Unit History – 31st New York Infantry

21 07 2022

Cols., Calvin C. Pratt, Francis E. Pinto, Frank Jones; Lieut.-Cols., William H. Brown, Leopold C. Newman; Majs., Addison Dougherty, Alexander Raszewski, R. R. Daniells, J. Barnett Sloan. The 31st, the “Montezuma Regiment,” contained one company from Williamsburg and the others were from New York city, where it was mustered into the U. S. service for two years on May 14 and 27 and June 13, 1861. It left the state for Washington on June 24; proceeded to Virginia in July with the end brigade, 5th division, Army of Northeastern Virginia; encountered the enemy at Fairfax Court House and Bull Run; returned to Washington and was attached to the 3d brigade of Franklin’s division. On Sept. 28 it moved to Munson’s hill, thence to Springfield Station and on the return passed the winter of 1861-62 at Fort Ward. With the 3d brigade, 1st division, 1st corps, Army of the Potomac, the regiment moved to Manassas and returned to Alexandria in March, 1862. At West Point it met with a loss of 83 killed, wound ed or missing. The division became part of the 6th corps in May; engaged in the Seven Days’ battles on the Peninsula; camped at Harrison’s landing until Aug. 15; was then ordered to Newport News and guarded the Fairfax railroad at Burke’s station. At Crampton’s gap, Antietam, the regiment was closely engaged and was also in the battle of Fredericksburg in December. Winter quarters were established at White Oak Church, but were left temporarily in Jan., 1863, for the “Mud March,” then reoccupied until the Chancellorsville movement in the following spring. In this battle the regiment served with the light brigade of the 6th corps and lost 142 killed, wounded or missing at Marye’s heights. Returning to the old camp until May 21, the regiment left at that time for New York city and was there mustered out on June 4, 1863, the three years’ men being transferred to the 121st N. Y. infantry. The total strength of the regiment up to Jan., 1863, was 923 members and during its term of service it lost 68 who were killed or died of wounds and 30 who died from other causes.

From The Union Army, Vol 2, p. 71

Lt. Col. William H. Browne, 31st New York Infantry, On the Campaign

11 06 2020

Camp Near Alexandria, Va., July 22, 1861.

We have just arrived in camp after an absence of six days. A magnificent action has been fought. We must have had nearly 40,000 men engaged and the enemy, as events proved, had many more. The 31st had a post of honor, and honorably maintained it up to the moment of retreat. At each step new difficulties arose, and cunning devices of the foe were developed. Masked batteries, protected by the living wood, treacherous mires, and crafty ambuscades, came to light. I was only by a miracle of Grace that I escaped harm. Once I was sent with some companies to “draw out” the enemy. They came too soon, and sent a volley of rifle balls at us, as out caps rose upon the brow of the hill within a few hundred yards of their concealed works. We had only one man touched, springing back as we did into a ravine. As the rebels slowed themselves in pursuit of us, Richardson’s battery of rifled cannon threw in spherical case shot that did much slaughter. They seem determined not to come out openly and fight like true soldiers, so we have to resort to stratagem to bring them within reach. While making a reconnoisance during the battle, I came upon a force of rebels from two or three thousand strong as near as could be judged. Blackhawk took me on a gallop along their front.

Much to our surprise they had entered a ravine, and were discovered by our pickets just in time to prevent their turning our left flank. The instant they saw me a shower of balls came whistling about me. Then the grass was not suffered to grow beneath Black Hawk’s feet. He took the hint, and the way the noble beast cleared a fence and swept along the hill-side up to the battery of rifled guns of Capt. Green was the theme of admiration of the beholders. A score of guardian angels must have averted from me the leaden rain. One shot, perhaps intended for me, struck the head of a gallant young lieutenant (Gill, serving with the regular artillery) and penetrated the brain. While the guns were playing upon the heads of the interlopers, I hastily examined the wound, no surgeon being present. Emptying a canteen of water upon the head of the poor fellow, I soon satisfied myself that the injury was fatal. Consciousness was gone although the eyes were open and he breathed hard, and steadily, a smile being fixed on his lips. I think he lived only half an hour. Lieut. G. belonged to the Massachusetts volunteers.

After maintaining our ground against heavy odds, we received the mortifying order to retreat. We could not understand what it meant, until it became to palpable that the whole of our force was falling back upon Centreville. At 11 P. M. came a whispered order to retreat to Fairfax, ten miles off. The troops, whose haversacks and blankets had been left upon the field, and who had been on their feet for twenty-two hours, retired in tolerably good order, marching by daylight this morning twenty-eight miles. Yet no complaint has been uttered, in my hearing, at least. The Federal loss is terrible, but the Southern more so. The next time we will win.

L— was much interested in his first battle – my seventh. Our admirable surgeon, Dr. Frank H. Hamilton, toiled professionally until he could not stand alone. When all the surgeons of other regiments were literally obeying the order to retreat, he and his assistants of the 31st were true, entirely so. All honor to such men. Why did we retreat when our position was tenable? We only obeyed and imperative order. * * * * *

And so will terminate the hurried epistle of one who has slept but two hours in the last forty-eight.

W. H. Browne,
Lieut. Colonel 31st N. Y. Volunteers

Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, 7/25/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

31st New York Infantry roster 

William H. Browne at Ancestry.com 

William H. Browne at Fold3

William H. Browne at FindAGrave 

William H. Browne at Arlington National Cemetery