The regiment left the state under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Barrett for New York on the 29th of November, arriving there the 30th, and was quartered at the Park Barracks until December 3rd, when it was ordered to Camp Banks, near Jamaica, Long Island.
Here the exposure and suffering of the men first commenced. Up to this time they had lived in comfortable barracks at Camp Stevens, and had been well fed and otherwise cared for. Now they were forced to occupy a bleak spot known as the "Union Race Course," and were provided only with common shelter tents for protection from the weather, with the mercury ranging near the zero point. In addition to this the regiment as yet had no quartermaster, and the provisioning of it was let out to mercenary contractors, who furnished food scant in quantity and repulsive in quality. As day by day the situation grew worse rather than better what wonder was it that what commenced as slight murmuring increased to outright grumbling and indignant protest, but with no avail, and open revolt seemed imminent. Matters thus remained until Sunday morning, December 7th. It had been an exceedingly cold night, several inches of snow having fallen. Some of the men had actually been frost-bitten. Breakfast was not forthcoming, and some of the men had strayed away the night before to the village of Jamaica, and had been taken in and cared for by the citizens, and they reported that there was "room for more." The effect was that to a certain extent demoralization set in. The major being in command, (the lieutenant-colonel being absent,) finding that the people of Jamaica were anxious to relieve the sufferings of the men, by providing means of shelter from the inclemency of the weather, gave the captains permission to march their companies into the town, where the citizens threw open their stores and houses and made them comfortable for the night. In the morning they provided them with a substantial breakfast. They were then addressed by ex-Governor King, who complimented them upon their manly, soldierly bearing while among them, and expressed an interest in their future welfare; after which the regimental line was formed and three rousing cheers were given for the people of the town.
The following resolutions, which had been prepared, were left for publication in the local papers:
Resolutions.Whereas, it has been the fortune of this regiment to be thrown, as it were, into the town of Jamaica, to seek shelter from the inclemency of the severe winter weather; and whereas, the good people of the town have received us into their families and given us plenty to eat and done all that Christian hearts could prompt them to do, therefore:
Resolved, That we, the members of the Fifty-third Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, tender to them our sincere thanks and heartfelt gratitude for their many favors extended to us, and we ask God Almighty to bless them, and may they be as happy in bestowing, as we have been in receiving, and again may God bless the good people of Jamaica.
It should be stated that the arrangement for the regiment spending the night at Jamaica was brought about mainly by Lieutenant Glover of Company C, who went there Sunday morning and represented to some of the principal citizens the suffering condition of the regiment, which resulted in the invitation to bring the men out there, and the subsequent kind treatment received. He reported to Major Pratt who, as before stated, gave permission for the men to go. The experience was certainly like an oasis in the desert and the men who partook of their hospitality have held and will hold it in grateful remembrance until their dying day.
The Fifty-third Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, by Henry A. Willis, pp. 28-30.