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W.H. Humphrey

W.H. Humphrey

Federal (USV)


William Harrison Humphrey

(1835 - 1922)

Home State: Vermont

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 2nd United States Sharpshooters

Before Antietam

Age 25, from Underhill, VT, he enlisted as a Private in Company E, 2nd US Sharpshooters on 30 October 1861. To qualify as a sharpshooter he had to

take an open sight rifle and shoot one hundred yards and put ten successive bullets into a five inch ring.
His Company rendezvoused at West Randolph and left for Washington, DC on 21 November.

On the Campaign

He was with his Company in action at Antietam and later wrote of it as

... one of the most stubborn fought battles of the late war ... We had an idea up to that point where we were going to whip Lee's whole army ... but [at Antietam] we had our ardor cooled off a bit.

[Very early on 17 September] while crossing the [Miller's] field shot and shell drop about us in a careless manner, we think. Some of the boys speak how careless they are while others thought they meant to be ... I have often thought if it had not been for now and then a good joke cracked just in the nick of time it would have been hard to have kept the boys in line had someone put on a long face and moaned about the horrors ...

I heard the word 'down' and lay down. As I done so a mini bullet wounded the man in rear of me passing through [his] right breast and arm ... I should have received the wound instead of Luke M. Lewis.

We advance into the cornfield that history speaks of and now we hear the command to lay down - we gladly do so. It is now daylight and we can see what is in front of us ... one of the boys speaks of there being so many fences while another says it is not all fences you see out there. There are [Confederate] troops there, see there is two lines of battle, see their guns as they glisten in the morning sunlight ... and another line ... it is Lee's Army in all its pride and glory ... they think to march on to an easy victory. Now see that which looked so much like fences moves toward us.

... where you could see the enemy advancing ... your finger would press the trigger of your gun as some good mark appeared before you, how anxious you are to have the ball open ... steady boys steady ... from the mouths of many pieces of artillery vomits forth death hell and destruction ... [finally] our Colonel shouts give them hell boys.

We give them a volley but see their color bearer has clambered the fence alone and is advancing across the field. He wavers, he falls, he endeavors to wave his Lone Star flag in our faces but he is dead now. Who shall get the colors? Bill Kerr ... is some little distance in front of me, following close is Cyrus [Silas] Howard ... we are all after the color, but our Adjutant [Parmalee] thinks to do something brave. He jumps up and runs down to where the colors went down. He picks them up, the staff is broken off close to the flag. He drops them, draws his sword, jabs it into the broken staff, raises the colors high above his head and starts for our lines. He goes but a short distance when he falls pierced by 7 bullets ... [Bill Kerr] reaches out, takes the flag [and] brings it safely in.

[Later] ... all my ammunition in my cartridge box is gone - 40 rounds - but in my knapsack is 100 more. I off with the knapsack and out with the cartridges, then put the knapsack up in front of me to help shield me. The enemy come on, we keep up our fire. I feel some one come up beside me. I look up, it is one of the Wisconsin boys. I tell him to lay down ... he pays no attention to what I say. Soon a bullet pierces his brain. He falls a corpse across my hands, arms, and rifle. Dies without a word ... I get covered with blood. Oh the sickening sensation ...

The rest of the War

He was promoted to Sergeant on 3 January 1863, appointed First Sergeant on 13 March 1864, and commissioned First Lieutenant to date from 12 November 1864. He transferred to Company G of the 4th Vermont Infantry on 25 February 1865 and was severely wounded in the right leg at Petersburg, VA on 2 April 1865. His leg was amputated and he was discharged for disability on 3 August 1865.

After the War

By 1880 and to at least 1900 (then listed as a pensioner) he was a farmer in Essex, Chittenden County, VT. By 1920 he was retired and living in Burlington.

References & notes

Service information from Peck1 and Ledoux.2 Personal details from family genealogists and the US Census for 1880-1920. His picture from a photograph at the Vermont Historical Society.Tom Ledoux has also posted a photograph of Humphrey after his amputation. Thanks to Ray Doolittle for the pointer to Humphrey and his post-war speech about the Sharpshooters in Maryland.

He married Mary Susan Sherburne (1837-1871) in May 1860 and they had a daughter Alice. He married again, Evelina Matilda Slater (1828-1909) in March 1873. He married a third time, in April 1911, Electra C. Walker (b. 1849).

More on the Web

He made a pair of speeches in 1888; the first about the Sharpshooters and Antietam to a group in Essex Centre, VT on 9 March, the second to a reunion of the 4th VT Infantry about the service of the 2nd US Sharpshooters through the war. The first is the source of the quotes above. His handwritten versions [first (pt. 1) (pt 2) (pt. 3) and second] are online thanks to the Vermont Historical Society.


12/18/1835; Underhill, VT


11/13/1922; Underhill, VT; burial in Village Cemetery, Essex, VT


1   Peck, Theodore S., Adjutant General, and The Vermont Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers and Lists of Vermonters who Served in the Army and Navy of the United States During the War of the Rebellion 1861-66, Montpelier: Press of the Watchman Publishing Co., 1892, pg. 611  [AotW citation 25036]

2   Ledoux, Tom, Vermont in the Civil War, Published 1996, first accessed 01 January 2004, <>, Source page: /get.php?input=3178  [AotW citation 25037]