Friday, July 20, 2012

1st Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, 1861 (2)

Col. Ambrose E. Burnside was the regiment’s first commander. However, when the Federal Army of Northeastern Virginia, Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, commanding, was organized just prior to the Battle of Bull Run, Burnside was given command of the 2d Brigade, 2d Division. Burnside’s brigade consisted of four infantry regiments and one artillery battery, as follows.

2d NH (Col Gilman Marston; Lt Col Frank S Fiske)
1st RI (Maj Joseph P Balch)
2d RI (Col John S Slocum; Lt Col Frank Wheaton)
71st NYSM (Col Henry P Martin)
2d RI Bty (Capt William H Reynolds)

At the Battle of Bull Run, Burnside’s Brigade led the flanking column that opened the action on Matthews’ Hill (the subject of A. R. Waud’s sketch, above). Rhode Island’s Governor Sprague accompanied the regiment as a volunteer and participated in the combat.


Uniform: See Military Collector & Historian, 7 (1955), 49-50.

Smith, George B. “Formation and Service of the First Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, April 17th‑Aug. 2nd, 1861.” Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, No. 58 (July 1926), 14‑29.

Woodbury, Augustus. A Narrative of the Campaign of the First Rhode Island Regiment, in the Spring and Summer of 1861. Providence: Sidney S. Rider, 1862.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

1st Regiment Rhode Island Detached Militia, 1861

On Monday, April 15, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 militia to suppress the rebellion. Among the many units responding to the president’s call were those that made up the 1st Rhode Island Regement.

This regiment is interesting in many respects. With peculiar thoroughness, the state government had integrated a fine battery of rifled artillery, the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, into the regiment. The regiment also had a detachment of “carbineers” to act as skirmishers, and two men were designated as “aeronauts” to conduct aerial surveillance of Confederate positions. But for accidental damage to their balloons, they might actually have done so.

Uniform. The uniform of the 1st Rhode Island, which it shared with the 2d Rhode Island, was unique to those two regiments. The famous Civil War artist A. R. Waud made a sketch of the uniform, reproduced above. Waud’s own notation on the back of the original gives the following description: “This uniform is dark blue shirt, belted around waist, black felt hat and grey pants; the blanket is scarlet with black bar near edge….” To Waud’s description it is only necessary to add that the blouse is the famous “Burnside” or “Rhode Island blouse,” and to note that many of the men wore the kepi or forage cap with a white havelock. Augustus Woodbury, the regimental historian felt that the uniform “formed a good combination of the national colors.” The figures in the drawing represent, from left to right: Enlisted Man, Full Dress with blanket; Fatigue; Officer (Captain); Full Marching Order; and Enlisted Man with Burnside carbine.