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

Capt. Eugene Van Santvoord

The subject of the following sketch was not a native of the county of Albany, and hence it does not come strictly within the limits prescribed in the design of this volume; yet, as his home was almost on the line separating Albany and Greene counties, and as his father, the Rev. Staats Van Santvoord, had served as a minister in the former county for upwards of twenty-five years, in connection with the Reformed Dutch Church of Ouesquethaw, and of Jerusalem for ten years of this period, it is thought to be quite proper to embrace his name among the gallant men, whose services to the country find here a brief memorial.

Eugene Van Santvoord, son of the clergyman mentioned above, was born at New Baltimore, March 6, 1836. He enlisted in the One Hundred and Sixty-ninth Regiment N. Y. V. at Troy, September 16, 1862, and was duly mustered in on Staten Island, October 6, 1862. Starting as Sergeant Major, he was promoted, for his valiant bearing and devotion to the cause he had espoused, to the rank of Second Lieutenant, November 29, 1863; to that of First Lieutenant, August 13, 1864; and to that of Captain, March 21, 1865.

His regiment, commanded by Col. Buell at the time, was at once ordered to Washington, and after being encamped for several weeks near Chain Bridge, was detailed to do provost guard duty in the city. On April 15, 1863, it was ordered to proceed to Norfolk, thence to Suffolk, and on the Edenton road, on the 24th, it first found itself in face of the enemy, and experienced the shock and collision of opposing forces. From this time till April, 1864, when the One Hundred and Sixty-ninth Regiment was ordered to proceed from Florida, where it then was, to Yorktown, Va., to form part of the Army of the Potomac, and share in the grand, final struggle which was to result in the overthrow of the rebel confederacy, this regiment was constantly engaged in energetic and most efficient service. It made several expeditions up the Black river; was at White House Landing; at Hanover Junction; off Charleston Harbor, at Folly and Morris Islands—at the latter place acting as a guard to the men working in the trenches, and under a heavy artillery fire from Forts Sumter, Gregg, Johnson and Wagner.

After Gen. Seymour's disaster at Olustree, they were ordered to Florida, where, with other reinforcements, they had a successful encounter with the enemy, driving him back with considerable loss. Thence proceeding to Virginia, the regiment, as already stated, became incorporated with the army under the immediate command of Gen. Grant, and took part in that great series of contlicts which, in the end, dashed the rebellion to pieces, as with the crash of a thunderbolt.

The regiment to which Capt. Van Santvoord belonged, was engaged in nineteen battles, besides several skirmishes, more or less bloody, during the three years of its service. After joining the Army of the Potomac, its record of actions in which it bore itself with distinguished and uniform gallantry, is as follows: Walthal Junction, May 7, 1864; Chester Station, Drewin's Bluff, Bermuda Hundred, Coal Harbor (where Capt. V. S. received a wound in the knee), Petersburg Heights, where, at the explosion of the mine, his regiment supported the advance; Petersburg, June 30th; Mine Hill, Dutch Gap, Strawberry Plain, New Market Heights, Fort Fisher and Wilmington, N. C.

At the taking of Fort Fisher, Capt. Van Santvoord displayed conspicuous gallantry, for which he received the warm commendation of his commanding officer. By the blowing up of the magazine of the Fort, after its capture, Capt. Van Santvoord and many of his regiment, who were nearest the scene of the frightful disaster, were completely buried in the masses of earth and ruins which were hurled upon them by the terrific energy of the explosion. Some seventy of his regiment, of whom four were officers, lost their lives by this horrible catastrophe. Among those reported killed, the "Albany Evening Journal" included the name of Capt. Van Santvoord, and for several days his family mourned him as among the victims, whom, having escaped the fire of battle, a more dreadful fire was permitted to slay. Shortly afterward, his friends were gladdened by letters from him, apprising them of his safety. Among these, is one to a female friend, giving an account of the horrors of the explosion, as well as of the capture of the Fort, some extracts from which will be found to possess more than ordinary interest:

Fort Fisher, Federal Point, Jan. 20, 1864.
Dear A.—You are no doulbt anxiously looking for a letter, as you have by this time the accounts of the battle and victory at this place. I would have written a day or two ago, but I was so badly off from injuries received here, that I was scarcely able to scrawl a few lines to mother to assure her of my safety.

We made the charge about eleven o'clock of the 15th, and even after we had taken a portion of the fort, the fight was kept up inside till about six p. m., when the whole was surrendered. Never during the war do I think there was displayed such stern determination, and stubborn fighting on the part of our troops.

The ground we fought over was contested and yielded inch by inch, and the fort itself is, I think, one of the largest and strongest in America. The sea and land forces together extended nearly a mile, and at short intervals stood a bomb-proof that no shot or shell could knock down. The fort mounted between sixty and seventy guns of heaviest calibre, and contained also a great many light artillery pieces, great quantities of ammunition, and small arms. The prisoners captured amounted, as near as I could learn, to about twenty-five hundred, officers and men, among whom was Major General Whiting.

It is decidedly one of the most brilliant victories of the war, and no doubt one of the severest blows to the rebellion. The worn-out victors lay down to rest inside the fort, rejoicing over their hard-earned success. But great God! What a scene occurred the next morning at seven o'clock! I was sitting with the regiment and talking to one of our officers, when the ground trembled under me as from the shock of an earthquake. This was followed by a most fearful explosion. I looked up and saw before me a huge column of earth, and the next moment found myself buried alive. I have faced death, dear A., in a great many forms, but never have I experienced before, or can I ever forget the horrors of that moment. The first thought that occurred was "have I escaped death in the battle yesterday to die in this horrid manner?" I attempted to dig the earth with my hands, but could accomplish nothing. I resigned myself to die, when the thought struck me that I might not be buried so deep, but that I could work my hand through to the surface. I tried and succeeded. I instantly dug a hole with that hand to my mouth, and oh what a thrill of joy I experienced, when I inhaled the draught of fresh air that rushed in. I cried out for help which was near at hand, and I was soon taken out with no bones broken, but my left arm badly injured, and my body much, though not seriously, bruised.

The officer to whom I was talking at the time of the explosion, had his arm broken. Our Colonel (now Gen. Alden), was blown a great distance, and injured so badly that the surgeons think it impossible for him to recover. Four of our officers were killed outright, and five others badly injured. Between sixty and seventy of our men were blown up, nearly all of whom were killed. They have been digging out the dead, and I don't think have found them all yet.

The sight the next day was horrible, to see the mangled remains of so many of our brave boys, who had fought so gallantly and survived the battle.

In the first part of the charge, we lost our brigade commander, Col. Bell, who was killed while leading his brigade. His term of service had expired the day previous; and he was urged not to go into the fight, but he did go and was killed. We all feel his loss most deeply, for he, as well as our Colonel, was beloved by all.

Ever sincerely yours,
In a letter written to his mother, from before Petersburg, after one of the bloody struggles which marked the expiring agonies of the rebellion, he writes thus:

"Knowing your anxiety to hear from me, now that we are in front of the enemy, I snatch space to write yon a few lines, as there will be an opportunity to send them this evening. O, my dear mother, the scenes of blood and carnage I have passed through the last week, are fearful to look back upon. Last Saturday we were ordered out to attack the enemy, who were in large force on the Richmond and Petersburg railroad. After a fight of four hours we drove them away from the road, burnt the bridge, and tore up several miles of the track. Our loss in killed and wounded amounted to six hundred. Sunday and Monday we were permitted to rest. On Tuesday we were again ordered out on the Richmond turnpike, ten miles from the city. We were met by a large force of the enemy, and the battle commenced. I was placed on the extreme advance with my company, to support a battery, and was instructed to hold the position as long as possible. The rebels marched up in solid column to within about sixty yards, when they opened fire upon us. At the first volley I was hit by a glancing shot and struck to the ground; but my wound was slight, and I staggered to my feet again, and cheered the boys on. I shall never forget the pitiful looks of my poor brave men, as they fell killed and wounded on all sides of me.

We held the position until the Major came and ordered us to fall back, which we did, and were soon met by the Seventh Connecticut, who were coming upon the double quick. Being thus reinforced, we turned upon them again and drove them away from the guns they were in the act of taking off the field. I had out of my whole company, when the affair was over, only fifteen men left. Some have since come up, but the greater portion of my brave boys fell. I can scarcely keep back the tears as I think of it. Men whom I had drilled and been associated with so long, who loved and respected me, are now among the slain. My clothes were pierced with bullets and almost torn from my back; but all the injury I sustained was a slight scratch.

Dear mother, I feel thankful indeed to that Providence who watches over us all, for my miraculous escape. I have not slept for the last three nights, and I am now on picket duty and obliged to be constantly on the alert to guard against an attack from the front.

Yours ever,

Such was the character of the service that, with his regiment, he was called to perform during the fearful months that ended so triumphantly for the national arms. In the toils, exposures and perils of that memorable campaign, he performed his part constantly and cheerfully, as a good and faithful soldier should, and was cheered by the frequent and hearty encomiums which his zeal and bravery won from those nnder whom he served. The following testimonial from General Alden, who was in command of his regiment, will serve to exhibit the estimate in which his character and services were held:

"I was, perhaps, as intimately acquainted with Captain Eugene Van Santvoord as with any of the officers of my late command, and the news of his accidental death, after safely passing through the terrible three years' ordeal of fire and blood in his country's service, occasioned no deeper sadness in the heart of any one than in my own, except, perhaps, among his own kindred. The Captain first entered the army with the One Hundred and Sixty-ninth Regiment New York Volunteers, September, 1862, with the rank of Sergeant-Major, and the facility with which he comprehended and discharged the duties of that office, gained the confidence and respect of his commanding officers; and his uniform courtesy and kindness won for him the respect and love of all the officers and men of the regiment.

"As a merited reward for the ability and fidelity with which he discharged his various military duties, the Captain was speedily promoted through all the intermediate grades to the rank which he was finally mustered out of the service. As an Acting Regimental Adjutant, as Company Commander, Captain Van Santvoord served with distinguished gallantry in many hard-fought battles, in which he uniformly exhibited the sterling qualities of a brave and conscientious soldier.

Among the most prominent of Captain Van Santvoord's characteristics as an officer, were extraordinary coolness and bravery in emergencies, and great perseverance and determination when surrounded with difficulties and dangers—characteristics which eminently fitted him for a successful military officer. While under the most destructive tire of the enemy, he never lost his self-command; and in the exercise of command over his company, he was stern, emphatic, and unimpassioned. As a tactician and disciplinarian, Captain Van Santvoord was rarely surpassed, ready and prompt in the execution of all the commands of his commanding officers, sympathizing and vigilant in providing for the comfort of his men, and courteous and gentlemanly in all his intercourse with officers and men, his memory will long be cherished, and by none more than his late commander.

ALONZO ALDEN, Brevet Brig. General,
Late Colonel 169th N. Y. Vols.

The manners of Captain Van Santvoord were frank and manly, his disposition kind and genial, his heart warm and sympathetic. These qualities made many attached friends in the army not only, but in the circle of the home community where he was longest and most intimately known. He was as generous as he was brave, and as ready to render acts of kindness to those needing them, as to face the enemy on a perilous field. Affectionate and dutiful as a son, his memory will remain green in parental hearts which his early loss has lacerated. Though not a member of the church, his training had been a Christian one, and its influence was felt and shown amid all the exciting scenes and turbulent transitions of his soldier life. In his communications to his friends, he acknowledges with deep gratitude that overruling Providence to which individuals as well as armies must owe safety and success, and which had mercifully preserved him amid imminent perils and fearfully frequent deaths.

While encamped at Folly Island, he aided in extemporizing a little chapel, wherein the worship of God might be statedly observed during their stay in that quarter. He had high regard for the Chaplain by whom the services were conducted, aiding to make his work pleasant and effective. And being fond of music and skilled in its performance, he organized a clioir of singers from his company, and himself led in that part of the stated devotions. His little testament, which was his close companion during the war, seemed nearly worn out with use, and various folds are found in its leaves to mark passages from which, as it appeared, he had drawn refreshment, or which had struck him as specially applicable to situations of difficulty or danger. Before entering on an engagement where the hazards to life looked most imminent, he was wont to put up an ejaculatory prayer to Him who holds the issues of all lives, and then felt strong and confident as he went forth to yield his life, if it were so ordered, a sacrifice on the altar of his conntry.

But he passed safely through the war, and rejoiced to greet rejoicing friends, the conflict ended and peace restored, in the loved home of his childhood. The joy and gratulations, however, were short-lived. Like Colonel Bowers and Lieut. Col. McKee, and many another brave spirit, he escaped all the perils of war and battle, only to be smitten down suddenly, when in the midst of perfect seeming security.

Captain Van Santvoord was making his arrangements to go into business with a friend, near Savannah, Ga., and a few days from the time his death occurred they were to take their departure. On his way from New York, on the l3th of November, to his home, business detained him for a night at Newburgh. After retiring for the night, at his hotel, an alarm of fire was suddenly raised, when rushing as it is supposed from his room, in his haste and in the dark, he encountered and fell over the baluster, being precipitated to the floor below, receiving fatal injuries, the eftect of which he survived only a few hours. His life was quenched almost as suddenly as if struck out amid the actual shock of the raging conflict. The pain of the blow had been less to survivors in the latter case, for where danger is looked for, and none are exempt, the mind is prepared for a result that is not unexpected. But the same Providence, wise and kind, controls death in whatever form it comes, and Faith, looking up trustingly to the infallible Disposer, finds consolation still, in uttering, "even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."

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