Union Blue and Militia Gray:
The Role of the New York State Militia
in the Civil War -
Antecedents and Organization
The militia forces of the United States have traditionally assumed three roles
in the service of the nation and their respective states. They must first organize
and prepare to conduct conventional military operations against any external
threat. Internally, the militia trained to assist the appropriate authority
to suppress riots, protests and other forms of civil disobedience. Lastly,
the militia mobilized to control the effects of natural disasters and to assist
their fellow citizens. In the era of the Civil War the militia of New York
State performed all these duties besides shouldering the major burden of raising
the main war-time combat forces.
The militia owed its existence to conditions in the colonial period. The
Revolutionary War militia had a very varied experience and in the Federalist
period of the
1790s reforms were attempted to impose some degree of uniformity and efficiency
for all militia forces in the United States.
During his first term as president, George Washington relied on Secretary
of War Henry Knox to prepare a comprehensive proposal for the national use
the militia. The final result was "An Act more effectively to provide
for the National Defense by establishing Uniform Militia throughout the United
States" on 8 May 1792. This law gave the militia whatever slight central
direction it was to have for the next 111 years. It stated that all free able-bodied
white men (blacks and women were excluded), aged 18-45, owed military service
to both state and nation. It directed the eligible males to furnish themselves
with proper firearms and accoutrements. Certain categories of men were exempt
from service and the law authorized the states to expand further
their own list of exemptions. The law also directed that the militias were
to be divided into brigades and regiments "if convenient" and provided
for the existence of specialized infantry, including riflemen, light infantry
and grenadiers. Volunteers within brigades filled the cavalry and artillery. 
Each state maintained an adjutant general, the key person among each militia
charged with upholding uniformity. He reported the condition of his forces
once per year to the governor and the president. The act did create select
corps but provided for the organizing, and training of all able-bodied men.
Since they numbered in the vicinity of half a million, this provision proved
unrealistic, made more so because there were no penalties for failure to comply.
The act therefore included no sanctions against either states or individuals.
On 28 February 1795 Congress passed another statute vital to the future of
the militia. It was entitled "An Act to Provide to call Forth the Militia
to Execute the Laws of the Union, Suppress Insurrection and Repel Invasions." Upon
invasion or its threat, it empowered the president to summon as many troops
as he deemed necessary. Unlike the Uniform Militia Act, this law provided sanctions
for failure to answer a summons from the president. The act confirmed long-standing
custom in limiting the compulsory term of all militiamen in Federal service
to three months in a year. 
The crisis of the first decade of the 19th Century left behind the Act of
April 1808 appropriating $200,000 annually for arming and organizing "the
whole body of the
militia of the United State s.. .by and on account of the United States." The
assessment of the militia as well as its organization, thus theoretically became
a Federal responsibility. Neither the constitutional nor the military consequences
of this seemed important at the time, but these three acts provided the framework
on which the militia and the war-time volunteers were to be raised and administered
in the 1860s. 
One of the popular ways of enforcing attendance at training periods was by
means of fines. A man could plan beforehand for an absence and pay a sum for
the privilege of so absenting himself. Placing fines and commutation fees and
collecting them proved to be two very different matters. It seems that at no
time within the period between 1846 and 1860 did the states succeed materially
in collecting either.  In some states the fines were exceedingly high for
non-attendance. In New York the fine amounted to twelve dollars, quite a sum
for an average
After the War of 1812 New York State sought to collect fines from militiamen
who had dodged war service. State tribunals assessed fines of $200,000 against
4000 militiamen, but so indifferent was the public that collection costs exceeded
income by $25,000. 
Commutation funds from those who did not wish to serve came in easier. In
1850 New York collected over $41,000.  The availability, or lack of commutation
funds for the support of the state militia became a cause celebre in the years
before the Civil War.
In his 1858 Annual Report of the Adjutant General, Brigadier General Frederick
The system known as the commuting system, were it enforced in accordance with
the spirit of the law, would, it can hardly be denied, provide a sufficient
organization, from the burdens under which it is at present struggling. While
it is not desired that the force should be wholly sustained from this system,
like a necessary one, it is nevertheless consonant with reason and justice
that men volunteering to perform a duty which all, with few exceptions, are
required by the laws of Congress to discharge, should be at least assisted
in some of their expenses, as for music, armory rent and horses for guns, by
those who are thereby relieved of such duty. 
In financially strapped circumstances, commanders and staff officers at all
levels in the militia forces came to espouse the commutation system for the
support of their units. In the 15 April 1860 edition on the (State) Military
Gazette, the editor exclaimed:
The Legislature of 1846 reduced the commutation fee to fifty cents for non-performance
in hopes that the great bulk of eligibles would be glad to rid themselves of
this duty at so small a loss while there would remain a sufficient number of
citizens who from military zeal would go to the expense and trouble to become
effective soldiers. After thirteen years however, this system was found to
be a failure. 
It is impossible to set an exact date for the beginning of the decline in
interest in the militia but it is certain that the decline began many years
Mexican War. The causes for it were many - lack of military necessity; rarity
of drill days; expense and the commutation fees and fines. As the memory of
the War of 1812 faded gradually from the public mind, the military spirit also
declined. Militiamen in most cases only drilled on
one day each year, and that usually in April or October.  In 1846 New York
(and Connecticut) abolished compulsory service. Five other states did likewise
in the coming decade. In place of the obligatory militia training, new laws
provided for volunteer companies. Some states collected a small commutation
fee in lieu of military duty and in New York this amounted to seventy-five
cents. The money thus collected supported the volunteer independent corps.
The Niles National Register became jubilant over the abolition of the compulsory
militia law in New York: "We congratulate the people of this commonwealth
warmly and heartily upon this emancipation from mock military duty. The Bill
which cuts up the miserable system of militia oppression has become a law." 
As the compulsory system of universal military training waned, volunteering
waxed. In some people, the martial spirit combined with a love of colorful
uniforms, ceremonials and martial music, was ever present. Affluent volunteers
saw in volunteer units instruments by means of which they could defend what
they owned. The wealthier among them joined the cavalry which was exclusive
because it was expensive, while clerks and shopkeepers enrolled in grenadier,
light infantry and other elite infantry companies. All volunteers had to be
able to afford their affiliation: as much as $72 for the uniform, an initial
investment in armament, and various levels of dues.  Despite costs, volunteer
units proliferated and as these volunteers became the only reliable part of
the militia system, the states began to offer them more support.
Festivals would have been drab without the volunteer militia, the units of
which were easy to involve in public appearances. They conducted target shoots
and marched with
much ceremony to visit neighboring units. The encampments occasioned by these
visits involved themselves and the host communities in gargantuan feasts, much
fancy drill and sham battles.
The volunteer militiamen made themselves useful to state and local officials
in maintaining law and order. They guarded prisoners to prevent lynchings and
prisons where unpopular executions were being carried out, and they enforced
quarantines. Riot duty formed an integral part of their service, for riots
were endemic to the cities. During the troubled election of 1834, the famous
7th Regiment of the New York State Militia stood under a hail of bricks and
stones, but managed to withhold its fire. The following year, the city suffered
a great fire and this regiment policed the streets to stem looting. When stevedores
rampaged in 1836 the 7th helped to put them down, and at the height of the
Panic of 1837, with the streets full of hungry people demanding food, the 7th
took up its arms to protect property. 
On 10 May 1849 the 7th Regiment assembled to put down the Astor Place Riots
and this marked the first occasion in which militia forces fired into a crowd.
On that date a mob of Irishmen attacked the New York City Opera House because
a famous English actor was playing there. Before order was restored, the casualties
totaled 22 killed and 36 wounded with the mob taking the greater punishment.  The city's Summer violence in 1857 had its roots in a legislative measure
the municipal police under state control. The participants included discharged
members of the municipal police, Irish and German immigrants and members of
street gangs such as the Dead Rabbits, Blackbirds, Bowery Boys and the Roach
Guards. Apart from gang rivalry, the anger of the mobs
seemed to be directed against the new metropolitan police and the Sunday closing
of grog shops. The 8th and 71st Regiments were called in over a period of two
weeks to restore order in what had degenerated into guerrilla warfare. 
A small howitzer captured from the Dead Rabbits gang by the 71st Regiment is
on display at Camp Smith, New York to this day.
To the military reformer, Emory Upton, writing in the 1870s, the Mexican
War (1846-48) brought a revolution in the nation's military policy because
the effective end of the enrolled militia system as a serious reliance, even
in theory, for major war, and the substitution of the volunteer principle that
was thereafter generally to rule. The militia played little part in the struggle;
with their three-month term and their constitutional protection against foreign
service, they were of small help in a war of this character, while the great
distances over which operations had to be conducted ruled out the large armies
and mass mobilizations which the militia system was supposed to produce. Since
volunteers poured out with adventurous enthusiasm in quite adequate numbers,
the war could be safely left to them. Though summoned under Federal authority,
they retained their state designations and their officers, when not elected
by the men, were appointed by the governors. Congress decreed that they were
to serve for "twelve months or until the end of the war."  In
conflict, New York provided two volunteer regiments. 
With the successful conclusion of the Mexican War, steps were taken to foster
the professionalism of the volunteer units comprising the state militia. As
early as 1847 the
adjutant general of New York suggested a complete reorganization because so
many of the companies of both infantry and artillery had been reduced to small
The reorganization was immediately effected and there was a continued change
to larger units and less detail.  In 1848 the legislature acted to provide
the adjutant general
with $1,000, "or part thereof as needed" to furnish the commissioned
officers with books
is of tactics.  By 1848 New York had organized a corps of engineers and
brigade inspectors were appointed in 1849. The legislature enacted new militia
in 1851; and in 1853 the laws were codified.  In 1849 the adjutant general
declared that "the legislature of this state has enacted the best militia
law of which any of the United States can boast." 
In the latter 1850s the militia operated under the state Military Regulations,
promulgated under General Order No. 30 on 6 April 1858. The governor, as commander-in-chief,
supervised the whole military establishment in all its various departments.
He maintained responsibility for ordering the various parades, encampments
and drills of the militia forces, and to meet any special exigencies of the
The governor was assisted by a general staff of ten officers and their respective
departments. The adjutant general (brigadier general) acted as the chief-of-staff
to the commander-in-chief and he provided for the day to day administration
of the militia forces. He also supervised the collection of commutation fees
and fines and reported on an annual basis to the legislature on the state of
the forces to include strength, weapons
and equipment, and the readiness of the units He also prescribed programs of
training and instruction.
The Inspector General normally visited each unit and regimental district
every two years to inspect all types of state military property and to report
the qualifications of persons named to the governor for appointment to military
offices.  All money and property accounts remained under the supervision
of the inspector general until these disbursements were placed under the direct
control of United States Officers in September and October 1861. He also audited
claims and accounted for sums due to regiments or members of the militia for
clothing and equipment lost or destroyed on active service.
The Commissary General and his assistants were specifically charged with
the preservation, issue and transport of arms, equipment and other military
belonging to the state. By 1862 however, this office was renamed the Commissary
General for Ordnance, becoming responsible for arms and equipment. The Commissary
General of Subsistence thereafter provided the troops with food. This administrative
arrangement continued for the remainder of the Civil War and for some years
The Department of Engineers consisted of the Engineer-in-Chief, division
engineers, brigade and regimental engineers, and one sergeant and nine sappers
to each regiment. Their duties consisted of reconnoitering and surveying for
and for the superintending of defensive works, movement and operations of armies
field and the laying-out of camp grounds. 
The objective of the Quartermaster General's Department insured an efficient
system of supply for the troops and provided transport for the movement and
operations of the forces on active service. This department also provided fuel,
straw and forage for encampments, and for the provision of tentage and camp
equipage. Once hostilities began, this department would shoulder the major
burden in the raising of the volunteer forces.
The Military Regulations of 1858 failed to discuss the Paymaster General's
responsibilities since during peacetime the position was nominal.
Although the Surgeon General's office had been in existence since 1818, the
position was honorary and without any real duties. Upon the outbreak of
war in April 1861 the office assumed several important additional responsibilities.
Besides conducting physical examinations for recruits, qualifications for
medical personnel had to be determined and certified. In addition, hospitals
for sick and disabled soldiers in each of the receiving depots at Albany,
New York City and Elmira, as well as the vaccination of soldiers prior
departure for active service.
Besides a Judge Advocate General to advise and act on legal matters, three
aides-decamp and a military secretary assisted the governor in administrative
The Military Regulations provided direction for officers on the conduct of
operations and instruction in tactics. Guidance also provided for the administration
of prisoners of war.
Finally, detailed regulations prescribed the uniform and dress of the militia
forces. Generally, uniforms followed closely those of the regular army of the
United States except for insignia such as buttons, badges and cap devices,
which bore the arms of New
York State. Infantry regimental officers and men wore a dark blue frock coat,
sky blue trousers and a rigid blue shako, all with branch piping and pompon.
These regulations prescribed uniforms for those units of the militia which
had not adopted their own regimental uniform approved by the commander-in-chief.  This provision (Para. 1544) allowed for the profusion of unique, distinctive
and often gaudy dress worn by militia units in the early part of the war.
The Regulations did provide for a fatigue uniform consisting of a jacket
of cadet gray cloth, single breasted with standing collar, to extend from 5-6
inches below the waist, trimmed and faced with black. Trousers were to be sky-blue,
as per the regular army, and the outfit was complemented by a cadet gray cap
(kepi) with a band of black cloth and chin strap and flat visor of black leather.
Numerous New York militia regiments went on active service in a form of this
uniform between 1861-63, and it will be seen how closely this outfit resembled
the regulation field uniform of the Confederate army.
It must also be stressed that in accordance with their role as volunteers,
militiamen were required to provide uniforms at their own expense.
On 7 January 1862, Governor Edwin Morgan, in his Annual Message, reported
that he was forwarding
.. .a carefully prepared report, the result of systematic inquiry and correspondence
with the active military men of the State thru the Adjutant General and the
Judge Advocate General. It proposes to retain the main features of the present
Militia system; to abolish, with two exceptions, the elective system; to return
to the method of enrollment prescribed by the Act of 1792, to require yearly
drills and thus provide a well-trained nucleus in every locality, to limit
the durations of commissions and to terminate, within a given period, those
now in force, to require candidates to be examined and the enactment of a series
of Articles of War, for the government of troops of the State in time of war,
based on those in force in the Army. 
The results of that inquiry and report later resulted in the passage of the
new "Militia Law" by the legislature on 23 April 1862 and remained
in effect throughout the remainder of the Civil War. It provided the direction
upon which the state militia was administered and operated during this period.
The act delineated persons subject to military duty and allowed exemptions.
It also excused militia members from conscription for Federal active duty.
It provided for division of the enrolled militia into two classes based on
age, and still required an annual parade with a fine of one dollar assessed
Company strength was fixed at a minimum of 32 non-commissioned officers and
privates and a maximum of 100, however the commander-in-chief received authorization
in an emergency to draft men from the enrolled militia of the first class to
achieve required strength. Members were still required to furnish their own
In a throwback to much earlier times, elections for officers were still retained.
Companies elected their own officers and non-commissioned officers. Field grade
officers and especially regimental staff stood for election whenever at least
six uniformed companies could be assembled. Brigadier generals and brigade
inspectors were elected within their brigade districts. The governor nominated
all major generals and the commissary general, with the consent of the Senate.
The Law of 1862 gave detailed instructions for the conduct of these elections
and even provided for an appeals process. The commander-in-chief did reserve
the right to appoint examining boards to determine the fitness and competence
of any commissioned officers.
Besides an annual parade for inspection to be held between May and November
each year, the Law provided for six drills or parades per year by regiment
or battalion and six monthly drills by each company. To foster training, a
camp of instruction was ordered annually in each of the division districts,
not to exceed ten days. Soldiers enlisted for a term of seven years during
which they were exempted from jury duty and the payment of highway taxes. Each
became eligible for a deduction in the assessment of any real or personal property
in the amount of $500.
Pay rates, in peacetime, ranged from one dollar per day for a private, to
three dollars for a company commander, and up to eight dollars for a major
In time of war, militia members were entitled to the same pay, rations and
allowances for clothing as established by law for the United States Army (Para.
Except for a few purchased privately, the small arms and accoutrements carried
by New York units before 1861 were those that had been issued annually to the
state by the general government. In common with other states, New York's supply
of muskets, rifles and other weapons was inadequate, irregular and of generally
poor quality. Such comments as "the arms of this company are not fit for
use," or "the cavalry company is in want of carbines," or "there
have been none of the new pattern muskets issued to any of the regiments of
this brigade," fill the reports of all brigade inspectors as late as 1860.
Deficiencies in accoutrements (belts, cartridge boxes, knapsacks, etc.) proved
easily as great as in arms. 
In his annual report on 2 February 1858, the adjutant general reported that:
The State has stored in its various arsenals and in the hands of its troops
a large number of exceedingly worthless weapons, a considerable portion of
which have apparently come down from the War of 1812. It nevertheless owns
a very considerable quantity of serviceable muskets of quite recent patterns,
altered from flint to percussion, and also a large quantity which have been
rendered unserviceable simply by the careless manner in which they have been
The 7th Regiment, the crack regiment in the state, possessed influence and
wealth beyond the dreams of other corps and probably was the best armed regiment
in New York City; at least all its members paraded with the same model weapon.
Yet the 7th carried flintlock muskets until October 1854, when they were exchanged
for "very inferior conversions." The regiment had purchased its own
cartridge boxes and white buff leather belts (these boxes were the first to
carry the cipher "NG") and in January 1855 adopted and wore percussion
cap pouches for the first time. In November 1858 new Springfield Model 1855
Rifle-Muskets, with the Maynard Priming System, were issued, but only after "a
long and vigorous effort." In fact, the regiment sent a committee to Washington
DC, armed with letters from prominent New Yorkers, and accompanied by Senator
William H. Seward to see Secretary of War John B. Floyd and demand rifles "in
the most earnest and peremptory manner." Only the 7th could have accomplished
this piece of effrontery.
Contrast this record with that of the 9th Regiment which had been completely
reorganized in 1859. In 1861 - one month before the outbreak of the Civil War
- its adjutant was forced to write the adjutant general:
I had the honor of addressing you about a month ago on the subject of a stand
of arms for the 9th Regt. to which communication I am not in receipt of any
In that letter I represented to you the utterly useless character of the arms
that we have - worn, broken, & in many instances incapable of repair -
And in addition - we have no less than four varieties of musket amongst our
five companies - & if we were called into service would require four different
kinds of sizes of cartridge. When we were organized in August 1859 we were
promised by Genl. Townsend a new stand of arms out of the quota of 1860 - that
came - was distributed & we were put off to the quota of 1861. That quota
has, it seems, been distributed, & the 9th Regt. neglected again. 
Most of the regiments stood somewhere between the 7th and 9th. On 2 January
1861 the Military Gazette, reporting on the "Necessity of Arms," described
how the 12th Regiment, commanded by Colonel Daniel Butterfield, went to Staten
Island for target practice during the previous Autumn. Some of the companies
had only ten or a dozen muskets that could be fired, and each company used
them in rotation. The 2nd Regiment reportedly leased weapons from arms dealers
on the occasion of its parades. 
On 7 January 1862, Governor Morgan, in his annual message to the legislature,
It was obvious that our Militia was in no condition either as respected discipline
or equipment for imminent duty. Among other things it was shown that the great
body of the organized Militia was unsupplied with reliable arms. I especially
referred to that existing deficiency in the military stores, which I recommended
to the Legislature to take early measures to supply, urging that in order to
be prepared for any emergency, a suitable appropriation should be made from
the Treasury and placed at the discretion of the Military Department. The final
consideration of this subject did not take place until 12 April 1861 when a
bill passed appropriating $500,000 for the purpose of arming the Militia and
providing for the public defense. There have been purchased in Europe, under
this Act, 10,000 PI 853 Enfield Rifle-Muskets, of which about 6,000 have been
delivered to New York. 
The 1858 returns for weapons on hand indicated a total of 123 howitzers and
cannon of all calibers. Of that number, 98 were of the brass six-pounder variety
often assigned to the artillery batteries of infantry regiments. Fortunately,
the artillery maintained an excellent reputation. 
During the antebellum period, very few of the militia companies had quarters
of their own of any kind. Most companies rented meeting rooms in taverns and
hotels, on the upper floors of stables, and in Masonic halls arid Odd Fellows
meeting houses. For company parties, regimental balls, and other festivities,
the volunteers hired theatres and music halls. In mild weather, the militia
drilled on the Washington Square parade ground in New York City, and on other
large open spaces. When it turned cold, the infantry units rented the so-called "long
rooms" in local taverns, many of which were not big enough for company
drills, much less for regimental maneuvers. The cavalry units leased nearby
riding academies. Not only were these quarters unimposing, but, as a
result of periodic fires and changes in ownership, they often proved temporary
as well.  The effect these conditions had on training and combat readiness
only be imagined.
It became plain that taverns, hotels and quasi-public halls were not suitable
places to store arms and ammunition. Volunteers feared that their units would
not thrive unless they acquired their own quarters. Once the volunteer militia
became involved in suppressing civil disorder, they needed permanent quarters
to serve as rallying points, where the militia could assemble in an emergency,
dress, arm themselves and prepare to move out. 
The volunteer militia appealed to their local communities, a few of which
were willing to accommodate them. In the 1830s several militia units obtained
use of three large rooms on the second floor of the recently constructed public
market on Centre Street. By the Civil War, the 6th, 8th, 11th, and 71st Regiments
shared the Centre Markets drill rooms.  Beginning in 1858 Brooklyn's 13th
Regiment met in the four-story Henry Street Armory along with several of the
city's other military units. Brooklyn's 14th Regiment had to share the armory
and Fireman's Hall with the fire commissioner, chief engineer and other officials
of the fire department.
In 1860 the 7th Regiment moved into its new quarters in the Tompkins Market
building where they occupied the second and third floors of the armory, which
consisted of eleven company rooms, a band room, two company drill rooms and
a regimental drill hall that the New York Times called the "handsomest
and largest" in the United States. The first floor, however, was a public
market, crammed with butchers, green-grocers, fishmongers and other shopkeepers. 
In February 1863 the city supervisors passed a resolution agreeing to pay
$4000 per year rent for land for an armory for the 22nd Regiment. First constructed
was a one-story building, fifty-feet wide on 14th Street and afterward used
as a gymnasium. The regiment constructed, at its own expense, a two-story building
with a tower for company rooms and a regimental headquarters. This building
cost $20,000. Company A used the last room on the ground floor, and spent $250
to fix it up. There were, however, no provisions for lighting the open lots
surrounding the initial building and drills were therefore held in that structure.  The continued need for drill halls, armories and other
expanded quarters led the state inspector general to later recommend enlarging
the annual allowance for the rental fee for each company drill hall from $250
to $500 per year. 
Equally important for the storage of arms and equipment were the state arsenals.
By far, the most important one was located in New York City until 1859 at 5th
Avenue and 64th Street. In that year, a new and larger arsenal opened at 7th
Avenue and 35th Street.  This building became the principal storehouse
for ordnance, and was the headquarters of the commissary general. Arsenals
also located in Brooklyn, Buffalo, Rochester, Auburn, Syracuse and Utica, and
smaller repositories were constructed in Kingston, Corning, Dunkirk and Batavia.
All these structures were procured in the late 1850s. Their maintenance and
upkeep, however, varied considerably, and storage facilities were considered
inadequate except in New York City. Conditions became so bad that the inspector
general, after a series of inspection visits, recommended the consolidation
of all surplus weapons at the main arsenal in New York. He explained that many
of the roofs were leaking and much durable equipment consequently ruined. 
Ranking first in population and wealth among the states of the Union at this
period, New York maintained the nation's largest and most carefully organized
state army. In 1850 the New York State Militia contained 51 active uniformed
regiments and a number of independent companies. By that time the state had
completely eliminated its enrolled militia structure, and by a wide and radical
reorganization in 1846-48 forced hundreds of hitherto independent companies
into regimental groupings. 
By 1858 the militia forces had increased to 67 regiments assigned to 28 brigades
assembled into 8 divisions. The composite strength was 16,434 officers and
men. Additionally, there were 36 general officers to command this force. 
By January 1861 this total had risen to 19,189. 
The administration of this force required a command and staff of 532 officers,
including, for example, an inspector general and 32 division and brigade inspectors.
The regiments of New York numbered until 1865 in a single series that included
all branches. They varied considerably in strength and effectiveness; those
in the First Division in Manhattan had, as a rule, from six to ten active companies,
while some regiments located in predominately rural areas were little better
than paper organizations.
A New York regiment of the 1850s consisted on paper of eight battalion companies
(lettered A through H after 1857). By 1860 some regiments had begun to letter
their companies A through K, omitting J. Except for four (1st, 3rd, 4th and
70th) all the regiments served as infantry of some sort, although tradition,
armament and the kind of drill manual employed indicated seeming variation.
Thus one finds regiments described in the annual adjutant general's reports
of the 1860s as "Rifles doing duty as Light Infantry" or "Artillery
doing duty as infantry" or merely "Artillery" only to discover
that they were all essentially in the same branch of service.
By further complication, these infantry regiments often contained one or
more companies (and not always the elite flank companies) of a different branch
than the others. Thus the 8th Regiment (Washington Grays) had eight infantry
companies and one of cavalry. These variations were, of course, holdovers from
the days of the independent
company, and they tended to multiply the kinds of uniforms and armament in
a single regiment. 
The 20th Regiment (Ulster Guard) is fairly typical of a regiment raised outside
a large city. This unit is the oldest military organization in New York State
with a continuous history. It traces its lineage to the "Trainband of
Wiltwick" which was raised in Kingston in 1660. (It still survives as
the 1st Battalion, 156th Field Artillery Regiment, New York Army National Guard.)
Ulster and Sullivan counties were designated as the regimental district and
by April 1861 eight companies were in existence. Of that number, each attempted
some degree of individuality by adopting company titles. One infantry company
(G) was composed of Germans as was the "Jefferson Dragoons." Company
R ("Lexington Artillery") performed regular infantry duty. On 1 March
1858 the regiment received orders to perform as light Infantry using William
J. Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics manual, but it continued to function
as line infantry using Winfield Scott's obsolete Infantry Tactics. The regimental
or brigade commander decided when the regiment would perform the duties of
one or the other. 
New York regiments deviated widely in such characteristics as wealth, traditions
and national origins. At the top, the crack 7th Regiment (National Guard) recruited
conservative, affluent Protestants, The older corps tended to be native-American
in composition and many took their membership from the wealthier classes of
society. Regiments more recently formed, especially in New York City, were
often heavily or completely foreign in personnel, language and institutions.
William H. Russell, correspondent of the London Times, visited the 12th Regiment
(Independence Guard) in its camp in Washington DC following the outbreak of
the war. He examined some statistics compiled by Colonel Butterfield, and discovered
that of twelve soldiers, selected at random, that only two were native-born
Americans. The rest were Irish, German, English or generally European-born. 
Fraternalism is understandable among immigrant groups but in one instance
a deeper purpose was involved: during the 1850s distinct New York regiments
raised to specifically train Irishmen as soldiers so they could fight for Irish
freedom. Both the 9th and 69th Regiments fell into this category. The 9th was
organized in New York City on 29 May 1850, and marched in its first St. Patrick's
Day Parade the following year. Many people believed that the bulk of this unit
were Irish rebels disguised and organized into a secret society known as the "Silent
Friends."  The New York Herald later suggested "that the Irish
are organizing a Party to oppose the Know-Nothings (Native American Party).
would be a great mistake to form such a party to foist their views on the country
and it might give power to the Know-Nothings for a whole generation." 
The "Green Coated Rabble" and the "Irish Mob" became popular
nicknames of derision for these Irish units  and Colonel Michael Corcoran
of the 69th Regiment was widely believed to be a member of the Fenian Brotherhood,
actively engaged in raising funds to counteract such discrimination.
On 6 October 1860 the 69th Regiment held a mass meeting to protest the visit
of Britain's Prince of Wales, and resolved not to parade the following day
or at any other time before this personage. The press directed considerable
vehemence at the regiment over this incident. Colonel Corcoran was formally
charged with dereliction of duty, and his court-martial opened on 20 December
at the divisional armory at Elm and White Streets. Corcoran based his defense
on the fact that the regiment had already served its annual quota of drills
and therefore could not parade. The public showed a great deal of interest
in his case until the outbreak of hostilities on 12 April 1861, and on that
day formal orders were promptly issued releasing Corcoran from arrest and restoring
him to command. More important matters had fortuitously intervened. 
A movement had been initiated in the late 1850s to amalgamate these two regiments
and thus lessen their political impact, however by 1860 both units continued
to thrive. The Military Gazette had this to say of the 9th Regiments Company
C at artillery practice:
The "City Guard" is composed of young men of the best families but
they were thought to be rather too slim and too nice to manage barrette and
casemate guns. But Captain Lovell has shown that his young men are of the right
kind and not too weak and effeminate for the service of heavy artillery. 
Many Americans, in and out of the militia, resented and feared the rapidly
growing influence of these foreign soldiers. Workmen and mechanics feared the
loss of their jobs to immigrants willing to work for much lower wages. Of the
nineteen regiments of all branches of the service in Manhattan and Brooklyn,
at least seven were predominately foreign in personnel, while several of the
others contained a sizeable number of foreigners. The so-called Native American
movement held great appeal, and in the 1850s this movement reached its peak
with the organization of the American or Know-Nothing Party. Plans to raise
a regiment composed only of native-born Americans resulted in the four original
companies of the 71st Regiment (American Guard) in October 1850, Being chiefly
men of the mechanic class, they avoided the conservative gray uniforms of the
7th and 8th Regiments, and opted for the more modern dark blue frock coat.  The 71st continued to maintain its reputation as an "American Regiment." When
several foreigners attempted to enlist, great dissension ensued. A mass meeting
was held in protest, and the regimental commander, Colonel Abram Vosburgh,
attempted to defuse the situation by assuring the members of the unit of his
determination to maintain the nationality of the regiment. 
Despite an intense rivalry, common duty forced the 69th and 71st Regiments
to serve together. In October 1858 the 71st relieved the 69th on garrison duty
at the immigrant "Quarantine Camp" on Staten Island.  Change
for the better occurred in June 1861. While garrisoning Washington D.C., the
Regiment marched en masse in the funeral cortege of the 71st's Colonel Vosburgh
who had died following the fall from a train on 30 May. That gesture helped
to heal their mutually bad relations, and ushered in a new era of good will. 
Chapter One Footnotes
1. John K. Mahon, History of the Militia and the National Guard (New York:
Company, 1983), 5.
2. Ibid., 53.
3. Walter Millis, Arms and Men (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1956), 65.
4. Paul Tincher Smith, "Militia in the United States from 1846 to 1860" Citizen
Soldiers: A History of the
Army National Guard (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, US Army
Command & General
Staff College, 1989), 152.
5. Mahon, History of Militia, 81.
6. Smith, "Militia 1846-1860," 152.
7. New York State, Annual Report of the Adjutant General (Albany, NY: 1858),
26. Besides rosters of
personnel, these reports contain after-action reports for units on active
service. The annual reports also
contain recommendations by the incumbents for the reorganization and improvement
of the militia forces.
Hereinafter cited as: AG.
8. G.G. Stone, ed., (State) Military Gazette 15 April 1860, 115. This journal
contains much valuable
information for the four years (1858-1861) during which it was published.
In the first year it was published
in Albany, and thereafter in New York City. It was the only publication of
its kind on the militia forces in
9. Smith, "Militia 1846-1860;' 134.
10. Lena London, "The Militia Fine 1830-1860," Citizen Soldiers:
A History of the Army National Guard (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command & General
Staff College, 1989),
11. Mahon, History of Militia, 83.
12. Ibid., 85.
13. Hill, Minute Man, 41.
14. Kenneth M. Stampp, America in 1857, (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1990), 209.
15. Millis, Arms and Men, 105.
16. Hill, Minute Men, 24.
17. Smith, "Militia 1846-1860," 145.
18. AG, 1859, 562.
19. Smith, "Militia 1846-1860," 156.
20. AG, 1859,459.
21. New York State, Military Regulations (Albany, NY: Adjutant General's
Office, 1858), 6.
22. Ibid., 142.
23. Ibid., 147.
24. Ibid., 212.
25. New York State, Messages from the Governor to the Legislature, Charles
F. Lincoln, ed. (Albany NY:J.B. Lyon & Co., 1909), V: 383.
26. Frederick Todd, Military Equipage 1851-1872 (Providence, RI: Company
of Military Historians, 1977), 1026. In this multi- volume work, Todd describes
the full range of clothing, equipment and weapons utilized by the regular,
volunteer and state forces of both armies. He also provides detailed information
on the organizations of the various forces and also useful references on maritime
(naval and marine corps) subjects. This work has become the definitive work
on this wide-ranging subject.
27. AG, 1858, 9.
28. Todd, Military Equipage, 1026.
29. Military Gazette, 2 January 1861.
Governor's Messages, 1 January 1862, 392.
31. AG, 1858,6.
32. Robert M. Fogelson, America's Armories (Cambridge, MA: Howard University
Press, 1989), 8.
33. Ibid., 9.
34. Ibid., 10.
35. Ibid., 11.
36. History of Company A and the 22nd Regiment NGNY (New York: Styles & Cash,
37. New York State, Inspector-General's Report (Albany, NY: C. Wendell, Legislative
Printer, 1865), 21. Hereinafter cited as: IG.
38. Todd, Military Equipage, 1026.
39. IG, 1864, 35.
40. Todd, Military Equipage, 1007.
41. AG, 1858, 5.
42. AG, 1862,30.
43. Todd, Military Equipage, 1008.
44. Seward R. Osborne, "20th New York State Militia: The Early Years," Military
Collector & Historian,
Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2 (Summer 1986), 71.
45. William H. Russell, My Diary, North and South (New York: n.p. 1863),
46. Daniel P. O'Flaherty, "History of the 69th Regiment N.Y.S.M." (Ph.D.
diss., University of Michigan,
47. New York Herald, 4 December 1855.
48. O'Flaherty, "History of 69th," 164.
49. Ibid., 200,208,216.
50. Military Gazette, 16 May 1860.
51. John P. Severin and Frederick P. Todd, "71st Regiment, New York State
Militia 1857-1861," Long
Endure 1852-1867 (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982), 20.
52. Henry Whittemore, History of the 71st Regiment N.G.S.N. Y. (New York:
Willis McDonald & Co.,
53. Ibid., 21.
54. Ibid., 249.
Back to the Unit History Project - Civil War Units
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
April 6, 2006