The One Hundred and Twentieth New York Regiment
By Rashida Tyler
Right brave the clash of the Calvary's dash,
As it sweeps o'er hill and plain,
While bugles sing, and banner fling
Their smiles to the glorious slain;
With footsteps solemn the serried column
May grandly cross the field,
While red gaps made by the ball's round blade,
By heroes are swiftly healed;
The charge's story is full of glory,
In history-wreaths to shine;
But bravest of all, we still must call
The men who hold the line!
---Excerpt from "The Men Who Held the Line" by
In the summer of 1862, New York State's Ulster County was abuzz with patriotism and enthusiasm. For years the county had been one of the most responsive and dutiful in the state, when called to action during the civil war. Several regiments were formed in Ulster including the 20th New York State Militia, the 156th, and the 120th.
Colonel George H. Sharpe of Kingston commanded the 120th regiment. New York Governor Edwin G. Morgan appointed Sharpe to this command because of his experience leading a company of men for three months in the 20th New York Militia. However, it was Sharpe's enthusiasm and skill that enabled him to obtain so many enlistments. On one occasion, while he was recruiting enlistments in a small Ulster town, he found that no one would come forward. He then offered to resign his command and enlist in that town's company so the town would be represented in the regiment. Needless to say after hearing this more townspeople volunteered. This was his charisma and charm that endeared him to so many of the residents of Ulster, those under his command, and his superiors. His personality and intelligence would help to impress his legacy on the legendary 120th.
The 120th, or the Washington Guards as they were frequently referred to, was organized in Kingston in July of 1862. The swift response of volunteers enabled the regiment to secure all enlistments necessary in only five weeks. The regiment set out from Kingston in August of 1862 with a total enlistment of 906. After departing Kingston, they were sent to Camp Samson where they underwent training. Leaving the camp on August 24th, 1862, the regiment traveled by boat to New York City and New Jersey before arriving by train at their station at Arlington Heights in Washington. There, they were attached to the Army of the Potomac, and took part in several major battles including Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. It was on reserve during the fateful Battle of Fredericksburg. At Chancellorsville the 120th's causalities were heavy, losing a total of 66 soldiers to death and injury. The next conflict was to be the regiment's most damaging, the battle at Gettysburg in July 1863. The regiment was on the frontline of the battle, and though they fought valiantly, it lost nearly half of its men. The regiment reported to battle with 440 soldiers, but returned with only 237, losing a total of 203.
The ranks of the 120th were further reduced by the capture and imprisonment of 115 men by the confederates. These soldiers were held in prisoner of war camps at Andersonville, Georgia and Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Although they suffered a great deal of casualties, the 120th fought through to the end of the civil war in 1865, and they were at Appomattox courthouse when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered. Sharpe commanded his men until he was promoted to General, taking a position on the staff of General Joseph Hooker. Sharpe writes his uncle Jason Hasbrouck of Kingston of his promotion in the following excerpt:
If you should say, why have you been so long silent? I might reply that I had been busy
getting my self promoted-but that is so far from the truth that I am ashamed to make an
excuse-and indeed I have none, except the real fact that I am one of the hardest working
men in the army...
Courtesy of the Kingston Senate House
But clearly not all news Sharpe wrote home about was this positive, one of his most unpleasant responsibilities was to inform the public of the regiment's loss. When he wrote of the casualties at Gettysburg, he too must have been as disturbed as those who were reading it:
My Dear Romeyn
I send you the enclosed memoranda by our surgeon of the losses in the 120th, in the late battles. It is not complete except as to officers, but it is correct as far as it goes. I shall try and send you more full accounts by tomorrow.
I send you by same mail a letter from Col. Gates with the losses of the 20th. Our regiments have fought together upon a field of great glory, but the counties of Ulster and Greene have sadly contributed to its accomplishment.
When you look over the list you will see that my heart is too full to write more.
Yours, very truly
GEO. H. SHARP.
(Letter excerpted from Kingston Journal Extra July, 8, 1863 courtesy of the Senate House Museum Kingston, NY.)
On June 10, 1865 the 120th returned to Kingston, the same town that had seen them depart years before. As they re-entered the community after the war, the men of the 120th came to occupy powerful positions in New York. General Sharpe, who possessed a law degree prior to the war, began to practice again, as well as participate in politics in New York. He served as speaker of the state Senate, and served as president of the One Hundred and Twentieth New York Regimental Union, which was composed of veterans of the 120th. In 1896 the surviving veterans of the regiment gathered to dedicate a monument to the 120th at the Old Dutch Church in uptown Kingston.
However, this was not the only monument dedicated to the regiment, in 1889 a monument was erected on the Gettysburg battlefield that listed the over seventeen battles they took part in. The respect and admiration General Sharpe earned in his time with the 120th followed Sharpe until his death in January of 1900. Today, the monuments to the 120th stand as a testament to the resolve and sacrifice of the brave Ulster regiment.