Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rochester's Military Companies

We have looked a number of times at the New York National Guard unit - the 54th Regiment - but there were other military companies prior to the 54th.  William Peck in his History of Rochester and Monroe County describes these companies.

Military Companies

This brings us to a mention of the military companies of that period, before the organization of the Fifty-fourth regiment of New York state militia, most of which occupied the different rooms of the basement of the city market for their respective armories, the two brass bands of that day, Adams's and Holloway's, having their quarters there also. The earliest organization in this region was a company of riflemen that was formed in Penfield as far back as 1818, which attracted enlistments from Rochester as our little community increased in number. Ashbel W. Riley, mentioned elsewhere in this volume for his heroic exertions at the time of the cholera, was early connected with this company, which under his command as captain, at the time of Lafayette's visit here in 1825, escorted the distinguished Frenchman from Rochester to Canandaigua; other formations of a similar character afterward associated themselves with this one and all were united together as the Twenty-second regiment of riflemen; Colonel Riley, who had then risen to the command of it, offered its services, with the consent of the whole body, to President Jackson in 1832 to quell the nullification disturbance in South Carolina, but the tender was not accepted, as the assistance of state militia was not required; the next year Colonel Riley became brigadier-general of riflemen, and then major-general, a position which he held till the dissolution of the brigade a few years later. The Irish Volunteers came into existence in November, 1828, a very creditable organization whose commandant for some time was Captain P. J. McNamara; it was attached to the One Hundred and Seventy-eighth regiment of infantry, with headquarters at Buffalo. Then came Van Rensselaer's cavalry, in 1834, named after the landlord of the Eagle Hotel and commanded by him, and the next year the Rochester Pioneer Rifles, under George Dawson, the "fighting editor," which was a part of General Riley's regiment.

In 1838 two crack companies were formed— Williams's Light Infantry, under Major John Williams, afterward mayor, and the Rochester Union Grays, whose first captain was Lansing B Swan, afterward general, who, with General Burroughs, codified the military laws of the state; it was originally infantry but later became an artillery company. Eight of the members were still surviving at the beginning of this year, with the average age of eighty-six. The next year the Rochester City Cadets came into existence, with James El wood as captain; a few years later, sometime before 1849, it was reorganized as the Rochester Light Guards, with H. S. Fairchild as captain; it was this company that furnished sixtyfive men to company A of the Old Thirteenth on the very day after President Lincoln's first call for troops, and many of its remaining members afterward joined others of our fighting regiments. The German Grenadiers, the first of our Teutonic companies, and the Rochester Artillery were organized in 1840, the Rochester City Guards in 1844, the German Union Guards in 1847 and the Rochester City Dragoons in 1850. The Fifty-fourth regiment of New York state militia, organized in 1849, was at first confined to the western half of the county, but in 1855 it embraced the whole of it at which time H. S. Fairchild became its colonel; although it did not go to the front during the Civil war it performed excellent service by doing guard duty over the Confederate prisoners at Elmira in 1864; it was disbanded in December, 1880, in accordance with a sweeping change in the militia system of the state, only one company, known as the Eighth Separate, being retained. The First Separate company and its military services are described elsewhere. While not connected with the period of time over which we have been going, it is as well to mention in this place the Rochester Union Blues, a fine volunteer company of patriotic citizens, formed in 1863, with Charles B. Hill as captain, for the express purpose of doing duty as a home guard during the war, though it continued its organization for some years after the conflict was over.

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