Abram Carhart died the day the Confederacy was split in half

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

A notice in the July 18, 1862 edition of the Albany Evening Journal reported that Prospect Hill Cemetery had appointed “a committee to solicit subscriptions for the purpose of erecting a suitable monument to be placed in said plot off ground.” The cemetery had set aside land for the burial site of any soldiers in the County of Albany. Once erected, names were inscribed on the lower part of the monument which still stands today although the bronze eagle has long since disappeared.

“Started for Dixie” recorded Abram Carhart in his new diary on March 16, 1863. A fever had prevented him from leaving Albany with his regiment, the 177th New York State Volunteers, on Dec. 16, 1862.

After the regiment’s arrival on Jan. 11, the men had been assigned to the Army of the Gulf, one regiment of the 20,000 soldiers under the command of General Nathanial Banks. Carhart would eventually join them, his diary giving us a vivid picture of how grueling, dangerous, and yet boring it could be for an individual soldier on campaign.

Abram Carhart, the son of Sanford and Sophie Carhart, grew up on a family farm likely located on (West Old) State Road and attended the local one-room school. Methodism, thriving in Guilderland at this time, attracted young Carhart who became a member of the State Road Bible Class and formally committed to the Methodist Episcopal faith.

Carhart was eager to volunteer when the Civil War broke out but his mother’s objections kept him in Albany, serving in the 10th New York Militia. However, in September 1862, the 10th Militia became the 177th New York State Volunteers, a nine-month regiment.

Civil War volunteer regiments, raised by the individual states, served for varying amounts of time up to three years. Each regiment was made up of 10 companies of 100 men each. Usually the volunteer regiments included many men from the same area who knew each other before joining so that there were several men from Guilderland serving with Abram Carhart who was assigned to Co. C.

After several medical extensions, Carhart was finally sent to New York City, reporting to Governors Island where his life as a soldier really began. His days were taken up with drills and picket duties with a bit of free time for religious services and letter-writing.

Soon to ship out to New Orleans, on April 6 he wrote, “changed drawers and stockings,” the first of three mentions of changing his drawers during the four months his diary covers.

On April 8, he put out to sea, destination New Orleans. About 75 miles from shore, a brig collided with the ship he was on, forcing its return to Governors Island.

Three days later, Carhart again sailed. In spite of some rough seas and sea sickness, he noted when Cape Hatteras was passed.

Big excitement came when a rebel blockade runner was fired upon and captured, carrying 22 bales of cotton, probably heading to England. Sailing past the Florida coast, Carhart was fascinated with the lush green vegetation along the shore.

At last, the Mississippi was reached April 21, his ship arriving at New Orleans the next day. Not immediately being sent to report to his regiment, he took the opportunity to “change shirt, drawers & stockings last night.”

He noted that the Provost Guard was “arresting a good many deserters” and that “the cake ladies were drove out for bringing liquor to the soldiers.”

A few days after his arrival, Carhart joined his regiment at Camp Bonnet Carre where he found fellow Guilderland farmboy Peter Ogsbury sick, but the rest were well. Whenever he encountered someone he had previously known from home, he noted it in his diary.

That day, he “wrote home to Ma,” and probably the news of Ogsbury and the rest would have been included. Since arriving at Governors Island, Carhart penned many letters during his service, having already written seven, as noted in his diary.

The U.S. Post Office with the Union Army did an amazing job of carrying mail and packages back and forth, even during campaigns, although it sometimes took time. Even during the campaign against Port Hudson, a package even arrived for Carhart.

Because almost all Union soldiers had attended at least one-room schools, except for many immigrants, they were literate to some degree and their surviving letters and diaries provide the troops’ view of the war.

Shortly after his arrival, Carhart and the others in his regiment were “mustered in for pay.” A regiment would stand at attention while attendance was taken, the list sent to Washington, and eventually the men received their monthly pay of $13.

Using information from Carhart’s diary, it appears there was an underground economy in which the men borrowed, loaned, sold, or purchased from each other between pay days. Carhart loaned Abram Bradt 10 cents and Billy Tygert 25 cents and repaid $2 to P.J. Ogsbury and money owed to Henry Swan.

Carhart sold 50 cents worth of tobacco to A. Fox who “promised to pay when in camp” and a few days later sold 50 cents worth of tobacco to Billy, with an illegible last name, who also would pay back in camp.


Breaking Confederate

hold on the Mississippi

The 177th had joined thousands of other soldiers seeking to break the Confederate hold on the Mississippi. To do so meant Union troops must take the two well-fortified points on the river, Port Hudson, a few miles north of New Orleans, fortified by dug breastworks and a battery of artillery, while 242 miles to the north was Vicksburg, the Confederate’s most powerful stronghold on the Mississippi.

General Grant’s army was slowly working its way toward Vicksburg and then besieging it. Simultaneously, General Banks was attempting to capture Port Hudson. Much action lay ahead for the 177th.

Once back in his regiment, Carhart almost immediately went into alert when at midnight everyone was called out and “formed a line of battle.” Apparently a false alarm, later the next day he was on guard duty, the first of many times when he “felt a sample of southern mosquitoes while on picket.”

Soon orders came to leave camp. Carhart and his company steamed upriver to Davis Plantation where they had breakfast coffee, next marched eight miles until dinner, then 12 miles to McGills Ferry.

The next night, soldiers were called into a battle line, Carhart having picket duty. May 10 and 11 were quiet days, but the next day several of them were fired on by rebels, “one man wounded & four men hit.”

Departing from McGill’s Ferry, the men marched four miles through dust and swamps 12 miles until eating a dinner of “chicken, geese and such as we could get.” Along the route, the Union soldiers were foraging, helping themselves to whatever they could gather up along her way.

The next day, four companies were sent out, “capturing in all about a dozen horses, a lot of cotton, a hogshead of molasses & a lot of sugar.” Stripping families of their livestock and food supplies along the line of march was common, resorted to by both Yankees and Confederates.

Having been on picket duty under the threat of attack, once off duty Carhart returned to camp, still with enough energy to sell tobacco to two comrades for 50 cents each. Finally, they left McGill Ferry at midnight, marched until seven the next morning, having covered 22 miles in seven hours.

After a rest until 4 p.m., the regiment marched about 12 miles until 11 p.m., receiving their first ration of whiskey, often given out to Union soldiers from the Commissary before or after a particularly demanding time. A day later, the men reached Baton Rouge.

Resting a day, Banks’s men crossed the river, marching 17 miles north toward Port Hudson. Then they marched from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., forced to “lay down for the night on the wet ground for it had rained for a while.”

The next day, Co. C was detailed to build a bridge that took all day, then marched about one-and-a-half miles after forming a line of battle. Leaving their encampment the next day, the men encountered an enemy fort.

They were ordered to march on the double quick across a field about a mile under rebel fire the entire time. The Union soldiers withdrew to the river to communicate with Union gunboats there, but when they returned, the Confederates “had got the range, wounding three with one man in Co. H having to have his leg taken off.” They returned to a camp about two miles from Port Hudson.

A welcome day of rest was followed by a frontal charge on Port Hudson. The 177th was ordered to support the 21st Indiana Battery, an artillery unit with 20-pound mortars. “In the forenoon,” Carhart wrote, “Companies F & H were detailed as skirmishers & Co C was left with the battery while the rest of the regiment went to the center to support the charge.”

The attack was a failure. Port Hudson remained in Confederate hands. Back in camp, Carhart received two letters and another ration of whiskey.

One day, Co. C went out as skirmishers, the next on picket duty, happy the next day to be relieved by the 6th Wisconsin. A few quiet days then several companies of the 177th including Co. C were ordered out to build breastworks.

That meant digging trenches, a project that kept them busy for several days including “planting” mortars. After several days of hard labor, Carhart noted, ”finished the rifle pits today.” This was followed by another day of picket duty within 600 yards of the rebel fortifications, shooting 15 rounds.

On June 14, Banks ordered another frontal attack that again was a futile assault. Carhart’s terse entry read, “rec’d marching orders at last night about one o’clock to go to the left, left camp about 3 o’clock — got to the left about 5 o’clock. — shot and shell came rather close for comfort, so moved a little farther and waited for orders.”

Again, the frontal assault proved futile.

The following days were quiet with picket duty a regular chore. Once the person who was supposed to relieve Carhart failed to show so he ended up on duty for 48 hours.

Other days, Carhart was in the rifle pits, once spending all day there in extreme heat, expecting to be ordered to charge. Twenty men in his regiment had heat stroke.

Mail came in, including a letter from Henry Comstock and his mother. Another day, she had sent him  “The Advocate,” possibly a religious publication, letters from his family and a package from Uncle Perry containing “cake, smoke(d) beef, currants & plum sauce.”

The early days of July brought daily rifl-pit duty in the midst of what are constant references to the extreme heat. The 7th must have been a quiet day because Carhart, Jesse Dennison, and James Beckwith went down to the Mississippi to bathe.

Carhart must have lost his footing or stepped into a deep area, because he never resurfaced. When his two traumatized and grief-stricken companions returned to camp they found cheers and celebration going on.

Port Hudson had surrendered on top of the news from upriver that Grant had taken Vicksburg on July 4th. The Mississippi had become a Union waterway and the Confederacy was split in half.


Buried at

Prospect Hill

Later someone wrote in different handwriting in Carhart’s diary for July 7th, “Abram M. Carhart was dronded.” His body was retrieved the next day and he was buried.

The Albany Evening Journal in its July 30 edition carried the tiny notice, “177th Recovered The body of young Carhart, a member of the 177th Regiment, who was drowned on the 7th inst, near Port Hudson, while bathing in the Mississippi river, was recovered on the 8th and was properly interred.”

In nine months, the 177th lost nine men and officers, killed or mortally wounded, while 152 officers and men died of disease. Was Carhart part of that statistic or just overlooked?

In the meantime Carhart’s family brought back his body and placed him in the family plot at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Guilderland.

It has been estimated that there were 620,000 casualties from both sides in the Civil War, although some modern researchers think the number should be higher. Each of these was an individual tragedy for family members, but at least the Carhart family could bring their loved one home to be buried here, unlike the thousands who were in unmarked graves or nameless in national cemeteries.

Note: The author thanks Tom Capuano for help in interpreting some difficult handwriting in Abram Carhat’s diary.