1862-1865 — New York and Virginia
Joel was born in Canada and "adopted" by a childless aunt and uncle at age 4. His parents and 10 siblings moved to Ohio and then Washington territory, never to see him again. Joel was a teacher and farmer in Warrens Corners, Niagara County, New York when he was appointed to recruit a company in Niagara County. He opened his recruiting office on Main Street, Lockport on the ground occupied by a store which had burned, building a tent to enroll volunteers in July 1862 (Lockport Daily Journal and Courier 16 July 1862 p 1, col 2). Three men enlisted the first day. A few days later he and Col. Peter Porter spoke at a war meeting at the Baptist Church in Wilson which was "largely attended and much enthusiasm prevailed." Nine men enlisted. A war meeting was held in Pekin where eight volunteers signed up. Of the men enlisted at Pekin that night, none would live to see the end of the war. Eight men were enrolled at a meeting at North Ridge on July 22nd. Ten more signed up at Olcott. Within ten days he had recruited a total of 80 men. Six men were recruited at Warrens Corners. Volunteers were told to report to Lockport on July 30 to be mustered into service.By July 29th he had recruited 129 men. Joel was apointed Captin of Company B. A training camp ws established on the Agricultural Fair Grounds, caled Camp Church. Shortly before the regiment left Western New York a testimonial was held at the home of Joel Baker by his friends. Designated as the 129th NY Infantry, the troops paraded to the train station and were transported to Elmira, NY in passenger coaches. From there they boarded box cars for the trip to Baltimore where they would be stationed for the next 20 months. They pitched tents first at Camp Belger in the northwest part of the city. Soon they were moved to Fort Federal Hill with a commanding view of the city of Baltimore and its harbor.
In October 1962 he wrote to his wife, Emily Lafler Baker, "You don't now how much I want to see yo and the children, but the time will come if our lives are spared and this ware ended, when I can return and have a proud consciousness that when our beloved country was in peril I was one of the grand army that struck a blow in her defence. It will be the heighth of my ambition to serve my country faithfully now in hre affliction, and be able to return when the glad shouts of victory are heard over the whole land, and the blessings of peace are once moer heard by all. And if my life and health are spared, I intend to do what I can to gain that victory and secure that peace... Let us then meet the sacrafice of present enjoyment with stout hearts and wait patiently that, "Good time coming, when papa comes home from the war."
In early November he went ot Harper's Ferry to return convalescents and stragglers to their regiments under McClellan and Burnside. He had a chance to see the Army of the Potomac and "the famous arsenal of John Brown notoriety" and the battlefield of Harper's Ferry. On January 5, 1863 the 129th became part of the Second Brigade of the Eighth Army Corps. The regiment was changed to heavy artillery. Company B was stationed at Fort Marshall. Later that month Captrain Baker and a sergeant in Company B were sent to Buffalo for thirty days to recruit enugh men to bring the regiment to a total of 1800 men. During the Spring and Summer the Company remained in Baltimore escroting stragglers back to their units. On August24th Captain Baker, 3 non-commisioned officers and 30 privates escorted 106 Confederate prisioners to Annapolis. That Fall Col. Porter granted six day furoughs for soldiers to return home to vote. Captain Baker was one of those granted a furlough. On November 18 he ws granted a two day leave of absence to go the Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetery, where he heard President Lincoln's delivery of his famous address. Marshall Cook, who accompanied Captain Baker tht day, later recalled "the feeling of sorrow, even despair, which showed itself in the face and attitude of President Lincoln, when leaving the car, words cannot depict. As this was the only time I ever saw the President it made a deep and lasting impression on me."
Most of the men serving in Captain Baker's unit were friends, eighbors, and even family from the town of Cambria in Niagara County, New York. His wife's brother, Milton Lafler, enlised in December 1863 and joined the company. Milton's brother in law, Loren Parker, also served in his unit. Both would survive the war. Disease and sickness were as much a source of casualties as battle wounds.
In Apri 1864 the regiment received orders to move to the front lines for the Campaign of the Wilderness. On june 3, 1864 the Union and Confederate armies were facing each other between the hamlest of Old and New Cold Harbor at the center of five turnpikes. Grant ordered several charges during the day. The Eighth NY Heavy Artillery was ordered to make a final charge at the end of the day over a mile of open ground toward the Confederate lines on the edge of a woods. Captain Baker described the attack in a letter to a hometown newspaper "Dear Sir: It is my duty to inform, through your paper, our many friends in Niagara of the dreadful slaughter in our regiment.l We lay in our position until 5 o'clock when we were ordered to charge the rebel lines. Our brave boys sprang over their breastworks, and at doublt quick, with good liens, steadily proceeded over the long space between us and the enemy's lines... We were repulsed with heavy loss ... The field where the ost of the men fell is within from one to twenty rods of the rebel lines ... My men melted away around me, till witht he exception fo the Adjutant of our batalion, who was wounded but bravely struggling on, not a man was standing within the length of the lines of my company." Lockport Daily Journal June 18, 1864. Out of 1400 men entering the charge 639 had fallen. Private Robert Gumaer recalled "dead and wounded lie from teh pits we left to the rebel works, but at the works they were almost heaped in places. We lay under cover of the pits until the middle of the afternoon when an order came from Capt. Baker, the superior surviving senior officer, to start back one by one to works we occuied in the morning. Col. Peter Porter was killed. Captain Baker was promoted to major n June 26, 1864. The replacement for Col. Porter was killed within a month.
Following Cold Harbor the reigment was moved to assist a the Seige of Petersburg. The Eighth was tearing up railroad track on the Weldon Railroad near Reams Station on August 25, 1864when the enemy charged. The Confederates were repulsed the first time, but the second charge fro two points was able to break their lines. The troops fought hand to hand with the enemy, losing their flag, regaining it and losing it again to the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. Major Baker was praised by Col. Murphy for his efforts to keep the Eighth in the battle. A large number of men were taken prisoner by the Confederates and taken to Saisbury prison. In December 1864 Major Baker wrote to the Adjutant General that "our aggregate of officersa dn men presnet this morning is 482, the balance 904 being absent, sick and wounded."
Major Baker was promoted to Lt. Colonel on January 17, 1865 and to Colonel on February 4, 1865. He was the fourth and last Commander of the Eighth, serving through the end of the war and mustering out the regiment at Rocvhester, NY on June 9, 1865. In the final days of the war the Eighth pursued General Lee's troops from Petersburg to Appomatox and were in the area at the time of the surrender.
Following the war, Joel was superintendent of the Poor one year, farmer and tuaght school teach in Cambria and held other posts as principal in Troy, NY, East Orange NJ and Hartford, Conn. until his death in 1876. He was survived by his wife and two children Joel and Emma. At the annual meeting of the 8th Heavy Artiller association in 1876 he was remembered as "neithr impetuous or rash, was brave, resolute, active and earnest, but cool and self possessed, shrinking from no danger to himself, always considerate of the safety of his command, and ever kennly senstivie to the honor and reputation of our beloved regiment." Lockport Daily Hournal, August 23, 1876, p 1 col l. The City of Niagara Falls dedicated a monument in Prospect Park near the falls to the memory of those who lost their lives in the 8th NY Heavy Artillery.