This letter centers on a single, significant problem faced by Col. John Fred Pierson of the 1st New York Infantry: “how to outfit his unit with the best arms available. The regiment had originally been issued the old smooth-bore, “old pattern” muskets that had been the military mainstay for more than a generation, but they longed for the better and more accurate rifled weapons, such as the Springfield rifles. Beginning as early as July 1861, Pierson spent months writing letters to the New York State Adjutant General to secure the newer arms for his men, and every time he thought he had received promises, or even approval, it seemed only to result in further delays. Even though his requisition had been approved by the state, Pierson was informed that the Springfields were being sent mostly to the West, since western regiments have been heretofore neglected or overlooked in the distribution of these arms.
While at the end of August 1861, officials ordered that the 1st Infantry be outfitted with 560 Remington Rifles with Angular Bayonets now at Fortress Monroe, Pierson still found himself seven months later with nothing to show. With the spring campaigns looming, he set out on a concerted letter writing campaign, drafting his well-connected father into badgering anyone he could, up to and including the Secretary of War, William Henry Seward, Mar. 21, 1862: My youngest son who is Lt. Col. of the First Regt. USV, the first in the field from this state, having been at Newport News since April last has devoted his time, and means, to the perfection of the Regt., which now only need improved arms to make them so, they have now an old and imperfect arm made more than twenty years since… I visited Washington in February last with him, mainly to assist in getting the arms in which he is so much interested, he then received assurance from Genl. McLellan through one of his staff Colonel A.V. Colburn AAG that he should have the Springfield Rifles… but a recent letter from Col. Kingsbury informs him that the arm sent, were the Antrim Rifles, instead of the Springfield…. and prefers not to take them, as the Regt have long been promised the Springfield Musket, and prefer to take their chances with their olds ones, than change them for Foreign arm they conceive as no better…
The Seward letter may have done the trick. On Mar. 29, Brig. Gen. James H. Ripley wrote to Pierson to say a large number of Springfield Rifle Muskets… together with other stores, have been ordered to be sent to the Fort Monroe Arsenal for the use of the Army of the Potomac…
Fred Pierson was one of the first New Yorkers to answer the call to serve the Union after the emergency at Fort Sumter flared into gunfire. Resigning from the 7th NY National Guard in early April, he signed up in New York city to accept a commission as 1st Lieutenant in what would become the 1st New York Infantry, the first regiment in the state to enlist for two years’ service.
Leaving the state for Fortress Monroe on May 26, the 1st New York participated in the Battle of Big Bethel on June 10, and after a winter in Newport News, they were called into action during the Peninsular Campaign, sustaining heavy casualties during the Seven Days Battles, and they took part at Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville during the last year of their enlistment. During this time, Pierson rose steadily through the ranks, earning rapid promotion first to Captain (May 1861), and then to Major (July 1861), Lieutenant Colonel (Nov. 1861), and finally Colonel (Oct. 1862). He was twice wounded — at Glendale (Frazier’s Farm) where his horse was shot from under him, and at Chancellorsville, where he was shot through the chest — and he was taken prisoner at Bristol Station and confined in Libby Prison until being exchanged. The highlight of his service came in March 1865, when he was rewarded with a brevet to Brigadier General for meritorious service. He was later made an honorary colonel in the 7th NYNG, but spent the postwar years overseeing the family business at the Ramapo Iron Works.” [Source: Cowan’s Auctions]
Headquarters Recruiting 1st New York Volunteers
24 Broadway, N. Y.
February 16th 1862
Capt. [J.] Kirkland, A.D.C.
I can no longer refrain from writing you though I do not expect anything has yet been done for me. I have just received a letter from Newport News from my Colonel [Colburn] in which he says there are 1,000 altered muskets at Fortress Monroe of which he has got 100 and finds them so good a weapon that he would like to secure the whole. Another regiment — the Second N.Y. — has, however, made a requisition for them also and Gen’l. Wool now objects giving them to either regiment. If you see no immediate prospect of my procuring the Springfield Rifle, won;t you see if it is practicable to secure an order on the Chief of Ordnance at Fortress Monroe to deliver to my regiment the one thousand altered muskets under his control, and of which we have now 100. There is a large supply of the Springfield Rifle here, and the reason given at Washington for not filling my requisition — viz; that none were on hand — I cannot understand the truth of. An order here or the Ordnance Officer at Springfield would meet with prompt attention.
Please try and get for me the order for the altered muskets at Fortress Monroe and I will be content. Hoping I may one day of some service to you and trusting to get a reply to this as soon as you can conveniently write, I beg to remain,
Ever yours sincerely, — J. Fred Pierson
Written on reverse:
Col. Kingsbury has been directed to send Springfield Rifles to that regiment. — A. V. Colburn, A.A.G.
Dr. Pierson, I suppose the above is the most satisfactory answer I could give. Yours truly, — J. Kirkland