Interview with Sal Cilella, author of “Upton’s Regulars”

Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr., author of "Upton's Regulars: The 121st New York in the Civil War"As most of you are aware, I am very interested in the smaller units of the Civil War.  The volunteer infantry regiments comprised the backbone of the opposing armies of the American Civil War.  Most regiments were comprised of ten companies, with each company having approximately 100 soldiers when mustered into service.  The fighting men of each company were the private soldiers.  These heroes, who more often than not have become nameless over the generations, served selflessly to reunite our once fractured United States.  They were the fighters.  In his book, “Co. Aytch,” Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment (CSA), summed it up perfectly when he said, “I always shot at privates.  It was they that did the shooting and killing, and if I could kill or wound a private, why, my chances were so much the better.” 

So it was with the 121st New York Infantry.  Salvatore G. Cilella’s recent book, “Upton’s Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War,” is the story of the foot soldiers from that famous New York Volunteer regiment.  Breaking new ground, by not just studying the battle history of the 121st, Cilella’s cutting edge book explores the lives of the soldiers, before, during and after the conflict.  Made famous by their second commander, Colonel Emory Upton, the 121st New York was considered unequaled in the proud VI Corps, Army of the Potomac.  Upton drilled the men and earned their trust, respect and loyalty.  On the parade ground they operated with precision, but on the battlefield they earned their laurels by hard fighting.  During the battle of Salem Church, part of the Chancellorsville Campaign, they would be decimated by an ambush engineered by CSA Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox.  At the battle of Rappahannock Station, they would capture over 1,000 Confederate soldiers by storming their bridgehead.  In May 1864, they would arrive at Spotsylvania Court House with an effective strength of 460 soldiers, of all arms.  After Upton’s gallant charge of the Mule Shoe salient, and the fighting at the “Bloody Angle,” they would be reduced to 94 – with only four field officers left unscathed.  They would continue to cement their reputation during US Major General Phil Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, with solid battlefield performances at Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek.  During the waning months of the war, they would fight in the trenches in front of Petersburg and perform heroically, while being flanked on two sides, at Hatcher’s Run.  Saving one of their best battlefield exploits for the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, they would capture over 1,000 Confederate soldiers, including CSA Major General George Washington Custis (G.W.C.) Lee – son of Robert E. Lee.  Arriving at Appomattox Station, on April 9, 1865, they were prepared to offer battle again – but were spared by Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant.  While their regimental battle flag proudly carried the names of the battles they fought in, four members of the regiment would earn the Medal of Honor for individual gallantry: Seymour H. Hall, Warren Dockum, Benjamin Gifford and Harris Hawthorne.  All told, 1,800 soldiers served in the 121st, with nearly 740 becoming battlefield casualties, or dying of disease.

“Upton’s Regulars” is a monumental study of these brave fighting men.  Cilella, no stranger to history, is the president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center.  His biography of the 121st New York will take you on a journey with the soldiers.  Beginning with the recruitment of the regiment and taking you through the publication of its regimental history, in 1921, his fast paced book is hard to put down.  I recently had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mr. Cilella.  The following interview, like all of my author interviews, is divided into parts, so you can listen to it at your leisure.  This is a book that I recommend for any serious student of the Civil War, or anyone interested in what it meant to be foot soldier during the American Civil War.

Buy Upton's Regulars: The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War at Amazon.comDetails about “Upton’s Regulars”
Written by: Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr.
Hardcover: 586 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: June 11, 2009
ISBN-10: 0700616454


Salvatore G. Cilella, Jr. Interview – 14 Parts

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, 42 seconds

Part 1: Sal Cilella Interview Part 1
Time: 7:35
Contents: Introductions | Sal’s interest in history and the Civil War | Authors and historians that influenced Sal’s interest in the Civil War | Alan Nolan’s influence on “Upton’s Regulars”

Part 2: Sal Cilella Interview Part 2
Time: 5:57
Contents: Discussion on “Upton’s Regulars” | Why the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry? | Otsego and Herkimer counties and the 121st New York | Recruiting the 121st New York

Part 3: Sal Cilella Interview Part 3
Time: 6:12
Contents: The “three phases” on the Civil War | Lincoln’s call for 300,000 soldiers in 1862 – 50,000 quick recruits can bring the war to an end?

Part 4: Sal Cilella Interview Part 4
Time: 7:39
Contents: The use of bounties to entice new recruits | A “patchwork” of bounties in New York | Mustering in at Camp Schuyler with Colonel Richard Franchot

Part 5: Sal Cilella Interview Part 5
Time: 4:09
Contents: Transferring to Washington, D.C. | The Maryland Campaign – hard marching and disease | Colonel Franchot leading his men shows his limited knowledge of the military arts

Part 6: Sal Cilella Interview Part 6
Time: 5:21
Contents: Franchot’s resignation and the forgotten commander – Charlie Clark | Emory Upton’s promotion to regimental command and his visits to convalescing soldiers | Clark prepares the 121st New York for command by West Pointer, Emory Upton | Cross-training the line officers of the 121st

Part 7: Sal Cilella Interview Part 7
Time: 8:28
Contents: Severe level of disease in the 121st New York during its first year of service | The use of firsthand accounts and primary source material in telling the soldiers’ stories | Researching “Upton’s Regulars”

Part 8: Sal Cilella Interview Part 8
Time: 6:03
Contents: Emory Upton’s drilling and training molds the 121st New York | Caught in a ambush – the 121st and its terrible losses at the Battle of Salem Church and enduring their first large scale engagement

Part 9: Sal Cilella Interview Part 9
Time: 8:20
Contents: Upton’s misstep in recruiting veteran soldiers for the depleted ranks of the 121st | The trying march to Gettysburg | Pursuing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia | Desertion and the execution of Thomas Jewett | The 5th Maine Infantry – sister regiment of the 121st New York

Part 10: Sal Cilella Interview Part 10
Time: 4:53
Contents: To go into winter camp or not to? | The Battle of Rappahannock Station | Rappahannock Station a defining battle for the 121st New York

Part 11: Sal Cilella Interview Part 11
Time: 4:29
Contents: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and the Overland Campaign | Egbert Olcott assumes command of the 121st with Upton’s promotion to brigadier general | The Battle of the Wilderness | Upton’s Charge of the Mule Shoe salient at Spotsylvania Court House | Decimation at the Mule Shoe and the “Bloody Angle”

Part 12: Sal Cilella Interview Part 12
Time: 5:26
Contents: The 121st arrives in Washington to protect against CSA Lt. General Jubal Early’s advance into Maryland | Serving under US Major General Philip Sheridan in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign | The battle of Cedar Creek and Sheridan’s brilliant counter attack

Part 13: Sal Cilella Interview Part 13
Time: 8:28
Contents: The terrible winter months of 1865 in front of Petersburg, Virginia | The battle of Hatcher’s Run | The collapse of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the battle of Sailor’s Creek | The decades long controversy of who captured CSA Major General G.W.C. Lee | Harris Hawthorne receives the Medal of Honor – the controversy still smolders | The VI Corps delayed arrival in Washington D.C. after Appomattox Station and suffers through their own “Grand Review”

Part 14: Sal Cilella Interview Part 14
Time: 7:42
Contents: Saving the best for last – post Civil War history of the 121st New York Volunteers | Future projects Mr. Cilella is working on | Wrap up and closing

Other Great Civil War titles from the University Press of Kansas

Buy Bleeding Kansas at Amazon.comDetails about “Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era”
Written by: Nicole Etcheson
Paperback: 370 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: December 31, 2003
ISBN-10: 0700614923


Buy Citizen Sherman at Amazon.comDetails about “Citizen Sherman: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman”

Written by: Michael Fellman
Paperback: 504 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: July 9, 1995
ISBN-10: 0700608400


Buy Commanding the Army of the Potomac at Amazon.comDetails about “Commanding the Army of the Potomac”
Written by: Stephen R. Taaffe
Hardcover: 284 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: February 23, 2006
ISBN-10: 0700614516



Buy Guide to the Atlanta Campaign at Amazon.comDetails about “Guide to the Atlanta Campaign”
Written by: Jay Luvas (editor) and Harold W. Nelson (editor)
Paperback: 383 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: May 7, 2008
ISBN-10: 0700615709


Buy Jefferson Davis Confederate President at Amazon.comDetails about “Jefferson Davis, Confederate President”
Written by: Herman Hattaway and Richard E. Beringer
Paperback: 566 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: April 30, 2002
ISBN-10: 0700612939



Buy Joseph E Johnston and the Defense of Richmond at Amazon.comDetails about “Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond”
Written by: Steven H. Newton
Hardcover: 278 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: November 1998
ISBN-10: 0700609210



Buy Lincoln: Seen and Heard at Amazon.comDetails about “Lincoln Seen and Heard”
Written by: Harold Holzer
Hardcover: 226 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: February 2000
ISBN-10: 0700610014



Buy Stonewall of the West at Amazon.comDetails about “Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War”
Written by: Craig L. Symonds
Paperback: 328 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: February 28, 1997
ISBN-10: 0700609342


Buy The Confederacy's Greatest Cavalryman at Amazon.comDetails about “The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman: Nathan Bedford Forrest”
Written by: Brian Steel Wills
Paperback: 457 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: April 1998
ISBN-10: 0700608850


Buy The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat at Amazon.comDetails about “The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat”
Written by: Earl J. Hess
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: September 9, 2008
ISBN-10: 0700616071


Buy The War Within The Union High Command at Amazon.comDetails about “The War Within the Union High Command”
Written by: Thomas Joseph Goss
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Date of First Edition: August 2003
ISBN-10: 0700612637



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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2 Responses to Interview with Sal Cilella, author of “Upton’s Regulars”

  1. Pingback: Interview with “This Mighty Scourge” « Notes from a civil war historian

  2. frank.e.white says:

    Hi I am Frank White the author of “Sailor’s Creek, Major General G. W. Custis Lee, Captured with Controversy”….I love Sal’s book…..and I would love to discuss the controversy of the capture of Custis Lee (121st NY vs. 37th Mass) with all that might be interested in this topic….Tx Frank

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