Van Cowan, Peter

139th New York Volunteers
Company K
Middle Island

Peter Van Kowan
Private, 139th New York Infantry, Company K
Middle Island

Peter Van Kowan was born in Germany. He immigrated to America and found work as a farmer. He was working on the farm on Judge William Bartlett in Middle Island when the Civil War broke out.

Van Kowan enlisted as a private with Company K of the 139th New York Infantry on August 14, 1862. Older than most recruits, he was thirty-nine years old at the time, stood five feet ten and a half inches tall, and had blue eyes and brown hair. He trained at Fort Greene in Brooklyn until the regiment left for Washington, D.C., in September. The regiment then moved to Fortress Monroe in Virginia.

In June of 1863, while engaging in raids against the Confederates, Van Kowan was captured along the Chickahominy River near White House, Virginia. After five months, Van Kowan was lucky enough to benefit from a prisoner exchange. He was returned to his regiment on October 16, 1863. Fellow Middle Islander, Edward Bayles, also a soldier in the 139th, wrote home to his grandfather about Van Kowan's return:

Old Peter (Bartlett's Dutchman) has got back to the regiment again. You know he was captured by the Rebs while our regiment was on a raid and was taken to Richmond where he was kept prisoner 5 months. And was then exchanged when he regained his regiment. I supposed he was killed, but was agreeably surprised at seeing him on picket the other morning.

A few months later, on December 18, 1863, Van Kowan wrote a letter Camp West near Fort Magruder. He requested a furlough to go home and attend to "business that requires my immediate attention." The nature of that business is not known, but Van Kowan was granted a ten-day furlough and he returned at the end of December.

The regiment stayed at Camp West during January and February. They were moved to Northwest Landing, Virginia, in March. Van Kowan was a frequent visitor to the tent of Edward and Albert Bayles, who were in Company A. In a letter written home on March 28, 1864, Edward wrote, "Old Peter has just come in and sends his respect to grandfather. He comes in to see us very often."

The 139th engaged in the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864. This action resulted in 153 casualties for the regiment. Van Kowan survived, but two of those killed were his Middle Island friends, Edward and Albert Bayles. There was little time to mourn, however, for the 139th was active when Union forces took the outer line of entrenchments guarding Petersburg on June 15.

Van Kowan spent July and August in the hospital at Bermuda Hundred with an undisclosed illness. He returned to the regiment in September, in time to leave with his regiment when they moved out from Bermuda Hundred. The regiment marched throughout the night and engaged the enemy at daylight. They captured Fort Harrison with an assault at eight in the morning. They crushed Confederate forces that tried to retake the position a day later.

The 139th later engaged at Fair Oaks, Virginia, but the Confederates repulsed their attack. The regiment spent the remaining days of the war stationed near Fort Burnham, where they participated in the siege of Petersburg. Van Kowan was present at the fall of Petersburg on April 2, 1865.

Peter Van Kowan was discharged on June 19, 1865, and returned home to New York.

Van Cowan, Peter

Union pickets skirmishing with Confederate pickets along the Chickahominy. (Harper's Weekly)


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