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A Brief History of the 3rd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry

3rd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, Co. D

A photo of Company D of the 3rd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. The only soldier positively identified is First Sergeant Frederick Orpen. He is in the front row, the fourth soldier from the left. The three officers in the front row must be Captain Joseph Kay, First Lieutenant Robert W. Watson and Second Lieutenant Henry Landahl, but we cannot be sure which officer is which. Also noteworthy is the second man from the left in the front row. He is holding a dog, which must be the company mascot (photo courtesy of James G. Keppeler).
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The Third New Jersey Volunteer Infantry served its term of service within the continental United States.

Unit History:

The Third New Jersey Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service at Sea Girt, New Jersey between May 11 and 13, 1898. At the time of mustering in, the regiment consisted of 51 officers and 970 enlisted men under Colonel Lee. While at Sea Girt, the regiment experienced nine continuous days of rain, something that would become all too common for the regiment.

Only a week after being mustered in, on May 20, a third of the regiment - Companies B, F, I and L - were detached and ordered to Pompton Lakes New Jersey. Five days later the remaining portion of the regiment - Companies A, C, D, E, G, H, K and M - were ordered to Fort Hancock, at Sandy Hook, New Jersey where the men were again plagued with rain.

On June 14, the historical first general court-martial against a member of the volunteer forces was placed in session. The case unfortunately involved two men of the 3rd New Jersey - Corporal Robert G. Bedle of Company G and Sergeant W. C. Wiseman of Company H - who were accused of sleeping while on guard duty. Bedle was released for lack of evidence, whereas Wiseman, who confessed, was found guilty. Wiseman was reduced in rank to private and sentence to three months confinement at hard labor. Being the first court-martial convened against volunteer troops, it was hoped that the findings would be a warning to all volunteers of the seriousness of these charges even though the sentence was lighter than would have been expected had Wiseman been a member of the regulars rather than the volunteers.

From this point, the regiment continued to be divided up. On July 12, companies C and K were ordered to Fort Wadsworth. As the men had begun to expect, at Fort Wadsworth, it rained so hard that the soldiers' tent were knocked down.

The companies of the regiment that were sent to Pompton Lakes soon found themselves involved in a serious and tragic event. The members of the regiment were present at Pompton Lakes to guard the Laflin-Rand Powder Works. While four companies of the regiment were present, on July 12, there was a tremendous explosion at the powder factory. At approximately 10:30 PM a very violent explosion occurred in the building where gun cotton - a nitroglycerine based munition - was being prepared. The concussion of the first explosion immediately set off a second explosion in the drying house nearby. Eleven workers died outright, some of which were never found, and of others only pieces of their bodies were recovered. Among the wounded was a member of the the 3rd New Jersey - William H. Emmons of Company L. Splinters from the explosion tore the skin from the side of his head and scalp and tore off his ear. Splinters penetrated many areas of his body. He was not expected to survive, but apparently did.  Once the blast occurred, the 3rd New Jersey was called to arms and, within ten minutes, had formed a cordon around the site, As rescue workers attempted to aid the wounded, family members began to rush the site and the 3rd New Jersey was ordered to keep the crowds back as more explosions were a possibility. The troops were soon ordered to fix bayonets as a deterrent to the crowds and were successful in maintaining order.

Another tragedy soon followed. On July 17 the body of Thomas J. Lawler, a musician in Company A, stationed at Sandy Hook., was found in the river under the railroad trestle he was guarding near Highlands Beach. He was believed to have walked across the trestle, lost his footing and fell into the river.

On August 3, companies D and E were sent to join the companies at Pompton Lakes. Companies A, G, H and M followed them on August 16, with companies C and K joining the remainder of the regiment on September 22. At Pompton Lakes, the regiment was again subject to heavy rains which ran through the tents.

An armistice was agreed to between the United States and Spain on August 12, ending the war's fighting. Members of the regiment now knew that they would not be taking part in the fighting. Some of the men and their families would begin to look forward to being muster-out as the mens' service was likely no longer needed.

In October, 1898, the entire regiment acted as an honor guard escorting the body of Brevet Brig. Gen. Charles A. Wikoff from the church to the cemetery in Easton, Pennsylvania, Wikoff's home town. Wikoff , a veteran of the Civil War, was killed at the Battle of San Juan Hill while in command of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division of the 5th Army Corps. Of course, the 3rd New Jersey's luck held and the march and funeral occurred during a rainstorm.

In November, the reunited regiment was ordered south to Athens, Georgia. The regiment had been in limbo as to whether they would be mustered out or be sent elsewhere. The cold of the approaching winter had begun to make the nights uncomfortable in camp. The word that the regiment was to be sent to warm Georgia was a cause for celebration. The night before the 3rd New Jersey was to leave, a celebration was held complete with a parade and fireworks.  On the following day, the regiment broke camp, burned their wood flooring, and then waited for the trains to transport them south. After a cold night without shelter, the trains arrived and the regiment departed for Athens, on November 12, and arrived at Athens fifty-six hours later.  At Athens, the regiment was assigned to the First Brigade, Third Division of the Second Army Corps.

Life in camp in Athens had its share of tragedies. Private Dilks of the 3rd New Jersey had an argument over race with an African American man, which concluded with Dilks shooting the man in the shoulder. Also, a member of Company G shot an African American man after an argument over a game of craps in a local gambling den. Lastly, Corporal John Nickland of Company L shot himself in the leg. After these sad events, the pistols possessed by members of the regiment were confiscated to avoid further tragedies. Also at Athens, initially the food supply for the regiment was inadequate, resulting in members of the regiment going house to house asking for food, This action was soon prohibited, but luckily the food supply soon improved. Also, as soon as the 3rd New Jersey arrived at Athens the rains began, which seemed to follow the regiment. With the regiment's history of being rained upon, one private stated that it would probably not stop raining in Georgia until the 3rd New Jersey left. The local newspaper ran a banner stating "The Third New-Jersey regiment now stationed here are regular weather hoodoos."

While the regiment was stationed at Athens, the war ended on December 10, 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Shortly afterwards, the regiment learned it was not going to be sent to Cuba to serve in the occupation of the island. Pressure began to build to muster the regiment out. Since the war had ended and the regiment was not going to be used in the occupation, and families began writing their congressmen to have the regiment mustered out. The regiment, however, would remain in service and took part in the Peace Jubilee parade in Atlanta, Georgia, which was viewed by President William McKinley.

The regiment was finally mustered out at Athens on February 11, 1899. At the time of mustering out, the regiment consisted of 48 officers and 1035 enlisted men. During its term of service, the regiment had two men die of disease, one man die in an accident and had thirty men desert.

Though the regiment had mustered out, its history did not end on February 11, 1899. In September of 1899, Admiral George Dewey finally returned to the United States aboard the Cruiser OLYMPIA. A huge parade was planned in his honor in New York City for September 20. Taking part in the parade were about 150 men from the regiment who lived in the vicinity of Elizabeth, New Jersey. The men were in uniform but carried no weapons. With this event, the regiment faded into history.


Correspondence relating to the War with Spain And Conditions Growing Out of the Same Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Island and the China Relief Expedition. Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) 604 - 605.

"A Volunteer Drowned," New York Times. July 18, 1898, 10.

Keppeler, Janes G. - Photo of 3rd New Jersey, Co. D

"Marching Through Georgia," The Freehold Transcript and the Monmouth Inquirer (Freehold, NJ). November 18, 1898, 1.

"New Haven Soldier Drowned," Morning Journal Courier (New Haven, CT). July 18, 1898, 1.

"Our Boys Weather Hoodoos," The Freehold Transcript and the Monmouth Inquirer (Freehold, NJ). December 16, 1898, 1.

"Powder Explosions," The Tribune (Scranton, PA). July 13, 1898, 3.

"To Join In Dewey Parade," The Passaic Daily News (Passaic, NJ). September 21, 1899, 5.

"Verdict of a Court-Martial," The Evening Times (Washington DC). June 17, 1898, 6.

"Volunteers Use Guns," The Daily Times (New Brunswick, NJ). December 5, 1898, 7.

"Weather Hoodoos," Asbury Park Daily Press (Asbury Part, NJ). November 26, 1898, 1.

"Will Not Go To Cuba," The Shore Press (Asbury Park, NJ). December 15, 1898, 1.

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