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The Schroeder Books


Charlie’s Civil War:  A Private’s Trial by Fire in the 5th New York Volunteers—Duryee Zouaves and 146th New York Volunteer Infantry

 by Charles Brandegee Livingstone

Published by SCHROEDER PUBLICATIONS 2008.  Softcover, 250 pages, index, more than 50 photos, maps, and illustrations and 16 maps.  ISBN 1-889246-42-5.  Price $19.99.  

Using 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

For 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.

Here 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.

The 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. 

As 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.

The 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.

From 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.

Brian C. Pohanka

5th New York Infantry

Organized 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

The 146th joined the Army of the Potomac in November 1862 and participated in all the battles and campaigns until Lee’s surrender.  They were mustered out of service in July 1865.  The   146th lost 133 men killed or mortally wounded in action, and another 181 to disease.


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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