In the fall of 1849, the Order of United Americans, related to the Know Nothing Party, held a meeting to organize a "distinctively American regiment."
The 71st New York was formed on October 23, 1850 and was called "The American Rifles" and later "The American Guard." Originally, the founders, J.M. Parker, Hamilton W. Fish, Sr, Hamilton W. Fish, Jr. and William Kellock, had political links to the Know-Nothing Party. Initially there were six companies recruited. One officer in A Company, Captain Parker, resigned after hearing a "foreigner" paraded with the "American Rifles."
In Spring 1852, the American Rifles had eight companies, enough to be enrolled as a regiment of the state militia, and were assigned the regimental number of 71st. Its first commander was Colonel Abraham S. Vosburgh, previously its quartermaster. Vosburgh would remain commanding officer until his death on May 20, 1861. Henry P. Martin, previously adjutant, became Lieutenant Colonel in 1854. He would remain with the 71st through the first years of the Civil War. Its arsenal was located at Seventh Avenue and 35th Street.
The regiment became the "American Guard" in 1853 when their Ogden long rifles were replaced with muskets, which could carry bayonets. These, in turn, were replaced with Minie rifles in 1857.
On July 4, 1857, the regiment, along with the seventh New York, served as riot control personnel during the riots in the Sixth Ward between the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys. During this action, Dead Rabbit leader Mickey Free was killed and the regiment captured an 8-lb howitzer from the rioters. The regiment was called into action again during the quarantine riot of September 1858 in Staten Island.
In 1858, the "Light Guard," New York's oldest military unit, detached from the 55th New York and became A Company. This led to some tension, because the "Light Guard" had several "foreigners" in the ranks.
On April 16, 1861, 380 men mustered under Colonel Vosburgh at the State Arsenal, in response to President Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops. On April 21, the 71st paraded down Broadway and headed to the front.
The 71st, then called to service for three months under Colonel Henry P. Martin, arrived in Washington on May 21, 1861 and was bivouacked at the Washington Navy Yard. While the army assembled, a team made up of members of the regiment defeated the Washington Nationals baseball club by a score of 41 to 13.
The regiment took part in the occupation of Alexandria, Virginia, in May 1861, accompanying the New York Fire Zouaves and Colonel Ephraim E. Ellsworth, who was killed in the action.
A detachment of the 71st, with two howitzers, fought at Acquia Creek and Port Tobacco in May and June 1861. Private Charles B. Hall was the first man injured on any U.S. vessel in the war.
The 71st New York State Volunteer Infantry was organized in the Second Brigade (Colonel Ambrose Everett Burnside) of the Second Division (Colonel David Hunter). On July 21, 1861, the 71st Infantry, under Colonel Martin's command, took part in the First Battle of Bull Run. Archaeological research on the battlefield at Manassas shows the 71st, along with the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, faced the Tiger Rifles of Major Chatham Wheat’s Louisiana Battalion, the only known unit engaged in fighting outfitted with .54-caliber muskets. The 71st supported the advance of the 2nd Rhode Island against Wheat's battalion. The Illustrated London News noted "The militia stood firm, firing and loading as if it were on parade."
Colonel Burnside's after-action report of July 24, 1861, noted:
It was nearly 4 o'clock p.m. . . . when I was ordered to protect the retreat. The Seventy-first Regiment New York State Militia was formed between the retreating columns and the enemy by Colonel Martin, and the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers by Lieutenant-Colonel Wheaton.
His follow-up after-action report added, "I beg to again mention the bravery and steadiness manifested by Colonel Martin and his entire regiment, Seventy-first, both-on the field and during the retreat."
Casualties included 62 officers and men. The regiment was mustered out of service in New York on July 20, 1861. It was remustered on May 28, 1862, under Colonel Martin, and returned to the man the defenses of Washington in 1862.
Colonel Henry K. Potter commanded the 71st New York State Volunteers (distinct from the 71st NYSNG), which was placed in the Second "Excelsior" Brigade (Brig. Gen. Joseph W. Revere) of the Second Division (Maj. Gen. Hiram G. Berry) of the Third Corps (Sickles) in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.
The 71st passed through Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on June 23, 1863, it is often confused with the 71st New York Volunteers, an entirely separate, three year volunteer regiment, which fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, as part of Sickle's III Corps, again in the Second "Excelsior" Brigade (Colonel William R. Brewster). The 71st militia served in the defense of Harrisburg during the battle of Gettysburg.
After the battle, the 71st was recalled to New York City to help suppress the 1863 draft riots (the militia unit that was mobilized to defend Harrisburg, not the volunteer unit that was involved with the actual battle at Gettysburg). The regiment was mustered out of service in 1864. Many members of the 71st joined the 124th New York, which carried on the name "The American Guard." and took part in the Petersburg campaign. Others joined other regiments.
The 71st also served to control the Orange riots of 1871, the railroad riots of July 1877, the switchmen's strike in Buffalo of August 1892, and the motorman’s strike of 1895 in Brooklyn.
In 1884, under accusations of financial mismanagement by Colonel Vose, 15 company-grade officers resigned. Colonel Vose blamed the problems on the Veterans Association.
In 1894, the 71st, under the command of Colonel Francis Vinton Greene, moved into its armory at 33rd and Park Avenue.
In the Spanish–American War, the 71st Regiment, New York Volunteers, were the first of twelve New York State regiments called to active service on May 10, 1898. The regiment entrained to Tampa on May 13, arriving on May 17. A week of confusion and quartermaster incompetence delayed their shipment to Cuba. The 71st was bivouacked along with the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, the "Rough Riders", in Tampa, who then stole a march on the 71st to steal their transport on the Tampa. The 71st's sea trip took two weeks The confusion of this organization was cited as one of the reasons for the 1903 reforms of the Army and National Guard.
There were ten companies of the regiment, with 1,000 soldiers, organized into three battalions.
Arriving at Siboney, Cuba, on June 23, the 71st was brigaded with two regular regiments, the 6th and 16th Infantry Regiments in the First Brigade under Regular Army Brigadier General Hamilton S. Hawkins, as part of General Jacob Ford Kent's division, as part of the Fifth Corps under General Shafter. Although the 71st was regarded as one of the best National Guard regiments, it was equipped with obsolescent black powder rifles, and its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Wallace A. Downs, reported that one-third of his men had never fired a rifle before.
The 71st was ordered to support the Rough Riders in a skirmish against Siboney's garrison, but the fighting was over before the New Yorkers could arrive. On June 27, the brigade moved towards Santiago, making slow progress over poor roads in the heat. A letter from a private in the 71st noted "Yesterday the line of march up the hill was strewn with blankets and extra clothing, even some of the 'regs' [U.S. Regulars] discarded clothes and walked in underwear."
The regiment took part in the Battle of Santiago (aka Battle of San Juan Hill), though not in the attack itself. Many of the members of the regiment were ill with malaria. The road on which Kent's First Brigade moved forked just before coming out of forested areas, and Kent ordered the 71st to take the left-hand road to join the 6th and 16th's left flank. As the regiment left the forest, the 71st was pinned down by accurate Spanish rifle fire from the heights of San Juan hill, preventing any advance.
General Hawkins noted later that General Kent had the 71st had been detached from his brigade without his knowledge and contrary to his plans and intentions. His command post was two miles (3 km) away and through a thick jungle of cactus.
Several commentators of the day, including Lieutenant Colonel Philip Reade, Inspector General for General Kent, made disparaging remarks about the 71st's apparent lack of courage (though the malaria and heat were factors). The official report of the 13th Infantry, leading Kent's Second Brigade, noted
The men of the 71st were lying flat on the ground along the underbrush bordering the road with their feet toward the middle of the road. ... From the remarks they made to us all along the line as we passed them at a run, I inferred that they were in this prostrate formation for the purpose of avoiding exposure to bullets.
The regimental commander, Lt. Colonel Downs, testified at a court of inquiry held in 1899 that he had received no orders to advance since 10 a.m. and held his force in reserve. The attack by Lawton's brigade on the right had been delayed, and Downs' last orders were to wait until Lawton's attack was successful to move. Around 12:30, Colonel Reade testified that he had to "shove" the 71st into the fight, though F Company commander Captain Malcolm Rafferty and 3rd Battalion commander Major Frank Keck responded immediately to the call to move forward; other men of the regiment moved forward to join the regulars in the attack, but as historian Walter Millis noted, "although the regiment as a whole soon recovered its morale, it had earned a black mark which the censorious publics who hadn't been there could not afterward forgive." However, the first American soldier to reach the crest of San Juan Hill was Lieutenant Herbert Hyde True of L Company of the 71st (in Keck's battalion).
The Spanish garrison of Santiago surrendered on July 14, 1898. The 71st began to suffer many men sick from yellow fever and other tropical diseases. One lieutenant noted there were reports the regiment would be moved to Montauk Point, Long Island, to recuperate from the climate, and many men from the 71st were sent there to recover on the hospital ship Shinnecock.
Upon its return to New York State on August 22, the regiment could only muster 350 of its initial 1,000 men. Eighty men had been killed in the fighting around Santiago. The majority of the regiment was on sick leave or in the hospital. In October the 71st returned to Camp Black and on November 14, 1898, the regiment was mustered out.
Following the war, a board of inquiry was held at the 22nd Regiment on the conduct of the senior officers of the regiment, including Lieutenant Colonel Clinton H. Smith, the First Battalion commander. The testimony of witnesses was favorable to Lt. Col. Smith, noting he was present on the battlefield. However, Colonel Downs and Major John Whittle resigned their commissions. Two more officers were reprimanded. The board was reviewed by then Governor Theodore Roosevelt, who noted "the greater part of the Seventy-First of their own free will took part in the storming of San Juan hill, and showed that no matter how cowardly their officers might be, they were willing to obey their country's call."
Despite the bad impression the regiment made as a whole in Santiago, many individual soldiers in the regiment were recognized for courage, including Corporal Lewis Benedict of Co. K (also in Keck's battalion), who "received a commission as lieutenant in the regular service." Major Keck received a commission as a captain in the Regular Army and served in the Philippines. After the war, Keck became prominent in New York City's social and business life. A member of the 71st was Charles Johnson Post who painted memorable watercolor paintings of the 71st in the 1898 war.
The original armory of the regiment burned down in 1902. A new armory was built on the spot in 1905 by the firm of Clinton and Russell, and was noted for its particularly fine exterior architecture. This armory was used not only for military training, but many public events such as annual stamp shows.
In 1916, before the U.S. entry into World War I, the 71st was mobilized as part of the U.S. Army force serving on the Mexican border. The 71st mustered in on June 26, 1916 at New York City and mustered out at New York City on October 6, 1916 Several of the officers of the regiment were transferred to the 185th Infantry. The regiment returned to New York in May 1919.
The 71st served in Belgium and France during WW-I, Joseph M. Cahill, was in G Company and his military record lists the following battles: Hindenburg Line, John Dder Mer Ridge, La Salle River, the following Engagements: The Knoll, Gillimont Farm, Quennemont Farm, St. Maurice River, Viertaat Ridge, and finally the following Minor Actions East: Poperinohe Line and Dickebusch Sector.
A partial listing of awards and commendations appears in Robert S. Sutcliffe's Seventy-First New York in the World War (which can be seen on Google Books), it includes 11 US Army Distinguished Service Crosses, 137 divisional citations, as well as 8 British decorations, 7 French decorations, 4 Belgium decorations, and Montenegrin Decorations.
From 1921-41, the 71st was brigaded with the 174th Infantry Regiment as part of the 87th Infantry Brigade, 44th Infantry Division. It performed a number of civil and ceremonial duties. Its annual training was usually at Camp Smith in Peekskill, New York. Its regimental armory served as a homeless shelter in 1934. The 1940 and 1941 annual training took place at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
In World War II, the 71st, consisting of three battalions, was part of the 44th Infantry Division, which assembled at Fort Lewis, Washington. Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion was detached to take part in the retaking of Attu Island in the Aleutian campaign. The 102d Engr Bn (CBT) also had its Company C serving in the Pacific Campaign.
Sergeant Charles A. MacGillivary of the 71st won the Medal of Honor during the German Ardennes offensive of December 1944 near Woelfling, France, near the German border. On December 17, Sergeant MacGillivary was serving as company commander because of casualties among the officers. Ammunition was low and the company was pinned down. MacGillivary set out on his own to destroy the German machine guns menacing his company. He carried a sub-machine gun and grenades; when his submachine gun ran out of ammunition, he picked up a discarded weapon and continued the attack. MacGillivary wiped out the German positions and killed or wounded all of the defenders, at the cost of his left arm.
In this offensive, the 71st encountered the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen, holding off eight attacks.
The Second Battalion and I Company of the Third Battatlion were both awarded Presidential Unit Citations.
In the last days of the war, the First Battalion crossed the Austrian border through mountain pass and attacked a German division.
The 71st was not called to active duty in either the Korean War or the Vietnam War. It was called to state active duty in April 1979 to serve as prison guards at Taconic and Bedford Hills prisons during a correctional officer's strike.
The regiment's original armory was located at Park Avenue and 34th Street in Manhattan. It later moved to 125th West 14th Street.
In 1984, the Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, proposed disbanding the 71st and 106th Infantry to use their armory spaces for civilian purposes. The 71st Infantry Veterans' Association sued the state in court, stating that such realignment would violate state affirmative action guidelines since the 71st Infantry is predominantly black. The 71st received a favorable ruling.
On August 31, 1993, the 71st disbanded as a National Guard unit. A detachment of the battalion in Batavia, New York, was kept on active duty. The First Battalion became a State Guard unit, serving with the 14th Infantry Brigade. Reports that a Third Battalion was activated with the 10th Mountain Division and served in Afghanistan in 2006 are in error: the unit is the 71st (NOT Armored) Cavalry Regiment (I'm sure it was a RSTA Cav. unit when I was embedded as a journalist with it).
The regimental nickname is "The American Guard." The regimental motto is "Pro aris et pro focis," which can be translated "For our homes and our families" but see 'Pro aris et focis'. The regimental march is "The Gallant Seventy-First."
The regimental crest is a blue shield, edged in gold, charged with gold fasces with the ax head pointing to the left, supported by two gold crescents. (This is the opposite direction from the Italian fascist symbol.)
The commanding officer of the regiment traditionally wore as his ceremonial sidearm a Colt revolver that was originally Colonel Martin's sidearm. This pistol was left with the senior officer of the regiment (or later, battalion) in the commanding officer's absence.
Dates in parentheses are known dates, but not start or ending dates.Colonel Abram S. Vosburgh, 1852–1861
Colonel Henry P. Martin, 1861–1862
Colonel Charles H. Smith, 1862–1863
Colonel H.L. Trafford, 1863–1866
Colonel Theodore W. Parmalee, 1866–1869
Colonel Henry Rockafeller, 1869–1871
Colonel Richard Vose, 1871–1884
Colonel Edwin A. McAlpin, 1885
Colonel Frederick Kopper, 1891
Colonel Francis Vinton Greene, 1891
Colonel Johnathan T. Camp (1895)
Lieutenant Colonel Wallace A. Downs (1898)–1899
Colonel Walter Delamater (1936)