HISTORY OF THE 36th NYSV ("The Washington Volunteers")

The 36th New York State Volunteers was a unique fighting force, comprised of Irishmen and New York Britons. A colorful group known for its antics and in-fighting, it nevertheless made important contributions to the Union cause at such battles as Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

The 36th NYSV was created by merging two proposed New York regiments which had failed to muster full troop strength. Those two proposed regiments were known as "The Washington Volunteers" and "The New York British Volunteers." Once merged, these combined forces were designated The 36th NYSV, and they kept as their nickname "The Washington Volunteers."

 

The Beginning of "The Washington Volunteers"

The regiment that was eventually designated as the 36th New York State Volunteers was first proposed on April 22, 1861 by a 39 year-old successful businessman named Charles H. Innes. Innes was a devoted family man and restaurant owner, who lived in a large home on 16th Street near 9th Avenue in Manhattan. He also happened to be a veteran of the Mexican War of 1846-48, having served with the 1st NY Volunteers. Innes opened a small recruitment headquarters for his proposed regiment near his home, and made his friend and business associate, Nathaniel Finch, a major.

Nathaniel Finch was a 47 year-old bank president and native New Yorker. He resided at 247 W.36th Street near 9th Avenue, with his wife and three children. Nathaniel Finch may have been chronically ill, because he also kept a personal physician on call at his home round the clock -- a 26 year-old Swiss doctor named Louis D. Radzinsky. In fact, when Finch decided to go to war he was so concerned about his own health that he persuaded Dr. Radzinsky to sign up with him, so that the trusted doctor would always be close at hand!

From the beginning, Colonel Innes and Major Finch were very much in the spirit of things. They called their tiny headquarters "Union Hall," and their recruitment ads began with two lines of verse: "Our country calls, obey we must/And hurl secession in the dust." The ad went on to say, "A Regiment is now forming for the service of the United States. All young men who feel desirious [sic] of serving their country in this critical hour have an opportunity of displaying their patriotism and sustaining the Stars and Stripes by enlisting at 'Union Hall', 16th-st and 9th-av" (NY Times, April 24, 5:6).

They had no theme or nationality to promote. They had no name; they were simply a proposed regiment. This did not go far to spark enthusiasm, and their recruiting was less than remarkable at first. "Colonel Innes' regiment," as it was called in the press, was an organization without an identity (Gould, 1871, p.53; NY Times, May 31, 1861, 3:3).

Many of the men who showed up at Union Hall were Irish Catholic longshoremen and laborers who, because of prejudice or economic conditions, were currently unemployed. By May 4th Innes had scraped together eight hundred of these recruits, and it looked as though he would be getting even more in the next few days. He marked the occasion by finally coming up with a name for his regiment. Since his men would be defending the nation's capital, he decided upon "The Washington Volunteers" (NY Times, May 5, 1861 3:4; May 6, 1861 8:4).

Up until this time Colonel Innes had no barracks for his men, so he told everyone he enlisted to return home and wait for further instructions. But now that there were enough recruits, Innes moved his headquarters to 93-95 Sixth Avenue -- an area well-known for its affordable lodging houses -- and began to make inquiries about a barracks (NY Times, May 5, 3:4; May 6, 8:4).

He also informed the State Military Board that his regiment was "nearly full." The state promptly accepted the Washington Volunteers as an official regiment; they were to be mustered in to service on May 8th. Colonel Innes promised his men that once this happened they would all be quartered with rations, uniforms, and weapons. But he spoke too soon (NY Times, May 5, 1861 3:4; May 6, 1861 8:4).

Charles Innes’ uniforms and equipment never arrived; his plans for a barracks downtown fell through -- and when May 8th came, only five hundred of the eight hundred men he enlisted showed up for federal inspection. Most of the men Innes had recruited had long ago given up on him; they simply abandoned him, and joined other regiments. With only five extant companies, it looked as if the Washington Volunteers was a dead regiment. But then came the opportunity to combine the Washington Volunteers with another proposed regiment, called the New York British Volunteers (NY Times, May 6, 1861, 8:4; May 29, 1861, 8:4).

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