"The New York British Volunteers"

While Charles Innes was having troubles with his regiment, another proposed regiment (the New York British Volunteers) was also having difficulties. The two men who had come up with the idea for the New York British Volunteers were Robert W. Torre and R.E. Alfred Hampson. Both were prominent Englishmen who now resided in New York, and both had fought in the Crimea; Torre, for example, had been with the 17th Regiment of British Foot Soldiers.

On April 19, 1861 he and Hampson had established headquarters at 17 Broadway. They secured a drill room in the back of the Astor Riding School, at 398 Bowery in Astor Place. Thus established, Torre and Hampson ran ads that called upon "able-bodied men of respectability and intelligence" to sign up with their proposed regiment (NY Times: April 23, 5:3; April 24, 5:5; April 25, 5:6).

Unfortunately, the recruiting had not been going very well. By April 25th, when many other proposed volunteer regiments were already filled to capacity, only 400 men had enlisted with the British Volunteers. This was less than half of what was needed to form a regiment. The problem was that Great Britain herself had proclaimed neutrality during the American conflict, and in truth, she was more sympathetic with the Confederacy than the Union. The British Consul in New York, for example, had refused to even acknowledge the existence of Robert Torre's volunteers (NY Times, April 25, 8:4).

Indeed, as England's proclivity toward the South in the Civil War became more apparent, paranoia intensified in the North. According to The New York Times, Captain Walter Darwent of the British Volunteers was even accused of secretly recruiting Confederate soldiers to his regiment. The charge was investigated and found to be completely false, but lingering suspicions may have further impeded recruiting efforts (NY Times, April 26, 1861, 8:4; May 27, 1861, 1:6).

The British Volunteers were therefore having a difficult time finding recruits, despite almost daily rallies at Hope Chapel downtown. Robert Torre, eager to fight on the Yankee side for a chance at glory and an officer's status, never gave up hope. In early May he began to solicit volunteers from places as far away as Boston, Albany, Troy, and Canada (NY Times, May 10, 1861, 5:1).

Torre even conceded to accepting the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, so that the position of Colonel could be taken by someone more prominent. He placed a help-wanted ad in the newspapers, saying that The British Volunteers "desire to have as their commanding officer a gentleman who has seen service as a field officer in the British Army." The job was eventually filled by veteran Colonel H.W. Austin, late of the 56th British Foot. Colonel Austin had been living in Canada, but he had accepted the terms of the agreement and arrived for duty in New York City on May 9th, 1861 (NY Times, April 24, 5:5; April 25, 8:4; May 10, 5:1).

Out of desperation, the British Volunteers started to recruit any pro-Union Britons they could find. Four more recruitment offices were opened in British saloon dives spread between The Bowery and the Five Points districts of New York. One recruiting office was opened in Mercer House, a bar at the corner of Mercer and Broome Streets. A second place was set up in The Bugle, located at 109 Grand Street near Mercer Street. A third office was found in the back of Robert Walker's Saloon at No. 26 Greenwich Street. The fourth was opened at The House of Lords, which was at 19 Houston Street near Crosby Street. The House of Lords (and its neighboring dive, The Bunch of Grapes) "were much frequented by English thieves and confidence men." It was also a favorite haunt of the actor John Wilkes Booth, who later plotted Abraham Lincoln’s kidnapping in this bar during a visit to New York City. A fifth recruitment office was opened in the basement of the Episcopal Church of the Advent near W.42nd Street and 8th Avenue (NY Times: April 23, 5:3; April 24, 5:5; April 25, 5:6; Herbert Asbury, 1928, pp.182, 191; Lincoln conspiracy trial transcript papers).

With these latter recruitment offices, the British Volunteers was nearly filled up, and they were all quartered in Johnson's Brewery at the foot of W.49th street near the Hudson River. Conditions there were horrible. The early uniforms of the British Volunteers were militia gray, but not everyone had them. In fact, many men were in want of underwear, and in the May 18, 1861 edition of the New York Times there appears an ad requesting donations of underwear for the men of the British Volunteers.

A week later, there was a mutiny at the Brewery. Five companies of the more refined British recruits mutinied under the lead of Captain MacDonald and planned to form their own separate regiment, but it never materialized. The high-ranking founders of the British Volunteers abandoned the regiment in disgust, leaving only five extant companies at the Brewery wondering what to do.

Major Finch of the Washington Volunteers learned of all this, and proposed to Colonel Innes that the two regiments merge. The State Military Board accepted the plan and ordered the union of these two organizations on May 24th. These two combined units were now officially designated The 36th New York State Volunteers.

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