Abram Duryee

I have been think­ing about Gen. Abram Duryee, com­mand­ing 1st brigade, Sec­ond Divi­sion, First Corps. His was the first Union brigade engaged on the morn­ing of Sept. 17, aside from the PA Reserves skir­mish­ers. Up to this point his record was solid. He’d raised and led the Fifth New York Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves. He led them at Big bethel, and was pro­moted to Brig. Gen. to rank from Aug. 31, 1861. After assigned to train­ing recruits, he asked if he could be assigned to active ser­vice. He led a brigade in Rick­etts’ Divi­sion at Sec­ond Man­as­sas, South Moun­tain, and Anti­etam, and was wounded sev­eral times. Every­thing seems fine, right? But Car­man sort of takes a “shot” at him in his man­u­script, said Duryee, after 30 min­utes of com­bat, with­out orders, ordered his brigade to retreat. Sources for this are scarce, but an undated detailed nota­tion of events from H.J. Sheafer, 107 PA Inf. (Gould papers) which refer­ring to the retreat of his brigade, stated “when they went back they kept up no orga­ni­za­tion & Duryee saw noth­ing of them until the next day.” Another source, George Kim­ball, 12 MA of Hartsuff’s brigade, remem­bered falling back from the bat­tle line and “About a half mile far­ther to the rear met Gen­eral Duryee, alone — mounted. He asked in a tone denot­ing deep feel­ing, if we had seen his brigade, they were ‘all cut up.’ We told him ‘no’ and Lieu­tenant made a remark more sar­cas­tic than com­pli­men­tary.” So what gives? Was Duryee fail­ing here? Any other evi­dence? Here is another piece of evi­dence: When he returned from a 30 day leave Duryee found his brigade bro­ken up, a new Corps com­man­der, John Reynolds, and Gib­bon, junior in rank to him, com­mand­ing the divi­sion. Duryee resigned and went home.
There has to be more to this story. Any thoughts????

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  1. Posted March 5, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I have been inter­ested in Duryee as well and have been study­ing the New York reg­i­ments in his com­mand. Do you think this may have been a West Point thing? McClel­lan replac­ing Banks with Mans­field at the corps level is an exam­ple of this. McClel­lan was still in com­mand that Duryee returned (I think) and knew Gib­bon well. They were just one grad­u­at­ing class apart at West Point. Still, Carmen’s com­ments and the addi­tional infor­ma­tion you pro­vide here may indi­cate some kind of break­down on Duryee’s part. Per­haps Reynolds and McClel­lan saw this as an ample jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for mov­ing Gib­bon up. See you Sat­ur­day at the SHAF work day.

  2. BevWirtz
    Posted March 10, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I can offer no help but sure hope you fig­ure this one out!

  3. Tom
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    It may indeed be a West Point thing, Lord knows McClel­lan was known for that, but he also pro­moted good fight­ers, even if he didn’t like them, or they weren’t reg­u­lars, Kear­ney for exam­ple. Hav­ing just read the man­u­script of Brian pohanka’s his­tory of the Duryee Zouaves, (which is FANTASTIC) I find noth­ing in there to reproach Duryee. So maybe there is some­thing in the con­duct of Sept. 17 that we don’t know???

  4. Ron Dickey
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I’ve thought long about your post and how to com­ment on it. Men (and women) react dif­fer­ently to close com­bat. The same indi­vid­ual can even react dif­fer­ently at dif­fer­ent times. It is not uncom­mon for a vet­eran NCO or offi­cer to sud­denly reach a “tip­ping” point that ones senses and sen­si­bil­i­ties have been crossed. It isn’t that the indi­vid­ual is a cow­ard, but his psy­cho­log­i­cal limit has been reached. For many highly trained and pre­pared indi­vid­u­als this tip­ping point can seem vir­tu­ally end­less. One book, “Men Against Fire” by SLA Mar­shall addressed the sub­ject (although much of Marshall’s research is now in ques­tion). I don’t think any­one should be sur­prised to see an offi­cer sud­denly “lose it.” My sur­prise is the dif­fer­ence in how Car­men han­dle the sit­u­a­tion with COL William Chris­t­ian next door.

  5. Tom
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    As usual a very thought­ful response, and I hae used that same line of rea­son­ing to explain Chris­t­ian.

  6. Posted June 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I won­der if it was because his brigade was unsup­ported for that 1/2 hour. I under­stand both Hartsuff’s brigade and Christian’s brigade were delayed, in advanc­ing to sup­port Duryee in the corn­field. Both brigades for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Hart­suff being wounded while doing recon­nais­sance, and Chris­t­ian depart­ing because of the shells. Per­haps the strain of being iso­lated at the front for a 1/2 hour was rea­son enough for Duryee to fall back. They could have been out of ammu­ni­tion (?) Hartsuff’s Brigade made a stand in the corn­field between 6:20 and 7 and by then they were out of ammuntion.

    Could this be a factor ?

  7. Tom
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Cer­tainly that is a pos­si­bil­ity, but he wrote no report. The only report from his brigade is from the 107th NY, and they don’t men­tion run­ning out of ammo. He was com­mended by Rick­etts, and he sub­mit­ted a list of peo­ple in the brigade deserv­ing com­men­da­tion, so I don’t see much of a clue there. It is just per­plex­ing. BTW, the offi­cer from the 107th wrote they were in action 3/4 of an hour, which I doubt. Usu­ally Car­man has rea­son for his com­ments, so I think he knew some­thing more, but where he got it remains unknown.

  8. Posted July 28, 2013 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    I’m amazed, I must say. Sel­dom do I come across a blog that’s both educa­tive and enter­tain­ing, and let me
    tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The prob­lem is some­thing which not enough folks are speak­ing intel­li­gently about. I’m very happy I came across this in my search
    for some­thing con­cern­ing this.

  9. Tom
    Posted July 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. I don’t post very often, usu­ally too busy work­ing on more research, and I appre­ci­ate your kind words. I’ll try to post more stuff soon.

  10. Posted August 14, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Excel­lent web site you have here.. It’s dif­fi­cult to find qual­ity writ­ing like yours these days. I really appre­ci­ate indi­vid­u­als like you! Take care!!

  11. Hilary Taber
    Posted December 19, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Abram Duryee is my 3rd great grand­fa­ther, and I grew up with all his scrap­books on the Civil War, the fam­ily sto­ries, and so on. While of course the fam­ily sto­ries favor a cer­tain telling, which is that, after tak­ing time off, it was a sur­prise that Abram was replaced and by a West Point grad­u­ate, a per­son younger than him­self, and less expe­ri­enced. There was always a feel­ing that there was a West Point con­nec­tion there that had been favored. For more his­tory than this, I really must direct you to Davenport’s book which I will include a link to below:


    This has been, in our fam­ily, the book that my grand­fa­ther Melville Duryee had felt was the best guide to Abram Duryee and his troop’s expe­ri­ence in the Civil War. That being said, I must *always* defer to Brian Pohenka’s works in every regard though for any par­tic­u­lars of bat­tles, and Brian does do the intro­duc­tion for the Dav­en­port book. He is the real his­to­rian of Abram Duryee’s legacy. I would encour­age you to refer to Brian’s work for any fur­ther information.

    My infor­ma­tion and stance are of course more per­sonal, which I sup­pose gives an inter­est­ing take on the man, but not his bat­tles as I am not a Civil War his­to­rian. I think it safe to say that Abram was a proud man, and that his com­mit­ment to the cause can never be in ques­tion. What hap­pened there, in that moment of bat­tle, of what must have been utter con­fu­sion all of the time, could be lost to liv­ing mem­ory. The war left him ter­ri­bly depleted as he had com­mit­ted all his money to it. That kind of com­mit­ment is so rare. I can’t imag­ine that, after tak­ing such phys­i­cal and per­sonal risks that there wouldn’t be quite a good rea­son for this action. I’m sure that Brian would have more to say on that sub­ject. I bow to his expert knowledge.

    We are all very proud of Abram in the fam­ily for we can, all of us, only imag­ine the hor­rors of war that were on every side of him. He bravely bore them for his coun­try with honor. What pri­vate hor­rors he suf­fered we never knew. His scrap­books are filled with news­pa­per reports only, and very few per­sonal remarks.

  12. Tom
    Posted December 19, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writ­ing, and it is great that you have shared infor­ma­tion about your ances­tor. Gen. Duryee was indeed incensed when com­mand of his brigade went to some­one else, and it may well be that the prej­u­dice against non-professional offi­cers worked against him. Although some mem­bers wrote about not see­ing him in the fight, there is no doubt that he was there and actively engaged in it.
    I am quite famil­iar with Davenport’s book, and Brian Pohanka. I have been an off-and-on mem­ber of the 5th NY for many years, and counted Brian as one of my most rtrea­sured friends until his pass­ing in 2005. In fact, it was Brian, among oth­ers, who encour­aged me to tackle the Car­man man­u­script, and barely a day goes by that I do not think of him and his con­tri­bu­tions to Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal research.
    Tom Clemens

  13. Hilary Taber
    Posted December 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink


    I was so ter­ri­bly sad­dened the day our fam­ily learned of Brian’s pass­ing. What a great man! I can only wish I had cor­re­sponded more with him about Abram. How­ever, I was very young, and had lit­tle inter­est in the Civil War. I was too busy grow­ing up I guess! Now that I’m older I cer­tainly do wish I could ask him some ques­tions I have now. God bless him for all his hard work. He and my mother wrote back and forth quite a lot.

    I won­dered what Abram meant when he said, “All cut up”? His men were wounded per­haps or dis­persed? I sup­pose that, see­ing him still mounted on his horse some assumed he had not been fully engaged in bat­tle? He was wounded, and there are gov­ern­ment records attest­ing to this. Also, I can’t help but think that, if he had made a gross mis­cal­cu­la­tion wouldn’t he have been more for­mally penal­ized in some way by the mil­i­tary? What a day of bat­tle that must have been, how eas­ily it would have been to be con­fused. Another source I saw reported that Abram had received a report to retreat, but that he did not, “…bother to ver­ify it.” Could he have ver­i­fied it if he wanted to I won­der? Maybe his men were so wounded that the only thing left to do was to retreat? I sup­pose even a gen­eral can make mis­takes in the heat of bat­tle. I can’t help but won­der if he was rather per­son­ally dis­liked by more than a few peo­ple, and per­haps one might be glad to see con­fu­sion where there once was only pride. So, see­ing him con­fused might have glad­dened the hearts of some who were not so friendly towards him, inclin­ing them to think the worst. I have no idea. I have been told that he was well known as being pride­ful and pompous. You can see that I am not an expert in this field of study. My exper­tise is in fact in children’s lit­er­a­ture, so I’m very left behind!

    Please par­don all the wan­der­ings of my thoughts. I guess I would like to under­stand that inci­dent as well, and I have much less knowl­edge than you or Brian.

    In any case, here we are at the Christ­mas sea­son in our own time. I wish you a Merry Christ­mas or a Happy Hol­i­day sea­son with friends and family!


  14. Hilary Taber
    Posted December 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    P.S. The pride­ful and pompous bit was told to me by a woman who greeted me when I was ten and vis­it­ing the Anti­etam museum. I was told to sign the guest reg­istry, and while doing so, she learned who it was that I was related to. Then she began to lec­ture me on how dis­liked Gen. Duryee was, how many thought him to be vain and pompous, at which point the fam­ily who had brought me on the trip pulled me aside. The grown ups had a nice lit­tle argu­ment, but I was not allowed to hear any of it. I sup­pose some of it must be true, but do you really need to tell a ten-year-old that? :)

  15. Abigail Duryee
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Even though I am sure that I am dis­tantly related to Abram (since Duryee is not an overly com­mon name), I hon­estly had never even heard of him before a few years ago. I really would like to know how I could find out more about his fam­ily tree to see how/if I fit in some­where. Any suggestions?

  16. Tom
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Hello Abi­gail. I am not an author­ity on Abram Duryee, but I found this in my friend Brian Pohanka’s book on the 5th New York Vol­un­teer Infantry, Duryee’s Zouaves, a reg­i­ment he cre­ated. “Abram Duryee was descended from Joost Durie and and his wife, Mag­dalena Lefevre, who arrived in New York aboard the ship Gilded Otter in 1675. Pages 1–4 of Brian’s book, Vor­tex of Hell, His­tory of the 5th New York Vol­un­teer Infantry, has much about Abram, and he is men­tioned often through­out the book. It is pub­lished by Schroeder Pub­li­ca­tions in 2012. You might also try Ancetry.com. Thanks for your inquiry.

  17. Robert Dean Felch
    Posted January 29, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I have been prepar­ing a short biog­ra­phy of Abram’s life as part of a genealog­i­cal study of his mater­nal Dean fam­ily. This has been a work in progress over the past 35 years. I have read var­i­ous Civil War works ref­er­enced above and oth­ers in order to pre­pare an accu­rate sur­vey of his role in the war as well as in pre-Civil War “mili­tia” activ­i­ties in New York City. I have been arriv­ing at the gen­eral con­clu­sion that the “pride­ful and pompous” descrip­tion pro­vided here was a log­i­cal “bio­graph­i­cal” expla­na­tion for some of his actions in the city prior to the war and for this par­tic­u­lar devel­op­ment in his mil­i­tary career. I am by no means a Civil War expert or researcher but am eager along with the other fam­ily researchers here to under­stand the nature of the man.

    It seems that Duryee’s take on the bat­tle and the sub­se­quent snub­bing upon his return from leave is out­lined in Franklin B. Hough’s book: His­tory of Duryee’s Brigade, Dur­ing the Cam­paign in Vir­ginia under Gen. Pope, and in Mary­land under Gen. McClel­lan in the sum­mer and autumn of 1862, pub­lished in 1864. It is clear that the piece was writ­ten at the request of Abram and with his sup­port. On pages 127–8 the author describes the general’s var­i­ous appeals to regain his com­mand of the brigade. “On the 14th [of Novem­ber, 1862], the Divi­sion was reviewed by Gen­eral Gib­bon, and on the evening of that day, he caused a let­ter to be read to the offi­cers of the First Brigade in which from obser­va­tions made in a camp laid out at mid­night, and from appear­ances due to recent ser­vice, he saw fit to draw con­clu­sions deemed by every one unjust and insult­ing. This was fol­lowed on the 16th, by a reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the Divi­sion, which broke up many pleas­ant asso­ci­a­tions, and change the rel­a­tive senior­ity of reg­i­men­tal com­man­ders, from which they would have oth­er­wise enjoyed.” It appears Gen­er­als Burn­side and Reynolds, not McClel­lan were in the mix for the change in com­mand and reorganization.

    There are many ref­er­ences to Duryee’s absen­teeism early in his Zouaves days as well as leaves of absence dur­ing his Brigade com­mand, likely for returns to New York City, one would guess, for over­sight of his suc­cess­ful lum­ber busi­ness there. His loss of com­mand might be attrib­ut­able to fac­tors other than those based on his per­for­mance on the battlefield.

    It is inter­est­ing to con­trast these two appraisals of Duryee’s per­sonal char­ac­ter, both quoted in “Vor­tex of Hell” by Brian Pohanka:
    ”…a fancy man…A very showy uni­form (that) would never touch a spade or pick, in fact what one would call a Ladys man.“
    “He was a leader of men, who com­manded not by fear, but by kind­ness, and there was not in his com­mand a man who did not love the father of the famous reg­i­ment.“
    I would like to cor­re­spond with those inter­ested in the fam­ily geneal­ogy.
    Bob Felch rdfelch@gmail.com

  18. Tom
    Posted January 29, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Hello Bob, and thanks for your thought­ful state­ment. Duryee’s per­for­mance at Anti­etam is some­thing of an enigma. I will go through some let­ters when I return, but some sug­gest he lost con­tact with the brigade, oth­ers men­tion him ral­ly­ing troops from a repulse. Give me a cou­ple weeks and if you do not hear from me write again please. I look for­ward to hear­ing more of your assess­ment of him. Brian Pohanka was a good friend, and I was about to refer you to his book when you men­tioned it. I will also see what his col­lab­o­ra­tor and edi­to­r­ial execu­tor has to say on the topic.

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