War Stories

On patrol with the 119th New York Volunteers

Robert Weber can name ancestors on both sides of the conflict: Captain Patrick Henry Wood of the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Van Ness Boynton of the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Because of the complexities of the Civil War, most members of the 119th avoid any discussion of politics, but they can give detailed accounts of battles and privations from the viewpoint of either side. "Remembering these gents and what they went through is the most important aspect of this hobby," states Weber, who sports Civil War–era whiskers.

As the blazing sun climbs into the sky, the company's first sergeant, portrayed by Neil Yank, leads the men to the parade grounds for firing practice. It's loud. It's hot. And it's thrilling for all the young future volunteers in the crowd. Questions about firing speed, range, accuracy, and fatalities stretch past teatime. No such civility is overlooked at Fort Jay, where the wives of regular army officers serve iced tea and mint juleps while the Fife Drum and Bugle Corps entertains a group of picnickers sprawled out on the shady lawn.

When Weber's men return to camp, they make do with twice-smoked pork cooked over a campfire.

Dressed to kill
photo: Fred Askew
Dressed to kill

"There was a big difference between veteran soldiers and 'spit and polish' regular army," says Weber as one of his soldiers crushes coffee beans into a tin cup. "There was bound to be some animosity while they were here during the draft riots."

But as the shadows grow long, a look of satisfaction falls over the volunteers' well-tanned faces.

"It's like a mental vacation," says Guglieri as the final ferry horn blows. "No cell phones. No meetings. Just good people."

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