A Student Goes to War Hamilton College, 1860s. https://westerndistrictfamilies.com/tag/dunn/

Rush Cady was born on December 1, 1841 in Rome, New York, to a family of moderate wealth. He was the eldest of six children, with three sisters and two brothers. At first glance, Cady easily fits the mold of other young, impressionable men who may not have been especially prepared to cope with the horrors of war. However, unlike a lot of other men of his young age and background, military service ran in his family. Both of his grandfathers, Asa Cady and Asher H. Palmer, had served in the War of 1812; no doubt young Rush grew up hearing tales of their time in the army. Hearing such stories from his grandfathers may have inspired Rush to one day join the military, or fostered in him a sense of duty to country that was bound up in his sense of familial duties. In any event, when Rush came of age to serve in the military, the United States was at peace. He decided to continue his studies and pursue a college degree. In 1859, he had the money and primary school education to begin attending Hamilton College. He most likely wanted a college degree to separate himself from most other young men his age. It is unclear what exactly he wanted to do with his degree, but graduating from college would certainly have helped Rush establish a stable, successful career. Unfortunately, his education would be interrupted by national crisis.

During his second year of college, the Confederate States seceded from the Union; the next spring, war broke out. As he was the proper age to enlist, he probably felt societal pressure to do his patriotic duty and join the army. Additionally, military service was an important way to prove one’s masculinity in the nineteenth century. Even though he was legally old enough to enlist on his own, he still sought his parents’ permission to join the army. Perhaps he still felt obligated to his parents, or maybe his youth made him doubt his ability to make such a serious decision without the approval of his mother and father. Whatever his reasons may have been, Rush eventually traveled to New York City to join the army, but the state quickly overfilled its quota. Young men of New York were eager to display their patriotism and manliness on the battlefield, and yearned for the adventures that soldiering would surely offer them, in the early days of the war. However, despite their enthusiasm, many of them, including Cady, were turned away from the recruiting office.

That situation soon changed following the Union defeat at First Bull Run in July of 1861. Once blood had been shed, and it became clear that neither side was going to back away from military conflict, the Union needed more men to sustain a larger army. Cady once again attempted to enlist, but fell ill and had to wait until he regained his health. Upon recovering, Cady decided that he would not be returning to school. He felt that his place was in the army, and that he would enlist as soon as a new unit was formed. He did not have to wait long, as he would join the 97th New York Infantry shortly after regaining his strength. Even though his uncle, Gustavus Palmer, was named captain of Company K, Cady had no desire to use his family connections to become an officer. In fact, he had no aspirations for command leadership at all. Instead, swept up in the patriotic fervor of the early war period, Cady aided Union recruiting efforts and helped to swell the ranks of the 97th. Ironically, as a reward for his vigor in recruiting, Cady was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant of the regiment. As a college student with no prior military training, Cady was personally unprepared for this new leadership position. Fortunately, as the lowest rank of officer, he did not initially bear a lot of command responsibility. He spent a lot of his time among the privates, and he seemed to be well-liked in the unit.

Shattered Expectations Defenses of Washington in the early war period. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1862/january/defense-washington.htm

When Union General George McClellan proposed to transfer the Army of the Potomac out of northern Virginia and attack Richmond from the east in the spring of 1862, the Lincoln administration feared that the movement of the army would leave Washington, D.C. vulnerable to attack. In response, newly recruited units were assigned to the defenses of the capital. One of those units was Cady’s 97th New York. As the Army of the Potomac engaged in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Cady longed to see combat. The time spent in camp must have been excruciating for the men of the 97th. They had enlisted with the expectation of seeing combat and actively contributing to a Union victory on the battlefield, yet their orders kept them stationed in the Washington area for the entirety of the summer of 1862. It was during this time that many of them were forced to reconcile their prior expectations of Civil War soldiering with the monotony and tedium of everyday camp life. With these early expectations of army life shattered, the men had to find ways to keep themselves occupied while stationed in the defenses of Washington.

While he was away from the battlefield, Cady regularly wrote to his parents and mused about the progress of the war and what was at stake:

The march of Progress has always been through bloody battle-fields, & is so now. – Good men have always fought to maintain & defend great principles. Good governments cost blood & treasure in the founding & also in the preservation. The individual man is but a tool for the promotion of the progress & welfare of the whole race.

In this and other letters he wrote, Cady clearly expressed his dedication to the government of the United States, and felt that he was called to war to preserve that government. While he did write about slavery, particularly about slaves’ living conditions he saw in the South, he never elaborated on it as much as he did his opinions on politics. Cady was certainly not in favor of slavery, but to him the fate of slavery seemed to be a secondary concern. He may have viewed eliminating slavery as a necessity to end the war, but his language towards slaves shows that he had little sympathy for the enslaved themselves. As his letters show, he was more concerned with defending democracy and republican government for the benefit of all people. His letters also show that he was a romantic at heart; from time to time, he would send drawings or pressed flowers back home to his parents along with updates on how he was doing.

As McClellan moved towards Richmond that summer, Lincoln authorized the creation of a new Union army, the Army of Virginia, under the command of General John Pope, to operate in Northern Virginia. This new army needed troops to fill its ranks, and many of the regiments that comprised the new army came from the defenses of Washington. The 97th New York was one of those units that was reassigned at this time. It seemed Cady would finally be engaged in battle, after waiting almost a year to “see the elephant”. Cady, like other men preparing for their first battle, certainly felt a mix of emotions. While he never documented his precise feelings on the eve of combat, earlier writings indicate that he was both excited and anxious for his first battle. Cady had signed up to fight for his country, and he wanted to actually engage in battle instead of wasting away in the defenses of Washington. However, by this point, even the greenest of troops were all too aware of the horrors of battle, and the many thousands of dead and wounded men served as grim reminders of what could happen to any soldier on any battlefield.

"Seeing the Elephant" Artist's rendition of the Battle of Cedar Mountain. http://www.old88thpvi.com/cedar-mountain.html

Regardless of Cady’s desire or apprehension, the 97th first saw action at Cedar Mountain, Virginia in early August of 1862. The battle that Cady had longed for had finally arrived, and he reacted to it the same way numerous soldiers on either side reacted to their first combat. Cady wrote home that it was, “A horrible sight, to see the dead lying strewn over the ground, as they fell; now bloated & discolored from exposure to the sun”. Never before in his life had Cady seen anything like it. While he had finally witnessed with his own eyes the combat that he had so longed for, Cady’s words after the battle reveal an individual who was fundamentally stunned by what he had seen. No doubt, his first experience of battle had left an indelible and solemn impression on the young officer.

Soon after Cedar Mountain, Cady once again became ill. He contracted jaundice and was sent back to Washington for treatment and recovery. During Cady’s illness, the 97th was engaged at Second Bull Run where it witnessed yet another defeat at the hands of the Confederates. Soon thereafter, the Army of Virginia was merged into the Army of the Potomac, where General George McClellan held command. The 97th would now march with McClellan.

With Cady once again recovered from serious illness that fall, he rejoined the 97th after the bloodletting at Antietam; according to Cady, the regiment lost ninety-five men killed or wounded out of 203 men engaged. Men that Cady had come to know and call “friend” were undoubtedly among the killed or wounded. This was not the first time that Cady’s poor health had kept him away from his army duty, but it was the first time that it had kept him away from a major engagement. Considering Cady’s strong sense of duty and loyalty that he had conveyed in his letters, he must have felt ashamed to be lying in a hospital bed while his comrades were fighting the enemy. It is certainly possible that Cady felt some sense of relief at avoiding such a cataclysmic battle. He was obviously horrified by what he saw at Cedar Mountain, and those sights would only have been amplified at Antietam. However, he would never again be confined to a bed while his unit was in battle. Perhaps his feelings following Antietam convinced him to be tougher on himself than he had been before.

Not long after the battle, the 1st Lieutenant of Company K, Joseph Warren, was discharged, and Cady was promoted to take his place. The unassuming Cady said nothing of this promotion to his family other than, “Now that Lieut. Warren is discharged, I expect to be promoted to the 1st Lieutenancy”. He made no further comment about rank to his parents or his uncle in any of his letters. While Cady had proven to be a capable officer and was honored by the promotion, he simply was not a man who was consumed by ambition. Indeed, such leadership responsibilities may have seemed more like a burden or an undeserved honor to him than a reward.

After Lincoln replaced McClellan with Ambrose Burnside in November of 1862, the Army of the Potomac quickly made its way south towards Richmond before engaging with Lee’s army at Fredericksburg on December 13. While the Union attack on Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights is often regarded as the most famous part of the battle of Fredericksburg, the 97th New York saw action on the opposite end of the battlefield. Union divisions under John Gibbon and George Meade made a valiant assault against Confederate troops under Stonewall Jackson on the far left of the Confederate line. The assaults were ultimately unsuccessful, and the Union troops were repulsed. The 97th suffered 42 total casualties. Cady vented his frustrations to his hometown newspaper, the Roman Citizen: “If the body of men with whom I acted had been timely and properly supported as they might have been, the disastrous affront would have been a glorious victory”. The poor fortune of the Army of the Potomac did not end there. Following the battle, the Army of the Potomac began what quickly became known as the “Mud March”. The Union army attempted to move southward and continue the campaign, but bad weather and poorly-maintained roads led to unsuitable marching conditions; in some places, soldiers recounted that the mud was knee-deep. The movement was soon abandoned. In January of 1863, following the numerous failures of the Fredericksburg Campaign, Cady wrote home to his mother, relaying his feelings about what had happened over the last several months:

We felt assured of success, & the whole army has perhaps never been in better condition or spirits, than then. We were confident, that if victorious, our vic-tory would be almost complete, & would be promptly followed up; & if, on the other hand, we should suffer a defeat, it would necessarily be a very disastrous one, because the army would fight until almost anni- hilated, & as long as there was hope of suc-cess. The hopes & fate of the country would rest, as it were, upon the issue of the con-test. But the movement has been entirely abandoned.

The tone of this letter stands in stark contrast to Cady’s mindset at the beginning of the war. His optimism and patriotism seem almost completely gone in the face of such abject failure. His devotion to the cause and his country never wavered, but his faith in the success of that cause certainly did following the Fredericksburg Campaign. Cady had seen battle and loss before, but had never experienced anything as demoralizing as he did in the winter of 1862. Many of his Union comrades felt the same. After such a horrific period of suffering with nothing to show for it, morale was near rock bottom in the Union army. During this time, desertion became a serious issue, as soldiers no longer wanted any part of the war and just wanted to return home to their families. However, the dutiful Rush Cady never entertained the idea of desertion, at least not in his writings, and remained with the army. Cady would not get his own chance to help redeem the failures of the army for several months following Fredericksburg. The 97th was not heavily engaged in the battle of Chancellorsville that May, but following the Union defeat, they ultimately moved into Pennsylvania with the rest of the Army of the Potomac as they chased Lee’s army northward.

"He Complains Not a Word" Dale Gallon, "Fighting on the Ridges". https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-story-of-iversons-pits.123444/

Following the defeat at Chancellorsville, the Army of the Potomac was reorganized. General George Meade became the commander of the army, and some regiments changed their corps affiliation. The 97th New York was assigned to the First Corps under General John Reynolds. The First Corps had developed a sterling reputation during the war to this point. These men were considered the elite troops of the Union army; the famous Iron Brigade was a part of this corps. The First Corps was closest to the town of Gettysburg when the fighting began on July 1st, and as such they were the first major Union force to relieve General John Buford’s beleaguered cavalrymen. When the First Corps arrived on the battlefield, their reputation as elite soldiers had a noticeable effect; Confederate soldiers were intimidated merely by their presence. The 97th New York took up a position on Oak Ridge, to the northwest of town, where they engaged in heavy fighting with Confederates under Alfred Iverson. The men of the 97th fought valiantly on Oak Ridge. Cady was observed by one of his comrades to be “cool as though it was nothing” and gave his own cartridges to other men around him so that they could reload faster.

The unit was wildly successful, at least at first. Due to poor communication and ineffective Confederate leadership, Iverson’s assault was botched, and soon the tide turned in favor of the Union. Launching a countercharge, they captured the flag of the 20th North Carolina and took almost 400 prisoners. Upon returning to the unit’s original position on Oak Ridge, Cady was shot through his right arm; the bullet continued into his right side and lodged in his lung. Cady lay on the battlefield where he was shot, and soon after his wounding, the First Corps retreated south through town to await the arrival of the rest of the Union army on Cemetery Hill. Advancing Confederates initially took Cady prisoner, but almost immediately granted him parole once Confederate officers understood the severity of his condition. Cady was taken to one of the many town buildings that had been converted into a hospital, where he lingered for several weeks. A week after the battle of Gettysburg had ended, and nine days after his wounding, Cady sent a letter home to his parents. He wrote with his wounded arm and let his parents know that he had been wounded, but did not tell them how severe it was, perhaps trying to spare his parents any worry. More than likely, however, he wanted to convey a stoic sense of martial manhood and not appear as a sniveling boy in his letters home. Gone was the boy who asked his parents for their permission to go to war; in his place, a man lay dying in Gettysburg.

A few days later, his uncle, Captain Palmer, sent a telegram to Cady’s mother, briefly informing her of her son’s condition and that he wished to see her. Fidelia Cady was able to travel from Rome, New York to Gettysburg in time to see her son. Most parents did not have the luxury of spending time with their wounded children, so this trip was incredibly important for both Fidelia and Rush. Fidelia was able to be by her son’s bedside and comfort him through his final days, most likely reading to him from the Bible to prepare him for his passing. In keeping with nineteenth century ideals of masculinity, Rush never complained about his pain, and both his mother and father made sure to emphasize that in their later writings. Rush Cady’s wound was too severe for any sort of medical treatment to save his life, and after lingering for over three weeks, he died on July 24th, 1863. He was twenty-one years old, with no wife or children.

"How Many Mothers Here Come to Find Their Sons" Rush Cady's headstone in Rome Cemetery. http://romesentinel.com/news?newsid=20121213-142054

As Fidelia Cady brought Rush’s body back home with her to New York, crowds of observers made note of the mourning mother. Public mourning, especially with the remains of a loved one beside them on their travels, allowed women in the Civil War era to make their suffering known and become public political icons of republican sacrifice. While much attention was publicly given to the sacrifice of the men who died in service, comparatively little was given to the loss of wives or mothers, especially in the early days of the war. By accompanying her son’s body all the way back to New York, Fidelia established herself within a national community of mourning and sacrifice on behalf of a higher political cause. Nevertheless, Victorian standards of mourning would have demanded that she remain in control of her emotions while in public so as to maintain feminine decorum and responsibility. Doubtless, achieving this balance proved immensely challenging for the grieving mother. Upon Fidelia’s return to Rome with Rush’s remains, a memorial service was held for the fallen soldier and he was buried in his hometown cemetery. Cady’s funeral and burial stand in stark contrast with that of so many of his comrades who fell on farm fields hundreds of miles from home, only to suffer and die alone and anonymous in field hospitals and transferred to unknown graves. The retrieval of his body and burial at home was all that his parents could ask for.

A monument to the 97th New York Infantry was erected on Oak Ridge and dedicated on July 1st, 1889, exactly twenty-six years after Cady’s mortal wounding. The monument does not do much to interpret the stand of the 97th, merely listing casualty numbers and giving a brief description of what the unit did. However, this interpretation does not adequately convey how important the fight on Oak Ridge was, not just to Cady and his comrades in the 97th, but to the entire Union First Corps as well. Hamilton College is proud to retain a significant amount of information about their former student, Rush Cady, proving that, despite his best efforts to remain out of the spotlight during his military career, Cady’s martial prowess and personal character have distinguished him amongst his comrades from New York.

The Cady family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In writings to each other which were later made public, Fidelia and Daniel Cady both referred not only to Rush’s bravery in the army, but also his intelligence and compassion as a civilian – doubtless the personal qualities Cady himself would have been most proud of. His youngest sister, Hattie, was just four years old at the time of her brother’s death and would hardly remember her big brother, but doubtless grew up hearing her family tell proud stories of his wartime service and devotion to his country. Fortunately, because the family came from wealth and because Rush had other male siblings, Rush’s death did not doom the family to poverty and hardship as the deaths of so many other soldiers – especially only sons – did to impoverished widows. As a result, even after Congress allowed the families of deceased or disabled soldiers to file pension claims, Cady’s family chose not to do so.

The inscription on Cady’s headstone is fairly simple. It reads, “Rush: Our First Born Fell At Gettysburgh”. What is distinctive about Cady’s headstone is that there is a kepi, or standard army hat, chiseled on top of the marker. Even in death, Rush Cady remains a soldier, but most importantly to his family – as was true for hundreds of thousands of families – he would forever remain, first and foremost, a beloved fallen son.



Compiled Service Records of Union Soldiers Who Served in the 97th New York Infantry Unit, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Maurice Isserman, “Civil War Took Brutal Toll on Young College”.  https://www.hamilton.edu/magazine/summer09/the-hill-in-history/civil-war-took-brutal-toll-on-young-college

John Clifford, “Rush P. Cady”. Rome Sentinelhttp://romesentinel.com/news?newsid=20121213-142054

Hamilton College Online Exhibit: Rush Cady.  http://ulib.hamilton.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/cwlhamilton/soldiers/rushcady

Frederick Phisterer, New York in the War of the Rebellion, 1861 to 1865, Second Edition.  https://archive.org/details/newyorkinwarofre00phis

Rush Cady, various letters. Accessed on Civil War Letters.  http://cwl.dhinitiative.org/islandora/search/mods_relatedItem_relatedItem_titleInfo_title_mt%3A%28cady%29

Daniel Cady, “Sketch of Life of Rush Palmer Cady, Lieutenant in the 97th Regiment, New York Volunteers”. http://cwl.dhinitiative.org/islandora/object/cwl:27

Gettysburg Stone Sentinels, “97th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment”.  http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/new-york/new-york-infantry/97-new-york/

Charles Wheelock, “Report of Colonel Charles Wheelock, 97th New York Infantry”, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Volume 27, Part I, pg. 309-310.

Orrin Peer Allen, Descendants of Nicholas Cady of Watertown, Mass. 1645-1910https://archive.org/details/descendantsofnic01alle

Boonville Historical Club Website, https://boonvillehistoricalclub.wordpress.com/boonville history/a-tribute-to-boonvilles-97th-nysvi/

Judith Giesburg, Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front. University of North Carolina Press, 2009. pg. 217-252.


Narrative and Map by Jeffrey Martin, Gettysburg College