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

Pvt. Justin R. Huntley

Justin R. Huntley was born December 10, 1840, in Hamburg, Erie county, New York. At seven years of age he commenced attending school, which he continued to do without material interruption until about sixteen, when he graduated from the Experimental Department of the State Normal School at Albany. Possessing a strong physical constitution and a ready and active mind, he mastered the course of study with comparative ease, placing himself in rank among the best of his class. In his school life there were many little incidents which were, for the time, considered somewhat remarkable by his particular friends and admirers, but are not of sufficient importance to claim notice here.

In the spring of 1858, during a season of religious interest in the Pearl street Baptist church at Albany, he was hopefully converted, and united with that church by baptism, under the ministry of Rev. Dr. Hague, which connection was maintained until his death. As evidence of the fidelity and firmness with which he held fast his religious convictions, it may be stated that during the continuance of the "boys' prayer meeting," for two years, he was never absent except when away from the city.

The spring of 1861 brought the fall of Fort Sumter and the spontaneous uprising of the North. While the Government was marshaling its hosts preparatory to putting down the rebellion, the boys caught the military spirit and organized themselves into companies and regiments, for drill in the tactics of war. Eight or ten companies of "Boys' Zouaves" were organized, uniformed and equipped in Albany, one of which was drilled and commanded by Justin. Subsequently, desiring to be organized as a regiment for parade on various occasions, the officers met to elect their field officers, when Justin was unanimously chosen Colonel. The fourth of July was the occasion of their first appearance, when, numbering about five hundred, they presented such soldierly appearance, and evidence of such excellent discipline, as made them one of the most interesting features of the procession and celebration.

Here, then, was first developed that military ardor and self-sacrificing patriotism which seemed at times to fill his mind, to the exclusion of every other consideration. During the first three years of the war he was almost unremitting in endeavors to obtain his parents' consent that he might go. He was sure he could be useful in many capacities—a "drummer boy," a clerk in some department, or even an officer's servant. His requests being refused again and again, at each successive call of the Government for men, they became more importunate. Though persistently refused and discouraged, and warned that actual war and the battling of armies was no holiday parade, though the scarred and maimed veterans returning from the camp and hospital and bloody field, told their thrilling stories of privation, suffering and death—yet did he not forbear his entreaties to be allowed to go.

The call for volunteers in the winter of '64 seemed, in all human probability, to be the last. Justin felt that then was presented the only opportunity for him to serve his country. His anxiety became more intense, his arguments and entreaties more vehement.

He urged that he was above the necessary standard in stature and strength, and consequently able to endure the fatigues and duties of the camp and field; that, as his country needed more men, in this her final struggle to subdue the rebellion, and as his religious principles were now so firmly fixed as to enable him, by Divine assistance, to withstand the temptations of a military life, he was bound by every consideration of patriotism and Christian fidelity, to give his services to this noble cause—the more especially as he could set a proper religious example in the midst of vice and temptation, inviting those, who through weakness had fallen, to a higher life, by kindly words and Christian deeds. He had made it the subject of prayer for weeks and months. Many sleepless nights were occasioned by anxiety to know his duty, and he felt confident that God would protect him from all harm. If he could not go at this call, no further opportunity would be oftered to make his record among the defenders of the government and the old flag that he had taken no part in this gigantic contest for the existence of the government, would be a life-long stigma upon his name. With these and similar arguments his suit was pressed, day after day and week after week, until a reluctant consent was finally wrung from his parents. With marked expressions of gratitude, he testified his joy for the permission to enroll himself as a soldier of the Union. He repeatedly said: "You shall never have cause to regret my going to the war. I feel that God will give me strength to resist the temptations of the camp. Ma, you shall be proud of your sou."

He enlisted in the Forty-fourth Regiment New York Volunteers, Company E, commanded by Capt. Husted, April 1, 1864. Major Allen, commanding the recruiting detachment of the Forty-fourth in Albany, finding his services necessary in the office, retained him in it, till those upon this service were ordered to report to their regiment. On May 12 he left the city, in company with the detachment. Though sad at parting with parents and friends, a consciousness that he had voluntarily assumed the manly and patriotic position to fight for his country and the loved ones at home, animated his countenance with an expression of hope and joy. Not elated with the novelty of his new position, or the spirit of adventure, there was a serious thoughtfulness pervading his mind. Within the hour previous to his departure, he read aloud the fifth chapter of Romans. Then at his request all joined in singing "Home, sweet home," and his beautiful voice, always sweet, seemed unusually thrilling and sympathetic; after which he buckled on his haversack, and bade the family adieu. Tears were in a measure stifled by that strong hope and confidence he realized so fully. Though he was going where danger was, yet duty appeared to be there also. None could feel that this was his last home interview; that the voice so touching in its melody would so soon be hushed; that the spirit so joyous with hope and trust, would so soon wing its way to the heaven of the blessed.

Previous to Justin's enlistment, the officers in command of the regiment consented that he should have some position which would not subject him to the fatigues of long marches, and the severer hardships of the common soldier. It seemed to be quite too certain that he could not endure the extreme fatigue and exposure incident to the soldier's duty in the rank; and with his ability and ready adaptation—being already familiar with the manual of tactics and ordinary military affairs—he could be vastly more useful in some other capacity. In accordance with this understanding, he was detached from the regiment shortly after joining it, and assigned to duty as special Orderly to Brig. Gen. J. J. Bartlett, which position he held till August 17, when he was sent to City Point Hospital.

On May 16, Justin joined the array near Spottsylvania, and reported for duty to Capt. Husted. Feeling himself perfectly able to take the chances of war with the men, he did not choose to inform the Captain, that the design was for him to perform a lighter service than that of the common soldier. He was equipped accordingly and placed in the ranks. During the two weeks he was with the regiment, his corps performed one of the severest forced marches of the campaign. He was one of the few in the regiment that did not "fall out," but resolutely kept his position to the end of the march. In writing home, he expressed some pride in calling the attention of his friends, who doubted his ability to perform the severer duties of the soldier, to the facts connected with this march, as conclusive evidence of his powder of endurance to make a full soldier.

The coolness manifested in the hour of peril was, in a great degree, owing to his confidence in the preserving care of the infinite Father. There was no faltering here. Every letter speaks this great confidence. He closes a letter, June 8, thus:

"Whenever you hear of the Fifth Corps (Warren's) being in any fight, you may safely conclude I am not far off. But God will guard, and God will guide me. I hope you never forget the soldier boy down in Virginia, who needs your prayers, and God who needs our thanks."

His piety did not forsake him. Amid the temptations and vices of the camp, he swerved not in his loyalty to Christ and His truth. Though pressed on every side to deviate from the line of religious duty, he stood firm by the faith he professed—an example of purity in life, and a Christian in faith and love. His spotless life bore strange contrast with many seen in camp. His undeviating adherence to his resolutions made before enlisting, his gentlemanly demeanor and kind-heartedness, were the outgrowth of a heart renewed by grace. These qualities, blended with his invincible courage and faithfulness in the performance of duty, made him the admiration of the officers and men with whom he became acquainted. A Sergeant at head-quarters remarked:

"We were not long in finding out that Justin was a Christian. His prompt but polite refusal to be led into any questionable practices, his kind reproofs, and his detestation of profane swearing, were unmistakable evidence of a Christian heart."

The clerk at head-quarters writes:

"He was good, kind and gentle, and had a kind word for all. I never heard him utter an improper word, he abhorred an oath, and would always look with sorrow upon those who swore. The army is the hardest place for one to lead an exemplary life; but he maintained his good character at all times, and was an example for us all. Such were his actions while with us—such were his manly virtues, gentlemanly habits and kind words always, that he gained the esteem of every one."

Gen. Bartlett says:

"I learned, greatly to my surprise, that his gentle bearing emanated from a pure Christian spirit; and I felt that the child should be my instructor."

Knowing intemperance to be the prevailing vice of the soldier, he resolved to adhere strictly to "total abstinence." No inducements were sufficient to make him swerve from his original purpose. Whiskey rations and cordials were refused, till the peremptory orders of the surgeon made necessary a modification of his practice.

Thus he passed through the ordeals of temptation in camp unsullied—no stain upon the bright armor of his character—an example to all of devotion to principle, of a pure filial affection, and a reverence for God and His truth. These characteristics, combined with his promptness and accuracy in the discharge of his duties, courage in time of peril, and gentlemanly deportment, won upon all the officers who knew him.

His graceful address and genial humor were the admiration of his friends—his happy and merry disposition was the delight of the household; but the respect and love for his parents, and the admiration and tender affection for his little sister, fitted him particularly for the enjoyment of home, and are the characteristics around which memory loves to linger most fondly.

August 12, Justin writes: "My hand is so unsteady, that my friend Dickson will tell you, at my prompting, that I have had my usual 'bilious attack;' but the doctor says I will be all right day after to-morrow. I have not been in the hospital, neither shall I go."

From other sources of information, it appears that his health had been quite poor for weeks, though this was the first allusion he makes in regard to ill health. Disease had for some time been taking firm hold upon him, while he resolutely determined not to yield to its influence, nor alarm his friends at home. During the campaign, the climate, fatigues and exposures incident to it, were insidiously undermining his health, but his strong will would not permit him to ask relief, or complain while it was possible for him to perform his duties. He felt a contempt for slight difficulties or slight ailments, and none should ever say he left his post of duty for small cause. If he asked for relief, it should be from necessity.

Lieutenant Bartlett, of General Bartlett's staff, says: "In front of Petersburg Justin was taken sick, but would not for some time allow himself to be taken to the hospital. At length he consented to go to the division hospital, and, as he started, I bade him good bye, little thinking that it was forever. I went home then with the General, who was himself sick, and, upon my return, learned that he had been taken from the 'ranks' and promoted to a place with the angels."

He was removed from the division hospital to City Point, August 17. For three or four days—still unwilling to be considered sick—"being only weak, and having only a little fever and a little diarrhoea," as he expressed it in his last letter, he did not desire to claim attention from the surgeons and nurses of the hospital. Sergeant Moslander, convalescent in the hospital, and previously acquainted with him, voluntarily came to his assistance, watched with him, and took the principal care of him. He insisted to the ward-master and the surgeon, that Justin was very sick and needed much better care. After the first few days, he was delirious most of the time. In his delirium, his thoughts were constantly about his parents and home, or his duties on the field, or in camp.

Justin had been always very prompt and regular in correspondence with his parents; scarcely a week had elapsed since he left, without their receiving at least one letter from him. He had so carefully guarded his expressions in reference to his health, that there appeared to be not the slightest reason to be alarmed. Receiving no communication from him for a week or more, his father, then in New York, felt a little uneasiness in conscqnence of this silence, and determined to go to City Point. He arrived there on September 3, and learned Justin had been transferred to some northern hospital, having left City Point, "not very well," August 23. Returning immediately he examined the hospital records at Fortress Monroe, Baltimore and Philadelphia. At the medical director's office, in Philadelphia, his name was found, and that he had been assigned to Whitehall Hospital, near Bristol, Pennsylvania. At the central office of this hospital a name resembling his, with company and regiment correct, was recorded. His father passed through the wards, making inquiries, and expecting at every step to greet his only son. The last ward was reached; then for the first time he began to feel there was real cause for alarm. A most careful search of all the records at the hospital was made, without getting any further information, save on the death register there was one recorded "Unknown, died August 26, 1864." Obtaining all the information possible, in regard to this "unknown," the father learned that he came to the hospital early on the morning of August 26, in extreme prostration; could articulate his name, only with great difficulty, at the central office; could not speak after arriving at the ward, and expired in about half an hour. He appeared to be conscious, and in no pain. The physician administered stimulants, but it was too late to revive him. The "unknown" had left no eftects. He was buried as he came, the same day, in the Bristol burying ground.

In spite of the awful conviction thus forced npon him, that the "unknown" must be his son, the father could but hope to the contrary. Fearing and yet eager to know the truth, the remains were, at his request, disinterred, and there, marked plainly upon his clothing, were the initials of Justin's name, bearing too certain witness to his identity.

With grateful emotions the father saw upon the unmarked grave evergreens and flowers, placed there by some philanthropic hand. More especially was he grateful for this, because the evidence seemed to be conclusive, that the brave boy had been hastened to his death by neglect. But there was at least one heart which could feel for the "unknown" soldier, and perform an act of love to a humble defender of the nation's honor. That expression of love and regard was given by the soldiers' friend, Kate Paxson, of Bristol, Pennsylvania.

Subsequently it was learned that when placed on board the transport "City of Albany," at City Point, Justin from his disease—-typhoid fever—was quite delirious, though able, with the assistance of Sergeant Moslander, to walk to the boat. The surgeons and nurses of the hospital accompanied their patients to Fortress Monroe, at which point they were transferred to the transport "Atlantic," and to the care of other attendants. After a passage of three days, they arrived at the White-Hall Hospital, a few miles from Philadelphia. Until the time of leaving Fortress Monroe, all the patients received proper attention. During the remainder of the passage, however, very little care seems to have been bestowed on them. Not only was Justin neglected, but was robbed of his money, watch and revolver before arriving at Philadelphia, and after leaving that point what else remained to him was taken, including his diary and portfolio. Very reluctantly is this reference made to the treatment of the delirious and dying boy, but sympathy with his sufferings is too tender, and sorrow for the loss of the truthful record he had kept, and to which he very often had made reference, is too keen to be repressed in this memorial.

A few days after the identification of the remains, they were transferred to Albany Rural Cemetery. There they are at rest; waiting the final resurrection, when, transformed into a spiritual body, pure, glorious and deathless, and united in immortal union to the noble and sanctified spirit, they shall ascend to those fields of everlasting green, and those bright mansions in heaven, which the Saviour of men has gone to prepare.

The dear one, departed, died in a holy cause. The interests at stake were not mere earthly interests; the principles in controversy were not mere mortal principles; but the very pillars of God's kingdom in the earth. It was convictions like this that impelled Justin to the fight. He was the soldier both of duty and of liberty. His patriotism was nourished by his religious faith. He saw that God had built the altar and asked for the sacrifice, and he cheerfully gave his all.

These considerations, together with the hearty sympathy of a multitude of friends, pour the balm of consolation into the crushed and wounded hearts of the bereaved. Though to the mother there may be none like her first born, noble boy, yet the honorable record of his young manhood, the pure, christian heart he carried into life, and the certainty of his glorious immortality, clothe his memory with an effulgence which even into her saddened heart, sheds its blessed light.

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