The Byington Brothers 2nd MI and 44th AL: Brother Against Brother


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Mar 15, 2013

Chazy, NY main street from a 1904 post card [public domain]
Samuel Strong Byington
was the second son of Joel Byington, a Presbyterian minister. Samuel was born August 1825 in Chazy, New York, a small town in northern NY, only about six miles from the Canadian border. Prior to 1860, and possibly before 1850, Samuel moved to Alabama. In 1860 he was enumerated as single, age 34, working as a clerk and living in Montgomery, AL. On April 14, 1862, he enlisted at Montevallo, AL as Sgt Company D, 44th Alabama, for 3 years.

He was promoted to the rank of 1st Sgt and the position of Orderly Sergeant on September 25, 1863 and served as such until he was captured at Raccoon Mountain (near Chattanooga) October 28, 1863. If Samuel Byington had not been captured that day, he would have been at Knoxville a month later, possibly even firing a musket at his own brother.

Cornelius Byington was born March 1829 to the same family, in the same small town of Chazy, NY. He was just a few years younger than older brother Samuel. Cornelius entered the service from Battle Creek, MI as Captain of Company C, 2nd Michigan Infantry. He was promoted to Major and, as such, commanded his regiment in numerous engagements, always with great personal gallantry.

Maj Cornelius Byington 2nd MI was mortally wounded November 24, 1864 while leading his regiment in an assault on the enemy's rifle pits in front of Fort Sanders, Knoxville, Tennessee. Immediately after he was wounded, Major Byington was taken prisoner and treated by Confederate surgeons. He was allowed to communicate his condition back to his brigade, as evidenced by this November 27th entry in the diary of William H Brearley 17th Michigan:

The National Tribune., October 12, 1893, page 2.

Brearley got a few details wrong - Major "Boyington" 's name was "Byington" and his brother was not commanding the regiment, but was late a member of it. Still, it is clear that Maj Byington was allowed to send communication of his condition.

The 44th Alabama in which Samuel Byington served, was for most of the war, brigaded with the 4th Alabama in Law's brigade. Years later, Major W M Robbins of the 4th AL, writing of his experiences during the war, described what he assumed was the death of Orderly Sgt. Samuel Byington, 44th AL at Raccoon Mountain on October 28, 1863:

A few days later, the 4th and 44th Alabama (both of Law's brigade, Hood's Division of Longstreet's corps) began the journey to Knoxville. After witnessing Samuel Byington with a bayonet in his breast, the other members of the regiment assumed that he was dead.

In the same article, Robbins also describes the assault of Major Cornelius Byington's 2nd MI on the Confederate rifle pits in front of Knoxville on November 24, 1863.

The Newtown Bee., January 12, 1881, page 4.

Robbins goes on to provide details of the wounding of Major Cornelius Byington, 2nd MI, who was taken prisoner. Robbins describes the gallantry exhibited by Major Byington that day and explains that he had to break the news that Major Byington's brother, Sgt Samuel Byington 44th AL, was recently killed near Chattanooga.

Carded records of Sgt Samuel Byington 44th AL show that he was not killed. He was captured at Raccoon Mountain October 29, 1863, transferred to Nashville, on to Louisville, and imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indianapolis, IN where he pledged the Oath of Allegiance on March 27, 1864 and was released.

After his release from Camp Morton, it seems Samuel remained up north and made his residence at Galena, IL so it is possible that W M Robbins never knew that Sgt Samuel Byington 44th AL actually survived the war.


Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, of Northampton, Mass., Volume 2, Published by J. Munsell, Albany, NY., 1871. page 1029.

Unfortunately, Major Cornelius Byington, 2nd MI, did not survive the war. Following the failed Confederate Assault on Fort Sanders November 29, 1863, a flag of truce was observed for the purpose of burying the dead and caring for the wounded. The flag of truce was extended to exchange the wounded from previous engagements - including Major Byington.

Janesville Daily Gazette. (Janesville, WI), December 15, 1863, page 1.

In spite of the care and kindness provided by Confederate surgeons during his captivity, and then by Union surgeons, Cornelius Byington died December 11, 1863 of the wounds received during the November 24 clash in the rifle pits. He was 34 years old.