Seymour H. Hall – Captain Co. F 121st New York Infantry

Seymour Hiram Hall - Captain of Company F 121st New York Volunteer InfantrySeymour “Hiram” Hall was born in Barkersville, New York on September 26, 1835.  Little is known of Hiram’s early life.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 state militia volunteers on April 15, 1861, Hiram would begin recruiting soldiers for the 27th New York Infantry.  On May 21, 1861 he would be commissioned second lieutenant of Company G and be mustered into Federal service on June 15, 1861 in Elmira, New York.  On April 25, he would be promoted to captain.  He would lead his company at First Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, Seven Days, South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg.  The 27th New York would officially muster out of Federal service on May 31, 1863.  The three year soldiers in the 27th would be assigned to the 16th New York Battalion, commanded by Hall.(i)

The 121st New York Infantry, often called Upton’s Regulars after their second commander, Emory Upton, had been decimated during the Chancellorsville Campaign while fighting in US Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps, at Salem Church.  Upton, desiring to fill out his regiment requested all the able bodied three year men he could obtain.  Knowing of the 16th New York Battalion, Upton petitioned VI Corps headquarters for the men.  The men of the 16th were given the option of joining a Massachusetts battery, a Federal battery of the 121st.  Most of the men chose the 121st.  On June 16, 1863, Hall took command of Company F, 121st New York.  While the VI Corps saw little action in the Battle of Gettysburg, they were engaged in the pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during his retreat from Gettysburg.  Seeing action during the Bristoe Campaign, from October 9–22, they would find themselves facing the Army of Northern Virginia, on opposite sides of the Rappahannock River, as winter approached. 

Many of the soldiers believed Army of the Potomac commander, US Major General George Gordon Meade, would enter the winter months with no additional fighting.  However, Meade had different ideas.  Believing he could out maneuver Lee along the Rappahannock River line, he determined to push across the river.  During the upcoming battle, Hiram Hall would provide his most valuable service to his country.

Robert E. Lee had constructed a strong bridgehead at Rappahannock Station with two artillery redoubts and connecting trenches, on the north bank.  CSA Major General Jubal Early’s 2d Corps Division manned the works, with the rest of Lee’s army south of the river commanding all the major fords.  He believed that any significant attack, by Meade, would require him to divide his forces.  Lee’s plans proved quite prescient.  On November 6, Meade ordered 121st New York Infantry Monument at Gettysburgthe I, II and III Corps to cross the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford, while the V and VI Corps would push across at Rappahannock Station.  They were ordered to move on the morning on November 7.  Major General William French would command the left wing, while Sedgwick would command the right wing.  Meade’s tactical plan was to have French’s wing push across the river, at Kelly’s Ford, in an effort to divert Lee’s attention from the main attack by Sedgwick.(ii)  Once across, they would push west to join the rest of the army that had crossed at Rappahannock Station.  From there, the Army of the Potomac would push south towards Brandy Station.

On the morning of November 7, the 121st New York, with the rest of the V and VI Corps pushed south from Warrenton.  Emory Upton was commanding the Second Brigade of US Brigadier General Horatio Wright’s First Division.  With Sedgwick commanding the right wing, Wright commanded the VI Corps and US Brigadier General David Russell commanded the First Division.  Opposing them at Rappahannock Station were two brigades commanded by CSA Brigadier Generals Robert F. Hoke and Harry Hays.  Hays’ Louisianans had earned the moniker, “Louisiana Tigers,” for their fighting prowess.  Both brigades were seasoned veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Once Sedgwick had his forces in place he began to pound Early’s Confederates with artillery.  He maintained this fire throughout the afternoon, causing much consternation, and many casualties at the bridgehead.  Meanwhile, Upton’s brigade, consisting of the 121st New York, 5th Massachusetts, 95th and 96th Pennsylvania were joined by US Colonel Peter Ellmaker’s Third Brigade, consisting of the 6th Maine, 5th Wisconsin, 49th and 119th Pennsylvania.  Commanded by David Russell, they were assigned the unenviable task of carrying the works manned by Hays’ “Louisiana Tigers” and Hoke’s North Carolinians.  With dusk beginning to blanket the field, Russell’s division pushed out of the woods and towards the bridgehead.  Partially protected by the railroad embankment, the division was able to get very close to the fortifications before they were engaged by Hays’ soldiers.  Upton would detach companies B and D, as skirmishers.  They were commanded by Captain John Fish.  Upton was very clear in his orders to Fish, “When the line advances upon your right, you will advance – you will drive the enemy off that crest, you will use your judgment and act as if you had a separate command: but remember one thing – I want my brigade line to get there as soon as any of them.”(iii)  Clinton Beckwith described the action, “We moved forward briskly and soon discovered the Rebel skirmish line.  They waited a good while, an age I thought, before they fired on us, and I knew someone would get hit.  Finally they let go and we started on a run after them, and they skedaddled.  One fellow waited until Jack Marden, one of our boys, got close to him, and then fired and hit Jack.  But the ball, striking something in Jack’s pocket, glanced off.  The Rebel shouted, ‘I surrender,’ but Jack shot and wounded him badly….The artillery in the fort was now firing rapidly and the cannon shots flew over us and went after our fellows who were coming up behind.  The Reb skirmishers kept falling back, but kept up a sharp fire.”(iv)  Soon, Fish and his skirmishers, along with the rest of the 121st New York, were upon the works.

Hiram Hall’s Company F was part of the attacking column.  Upon reaching the Rebel works, he was able to reform his lines.  The fighting became hand-to-hand, with several casualties coming from bayonet wounds.  With darkness quickly covering the battlefield, the action is described in “Upton’s Regulars,” by Salvatore Cilella: “(the Louisiana brigade remained) sanguine and defiant….Upton could see their colors in the gathering night, inscribed with “Cedar Run,” “Manassas Second,” “Winchester,” “Harpers Ferry,” “Sharpsburg,” “Fredericksburg,” “Chancellorsville,” and “Gettysburg.”  Without waiting for Russell for further instructions, Upton sent Capt. Seymour Hall to tell Russell that he had accomplished his mission and had reformed his lines parallel to the rifle pits that were still crawling with rebel soldiers.  He intended to attack again.”(v)  Upton had advised his men, “Boys, or rather Old 121st, I am with you again.  We are going to make a charge, and some of you will fall, but you will all go to heaven.  And I am going with you over the works.”  With that, Hall’s Company F, and the rest of the 121st New York stormed the rifle pits, performing a left face they rolled up the flank of the 6th, 54th and 57th North Carolina regiments.  Many of the Confederates surrendered and the 121st New York was able to capture a regimental flag.  All told, with the 5th Maine at their side, the 121st New York was able to capture seven Confederate flags, 103 officers, 1,300 enlisted men and 1,200 weapons.  One captured Rebel asked how many corps were involved in the attack.  When he was told only two regiments carried out the assault the “mortification” was “extreme.”  After the battle Upton reported, “The success at Rappahannock had a most electrifying effect throughout the army.”(vi)

Hall would continue to lead Company F, 121st New York Infantry, through some of the most bloody battles of the Eastern Theater: The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna and Cold Harbor.  In April 1864, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 43d United States Colored Troops.  He would lead these men at the Battle of the Crater, Weldon Railroad, Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher’s Run and the Appomattox Campaign.  He would receive a brevet promotion to brigadier general on March 13, 1865.

After the war, Hall would move with his wife, Augusta, to Carrollton, Missouri and finally to Kansas.  She bore him five children: Clarence, Harry, John, Mabel and Augusta.  Seymour H. Hall would die on July 1, 1908 in Kansas City, Kansas and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas.

For his bravery, and gallant leadership, Hall would receive two Medals of Honor on August 17, 1891 – one for his actions at Gaines’s Mill and the other for his heroism at Rappahannock Station.  The official citation reads:

Although wounded at Gaines Mill, Va., he remained on duty and participated in the battle with his company.  At Rappahannock Station, Va., while acting as an aide, rendered gallant and prompt assistance in reforming the regiments inside the enemy works.(vii)

Captain Seymour Hall is a true American HERO.

(i) Cilella, Salvatore G., Upton’s Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War, published by the University Press of Kansas in 2009, Pg. 184.
(ii) Cilella, Salvatore G., Upton’s Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War, published by the University Press of Kansas in 2009, Pg. 235.
(iii) Cilella, Salvatore G., Upton’s Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War, published by the University Press of Kansas in 2009, Pg. 237.
(iv) Best, Isaac O., History of the 121st New York State Infantry, published by Lieut. Jas. H. Smith in 1921, Pgs. 100–101.
(v) Cilella, Salvatore G., Upton’s Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War, published by the University Press of Kansas in 2009, Pg. 240.
(vi) Cilella, Salvatore G., Upton’s Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War, published by the University Press of Kansas in 2009, Pg. 243.
(vii) R.J. (Bob) Pfoft, Editor, United States of America’s Medal of Honor Recipients, Fifth Edition, Pg. 883.

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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