How the Hudson Valley Changed the Civil War

In the Civil War, the Hudson Valley — and all of New York State — led the way in keeping the United States united


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128th regiment reunionA photo of the regiment’s 1888 reunion in Hudson

“When people ask, ‘What does New York have to do with the Civil War,’ I ask, ‘What does the U.S. have to do with World War II,’ ” says Robert Weible, state historian and chief curator of the New York State Museum in Albany. “No battles were fought here, except Pearl Harbor, but the U.S. was of course a critical part of that war. It is inconceivable that the Union could have won the war without New York.”

And that includes the Hudson Valley — despite our region’s mixed feelings about the war. Westchester and Putnam counties, for example, voted against Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election (they were called “secessionists” in some newspapers), and it has been estimated that those counties’ citizens spent more than $4 million to hire substitutes in order to avoid the draft. There was dissension further north as well. While the most famous draft riots of 1863 occurred in New York City, another big riot took place that year in Troy.

Dutchess and Columbia counties, on the other hand, quickly answered President Lincoln’s call for volunteers after Ft. Sumter. The 20th New York Militia, known as the Ulster Guard, mustered at Kingston in September 1862. The 128th Infantry Regiment left Hudson in September; the 150th, from Poughkeepsie, joined the fray in October.

These regiments saw action, and often played critical roles in just about every major battle of the war in both the eastern and western theaters: Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Appomattox, the battles for Atlanta, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. Several New York regiments, including the 20th and 120th, were considered among the finest fighting units in the Union Army. Others, such as the 124th (from Orange County) and 125th (from Troy), suffered some of the highest casualties of the war.

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