Whitbeck, Franklin

158th New York Volunteers
Sergeant, Company D

Franklin Whitbeck
Sgt. 158th New York Volunteers, Co. D

Franklin Whitbeck lived in Yaphank with his father, Tunis, who was a wheelwright. Franklin was one of nine brothers and sisters. At the age of twenty, he decided to leave his life of farming and enlist in the army. He joined the 158th New York in Brooklyn on August 15, 1862. At the time, he stood five feet eight inches tall, had gray eyes and light hair.

Whitbeck was ill for most of his early service with the 158th. According to the company muster rolls, he was sick with an undisclosed illness at Macon Hospital at Portsmouth, Virginia, from November 1862 until August of 1863. On August 25, the Medical Inspector transferred him to Battalion No. 2 of the Invalid Corp. Whitbeck remained there until his health was restored.

On March 13, 1864, Whitbeck returned to the 158th NY. He was present with his regiment during the siege of Petersburg. On September 1, 1864, Whitbeck was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He participated in the battle of Chaffins farm, which resulted in 78 casualties for the 158th NY.

In November of 1864, Whitbeck was in charge of drilling colored troops. The Emancipation Proclamation not only freed slaves, but also enlisted blacks into the Union army and navy. 180,000 blacks ended up serving the Union cause, a tremendous help when enlistment was down and men were needed. Enlisting black troops, however, was not universally liked, especially in the border states where they had slaves but were loyal to the Union. Some soldiers in these and other states refused to fight now that the war had become an issue of emancipation.

The South responded to black enlistment by giving an order that all former slaves serving in the Union army who were captured would not be treated as prisoners; rather, they would be executed. Any white officer leading black troops could expect the same. Although the order was never officially enforced, Confederate forces were known to kill surrendering black soldiers.

A white officer leading black troops was promoted quickly, as Whitbeck learned. He was promoted to Lieutenant in charge of Colored Troops on January 5, 1865. He never had to face the wrath of Confederate forces, however, because he was discharged from the army ten days later by Major General Gibbon at Deep Bottom, Virginia.

There was no reason given for the discharge, and there is no record of a pension file for Whitbeck. His story seems to end when he was discharged. Although many members of the Whitbeck family continued to live and prosper in Yaphank, Franklin never returned.

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