On May 29, 1861 the 36th NYSV had its first casualty. One of the original leaders of the Washington Volunteers, Captain Samuel Waddell, had died at his residence in 130 Leonard Street. About ten days earlier he had accidentally fallen during a marching drill, and run a nail into the palm of his hand. Inflammation set in, then lockjaw, followed by death.

Waddell was described by The New York Times as "a humane and charitable man." He had been a friend of Colonel Innes,' as well as Assistant Engineer of the Fire Department, and Assessor and Fire Warden of the city's Sixth Ward. Colonel Innes and Major Finch adopted a resolution proclaiming the regiment's sorrow, which they presented to Captain Waddell's widow. A funeral was held the next day at 2:00 PM from Leonard Street, and for a month everyone in the 36th NY was required to wear a badge of mourning (NY Times, May 31, 3:3; June 1, 8:3).

It was an inauspicious beginning for the new regiment, whose disparate men were still getting used to each other. One half of the force was British, the other half was a pool of various nationalities, dominated by street-hardened Irishmen. All ten companies of the 36th NY remained at Johnson's Brewery, drilling incessantly by the riverside. At dinner they eyed each other cautiously over the makeshift mess tables, all the while wolfing down the food provided by their sutler, Mr. Wright (NY Times, May 29, 1861, 8:4).

An accidental nudge in the shoulder or a misinterpreted glance would frequently lead to an all-out brawl among the men, and on these occasions dinner would be disrupted, to say the least. Many of the soldiers in both halves of the regiment were street-fighters; fist fights were commonplace, especially between the hardened Irishmen of The Washington Volunteers and the rough, uptown Englishmen of the British Volunteers. It was definitely not a match made in heaven; officers of the regiment spent more time quelling riots at the Brewery than they did in performing tactical drills. They eventually stemmed the troops' urge to fight with each other by organizing boxing matches during the off-duty hours (Leckie, 1990, p.291).

The regiment lingered for a month or so at Johnson’s Brewery, awaiting orders. For a brief time in June they moved next door to a sugar refinery. On June 17, 1861 the 36th NYSV was officially mustered into federal service for two years’ service, and they anticipated that they would be ordered to Washington promptly. But more time passed. Three of the five British companies ultimately got fed up and deserted – leaving only two former "British Volunteer companies" in the otherwise overwhelmingly Irish 36th NYSV.

The two remaining British companies were Co. D under 21 year-old Captain James Townsend Daniel, an Englishman and ecclesiastical agent for the Church of England; and and Co. K under Captain James J. Walsh. Walsh was actually an Irish Catholic New York City policeman in civilian life, and he was placed in command of the mostly British Company K, but he was a tough soldier who won the Brits over. The Englishmen affectionately dubbed him "Paddy Walsh," and the Irish of the regiment adopted it as Walsh’s nickname, too. (Phisterer, p.2147; NY Times, June 27, 1861, 8:4).

By June 23, 1861 the 36th NYSV still had not received orders to go to Washington, but they were sent to a new campsite at Riker's Island, New York. While at Riker’s Island the 36th NYSV was issued standard blue uniforms and also its first firearms -- the 1849 Springfield Musket, which was an inferior weapon. Colonel Innes promised they would get better firearms once they reached Washington. Also at Riker’s, on July 8, 1861, the 36th NYSV received its battle flag; the regiment’s colors were made jointly by the ladies of Memorial Church at Waverley Place, and the ladies of the Baptist Church on 14th Street. The ladies came to Riker’s Island to present the flag in a ceremony, but during the revelry large brawls broke out and the festivities were cut short. On July 10th-11th, dozens of soldiers, by now impatient with their situation, managed to stowaway on a ship docked at Riker’s Island, and deserted the regiment. A frustrated Colonel Innes finally received orders to go to Washington on July 12th, and he did so without his full complement of troops.

The barge Poughkeepsie and the steamer S.A. Stevens conveyed the 36th NYSV from Riker’s Island to Battery Place in Manhattan, and from there the troops took trains down to the Baltimore-Washington area. On the way, the regiment had to get off one train and pick up another train by marching through Baltimore, a city which was sympathetic to the secessionists. Numerous men deserted the 36th NY during this march. The 36th arrived in Washington on July 15th, and encamped at Meridian Hill north of town at 14th Street north of Florida Avenue, with the 1st Maine.

While attempting its first dress parade in the capital city, the 36th NY broke into yet another brawl, much to the amusement of the 1st Maine. Colonel Innes, so angry at what had happened, stomped away and he apparently accidentally shot himself in the foot; he was subsequently off-duty for a month or so. Soon afterward the 36th NYSV was issued the Austrian rifle-musket, to replace the undesirable 1849 Springfield muskets that they had. (Source: diary of John Gould of 1st Maine, 1871, p.53; Innes Field & Staff Muster Roll, July 15, from National Archives).

Camp Brightwood

The regiment was moved again to another campsite in early August of 1861, Camp Brightwood, located further north of D.C. -- with three other regiments destined to belong to their Brigade (the 2nd RI, the 7th Mass, and the 10th Mass.) There these four regiments were to remain for many months, as McClellan delayed plans to attack Virginia until a ring of defensive forts could be built around Washington. The 36th NY and its brother regiments in the Brigade worked on construction of two forts near Camp Brightwood (Ft. Massachusetts, later renamed Ft. Stevens, which defended Washington during Jubal Early's raid in 1864; and Fort Slocum -- neither of which is still standing).

Around this time the 36th NY accepted the resignation of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Lord (one of the Englishmen from the former British Volunteers). Lord was soon replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel E. Hungerford. Within a short time of his arrival, Hungerford decided to test the readiness of a 10th Massachusetts sentry by firing a gun over the sentry's head; the sentry fired in kind and shot the shoulder straps off of Hungerford, who was more diplomatic afterward.

The brother regiments in the 36th NY's brigade regarded the 36th NY with a mix of amusement and fear, because the 36th was perceived as being fiersome fighters. Private Mark Nickerson of Co. A, 10th Mass., wrote that "in camp they called the 36th the Dirty-Sixth, because they would rather fight than to eat." But he later said they were outstanding fighters, and the 10th Mass was "proud to have the 36th" on their side at Malvern Hill, "for well we knew the 36th would stand by us to the last extremity." Members of the 1st Maine made similar comments later in the war. Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the 2nd RI, whose diary All for the Union can be found today in most bookstores, is generally positive when he mentions the 36th half a dozen times.

In November-December, 1861 the 36th NYSV endured dozens of desertions. Sickness prevailed in the camp, and dysentery, diarrhea, and measles claimed the lives of many men. There were terrible rains and gale force winds adding to the misery; one strong windstorm knocked down a tent pole which killed one of the 36th NY’s sergeants. Many of the 36th NY’s highest ranking officers, including Major Finch and his personal physician Doctor Radzinsky, resigned from the regiment at this time. Chaplain Ezra Winslow also resigned, and he was never replaced. Even Regimental Surgeon Nathaniel B. Moseley resigned. (He was replaced by a highly capable 28 year-old Harvard doctor named Edward B. Dalton. Surgeon Dalton was undoubtedly the best educated and most refined member of the 36th NY, and he was the only person in that regiment to have his Civil War memoirs published.) Fortunately, Colonel Innes decided to stay with his troops.

Also during this time, Captain James Townsend Daniel of the 36th NY was court-martialed for an unknown offense. The 21 year-old Englishman commanding Company D was probably falsely accused of conspiracy, for at this time during the Trent Affair there was a great deal of paranoia regarding English soldiers in the Union Army. Daniel remained under arrest until springtime, at which point General Keyes, who called the charge against Daniel "a manifest absurdity," helped to clear the captain and secure his release and reinstatement (source of info: Daniel muster records, National Archives).

On March 26, 1862 the regiment and its brigade finally received orders to leave Camp Brightwood and head for Virginia. The war was about to begin in earnest. All four regiments in the brigade marched through Washington toward the wharves. Children cheered from the streets, mothers waved American flags, and occasionally some girl would run up to a soldier and plant a kiss on him. Soon the troops reached the 6th Street Wharf in Washington Channel. After some time on the wharf, the men of the 36th NY and 2nd RI boarded the side wheel steamer John Brooks. It was crowded and uncomfortable, but the troops made the best of it. There was much confusion, for it took all day long to get everyone on board. Eventually The John Brooks was off, steaming down the Potomac River along with a hundred other vessels. General Keyes was just ahead with the 7th Massachusetts in the Daniel Webster, which was the flagship of the fleet. The 10th Massachusetts was just behind on The Ariel, and in the rear was The Mystic, carrying the brigade's supplies and sutler wagons. The Canonicus, The Sea-Shore, and The Golden Gate were also nearby. The ships were on the move all evening, and at night they anchored at Alexandria. The men of the 36th NY lay on the crowded floors of their boat, and it is said that even after the lights were out, they passed the night in singing (Rhodes Diary, p.61; Newell Diary, 1875, p.76).

By Friday morning, March 28th, the ships neared Fort Monroe, a huge stone and brick bastion squatting on Old Point Comfort at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Fortunately, this particular fortress was under Union control. Its heavy guns peered down the waters of Hampton Roads, where the James River spilled into Chesapeake Bay. The troops disembarked nearby at Newport News and marched up the Virginia Peninsula. Within a few days they were camped at Warwick Courthouse, not far from the Confederate stronghold at Yorktown.

Next - Previous - Home

Copyright 2004-2013. All rights reserved.