US GenWeb

This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Capt. John DePeyster Douw

John DePeyster Douw was horn in Albany, on the 10th of March, 1837, and was the son of Volckert P. and Helen L. Douw. Reared amid the influences of refinement, intelligence and Christian culture, he early developed traits that endeared him to all with whom he was associated. He early manifested a frank and generous spirit, and was a respectful and dutiful son, a kind brother, and a warm hearted friend.

In entering the army, he was actuated by the purest and loftiest feelings of patriotism, and his course was perfectly in accordance with the wishes of his parents, who desired the family to be represented in the recent eventful period of our National history.

His military career, the valor with which he fought for his country, and the hope that ever inspired his soul, may be learnt from the following statements, furnished to his father by a distinguished officer, who knew and loved the departed hero:

Capt. Douw joined the One Hundred and Twenty-first Regiment N. Y. S. Yolunteers when that regiment first entered the service, the 23d of August, 1862, at Camp Schuyler, Herkimer county, N. Y., as first Lieutenant of Company "I." He served in that capacity until shortly after the battle of Antietam, when his soldierly bearing and attention to duty attracted the notice of Maj. Gen. Slocum, commanding First Division, Sixth Army Corps. The General at once placed Lieut. Douw on his staff as ordnance officer, which arduous and responsible position he filled with credit, until shortly after the first Fredericksburg battle, when he left his staff appointment to accept the Captaincy of Company "K" in his own regiment, a promotion justly earned. He took command of his company, and led it in the terrible battle of Salem Chapel, May 3d, 1863. All who are conversant with the history of that engagement, know of the fearful loss of life in the One Hundred and Twenty-first—the total loss being two hundred and seventy men out of four hundred who entered the fight, a greater loss than any other regiment has ever experienced in one battle. Capt. Douw particularly distinguished himself at this time. He passed through the fiery ordeal unhurt. He commanded his company during the memorable Maryland campaign, that culminated in the glorious victory of Gettysburg. He participated in all the various skirmishes after that battle until the rebels were driven across the Potomac.

Again at Rappahannock Station Nov. 7th, 1863, he led his company. The One Hundred and Twenty-first, about three hundred strong, captured twelve hundred prisoners and four stands of colors. Captain Douw received great praise from his commanding officer for his gallantry. This, with the exception of the short campaign known as the Mine Run Expedition, closed the operations of this portion of the army for 1863.

The winter of 1863 and 1864 was passed by the Captain in fitting himself and company for the prominent part they were destined to play in the great campaign of 1864. He was in every battle of this campaign; the fierce struggle in the Wilderness, and the desperate charges at Spottsylvania Court House. In the last engagement he was one of that band of heroes who made the famous charge of May 10th. The charging party consisted of twelve regiments, three front and four deep. The One Hundred and Twenty-first was in the first line and on the right, the post of honor and danger. Their advance was irresistible. Three lines of works were carried, fifteen hundred prisoners were captured, the enemy's centre was broken and the victory almost won. But the supports did not do their duty and the column, surrounded, was forced to retire. The slaughter was awful. Captain Douw came out of the fight uninjured, and in command of his regiment; the field officers being both wounded and one a prisoner. He commanded the regiment gallantly at Coal Harbor, and during the early battles in front of Petersburg. At thistime Major Galpin, having recovered from his wounds, resumed his command.

The rebels again made a raid into MaryLand and even the Capital was in danger. The Sixth Corps was orderded to Washington to repel the invasion. The enemy retreated and then ensued long and weary marches. Captain Douw, always cheerful, was the life of his regiment.

The sun rose clear and bright on the 19th of September. This was the first of the many glorious days of victory, that cleared away the cloud of defeat that so long had darkened "Freedom's Banner" in the valley of Virginia, and that placed the "crown of victory" on the stars and stripes.

The battle of Fisher's Hill quickly followed, and during both of these battles, the Captain was always in the front rank, encouraging and animating his men by his example. Strange that one so regardless of personal danger, should have so long passed unharmed. But his time was yet to come. The eventful 19th of October dawned, the last and most complete, the crowning glory of the campaign. But what a sacrifice it cost. Alas, how many of those who immortalized themselves that day, did it at the expense of their lives.

Captain Douw was struck about nine o'clock, a. m., by a bullet in the right leg. The bone was shattered, and he laid on the field until late in the afternoon, when, the troops returning, he was taken to a temporary hospital at New Town, whence he was removed to Winchester, where his limb was amputated. He lingered until six o'clock, p. m., October 26th, when he quietly slept the sleep that knows no waking.

Thus passed away one of the noblest spirits this war has destroyed. In battle, brave even to rashness; on the march, cheerful; gentle, manly and social, kind and considerate to all—qualities that made all who knew him love him. His memory will be cherished by his companions in arms as long as they live.

The Major of the One Hundred and Twenty-first Regiment thus speaks of his habit of daily reading the Scriptures:

"I have known Captain Douw since the regiment was first organized at Camp Schuyler, as I was the First Sergeant in the company of which he was the First Lieutenant. During our term last winter in quarters at Brandy Station we were together a great deal, and became quite intimate. When the campaign opened in the spring, we entered into a 'mess' by ourselves, slept under the same blankets, and endured the same hardships until September 20th, when I was detailed at headquarters of the division. We each carried a pocket testament, and it was our custom every day after the campaign opened, to each read a chapter alternately on arriving in camp, if not by the wayside while resting from our march. We had shared each other's comforts, and more than once had expressed a hope that we might outlive this devouring war, and see tranquility reinstated, and meet each other in quiet life, to relate and discuss the past events in our military history."

The same officer gives the following account of Captain Douw after he was wounded:

"We were repulsed immediately after he was wounded, and thereby he fell into the enemy's hands. He was in their hands about eight hours, and while with them was treated both kindly and unkindly. He had in his pocket about one hundred and sixty dollars. Before the enemy came to pillage him, he cut the seam in his vest and placed nearly all of his money inside. But the rebels were not content with the few dollars they found, and made a more minute search, and succeeded in finding the whole of it.

"About four p. m. the enemy was driven back, and he was immediately carried to a house near by, which was occupied as General Wiieaton's headquarters. I was at that time serving upon the staff of General Wheaton, and while at the house I know he received every attention. He was somewhat depressed in consequence of exhaustion. He told me he thought he should get well, and asked me to write to his father and uncle, which I did at once. It was on the 19th that he was carried to the house, and on the morning of the 20th he was removed to New Town, and thence to Winchester. I assisted in placing him comfortably in the ambulance, and after bidding him 'good-bye' he was driven away, and I did not see him again. "Dr. Benedict was with him at the time he died, and says a few moments before he expired he asked him 'if he were not dying.' Benedict told him 'he was.' He then asked him to say the Lord's Prayer, which he did, and the Captain repeated it until he breathed his last. After he could not articulate aloud, he repeated it in a faint whisper until he passed from this life."

The following particulars of the wound and death of Capt. Douw have been kindly furnished by the surgeon who attended him:

I saw and conversed with Capt. Douw on the morning of the attack, October 19th, and we hoped at the time our regiment would not be ordered out. He wished, if it were, to give me his valuables for safe keeping. They were ordered in line almost immediately after, and I was ordered to the Division hospital in New Town.

Capt. Douw was wounded early in the action, eight o'clock a. m., and remained on the field some eight hours, during which time the enemy held the ground, and robbed him of his money, &c. Judging from the nature of the wound, he must have been resting in a sitting posture, on his left knee and right foot. The ball entered the right knee joint, traversing and shattering the femur or thigh bone nearly the whole length, and, after death, was extracted from the groin.

He was completely chilled when found by our men. The limb was temporarily dressed, and he was brought to our hospital about five o'clock p. m.

He was cold and almost pulseless on his arrival, and it was evident to the most casual observer that his system had received a shock which must prove fatal. I examined the limb sufficiently to learn that an operation was his only chance for life, and our whole attention was given to stimulating the system, and bringing on reaction sufficient to amputate. But we did not succeed till he was removed to Winchester, fifteen miles. I put the limb in a box, and placed him in an ambulance on a feather bed, and he suffered no inconvenience from moving. I felt it to be my duty to tell him his true condition, and did so, as gently as possible, advising him to have his father telegraphed for. He replied that he was confident he should recover, but would send for an uncle in Philadelphia if he grew worse.

This was the morning of the 21st. I never saw him after, but have conversed with the surgeons into whose hands he fell, and can assure his friends he received every attention possible, and everything was done that could be done under the circumstances. He rallied on the 22d sufficiently to undergo the operation, and bore up under it well.

So much time had elapsed that the limb was much swollen, and it was not till after the operation that the course of the ball, and the full extent of the injury, was known.

The tremendous shock to the system had been noticed and commented upon by all; but when the injury was fully known, his great depression was accounted for, and not, as before, attributed to his exposure on the field.

He was cheerful and confident after the operation,—was at times delirious,—was anxious to have his vote prepared and forwarded, although he had already sent his vote about the 17th or 18th.

I came to this regiment from the One Hundred and Twenty-second, July 1st, 1863, a stranger; but soon made the acquaintance of Captain Douw, as many in Syracuse were our mutual friends.

He was respected and esteemed by officers and men, and his friends have the sympathy of the whole regiment.

I found him a noble-hearted, true man, and wish no better evidence of his goodness of heart, than the love and affection he had for his family. How repeatedly has he shown me photographs of his parents, brothers and sisters, and would speak of each in a manner, which in some measure enables me to imagine how great is their loss.


Cherry Valley, June 15th, 1866.
My Dear Mrs. Douw—Lieutenant Douw, a few days after his regiment had taken the field in September 1862, was selected by General Slocum, as division ordnance officer, a position of great responsibility. He was called upon to take the entire charge of the arms and ammunition of the division, and to issue and receipt for the same; in fact the efficiency of the division in this most important particular depended almost entirely upon his energy and activity. He filled this post to the satisfaction of the commanding officer of the division and all concerned; conducting his trains with great skill and prudence from Bakersville to Fredericksburg, Va., through the engagements which followed; and on the unfortunate "mud-march." That he should have accomplished this in the manner he did, is conclusive proof how earnest and sincere he was in the discharge of his duties. In the spring of 1863, just before the campaign opened, the proposition was made to Lieut. Douw by Col. Upton, at that time commanding the One Hundred and Twenty-first N. Y. Vols., that if he would return to his company he should be promoted to Captain. The Colonel also expressed liis great desire to have Lieut. Douw with the command during the campaign.

The position held by Lieut. Douw on Gen. Slocum's staff, was in many respects to be preferred to that offered by Col. Upton. It brought him into intimate relations with the general officers of the division; it gave him privileges of which an infantry officer knew well the value; it ensured him daily comforts. Headquarter wagons are the first up; headquarter tents the first pitched; headquarters monopolizes the best camping ground; headquarters guards the deepest well and the coolest spring— and headquarters is best supplied by the commissary. The proposition therefore, to come back to his regiment and serve in his company, was one which very few officers would have accepted. Indeed, I know of but one case, where an officer having a staff appointment, returned of his own accord to serve with the company. That is the case of Lieut. Douw. Many times have I felt the need of officers on staff duty, and offered them promotion, and endeavored to excite their ambition by showing that on the staff there was little hope of advancement, but all in vain. "I cannot give up the social position—the comforts, the privileges I enjoy on the stafi", for the sake of commanding a company—to march in the mud and dust, with but a soldier's fare and a shelter tent to sleep under." Lieut. Douw gave up all these advantages and voluntarily returned to his regiment, thinking it his duty to be with the men, whom he had originally received a commission to command, and to share with them their dangers and privations.

Capt. Douw's relations with his company were of the most pleasant character. Although a good disciplinarian, he was a favorite with his men—a favoritism not gained by that familiarity which was the misfortune of many volunteer officers, but obtained by his strong love of justice, his anxiety that his men should not be imposed upon, and his correct ideas of duty. Capt. Douv, under the most discouraging circumstances, was always cheerful. He bore the privations and fatigues of the most trying campaign with a lightheartedness rarely seen in the service, and was proof against its demoralizing influences. A strong attachment to his home, of which he was ever fond of speaking, appeared to be a shield which, constantly reminding him of all he held most dear, at the same time turned away all temptations to dissipation. The influence of the home circle was ever upon him, and distance and danger only served to strengthen it.

From the battle of Salem Chapel, May 3d, 1863, in which action his company suftered more than any in the regiment, until the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19th, 1864, where he received his mortal wound, Capt. Douw was constantly with his command in every battle, skirmish or reconnoissance in which it was engaged.

In conclusion, I would add that I never knew an officer who, during his whole service, more conscientiously performed his duties. He was a good officer and a brave man. I am, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,
Late Colonel One Hundred and Twenty-first New York.

Extract from a letter from Sergeant Stevens to Mrs. Douw:

"I never had any talk, on religious subjects, with your son, but I always considered him a most exemplary young man. I thought nothing strange of his not talking with me on serious matters at the time I was with the regiment, for I was not then a professor. When we had preaching in our camp, the Captain always attended. I had a very good opportunity, while I was with my company, to become acquainted with him.

"Your son commanded the company to which I had the honor to belong. I held the position of First Sergeant in the company until I was compelled, from wounds received in the battle of the Wilderness, to leave for the hospital. I helped him to prepare all of the company pay rolls, and clothing rolls; in fact, I assisted him about all the company writing.

"In his death, the company sustained a grent loss. We regarded him with something more than the respect which is due from a soldier to a superior; we looked up to him as an elder brother; one who took an interest in his men, very zealous of their rights, and prompt to have all wrongs redressed. He was exceedingly affable to his men, willing to listen to and advise the most illiterate or degraded of them.

"Upon the march, as well as in camp, he seemed to have the interest of his men at heart. If there chanced to be one who was slightly unwell, or who began to manifest signs of great weariness, the Captain would shoulder his musket, give him some words of cheer, and assist him in every way in his power. I have been an object of his tender compassion on several occasions. While the army was on the march from Warrenton to the Rapidan river, I, from some unknown cause, had a very painful swelling on my ankle; I could not wear my boots, and was compelled to march in this condition. The Captain took my musket at once, and carried it until we halted for the night.

"Until noon of the following day, I marched in the same manner, when we halted for a short time to prepare dinner. By this time my ankle was swollen fearfully and pained me terribly.

"The sight of this aroused the indignation (a thing which we seldom saw) of the Captain, towards the doctors, for not allowing me to ride in an ambulance. He arose from his dinner exclaiming, 'I will not have my men march in that condition,' went to the Doctor and told him so, and that afternoon I rode. I seldom saw him on the march without a musket on his shoulder.

"After I was wounded the lirst time, at the battle of Salem Church, our field hospital was on the Potomac creek, near where the army was encamped, and the Captain came frequently to see "his wounded boys," and talk with and cheer us. He visited each tent to inquire after and ascertain the condition of all of the men. Thus it was he became the much loved Captain Douw. He was always willing to share the hardship of his men, always cheerful and always at his post.

"Your affliction is indeed great, but you have the heartfelt sympathies of the surviving members of company K. Long will they cherish the memory of your son and their Captain."

His remains were brought home, and, on the 3d day of November, buried in the Albany Cemetery.

The following lines were written in memory of Capt, John DeP. Douw, One Hundred and Twenty-tirst Regment N. Y. S. V., died October 26, 1864:


A sad and melancholy year,
The year just past!
Hope feebly struggling on—and darksome fear,
Too oft, at last,
Cringing beneath the tempest, through whose rifts,
No sunlight flickers, while the black mass drifts,
Whirling along the battle glare,
Onward, to worse despair!


A dismal and a bitter year,
The year just gone!
The sepulchres of those we hold most dear
Lie thick; and thorn
The hearts that swelled to hear of brave deeds done,
Of ramparts carried, and of standards won,
By those of whom, the next hushed breath
Of rumor, told the death.


We cannot laugh as gaily now,
As once we did;
When, with the New Year garlands on our brow
No low voice chid
Our merriment, or bade us hold our peace,
And think of some who evermore would cease
From joining in the carol gay
With which we hailed the day.


For now we see a vacant place
Beside the board ;—
And there we sadly miss a much loved face.
While memory, stored
With thoughts of other days, when, with us here,
He shared our sorrow and he shared our cheer,
Forbids that we should hope relief
From present bitter grief.


But let us not too much rebel.
Though he is dead. 'Twas for his country's honor that he fell.
And though his head
Rests low beside the sword he so well drew
His spirit, now in Heaven, waits to view
That lasting peace on earth begin,
He nobly helped to win.

New Year's Day, 1865.

Send comments or suggestions to:
Debby Masterson

Go Back to Albany County Biographies
Go Back to Home Page