For the next five weeks the Army of the Potomac guarded Maryland's borders. The 36th NY was based in the village of Berlin, Maryland, located on the north shore of the Potomac River, about twenty miles south of Sharpsburg and six miles south of Harper's Ferry. There they prepared to defend against a possible Confederate incursion from the Blue Ridge Mountains. They passed the time without incident, however, and in November they advanced to Stafford Heights, a town in northern Virginia on the Rappahannock River, opposite Fredericksburg (regt records, N.A.).
The Battle of Fredericksburg erupted on December 13th, 1862. It began when Union forces used pontoon bridges to cross the Rappahannock, from Stafford Heights into the Confederate stronghold of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The 36th NY, now part of Newton's Division of Franklin's 6th Corps, was one of the first regiments to cross the river (Rhodes Diary, pp.90-91).
General Newton was deployed to one side in order to protect the army's left flank on the Richmond Stage Road; he met with little resistance from the enemy. Six other divisions stormed Fredericksburg, but were stymied by Confederate defenses near the Sunken Road of Marye's Heights. The Union troops were slaughtered, and were forced to retreat back over the river. The 36th NY, 10th Massachusetts, 7th Massachusetts, and 2nd Rhode Island were ordered to remain ashore and cover the retreat against enemy fire, while the rest of the army sailed away to safety. They were the last regiments to leave. One enlisted man from the 36th NY was killed, and another wounded (Rhodes Diary, pp.90-91).
Afterwards, the Army of the Potomac (now under General Hooker) settled for the winter in a village called Falmouth, north of Stafford Heights. They would remain there, inactive, until May -- at which time the troops would try to cross the river and attack the rebels again. But in the meantime, they had a long cold winter ahead of them to reflect on their failure at Fredericksburg. Many Union soldiers lapsed into depression, while others yielded to boredom, intemperance, and insubordination. Unfortunately, Lieutenant-Colonel James J. "Paddy" Walsh of the 36th NY (the promising officer who had commanded "Walsh's Brigade" on Malvern Hill) imbibed a little too freely during this period. During the winter of 1862-63, while under the influence, Walsh allegedly called Colonel William H. Browne "a drunken pothouse politician and loafer." For this and similar incidents, Walsh was court-martialed and fined. The man whom the Brits of the regiment had affectionately dubbed "Paddy" -- the man who had been a hero only a few months earlier -- was now somewhat tarnished. But what no one knew at the time was that James Walsh would prove to be a hero yet again, months from now in the spring. Walsh was a natural born soldier; he just had to wait until his regiment was ready to recross the Rappahannock in May, before he could demonstrate his talents once again.
In the ensuing winter months the Union tried everything to get new recruits into the army. Even the 36th NY embarked on a campaign to augment its numbers. Recruitment posters appeared in Manhattan, touting "Colonel W.H. Browne's 36th New York Volunteers" as "one of the best in the Army of the Potomac," a forgivable exaggeration. The poster stated that the 36th NY "particularly distinguished itself during the Seven Days Fighting, having captured the colors of the 14th North Carolina Regiment at the Battle of Malvern Hill." It went on to say that the regiment's term of enlistment would expire in July, 1863, and that "the usual bounty will be given." Finally, it ended with the ominous warning, "Don't Wait to Be Drafted!" (You can see this recruitment poster at this websites homepage).
Desertions from the army were rampant at this time. In the winter of 1862-63, a dozen men from the 36th NYSV (including Surgeon Edward Dalton) all of them recovering from injuries in New York area hospitals -- were falsely accused of desertion, because paperwork on their whereabouts was lost. Most of the men, including Dalton, were able to clear the matter up and get the charges revoked. Some of the enlisted men who were accused, however, had to wait until a court hearing in 1869 to get their records expunged.
With the arrival of spring came the chance for renewed battle. The 36th NYSV fought in one more important campaign at this time -- The Battle of Chancellorsville, on May 3rd-4th, 1863. This battle was fought on two fronts: (1) Most of Hookers Army of the Potomac clashed with the Confederates in the town of Chancellorsville itself. (2) But Sedgwicks 6th Corps (containing the 36th NYSV) was instructed to make a flanking maneuver; they were to recross the Rappahannock River between Fredericksburg and Falmouth, capture Maryes Heights, proceed west past the vicinity of Salem Church along the Plank Road Turnpike, and then reinforce Federal troops at Chancellorsville.
The 36th NY did its job. At that time the Brigade was led by the 36th NYs colonel, William H. Browne; so as part of Brownes 2nd Brigade / Newtons 3rd Division / Sedgwicks 6th Corps, the 36th NY and its fellow brigade regiments re-crossed the Rappahannock on May 3rd, 1863. The 2nd RI and 10th Massachusetts remained in a defensive position in the distance, but the 36th NY and the 7th Massachusetts were sent to the front lines -- near the Stone Wall and Sunken Road of Maryes Heights. There they waged a courageous offensive against Barksdales Mississippi Brigade, who blasted a barrage of artillery fire at the Federals from behind the Stone Wall. Around 10 A.M., the 36th NY and 7th Massachusetts were "compelled to advance up a broken stony gulch swept by two of the rebel howitzers." The head of this column was broken twice by cannon fire, and twice the 36th NYand 7th Massachusetts rallied. But when one of the colonels in charge of this advance was suddenly badly wounded, the 36th NY and 7th Massachusetts paused in fear, a few of them running away. At that moment, it seemed to be all over.
Then to the rescue came Lieutenant-Colonel James J. "Paddy" Walsh of the 36th NY, who had been court-martialed a few months earlier. A hero at Malvern Hill, Walsh demonstrated exemplary valor once again. Since Colonel Browne was leading the Brigade that day, Walsh was now temporarily in command of the 36th NY.
According to Alfred S. Roe of the 10th Massachusetts, "In the charge the 36th New York took a most brilliant part, led by their gallant Lieutenant Colonel Walsh. They advanced, under a scathing fire, directly up to the stone wall, without firing a single shot in return. Colonel Walsh pointed out to the men what they had to do, and made them the following characteristic address: Do ye see thim heights? Take thim, ye must, or ye will die here for go back ye shall not! To this impassioned speech, his men responded, Lead us on Paddy! Lead us on! This speech, delivered in his own peculiar native brogue, had the desired effect. With steady tramp, the brave Irishmen advanced right up into the very jaws of death, the shot and shell from the heights plowing through their ranks, and the infantry in the rifle pits mowing them down with every discharge. Undaunted by the murderous fire, they kept their line, moved steadily forward, and the heights were carried. On reaching the crest, one of the 36th rushed to a Rebel artillery-man who, swab in hand, stood by the side of his cannon, and seizing the swab, with it dealt the Reb a blow with good Irish emphasis. Lieutenant Colonel Walsh was not unmindful of this deed on the part of his man, who had been broken repeatedly as a non-commissioned officer for tarrying too long with the crater, and in his enthusiastic appreciation shouted, Well done, well done; yere a sergeant from this out; Ill break ye no more, whatever ye may do!" (Roe, Alfred S., "The 10 Regiment Mass. Vol Infantry, 1909, reprint 1995, p.185).
General Abner Doubleday also noted "Paddy" Walshs efforts at this battle. The general (though credited as the "inventor" of baseball, he also commanded a division in the 1st Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg) wrote years later that "Colonel [sic] Walsh, of the Thirty-Sixth New York, rallied the men again, and they kept straight on over the works," (Doubleday, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, 1882, paperback reprint 1992, p.58).
Later in the fighting the 10th Massachusetts was called forward to assist directly, and they got into a terrible position "exposed to the galling fire of the enemy." Captain Newell of the 10th Massachusetts records that there was always good feeling between the 36th NY and the 10th Massachusetts, because both regiments had helped each other out unselfishly at Seven Pines. So when the 36th saw "the danger to which their friends were exposed [at Chancellorsville]," they forgot "the far greater peril into which they were soon to rush and shouted to their commander, Paddy Walsh, the Tinth is in trouble, lets go and help thim! as altruistic a sentiment as ever found expression, though the dear boys who uttered it would not know the meaning of the word." Despite Newells dim regard for the Irish vocabulary, the affection between the 36th NY and the 10th Massachusetts was genuine, and the 36th NY did come to their friends assistance. It was James J. Walshs finest hour (Roe, 1909/ 1995, p.313).
By noon, Sedgwicks 6th Corps (thanks in no small part to the 36th NY of Newtons Division) had captured Maryes Heights beyond the Stone Wall, on the west banks of the Rappahannock. Now all Sedgwick had to do was take his corps west along the Plank Road Turnpike toward Chancellorsville.
But there was another problem. Six miles east of Chancellorsville near Salem Baptist Church, the 6th Corps ran into an unexpected number of Confederates under the command of Major General Laffayette McLaws. McLaws occupied a high ridge near the church. General Sedgwick sent Newtons Division (containing the 36th NY) and Brooks Division ahead to combat McLaws, but they ran into volleys of concentrated musketry from the Confederate high ground. Federal artillery pounded back at the Rebel position as the Yanks struggled through underbrush to within a few yards of the ridge. Then a Southern counterattack from front and rear sent the Federals reeling back down onto the plain. General Abner Doubleday said that Newtons 2nd Brigade (containing the 36th NY) "was thrown in to cover the retreat: its steadiness checked the advance of McLaws." But only for a while; mayhem ensued until darkness. The fighting at this location was so intense that it is sometimes listed as a separate battle -- The Battle of Salem Church but of course it was really just another engagement of the The Battle of Chancellorsville (Doubleday, 1882 / 1992, footnote p.61).
In this deadly encounter, Brigade leader Colonel William H. Browne of the 36th NY was severely wounded in the leg; General Henry L. Eustis took over command of the Brigade for the rest of the day. Before the conflict was over there were 4,700 Union casualties at the Salem Church site alone, 26 of them in the 36th NY. Among the killed was Major Elihu J. Faxon; the young officer was hit by a shell before he could get to the safety of Union earthworks. (During the entire war, Faxon was the 36th NYs only officer to be killed in combat; tragically, his brother had also died, of illness, in the Peninsula Campaign). Throughout the bloody battle, Salem Church itself was used as a field hospital, and in the words of one witness, "the floors, the benches, even the chancel and pulpit were all packed almost to suffocation" with wounded and dying soldiers. The churchyard was later used for the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. In the wee hours of May 4, the 6th Corps retreated from Salem Church and also from Maryes Heights. Then they went back across the Rappahannock to safety, partaking no more in The Battle of Chancellorsville.
Arriving in Manhattan on July 13th, 1863 for its official muster-out, the remaining remnants of the 36th NYSV nevertheless participated in one final defensive operation: the New York City Draft Riots, which ravaged Manhattan from July 13-July 16th, 1863. Troops arriving in New York were asked to help defend the city against rioters who were protesting the newly instated military draft. William Joyce of the 36th NY Company C was shot on the last day of rioting on 1st Avenue near E.15th Street. Most of the weary 36th NY had been officially mustered out of service the previous night, but William Joyce had insisted on remaining a soldier until order was restored in his city. He died at Bellevue Hospital early the next day. He was only 21 years old. His was the only known Draft Riot casualty among the 36th NY that week (Adjutant General's Report, 1900).
Two days later, the survivors of the regiment were mustered out of service; a few of the men who had enlisted for three years were transferred to the 65th NY.
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