1st Photo: Philo A. Markham enlisted in Dayton, NY
2nd Photo: Leonard Hunt enlisted in Perrysburg, NY
Philo A. Markham was a 25-year old farmer from the Town of Dayton in July of 1862 when he enlisted as a corporal in Company B of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry. Markham enlisted in Dayton, NY after being married only three months to Julia A Blackney. Markham left his new wife on the 125 acre parcel they settled on in the hamlet of Markhams.
The 154th spent two months at Camp James M. Brown in Jamestown, the 154th moved out to join the Union Army of the Potomac in a camp overlooking the nation’s capital. Arriving too late to join in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December they went into winter camp across the Rappahannock River from that city at Stafford Court House, Virginia. Taking part in Major General Ambrose Burnside’s fiasco known as the “Mud March” in January 1863, the regiment returned to winter camp to await the coming of spring and the opening of the 1863 campaign.
In late April, newly appointed Union commander Major General Joseph Hooker took the army from Fredericksburg up and across the Rappahannock about 10 miles west to a small crossroads called Chancellorsville. While the 11th Corps, including the 154th New York, crossed the river upstream in an attempt to trap General Robert E. Lee’s confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Markham was sent with a detachment of soldiers to assist in the river crossing. The battle began on May 2 and Markham could hear the firing all that day. His regiment was overrun by Stonewall Jackson’s famous flank attack late in the afternoon and suffered severely, losing 228 men killed, wounded or captured, about a third of their number. It was a stunning defeat for the Union; Philo Markham escaped the battle by being detached from the regiment on special detail.
Leonard L. Hunt, who enlisted at Perrysburg, the same day that Philo Markham enlisted at Dayton, was among 115 men in the regiment reported missing after Chancellorsville. He was captured during Lee’s rout of the 11th Corps and sent with his fellow prisoners to Richmond, but was paroled on May 14, 1863 at City Point, near Petersburg. For the time being, Hunt would be out of the fight and away from his regiment. It would not be too long, however, before he would see Philo Markham again.
Two months later, the armies would clash again at a small Pennsylvania crossroads town called Gettysburg, where the 154th New York met a similar fate, this time suffering 200 casualties. At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon of July 1, they were ordered from their position on Cemetery Hill to cover the retreat of the 11th Corps north of the center of town. In fierce fighting near a brickyard, the men of the 154th New York became surrounded on three sides by Confederates. When other regiments in their brigade retreated, they were forced to fight their way out in close hand-to-hand combat. With the Rebels in hot pursuit, the 154th scrambled through the town back up the slope of Cemetery Hill. That evening only three officers and 15 enlisted men answered roll call. Philo Markham was among 173 reported as missing.
Under terms of an agreement between the two sides, prisoners were sent to parole camps where they took an oath to refrain from fighting until they were exchanged, usually for a prisoner of equal rank. After Gettysburg, Markham, with his captured comrades, marched back south with Lee’s army, crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland and up the Shenandoah Valley to Staunton, Virginia. From there they were put on rail cars bound for Belle Isle, a prison stockade on an island in the James River at Richmond, to await parole.
In a self-published memoir of his wartime service titled “Sketch of the Life & Army Service of P. A. Markham,” printed around 1912, he recalled the hardships as prisoner of war. He wrote that they were put into old tents that provided little shelter, and lay on the sand full of lice, or “gray backs” as the soldiers called them. Bean soup and a lump of dough constituted their rations. Many men became sick and died. After three weeks Markham was transferred to Libby Prison in Richmond where the food was better and he began to improve. A week later he returned to Belle Isle where an order was received for about 200 sick men to be paroled. He was one of the lucky ones.
The next day Markham was taken to City Point on the James and put aboard a transport ship, the steamer New York, bound for parole camp at Annapolis, Maryland. He reached the camp on Friday afternoon, August 21, 1863and was given a bath and new clothes. To his amazement, he met fellow members of the 154th New York who had been captured at Chancellorsville. Among them was his friend, Leonard Hunt.
Information by Phil Palen found in Gowanda News, Saturday, November 9, 2013