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

Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany, NY, home to the Olcott family during the Civil War.

Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany, NY, home to the Olcott family during the Civil War.

Dudley’s father, Thomas Worth Olcott, made his contributions on the homefront, in ways that are perhaps less recognizable, but hardly less important, than soldiers. Thomas Olcott was a prominent banker in the Albany area in the nineteenth-century.  He was the president of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank at the time of the war as well as being involved with several other organizations in the area, mainly educational and charitable associations.  He was so well-known that Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was in correspondence with Thomas W. Olcott while perfecting plans for the National bank system and President Lincoln offered him the position of first comptroller of the currency in 1863, a position he declined.  When the Civil War broke out Thomas W. Olcott was involved with the recruitment of the 113th New York Volunteers, later the 7th New York Heavy Artillery, and he used his banking connections to help soldiers save portions of their pay.

A meeting took place in the Executive Chamber on the afternoon of the surrender of Fort Sumter, April 14, 1861, in which a bill was drafted for submission to the legislature the following morning.  This bill provided enrollment of 30,000 volunteer militia to serve for two years and appropriated three million dollars to meet the expense.  On April 15, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for Militia from the states to total 75,000 men.  New York was assigned a quota of seventeen regiments of 780 officers and men for a total of 13,280 soldiers.  The New York State Military Board met on the 16th and resolved that “the Militia now organized or so many there of as the Governor shall order into the service of the United States be transported by order and under the direction of the Governor to Washington” and that the “expense thereof if not provided for by the United States Government be paid by the Comptroller on the Certificate of the Governor.”

Governor Edward Morgan issued his proclamation for volunteers on April 18, 1862 and the public responded eagerly.  Public meetings and addresses were held that raised money and steadily enrolled men in military service.  The calls for more volunteers kept coming from the White House, with 42,034 three-years troops requested by the President in early May 1862 and 300,000 more on July 1.  General Orders 52 from the State of New York on July 7, 1862 directed that each senatorial district, except the first seven, form a regimental camp and invited prominent citizens to form military committees to assist in the recruiting efforts in their areas.  In addition, the Provost-Marshal-General of the United States “appealed to the patriotism and generosity of persons not required by law to perform military duty, but who possessed ample means, to cause themselves to be represented in the service by men procured by themselves.”

The committee appointed for the thirteenth senatorial district, the area around Albany, was made up of thirteen men, one of which was Thomas W. Olcott.  This committee met on July 10, 1862 and divided into sub-committees for each ward and town.  The War Committee authorized qualified men to recruit volunteers with the offer of an officer’s commission to any authorized recruiter who could enlist thirty men.  The committee was also responsible for selecting the commander of the regiment.  They chose Captain Lewis Owen Morris of the First United States Artillery, a regular army officer who had already distinguished himself at the siege and capture of Fort Macon in North Carolina.  Morris was a native of Albany with an aristocratic lineage of two hundred years in America.  His great-grandfather had signed the Declaration of Independence and his father, Major Lewis Nelson Morris, was a hero from the Mexican War killed leading his troops at Monterrey in 1846. 

To encourage quick recruitment, Governor Morgan promised in his proclamation a special presentation flag to the first four regiments mustered in from the state.  The War Committee in the thirteenth senatorial district was determined that their regiment would be one of these first four.  They convinced Albany County to raise the bounty by twenty-five dollars to encourage enough response to fill all ten companies.  The first man of what would become the 113th New York Volunteers, also known as the “Albany County Regiment,” enlisted on July 24, 1862 and by August 15 enough men had been recruited to fill the regiment.  The regiment officially mustered in on August 18, 1862 and received their silk flag for being one of the first four regiments mustered in.

Artillerymen defending Washington

Artillerymen defending Washington

The 113th New York Volunteers left New York on August 20, 1862 and traveled to Washington where they were placed on the defenses north of the Potomac, engaged in rebuilding, strengthening and extending the works around the capital.  In December 1862 the 113th New York Volunteers was changed to an artillery unit, the 7th New York Heavy Artillery; consequently they needed to recruit more men to fill the differences in numbers between infantry and heavy artillery units.  It is unclear whether the War Committee was involved in this second round of recruitment.  The regiment was fortunate enough to avoid combat for the majority of their term of service; however, on May 14, 1864 the regiment was ordered to join the Army of the Potomac.  Their first battle was May 19th at the Po River defending the army trains and they continued in combat until engagements around Petersburg.  The 7th New York Heavy Artillery would suffer an immense number of casualties in their few months of combat.  The regiment would lose 1,254 to 1,315 casualties in about one hundred days, one of the highest rates in the war.  They entered the Army of the Potomac on May 19th with sixty-six officers and 1,774 men fit for duty; by August 28 they had only six officers and 168 men fit for duty.  Their worst battles were Cold Harbor with 418 casualties and engagements around Petersburg resulting in 501 casualties.  Colonel Lewis Morris would follow in the footsteps of his father; he was killed at Cold Harbor.  It would be interesting to know how Thomas W. Olcott felt as the casualty lists came back to Albany, knowing that he and his fellow committee members had been instrumental in sending this regiment to the front lines.

In addition to serving on the War Committee in Albany County, Thomas W. Olcott applied his banking connections to assist men enlisting in the local regiments, and this was one of the surprises I found while doing research at the Albany Hall of Records.  On the allotment rolls of the 113th New York Volunteers, the 177th New York Volunteers, and the 43rd New York Volunteers, Thomas Olcott appears many times as the assignee for soldiers.  The allotment records allowed soldiers to make provisions for a portion of their monthly pay to be automatically sent to someone else, for example their wives or parents.  Some men had their pay transferred to other Albany Banks, but in many cases Thomas W. Olcott is specifically named.  Instead of choosing the Farmers and Mechanics Bank, the bank Olcott worked with, as their assignee, they wanted to entrust their money specifically to Olcott who would then hold their money or deposit it into the bank for them.  These men may have wanted to save their money for their return to civilian life after their term of service or they had no one to send their money to; either way, they wanted Olcott to personally be in charge of their pay.  In some cases, specific instructions were written alongside the assignee’s name, mostly “in case of death” situations.  For example, Private Terrence McCardell of Company A, 113th NY specified seven dollars a month to be given to Thomas W. Olcott to be placed in savings with the instruction that “In case he does not come back, to be paid to Ann McCardell.”  There were fewer mentions of Thomas W. Olcott in the allotment rolls of the 177th New York Volunteers, but two men of Company H, Alfred M. Allen and George E. Reynolds, have Olcott as the assignee with the remark “Friend”. 

In the local history of Albany, Thomas W. and Dudley Olcott provide a microstudy of the two sides of the conflict in the north—the battlefield and the homefront.  Their actions were important to the people who they interacted with: the men in Dudley’s regiment who followed him and the soldiers that entrusted their pay to Thomas W. Olcott.  Studying the individual actions of men such as Thomas W. and Dudley Olcott are important in the study of history so that humanity does not get lost in the statistics of war, and it is important in the study of how people in an area reacted to the war.

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.