Friday, April 1, 2011

Van Rensselaer McOmber: 8th N.Y. Volunteer Cav.

8th New York Volunteer Cavalry

Enlisted: September 18, 1861

Discharged: December 8, 1862

*I will refer to Van Rensselaer as Van R. or V.R.*

Van Rensselaer enlisted for service in the Union Army on September 18th of 1861 in Albion, New York, was mustered in on October 9, 1861 in Rochester, New York and began receiving pay on November 23, 1861. Van R. was placed in Company F. of the 8th N.Y. Volunteer Cavalry, a service which he was supposed to be committed to for a period of 3 years.

In December of 1861, the muster roll states that Van R. is employed as a cook, attached to the company hospital. By February 1, 1862, Van has been released and returned to Company F. for duty. The February and March muster roll states that Van was sentenced by R. C. M. (Courts Martial) to forfeit six dollars of his monthly pay. Correspondance from August 4, 1862 at Relay House in Maryland states that Van R. was charged with "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline;" the finding was "guilty." The resulted punishment was forfeiture of six dollars per month of his pay (for an undisclosed amount of time) as well as 30 hours of fatigue duty in addition to his normal duties spread over ten days. *Fatigue duty describes non-military duties (cleaning, etc.) that are not normally assigned to soldiers* It is unknown why he was tried by courts-martial. Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline has been described as a "catch-all" rule that can cover any number of violations, including use of inappropriate language, gambling, etc. Van Rensselaer fancied the bottle so it is possible that his charge was related to drinking.

Other muster rolls indicate that Van R. was present for all musters except for August when he was placed in confinement. The exact reason for his confinement at this time is unknown. However, Van R. was returned to Company F just in time for the Confederate advance at Harper's Ferry, Va.

Van Rensselaer's application for an invalid pension states that he was present for the Battle of Antietam on September 14th which resulted in his disability and discharge from the service. He was slightly mistaken in his report of events. He was infact guarding the Union arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. when Confederate soldiers led by Robert E. Lee led an attack on the garrison which would ensure a clear line of supply from Virgina as he moved further north.

By the 14th of September, two days after fighting had commenced, Gen. Stonewall Jackson had surrounded the Union regiments within Harpers Ferry. Colonel Benjamin Davis, commander of the 8th N.Y. Cav. suggested that the cavalry units attempt to break out of the lines as they would prove useless in defense of the town.

In their retreat out of Harpers Ferry, the column of cavalry encountered an ammunition supply train under the command of Gen. James Longstreet to which the regiments captured 71 wagons (as stated by Van R.) as well as prisoners and a herd of beef cattle. They arrived at Greencastle, Pa. on the morning of the 15th. Co. Davis (with his southern draw) was able to order the train to reroute towards Greencastle without the Confederates being aware of who was issuing the orders. Not a single man was lost.

Van R.'s account of the retreat from Harpers Ferry states that nearly two-thirds of the men were disabled, whether temporary or permanently, by the nearly 46 mile, 10 hour trek. According to V.R. the bulk of the journey was made at a gallop's pace, standing in the stirrups. For this reason, he was committed to the regiment hospital where he remained until discharged on December 8, 1862.

In his invalid pension application dated May 18, 1863, V.R. complained of severe rheumatism in his right leg from his knee to foot as a result of the long gallop paced journey. He also complained of severe pain in his right hip for the same reason.V.R. also stated that he suffered from kidney disease and pain across his back from the horse jumping over ditches, "etc." Blind piles (hemorrhoids which do not bleed) were also entered on his list of complaints.

Through examination of affidavits signed by V.R. as well as viewing his signature on muster rolls, it becomes apparent that between 1861/2 and the engagement at Harpers Ferry that he had suffered considerably, leaving his signature with a shaky and incomplete appearance on his invalid pension applications. Examinations by doctors/surgeons in Orleans County state that he is in fact 56/7 by the time he applied for his pension, meaning that he was approximately 54 years old when he joined the service (a far shot from 21 listed on his first muster roll).

Dr. Noble of Albion stated that," Van R. McComber is fifty four years old, is pretty well used up, has been a hard working and pretty hard drinking man and will never be in any better condition than now." V.R.'s discharge papers claim that he is 57 years old (1862) and that he was discharged because of his age as well as his disabilities. His sons Lorenzo and Otis are signatures on several documents as well as his brother-in-law Sylvester Kesler.

Just as his father had been, V.R. was a hard drinking which caused many problems throughout his life; including his wife leaving him in the 1850s. It is difficult to understand why at 54 years old he would have entered the service, perhaps he needed the money. Van Rensselaer did not receive an invalid pension as he had died less than one year after first applying for it. He left no widow concerned with collecting his pension.