The Merrell Brothers in the Civil War
Franklin, John Francis and Frederick Merrell, sons of Riley and Charlotte (Hubbard) Merrell of Butler, all volunteered for action in the Civil War as members of Co. G, 75th Regiment, New York Volunteers, walking from Butler to Auburn - some 40 miles - to enlist. A history of this regiment was written by J. Phisterer (New York in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, 3rd ed., Vol. IV, pp. 2780-2796). H.S. Commager also describes some of the actions of the regiment in his "The Blue and The Gray." the following information, written by Walter Prichard, is taken from the introduction to the journal of one of the officers, William H. Root, entitled The "Experiences of a Federal Soldier in Louisiana in 1863" (Louisia Historical Quart., volume not recorded, p. 635) The Seventy-Fifth New York Regiment of Infantry was organized at Auburn, under command of Colonel John A. Dodge, and received its numerical designation November 14, 1861. It was mustered into service of the United States for three years on November 26, 1861. The men were recruited principally in the counties of Cayuga and Seneca. The Regiment left the State of New York December 6, 1861, serving first at Santa Rosa Island and Fort Pickens, Florida, until transferred to Pensacola, Florida, in May, 1862. In September, 1862, the Regiment was transferred to New Orleans, Department of the Gulf, where, after October 1862, it was attached to Weitzel's Reserve Brigade. It took part in the Louisiana campaign at Donaldsonville and Georgia Landing, in October 1862; in January, 1863, it was in the operations on Bayou Teche; in March, 1863, it was engaged in the operations against Port Hudson; in April, 1863, it was in the movement from Morgan City [then known as Brashear City, located about 60 miles west of New Orleans] up the Teche to Alexandria, and by May was at the siege of Port Hudson, where it remained until July 8, after the fall of that fortification.
Following the fall of Port Hudson, the Regiment operated on Bayou Lafourche, took part in the expedition against Sabine Pass, Texas, and was back at New Iberia and Camp Lewis before the close of the year 1863. In 1864 it took part in General Banks' Red River campaign, from March to May. Following the collapse of the Red River campaign, the Regiment was transferred to the Virginia theater of war, where it engaged in numerous battles between July and October, 1864, when, its three year term of enlistment having nearly expired, it was sent back home to be mustered out of service. The members of the Regiment entitled to be discharged at the expiration of the term of service, were, November 19, 1864, ordered to Auburn, and there honorably discharged December 7, 1864. The Regiment was continued in service, but consolidated, November 19, 1864, into a battalion of five companies, which continued in service until the close of the war.
Several letters from the Merrell boys are worth quoting. John wrote from Pensacola on 5 May 1862, that there were more dogs there than in the "hole York state", that citizens had been ordered to shoot them, and that there were 25 to be buried every morning, while Fred reported (summer 1862?) that he had had measles, but "i am not dade if i do smell bad". Letters from both John and Franklin written 30 August 1862 report that they had been ordered to New Orleans, having been transferred from Gen. Hunter's division to Gen Ben Butler's. On a forced march they captured 21 rebels with their 60 head of cattle and 3 horses.
The negative response to Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863 is reflected in Fred's letter of 8 March written at Camp Reno, Brashear City (now Morgan City), La. Ten men had deserted from the regiment in the previous 2 weeks, and Fred feared that if things kept on that way, the rebs would have all the men on their side. "They say that as long as thay have to fight to free the negro that they will leave as soon as thay get a chance and if it was not for the respect that I have for my friends I should have left the arme to go as it might..." A letter addressed "Dear Boys" and written at Wolcott on 23 March, possibly by Norton Merrell, indicates that such opinions were not confined to soldiers. The writer says that he is disgusted with the government, that the whole thing is a swindle and that there is nothing but ruin ahead. He hopes the boys are content and thinks they are because they had enlisted before it got to be a "negro war".
While Grant was besieging Vicksburg farther up the Mississippi, the 75th and other units, now under the command of Gen. Nathaniel Banks, attacked Port Hudson. John describes the battle in a letter written June 26, 1863. He had been in 3 charges, in some of which the men fell like hail, and had had the cap shot off his head. "I saw one copony charg and they started fourt[y] row men and when they fell back they had lost twenty row men and the charge did not last five minits." "I wish that old banks was in his grave or that he was some wharles and that old Butler was here in his place." According to John, Gen. Banks did not have the confidence of his men, despite reports to the contrary. [In his diary, Wm. Root (see above) notes that Banks posted guards to prevent the soldiers from helping themselves to provisions from homes in the area. On June (?) 15 he writes, "Yesterday our troops cheered Gen'l Banks when he passed along the lines, but tonight I don't think he could raise a cheer in the 75th at least. The men say he cares more for the property of rebels than he does for the comfort of his own soldiers. He marches them very hard and then won't allow them to have what they want to eat." "Perhaps Gen'l Banks thinks he is gaining popularity & gaining votes for the presidency but so far as the men are concerned I am sure it works the other way."]
The Confederate garrison at Port Hudson surrendered on July 9 after learning of the fall of Vicksburg. By that time the rebels were eating their mules to keep from starving. Both John and Franklin were treated for wounds at the Marine Hospital in New Orleans. While recuperating, John wrote (11 July 1863) that Fred was still with the troops, but that "Frank is here with me, has got over his wound and is reddy to go to his regmt." Frank had been hit with buckshot in the right shoulder just above the collar bone, while "...mine was in right thy and in the left brest just below the hart." "Fred did not hurt but got bol through his cape and kild the man behind him. fred found me and got the Streche and cared me of the field."
There are no letters dealing with the brothers' experiences between September of 1863 in Louisiana and the death of Frederick at Winchester, Va., in September of the following year. In the meantime, the 75th had been transferred to Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley had been a major source of supply for the Confederate Army, and all attempts by the Union forces to secure it had failed until General Phil Sheridan was given the task in July 1864. The 75th was one of the units under his command, and one of the decisive battles was fought at Winchester. The battle got off to a bad start for the North. John wrote (25 September 1864) that Fred was wounded in the thick of the fight, and that he had given him up for lost when the Regiment was forced to retreat. Although John found him and talked with him when the troops recaptured the ground lost, Fred died the next day (Tuesday, 20 September 1864 ?), and was buried at "Red Bud Mills" on a sandy knoll beside a running stream.
On October 19, Franklin was wounded at Cedar Creek, the final engagement between Sheridan's forces and those of Gen. Jubal Early. Sheridan was at Winchester when the Confederates staged a surprise attack, and it appeared that they might carry the day. However, the General arrived in time to rally the troops and thus shut the rebels out of the Valley for good. Franklin's wound in the heel never completely healed until a piece of bone finally worked its way out a few years before he died in 1919. His wife kept the spent ball in her sewing basket as a memento. He was discharged on June 15 as a corporal at Hilton Head, S.C., while John had attained the rank of sergeant.
A final letter (24 June 1865) was written by John from Savannah, Ga., following the war's end, by which time he supposed Frank to be home. "O God be blest for this war is over ...".
Franklin married Mary Calkins of Butler, the daughter of John W. Jr. and Hannah Allen Calkins, and the couple had four children - Frederick, Hudson, Willis, and Hattie Ann Nettie. Hudson, who died in infancy, was born on the day that Mary's brother, Hudson F. Calkins, died, and was named for him.
Franklins grandchildren often teased Franklin to tell them War stories, and he would sometimes oblige with recollections of beautiful plantations and mountains in Virginia, or second-hand accounts of the horrors suffered by Union captives in Libby Prison. On a hot day in July he might say, "It was like this when we were besieging Vicksburg* " (Or perhaps Port Hudson, as the 75th did not take part in the siege of Vicksburg.) Son Willis passed on the story of how soldiers who became careless of their personal appearance were sometimes forcibly taken to a stream and cleaned up with the aid of a broom!
John Francis 8/ Merrell married Sophia Johnson of Wolcott during his convalescence in 1864, settled in Shelby, Ill. after the war, then moved to Roseland, Nebr., where both he and Sophia are buried. Sophia died after the birth of two children, neither of whom survived, and John married Rebecca Morgan of Roseland, who bore him four children - Ace, Rena (Mecham), John O., and Nettie (Adcock).
Four letters, written by John or Sophia from Nebraska, are available. One of these (4 September 1878) reports much sickness, several deaths, poor crops, and wheat at only 56 cents per bushel. However, "I did mary the girl that worked for us [?]" and "...by the by I have got a live [?] BOY." John's obituary reports that he was "miraculously converted at the age of eighty-three years; was baptized and joined the Methodist church at Roseland ...".
Submitted by Town of Rose Editor Frank G. Dennis
Copyright © 2000 Frank G. Dennis
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