13 October 2012

Sepia Saturday 147: William H. Velsor, A Pictorial Military Biography

Rising of the People, Library of Congress
Wm H. Velsor, Volunteer Enlistment

150 years ago this past week, William H. Velsor (Feb 1823-11 Oct 1871) was on his way to Washington D.C. to serve with the 133rd New York Infantry, 2nd Metropolitan Guards in the U.S. Civil War. My attic is sadly lacking a photograph of William whether in uniform or not. Is it possible to convey his military service in the absence of his visage?

In 1862, the Civil War was losing its appeal. The reality of war was sinking in and recruiting had become difficult. Was William inspired to serve by the verses in "Rising of the People: Drum Tap Rattle through the Land"? Perhaps patriotic duty called. As a butcher, William could scarcely have wanted more work. "By the summer of 1862, Illinois alone was forwarding two thousand head [of cattle] a week [to New York City]."(Gotham, 874)

William volunteered for service at the age of 39 with a wife and young family at home. Were bounties an incentive for his enlistment? Soldiers received $100 bounties on completion of their service and in 1862, $25 of the bounty was advanced on enlistment.(McPherson, 492) Did William fear a militia draft as called for by Congress in July 1862.Whatever his reasons, William Velsor enlisted for a 3 year term of service on 26 August 1862 listing his occupation as Stage Driver.

William's unit, the 133rd New York, was attached to Abercrombie's Division and charged with the defense of Washington D.C. I can't help but wonder what scenes were witnessed as the Capitol city was sharply divided between North and South. Waud's sketch captures the grizzly scene as soldiers discover bodies on the nearby Potomac River.

Discovering the Bodies of the Slain in the Potomac River, Library of Congress
In November of 1862, the 133rd sailed to New Orleans becoming part of Banks' New Orleans Expedition. During this time, William Velsor was detailed to Provost Guard in Baton Rouge on 6 February 1863. A Provost Guard serves under the Provost Marshall, the officer in charge of the military police. The Metropolitan Guard units were recruited by the New York Metropolitan police. Perhaps the police had identified recruits that mirrored their own commitment to law and order.

On 12-13 April 1863, the 133rd fought at Fort Bisland sustaining their first casualties. Later that Spring, the 133rd participated in the Siege and Assault of Port Hudson.

A Fierce Assault on Port Hudson, Wikipedia citing National Archives
The following is taken from a sketch by Mr. J.R. Hamilton of the triumphant Union Soldiers entering the breastworks at Port Hudson.

Port Hudson ... Union forces ...take possession, July 9, 1863, Library of Congress
The 133rd New York moved on to New Orleans, participated in the Sabine Pass Expedition, then on to Brashear City and Berwick City. It was in Berwick City that William was detailed as a guard of the Commissary Stores. He may not have been with his unit during the Western Louisiana 'Teche' Campaign. The 133rd New York continued in their defense of New Orleans until the Red River Campaign, 26 Apr-22 May 1864. The unit then participated in the construction of the dam at Alexandria.

Porter’s fleet passing the dam at Alexandria
The 133rd NY Infantry continued operations in Louisiana until it moved to Fortress Monroe and Deep Bottom, Virginia in July 1864. They then moved on to Washington D.C. where the unit joined Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign 7 Aug - 28 Nov 1864. During much of this time (14 Aug-27 Oct 1864), the 133rd NY Infantry served as train guard for Sheridan's Army.

Sheridan's Army following Early up the Valley of the Shenandoah, Library of Congress
Sheridan’s Wagon Trains in the Valley, Early Morning Mist and Smoke, Library of Congress
The Shenandoah Valley had been a strategic food supply line for the Confederacy. Grant commanded Sheridan to turn 'the Shenandoah Valley [into] a barren waste.' By October 7, Sheridan reported they had 'driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock and ... killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep.' Clearly the services of a butcher were in need. William Velsor's prior experience as a butcher was put to use. He was detailed as a butcher for the 3rd Brigade Commissary on January 14 and marked as absent on the March-April 1865 muster rolls, "detailed to Post Comm. at Winchester, Virginia." The location of the Commissary Tent in the stereo-card below was not identified but may be indicative of William's experience.

Commissary Tent, Library of Congress

The 133rd NY Infantry remained in the Shenandoah Valley until April of 1865 when the unit moved to Washington D.C. They performed guard duty there and participated in the Grand Review on 23-24 May 1865.

Grand Review of the Army, Library of Congress
The 133rd New York Infantry, including William H. Velsor, mustered out 6 June 1865.

William H. Velsor, Muster Out of Service, 6 Jun 1865
The troops returned to parade and fanfare. The following transcription of a newspaper clipping is one of several relating to the 133rd Regiment Infantry on the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center website.
The 133d New-York Regiment (Second Metropolitan) arrived in this city at 3 p. m. yesterday afternoon, via the New-Jersey Railroad. The regiment numbers 486 muskets and 29 officers.
The regiment, preceded by their escort, marched up Courtlandt-st. to Broadway, down Broadway to the Battery barracks, where the soldiers were furnished with an excellent dinner.... Subsequently, the regiment embarked on board a transport and proceeded to Hart's Island, where they will remain until paid off.
Military on Broadway, Library of Congress

William H. Velsor is my 3rd-great-grandfather. Information about the battles and campaigns can be found by following the links. In the interest of brevity, not all the activities the 133rd New York Infantry participated in have been included. The sources listed below contain additional information about other engagements. 

For more men in uniform, see Sepia Saturday 147.


"133rd Regiment Infantry New York Volunteers, Civil War Newspaper Clippings." New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/133rdInf/133rdInfCWN.htm : accessed 3 October 2012.

Civil War Photograph Collection. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/civwar/ : accessed 2012. A detailed source list including specific photographs is available at Sources: Sepia Saturday 147, William H. Velsor.

Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 874.

Hawks, Steve. "133st New York Infantry Regiment '2nd Regiment Metropolitan Guard'."  Civil War in the East. www.civilwarintheeast.com : 3 October 2012. [Unit operations were taken from this source. Additional information about the 133rd New York Infantry's service is available on this and other websites.]

McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 492.

Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records. Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94. Compiled service record, William H. Velsor, Pvt., Co. G, 133 New York Inf. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

New York. "New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900." Digital images. Ancestry.com. William H. Velsor, separation date 6 Jun 1865. http://www.ancestry.com : 2011. [Ancestry cites New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, New York; New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900; Archive Collection #: 13775-83; Box #: 538; Roll #: 194.]

New York. Kings County. 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. Digital images. Brooklyn, Ward 18, District 1, p. 417 (stamped), dwelling 144, family 213, William H. Velsor household. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com : 2009.

Wikipedia. "A Fierce Assault on Port Hudson," Digital image. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Port_Hudson_Assault.jpg : 24 March 2011. [Citing "A Fierce Assault on Port Hudson" image, Archival Research Catalog, digital images, National Archives, ARC identifier 4529740, Local Identifier 64-M-191. The image is in the public domain.]


  1. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know that "Abercrombie" had anything to do with something other than the selling of clothing. This is so thoroughly researched. It's sad in hindsight to know that they were already "tired of the war" in 1862 when we know that it was not going to end until 1865. I wonder if your ancestor signed up thinking their was no way that this war would continue so long. A sad day in our history.

    1. The Union narrowly avoided instituting a draft in 1862. The militia 'quasi-draft' would potentially have forced men to serve for 9 months in the militia but was avoided because the state was able to recruit enough volunteers. The next year, 1863, there were draft riots in NYC! I would love to have a diary or letters to know what William was thinking.

  2. A wonderfully researched article Liz - you certainly made up for the lack of an appropriate portrait of your 3g-grandfather.

  3. For the post I did nt finish, I did a little research on the 49th Indiana. Maybe our ancestors crossed paths In Alexandria, LA? You represented him well with no photograph!

    1. I'm always surprised by the battlefield connects!

  4. The 133rd NY Infantry really got around. I enjoyed reading your history and seeing the accompanying pictures.

    1. I've thought it would be fun to track the troop movements for an ancestor sometime. They really did get around and used more modes of transportation than I would have imagined!

  5. It's so amazing how we can learn things about companies and people that we had no idea, until attending a re-enactment or a museum tour, or visit one of the civil war sites. You certainly did your homework here, and I know Alan will want to view this post when he can! Delightful research!

    1. Karen, You are so right! I have learned so much from Civil War re-enactors and Civil War historians. There are certain to be many of them during the 150th anniversary.

  6. Learned a lot from this and had my curiosity piqued. You do a splendid job of research. If this a professional skill? About butchering - it's always amazing to me how armies are fed! And commissaries and kitchens set up in the most horrible of circumstances. Makes me so ashamed of myself when I'm too lazy to even microwave something (there's the package to open, the directions to read, the plate to wash boo hoo) and I go out to eat.

    1. I was fascinated by the commissary and logistical aspects of feeding an army as well. I bet the troops would have preferred microwave meals to hardtack! :)

  7. Thanks for a wonderful lesson in history! This is one of those subjects that is hardly spoken about at schools in The Netherlands. Thanks for filling this gap and for displaying all this material.

    1. It is a credit to The Netherlands schools that the topic is mentioned at all! Civil wars are rarely the topic of World History classes as they impact only one country. Perhaps we would all be better served if there were more frequent reminders of the potential consequences of unresolved internal disagreements.

  8. I enjoyed everything about this post, but 2 things stand out: first, that interest in the war was dwindling in 1862 YET it raged on another 3 years; second, that armies needed men with a variety of skills - like butchers - and not just people ready to shoot'em up.

  9. A tremendous post; we know so little detail about the Civil War this side of the Atlantic. A truly educational post. You must have had to do a lotof research. My father-in-law was a master butcher so I was interested to see that a butcher (come stage driver) eventually put his skills to use.

  10. A fabulous history! The depth of material now available on the War between the States really does allow us to "see" ancestors even without photos. I am fascinated by how so many men, on both sides, traveled to places they would never have seen before the war.

    I've been working on one soldier from a NY regiment and have discovered several out-of-print old memoirs in Google's book section. There are lots of state regimental histories compiled after the war by veterans, and they often include good descriptions of other units in the detailed accounts of the regiments.

    1. Mike, you are so right! I had trouble limiting myself to just photographs and brief accounts. There are many newspaper accounts making it possible to read about battles from both perspectives, diaries and personal accounts. And that is just what is available online. Much more at NARA. Help me! I can't stop myself!

  11. Well this has added to my otherwise limited knowledge of the Civil War. Previously this was gleaned from visits to some of the battle sites a few years ago, and a rather moving major TV series. Thank you.

    1. Ken Burns' series was truly remarkable!

  12. Fascinating travel through the latter part of the Civil War with one man and his unit. As has been mentioned above, "The Civil War" series by Ken Burns was my first real introduction to what went on in the U.S.A. at that time. Being a Canadian, and not having pursued American History in school, I was bereft of this knowledge until this program. I went so far even, as to buy the soundtrack on cd.
    Such a grim and horrific time in history, yet so necessary!

    I am assuming that the orange-rimmed photographs are those of Matthew Brady, are they?

    I wonder who shot the others. That "Grand Review" photo is really something!

    1. Kat, complete source citations for the photographs can be found by following the link under Civil War Photograph Collection. I originally included them all in the post but the source citations were longer than the post! There are links to the photographs in the Library of Congress in the source citations for anyone wishing full details.

      The photographer of the Commissary Tent is not given. Mathew Brady was the photographer of the Grand Review.

      Doing Civil War research is fascinating if a little horrific at times. There is a vast amount of material available.

  13. For lack of a portrait, you certainly didn't lack material for this post. Not bad for a butcher, and good for him to have survived all of this.
    5'6.5", a short guy!! And at 39, isn't it an unusual age to enlist?

  14. Yes a bit on the old side. But not the oldest - that award goes to an octagenarian! :)


Comments welcome!