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Holding the Line: The 137th New York Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg

On July 1, 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Robert E. Lee, and the Army of the Potomac, led by George G. Meade, collided outside the sleepy Pennsylvanian town of Gettysburg. For three days, over 175,000 men fought across the rocky hills, fields, and orchards that surrounded the town. Over 50,000 would be killed, wounded, or go missing. It was bloodiest battle of the American Civil War, and one local regiment, the 137th NY, played a vital role in securing the pivotal Northern victory.David Cleutz, author of the books  Fields of Fame & Glory: Col. David Ireland & 137th New York Volunteers and  War & Redemption, joined WSKG History for a discussion about 137th NY at Gettysburg and their commander Colonel David Ireland. Below you'll find a timeline with audio clips that chronicles the actions of the 137th during the battle and their heroic defense of Culp's Hill. At the bottom of the page, you will also find excepts from our interview with David Cleutz detailing the men of the 137th, their commander Col. David Ireland, and the historical marker that was recently dedicated in their honor.


(The audio clips and partial transcripts below have been edited for time and clarity.)


The Men of the 137th NY Volunteers

I enjoy driving around the area of the 137th. All the way from the town of Stanford by Deposit... up Route 79 through Whitney Point... over to Richford... up through the town of Caroline… and on over to Newfield.

They knew how to get around. They knew how to shoot. I mean they were farm boys and woodsmen… some of them were shopkeepers. One ran a bar in Binghamton…one was the pastor of a church in Candor…. some of them were boat builders from up in the Ithaca area, some of them were canal men….They were ordinary men with a variety of trades, but one thing that they certainly all had was a devotion to duty, honor, and country….Ordinary citizens, but with a outstanding commander, that became an extraordinary regiment in the 137th New York.


Col. David Ireland

When David was eight years old he, with his family, came over to New York City from Scotland and they settled in lower Manhattan. His father was a tailor and David initially was apprentice to his father….

They formed a militia regiment there, of Scottish expatriates, and he became an officer in that militia and so that became the 79th New York, and they called themselves the Cameron Highlanders because they were all Scots....There was a Confederate attack going on... not far from Washington, out near where the site of Dulles Airport is today…. Captain Ireland led his men out and defeated the Confederates and [General] McClellan was so happy that he said, “David Ireland you're a volunteer officer but you're so good I’m going to give you a regular army commission as a captain”, which was just unheard of but that was a measure of Ireland's leadership skills.[General] Sherman then said, “You know what why don't you come out and help me train regiments”.... Ireland went there and trained these new Western regiments. Well, he was a very strict man… and these Western boys weren't used to that stuff….But [then] Gen. Sherman said, “Why don't you go back east and recruit for me”, and I suspect that's because the Western soldiers did not react well to Colonel Ireland's stricter methods. So that's why he was back here recruiting at the time the 137th was raised.... 

A  Love Story

When [Col. Ireland] was [in Binghamton] recruiting, he met the niece of Sherman Phelps, who was the big banker in the area. Sara had come over from Waverly to live there in Binghamton. She came and stayed and helped Sherman with his children... and there she met Col. Ireland….After Gettysburg, [Col. Ireland] asked to come back and recruit more men for his regiment because his numbers had really gotten low…. Well as the newspaper said he recruited his “aide-de-camp.” He married Sara Phelps in Sherman Phelps mansion… and they had little or no time together [because] he had to go back to his regiment….

After all those battles at Chattanooga the regiment was sent to Stephenson, Alabama, to winter camp. There Col. Ireland was able to send for Sara…. So Sara came and was with him for three months and that was their life together….At the beginning of May, she had to go back to Binghamton and he set off with [General] Sherman on the Georgia campaign that led to the capture of Atlanta, and of course a few days after that his death.So that was their time together. 

Remembering the 137th NY and Col. Ireland

It’s instructive that New York State, back in the 1890s, put up a monument to the 137th on Culp's Hill, they put up a monument to them at Wauhatchie…they put up a monument to them because Col. Ireland lead his troops up Lookout Mountain….But no monument, nothing, no recognition in their hometown, other than Col. Ireland’s own sarcophagus up at Spring Forest Cemetery?

I gave a talk last St. Patrick's Day Parade morning to a group of movers and shakers, one of whom happened to be Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, who is a history buff herself. So when she heard my complaining, as it were, that they’re honored everywhere else but in their hometown, she took it upon herself to see if she couldn't come up with a way to get this historic marker.Her communications director, Chris Whalen… got together with Tom Haines of Atomic Tom’s and... Tom said, “Well, why don't I do a fundraiser at Atomic Tom’s?".... And we were able to raise enough money to get the marker.

It's appropriate that this has been done with public subscription, as it were, because back when the 137th left Camp Susquehanna to go off to war, Col. Ireland didn't have a horse. So the citizens of Binghamton got together and, as the Binghamton Republican newspaper said at the time, “Funds were raised in a day's time”, and they went down to Conklin and bought a magnificent horse and presented it to Col. Ireland the day before the regiment went off to war….I thought how appropriate, this many years later, the citizens of Binghamton again came up with the money to honor Col. Ireland with this historic marker.  Main Image Credit: Library of Congress

Listen to David Cleutz's interview with WSKG's Sarah Gager.

 Shane Johnson is a producer for WSKG’s History & Heritage team. Before arriving at WSKG, Shane earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema and History, Master’s Degree in History, as well as his Master’s of Arts in Teaching in Social Studies Adolescence Education from Binghamton University. He has a personal interest in 19th Century American history, especially the Civil War, and as a young lad, he dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer.