Private, Co. F, 108th N.Y. Inf., July 21, 1862 - Feb. 11, 1863
Private Russell S. Disbrow (b. 1840 in Waterloo. Seneca County, N.Y.) was the youngest son of James B. Disbrow (b. 1803 d. 1874) and his second wife, Almeda Stevenson Disbrow (b. 1806 d. 1898). His older brother, Alvah David Disbrow (b. 1838 - d. 1910?) was the father of Harvey Rheid Disbrow (b. 1870 - d. 1933) and the grandfather of Gladys (b. 1900), Orba (b. 1903), Metha (b. 1906) , Thelma (b. 1909) , Ena (b. 1914) , and Leona (b. 1916) Disbrow. In the 1860 Federal census, taken for the town of Junius in Seneca County, N.Y. on August 25, 1860, Russell Disbrow is listed as a 20 year old farmhand working for a neighbor of James and Almeda Disbrow while his older brother Alvah is listed as a blacksmith like their father, James Disbrow.
Russell S. Disbrow enlisted as a Private in Co. F, 108th N.Y. Infantry at Rochester, New York on July 21, 1862 and was mustered into service the next day. Service records indicate that both a $25.00 and $2.00 premium were paid at that time. New York State Archive records describe him as being 23 years old, working as a teamster, having blue eyes, light hair, light complexion, and being 5' 11" tall. The Regimental Descriptive Book, however, describes him as having dark hair, being a farmer, and being 5' 9 1/2" tall. The 108th N.Y. Inf. left New York for Washington, D.C. on August 19, 1862.
Less than one month after leaving New York, the raw troops of the 108th N.Y. Inf. were rushed into combat at the battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland on Sept. 17, 1862 in response to Confederate General Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North. Pvt. Russell Disbrow and the 108th N.Y. were under the immediate command of Colonel Oliver H. Palmer; at the battle of Antietam, the 108th N.Y. Inf. was part of the 2nd Brigade commanded by Colonel Dwight Morris and within the 3rd Division of II Corps commanded by Brigadier General William H. French. II Corps, commanded by Major General E.V. Sumner, and part of the Army of the Potomac, was under the overall command of Major General George B. McClellan at this time.
French's Division was ordered to attack Confederates entrenched in a sunken road known today as "Bloody Lane". The inexperienced regiments (including Co. F of the 108th N.Y. Inf.) in Morris' Brigade were mowed down by Confederate minie-balls as they marched in perfect ranks toward the position - the 108th N.Y. Inf. lost 196 men killed and wounded during their frontal assault upon Bloody Lane. General French's 3rd Division suffered losses totalling 1,750 men (a casualty rate of over 30%) trying to take the Rebel position. Pvt. Russell Disbrow escaped the day of the 108th N.Y. Inf.'s first combat experience without serious injury.
Following Antietam, the 108th N.Y. Inf. was posted at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia (Sept. 22 Oct. 30, 1862) ; went on a reconnaisance to Charleston, Virginia (Oct. 16-17, 1862); and moved up the Loudon Valley to Falmouth, Virginia (Oct. 30 - Nov. 17). The 108th N.Y. Inf. and Pvt. Russell Disbrow then experienced the horrors of the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia (Dec. 12-15, 1862).
At Fredericksburg, the 108th N.Y. Inf. was under the immediate command of Lt.-Colonel Charles J. Powers. The 108th N.Y. was also in the 2nd Brigade (now commanded by their former regimental commander at Antietam, Colonel Oliver H. Palmer) along with the 14th Connecticut and 130th Pennsylvania Infantry regiments. Palmer's Brigade was in the 3rd Division of II Corps and once again commanded by Brigadier General William H. French. This time, II Corps was commanded by Major General Darius N. Couch, subordinate to Major General Sumner and the new overall commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside.
Apparently learning nothing from their high casualties due to frontal assaults upon entrenched Confederate positions at Antietam the Federal high-command once again sent their troops to be slaughtered against a strong Rebel position at Fredericksburg. This time, Confederates under General James Longstreet held a strong position behind a stone wall at the top of a hill called Marye's Heights. Shortly before noon on December 13, 1862, General Burnside sent French's Division up the long hill toward the waiting Confederates. Pvt. Russell Disbrow, within the 108th N.Y. and Palmer's Brigade , was subjected to heavy artillery fire once French's Division left the shelter of the town and moved into the open field facing Marye's Heights. French's Division was decimated as it marched in lines of battle up the hill - fortunately for Pvt. Disbrow, his brigade (Palmer's) had two brigades (Kimball's and Andrew's) in front of it. French's Division got to within 125 yards of the stone wall before receiving a hailstorm of directed musket-fire and cannons firing cannister French's Division essentially evaporated.
Watching the carnage from Marye's Heights during the Federal assaults upon it, overall commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the battle of Fredericksburg, General Robert E. Lee supposedly remarked, "It is well that war is so terrible else we should grow too fond of it." The 108th N.Y. Inf. suffered 92 killed / wounded / missing; total Federal casualties were 12,500 killed / wounded / missing during the battle of Fredericksburg while total Confederate losses were about 5,000. Once again, Pvt. Russell Disbrow somehow escaped serious injury in this, only his second combat experience.
Seemingly weakened by his participation in the horrific battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, and probably the cold winter of 1862-63, Pvt. Russell S. Disbrow became seriously ill and died of "consumption" (tuberculosis) near Falmouth. Virginia on February 11, 1863. His Civil War service lasted only about 6 months, but in terms of what he experienced and witnessed at both Antietam and Fredericksburg as a soldier in the 108th N.Y. Inf., it was as intense as any imaginable.
On April 11, 1888, the widowed mother of Pvt. Russell S. Disbrow, Almeda Stevenson Disbrow, filed for her dead son's Civil War pension (application No. 370747, certificate No. 265846). At the time of her filing, she was living with her stepson, Horatio A. Disbrow (b. 1832 - d. 1899) near Wheatland. Hillsdale County, Michigan. Russell S. Disbrow is buried in the military section of the Maple Grove Cemetery in Seneca County, NY.
by Kenneth Elburn Byrd - Indianapolis, Indiana
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