The Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, was this country’s bloodiest conflict. More Americans served and died during those four years than in any other war this country has participated in. The Civil War had a particularly profound impact on this state, more New Yorkers served in the military during the War than from any other state and many communities never fully recovered from the experience. New Yorkers not only served in great numbers but many of them served with great distinction. The only woman who has won a Congressional Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, was a New Yorker who earned her medal while treating wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Other New Yorkers, like Generals G.K. Warren and Daniel Butterfield, led their units with distinction and steadily rose through the command ranks.
In many ways, the Civil War changed the nation. For five million black Americans living in the South it ushered in a period of radical social change and a century and a half long struggle for the equality the War was supposed to guarantee. In the North, men and women from a variety of different backgrounds adopted a new sense of American identity, one that was shaped by the terrible conflict they had all endured to preserve “the Union.”
For some individuals, like General G.K. Warren, the War would become the high point of their lives. For others, like General Daniel Butterfield, the War was a dramatic point in a life that was filled with other opportunities to serve.
General Daniel Butterfield
Butterfield was born in Utica on October 31, 1831. After graduating from Union College he went into business, working in a variety of fields that included telegraphing, stage-coach line management and steamship trade. When the Civil War broke out, Butterfield immediately enlisted. He was given a non-commissioned officers rank, but by virtue of his college education and limited participation in the New York militia he quickly attained the rank of colonel in the 12th New York Infantry regiment. Butterfield participated in almost every major battle on the Eastern front from the start of the War until Gettysburg. For his bravery in the Seven Days’ Battle, during which he was wounded, Butterfield was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
While his valor on the battlefield was recognized by the soldiers under his command, Butterfield’s longest lasting contribution may have been the bugle calls he wrote. At the time, bugle calls were important signals used to command and move units both on and off the battlefield. Butterfield’s most famous bugle call is the melody, “Taps,” which was originally composed in 1862. It was not long before armies in the North and the South began playing it for “lights out” and to bury their fallen comrades.