NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Arthur Chase's Civil War diary

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTERArthur L. Chase, 1843-1864

Last week Niagara Discoveries looked at the life and family of Samuel L. Chase of Ontario Street in Lockport. Chase had four sons, three of whom predeceased him. Arthur L., the youngest of the Chase sons, was born in 1843, most likely in Vermont or New Hampshire. The Chases came to Lockport in 1844 when Arthur was an infant. Since nothing is known of Arthur’s childhood, his military career and diary entries will be outlined here.

According to his obituary in the Lockport Daily Journal, “Young Chase entered the service as a volunteer, very soon after the war commenced, as a private, and at the end of nine months was mustered out with his regiment.” That regiment was the 7th New York Volunteer Cavalry. As soon as he was discharged from that regiment, he joined another, the 129th New York Volunteer Infantry.

The 129th was organized and mustered in at Lockport in August 1862, and trained at the old Niagara County Fairgrounds at Washburn and Willow strets. At the end of the month, the 129th left Lockport for Baltimore. Arriving in that city, the regiment was assigned to guard military hospitals before reporting to Fort Federal Hill. While at the fort, the 129th guarded and escorted Confederate prisoners to nearby internment camps.

In letters home to his family, Sgt. Chase wrote about the conditions of prisoners and the sicknesses that were plaguing both the Union and Confederate soldiers. He also wrote of recreational activities that the troops engaged in when not on duty. These diversions included attending dances, playing cards and writing letters home. In addition to relaying news of duties and camp life, most begged family friends to send them packages of food, clothing and other items not available (or very expensive) at their post.

In January 1863, it was announced the 129th Infantry would now become the 8th Heavy Artillery. Sgt. Chase was assigned to Company D. This change was cause for relief for some of the regiment and disappointment for others. At that point in the war, heavy artillery units were kept in the back, behind the front lines, and some considered it safer and less likely to be fatal. Many men wrote home to their families to relieve their anxiety, while a few expressed frustration at not seeing any action.

Except for brief excursions to transport prisoners and other short assignments, the 8th was based in Baltimore from September 1862 to May 1864. In the summer of 1863, President Lincoln initiated the draft and companies of the 8th were sent to Elmira to escort the new troops to Baltimore. In December 1863, Arthur Chase returned to Lockport to assist in the recruiting office set-up in the Arcade Hall on Pine Street.

On Feb. 27, 1864, Sgt. Chase was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant in Company D. The next day in his diary he noted, “Today the company presented me with a sword, belt and sash as a testimony of their regard for my services.”

As the war dragged on, the illusion of safety for the 8th regiment diminished. Disease had decimated their ranks but new recruits were arriving to fill in the voids. In May 1864, the 8th was finally called up to join General Meade’s Army of the Potomac, now under command of General Grant. The Union had suffered heavy losses at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and the 8th was called up to reinforce the depleted ranks.

Arriving at Spotsylvania near the end of the engagement, the 8th “charged the Rebs through the woods and drove them.” Over the next 10 days, the regiment moved closer to Richmond. Chase wrote in his diary of long marches, building defense works, engaging the Confederates in skirmishes and being well fed despite the circumstances. They reached Cold Harbor, Va., on May 30th and "immediately engaged the Rebels.”

Over the next few days, the 8th was moved along the line. On June 3rd, 2nd Lt. Chase recorded in his diary, “We were in line at four o’clock this morning and charged the Rebel works but they cut us down by hundreds. I was struck four times. Col. Porter was killed …We lost half the officers that went into the fight.”

It was later learned that Chase had received one wound but as he lay on the battlefield, he was shot three more times by the Confederates. Despite being severely injured, Chase wrote in his diary an account of what had happened to him. After 18 hours, he was taken from the field and brought to a hospital in Washington, where he died on June 8, 1864.

Chase's body was returned to Lockport for burial in Glenwood Century on June 13th.

In addition to his diary, the History Center has his wallet on exhibit in the Civil War Room.

For those who want the learn more about the history of the 8th Heavy Artillery Regiment, the History Center sells a two-volume book, Full Measure of Devotion by the late historian Wilbur Dunn, in the gift shop.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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