- 79th New York Volunteer Infantry
Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=79th New York Highlanders
caption=79th regiment Flank marker
nickname=Highland Guard, Cameron Highlanders, Cameron Rifle Highlanders
United States Army
Commander: Lt Col Samuel McKenzie Elliott
Major: David McClellan
Adjutant: David Ireland
Quartermaster: Patrick Home
Commissary: Harry Pearson
Surgeon: James Norval
Engineer: John J. Shaw
Mustering Officer: Captain S. B. Hayman
Chaplain: George S. Doughty
Bandmaster: William Robertson - 17 musicians
Colour Bearer: James Cummings
size=Pre War - 300, Early War - 900, Late War 350+
specialization= Highland Regiment
American civil warBlackburn's Ford, Va -Bull Run, Va -Near Lewinsville, Va -Lewinsville, Va -Near Lewinsville, Va -Bayle's Cross Roads, Va -Bay Point, S.C -Port Royal Ferry, S.C -Pocotaligo, S.C -James Island, S.C -Secessionville, S.C -Gen Pope's Campaign, Va -Kelly's Ford, Va -Sulpur Springs, Va -Groveton, Va -Bull Run, Va -Centreville, Va -Chantilly, Va -South Mountain, Md -Antietam, Md -Fredericksburg, Va -Vicksburg, Miss -Green River Bridge, Ky -Jackson, Miss -Blue Springs, Tenn -Campbell Station, Tenn -Siege of Knoxville, Tenn -Fort Sanders, Tenn -Strawberry Plains, Tenn -Armstrong's Ferry, Va -Wilderness, Va -Spotsylvania Court House, Va -Ny River, Va -Before Petersburg and Richmond, Va -Hatcher's Run, Va -Port Stedman, Va -Fall of Petersburg, Va -
notable_commanders=James Cameron, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, Addison Farnsworth, David Morrison, Samuel M. Elliot, William Nobles, John More, Henry G. Heffron
anniversaries= Main anniversary on May 13th starting in 1866 with quarterly meetings held.
The 79th New York Volunteer Infantry was an
antebellummilitary regimentorganized on June 20, 1859in the state of New York. Prior to the American Civil Warit was one of the three regiments which formed the Fourth Brigade of the First Division of the New York State Militia. The Fourth Brigade included the 11th and the 69th Regiments. The 79th gained fame during the American Civil Warfor its service in the Union army.
In the early days of the Civil War, when "going to see the elephant" was still an exciting adventure, hundreds of peacetime
militiaunits, believing that war was a glorious game, chose to call themselves such bellicose names as Yankee Hunters, Mounted Wildcats, Avengers, Fearnoughts, Fire-Eaters, Mountain Boomers, Hell Roaring Horses, etc. Many regiments went even further by adopting eccentric uniforms in emulation of famous European units, without consideration of the garment's practicality or general comfort. Among the more bizarre costumes were such romantic items as brightly coloured Zouavetrousers, Prussian " pickelhaube" helmets, Corsican caps, Italian 'Bersaglieri' uniforms, turbans and fezzes. The 79th New York Volunteers, in keeping with this spirit, chose uniquely to dress in full Scottish regalia and called itself the "Cameron Highlanders."
This State National Guard regiment was to take part in nearly every major engagement of the Civil War and become one of the most travelled regiments in the Union army. It was formed in 1858 with the help of the St. Andrews and Caledonian Societies of New York from Scottish Americans and Scots immigrants, strengthened by Irish, English, and a few other nationalities. It originally consisted of four companies, but was later increased to nine companies when the regiment was mustered into Federal service during the Civil War.
Officially recognised on
9 June, 1859, the first duties undertaken by the regiment after its formation were the usual ceremonies, parades, etc. They also provided a guard for the Prince of Waleswhen he visited the United States and did the same for the Japanese Ambassador.
They were designated, at their own request, as the 79th New York in honour of the British 79th Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders but it was not until
11 December, 1861, that the regiment officially received its numerical designation.
The proposed uniform was to be a Cameron of Erracht
tartan kilt; a sporranwith plain black leather top, white horsehair background and three black horse hair tassels; diced red and white hose complete with black flashes; and silver buckled shoes.
The Jackets were dark blue with red piped edges. The jackets had a sporran cut out and 4 skirts on the bottom of the jacket separated by "vents". The back of the jacket had two New York buttons for the belt to rest on.
The jackets were lined with tan material but the skirts were lined with red. On the right belly, between the 3rd and 4th of 9 buttons on the jacket, there was a watch pocket with red piping on the edge. The Collar was mostly blue with red patches of material where it comes together with a "Zig Zag" design that some say looks like a lightning bolt. The "lightning bolt" was white like the piping on the cuffs.
The glengarry was dark blue made from felted knitting. The dicing, Red, Blue, white, in two rows high that was off set by one square to the right, was part of the cover and not attached to the glengarry. They were made from stiffened burlap and had a black satin lining. The ribbons were also black satin. Some had red "pom poms" on top, some had dark blue.
Height at tallest point= 4 3/4" - 5" Dicing Measurements= 1/2" Squares Ribbon= 1 1/2" Wide x 10" Long Height at front= 3 3/4"
For fatigue dress, a kepi was worn with tartan trews (trousers). The regulation U.S. black leather accoutrements were worn. NCO's wore red sashes and yellow epaulettes. Privates wore red epaulettes. The Epaulettes were shoulder scales modifited by a wire to attach the fringe. Chevrons were light blue.
The Glengarry was later superseded by a regulation kepi. The Style of kepi was the "McClellan" style. They wore their insignia on the front of their kepis with the company letter on top and the "7" and "9" below the letter above the brass size adjuster.
Like most militia units, when they were first formed, the 79th was armed with .69 calibre smoothbore percussion muskets, then later, in company with most New York State troops, with Enfield .577 rifles.
Departure for Federal service
When the war broke out in 1861, the Highlanders were mobilised and, as the regiment was under strength, new men were quickly recruited before it left
New York City. Under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel McKenzie Elliott, the regiment was mustered into service for a three-year duration on 29 May, 1861, and attached to Mansfield's Command, Department of Washington.
2 June, 1861, the Cameron Highlanders, 895 men strong, complete with pipe band, marched down Broadway on its way to Washington. Passing through Baltimore, the Highlanders received a good welcome—in contrast with the reception the 6th Massachusetts Infantry had received a few days earlier. Arriving in Washington, the regiment served in the defences of the Capital until the middle of July when it was attached to Sherman's Brigade, Tyler's Division, in McDowell's Army of Northeastern Virginia, for the advance on Manassas.
First Bull Run
Although the regiment had taken part in several skirmishes, Bull Run must be considered as the 79th's baptism of fire. On the march to Manassas, dogged old sergeants who had served in the
British Armyattempted to keep the raw recruits in step, barking at them "Left! left! Now - you - have - it, damn - you - keep - it! Left! Left!" But the New York City boys, who were unused to marching, were soon weary of tramping the powdery Virginiaroads. Under a hot July sun, with parched throats and nostrils blocked by a fine dust, many became exhausted and some, overcome by heat stroke, collapsed by the roadside.
There has been much argument as to whether or not the regiment wore the kilt in this battle. William Todd of Company "B" was emphatic that they did not. He wrote, "If by that it is meant "kilts" it is an error. It is true that all the officers and many of the men did wear that uniform when we left the city (New York) in June 1861 (actually May) and on dress parade occasions in Washington, but when we went into Virginia it was laid aside altogether with the plaid trousers worn by all men on ordinary occasions and we donned the ordinary blue. Captain...? was the only one who insisted on wearing the kilts on the march to Bull Run, but the day before we reached Centerville the kilts were the cause of his drawing upon himself much ridicule and when we started for the battlefield on the Sunday morning he also appeared in ordinary blue uniform".
In spite of William Todd's assertion that no one wore the kilt, there are some who claim otherwise. Perhaps his claim applied only to his own particular company. It is just possible that before leaving New York, the new members of the regiment had no time to he supplied with kilts or trews, so that at First Manassas some men may well have been kilted and others wearing trews or blues, although there is no conclusive evidence to prove the matter either way. A photo taken at
Castle Pinckney, Charleston, of prisoners from the 79th captured at Manassas show no trace of any Highland dress. Had any prisoner been wearing a kilt, the photographer would surely have taken a picture of him simply because the costume would have been so unusual.
However, the kilt was certainly discarded after the battle except for ceremonial purposes, although some of the regiment continued to wear tartan trews for a few months until they wore out, when from then on regulation blue trousers were worn by all.
The Third Brigade, under Colonel
William Tecumseh Sherman, consisted of three militia regiments and a battery of artillery. As one of those militia regiments, the 79th experienced some of the fiercest fighting and suffered some of the highest Union casualties at 1st Manassas although, to begin with, it appeared that they would miss the action. As Confederates fled from the initial Union attack and withdrew up the hill past the Henry House, Private Todd stepped out of line calling to Colonel Sherman, "Give us a chance at 'em before they get away!". His sergeant, a British Army veteran, dragged him back into line, growling "shut up your damned head - you'll get plenty of chance before the day is over!"
Sherman, in obedience to orders, committed his regiments piecemeal to the capture of Henry Hill. He first sent the 2nd Wisconsin who, still wearing their militia gray uniforms, were shot to pieces by both sides. When the Wisconsin boys were eventually driven back, the 79th were ordered forward. Led by their colonel, James Cameron, brother of President
Abraham Lincoln's first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, they charged three times over the dead and wounded of the 2nd Wisconsin. Unluckily, in the smoke of battle, they mistook a Confederate flag for one of their own and ceased firing. It was a costly mistake - "As we lowered our arms and were about to rally where the banner floated we were met by a terrible raking fire, against which we could only stagger". Retreating back down the hill they saw Colonel Cameron lying dead in the yard of the Henry House. He had been killed by the Confederates' second volley.
The Highlanders eventually retreated from the plateau and sank sullenly behind the brow of the hill to lick their wounds. There they remained for two more hours while the attack was pressed by other Union regiments with an equal lack of success, until all were finally driven from the plateau by Confederate reinforcements. It then acted as a rear guard during the Federal's ignominious retreat to Washington. The regiment sustained one of the heaviest losses of the battle, losing 32 killed, including their commanding officer, 51 wounded (eight mortally) and 115 captured (including Capt. James A Farrish of Company B who was wounded) or missing—a total of 198 - 22 percent of its strength!
Remainder of 1861
On their return to Washington, the Highlanders were employed in building defences around the Capital, helping to construct dozens of forts and batteries plus 20 miles of trenches. The whole project had to be carried out with just picks and shovels and was backbreaking work. One of the men recalled it as "the hardest kind of manual labor".
One morning in mid-August, shortly after Bull Run, the Highlanders, together with the 13th and 21st New York regiments, mutinied and demanded an adjustment of certain perceived grievances. The men felt tricked when the three-month's volunteers were allowed to return home while they, three year volunteers who had performed their duty equally well, were not permitted to return to New York. They were further incensed that they were unable to quit the army, unlike their officers who had the privilege of being able to resign their commissions. They also objected to having a new Colonel,
Isaac Ingalls Stevens, appointed on 30 Julyto replace James Cameron (killed at First Manassas), rather than being able to elect their own commander as was common with militia units. The situation was exacerbated by a shortage of junior officers brought about by wounds, capture or resignation. In just over a month, the regiment had lost its colonel, major, nine of its 10 captains and a number of lieutenants. Fueled by alcohol, the men finally refused to carry out any further duties.
These fledging soldiers were undoubtedly naive as to the seriousness of their actions, believing that, as freemen, they could exercise their democratic right to do whatever they saw fit. They were quickly disabused of these unmilitary notions when McClellan, blaming the regiment's own officers for allowing the unrest, appointed a
regular armyofficer with orders to mow the mutineers down if they did not immediately surrender. A battalionof regular infantry, supported by a squadron of regular cavalry and a battery of artillery, was lined up facing the 79th, firearms loaded and ready for use. When the mutineers, who had not anticipated such a response to their complaints and whose own arms were stacked, were ordered to cease their mutiny, they recognised the futility of their position and speedily submitted. They whole matter was handled quickly and efficiently and was a most salutary example to any other regiment that might consider similar disobedience. Twenty- one members of the 79th who were considered to be the ringleaders of the revolt were sent to the hell of the Dry Tortugasprison, Florida, and the 79th's regimental colours were taken away, which McClellan then kept in his own headquarters until the regiment redeemed itself some months later.
In August the regiment became part of W. F. 'Baldy' Smith's Brigade, Division of the Potomac and in October, after Smith's promotion, it was part of Stevens' Brigade, Smith's Division, Army of the Potomac. During this time, the regiment were involved in several skirmishes and reconnaissance including Lewinsville, Little River Turnpike and Bailey's Cross Roads.
Stevens was finally reluctantly accepted as Colonel of the regiment. Short, only an inch over five feet, and rather stout, with a massive head, swarthy complexion and bright dark eyes, he was pompous and humourless. Yet, in spite of his apparent lack of charisma, he was blessed with high intelligence and cool courage and quickly won the men round to become an extremely popular commander. When on
28 September, 1861, just two months after his appointment as Colonel of the regiment, he was promoted to Brigadier General, the Highlanders requested transfer to his brigade. They also presented him with a sword, sash and spurs.
21 October, the 79th became part of Thomas W. Sherman's Expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina, aboard Flag Officer Du Pont's ships. When Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard were beaten into submission by the fleet's bombardment, the 79th were among the troops sent to occupy the town of Beaufort. In spite of the area being unhealthy, with the hospitals full of fever and dysentery cases, only one man from the 79th was confined to the hospital.
Throughout 1861, the 79th spent their time skirmishing with odd bands of Confederates. They also burnt the properties of known Rebel sympathisers. In their spare time, the regiment also acquired some pets, including two dogs and even an alligator. One of the dogs, named "Tip" due to the white tip on his tail, was adopted as the regimental mascot but was later killed for a valuable collar purchased by the men.
Col. Addison Farnsworth assumed command of the 79th on
28 December, 1861.
The regiment took part in the expedition to Port Royal Ferry in January 1862 and saw action at Pocotaligo, South Carolina, in May, but not before becoming part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division of the Department of the South in April.
In June, the Highlanders were part of the expedition to
James Islandand took part in the battle of Secessionville, where Brigadier General Henry W. Benham, who was in temporary command of the brigade, ordered a bloody and foolhardy assault on the Confederate positions. Instructed not to undertake any offensive operations Benham, over the objections of his division commanders, ordered a futile attack on Confederate General N. G. "Shanks" Evans.
The position was surrounded by a swamp and defended by rifle pits. Although first attack was made by the 8th Michigan, whose history was closely intermixed with the 79th, the two regiments sharing a mutual respect and close friendship, swapping hats and playing pranks with each other. So close was their comradeship, the two regiments were often referred to as the "Highlanders" and the "Michilanders."
The 8th Michigan's assault was cut down by a murderous fire before reaching the enemy lines and the 79th, moving to their support, fared no better. Trapped, without reinforcements, the Highlanders were forced to retreat across open ground. Three futile assaults had been made with the loss of 683 Union soldiers, while the defenders lost only 204. The Highlanders alone lost 110 men out of 474 engaged, but their bravery was recognised by the Confederate "Charleston Mercury", which said, "Thank God Lincoln had only one 79th regiment." Brigadier General Benham was relieved of command, arrested for disobedience of orders, and his appointment revoked by Lincoln.
12 Julythe regiment began its transfer to Newport News, Virginia, where it arrived on the 16th to become part of the 9th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac.
In August 1862, the regiment was involved in Pope's Campaign in Northern Virginia and, just a year after the death of James Cameron at Bull Run, the regiment was once again fighting over the same battlefield. Manassas was once again to prove unlucky for the 79th. At Chantilly on
1 September, 1862, while approaching the crossroads of the Warrenton and Little River Turnpikes, the Union forces collided with Stonewall Jackson's men who were formed in a line in front of Ox Hill facing southeast near Chantilly Mansion.
In the ensuing battle, Cameron's successor as regimental commanding officer, Brevet Major General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, now in command of the division, led his old regiment for one last time. Under an overcast sky, which threatened rain, Stevens organised the 79th into three lines and took them into the attack. As they advanced across the blood soaked battlefield he ran past the body of his own son, who lay critically wounded. Calling "Follow me, my Highlanders" Stevens was killed instantly by a bullet through his temple as he took the regiment colours from the sixth colour bearer to fall. He died amid the cheers of victory with the colour staff gripped firmly in his hand almost at the same time and nearly on the same ground as Major General
Ironically, the primary opposing unit faced by the 79th was the 6th
LouisianaVolunteer Infantry Regiment of Louisiana Tigersfame, led by Irish-born Major William Monaghan. The 6th Louisiana was the most thoroughly Irish of all the Tiger regiments, with the result that the battle in a raging thunderstorm devolved into Celt-on-Celt, hand-to-hand combat, and eventually sputtered to an indecisive end in rain and darkness. A survivor with the Confederate troops said, "We camped on the field, sleeping side by side with the dead of both armies. It was very dark; occasionally the moon would come from under a cloud and show the upturned faces of the dead, eyes wide open seeming to look you in the face." [James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers: A History of the 6th Louisiana Volunteers, 1861-1865, Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing Company, 1998, pp. 116-121]
The Highlanders had sustained heavy losses—their Colonel, Addison Farnsworth, had been wounded and 9 men were killed, 79 wounded (1 mortally) and 17 missing, a total of 105. "I have never seen regular troops that equalled the Highlanders in soldierly bearing and appearance," commented General Sherman on the 79th's performance.
12 March, 1863, Stevens was posthumously confirmed Major General to rank from 18 July, 1862. After the war, the surviving members of the 79th sent the same blood-stained flag, for which he given his life, to his widow.
Remainder of 1862
Maryland Campaignof September 1862, the 79th saw action at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. During the latter battle, the Highlanders fought at Burnside's Bridgeand were deployed as skirmishers leading an advance along the Sharpsburg Road near the Sherrick House. Despite heavy Confederate fire, they pressed on, managing to drive in part of Jones' Division and capturing a battery of artillery. However, the arrival of A. P. Hill's troops drove the 79th back into the suburbs of Sharpsburg, where they engaged in a vicious firefight around the Sherrick House. In spite of heavy fighting, the regiment escaped relatively lightly with only 40 men killed, missing or wounded.
Following Antietam, the regiment saw duty in
Maryland, and in December took part in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
The 79th participated in the ill-fated "Mud March" of January 1863.
In February, Colonel Farnsworth resigned his commission as a result of the wounds he had received at Second Bull Run, and David Morrison was promoted from Captain of Company E to command from
The regiment, as part of the 9th Corps, joined the
Army of the Ohioin April and two months later was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, of the Army of the Tennesseepreparatory to joining the Vicksburg Campaign. They travelled by side-wheel steamer down the Ohio River, which was described as being of such shallow draft "it could sail on a heavy dew", and broke their journey at Louisville to spend a riotous couple of nights in the town's bars and "parlour houses", a euphemism for brothels, before arriving at the front.
A few days later, as Sherman rode down his column, on the march towards the town of Jackson, he was startled to be greeted by a loud cheer. Knowing his men were not usually so demonstrative he looked around to see who was showing such uncharacteristic enthusiasm. He saw the 79th New York newly arrived to join his unit. The last time they had met was in the camps around Washington after 1st Manassas when the fresh-faced boys had been roundly cursing him. Matured into veteran soldiers, they could now appreciate Sherman's merits and were delighted to see their ex-brigade colonel.
The regiment was too late to take part in the
Siege of Vicksburg, but instead was sent to Jackson to tear up rail tracks and destroy the Mississippi Central Railroadat Madison Station.
August found the regiment back once more with the Army of the Ohio, in time to take part in Burnside's campaign in East Tennessee, seeing action at Blue Springs, Lenoir and Campbell's Station.
Battle of Fort Sanders
At Fort Sanders (known by the Confederates as Fort Loudoun), Knoxville, the Highlanders helped inflict a massive defeat on Longstreet's troops. The position, a bastioned earthwork, was on top of a hill, which formed a
salientat the northeast corner of the town's defences. In front of the earth- work was a 12-foot-wide ditch, some eight feet deep, with an almost vertical slope to the top of the parapet, about 15 feet above the bottom of the ditch. It was defended by 12 guns and, according to different sources, 250 or 440 troops, of which the 79th provided 120 men.
Longstreet ordered the brigades of Humphreys' Mississippians and Bryan and Wofford's Georgians, approximately 3,000 men, to make a surprise attack on the fort. The night of
28 Novemberwas bitterly cold as the Confederate troops quietly moved into position just 150 yards from the fort, but, in spite of their caution, the defenders overheard them and were prepared for the coming assault.
At first light, the Confederates began their attack, struggling through telegraph wire entanglements which the Federals had stretched between stakes a short distance in front of the ditch. In spite of this obstacle the Rebels managed to reach the ditch with relatively light casualties, but it was there that their problems began. They found that there were no scaling ladders with which to climb the slope up to the parapet and the situation was further aggravated by the ground being frozen and covered in sleet which caused the soldiers to lose their footing and fall. In spite of this, some men did manage to reach the top by climbing on the shoulders of their comrades and were able to place their colors on the parapet. There then followed vicious close quarter fighting during which First Sgt. Francis W. Judge of Company K, 79th NY, grabbed the flag of the 51st Georgia from their color bearer and, in spite of a concentrated and deadly fire, was able to return in safety with his trophy into the fort. Judge, who was born in
England, was later awarded the Medal of Honorfor his action.
Longstreet's men were eventually forced to retreat to the yells of "Remember James Island!" from the elated Highlanders. The 79th sustained only nine casualties out of a total Federal loss of 20 killed and 80 wounded. They had inflicted terrible punishment on the Confederates who lost 813 men, killed, wounded and missing.
In January, the 79th was reinforced for about two months by the 51st New York Infantry and the 45th, 50th and 100th Pennsylvania Infantry, taking part in fighting at Holston River and Strawberry Plains. In April, the Highlanders rejoined the Army of the Potomac in time to fight at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, being engaged in the assault on the salient known as the "Mule Shoe."
It was at Spotsylvania that the original Cameron Highlanders were to fight their last engagement. Again they faced Longstreet's hard fighting veterans and once more the 79th drove them from the field, losing five more men killed or mortally wounded in the fight. Their Colonel, David Morrison, was wounded and command was passed to Colonel Laing. As the regiment stood in line on the bloody battlefield, the men received the order for muster-out, their term of enlistment having expired on
13 May, 1864.
End of the war
Those veterans whose term of enlistment had expired returned to New York City, where they were discharged. Less than 130 of the regiment's original members were left. Those with unexpired service were sent to guard Confederate prisoners bound for Alexandria. These men were later formed into Companies A & B , which formed the nucleus of the "New Cameron Highlanders" that Col. Samuel M. Elliott had received authority to recruit on
4 May. In November 1864, Companies C and D, made up of new volunteers, were added to the regiment, and Company E joined in January 1865. A further company, F, was organised in the field from recruits received in March 1865.
The new regiment served at Cold Harbor, Bethesda Church, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad and Poplar Springs Church. In October, they were appointed provost guard of the 9th Corps, taking part in the
Robert E. Lee's surrender, the regiment moved back to Washington and took part in the Grand Reviewon 23 May, 1865. It continued duties at Washington until the men were eventually mustered out of Federal service on 14 June, 1865, whereupon the regiment returned to state militia status. Ladies of the New York Scottish Society sent new Glengarries for the regiment to wear for their re-entry into New York City.
During the war, the 79th New York lost 198 killed, plus 304 wounded or missing, out of a total enrollment of 2,200.
After the war, the regiment again adopted Highland dress and in 1868 adopted feather bonnets and spats. In 1871 the regiment took part in the Orange Riots in New York City before being finally disbanded in January 1876 due to reorganisation of the Militia.
List of New York Civil War regiments
* [http://www.pbase.com/aclark79/79_nysm A 79th Re-enacting group in the Pacific North West]
* [http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/79thInf/79thInfMain.htm New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center - Civil War - 79th Infantry Regiment] History, photographs, table of battles and casualties, newspaper clippings, and national color for the 79th New York Infantry Regiment.
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