Francis E. Vinaca papers  1850-1871 (bulk 1861-1865)
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Vinaca, Francis E., ca.1844-1865

Rank : Private

Regiment : 186th New York Infantry Regiment. Co. C (1864-1865)

Service : 1864 August 15-1865 April 2

Chase, Henry S.

Rank : Sergeant

Regiment : 1st New York Mounted Rifles. Troop E (1861-1865)

Service : 1862 September(?)-1865 July 21

At the eve of the Civil War, the Vinacas of Adams Center, N.Y., were a fairly typical Jefferson County farming family. With many of their neighbors they shared a patriotism tinged with a certain reluctance to go to war, and they held a fairly typical range of attitudes toward one of the war's central issues, slavery. The head of the family, Calvin W. Vinaca, had two children, Alice, a very young girl in 1864, and Francis (Frank).

In 1862, Francis' cousin, Henry S. Chase, enlisted as a Sergeant in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, a regiment that served in the siege of Suffolk and who, throughout their enlistment, were very active in the Virginia-North Carolina border area, encamped variously in Suffolk, Portsmouth and Williamsburg. Once Francis came of age, Chase needled him to enlist, though Chase's reasons for fighting were clear. He wrote sarcastically to Francis, "This may be a hard story for you to believe if you doubt it all that you have to do is to put on a blue gound, Sholder your musket and todle down here to fight for nigers" (1863 August 9). As the tone of his comment would imply, Chase was indignant at slavery having become a focus of the war, and stated that he had had no intention of fighting for that cause. For him and his fellow soldiers, in fact, "fun" consisted of tossing contrabands into the canal or stealing the shirts off their backs.

Seemingly from a variety of motivations, patriotism and profit among them, Francis followed Chase into the Army, mustering into the 186th New York Infantry at Sackett's Harbor in August, 1864. The regiment left the state for City Point, Va., arriving on October 4th, and remained there briefly before assuming a position on the western side of the Union lines around Petersburg. The 186th quickly and quite frequently found themselves near skirmishing and other fighting, but were never engaged during the fall or winter of 1864-65. They participated on several small scouts and had brushes with guerrillas on at least one occasion. After three men from the regiment had their throats slit in December, the officers of the regiment allowed the men to take anything they wished from the houses. After Francis and Martin eagerly absconded with food and slaves and set fire to a house, Francis wrote, "it was the home of guerrillas and I did not pity them any" (1864 December 16-17).

Francis Vinaca seems to have relished his taste of the soldiers' life, and strongly desired to apply for a commission in a "Colored" regiment, applying formally for a furlough to go before the examining board and requesting a loan from his father so that he might look presentable. His plans were thwarted, however, by not being allowed to leave the 186th.

In the late spring of 1865, as the situation for the Confederate Army rapidly deteriorated, the 186th Infantry finally encountered actual combat. They were one of the regiments called on to respond to the desperate surprise assault on Fort Stedman on March 25th, when Confederates, posing as deserters, suddenly took up arms. Only a week later, Francis Vinaca was killed in action at Fort Mahone during the final Union assault on the western line at Petersburg, April 2nd, 1865. The 186th Infantry sustained almost 200 casualties.