On June 16th, 1863, in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for manpower, the 71st Regiment, New York State National Guard was assembled. The terms of enlistment were not to exceed ninety-days in what would become known as the Pennsylvania Campaign, or Gettysburg Campaign as it is often called. The soldiers of the National Guard assembled in full fatigue dress, with black belts, overcoats rolled upon their knapsacks, canteen, and one days ration in the haversack.
The 71st New York S.N.G. was commanded by Colonel Benjamin L. Trafford, and wore uniforms of blue rather than gray as many of the National Guard units did. They wore a dark blue shell jacket, most likely the New York State jacket, dark blue fatigue cap, with sky-blue trousers and white belts. Their knapsacks were the hard pack militia style. While preparing to leave for Pennsylvania, there was some confusion upon what accouterments were to be worn and Colonel Trafford went to straighten the mess up. Upon his return, more than 550 soldiers were ready to depart New York bound for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
On June 17th, the 71st New York S.N.G. boarded the vessel called the Red Jacket at 10:00pm and left New York. They were en-route to Elizabethport, and by 2:00am on June 18th they boarded the train for Harrisburg. The men were packed into cattle cars, some even riding on top of the cars. They reached Harrisburg during the evening, and the 71st New York S.N.G. along with the 8th New York S.N.G. were among the first organized troops in the Harrisburg area.
Offloading the train cars, the 71st New York S.N.G. marched into Camp Curtin where they were issued rations. After receiving those rations, they loaded up on the train cars and rode across the Susquehanna River to Bridgeport. Arriving there during a major rain storm, the men slept inside the cattle cars until daylight.
By daylight on June 19th, the 71st New York S.N.G. offloaded the train and marched into Fort Washington. Colonel Trafford reported to General Darius Couch for orders. By 7:00pm, the 71st and the 8th New York S.N.G. took the train and headed to Shippensburg. General Couch ordered these men to hold in check the advancing Confederate army, stalling their movements to buy Harrisburg time for their defenses to be completed. The 71st New York S.N.G. and the rest of their brigade arrived at Shippensburg at dark, and were again ordered to remain on the train until daylight.
At daylight on June 20th, the 71st New York S.N.G. and other units were deployed covering the roads leading from Chambersburg and Scotland. Arriving, at Scotland, General Joseph F. Knipe assumed command of the brigade at 11:00pm.
By June 21st, the 71st New York S.N.G. had marched to Green Village, and then onward to Scotland Bridge, arriving there at 3:00pm. The 71st New York S.N.G. saw first hand the destruction of the bridge caused by the Confederate cavalry. General Knipe had orders to repair the bridge, and upon completion they were to march to Chambersburg. The 71st New York S.N.G. bivouacked at Scotland Bridge for the night.
At 8:00am on June 22nd, the 71st New York S.N.G. began marching to Chambersburg and arrived in the city at 11:00am. They were ordered to take up positions two miles south of the town on the Waynesboro Road. Rachel Cormany, a civilian of Chambersburg recalled how safe she felt when the 71st New York S.N.G. entered town. She also heard that the Confederates were about eight miles from town. Later, orders came for the right wing of the 71st New York S.N.G. to reinforce the 8th New York S.N.G. on the Greencastle Road, just south of Chambersburg.
At about 5:00pm, orders were again issued for the right wing and the 8th New York S.N.G. to push ahead another two more miles and halt where some skirmishing had occurred. The left wing of the 71st New York S.N.G. had not received any orders to move out and remained in place. Soon another set of orders came to march Knipe’s Brigade back to Scotland Bridge and board the train to head directly to Carlisle. The New Yorkers complied with the order in such haste, that many left behind their tents, extra clothing and a few weapons. The brigade had arrived at Carlisle at 2:00am, when it was realized that the left wing under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Coles had been left behind at Chambersburg.
After seeking General Knipe’s permission, Colonel Trafford hopped a train and headed as far as Shippensburg to look for Lieutenant Colonel Coles. By 2:00am, Lieutenant Colonel Coles was encamped at the fairgrounds at Shippensburg. He had heard of the order to fall back, but by the time he received the order it was too late. Upon reaching finding the other half of his command, the men were ready to move out. However, since there were no more empty train cars headed to Carlisle, the officers pleaded with the locality for wagons and horses in order to get the men moving.
Marching along the road, and trying to move his weary men after a day’s worth of long grueling marches was taking its toll on the men. Soon the men were marching along side the railroad tracks when a train slowed down and allowed the men to board. They made it to Carlisle by 10:00pm on June 23rd and encamped at the fairgrounds. Knipe’s small brigade was again fully united.
On June 24th, the Confederate advance was still moving toward Harrisburg. The 71st New York S.N.G. was placed on the road leading into Carlisle. Colonel Trafford ordered the men to dig rifle pits and entrenchments, and prepare for the worst. Knipe’s Brigade consisted of the 8th New York S.N.G., the 71st New York S.N.G., and Miller’s Philadelphia Battery. Supporting them were 200 armed citizens who were ready to fight. As the sun set, the men slept on their arms that night.
The next morning, orders were issued for the two National Guard units to move ahead and take possession of Rocky Ridge. Miller’s Battery deployed two howitzers commanding the road, and was covered by the trees along its edges. The men remained in position throughout the day. Finally, darkness fell upon the landscape and the weary soldiers began to fall asleep. By 9:00pm, General Knipe ordered Colonel Trafford to withdraw his men from the front and begin to march toward Harrisburg. Within five minutes of the order, the columns of the 71st New York S.N.G. along with the rest of the small brigade were up and marching. The men retreated to Kingston, twelve miles south from Harrisburg.
By 1:00am, the 71st New York S.N.G. had reached the woods just outside of Kingston, and bivouacked there during the early morning hours of June 26th. A major rainstorm had occurred and during the storm, many soldiers tried to find shelter from the elements. Many of the soldiers found an old country church and took refuge there, trying to stay dry. They had no blankets as their knapsacks containing their blankets were sent ahead to Harrisburg on the train cars.
On June 27th, the 71st New York S.N.G. was in danger of being out flanked by a Confederate force. They were ordered to fall back to Oyster Point. Arriving there, they were greeted by the 11th and 23rd New York S.N.G. units, who were bivouacked there. Oyster Point is situated at the intersection of the Harrisburg and Carlisle Pike and Trindle Road, present day 30th and Market Streets in Camp Hill. At the point was a tavern named for the Oyster family. The 71st New York S.N.G. was ordered to bivouac there for the night.
On June 28th, the 71st New York S.N.G. was ordered by Colonel Trafford to advance and deploy into battle lines to meet the Confederate troops. The 8th New York and 11th New York S.N.G. were ordered to fall back to Fort Washington. As the 71st New York S.N.G. deployed, the Confederate artillery began to fire. Colonel Trafford reported to Colonel Brisbane, who commanded a brigade of Pennsylvania Militia. Colonel Trafford was ordered to send out four companies to picket under fire. The remaining six companies were ordered to fall back to the rifle pits as the Confederate artillery was shelling the woods. The 71st New York S.N.G. had one soldier wounded, and were forced to remain in position for the night.
The next morning, the Confederate artillery again shelled the 71st New York S.N.G. pickets for over an hour before the 11th New York S.N.G. relieved them. Colonel Trafford was ordered to fall back to Fort Washington. While the Confederates attacked, Confederate General Albert Jenkins and other officers from General Richard Ewell’s Corps rode to the higher hills and observed Harrisburg’s defenses. The Confederates advanced as far as 28th Street, skirmishing with some of the National Guardsmen, but soon fell back. Arriving at Fort Washington and staying the night, the men of the 71st New York S.N.G. received the best sleep it had during the last ten days.
On June 30th, the 71st New York S.N.G. was officially mustered into U.S. service with a total of 538 enlisted men and officers in the ranks. After mustering in, a new command was put together under General Knipe. His brigade received much needed reinforcements when the 8th, 23rd, 52nd, 56th, 68th, and the 71st New York S.N.G. along with Miller’s Battery were brigaded under the command of General Knipe. This brigade was assigned to General William “Baldy” Smith’s Division, Army of the Susquehanna, and attached to the Army of the Potomac.
Upon mustering in, Colonel Varian, being a senior officer, addressed the soldiers of the 7th and 8th New York S.N.G. Colonel Varian relayed congratulations from General Darius Couch on a job well done. The two New York S.N.G. regiments had accomplished everything that was asked of them since arriving in Pennsylvania. The two regiments had advanced fifty-two miles beyond Harrisburg to the south, and held the Confederate advance in check for six days. This bought time for the defenses of Harrisburg to be built or improved upon, and this also gave the farmers plenty of time to hide their livestock in the wake of the Confederate invasion in the Cumberland Valley.
Later during the day, Knipe’s brigade was ordered to begin picketing South Mountain and some of the northern passes near Carlisle. The 71st New York S.N.G. was ordered to Silver Creek, near Hampton. Arriving there, they would bivouac for the night. Soon, they heard the firing of guns and saw the flames coming from Carlisle. This was the fire started by the Confederates at the barracks.
On July 1st, the 71st New York S.N.G. was ordered with the rest of Knipe’s brigade to begin marching to the South Mountain pass called Mount Holly Gap. After a seven to eight mile march, the 71st New York S.N.G. was ordered into an open field along the banks of the Conegogeramit Creek, where they bivouacked for the night. The next day, the 71st New York S.N.G. remained under arms until it was ordered to fall back toward the Mechanicsburg, where they halted near the Rupp House and bivouacked for the night.
Reveille was sounded at 5:00am on July 3rd and within minutes the soldiers were on the march. There was no time to eat breakfast, and the 71st New York S.N.G. marched three miles to Uniontown, where the men tried to seek food. After a brief stay, they were on the march again. By 10:00am, they arrived at Kinston, where many of the soldiers quickly made breakfast. Not staying long, the 71st New York S.N.G., along with their brigade, marched toward Carlisle. By the afternoon, the sun was hot and fatigue began to set in on the tired soldiers, some suffered heat exhaustion. By 7:00pm, the brigade arrived at Carlisle and encamped around the ruins of the barracks.
At 5:00am on July 4th, the 71st New York S.N.G. and the rest of Knipe’s Brigade marched along Mount Holly road. They were ordered into South Mountain via Mount Holly Gap. By 10:00am, they marched through Papertown. Their destination was Pine Grove Forge. As they neared South Mountain, dark clouds were on the horizon and soon afterward, they ascended the western base of South Mountain. The rain came pouring in and the peaceful landscape turned into a quagmire.
The road leading through the South Mountain followed the mountain side which was on the right of the 71st New York S.N.G. The mountain stream was to their left and supplied many of the paper mills. As darkness set in, it became difficult for the soldiers to distinguish where the road was located. The mountain stream soon became almost impassable. The rain forced the mountain streams to overflow their banks, spilling the contents on the road.
The 71st New York S.N.G. marched through several areas of flooded roadways, in some areas the water was almost knee deep. They followed close behind one another to avoid being swept away by the raging current. An adjutant mounted on his horse soon became dismounted and was swept away when his horse stepped into a hole. It was reported that several of the men had lost their knapsacks and blankets and many were washed away.
Upon arriving at Pine Grove Forge, there was no shelter left in any of the barns or buildings since the various units of the Pennsylvania Militia took refuge with its own people. Many of the New Yorkers were forced to sleep outside in the rain. The commissary wagons were stalled because of several bridges being washed away. They would have to wait for the water to recede before fording the streams. Many of those bridges took forty-eight hours to rebuild. Because of the commissary wagons being unable to cross the flooded stream, rations were in short supply. Luckily, the Confederates did not hit this area during the invasion and many of the National Guardsmen were able to forage food while they bivouacked for the night.
The following day, the soldiers began to dry out. The quartermaster wagons managed to catch up to the 71st New York S.N.G. and news about the Confederate retreat and the Union victory at Gettysburg lifted their spirits. However, the commissary wagons still had not made their way to Pine Grove Forge. The soldiers of the 71st New York S.N.G. also learned why it was necessary for them to march into South Mountain. This movement was to keep the Confederate army from using the northern most South Mountain gaps for their retreat. This forced the Confederate army to use Cashtown Gap to its south and Monterey Pass along the Mason Dixon Line. The National Guardsmen marched to Bendersville and halted there for the night.
On July 6th, the soldiers of the 71st New York S.N.G. had received fresh beef which had been purchased by the quartermaster and then slaughtered. Company B of the 71st New York S.N.G. decided to save their ration of beef for dinner and fixed breakfast by other means. During the afternoon, the messmates of Company B decided to fix stew and after purchasing vegetables, they placed everything into the pot. Within minutes of being cooked, orders were issued to the men. They were to fall in and prepare to march. Within minutes, they were marching and the stew was left behind.
During their march, it began to rain and by 9:00am, the 71st New York S.N.G. arrived at Caledonia Forge. The men, exhausted, fell out and sought the driest ground for the night. The soldiers had accomplished a sixteen mile march that day.
On July 7th, the spirits of the 71st New York S.N.G. was lifted by the site of the commissary wagons. Rations were issued and the soldiers had prepared and eaten a good breakfast. By 11:00am, the 71st New York S.N.G. made their way to the Chambersburg Pike and took the road leading to Waynesboro.
Nearing Mont Alto, the soldiers were ordered to the side of the road to make room for some two to three thousand Confederate prisoners marching under guard. Colonel Trafford ordered the men to make no demonstration toward the Confederate soldiers. Upon seeing the condition of the Confederate prisoner, which was ragged, hatless and shoeless, compassion set in with the men. It was reported that as soon as the Confederates had marched past, there was not one ounce of tobacco left in the regiment. The soldiers handed it all out to the weary Confederates.
After marching eleven miles, the 71st New York S.N.G. made their way to Mont Alto. There, in a grove north of town, the 71st New York S.N.G. made their camp for the night by Antietam Creek. During the night another storm blew in and the rain fell in torrents. The pleasant little grove by the western branch of the Antietam Creek had turned into a swamp.
As morning dawned on July 8th, it was still raining pretty hard. At 7:00am, orders were issued to strike shelter halves. No time was allowed for the men to cook rations, and to those who needed rations, none were issued. However, hot coffee was issued to the National Guardsmen.
By 11:00am, the 71st New York S.N.G. began marching toward Waynesboro. By 5:00pm, Waynesboro was reached. Seeing portions of General Thomas Neill’s Brigade of the Sixth Corps, the soldiers began fraternizing with one another. Soon, orders were issued and a march of two miles ensued. The 71st New York halted in another grove that overlooked the Leitersburg Road and Greencastle Road. They were ordered to bivouac and by 7:00pm, rations were issued.
On July 9th, breakfast was served at 5:00am. By 10:00am, the men of the 71st were ordered to fall in for inspection. Afterward, the soldiers took it easy in camp as passes to Waynesboro were not issued. By 8:00pm, orders were issued to draw rations and prepare them. They were to be ready for the march the next day.
Early in the morning on July 10th, the soldiers of the 71st New York S.N.G. were ordered to fall in and prepare to move out. They, along with the 22nd New York S.N.G., were ordered to move toward Hagerstown, Maryland. They were to reconnaissance the Confederate army as they concentrated near Williamsport. Nearing Hagerstown, the two regiments of the National Guard were ordered to bivouac for the night.
On July 11th, the two regiments remained in camp until 6:00pm, when they were ordered to counter march back to Leitersburg. They found the bridge there spanning the Antietam Creek had been burned by the rear of the Confederate army. As they forded the creek, it was reported that the Confederate pickets were about a mile away from their position. They came near the Mason Dixon Line that night.
The next morning, the 71st New York S.N.G. again countermarched back to Leitersburg, struck the turnpike to Smithsburg, and marched directly onto Cavetown. Passing through Cavetown, the 71st New York S.N.G. halted just outside of town when a thunderstorm hit. During the hard rain, the men pitched their shelter halves and made camp. It was reported that a neighboring regiment, the 56th New York S.N.G., had several soldiers injured when a bolt of lightning stuck their tent. The lightning killed one soldier and wounded four others.
On July 13th, the 71st New York S.N.G. fell in at daylight in the rain. They began to march, taking the road leading to Boonsboro. They marched past the small towns of Smoketown and Mount Pleasant, where they halted two miles beyond, at 8:00pm. To make matters worse, the soldiers of the 71st New York S.N.G. had no rations issued to them since July 11th and they would have to forage for food in order to feed themselves.
Reveille was sounded at 4:30am on July 14th. Orders were issued to cook two days rations, even though many of the soldiers had none to cook. Throughout the day, cannonading was heard in the direction of Williamsport. There was some anticipation among the soldiers to meet the combat veterans of the Confederate army on the battlefield. As they marched closer toward Beaver Creek, the soldiers saw firsthand the destruction of vehicles such as wagons and caissons. They also saw several dead horses and the smell was unbearable. Toward evening, rumors were passed around that riots had broken out in New York due to the draft. That night, the 71st New York S.N.G. encamped near Beaver Creek.
On July 15th, orders were issued to march to Frederick, board the trains there, and head home in order to put down the riots. At 7:30am, the twenty-five mile march ensued. The soldiers would strike the National Road at Boonsboro, cross over South Mountain at Turner’s Gap. From there they proceeded to Middletown and crossed the Catoctin Mountain at Braddock’s Gap, and from there to Frederick city. There they marched to Monocacy Junction arriving at 8:00pm. Upon reaching that point, the exhausted men dropped to the ground and slept where they stood without setting up tents. The men had made this march without anything to eat.
The next morning, the men awoke at 5:00am and remained at Monocacy Junction until 11:00pm, when they were ordered to board the train enroute to Baltimore. They arrived at Baltimore at 7:00am on July 17th. By 8:00pm that night, they were in Philadelphia. The 71st New York S.N.G. left Philadelphia around midnight and arrived in New York by 7:30am on July 18th. They had officially been in the field for thirty days. They were officially mustered out of U.S. service on July 22nd, 1863.
History of the 71st Regiment, N.G., N.Y., By the Veterans Association 71st Regiment, N.Y.N.G., New York City, 1919
Civil War Harrisburg, A Guide to Capital Area Sites, Incidents and Personalities, Edited Lawrence Kenner-Farley and James E. Schmick, 2000
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
Union Blue and Militia Gray: The Role of the New York State Militia in the Civil War, by Gustav Person.