Sunday, August 14, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Mutiny

On Wednesday, August 14, 1861, Union General George McClellan put down a mutiny in his army by men of the 79th New York Infantry Regiment.

The 79th New York, originally organized in July 1859 as a Scottish-American fraternity in New York City, was quickly mobilized after Fort Sumter.  Some recruitment brought the unit up to strength, then they marched down Broadway to Washington.

At the Battle of Bull Run, the 79th, then a part of Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman's Third Brigade, suffered heavy casualties.  Their commander, Colonel James Cameron, brother of Secretary of War Simon Cameron, was killed in the fighting on Henry Hill.

After the battle, they were put to work building defensive works around Washington, digging trenches with picks and shovels.  One New Yorker declared, "Spades were trumps and everyman had a full hand."

On the morning of August 14, the 79th New York rebelled, refusing to do any more work until their grievances were addressed.  In addition to the back-breaking work, they were also upset that they hadn't been allowed to vote for a new colonel to lead them.  Cameron's replacement, Colonel Isaac Stevens, had been appointed to lead them.

McClellan moved quickly to quash the mutiny.  The 79th New York was quickly surrounded by a battalion of regular army troops with loaded firearms.  The 79th gave up.  Twenty-one soldiers, the ringleaders of the mutiny, were sent to prison in the Dry Tortugas.

Also on this date, in Missouri, Union General John Frémont declared martial law in St. Louis.

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