On the 3d day of May, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation adding a number of regiments to the military establishment. The following day G. O. No. 16 was issued from the Adjutant General's office containing a " Plan" for their organization, and as one of them, the present 17th Infantry came into existence. It differed from the older regiments of infantry in that it had three battalions with one major, one adjutant, one quartermaster and commissary, one sergeant-major, one commissary sergeant, one hospital steward and eight companies each; while no provision was made for regimental sergeant-major, commissary sergeant or hospital steward.
By Act of Congress approved July 29, 1861, the action of the President was confirmed and the regiment obtained a legal status; the law made a few changes in its organization, which were, however, minor ones, and the "Plan of Organization " was substantially carried out. The act reduced the term of enlistment, for those enlisting in 1861 and 1862 only, to three years; and provided for the disbandment of the regiment within one year after the constitutional authority of the Government of the United States should be reestablished, and organized resistance to such authority should no longer exist.
General Order No. 33, A. G. O., June 18, 1861, announced the appointment of a number of officers, their commissions dating May 14, 1861. So many declined that in G. O. No. 6 (of August 23d) a "Revised edition" of G. O. No. 33 was published, leaving out a number of those originally mentioned and naming others, some of whom were given commissions dating May 14th and were placed senior to some named in the first order.
In this latter order the field officers were named as follows:—Colonel Samuel P. Heintzelman, Lieut.-Col. J. Durell Greene, and Majors Abner Doubleday, William H. Wood and George L. Andrews. There were also mentioned 18 captains, 23 first lieutenants and 2 second lieutenants. The field officers all accepted but a number of the company officers did not, and the last original vacancy above the grade of second lieutenant was not filled until February 19, 1862. The regiment never had its full complement of second lieutenants until after the reorganization of 1866, while between January, 1864, and February, 1866, there were none, and vacancies existed in the grade of first lieutenant.
The regimental and battalion adjutants and quartermasters were mentioned in the law in addition to the company lieutenants, thus giving 32 first lieutenants, but the number 24 was never exceeded and the regimental staff were not extra lieutenants until after 1866.
Fort Preble, Me., was designated as the headquarters of the regiment,
and early in July, 1861, the officers commenced to assemble there. Lieut.-Col. Greene arrived and took command July 6. He appointed Lieuts. E. O. Pearson, Jr., and Nathaniel Prime, acting adjutant and quartermaster, respectively; assigned officers to recruiting duty in various towns in Maine and New Hampshire, to which two states recruiting was at first restricted; and commenced actively the organization of the regiment.
The Trent "affair" caused Great Britain to send several battalions to Canada during the winter of 1861-62, and the St. Lawrence being frozen, the troops landed in New Brunswick and were conveyed along our boundary in sleds. A number of men deserted, found their way to our recruiting stations and later became non-commissioned officers in the regiment. They assisted materially by their knowledge and experience in organizing and disciplining the recruits.
What was known before the war as "Poppenberg's Band" of Buffalo, was enlisted as an organization, and under its talented leader became the 17th Infantry Band. During a part of 1863-64 it was stationed at General Heintzelman's headquarters in Washington, and played at the White House, alternating with the Marine Band with which it was favorably compared.
By March 4, 1862, five companies had been organized, and on that date they left Fort Preble under command of Major Geo. L. Andrews and joined "Sykes' Regular Brigade" near Arlington Heights. A few days afterwards Companies B and D were detached and formed part of the provost guard at General McClellan's headquarters, and remained on this duty until July 9, when, after making a petition to that effect, they rejoined the battalion. The other three companies were joined with three of the 10th Infantry and formed a battalion of the brigade. They did not long remain united, the 17th soon becoming a separate battalion.
The battalion embarked at Alexandria March 26, 1862; arrived at Fort Monroe March 28, and proceeded up "The Peninsula." The five companies participated in the siege of Yorktown, performing their share of duty in the trenches. Companies A, C and E were present at Gaines' Mill and Malvern Hill, the first of these battles being inscribed on the regimental colors. In it the regiment lost Captain Dodd and five men killed, three officers and twenty-five men wounded or missing.
While in camp at Harrison's Landing Companies B, D, F, G and H joined, which made a complete battalion of eight companies present. It withdrew from the Peninsula with the rest of the army, landed at Aquia Creek and proceeded towards Manassas. August 29th, Companies B and F were engaged at Gainesville, and the next day the entire battalion was engaged at 2d Bull Run, which is inscribed on its colors. The losses were 5 men killed and 43 wounded or missing. The battalion was present at Antietam, Shepherdstown, Leetown and Fredericksburg, the last of these being borne on the colors, and in this battle the position was a most trying one. For one entire day (December 14) the men lay flat on their faces eighty yards in front of the famous stone wall, behind which the enemy was posted in large numbers; and any movement on their part was sure to draw the fire of the rebel sharpshooters. The regiment lost Captain McLanburg and two men killed and nineteen men wounded.
After Fredericksburg the army went into winter camp at Potomac Creek, and while here, owing to the depleted ranks, Companies B, E and F were broken up March 1, 1863, and the men assigned to Companies A, C, D, G and H. Shortly afterwards Companies A and B, 2d Battalion, joined from Fort Preble, giving seven companies in the field.
April 27, 1863, active operations were again commenced, the army marching to the Rapidan. May 1, the regiment was deployed as skirmishers and opened the battle of Chancellorsville (which name is inscribed on its colors), and lost Captain Temple and five men killed, two officers, and 27 men wounded or missing, Lieut. Weld dying soon after from the effects of wounds.
June 26, 1863, the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing and schooner Archer were captured by rebels in Portland Harbor, and the next day three officers and thirty-eight men of the regiment with two guns went from Fort Preble in the steamer Forest City to recapture them; the rebels set the cutter on fire and abandoned it; the entire rebel crew—captain and 25 men—was captured, and the schooner, with two prisoners they had, retaken.
Early in June, 1863, Lieut. Col. Greene joined and took command in the field, Major Andrews going to Fort Preble.
July 1 and 2, 1863, the regiment made a forced march in order to reach the field of Gettysburg, during which so many of its men fell by the wayside utterly exhausted, that of the 334 present June 30, but 226 went into action. In the fierce fight that followed in the "Devil's Den," Lieutenant Chamberlin and 24 men were killed and 13 officers and 112 men wounded or missing, Lieutenant Abbot dying shortly after from wounds. "Gettysburg" appears on the colors.
August 14, 1863, the regiment was detached from duty with the Army of the Potomac and proceeded to New York City, where it camped in "Jones' Wood," and was active in the suppression of the "Draft Riots."
September 11, "The General" was sounded, and the men thought that their hope—which had grown into belief—of returning home, was about to be realized. The regiment marched through the city and embarked on the steamer Admiral Dupont, where they soon learned that they were bound for the "Old Dominion," and on the 21st they rejoined their corps; were present in engagements at Rappahannock Station and on Mine Run, and marched with it until going into winter camp, first at Catlett's Station and later at Nokesville, at which place Company C, Second Battalion, joined early in April, 1864.
Lieut.-Col. Greene was promoted and left the regiment in December, 1863, and from that time until after its withdrawal from the field there was no field officer present with it.
May 3, 1864, the army was again on the move. The regiment comprising nine companies (after Company B, 1st Battalion, which had been lately reorganized, joined June 8) took part in "The Wilderness Campaign" and "The Operations before Petersburg," inscribing on its colors Laurel Hill, North Anna, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor and Petersburg; while its records show in addition that it was engaged at Spotsylvania C. H., battle of the Wilderness, and on the Pamunkey and Totopotomoy rivers
the losses during this time being Lieutenants Dowling and Stimpson mortally wounded and dying soon after, sixteen men killed and six officers and 113 men wounded or missing.
In August the regiment took part in the capture of the Weldon Railroad, and on the last of September and 1st of October was engaged at Poplar Springs Church, both of these names being inscribed on the colors—the latter as Chapel House. In these two engagements the losses were Lieutenant Crosman and eight men killed, four officers and 82 men wounded or missing.
The regiment had now become so reduced in numbers that on the 13th of October, 1864, it was withdrawn from the field and took station at Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor, where it guarded rebel prisoners both civil and military.
It has been impossible in such a brief sketch to do full justice to the regiment. Suffice it to say that its history—from March, 1862, to October, 1864—is inseparably connected with that of the famous "Regular Division" of the Fifth Corps, and that where that corps was called upon the 17th Infantry was ever ready and did its full share.
The battalion in the field was composed of three companies (the other two being part of the provost guard) until July, 1862; eight until March, 1863; seven until the spring of 1864, and after that of nine.
The records of the regiment are not complete enough to make an accurate table of casualties. Colonel Fox in his "Regimental Losses in the American Civil War" states the deaths as follows: Killed or died of wounds, nine officers and 92 men. Died of disease, accidents, or in prison, etc., two officers and 100 men. The per cent. of loss has not been figured out but it is worthy of note that in the number of officers killed the regiment was exceeded by no other regiment and equalled by only the First Cavalry and 18th Infantry—each larger organizations. In addition to the number given by Colonel Fox, the regiment lost Captain Wilkin, while serving as Colonel Second Minnesota Vols., killed in the battle of Tupela [i.e., Tupelo], Miss.
Fort Lafayette was garrisoned for one year, and Oct. 14, 1865, the troops were transferred to Hart Island in Long Island Sound at which point the regiment was concentrated, headquarters and several companies moving down from Forts Preble and Scammel, Me. General Heintzelman joined Oct. 24, 1865, thus giving the regiment, for the first time, its colonel present for duty.
Recruiting was actively carried on and by Feb. 1, 1866, the twenty-fourth company was organized. In March, Companies E, F and H, Second Battalion, were sent to Michigan and stationed, first at Detroit Barracks, then at Forts Wayne and Gratiot, until, in October, they were sent to Kansas and Missouri, from whence, in November, they went to Texas. In April, the regiment was ordered to Texas, regimental and all battalion headquarters, three companies of the first, two of the second and all of the third battalion leaving early in the month, going by sea and arriving in the latter part of the month at Galveston. The companies that remained at Hart Island were those that had been greatly reduced during their field
service and not yet recruited. Early in July two of these (A and D, First Battalion) followed; the cholera broke out aboard ship and upon arrival the troops were put in quarantine on the beach at Galveston where they remained until November. This disease breaking out also at Hart Island the remaining six companies (C, G and H, First Battalion, and A, B and C, Second) were on July 20th changed to David's Island, which place they left Oct. 20, and joined at Galveston, Nov. 1st. During the epidemic the regiment lost Major Plympton and a large number of men.
Soon after arrival in Texas a number of companies were sent to different points and commenced that most disagreeable work known as "Reconstruction Duty."
To carry out the Act of July 28, 1866, two new companies for each battalion were organized at Newport Barracks, Ky., and sent to Galveston; the 2d Battalion was concentrated at Austin and the 3d Battalion at San Antonio, and were changed into the 26th and 35th Regiments of Infantry respectively.
In 1867 Yellow Fever visited the troops at Brenham, Galveston, Houston and Hempstead, the regiment losing Major O'Connell, Captains Swartwout, Warren and Black; Lieutenants Lambert and Voris and over 120 men.
Early in 1869 the regiment was ordered to transfer its men to the 24th Infantry, and the officers and surplus non-commissioned officers were to proceed to Fort Columbus, N. Y. H., for recruiting duty. Before this could be carried out, and owing to an Act of Congress reducing the army, the order was revoked, and soon after another was issued for the regiment to proceed to Virginia and there have the 44th Infantry consolidated with it. The movement commenced in April and by the latter part of May all had arrived at Camp Grant, Richmond, Va. Companies H, I and K were broken up and about the same time the 44th Infantry was consolidated into three companies which, on the 1st of June, became H, I and K of the 17th. General Heintzelman was retired and Gen. T. L. Crittenden assigned as colonel in his stead.
The companies were stationed at various points in Virginia and continued on reconstruction duty. There being some trouble in North Carolina, Lt. Col. Hayman and four companies were sent there early in 1870.
Soon after, owing to a disturbance among the Sioux, the regiment was ordered to Dakota. It left the east in April and arrived at Fort Sully about the middle of May, and commenced that long tour of service which lasted over sixteen years—a longer period, with a single exception, than any regiment has served continuously in one department since the war. The labor and hardships of that time are not now required of troops. Posts were built and rebuilt, wood and hay provided, mails carried and roads kept in repair, all by the work of troops. In the winter, communication with the outer world was almost cut off during the first years; the paymaster would let four or six months pass without a visit and it was considered fortunate to get the mail on an average of once a month. The coldest weather recorded was 61º below zero at Fort Pembina, and the entries in the returns "frozen to death" and "killed by Indians" help to tell the story. Of the thirty-five officers who belonged when the regiment entered the Territory
but eight remained to leave with it, and of the enlisted men only about seven.
The companies were almost continually on the go and changing from post to post at all seasons of the year. These changes were too numerous to mention, parts of the regiment occupying at various times Forts Snelling, Minn., Abercrombie, Wadsworth (later called Sisseton), Pembina, Totten, Stevenson, Abraham Lincoln (formerly McKeen), and Rice, Dakota; and Custer, Montana; Grand River, Cheyenne (Ft. Bennett) and Standing Rock (Ft. Yates) Agencies, Dakota, and Camps Hancock, Dakota, and Porter, Montana.
The headquarters was stationed as follows: In camp Fort Sully until August 11, 1870; Fort Rice, D. T. to September 9, 1873; Fort Abercrombie to August 11, 1876; Standing Rock Agency, to November 5, 1878; Fort Totten to May 24, 1897; Standing Rock (Fort Yates) to July 13, 1886.
Gen. Crittenden left the regiment in June, 1876, and never rejoined. He retired May 19, 1881, and was succeeded by Col. C. C. Gilbert, who, in turn, retired March 1, 1886, Col. Alex. Chambers succeeding him and joining upon arrival of the regiment in the Department of the Platte.
September 9, 1871, Companies D and H left Fort Rice as part of the Yellowstone Expedition, under Col. Whistler, they marched 250 and 295 miles respectively and returned to their post in the latter part of October.
In the spring of 1872 Companies G, H and K were at different times sent out from Fort Rice as escorts to engineers N. P. R. R. along the Heart River. July 26th, Major Crofton, with Companies A, C and F left Fort Rice as part of the Yellowstone Expedition under General Stanley, and had engagements with Indians August 18th on Powder River, and August 22d on O'Fallon's Creek. October 2d the battalion was relieved from duty with the expedition and started for its post. On the 3d, while out hunting from the command, Lieut. Crosby was killed and scalped by Indians and on the 4th, while searching for his body, the camp was attacked by Sioux and an engagement followed, the Indians being repulsed without loss to the troops. On the 6th Fort Rice was reached, the command having marched during the summer—A and C 676 miles, F 833 miles.
The Indians made frequent attacks on Fort A. Lincoln, Company H being engaged in repulsing them October 14th and November 3, 1872 and June 15 and 17, 1873.
In 1873 a second expedition under General Stanley went up the Yellowstone as far as Pompey's Pillar. Major Crofton with Companies A, B and H forming a part. Company H left Fort Lincoln June 18th and the others Fort Rice June 20th. Company B was detached, first to escort a wagon train and afterwards—from July 26th to September 12th—with Troops C and H, 7th Cavalry, as guard at supply depot on Yellowstone, near Glendive Creek, where they built a stockade. All returned to their stations the latter part of September, having marched over 1100 miles.
June 8, 1874, Company G left Grand River, proceeded to Fort A. Lincoln, and joined the Black Hills Expedition under General Custer, returning to its station, September 6, having marched 1125 miles.
In September, 1875, the residents of Bismarck asked for protection from
Indians. Company H. was sent there on the 27th and stationed at Camp Hancock. Trouble being apprehended Company A was sent in October to strengthen Fort A. Lincoln; it remained but a week and returned to its station Fort Abercrombie.
March 21, 1876, Company C left Fort Sisseton and proceeded to Fort A. Lincoln from which post it started with Company G as a part of the Big Horn Expedition, under General Terry, against the hostile Sioux. Upon arrival at the Yellowstone these two companies with other troops were detailed for service along that river; the summer and fall being spent doing guard and escort duty. October 10th Company C with two companies 22d Infantry started from Glendive on escort duty to Tongue River. On the 11th they were attacked by Indians on Spring Creek and returned. On the 14th a larger escort—consisting of Companies C and G with three of the 22d under command of Colonel Otis—started out, and on the 15th and 16th they had engagements with the Indians on Clear Creek, repulsing them and continuing on to Tongue River. December 2d these two companies were relieved from duty at Glendive and marched via Forts Buford and Stevenson to their posts; G arriving at Fort A. Lincoln December 18th and C at Fort Sisseton December 28th.
In July, 1876, the bed of the Missouri changed at Cheyenne Agency, washing the "officer's line " away. It was done so quickly that where the houses stood one night was the channel of the river the next.
October 16, 1876, General Terry started from Fort A. Lincoln with an expedition to disarm and dismount the Indians at Standing Rock and Cheyenne Agencies. Companies A and H forming part of his command, marched down the east bank of the Missouri as far as Cheyenne Agency, and returned to Fort A. Lincoln Nov. 10th. The disarmment [sic] was made at Standing Rock October 22d, and at Cheyenne about October 31st, General Carlin with Companies E and F, assisting at the former and Companies I and K at the latter place.
The year 1877 was a comparatively quiet one. Most of the regiment was ordered to take station at Standing Rock, but before the last company arrived five of them were hurried in December to different points in eastern Dakota and Minnesota to relieve the 20th Infantry.
In August, 1878, Company D went from Fort A. Lincoln as escort to N. P. R. R. officials, marching to Glendive Creek and return—about 420 miles.
At Standing Rock Agency trouble with the Indians was repeatedly threatened, detachments were frequently sent out and on several occasions the troops put under arms.
June 2, 1879, a detachment under Lieutenant Burns was sent from Fort Sisseton to the village of "Drifting Goose" to keep peace between his band and white settlers. On the 7th of July Company G left Fort A. Lincoln on escort duty N. P. R. R. extension and returned August 15th.
June 1, 1880, Company B left Fort Gates and formed part of a command, under Colonel Merrill, guarding construction parties along the N. P. R. R. between the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. It remained on this duty until October 21st, when it proceeded to the Yellowstone River and
established, with one company 11th Infantry, Camp Porter near the mouth of Glendive Creek. Doors, sashes and nails were furnished, the other building material was obtained by the troops, and they made themselves as comfortable as possible during the winter of 1880-81, without stoves, flooring or plastering.
In June, 1881, Company G was sent to Bismarck owing to a strike of steamboat hands. In this year a large number of Indian prisoners were sent to standing Rock Agency and Company H was detailed to guard and provide for them. It was later decided to send Sitting Bull and his band to Fort Randall for confinement. Company H left Standing Rock with them—173 in number—September 10th, on the steamer General Sherman, and during the company's absence Company G was sent to that post for temporary duty.
The last five years in Dakota were quiet ones—there being only a few moves, some minor Indian excitements, and during the winter of 1883-84 the companies at Fort Yates were sent into camp to cut wood for the garrison.
In July, 1886, the regiment was transferred to the Department of the Platte, Company B going to Camp Medicine Butte, H to Fort Bridger, and the balance to Fort D. A. Russell. In February, 1887, B changed to Fort D. A. Russell and the following September D went to Fort Bridger.
September 1, 1890, Companies I and K were skeletonized and on the 20th of that month D and H changed to Fort D. A. Russell. This movement brought the regiment all together, it being the first time—except for a brief period at Hart Island—that it has been so stationed.
Colonel Chambers died January 2, 1888, and was succeeded by Col. Henry R. Mizner, whose retirement, August 1, 1891, gave to the regiment Col. John G. Poland, its present colonel.
Commencing with 1887, during each summer the companies have been sent on practice marches or into camps. In 1888, D and H, as part of the Fort Bridger garrison, marched through a picturesque country 261 miles to and from Strawberry Valley, Utah, for an encampment with the troops from Forts Douglas and Du Chesne, Utah; while the companies from Fort D. A. Russell had a monotonous march of 670 miles along the U. P. R. R. to and from Kearney, Neb., to encamp with those at Forts Omaha and Sidney, Neb. In 1889 all the troops of the department (except those of Fort Du Chesne) concentrated August 20, at Camp Crook, Fort Robinson, Neb., for one month's field manoeuvres, and here for the first time since 1870 the entire regiment met. In 1891, the encampment (full regiment) was with the Wyoming National Guard at Laramie City. The other years the marches or camps were only for short distances from the posts.
December 17, 1890, Lieutenant-Colonel Offley, Major Egbert and Companies A, B, C, D, E, G and H (with Lieutenants Kerr and Muir and Quartermaster Sergeant Bennett voluntarily accompanying) left Fort D. A. Russell for South Dakota to take part in the campaign against the hostile Sioux. They proceeded by rail to points along the railroad to the Black Hills, then marched to and camped along the Cheyenne River, closed in to White River, and finally concentrated at Pine Ridge Agency. The cam-
paign ending, they took part in the review of January 22d, and returned to their post January 26th. Of the twenty-one officers belonging to these seven companies nineteen were in the field with them.
April 21, 1892, the major, adjutant and Companies C and G went by rail to Douglas, Wyo., received forty-four cattlemen and Texans, who had invaded the northern part of the State, and brought them to Fort D. A. Russell, where they were kept in confinement until July 5, 1892.
The entire regiment is now stationed at Fort D. A. Russell, Wyo.