Civil War Remembered: The Story of Two Tioga County Generals

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Today marks the 150 anniversary of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, a definitive milestone of the end of the Civil War. After 4 years of fighting, it is estimated that at least 620,000 American soldiers died during the conflict (though the true number will never be known). That is 2.5% of the population. If the Civil War was fought today, nearly 7 million Americans would be killed. This is a staggering figure that suggests that the Civil War generation made almost inconceivable sacrifices.

To Arms! To Arms!!

In honor of this anniversary, TCHS is proud to share the story of Owego native Isaac S. Catlin. Catlin was born on July 8, 1835, in Owego, NY, and attended Owego Academy. He studied law in New York City, and soon passed the bar. He returned to Owego in 1859, where he joined the law firm Tracy, Warner, and Walker. In 1860, Isaac Catlin was elected Mayor of Owego.

In 1861, with the breakout of Civil War, Catlin raised a company of volunteers, and was named its captain. It was said that his was “the first full company which enlisted in the North”. Catlin rose quickly in the ranks. Between 1862 and 1864, he was promoted from First Lieutenant to Colonel. Catlin commanded the 109th Regiment of New York Volunteers in many battles, perhaps the most significant being the Battle of Crater at Petersburg, Virginia.

Head and torso portrait of a white man with a full beard, wearing a military jacket.

   – Isaac Catlin

During the battle at Petersburg, Catlin was seriously wounded. According to Catlin’s obituary, printed in the New York Times on  January 20, 1916,

“Colonel Catlin was to push on over the mines, and, if possible, capture the men in charge of them. When day dawned he led his men in the face of heavy fire and was wounded. He insisted on being carried to the front, and while there, an explosion of a shell shattered his right leg. Notwithstanding his two wounds he was carried at the head of his troops over the un-exploded mines, which he captured.”

Catlin’s wounds were severe, and his right leg was amputated. Being cited for his bravery, Catlin was promoted to Brevet Major General. He was also awarded with the Medal of Honor in 1899, this country’s highest military honor. Catlin’s official Medal of Honor Citation reads:

“In heroic effort to rally the disorganized troops was disabled by a severe wound. While being carried from the field he recovered somewhat and bravely started to return to his command, when he received a second wound, which necessitated amputation of his right leg.”

  – Isaac Catlin

After the war, Catlin was elected the district attorney of Tioga County, and six years later, in 1871, formed a law partnership in Brooklyn with his brother-in-law, Benjamin F. Tracy. He died on January 19, 1916 in Brooklyn at the age of 80.

Benjamin Tracy, Catlin’s brother-in-law, was also from Tioga County, and like Catlin, was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. According to the official citation, Tracy “seized the colors and led the regiment when other regiments had retired and then reformed his line and held it.” Later that year, he became commandant of the Elmira prisoner of war camp, before being appointed Colonel of the 127th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops, on August 23, 1864. After the war, Tracy practiced law together with Catlin and became active in politics. He served as Secretary of the Navy from 1889-1893 under President Benjamin Harrison.

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– Benjamin Tracy

The Tioga County Historical Society is dedicated to honoring those who served in the Civil War, for their bravery and sacrifice. The Civil War exhibit in our Museum is titled “The Cost of Freedom” and will be showcased throughout the rest of the year. Part of that exhibit includes Isaac Catlin’s sword, and his commission as Major General by brevet, signed by President Andrew Johnson. Also on exhibit is Benjamin Tracy’s Medal of honor. We hope you will join us in honoring all of the extraordinary men from Tioga County who volunteered during this historic conflict.

-Staci Becker, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

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