The Reasons the 79th Mutinied
Written by William
Monday, 30 April 2007
The Reason the 79th Mutinied in
©2000 William A. Beard III
The Seventy-Ninth Thistle; Seventy-Ninth
New York Highlanders National Newsletter Vol. III No. 2 Winter 2000 (p.
It is a popular misconception to blame the mutiny on kilts, or
weapons, or a combination of any of these fantasies. The real causes and facts
can be found in the following books: the regimental history by William Todd, the
book by Captain William T. Lusk, and Lieutenant Colonel S. M. Elliott’s book, as
well as the Scottish American Journal. These are to name just a few of the
original sources with information about the mutiny. The reasons are simple and
(1.) The 79th had been promised a return trip to New York for
recruiting purposes by Simon Cameron and Lt. Col. Elliott. This they were
denied. Several rumors and lies had been spread through the 79th camp, which got
their hopes up. The reality was a crushing disappointment to the men of the
(2.) Their new colonel, Isaac Stevens, was assigned to them. Not
only was he an outsider, but the 79th, like all militia units of the time, voted
for their commanding officers, Stevens had been assigned to them. Stevens began
implementing the orders to move with the rest of the army and this put more of
the troops against him.
(3.) Many of the men were very drunk which
caused them to lose their inhibitions and judgement. All accounts tell about how
easily available alcohol was in the 79th New York camp at the time of the
(4.) One of the most important reasons why the 79th mutinied was
a lack of discipline. The 79th lost most of its officers at First Bull Run
including their commanding officer. Two officers were killed, seven were
wounded, and eight were captured or missing. This lack of command structure was
enough for the 79th to act as a mob, not a group of trained, obedient soldiers.
The two companies with officers (I and K) did not mutiny. It was from these two
companies that the flags were taken. Incidentally, Captain Lusk was in command
of one of the companies that did not mutiny.
All of the reasons listed
above combined to create an atmosphere for a mutiny. Nobody in their right mind
would risk imprisonment or death over not being allowed to wear a kilt,
especially when just a few of the men ever had them. Entertaining the idea is
just forcing the 79th into this “Scottish Fantasy” that folks have cooked up.
The whole idea is silly and preposterous.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 10
October 2007 )