James Barton Wiley was born in Ohio between 1836 and 1838. By 1850 he was living with his parents, Jacob and Mary Wiley, in Noble, Ohio. He was the oldest of seven siblings. He was the only son of Jacob and Mary. He would marry Catherine Coffee on February 2, 1854 in Noble County, Indiana. Together they would have three children: Mary Jane (1856), John M. (1859) and William S. (1862). Wiley would often go by his middle name on official records, including his marriage certificate and the 1860 Federal Census record which listed the Wiley residence in Baker, Indiana.(i)
With the outbreak of hostilities, Wiley would enlist as a private in Company H, 59th New York Infantry. His date of enlistment was September 20, 1861 at Bellville, Ohio. In speaking with a couple of his ancestors, this author has been unable to determine why he would enlist in a New York regiment when he lived in Indiana and entered the service in Ohio. The only logical conclusion is that Ohio had filled her volunteer requirements and the state had not authorized the formation of additional regiments by his enlistment date.
The 59th New York was officially mustered into Federal service in November 1861 and would leave New York City on November 23. Proceeding to Washington City they would serve in US Brigadier General James Wadsworth’s command, defending Washington, through May 1862. In July 1862 the 59th New York would join the Army of the Potomac and be assigned to the Third Brigade (Brigadier General Napoleon J.T. Dana), Second Division (US Major General John Sedgwick) of US Major General Edwin Sumner’s II Corps. Commanding the 59th New York was Colonel William L. Tidball. Leaving Washington City, they would join their new command at Harrison’s Landing on the James River Peninsula. By this time The Seven Days was over and the Army of the Potomac, commanded by US Major General George B. McClellan was preparing to leave Harrison’s Landing to return to Alexandria, Virginia. Private James Wiley would see no action while at Harrison’s Landing.(ii)
By August 28, 1862, the II Corps was located at Fairfax Court House, Virginia, and would be involved in covering US Major General John Pope’s retreating Army of Virginia from their rout at Second Manassas. After the defeat of Pope’s army, CSA General Robert E. Lee determined to invade the North in an effort to recruit troops and provide relief for wary Virginians who had suffered through nearly all of the fighting in the Eastern Theater. Pushing into Maryland during the first days of September, Lee would begin an effort to recruit Marylanders who were loyal to the Confederacy – an effort that turned out to be in vain.
Meanwhile, in Washington City, McClellan began to organize the remnants of Pope’s Army of Virginia using some of them to fill the ranks of his Army of the Potomac. A master of organization, McClellan quickly had his army back in shape. With intelligence mounting, that Lee had pushed into Maryland, McClellan quickly began planning his movements. On September 6, the Army of the Potomac left Washington, in several columns, to find Lee’s army. The first action of the Maryland Campaign would occur at South Mountain on September 14, when US Major General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps would engage portions of CSA Major Generals James Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s army wings. The fighting at South Mountain would take place at Fox’s Gap, Crampton’s Gap and Turner’s Gap and would be intense. Hooker was severely pressed while trying to push through the gaps. The II Corps, including the 59th New York, would be sent to reinforce Hooker, but would arrive to find the I Corps alone at South Mountain – Lee having pulled his forces back.
On September 16, Sumner’s II Corps would be on the east side of Antietam Creek, facing the majority of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (CSA Major General A.P. Hill’s Light Division was at Harpers Ferry) deployed around Sharpsburg, Maryland – just west of Antietam Creek. On the morning of September 17, Hooker’s I Corps, having crossed Antietam Creek north of the Confederates, pushed south towards the left flank of Lee’s forces. Pushing through the “Corn Field” they would be heavily engaged against Jackson’s Left Army Wing. With the fighting going back-and-forth, across the Corn Field, the I Corps would suffer terrible casualties. At 7:20 a.m., McClellan would order the II Corps to reinforce Hooker’s I Corps, and US Major General Joseph Mansfield’s XII Corps which had become engaged east of the Corn Field, near the North Woods. The plan was for Sumner’s II Corps to push towards the Dunker Church, slamming into the left of Jackson’s Confederate lines. Two of the II Corps divisions were to attack in force. Unfortunately, US Major General William H. French’s division would veer to the left instead of staying on Sedgwick’s Second Division’s left flank. This would leave the Second Division, including Wiley’s 59th New York, unsupported as they pushed through the Corn Field towards the West Woods. Crossing the Hagerstown Pike, the general order was to keep the Dunker Church on their left, and rear. Pushing straight forward, the three brigades of Sedgwick’s division would not find the enemy in their front, but with their left flank refused and facing north into Sedgwick’s left flank. Confusion reigned throughout Sedgwick’s division and it became especially pronounced within Dana’s brigade. His troops, including Wiley’s 59th New York, were receiving heavy enemy fire from a direction they did not expect – their left - enfilading their lines. Additionally, the division was receiving heavy artillery fire from CSA Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s horse artillery located on a rocky rise to their right.(iii) Sumner, maintaining his composure, rode up and down his lines, encouraging his soldiers to remain steady. One of Dana’s soldiers wrote home describing Sumner’s actions, “We were completely flanked on the left and in two minutes more could have been prisoners of war if Gen Sumner himself had not rode in through a terrific fire of the enemy and brought us off……My men fell around me like dead flies on a frosty morning.”(iv) The 59th New York’s baptism of fire was harsh. The regiment did not handle themselves well. With the field shrouded by smoke, they fired unknowingly into the backs of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry. Not hearing the Massachusetts men yelling at them to cease firing, they would continue to fire into them until Sumner rode up and “cussed them out.” Sedgwick’s division was able to retreat across the Hagerstown Pike and reform. The fighting at Antietam would move south to the Bloody Lane, where the II Corps divisions of French and US Major General Israel Richardson would continue the fight. The fighting on the Federal right would diminish as the action at the Bloody Lane intensified. US Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps would attack on the far left, after which the Battle of Antietam sputtered to a close. Sergeant James Wiley, along with the 59th New York, had experienced their first major fighting, on a grand scale, at Antietam.
Wiley would continue to serve with the 59th New York through upcoming battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville – each being terrible Federal defeats. Once again, after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee decided to invade the North. From July 1–3, 1863, the Army of the Potomac, commanded then by US Major General George Gordon Meade, would battle Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the small southern Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. US Major General Winfield S. Hancock now commanded the II Corps. The Second Division was now commanded by US Brigadier General John Gibbon with the Third Brigade being commanded by Colonel Norman J. Hall. The 59th New York was in Hall’s brigade and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Max Thoman. Brigadier General John Caldwell’s First Division would see action on the second day of Gettysburg, the other two divisions would not be involved. On the third day of battle, the II Corps other divisions, commanded by US Brigadier General Alexander Hays, and Gibbon, would see significant action during CSA Major General George E. Pickett’s famous charge. Positioned along Cemetery Ridge, Hays division held the II Corps right flank while Gibbon’s division held the left. Gibbon received some support from US Colonel Edmund Dana’s I Corps’ brigade. Pickett’s combined command, which included his 1st Corps Division and CSA Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew’s Division and portions of CSA Major General Richard H. Anderson’s Division, both of the 3d Corps, totaled approximately 12,500 soldiers. After CSA Colonel E. Porter Alexander’s 1st Corps artillery bombarded the Federal lines for over an hour, Pickett’s troops dressed ranks along Seminary Ridge and pushed towards Hancock’s II Corps. It was approximately 3:00 p.m. Crossing the fields between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge, the Confederates would start to receive artillery shelling. Crossing a fence along the Emmittsburg Road, they pushed towards the Federal line, its soldiers well protected behind a stone wall. As they closed to within small arms range, they received a terrible storm of lead as the Federal infantry opened on them. The Confederate charge would be repulsed, with only a handful of regiments breaking through the II Corps’ line. The 59th New York would receive a direct assault from the 48th Georgia Infantry regiment.(v) During the hard fighting here, some of which was hand-to-hand, Wiley would capture the Georgia regiment’s battle flag. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg, on December 1, 1864. His citation reads, “Capture of flag of a Georgia regiment.”
Meade’s Army of the Potomac would repulse Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, ending the bloodiest battle on American soil. Lee would retreat back into Virginia, with Meade’s army slowly pursuing them, essentially “nipping at their heels.”
Wiley, and the 59th New York Infantry, would continue to serve their country. They would be engaged in all the remaining battles in the eastern theater including Mine Run, the Overland Campaign, Petersburg Campaign and Appomattox Court House. On June 22, 1864, during the fighting at Jerusalem Plank Road, 1st Sergeant James Wiley would be captured. He would be sent south to the Confederate Prison at Camp Sumter – better known as Andersonville. He would suffer, with his fellow prisoners, from malnutrition, poor drinking water and exposure to the elements. On February 7, 1865, Wiley would die from dysentery – most likely never knowing he had been awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry at Gettysburg. James Barton Wiley is a true American HERO.
(i) James Barton Wiley, at Ancestery.com was used to research this article.
(ii) The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System was used to research this article.
(iii) Walker, Francis A., History of the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac, Second Edition, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1891, Pgs. 100–107.
(iv) Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, published by Ticknor & Fields in 1983, Pgs. 227–228.
(v) Hess, Earl J., Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2001, Pg. 91.