By Ronald S. Coddington, historian and editor of the magazine, Military Images.
Joseph Hagen would have been on any recruiting officer’s short list. The twenty-one-year-old civil engineer, a native of Troy, N.Y., was intelligent, well educated, and ready to fight. A week after the war began, he signed up for a two-year enlistment with the state’s 2nd Infantry, and within six months rose through a rapid series of promotions from first sergeant to captain and command of Company B. His engineering background was of particular interest to brigade command, and he was tapped for special duty on more than one occasion. But Hagen made his most notable contribution in August 1862 at Bristoe Station, Va., one in a series of tactical battles in the Second Bull Run Campaign.
That summer, Union Army of Virginia commander Maj. Gen. John Pope1 was stymied by enemy maneuvers, and he reacted by concentrating his Army around Manassas to guard his communications and protect the federal capital. Pope’s confusion was understandable: In an unconventional move, Confederate forces divided into two wings and were aggressively probing the sluggish Union lines for weakness. On August 27, as troops from Maj. Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson’s wing marched to envelop a federal flank, a rebel division was posted at nearby Bristoe Station as a lookout. It soon spotted the 2nd New York, which was the skirmish line for its brigade. At half past two that afternoon, brigade commander Col. Joseph Carr2 reported, “My skirmishers engaged those of the enemy. I formed line of battle with the Second New York Volunteers and the Fifth and Eighth New Jersey Volunteers and advanced through a dense wood, when the enemy made a stand.”3 The Union regiments moved forward and “charged the enemy, driving him about 200 yards into a thick woods, where they again made a stand and gave battle.”4 The fight lasted more than an hour before the enemy withdrew and joined the Confederate wing. Each side lost about three hundred men. Col. Carr praised Capt. Hagen and other officers, who “particularly distinguished themselves on this occasion.”5 The campaign ended in a complete Union defeat a few days later at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Hagen mustered out with the Second in May 1863 and returned to Troy. In 1869, he married Sara Reed. Their first child, Joseph Jr., was born the following year but died at age two. They had two more sons, both of whom lived to maturity, and two daughters, who died young. Sara passed away in 1902. Hagen died in 1915 at age 76.