18th New York Infantry
History of a Civil War Regiment
Welcome to the ONLY website devoted to the history and remembrance of the 18th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the American Civil War.
As soon as the cannons at Fort Sumter reverberated in the northern states, men scrambled to recruit companies as soon as President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops.
With three collection points for companies to assemble themselves in different regions of New York, Albany was the depot for the companies that eventually became the 18th New York Infantry.
Men by the scores scrambled to enlist into a volunteer army whose particulars was hastily figured out in April and May 1861. In numerical order, New York designated infantry regiments with ten companies for a contracted service of two years.
There was no order or design to how the 18th New York pulled its random companies together for a unison regiment other than these ten companies were all ready and accepted by the state at the same time.
Company A & E, recruited from Schenectady
Company B, F, & I, recruited from Albany
Company C, recruited from Fishkill
Company D, recruited from Middletown
Company G, recruited from Canandaigua
Company H, recruited from Middletown &
Company K, recruited from Ogdensburg
Given the short-lived nickname, "New York State Rifles," the 18th New York Infantry was mustered into the U. S. service at Albany on May 17, 1861, for a period of two years. The ten companies were brought together and encamped at the Industrial School Barracks outside of the city. Their first military duty came with their appearance in the funeral procession of the martyr Colonel Elmer Ellsworth in Albany, being as the 18th was one of only two uniformed regiments in the city at the time. On June 18, orders arrived that sent them to Washington, D.C.
After a two-day travel by rail through Jersey City, New York City, Philadelphia, and a timid march to switch rails in Baltimore, the 18th arrived late at night to the nation’s capital. They established a camp on Meridian Hill until July 12, when the regiment was ordered to Alexandria and joined the 2nd Brigade, 5th Division, Army of Northeastern Virginia, under General Irwin McDowell.
Days later, the 18th pressed on with the army on their march towards Manassas. Six companies from the 18th marched at the head of their division as skirmishers. During the advance near Fairfax Court House on July 17, 1861, these skirmishers were suddenly attacked by Alabamians, which caused five men from the 18th to be felled by wounds, two mortally. These fated few became the first casualties of the Manassas campaign.
When the battle of Manassas (Bull Run) came together on July 21, the 18th was positioned near Blackburn's Ford with the reserve wing near Centreville, under the command of Colonel Dixon S. Miles. The 18th supported Greene's Battery and helped repel a counter-attack from Confederate cavalry and acted as the rear guard during the disastrous retreat of the routed Union army.
The 18th returned to their camp near Alexandria and licked their wounds after a defeat from an enemy that everyone overestimated. Under the new leadership of General George McClellan, the 18th put a renewed focus on training while the rest of the Army of the Potomac worked out their kinks.
On August 4, the regiment was assigned to General William B. Franklin's Brigade, which was later commanded by General John Newton. The 18th's prolonged bivouac in Alexandria was named Camp King, located near the Virginia Theological Seminary.
Helping with the massive defensive measures that took place to help protect Washington, the men of the 18th underwent nearly a month of solid construction of a fort near their camp, where they dug entrenchments, sculpted abatis, and helped build what became Fort Ward. Though they were never stationed at the fort, they were key components in its construction which still exists today as a preserved and protected landmark. I invite you to visit the Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site
On March 10, 1862, the 18th was ordered out to Fairfax Court House, but halfway through their march they were immediately wheeled and returned to their camp. McClellan orchestrated the ferry of troops down to the Peninsula, and the 18th was needed for this new campaign.
Companies from the division were fanned out from the landing site in an effort to ascertain enemy strength, and they quickly found them and were checked which ignited a battle. The belligerents fought within thickly dense woods which kept casualties to a minimum. Dozens of men from Franklin’s Division were killed and wounded, but the 18th, who were told to hug the ground and scream as a scare tactic, was the only regiment to not lose a single man.
The regiment traveled on two ferries south to the Virginian peninsula while the battle of
Yorktown played out, and stayed aboard their vessels for twelve days. On May 6, 1862, Franklin’s Division was split from the Army of the Potomac and performed an amphibious landing at Eltham’s Landing, and the following day they were pressed by Confederates in what became known as the battle of West Point, despite the fact that no one stepped foot on the other side of the river where West Point was located.
Marching westward from Eltham’s Landing, Franklin’s Division eventually reunited with the rest of the Army of the Potomac who similarly moved overland. McClellan again reorganized his army into different corps in an effort for better command and control. The 18th was realigned and placed in the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, VI Corps, Army of the Potomac.
As the “On to Richmond” sentiment kept them on a trajectory towards the southern capital, the quagmire of swamps along the Chickahominy slowed the advance. The 18th helped build the corduroy crossing known as Woodbury’s Bridge, and during its construction they survived a surprise attack from enemy pickets who wounded one private from the 18th, almost mortally.
Amidst the Seven Days’ campaign in which both armies clashed solidly everyday for a week, the 18th was thrown in the thick of the fighting literally. At the battle of Gaines’s Mill, the 18th helped plug the center of General Porters’ battered V Corps. When the 18th took a position on the front lines, they were exposed to heavy artillery and several infantry advances which they helped keep in check. Disease through the campaign had severely reduced the command element of the 18th, and new young leaders were thrust into this battle as casualties mounted high, yet they held their own. Please see Engagements & Casualties. Confederate reinforcements arrived and swelled their numbers which plowed through the Union line, sending the men into yet another demoralizing, confusing, and hell-bent retreat that was very much ‘every man for himself.’
After this battle, the pace did not lessen. At the Battle of Charles City Cross Roads (Glendale), the 18th kept to a whisper as they waited in the darkness in a patch of woods as Union artillery wreaked havoc on Confederates who became stuck behind a road clogged with felled trees. At one point, every man in the 18th listened to nearby Rebels in numbers that they thought certain would overwhelm and capture them entirely. Luckily, they kept quiet and slid away in the darkness and joined the rest of the army at Malvern Hill.
The 18th then took up a prolonged occupation with the rest of the beaten Army of the Potomac at Harrison's Landing. Only when McClellan accepted defeat, the 18th was ordered to Newport News on August 15, to trek an aggravating and tiresome series of marches that brought them off the Peninsula and back to Alexandria on August 24, 1862.
Their return to Alexandria was brief, for General Robert E. Lee tried to change the course of the war when he entered northern territory as his army slipped into Maryland. The 18th was pulled in both directions, first being sent west to help protect another Union defeat at Second Manassas, and then back to Alexandria and up north into Maryland on a series of marches that lasted over a week.
With General McClellan back in supreme command of the Army of the Potomac, the Union army launched an offensive on the enemy in what became the Maryland campaign. The VI Corps operated independently at first, and was alone at Burkittsville, Maryland, with orders to punch through an enemy defense atop South Mountain.
To dislodge the enemy that were protected with woods and stone walls at Crampton’s Gap, it became clear that only a concerted infantry charge over open ground would grant the best recipe for success. On September 14, 1862, the 18th stretched out in battle line with their division and charged the enemy entrenchments. Through a rain of shot and shell, men from the 18th ran head-on to their adversaries, a line that quickly broke after the onslaught of bayonets from Slocum’s Division showed no signs of stopping. In their finest hour, the 18th had successfully charged and dislodged an enemy, granting an overdue victory, but the triumph came at a high price of fatalities. Please see Engagements & Casualties
With a solid victory at Crampton’s Gap, the corps should have followed up with a swift move to Harper’s Ferry to save a large Yankee element from being captured, but delays above the 18th’s control stalled the corps, and the element at Harper’s Ferry was helplessly captured.
On September 17, 1862, McClellan and Lee toiled at Sharpsburg, in what would earn its daunting spot in history to become the bloodiest single day in American history at the Battle of Antietam. Marching from Crampton’s Gap, the 18th sped to the battle and arrived near noon. As they walked over piles of dead troops and horses to the likes of which surprised them this late in the war, the 18th took a position near the East Woods and faced the Dunkard Church. They were ordered to lie on the ground amidst a relentless artillery duel, and spent the day surrounded by falling shells that miraculously only injured four slightly.
Two months later, the Army of the Potomac was again pitted in battle at Fredericksburg. With the army under new leadership from General Ambrose Burnside who divided his force into three Grand Divisions, the 18th was still retained by General Franklin as a part of his Left Grand Division.
After engineers hastily constructed a pontoon crossing over the Rappahannock River, the 18th crossed at the lower crossing named for their commander. They were posted on the Mannsfield farm and picketed with the enemy with minimal casualties. After the bulk of Burnside’s troops from the other two grand divisions were slaughtered after repeated attempts to dislodge an entrenched enemy, the Army of the Potomac limped away from Fredericksburg and prepared for the winter, in what most Union veterans would remember to be the most demoralizing and depressing winter of the war.
In January 1863, Burnside buckled from Washington pressures and pushed his army out for another offensive to take Fredericksburg. Before the enemy had a chance to duke it out on a battlefield, Mother Nature had the upper hand and punished Burnside’s venture with heavy rains and frigid temperatures that immobilized the army. After four days of being stuck in the mud near Falmouth, the failed “Mud March” cashiered Burnside and continued the misery of the Army of the Potomac.
After a long winter in wait for better weather, the 18th neared an end to their contracted time of two-years. By April 1863, nothing was certain that the regiment would be mustered-out, and all signs showed that another offensive was imminent, which caused a lot of confusion, speculation, and anger. Instead of heading home at the end of April, the 18th was added to the Chancellorsville campaign, which looked to continue what they started at Fredericksburg.
The VI Corps was again positioned away from the bulk of the army and sent to the familiar Franklin’s Crossing. Utilizing the art of surprise, engineers constructed another pontoon crossing in the dead of night, after having first secured the Rebel side of the river with a successful amphibious landing which the 18th took part in. The 18th began several days of serious skirmishing and enemy observation, while the bulk of the army under General Hooker was nearly annihilated from “Stonewall” Jackson’s ambitious flank attack north of them. The VI Corps acted quite independently and eventually stormed and succeeded with the seizure of Marye’s Heights, but were nearly destroyed at Salem Church. The 18th was spared from the high casualties that the VI Corps reeled from, being mostly divided as hospital guards, or being mid-march for a bulk of the episode at Salem Church.
After the Union army backtracked yet again to the opposite bank of the Rappahannock in what became another defeat, the 18th was lucky to have kept most of who they brought into battle, being as their muster-out was back on the table. With the War Department honoring those early volunteers who enlisted for two-years, despite the thousands of troops they would lose, they allowed dozens of two-year regiments to be sent home and released.
There were thirty-five men in the 18th who were retained, despite being told otherwise when they enlisted in 1862. Since the War Department believed they came late into the regiment, they were transferred to the 121st New York Infantry.
The 18th received their orders to go home on May 13, 1863. Traveling by rail over the same course that brought them south two years before, the 18th returned to Albany on May 16. After the clerical work was hashed out and men were granted their last payments, the 18th New York was officially mustered out of service on May 28, 1863.
As the historian of the regiment, I'm thrilled to hear from descendants of the men of the regiment, and learn what you may know, or might be looking to learn, about your relative. I also collect items, photos, letters, or anything related to the 18th New York Infantry.