A Brief History of the 8th New York Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry
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8th New York departing New York City

The 8th New York Volunteer Infantry departs New York City for Peekskill New York to get mustered into the federal service.

General:

The 8th New York Volunteer Infantry served its term of service within the continental U.S.

Unit History:

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 sent home.

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.



Bibliography:
 
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, 1898, 1.

“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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