The following is a brief history of the service of the Eighth Kansas Volunteer Infantry. The Eighth saw more than its share of action, and as the following synopsis will display, the unit was engaged in a variety of theaters of war.
- Cols., Henry W. Wessells, Robert H. Graham, John A. Martin;
Lieut. Cols., John A. Martin, James L. Abernathy, Edward F. Schneider, James M. Graham, John Connover. Majors, Edward F. Schneider, James M. Graham, John Connover, Henry C. Austin.
This regiment, like most of the first Kansas organizations, was originally intended for service in the state and along the border, and, as was also true of many of the early regiments formed, it was at first a mixed organization, intended to have eight companies of infantry and two of cavalry. The first six companies were mustered into U.S. service in Sept. 1861, for three years, two more companies were added in October, and the regimental headquarters were established in Lawrence. During December 1861 and January 1862, two more incomplete companies joined the regiment as Cos. I and K.
On February 7, 1862, Col. Wessells was ordered to rejoin his regiment in the Regular Army, and on the 28th, by order of Gen. Hunter, commanding the department, the regiment was thoroughly reorganized and consolidated with a battalion raised for service in New Mexico, and Col. Graham of the latter was assigned to the command. As finally reorganized, the regiment had a strength ot 862 officers and men. Late in May, 1862, with other regiments, under the command of Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, it was ordered to Corinth, Mississippi, and a battalion of five companies left the state for that point on May 27th.
After some delays at Columbus, Ky., Union City, Trenton and Humboldt, Tenn., it finally arrived at Corinth on July 3rd and was temporarily attached to Col. Fuller's brigade, Brig. Gen. Jeff. C. Davis' division, Army of the Mississippi. On Feb. 22, 1863, Cos. A, C, D and F along with Co. G on Mar. 29 which composed the battalion which had been left behind in Kansas, reported at Nashville and the regiment was there united for the first time since its organization. Meanwhile, prior to Feb. 22, 1863, Co. G, which had been stationed at Ft. Laramie, and the other companies had seen considerable service along the border of Kansas and in Missouri, fighting with Coffey, Cockrell, Quantrill and other guerrilla leaders. The battalion at Corinth left that point on July 22, 1862, for Jacinto, where it was attached to the 1st Brigade, 9th Division, Army of the Mississippi, with Brig. Gen. Davis commanding the division and Col. Mitchell the brigade. Col. Graham had been taken sick at St. Louis and never rejoined his command, being succeeded by Lieut. Col. Martin.
The military historian of the regiment in summarizing its services for the adjutant general's report, says: "During its term of service, the 8th traveled 10, 750 miles. It participated in 15 battles and 18 skirmishes...It lost a total of 64 killed, 272 wounded and 21 missing." In the above losses there are not included 5 men killed and 17 men wounded in slight skirmishes or by guerrillas while foraging and scouting. Hence, the aggregate loss of the regiment was 379 killed, wounded and missing. Three officers and 92 men died of disease, bringing the total loss by death to 212.*
The heaviest loss sustained by the regiment was at Chickamauga, where out of a total of 406 engaged, it lost 243 officers and men killed, wounded or missing, or 55 percent, of those present. Says the same military historian: "The gleam of its bayonets was seen from Ft. Laramie. Neb., to the Rio Grande; its banners fluttered in the sunlight from Kansas to North Carolina, the crack of its rifles startled the echoes in the valley of the Platte and along the hillsides of the Tennessee and Chattahootchie, and the tramp of its soldiers resounded in the dusty highways of twelve different states. It hunted guerrillas in Missouri, combated Longstreet's veterans at Chickamauga, stormed the blazing heights of Missionary Ridge, fought a continuous battle from Kennesaw Mountain to Atlanta and broke through Hood's lines at the battle that annihilated the rebel army of the West. At Nashville, it did duty in white gloves and at Knoxville it was shirtless, hatless, shoeless and in rags. It knew how to garrison a post or charge a line of intrenchments. At Ft. Leavenworth it vied with the oldest and best trained soldiers in the Regular Army in the perfection of its discipline and drill, and in Georgia it lived on the countryside with Sherman's bummers."
The regiment was the last of the Kansas troops to be discharged, being finally mustered out at Ft. Leavenworth on January 9, 1866, when it mustered a total of 196 officers and men.
Source: The Union Army, Vol. 4, pg. 209