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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

They Wore Straw Hats, The 16th New York

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

By Gordon Thorsby

Colonel Howland (of Bartlett’s Brigade) led his regiments forward moving through Battery D, 5th U.S. Light Artillery as the battery was reloading. The 5th U.S. waited until the infantrymen were clear of the muzzles. The 16th New York charged on to attempt to retake the lost section of guns of Edward’s Battery. Men of the 16th New York stood out on this day because they were wearing straw hats and upon confronting the North Carolinians, knocked them back.

Major Toon of the 20th North Carolina reported, “…I looked and saw our whole line had fallen back, and the smoke haven risen in my front and right, saw the enemy charge in a run towards the battery. They commanded me to halt, and as I could not fly, I ran back and joined our lines at the charging point, at which position the regiment continued to fire. I remember seeing a great many straw hats on the field…”

Straw Hats? Yes, they were wearing straw hats on this day. Mrs. Howland sent the men of regiment each a straw hat to keep them cool.

The 16th New York went into battle that 27th of June at Gaines Mill with 485 effectives. They came out with 201 fewer men.

Is the O’Sullivan photograph showing men from the 16th New York? It is more likely that at least most of the men pictured are probably doctors or stewards.

Source: Woodard III, Elmer R., A Bloody Day at Gaines Mill, McFarland and Company, 2019.

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