Niagara Gazette

Features

June 29, 2014

GUEST VIEW: Niagara County Civil War losses remembered in speech 150 years ago

Niagara Gazette — Why is The Battle of Cold Harbor not mentioned with Vicksburg, Gettysburg and Antietam?

That rhetorical question from Captain David L. Pitcher, of the 8th NY Heavy Artillery, still resonates with those conscious of the bloodshed Niagara County incurred for the United States during the Civil War.

Second to only the 1st Maine, the "Bloody 8th" suffered the most fatalities of any Union regiment. More horrific was that half of the unit’s casualties occurred in 15 minutes at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Va., on June 3, 1864.

The speech, aptly named "From Niagara Falls To Cold Harbor," is not widely remembered or even quoted. It was, however, published by this same Gazette four days later on Aug. 22, 1885. Gathered were friends and family of the surviving regiment in which Captain Pitcher was profoundly involved. The 8th were celebrating the return of their regimental flag which had been misplaced in a Pennsylvania warehouse for 20 years. Pitcher took the crowd through the regiment history from its training Lockport to Baltimore‎. He concluded his speech with the regiment’s decorated involvement with the Army of the Potomac in the Overland Campaign in Virginia.

Originally the 129 NY Volunteer Infantry, the 8th was formed on July 7, 1862, when Peter A. Porter of Niagara Falls received authority to recruit a regiment from Genesee, Orleans and Niagara counties. Lincoln, needing resources to quell a prolonged rebellion, asked the country for 300,000 additional soldiers. Niagara’s quota of 776 men was the highest of the three counties. These farmers, laborers, and coopers were recruited out Niagara City, Youngstown, Bergholz, Tonawanda and Martinsville.

The 8th's tenure in Baltimore was spent shuttling prisoners back and forth from ports in Maryland and Virginia. They also presided over nearly 300 military cases involving court marshals, breaches of conduct, and minor disturbances. 

Given Maryland’s wavering considerations to both North and South, the 8th's presence at Fort Federal Hill in Baltimore was memorable. Still, by the summer of 1863 with the war entering its third year, the regiment began displaying anxiety. Pitcher, in a letter to the Lockport Daily Journal and Courier, wrote “we would write home with a confidence and pride worthy the cause of our country ... but this life of ease and idleness, we have no desire to write.”

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