THIS COMING WEEKEND is the 154th anniversary of the Civil War’s momentous Battle of Gettysburg, arguably the turning point of the war. New York State supplied the largest number of soldiers to the Union Army of any of the northern states. Thus the Civil War’s story is very much our story.
Gettysburg produced the largest number of casualties of any battle in that entire war. Fought July 1–3, 1863, it resulted in 46,000-51,000 casualties of soldiers from both armies. The Hudson Valley sent men to fight in Civil War from Copake, Austerlitz, Hillsdale and many other communities, though it appears that most of the men from Columbia County served in units that fought elsewhere. Still, at least two men, George Stalker of Copake and Charles Carpenter of Chatham, fought in that battle and were wounded, Carpenter fatally.
Another soldier with Hudson Valley connections who fought at Gettysburg was Massachusetts-born Theodore Ayrault Dodge. He was educated in Europe from where he returned shortly after the war’s outbreak in 1861 to enlist as a private in the New York Volunteer Infantry. After participating as an officer in Gettysburg (under General Carl Schurtz), he traveled to Copake to recuperate from serious wounds at a relative’s house. His story is of local interest because of events that happened during his stay in Copake.
Dodge had first been injured in a previous battle during which he lost a finger. Now, at age 21 at Gettysburg, he had lost his leg. “If we try to save it, the chances of your surviving will be only one out of ten,” a doctor told him. So Dodge consented to the amputation. Subsequently he went from 165 pounds to a mere 75 pounds as a result of the amputation and from how the surgery affected his whole system.
On July 28, while in a hospital in Pennsylvania, Dodge heard of a train that would be heading north. Reluctantly a surgeon agreed to let him go. A man who had fled enslavement in North Carolina and a second person, likely another soldier, carried him to the train on a gurney and traveled with him on it. Dressed in an Army hat and undress-uniform, Dodge arrived at the home of another aunt in Manhattan where he stayed for a couple of days. Then, the two men accompanied him on a train of the Harlem Railroad to Copake, where he was to recuperate, commandeering one whole seat which ordinarily accommodated three passengers so that it could hold Dodge on his gurney.
The North Carolina man stayed with Dodge at the aunt’s house a few miles outside of town, helping him and even physically carrying him around for some weeks. Dodge remained in Copake under the care of thirty-five-year-old Dr. H. G. Westlake of Hillsdale until at least October.
One day, likely in September, he coaxed Westlake into agreeing that he was sufficiently healed to resume some normal activity. Soon afterward, he found himself driving an open carriage on a narrow country road, his stump resting on a pillow, with a pretty cousin at his side, the carriage pulled by a steady, strong cob, a short-legged horse.
Halfway to Copake village, Dodge spotted two horses pulling a heavily loaded wagon coming toward him. He later learned that the wagon belonged to the nearby Ancram paper mill and that the driver was a Copperhead, a Confederate sympathizer. Dodge theorized afterwards that the man had seen his Union soldier hat, and that had a role in the collision, which occurred between the two vehicles. Afterward too, he realized that it would have been sensible to stop on the side and let the heavier wagon go by.
He remembered feeling angry before the collision that the man didn’t “turn out.” After all, there had barely been enough room for both of them to pass. However, Dodge’s phaeton’s off-wheel struck a rock concealed in the grass on the side of the road, pushing the vehicle a few inches to the left. Thus his near front wheel struck the hub of the heavier vehicle’s hind wheel. Dodge held tight to the reins as his horse plunged forward and the whiffle tree broke. Dodge was then jerked bodily over the dashboard landing on his right shoulder a dozen feet beyond the wreck.
Falling limply, Dodge managed not to be hurt. Seeing that his fallen “adversary” had only one leg, the other driver was appalled at his role in causing such an unfortunate situation. Luckily another buggy with some friends came along. After angrily telling the other driver that he needed to be more careful, Dodge was put into it. His cousin, however, in shock, walked back.
When he was able to use crutches, Dodge gained weight and was finally fitted with an artificial leg. In November, he accepted a position offered by a family friend, the provost marshal general of western New York to work in his office in Albany, which he did until the end of the year. For most of the following year he worked in a newly organized Invalid Corps made up of officers and men who had been wounded. After the secretary of war sent him a telegram the following year to report to duty at the War Department in Washington DC, where he worked there for several years, rising to the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel.
Subsequently Dodge became one of America’s foremost military historians, authoring among other books, a 12-volume History of the Art of War.
Howard Blue is a historian and author who lives in Copake.