(1821 - 1862)
Home State: New York
Education: Wesleyan Seminary (NY)
Command Billet: Brigade Commander
Branch of Service: Infantry
The eldest son of Hubbard Goodrich, William Bingham was born on December 1, 1821, in Jefferson County, New York. William entered Wesleyan Seminary shortly after his father's death in 1835, and following his graduation, he found work as a teacher. Leaving his native New York a short time later, Goodrich settled in Wisconsin where he embarked upon a mercantile business. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in the mid 1840s, Goodrich traveled to St. Louis, enlisted, and was mustered into service as an adjutant for the Missouri battalion of infantry. Following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which brought an end to hostilities with Mexico, Goodrich settled in California, but remained here for only one year before retuning to New York to study law. He passed the bar exam in 1850, and that year established a law practice in Madrid, St. Lawrence County, New York. He married in 1851, and two years later welcomed his first, and only, child into the world, a daughter named Stella.
The Goodrich family moved to Canton, New York, in 1853, and here, William became an active member of the community. He continued the practice of law, but also became involved in the state militia system, and in 1856 he commenced publishing a newspaper, the St. Lawrence Plain Dealer, with his partner Seth Remington (father of the famous artist, Frederick Remington). Goodrich used his newspaper to voice his belief about the evils of slavery and to promote the cause of the newly-formed Republican Party.
Goodrich predicted the coming of civil war, and when it did, indeed, commence in April 1861, he was among the first to offer his services. Because of his standing in the community, as well as his experience in Mexico and in the state militia system, Goodrich was mustered into service as the lieutenant-colonel of the 60th NY Infantry. When the 60th departed for the seat of war, the people of Canton presented Goodrich with a beautiful silk American flag. In accepting this flag, Goodrich made the following address:
"My social position and pecuniary circumstances are such that I could stay home and enjoy the society of my family, who are dearer than life to me. . .I have not taken this step rashly. I have not been influenced by any sudden excitement. I have thoroughly considered the whole matter, and have come to the conclusion that it is a duty I owe my country, to surrender up my life, if need be, in her defense. . . .I shall never disgrace that beautiful flag you have presented me. I shall stand by it and defend it to the last; and if I fall, you may depend upon it, it will be at the post of duty."
Goodrich, and the men of the 60th NY, spent the first six months of their service guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad before being sent to the Shenandoah Valley where they saw some action against Stonewall Jackson's Confederate forces. In May 1862, Goodrich was promoted to the rank of colonel. A few months later, on the eve of the battle of Antietam, he was elevated to brigade command.
On the Campaign
Goodrich's elevation to command of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 12th Corps, came on September 16, 1862. The next day he would lead his new command into action for the first time. But Goodrich was troubled. Shortly after receiving word that he was now the brigade commander, the forty-year-old colonel told a friend that he believed his end was near. He wrote down his wife's address in Canton, and told his friend that he wished his body to be sent home for burial should he be killed.
On the morning of September 17, 1862, Goodrich's men were detached from the 12th Corps and sent toward the Hagerstown Pike to reinforce General Abner Doubleday's First Corps division. Goodrich's men went into action near the Miller Farm and the northern edge of the West Woods. Goodrich, wrote a Union soldier, was "firm, cool, and determined, and encouraged his men to their best." On horseback, Goodrich led his men into the West Woods, but was struck down a short time later. A bullet entered his chest and traveled down into his stomach, severing an artery along the way. He was helped up and exclaimed: "My God! I am hit!," and then fell into a state of unconsciousness.
When Goodrich was hit, LtCol Jonathan Austin (78th NY Infantry) assumed command of the Brigade.
Goodrich was carried to a make-shift hospital in a nearby barn (most likely the Joseph Poffenberger Farm), where he briefly regained consciousness. "I have always tried to do my duty," he said. He noticed his friend was nearby. He smiled, knowing that his final wishes will be carried out, and then passed away.
The rest of the War
Goodrich's body was sent to his home in Canton, New York, for burial. Hundreds attended the funeral, and Goodrich was buried with full military honors behind his home. More than forty years later, Goodrich was reinterred and buried in Brooklyn's famous Green Wood Cemetery.
William B. Goodrich was the only Union brigade commander to be killed or mortally wounded at Antietam.
Goodrich was much more than a soldier. He was a husband and father, and a one-time lawyer from New York. He was also a poet. An excerpt from his poem, Floating Down Life's River, follows:
Floating, floating down Life's river, Gently pass we with the stream, Ever onward, ever restless, Life itself seems like a dream. And the landmarks, as we pass them, One by one, along the shore, Serve to guide us on the journey We shall travel nevermore! But, beyond the dismal valley Where the Stygian waters flow, Where pale Charon guides the wherry, Where no gentle zephyrs blow, Hope still points is to a haven Where the weary soul shall rest, When the toils of life are ended, In the mansions of the blessed.
References & notes
This biographical sketch written by John David Hoptak, originally for the Antietam Volunteer Newsletter, and is used here by his kind suggestion. His sources are from a special collection at St. Lawrence University, New York, also holders of the Goodrich photo above. Mr Hoptak is a Civil War enthusiast, writer, and Ranger at the Antietam National Battlefield Park. He blogs, also, on the subject of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment.
12/01/1821; Jefferson County, NY
09/17/1862; Sharpsburg, MD; burial in Green Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY