Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"General" John Hammond, a Most Valuable and Worthy Officer

The waters of Lake Champlain are formed from tributaries of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State and the streams of neighboring Vermont.  As the water flows north it forms the Richelieu River in the Province of Quebec in Canada which empties into the St. Lawrence River.  This watercourse has served as a transportation corridor for centuries.  The headwaters of this water "highway" allows travelers to connect with the Hudson River  of upstate New York where they may continue to New York Harbor or to take the Mohawk River to Lake Ontario.  The strategic significance of this system in warfare has been commented on by British historian John Keegan,  "This Hudson-Richelieu corridor was to become the most heavily fortified and contested strategic route in American military history." The Town of Crown Point is nestled along the western shore of Lake Champlain in its southern reaches, situated just north of Ticonderoga.
John Hammond was born 17 August 1827 in Crown Point.  During the Seven Years War, his great-grandfather Daniel Hammond was in the British military and participated in taking Cape Breton from the French and in the siege of Louisburgh.  During the American Revolution, his grandfather Thomas Hammond was in the Continental Army and he also became a colonel in the Vermont State Militia.  Taking his ancestry into account and considering the strategic geography of the area which possesses such a storied marshal past, it is no wonder that this area of northern New York State produced patriotic citizen soldiers such as John Hammond, to assist in putting down the Rebellion of 1861.

As a child John Hammond attended school locally and also a school in Panton, Vermont, and later attend the St. Albans Academy in that same state.  He completed his higher education by graduating Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

In early 1849, while clerking in his family's business, Hammond and Company, he decided to go west to California to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush.  The journey across the continent as he admits was truly an educational experience.  During the cross-country trek he was introduced to slavery, Indians, banditti and he even survived a cholera epidemic.  When he returned to Crown Point three years later, he had $500.00 less in his pockets then when he had left.  He had remained circumspect during the experience and said of it, "I then thought it a rather dear school, but a good one; but it has proved to be a very cheap one."  And as to slavery he commented, "What a curse and evil slavery is."

In 1861, in response to Lincoln's call for troops to suppress the Rebellion he played an integral part of forming Company H of the 34th New York Infantry,  recruited locally in Crown Point.  After the Union debacle at Bull Run, he decided that he himself should serve and recruited more local men to make up a company of cavalry.  This was an unusual "recruitment" since it was not sanctioned by any governmental entity.  Hammond thought that time was of the essence and he composed a compact for the men to sign which read, "We, the undersigned, hereby agree to serve the government of the United "States in the mounted service for three years, unless sooner discharged, subjecting ourselves to all the rules and regulations governing troops in that branch of the regular service."  In total, 127 local men signed up, mostly ranging in age from 20 to 31, and most of them being farmers or mechanics.  They all left Crown Point and ended up on Staten Island where they were all accepted as privates in Company H of the 5th New York Cavalry.  His service record shows he enrolled 17 September 1861 to himself and was mustered into federal service 18 October 1861 and he was eventually chosen as captain of Company H.

It is interesting to note that John's father, Charles F. Hammond, advanced funds to supply the entire company with 108 Morgan horses that cost $113.00 each.  Horses were a valuable commodity for the troopers and others in the regiment sought to procure the Morgans Mr. Hammond had supplied for Company H but to no avail, they had to wait for the federal government to supply them with their mounts.

The 5th New York Cavalry was made of companies recruited from across the state and it even contained men from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey.  The regiment was formed at Camp Scott on Staten Island and prior to leaving the state on 18 November 1861 it had a strength of 1,064 men, excluding the officers.  It was assigned initially to the Department of Annapolis, MD where the regiment drilled and trained.  It's first active service began in March of 1862 in the Department of the Shenandoah.  The 5th's service included the Shenandoah Valley in 1862 and 1864; it battled and skirmished with Ashby's and Mosby's men;  the defenses of Washington;  the Gettysburg Campaign ; with the Cavalry Corps; the 5th Corps; The Overland Campaign and actions against the defenses at Petersburg to name a few.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Major Hammond led the regiment in the field and they saw action in the Battle of Hanover, the Battle of Hunterstown, the cavalry actions against the Confederate right on Day 3 and actions on the Retreat all the way to and including Falling Waters.

John Hammond became colonel of the regiment on 3 July 1864 and he was discharged from duty at the term of his service on 3 September 1864.  The record indicates pressing personal and or family concerns at home.  His separation from service was reluctantly accepted by Generals Wilson and Torbert. "Col. Hammond is a most valuable and worthy officer and has served with great credit to himself and benefit to the service...",  stated General J. H. Wilson.  John Hammond was brevetted a Brigadier General of U. S. Volunteers 13 March 1865 for faithful and meritorious services.

John Hammond was lauded as a noble man, honest, cool headed under pressure, personally brave, a good horseman, a model soldier who possessed a fine physique and was an effective leader that was admired by the men under his command and his superiors as well.  During his service he was wounded twice, once by a pistol ball to the fore-finger of his right hand and the other a Minie ball to the leg bone just above the right ankle.  The injuries never interfered with his duties.

John Hammond returned to Crown Point, New York where he ran the family iron business and other enterprises.  He ran for Congress as a Republican and served in the House of Representatives from 4 March 1879 to 3 March 1883.  The "General" was a respected member of the community and died in Crown Point on 28 May1889.

The story of John Hammond has been repeated thousands of times in United States military history.  It is the story of a patriotic citizen honorably answering his call to duty during a national crisis.  His service should be remembered and honored by those who appreciate the sacrifices of our military service members.

As a prophetic and or fitting tribute, General Hammond was laid to rest on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) in 1889.  The funeral was attended by over 1,200 people and he was buried in Forestdale Cemetery in Crown Point.

Monument to the 5th New York Cavalry atop Bushman's Hill at Gettysburg.

Colonel John Hammond of the 5th New York Cavalry.