Book Review: From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton's Regulars: A Civil War Memoir from the 121st New York Regiment


by Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, edited by Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr

Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Publishing, 2023. Pp. vi, 240. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $49.95 paper. ISBN:1476691126

Emory Upton’s Own

Thirty years after the Civil War, Dewitt Clinton Beckwith, a veteran of the 121st New York Volunteers (Upton's Regulars) published a history of the regiment in the pages of The Herkimer Democrat a small upstate New York weekly, in 53 weekly installments from July 1893 through July 1894. Beckwith had been an unusual soldier, enlisting in 1862, when he was 15, “war fever” overcoming his father’s wishes that he stay out of the army.

While researching for what would become his Upton's Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War, independent historian Salvatore Cilella discovered Beckwith’s work, and present it here, skillfully edited and annotated.

Beckwith and this regiment went to war in September 1862 and for the next three years participated in nearly all of the major engagements in the Eastern Theater, among them Antietam, Fredericksburg, Salem Church, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Rappahannock Station, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Shenandoah Valley, Winchester, Fisher Hill, Cedar Creek, Petersburg to Appomattox, and mustered out in Virginia at the end of the war, returning home with fewer than 300 of the thousand or so men with whom it had set out.

The regiment was nicknamed for the 22-year-old West Point graduate Emory Upton, who commanded it for nine months from shortly after Antietam, offering strict discipline, which was embraced by the men. The regiment soon earned the reputation of being one of the best regiments in the Army of the Potomac.

Beckwith’s memoir offers a good many unusual insights. He tells us a lot about how he and his fellow soldiers experienced a “coming of age” through the fighting. He does an excellent job giving us looks at the fears of the troops and the insanity of war. After the difficult fighting and seeing the carnage and death of so many comrades at Spotsylvania, he expresses a “horror of war.” Beckwith’s book definitely does not seek to glorify the men of the 121st but simply to “understand more deeply and more broadly the reality of the soldiers’ experience and respect what they endured.”

In the aftermath of Spotsylvania Upton was promoted to brigadier, not without some controversy, and Beckworth offers his own opinions about the matter in support of the young general, though General, Cilella does let readers know that Beckwith’s account is most likely not factual.

Beckwith gives us an interesting look at the regiment's “gallant deeds” in the many battles and campaigns, taking us through its adventures with the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, speaking of disease, death, loss, fighting, and the euphoria at Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, hardened by President Abraham Lincoln's death.

Well written and incredibly well edited and annotated by the editor, Beckwith’s memoir is not only a good read, but a valuable resource for scholars to further research this regiment and the life of the soldier. From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton’s Regulars will prove rewarding reading for those with an interest in soldiering during the Civil War and the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, Outwitting Forrest, All That Can Be Expected, Force of a Cyclone, Lincoln and Native Americans, Detour to Disaster, Lincoln in Lists, A Wilderness of Destruction, Twelve Days, The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour, Stay and Fight it Out, Calamity at Frederick, John T. Wilder, The Sergeant: The Incredible Life of Nicholas Said, Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks, Brigades of Antietam, and Lee Invades the North.




Note: From Antietam to Appomattox with Upton’s Regulars is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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