II. Civil War Regimental History

Here is information on the 79th New York Highlanders, a unit which existed as early as 1858 (its organizational beginnings), through the American Civil War, then beyond to 1876.  The Seventy-ninth Highlanders, New York Volunteers in the War of Rebellion ... by William Todd (Company B) is a great source, since he served in the regiment (published in 1886).

Beginnings of the 79th
    The 79th New York Cameron Highlanders Regiment was a militia unit formed of Scottish immigrants living in New York City (Manhattan Island) in 1859. They wore a full highland uniform consisting of highland cut coats (doublets), glengarries (a Scottish military bonnet), and kilts of Cameron of Erracht Modern tartan.
    When the American Civil War began the regiment volunteered for service in the Federal Army. A dress parade was held to mark their departure from New York. The original members wore the highland dress uniform. New recruits wore the highland fatigue uniform: kepis, NY jackets, and Cameron of Erracht trews. Music was provided by the pipers of the NY Caledonian
    The regiment traveled to Washington where they repeated the spectacle with the regimental brass band filling in for the pipers who had stayed behind.

Bull Run: The
First Battle,
A New Commander, and The Mutiny

    Leaving kilts in Washington, the regiment marched to Virginia, where at First Bull Run  (July 21, 1861), the 79th lost 32 killed, 51 wounded, and 115 captured.

    Among the dead was the regiment's commanding officer, Colonel James Cameron. Lieutenant Colonel Elliot, the second in command, returned to New York to try to recruit a pipe band. The army appointed Col. Isaac Stevens the new commander.

    This displeased the men who had always elected officers as a militia. When it was announced that a furlough promised by the previous officers was canceled, the demoralized men drowned their troubles in alcohol, and the situation deteriorated into a mutiny.

    McClellan called on the U.S. Regulars to end the rebellion; the instigators were court-marshalled and sent to the Dry Tortugas.

    McClellan took away the 79th's colors. Col. Stevens set about instilling discipline into the men; they earned their colors back when the regiment acquitted themselves in battle at Lewinsville (September 11).

To Carolina and Back to Virginia
   The regiment was picked for the amphibious invasion of South Carolina, fighting at Port Royal Ferry (January 1, 1862), Pocataglio (May 28), and James Island (June 3-4). At Secessionville  (June 16) they suffered 110 casualties out of 474 men engaged.

    They returned to Virginia where men from the South Carolina and North Carolina invasions were amalgamated to form the 9th Corps. They fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run  (August 29-30, 1862) and at Chantilly  (September 1), where Major General Stevens died carrying the colors of the 79th and leading the highlanders into battle.

    General Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland where the 79th participated in the battle of South Mountain (September 14--as part of Willcox's Division of Reno's Ninth Corps). At Antietam  (September 17, 1862) the 79th fought in skirmish formation and penetrated Sharpsburg farther than any other Federal unit.

    Returning to Virginia, the 79th was in reserve at Fredericksburg  (December 13-14) and was last to cross the river in the retreat.

The Vicksburg Campaign
    The 9th Corps transferred to Kentucky where the 79th painted Louisville red, then resumed the more mundane task of chasing Confederate raiders.

    Next they traveled down the Mississippi to Vicksburg  where they joined the left flank of General Grant's siege (June 17-July 4 1863). When the city fell, the 9th Corps left with General Sherman to attack General Johnston's relief force at Jackson  (July 10-17). The two armies skirmished for several days, and finally Johnston withdrew.

The Tennessee Campaign

    The 79th returned to Kentucky to prepare for General Ambrose Burnside's liberation of East Tennessee. The Army of Ohio liberated Knoxville, Tennessee on September 2, 1863. The 79th followed the 45th Pennsylvania skirmishers in the assault on General John S. Williams' line at the battle of Blue Springs  (Mosheim; October 10, 1863).

     They built winter quarters at Lenoir's Station, but were forced out by General James Longstreet's advance. At the battle of Campbell's Station  (November 16) they were called from reserve to plug a gap in the line.

    Lieutenant Benjamin of the 2nd U.S. Regular Artillery chose the 79th to defend Fort Loudon  (later renamed Fort Sanders ) against the Confederate attack.

YouTube Video

    After 12 days under siege, the assault came on November 29, 1863. Five highlanders were killed and four were wounded; total Union casualties from the attack were 20 dead and 80 wounded. Confederate casualties were:129 killed, 458 wounded, and 226 captured, for a total of 813.

     The rebels lost three battle flags; the 17th Mississippi, the 13th Mississippi, and the 51st Georgia. The 51st flag was taken by the 79th's Sergeant, Francis Judge, for which he received a Congressional Medal of Honor.

YouTube Video

    Over the entire 12 day siege, Confederate losses totaled 1,296 and Federal 693. In spite of his losses, Longstreet decided to stay the winter in East Tennessee. 
    The 79th spent a couple of weeks starving and freezing in camp at Blaine, Tennessee. Then they garrisoned the fort at Strawberry Plains where they endured a heavy bombardment on January 21, 1864. At Armstrong's Ferry (January 22), the 79th covered the Federal retreat. They charged attacking Rebel cavalry with bayonets, and the Confederates retreated.

The War Comes to a Close

    The 79th returned to Virginia for the battle of the Wilderness  (May 5-6, 1864). They were kept in reserve and were marched back and forth to support the troubled parts of the line.

    At Spotsylvania  (May 9-13) the 79th charged the Confederate line after the 60th Ohio was routed. Major General Orlando Wilcox credited the 79th with saving his division.

    At this time their enlistment expired and the regiment went home to New York. But this was not the 79th's last battle; men with time left reorganized with recruits including Elliot's Cameron Rifle Highlanders and returned to the front for the battle of Hatcher's Run  (October 27).

    They garrisoned Fort Stedman during the Battle of the Crater  (March 25, 1865.) They participated in the assault of Petersburg (April 2) and the pursuit to Appomattox.

    After Lee surrendered, they paraded in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. (May 22), then returned to New York City.

    They were redesignated from volunteer militia to National Guard in 1865. In 1876 the government disbanded the unit, and men with time left on their enlistment were transfered to the 71st NY.

    In 1885 the veterans reunited to march in General Grant's funeral parade. The last 79th veteran died in 1935.