Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Robert Sherry Papers, 1861-1867

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, December 1992

Summary Information
Title: Robert Sherry papers
Creator: Sherry, Caroline
Inclusive dates: 1861-1867
Extent: 60 items, 1 tintype
Abstract:
Robert Sherry enlisted in the 21st New York Infantry during the Civil War, a regiment that was beset with discipline and logistical problems, and and by a pattern of mutual animosity between officers and enlisted men. His letters to his wife, Caroline, provide valuable insight into the problems of the regiment and his deep hostility toward officers.
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: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2870.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Robert Sherry Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

Sherry, Robert, ca. 1829-1863

Rank : Private

Regiment : 21st New York Infantry Regiment. Co. E (1861-1863)97th New York Infantry Regiment. Co. I (1862-1865)

Service : 1861 May 7-1863 November 26

In early May, 1861, the 21st New York Infantry Regiment was raised in Buffalo for three month's service, becoming the first unit from that city to be organized for duty in the Civil War. From the time of its mustering-in at Elmira, however, through its service in Virginia, the 21st was beset with discipline and logistical problems, and by a pattern of mutual animosity between officers and enlisted men. Robert Sherry, a 32 year-old carriage maker with a wife and two sons, Charlie and Louis, enlisted in Company E, one of the companies at the center of the controversy for the 21st New York.

Trouble began as soon as the regiment was sworn in, when several men refused the oath and returned home. Others took the oath and soon deserted. Sherry, in fact, became the happy recipient of a bag filled with clothing that was left behind by one deserter. There appears to have been a general feeling among the volunteers that they had been lied to by recruiters, including the colonel and other officers in the regiment, over the issue of pay. Discipline among the remaining men eroded, with as many as eleven men lying under arrest at one time, and after being assigned to Virginia, the troubles only increased. Chronically underfed and undersupplied, camped under miserable, unhealthy conditions, and paid less than they had been promised when they were paid at all, disaffection rose in the unit to the point that by late June some soldiers stacked their arms and refused all orders. Sherry believed that harsh and arbitrary discipline meted out by the unit's officers exacerbated the situation.

The flash point came on August 19th, when the three month's enlistment period ended. Most of the enlisted men were glad to be heading home, but they were told that they would be expected to remain for a full two years. Several "disaffected" men objected, refusing to serve beyond the three months under their present officers, and the next morning when Col. Rogers asked those who felt that they had fulfilled their commitments to stack their arms and come forward, 21 responded, 16 from Company E. All were immediately arrested and sent to the Navy Yard for confinement. When Company K, which had been on picket, returned from duty at noon, the spirit of mutiny spread, and when they refused to appear at roll call, they, too, were arrested. Though the Colonel allowed the "repentant" among the company to return to duty, 20 more men were confined at the Navy Yard. The mutineers were later sent to the Tortugas to serve "without arms, until they show themselves more worthy to bear them."

The end result of the mutiny was the steeling of attitudes among the enlisted men against their officers. "I hope that I shall live long enough," Sherry wrote, "to see the day when we will get into some battle that will be the means of getting a great portion of our Officers killed or wounded so that they will never be fit for duty again" (1861 November 30). A few men compacted to kill their officers when they went into battle, and at least one attempt on an officer was actually made. Sherry later wrote that Companies E and K were the best officered companies in the regiment because the officers were so much in fear of their men that they would not order them around.

Not surprisingly, the animosity was mutual. For example, the Captain of Company E butchered Sherry's pet dog with an axe in front of his tent as a show. "[I]t made me very mad at the time," Sherry wrote, "and I called him any thing but A gentleman and he threatned to have me court marshield but I guess that he is afraid to do so for I told him as much as to say that I would as soon or rather shoot him as the dog in the battle field and a great deal rather than one of the enemy" (1861 October 13). The inactivity of camp life was a further problem, compounded by worsening conditions as cold weather set it. While Sherry seemed to enjoy life on picket, looting farm houses and playing at ambushes with the enemy and civilians, he found waiting for battle tedious. "[T]he men are getting mad for a fight[.] [T]heay would not care if theay thought one half would be killed for theay are getting tired of this kind of soldiering theay want to end the matter if theay can and if we are not going to have the grand battle of the Potomack send us of[f] south where we can have some fighting and less cold weather" (12 December 1861).

In May, 1862, Sherry was hospitalized with a severe case of bronchitis. From Fredericksburg, he was sent to Cliffburne Hospital in Washington at the end of May, and finally to Fairfax Seminary Hospital. Sherry was appalled at conditions in the hospital, at the dearth of physicians and nurses, and lack of treatment. In July, he requested to return to his regiment even though his health was not yet fully restored. On his way back to the regiment, still too weak to stand for any length of time, he had what little money he had remaining stolen, along with a silver medal given to him by a nurse at Cliffburne. Sherry rejoined the 21st Regiment at Cedar Mountain, where they were present for, but not engaged in, the battle on August 9th. Over the next month, however, the regiment was involved in five battles or skirmishes during the Bull Run Campaign, which Sherry survived unharmed. In mid-September, though, his health failed again, forcing him out of action days before his comrades were decimated in the fighting at South Mountain and in the cornfield at Antietam.

Sherry was detached as a Ward Steward at the U.S. General Hospital in Frederick, Md., where he found himself broke and bereft of clothing, since all of his possessions had been burned at Bull Run. At about this time, Caroline became an increasingly poor correspondent. Sherry complained bitterly that she never responded, and at one point that he did not even know her current address. When G. R. Buerger wrote in January, 1863, to inform Caroline that Sherry has been wounded in the thigh, he noted that Sherry had written twice without response.

Sherry remained hospitalized until he mustered out of the service when the regiment disbanded in May. Interestingly, Sherry decided to reenlist in September, joining the 97th New York Infantry. He held up through several skirmishes during the Bristoe Campaign and the battle at Bristoe Station, but by the end of the campaign in November, his health had again failed. He died in hospital of disease on November 26th, 1863.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Sherry papers includes 50 letters written by Robert Sherry to his wife, Caroline, and two to a friend, Oscar. The eight remaining items in the collection include letters and documents addressed to Caroline Sherry regarding the death of her husband and arrangements to receive a widow's pension.

Sherry was a rough-edged man, whose strong personality is reflected in the tintype that accompanies the collection, in which he stands glaring at the camera, leaning casually against his rifle, pistol stashed in his belt. Sherry writes what he feels without reservation, even when those feelings are murderous, and as a result, his letters are always interesting to read. His candor in discussing the problems in the regiment and his deep hostility toward officers provides a particularly valuable insight into the mind of many soldiers subjected to harsh conditions and to the extraordinary military inefficiency and arbitrariness that characterized some units.

Personal finances were among Sherry's greatest concerns, and the money offered to recruits may have been the primary factoring in inducing him to enlist and reenlist. He is vocal about the fact that he is not fighting for "adam nigger" or for the Republican Party, and he berates his wife because she no longer denigrates Blacks in her letters. He relished the opportunity to loot an elegant Virginia home in October, 1861, and wrote proudly of having taken $2,000 in Confederate money from a dead Virginian, which he buried by the banks of the Rappahannock, should he ever return. Sherry talked of returning to Virginia after the war, where he had been assured by a plantation overseer that he could make an easy living and high wages.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • United States. Army. New York Infantry Regiment, 21st (1861-1863)
    • Friendly fire (Military science)--United States.
    • Military discipline--United States.
    • Mutiny--United States.
    • War--Psychological aspects.
    • United States. Army--Officers.
    • United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Sherry, Robert, ca. 1829-1863.
    Contributors:
    • Sherry, Robert, ca. 1829-1863.
    Genre Terms:
    • Tintypes.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   44, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Robert Sherry papers,  1861 May 21-1867 March 25 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    A tintype portrait of Robert Sherry is housed in the Graphics Division of the Clements Library.

    Bibliography

    Mills, John Harrison. Chronicles of the Twenty-first regiment, New York state volunteers. (Buffalo, 1887).

    Hall, Isaac. History of the Ninety-seventh regiment, New York volunteers (Utica, 1890).

    Hough, F. B. History of Duryee's brigade. (Albany, 1864).

    Partial Subject Index
    Absence without leave.
    • 1861 June 10
    • 1861 June 13
    African Americans--Contraband.
    • 1862 April 27
    • 1862 April 28
    Alexandria (Va.)
    • 1862 March 15
    Ambushes and surprises.
    • 1861 November 30
    • 1861 December 25
    • 1862 December 12
    Amputation.
    • 1862 September 30
    Andrews, John.
    • 1861 October 1
    • 1861 October 5
    Bereavement.
    • 1864 February 8
    Bristoe (Va.) Campaign, 1863.
    • 1863 October 19
    Bronchitis.
    • [1862] June 28
    Brother against brother.
    • 1862 December 25
    Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va.
    • 1861 August 22
    Bull Run Campaign, 1862.
    • 1862 September 16
    Camps (Military)--Virginia.
    • 1862 March 27
    Cedar Mountain, Battle of, 1862.
    • 1862 August 15
    Children.
    • 1861 November 22
    Christmas.
    • 1862 December 25
    Civilians--Relations.
    • 1861 November 30
    • 1862 December 25
    Civilians--Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1862 December 25
    Cliffburne Hospital (Washington, D.C.)
    • 1862 June 1
    Cold.
    • 1862 December 25
    Consumption.
    • 1862 May 27
    Dead.
    • 1862 March 22
    Death.
    • 1861 October 5
    • 1862 March 22
    Deserters, Military.
    • 1861 May 25
    Deserters, Military--Confederate States of America.
    • 1863 May 7
    Dogs.
    • 1861 October 13
    Drowning.
    • 1862 March 15
    • 1862 March 22
    • 1862 March 27
    Ellsworth, Ephraim Elmer, 1837-1861.
    • 1861 June 13
    Firearms.
    • 1862 January 22
    • 1863 September 21
    Fireplaces.
    • 1862 December 25
    Food.
    • 1861 July 1
    Foraging--Virginia.
    • 1861 October 5
    Fords (Stream crossings)
    • 1862 March 15
    Fragging.
    • 1861 September 7
    • 1861 October 13
    • 1861 November 30
    • 1862 December 19
    • 1862 December 26
    Fremont, John Charles, 1813-1880.
    • 1862 November 16
    Henderson, William, d. 1863.
    • [1863] November 12
    Insubordination.
    • 1861 November 30
    Jackson, Stonewall, 1824-1863.
    • 1862 November 16
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • 1862 March 6
    Malaria.
    • 1861 August 22
    • 1861 November 10
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • 1861 September 15
    • 1861 November 9
    • 1862 November 16
    McDowell, Irwin, 1815-1888.
    • 1861 September 7
    Military discharge.
    • 1863 May 18
    Military discipline.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 November 30
    • 1862 December 19
    Morale.
    • 1861 August 22
    • 1862 December 26
    • 1862 March 22
    • 1862 March 27
    • 1862 November 16
    Mutiny.
    • 1861 July 1
    • 1861 August 22
    Nurses.
    • 1862 September 30
    • 1862 November 5
    Patriotic letterheads.
    • 1862 December 26
    Pensions, Military--United States--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1864 November 2
    Picket duty.
    • 1861 November 30
    Pickpockets.
    • 1862 July 24
    Pictorial letterheads.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 July 16
    • 1861 July 18
    • 1861 September 15
    • 1861 November 9
    • 1861 November 10
    • 1861 November 22
    • 1861 November 30
    • 1862 December 19
    • 1862 December 25
    • 1862 January 22
    • [1862] June 28
    • 1862 July 24
    • 1862 August 15
    • 1862 November 5
    Pillage--Virginia.
    • 1861 October 1
    Plantation life--Virginia.
    • 1862 April 28
    Poisoning.
    • 1861 July 16
    Prices--Virginia.
    • 1862 April 27
    Punishment.
    • 1861 June 13
    Rabies.
    • 1861 August 22
    Rental housing--New York--Buffalo.
    • 1865 March 19
    Republican Party.
    • 1862 November 16
    Santa Claus.
    • 1862 December 25
    Sherry, Robert, ca.1829-1863.
    • [1863] November 12
    • 1864 February 8
    Shoes.
    • 1861 October 22
    Sisters of Charity.
    • 1862 June 1
    Slaves--Virginia.
    • 1862 April 27
    Soldiers--Death, Accidental.
    • 1861 December 25
    Souvenirs.
    • 1861 October 23
    Stealing.
    • 1861 August 22
    • 1862 April 27
    • 1862 July 24
    Strong, James C., b. ca.1826.
    • 1861 October 5
    • 1861 October 13
    Transport of sick and wounded.
    • 1862 June 1
    • 1862 June 30
    Typhus fever.
    • 1862 December 12
    United States. Army--Enlistment.
    • 1861 May 25
    United States. Army--Leaves and furloughs.
    • 1862 January 10
    United States. Army--Officers.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 July 1
    • 1861 September 7
    • 1861 October 5
    • 1861 October 13
    • 1861 November 30
    • 1862 December 19
    • 1862 March 27
    United States. Army--Officers--Elections.
    • 1861 June 13
    United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
    • 1861 May 25
    • 1861 July 1
    • 1861 July 16
    • 1862 December 26
    • 1862 January 22
    • 1862 March 6
    • 1862 March 27
    United States. Army--Reenlistment.
    • 1861 June 13
    • 1861 July 1
    United States. Army--Regiments--Relations.
    • 1862 March 6
    United States. Army--Supplies and stores.
    • 1861 August 22
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • 1862 April 27
    • 1862 April 28
    • 1862 November 16
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Desertions.
    • 1863 September 25
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction.
    • 1862 April 27
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • 1862 May 27
    • 1862 June 30
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
    • 1862 May 27
    • 1862 June 1
    • 1862 June 30
    • 1862 September 30
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, British.
    • 1862 December 19
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Scouts and scouting.
    • 1862 January 10
    Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction.
    • 1861 October 1
    • 1862 March 6
    War wounds.
    • 1862 September 30
    • 1862 November 5
    War--Psychological aspects.
    • 1861 October 22
    • 1862 December 12
    Water.
    • 1862 August 15
    Winchester, 1st Battle of, Va., 1862.
    • [1862] June 28
    Women--Virginia.
    • 1862 December 25