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Hassenger, Christopher

CHRISTOPHER HASSENGER
Private, 15th and 32nd Light Artillery
Middle Island


Born in 1840, Christopher Hassenger grew up farming in Middle Island. As the Civil War got underway, many hard working, middle class and poor people thought they could relate to the difficult lives of Negro slaves in the South. This served to rally recruits into the Union Army.

At the age of twenty-two, Hassenger joined this rally. On August 26, 1862, he enlisted at Harrison, New York, for a three-year hitch. He was assigned, along with friends from Middle Island, to the 15th Battery, New York Light Artillery. This unit had a definite Long Island connection. Captain McMahon, the unit commander, made it a point to recruit from this area.

After moving to Washington, the 15th was assigned to support the Army of the Potomac as it moved into the Gettysburg campaign. Christopher Hassenger served honorably through the turmoil on this great battlefield. Captain Hart, who led the battery into combat, detailed the battery's involvement at Gettysburg:

I was ordered by Major McGilvery to go to the front with him, to take a position in the line of battle. We met General Sickles, with whom the major consulted. I halted my battery, and proceeded to the front, when I met General Hunt, chief of artillery, who ordered me to take a position on the left of the peach orchard. I came into position and directed the fire of my battery on one of the enemy's batteries, which was doing heavy execution on our line of battle. I used solid shot and shell with such effect that the enemy was compelled to withdraw their battery. They then brought a battery still farther to my right. They poured a tremendous cross-fire into me, killing 3 of my men and wounding 5, also killing 13 horses.
At this time my attention was drawn to a heavy column of infantry advancing on our line. I directed my fire with shrapnel on this column to good effect. I then changed to canister repulsing the attack made on my battery.
After the first repulse of the enemy, they reformed and advanced on me a second time, and were repulsed. At this very moment I saw a very heavy column of the enemy advancing on the left of the barn and through a wheat-field, distant about 400 yards. I directed the fire of the left piece of my battery with canister upon this column, which did excellent execution, the enemy breaking in confusion. At this time the enemy were advancing in heavy force on me. I fired my last round of canister at this column before I retired.

When the fighting ended on July 2nd, the 15th battery retired to repair damages and receive more ammunition. Captain Hart described the next days' fighting, which was among the fiercest of the entire war:

Early on the morning of the 3rd, I received orders by Major McGilvery's orderly to proceed to the front, which order I immediately obeyed. General Hunt passing along the line, told me to hold my position and not to return the enemy's fire unless I saw his infantry advancing; then to open fire to the best advantage. When the infantry commenced to advance, I fired shell and shrapnel until the right of his first column came within 500 yards of me, when I opened with canister, which took good effect. His second line appeared to be coming direct for my battery. I turned all my guns on this line, every piece loaded with two canisters. I continued this dreadful fire on this line until there was not a man of them to be seen. My battery remained in position until near noon on the 4th, when I was ordered to the rear.

Hassenger, Christopher

Cannons, with embankments thrown in front for protection. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Throughout March and April of 1864, Hassenger and a fellow Middle Island resident, Joel Overton, helped move wounded on the ambulance train. In May, Hassenger returned to his unit, which moved into the Wilderness Campaign. Then, on the evening of May 9, 1864, Christopher Hassenger was captured by the enemy at Spotsylvania.

his was a battle of anticipation: Grant anticipated Lee's retreat, and Lee anticipated Grant's retreat to Spotsylvania. Lee ended up beating Grant to Spotsylvania and was able to dig in at this vital Confederate crossroad. It is very likely that Hassenger was captured at the breastworks, in a region known as "Bloody Angle."

While a prisoner of war, Hassenger became very ill. On May 19, 1864, he was admitted to Danville Hospital in Virginia suffering from epilepsy. He did not return to his prison quarters until June 16. He remained a prisoner until the end of the war. Nevertheless, his military records were transferred to the 32nd Independent Battery at Harpers Ferry in Virginia on February 4, 1865, when the 15th Independent Battery was disbanded. This was purely a procedural matter, since Hassenger did not fight again. He was mustered out of service on July 14, 1865, in New York City.

Artist drawing showing Union artillery at Gettysburg on July 2nd.(Harper's Weekly)


Battle Map of the Gettysburg battle field. (Harper's Weekly)

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