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 88TH BRIGADE HISTORY

 

The present 88th Brigade, New York Guard has its origins in the New York State Militia Law of 1847.  This act completely reorganized the deeply resented and widely evaded enrolled militia which had existed since Dutch times.  While a universal obligation to serve was maintained, mandatory service was abolished and a voluntary militia system was created. 

The New York State Militia Law of 1847 reduced the number of regiments from about 300 to 71, mostly through mergers or redesignation of the largest, most effective, and most enthusiastic of the existing units.  Regiments were given territorial bases, with those in New York and other large cities assigned specific wards as their recruiting districts.  Eight divisions were formed, each comprising four brigades of two to six regiments.  The numbering of regiments, brigades, and divisions began with those in New York City: thus the 1st Division's 1st Brigade --the present 88th Brigade-- comprised the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments.<1>  On mobilization the militia was supposed to provide about 50,000 men, but in peace numbers hovered around 20,000.  It was this act that gave most of the famous old New York militia regiments the designations which have the most historic associations, such as the 7th, 8th, 9th, 69th, and 71st, the latter two having been raised after the new militia system was in place.

This reorganization led to much higher professional standard in the state's militia.<2>  As a result, by 1855 the 5,500 strong 1st Division was officially declared "the most perfect and complete division in the Union."  During the Civil War the 1st Brigade was called to Federal service on three occasions. 

PERIOD, AREA and CIRCUMSTANCES  

August-Sep 1862 – Baltimore – Lee’s invasion of Maryland (Antietam)

Jun-Aug 1863 – Pennsylvania – Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania (Gettysburg)

Jun – Nov 1864 – Washington – Grant’s Overland Campaign (Wilderness)

***

The end of the Civil War brought a considerable reduction in the size of the state's militia, which had been officially designated the National Guard in 1862.  During the war the militia had risen to over 32,500 men, exclusive of those in Federal service.  Many of those men wished to resume their service with the state.  This was obviously too many troops for the state to support.  The Militia Law of 1867 revised that of 1847.  There was a great deal of consolidation of units, and many older regiments disappeared.  As a result, the active strength of the militia dropped to about 27,500 men.  New York City's contingent remained the 1st Division, of four brigades, with about 11,500 men, slightly more than half of the state's strength.<3>  Over the next thirty years strength declined to about 19,000 men, but the basic organization remained substantially the same.

Under the terms of the Federal Militia Act of 1903, better known as the Dick Act, the New York National Guard received Federal recognition and increased funding.  By 1912 the state possessed a single division, of three infantry brigades complete with artillery, engineers, cavalry, and ancillary contingents, plus several coast artillery units.  As had been the case since 1847, the 1st Brigade continued to he headquartered in New York City. 

On 18 June 1916 President Wilson called the National Guard into Federal service for the first time.  About 15,300 officers and men of the New York National Guard's approximately 18,000 troops were federalized, designated the 6th Division, and sent to the Mexican Border.  The results were surprisingly satisfactory, as the National Guardsmen proved themselves pretty good soldiers.<4>  Of course, since virtually the entire New York National Guard was on active service the state was left with very slender military resource in the event of an emergency.  It was this development which led to the creation of what became the New York Guard. 

On 22 June 1916 the "Second Division" of the New York militia was created.  This was a wholly state-controlled organization, not liable to federalization.  In it were incorporated the depots of the federalized organizations and those units not called-up,<5> plus men on the waiting list for enlistment in the National Guard, those on the National Guard reserve list, and men enlisted especially for limited state service.  Within a short time the Second Division attained an active strength of about 6,200 men.  The return of the troops from the Mexican Border led to the dissolution of the new division on 6 October 1916.<6>  Although short, the period of Federal service by the National Guard was important in demonstrating both the strengths and weaknesses in the nation's new military system, an experience which proved a useful preparation for World War I.  Not least of the lessons learned was the need of the states for a force to replace the National Guard in the event of its activation.

When the United States declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917, 62,000 National Guardsmen were still serving on the Mexican Border, albeit none from New York.  Mobilization quickly brought the New York National Guard back into Federal service.  It was at this time that National Guard formations were given Federal designations, so that the New York Division became the 27th.  Within the division, the 1st Brigade became the 53rd Brigade.  Of course, once again the state was left without a military force for emergencies.  With the experience of 1916 in mind, on 3 August 1917 the state created the New York Guard.

For each regiment taken into Federal service, a new one was created out of its depot unit, retirees, and volunteers otherwise exempt or disqualified from active service.  Intended to completely substitute for the absent National Guard, the New York Guard comprised a very under strength division of four infantry brigades, an artillery brigade, a cavalry regiment, and supporting services, supplemented by three regiments of coast artillerymen serving as infantry as needed.  The new organization's 1st Brigade comprised the six infantry regiments in Manhattan and the Bronx.<7>  Elements of the 1st Brigade performed internal security duties and emergency service throughout the war. 

With the return of the National Guard to state control in 1919, the New York Guard was disbanded, its units and personnel being reincorporated into their parent outfits on 29 December 1919, with HQ, 1st Brigade, becoming part of the HQ, 53rd Brigade.  The 53rd Brigade remained active in the New York National Guard throughout the interwar period, and was called to Federal service once again in late 1940.

On 15 October 1940 the Adjutant General issued a table of organization for the revived State Guard, which was to consist of twenty regiments, for a total of nearly 14,000 men, a figure that gradually rose to over 27,000.  As with the State Guard in World War I, the new units were mated to the activated units of the National Guard.  The first men were enrolled on 9 December 1940.  The new New York Guard constituted a division, initially of five, but later of four brigades.  Most of the State Guard's strength was in the 1st Brigade, in New York City.<8>  The 1st Brigade performed internal security and emergency service throughout the war, most notably during the blizzard of January 1945.  At the end of World War II the State Guard was not disbanded.  With the threat of a third world war hanging over the nation for more than forty years, the 1st Brigade continued to serve as the headquarters for the state militia in New York City, a duty that it has performed since 1847.<9>

In 1994 the 1st Brigade, New York Guard, was redesignated the 88th Brigade, New York Guard, to commemorate the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 88th N.Y.V.I. was raised by Col. Thomas Francis Meagher<10> for his "Irish Brigade" in late 1861.  Although the 88th never constituted an element of the New York State militia, its brigade-mate, the 69th N.Y.V.I. was a clone of the famous Irish 69th Militia, and many of the 88th's officers and men had seen service in the old 69th Militia.  When raised the regiment was nicknamed "Mrs. Meagher's Own," and was sometimes known as the "2nd or 4th Regiment, Irish Brigade."  

(Photo Above, Right: Commanding officers of the Irish Brigade in 1865.  From left to right:  MAJ Seward F. Gould, 4th NY Heavy Artillery; LTC James J. Smith, 69th NY; MAJ W. H. Terwilliger, 63rd NY.  Seated in front from left to right, COL Denis F. Burke, 88th NY; Brevet BG Robert Nugent, Irish Brigade and LTC James Flemming, 28th Massachusetts.

The regiment was accepted for Federal service at Fort Schuyler on 11 December 1861.  Although largely raised in New York City, there were some Brooklyn men in Companies D and I, and some Jersey City men in Company G.  The regiment's service reads like the roll of the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac: The Peninsula, Antietam (27 KIA, 75 WIA), Fredericksburg (17 KIA, 97 WIA, 13 MIA), Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Saylor's Creek, to name but the most notable.  In the process the 88th lost 150 men killed in action or mortally wounded and 71 others dead of disease or of privation in Confederate prisoner of war camps, plus 395 men less seriously wounded, and 145 missing in action, most of whom latter turned up as deserters.  Along with the other hard-hit regiments of the Irish Brigade, in June of 1863 the 88th was reorganized as a battalion of two companies, and had only 90 men at Gettysburg.  The regiment was mustered out of Federal service near Alexandria, Virginia, 30 June 1865.  The 88th New York is listed in William Fox's "300 fightingest" regiments in the Union Army.<11>  

Addendum: In recent years, members of the 88th Brigade has: (1) Participated in 911 World Trade Center Operations. (2) Participated in providing support during Desert Shield and Desert Storm (3) been activated during natural disasters and (4) successfully participated in efforts to eliminate any Y2K problems within New York State. Several have received decorations for bravery in saving lives of civilians.

LTC Michael G. Leventhal

Notes

<1> The division included fourteen regiments.  The 1st through the 12th comprised the four regular brigades, with the 69th Infantry and the 71st, a rifle regiment, as well as an independent battalion from Staten Island, attached. 

 <2> One result of the increased professionalism was the creation of the "Military Association of the State of New York," among the first professional organizations for militiamen in the country.

 <3> As reorganized the division comprised the 1st-9th, 11th, 12th, 22nd, 37th, 55th, 69th (formed through the merger of the 69th Militia and the 69th Volunteers), 71st, 79th, and 84th Infantry; the 1st Artillery; the 1st and 3rd Cavalry; and 1st Battalion, Washington Grays.

 <4> In fact New York's National Guardsmen proved themselves more or less technically equal to the Regulars: the New York Division even had an "aero squadron," paid for by patriotic millionaires, which equaled the available air strength of the Signal Corps Air Service.  With last minute enlistments, the New York National Guard sent about 18,500 men into Federal service.

 <5> The 8th, 9th, and 13th Coast Defense Commands plus the 1st, 10th, and 15th Infantry Regiments were not called up.  The 15th, the state's "Colored" regiment, was still in the process of formation, with only about 750 officers and men, and had not yet received Federal recognition.

 <6> For the "Second Division" see the Adjutant General, >Annual Report, 1916<, pp. 27-33.

 <7> The 7th, 12th, 15th, 23rd, 69th, and 71st Infantry.

 <8> The 5th (activated in the armory of the 105th Field Artillery), 7th (107th Infantry), 8th (258th Field Artillery), 9th (244th Coast Artillery), 12th (212th Coast Artillery), 15th (369th Infantry), 17th (71st Infantry), 22nd (102nd Engineers), 51st (Sqn A, 101st Cavalry), and 69th (165th Infantry)

 <9> The 53rd Brigade, the National Guard equivalent of the 1st Brigade, formed part of the 27th Division on 1 September 1942, when the division was "triangularized."  The brigade headquarters company was then reorganized and redesignated as the 27th Reconnaissance Company, in which guise it continued to serve with the 27th Division.

 <10> Meagher (pronounced "Marr") was a famous Irish patriot of the day.  His activities in Ireland led exile in Tasmania in 1849.  He escaped to the United States in 1852, and immediately plunged into Irish nationalist politics.  At the start of the Civil War he raised a company for the 69th New York Militia (A development which greatly discomfited some Irishmen in Charleston, South Carolina, who had raised a company of their countrymen for Confederate service and named it "The Meagher Guards"; it was shortly renamed "The Emerald Light Infantry.").  Meagher served in the 69th during its tour of militia duty in the Spring of 1861, being present as a major at Bull Run.  When the regiment was mustered out, he raised the "Irish Brigade" (63th, 69th, and 88th New York Volunteers, plus sundry units from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) in the summer and autumn of that year, and commanded it almost continuously (except when he was wounded or injured) until May 8, 1863, serving during the Peninsula Campaign, at Antietam, at Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, before becoming so embroiled in army politics that he was sent to a minor command in the west.  For a biography see Michael Cavanagh, >Memoirs of General Thomas Francis Meagher<.

 <11> See William Fox, >Regimental Losses in the Civil War< (New York: 1889).  For the regiment's Civil War service see Frederick Phisterer, >New York in the War of the Rebellion< (Albany: 1905), pp. 2977-2992.

 

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