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War between the States
79th Highlander New York Volunteers



"Thank God Lincoln had only one 79th Highlander Regiment."
Charleston Mercury News... in its account of the Battle of Secessionville.

"I have never seen regular troops that equaled the Highlanders in soldierly bearing and appearance."
General Sherman...after the 79th participated in Second Bull Run.


History of the Highlanders :

As the Bagpipes played, the 795 men of the 79th New York Cameron Highlanders marched away to fight in the bloodiest war the United States would ever engage in. Organized in 1859, the 79th Regiment of the New York State Militia was comprised primarily of emigrant Scots and Scottish-Americans. The militia was modeled after the famous Scottish regiment of the British Army, "The Cameron Highlanders" as were the uniforms. Kilts in the "Cameron of Erracht" tartan, black Glengarries with red-white-and blue dicing around the headband, and red-trimmed navy-blue dress jackets were worn setting them apart from all other regiments. A sporran, or "hairy purse" was worn around the waist and high socks with red and white dicing rounded out this flashy uniform. As the war progressed, the demands of battle warranted the shift to "Cameron of Erracht" tartan trousers, or "trews" in place of kilts and blue Kepis in place of the Glengarries. After the first battle of Bull Run the standard uniform of the Federal Army were worn. At right is a Sergeant in original Full Dress, 79th Cameron Highlanders, circa. 1862. Wearing the Cameron of Erracht Trews, or Cameron Plaid trousers. This uniform was worn in the early part of the war and was used in replacement of the kilt by the Scottish members of the Regiment. There seems to be alot of controversy regarding the timing of uniform changes. I would guess that it was due to the fact that some soldiers changed various parts of the uniform at different times.

The 79th Regiment Militia, failing to be ordered to the front for three months, organized, under authority from the War Department, as volunteers at New York city, where, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Samuel McKenzie Elliott, it was mustered in the service of the United States for three years May 29, 1861. The men were recruited principally in New York city; the regiment was turned over to the State in September, 1861, and received its numerical designation December 11, 1861. In January, 1864, members of the 51st Infantry, and of the 45th, 50th and 100th Pa. Volunteers, were attached to the regiment, serving with it about two months. May 4, 1864, Col. Samuel M Elliott received authority to recruit a regiment, the Cameron Highlanders; this authority was modified to recruit for this regiment. May 13, 1864, the men not entitled to be mustered out were formed into two companies, A and B; those entitled to be mustered out at the expiration of the term of service of the regiment proceeded to New York city and were there discharged, under Lieut.-Col. John More, May 31, 1864. In November, 1864, the men enlisted by Colonel Elliott joined the companies in the field as Companies C and D; in January, 1865, another company, E, joined, and in March, 1865, Company F was organized in the field from recruits received.

In July of 1861, the 79th was in position around Washington, D.C., ready to battle the Rebels to the south. Then, Colonel William T. Sherman selected the 79th to march with his brigade towards Manassas Junction, Va. to meet the Confederates. The result was the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas. The 79th fought well and acted as rear guard while the remaining beaten Federals retreated to Washington. Colonel James Cameron, Commander of the 79th and brother of Union Secretary of War, Simon Cameron was killed in the action. In August of 1861, the 79th was engaged in strengthening the fortifications around Washington. Col. Isaac Ingalls Stevens was placed in charge of the battered 79th to get them back into shape.

With morale low, the traditional uniform ordered replaced by standard Federal issue(as indicated at left), a cancellation of a promised furlough and the appointment of a new commanding officer (instead of an election) the 79th mutinied. When General McClellan got wind of the mutiny, he dispatched Regular Army troops to Washington to surround the rebellious 79th with artillery. Col. Stevens called upon the 79th. "You are soldiers, and it is duty to obey. I am your colonel, and your obedience is due to me." As the Regulars filed around the 79th preparing to fire into the ranks of the 79th, the mutiny came to an end. An order from Gen. McClellan deprived the 79th of their colors. The flag was not to be returned to the 79th until they learned the first duty of a soldier is to obey and that they prove on the field of battle that they are not wanting in courage. Col. Stevens drilled the 79th in all aspects of a soldier's life with an unrelenting insistance on Regular Army dress and deportment. After an impressive skirmish with the Confederates at Lewinville, Virginia, Stevens arranged for the return of the 79th's colors. General McClellan made the presentation in person telling the men that they had acquitted themselves as true soldiers. Stevens had won the 79th's hearts and minds to the extent that when he was promoted to Brigadier General, the 79th requested to be transfered with him to his new command. They presented him with an ornate sword, sash and spurs. Colonel David Morrison, former British officer in the famed 42nd Highland Infantry, the "Black Watch" assumed command of the 79th.

Steven's requested the Highlanders to accompany him on an expedition aboard Du Pont's ships. McClellan protested but the 79th set sail with 12,000 other infantry units to Port Royal, South Carolina. The Confederates abandoned the Fort's Walker, Beauregard and the earthworks after a gunnery duel with Du Pont's ships. The 79th and other troops moved ashore and occupied the earthworks and the town of Beaufort. Port Royal was a town full of dysentery and fever cases. Most of the Union infirmaries were full of patients. The 79th, however, employed British camp sanitary practices resulting in 1 lonely patient in the hospital. The 79th spent the next 11 months skirmishing with Johnny Reb's and burning properties of successionists and influential Rebel sympathizers. Two dogs and an alligator were kept as pets. One of the dogs, named "Tip", because of a missing leg, became the 79th's mascot and remained with the unit throughout the war. Tip may have been responsible for Lt.Gen. Longstreet's defeat at Knoxville months later. June of 1862 found the 79th part of a bungled Battle of Secessionville, South Carolina. Brigadier Gen. Henry W. Benham was in temporary charge of the 79th's brigade and one other. He ordered the 79th on a devastating and hopeless attack on the fort. The approach to the fort was surrounded by swamp and defended by rifle pits, trenches and obstacles. The 79th approached the fort behind the 8th Michigan Infantry, cut down by devastating fire before reaching the works. The Highlander's were trapped. Promised reinforcements never arrived and the 79th was forced to retreat back across the treacherous grounds they had so bravely fought through to reach the fort. The Union attack failed but the 79th was praised by the Confederate newspapers stating, "Thank God Lincoln had only one 79th regiment." On July 8th, the 79th's brigade was transfered back to Virginia. Sherman stated that he had never seen regular troops that equalled the Highlanders in soldierly bearing and appearance. The 79th participated in Second Bull Run in late August of 1862.

At the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia, on 1 September 1862, General Stevens (click on his image to enlarge, and read his obituary.)took the flag of the 79th from the fifth flag bearer to fall, but this time it was to lead them in a charge against Stonewall Jackson's troops. He shouted, "Highlander's, my Highlander's, follow your general!" when he was struck by a bullet to the head and killed instantly. After the war, the surviving 79th members sent the ripped and bloodstained banner to Steven's widow with a note that read, "His memory is engraven on the hearts of everyone of his Highlanders."

On September 17th, the 79th was to fight in the bloodiest day in American history, Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md. They fought the Confederates at Burnside's Bridge and at Sherrick's farm. Amazing as it might seem, the 79th's total losses were only 40 casualties. The 79th's next engagement wasn't until July, 1863 when they arrived shortly after Vicksburg had fallen. They were too late to fight and sent off to tear up railroad tracks near Jackson, Mississippi. The Highlanders arrived in Jackson only to find 150 sleeping Rebels Gen. Joe E. Johnston had left behind after he abandoned the city. The 79th promptly captured the sleeping Rebels. The 79th marched to join Major General Ambrose E. Burnside's (pictured at left) campaign in eastern Tennessee. On 2 September, 1863, they took the key rail city of Knoxville. To defend the city from Rebel assult, the Union troops built several forts and the 79th and others occupied an existing fort, Fort Loudon. Learning of the attack early enough, preparations were made in defense of the fort. General Longstreet had spied a Highlander walking a dog (probably Tip and William Sam of Company B) directly into the fort. Not knowing that Tip and Private Sam had walked on a plank, Longstreet assumed the fort was not guarded by a ditch. This mistake was to cost the Rebs the battle. Longstreet attacked at dawn on the 29th of November with three brigades. The 79th quickly poured water into the ditch, and while the attack was still forming, the water froze. The Confederates charged the fort and the 79th opened fire. Reaching the ditch, the Rebs began to slip and slide. The Highlanders threw artillery shells with lit fuses into the ditch. The explosions ripped apart the attackers. First Sergeant Francis Judge leaped into the ditch yanked the 51st Georgia Infantry colors from the flag-bearer and retreated back to the fort. He won the Medal of Honor for this. The Rebs scrambled out of the ditch in retreat. The 79th shouted, "Remember James Island", referring to their own failed attack at Seccessionville. 813 Rebels were killed while only 9 casualties were suffered by the 79th. Longstreet gave up on Tennessee and joined Gen. Lee's forces in Virginia. The 79th wintered in Tennessee and then moved to Annapolis, Md. In the spring of 1864, they marched south to join Gen. Grant's Army of the Potomac. For 26 days they marched to meet Grant through an area known as, "The Wilderness".

The 79th's last engagement was near Spotsylvania Court House on May 8, 1864. They were to meet Longstreet one final time. The Highlanders moved forward against veteran troops of Longstreet. They smashed fences and drove the enemy from the field. Click on the image at left to see an original photo of the Spotssylvania Battlefield. Col. Morrison was wounded and command of the 79th was passed to Col. Laing. Eight days later, their three year enlistment up,the 79th marched back to New York with only 120-130 of the original members left. They received a hero's welcome at Mercer House and were mustered out of service. A few reenlisted, but the original Higlanders had seen their last battle at Spottsylvania.



Sources:
The Union Army A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65 -- Records of the Regiments in the Union Army -- Cyclopedia of Battles -- Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers. 8 vols. Madison: Federal Publishing, 1908.

"Yankees in Kilts",Mark W. McKnight, Civil War Times, December 1996 Ed.

"The Seventy-ninth Highlanders, New York Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865", Willaim Todd, 1886.

This is the tartan of the "Cameron of Erracht" Kilt that was
worn by the original New York State 79th Highlander Militia.
Click the tartan pattern above to read the history of kilts.


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