Passaic County’s First
Three Year Volunteer for the Union
(taken from “Short Sketches on Passaic County History,”
by Edward M. Graf, 1935)
It is a matter of history that the first man from Passaic County as a three-year volunteer was Archibald BELCHER. Mr. Belcher, eager to assist in restoring peace and union to the country, was the first who enlisted “for three years or the war.”
He was the first volunteer sworn in and was enrolled in the first Sickles Regiment, April 17, 1861. He left his family to enlist as a private and rose from the ranks in the field to sergeant, second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and finally to the captaincy, which position he filled with honor to himself and his regiment.
Captain Belcher was first wounded at the battle of Williamsburgh on May 5, 1862. He was shot through the breast, an ounce musketball passing entirely through his body and out of his back. As it had made a straight course through the right lung, the breathing was affected instantly, and Mr. Belcher impressed with the idea of approaching death, remained where he fell, struggling for breath; the air coming out the holes in his body, and forcing blood through at every breath.
About two hours after Belcher fell, he crawled out from amongst the dead and dying, striving to reach the hospital. On his way, he met General HEINZELMAN who ordered him to be taken to the hospital quickly and gave orders the next morning for him to be transferred north immediately. Captain HART, the Adjutant General of the brigade, rode up to the General and he gave his directions, asking what he thought of Belcher’s case.
“He’ll die before tomorrow morning,” said Captain Hart, “and there is no use ordering him north.”
“Order him homeward, and give him a little hope,” resumed the kind-hearted general.
Dr. ASH in the hospital pronounced life impossible and bade Belcher give his directions, and prepare for death as he could not live. Contrary to all expectations, Belcher was still alive the next morning, and although a great sufferer for four months bleeding from the holes in his breast and back, he finally recovered and went to the front again. He requested being relieved from recruiting service to which he had been assigned. His health was however frail; but for two years after this, he served in quelling the rebellion and was again wounded in the head above the right ear.
This was during a fiery baptism at Gettysburg. Falling instantly insensible, he was left (as was supposed by his comrades), dead on the field. The regiment falling back, Belcher was between the lines in the open field where the fight was raging so fiercely. He became sensible some time afterwards, and the first words he heard were the rallying cries of his regiment.
Belcher springing to his feet, joined in the rally, giving an order at the top of his voice, supposing the colors he saw in front belonging to his regiment. But when the colors were reached, they were found to belong to a North Carolina regiment, and he was captured.
After this charge, Belcher again became rational, found himself in a ravine, perfectly helpless upon a rock. He was subsequently helped away by a rebel soldier, who had been made a prisoner and was on his way to our rear, who took pity on him, finding him paralyzed in the hops, and tried to get him to a hospital.
Belcher was totally helpless in his limbs until some time after being transferred north. He was here two months before being able to rejoin his comrades. He was struck again, this time at Petersburgh; but this last injury were merely a flesh wound.
Captain Belcher served his full term and received his discharge papers signed for faithful services as a soldier.
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