From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton’s Regulars

Being there . . . . on the Antietam National Battlefield overlooking Bloody Lane remembering
September 17, 1862, the costliest day of fighting in American history. A rushed, shallow Rebel
defense against multiple attacks by determined Union troops resulted in 22,700 casualties,
5,500 killed or wounded in less then three hours. Be there to watch a sullen Union General
George B. McClellan, despite his superiority in elite troops and equipment, miss an opportunity
to crush the Confederate Army, leaving the great battle a stalemate. So, how do I go about
being there, waiting, watching, and reliving the brutal, bitter, unrelenting killing of Americans
by Americans? By reading, not browsing, every written word slowly. Slowly, while enduring the
pain of envisioning death and destruction of our own American blood soaking the ground. You’ll
come to grasp, then realize, virtually all the battles fought by the 121 st New York Volunteers
(Upton’s Regulars) via 53 weekly installments written 30 years after all the major mayhem
tragedies between Antietam and the final surrender three years later. The remembered war
was written as a rare memoir by Dewitt Clinton Beckwith and published as an account of his
service in the 121 st in a virtually unheard of, unknown, New York smalltown newspaper, the
Herkimer Democrat. For more than a century, the newspaper memoir lay in plain sight until
editor Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr. noticed it while looking for a regimental history. Wow, lucky Civil
War buffs, or merely curious reader, we are privy to one of the most detailed accounts of what
happened in those early 1860’s, and authored by a nondescript, at that.

121 st New York Regiment by Dewitt Clinton Beckwith”, Edited by Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr.
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina: 2023, 240 pages, 7” x 10”,
softcover, $49.95. Visit,
Reviewed, highly recommended as one of the rarest of all Civil War memoirs, by Don DeNevi
“Takes us into the ranks of a regiment that experienced incredible adventures . . . rich in
details”, Chris Mackowski, Editor-in-Chief, “EMERGING CIVIL WAR”.
“Detailed, lively, accurate, and complete”, John Hennessy, Chief Historian at Fredericksburg and
Spotsylvania National Military Park.
The original 53 installments of what you will read henceforth, provided you have the
bravery, the courage, to get past the horrible early and later horrors of one of the three
bitterest wars in American history, appeared between July 1893 – July, 1894, one installment a
week for an entire year. Like this column, occasionally, lack of time permitted fact checking, and
even proofreading of incorrect grammar or spelling before submission. Yet, in Beckwith’s case,
this reviewer is in slight disagreement with Walt Whitman who wrote in “Specimen Days &
Collect”, page 80 (2012), “Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal
background, the countless minor scenes and interiors of the secession war; and it is best they
should not. The real war will never get in the books.” I feel Dewitt Clinton Beckwith comes as
close to being an advanced motion picture camera, sound and all, recording the true best and

worst imagery, as other great writers in world history have of their own wars. Furthermore, if
you are a deadly serious student of the American Civil War, or desire to be one, follow every
word, every line, every paragraph of exemplar Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr.’s entrancing 19 page
Introduction, especially his riveting, “A Personal and Professional Journey”, 2 ¼ pages, then
synopses of who the 121 st New York Volunteers were, the Civik War and its aftermath, how the
121 st wrote its own history, who, really, Beckwith as a historian was, Beckwith, at first known as
“the Fabulist”, then General Emory Upton’s star, followed by Beckwith the civilian and
politician. What adds enormously to our reading and understanding is the book’s collection of
amazing crystal-clear photographs.
Remember that Dewitt was only a raw teenager at the beginning of the bloody journey and
its sights, equal to those of the Holocaust and its unimaginable cruelties, left him stunned and
appalled. He witnessed nearly all the historic Eastern Theater engagements from Antietam to
Appomattox, including an unsuccessful stint with the 91 st New Yorkers in Florida in 1861.
McFarland says, “He describes in excruciating details his various Tom Sawyer-like adventures
with the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, recounting death, disease, loss and ultimate
elation at Lee’s surrender, as well as outrage over Abe Lincoln’s assassination.”
If, buff, you’ve been focusing your reading hours on the flood of superlative new World War
II titles from our other favorite military publishers, Casemate, Schiffer, and Osprey, yes, load up
on all they produce, take a few dozen hours to read this McFarland masterwork for an in depth
understanding of the saddest war yet known to mankind.

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