US GenWeb

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

Capt. Augustus I. Barker

Augustus I. Barker was born in Albany on the 24th day of April, 1842. His mother, Jeannette James, daughter of the late William James, Esq., died two weeks after his birth.

His early life was marked by no circumstances of peculiar interest. Like most young men who had the means to obtain a good education, he passed from one school to another, until he entered Harvard University in September, 1859. He remained in that institution until the year 1861, when he enlisted in the service of his country.

He first received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Fifth Regiment New York Cavalry October 31, 1861. His second commission as First Lieuteuant, was dated May 3, 1862, and his third commission as Captain, October 24, 1862, all in the same regiment, and under the seal of Hon. E. D. Morgan, Governor of the State of New York.

His promotion was quite rapid, from Second Lieutenant to Captain within twelve months, and all through his own merit, no influence having been brought to bear upon those in authority to advance him in the service.

Up to the time of his regiment's joining Gen. Banks, it passed a somewhat inactive life, and without any particularly exciting incidents. But it was actively engaged in Gen. Banks' corps, in his disastrous Virginia campaign, when he was so badly routed by Stonewall Jackson. The cavalry, in this instance, saved Gen. Banks' army, they fighting the rebels in his rear, checking them, and thus enabling the General to retreat to a point somewhere on the Potomac. Very shortly after this disaster, about the 1st of August, 1862, Capt. Barker was taken ill with typhoid fever, and succeeded (in the saddle) in reaching within a mile of Culpepper Court Honse, Va., more than a day's ride from where he started, when he was obliged to alight, being unable to proceed any further. Having had a soldier detailed to escort him and assist him, he was placed under a tree by the road side, and was left alone until the soldier went into the town to get an ambulance, or other conveyance, (which was furnished after an entire day's delay,) to take him to the cars for Alexandria. As soon as his father heard of his illness, which was not until ten or twelve days, he proceeded at once to Alexandria, and found him in an extremely low condition, so much so that his physician informed him that there was no chance of his recovery. He was then at the Marshall House, where Ellsworth was killed, a most unsuitable place for a sick man, and his father took the responsibility of removing him, in his low condition, to Washington, having secured most excellent quarters in advance. To his great joy, his son began to rally at once, and he improved so rapidly that in a fortnight he was removed, by slow stages, to Lenox, Mass., among the Berkshire hills. His health was rapidly restored, and he rejoined his regiment the same year, 1862, November 16th, at Fort Scott, Virginia, near Washington.

On the 9th of March, 1863, he was taken prisoner at Fairfax Court House, and sent to Libby prison, Richmond. He was exchanged on the 6th of May following, and rejoined his regiment on the 27th of May.

In June, 1863, he wrote thus to a friend:

"At last I have entered the threshold of manhood and must depend upon myself; but I shall never, I now imagine, rely upon the profession of a soldier longer than the duration of the war. I do not want to shrink from my present position until the Union arms are victorious. North, South, East and West, and the Old Flag floats once more over an entire unanimous people."

In July he wrote thus to his father:

Bivouac Fifth N, Y. Cavalry,
Boonsboro, Md., July 7, 1863.
My Dear Father—An hour ago we arrived here completely fatigued and worn out, having been in the saddle two weeks andt wo days, without food for men or horses, and with not more than four hours' rest out of the forty-eight. I am now sitting upon a bundle of wheat, writing upon my knee, in haste, as the mail leaves in an hour; and after this day the Lord only knows when and where we may halt again. No longer are we under Gen. Stahl's command, as he was relieved at the same time as Hooker; but Gen. Kilpatrick is our leader now, and we are as proud to be led by him as he told us in an address after the battle of Gettysburg, "he is proud to command us." No longer does the cavalry roam about the country, a small, timid, hesitating band, but it now comprises three grand divisions, under Major General's Greig, Buford and Kilpatrick. They are so well organized and concentrated as to be irresistible, when manoeuvered as they have been since the Northern invasion.

It would be utterly impossible for me here to give you any idea of our late doings, but as soon as the communications are established with the north, watch for Kilpatrick's reports and the correspondence from the command. Within three miles of Frederick city, General Stahl turned his command over; and, after a grand review of four thousand five hundred cavalry and six pieces of artillery, by General Pleasanton, our chief, we were sent off on our mission, which thus far has been a too laborious one to last much longer. Out of the last seven days, we have been engaged six in desperate fighting, and that, too, against infantry; and, though we have accomplished our alloted task, we did it at the sacrifice of some of our noblest officers and men; our own regiment to-day, mustering one hundred and fifty fighting men, out of three hundred and fifty who started out with us two weeks ago. One officer killed, two wounded and six missing; just think of it! It would be impossible for me to tell you of our hair-breadth escapes, but, father, I assure you, that never before, since my enlistment in this war, have I sat so calmly upon my horse, resolved to fight and die honorably, if necessary, for my country.

Yesterday we arrived at Hagarstown, and there awaited the rebel army, in full retreat, anxious to save themselves by crossing the Potomac. It seemed a cruel fate, that made it a duty for cavalry to oppose infantry, artillery and cavalry who were fighting for life itself. After holding them in check for three hours, we were compelled to yield gradually, (the only time thus far) as their forces coming up rapidly, outnumbered us five to one at the least. A sad and stubborn withdrawal was ours. Not to speak of other regiments, which lost equally, ours lost that day one hundred killed, wounded and missing. In my own company two sergeants had horses knocked from under them by shells, one wounded, and how many of the missing ones are wounded remains to be seen. I only had three men after the fight. I found a bullet in my blanket, which was rolled behind my saddle, and a round shot struck so near me as to spatter the dirt upon me. I have to be thankful that I was spared when so many fell.

At the battle of Gettysburg, we fought all day and, by keeping a whole division of the rebels in check, decided the day in our favor. Then swinging around to the extreme left we cut our way through the enemy, capturing three hundred wagons and fifteen hundred prisoners of war, and gaining his rear. Thus we inflicted a paralyzing blow upon the rebels and made them think again before a third attempt to trouble us. I could write much more but cannot.

Your affectionate son,

Captain Barker was captured in the Moseby raid on Fairfax Court House, of which his father gives the following account:

"The facts are these: My son, at the time he made the effort to escape, was on a strange horse, without saddle, and surrounded by fifteen or twenty rebel cavalry. Watching his opportunity, he suddenly wheeled, and in the effort unhorsed several of the rebels and succeeded in getting clear of them. He pursued his course, with the rebels in full pursuit, and a dozen or more shots were fired at him without effect. Coming suddenly upon a rather formidable ditch, his horse bolted and threw him over his head without injury of consequence. The rebels were upon him in a moment, and knowing it was useless to resist he surrendered. But for this unfortunate contretemp he would undoubtedly have escaped."

In the following letter from Lieutenant A. B. Waugh, we have an account of the death of this accomplished and brave officer:

Camp 5th New York Cavalry,
Stevensburg, Va., Sept. 20, 1862.
Mr. Wm. H. Barker:
Sir—It becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son, Capt. Augustus I. Barker, under the following circumstances: When the command left Hartwood Church and crossed the Rappahannock, he was left behind in charge of the men picketing the river, and, while on the march to rejoin his regiment, he, with one man, being some distance ahead of the column, was shot by guerrillas, concealed in the wood. Two balls took eflect, one in the right side and one in the left breast. Some of his company, who were with him, carried him to the house of Mr. Freeman Harris, living at Mount Holly Church, about one mile from Kelly's Ford, on the Rappahannock. They did all in their power to relieve him, but without avail. He died at half past one on the morning of the 18th, being about twelve hours after receiving his wounds. Sergeant McMullen, of his company, was with him all through, and saw him buried just in the rear of Freeman's house, and the grave marked. McMullen came to camp yesterday, and I telegraphed you last night. I have collected all Capt. Barker's effects, and placed them in charge of Surgeon Armstrong, at the camp hospital at Culpepper Court House. If we move forward, or if we fall back, before I hear from you, we will bring them with us. In the list you will see two daguerreotypes. They were taken some two months since, while he was officer of the day, and one is very natural. His pocket book and watch I will also leave in charge of Surgeon Armstrong, and a watch, which belongs to General Stoughton, which he had in his possession. If you desire to come on, please communicate with me, and any assistance which I, or any officer, can render, we will give with pleasure.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
2d Lieut. Co. L, 5th N. Y. Cavalry.

As soon as Mr. Barker heard of the death of his son, he went on to recover his body and removed it to Albany, where the burial took place, on the 10th of October, 1863.

The following obituary, and notice of the funeral, appeared in the Albany "Evening Journal:"

"Capt. Augustus Barker, of the Fifth New York Cavalry, died near Kelly's Ford, on the 18th of Sept., 1863, in the twenty-second year of his age.

"He was the youngest son of William H. Barker, Esq., and grandson of the late William James, of this city. He was beloved by his comrades, as by all who knew him, for the manliness of his character and the generosity of his disposition. His promotion was the just reward of his good conduct and honorable service. His valor and patriotism had been tried in many battles, and by the more dreadful horrors of Richmond prison. He survived all these to perish, in the flower of his youth, by the hands of rebel assassins.

"Capt. Barker's funeral took place Saturday afternoon, 10th October, 1863, at three o'clock, from St. Peter's Church. It was largely attended. The funeral cortege consisted of a detachment of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, the City Volunteers, Capt. Marshall, preceded by Schreiber's band. The remains of the gallant officer were deposited in the cemetery."

Capt. Barker's patriotism was a strong feature in his character. After recovering from a low fever, which brought him near the grave, he returned with new ardor to his regiment. Soon afterwards, being made a prisoner in Richmond, where he was confined for two months, he came out with his heart still warm for his country's service. When attacked by guerrillas, attended by but one man, and the demand was made upon him to surrender, he replied "never," and received his death wound.

We regret, in the case of Capt. Barker, as in that of his gallant relative and friend, Capt. Temple, that we are not able to give a fuller and more detailed account of his life and military career. But we cannot but hope that in the future, in some form, the patriotic services of these noble officers in the American army will be suitably commemorated.

Send comments or suggestions to:
Debby Masterson

Go Back to Albany County Biographies
Go Back to Home Page