By Carolyn B. Ivanoff, with images from the Captain Wilson French Collection
It is fair to state the zenith of Maj. William H. Hugo’s military career occurred at Gettysburg. In the Peach Orchard on July 2, 1863, he and his hard-fighting 70th New York Infantry held back Mississippians commanded by Gen. William Barksdale. Though Hugo suffered a severe gunshot wound in the right hip during the combat, he remained on the field.
Hugo, a native New Yorker, started the war two years earlier as captain of the Lafayette Light Guard of Paw Paw, Mich., where he had lived for some years. Due to a series of delays in Michigan and an urgent request from Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, Hugo and his company traveled to New York and mustered into the 70th as Company C. The regiment participated in the Peninsula Campaign, during which Hugo suffered a serious injury when a 9-inch solid shot passed within a few inches of his head during the Battle of Yorktown and left him permanently deaf in the left ear. He went on to fight in the battles of Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, after which he advanced to major.
Following Gettysburg, Hugo recuperated from his wound, rejoined his comrades a few months later, and mustered out with the veterans of the 70th in July 1864.
Hugo planned a return to the army as an officer with the U.S. Colored Troops, but the war ended before he received an assignment. In 1866, he joined the Regular Army as a second lieutenant, and spent the rest of his career in command of Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry and 9th Cavalry on the American frontier. He rose in rank to first lieutenant. His wife, Mary, and their two children followed him to numerous postings and forts in Texas and New Mexico as Hugo campaigned against Native Americans. Mary died in New Mexico and was buried in the cemetery at Fort Bayard.
If Gettysburg marked the apex of his service, the low point occurred in 1881 when he was court martialed and dismissed for being drunk during roll call.
In 1889, Hugo appealed his sentence. With the help of supportive officers who had served alongside him, his conviction was overturned and his rank restored. Incapacitated by his war wounds, he received a pension and lived until 1905.
This portrait is part of the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Book Project. Established by Jim Quinlan, owner of The Excelsior Brigade, its mission is to identify approximately 15,000 Civil War veterans interred on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery, and to provide a biographical sketch and photograph of each individual. If you have an image to share, or would like more information about the ANC project, please contact Jim at 703-307-0344.
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