17th Vermont Infantry
(Courtesy of the Vermont State Curator's Office)
Colonel: Francis Voltaire Randall
Colonels: Charles Cummings, Lyman Enos Knapp
Majors: William B. Reynolds, Henry Augustus Eaton, Lyman Enos Knapp, James S. Peck.
The 17th Regiment was recruited under an order issued by Gov. Holbrook on Aug. 3, 1863. The original intention was to enlist a regiment of veterans. The five nine months' regiments had just been mustered out and it was expected that a large number of these men would promptly reenlist in the new regiment. For business and other reasons this did not prove to be the case and the work of filling the regiment proceeded very slowly. At first the bounties offered were confined to men who had seen service, and when this restriction was removed in September only $100 was offered for recruits for the new regiment, while $300 was offered for recruits for existing organizations. On Dec. 31 the government offered the same bounty to recruits for new regiments as was offered to those for the old, and men were then obtained more rapidly. Enlistments began on Aug. 21, 1863, and continued to Sep. 23, 1864. The first company was not filled until Jan. 5, 1864, and from that date until the following September the regiment was slowly mustered into service for a three years' term, mostly in small squads. Col. Randall, an experienced officer, who had served as captain in the 2nd and as colonel of the 13th Vt., was commissioned colonel Feb. 10, 1864, but could not be mustered until the full regiment was raised. He joined the 17th at the front on Oct. 27, but was never given the opportunity to lead the regiment into battle. The 17th rendezvoused at Burlington and when only partially organized, left the state, April 18, 1864, as a battalion of seven companies commanded by Lieut-Col. Cummings, who had served in that capacity with the 16th Vt. Maj. Reynolds was also an experienced officer, having served as captain in the 6th Vt. Thus imperfectly organized the 17th had had little opportunity for drill and discipline. It arrived at Alexandria on April 22, where it was assigned to the 2nd brigade (Col. Griffin), 2nd division (Gen. Potter), 9th corps (Gen. Burnside), and was at once hurried into the bloody campaign which began at the Wilderness. During its brief term of service it fought in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna river, Totopotomoy, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor, Petersburg on June 17 and in the mine explosion of July 30, Weldon railroad, Poplar Spring Church, the first battle on Hatcher's Run, and the fall of Petersburg. Its first experience of the stern realities of war was in the battle of the Wilderness, where it gave evidence of the same fine qualities of courage and fighting ability which had already rendered the 1st Vt. brigade famous throughout the army, and gained an honorable name for the nine months' regiments of the 2nd Vt. brigade at Gettysburg. The command behaved with the steadiness and courage of veterans. Its loss in this battle was 80 killed, wounded and missing out of 313 engaged. It again lost heavily at Spotsylvania, where it added to its reputation for courage and coolness, its loss here being 72 killed, wounded and missing out of about 250 engaged. From that time on the regiment was almost constantly marching and fighting. Writing from Cold Harbor on June 8, Lieut. -Col. Cummings said in his official report : "During the last 15 days we have been under fire every day but 3, and 2 of these days we were on the march." It was already sadly reduced in numbers by battle and sickness and was glad to welcome on June 8 Co. H, Capt. Corey, with 57 men, which gave it a total of 235 muskets. In the assault on the works of Petersburg, June 17, the regiment captured the colors, adjutant and about 70 men of the 17th Tenn. and 2 pieces of artillery. It went into action with 135 men and lost 6 killed and 20 wounded, 7 fatally. In the disastrous action of the mine explosion, July 30, it was commanded by Maj. Reynolds. It mustered for the assault only 8 commissioned officers and 120 men, and when the bloody affair was over, only 1 officer and less than half the men returned. Its casualties were 10 killed, 46 wounded, 18 missing. Among the killed was the gallant Maj. Reynolds. Lieut. Needham, the only officer who escaped, was badly wounded and died a week later. Adjt. Peck, though sick, assumed command, but was soon succeeded by Capt. Knapp, absent on detached service, and shortly after, Capt. Eaton, also on detached duty, was relieved and promoted to major. Lieut. -Col. Cummings went home on sick leave, and Maj. Eaton continued in command. In August, Co. I, with 87 men, joined the regiment, which was further augmented by returning convalescents and mustered 233 present for duty on Sep. 1. Another heavy loss was sustained by the regiment in the action at Poplar Spring Church, when 8 were killed, 40 wounded, 2 mortally, and 27 captured. Among the killed were Lieut. -Col. Cummings and Maj. Eaton, both gallant officers, and for a while after this disastrous action the command mustered only 84 men, with Capt. Knapp in command. On Oct. 27, Co. K, Capt. Yale, with 95 men and Col. Randall joined the regiment. It sustained no loss in the action at Hatcher's Run, Oct. 27. During the period from Nov., 1864, to Feb. 11, 1865, the 9th corps was transferred to the extreme right of the army, and Griffin's brigade held the left of the corps line, which extended from the Appomattox to the left as far as the Jerusalem plank road. Col. Randall was placed in charge of Fort Davis on the brigade line, in command of his own regiment, the 31st Me., 56th Mass., and two batteries. On Feb. 11, 1865, the 17th was moved a mile to the left on the advance line and held this position until the final assault on Petersburg, April 2. Early in March Col. Randall went home on 30 days' leave, and did not rejoin the regiment until after Lee's surrender. LtCol. Knapp commanded the regiment in the final assault, during which it displayed its customary gallantry, losing 10 killed and 35 wounded, 5 mortally. It joined in the pursuit of Lee, and on the day of the final surrender was at Burkesville, where it was joined the next day by Col. Randall. It remained there on duty until the 20th, when it returned to Alexandria via City Point. It participated in the grand review at Washington, May 23, and was mustered out and started home on July 14. It arrived at Burlington on the 18th and the men were finally paid and discharged on the 24th. The 17th was one of the nine Vermont regiments in Fox's "three hundred fighting regiments" which sustained a loss of 119 to 174 men each. It lost 14 officers killed or mortally wounded, exceeding that of any other Vermont regiment ; had 6 commissioned officers brevetted for gallant and meritorious services in the field ; was credited with 232 recruits, but of this number 120 enlisted as substitutes or were drafted and stand on the records as "deserted, never joined company."
The original members numbered 869, recruits, 232, transferred from other regiments, 5, total enrolment, 1,106; killed in action or died of wounds, 133, by accident, 3, in prison 33 - total 226; losses other than by death 386, viz: wounded, 314; captured, 72. `
Source: The Union Army: A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65, (Federal Publishing Company, Madison, WI, 1908), i:122-124.