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Private Eric Crossett

Company C - Eighth New York Cavalry


Private Crossett

           In September of 1862, an army recruiter came to Chenango County, New York. The 8th New York Cavalry was in need of new troopers to fill out the terms of those whose term of service had expired and to replace those lost in combat. The regiment, known popularly as the "Rochester Cavalry", had already been deeply involved in the war particularly at Harper's Ferry, Virginia where it had narrowly escaped capture by a night time ride through enemy lines. This is its Regimental Flag.

     Flag of the 8th New York Cavalry

       Eager recruits were found in Chenango County. The Chenango American, reported thirty seven men recruited in one day. Overall there were even more. These young men were filled with patriotism, an urge for adventure, and a romantic idea of the life of a cavalryman. Eric was older than most at twenty seven. He did not go alone. Several of his brothers-in-law also signed up. Abram Rosa, Horatio Nelson Furlow, Benjamin Franklin Furlow, and David Myers all signed on the line. Local churches and the Ladies Aid Society gave them  a send off providing them with "soldier's kits" of clean socks, needle and thread, and writing materials for letters home. 

        Eric's wife, Charlotte, who already had three small children, was eight months pregnant with a fourth, Eric S. Crossett Jr. who would be born in October. She spent the duration of the war with her father in Greene surrounded by a large extended family. 

        The recruits stayed a short time in Greene and then, in November were sent to Camp Rathbun at Elmira, New York later to become a confederate prisoner of war camp known as "Hellmira". to its inmates. Army records first list him as Erric Crassett. He was 26 years old, a mechanic, with blue eyes and brown hair. He was five feet eleven inches tall, unusual for that time. After a period of training he is reported as present in company in January of 1863.  The Spring 1863 campaign consisted of several skirmishes leading into the momentous summer campaign culminating in the Battle of Gettysburg. Eric nearly missed it all. 

         On March 23, 1863 Eric was admitted to the field hospital at Aquia Creek suffering from what was variously called "swamp fever" or just "fever". It was probably Typhoid Fever. More soldiers were felled by disease in the Civil War than by enemy action. Transferred to Carver Hospital in Washington, D.C. Eric spent all of April and May recuperating. He was returned to service on June 1, 1863. That month began the most memorable period for the 8th New York in the war. On June 2nd General Lee began moving his troops from their base around Fredericksburg, Virginia toward the north. General Joseph Hooker, in command of Union forces moves to parallel his course and block him if possible. General J.E.B. Stuart is Lee's cavalry commander and acts to scout Union movements. Likewise, General Hooker sends out General Alfred Pleasanton and several cavalry regiments to see what Lee is up to. The 8th New York is among them. The two forces meet at a crossing known as Brandy Station to the confederates and Beverly Ford to the Union. (ed. the south usually named their battles for nearby towns or buildings while the north used bodies of water to name battles. For example Bull Run vs. Manassas) This was the largest cavalry clash of the war and involved severe hand to hand combat. About ten thousand troops were involved on either side. Little strategic advantage was gained by either side but General Stuart discovered that Union Cavalry, whom he had previously belittled, were the equal of his own. The confederates suffered 523 casualties to the north's 81 dead, 403 wounded, and 382 missing. An excerpt from the Regimental history tells the story of the 8th New York's part in the battle. 

          "The summer campaign would see the troopers of the 8th in the massive cavalry battle at Brandy Station. Their Second Brigade commander, Colonel William Gamble, had taken medical leave due to the effects of a previous wound that nearly killed him and Colonel Davis, a West Pointer born in Alabama and raised in Mississippi, was in command of the brigade since March. Davis was a notably aggressive fighter, somewhat in contrast to Gamble's more methodical style, and was killed in the action. The cavalry division had departed camp for Beverly Ford, with the troopers of the 8th leading the advance. Upon reaching the river, it was enshrouded by dense fog, which helped to screen their quiet movements. The brigade dashed rapidly across the water, with the foremost squadrons of the 8th receiving a sharp fire from the Confederate pickets. The Federal horsemen took their enemy pickets by surprise, but Stuart's main force, camped a short distance behind, received warning of the attack. Marching down a road in columns of four, the regiment received a heavy fire from skirmishers in the thick woods bordering the sides. Enemy cavalry was forming in the road, as well as a battery of cannon, so the 8th dashed into the woods to their rear to reform. Reaching an open field, the troopers of the 8th Illinois were formed into line to support them and check the Confederates' advance, allowing time for the New Yorkers to reform and rally. While attempting to rally the men during the first attack, Davis fell victim to a revolver shot by Lieutenant Owen Allen of the 6th Virginia's Company D as Davis exhorted, "Stand firm, 8th New York!" A soldier of the 8th New York stated that "the deed was promptly avenged, however, by Adjutant Parsons (formerly a Lieutenant in Company K), who was close by, (and) wheeled his horse and by a right cut, cleft the fellow's head nearly in halves." Actually, the deed was avenged upon Sergeant John Stone of the 6th Virginia, who had ridden up to Allen's assistance.

Acting as skirmishers and in support of a battery, the troopers of the 8th would participate in the momentous cavalry battle that lasted nearly all day. Along with brigade commander Davis, nine of the 8th's men would die: Captain B. F. Foote of Company E, Lieutenant H. C. Cutler of Company A, Lieutenant Reeves of Company C, and privates John Lawson and Robert Faulkner of Company A, William H. Adams of Company H, John S. Smith of Company G (who was decapitated by a shell), Charles H. Brewster of Company I, John A. Lund of Company C, and Charles Ford of Company D. Lawson was singled out for special mention in one of Van Inglen's letters home to the Rochester newspaper; Major Pope, commanding the regiment (Lt. Colonel Markell had been detached to other duties), recounted the story to the Chaplain: "...it was impossible to restrain Lawson in his daring and impetuous courage - that asking his leave he rushed again and again into the thickest of the fight, and using his saber only, slew five of the enemy with his own hand, bringing in on the last occasion the sixth by the collar, who had surrendered to him at discretion. Lawson had four horses killed under him, himself falling with the last. It is hard to lose such soldiers - and to be deprived of the privilege of rewarding such prowess by promotion." At the battle, the 8th took more casualties than any other regiment. Upon Davis' lamented death, Markell took command of the regiment and would be promoted to Colonel in August, effective June 9. From Brandy Station to the July 1 opening of the Battle of Gettysburg, the regiment would march and skirmish almost daily."

         The regiment followed Lee north and under the command of Brigadier General Buford reached Gettysburg and were positioned on the ridge near the Lutheran Seminary. Buford used the cavalry as mounted infantry and had them all armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Every fourth trooper was assigned to take the horses to the rear and keep them in control while the others manned the line. We have no idea what role Eric played but the 8th was in a key position. Stationed along the Chambersburg Pike they made first contact with A. P. Hill's troops by whom they were greatly outnumbered. This link will explain in detail what happened. The regiment held on into the day falling back slowly and allowing Union forces to reach the battlefield. When they arrived, the regiment was withdrawn to the support of the new line forming on Cemetery Ridge. The following day the exhausted regiment was ordered off the field to proceed to Westminster to guard the trains. They saw no more of the battle but were active daily in pursuit of Lee as he moved south again. 

        In the spring of 1864, Eric was present with the regiment as they closed in on Richmond to begin the final campaign. For the months of May and June and from time to time until October he was on detached service to the Army Department as a teamster in the wagon trains. The aftermath of his sickness left him with chronic diarrhea and hemorrhoids which made it difficult to sit a horse all day. (He later applied for and received a partial disability pension.) In October his term of service was up but he and many of his comrades reenlisted for the duration and were formed into a new regiment with the same name. He became wagon master in the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, of the Army of the Potomac and in April, at Appomattox, the 8th New York received the flag of truce sent in by General Lee. On 27 June 1865 the regiment was mustered out of the army. Eric and many of his comrades joined the Grand Army of the
Republic,
an organization of veterans joined to provide support and political clout for themselves and their families. The G.A.R. presided at his funeral. 

        Of the brothers-in-law who left Greene that day in 1862, all returned save one. Abram Rosa died in hospital on Bedlow's Island from wounds suffered in combat. Then a fort, Bedlow's Island is now Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty stands. These men offered their lives for that liberty. 

Today we have a concrete reminder of those days in the Colt Pistol shown in Eric's belt in the picture at the start of this essay. To hold it is to imagine where it has been and what things it has seen. 

Eric's Colt Pistol

        I have not gone into great detail about the daily fighting engaged in by the 8th New York Cavalry. Their history is told in several sites on-line.

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