150 years ago today, 127 veterans of the 14th Brooklyn (84th New York or 14th New York State Militia) left Fredericksburg on the first leg of a journey home at the end of thier enlistments. The day before, the regiment had split on the road to North Anna – those who signed up in 1861 went north, 1862 volunteers went south to keep fighting, ultimately as part of the 5th New York Veteran Volunteers.
The 14th Brooklyn was the third major unit to go home from Virginia in May 1864: the 79th New York (79th New York State Militia) left on May 13, while the Pennsylvania Reserves division left May 31. All went home at the end of the expiration of their three-year terms of enlistment. Unlike Confederates, whose drafts and enlistments were extended in 1862 for the duration, a sizeable portion of the Union soldiers signed up in the summer of 1861 for three years or the war, whichever came first. Before the 1864 campaign opened, sizeable bounties ($402 from the U.S. Government, often augmented by state and local additions) plus 30-day furloughs managed to get about 66% of those 1861 volunteers to reenlist for another three years. As a further inducement, all units who reenlisted 75% or more of their members kept their designation and added the title “Veteran,” something most units were able to do. These measures kept the Federal armies from falling apart in the field during the summer.
A notable exception to this trend were the state militia-based units like the 14th Brooklyn and 79th New York, virtually all of whom went home at the end of their three years. The three other NY Militia units remaining in the Army of the Potomac (2d, 9th, and 20th) followed suit, as did the 1st and 2d Wisconsin from their respective armies, among others. The militia outfits felt that they had been called up by their states, and had fulfilled their calls.
Even though the majority of veterans reenlisted, a sizeable percentage did not. In the West, Sherman left many of those units behind before marching on Atlanta; in Virginia Grant did not. This short-timers malaise combined with leader losses to dull the Federal combat edge in Virginia as the summer wore on.