Rochester's local militia units predate even the city itself, as the Rochester Historical Society's archives contain references in Col. Nathaniel Rochester's "day book" for military items as early as 1797. In 1848, Rochester was the home of five independent military organizations. These were: the Union Grays commanded by Major Lansing B. Swan; the Williams Light Infantry commanded by Major John Williams; the City Cadets under the command of Lieutenant C. W. Warren; the German Grenadiers commanded by Captain Frederick C. Lauer; and the Irish Volunteers commanded by Captain Garret Barry.
The Union Grays were organized on December 11, 1838, replacing two prior companies, the Washington Guards and the Pioneer Rifles, and, in 1839, adopted the name the Rochester Union Grays in honor of the city's founder, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester. Members of the old Pioneer Rifles and the City Cadets founded the Williams Light Infantry, also organized in 1838. It was organized in September 1839 and served for a time as a part of the Williams Light Infantry. The German Grenadiers were organized in 1840. Finally, the Irish Volunteers, the oldest of the five were organized in November 1827.
Immediately after the Mexican War a major New York statewide reorganization was made of all local militia units, creating sixty-four eight-company regiments distributed among eight divisions of four brigades each. Following this reorganization, the Rochester units became units of General William E. Lathrop's Fourteenth Brigade and were parts of the 49th and 50th Infantry Regiments, with the 49th composed of companies west of the Genesee River and the 50th composed of companies east of the river. In 1849, General Lathrop's brigade was re-designated the Twenty-fifth Brigade and the 49th was changed to the 54th, and the 50th was changed to the 53rd. In October of that year, the Rochester Union Grays gave up their identity as an independent organization and became Company A of the 54th. Later the name was used by Batteries A and B of the 1st Independent Battalion.
In 1853 the 54th was under the command of Colonel Harrison Fairchild and consisted of six companies: Company A, the Rochester Union Grays, Captain John G. Gray; Company B, the German Grenadiers, transferred from the 53rd Regiment, Captain Frederick C. Miller; Company C, Rochester Light Guards, Captain Scott W. Updike; Company D, German Union Guards, also transferred from the 53rd, Captain George Siebert; Company E, Citizens' Corps, Captain Gilbert S. Jennings; and Company F, the City Dragoons, Captain James Brackett.
The start of the Civil War in 1861 almost saw the demise of the 54th as patriotic members of that organization transferred to active duty regiments. It lost its colonel, Harrison Fairchild, when he resigned his commissioned in the 54th and accepted a colonelcy in the 89th New York Volunteers. Captain Louis Ernst, the regimental adjutant, left and became a lieutenant-colonel in the 140th New York Volunteers, a local infantry regiment under Colonel Patrick O'Rourke reorganized as an artillery unit and gained fame at Gettysburg. Captain Ernst was replaced by G. W. Stebbins. In addition to losses in the officer ranks, Company A, the Union Grays, sent 192 men to the mobilization camp at Elmira to organize as an artillery unit. The remaining members of the Grays remained in Rochester to build-up a two battery battalion of field artillery to become Batteries A and B of the 1st Independent Battalion Light Infantry, under Major William M. Lewis. When this artillery battalion was formed under Major Lewis there were two batteries, commanded by Captains Michael Heavy and Michael Quinn.
As a result of transfers out of the regiment into active duty units, the 54th found itself at the end of 1861 under the command of its senior captain, Captain Miller, of the German Grenadiers. Company E went out of existence as its members joined other active duty units, and the City Dragoons, then Company L, enrolled almost as a unit as Company G, 13th New York Volunteers.
By 1863, now almost depleted, the 54th began to reform as a home guard unit under Colonel Charles H. Clark. Colonel Clark and his field officers, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Miller and Major N. Thompson, began the task began of filling up the ranks of the regiment under Captains Lewis Spoor, Lawrence Sellinger, Warner Westcott, Libbeus Brown, Isaac Hobbie and Lieutenant Joseph Eichorn. On October 1 of that year the Union & Advertiser noted the formation of Company I with my great grandfather, Francis Gallery Maloney, as the company commander.
ANOTHER COMPANY FOR THE 54TH -- The last company to complete the 54th Regiment was organized last evening by Col. Clark. It is to be know as Company I, and has elected the following officers: Captain, F. G. Maloney; 1st Lieutenant, K. H. C. Griffin; 2d Lieutenant, C. E. Sabin; 1st Sergeant, W. J. Winfield; 2d Sergeant, M. J. Maloney; 3d Sergeant, R. Lavis; 4th Sergeant, G. M. Carmichael; 5th Sergeant, M. D. Whipple; 1st Corporal, H. Mathis; 2d Corporal, Wm. Forkel; 3d Corporal, P. Griffin; 4th Corporal, F. Maloney.