Homan, William

57th New York Volunteers
Company I

William Homan
57th New York Volunteers, Company I

William Homan was born in Yaphank on December 3, 1839. He worked as a farmer until he enlisted in the army at the age of twenty-one. At that time, Homan stood five feet nine inches tall and had brown eyes and black hair. When he applied for a pension many years later, he wrote, "I enlisted in Company I 57th NY Volunteers May 7th 1861. I was mustered in US service on August 14, 1861 at Dobbs Ferry."

The 57th NY Volunteers spent two months organizing in New York City, beginning August 12, 1861. On November 14, the regiment left by rail for Camp Wilder in Washington, D.C. The 57th broke camp on November 28 and marched to Camp California in Virginia singing "Dixie" as they marched. Homan finally received his first army pay while at Camp California.

On March 3, 1862, the 57th began a three-day march to Manassas in Virginia. The regimental band played as the men sang the Star Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle while they marched. Their time in Manassas was uneventful. In May, they moved to Fair Oaks, Virginia. While there, Homan visited the camp hospital from May 14-17 where he was treated for diarrhea.

By this time, President Lincoln and General McClellan had decided that the Army of the Potomac would enter Virginia by way of a peninsula southeast of Richmond. Known as the Peninsula Campaign, their goal was to capture Richmond.

The 57th began a series of battles with Confederate forces on June 1, 1862. Homan was with the regiment at Fair Oaks where they lost seven men and eleven were wounded. Soon after, he came down with typhoid fever, and was admitted to the hospital from June 13-21.

Homan returned to the unit in time to participate in the Seven Days' Battle, which began at Gaines Mill and ended at Malvern Hill. Even though Union forces defeated General Robert E. Lee's forces at Malvern Hill, they were unable to capture Richmond. As a result, they were forced to pull back. The Seven Days' Battle resulted in over 16,000 Union casualties and 20,000 Confederate casualties. The 57th suffered fifty-two casualties.

In September of 1862, Robert E. Lee, feeling confident after his decisive victory over the Federals at the second battle of Bull Run, decided to move northward. He crossed the Potomac into Maryland, hoping to bring that border state into the Confederacy. Union General George McClellan moved his forces to meet this challenge. On September 17, 1862, both armies met at a place called Sharpsburg.

Homan, William
Main Street in Sharpsburg. Robert E. Lee and his troops marched down this street on their way to Antietam Creek.

The 57th engaged in combat on Thursday, September 17, at a place known locally as the Sunken Road. The road had been worn down over the years by the weight of wagons and by erosion so that it lay several feet below the bordering fields. Sunken Road at first made a perfect rifle trench for concealed Confederate troops. By the end of the day, however, it acquired a new name, Bloody Lane.

Corporal Joel Ruland of Manorville. Ruland was one of several local men, who enlisted in Company I, of the 57th New York. Ruland was killed in action at Antietam. A soldier next to Ruland heard him exclaim "My God I am dead" as he was shot. Photo from the collection of Nate Carter.

Union troops, led by the 69th NY, advanced on the Sunken Road and their concealed enemy. As they closed in, the Confederates opened a deadly fire into Union troops. The 69th suffered 540 casualties and were forced from the field. A hill overlooking the Sunken Road gave Union soldiers a clear firing zone into the Confederate trenches. As a result, the Confederates suffered staggering losses. With Confederate losses mounting, Union forces, including the 57th NY, charged across the Sunken Road.

Confederate dead piled up on "Bloody Lane."

On June 29, 1863, the 57th NY began a two-day forced march to Gettysburg. On July 2, the second day of the battle, they were deployed to the left center of Cemetery Ridge. Earlier in the day, General Dan Sickles, commander of the III Corps, made a controversial move with his troops. Seeking higher ground, he moved his troops forward to the Emmitsburg Road, far in front of Union lines. This move left his right flank exposed. Confederate forces were able to break through, crossing a peach orchard, the woods, and the Wheatfield, to a little stream called Plum Run. Here they ran into Union reserves and a fierce battle ensued.

At 4:00 in the afternoon, the 57th NY received orders to engage the enemy. General Samuel Zook led the 57th across the Wheatfield under intense fire. During this initial charge, Zook was shot and killed. The Wheatfield was the scene of intense fighting, and control of the field changed many times. Combat was so close that it was often hand to hand fighting. At one point, the Confederates were pushed back into the woods; they regrouped and pushed the 57th back to a stone wall on the field. During this withdrawal, Homan was slightly wounded. Worse, he was captured. The 57th suffered thirty-four casualties that day at Gettysburg.

57th New York Regiment lined up during an ambulence drill. Members of the regiment are lined up behind the ambulances.

Homan spent the rest of the war, twenty months, in Confederate prisoner of war camps. He was first confined at Richmond, Virginia, and on March 14, 1863, he was moved to the infamous prison of war camp at Andersonville. Homan suffered greatly while there. The unsanitary conditions, poor food and constant exposure to the elements affected him the rest of his life. Homan was paroled from Andersonville on March 2, 1865. He was discharged from the army two months later, on May 8, 1865.

William Homan returned home to Yaphank. He married Isadore Hawkins just a few months later, in September of 1865, at the Middle Island Presbyterian Church. William and Isadore had two children: Effie, born in 1866; and Llewelyn, born in 1873.

When Homan applied for a pension after the war, his physician, Dr. Louis Terry, sent the following deposition:

Before the war William Homan enjoyed good health. But since his return from the service he has suffered a great deal from pectoral trouble and fever, which he no doubt contracted during the war and the result of continuous exposure and imprisonment for 20 months at Andersonville.

Homan returned to Gettysburg in 1893 for the unveiling of the monument of the 57th NY Volunteers. He and fifty-nine other members of his regiment received bronze medals for their participation in the Battle of Gettysburg.

In 1890, Homan moved from Yaphank to serve as the Postmaster in Brooklyn. He returned to Yaphank six years later, after retiring from the post office. His wife, Isadore, died in 1906. At the age of seventy-five, Homan married his second wife, Ruth Hammond, on September 9, 1914.
William Homan passed away January 7, 1920, at his home in Yaphank.

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