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Our Union Ancestors
Remembering those who fought to preserve the Union 1861 - 1865

Robert Moll (1837-1907)

Robert Moll was born on 30 Dec. 1837, probably in the German city of Perleberg, but moved with his family to Freyenstein in 1841 before immigrating as a youth of 14 to Brooklyn, NY. Before the Civil War he worked with his father and older brother as an iron safe machinist and as a grocery clerk. He married Emelie Niedelbock, a girl he had known when they were children, at St. Paul's Lutheran Church (Brooklyn) on 20 Sept. 1864, in the month following his discharge near Petersburg. Four children were born to them in Brooklyn from 1868-1876, one of whom died in infancy. Upon his return and marriage, Robert again worked — first as a machinist and then as a coal dealer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn before moving the family in 1878 or 1879 to St. Louis, Missouri. There he joined his older brother's grocery firm that had quickly prospered and grew substantially during the war (his brother having been rejected for service for an injury to his Achilles tendon that made it impossible for him to march). Robert received a pension for his service, which then was converted to a widow's pension upon his death, which came on 13 Jan. 1907. He was buried two days later at Bellefontaine Cemetery and, as was noted in the obituary appearing in the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, with "veterans in charge of [his] funeral." These were his brothers in Frank Blair Post #1, Dept. of Mo., G.A.R. and also in the Legion of Honor, both of which he had joined.

He began the war on 19 April 1861 as a three months service recruit to Co. E of the 6th New York Militia. But on 28 August of that year on Staten Island he joined the 55th New York Volunteer Infantry, known as the "Garde de Lafayette" because it was intended to be a French (primarily Alsatian) immigrant regiment. When the first colonel of the regiment took too long to organize, however, many of the original recruits signed up elsewhere. A new colonel, de Trobriand, then filled the ranks with German immigrants. Nevertheless, the uniforms of the 55th bore a strong resemblance to those of the French army: red kepi, a long light blue coat with red decoration, and with red pantaloons. They were armed with French carbines outfitted with saber-bayonets. Officers wore light blue capes. The unit's sappers wore leather aprons and bearskin caps, and there was also a company of zouaves. When the regiment was issued replacement standard Union uniforms in mid-1862 it maintained its character by sewing a red patch on the kepis.

Robert Moll evidently showed some promise as a soldier, as he was promoted to corporal two months after his enrollment in the 55th NY, and then to sergeant some ten months later. The unit suffered its first significant casualties at Williamsburg, Va. in May of 1862, and Corp. Moll received a slight head wound from a minie ball at Fair Oaks later in the same month. Having fallen back at Williamsburg, the men of the 55th sought to "redeem an hour of weakness" by holding fast at Fair Oaks although losing nearly a quarter of its men. The 55th's brigade then "received the shock of the Southern attack" on the right flank of Malvern Hill. Following this action the 55th was reduced to fewer than 400 effectives, and was a part of the retreat to Washington after Second Manassas. In September they recrossed the Potomac, but under a different state of morale. Col. de Trobriand later recalled: "We returned in the fall, sad, harassed, covered with mud, the uniforms in rags. The drummers carried their broken drums on their backs, the trumpets were dented and silent, and the flag pierced by bullets and bleached by the rain hung sadly from its rope without casing."

Moll was further wounded in Dec. 1862 at the storming of Marye's Heights outside Fredericksburg. By the 21st of December there were only 210 survivors, and the men of the 55th were transferred to the 38th New York Infantry as Companies G, H, I and K. Robert Moll was promoted to First Sergeant of Company H at that time. The 38th was called to Chancellorsville at the end of April 1863, and on the night of May 2nd Robert Moll distinguished himself in combat sufficiently to be recognized by the awarding of the Kearney Cross, a divisional medal. Speaking in 1888 at Gettysburg, veteran George E. Harrington described the nature of the fight — although speaking of the 38th's then-sister unit, and not of the 38th itself: "Still, again, at Chancellorsville, when disaster had befallen the Eleventh Corps, and Birney's Division was cut off from the balance of the army, when General Sickles ordered that famous midnight charge where the orders were to 'Remove the caps from the guns, fire no shot, take no prisoners, but do all the work with the bayonet,' the Mozart Regiment led the van...." It was near this action and at roughly the same time that Gen. 'Stonewall' Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own men.

Weakened by its losses, the 38th met the same fate as the 55th NY that had earlier merged with it. In May-June 1863, the former members of the 55th were made Companies A, E and H of the 40th New York Infantry ("Mozart Regiment"), with Moll as First Sergeant of Co. A. Now the 40th contained the remnants of four other New York regiments, in addition to its own diminished numbers: the 37th, 38th, 55th and 101st NY. The 40th then saw action in the second day at Gettysburg at the Devil's Den, in reinforcement support of Ward's Brigade and Smith's Fourth New York Battery. The 40th held the position at the head of Plum Run Valley in the gorge that separated the Devil's Den from the Round Tops "until the entire line was forced back." Had it not moved at double-quick to the front, Hood's troops would not have been delayed long enough for the Round Tops to be successfully defended. Credited with being 606 men strong on the eve of battle, the 40th suffered 23 killed, 120 wounded and 7 captured. The 1864 Wilderness Campaign and Siege of Petersburg followed, Robert Moll being discharged at the end of three years of honorable service.

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If you think this Union Civil War Veteran might also be in your family tree, please email our Camp’s Signals Officer (Camp2SO@suvpac.org) and he will be happy to put you in contact with the author of this biography.

Notice: The information in the biography above has been researched and provided by the author
and has not been verified by the SUVCW or the ASUVCW.

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Created 10 Oct 2012; Revised 25 Aug 2015

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