The Daybreak B'hoys Living History Association
portraying elements of
Co. A, 25th New York Volunteer Infantry
Museum Village, Monroe, NY - Aug. 29-31, 2003

    The Daybreak B'hoys Mess has been invited to participate in the annual Civil War weekend at Museum Village in Monroe, NY. The group has been designated the living history/demonstration unit for the event. For those not familiar with the event, our group is given a prime spot on the village green to accurately depict the life of a soldier on campaign, and interpret it to the public. The event is traditionally well attended, and our spot of ground is right alongside the primary path of the visitors. This is one of those events where the public's ability to tell that there's something uniquely accurate about a group's impression is evident. Scores of people at any given time during the weekend are observing our display and various presentations about military life.

UNIT HISTORY

    This year, our specific portrayal will be that of Company A, 25th New York Volunteers, who were known as the "Tenth Ward Rangers." As implied by their name, this company was recruited in New York City's 10th ward, which encompassed the Lower East Side and a good portion of the Bowery. Although in the service of the United States army, loyalty to the union's cause did not come easy to the 25th. Their first Colonel, James E. Kerrigan, had attended Fordham University for a short time before enlisting in the army during the Mexican War, at age 17. Returning from the war, he became affiliated with Hose Co. 14 of the New York Fire Department, and entered public life in 1854 when he was elected as the thirteenth council district's representative. In 1855, he was imprisoned as an accomplice to the murder of the famed Bill "The Butcher" Poole, but released when the investigation yielded no firm connections. The following year, he sailed to Nicaragua with a group of fifty men, hoping to take part in one of the many "filibustering campaigns" in which speculators hoped to capture land in Central America and sell it to the United States government, though he was unsuccessful in his endeavors. Upon his return to New York, he endorsed Martin Gilmartin as his successor to the council seat, snubbing Pat Mathews who also coveted the position. As was common in the era, election day of 1856 saw widespread violence on behalf of the candidates. Kerrigan's supporters, known as the "Molly Maguires" went up against Mathews and his Bowery Boys, turning the Elizabeth Street polling place into a scene of chaos. Kerrigan himself was said to have brandished a pistol, many shots were exchanged, and dozens injured. In the end, though, Kerrigan's men emerged victorious, and Gilmartin won the council election.

    New York's democrats were divided into two camps, those who supported Mayor Fernando Wood, and those who opposed him. Kerrigan was one of the latter, and thus his supporters threw their Wood support in league with state republicans who proposed legislation that would strip Wood of certain powers and place them in the hands of Albany. One of these proposals was to disband the Municipal Police Department, in which Wood's supporters had a controlling interest, and replace it with a state-run Metropolitan Police Department. Wood refused to disband his Municipal Department, and so for the first half of 1857, the two rival departments battled it out on the streets of the city until the courts ordered the Municipals to disband that July. Although on different sides of the Mayor's fence of support, Mathews and Kerrigan provided shelter to Metropolitan officers who were targets of attack by the residents of Five Points on July 4th, and had a bloody fight with the Mulberry Street Boys, Roche Guard, and Dead Rabbits in Bayard Street that evening, in which many of both sides were killed.

    In the years immediately following, Kerrigan was appointed as a police court clerk, and had surprisingly allied himself with Mayor Wood, becoming active in the Mayor's new Mozart Hall policitcal society. In 1860, he sought and won a Congressional seat, representing a good portion of Lower Manhattan. That December, as South Carolina prepared to secede, Kerrigan placed a cryptic ad in the New York Herald:
 

"The captains of all Volunteer [militia] Companies of the City of New-York [are requested] to send a communication to the undersigned, at No. 74 Mott-st., stating the name of the Company and the number of men under their command, for the purpose of perfecting a Military Organization to protect the municipal rights of the city and the constitutional rights of the citizens of the country, in the event of a revolution."
 
    This was interpreted by some to be a rallying cry for local militia companies to volunteer their services to the Confederacy in the event of war. This would not have been surprising, as Mayor Wood had long suggested that New York, Brooklyn, and Staten Island might form a city-state independent of the federal government. With mutterings that southern sympathizers might commit acts of sabotage in and around New York, Kerrigan was brought before a grand jury to testify as to his motives. Whether or not he truly intended to recruit men to support the Confederate cause is unclear; with the patriotic fervor that swept through the north after the shelling of Fort Sumter, Kerrigan, touting his alleged accomplishments in Mexico and Nicaragua, began raising a regiment for federal service. The result was the 777-strong 25th New York Volunteer Infantry, also known as the "Union Rangers." However, there were still doubts. An English journalist was told "the boy who commands that pretty lot recruited them for the Seceshes in New York, but finding he could not get them away he handed them over to Uncle Sam."

    With the questionable loyalty of the commander came questions about the dedication of the men under his command. Between July and October, 1861, while encamped in Washington and on various assignments in Virginia, the officers of the regiment, and thus the rank and file, were never instructed in the principles of military drill. When reviewed by President Lincoln and General McClellan in August, the regiment refused to give a cheer for the union. It was also alleged that Kerrigan knowingly allowed his men to drink excessively, to the point of causing great disorder in camp. One Lieutenant reported that the Colonel took part in a march that September wearing "a blouse without shoulder straps and a civilians cap" and having forgotten his sword. Brigadier General John H. Martindale reported that when he reviewed the regiment, he observed "loud and boisterous talking between officers and men, with no efforts anywhere to preserve order."  Furthermore, many of the men wore their trowsers "partially unbuttoned, some had only drawers on," with their "persons" exposed, and "many were dirty, unwashed, and ragged. An observer described them as "miserable scarecrows in rags and tatters."
martindale
When Kerrigan left an inspection without permission and in a huff, Martindale, with the recommendation of division commander Fitz-John Porter, had him arrested and brought before a general court martial, which would be presided over by Brig. General Silas Casey. As soon as his arrest was announced in New York, Mayor Wood hurried off a letter to President Lincoln requesting that the charges be dropped:
 

New York, 31st October, 1861
To His Excellency,
Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States.
Dear Sir:

It will not be considered improper, I hope, to address your Excellency, for the purpose of offering an early hearing in the case of Col. James E. Kerrigan. I have been requested on behalf of his family and friends, who are very numerous in this city, to make such application. Though I have not the most remote idea of the nature of the accusations made against Col. K, I can assure you that neither those friends nor myself would feel any sympathy, were we not convinced that he was guiltless of any offense involving disloyalty to the government, and to the cause in defence of which he was engaged in arms.

Col. Kerrigan as you are aware is the Representative from this City of that Congressional District, in which the City Hall is situated - a constituency containing thousands of the most ardent supporters of the government. It is natural that they should take a deep interest in the result of the charges that have been brought against one thus intimately connected with them. The favor of a speedy investigation would excite among them the liveliest feelings of gratitude and enthusiasm, while delay may suggest uncertainty and doubt. Permit me then as a personal friend of Col K's. and in view of the deep distress of his family, to appeal to your clemency that the opportunity to vindicate his character will not be long deferred.

I am with great respect,
Fernando Wood
Mayor

    Even the petition of Mayor Wood was not enough. Kerrigan was found guilty of five out of nine charges, and on February 21, 1862, he was discharged from service. A newspaper reported that the dismissal of Colonel Kerrigan had caused all of the field officers to resign, and that the men would be dissolved into other regiments. Kerrigan served out his time in Congress, but was arrested in the House for vehemently protesting a Missouri slavery abolition bill after the time slated for debate had ended.

    While many of the company officers did, in fact, resign, they were replaced and the regiment was permitted to go on. Charles A. Johnson was commissioned as Colonel effective immediately, and they were assigned (along with their Brigade and Division) to the 3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac. In March, they were sent to the Virginia Peninsula, taking part in the siege of Yorktown the following month. They next saw action at Hanover Court House in May, and in June fought at Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, White Oak Swamp, and Malvern Hill during the "Seven Days'" battles. By then, their Corps had been redesignated the Fifth Army Corps. Until August 15, they were held at Harrison's Landing from which they moved to Centreville, and fought at Second Bull Run on August 30. On September 6, they began the march to Maryland and were present at Antietam on September 17. They remained in Maryland for over a month, and then proceeded to Falmouth, VA. In December, they took part in the battle of Fredericksburg and the attack on Marye's Heights, as well as an expedition to Richards' and Ellis' Fords on the Rappahannock River. January saw them among the troops slogging through the mud during Ambrose E. Burnside's infamous march, after which they remained in Falmouth, moving out that spring to take part in the Chancellorsville capmaign. On June 26, 1863, the men were mustered out of service, and on July 10, the regiment was honorably discharged. Those men who still had time in their enslitments to serve out were transferred to the 44th New York Infantry, also attached to the Fifth Corps.
 

HANOVER COURT HOUSE, and OUR SCENARIO
    As our numbers at Museum Village will most likely be low, we will be portraying a small slice of the 25th in action at Hanover Court House, VA, which occurred on May 27, 1862. Morrell's Division had been detached by General McClellan to guard the army's flank, near Peake's Crossing, with orders to destroy the Virginia Central and Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad. The march began in the pre-dawn hours, in a rainstorm. Martindale's Bridage followed a regiment of Berdan's Sharpshooters towards the crossing. Their objective was to guard the rear, and monitor a woodline for enemy troops. Along with the 2nd Maine and two companies of the 44th New York, the 25th formed the convex center of a horseshoe-shaped line, supported by a detachment of artillery (Benson's Battery M, 2nd U.S. Light Artillery.) Soon, the entire line was being raked with enemy fire. The 25th deployed skirmishers along with Berdan's Sharpshooters, coming in contact with Colonel James H. Lane's 28th North Carolina troops. Being pressed by overwhelming numbers, the 25th was forced to retreat, leaving a number of men dead and wounded on the field, including five company officers. The main body of Porter's division arrived some time later and counter-attacked, the cavalry pursuing the fleeing Confederates until dark.

    The event at Museum Village would be perfect for this scenario. The Daybreaks will enter the field, drop packs, and deploy as skirmishers. The ground is hilly, so we will be lying down and seeking cover wherever possible. There will be a group portraying Berdan's Sharpshooters on the field with us, and there is usually a section of artillery. We will fight as skirmishers for a few minutes until the numbers on our front start increasing, at which time we will withdraw (retreat as skirmishers), retrieve our packs, and spread out along the spectator line. Once here, we will describe for them the maneuveur we had just performed, and interpret the "battle" as it unfolds. You will find that the public asks some very intelligent questions, and have sharper eyes than most reenactors would like to think. Do not be afraid to point out what one might have actually seen during a Civil War battle compared to what they are seeing on this field.

    In the morning, we will parade with the battalion (if you wish to portay the August '61 trowserless incident, do so at your own risk...) after which we will remain on the field and do a demonstration of bayonet drill. There will most likely be volunteers from other units wishing to fall in with us for this. Please watch them, and offer help whenever you see something that needs fine-tuning. The goal here is a demonstration, rather than an instructional session, so we may ask guests to wait for a later time when we may help instruct them.

    In our camp area, we'll have plenty of room for blanket displays. Be mindful of your gear, though, as our spot is on the main pedestrian pathway. We've not had any problems with items "walking" in the past, but it's best to be safe. We should look like a platoon that has stopped to rest for a while. It is important to remember that we are always "on," and thus should be always ready to interact with the public and interpret our display. There will undoubtedly be times for first-person interaction among ourselves -- remember, these guys were rowdies who didn't seem to care much about the government's objectives.

    Registration is $10, and is due in mid-August. Walk-ons are allowed, but must pay $15. The site issues raw vegetables, so bring whatever other rations you would want. If there is interest in doing a ration issue, please let me know.

    To register, please contact me.



On to the uniform regulations!



SOURCES: Five Points Tyler Anbinder, 2001
New York Times,
Dec. 11, 1861 and Dec. 18, 1861  
Register of Officers Commissioned in Volunteer Regiments from the State of New York, 1861-1865  

Record of Col. James E. Kerrigan, National Archives and Records Administration
Official Records, Series 1, Volume XI