The 8th New York State National Guard during the Pennsylvania Campaign

8th_NYSNGThe 8th Regiment New York State National Guard was part of those from New York who came in defense of Pennsylvania during the Confederate invasion that led to the Battle of Gettysburg. Arriving at Harrisburg, on June 18th, they were quickly detailed to Bridgeport, across the Susquehanna River. They were under the command of Colonel Varian, who actually commanded not only the 8th Regiment New York State National Guard, but also the 71st Regiment New York State National Guard because he was a senior officer. The two regiments, for the most part served together during the Pennsylvania Campaign.

On June 19th, Colonel Joshua M. Varian was ordered to take the 8th New York State National Guard, along with Colonel B. L. Trafford and his 71st New York State National Guard to ride in the train cars bound for Shippensburg. They left at around 7:00pm and arrived in Shippensburg at midnight. The weary soldiers were told to stay in the train cars until daylight.

8th_NYSNG (4)After offloading or detraining, they were ordered to Scotland, just outside of Chambersburg. Upon arriving there, the 8th New York State National Guard was ordered to march into Chambersburg, leaving the 71st New York State National Guard behind to guard the Scotland Bridge. By the 21st, the 8th New York State National Guard marched into Chambersburg. Rachel Cormany wrote in her dairy “The news came in that the rebels are near here, which caused great excitement again. Soon after a regiment of the N.Y. greys came so all the excitement died away.”

Chambersburg was the county seat of FranklinCounty, and hosted the Union soldiers in gray. These soldiers were part of the New York State National Guard. The soldiers of the 8th New York S.N.G. wore gray uniforms trimmed in black on collar, cuffs and shoulder epaulettes. After reading several of the regimental histories for units such as the 71st Regiment, New York State National Guard, they were well received upon entering town. There are accounts of people lining the streets with tables and placing all kinds of food upon them for the National Guardsmen. Everything was free of charge and for the taking.

The Franklin Repository and the Valley Spirit both ran articles about how these men in gray were received by the population. They were met with “perfect ovation from the citizens. Cambric and the Union colors fluttered from almost every window, and cheer after cheer rent the air.”

8th_NYSNG (3)Stars and Stripes were raised on the flagpole, and the people cheered. “You have come to protect us, and it is our duty to make you as comfortable as we can.” Soldiers were showered by flowers. “They were received with the wildest enthusiasm. Considering that they are on our border in advance of any Pennsylvania regiments, they merit, as they will receive, the lasting gratitude of every man in the border.”

Upon entering Chambersburg and halting at the Diamond, the 8th Regiment New York State National Guard was supplied with “loads of substantials and delicacies from the hands of the fair ones; to which the brave defenders responded by many a hearty cheer for the ladies and citizens of Chambersburg. They marched to the Southern end of the town and there encamped for the night, where they were joined on Monday by the Seventy-first New York and a battery (both of which also met a cordial reception).” The units of the New York State National Guard were praised and given the title “The Venerable Greys” by the locality.

But soon, the enthusiasm quickly changed according to published newspaper accounts. A war of words in the newspapers that lasted a month after the burning of Chambersburg, a year later. At this time, it was not known which unit of the New York State National Guard had misconducted itself. But sources would later reveal it was the 8th New York S.N.G.

The Valley Spirit published an article entitled “Riot” which describes how these soldiers acted. “The editors note that some of the militia from New York who came to defend FranklinCounty have been behaving badly. Their actions included an assault on Captain Doebler on the grounds that he was a coward, which extended into a general melee.”

The article describes the scene. “A disgraceful riot occur[r]ed in the diamond, which for a while threatened to be of a serious character. Some members of one of the New York regiments, getting into a discussion with Captain Doebler, who is still suffering from the wound received at Fredericksburg, called the Captain “a d–d coward.” The Captain replied by striking the fellow over the head with his cane. The “muss” then became general, and several citizens who interfered to protect the Captain in his disabled condition, were roughly handled. Some of them were chased through the streets by the infuriated crowd, armed with pistols, sabres, guns and bayonets, with cries of “shoot them!” “hang them!” “kill them!” The disgraceful scene was brought to a close by the interference of several officers; and although some blood was spilled [sic], we are happy to record the fact that no one was seriously injured.”

On June 22nd, the right wing of the 71st New York State National Guard had made its way to Chambersburg to reinforce the 8th New York S.N.G. The two units were ordered to picket the area, and if necessary, stall the advancing Confederate force in delaying action, but not to engage them in full battle. They were to buy Harrisburg time while the fortifications were being built or improved upon. They picketed the road leading to Greencastle. The 8th New York S.N.G. had skirmished with a smaller Confederate force near Greencastle, and afterward, began barricading the road by felling tree tops across it. Wooden fence rails were also thrown across the roadway. General Joseph F. Knipe, the brigade commander arrived in Chambersburg with other militia units from Pennsylvania and he made his headquarters at the FranklinHotel located on the square.

General Knipe had issued orders for the 8th and right wing of the 71st New York S.N.G. to fall back to Scotland depot to board the cars inbound to Carlisle. The citizens of Chambersburg would soon again see their town occupied by the Confederate army. This move by General Knipe, who followed orders issued by General Darius Couch, would leave bitterness in the Chambersburg locality that would last for many months to come.

Upon the Confederate invasion that would occupy Chambersburg, the war of words began in the press. Both newspapers in Chambersburg, and in New York went on to record about why the National Guardsmen left the city to fall into Confederate hands. “when the bells were rung to notify the people that the enemy were within a few hours march of Chambersburg; when we had packed and sent off a small portion of our goods, concealing some, and grimly risking the balance; when our women had calmly made up their minds to the worst and had gotten out their linen handkerchiefs for bandages; when our able bodied men had donned the blouse, shouldered the musket and had been furnished with twenty rounds of ammunition each; when some of our best men with pick and spade aided in throwing up intrenchments; when cannon were planted in our streets; when loyal Democrats and Republicans expected a battle with the enemies of our government. At such a time, we say, the New York Tribune wrote the above, in reference to citizens of a sister State, who have been twice overrun and robbed, and almost ruined by the common enemy.”

“Delaying the advance for some days. We sent off our horses under most stringent, military orders, to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy, leaving our over-ripe grain standing uncut. We freely assisted every colored man, woman and child to escape, and nearly every citizen with his family remained, though expecting rapine and violence. Two regiments of New York troops arrived at C—-g on a memorable Sunday, were welcomed by us all with open hands and hearts. The 8th N.Y. (we think it was) was drawn up on the Court House pavement, under the shade of the trees, were fed by our ladies young and old with the best we had, and were hailed socially as brave defenders. They were marched about a mile-and-a-half south of the town, and upon the approach of the enemy, were marched back again to our depot where they took the cars for Harrisburg, leaving their baggage, tents, etc., which our citizens the next day (copperheads and all) handed in and saved. We will not venture on details of their conduct while in our valley; but our daily prayer ever since has been; “give us defeat, grant us death, bestow upon us ignominy, but save us, good Lord, from the New York Militia!” The foe came; we could not resist, for all our fighting men were in the army, our quota being more than full; we did not submit, we were treated as enemies; with our lives in our hands, we furnished almost hourly valuable information to the government; we suffered, did not complain, but remained then and remain now loyal to our country. This is all true, and comes within our personal knowledge.”

8th_NYSNG (2)By 2:00am on June 23rd, the 8th New York S.N.G. would enter Carlisle. Preparations were made by the 8th New York S.N.G., along with the right wing of the 71st New York S.N.G. for the advancing Confederate force under the command of General Albert Jenkins. The next day, the Confederate cavalry force made its appearance. It was also realized that a much larger Confederate force was not far off in the distance. The men of the 8th New York S.N.G. slept under arms that night.

On the morning of June 25th, General Knipe issued orders for the National Guardsmen to move forward and take possession of a ridgeline known as Rocky Ridge. Two guns of Miller’s Battery were placed in the road, masked by trees. The 8th New York S.N.G. had positioned themselves at Walnut Bottom Road. As daylight gave way to darkness, orders were issued for the militia force of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians to withdraw and retreat toward Kingston, twelve miles from Harrisburg.

At 1:00am on the 26th, the troops arrived and encamped in the woods near Kingston during a rainstorm. Many of the men were without blankets and other items as they were sent back on the train. On June 27th, General Knipe’s Brigade moved closer to Harrisburg at Oyster Point. Here they found the regiments of the 11th and 23rd New York State National Guard. They bivouacked at Oyster Point until the next morning.

On June 28th, battle lines were drawn. The 8th New York S.N.G. along with the 11th New York S.N.G. were ordered to FortWashington. Confederate artillery opened and began to shell the area. The Battle of Sporting Hill had begun. The next day, General Jenkins skirmished at Oyster Point. He held the area for a little while, then withdrew his force, and began to head toward Gettysburg.

On June 30th, General Joseph Knipe’s Brigade was reorganized. He would have in his brigade the 8th, 23rd, 52nd, 56th, 68th, and the 71st New York State National Guard Regiments, along with Miller’s Pennsylvania Battery. They were assigned to the Department of the Susquehanna under the command of General William Smith, and attached to the Army of the Potomac.

On July 1st, the 8th New York S.N.G., along with its brigade was ordered to march to Mount Holly Gap, located east of Carlisle in the SouthMountain range. Moving only eight miles to Conegogeramit Creek, it halted for the night. Cannonading was heard during the night, and the orange glow was seen as the barracks in Carlisle were burned.  

On July 2nd, the 8th New York S.N.G. moved back about two miles and encamped there for the night near the area where Confederate General Albert Jenkins had his headquarters during the advancement to Harrisburg. The next morning, the 8th New York S.N.G. moved toward Carlisle, halting at Uniontown and moving on to Kingston. Arriving there at 10:00am, the weather was very warm and many men suffered from the heat of the July sun. By 7:00pm that evening, Knipe’s Brigade had made it to Carlisle.

8th_NYSNG (1)On July 4th, the brigade began its march to Mount Holly Gap. They passed through the small town of Papertown at 10:00am and proceeded to Pine Grove Forge. Soon the landscape and beauty of SouthMountain turned into a quagmire. A severe storm had rolled in and sheets of rain fell during the late afternoon and all night. The mountain streams and roadways began to flood. All commissary wagons were halted, as they could not move across the flooded bridges. Arriving at Pine Grove Forge, the men tried to seek shelter from the storm. Their attitudes soon became demoralized by the rain.

The next day, the 8th New York S.N.G., along with its brigade marched to Bendersville, where they encamped for the night. On July 6th, they marched to Newman’s Gap, where the brigade was ordered to turn west, and then south toward the Mason Dixon Line.

On July 7th, the 8th New York S.N.G. marched to Mont Alto, where they encamped for the night. The ground had become a swamp due to the recent rains that seemed to fall everyday since July 4th. At 5:00pm on July 8th, they marched into Waynesboro, where the rear of the Confederate army had passed the day before, and were greeted by the locality. General Thomas Neill and his brigade had followed the rear of the retreating Confederate army though MontereyPass, and were in Waynesboro when the New York State National Guard marched in.  

Upon reaching Waynesboro, the New Yorkers were ordered about two and a half miles south of town, where they halted for the night. Pickets were thrown out covering all the roads leading to Greencastle, Hagerstown and MontereyPass. The New York S.N.G. remained near Waynesboro for two days.

On July 10th, the New Yorkers prepared to move out, ford the Antietam Creek, and march toward Leitersburg, Maryland, where they would operate for several days. By July 12th, they moved onward to Cavetown, Maryland. The next morning, striking tents, they moved out, marching toward Boonsboro, Maryland. On July 14th, the New Yorkers moved to Beaver Creek, where they encamped for the night.

On July 15th, the 8th New York S.N.G. and the rest of the New York National Guardsmen were ordered back to New York due to the riots that had broken out. They marched onward to Boonsboro, crossing SouthMountain at Turner’s Gap, crossing the CatoctinMountain at Braddock’s Gap, and made their way to the Monocacy Junction. From there, they would board the train and begin their journey to New York. This ended their service in Maryland and in Pennsylvania.

In 1864, the people of Chambersburg were still outraged from their treatment by the 8th New York S.N.G. One citizen even made it sound as if the Confederate force that occupied Chambersburg were the liberators of the town from those soldiers of the New York State National Guard. It was reported in the Franklin Repository in July of 1864 that the people of Chambersburg “Chastises New York newspaper editors–particularly Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune–for their “heartless” attitude toward the suffering of Chambersburg residents.” The article continues, “There is no excuse for a journal like the Tribune giving publicity to a falsehood so palpable and shameless as the above. Its editors know something of the people of Southern Pennsylvania, and its many readers in this section should have been a protection against such wanton defamation. No New York soldier ever gave the Tribune or any one else such a report of the people of Pennsylvania; but possibly some of the many thieves and skulkers who accompanied the New York regiments, may have attempted to shield their own notorious crimes by the systematic vituperation of our citizens. The press of Southern Pennsylvania has been unwilling to give the true history of the march of the New York militia, because there were doubtless reputable and brave men among them who would have suffered thereby; but we submit to the Tribune that it is time for the wholesale slanders of cowardly shoulder-hitters and wharf-rats, who straggled and plundered habitually, to find some meaner channel for endorsement and publicity.”

“It seems rather a pity that the Rebel spoilers of Maryland were not tempted to extend the sphere of their operations so as to embrace the more intensely Coppperhead districts of southern Pennsylvania. Had they gone thither and been charged for every mouthful they ate or drank (water included) as our boys were last Summer, they must have been thoroughly cured of all taste for invasion for the rest of their mortal lives.–New York Tribune.”

A month after the Burning of Chambersburg, the paper ran an article about what happened to the town, and even took time to once again bring up the matters of the previous summer. “This statement we should deem sufficient to put to rest the slanders so industriously circulated by the New York press–trumped up as an excuse for withholding their mite for our relief–because, as they allege, we failed to defend our town against a band of 200 guer[r]illas! This is a sharp dodge on the part of the New York gold speculators, and they, no doubt, felicitate themselves over it as a very clever ruse whereby they were enabled to retain a little money in their pockets! Save us, now and hereafter, from New York sympathy!–but above all things else save us from the New York Militia! Come Jenkins! Come Moseby! Come M’Causland! but against another visitation of the New York Militia, Good Lord, defend us!”

In an editorial to the Valley Spirit in August of 1864, local Chambersburg resident W.I. Cook took the time, after his thoughts on the Burning of Chambersburg to include the actions of those New York State National Guardsmen of the 8th Regiment. “Now a few words about “the gallant young men of New York” who as you allege came to our defense, and the statements of yourself and the Tribune, have only provoked an allusion to them. New York has sent many, and gallant soldiers to the field. We honor them. But the very worst specimens she has sent anywhere were here last summer. They came as if prepared for a picnic, with all the delicacies of the season in their haversacks and on their supply trains. Our people hailed them with the warmest welcome and furnished them with the best they had without cost. Everything was done under the circumstances, that a population could do to evidence appreciation of their coming and to render them comfortable. Now one [sic] of the first grand achiev[e]ments of these “gallant young men of New York” was to drag the fire apparatus of the of the [sic] town through its streets at full speed yelling like a pack of hounds. In their presence was known more profanity, more blackguardism, more theft, more drunkenness than was ever inflicted upon a community by professed Union soldiers since this war commenced. On an evening they disappeared from their camp more suddenly than base fabric of a vision, leaving all their camp equipage, individual property, sardines Scotch ale by the gross, and dainties in every variety. These “gallant young men from New York” heard of the approach of the Rebs and they skedaddled without inquiring their number of getting even a sight of the visage of one of them. The people of our town blessed the day of their deliverance and made it one of thanksgiving for they were rid of the New York troops. Jenkins came in and his command pillaged and plundered. We expected this from him. New York troops stole secretly. Jenkins’ did not, New York troops tore down property in the most ruthless manner. Jenkins’ did not. New York troops outraged women. Jenkins’ did not. When men come here for our defence we expect to find their professions truthful, not on the other hand to make us the victims of riot and blackguardism. You say the New York troops had “no very pleasing stories to tell” of this valley. No wonder if they told the truth about themselves, their statements would be too indecent for other care than those of the scoundrel and the blackguard.”


NewspaperArchivesValley of the Shadow
  • Franklin Repository, 1863-07-08
  • Valley Spirit, 1863-07-08
  • Valley Spirit, 1863-07-15
  • Franklin Repository, 1864-07-13
  • Franklin Repository, 1864-07-20
  • Valley Spirit, 1864-08-31
  • Franklin Repository, 1863-07-08
History of the 71st Regiment, N.G., N.Y., By the Veterans Association 71st Regiment, N.Y.N.G., New York City, 1919
Photos: LOC Archives

One thought on “The 8th New York State National Guard during the Pennsylvania Campaign

  1. D.JEFFREY BROWN July 9, 2013 / 9:22 pm

    HEY JOHN, Great article , fanastic photos also. When do you find time to sleep? I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful tour saturday at monterey pass battlefield. I know it was hot, but me, steve recker ,and tim snyder had a blast. You are going to have to come to williamsport retreat next year, Im going to give your info to scott friday on the wittenberg tour bus event. I appreciate you putting up with all my questions. I thought I knew alot about monterey pass till I went on the tour with you . You really did a heck of a job, and a huge crowd to boot. It is really great to watch your wife and sons enjoy it just as much as you do. You,along with your wife and sons ,are a true living history family, it is a lot of fun coming to your events. I look forward to many more, sincerely, your hagerstown connection.

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