History of the 52nd NY


From January 1863 to December 1863

The months after Fredericksburg were a low point for the Army of the Potomac.  Burnside attempted another offensive campaign on January 20, 1863.  However, rain and warm weather turned the roads into mud, and the offensive had to be called off.  The 52nd had not left its camp yet when the campaign was called off, so it never participated in the “Mud March”.  Burnside was relieved of command shortly thereafter and replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.  Hooker improved morale and discipline in the army.  He instituted the use of corps badges as a way to identify soldiers and promote unit pride.  Each corps was assigned a distinctive badge, and each division was assigned a color.  The 2nd Corps was given the trefoil (similar to the clubs suite in a deck of cards), and the 1st Division was given the color red.  Afterwards, the 52nd and other units in their division would proudly wear the red trefoil.  Hooker also had to reorganize the army.  The Grand Divisions were broken up and Maj. Gen. Sumner asked to be reassigned.  Zook received his long awaited promotion to Brigadier General.  The 1st Division created the 4th Brigade from units taken from the other brigades in April 1863.  The 3rd Brigade lost the 53rd Pennsylvania, the 2nd Delaware and the 27th Connecticut, but gained the 140th Pennsylvania.  The army also had to be reorganized because some units were being mustered out.  Many of those units were formed in April and May 1861 and had signed two-year enlistments.  They wanted to get home before the fighting started again.  On April 26, the 7th New York, the only other all-German unit in the 2nd Corps, was sent home to New York City.  About 60 men who had enlisted in the regiment after it was first mustered in and had served less than a year as of April 1863 were sent as a detachment to the 52nd.  Some of those men were not happy at the circumstances and deserted.  Those remaining were attached to Company B, and fought with the 52nd for more than a year until the 7th New York had been re-raised and returned to the field.

On April 28, 1863, the 1st Division marched towards Bank’s Ford, where the 3rd Brigade was involved in providing pickets and improving roads.  This was the beginning of the Chancellorsville Campaign, which was supposed to trap the smaller Army of Northern Virginia between two parts of the Army of the Potomac and forcing it to fight.  Two days later, the 2nd Corps crossed the Rappahannock at United States Ford and marched towards the cross roads of Chancellorsville.  On May 1, portions of the 1st Division, including the 3rd Brigade, were moved back and forth in the area east of the crossroads.  At one point, through the fault of a staff officer, the 52nd was posted as skirmishers in plain view of the enemy and suffered casualties from Confederate artillery.  On May 2, the division was shifted around once more.  Rifle pits were dug and abatis was felled, and the 3rd Brigade occupied the far left of the division’s line.  The brigade was split up to provide men for the skirmish line under Col. Nelson Miles of the 61st New York.  The 57th and part of the 52nd were sent to the skirmish line where they became involved in the fighting.  Eventually, the rest of the 52nd was sent as well.  That evening, the 52nd and the 57th were relieved on the skirmish line by the 66th New York and part of the 140th Pennsylvania.  On that same day, the 11th Corps line, on the far right flank of the army, was broken by Gen. Thomas Jackson’s surprise attack, and the 11th Corps began to retreat back to the crossroads.  This caused a lot of confusion as the army tried to establish a new defensive line and reform the scattered 11th Corps.

The 52nd and the 57th rested on the evening of May 2.  The next day, they were detailed to Brig. Gen. John Caldwell, commander of the 1st Brigade.  Caldwell’s provisional brigade was ordered by Hooker to attack Confederates threatening the Union rear.  Along with the 61st New York and part of the 148th Pennsylvania, the 52nd and the 57th, jointly under the command of Col. Frank, pushed the Confederates back.  They succeeded but pulled back when they found a larger enemy force trying to move around their flank.  Even though Paul Frank was wounded in the fighting, the 52nd and the 57th performed well.  Command of the 52nd passed to Lt. Col. Charles Freudenberg.  In the meantime, Zook only had the 140th Pennsylvania under his command, which spent May 3 providing cover for the 5th Maine Battery.  After the battery suffered heavy losses in men and horses, the 140th helped carry off the battery’s wounded and move some of its cannon and caissons out of harms way, along with other wounded men at the crossroads.  At the end of the day, Zook was reunited with his scattered regiments.  The 3rd Brigade was pulled back with the rest of the 2nd Corps and helped cover the retreat of the army.  They spent three days in rifle pits behind abatis until they crossed back over the river on May 6 and returned to Falmouth.  After the battle, Couch requested a transfer.  Hancock was given command of the 2nd Corps and his division was given to Brig. Gen. John Caldwell.

In the beginning of June, the Army of Northern Virginia moved north towards Pennsylvania.  The Army of the Potomac moved north as well, always keeping between the Confederates and Washington, D.C.  June 14 found the 52nd on picket duty at Banks Ford with part of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  The 4th Brigade, under Col. John Brooke, arrived in the evening and set up pickets with the 52nd.  After dark, Brooke’s brigade pulled out and marched north.  The 52nd joined them for a while, but returned later that night to continue the picket, where they were joined by the 2nd Delaware.  As the 52nd moved north during June, Confederate cavalry captured several men.  At the end of June, Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade as the commander of the Army of the Potomac.

By the time the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia clashed at Gettysburg on July 1, the 52nd had been marching 25-30 miles a day through hot weather.  The 2nd Corps arrived south of Gettysburg on the night of July 1.  The 3rd Brigade arrived on the battlefield itself on the morning of July 2 after guarding the wagon train.  They joined their division near the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge and rested.  When the Confederates attacked the over-extended line of the 3rd Corps in the south, elements of the 5th Corps were sent in reinforce the line.  That evening, the 1st Division was sent to the Wheatfield, west of the Round Tops, to help the 3rd and 5th Corps units in trouble.  As the division moved south, a staff officer of the 3rd Corps intercepted the 3rd Brigade, which was last in line.  After Zook conferred with the officer, Zook detached the brigade from the division and followed the staff officer to place the brigade where the officer said it was needed most.  The brigade marched through Trostles Woods, advancing past Union soldiers retreating from the Wheatfield.  The brigade formed a battle line with the 66th New York on the left, the 52nd in the center and the 140th Pennsylvania on the right.  The 57th New York was in reserve behind the other regiments.  Leaving the woods, it crossed into the Wheatfield and advanced towards a wooded, stony hill west of the field that had recently been occupied by a brigade of South Carolinians under Brig. Gen. Joseph Kershaw.

Though the brigade had deployed in the field on its own, the rest of the division ended up in the same area.  The 2nd Brigade formed off to the left of the 3rd and advanced towards the same hill, causing the two brigades to collide and overlap.  The 3rd Brigade ended up as the right flank of the division.  During the advance Zook was mortally wounded and carried off the field.  Col. Richard Roberts of the 140th Pennsylvania was killed and Col. Orlando Morris of the 66th New York was wounded during the battle as well.  Lt. Col. Freudenberg said he took command of the brigade but only managed to straighten the line before being wounded three times.  Who exactly held command of the brigade after Zook is unclear, but Col. John Brooke of the 4th Brigade said he took charge of the brigade during the battle.  At the end of the fighting, official command rested with Lt. Col. John Fraser of the 140th.  The 2nd and 3rd Brigades pushed the Confederates off the stony hill but the advance of the rest of the division to the south had created gaps between units.  The division was also low on ammunition.  Fresh attacks by the Confederates forced the Union line to break.  An unengaged Confederate brigade came from the Peach Orchard to the west and hit the line of the 140th Pennsylvania.  At the same time, the rest of the division was beginning to fall apart.  The 3rd Brigade retreated in disorder, left the Wheatfield and regrouped on Cemetery Ridge.  The 52nd was unengaged on July 3.  The 52nd had taken 134 men into the battle and suffered 38 casualties.  The regiments second in command, Maj. Edward Venuti, had been killed, leaving Capt. William Scherrer in command.  The 52nd entered the battle as one of the smallest infantry regiments on the field.

Shortly after the battle, Col. Frank returned to take command of the regiment.  Hancock had been wounded at Gettysburg, and the 2nd Corps was given to Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Warren until he returned.  The army moved south into Virginia and remained relatively inactive until October.  In late September, the 52nd received about 600 new recruits.  These men were draftees, substitutes for drafted men who had the money to pay for someone to go in their place, or men who enlisted for the higher bounties.  They were from all over New York and were of different backgrounds.  This probably resulted in some tension in the regiment.  The original men of the 52nd were more homogenous than the recruits and had forged a bond amongst themselves during the war, and now had a large group of newcomers among them.  Even though the 52nd was less German than it was before, and would remain this way for this rest of the war, it was still seen as a German regiment because of its officers and veteran core.  Training and experience would help the new recruits, but those were two things that would be hard for the 52nd to provide, for there were only 85 veterans present.  There were too few veterans to train the men or act as steady influences in battle.  Some of the new recruits had served in other units earlier in the war, but the vast majority had no experience at all.  To make matters worse, the army moved out on campaign soon after their arrival, throwing them into situations they were not ready for.

On October 9, the Army of the Potomac began to move north from Culpeper, Virginia in response to a Confederate attempt to cut them off from their supplies.  Col. Frank was in command of the brigade and Lt. Col. Freudenberg had recovered enough to take charge of the 52nd.  On October 14, the 1st Division was resting on a hill near Auburn while waiting for the rest of the 2nd Corps to cross Cedar Run so it could become the rearguard.  The men were allowed to start fires and cook breakfast when enemy artillery opened up on them.  The 52nd suffered a few casualties before they were able to move to safety.  In response, part of the division formed a skirmish line and moved to attack the Confederate artillery and provide cover for the rest of the corps.  They began to fall back when the rest of the corps had moved down the road away from the ford, but moved faster when they realized a larger enemy force confronted them.  Some of the Union troops were cut off and taken prisoner.  The 2nd Corps spent the rest of the day moving northwards towards Bristoe Station, with the 1st Division in the rear.  They were under constant threat from pursuing Confederate forces.  They found the 5th Corps engaged on their arrival at Bristoe Station and pitched into the battle. The 1st Division was the last to arrive and they were ordered to form on the Union left and hold the line along a railroad embankment, which provided excellent cover.  The 52nd was not engaged and suffered only a few casualties from artillery.  After the fighting ended, the 2nd Corps continued north during the night.  The confused fighting at Auburn and the rapid marching cost the 52nd over 60 casualties on October 14.  Most of them were captured near Auburn, where they had probably gotten confused or lost, or had somehow managed to involve themselves with the skirmish line.  The rest probably fell behind on the march.  There were a number who were labeled as missing at the end of the day, but most of them managed to return to the regiment.  Assistant Surgeon Gustav Bingel remained behind at Bristoe Station to help treat those wounded who could not be moved.  He was captured by the Confederates but paroled a few months later.

During the last few days of November, the Union army started the Mine Run campaign in an attempt to bring Lee into battle.  Col. James Beaver of the 148th Pennsylvania was in charge of the brigade at this time.  After a few days of maneuvering, skirmishing and reconnaissance, planned assaults were called off because of the strong Confederate position.  The 2nd Corps returned to their camps near Stevensburg during the first week of December.  The 52nd suffered several wounded during the campaign.  About 20 men were also captured, who were probably left behind on the skirmish line by mistake.  In December, some members of the original 52nd re-enlisted to continue serving in the war.  This would keep the regiment in service after its original enlistments expired the next year and gave it the right to call itself a Veteran Regiment.

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