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History of the 3rd U.S.

In the spring of 1861 the Regiment left Fort Clark, Texas, and marched southeast to meet transports that would carry five companies and the headquarters north, and two companies to Florida to garrison Fort Pickens. Three companies were not able to complete their evacuation of Texas and were forced to surrender.

It was not until the spring of 1862 that the companies from Florida joined the Regiment, and shortly after, the attrition and casualties of the first year of the war forced four companies to be disbanded and the men to be distributed to the remaining six. The Old Guard spent the rest of the war as a battalion of six companies. Many of the officers were detached and performed staff duty at brigade and division levels, setting an example in Army administration as the nation struggled to form an army. The senior officer, for a time, was Captain George Sykes of Maryland, Company K.

In July of 1861 the Union advance into Virginia was stopped at Bull Run as the two armies groped and blundered into each other. When the Federal line broke in the afternoon and the routed army began to flee toward Washington, a movement by the Southerners threatened to cut off the retreat. George Sykes, now a major with five companies of the Third, two companies of the Second, and one company of the Eighth Infantry Regiments, marched his ad hoc battalion to a critical ridge near the road to the Stone Bridge. For the only time in the war, the battalion formed a square and successfully defended the ridge and road against infantry, artillery, and cavalry until all units of the fleeing army had crossed the bridge. The battalion then retired in good order to Washington. Fewer than five hundred men had saved the Army and perhaps the Union. When the President came to review the troops at the end of the month, the army commander pointed out the little battalion and said to Lincoln, "These are the men who saved your army!" Lincoln replied, "Yes, I have heard of them."

In May 1862 the Regular Reserve Brigade of the Army of the Potomac was reorganized and the Third Infantry joined the Fourth, Twelfth, and Fourteenth Infantry Regiments to form the First Brigade, Second Division of the Fifth Army Corps. This organization remained, with the addition of the Sixth Infantry in 1863.

There was no further combat by Old Guardsmen in Virginia until June of 1862. The Federal movement up the Virginia Peninsula toward Richmond was repulsed in the Seven Days Battles. At Gaines' Mill, while holding the Federal right, the Third Infantry was attacked by overwhelming forces and stood its ground to save the line from collapsing. The line was held, but at great cost to the Regiment, including the death of the regimental commander, Major Nathan Rossell, who was the last field grade officer to serve with the unit until the end of the war. The rise in the ground where the combat took place is now called Regular's Hill.

The Old Guard was in heavy combat during the battle of Second Bull Run, deployed as skirmishers in Groveton and then falling back to hold Henry House Hill. The Old Guard had little part to play at Antietam but was deployed at a potentially critical point. At Fredericksburg in December, the Brigade of Regulars was used to hold the town below the heights and the Third Infantry was posted in a tannery. Under continuous shelling, the Regulars were finally deployed in support of the retreat and were the last troops to return to Falmouth Heights on the north side of the river.

After the defeat at Fredericksburg, the Army's new commander took action to boost morale and foster esprit de corps by reorganizing the Army and giving each unit down to division level its own insignia, based on the insignia of its parent Army Corps (soldiers already wore a company letter and a regimental number). The system Major General Joseph Hooker devised figures prominently in the heraldry of the Old Guard. The white Maltese cross was worn by all men of the First Brigade, Second Division of the Fifth Corps, known as the Regular Division. It is the origin of the three crosses on the coat of arms of the Old Guard.

At Chancellorsville in the spring of 1863, the initial success of the deployment to the battlefield was followed by an attack east along the Orange Turnpike spearheaded by the Old Guard and the Regular Division. The successful attack was not adequately supported and the Division withdrew to the Chancellor house. As the day wore on, the Division was sent to secure all of the roads north of Chancellorsville to deny them to the enemy and ensure that the line of communications was kept open. When, after Jackson's attack, the line of communications became a line of retreat, the Army passed through the Fifth Corps elements and re-crossed the river. The Regulars fought a rear-guard action, slowing down the pursuing enemy until the army could successfully return to the north side of the Rappahannock River.

George Sykes, until Chancellorsville the Division commander - the most common term for the Regular Division was "Sykes' Regulars" - was promoted to Fifth Corps Commander. He and two others, William Penrose and William Hoffman, were Third Infantry officers before the war who achieved the rank of Major General. Both Sykes and Penrose had been company commanders in 1860; Hoffman, much older, had been the regimental commander. Command of the Regular Division fell to Romeyn Ayres for the remainder of the war.

The command of the Regiment changed again in the days before the Gettysburg campaign. John Wilkins, senior Captain and commander since the death of Major Nathan Rossell at Gaines' Mill, was ranked by Captain Henry Freedly, whose parole from his capture in Texas had expired, allowing him to return to active duty. The Regiment entered the campaign as combat ready as any in the division. To a man, they were experienced veterans. Its single shortfall was manpower. More than fifty percent of its officer positions were vacant, and its six companies - with an authorized strength of 576 - had fewer than 300 men present for duty. The casualties of the Regiment were never replaced, and losses from desertion were also significant.

The final combat of the war for the Third Infantry would be at Gettysburg. The campaign leading to Gettysburg was essentially a race between armies. When the troops finally blundered into each other - some of the Southerners simply looking for shoes - there ensued a series of holding actions until the main bodies of the armies could be brought up to the town and deployed. The Federal line was along a ridge in the shape of a fishhook called Cemetery Ridge. At the south end of the line were two hills, Little and Big Round Top. That end of the line faced a small valley - called Plum Run Valley - across which was a rocky outcropping called Devil's Den. North of that, behind a fence, was the Rose Farm, a wheat field, and a road perpendicular to the Round Tops. It was the single most critical piece of land on the south end of the battlefield, because control of the hills determined who would control the battlefield.

The Regular Division, Third Infantry included, reached Gettysburg at 12:30 am on July 2, the second day of the battle, having marched from Falmouth Heights, facing Fredericksburg, in 30 days (including detours to attempt to capture Confederate Colonel John Mosby) by way of the old battlefield at Manassas and passes to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. In the previous week there had been but one cooked meal. Reveille was at 3:00 am. There was no breakfast. They formed at the right end of the Federal line, near Wolf's Hill, to defend against an assault by Ewell's Corps, which did not occur. Withdrawn to the rear, the Regulars were held in reserve at the center of the Federal line until early afternoon.

During the day, the Third Corps had moved forward of the Cemetery Ridge line to gain and hold a road. The movement had not been coordinated, and by mid-afternoon the Corps formed a salient in the line. The attack of Confederate General Longstreet's Corps, beginning at 4:00 pm, was intended to take control of the Round Tops, smash into the exposed Third Corps line on the Wheatfield Road, and begin to roll up the Federal line along Cemetery Ridge. The attack was stopped by a handful of infantry regiments and artillery batteries on Little Round Top and the Regular Division in Plum Run Valley and at the Rose Farm.

" As we were falling back, we saw the battery officers at the base of [Little Round Top] waving their hats for us to hurry up. We realized that they wished to use canister, so took up the double quick. As I was crossing the swampy ground, Captain Freedly... was shot in the leg, fell against me, and knocked me down. When I got the mud out of my eyes, I saw the artillery men waving their hats to lie low. I got behind a boulder with a number of my men when the battery opened. The Rebels came from all directions for the guns... They waved their battle flags, a dozen being just in front of me [i.e., in his line of retreat, between Page and the base of Little Round Top]. A number [of the enemy] were shot down where we were; they then retreated through the wheat field and the woods."

An eyewitness described the end of the Regular Division:

" The Regulars fought with determined skill and bravery for nearly an hour, then reluctantly fell back as if on drill, but sharply and bravely contesting every foot of ground. These things I saw, and I am glad, as a volunteer, to bear tribute to the United States Regulars."

By the time the Third Infantry reformed and it and the First Brigade watched the darkness fall, the men were able to cook their first hot meal in a week. The losses in killed and wounded would never be made up. Of 300 men present for duty in the Old Guard, including only 12 officers, 74 were killed, wounded, or missing, almost 25 percent of the unit.

The Old Guard had lost two commanding officers in as many hours. The price paid to stop the assault of Longstreet's Corps was even higher in other Regular regiments. The real importance of the sacrifice was that the failure of the Confederate attack, blunted on the Regulars, induced the Confederates to attack the center of the Federal line the next day. Losses in Pickett's Confederate Division would be even higher than those of the Regulars, and the failure of Pickett's attack ended any real Southern hope of winning the war.

The Regular Division, now little more than just a brigade in strength, was to get no rest. By the middle of August, the Regulars, including the Third Infantry, were sent north to New York City. The conscription of men for service in the Army in 1863 was a new event in American history. Begun just after Gettysburg, it was soon followed by protests everywhere and riots in Ohio, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. The worst of these took place in New York City. Regulars, not subject to the whims of state politics, were sent to quell the riots and enforce the law.

The Third, with the rest of the First Brigade, moved into the lawless areas of the city still wearing the uniforms that they had worn since camped on Falmouth Heights in May. Several days of fighting occurred at barricades in the streets and at buildings fortified by the rioters. In the end they were no match for the Regulars, who were neither inclined nor induced to show much mercy to those who refused to serve in the Army. Finally camped at Washington Park and issued new uniforms - and with the East River handy for bathing - their ragged appearance was soon improved, and they began to enjoy a well-deserved rest.

The combat effectiveness of the Regular Division was gone, and it was reduced in size to a brigade, leaving a small number of regiments to garrison New York Harbor. The rest, including the Third Infantry, returned to Virginia to be put on guard duty on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, one of the supply routes for Federal troops operating in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. In September, at the beginning of the winter of 1864, Captain Andrew Sheridan, commanding the Third Infantry, sent the following letter to the Adjutant General:
" I have the honor to apply for the relief of the Third US Infantry... from duty in the field and an assignment to some post where they can recuperate and if practicable, recruit.

The Third Infantry, after the trouble in Texas in which three companies and many officers were taken prisoners, have been constantly in the field. Ten companies have been consolidated into six, and the effective command now consists of eight officers (three of whom are now Field & Staff and five upon line duty) and one hundred and fifty-eight rifles."

The Third was relieved from line duty in February; yet, still, their war was not over. Ordered to join the Fourth Infantry as headquarters guard for the Army of the Potomac, the unit served in that capacity for the last three months of the war and was present at the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox Court House. John Wilkins, commander of the Third after the death of Major Rossell in 1862, made the arrangement as General Meade's guard. In the period of martial law that followed Lincoln's assassination, the Third was retained for a while in Washington as Provost Guard, and was the lead element in the Grand Review of the Army for President Andrew Johnson. The Regiment that had helped save the Army at Bull Run participated in the last act of the war.

 

The Regular Division received orders to move at 5:00 pm and was sent running to Little Round Top, deploying along the northern slope. At about 6:00 pm the Division was ordered forward through Plum Run Valley to support the Third Corps troops being pushed out of the Rose Farm and the wheat field, and to form a strong point to hold the road. Once they had gained the stone wall, driving off its defenders, the lead elements of the Division and all that followed could not move forward without becoming intermingled with other Federal troops being forced from the field across their front. The Regular Brigades were ordered to lie down in their ranks behind the wall - extending back across to an open ridge - which provided some concealment, a smaller target, and helped to avoid casualties from stray rounds, but they were forced to endure Confederate fire (Benning's Georgians) from Devil's Den on their left.

At 6:30 pm the Regulars of the Second Brigade moved across the wall in formation, colors flying, wheeled to their left, and began to attack the Confederate forces streaming out of the woods. First Brigade, including the Old Guard, held the high ground some yards behind the wall. The Third US anchored the line with the Regiment's right flank open on the road at the right of the Brigade line.

The Regular's attack caused the Confederates to send reinforcements. When they came streaming down the road and into the wheat field, flanking and engulfing the Second Regular Brigade, the pressure at the wall and on the undefended road was too great. The two Regular Brigades were ordered to retire to their old position at the base of Little Round Top.

The Regulars had to fight their way out. The remains of the Second Brigade passed through the First, and both formed into line of battle - under fire - dressed their lines, and began to grudgingly give up the ground they had crossed less than an hour before. The muddy, rock-strewn ground between the hill and the base of Little Round Top was given up only slowly, as the Regulars delivered perfectly timed crashing volleys into the Southerner's disordered lines. The Confederate assault ground to a halt.

The Third Infantry, having the most forward position of the First Brigade in the advance, had the most exposed in the retreat, and was the last to leave the field. When artillery support was brought up to the base of Little Round Top to help slow the Confederate advance and try to save the two Regular Brigades, some elements of the Regiment were caught in the open. Lieutenant John H. Page, who survived to become the regimental commander before his retirement from the army in 1910, wrote later that:

" As we were falling back, we saw the battery officers at the base of [Little Round Top] waving their hats for us to hurry up. We realized that they wished to use canister, so took up the double quick. As I was crossing the swampy ground, Captain Freedly... was shot in the leg, fell against me, and knocked me down. When I got the mud out of my eyes, I saw the artillery men waving their hats to lie low. I got behind a boulder with a number of my men when the battery opened. The Rebels came from all directions for the guns... They waved their battle flags, a dozen being just in front of me [i.e., in his line of retreat, between Page and the base of Little Round Top]. A number [of the enemy] were shot down where we were; they then retreated through the wheat field and the woods."

An eyewitness described the end of the Regular Division:

" The Regulars fought with determined skill and bravery for nearly an hour, then reluctantly fell back as if on drill, but sharply and bravely contesting every foot of ground. These things I saw, and I am glad, as a volunteer, to bear tribute to the United States Regulars."

By the time the Third Infantry reformed and it and the First Brigade watched the darkness fall, the men were able to cook their first hot meal in a week. The losses in killed and wounded would never be made up. Of 300 men present for duty in the Old Guard, including only 12 officers, 74 were killed, wounded, or missing, almost 25 percent of the unit.

The Old Guard had lost two commanding officers in as many hours. The price paid to stop the assault of Longstreet's Corps was even higher in other Regular regiments. The real importance of the sacrifice was that the failure of the Confederate attack, blunted on the Regulars, induced the Confederates to attack the center of the Federal line the next day. Losses in Pickett's Confederate Division would be even higher than those of the Regulars, and the failure of Pickett's attack ended any real Southern hope of winning the war.

The Regular Division, now little more than just a brigade in strength, was to get no rest. By the middle of August, the Regulars, including the Third Infantry, were sent north to New York City. The conscription of men for service in the Army in 1863 was a new event in American history. Begun just after Gettysburg, it was soon followed by protests everywhere and riots in Ohio, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. The worst of these took place in New York City. Regulars, not subject to the whims of state politics, were sent to quell the riots and enforce the law.

The Third, with the rest of the First Brigade, moved into the lawless areas of the city still wearing the uniforms that they had worn since camped on Falmouth Heights in May. Several days of fighting occurred at barricades in the streets and at buildings fortified by the rioters. In the end they were no match for the Regulars, who were neither inclined nor induced to show much mercy to those who refused to serve in the Army. Finally camped at Washington Park and issued new uniforms - and with the East River handy for bathing - their ragged appearance was soon improved, and they began to enjoy a well-deserved rest.

The combat effectiveness of the Regular Division was gone, and it was reduced in size to a brigade, leaving a small number of regiments to garrison New York Harbor. The rest, including the Third Infantry, returned to Virginia to be put on guard duty on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, one of the supply routes for Federal troops operating in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. In September, at the beginning of the winter of 1864, Captain Andrew Sheridan, commanding the Third Infantry, sent the following letter to the Adjutant General:
" I have the honor to apply for the relief of the Third US Infantry... from duty in the field and an assignment to some post where they can recuperate and if practicable, recruit.

The Third Infantry, after the trouble in Texas in which three companies and many officers were taken prisoners, have been constantly in the field. Ten companies have been consolidated into six, and the effective command now consists of eight officers (three of whom are now Field & Staff and five upon line duty) and one hundred and fifty-eight rifles."

The Third was relieved from line duty in February; yet, still, their war was not over. Ordered to join the Fourth Infantry as headquarters guard for the Army of the Potomac, the unit served in that capacity for the last three months of the war and was present at the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox Court House. John Wilkins, commander of the Third after the death of Major Rossell in 1862, made the arrangement as General Meade's guard. In the period of martial law that followed Lincoln's assassination, the Third was retained for a while in Washington as Provost Guard, and was the lead element in the Grand Review of the Army for President Andrew Johnson. The Regiment that had helped save the Army at Bull Run participated in the last act of the war.