|3rd Regiment New Jersey Volunteer
(1st U.S. Hussar Regiment)
"A Horse to Ride and a Sword to Wield"
|Michael J McAfee
Military Images Southeastern:Jan/Feb 2000. Vol. 21, Issue. 4, p. 6-7 (2 pp.)
Conventional wisdom and most popular authors of Civil War history state that by 1863 the
distinctive and colorful uniforms which had brightened the early days of the Civil War were
abandoned. Actually, as this author continuously proclaims, distinctive regimental uniforms of all
stripes were worn until the end of the conflict. Three regiments raised by the state of New Jersey in
the winter of 1863-64 provide perfect examples of late war regimental uniforms. The two infantry
regiments, the 33rd and 35th, were uniformed as Zouaves. The third, a cavalry regiment, was given
a colorful European style hussar uniform.
This unit, the 3rd New Jersey Volunteer Cavalry, was recruited originally as the 1st United States
Hussars, and used both titles during the war. New Jersey's state Quartermaster General sought
approval for a distinctive uniform from the U.S. Army's Quartermaster General's office in late
November of 1863, "to encourage recruiting." Although described as -very similar in cut to the
United States cavalry," it would cost about $3 more than the regulation cavalry uniform because of
its extra trimmings and decorations, The extra cost was to be passed on to the recruits. By the end
of November the federal Quartermaster granted approval.
Regimental headquarters was established at Camp Bayard, near Trenton. From January through
March of 1864, recruits flocked to become Hussars, not just mere cavalrymen, and on April 5, 1864
the regiment, completely mounted and equipped, rode from New Jersey to join the 9th Corps under
Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. With 47 officers and 1131 enlisted men the regiment passed through
the District of Columbia, where they were reviewed by President Lincoln himself and their bright
uniforms attracted immediate attention from the newspapers.
Their uniforms were featured in a woodcut in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper soon after the
unit began recruiting. In that account it was described as "a showy attractive one, based on ... the
Austrian Hussars." In a history of the 3rd's Company H, the uniform was more precisely described:
.. privates wore pantaloons of sky-blue cloth with yellow stripes. Jackets were dark blue with a
profusion of yellow cords across the breast and on the front of the collar on an orange-- colored
ground. Three rows of large, burnished bell buttons adorned the breast with a braiding of cord. On
the seams of the back and sleeves there was an elegant braiding of cord. Officer uniforms were still
gayer with gold cord and trappings.
The men also received unusual caps. Of dark blue and braided in yellow about the band, the
bodies of the caps tilted sideways, to the left. On the front of the enlisted caps was a wreath
encircling the numeral 3. Made without visors, the caps offered scant protection from the elements
and in photos are frequently seen replaced with more orthodox forage caps and other headgear.
An additional distinctive item of clothing in the regiment was a yellow-lined sky-blue talma issued in
lieu of the overcoat. The talma closed with three cloth tabs rather than buttons and featured a
Viewed as a whole, this colorful uniform immediately earned the regiment a nickname; for the
duration of their service they were popularly and appropriately called "The Butterflies!"
Armed initially with three types of breech loading carbines -- Sharps, Joslyn and Burnside -- the
Hussars were ready for war. Sidearms included Whitney and Colt revolvers, and their Colonel,
Andrew Morrison, was wisely ignored when he requested that the 3rd be armed only with the saber.
In November of 1864 the regiment received Spencer repeating carbines.
The Spencers were much needed, for these Hussars were not parade ground soldiers.
Transferred in May to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, the 3rd New Jersey saw duty
in the Shenandoah Valley. In September, along with the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, the regiment captured
the entire 8th South Carolina Infantry Regiment. The 3rd's list of battle honors includes Winchester,
Cedar Creek, Five Forks, Saylor's Creek and Appomattox. When the Hussars mustered out in June
of 1865, they had lost three officers and forty-seven enlisted men killed or mortally wounded and
two officers and 105 men to disease.
Other units had been formed during the war which called themselves hussars, but it seems that
only the 3rd New Jersey was a full regiment and dressed as hussars. The unit had proudly carried
out the light cavalry traditions of the European hussars and proved that these particular Butterflies
had a sting!