History – Who were the 4th U.S. Infantry?

The Old Army

The 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment can trace its origins to 1808 where the United States army re-organised its military to combat Native Indians, who were making it difficult for Americans to settle in the Northwest Territories, and on 12th April 1808 the 4th Infantry was created. It spent the next 4 years fighting American-Indian wars when in 1812 it was deployed in the east in order to join the invasion of British North America which is modern day Canada. The 4th had some initial success and successfully escorted supplies before being recalled to Detroit to find its commander, General William Hull, had surrendered to the British 41st Regiment. The 4th’s colours captured that day are now on display at The Royal Welch Museum in Cardiff.

The 4th U.S. were eventually exchanged for British prisoners in 1813 and continued to fight in the war until its end. After the war this 4th Infantry regiment went on to became part of the 5th regiment while a number of other regiments (14, 18, 20, 36, and 38th) were consolidated into a new 4th Infantry regiment. This regiment would fight in a number of Indian Wars until 1842 where most of the soldiers, who enlisted for a term of 5 years, got their first rest.

In 1844 the 4th were ordered to Louisiana to participate in the Mexican-American War. Paid $7 a month and enlisting for a duration of five years the 4th Infantry included in its ranks of engineers both of the Civil War’s most successful generals: Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. On the fields of Monterey the musicians threw down their instruments and turned the Mexican artillery on their fleeing enemy and henceforth wore a red breast cord, the colour of the artillery branch of the army. Finally the 4th was sailed to Vera Cruz and participated in the march into Mexico City.

After the war the 4th Infantry was posted as garrison units throughout the Western United States and existed as a regiment for administration purposes only until 1861…


The American Civil War


When the American Civil War broke out the 4th Infantry was initially recalled from its garrison posts to help prevent rebellion in southern California. In August it was redeployed to Washington D.C. to form part of the capital’s defences. To distinguish them from State-raised Volunteer units (such as the 42nd Pennsylvania “Bucktails”) the 4th Infantry was known as the 4th U.S. Infantry.  As its soldiers were part of the Union Army prior to the Civil War they were termed “Regulars” and their experience and discipline meant they were often placed in key strategic points on a battlefield. Despite this they were paid the standard Army wage of £12 a month instead of the £13 offered to volunteer regiments. Whereas the Confederate Army split its regulars up amongst its volunteer units, the Union preferred to keep its regular regiments in tact in order to take full advantage of them in battle.


In the Spring of 1862 the 4th U.S. was assigned to General Syke’s Division of Regulars (2nd), in the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The 5th Corps (often shown as V Corps)  was mainly comprised of regular infantry regiments. In May the 4th first saw action at the Siege of Yorktown and in June formed a rearguard action at the battle of Gaine’s Mill that saved the Union artillery from capture. In August the 4th participated in the Second Battle Of Bull Run and the subsequent Maryland campaign against former 4th Infantry Captain (now General) Robert E. Lee. In September the regiment helped hold the vital Middle Bridge over Antietam creek and began advancing on Sharpsburg itself before being recalled to their lines. Finally in December the 4th saw limited action at the Battle Of Fredericksburg.


The regiment didn’t see any combat in 1863 until April when it was part of Josepth Hooker’s rearguard at Chancellorsville. After that it was involved in the Gettysburg campaign and took part in the second day of the Battle Of Gettysburg at the Devil’s Den and the Wheatfield.


Despite being heavily depleted in men the 4th U.S. continued to fight with the Army of the Potomac including the Overland Campaign under the overall command of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant. The regiment participated in the battles of WildernessSpotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor. By the time it manned its breastworks in the Siege of Petersburg the most senior officer on duty was a Lieutenant: George Randall. On 22nd June less than 150 men were able to report to City Point, Virginia to become General Grant’s Headquarters guard.


Remembering fondly his time with the 4th U.S. in Mexico and in recognition of its valour General Ulysses S. Grant designated them as the guard unit to oversee the formal surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse. The remaining survivors marched as part of the Grand Review in Washington shortly after the war ended. The 4th U.S. Infantry lost 3 officers and 126 enlisted men during the war, just over half of which were to disease rather than from combat.


Post Civil War

After the American Civil War the 4th Infantry was consolidated with the 30th Infantry in 1866 and returned to garrison duties in the West. In the closing years of the 19th Century the 4th participated in battles in the American-Spanish and American-Philippines Wars.

In the early years of the 20th Century the 4th Infantry participated in the Border War with Mexico, sometimes over the same ground it had occupied nearly 70 years previously. The regiment was shipped to Europe in 1918 one year after the United States entered the First World War. It participated in numerous offensive and defensive actions and was awarded the French Croix De Guerre having lost 80% of its strength under constant fire over a 30 day period on the line. In October PFC John Berkley of Co. K was awarded the Medal Of Honor for repairing a German machine gun, mounting it on a French tank, and single handedly breaking up two German counter-offensives.

After WWI the 4th Infantry were stationed in Alaska and in 1943 defended the State against the Japanese in the Second World War. In December 1945 it wa stationed in Japan as part of the 29th Infantry Division as part of the occupational force. On January 31st 1947 the 4th Infantry was disbanded in Osaka, Japan and its records and accoutrements were returned to the United States the next day.

For this reason the modern day 4th Infantry, established in October 1948, does not have a direct lineage to the 4th U.S. Infantry that fought in the American Civil War.


More Information

If you would like to know more about the 4th U.S. Infantry’s history, why not read “A Perfect Storm of Shot and Shell”. You can also read about the 4th Infantry on their Wikipedia page.