The Civil War & its cost –
Part 1 – 8 short months.
Peter B.’s service in the Civil War was short, but like many others of his generation, the war had a lasting effect on him. He enrolled in the Union Army in Brooklyn, New York, on 5 Oct 1861. On 1 Nov, he mustered in and was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in Company H, of the New York 87th Infantry Regiment, known as the Brooklyn Rifles.1 Peter B. was 29-years-old and married with three small children at home. He was a house and sign painter by trade with a thriving business in Williamsburg. By all accounts, he was a healthy, sound, young man upon entry in the service. Eight months later, ravaged by typhoid, malaria, and dysentery, he was too ill to continue. On 4 May 1862, he resigned his commission and mustered out of the service.
While there is not a great deal of information about the 87th NY on the Internet, I’ve been able to combine what I found in the depositions in the pension files for him and his wife, to create a timeline for his activities and the field conditions while he was in service.
The mustering process for the 87th lasted from October to December in 1861.2 The New York Times for Monday, 2 Dec 1861, documented its departure for Washington DC.
THE BROOKLYN RIFLES.– This regiment, numbered Eighty-seven, of the State Volunteers, commanded by Colonel STEPHEN A. DODGE, and quartered at the Palace Garden, New-York, will reach this city Monday morning, and form on Remsen-street at 11 o’clock, where the city authorities will present the corps with a stand of colors. This regiment is mainly composed of residents of Brooklyn.
The regiment was attached to the 3rd Brigade, Casey’s Division, in the Army of the Potomac. They were encamped on Meridian Hill3 and performed duties in Washington DC until early March. From 10-15 March, the 87th New York under the command of Col Stephen A. Dodge advanced on Manassas, Virginia. The regiment was attached to 1st Brigade (Col Charles D. Jameson), 3rd Division (BG Charles Smith Hamilton), III Army Corps (BG Samuel P. Heintzelman), Army of the Potomac (MG George B. McClellan).
Peter B. appeared to be both respected and liked by his men as many stated so in their depositions to the pension bureau examiner. In an 1898 deposition to a special examiner from the U.S. Bureau of Pensions, former Private Phillip Hart made it a point to tell the examiner how he felt about 1st Lt McLean. “Mr. McLean was an excellent officer; there were none better. Was a gentleman in every way.”4
On 17 March, the regiment was ordered to the peninsula of Virginia, where on 5 April 1862, the Siege of Yorktown began.5
An excellent summary of Yorktown in the Civil War can be found on the National Park Service site.
The regimental history documents a skirmish on 11 Apr 1862.6 Private Edward McIntyre recalled in an 1898 affidavit that while on the march in the Peninsula Campaign Lt McLean “was injured by the bursting of a shell in close proximity to himself; he was so shocked as to be deprived of his speech for some time and in my opinion he never recovered from its shock – he appeared very nervous after and was not the same man.” 7 Private Phillip Hart corroborated this in his deposition. “…I remember that his voice was very weak and that he did not drill us as well as formerly. Was delicate looking and his voice was husky as if he had some trouble in his throat.” 8
Sickness and disease were common in the camps and accounted for far more casualties than enemy fire. Company D Commander William H. Leaycraft stated, “I remember that while we were in front of Yorktown many of our men were sick with typhoid and malarial fevers and also diarrhea.”9 Private McIntyre also recalled the conditions. “I was at Yorktown in April 1862, and many of our men were sick at that time. This was on account of the location of our camp, which was near a swamp. Many had dysentery and malaria horrible.”10
In his 1890 application for an invalid pension, Peter B. stated that he was taken from the hospital tent in front of Yorktown, “…to Fort Monroe in wagon & boat to Baltimore & cars enroute home.”11
Private Samuel Patterson recalled, “I was present and saw Lieutenant McLean come in very sick with diarrhea & a high fever & saw him taken to the hospital tent while we was in front of Yorktown it was in the latter part of April 1862 and left him there when the army moved on.”12 Private Timothy Hays stated that it was “on or about 26 April 1862… he was taken sick with malaria fever and chronic diarrhea, and sent to hospital tent at Yorktown, where we left him when we moved forward. … I knew from my own personal knowledge that he was confined to his bed in the hospital with malaria fever and chronic diarrhea.”13 George J. Holman, a hospital steward for the regiment confirmed that Peter B. was indeed in the hospital and then evacuated to Fort Monroe.14
On 4 May 1862, Peter B. resigned his commission due to illness, and the Siege of Yorktown ended. But for Peter B., a personal war to survive and regain his health had just begun.
1. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1893: Registers of the 87th NY Infantry Regiment.
2. New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History; Last modified: August 19, 2010; URL: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/87thInf/87thInfMain.htm
4. Phillip Hart, Deposition C, 25 Mar 1898, Widow’s Pension: Susan W. McLean, p17; Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85D); Federal Military Pension Applications; National Archives and Records Administration. Cit. Date: 13 May 2014.
5. New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History; Last modified: August 19, 2010;see 4 above.
6. Civil War in the East; URL: http://www.civilwarintheeast.com/USA/NY/NY087.php
7. Edward McIntyre, Deposition F, 5 Feb 1898; Widow’s Pension: Susan W. McLean, p23; see 4 above.
8. Phillip Hart, Deposition C, 25 Mar 1898, Widow’s Pension: Susan W. McLean, p18; see 4 above.
9. William H. Leaycraft, Deposition D, 17 May 1898, Widow’s Pension: Susan W. McLean, p19; see 4 above.
10. Edward McIntyre, Deposition F, 5 Feb 1898; Widow’s Pension: Susan W. McLean, p23; see 4 above.
11. Invalid Application, 2 Jul 1890, Peter B. McLean; Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85D); Federal Military Pension Applications; National Archives and Records Administration. Cit. Date: 13 May 2014.
12. Samuel Patterson, Deposition, 24 Apr 1890, Invalid File: Peter B. McLean; see 11 above.
13. Timothy Hays, Deposition, 8 Oct 1890, Invalid File: Peter B. McLean; see 11 above.
14. George J. Holman, Affidavit, 9 May 1890, Invalid File: Peter B. McLean; see 11 above.