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Followership of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment and Private Thomas Willis Benham

25 May 2024 11:46 PM | Chris Fuzie (Administrator)

The 150th New York Infantry Regiment, known as the "Dutchess County Regiment," played a crucial role in some of the most significant campaigns of the American Civil War. Comprised of brave men from Dutchess County and surrounding areas, the regiment's journey from its formation in 1862 to the final muster in 1865 is a testament to their dedication and valor. Among these men was Private Thomas Willis Benham, whose personal story of service, capture, and ultimate sacrifice epitomizes the courage and resilience of the Union soldiers. This narrative delves into the regiment's key engagements, including the Battle of Gettysburg and Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, highlighting the contributions and sacrifices of the 150th New York Infantry and Private Benham in preserving the Union and shaping the nation's history.

The story of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment and Private Thomas Willis Benham is a profound example of how followership, the commitment and support shown by individuals within a collective effort, played a critical role in shaping the United States and preserving its unity during the Civil War. The regiment’s journey and Benham’s personal sacrifices illustrate how dedicated followership contributed to the Union’s success and the ultimate unification of the nation.

Formation and Early Service: The 150th New York Infantry Regiment, known as the "Dutchess County Regiment" or the "Dutchess Legion," was organized under Colonel John H. Ketcham on August 27, 1862. The regiment, composed of men primarily from Dutchess County, was mustered into service on October 10 and 11, 1862, in Poughkeepsie, New York, for a three-year term. The regiment included men of excellent character and dedication, such as Private Thomas Willis Benham from Amenia, New York, who would join later.

Thomas Willis Benham was married to Thankful Marshall on November 5, 1851, by the Reverend William J. Allyn as recorded in the Connecticut, U.S., Town Marriage Records.  In June of 1862 Thomas and Thankful had five children, Clarence - 9, Earl Smith Benham - 7, Thomas Jr - 5, Homer - 2, and Hattie - 5 months old.  Thomas was working as a farm laborer at this time trying to make ends meet.  When he enlisted he received a $50 bounty and $10 premium pay. 

Initial Deployment: After leaving New York on October 11, 1862, the regiment performed garrison and guard duty in Baltimore, Maryland, as part of the Middle Department, 8th Corps. This duty lasted until July 1863, when they were assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac.

Thomas Willis Benham’s Service: Thomas Willis Benham, born in 1829 in Amenia, New York, enlisted in June 1863 and Joined the regiment in the field June 11, 1863, at the age of 34.  This date is just a few weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1 to July 3, 1863.  He joined as a private in Company A of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment.

The 150th New York Infantry Regiment was part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac. By late June 1863, the Union Army was mobilizing in response to the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Given that Thomas Willis Benham joined the regiment June 11, 1863, and the 150th New York Infantry Regiment was actively engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg starting on July 2, it is believed that Benham participated in this significant battle. His presence with the regiment during this period aligns with the regiment's documented movements and actions at Gettysburg. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Thomas Willis Benham did indeed fight at Gettysburg.

Battle of Gettysburg: One of the 150th New York Infantry’s most significant engagements was the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.  This battle was their first major engagement. The regiment arrived on July 2 and played a crucial role in reinforcing Union positions on the right flank. Later, they were ordered to support General Sedgwick on the extreme left, advancing under heavy fire and capturing three pieces of artillery from the enemy. The regiment's bravery was evident, with 45 casualties, and they fought with remarkable courage.

The regiment's engagement at the Battle of Gettysburg is a notable instance of followership. Despite being a relatively new unit, the 150th New York Infantry played a crucial role in reinforcing Union positions under intense fire. Private Benham, who joined shortly before this pivotal battle, exemplified the courage and resilience of his regiment. Their effective support and brave actions, even in the face of casualties, were instrumental in the Union’s strategic success at Gettysburg.

In September 1863, the 150th moved with the 12th Corps to Tennessee, joining the Army of the Cumberland. They were stationed along the railroad between Murfreesboro and Bridgeport, providing essential security and support.

Atlanta Campaign: In April 1864, the 12th Corps was reorganized into the 20th Corps. The 150th, part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, joined General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. They participated in significant battles, including Resaca, Cassville, Dallas, Kennesaw Mountain, and Peachtree Creek, culminating in the Siege of Atlanta. Thomas Willis Benham would have certainly been involved in these battles.  Over four months, they sustained more than 100 casualties.

The following are short summaries of these battles which Thomas Willis Benham would have been in.

Battle of Resaca (May 13-15, 1864)

  • Location: Resaca, Georgia
  • Synopsis: Part of General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Resaca involved Sherman’s Union forces attempting to outflank and engage General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army. After several days of skirmishing and direct attacks, both sides incurred significant casualties, but Johnston's forces eventually withdrew south, allowing Sherman to continue his advance toward Atlanta.

Battle of Cassville (May 19, 1864)

  • Location: Cassville, Georgia
  • Synopsis: Following their withdrawal from Resaca, Johnston's Confederate forces took up defensive positions near Cassville. Sherman’s forces maneuvered to attack, prompting Johnston to abandon his strong position. Johnston initially planned to launch a counterattack but ultimately decided to retreat further south, continuing the Confederates' strategic withdrawal.

Battle of Dallas (May 26-June 1, 1864)

  • Location: Dallas, Georgia
  • Synopsis: As Sherman’s forces advanced toward Atlanta, they encountered Johnston's army near Dallas. The battle involved several days of intense skirmishes and assaults. Although the Confederates managed to slow the Union advance temporarily, they could not stop Sherman’s forces, which continued their strategic flanking movements, eventually forcing the Confederates to fall back again.

Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27, 1864)

  • Location: Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia
  • Synopsis: One of the most significant engagements of the Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain saw Sherman’s forces attempting a direct assault on Johnston's well-entrenched positions. The frontal attack resulted in heavy Union casualties without significant gains. Despite this setback, Sherman continued his flanking maneuvers, eventually forcing Johnston to abandon Kennesaw Mountain and retreat toward Atlanta.

Battle of Peachtree Creek (July 20, 1864)

  • Location: Near Atlanta, Georgia
  • Synopsis: The Battle of Peachtree Creek was one of the initial battles during the Siege of Atlanta. General John Bell Hood, who had replaced Johnston, launched an aggressive attack on Sherman’s forces crossing Peachtree Creek. Despite initial Confederate success, the Union troops held their ground and repelled the assault. This battle marked the beginning of a series of engagements leading to the eventual fall of Atlanta to Sherman’s forces.

During the Atlanta Campaign, Benham was captured by Confederate forces on October 13, 1864, in Atlanta, Georgia.  During the Civil War, Union soldiers captured in or near Atlanta were typically sent to various Confederate prison camps. The most notorious of these was Andersonville, officially known as Camp Sumter, located in Georgia. Andersonville is infamous for its brutal conditions. Of the approximately 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned there, nearly 13,000 died due to disease, malnutrition, and poor living conditions.

Union soldiers captured near Atlanta, including those involved in the Atlanta Campaign like Thomas Willis Benham, were most likely sent to Andersonville due to its proximity and capacity to handle large numbers of prisoners. The conditions at Andersonville were exceptionally harsh, contributing to its infamous reputation.  In one of the muster records for Thomas Willis Benham it states:  “Absent, taken prisoner of war near Atlanta GA, October 13, 1864, afterwards, discharged and furloughed; on his route to rejoin his regiment was taken sick at Columbus, Ohio.”  Another entry says, “Died, 1 April 1865 of fever contracted in the service, while home in Armenia, NY, on furlough.  Final remarks rendered.”

March to the Sea: Following the fall of Atlanta, the 150th New York Infantry embarked on Sherman’s infamous "March to the Sea" on November 15, 1864. The regiment participated in the siege of Savannah in December, sustaining 20 casualties. Their actions during this campaign significantly disrupted the Confederate war effort by destroying vital supplies and infrastructure.

Campaign Through the Carolinas: In early 1865, the 150th continued through the Carolinas, engaging in battles such as Averasboro and Bentonville. Despite harsh conditions and constant skirmishes, the regiment maintained its effectiveness and morale.

End of Service and Legacy: The regiment marched to Washington, D.C., after the Carolinas Campaign, participating in the Grand Review of the Armies on May 23-24, 1865. The 150th New York Infantry was honorably discharged and mustered out on June 8, 1865, under the command of Colonel Alfred B. Smith. Colonels Ketcham and Smith were promoted to brevet brigadier-general, with Ketcham later advancing to major-general.

The regiment had a total enrollment of approximately 1,300 men, with 2 officers and 49 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and 3 officers and 78 enlisted men dying of disease and other causes, totaling 132 deaths. The 150th New York Infantry Regiment’s dedication, bravery, and significant contributions to the Union war effort were critical in achieving Union victory.

The Impact of The 150th N.Y.’s Followership on the United States

Strategic Contributions

The 150th New York Infantry Regiment’s actions during key campaigns disrupted Confederate operations and supply lines, significantly weakening their ability to sustain the war effort. Their relentless pursuit and engagement in battles across multiple states played a vital role in the broader Union strategy, contributing to eventual victories that were crucial for the preservation of the nation.

Sacrifices and Legacy

Private Thomas Willis Benham’s story, marked by his capture and death due to illness contracted during service, is a poignant reminder of the individual sacrifices that underpinned the Union’s success. These sacrifices were not in vain; they were essential in maintaining the integrity of the United States and ensuring its future as a unified nation. The collective efforts of the 150th New York Infantry and soldiers like Benham helped secure freedoms and set the stage for the nation’s progress.

Ensuring Freedom and Equality

The regiment’s dedication and the ultimate cost paid by many of its members contributed to the abolition of slavery and the establishment of a more equitable society. Their actions, driven by a sense of duty and followership, were fundamental in shaping the future of the United States, ensuring that it remained a land of freedom and opportunity.

Benefit to the United States: The actions of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment, along with the personal sacrifices of soldiers like Thomas Willis Benham, were instrumental in the Union’s success during the Civil War. Their involvement in major battles, such as Gettysburg and the Atlanta Campaign, and strategic movements, like Sherman’s March to the Sea, helped weaken the Confederate forces and disrupt their supply lines. The regiment’s efforts contributed to the preservation of the United States as a unified nation and the eventual abolition of slavery.

Thomas Willis Benham’s story is a heartbreaking reminder of the individual sacrifices made by soldiers and their families. His dedication, even in the face of imprisonment and injury, exemplifies the resilience and commitment of soldiers. The combined efforts of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment and its members not only secured significant military victories but also helped shape the future of the United States, ensuring freedom and equality for future generations.

One Man’s Followership Helped Create This Country

The story of the 150th New York Infantry Regiment and Private Thomas Willis Benham exemplifies how followership, characterized by dedication, sacrifice, and unwavering support for a common cause, was instrumental in preserving the United States during its most challenging period. The regiment’s contributions during key campaigns and the personal sacrifices of its members were crucial in achieving Union victory, maintaining national unity, and shaping the future of the nation. The legacy of their followership endures, reminding us of the profound impact that collective effort and individual commitment can have on the course of history.

Why This Soldier and Not Others

You may wonder why I picked this particular soldier’s story and not some general or more colorful character.  Thomas Willis Benham is my 2nd Great Grandfather.  His son, Earl Smith Benham, had a daughter, Mary C. Benham, who in turn had a daughter, Marilyn C. Gaden who married my dad, Ernest Fuzie!  When I think of what it must have been like in the 150th New York regiment in the US Civil War, and know that my 2nd great grandfather contributed to the outcome of that war at a significant cost to our family and ultimately costing him his life, I am humbled and proud to at least know some of the history that helped create this great country.

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the owner of CMF Leadership Consulting and is currently the Business/HR Manager for a District Attorney’s office in California. Chris is a Leaderologist II and President of the National Leaderology Association (NLA) who holds a Doctor of Education (Ed. D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is a developer, trainer, consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations since 2010. Chris is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a former National Instructor for the International Association of Chiefs of Police and California P.O.S.T. Courses. Chris is the author of "Liminal Space: Reshaping Leadership and Followership," "Because Why... Understanding Behavior in Exigencies." and of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior." Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service leading such teams as the Homicide Team, the Hostage Negotiations Team, the Street-Level Drug Team and the School Police Officer Team.

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