War Front and Home Front, Father and Son: A Family’s Contribution to the Civil War (Part I)

 Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany, NY.

Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany, NY.

Surrounded by the capitol city that has grown up around it, Ten Broeck Mansion was built in 1797-8 outside Albany, NY and remained a private home until it was presented to the Albany County Historical Association in 1948.  Although its early history remains a strong focus—to this day it retains the name of its builder and first owner, General Abraham Ten Broeck—the mansion witnessed another upheaval of American History, the Civil War.  At the time, the family of Thomas Worth Olcott owned and resided in the house.  He and his son, Dudley, both offered their service to the cause of the United States, although in entirely different ways.

From the beginning, New York State demonstrated its commitment to supporting the nation, the president, and the cause of preserving the Union.  In fact, the Star of the West, the merchant steamer sent to the relief of Major Anderson at Fort Sumter and fired upon by the rebelling South Carolinians, was chartered and sent from New York City.  Resolutions passed in the legislature against what they saw as the outrageous behavior of the rebelling states were met with disfavor in the South, and in Georgia several New York vessels were seized in retaliation for the detention by New York police of arms designated for Georgia.  Recruiting and organizing a force of New York men, as well as arming, clothing, and equipping it, would remain a large task for the state throughout the war.  All in all, New York would send almost four hundred thousand men to the front lines, roughly ten percent of its male population.  Albany County alone would send twenty-eight infantry regiments, sixteen cavalry units, nine artillery batteries, one company of sharpshooters, and two regiments of engineers.

 Dudley Olcott

Dudley Olcott

One of these four hundred thousand men representing New York in the Union armies was Dudley Olcott, the tenth child of Thomas W. and Caroline Olcott.  Dudley was not in the United States at the outbreak of the war; an announcement in an Albany newspaper of Dudley Olcott’s death in 1919 states that he was “abroad at the outbreak of the war, but returned to the United States...”  Dudley was the only Olcott brother known to have fought in the Civil War; four of his brothers remained in the Albany area during those years and all retained their occupations.  John J. Olcott was an attorney, Frederick P. Olcott and Thomas Olcott worked in the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and no occupation was listed for Theodore Olcott.

When Dudley returned to the United States, he joined the Albany Zouave Cadets, a local militia unit.  The Albany Zouave Cadets were formed in July 1860 with the purpose of “the instruction and improvement of its members, in martial exercises, and military deportment.”  They drilled every night except Sundays with squad drills Monday through Thursday and the remaining nights reserved for officers’ drills and instructing new members.  According to their roster, Dudley Olcott joined in 1861 and participated in a trip to Hudson on October 17 for an excursion and target shoot.  Militia units may not have been completely ready to enter the war due to a significant lack of firearms and field pieces; however they represented a large body of men preparing and willing to join the effort.  According to Frederick Phisterer, author of the multi-volume, New York in the War of the Rebellion, nineteen thousand men composed the strength of the militia in New York.

The Albany Zouave Cadets soon became Company A of the 10th New York National Guard, organized under Colonel Ira W. Ainsworth soon after the war broke out.  In August 1862, President Lincoln proposed a draft of militia units and the War Department issued General Orders No. 99 which provided that “a draft of Three Hundred Thousand Militia be immediately called into service of the United States to serve for nine months…”  The draft was suspended in New York, but it led to an increase in voluntary enlistment and, as a result, the 10th National Guard volunteered to serve for nine months.  They were accepted in September and officially mustered in as the 177th New York Volunteers on November 21, 1862.  Assigned to the Department of the Gulf under General Banks, the regiment sailed for New Orleans in December and served their term in that area and in the campaign on Port Hudson.

Dudley was active in the unit until very close to their acceptance for service.  On September 18, 1862 Captain Dudley Olcott paid the Albany Evening Standard for the publication of an advertisement that read, “Rally! Rally! Rally! Avoid the Draft.  Nine Months Men Wanted, to Fill the Second Company Albany Zouave Cadets, 10th Regiment…The Time has now arrived when all must respond to our country’s call.”  Yet when the 177th New York Volunteers departed for their term of service, Dudley Olcott was not with them; he would enlist with the 25th New York Volunteers instead.  It is possible that he was offered a better command position with the 25th New York Volunteers—he was not the only member of the Albany Zouave Cadets that enlisted in regiments other than the 177th New York Volunteers—but he had to leave behind his friends in doing so.  Charles Raymond, a close friend of Dudley’s, was First Lieutenant of Company A, 177th New York Volunteers and evidence points to other mutual friends in the regiment.  In a February 11, 1863 letter Charles expressed disappointment in the situation, writing, “It seemed always as if your true place was along with Dick and myself, here in the 10th, and I have never been reconciled to your going with the 25th Vols.”  It may never be clear why Dudley chose to join the 25th New York Volunteers because very few of his personal documents have survived.  From the tone of Charles’ letter the decision shocked some people and may have been unexpected, particularly since he held a leadership position in the regiment until right before their enlistment.

 Sketch of the Battle of Hanover Courthouse, where the 25th NY lost 45% of their men.

Sketch of the Battle of Hanover Courthouse, where the 25th NY lost 45% of their men.

Dudley Olcott mustered into the 25th New York Volunteers on November 28, 1862 at the age of twenty-four as the Captain of Company H and then was switched to Company I to replace the previous captain, T. W. Maxwell, who had been dismissed.  The regiment Dudley joined was already over halfway through their two year term of service.  The 25th New York Volunteers had been recruited in New York City and mustered in at Staten Island on June 26, 1861.  Before Dudley arrived the regiment had already participated in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign in Virginia at battles such as Yorktown, Hanover Courthouse, and Malvern Hill, as well as the Second Battle of Bull Run and a few smaller engagements. They lost forty-five percent of their strength in the engagement at Hanover Courthouse with 158 casualties out of 349 men.  Fortunately, they were held in reserve at Antietam and suffered no casualties there.  The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in the period of Dudley Olcott’s enlistment, from the eleventh to fifteenth of December 1862, but it is unclear whether he had made it to the unit yet since his enlistment was thirteen days earlier in Albany and there is evidence that Dudley was still in New York up to December 3rd, but is possible that he was there when the 25th New York spent two days pinned down in their position before the enemy works.  He was definitely engaged at Chancellorsville the following May, but the regiment was not closely involved with the worst fighting.  The regiment was used as skirmishers on the road in the first encounters with the Confederates but spent the next days moving around and constructing defenses on the extreme left of the Union line. 

The 25th New York Volunteers were mustered out shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville on June 26, 1863 at New York City, but Dudley Olcott and his company were mustered out a few days later on July 10.  The regiment lost 321 casualties throughout their term of service, with almost no casualties in the time of Dudley’s enlistment.  The three-years men of the regiment, those that had joined for three years of service instead of two, were transferred to the 44th New York Volunteers to finish out their term.  Dudley Olcott had enlisted for three years service, but there is no evidence of him serving past his few months with the 25th New York Volunteers.  He must have proven himself a capable soldier and officer in those few months for he was brevetted to major, an honorary title, and then lieutenant-colonel for “gallant and meritorious service” during the war to date from March 13, 1865.  According to one biographical sketch of Dudley, the brevet to major was due to his services at Chancellorsville.  There is no account of what services earned him the higher rank, the only listing of Dudley Olcott in the Official Records is a misprint and provides no relevant information. 

While Dudley served on the front lines, his father served on the home front….

Dr. Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated with her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2017. She earned her M.A. from West Virginia University in 2012 and her B.A. in history with a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies from Siena College in 2010. In addition, Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park from 2010-2014 and has worked on various other publications and projects.