From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton’s Regulars

A Civil War Memoir from the 121st New York Regiment


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About the Book

Thirty years after the Civil War, the 121st New York Volunteers (Upton’s Regulars) finally published a history of their regiment. Its stated author was a man who had not served directly with the 121st but had based the book on a memoir written by a survivor who had enlisted at age 15. That boy, Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, published his memoir thirty years after the war in an obscure upstate New York newspaper, The Hekrimer Democrat. For years, the “origin story” lay hidden in plain sight, until editor Salvatore Cilella discovered it while researching for a regimental history.
The original 53 weekly installments, edited and annotated here, richly detail the horrors and folly of war. They reveal the slow maturation of a boy thrust into almost four years of war. Beckwith was present at nearly all the historic Eastern Theater engagements from Antietam to Appomattox, including an abortive stint with the 91st New York in Florida in 1861. He describes his various Tom Sawyer–like adventures with the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, dealing with death, disease, loss and ultimate elation at Lee’s surrender, tempered only by Abraham Lincoln’s death.

About the Author(s)

Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr. is retired after a 43-year museum career and is the author/editor of several books. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bibliographic Details

Dewitt Clinton Beckwith
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 246
Bibliographic Info: 31 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9112-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4902-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi

Preface 1

Introduction 3

1. Beckwith Goes for a Soldier 23

2. Beckwith Enlists Again 34

3. The Reality of War 44

4. “Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!” 52

5. Salem Church 63

6. Gettysburg 75

7. Summer and Fall 1863 84

8. The Overland Campaign 95

9. Slaughter at Cold Harbor 112

10. Saving Washington and into the Valley 123

11. The Siege of Petersburg 139

12. War’s End 149

13. Going Home 158

Chapter Notes 165

Bibliography 223

Index 233

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Memories are fragile, malleable things, often succumbing to the temptation of embellishment and omission. Clinton Beckwith’s memoir of life in the 12st New York Infantry during the Civil War defies the convention. Detailed, lively, accurate, and complete—spanning camps and battlefields through the war’s end—this is as good a Civil War memoir as you will find. Editor Sal Cilella knows as much about the 121st New York as anyone knows about any regiment of the Civil War; his work adds context and meaning to Beckwith’s original words. This is a great and useful addition to the literature of soldiers fighting for nation and, ultimately, freedom.”—John Hennessy, chief historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

• “The 121st New York Infantry learned the soldier’s trade from a demanding warrior, Emory Upton, and became one of the finest fighting regiments in the Army of the Potomac. DeWitt Clinton Beckwith’s memoirs, skillfully edited by Salvatore Cilella, Jr., is an important work by a member of ‘Upton’s Regulars.’ Written as a series of newspaper articles, the memoirs are rich in detail, covering Beckwith’s short time with the 91st NY and the remainder of the war with the 121st. Beckwith and his comrades fought on some of the conflict’s worse battlefields.”—Jeffry D. Wert, author of, The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers’ Struggle for Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle

• “Emory Upton never shrank from a fight, which meant his 121st New York often found themselves in the thickest of the thick. Because Upton was also an innovator—and would go on to become one of the most influential tacticians in the history of the U.S. Army—his 121st New York also found themselves on the cutting edge of tactical advances (literally and theoretically). Dewitt Clinton Beckwith’s memoir takes us into the ranks of a regiment that, by any objective account, experienced incredible adventures in the Civil War, and Sal Cilella’s worthy editing gives Beckwith’s account rich, detailed context.”—Chris Mackowski, editor-in-chief, Emerging Civil War

• “Sal Cilella had discovered a true gem in Dewitt Clinton Beckwith’s reminiscence of his service with the 121st New York. Beckwith is so refreshingly honest and observant, and writes with such clarity and attention to details, that he brings the war he experienced to life in a way few memoirs of Civil War service do. Anyone with an interest in the common soldier in the Army of the Potomac will want to read this.”—D. Scott Hartwig, author of To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of 1862; “Sal Cilella’s presentation of DeWitt Beckwith’s illuminating memoir of service with the 121st New York adds much to our understanding of why Northern men marched off to war and served through all its travails from Antietam to Appomattox. It follows Cilella’s award winning primary source editing of Emory Upton’s Correspondence in 2017 (from the American Civil War Museum) and his edit of Upton’s love letters with his wife in 2019.”—Stephen Davis, author of The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War