Artifacts of The 44th


Rachel Rollo

     The 44th New York Volunteer Infantry was a regiment of soldiers made up of specially chosen men from all over New York State. The full name of the Regiment was the 44th New York Volunteers, the People's Ellsworth Regiment.[1]  This regiment was formed by a committee of upstanding citizens, who were appalled by the murder of the young army colonel, Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth was the first Union officer to be killed in the Civil War. He was a well-respected young military man who was killed by in Alexandria, Virginia by a southern man for cutting down a rebel flag. With his death, the Ellsworth association was formed and the 44th New York was raised in his honor. One man was to be chosen from every town. They were selected on the basis of a tough criterion including high moral character, a height of at least five feet seven inches, and age less than thirty years. The regiment was indeed impressive to behold. Also unique to the 44th was their enlistment, unlike many of the other early formed regiments, the 44th enlisted for the length of the war.[2]  Another nuance of the 44th was the Normal School company. By October of 1862 the 44th had lost so many men that two companies had to be replaced. The Normal School company, or new company E was one of these companies. This company was raised and led by professors from the Normal school of Albany, and many and many of its early recruits were students from the Normal School.[3]  The 44th was a unique regiment; it served with distinction in the Civil war and was truly the pride of New York.

     The men of the 44th New York Volunteers fought in several battles of the Civil War. While fighting for the Union, many men were wounded or killed. Several of the men went on to relative greatness after the war. Today all the soldiers of the 44th are gone but they have left their traces. Countless books have been written on the Civil War. There are books and records about and by the members of the regiment. Besides official records and books, what else remains of the 44th , and what is the significance of these objects?

     Examining the material culture of a historical period enhances the understanding of cultures. The student of Egyptian history would no doubt be deprived of a level of knowledge by neglecting a study of Egypt's architectural and artistic marvels. Likewise studying the artifacts of the men of the Civil War helps to create a three dimensional appreciation for the war experience. Certain items had a history of special significance that continued long after the war. Battle flags did more than identify regiments. An officer's saber did more than add flare to the uniform. At the time of the Civil War the U.S. Army did not have a standard uniform. Thus, equipment, and style of dress depended partially on the preference of the commander and particularly on the support of the community. Many items were donated in elaborate ceremonies and the donors would often make demands on the recipients of these gifts.

     Artifacts had a history before during and after the war. Communities donated flags. They were used in great battles, and often that would seem to be the end of their legacy. However, there are many records of the history of these relics. Several of the artifacts have come into the possession of different historical agencies where the public can have at least a limited access to them for study. This essay will give a partial inventory of some of the artifacts of the 44th and as well give guidance for further research to whoever wishes to study the tangible history of this famous regiment.

     The history of the American interest in collecting Civil War artifacts dates from as early as the middle of the war. There was significant interest in New York's military collectibles, and in 1863 the first Albany relief bazaar took place. This was an auction of war relics donated by soldiers and their families to raise money for the Union war effort. The event raised money, awareness, and a very charitable spirit. Many of the buyers from the auction very generously donated their purchases back to the cause. This made necessary the formation of the Hall of Military Records, by order of Governor Morgan in the December of 1862. This office became custodian of what was becoming a large collection of military equipment and memorabilia. This collection was very well documented partially because of correspondences and thanks between the organization and the donors. Not long after the Hall of Military Records had been formed, the collection in Albany became so large that a new, larger, and better-facilitated office had to be created to manage the collection; thus the Bureau of Military Statistics was formed. This office later became the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, and the collection came under their supervision as it is today. This office is also the National Guard Museum.

     The museum is located at the Watervliet Arsenal, in Watervliet New York, and it currently houses the largest identified collection of Civil War artifacts in the country. While this museum is affiliated with the U.S. Army it is, unfortunately, not under the auspices of the U.S. Army Museum system. It is very inadequately funded, and its primary financial resource is the State of New York. The collection is climate controlled and in archival quality storage. However the facility's staff are requesting a new building that could have an archive, research center, and a display area. The current facility has nothing on display and until the State legislates for a new building one of the greatest collections of Civil War artifacts in the U.S. will remain virtually inaccessible to the general public. This is just one of the many facilities that house Civil War information and artifacts; it and others will be discussed further as the whereabouts and provenance of the 44th New York's artifacts are explored.

     One of the most symbolic and significant pieces of military material culture is the battle flag: Ellsworth's Avengers would never have been brought together had not the young colonial himself been slain over the act of cutting down an offending Rebel flag. During the Civil War era the battle flag had tangible as well as symbolic purposes. On the battlefield it was necessary for troops to carry a flag to identify themselves, partially because of the dense smoke created by the black powder weapons, and particularly because the two opposing forces wore such similar uniforms. Soldiers could find their units in the confusion by seeking their regimental colors. Likewise the enemy's banner was identified as a target of attack.[4]  While the enemy's colors were meant to fall, soldiers would look to their own colors for motivation. Therefore not only the outcome of the day but also the honor of the regiment was on the shoulders of the color guard. "The colors served as the only visible sign around which an otherwise broken unit might rally."[5] . Because of the great significance of the flag, the duty of the color bearer was a tremendous honor and a task not to be taken lightly. The job was extremely dangerous. The men followed their banner into battle and it would be under heavy fire for the duration. One of the 44th New York's flags had received 2 shell holes, 84 bullet holes, and its staff was twice cut in half by enemy fire. Twelve color bearers were killed while carrying it, and 18 were wounded before that particular flag was retired from service. It was presented Mrs. Erastus Corning in thanks for her support, in turn she gave the 44th another flag.[6] 

     Battle flags also had significance in bringing the soldiers' community with them. When a regiment was formed the communities from which the men came would have ceremonies. Speeches were made and gifts were given to the regiment. The women of the communities who had made the flags and contributed other gifts would make demands of the soldiers in presentation speeches. They asked the soldiers to remember the women at home, and demanded that the soldiers brought them honor in return.[7]  Part of the reason for these ceremonies was to transform the men into soldiers and to release them from their homes. After the war there were also flag returning ceremonies in which the men were welcomed back to civilian life.[8] 

     The flag of the 44th saw much action and glory, and after the war it was interned with the rest of New York State's battle flags in a large public ceremony. On July 4, 1865, all of New York's battle flags were presented to Governor Fenton on behalf of the State. At the ceremony members of the New York State legislature, the Governor, and several Union generals were honored guests including Lieutenant General Grant and the 44th's Major General Daniel Butterfield. General Butterfield gave the presentation speech of which this is a small excerpt "These Standards are returned, battle-scarred, hallowed by the blood of your patriot sons-a precious treasure a priceless legacy, for they shall tell your children's children of manhood and patriotism rising in their might to sustain the right."[9]  The ceremony also featured a distribution of printed histories of the units and their flags. Today these flags are still in the custody of the Bureau of Military and Naval Affairs, which is now the Division of Military and Naval Affairs. However the flag of the 44th as well as flags of some of the other very esteemed New York units are physically present in the capital building in Albany. One flag of great significance to the 44th, that the Division of Military and Naval Affairs does posses is the early Confederate flag that Colonial Ellsworth was cutting down when he was shot. This flag is so large that it can not be fully unfurled within the Division of Military and Naval Affairs building.

     Other Civil War Artifacts that are often of interest to the public and the collector are sabers and pistols, the personal weapons of the officer. These items also have a long history of practical and symbolic importance. These items were also customarily given to the officers by communities, often at the same ceremonies with the flags and other equipment for the enlisted soldiers. Like the flags these weapons of the elite were given a precedence because of their symbolic importance.

     The history of the sword as a military weapon is vast. While swords were made as early as the beginning of metallurgy, in western society the sword is most commonly associated with the age of chivalry. The rank of officer is also intertwined with the idea of chivalry, symbolically distinguished by his weapons. This symbolism is still significant today, as officers of the United States still maintain the sword as part of their dress uniform. Also in day to day military etiquette, while the sword is no longer worn, subordinates still walk on the left side of superiors. This tradition held over to protect the junior in rank from injury in case an officer had to draw his sword[10]  The revolver was also a symbol of rank, and it usually distinguished officers from enlisted. These weapons were also practical. An officer's purpose was to lead and direct his men. With his sword the officer could signal the direction of movement desired. Both the saber and the revolver were more practical weapons from horseback, which is how officers usually led. In fact the saber was specifically designed for mounted warfare.[11] 

      The officers of the 44th New York Volunteers were given several gifts by the citizens of Albany in October of 1861. Most officers received either revolvers or a saber and belts for their wear, and many received several gifts of equipment. In the presentation of gifts to the men of the 44th, Lieutenant Colonel Rice received a set of revolvers and a handsome sword inscribed "Lieut-Col. Rice 44th Reg't N.Y.S.V. Presented by his Albany friends." During the ceremony a passionate speech was given by Mrs. Corning, an esteemed citizen of Albany. She asked: "If this sword which I now present to you is to be always drawn in defense of liberty and in vindication of Human Rights, I shall never cease to thank God that I was permitted to place it in your hands..." In part of Colonel Rice's reply he stated: "Be assured, Madam, that this sword, now entrusted to me by you, shall never be tarnished with one ignoble or ungenerous action..." [12]  The two officers of the Normal school company were also given revolvers as gifts by the faculty. These were a gift that helped to bind the men to their community. Captain Husted who had been the Normal school's company commander returned to the Normal School as a professor after the regiment had been mustered out. He stayed on the faculty for more than fifty years and was well loved and respected. Later on the school was grateful to borrow his revolver for a display during the college's one hundredth anniversary in 1944. The weapon has since been returned to its current owner, Husted's grandson, Rodney Strong.

     One sword with a strong tie to the 44th that is available to be studied is Col. Ellsworth's sword. Her father who had been the best friend of Ellsworth's father gave this sword, along with several other pieces of his equipment, to Ms. Estelle Mabett Magoffin. The collection was later donated by Ms. Magoffin to the Bureau of Military and Naval Affairs where they remain today. Ellsworth's sword was beautiful and functional. Alsance in Klingenthal, Germany manufactured it. The blade and grip are artistically decorated. The scabbard has a telescoping function so it can be collapsed to less than half its full length while the sword was unsheathed. This unique custom feature was advantageous on the battlefield.

     Among other artifacts that can be traced to the 44th are several documents, photographs, uniforms and monuments. As previously mentioned there is a collection of artifacts that belonged to Col. Ellsworth, at the Division of Naval and Military Affairs. Besides his sword, there is also his equipment belt and mess kit, and the uniform that he had been wearing when he was shot. The uniform is interesting in that it is light gray similar to a confederate uniform. As previously mentioned the U.S. Army at the beginning of the war, had no standardization of uniform. Also interesting about Ellsworth's uniform is the blood stain from his wound. Originally when the uniform was on display the large blood stain was probably the feature that interested its viewers the most. Unfortunately however in the 1960's someone at the Division had it dry cleaned stripping away some historic value. If anyone now wishes to see the uniform in its stained condition, there is a picture of it in The Illustrated History of Civil War Relics.[13]  Along with the Ellsworth artifacts the Division also possesses a collection of artifacts of Henry Harrison Adsit, a soldier of company A of the 44th. Adsit's diary is there and covers the period from September 1861 to December 1863. Adsit's jacket with N.Y.V. (New York Volunteers) buttons is also there and in good condition. Finally, the Division possesses several Civil War photographs, more than a dozen of which are from the 44th.

     Other places in which military artifacts can be found are in individual unit holdings. All military posts maintain records of their own history and relevant artifacts are held in these small collections, occasionally other military artifacts are put in these collections for safe keeping. The National Guard Armory at Oneonta has among its relics a canteen that had belonged to a member of the 44th.

     In addition to the material at various military facilities, there are records and artifacts of the 44th at the New York State Archives. Of interest there is the Orsell Cook Brown collection (Acc. No. SC10598,). Brown left a large collection of papers. The collection it self consists of more than 240 artifacts, including personal letters to his sister, some with the original Christian commission seal. One letter is on 44th stationary, there are several official documents including his enlistment, discharge, non-commission, and commission appointments. The lot also includes a photo album containing many pictures of soldiers, most are unidentified, but some that are identified include Generals Grant and McClellan. Soldiers were obviously collecting photos of these famous men as well as ones that pertained to their own regiments. There are also photos of officers of the 44th in which Brown can be identified, and photos of the regimental flag. There is even a picture of a dog, possibly a mascot. Along with Brown's artifacts is a reunion badge and a short biography on Brown, written by his niece Mary Hazeltine, who donated the collection in 1935. The collection was processed by Frederick Basset the senior manuscripts librarian, and the collection was moved to special collections in 1994, where it remains today. Also among the state library collection of material on the 44th are six personal letters of Abraham H. Smith (Call No. 19390) Smith was a private in the 44th and his letters were very informative about the regiment and their experiences.

     One of the largest collections of original manuscripts is the Woodworth papers, this is a collection of 134 items, primarily letters, as well as four journals. The Collection is housed at the University of Michigan, in the Lawrence Hotchkiss collection of the William L. Clements library. The Woodworth papers are a well written and give great insight into the life of the soldiers in company E of the 44th. The entries range from Woodworth's entry into the service until shortly before his death in April of 1864. The collection can also be studied on microfilm in the S.U.N.Y. Albany library.

     Among other original writings of the regiment is the Diary of Samuel McBlain who was a soldier of company E and had attended the Normal school. This diary has been transcribed for study on microfilm, the actual diary is housed by the Geneva Historical Society, in Geneva New York. The diary has been at the society since at least 1978, no other record of its history exists. The holdings of the society are not fully cataloged but the McBlain diary can be found in the Society's Civil War collection.

     Another place to look for artifacts of the 44th is on the campus of the State University of New York at Albany, formerly the New York State Normal School. The university had several students fight in the war but the best known were the men of the Normal School Company of the 44th. The University archives contain a large amount of information on the students of the time, however very little in the context of the Civil War effort. The main exception would be the information in the faculty records pertaining to Professor Husted, the former Captain of the Normal School Company. This group of records contains some of Husted's personal papers, and several newspaper clippings pertaining to him including his obituary. Also there is information in these files about the Husted Scholarship which was formed in his honor around his fifty-year anniversary graduation from the school. The evocation of the scholarship was celebrated with a large society style party honoring professor Husted in June of 1905. A program for the event and a newspaper article about the event are in the file. These give a small biography on Husted and a brief synopsis of his Civil War record. The University archive also contains a photograph of a monument at Gettysburg that particularly acknowledges the Normal School Company for their service in the battle. That monument still stands at Gettysburg today and is of course an artifact of commemoration to the 44th. There is more information on this monument and the monument to Chattanooga in the New York State Archives in (A0468), Papers pertaining to the Erection of Monuments at Gettysburg and Chattanooga Battlefields, 1887-1898. Lastly, there is a monument on the S.U.N.Y. Albany campus in the administration building. It is a large plaque listing the students who were killed in action in the Civil war. This is the second plaque of its kind that the school erected, the first was destroyed in the 1906 fire in which the original Normal School building burned down.

     This information has been not only about the material culture that the men of the 44th left behind but also why it was important to them and why it is important to us today. These objects were valued in many ways, men of the 44th wrote a poem about their flag.[14]  Contributors to the first Albany relief bazaar were soldiers and families who not only wished to support the men in the war but also to immortalize the men and the cause by placing a high value on these objects. Men like Orsell Brown saved hundreds of papers pertaining to his wartime experience. Brown also collected photographs of the Generals that he admired, but probably never met. Fortunately these objects were valued and for that reason a more complete history of the Civil War can be written today. This is by no means a complete list of the provenance or location of every surviving artifact of the regiment or even a complete list of the material that is to be found in public agencies. This is merely an initial inventory of findings that should be beneficial to continuing research.

[1]  Eugene Arus Nash, A History of the Forty-Forth Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Chicago, 1911), 6 Return to Text

[2]  Ibid., 6-12. Return to Text

[3]  Ibid., 108. Return to Text

[4]  George Schedler,Racist symbols and Reparations (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998),29-39. Return to Text

[5]  Ibid., 44 Return to Text

[6]  Nash, A History of the Forty-Fourth, 122. Return to Text

[7]  Ibid., 38-39 Return to Text

[8]  Reid Mitchell, Civil War Soldiers (Penguin Books: New York, 1988), 20. Return to Text

[9]  New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, New York's Battle Flags <>, accessed January 8th, 1999. Return to Text

[10]  Dennis D. Perez, Enlisted Soldiers Guide (Harrisburg, Pa: Stackpole, 1990),14-15. Return to Text

[11]  Warren Moor, Weapons of the American Revolution and Accouterments (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1967), 7, 126-27. Return to Text

[12] Stephan Syliva, The Illustrated History of Civil War Relics (Virginia: Moss Publications, 1978) Return to Text

[13] Stephen Syliva, The Illustrated History of Civil War Relics (Virginia: Moss Publications, 1978) Return to Text

[14]  Ibid., 127. Return to Text