In 1862, the U.S. War Department authorized the formation of the 37th Infantry to show that men past draft age were willing and able to go to war. The Unit of 914 men was assembled that December at Camp Strong near Muscatine, Iowa. The oldest man was 80-year-old Pvt. Curtis King. Six men were in their 70s, including 72-year-old drummer, Nicholas Ramey. Another 136 men were in their 60s. Nearly all of the members of the regiment were over 45.
Required to hike in the mud and sleep in the rain like other soldiers, the Graybeards were spared none of the rigors of army life. They were, however, exempted from combat duty, serving instead as guards of military prisons, railroads, and arsenals in Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Only three men were killed in action, but 145 died of disease and 364 were discharged because of physical disabilities.
By war's end, more than 1,300 of the sons and grandsons of Graybeard members had enlisted. So the regiment accomplished its major purpose, to serve as a grand propaganda tool for recruiting.