Hopkins, Thomas

57th New York Volunteers
Company I

Thomas Hopkins
Private, 57th New York Volunteers, Company I

Thomas Hopkins was born in Coram in 1842. He was a farmer by trade, working for Japeth and Ham Smith in Coram when the Civil War broke out. Along with several other local boys looking to get away from farming and to serve their country, Hopkins traveled to Camp Leslie at Dobbs Ferry. They enlisted with the 57th New York Infantry on August 14, 1861. Hopkins was nineteen years old at the time, and stood five feet five and one-half inches, and his hair and eyes were brown.

Colonel Samuel Zook commanded the 57th. The troops were stationed at New Dorp on Staten Island. The men stayed at Camp Lafayette drilling and preparing for war. The unit then moved to Camp Wilder near Washington, D.C., and continued their training.

On November 28, 1861, the 57th left for Camp California in Virginia, singing the song "Dixie" as they marched. The regiment was attached to the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan. The 57th became part of the Peninsula Campaign, designed to capture Richmond by moving forces along the James and York Rivers. The men engaged in their first combat at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on June 1, 1861, and suffered eighteen casualties. They next fought with Confederate forces at the Seven Days' Battle.

Hopkins, Thomas
Private Joel Ruland, Company I, 57th New York. Ruland was from Moriches and was one of several friends who joined the 57th New York Infantry. Ruland was killed during the attack at Antietam, and cried out, "My God I am dead" as he pitched forward after being shot. Photo from the collection of Nate Carter.

On September 17, the regiment was involved in the furious battle at Antietam. Hopkins' friend from Yaphank, William Homan, was wounded during this battle. With over 23,000 casualties, Antietam has been called the bloodiest day in the Civil War. Although it resulted in a draw, General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat from Maryland. Just after this battle, President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation.

Confederate dead at "Bloody Lane"

Hopkins was promoted to Corporal on October 13, 1862. A few months later, Lincoln replaced General McClellan with General Ambrose Burnside. In mid-November, Burnside began to move his forces toward Fredricksburg. The General decided that the troops should build four pontoon bridges in order to cross the Rappahannock River into Fredricksburg. Before they could advance, however, Confederate sharpshooters took a fearful toll on Union soldiers waiting to cross the river on December 10. Despite these losses, the next day Union forces opened fire on Fredricksburg with 147 artillery pieces. That afternoon, troops crossed the river into the city.

Meanwhile, General Lee's forces were firmly entrenching themselves on Marye's Heights overlooking the city. Many of Burnside's commanders were unhappy with Lee's dominant position on the top of Marye's Heights and asked Burnside not to make the attack. Burnside ignored their recommendations, and at noon on December 13, the Battle of Fredricksburg began.

The 57th left the cover of the city into an open field where it began its march up the slope to meet the Confederates. The Confederates began a murderous fire, with shells landing in the middle of advancing soldiers, throwing bodies into the air. Under this deadly fire, soldiers pulled their caps down over their eyes and pressed on. The 57th made it to within thirty yards of the wall but were forced to retreat.

The battle was a disaster for Union troops. With such high casualties, Union soldiers doubted the ability of their leaders. Burnside resigned, but it took many months to restore the confidence of the troops.

Hopkins was wounded during the attack up the hill. After the battle, he was sent to an army hospital at Washington, D.C., where he remained for five months. He rejoined the regiment in May, in time to participate in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Pontoon bridges, used by Union forces to cross into Fredricksburg.

Picture of the stone wall at the base of Marye's Heights. Confederates postioned behind this wall poured a deadly fire into advancing Union troops.

The battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863. The 57th was marching toward Gettysburg during the first day of the battle. The regiment saw action on July 2 when Confederate forces broke through the left side of the Union line at the Peach Orchard. That afternoon, around four o'clock, General Zook led the 57th N.Y. to meet rebel forces. As Zook led his men into the Wheatfield, however, he was shot from his horse and killed.

Nevertheless, Lee's forces were unable to penetrate the Union line, and the second day of the battle came to a close. On the third day, Lee's men suffered terrible losses as Pickett's charge tried to penetrate the center of the Union line. Lee never recovered from this huge loss at Gettysburg. The Union army was able to begin closing in.

Dead killed on July 2, 1863 in the Wheatfield.

In September, the regiment moved across the Rappahannock to pursue Lee's army. Federal troops pursued Lee as he made his way back to Virginia. On October 13, 1863, Corporal Hopkins and his company began a march pursuing Lee's forces. This lasted twenty-one hours, and included wading across a river called Cedar Run.

After the regiment reached the top of the hill, they halted to rest. They put coffeepots over fires, took off their wet shoes and socks to dry, when a rebel battery opened fire. Union forces ran for cover, knocking over the coffeepots as they scurried. Veterans of this battle fondly recalled this as the "Battle of Coffee Hill." The regiment silenced that rebel battery, and they were given orders to hold the advancing Confederates. The regiment held for a while, but was then forced to retreat. The men began a mad rush for the woods. Many jumped into a ditch just before the forest so they could rest. Those who made it into the forest escaped. Confederates captured Hopkins and fourteen others who were still in the ditch.

Following his capture, Hopkins was sent to Libby Prison in Virginia. In February of 1864, he was transferred to the infamous prison at Andersonville. Little in his life could have prepared Hopkins for what he witnessed and experienced at this prison camp. It was extremely overcrowded, sanitation was poor to non-existent, and there was never enough to eat. Prisoners were dying at a rate of 100 per day. Hopkins succumbed to the malnutrition, and was admitted to the hospital at Andersonville with Sorrbitus (scurvy).

He was returned to his unit on April 21, 1865, while they were at Vicksburg, Mississippi. In early May, he returned to New York, and was discharged on May 30, 1865.

After the war, Hopkins returned to Coram.


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