The 2nd New York State Militia or Gallantry is Not Enough

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!

Hussar Yeomanry

Dec 6, 2017

The flank marker of the 2nd New York State Militia.

[Source] Varyingly said to have been captured at either Bull Run or The Wilderness

For St Patrick's Day I looked at a Union regiment that despite adversity during the battle tried its best (The 69th New York State Militia). In this thread I will look at a regiment from the same city that... well... you make up your own minds... (This is more about the trials and tribulations in the run up to battle tan the battle itself.)

On April (15th?) Lincoln issued his call for seventy five thousand ninety day volunteers and the great State of New York duly responds. Perhaps it is telling that despite its very low numbering in the militia system the 2nd New York State Militia are not chosen. Instead they will be called up in response to Lincoln's request for three year men on the 20th May 1861. This will cause major problems.

The choice of its Colonel may be too.

[As a side note I wish to state that while massive amounts have been written about the 69th NYSM the same can not be said about the 2nd NYSM]

Anyway, its Colonel will be George W. B Tompkins.

I must admit that I haven't found a lot about him other than he had been Colonel of the regiment since at least the beginning of 1861. Therefore he will be familiar to at least some of his men. Beyond that I include the following two New York Times Articles for completeness:


Article dated JULY 30, 1861

We are assured that the statement regarding Col. TOMPKINS, of the Second New-York Regiment, to the effect that in the battle of Bull Run he threw away his sword and ran while his regiment stood firm, is entirely incorrect. He remained with his men until the retreat was ordered, keeping them steadily to their work, and taking them from the field in good order as far as Centreville. Our authority for this statement is Lieut. J.T. WILSON, commanding Company G, of the Second, who fought with Col. TOMPKINS until taken prisoner by the Black Horse Cavalry in their last charge, but who subsequently escaped.

To the Editor of the New-York Times:

In justice to Col. TOMPKINS, of the Second Regiment N.Y.S.M., please allow space in your columns for the following extract from a letter written by an officer of that regiment:
"At the time we were retiring from the wood where the battery was, about half of my company got a little in advance of me, while I stayed to see about getting the wounded out. When I came up with them, some one said in reply to a question from the Colonel, "We have no officer." "I will be your officer," said he; "get into line." I said, "Colonel, it will not be necessary for you to command the company; I stayed behind, to get out the wounded."

This evidence should be sufficient to exonerate Col. TOMPKINS from the charge that was made against him of deserting his regiment previous to their engagement with the enemy. JUSTICE.

Arrest of Col. G.W.B. Tompkins.

Article dated DEC. 16, 1863

Col. G.W.B. TOMPKINS, formerly of the Eighty-second regiment [The 2nd New York State Militia became the 82nd], was arrested yesterday, by order of the Assistant Provost-Marshal, Gen. HAYS. It appears that a deserter from the Eighty-second regiment fearing arrest, applied to G.C. HAWTHORNE to get his discharge, when HAWTHORNE promised to procure his discharge for the sum of one hundred dollars. HAWTHORNE procured a Surgeon's certificate of disability, and between him and the Colonel gave the man his discharge, dating the discharge back two years. The facts coming to the ears of Gen. HAYS, caused the arrest of the parties, both of whom were committed and held to bail in the sum of $1,000.

What the truth about the Colonel is I don't know though whatever it is he will not last long in regimental command.

Lieutenant Colonel will be the recently appointed John. H. Wilcox (April?). From what I can determine (and I could be wrong) he seems to go on and have a career as a Colonel in the New York Militia system (9th Regiment New York National Guards) but won't see much if any active service again. He also does not appear to be Colonel Tompkins successor.

Major will be Joseph J. Dimock. I have little on him other than he might have died/ been killed in 1862. He also will not succeed Colonel Tompkins.

Companies will be as follows (At least initially – for more follows on this)

A: Accepted in to State Service April 17th 1861. Captain is C. Graham as of the previous year. He will be discharged in September (2 months after Bull Run).

B: Accepted in to State Service April 17th 1861. Captain was T. M. Reid and had been since 1858. (Though he remains in New York until early June for recruiting purposes) Again he will be discharged in September.

C: Accepted in to State Service on the 1st May 1861. Captain was Cromie until somewhere around May 1st 1861. Then E. B. Stead as of May 9th 1861, though appointment to date from the 1st May. (Though Stead remains in New York until mid June for recruiting purposes)

D: Accepted in to State Service on the 2nd May 1861. Captain was John Kennedy but I have no further info on him other than he remains in New York until late June for recruiting purposes.

E: Accepted in to State Service on the 18th April 1861. Captain at the start of the year is P. D. Kelly. However by late April it is a Captain Byrne but he fades from the picture and by the battle it may have been J. Huston. He certainly is later (early 1862) but there seems to be ambiguity here.

F: Accepted in to State Service April 17th 1861. Captain was J. Brady and had been since at least 1858. Some suggests 1850. He will be discharged in November.

G: Accepted in to State Service April 17th 1861.
However this company is transferred to the 5th New York State Militia as its Company K somewhere around May 23rd.

As a result a new company G was accepted in to State Service on the 1st June 1861. Captain will be Alderman R. Barry.

H: Accepted in to State Service at an unknown date. Logically April or May 1861 because it exists by the beginning of June (There are some suggestions that it was May 21st). Captain may be D. E. de Courcey. It will be in early 1862 and there are suggestions that he was before.

I: Accepted in to State Service at an unknown date. Logically April or May 1861 because it exists by the beginning of June (There are some suggestions that it was May 21st). Captain may be J. J. Delaney. It will be in early 1862 and there are suggestions that he was before.

K: Accepted in to State Service at an unknown date. Logically April or May 1861 because it exists by the beginning of June (There are some suggestions that it was May 21st). Captain may be J. Darrow. It will be in early 1862 and there are suggestions that he was before.

Howitzer Corps: Accepted in to State Service on the 21st April 1861 as Mott's New York Light Artillery, Company B. In December it will be redesignated 3rd New York Independent Light Artillery, Company B. Supposedly it is 75 strong and has 4 x mountain howitzers and a 6pdr smoothbore.

Engineer Corps: Created on the 21st April 1861 it will be 25 strong and commanded by Captain E. H. Sage.

Or at least that is on version of the story.

For completeness I have it suggested that the original company D becomes the Howitzer Corps and that a new Company D is raised in July. No further information is given but a couple of websites seem to have picked this up as gospel. I remain unconvinced... but it could have happened. Wikipedia also (in places) suggests that the Howitzer Corps was with them at Bull Run. It was not. It was by then in Washington DC manning the defenses.

That the regiment was understrength at the start is certain. Indeed it is possible that at the start of 1861 it only had 328 men on its books. Furthermore Companies I and K may not even exist. Certainly their Captaincies are vacant. A newspaper report from the 23rd April has Company E opening recruiting offices at 147 and 162 Fulton Street with the main inducement being 'full uniforms will be provided'. These uniforms are supposedly 'blue army cap, dark blue jacket and light blue pantaloons with a white stripe' and indeed while in New York at least they were supposedly uniformly equipped with this (as per a newspaper report of the 22nd May).

However there are also rumblings that not all is well with the regiment for also on the 22nd May the National Republican will report (wrongly) that the regiment has been entirely disbanded! It goes on to report Company H being folded in to Company I of the 5th NYSM. Obviously this is a grotesque distortion of the movement of Company G to the 5th NYSM.

Then the still understrength regiment moves to Washington by train (some time between the 23rd May and the 27th May). Alternatively allegedly May 18th according to one source but that's unlikely as the newspapers have them parading in NYC after this date.

There on the 28th/ 29th they will be mustered in to Federal Service for Three years... or at least that was the plan for 300-400 (sources vary... I would guess it is closer to 300 than 400 but things are muddled) of the men refuse. Apparently they were under the impression they were going to be 90 day men! As a result they were sent home.

A party of 150 recruits follows on the 30th May.

The new Company G follows on the 9th June 1861

A third detachment of recruits follows somewhere around the 13th June.

Even this is not enough for on the 15th June Company H reports that they still need 25 more men and a recruiting office is set up at the corner of Hall Place and Seventh Street (which also seems to be the regiment's armory).

Recruiting continues in to July and to say things seem confused is an understatement. Dribs and drabs trickling in to camp and needing instruction. High turnover amongst the company officers. Then supposedly on the 15th July Company A is disbanded and the men distributed in to the other companies (I am dubious about this as no source is provided and this source is definitely incorrect on other matters)

All this said how can the regiment hope to be cohesive?

What they need of course is a good Brigade Commander. A calming hand. A regular perhaps... at a minimum they need someone decent. Of course what actually happens is they are assigned to the second brigade of the first division. That means their divisional commander is the elderly Daniel Tyler who was a railroad man who had resigned from the US army back in the 1830's. However due to his (occasional?) service in the Connecticut militia system he is high on the army's seniority list. He is at least a former Regular (and artillery theorist) though he has never seen combat at any level.

Their brigade commander will be Robert C. Schenck who was one of Lincoln's leading financiers in his run for Presidency. What he wants is a cabinet position but Lincoln doesn't have one available so he makes him a Brigadier General. After all it will be a short sharp war and what harm can it do...

Suffice it to say he has no military experience whatsoever.

This will be proved when on the march towards Centreville (where his brigade will be towards the front) he doesn't bother to scout and gets some of his men captured.

Then we have the battle and it is probably a good thing the 2nd NYSM was not more heavily engaged. What we don't have though is a report from Colonel Tompkins. Instead we have a very detailed OR from Schenck who appears to vastly inflate the forces facing him. We also have two written accounts – one by an unknown private and one by an unknown captain – both printed in and possibly written for the New York papers. In them Colonel Tompkins and to an only slightly lesser extent Lt. Col Wilcox are lauded. Schenck is not. Indeed the Captain claims that their Brigade Commander abandoned them to die under galling artillery fire with Schenck running away. The private on the other hand wonders whether Schenck was in league with the secessionists. How trustworthy these accounts are is definitely an issue...

From the OR's the regiment suffered the following (from being caught under enemy artillery fire).

Killed: 3 officers and 16 men.
Wounded: 15 men
Missing: 1 man

However there is an attached note stating that Colonel Tompkins (verbally?) reports another 140 missing. This includes 4 officers... 3 of whom are said to be deserters and back in New York. The note goes on to state this 'leads to the belief that their officers having set the example, the men were not slow to follow it'. In other words not all the officers were willing to stand against the enemy. Therefore the men saw no reason to do so. I do however wonder about this. While no other such note is made I have to wonder if this is unfair and the officers in New York aren't deserters but instead are with the recruiting staff. It's a theory anyway.

As a final note they will become the 82nd New York (2nd Militia) on the 7th December 1861

Primary Sources: Schenck's OR. The New York Times Archive

Secondary Source: [Usually excellent but less so in this case]

Tertiary Source: Wiki

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!