Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Isaac Oliver Best Manuscripts, ca. 1880s

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, May 1996

Summary Information
Title: Isaac Oliver Best manuscripts
Creator: Best, Isaac Oliver, 1841-1923
Inclusive dates: ca. 1880s
Extent: 132 pages
The Isaac Oliver Best manuscripts are post-war reminiscences that combine personal experience, anecdotes, and secondary source information in relating the critical campaigns of the Union Army in the spring and summer of 1864.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated 1976. M-1730.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Isaac Oliver Best Manuscripts, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


Best, Isaac Oliver, 1841-1923

Rank : Private

Regiment : 16th New York Infantry Regiment (1861-1863)
121st New York Infantry Regiment (1862-1865)

Service : 1862 August 15-1865 June 25

Isaac Oliver Best was born January 4, 1841, in Oswegatchie, St. Lawrence County, N.Y., the fifth child and fourth son of John M. and Elizabeth Best, English immigrants who had settled in St. Lawrence County in 1831 or 1832. Sometime prior to 1860, the family moved to Ogdensburg, N.Y., where Isaac attended the Ogdensburg Institute. He entered Hamilton College in September, 1861, but during the summer of 1862, patriotism proved stronger than the love of academic life, and Best enlisted on August 15, 1862, as a private in Co. A, 16th New York Infantry.

By August, 1862, the 16th New York Infantry was already a veteran outfit assigned to the VI Corps, Army of the Potomac, having mustered in on May 16, 1861, for two years' service. Company A had been organized at Ogdensburg, and Best knew several members who had enlisted in May, 1861, including his friends and fellow Ogdensburgers Michael Sullivan, Joseph Tromblee and Delos Ellsworth. A short time before Isaac enlisted, his older brother, William, had enrolled, July 22, 1862, for three years as a Corporal in Company D, 106th New York Volunteer Infantry, "The St. Lawrence County Regiment."

Isaac joined his regiment at Bakersville, Md., shortly after the Battle of Antietam and served with it during the campaign against Fredericksburg in December, 1862, the "Mud March" of January, 1863 and at Chancellorsville in May, 1863, only a few days before the two year men were formally mustered out of the service. At this point, the three-year recruits were transferred to the 121st New York Infantry, a three years regiment organized at Herkimer, N.Y., on August 13, 1862, and which was also assigned to VI Corps.

Isaac Best mustered out June 22, 1865, and in September returned to Hamilton College. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with the Class of 1867 and received a masters degree in 1870. Best was licensed to preach in 1872 and ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1873, but he switched from preaching to teaching and back to preaching several times during the period 1875-1900. He taught Greek and Latin at Bloomsburg, Pa., was Principal of the Clinton Grammar School and the Rural High School at Clinton, N.Y., served as minister at Otisco, Broadalbin, Mayfield and in 1906 at Chili Station. He married Harriet C. Lindsay of Dorchester, Mass., on July 2, 1868. Their children were Harriet G., (b. 1871), Isaac Lindsay (b. 1874), Marilla Rachel (b. 1881) and Ruth Elizabeth (1879-before 1889). Isaac Lindsay Best followed in his father's footsteps at Hamilton, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1899, and Marilla Rachel's son, J.B. Hall also attended, graduating in 1935.

Whether teacher or preacher, Isaac Best was active in veterans' affairs and regularly attended the reunions of both the 16th and 121st New York. He also lectured before groups of veterans and published essays and memoirs, as well as a history of the 121st New York Infantry, published posthumously.

Best applied for a pension in December, 1896, complaining of rheumatism and "hemmorage of the bowels and piles." He claimed to have contracted rheumatism during the severe cold weather before Fredericksburg in 1862, adding that "on May 5, 1863 at or near Salem Church, Va. he was left on the skirmish line after the Army had been withdrawn in the night and in order to escape being captured had to run from the turn Pike to Banks Ford, Va.; that he was overheated and exhausted and the night being cold he was taken with chill followed by severe rheumatism from which he has never recovered. That he has no vicious habits, has never used liquor, tobacco, or any other narcotic or violated the law of chastity." Best further stated "I am a minister and do not perform any manual labor and cannot perform any manual labor." The application was swiftly approved. Best retired from the ministry sometime after 1910 and died at Cliffside, N.J., March 28, 1923.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Isaac Best manuscripts were prepared in the 1880s or 1890s for the veterans organizations of the 16th and 121st New York Infantry Regiments. These include three extended essays, "Sheridan in the Shenandoah" (F6:1a), "The Siege and Capture of Petersburg" (F6.1b), and "Through the Wilderness with Grant" (F6.1c).

These essays are clearly-written post-war reminiscences in the grand old style of the Grand Army of the Republic, and contain both personal, anecdotal information about the incidents gathered first-hand, and information undoubtedly gathered from secondary sources. They focus on the critical campaigns of the spring and summer of 1864, after the arrival of Ulysses S. Grant both bathed the soldiers in blood and revitalized the hopes of the Army of the Potomac.

"Sheridan in the Shenandoah" includes a rapid, second-hand narrative of the struggle for the Valley in 1862 and 1863, and Best's personal recollections of the fall campaign of 1864. Particularly noteworthy are his accounts of the 3rd Battle of Winchester and Fisher's Hill, and a very detailed account of Cedar Creek. As an aside, Best comments that the importance of "Sheridan's Ride" has been much overplayed, and argues that much of VI Corps was not in flight and had never been broken at all. While he reserves praise for Sheridan, he argues that the emphasis on the importance of the ride robbed Gen. Horatio Wright of his due. Best also offers his analysis on the role of morale in shoring up the efforts of the armies.

"The Siege and Capture of Petersburg" is an attempt at a comprehensive retelling of the major events of the siege of Petersburg from the end of the Battle of Cold Harbor through the end of the war. Best witnessed the long, drawn-out battles in front of Petersburg during the summer of 1864, including the disaster at the Crater, and the several attempts to circumvent the Confederate defenses during the following winter. In 1865, it appears that Best was assigned to Sheridan's command during his final raid into Northern Virginia.

The essay "Through the Wilderness with Grant" includes detailed accounts of the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna River, and Cold Harbor, nearly all written from Best's recollections, including seeing several close friends killed. The end of the essay includes a generally positive appraisal of Grant's strategy.

Subject Terms

    • Cedar Creek, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • Cold Harbor, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • Death.
    • Grant, Ulysses S., 1822-1885.
    • Petersburg Crater, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1864 (August-November)
    • Spotsylvania Court House, Battle of, Va., 1864.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Wilderness, Battle of the, Va., 1864.
    • Winchester, 3rd Battle of, Winchester, Va., 1864.
    Genre Terms:
    • Essays.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Isaac Oliver Best manuscripts [series]
    Box   99, Schoff Civil War Collection Folder   13
    Sheridan in the Shenandoah (31 pages)
    Folders   14-15  
    The Siege and Capture of Petersburg (56)
    Folder   16  
    Through the Wilderness with Grant (45 pages)
    Additional Descriptive Data

    References: Curtis, Newton M. From Bull Run to Chancellorsville, the story of the Sixteenth New York infantry... (N.Y., 1906)

    History of the 121st New York state infantry (Chicago, 1921).

    Partial Subject Index
    • F6.1c
    • F6.1b
    Cedar Creek, Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1a
    Cold Harbor, Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1c
    • F6.1c
    • F6.1b, c
    Early, Jubal Anderson, 1816-1894.
    • F6.1a
    • F6.1b
    Fishers Hill, Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1a
    Grant, Ulysses S., 1822-1885.
    • F6.1b, c
    • F6.1a
    • F6.1a
    North Anna River (Va.), Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1c
    Petersburg (Va.)--History--Siege, 1864.
    • F6.1b
    Petersburg Campaign, 1864-1865.
    • F6.1b
    Petersburg Crater, Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1b
    Petersburg, Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1b
    Petersburg, Battle of, 1865.
    • F6.1b
    Scorched-earth policy.
    • F6.1a
    Sedgwick, John, 1813-1864.
    • F6.1c
    Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1864 August-November.
    • F6.1a
    Sheridan, Philip Henry, 1831-1888.
    • F6.1a
    Spotsylvania Campaign, 1864.
    • F6.1c
    Spotsylvania, Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1c
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African-American.
    • F6.1b
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Songs and music.
    • F6.1b
    Upton, Emory, 1839-1881.
    • F6.1c
    Wilderness Campaign, 1864.
    • F6.1c
    Wilderness, Battle of the, 1864.
    • F6.1c
    Winchester, 3rd Battle of, 1864.
    • F6.1a
    Wright, Horatio Gouverneur, 1820-1899.
    • F6.1a