Union Blue and Militia Gray:
The Role of the New York State Militia
in the Civil War -
Among the important measures passed by the state legislature which met early
in January 1862 were bills authorizing counties, cities, towns and villages
to make appropriations for the purposes of raising troops and the relief
of their families, provisions for the pay of volunteers still in the state,
and payment to the families of soldiers of sums allocated from their pay.
Bills also provided for expenses incurred in raising troops; reimbursing
the militia regiments for losses sustained while on active service, and for
the complete enrollment of the militia.
In April the legislature passed the new militia law organizing the militia
under its new designation of National Guard. Thanks and congratulations were
extended to the volunteers for their sacrifice and dedication to duty. Finally,
authorization was extended for the incorporation of the "Union" home
and school where the children of volunteers could be cared for and educated.
By the middle of the year, the United States Congress finally recognized
the limitations of the Militia Law of 1795, and on 17 July 1862 lengthened
term of service under which organized state militia could be federalized "at
the discretion of the President" to nine months. It also authorized the
drafting of members of the enrolled militia to make up strength deficiencies
if necessary. Under this new legislation, one regiment of the National Guard,
the 10th, volunteered for nine months service and went on active service as
the 177th New York Volunteers on 21 November at Albany. This unit played a
conspicuous part in the seizure of Port Hudson, Louisiana, where they were
highly complimented for their intrepidity and devotion to duty." 
During the Winter, neither Union nor Confederate armies engaged in prolonged
campaigns. Major General George McClellan used that time to plan what became
known as the Peninsula campaign in Virginia. In New York, the National Guard
units attended their monthly drills, and the general staff investigated methods
of attracting recruits by conscription or bounties. Financial support and
commutation fees were still attractive
In March, Confederate Major General Thomas J. Jackson began his Shenandoah
Valley campaign. For approximately three months, through a series of skillful
feints and marches, he confounded the efforts of a host of Union commanders
to contain and defeat him. On 21 May the Federal government levied a request
among the various states for additional three-year volunteers and the recruiting
depots were again opened at New York City, Albany and Elmira after the Winter
of 1861/62 hiatus. A few days later, Major General Nathaniel Banks and his
Union forces suffered a defeat at the battle of Winchester at the hands of
Confederate Major Generals Richard S, Ewell and Jackson. By 24 May Banks
commenced his withdrawal from the northern end of the Valley toward the Potomac,
it became feared that an invasion of Pennsylvania and Maryland was contemplated
(see Map #2).
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton immediately dispatched the following telegram
to the New York governor:
Washington D.C., May 24
Major General Morgan, Albany
The operations of the enemy on the Shenandoah may require speedy reinforcements.
Please organize one regiment as speedily as possible. The Seventh New York
should be in readiness to move if called for.
Edwin M Stanton, Sec'y of War. 
A response was prompt and patriotic. Since there were no volunteer regiments
in the state in readiness for active service, the governor decided to
call out organized regiments of the National Guard. Orders specified that they
be prepared to depart between 26 May and 4 June. In this event, twelve
averaging seven hundred men each, went forward (see Appendix
The 7th Regiment marched on the night of 26 May, and on the same day the
governor ordered the 8th, 11th, 37th and 71st Regiments to hold themselves
The units left to send-offs reminiscent of the departures of the previous
year, and similar receptions were experienced at towns and cities along their
south. The twelve, called up for three months, received assignments to a
variety of locations along the area of operations. The 13th Regiment was dispatched
to garrison Suffolk, Virginia, while at the same time the 71st arrived in
The unit remained there for its entire tour on guard duty. While there, Colonel
Henry Martin disputed with the war department over the failure to send the
regiment to Harper's Ferry. Following their mustering-out, Colonel Martin
resigned his commission over what he considered dishonorable treatment. 
The 19th Regiment, from Newburgh, traveled to Baltimore where they bivouacked
in the suburbs to guard rail yards and a large military hospital. The regiment
traveled to nearby Fort Marshall, from which they organized several successful
expeditions to secure large quantities of arms, equipment, ammunition and
other property which had been concealed in buildings and other places for Confederate
use. Their next orders divided the regiment, assigning four companies to
Delaware outside Philadelphia, one company to Fort Marshall, and two companies
to Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor where they reinforced the 47th Regiment.
At Fort Delaware, the 19th guarded about 3,500 enemy prisoners and Union
army deserters. 
The 7th Regiment arrived in Baltimore to occupy the temporary camp at Stewarts
Hill, and then Fort Federal Hill which had been built in the Autumn of 1861.
Like other National Guard regiments assigned to major cities, their presence
freed volunteer units for reinforcement of the field armies. This structure
was an "immense square fortification" with three large bastions.
The guns commanded every part of the city and
the landward approaches. 
The 7th Regiment's rather static guard role at Baltimore, however, was in
considerable contrast with the experience of the 22nd, and especially the 12th
at Harper's Ferry. The 22nd Regiment was organized in New York City as the "Union
Grays" on 13 May 1861. Banks and insurance companies sponsored its creation.
Concerned with the departure of militia units for Washington, these institutions
furnished much of the money and other support for the new six-company unit.
On 17 September 1861 the regiment was constituted in the state militia "to
do duty as Light Infantry." The ranks rapidly filled up even though the
volunteer regiments in the field were absorbing almost everybody having military
It soon numbered over 400 members. They adopted as their uniform a single-breasted
gray frock coat with red collar and cuffs. The gray trousers had a wide red
stripe and the gray kepi, with red band and top, soon prompted admirers to
bestow on the unit the unofficial nickname, "Strawberry Grays." Since
the state and Federal governments were unable to supply weapons, the unit purchased
and imported sufficient Sergeant's Model PI856 Enfields with sword bayonets.
On 28 May 1862 the regiment received orders to proceed to Baltimore where
they were issued knapsacks, blankets, haversacks and canteens. They sent home
gray frock coats because of their resemblance to those worn by the Confederate
artillery. As replacements, they received the standard U.S. Army fatigue
After twenty days at Baltimore, the unit traveled to Harper's Ferry to join
the garrison. The train journey took twenty-four hours, and upon arrival they
camped on Bolivar Heights, a short distance to the west of the town. The unit
used this period to hone their drill. On 25 August the 125th New York Volunteers
arrived from the Troy area. This new three-year regiment had been in existence
less than a month, and had had no training prior to its dispatch. Consequently,
the 22nd furnished drill instructors for the training of this "green" unit.
On 28 August their three-month enlistment expired, but the 22nd voted to
extend their service to 1 September. By that time, the unit had made known
to leave on schedule, and on that date they departed for home. Their active
service, however, did not cease, for on 14 September the regiment concentrated
at East New York to guard Spinola's volunteer brigade which had mutinied
in its camp. To the 22nd, the duty was extremely arduous and disagreeable.
a hasty court-martial, two mutineers of Spinola's brigade were executed,
and after that the trouble ceased. 
The 22nd escaped from Harper's Ferry with two weeks to spare. The 12th Regiment
was not so lucky. On 27 August the 12th traveled to Harper's Ferry with a
large number of inexperienced recruits who required incessant drill to bring
up to a minimum standard of training. Their three-month term of service would
also expire on 27 August, but they volunteered to extend their service until
15 October, especially in light of the Second Bull Run campaign then being
waged in northeastern Virginia. Some of the regiment's enlisted members soon
started a lobbying effort to be released from Federal service. In the meantime,
General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia,
began his first invasion of northern territory on 3 September after defeating
Major General John Pope's Federal Army of Virginia on 30 August. Lee's army
crossed into Maryland north of Leesburg, Virginia. 
Colonel Dixon Miles, commanding at Harper's Ferry, telegraphed Major General
John E. Wool, commanding general of the Middle Department at Baltimore, to
report that members of the 12th Regiment were very dissatisfied, and he recommended
that they be released. Colonel William Ward, the regimental commander, agreed.
The following day, however, Wool recommended that they stay, since the enemy's
intentions were unclear. To leave under the circumstances would forever sully
their reputation. 
Events moved very fast. The 12th crossed the Potomac to guard Potomac Heights,
the promontory that overlooked the town from the north. Colonel Miles now
commanded approximately 10,000 Union troops in his garrison, organized in four
Besides the 12th New York National Guard Regiment, he commanded five New
York Volunteer regiments (39th, 111th, 115th, 125th and 126th), and two batteries
of the 5th New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery.
On 9 September, Lee, bivouacked at Frederick, Maryland, issued Special Order
No. 191, which ordered the capture of Harper's Ferry, and entrusted this
operation to the supervision of Jackson. Since Harper's Ferry lay astride his
communication, Lee could not allow the garrison to threaten his supply lines
from the Shenandoah Valley. He was certain that McClellan, once again in
command of the Union forces around Washington, would fail to move fast enough
The 73 cannon and the wealth of other military equipment stored at Harper's
Ferry proved doubly attractive.
Special Order No. 191 became effective on 10 September, and on 14 September
Confederate forces invested Harper's Ferry, closing off the town from three
sides. The town was naturally vulnerable, lying as it did at the junction
of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and overlooked by higher ground on all
The 12th Regiment, employed as an artillery unit, began the bombardment of
enemy forces on Loudon Heights, on the Virginia side of the river. Concurrently,
Jackson's own guns began shelling the town and the Union defensive works.
When the enemy captured Maryland Heights, and routed the 126th New York Volunteers,
the 12th withdrew to Camp Hill, situated between the town and the main Union
defenses to the west on Bolivar Heights. They immediately proceeded to entrench
while under Confederate gunfire. On 15 September, Miles decided to surrender,
but he became a victim to one of the last artillery salvoes of the siege.
Having been ordered to capitulate, the 12th Regiment stacked its arms, and
bivouacked nearby. Several soldiers subsequently recovered their muskets
when the enemy was not watching. On 16 September the regiment was paroled,
not to take up arms again until formally exchanged. The main body of Jackson's
force now departed to rejoin Lee's army concentrating at Sharpsburg to confront
McClellan and the Army of the Potomac along Antietam Creek. On 17 September
the Confederates claimed the 12th's black cooks as contraband, and retained
them there while the regiment departed. 
Each Federal regiment began marching toward Frederick, Maryland during the
late morning of 16 September. With less than two days' rations, the conquered
garrison reached Annapolis on the 21st. Instead of receiving furloughs, the
volunteer regiments received orders from the war department to depart for
Camp Douglas, Chicago for training and re-fitting, in preparation for military
against the Sioux Indians. Many of the enlisted men scorned the humiliating
treatment and demonstrated loudly. The expired three-month term of service
of the 12th Regiment allowed them to muster-out of the army, and they returned
to New York City to be feted at a sumptuous banquet. 
By the end of the year, Major Charles Trumball White, inspector of the 2nd
Brigade in Manhattan, reported that the 12th was inspected at the divisional
arsenal on 27 October. Only a portion of the men were uniformed since eight
companies had been captured that Summer where they lost their weapons and their
uniforms rendered unserviceable. New weapons, issued since their return, appeared
to be in good order, and it could be expected that this regiment would soon
return to an "efficient and superior condition." 
Of the twelve regiments mobilized in May, only one was involved in combat.
In his report to the governor, the adjutant general, Brigadier General Thomas
Hillhouse, commended all of them:
The promptness with which the National Guard responded to the requisitions
of your Excellency at this time, is worthy of notice. Composed mainly of
citizens engaged in active business pursuits, it involved no light sacrifice.
be recollected that most of these regiments had volunteered under a similar
exigency in 1861 and the value of their services was fully appreciated and
acknowledged by the Government. The Secretary of War recently expressed his
approval of the alacrity with which they moved to Washington and his sense
of the importance of the service thus rendered to the Government. 
The year 1862 had been very successful for the National Guard. Besides the
mobilization of troops for active service, the National Guard establishment
continued to raise substantial forces for the field armies. By year's end
however, the war seemed no closer to resolution. The twin crises in Pennsylvania
on the home front in New York in 1863 would severely strain the staying-power
of the people and militia forces of the state.
Chapter Four Footnotes
1. Daniel Sickles, "Military Affairs in New York 1861-65," The
Army (Madison, WI: n.p., 1908), 29.
2. New York State, Annual Report of the Adjutant General (Albany,
1862), 58. Hereinafter cited as: AG;
Sickles, Military Affairs, 31. .
3. AG. 1863,62.
4. William A. Swinton, History of the Seventh Regiment, National Guard (New
York: Charles T.
Dillingham, 1876), 234.
5. AG, 1863, 7.
6. John Mandeville, History of the 13th Regiment N.G.S.N. Y. (New
York: n.p.: 1894), 32; Henry
Whittemore, History of the 71st Regiment N.G.S.N.Y. (New York: Willis
McDonald & Co.,
7. AG, 1863, 124.
8. Swinton, Seventh Regiment, 248.
9 .Frederick P. Todd, "22nd Regiment, New York State Militia, 1862," Long
Endure (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982), 62.
10. George Wingate, History of the 22nd Regiment NYSNG (New York:
C.S. Westcott & Sons
1901), 19, 23.
11. Morris Dowley, History and Honor Roll of the 12th Regiment NGSNY (New
York: T. Farrell & Sons,
12. U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the
Official Records of the Union
and Confederate Armies (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Officer,
1880-1901), Series I, Vol.
13. Dennis E. Frye, "The Siege of Harper's Ferry," Blue & Gray,
Vol. V, Issue I (August-September 1987),
14. Dowley, 12th Regiment, 21.
15. AG, 1863, 21.
16. Ibid., 8.
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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
April 6, 2006