As the title implies, From the Wilderness to Appomattox: The Fifteenth New York Heavy Artillery in the Civil War chronicles the exploits of the Fifteenth New York Heavy Artillery Regiment during the last two years of the Civil War in the Eastern theater. Published by the Kent State University Press in its Civil War Soldiers and Strategies Series, series editor Dr. Brian Steel Wills, From the Wilderness to Appomattox is available through the press, as well as most major booksellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and, in the United Kingdom, Europe and world-wide through Eurospan Bookstore.
The regiment having been organized in mid-1863, the Fifteenth’s “heavies” – as they were colloquially called – began their service as would be expected for soldiers in a heavy artillery regiment, manning several forts just south of Alexandria, Virginia, in the Washington defenses. However, that changed abruptly in March of 1864. With the spring campaigns of 1864 approaching, newly minted general in chief Ulysses S. Grant cast about for fresh blood to replenish the depleted infantry ranks of Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac, and he found much of what he sought in the heavy artillery regiments garrisoning the Washington defenses. One of the first such outfits to be sent to Meade was the Fifteenth New York Heavy.
Upon joining Meade’s army at Brandy Station, the Fifteenth, comprised predominantly of German immigrants, not only endured the nativist sentiments held by many in the army, but as heavies normally stationed well to the rear, were derided as “band box soldiers.” Although struggling to adapt to their new role as infantry when first engaging in combat in the Wilderness, the men of the Fifteenth persisted. Honing their skills as infantrymen throughout the Overland, Petersburg and Appomattox Campaigns, these heavies, while suffering substantial losses, distinguished themselves in the adoptive infantry role for which they had not initially been trained or properly equipped - eventually witnessing the April 9, 1865, surrender of Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.
In recounting the Fifteenth’s odyssey from its earliest days in the Washington defenses, to Appomattox Court House, and return, I drew upon a host of primary sources not previously mined. Not a regimental history in the traditional sense, From the Wilderness to Appomattox relates the history of the Fifteenth in the far broader context of the operations and battles in which it with its parent commands engaged. The Fifteenth’s story pays tribute not only to the many thousands of German immigrants who served the in the Union army during the Civil War, but also to other heavy artillery regiments which with them fought as infantry and sustained horrific losses in achieving victory for the Union and the goals for which it strove.
“The predominantly German American ‘heavies’ of the 15th New York Heavy Artillery saw some of the toughest fighting of the war, from the tangled thickets of the Wilderness to final confrontation at Appomattox, establishing themselves as a reliable command with a substantial late-war battlefield record. Altemos’s thorough research and lively narrative does justice to this largely forgotten regiment.” ―Patrick A. Schroeder, historian and author of We Came to Fight: The History of the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Duryée’s Zouaves, 1863–1865
“The heavy artillery units that joined the Army of the Potomac in 1864 played an outsize role during the war’s final year, yet few studies examine their experience. Altemos’s history of the 15th New York Heavy Artillery fills that gap with exhaustive research and penetrating analysis.” ―A. Wilson Greene, author of A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg
A native of Buffalo, New York, now residing in Alexandria, Virginia, I graduated from the State University of New York Maritime College with a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and was commissioned in the United States Coast Guard. I subsequently earned advanced degrees in chemical engineering and in naval architecture and marine engineering from the University of Michigan. In addition to over ten years of active duty as a regular commissioned officer in the Coast Guard, I served twelve years in the Coast Guard Reserve, retiring with the rank of Commander. Upon completing active duty, I joined the US Department of Transportation, where I was responsible for that agency's input relating to the development of international requirements for the safe transport of hazardous materials in all modes of transport, and in this role represented the United States before the United Nations and various other international organizations responsible for preparing, promulgating, and implementing such regulations. After a stint on the secretariat of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, I entered the private sector - eventually leading a consulting firm specializing in domestic and international hazardous materials transportation matters and serving numerous, high-profile corporate clients.
Although not formally educated or trained as a historian, I have had a life-long interest in the Civil War at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels – an interest stemming from a visit to Gettysburg orchestrated by my parents when I was only seven years old. My broader research into Civil War history became more focused on the Fifteenth when, in 2007, I discovered that my great-grandfather, Jacob Altemos, had served in the regiment. With his parents, Jacob had emigrated from Germany around 1850, and was living with them in Buffalo when, at the age of nineteen, he joined the Fifteenth. He served until taken prisoner on March 31, 1865, in the Battle of the White Oak Road west of Petersburg - a mere nine days before Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. That focus and research led to the writing and publication of From the Wilderness to Appomattox with a view to recounting and honoring the service and sacrifices of the soldiers in the Fifteenth - a regiment which, regrettably, history had largely forgotten.