As the sun set one hundred fifty years ago, Ira Sayles glumly faced life as a civilian. The New York abolitionist had enlisted in the summer of 1862, joining Alfred neighbors and friends in forming Company H, 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteers. Their first deployment was in Portage Station, New York, to be issued uniforms and weapons, and to elect company officers. Private Ira became 1st Lieutenant Sayles. The regiment traveled by train, their early legs through Williamsport and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lined by cheering children and flag-waving townsfolk. A brief stop in Washington, D.C. was followed by passage down the Potomac, into the Chesapeake Bay, to Fort Monroe. The soldiers, by and by, found themselves in the September humidity of southeastern Virginia, eight miles from the North Carolina border, and just mosquito-wings distance from the Great Dismal Swamp. Camp Suffolk would soon surround the southern town of Suffolk, with earthen forts, trenches, and rifle pits.
The recruits of the 130th NY Volunteer infantry were unseasoned soldiers, and days of shoveling red clay were followed by nights of marching. Footsore, hungry and often wet, the companies would return from their Blackwater River escapades without having fired a shot. By the end of September the regiment began losing soldiers to the diseases of the swamp. And 1st Lieutenant Sayles was elected Captain to fill one such resignation.
Captain Ira Sayles was proud to wear the officer’s sword, and to marshal the energies and courage of his men. After all the pre-war public-speaking, after all the furtive dealings along the local Underground Railroad, Ira must have found the actual participation in slavery’s eradication a seductive reason to endure all the trials and horrors of the war.
Unfortunately, Ira’s forty-six year old body rebelled against the prolonged exposure, manual labor, and sleep deprivation. By January, Ira Sayles, suffering from chronic debilitating pain, reported for a hospital cot instead of picket duty. At length, as it became evident that Ira’s passion could not overcome the frailties, his regiment’s physician, B. T. Kneeland, wrote these words :
February 19th. 1863
I certify that I have carefully examined Capt. Ira Sayles of Co. H, 130th N.Y. Vol’s. and find him incapable of performing the duties of his position, because of rheumatic disease induced in my opinion by frequent and long continued exposure and fatigue, in performing the duties of his office.
Surely a long, sleepless night followed the examination. The next day, after sharpening a fresh goose feather quill, Ira dipped deep into his abolitionist soul to find these words:
I have the honor hereby to tender my Resignation of the Captaincy of Company H of the 130 Regiment, New York State Volunteers, which post I now hold.
It is with unfeigned regret, that I find myself compelled to take this step during the continuance of my country’s imminent peril; but the labors, the exposures, and the watchings of the past six months’ service here, have made such inroads on my health, that it is evident I can no longer perform the severe duties of a Captain of Infantry, either creditably to myself, or effectively for my country. In such case, honor and patriotism alike demand, that the sword I am no longer able to wield with due energy, I resign to stronger hands. (Please find Surgeon’s Certificate enclosed.)
Praying for my country’s Early and Honorable Peace through Victory over her Insolent Foes,
I have the Honor to be, Sir, Very Respectfully Your Most Obd’t Serv’t,
One last time, Ira proudly added:
Capt. Comd’g Co. H., 130 Reg’t., N.Y.S.Vols.
By February 26, Ira would have received notice. Special Order No. 55 had been issued by Head Quarters, Department of Virginia, Seventh Army Corps, Fort Monroe, Virginia:
The following named officers having tendered their resignations are honorably discharged from the military service of the United States
Capt. Ira Sayles 130th Reg. N.Y.Vols. on account of ill health.
By command of Maj Genl. Dix
The sun set that February night on a civilian Ira Sayles.
5 thoughts on “On This Day: The Discharge of Captain Ira Sayles”
I really enjoyed this narrative. It had a good blend of storytelling mixed in with the facts. 🙂
Thanks! I was able to construct this after a bunch of drafting in my Family History Writing Challenge project. Whew!
Thanks for stopping by!
I just discovered 60 to 70 letters and Poems Ira Sayles sent to my great great grandfather E.B. HALL between the years of 1881 and 1891. He refers to Hall as Friend Hall and at one point Friends for life. E.B. built a well knowm house in Wellsville NY known as THE PINK HOUSE, Hall was an pharmacist and amateur geologist. I’m researching EB and it’d be great if you perhaps had any of his letters to IRA, though the context of Ira’s letters does fill in some details. I’d be happy to share these I just found them two days ago in the Pink House in NY. I hope to hear from you, Jay Woelfel
Thanks for writing, Jay! I would LOVE to read these letters! Unfortunately, I don’t have, or know of, any letters that Ira received from E.B. Hall. I do know from existing records that Ira had a sister in Wellsville, and that his parents lived with her until their deaths. I also know that Ira lived with them for short periods of time. He was an unusual man, Ira was. At the time of this correspondence with E. B. Hall, Ira had “graduated” from amateur geologist, and was employed with the newly created US Geological Survey, traipsing up and down the east coast collecting specimens. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can collaborate!
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