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History of the Excelsior Brigade
The following oration was given by Colonel John N. Coyne on the occasion of the dedication of the
Excelsior Brigade monument at Gettysburg, July 2, 1893.
ORATION OF LIEUT. COL. JOHN N. COYNE, OF THE FIRST EXCELSIOR.
COMRADES OF THE EXCELSIOR BRIGADE:
As we stand on this historic ground with a summer's sun bathing in a golden light the peaceful landscape, and the soft air filled with the fragrance of the meadowland and the song of the birds,
“You would not dream that once this tranquil spot
Had felt the burning hail of the rifle shot;
Or heard the screaming of the deadly shell,
Or the wild echo of the Rebel yell.
“It should be haunted. Phantom hosts should rise
And cloud with battle-smoke the smiling skies.
The clash of meeting bayonets we should hear;
And booming cannon shock the listening ear.
“Hark! Is not that the marshalling of men?
Does not a war-like bugle wake the glen?
Is not the trampling of ten thousand feet
Heard, keeping rhythm to the drummer's beat?
“No, not an infant in its mother's arms
Breathes freer than this scene from war's alarms.
The record of that awful day is writ
In human hearts. Here is no trace of it.”
How peaceful and lovely the scene as we stood here on the morning of the 2d of July, thirty years ago. The same golden sunlight and fragrance of wood and meadow grated us as we arose from our slumber that morn; but, ere darkness again covered the earth it was all changed. These fair fields were turned into a crimson tide of blood; these hills that had stood unshaken for ages, trembled with the shock of war, and the sun was darkened with the smoke of battle.
On that fair morning the Excelsior Brigade, numbering 1, 1701 sturdy forms, the survivors of Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, The Seven Day's Battle, Bristoe Station, Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, stood martial array ready to face the foe who had marched into this fair land in their treasonable design of invasion. On all these fields, hundreds of your comrades had given their lives in defence of the of the Union that these invaders had been battling to destroy; and now the Rebel host had entered this peaceful Northern State in a final effort to accomplish their purpose. But it was to be otherwise, and the waves of the Rebellion were to be dashed into fragments against the rocks of Round Top, and the soldiers of Longstreet, Hood, McLaws and Barksdale were to suffer annihilation in their efforts to break through the storm of fire at the Peach Orchard.
The banners of the Excelsior Brigade were in the heart of this volcano, and you won imperishable renown by your unflinching courage and heroism in the desperate struggle.
As the sun sank over the distance hills on that eventful day, and the shades of night began to fall, your depleted ranks were withdrawn from the ground you had so stubbornly contested. For hours you had been battling over this very ground where now you stand, and your dead lay in scores on the extreme front of the day’s conflict. Your standards were still unsullied, and history had to add another to tell of your valor.
I will now take up in chronological order or our battles and losses, but in a paper of this kind, written to illustrate the deeds of our brigade, and to briefly give an account of its heavy sacrifices, it will be impossible for me to dwell upon the details of our campaigns.
On May 18, 1861, Hon. Daniel E. Sickles was the authorized by President Lincoln to organize a brigade for service in the field. To this task he devoted all his energies, and, after surmounting many difficulties, he completed the organization of five regiments.
The first Regiment was organized with General Sickles as a temporary colonel, he being succeeded by Col. Wm. Dwight, Jr.; the Second Regiment, under Col. Geo. B. Hall and Lieut. Col. H. L. Potter; the Third Regiment under Col. Nelson Taylor; the Fourth Regiment under Col. James Fairman, who was succeeded by Col. Wm. R. Brewster; and the Fifth Regiment under Col. Charles K. Graham. The regiments were organized independently of all State authority and were known as Unites States volunteers until December 5, 1861--long after they had been mustered into service --- when orders were issued by the War Department for their incorporation in the volunteer forces of the State of New York. It was for this reason that their numerical designation became so high.
The first Regiment was mustered into the United States service at Camp Scott, on Staten Island, June 20 and 22, 1861. The Second Regiment, originally the Jackson Light Infantry, was mustered by companies at Camp Scott between June 20th and July 18th. The Third Regiment was mustered by companies at Camp Scott between June and October. The Fourth Regiment, which was recruited as the Second Fire Zouaves, was mustered between July 8th, at Camp Scott; and the Fifth Regiment was mustered at Camp Scott between June 30th and October 6th.
When the Excelsior regiments reached Washington, they were placed in camp in the vicinity of the Capitol.
Late in the fall, the brigade was sent to the Lower Potomac, near Liverpool Point, where it did excellent service guarding the river. The regiments were regularly drilled in marching, bayonet exercise, and musketry practice, and passed the winter in perfecting themselves for the sterner duties that were to follow when the spring should open.
You were now the Second Brigade of the Second Division, Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac, or Sickles' Brigade, Hooker's Division, Heintzelman's Corps.
On the 9th of April you were o transports on your way to the Peninsula, and on that dark and bloody ground you were to prove that the motto on your banners was well deserved.
You were soon before formidable works of Yorktown, where the brigade was thrown well to the front, and was almost constantly engaged in building redoubts and intrenchments, or on duty on the skirmish line. You were ever vigilant in the performance of this duty, and always ready to take advantage of any carelessness of the enemy. Your vigilance was rewarded, for at early dawn on the morning of the 4th of May, after a night of terrific artillery fire from the enemy, our enterprising comrades of the Fourth Regiment, becoming suspicious of the unusual quiet-ness in their front, made up their minds to find out the cause of it, and, pushing forward, were soon climbing over the Rebel works, thus being among the first to announce their evacuation.
The loss in the brigade during the siege of Yorktown was slight, being 1 killed and 2 wounded.
Hooker's Division is selected to lead in pursuit of the retreating foe. Many of you remember that March, -- the heavy roads, the driving rain as night descended, and the comfortless bivouac in the woods, as weary and exhausted, we sank to rest.
Early the next morning, May 5th, you resume your march, and you do not fail to notice that your commanding officers keep the columns well closed up, and that they have an air of expectancy which does not usually mark their faces.
The rain is still falling, and the roads and woods are dismal; the air is heavy with moisture and seems like a pall. At last we are halted, and as the noise of jingling accoutrements ceases, we hear peculiar sounds and reverberations. Our cheeks flush, and we begin to tighten our belts and inspect our arms. We know what it means. Hooker, with the leading brigade, has overtaken the enemy and he is contesting our advance, and the increasing noise indicates that the resistance is becoming serious. We are on the eve of our first battle, my comrades, and our minds wander to our far-off homes where our loved ones are, and as the vision comes before us, a feeling heretofore unknown pervades our hearts, and the eye becomes moist with the tender reflection.
The gentle breeze that brings to our ears the noise of conflict unfolds our banners, and the motto upon them dispels the vision. Our lips become compressed and our brows knit, and the light deepens in our eyes. The sound of battle increases, and the atmosphere becomes heavy with its smoke as we stand by the roadside awaiting orders.
Hooker's advance has been severely contested all the morning. Longstreet, who has the command of the enemy’s forces on the field, has thrown into the contest regiment after regiment, and is fighting desperately to hold the ground where he has made his stand. The iron bolts from Fort Magruder and the heavy musketry fire from masses of the enemy’s infantry have decimated the ranks of the gallant New Jersey regiments, who have been bearing the brunt of the battle up to his hour, and they feel that unless succor comes they will have to abandon the ground covered with the bodies of their comrades.
At this critical
moment, about 2 p. m., Hooker calls upon the Excelsior Brigade, and soon the
command, which now becomes a welcome one, is given and we move forward.
Or arrival on the field is opportune. Longstreet has been heavily reinforced, and he has thrown forward several regiments into a dense woods on our front and left, apparently with a view of cutting off the remnants of the Jersey Brigade. At this moment we confront him, and we have advanced so far that when his line emerges from the edge of the woods we are within short range. There is a moment’s hesitation, as if the Angel of Death shrank from the harvest before him. But more than human life is at stake—the fate of the battle is wavering in the balance, and the duel is to be a bloody one.
The enemy now opens upon us along his whole line, and we return his five with calm deliberation. The months of drill and musketry practice on the Lower Potomac give you confidence and firmness. There is no shrinking, no wavering. You stand to your work, and with your deadly buck-and-ball soon throw his lines into confusion, and they are driven into the woods.
Again Longstreet throws forward fresh regiments, and the contest is renewed. The musketry fire is terrific, and Fort Magruder lends its thunder and hurls an iron hail into our ranks. For hors you have held at bay thrice your number; you begin to find your cartridge-boxes empty, and use those of the comrades who have fallen around you. These soon become exhausted, and you slowly fall back, loth to surrender the field; but your heroism and heavy sacrifices have not been in vain—succor is at hand. Kearny comes to the rescue, and the enemy soon give way before his enthusiastic and gallant troops, and the victory is ours.
The story of the battle of Williamsburg is an interesting one to the soldiers of Hooker's Division, for upon them fell the brunt of the fighting. The reports of that battle did not do justice to our gallant leader. They were brilliantly colored when referring to other parts of the field, but here in front of Fort Magruder the vision of the author of the report was obscured by the smoke of battle and the volcano of fire that whirled around the vicinity.
Col. William F. Fox in his work on Regiment Losses' says: “The battle of Williamsburg was fought almost entirely by the Third Corps. Of the 2,239 casualties on that field, 2,002 occurred within its ranks, and three-fourths of them in Hooker's Division; the brunt of the battle having fallen on the Excelsior Brigade and Jersey Brigade, both in Hooker's Division.”
Your proportion of the loss was enormous; the First Regiment losing 330 in killed, wounded and missing; the Third Regiment, 195; Fourth Regiment, 104; and the Fifth Regiment, 143; a total loss in the four regiments, in killed, wounded and missing, of 772.
The brigade was commanded by Col. Nelson Taylor in this battle, General Sickles' nomination as brigadier general having failed of confirmation in the United States Senate. This is no time to criticise the gross injustice of that act, but we can remember the bitter resentment we felt when our general was relieved of his command as we were about embarking for the Peninsula; and it spoke well for your loyalty to your country that you still remained true and faithful soldiers.
After the battle of Williamsburg this act of injustice was repaired, and General Sickles was confirmed as brigadier general, and he resumed command of the brigade while we were encamped at Bailey's Crossroads.
On the 31st of May, we were at Bottom's Bridge engaged in the usual routine of camp duty, and looking forward to a quiet Sabbath on the morrow, when suddenly an aid from headquarters dashes up, and soon the command to fall in is passed along. The “assembly” is sounded, and the men hasten to form company. With your usual promptness you are soon in line, and receive the first intimation of the battle which has been raging across the Chickahominy, at Fair Oaks, and of the disaster that has befallen Casey’s troops. Leaving tents and knapsacks you are off on the double-quick, and do not cease your rapid march until you reach the field. The shades of night have now descended, and the battle has ceased, leaving the enemy is possession of Casey’s intrenchments, and confident of success on the morrow.
At early dawn the battle is resumed, and the rattle of musketry is heard all along the line. It increases in violence on the Williamsburg Road, and the order comes for you to move forward. General Sickles is now in command and you bear yourselves proudly as his eye wanders along your ranks. The Second Regiment, owing to a detail which kept them near Yorktown, was not with us at Williamsburg, and are now anxious to show of what mettle they are made. The opportunity soon comes, and in a gallant bayonet charge cover themselves with glory and win the commendation of the commanding general of the army for their gallantry. The other regiments of the brigade press forward, and soon come in contact with the foe, and the enemy is driven from the field. Night finds you occupying Casey's old intrenchments, and the commanding general thinks you have done so well that he leaves you there for three or four day, evidently believing that the men of the Excelsior Brigade are insensible to fatigue and hunger, and that coffee, hardtack and bacon are luxuries that they abhor. General Sickles, however, loses his patience, so the story goes, and sends word to the rear that if they want him to take Richmond alone, he will have to go to New York and raise another brigade. The hint was sufficient, for that afternoon the brigade was relieved from duty at the front.
Though closely engaged with the enemy two or three times during this battle, our loss was not severe, the brigades only losing 74 in killed, wounded and missing.
During the month that we remained on this field the brigade was called upon to do almost constant picket duty, and the duty was arduous for us, as the regiments we would relieve were frequently forced back by the enemy and we had the line to retake. Thus it was, that whenever we were seen going to the front, the comrades in other regiments would commence to look to their arms, and grumble about Sickles’ men always raising a fuss. Thus it became almost a daily battleground for the Excelsior Brigade, and our losses were serious. The twin Houses would often be filled with our wounded, and the rattle musketry as you pressed back the foe would echo through the woods like a general engagement.
You lost in these brief but severe contests, which included the engagement at Oak Grove and Peach Orchard, 322 killed, wounded, and missing.
I will not dwell on the Seven Day’s Battles which followed; they are too full of blood and misery. All your heroism and your glorious deeds which had shed so much lustre on our arms had been in vain. You looked upon your banners with Yorktown, Williamsburg and Fair Oaks emblazoned upon them with a proud glance, but your hears grew heavy as you gazed upon your depleted ranks and remembered the hundreds of your comrades who were buried on those fields.
You were in action at Glendale, June 30th, and rendered gallant service in the severe Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1st, in which engagements your loss was 26.
On the 2nd of July, you were at Harrison’s Landing, and on August 14th, on your way to Yorktown to embark for Alexandria. On your arrival there you were sent on to Warrenton Junction to reinforce Pope, and on August 27th, were severely engaged at Bristoe Station with a superior force of the enemy under Ewell, who was strongly posted along the railroad and in the woods. After a severe contest which lasted from between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon until dusk, you drove the enemy from his position and across Broad Run, and were victors of the field, the enemy leaving his dead and many of his wounded in your hands. This was a brilliant action and proved that you were still capable of great deeds. Your loss in this engagement was severe, numbering 307.
You were engaged at Groveton on the 19th; a Bull Run on the 30th; and at Chantilly on September 1st. Your losses in these engagements, however, were slight, only numbering 20.
After this campaign you were stationed near Alexandria with the rest of the Third Corps, and, owing to your depleted ranks, you were not called upon to participate with the ret of the Army of the Potomac in its march into Maryland, nor in the sanguinary battle of Antietam which followed. You were not idle, however, as you were constantly employed in building intrenchments and in picket duty.
During the latter part of October, the enemy having made a demonstration in the vicinity of Fairfax Court House, you were selected for the hazardous duty of a reconnaissance, and on November 1st, broke camp and marched for Manassas Junction. On our arrival there the Third Regiment was thrown forward to Warrenton Junction; the First and Fifth to Bristoe Station, and the Second and Fourth Regiments remained at the Junction. You remained in this vicinity some three weeks, when you took up your line of march with the rest of the army for the Rappahannock. This march was a severe test of your endurance. It began in a heavy rain, which continued until we reached Wolf Run Shoals. Here the sun came out, the roads dried up, and a sharp frost coming on, marching became comparatively easy. A few days after leaving this camp you were in front of Fredericksburg.
On the 13th of December you were across the Rappahannock engaged in the campaign which resulted so disastrously to our arms, but were not called upon to sustain a severe loss, only losing 16.
Burnside was soon relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac, Hooker superseding him. Under this leader the army soon recovered from the effects of its recent defeat. With wonderful courage and elasticity it responded to his efforts, and was soon in a condition equal to its palmiest days.
On May 1, 1863, you cross the Unites States Ford, on the Rappahannock, to participate in the Chancellorsville campaign. With the rest of Hooker’s old division, you were held in reserve near the Chancellor House, and rest quietly on your arms in the woods to the left of the road that leads from the Unites States Ford. Fighting and skirmishing were going on around you, and you wondered how it was that you were not called upon to lead the advance and to bear the brunt of the storm of shot and shell that your comrades were facing. But your commander knew your value, and was reserving you for a much more serious duty if the occasion should arise.
The 2nd of May dawned, and the splutter on the skirmish-line was all that disturbed the tranquillity of the scene. As the early hours passed this gave place to a heavy musketry fire on Hancock's front, which soon involved Couch and Slocum. It was now discovered that this attack was only intended to conceal the movement of a large body of the enemy that was rapidly passing to our right, and Sickles, to develop the intention of the enemy, threw forward Birney's Division, supported by Whipple's.
This movement resulted in the capture of the Twenty-third Georgia, and the discovery that Jackson, with a large force, was rapidly moving in the direction of Howard's position. Howard was immediately advised of this and cautioned to be prepared for an attack.
About 6 o'clock a crash of musketry was heard, and before we had time to realize what was the cause of the uproar, word came to us to fall in. We now knew that the emergency had come, and that we were to be thrown into the breach. You will remember with what alacrity we seized our arms and formed in the road in light marching order, and impatiently awaited the signal to advance. The word came, and as we started off on the double-quick evidences of disaster to our right flank increased, and soon we were among the fleeing troops of the Eleventh Corps.
General Doubleday, in his work on the Chancellorsville campaign, says: “The constantly increasing uproar and the wild rush of fugitives past the Chancellor House told Hooker what had occurred. It was not easy to find an adequate force for this emergency, for the whole line was now actively engaged. Fortunately, Berry's Division was held in reserve and was available.
“They were true and tried men, and went forward at once to the rescue. Few people appreciate the steadiness and courage required, when all around is flight and confusion, for a force to make its way threw crowds of fugitives, advance steadily to the post of danger in front, and meet the exulting enemy, while others are seeking safety in the rear. Such men are heroes, and far more worthy of honor than those who fight in the full blaze of successful warfare.”
Through the superhuman exertions of Sickles and the gallant Pleasanton the tide was turned, and, a sharp contest, Jackson's forces sullenly fell back.
As darkness fell upon the battlefield, the gentle moon shone forth, lighting up with weird shadows the depths of the forest in which our line is formed. Availing ourselves of her soft light, we gathered logs and earth and strengthened our position as best we could, knowing that the contest on the morrow would be a desperate one.
While thus engaged, a heavy musketry and artillery fire opened on our left near the Plank Road and involved the Forth Regiment of our brigade. In this storm of missiles Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded, and the South lost one of her greatest generals.
On the morning of the 3d the contest was renewed, and the storm of fire ran along the whole line. The enemy worked around on our left flank, and, the Third Maryland giving away, our position became untenable. We were forced, after desperate resistance, to give around. We fell back to the artillery reserve and formed in support, but were not allowed to remain, as our commander, General Revere, notwithstanding our earnest protest, marched us to the rear. It was the only instance in our history of our having been marched from the field while under fire. As soon as this was discovered General Revere was relieved, and Colonel Farnum of the First Regiment was placed in command. Under this gallant soldier we were marched back to the battleground, and remained at the front until the army re-crossed the Rappahannock. Our losses in this battle amounted to 250.
The enemy, flushed with his recent victory and confident of his superiority, soon determined in a bold, aggressive movement. Collecting his forces and abandoning our front, he made a detour and marched rapidly towards the Potomac. Hooker followed with energy, and we were soon passing over our old battlefields of Bristoe, Groveton and Manassas, and the enemy was allowed to cross the Potomac without molestation.
As we passed into Maryland and across the Pennsylvania line, your eyes brightened and you marched as you never marched before. The Pennsylvania boys in our ranks had an air of confidence, and the seal of grim determination was upon their faces. They were on their own soil, and they held their lives of little value, if by their sacrifice they could deal a deathblow to the invader.
It would be idle for me to dwell upon the battle of Gettysburg. You, the survivors of this field now its history. The heroism of the Army of the Potomac, and the fruitless efforts of Lee, Longstreet, and Pickett, are well known to you. These hills and woods and valleys are eloquent with the story of your victory and the saving of a Nation. This was the high tide of the Rebellion, and the hope of the Confederacy was blotted out in the blood of the brave but mistaken soldiers who battled against you on this field. Thirty years have passed since the battle, and we have assembled here to dedicate to the memory of our dead who fell in this field this beautiful monument, which stands like a temple of fame on the front line of the second day’s contest.
They are sleeping in their soldiers' graves, my comrades, but they are not for-gotten, for we have in our hearts a tender love, a fond undying remembrance of them.
The First Regiment carried into action on the 2d of July, 220 officers and 349 men, and lost 1 officer and 32 men, killed or died of wounds; 7 officers and 73 men, wounded, and 4 men missing; total, 117.
The Second Regiment carried into action 13 officers and 320 men, and lost 1 officer and 13 men, killed or died of wounds; 6 officers and 58 men, wounded, and 13 men, missing; total, 91.
The Third Regiment carried into action 22 officers and 283 men, and lost 1 officer and 10 men, killed or died of wounds; 6 officers and 69 men, wounded, and 28 men, missing; total, 114.
The Fourth Regiment carried into action 27 officers and 480 men, and lost 5 officers and 47 men, killed or died of wounds; 10 officers and 92 men, wounded, and 8 men, missing; total, 162.
The Fifth Regiment carried into action 17 officers and 258 men, and lost 1 officer and 16 men, killed or died of wounds; 5 officers and 64 men, wounded, and 3 men, missing; total, 89.
These figures make a total loss on the brigade of 573 killed, wounded and missing.
The night of the 3d found Lee vanquished at all points, and his decimated battalions soon retreated and re-crossed the Potomac, with the Union army in close pursuit.
On the afternoon of July 23d we overtook the enemy at Manassas Gap, where we found him strongly posted on Wapping Heights, supported by artillery. General Meade determined to dislodge this force if possible, push through the gap, and compel him to give battle.
The Excelsior Brigade was selected for this duty, and you moved forward, climbed the heights and charged the foe. General Spinola, commanding the brigade fell seriously wounded, and the gallant Farnum took command. You pressed on with determination, and drove the enemy from his position, the cheers of the onlookers echoing form hill to hill as you planted your colors on his defences.
This following morning the Fifth Regiment was thrown forward to feel the enemy, but he had abandoned the Gap, leaving his dead unburied and many of his wounded in your hands. The brigade lost in this action 74 in killed and wounded.
You were soon resting in camp near Brandy station, and were not brought in contact with the enemy again until November 27th, at Locust Grove, during in Mine Run campaign, where the brigade lost 45 in killed and wounded.
During the winter of 1863 and 1864 reorganization and consolidation is the order of the day, and when the campaign opens in the spring we were marching with the standards of the Second Corps,—all that was left of the old Third Corps having been consolidated.
The fierce and sanguinary struggle in the wilderness began on the 5th of May. As Lee would not leave his defences, we had to attack him in his works, and the contest promised to be fierce and bloody.
For two days the struggle continued. The musketry fire exceeded in violence any experienced before. In this vast jungle the enemy was like a tiger in his lair and not easily driven forth; therefore, the left flank movement, which was to be-come such a feature of this campaign, was adopted. The brigade lost in this battle 140 in killed, wounded and missing.
At Spotsylvania we found the enemy strongly fortified in an almost impregnable position from which he could not be tempted, and after a series of desperate en-counters, the Second Cops was called upon to assault his works. On the morning of May 12th, at the first light of dawn, you charged his intrenchments, and a hand-to-hand struggle took place which had no parallel in the history of the two armies. The enemy fought gallantly, but was driven from his position, which has become known in history as the Bloody Angle, leaving 3,000 prisoners, several pieces of artillery, and 30 battleflags in our hands. Our loss in this battle in killed, wounded and missing was 148.
On May 23d, you were engaged at North Anna; on the 30th you were under fire at Totopotomoy, and on the morning of June 3d, participated in the assault at Cold Harbor. The loss in the brigade in these engagements was 76.
In the movements upon Petersburg your marches were long and exhaustive, and the James River as you approached it spread out invitingly like an oasis in the desert to the weary Arab. You were not allowed to halt, however, and refresh yourself in its cooling waters. You crossed the river and pushed on for Peters-burg, where you arrived on the night of the 15th, and participated in the assault on the works around that city on the 16th, in which action you lost 86.
The time had now come, my comrades, when the Excelsior Brigade shall case to exist, your three years' term of service having expired.
The First Regiment was withdrawn from the field on June 22d, and honorably mustered out under Lieut. Col. Thomas Holt, July 1, 1864. The men not entitled to discharge were transferred to the Eighty-sixth New York.
The Second Regiment was honorably mustered out under Lieut. Col. Thomas Rafferty, July 30th, 1864, and the men not entitled to discharge were transferred on the One hundred and twentieth New York.
The Third Regiment was honorably mustered out under Lieut. Col. John Leonard, June 19 and 20, 1864, and the men not entitled to discharge were transferred to the One hundred and twentieth New York.
The Fourth Regiment retained its organization, a sufficient number of the men having re-enlisted, and it remained to fight on other fields and to participate in the Grand Review on Washington on the cessation of hostilities.
The Fifth Regiment was honorably mustered out under Lieut. Col. Wm. H. Lounsberry, from June 10th to August 3d, and the men not entitled to discharge were assigned to the Fortieth New York.
During your term of service the total enrollment in the brigade was 6,442, divided as follows: The First Regiment had 1,462; the Second Regiment, 1,170; the Third Regiment, 1,250; the Fourth Regiment, 1,350; and the Fifth Regiment, 1,210.
The brigade lost during its term of service, in which I include the losses in the Fourth Regiment and among the veterans of the brigade who were transferred to the Fortieth, Eighty-sixth and One hundred and twentieth New York, after the brigade ceased to exist and in several minor affairs not mentioned in this history, 3,028, which severe loss places you among the 300 fighting regiments in Colonel Fox’s valuable work, “Regimental Losses in the Civil War.”
My task is done. I have, as briefly as the remembrance of your glorious career would allow, carried you along from the time of your first muster until you stacked arms after your last battle.
As you followed me in your history, many scenes not mentioned and of almost equal interest have come before you; some personal deed of gallantry, some incident of the march and camp, which would all go to make up a marvelous story, and which should not perish.
And now for the years that remain to us let “the tie that binds” be drawn closer. Let our motto be Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty to one another, and let us so live that the honors gained while falling glorious banners shall never be dimmed by an unworthy act, so that when the time comes to lay down our arms and answer to the last roll-call can explain, “Excelsior!”
At the close of Colonel's Coyne's oration, Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, President of the Excelsior Brigade Association, made a few remarks. He said:
“Colonel Coyne in his admirable address has carried you through all of your campaigns. He has accomplished in thirty-five minutes what it took the Army of the Potomac four years to do. This eloquent story of your heroism and never-faltering courage shall not perish with the hour; it shall be preserved in the annals of the State whose motto you bore upon your banners, for future generations to read.”
Here followed a notable event. Gen. Jos. B. Carr upon being called upon for an address, in few felicitous words referred to the gallantry of the Excelsior Brigade, its discipline and reliability in action, and turning to General Sickles, said:-
“I congratulate you, General Sickles, in having been the creator of a brigade that carried its banners unsullied through all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac; and now, General Sickles, as a souvenir of this day, and as a testimonial of the affection and loyalty of your comrades of the Third Corps, I have been selected to present you with this gold medal, which is made form the same die from which are struck the beautiful bronze medals the State of New York has bestowed upon the veterans who represented the State upon this field thirty years ago.”
General Sickles was so much overcome by this unexpected mark of affection on the part of his comrades in arms, he could only briefly respond. Among other things, he said that he would preserve the medal as a priceless treasure and wear it near his heart as long as he lived.
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Excelsior Brigade Medal of Honor Recipients