The history books are filled with the stories of great men and women.
You usually have to dig around a bit to find interesting stories about the average Joe or Jane who lived at a time of national crisis and what their role was in that crisis.
Here’s a brief history based on the few facts I have of a man who served on the Union side during the American Civil War.
Myron Laverne Palmer was my wife’s great-grandfather(2). Myron’s family tree can be traced back to The Fortune. The Fortune was a follow-up ship to the famous Mayflower of Plymouth Rock fame. The Palmer’s were among the earliest of the English colonists that settled early New England.
Myron’s branch of the family moved from early Massachusetts and settled in New York. Myron was born in Fowler, St. Lawrence, New York in 1835 to Ozro and Lenora Palmer. It appears that sometime between 1850 when Myron was 15 to 1860 when he was 25 the family had moved to Illinois and then moved back to New York shortly before the Civil War.
So far there is nothing too unusual about all this, although it is interesting that my wife can trace her ancestry to early New England, 1621. What is a little more unusual is that Myron served in and survived the American Civil War.
As a resident of New York in 1862 Myron enlisted in the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry in September of 1862. His military papers say he was a farmer by occupation prior to enlistment.
Here is a brief history of the 112th New York Volunteer Infantry during the time Myron was part of it.
The 112th New York was called the Chautauqua Regiment because they were recruited primarily from that county. The regiment was raised after the Seven Days Campaign which was a disaster for the Union. President Lincoln put out the call out for three-year volunteers and the 112th New York was raised in September of 1862 to answer that call. Myron was among the recruits.
The regiment saw action in Virginia during the remainder of 1862 and into the spring of 1863. During Myron’s one year of service the regiment was engaged at places called Franklin, Zuni Station, Deserted Houses, the siege of Suffolk and Carrsville.
Note: The Siege of Suffolk, VA was the largest of engagements listed. The 112th NY operated at this time in the tidewater area of Virginia, at times in conjunction with the Union Navy. The engagement at Franklin, VA should not be confused with the larger battle in Franklin, Tennessee in 1864.
Given the amount of time Myron was in the hospital if Myron saw any action it would have occurred between October 1862 and January, 1863, a four-month window. From what I can tell from Civil War records a number of skirmishes were fought around Franklin and Zuni Station in late 1862. It is possible that Myron was involved in these skirmishes.
Myron’s record reads that he spent February, 1863 to October, 1863 in a military hospital and was discharged with a disability in October, 1863. It means that Myron spent 9 months in the hospital and 4 months with his regiment. Certainly, he was very ill to stay that long in the hospital.
The nature of the disability is unknown but it would not surprise me if he was rendered unfit for military service because of the lingering effects of dysentery, a very common ailment suffered by both Union and Confederate soldiers due to the unsanitary conditions prevalent during that time period.
Historians estimate that 2.5 million men served in the Union Armies during the Civil War. About 110,000 were killed in combat. About 250,000 died of disease and some believe that some 50,000 of them died from diseases related to loose bowels.
Disease related deaths accounted for approximately 10% of all Union Army deaths. Myron was fortunate to get away with a disability.
The 112th New York as a whole during it’s time of service lost 79 killed in action, another 49 died from wounds received in action. Another 199 died from disease and a further 22 died while in the hands of the Confederates (most likely from disease as well). I do not know how many were discharged for medical reasons.
Assuming that when the regiment was raised it was close to the official establishment of 1000 men this means about 1/3 of the original strength of the regiment would die. It was not healthy to be a Civil War soldier.
Myron lived a long time after the Civil War (d. 1903) so it can surmised that his disability did not affect the quality of his post-Civil War life too much.
Myron married Loretta Smith in 1867 and together they had five children. Ora Palmer, the youngest of the five would become my wife’s great-grandfather(1). At some point Myron and Loretta moved to Minnesota and are recorded in the 1885 territorial census. The 1900 Federal Census records Myron at age 65 still being a farmer.
As for Myron’s regiment after he was discharged they went on to a fairly significant battle. The 112th NY was transferred to South Carolina and took part in the assault on Battery Wagner. This battle was immortalized in the film Glory that told the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first Union Colored Regiments. (During the Civil War black regiments were called “colored.”)
I’m anxious to find out more about Myron if I can but thus far it seems he was an ordinary sort of man who worked hard as a farmer and answered his country’s call when he was needed. After the war he once again returned to farming in Olmstead County, Minnesota and raised a family from which my wife can trace her heritage.
- Remembering the 54th Regiment (streetsofsalem.com)
- Fight between New York's Excelsior Brigade and Confederate Army launched Robert E. Lee's first Civil War campaign (dvidshub.net)
- To Work for Our Brave and Suffering Soldiers (broeder10.wordpress.com)