A Brief History of the 8th New York Volunteer
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The 8th New York
Volunteer Infantry departs New York City for Peekskill New York to
get mustered into the federal service.
The 8th New York Volunteer Infantry served its term of service within
the continental U.S.
The 8th New York Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service at
Peekskill, New York between May 14 and May 19, 1898. All of the companies
of the regiment came from New York City, with the exception of Company M
from Mount Vernon, New York. At the time of mustering in, the regiment
consisted of forty-nine officers and 976 enlisted men. The regiment was
under the command of Col. Henry Chauncey.
The regiment actually had a storied history. The regiment was recruited
around a core made up of the “Washington Grays.” The “Washington Grays”
had been around since 1798, serving in every major conflict since that
time. The regiment’s home was the armory located at the corner of 94th
Street and Park Avenue in New York City.
On May 23, the regiment left Peekskill by rail for Camp Thomas, situated
on the former Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga, Georgia, arriving two
days later. At Camp Thomas, the regiment was assigned to the Third
Brigade, First Division of the Third Army Corps. When the regiment
arrived, the camp had about 36,000 men encamped at the training facility.
The numbers would continue to climb, creating a very unhealthy situation.
Sanitation and clean water were lacking and as spring turned into summer,
disease began to rise.
Still the training continued. In addition to the endless drills, war games
were held. In one large war game involving six regiments, one of the two
battling columns involved was commanded by Col. Chaucey of the 8th New
York. Though both sides did well, at the end of the action Chauncey’s
forces were judged the winners based on the positions his forces held and
the disposition of his troops.
In mid-July, a ceremony was held at Camp Thomas. The 8th New York was
presented with “a set of colors” (regimental flags) by the New York
Society of the Revolution. Brigadier General Fred Grant, son of Lt.
General and President U.S. Grant and commanding the division of when the
8th was a part, made a speech during the presentation. He stated that the
be believed that the 8th New York “would be among the first to bear
themselves with honor.”
All in all, things looked good for the future of the regiment even though
the Cuban campaign had already some to a halt with the fall of Santiago,
and the destruction of the Spanish naval squadron
under Admiral Cervera. The campaign in Puerto
Rico was in the offing and would surely provide the regiment the
opportunity to bring honor to itself. However this was not to be. In early
August word arrived as to which regiments were to go on the expedition.
The regiments with which the 8th was brigaded were to go on to Puerto
Rico, but the 8th was to be left behind. No reason was given.
Now things began to take a turn for the worse for the regiment. On
learning that they were not to go to the front, it was reported that
various officers broke their swords, and tossed them into Colonel
Chauncey’s tent, stating their desire to resign. The privates met in the
woods with men from other regiments and came to fisticuffs over the news.
The 8th New York did not gain any friends when Col. Chauncey took the
drastic step to go to Washington DC to try convince the powers there to
take the 8th New York Volunteer Infantry in the expedition instead of
another regiment already slated to go. The efforts were not successful and
the 8th New York Volunteer Infantry had to remain behind at Camp Thomas.
Meanwhile conditions at Camp Thomas continued to deteriorate. Illnesses
such as typhoid began to take their toll. Plans were made to relocate or
muster out those troops remaining at the camp. Some of the sick members of
the 8th New York were sent home. In an action that would later cause some
public consternation, the men were not sent home by the fastest
route. It was later to have been found to have been intentional in
an effort to give the sick men a smoother and more restful trip at the
cost of additional time spent on the train. Also, the train would arrive
at the 42nd Street station not requiring the sick men to experience a
transfer from Jersey City. When the train stopped at Cleveland, one of the
men was asked from whence he came, and he responded “We came from Hell.”
The train had ten cars transporting two hundred and sixty sick men from
the 8th New York. Some were delirious. Many were very thin, with one man
having lost forty-eight pounds.
General Terry, the New York state surgeon general, visited the camp of the
8th New York at Camp Thomas and was appalled at what he found. He
described the camp as being in poor sanitary condition with no water
within five miles. The water being brought in in barrels was unhealthy,
and was of “a kind that in New York would be refused as bathing water.”
Terry stated that not even “in the slums of New York city could be found a
place so filthy and dirty.” It was also reported that the canteen of the
regiment was one of the most unsanitary in the army, with one witness
describing it as being “little better than serving beer to soldiers of the
Eighth New York in a hog pen.” The regiment’s camp was moved to a new,
healthier location. However orders soon came for the entire regiment to be
On September 6, the regiment left Camp Thomas, bound for New York City,
arriving two days later. After a thirty day furlough, the regiment was
mustered out on November 3, 1898. At the time of mustering out, the
regiment consisted of forty-seven officers and 1,237 enlisted men.
During its term of service, the regiment lost one officer and twenty-one
enlisted men to disease and had twenty-five men desert.
Correspondence relating to the War with Spain And Conditions Growing Out
of the Same Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Island and the
China Relief Expedition. Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1902) “A Battle Problem Solved,” The Charlotte Observer
(Charlotte, North Carolina). June 26, 1898,
“A Pleasing Event at Camp Thomas,” The Grand Island Daily Press
(Grand Island, Nebraska). July 20, 1898, 2.
“Eighth Here,” The Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York). August 30,
“Going to Porto Rico,” Montpelier Evening Argus (Montpelier, Vermont).
August 8, 1898, 3.
“Hospitals,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky). September
1, 1898, 3.
“The 8th and 9th’s Homecoming,” The Sun (New York, New York).
September 21, 1898, 2.
“Yesterday’s Arrivals,” Chattanooga Daily Times (Chattanooga,
Tennessee). May 26, 1898, 5.
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