Delevan Bates was a New Yorker who signed up with the 121st New York in 1861. He served as a lieutenant but later took a commission as colonel of the 30th U.S.C.T. Bates, who lived after the war in Nebraska, nevertheless wrote many articles for the Otsego (New York) Republican. They tend to be rambling and were written long after the fact, but there is nevertheless some good information in them, particularly about the Crater, where Bates was severely wounded but won the Medal of Honor.
Another worthwhile web site concerns the Twenty-fourth New York Cavalry, who fought as infantry, and who I mentioned in a previous post. A number of first-hand accounts there, and an impressive collection of regimental photo.
Also worth a look is Alfred Weimann’s site on the Forty-fifth New York, a German outfit that distinguished itself at Gettysburg.
I also found some information on the Chautauqua County Historical Society’s web site showcasing the letters of Fred C. Barger. He served with the Forty-ninth New York and though his field service was relatively brief (he lost a hand at Fredericksburg) his letters tell a good bit about the training of his regiment. The official records don’t tell much about training, and neither do most of the other army documents, since if you were in camp you knew what was going on, so why talk about it? Some of the best information about how the soldiers trained, especially target practice, comes from letters home, since the soldier would assume that the folks back on the farm didn’t know about it and would explain it to them.
The conventional wisdom is that the average soldier got little or no target practice and knew little about marksmanship. Overall I think there’s still a lot of truth to this, but nevertheless we are turning up more and more instances of target practice. One of these comes from Barger:
the next day the General took us over to Division Head Quarters and gave us a Brigade Drill – (such as you read of) told Captain Drake to “trot” that Company out and “deploy them as Skirmishers on the right file” to cover the Battalion which was accordingly done although the mud was about a foot deep and the left of the company had to “trot” about half a mile – we had no sooner got there than the order was to “assemble on the right file” and back again – as Gen Davidson was a short time since a Cavalry Major. he may be excusable for thinking that a poor “soger” can “trot” “gallop” or “run” like a Cavalry horse through the mud day after day. this I think, is his only trouble. he thinks that we should get around as fast as horses and consequently is somewhat disappointed. he compliments our Regiment quite highly – he has ordered that our Co (“G”) and Co “K” of our Regiment be drilled five hours a day exclusively in Skirmish drill and target shooting. we are excused from Picket. (Bully for us) Division Central or Camp Guard, Fatigue – or any other duty in order to to perfect ourselves in the Skirmishing – and target practice. we are the best in the Regiment now but can still improve. our co can beat the best shooting. I am getting to be a tolerable good shot myself at two hunred yards I put two shots out of three in the target. (about 18 inches by 30) Yesterday they were shooting 400 yard
It was fairly common practice to designate the two flank companies as skirmishers, but this is one of the few instances I’ve seen of special training in skirmish drill and marksmanship. While shooting at 200 yards (40 rods) was fairly common in matches, 400 yards is a long way by Civil War standards. The fact that they deployed at a trot shows that the General was attempting to use the “gymnastic pace” as recommended by the French. The Forty-ninth was later part of the so-called “Light Division” formed before Chancellorsville, and later specialized in skirmishing, so their training must have been pretty thorough. In a previous letter Barger mentions bayonet training as well.