Colonel Nelson W. Green

THE subject of this sketch was born in Pike, Allegany, (now Wyoming), county, New York, July thirtieth, 1819. His father, Arnold Green, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. The ancestors of Colonel Green, on both sides were Revolutionary patriots. His grandfather on his mother's side (Roberts) died in the Revolutionary service.

The Worcester Greens, and the Rhode Island Greenes were originally descended from the same English family. Five brothers landed at Boston at an early day, and purchased lands upon which to settle. But differing irreconcilably upon matters of religion, they agreed to separate amicably, the three Worcester brothers taking the lands purchased, and dropping the final "e" and the other two retaining the final "e". Thus the Greenes went to Rhode Island, taking a certain amount of money. From this, the Quaker branch, came General Nathaniel Greene.

The grandmother of Colonel Green, Betsey Winch, afterward Roberts, sent her three sons to accompany her husband to the battle of Lexington, and the latter never returned. They were living within hearing of the battle-field, and were fitted out and rushed to the field after the battle commenced.

Colonel N. W. Green was trained in the elementary branches at the private school of Harley F. Smith, of Pike, N. Y., and entered the military academy at West Point, as a cadet, in September, 1839, in the class of Generals U. S. Grant, Franklin, Augur, Quinby, Ingalls, Dent and Wheaton. After remaining at the Military Academy over three years, and being remarkably proficient in his studies, when within a few months of graduation, he was accidentally injured, and prevented from entirely completing the course, though he had passed a highly satisfactory examination in all the principal branches there taught. At the time he received the injury, he was engaged in the light artillery drill introduced about that time, by the celebrated Colonel Ringgold. After being thus disabled, Colonel Green read law with Senator James R. Doolittle, then in practice in Wyoming County. He was afterwards connected editorially with several newspapers, and wrote 11 Fifteen Years Among the Mormons," a work possessing much merit as a composition.

In October, 1859, Colonel Green removed to Cortland, Cortland county, where he has since resided.

When the rebellion became a fixed fact, Colonel Green evinced a desire to do all in his power to aid the authorities. Before the idea of raising a regiment had been started, he formed classes for drill at the village hall, and to this beginning may justly be attributed the organization of the SEVENTY-SIXTH REGIMENT.

While others were doubting the possibility of raising even a Company, Colonel Green insisted that by proper effort a Regiment might be organized, and to his determination more than to any other one man, is due the formation of the Regiment. He drew the call, except so far as it speaks of himself, and immediately set about the work of organization. How well he succeeded we have had occasion to witness. A regiment of better men was never organized, and no regiment ever improved more rapidly in discipline and the elementary drills, than did this Regiment while the Colonel was with it. As we marched through New York we enjoyed the proud satisfaction of hearing citizens on the street declare that of all the regiments that had passed through the city, this was the first in which, in marching by the right flank, the rear files kept step with the front.


Colonel Green's presentation sword - Photo provided by Conrad Bush

Early in the life of the regiment, Col. Green was involved in a dispute which threatened to tear the 76th apart. In the words of the Regimental History:

At this time, (December sixth), an incident occurred which entirely changed the prospects of the Regiment, and blighted the hopes of its friends for its complete and harmonious organization. and equipment, before leaving the county.

Mr. Green, who had now become Colonel of the Regiment, had made an arrangement with Mr. Andrew J. McNett of Allegany county, by which McNett, who had seventy men or thereabouts, was to recruit his company to the maximum strength and join the Seventy-sixth Regiment as Captain, and on the performance of' certain conditions, McNett was to be made Major of the Regiment. Captain McNett joined the regiment sometime in October with about seventy men. Colonel Green assisted in raising the number to upwards of ninety, by adding to the company certain men who had been brought by H. W. Pierce, of Dundee, Yates county. These men-about twenty-five in all, fifteen or twenty of whom were put into Captain McNett's company-were brought by Mr. Pierce, who was to be Captain ; but failing to procure the required number, he was made Lieutenant in Captain Grover's company, and his men distributed between Captain Grover's and Captain McNett's companies.

The latter part of November, Captain McNett procured a leave of absence to go to Syracuse to purchase his uniform, and to Allegany county to procure more men. On his return, a few days after this, Colonel Green charged him with having used his leave of absence to go to Albany, to stir up strife, in violation of the understanding when he received it, and ordered him to give him the paper as fraudulently obtained. This Captain McNett refused to do. Colonel Green then ordered it taken from McNett by Captain Grover.

McNutt made a formal resistance, but unbuttoned his coat and Captain Grover took the document from McNett's pocket. Colonel Green then ordered Captain McNett in close arrest in the officers' quarters, with orders that he be permitted to communicate with no one, except by permission from the commandant of the post. This created some feeling in Captain McNett's company, and gave rise to much angry discussion in camp.

On the sixth of December, Colonel Green had been to Captain McNett's company, to adjust some difficulty, and on his return, when riding past the officers' quarters, saw Captain McNett standing in the door-way. Colonel Green claims the Captain was outside the door, shaking hands with his men, in violation of orders. Captain McNett claims he was inside the door, though near it, where he had resorted to get fresh air. We give both versions, as this history is not written with the view of indicting or condemning either party, and this incident is only mentioned as one that had something of a controlling influence upon the subsequent history of the Regiment. As Captain McNett was thus standing in or near the door, Colonel Green rode up and the following dialogue, in substance, took place:

Col. Green.-The prisoner should not leave his quarters. Retire to your quarters.

Capt McNett- shall not, sir.

Col. Green.-Do you refuse to obey my orders, sir?

Capt. McNett--I do, such orders.

Col. Green.-(Dismounting and drawing a small Smith & Wesson pistol), Will you retire to your quarters ?

Capt. McNett--I will -not, sir !

Colonel Green, at this point, fired over the head of the Captain, the ball lodging in the roof of the quarters.

Col. Green.-Retire to your quarters, sir!

Capt. McNett.-(Straightening up), I will not, sir ! Shoot me if you dare !

The Colonel then lowered the pistol and fired, the ball taking effect in the Captain's chin, and lodging in his neck. McNett immediately turned around and sat down in a chair. The Surgeon of the post, Dr. H. C. Nelson, was called, and the wound dressed.

This very naturally created great excitement in camp and the vicinity. Colonel Green had, by his patriotic course, endeared himself to many of the loyal people. Captain McNett was not without friends, who gathered around him, and, in the discussion that followed this affair, excitement ran high. The Governor was informed of the affair, and sent General James Wood to Cortland to ascertain the facts, and in the meantime to take command of' the Regiment. General Wood arrived December ninth, and on the evening of that day, met the officers of the Regiment, when a full interchange of opinion was had. The officers were nearly or quite unanimous in approval of the course taken by Colonel Green, and so expressed themselves. The next day the General visited the camp and possessed himself of all the material facts connected with the history of the Regiment.

On the thirteenth of December, General Wood again met the officers at the house of Colonel Green, when the matter was again fully canvassed. The next day Colonel Green was arrested on a criminal warrant, for the Shooting, and gave bail before the County Judge for his appearance at the Oyer and Terminer, to be held in January following, to answer an indictment to be found against him for an assault with intent to kill.

Colonel Green had requested the Governor to convene a Court of Inquiry in his ease, which was done, and on the twenty-first of December the hearing commenced. The Court was presided over by Lieutenant-Colonel LaFayette Bingham. Judge-Advocate-General Anthon conducted the prosecution, and Clark D. Cochrane and A. P. Smith the defense. The investigation consumed three days, when the findings of the Court were submitted to the Governor. On the twenty-eighth of December the Governor announced the decision by placing Colonel Green in command of the Regiment. This announcement was received with many cheers by the officers and men, and the prospects of the Regiment seemed to brighten.

At the time the Cortland branch of the Seventy-sixth Regiment reached Albany, it numbered about eight hundred men. The Governor considered it improper that Colonel Green and Captain McNett should longer be associated as officers of the same regiment, and of the correctness of that conclusion one acquainted with the facts and the men could have any doubt. They are both positive men , of unyielding will, and diametrically opposed on almost every question that would be likely to arise. Looking at the war its causes, its objects, and the manner in which it should be prosecuted, from entirely different and opposite stand-points, it would have been as difficult to harmonize their views, and bring them to act together, especially after what had already transpired, as it would be to unite oil and water.

The Governor, therefore, preserved the organization of the Seventy-sixth Regiment, with Colonel Green as its commander, and transferred McNett and his company to the Ninety-third Regiment New York Volunteers, then stationed at Albany, and commanded by Colonel Crocker.

The following extracts from the findings of the Military Commission at Washington, show the light in which the investigation placed him before the Court:

The undersigned beg leave to report: That they find nothing in the testimony adduced, derogatory to Colonel Green's character as a gentleman or man of honor.

This was signed by the two members who decided adversely to the Colonel. The report then proceeds:

All the members concur in reporting Colonel Green's proficiency in the Tactics and Regulations. Respectfully submitted.

Colonel and President. BELDEN HETZEL, Major and Recorder.

The legal effect of this action of the Court in this case, was an acquittal.

Through all of Colonel Green's troubles, no man has been able to point to a corrupt act. On his trial for shooting MeNett, he was fully vindicated by the evidence of Generals Robinson, Davies and McDougal, as to his abstract right to shoot McNett, and the failure to convict was, under the circumstances, equivalent to an acquittal. The jury are understood to have been six for acquittal, and six for holding him for a technical "assault," being unanimous against finding an intention to kill, which was the substance of the offense charged.

The following documents are annexed to this sketch, without note or comment, as matter of history. The last was in the hands of the lamented President Lincoln, and under his consideration, unacted upon, at the time of his assassination:


Honored Sir: We learn from Captain A. J. McNett, of the Seventy-sixth Regiment New York State Volunteers, now under arrest at this camp for disobedience of orders, that he has preferred charges against Colonel N. W. Green, commanding Seventy-sixth Regiment New York State Volunteers.

Your Excellency-We, the undersigned, commissioned officers in the Seventy-sixth Regiment, knowing the charges to be untrue and malicious, take this early opportunity to truly represent to you our Colonel, asking your confidence in our statements, which we make without any solicitation, or hint even, from Colonel Green. Colonel Green, commanding the Seventy-sixth Regiment is an earnest, patriotic and christian man. He is an energetic, thorough and competent officer. He has the confidence and love of both his officers and men. We love him as a man, respect him as an officer, and will obey him as commander of his Regiment.

Your Excellency-We thank you for the honor you have conferred upon us by placing him in command of our Rel J But and we humbly pray your Honor, that your confidence in Colonel Green may not be shaken by these slanderous charges.

Pardon us, Governor, for expressing frankly our opinion of Captain A. J. McNett in this same paper. We have learned thoroughly to distrust both his patriotism and his integrity. We cannot, under any circumstances, willingly suffer him to occupy any position over us, and we again pray your Excellency to allow Colonel Green to retain his place in your confidence, and in our Regiment. Waiting your orders to march against our enemies, we remain,

J.C. Carmichael, Acting Lieut. Colonel
J.C. Nelson, Surgeon
H.S. Richardson, Chaplain
Andrew J. Grover, Capt. Co. A
Wm. Lansing, Capt. Co. G.
H.F. Robinson, Act'g Adjutant
G.D. Crittenden, Capt. Co. C
W.H. Powell, Capt. Co. E
Oscar C. Fox, Capt. Co. B
J. H. Barnard, Capt. Co. F

G.I. Foster, 1st Lieut. Co. D.
John H. Ballard, 2d Lieut. Co. E
Wm. W. Green, 2d Lieut. Co. F
E.J. Cox, 1st Lieut. Co. E
E. R. Weaver, 1st Lieut. Co. C
W. S. Walcott, 2d Lieut. Co. B
A. Sager, 1st. Lieut. Co. G
John Fisher, 1st Lieut. Co. K
A.P. Smith, Lieut. A. Q. M.
E.D. VanSlyck, Capt. Co. K


ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE, Albany, Dec. 30,1864.

I certify this to be a true copy of the original on file in this office.

J. B. Stonehouse, Ass't Adjutant-General.

To Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War:- WASHINGTON, December 5,1862,

Dear Sir: Colonel N. W. Green, of the Seventy-sixth Regiment New York State Volunteers, then in the United States service, alleges that he was cited before a Court of Inquiry, in February1862, which found nothing against him. Many of the officers were opposed to his command and he was arrested and suspended from his command, and he was subsequently, on the third day of June 1862 without further trial, on the recommendation of the Governor of the State of New York, by War Department Special Order No. 124, discharged the service.

Believing Colonel Green to be a loyal, brave and competent man, a well educated and efficient officer, and that his service may be made useful to the Government and country I recommend that his case be reviewed, and that the order discharging him from the service be rescinded, if the facts that shall appeal, will justify it, and that he be ordered to report for duty to General Blunt, of Kansas, or to other duty where his services may be required.

Very Respectfully, PRESTON KING.

I have confidence In Colonel Green, and believe he has the capacity to render valuable service to the Government, as a military officer. If any arrangement can be made by which his services can be made available, as indicated by Senator King, I shall be much gratified.


I concur in what is said by the Senators from New York. J. R. DOOLITTLE.

I have confidence in Colonel Green, and concur in the request of the Senators from New York. J. H. LANE.

In 1864, Preston King wrote Col. Green again: 

Ogdensburgh Nov 29. 1864

Col. N.W. Green

It is a long time since I have heard from you or of you I watched the progress of your efforts for revocation. I corresponded with Mr. Doolittle and in the last of July was informed that the President declined to interfere which terminated all efforts in your behalf adversely. I recd your effort to persuade me to interpose by letter. It was so firmly my opinion that your only chance of success was in yourself and your personal efforts and the per- sonal impression your own earnest convictions might make that I did not do it though I suppose if I had been at Washington and could have done so I should probably have yielded to your appeals. But that subject has passed and I trust has still left the fair sunlight to shine upon you and to fill you with hope courage and confidence for your battle of life in this uncertain world of ours -- and that you are blessed in the health and happiness of your family.

How do you do you and how do you find your path. You interested me and I have often thought of you & wished I could hear of you and that you was getting on successfully -- but not a word from any quarter since Mr. Doolittle's last information. The world is wide & full of fair and inviting prospects. We must never despair but fill our breast with courage confidence and resolution and struggle on no matter what load we carry industry and perserverance that never tire will deserve success always and almost always win it. If you have leisure & disposition I should like to hear from you

Yours Truly
Preston King

Click here to view the original letter

Extraordinary words of optimism from a man who would commit suicide in less than a year. Preston King (October 14, 1806-November 12,1865) United States member of the House of Representatives and a Senator from New York; born in Ogdensburg , New York; graduated from Union College , (law) 1827; elected to the New York State Assembly in 1834 -1838; elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Congresses; (1843-47) elected as a Free Soiler to the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses; (1849-53); elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1856; 1857-63; did not seek reelection; resumed the practice of law; presidential elector on the Republican ticket in 1864; appointed collector of the port of New York 1865; committed suicide by leaping from a ferryboat in New York Harbor, N.Y., on November 12 1865 - transcript and comment from the eBay listing by Mark Bell, who listed this letter in May 2006. Used by permission.

IN THE MATTER OF COLONEL N. W. GREEN'S CLAIM to be recognized the Colonel of the Seventy-sixth Regiment of the New York State Volunteers:


N. W. Green was commissioned as the Colonel of the Seventy-sixth Regiment, by a Commission under the hand and seal of the Governor of the State of New York, bearing date October twenty-ninth, 1861, and duly mustered into the service of the United States, on the twentieth day of November, 1861, by Major J. T. Sprague, U. S. Mustering Officer at Albany, N. Y.; and was in actual command of said Regiment, from its first organization, September, 1861, until about the twenty-fifth day of February, 1862, when he was arrested by order of General Doubleday, near Washington, D. C., without charges or reason assigned, which arrest continued until the twelfth day of April, 1862, at which date he was by order of the Secretary of War, released from arrest and required to repair to Cortland County, N. Y., there to await further orders; which requirement he obeyed, and has remained at Cortland county until the present time - and no further order has ever been made known to him, except the order in the words and figures following, to wit :


SPECIAL ORDER No. 124. Washington, June 2,1862.

At the recommendation of the Governor of New York, Colonel N. W. Green, of the Seventy-sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, Is hereby discharged the service.

Order of file Secretary of War,
(Signed), L. THOMAS, Adjutant-General.

The Regiment named In said order, was mustered into the service of the United States for three years, and their term of service does not expire until about October, 1864.


The above order of the Secretary of War Is A NULLITY, and without authority of law.

1st (l1th Article of War). The President alone has authority to make an ORDER discharging a Commissioned Officer.

2d. The President (previous to the act approved July seventeenth, 1862) could make such order only :

1st. On the expiration of the term of service.

2d. Resignation.

3d, Partial disbandment of the army.

4th. Sentences of Court Martials.

See DeHart's Military Law, p. 228 to 243.


And even after the passage of the Act, approved July seventeenth, 1862, see. 17, enabling the President to "dismiss and discharge" any officer "FOR ANY CAUSE," &c., it is submitted that the President cannot ARBITRARILY discharge WITHOUT CAUSE; he must at least know of the case, or hear what the charges are, and determine from some basis that the cause renders the officer unsuitable for the public service, or that his dismission will promote the public service.

But this power, after the passage of said Act, is not important in determining the effect or legality of orders made before its passage. The order in question to of the date of June third, 1862 - this law cannot be said to affect previous ORDERS, but only to confer new authority upon the President for the future.

The legal effect of said order, No. 124, cannot be determined except by considering the power of the Secretary of War at the time-and even if such an order were made by the President, its legal effect must be determined by considering his power at the time.

The CAUSES which led to this order are of course, of no Importance in determining the question-What is the legal effect of said order ? Were those causes deemed important, Colonel Green is ready and willing to vindicate himself against any charge which can be invented against him-only asking, it required to do so, that he may be informed what the charges are and that their truth or falsehood may be determined by fair trial, before any legally constituted tribunal. Such an investigation he earnestly, but respectfully, solicits, if deemed of any importance.


But if such order, No. 124, BE a nullity, then Colonel Green is, as he claims to be, the Colonel of the Seventy-sixth Regiment; and as such Colonel respectfully asks that he be restored to his command.

- From the Regimental History of the 76th New York, A. P. Smith, 1867


This report on Colonel Green may be more complimentary than is justified by the facts. It should be remembered that the regimental history was written by A.P. Smith, who was a close friend of Colonel Green's (they were in law practice together, pre-war). In fact, Major Grover's letter entitled "Reply to A.P. Smith" refers to Smith as Green's "other self", and accused Smith of trying to save Green by smearing Grover and the other officers of the 76th. He notes "[t]he fact that Col. Nelson W. Green has been discharged the service, and that his familiar, his partner in business, has also gone out of service under a cloud."

Additional charges to those brought in Albany and discussed in the Regimental History were later brought against Col. Green by the officers of the regiment while in camp in Washington, DC, and he was removed from command and discharged, June 3, 1862. There was a report on the charges against Colonel Green, by "HDC", printed in the Cortland Gazette and Banner, which paints a much less favorable picture of the Colonel than one can find in Smith's official history. Interestingly, however, another Gazette and Banner correspondent, "JFP" (probably John Potter of Company A), writes in a letter in January 1862 with great pleasure on Green's exoneration from the earlier charges, so Green was certainly popular with some of the men at that point. His brother certainly felt he was not insane, as can be seen from the letter reproduced below.

Oddly enough, in the narrative, the regimental history does not mention Green's leaving the regiment at all, just noting that Colonel Wainwright assumed command on July 2. As to the treatment of Green in the History, note that A.P. Smith left the regiment in 1862, shortly after the removal of Green, and the regimental history was not written until 1867, long after Grover and many others who brought charges against Green were dead.

After leaving the regiment, Col. Green returned to Cortland, and spent much of the rest of his life involved in a patent dispute over a well-drilling machine.


Letter found in Col. Green’s military service record at the National Archive, Washington, D.C.
by B. Conrad Bush

New York March 4/62

Genl McClellen
Hon Sir

Pardon this intrusion upon your time. Upon my arrival home after an absence of two months I learn that Col. Green (who is a brother of mine) of the 76 Regt. of N.Y. Volunteers is under arrest on a charge of Insanity.

Had the charge been for incompetency I sh(ould) not have have noticed it for you have a board to Judge of the ability of your officers & altho he has rec’d a regular Military Education at West Point, ye, withal, he may be incompetent to lead a Regt. of this you can judge - but the charge of Insanity - is So groundless & Senseless in my view & made with Such malicious & wicked intent that I cannot let it pass without my protest, as it reflects not only on him but his friends.

Col Green is not half as insane as the traders of the charge. Neither has the family been indisposed that way. A younger brother at the age of 15 Striving to conquer the languages without a teacher - after Studying night & day for a year Showed Signs of mental aberration - but Soon become Straightened again, & is now well. This is the only instance in the family.

Col. G. is not insane & did those who make the charge have the interest of the Country near at heart, & Submit themselves to a regular military discipline. You would hear no more charges for insanity or any thing else. I understand the Col is a Strict disciplinarian & Knowing him as I do, & his ideas of the discipline of an Army, I don’t doubt it. Perhaps he is too Exacting for the Ease & Pleasure of his officers. At all events, I hope he will not be Sacrificed on a charge So Cruel to answer the Ends of Aspiring Politicians, who are aiming to obtain his position.

Pleas Excuse me for troubling you thus far, & may I ask that full justice may be done, as regards the charge made above & sh’d you get the time & would be So kind as to investigate the matter & feel inclined to ask me any questions you will oblige me by addressing me to the Care of A. Y. Strewart & Co. By doing me this favor you will Oblige.

Very Respt
Yr Obt. Svt.
B.F. Green

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