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Olney P. Newell

Researcher: Kate Fox


          On May 4, 1842, Olney Pierce Newell was born.  His parents, Hiram and Clarissa Newell, were farmers in Franklin, Massachusetts. He helped his parents work their land until he signed up for the Cavalry. On September 22, 1861, Olney Pierce Newell was assigned to the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry and put into Company B, which was one of twelve companies. He was then forwarded to Camp Brigham in Reedville, Massachusetts for training. Olney’s 1st Massachusetts was one of the first of the 272 volunteer cavalry regiments to be accepted for federal service.

          The men and officers trained throughout the fall of 1861. They learned to be disciplined and had to do drills perfectly. They had to learn how to ride and care for horses. Olney’s Mass Cavalry was lucky enough to be riding horses that were brought in from Canada. These horses were known as “canucks” and were great for cavalry service.

          Olney Pierce Newell served under Colonel Robert Williams of Virginia.  He was in charge to command the regiment. It was organized into three battalions that were led by Majors Greely S. Curtis, John H Edson, and William F. White. He left to serve in the Civil War on December 25 under Major Curtis’ command and they went to Annapolis, Maryland, where they camped for two months. In February, he moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  In May, he took part in the James Island Demonstration against Charleston, South Carolina. About August 19, he was ordered to Fort Monroe and then to Alexandria, Virginia.

          On September 2, 1862, the men and horses were in very poor condition, the men were not properly clothed and many of the horses were tired and cold because of winter and the fatigue from constant duty. Olney was sent to Maryland (or Sharpsburg, as the South called it).  On September 17, 1862, he participated in the Battle of Antietam.  This was the first major Civil War engagement on Northern land. It was also the bloodiest single day battle in American history. The loss of soldiers at Antietam was a surprise to both sides battling that day. General Robert E. Lee almost lost his entire army because they turned their backs to the Potomac River and therefore they were trapped. They were almost captured by the stronger Union forces.

          The Battle of Antietam also became a turning point that changed the entire course of the Civil War. Antietam stopped Lee's bold invasion of the North and provided Lincoln with the victory he needed to announce the abolition of slavery in the South during his famous Emancipation Proclamation. And with that proclamation of Emancipation. The battle sealed the fate of the Confederacy.

          On October 1, 1862, Olney went to Maryland to recuperate.  Colonel Williams resigned and left the regiment on November 2. Lieutenant Colonel Sargent then became colonel.  His regiment remained in Maryland until November 14.  Olney joined the Federal Army of the Potomac, 115,000-strong, and raced to Fredericksburg, arriving on November 17. They were delayed until December 11. By December 13, they were prepared to launch an attack to drive Lee's forces out of Fredericksburg. Misunderstandings and bad leadership led to many deaths at the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 15, they ordered the beaten army back across the Rappahannock River. The Union lost 13,000 soldiers and morale was low. The morale of the Confederacy reached a peak. Their casualties were much less because they only lost 5,000 men. Lee's victory at Fredericksburg increased the confidence of the Confederate Army, which lead to the invasion of the North during the summer.

            Even before the Battle of Gettysburg started, Sargent was wounded at the Battle of Aldie, Virginia. This may have negatively affected Olney and his regiment’s morale. However, the 1st Mass Cavalry joined other Union troops on the second day of the third day Battle of Gettysburg. On the 2nd day, July 2nd, 1863, Lee ordered an attack against both Union flanks, one of which must have included Olney, whose regiment had just joined the Union effort. The Confederate troops’ lack of communication would lead to their failure, so this may have helped Olney to feel as if his efforts were paying off.

            On the third day, July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg came to its climax. The Confederate troops failed to break the Union’s line, so the battle was over and the Union was saved. This meant victory for the soldiers like Olney. By the time this famous battle was over more men had fought and died in it the in any other battle ever fought in America. The violence Olney experienced as a soldier during the Civil War probably took its toll on him. Nevertheless, he returned home to his wife as a farmer. On January 4, 1865, Olney Pierce Newell married Elisabeth Lawrence. They lived in Franklin, Massachusetts until he died in June of 1903.

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