The Regulars have long been considered the professionals by those familiar with military matters. These professionals were often the best trained, lowest paid, and longest serving men in our nation's armed services. A look at their battle honors reveals that the Regulars have been in the forefront of the action since the beginning of our country. Volunteer regiments have always been our most numerous soldiers, due to the American hesitancy for large standing armies, but were only in service for the duration of the conflict in which they were raised, leaving the Regulars to continue in the service when the crisis had passed. The American soldier, Regular or Volunteer, has always been among the world’s best fighting men, and there cannot be a distinction drawn as to which was the most heroic, for the whole of our nation’s history, there has always been the Regular Soldier.
Regulars were those men who were enlisted in the service of the United States. These men were not Militia, or National Guards. Their term of enlistment was generally five years, regardless of whether or not the country was at war. The pay in the early 1860s was low, approximately $13.00 per month for a private soldier, and the discipline harsh. In addition, food was sparse and often of poor quality. The living conditions were crude in comparison to the twentieth century. Why, then, would a man elect to serve under such spartan conditions? Some simply answered the call to serve the flag. For others, it was a way to escape failure, debt, or prison. Questions regarding a man’s motives were not asked.
For whatever reason, come they did, some as young as ten years old. Others as old as they could get by with. All bore the title REGULARS with pride. From the reorganization of the new army after the war of 1812 until 1855, there were only seven regiments of Regular Infantry. These were augmented in time of war by Militia units called up as various crises required. Three Regular Infantry regiments were created 1855 and when war was inevitable in the spring of 1861, seven more were added.
Of the approximately 16,000 men in the Regular Army in December of 1860, just under 1,000 were attached to the Department of the East. The remainder were in the west attempting to keep the peace between the native tribes and the approaching settlers. With the outbreak of the War of The Rebellion in April of 1861, most of the Old Regulars were recalled for duty in the east. The Second Infantry came from the Department of The West - Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Fourth Infantry came back after ten years of duty in the Pacific Northwest. In twenty-five days in November 1861, the Fourth Infantry traveled from California on the steamer Golden Gate to Panama, crossed the isthmus by narrow-gauge railroad, embarked on the steamer North Star and arrived in the port of New York on the 25th. After a two-day rest in New York, they entrained to Washington City arriving on 28 November.
The rest of the regiments would be back in the east by the spring of 1862 when they would be assigned to General Sykes’ Division of Regulars which in turn was part of General Porter’s Fifth Corps. The veteran Third, Fourth, and Sixth Infantry were brigaded with the newly formed Twelfth and Fourteenth Infantry in the First Brigade. The Second, Seventh, and Tenth Infantry joined the Eleventh and Seventeenth to form the Second Brigade. Both brigades served with the Army of The Potomac. Because of their experience, the Regulars with their veterans of the Seminole, Mexican, and Indian wars were relied upon in the early days of the Rebellion. They gallantly held perilous flank positions and doggedly fought rear guard actions covering the withdrawal of the main body of the Union Army.
The Regulars took part in the Peninsular campaign, serving with distinction in the battles of Gaines Mills, and Fredericksburg with the Fourth Infantry forming the rear guard at both battles. The Regulars were also engaged in the battles of Savage Station, Malvern Hill, and Antietam. On June 30, 1863 the two Regular brigades had only 2,613 effectives, so involved in the previous actions had they been. Two days later they were heavily engaged at Gettysburg in one of the critical battles of the Rebellion.
At Gettysburg, the First Brigade was commanded by Colonel Hannibal Day, while the Second Brigade was lead by Colonel Sidney Burbank. The Regulars were engaged in the Wheatfield on the second day. They moved forward and were attacked frontally and from both flanks. The better part of four Rebel brigades closed in on the Regulars and the First and Second Brigades began to retreat back across Plum Run at a terrible price. A rain of death cut through their ranks time and time again as they marched across the Valley of Death, but they did not break. According to an observer, Lt. Colonel William F. Fox, a New York historian, "They moved off the field in admirable style, with well aligned ranks, facing about from time to time to deliver their well-aimed fire and check pursuit." The two brigades sustained losses of 829 killed, wounded, or missing, or 31.7% of their force. In this action, the Regulars took severe losses but gave ample evidence of the fighting qualities, discipline, and steadiness under fire which made them the pattern and the admiration of the army.
On July 5, the division was on the march again in a driving rain and without rations. The Regular Division under Sykes followed Lee until the Rebels crossed the Potomac on July 15. Late in August, 1863 the Regulars were camped in Washington Square Park, New York City as an aftermath of the draft riots of the preceding month. On September 12, a well deserved rest and recuperation period began when the Regulars were transferred to Staten Island.
Returning to the Army of The Potomac in late April, 1864 the Regulars arrived in time to participate in the battle of the Wilderness. This was followed by the battles at Spotsylvania Courthouse, North Anna, and the beginning of the siege of Petersburg. On June 22, 1864, with less than 150 men left in the entire regiment, the Fourth Infantry was ordered to City Point, Virginia for duty as General Grant’s Headquarters Guard. In October of 1864, all companies of the Second Infantry were combined with Company C for a total strength of 87 men. After acting as provost guard at General Ayer’s Headquarters, the Second Infantry was relieved on October 31, 1864 and moved to Fort Hamilton in New York City. By mid-November, Company C again moved and this time performed guard duty at a prisoner of war camp near Elmira, New York.