3rd US Regular Infantry - A Living History Unit

3rd US Regular Infantry posing outside the main gate at Fort Ward, VA
3rd US Regular Infantry posing outside the main gate at Fort Ward, VA

Paul Stier

The following article will introduce you to Company K, 3RD U.S. Regular Infantry Regiment, "Buffsticks". To learn more about them please continue to read.
The 3rd United States Regular Infantry is a Civil War living history group dedicated to educating the public on the life of the U.S. Regular infantry soldier of the period 1860 to 1865.

We portray the Regular as he appeared in camp and in battle, in garrison and in ceremonial duties. Members wear both the familiar “fatigue” and the early-war “dress” uniform, and all uniforms and equipment are reproductions patterned after the originals. Authenticity is closely monitored and our impression is constantly evolving.

Accounts from the period describe the soldierly bearing and “stony silence” of the regular soldiers and attest to their skill and steadiness in battle. Their appearance, drill – and above all, their battlefield discipline – were seldom if ever surpassed by any state regiment. We strive to have these qualities too. Only by appearing, drilling, and performing as the originals did can we emulate without dishonoring the Civil War soldiers we portray.

Our portrayal of Regular Army life includes the roles of families in our Civilian Section, whose members are constantly researching and expanding their own impressions of the Civil War period. Their contributions make us unique among reenacting units.

Our standards are set high on purpose, so that only the most serious living historians will be attracted to the unit. The Regular Army of 1860-1865 demanded much and so do we, but our adherence to these standards has made the 3rd United States Regular Infantry one of the most recognized and admired reenacting units on the East Coast.

Formed at Fort Ward in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2000, the 3rd United States Regular Infantry participates in 12-15 history-related events each year. These range from large-scale battle reenactments to living history programs where we are the only unit involved. Our members have also participated as extras in movies such as “Glory,” “Gettysburg,” and “Gods and Generals.” Most events we attend are in the mid-Atlantic region, within easy driving distance of the Washington-Northern Virginia-Maryland area.

One of the events we attend nearly every year is Military Through the Ages at Jamestown, Virginia, where reenactors from different periods of history are judged on their drill and camp impressions. The 3rd United States Regular Infantry has won the Black Powder-era drill competition several times, as well as earning honors for our camp portrayal.

The 3rd United States Regular Infantry Reenactors, Inc., is a permanent, not-for-profit educational organization incorporated in the state of Virginia under Section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Corporate business is governed by a five-member board of directors elected by the membership. On the military side the regiment is commanded by a 1st Lieutenant with a 1st Sergeant, 2nd Sergeant, and three Corporals.

Membership in the 3rd United States Regular Infantry and its Civilian Section is open to persons 18 years of age and older. All members under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Dues are $30 annually. To be eligible to carry a rifle, young men must have passed their 16th birthday and be certified safe by the company commander and NCOs. Musicians must be at least 12 years old. Some experience with the drum, bugle, or fife is helpful for musicians but is not required.

After becoming a member, a recruit is given approximately two years to assemble all required clothing and equipment. Our Quartermaster maintains a limited supply of clothing, equipment, and weapons that new members may borrow while they build their own kits.
3rd US Regular Infantry Monument at Gettysburg
3rd US Regular Infantry Monument at Gettysburg

Paul Stier

The Legacy of the Buffsticks

The Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, established in 1784 and still serving, is the oldest infantry regiment in the U.S. Army. Between 1784 and 1815 it was known as the First American Regiment, the First Regiment, and the First Infantry. During its early years, the regiment garrisoned the Pennsylvania and Ohio Frontier, fought at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and participated in the Niagara-Canada Campaigns of the War of 1812. When the Army reorganized in 1815, the First Infantry became the Third Infantry, based on the seniority of its regimental commander.

From 1815 to 1840 the Third Infantry served at frontier posts in the south and Midwest, and in Florida for the last campaign against the Seminoles. In 1843, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock, the Third Infantry moved to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, as the instruction and demonstration troops for the School of Brigade Drill. Hitchcock was known for his especially strict uniform standards, which led the recruits and other troops to insultingly call members of the regiment “buffsticks,” after a strip of wood used when cleaning buttons and other uniform items. The soldiers of the regiment turned the insult into a motto, and proudly adopted “Buffsticks” as their nickname.

During the Mexican War the regiment participated in eight battles, including the final bayonet assault on the fortress of Chapultepec. The Third Infantry was the lead regiment on the Army’s grand entrance into Mexico City on Sept. 14, 1847, and it was during this parade that tradition says the regiment earned its more familiar nickname. As the troops passed in review, General Winfield Scott is reputed to have turned to his staff and said, “Gentlemen, take off your hats to the Old Guard of the Army.” Whether Scott actually said this is open to some debate, and the regiment continued to use the nickname “Buffsticks” until well into the 20th century.

Following the Mexican War, the Third Infantry garrisoned the territory of New Mexico until 1860, when the regiment was transferred to Texas. With the secession of Texas in February 1861, the regiment was to be peacefully withdrawn from the State, and seven companies had departed by April 12 when war erupted with the attack on Fort Sumter. Two companies were sent to Fort Pickens, Florida, and five were sent to New York. Companies, A, F and I were captured in Texas in late April. Company A did not rejoin the regiment until August 1862, while F and I returned in March 1862.

From New York, companies B, D, G, H and K moved to Washington in early May, then joined General Robert Patterson in June for an abortive move against Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley. Then at Bull Run on July 21, 1861, the five companies of the Third and three other companies of Regulars fought as a battalion under the command of Major George Sykes, who had commanded Company K. The battalion went into action early in the morning, fought from the Union left flank to the extreme right, then formed the rear guard and held the Union line near the Stone Bridge to keep the road open while the rest of the army retreated in disorder.

In the fall and winter of 1861-62 more Regulars joined the Third as part of the Reserve Infantry Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. Brigadier General George Sykes, who had commanded the Regular Battalion at Bull Run, was given command of the Brigade. Companies C, E, F and I returned during this time and the Third was reorganized into a battalion of eight companies.

In March 1862, the Third Infantry joined the 4th, 12th, and 14th Infantry to form the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps. During the Seven Days Battles, the Third Infantry fought its finest battle in the front line in the Battle of Gaines’ Mill. At the height of the action, four companies (C, D, H, and I) changed front under fire to stop the attack of two Confederate brigades that threatened to overwhelm the 12th Infantry.

The Buffsticks also saw action at Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. The Third Infantry was part of the advance of the Union Army in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, then moved to secure the Rappahannock River crossings as the Army retreated yet again. By this time, Company K, which had numbered 75 officers and men in June 1861, was down to 28 members under the command of a Lieutenant. The regimental commander ordered four similarly depleted companies consolidated and reorganized where they ceased to exist for the remainder of the war.

The Third Infantry’s last major combat action came at the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg. Fighting first in the advance and then in the withdrawal against overwhelming numbers, in a little over an hour the Third lost 73 men killed, wounded, and missing including two commanding officers out of 308 engaged.

Following Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg, the Third Infantry was sent to New York City in mid-August to help restore order following the Draft Riots.

The Regiment returned to the Army of the Potomac in September 1863 and saw its final combat actions of the war in the Bristoe Station and Mine Run Campaigns. The Third returned to New York in March 1864, then moved back to Washington in October to serve on guard and patrol duty in the city. In February 1865, the Third Infantry was detailed to serve with the Headquarters Guard of the Army of the Potomac and it remained in that capacity until the end of the war.

After the surrender of Confederate troops at Appomattox, the Regiment marched to Washington and participated in the grand review held in May 1865 to honor the victorious Union troops. The Third and 10th Infantry Regiments were the first infantry regiments in the parade and the only regular infantry units to appear in the two days of the grand review. By October 1865, the Third Infantry was en-route to Kansas for a return to frontier service.

The Third Infantry remains on active duty today. Since 1948 it has been stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, where the “Old Guard” serves as official escort to the President, as the Army’s official ceremonial unit and as guardians of the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Campaigns of the Third Regiment Infantry, 1861-1865

Texas, 1861
Fort Pickens, Florida 1861
Bull Run, 1861
Washington City Provost Guard, 1861-62
Yorktown, 1862
Gaines Mill, 1862
Malvern Hill, 1862
Second Bull Run, 1862
Antietam, 1862
Fredericksburg, 1862
Chancellorsville, 1863
Gettysburg, 1863
New York City Provost Guard, 1863
Bristoe Station, 1863
Mine Run, 1863
Defenses of Washington, 1864
Headquarters Guard, Army of the Potomac, 1865
Appomattox, 1865
Grand Review, Washington, 1865
Member of the 3rd US Regulars in uniform with small arm conducting weapons safety demonstration
Conducting a weapons safety demonstration

Paul Stier


1st Lt. Paul Stier
E-mail: stierdog@hotmail.com

1st Sgt. Geoff White
E-mail: geoffawhite1978@hotmail.com

Recruiter, Cpl. Peter Vaselopulos

E-mail: pvaselop@gmail.com


Last updated: April 16, 2018

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