree. I know those were my
sentiments when, through a fortuitous chain of events, I found myself reading
the Civil War letters of Charles Brandegee.
was a detailed chronicle of one young man’s experience as he endured the
tedium of camp life, the irksome imposition of military authority, the fevered
delirium of a life-threatening illness, the ordeal of captivity, and the fiery
crucible of battle. His words were
replete with that depth of humanity that draws us, still, inexorably to that
great and tragic time in our nation’s history.
There was naivete and pride, love of family and of country, apprehension
and homesickness—in short the literate, honest and very personal record of one
private soldier serving with the Army of the Potomac.
letters were all the more intriguing since Brandegee had served in the ranks of
two of the war’s most colorful outfits: the
5th and the 146th New York Volunteer Infantry. Both were Zouave units, garbed in the flamboyant regalia of
the French Colonial troops whose deeds of daring had caught the imagination of
the American public on the very eve of sectional conflict.
In 1860 the charismatic Illinois militiaman Elmer Ellsworth led his
superbly drilled United States Zouave Cadets of Chicago on a much-publicized
tour that fueled a veritable “Zouave craze.” At the outbreak of war dozens
of volunteer organizations adopted the tasseled fez and baggy pantaloons of
their French prototypes. Far from
disappearing with the grim realization that the struggle would be a long and
bloody one, Zouave regiments continued to serve with honor and distinction
through the war’s final campaigns.
fate would have it, when Charles Brandegee chose to enlist in January 1862, he
joined what was by many accounts the Union’s preeminent Zouave unit.
The 5th New York had been organized by Colonel Abram Duryee, a
veteran of 30 years’ service in the New York State Militia who for twelve
years had commanded Manhattan’s elite 7th Regiment. Duryee saw to it that he Zouaves were officered by militia
veterans and graduates of the United States Military Academy, ready and willing
to enforce strict Regular Army standards
of discipline. While Duryee had
been promoted to general and left the regiment prior to Brandegee’s arrival,
his successor in command, Colonel Governor Kemble Warren, was even more rigid,
authoritarian and professional, as befitted his West Point education.
teenaged son of a prominent Connecticut physician, like so many volunteers,
“Charlie” Brandegee went to war with a mix of patriotic idealism and
youthful sense of adventure. He was
no Abolitionist; like most Northern soldiers his primary purpose was to battle
for the preservation of the Union. Though
many of his comrades hailed from far more humbled backgrounds, the new private
seems to have been readily accepted as one of the boys, and formed lifelong
friendships among the “Red Legged Devils” of Company I.
It was that brotherhood of arms, coupled with the devotion of his loving
family, that ultimately saw Charlie Brandegee through the carnage of the Seven
days, Gettysburg and the Wilderness, the long months in hospitals, and the
horrors of imprisonment in Andersonville and Florence.
fledgling enthusiast of the 5th to jaded veteran of the 146th,
Brandegee experienced a lifetime in a scant three years.
But fortune truly smiled on the young Zouave, and more than five decades
remained to him. At his death in
1927, only 16 veterans of the 5th New York sill survived.
This longevity enabled Charles Brandegee Livingstone—Charlie’s
grandson and namesake—to know this proud old soldier, and to pass on to us a
tangible and personal reminder of just how close we are to those stirring
times not yet smothered in the dust of history.
5th New York Infantry
in May of 1861 and soon attached to the Army of the Potomac, this regiment
participated in all of the campaigns and battles of that Army.
The original members of the
5th New York were mustered out of service on May 14, 1863.
At that time the recruits, Charlie Brandegee among them, were transferred
to the 146th New York for the remainder of their enlistments. In the 5th New York, 177 men were killed or
mortally wounded in action and 34 died of disease.
146th New York Infantry
Charlie's Civil War: A Private's Trial
By Fire in the 5th New York Volunteers - Duryée Zouaves and 146th New York Volunteer Infantry
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