~ CORNELIUS ~
A genealogical voyage with one of the descendants
of Captain Aaron Cornelius
PART 7 - THE CIVIL WAR
The Civil War was an extremely difficult time in our country’s history for everyone. On August 13, 1862, Benjamin A. Willis, a young lawyer from Roslyn, New York, held the first in a series of recruiting rallies at Hewlett's Hotel in Hempstead. Each meeting was filled with patriotic speeches. It was during one of these rallies that John Cornelius (1836-1899), the fourth child of Moses Cornelius and Mary Place Cornelius, who was a stableman living in Hempstead, Long Island, decided to join the Union Army. He became part of the new recruits who were designated as Company H of the 119th New York Volunteers. He rose to the rank of Sergeant. On May 2, 1863, John along with the rest of the 119th New York Volunteers experienced their first taste of battle. While they were attempting to march around the Confederate Army they were attacked by General Stonewall Jackson's troops just outside Chancellorsville, Virginia. While under attack, many men of other regiments fled to safety but records show that the 119th did not run; they held their ground and supported the stubborn defense of Captain Hubert Dilger's Battery of Artillery, and for a short time, held off the entire Confederate advance. John Cornelius was wounded at Chancellorsville. He wrote about this to his young teenage sister, Mary Levinia Cornelius - “Slightly Wounded in the last Battle But not Searous ... i was hit partly under the arm Near the Shoulder Blade By a Buck Shot …” John recuperated in time to advance with his regiment into Pennsylvania to a small town called Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863, after a difficult eleven mile march, the men of the 119th were deployed as skirmishers in front of the advancing Confederate units. Although greatly outnumbered, they held firm while covering the retreat of the fleeing Union troops and once again they supported Captain Dilger's Artillery which had become positioned in the center of Gettysburg. That evening the 119th made camp on Cemetery Hill overlooking Gettysburg and awaited the next day's battle. The following day they successfully repelled a massive Confederate attack upon their position. In 1888, the surviving members of the 119th and Company H, returned to Gettysburg for the dedication of a monument in honor of the men of the regiment who fought in the battle. The monument stands at the corner of Howard Avenue and the Carlisle Pike, a silent tribute to all the members of the 119th who fought and died to preserve the Union. The front on the monument reads : 119TH N.Y. INFTY. 2ND BRIG. 3RD DIV. 11TH CORPS JULY 1, 1863. The reverse side of the monument states : THE STATE OF NEW YORK DEDICATES THIS MONUMENT TO THE OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS OF THE 119TH REGIMENT N. Y. INFTY. WHO, AS PATRIOTIC CITIZENS OBEYED THE SUMMONS OF THEIR COUNTRY, OFFERING THEIR LIVES FOR THE CAUSE OF UNION AND LIBERTY. CASUALTIES, KILLED 11, WOUNDED 70, CAPTURED OR MISSING 59: TOTAL, 140. TAKEN INTO ACTION, 16 OFFICERS 284 MEN. Later that year, on November 23rd, 119th participated in the battle of Lookout Mountain, just outside of Chattanooga. Although some claimed it made an unbeatable Confederate fortress, Union troops stormed the position and captured this strategic summit. The 119th remained in the Chattanooga area until the spring of 1864 and it is no secret that they fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. I could go on and on mentioning all 15 engagements of the 119th in which John fought but I’d like to simply say that in March of 1865 he saw his final action at Bentonville, North Carolina. He was mustered out of service on June 7th, 1865. As for John’s younger brother, Jacob Cornelius (1840-1909), or my great great great grandfather, he decided to join the Union Army in 1862. He left his home in Hempstead, Long Island and enlisted on August 27th 1862 into a regiment of the Union Army which was being established called Company E of the 127th Infantry of the New York Volunteers. There were different posters for each regiment, but they often had common themes, such as the one used to win recruits to the 127th Regiment. Across the top were the words, "PATRIOTS, COME FORWARD!" It also read, in part:
"In the present critical state of our country, will
young men still wait to be drafted? Come voluntarily, young men, and choose your associates in the performance of a most sacred duty. Who would
not rather be a Volunteer than a drafted man
in such a glorious cause?"
Six companies in all were being recruited from the area; letters A, B, C, D, F & G were recruited from New York City, while four other companies, E, H, I & J were recruited on Long Island, all under the command of Colonel Stewert L. Woodford. Company E was put under command of Captain James Wm Gurney. The 127th was official sworn into the Army on September 8th 1862. They were called the Monitors. They received this name from an early meeting on July 28th, where "... it was stated that an independent company was to be formed, to be known as the 'Monitor Company' and to be composed of young men of good moral character, each of whom was to exert a 'monitorial' restraining influence over the others, that the demoralizing influences of camp and army life might thereby be minimized." For further reading on this Company see: The History of The 127th New York Volunteers. "Monitors". In The War For The Preservation Of The Union - September 8th, 1862, June 30th, 1865 by Franklin McGrath of CompanyA (1898).
The regiment was first sent by railroad to Washington DC and was attached to General John Joseph Abercrombie's Brigade in the defenses of the city at Camp Morgan. The picket lines of the 127th stretched from the Potomac all the way to Leesburg Pike. The winter months were said to be difficult times for anyone stationed outside, especially with heavy rains, early snowfalls blanketing the entire area and thick Virginia mud everywhere. During these months the 127th had several small skirmishes with the Confederates and the unit eventually moved to Upton's Hill, near Fairfax, Virginia, which enabled them to take control some of the high ground. On April 11th 1863 Confederate General James Longstreet put siege to Suffolk, Virginia. On April 18th Jacob's regiment was ordered to this city to help defend it. The new Commander of the Union Army, General Joseph Hooker, who replaced Burnside after his staggering defeat at Fredericksburg, refused to surrender the city. On the 30th of April Longstreet was ordered to rejoin General Lee's command, and on the 4th of May he withdrew his whole force from around Suffolk. The 127th continued to be involved in and around the Suffolk area under Major-General John Adams Dix's Peninsula Campaign from June 24th to July 7th. Seven days earlier, or on July 1st of 1863, the Union Army under General Meade met the Confederate Army under General Robert Lee at Gettysburg. The rest is history. Lee's army was defeated. On the July 7th the 127th was briefly ordered back to Washington, D.C. to regroup where on July 13th it joined the rest of the Union Army as it crossed the Potomac during the dead of the night and chased the remainder of Robert E. Lee's army to Berlin, Maryland and then into the Shenandoah Valley. This campaign lasted until July 22nd. Then on August 7th Percy's regiment of the 127th and many others were ordered to South Carolina to reinforce Major-General Qunicy Gillmore's Union Troops who had suffered heavily at the battle for Fort Wagner.
Before the 127th had arrived, Union troops had landed at Lighthouse Inlet at the north end of Morris Island in Charleston Harbor and overran two thirds of the island before being stopped at Fort Wagner. On July 11th, Gillmore attacked this Confederate stronghold, which guarded the southern end of the harbor, but his attempt turned out to be unsuccessful. After this failed attack Gillmore reinforced his Union Troops and, just at dusk was settling on July 18th, he launched another attack, this time spear-heading with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first all black regiment. Historically, this was a tragic battle. Many died in the charge, including the unit's colonel, Robert Gould Shaw. And although members of the brigade actually scaled the parapet of the Confederate Fort, after a brutal hand-to-hand combat, they were driven back with heavy casualties. This assult was portrayed in the movie titled Glory. General Gilmore decided, rather than make any more direct attacks, to put the fort under siege. What was left of his troops had begun digging zig zag trenches towards the fort while moving their large guns into closer range. Besides it's own guns, Navy artillery also pounded Fort Wagner and together it was estimated that about one shell fell about every thirty seconds.
Jacob's regiment of the 127th arrived aboard the steamer 'Empire City' on August 11th, at 8pm, in the middle of the shelling. At the time the seas were very rough and it was decided that they should remain aboard the steamer. The following morning the 127th was transferred off the larger steamer onto a smaller one, the 'Escort,' and it was ferried up the Folly River to Pawnee Landing on Folly Island. They immediately became involved in the siege, first setting up their bivouack, or camp, near the sand dunes and the surf. However, Confederate troops refused to surrender Fort Wagner and they held on for approximately fifty-eight days until the night September 6th when they abandoned the fort and surrounding areas leaving the Union Army to occupy all of Morris Island the following day.
In 1864 Jacob’s regiment, which was now stationed on Cole Island, became involved in the siege and bombardment of the city of Charleston. In a letter to his teenage sister, Mary Levinia Cornelius, dated April 6, 1864, Jacob included a poem that he had written titled Spring Time.
From July 3rd to October, the 127th was involved in such campaigns as Fort Johnson, Battery Simpkins, James Island and was briefly stationed in Beaufort, S.C in early November.
Then, on the 15th of November 1864, the Union Army, which included Jacob's regiment of the 127th, became involved in Major-General John P. Hatch's Expedition to destroy the Charleston & Savannah Railroad outside Grahamville, South Carolina in the hopes to cut off the Confederate troops who were being sent as reinforcements to stop Sherman's 'March to the Sea.' A Union force of about 5,000 soldiers and marines boarded gunboats at Hilton Head Island with the immediate destination being Boyd's Landing up the Broad River. They arrived here on the 29th and began a seven mile march toward Grahamville, but they became hopeless lost and had to bivouack for the night, which meant a crucial day was lost. At nine o'clock in the morning, on the 30th, they made a force march towards Grahamville. The 127th was sent forward, leading the regiment down a long narrow road, where it had the first skirmish with Confederates at 9:15am. This occurred just five miles west of their destination of Boyd's Landing, just as they were approaching Honey Hill, which was a fifteen to twenty foot high embankment. They were shocked to find that Confederate troops were digging in, constructing earthworks and moving in heavy guns. Although outnumbered, the Confederate troops under Colonel Charles Colcock, with only 1,400 men, fought hard and decimated the Union Army, which suffered a staggering loss of 746 men, while Confederates lost only 50 soldiers. The Union Army, which included Percy Cornelius, was forced to withdraw from the battlefield. Honey Hill was not captured. Ironically, had the Union Troops arrived the evening before, as initially planned, most of the Confederate troops would not have been there. After the failure at Honey Hill the 127th was sent back to Charleston. They were now under the command of Major General Gustavus Smith and they arrived outside the city on the very same railroad that they had hoped to destroy outside Honey Hill.
The seige of Charleston by the 127th and other regiments, as well as new campaigns to destroy much of the Savannah Railroads took place between December 6th through the 9th of 1864. On the 16th General Sherman, feeling secure, departed from Atlanta and began his 'March to the Sea.' During this period the 127th made further attacks on the Charleston and Savannah Railroads between December 19th through the 29th.
By midFebruary of 1865 most the Confederete troops under General Hardee had evacuated the city of Charleston and shortly thereafter it was entered by Union troops of the 55th Massachusetts. It was reported: "The city is now but little more than a heap of ruins. When the Yankees entered, nearly half of it was in ashes and a terrible fire was still raging." On February 24th Colonel Stewert Woodford of the 127th was appointed Chief of Staff to General Gilmore and he was made temporary commander of Charleston. Jacob Cornelius' regiment was to do provost duty in the city.
The Civil War finally ended on April 19th 1865 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. Two months later, on June 30th 1865, the 127th which was still in Charleston, was disbanded. During the course of the war the 127th lost a total of 130 men. Thirty-five were enlisted men killed in battle, one Officer died and ninety-four succumbed to disease. Jacob served in all the above campaigns as a Private in the 127th and was finally mustered out of the Union Army on June 30th, 1865. AFTER THE WAR AND TO THE PRESENT
Copyright (C) Cornelius
Charleston, South Carolina
General Stewert L. Woodford Captain James Wmn Gurney
Signed copy of 1st edition
in the private library of
J. Edward Cornelius
Drawing from The History of the 127th New York Volunteers