Letter – Louis P. Di Cesnola, 10 March 1863


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Letter written by Medal of Honor winner Colonel Louis P. DiCesnola of the 4th NY Cavalry, to New York Congressman Erastus Corning, from Willard’s Hotel in Washington. DiCesnola writes that he has been restored to his former rank and position, and will retake command of the 4th NY Cavalry as he has lost command of the brigade given to him by General Franz Sigel. However, DiCesnola says he plans on resigning soon, as he did not receive the “full justice” he is entitled to from Secretary Stanton. DiCesnola implores Congressman Corning to find military employment for him under Governor Seymour, as he has very little money left. DiCesnola suggests that he be put in charge of instruction at a large military camp due to his years of experience instructing officers in the army.

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Willard’s hotel Washington

                                 March 10th 1863

Hon. Erastus Corning, M.[ember] C.[ongress]

     The order restoring me to my former rank and position has been at last printed & is published today or tomorrow. With what aching heart I return to my regiment – few persons can appreciate it! I tried ever to do my utmost in well deserving from my adoptive country, and the rewards I received from the administration I may say were nothing but kicks. I am going to take command of my regiment again, as I lost the permanent command of the brigade Genl. Sigel gave me having been disbanded & put in several other divisions. It is impossible for me to continue in the service[,] as tho’ I have been restored I have not received from the administration that full justice I was entitled, and Secy. Stanton says “it is all he can do.” I am therefore going to the regiment with a broken heart – to stay there some weeks and then I shall resign as it is incompatible with my character to continue.

     I am poor and the little money my wife had I have freely spent it in recruiting, so I may say I am going to be a beggar out of service if you do not assist me in getting some military employment under Governor Seymour. I heard of a large camp of instruction is going to be formed. If that is true, I could be of

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some good as I can truly boast I know and can impart instruction in the U. S. military tactics, cavalry, artillery, & infantry as any of the West Point professors, as I have instructed more than 800 officers now in the army. The commander of a camp of instruction or another similar military command would suit me well and put me in a position of doing good to the noble cause I fight & fought for.

     If I fail in getting any other employment I shall then turn farmer and live an independent life.

     I thank you most heartily for all the kindness you always showed me, and be sure I shall never forget them as long as I live. I remain as ever with the greatest respect.

                        Your most obt. servt.

                          Col. di Cesnola                          4th N.Y. Cavalry

Louis Palma di Cesnola, was born June 29, 1832 in Rivarolo, Italy into a noble family. He served in the Italian army as a non-commissioned officer in the 1850’s. As an immigrant with military experience, he was commissioned as major of the 11th NY Cavalry on Sept. 11, 1861, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was appointed colonel of the 4th NY Cavalry Sept. 11, 1862. Under Major General Franz Sigel he was given brigade command in General John Pope’s Army of Virginia, but in early 1863 his brigade was disbanded (the basis for this letter). He only commanded the 4th NY Cavalry during the Chancellorsville Campaign. Although briefly restored to brigade command (1st Brig., 2nd Div., Cav. Corps), in the reorganization of June 14, 1863 di Cesnola lost his brigade once again to Judson Kilpatrick, and reverted back to command of the 4th N.Y. Cav. On June 17, 1863 at the Battle of Aldie, VA, an altercation occurred between di Cesnola and Kilpatrick. Di Cesnola’s  protests over being bypassed and superseded by his junior, was interpreted by Kilpatrick as insubord-ination. He placed di Cesnola under arrest, taking his sword from him, as was the usual procedure. The 4th NY Cavalry in support of di Cesnola, refused to obey Kilpatrick’s order to charge until he was released from arrest. Kilpatrick released him from arrest and ordered him to attack Fitz Lee’s VA cavalrymen, strongly posted in front. Although badly outnumbered, and a “senseless order,” di Cesnola led the forlorn charge. His horse was shot from under him, and he was wounded by a saber slash on the head and a rifle ball in his left arm. Captured on the field by Privates Wade and Scruggs of the 2nd VA Cavalry, di Cesnola was eventually sent to Libby Prison following his recovery. Paroled March 21, 1864 and soon  exchanged, di Cesnola rejoined the army but was not promoted. Frustrated, di Cesnola resigned Sept. 4, 1864. He received the medal of honor post war for his service at Aldie, and died Nov. 20, 1904.