The Fighting 69th New York Infantry Regiment and the Irish Brigade

This past week I have been immersed in reading Bradley M. Gottfried’s newest book, “The Maps of First Bull Run.”  While not a full narrative of the battle, it is nearly so.  While reading about the battle, Mr. Gottfried detailed some of the actions of the 69th New York Militia – later to be the 69th New York Infantry.  Always one of my favorite regiments, it was consolidated into US Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher’s famed Irish Brigade.  Reading about them got me excited about writing a history on the 69th and its contributions to the Civil War.  I hope you enjoy my article.  Please watch for an in depth review of Mr. Gottfried’s new book in the coming weeks.

Irish Brigade Regimental FlagThe 69th New York Infantry had a proud heritage.  Originally designated the Irish Rifles Company, it would be the original unit of the 69th New York Militia.  After coming to the United States in 1849, Michael Corcoran would become involved in the Irish Rifles.  Well connected politically, Corcoran would advance within the ranks of the Rifles, prior to the Civil War, and would become involved in political dealings with the Democrats of Tammany Hall.  With the outbreak of sectional hostilities, he became active in recruiting a regiment – the 69th New York Militia.  Meanwhile, Thomas Francis Meagher was deciding where his loyalties should be directed.  On one hand, he was sympathetic to the Southern cause, believing it similar to the Irish Confederation his Young Irelanders formed to lobby for Irish representation in Great Britain, in the 1840’s.  On the other hand, Meagher became enamored with the prospect of being in an all Irish regiment from New York.  After the firing on Fort Sumter, the Irish American published an article backing Abraham Lincoln’s defense of the Union, “Irish Americans, we call on you…to be true to the land of your adoption in this crisis.”  Robert Nugent, lieutenant colonel of the 69th, speaking with Meagher, who expressed his abhorrence to the firing on Sumpter urged him, “As you feel that way, Mr. Meagher, perhaps you might take a notion of coming with us.”(i)

Meagher decided to join Corcoran who asked him to stay behind and raise another company before joining him in Washington City.  In little more than a week, the 38 year old Meagher had filled his company.  Outfitted in bright French Algerian styled uniforms the company became known as the Irish Zouaves.  Meagher was commissioned captain of the company and left New York City, to join the rest of the 69th, on May 22.  Shortly after joining Colonel Corcoran, Meagher would be promoted to major.

By early June, the Lincoln Administration, the northern populace and many of the soldiers were ready to go and whip the Rebels.  Assigned to Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman’s brigade, who at this time was not well known, the 69th New York Militia would learn quickly the ways of the army.  Sherman went strictly by the book.  While Sherman had spent some years away from the army, he had graduated sixth from West Point, in 1840.  He would drill his brigade continuously, due to his concern with the reliability of volunteer militia units.  Also brigaded with the 69th were several other New York units: 13th, 29th and 79th regiments.  Lastly, one western regiment, the 2d Wisconsin was also assigned to the brigade.  Like the 69th New York, the 2d Wisconsin would also become part of a famous brigade – the Iron Brigade.  However, in the early summer of 1861, these troops were “green” and were more accustomed to military parade than fighting a hostile enemy.

The U.S. troops garrisoned around Washington City were part of the Army of Northeastern Virginia.  Commanded by US Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, they were the largest army unit ever organized on American soil, to that point.  Sherman commanded the Third Brigade in the Army’s First Division – one of the largest brigades in the army.  Facing them was the Confederate Army of the Potomac, commanded by the hero of Fort Sumter, CSA Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard.  A career military man, and an 1838 graduate of West Point, Beauregard had approximately 15,000 soldiers under his command, which were positioned along Bull Run Creek, just north of the vital railroad hub at Manassas Station.(ii)  In the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederates had approximately 11,000 soldiers, in three brigades, commanded by CSA General Joseph E. Johnston, one of the highest ranking officers in the Confederate service.  By early July, Lincoln began to pressure McDowell to move out of the Washington defenses, and attack Beauregard, before Johnston could reinforce him.  With nearly 30,000 men, of all arms, Lincoln knew his army enjoyed a significant numerical superiority and believed McDowell could crush Beauregard.  McDowell was concerned about how his “green” troops would perform, under fire, and expressed these concerns to Lincoln.  Lincoln assured him, “You are green, it is true, but they are green also.  You are green alike.”(iii)

On July 16, the Army of Northeastern Virginia vacated their fortifications and pushed southwest towards the Bull Run.  Upon reaching the area of Centreville, Virginia, McDowell changed his battle plan.  He would hold the Confederate left flank, at the Stone Bridge, on the Warrenton Turnpike, with the majority of Brigadier General Daniel Tyler’s division, while skirmishing along the Confederate left flank, near Blackburn’s Ford, with two brigades (colonels Israel Richardson and Thomas Davies) would hold Beauregard’s right flank place.  These tactical operations were part of a diversion to allow two Federal divisions, commanded colonels David Hunter and Samuel Heitzlman, to push north, crossing the Bull Run at Sudley’s Ford, and fall on the exposed left flank of the Confederate Army of the Potomac.  McDowell’s plans were well conceived, but he underestimated the ability of his army to coordinate such complicated moves at the proper time.  This would prove fatal for the Federals’ hopes of ending the war on the fields near Manassas Junction.  It would also cost countless lives, including 192 casualties in the 69th New York Militia.(iv)

By 2:30 a.m. Tyler’s Division had started their flanking march and were expected to push across Sudley’s Ford by 7:00 a.m.  Due to difficulty moving such large troop formations, Tyler’s division was unable to cross Bull Run at the planned hour and did not push across until nearly 9:30 a.m.  CSA Colonel Nathan Evans, holding the Confederate left flank, quickly recognized that McDowell’s plans were not for an attack across the Stone Bridge, but an attack, from the north, that would flank his position.  Leaving behind four companies of the 4th South Carolina, to hold the Stone Bridge, Evans quickly marched the rest of his brigade west to meet Tyler’s Federals.  Placing his soldiers on the reverse slope of Matthews Hill, he prepared for the inevitable.  The opposing forces would clash at 10:15 a.m.  For next 90 minutes Evans, reinforced by two brigades from Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah (Francis S. Bartow and Barnard E. Bee), would hold their position against a numerically superior Federal force.  Finally being pushed off Matthews Hill, around 11:45 a.m., the Confederates would retreat south to Henry Hill.  There they would be reinforced by CSA Brigadier General Thomas Jackson’s Brigade, creating a strong defensive position.

For the next two hours the Federals fought to capture Henry Hill.  They would suffer heavy casualties at the junction of the Warrenton Turnpike and the Sudley-Manassas Road.  The 69th New York, along with the rest of Sherman’s brigade, would be pressed into action while the Confederate forces were retreating from Matthews Hill.  Pushing across the Bull Run, at Farm Road, they would be placed in reserve, behind the rest of Tyler’s Division, which was being thrown into action regiment, by regiment.  Around Fighting 69th at Bull Run by Don Troiani2:00 p.m., it was Sherman’s turn to enter the action.  Pushing his brigade down the Sudley-Manassas Road, he would attack the Confederate position from the west, south of the Warrenton Turnpike.  For nearly two hours his brigade, including the 69th New York, would battle the Confederates on the high ground of Henry Hill.  They would suffer severely from infantry and artillery fire.  By 4:00 p.m., they would be forced to retreat north towards Sudley’s Ford.  McDowell, who appeared to have victory within his reach, after the Confederate retreat from Matthews Hill, found his army in full retreat.  The 69th New York’s first taste of battle would be costly, as the first battle of Bull Run ended in a Federal rout, with the Army of Northeastern Virginia rapidly retreating towards Washington City.  Entrusted with the 69th New York Militia’s battle flag, was Meagher’s Company K of Irish Zouaves.  With his sword extended over his head, Meagher encouraged his soldiers, “Boys, look at that flag – think of Ireland and Fontenoy.”  This battle flag had been captured by the Confederates, with two color bearers killed, before being recaptured by John Wildey of the New York Fire Zouaves.  A soldier from Company K stated passionately, “…not on this continent a braver man than Thomas Francis Meagher.”(v)  Meagher’s star had begun to shine in his regiment.

On July 25, four days after First Bull Run, the 90 day enlistment period for the 69th New York Militia expired.  Leaving Washington City, they would pass through Baltimore and Philadelphia, where admiring crowds cheered them along.  When they reached New York City, they would be escorted up Broadway with an admiring throng cheering for them, and a 69 gun salute from a three gun battery.(vi)

With the 69th New York Militia officially mustered out of Federal service, the respite would indeed be brief for many of the soldiers.  Meagher, speaking at Jones’ Wood, asked for financial support for the widows and orphans of the men who did not return.  He also used his oratorical skills to begin recruiting for the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry.  Now a colonel, Meagher declined to take command of the new 69th, with regimental command being given to Colonel Robert Nugent.  Meagher was on a mission to create an all Irish Brigade to serve in the newly christened Army of the Potomac, under the command of US Major General George B. McClellan.

Thomas F. MeagherMeagher’s plans were to have two New York regiments and one from each, Philadelphia and Boston.  His plans derailed as the governors of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania did not want to detail regiments to be sent to New York – fearing they may be attributed to those states.  With throngs of New York Irish enlisting at the Irish Brigade recruiting station, on Broadway, the original Irish Brigade would be composed of the 63d, 69th and 88th New York infantry regiments. Additionally the 2d Battalion New York Artillery was also attached to the brigade.  Filling the 69th New Yorks depleted ranks were companies from Brooklyn, Buffalo and Chicago.  With the 69th being the first to reach regimental strength, it would be designated the First Regiment, Irish Brigade.  They would receive a battle flag, produced by Tiffany and Company, that was emerald green, with a harp suspended by bright sun rays.  Their regimental motto was inscribed at the bottom of the flag, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”(vii)  Most soldiers in the regiment would receive smooth bore Prussian made .69 caliber muskets.  Additionally there were close to 300 Enfield rifled muskets distributed from the cache of arms brought back from Virginia.  All told, the 69th New York would have 745 soldiers – slightly under full strength.

The new 69th would be officially mustered into Federal service on November 18, 1861 and would immediately leave for Washington City.  The 63d and 88th New York regiments would follow the 69th after the 88th was mustered into Federal service on December 16, 1861.(viii)  Upon arriving at Camp California, near Alexandria, Virginia, they would join the 69th and would be under the nominal command of Colonel Nugent until February 1862, when Meagher arrived in Washington City.  Meagher would be commissioned brigadier general on February 3, 1862 and officially supplant Nugent as commander of the Irish Brigade on February 5.(ix)  Over the next several months, during the winter of 1862, the Irish Brigade would be drilled, marched and organized, with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, by McClellan who had earned the moniker, “Young Napoleon.”  With 140 plus years of historical analysis, McClellan’s faults have been well documented.  However, his organizational skills, drilling and inspired leadership were his hallmark and would provide the 69th New York, and the rest of the Army of the Potomac, fundamental skills they would need during the rapidly approaching 1862 campaign season.

As the winter months of 1862 were waning, the Lincoln administration was becoming anxious to learn what McClellan’s plans were for the coming months.  “On to Richmond” was continually in the North’s newspaper headlines, with the public anxious for action – an action they believed would end the war with the capture of the Confederate capital.  Lincoln preferred an overland route for his eastern theater army, while McClellan believed the best route was to head down the Potomac, Disembarking at Urbanna, Virginia with one strong push towards Richmond.  Both plans had merit, and both had inherent risk.  The overland route, across the Rappahannock River, would be more direct, and would allow McClellan to use nearly his entire army, as Washington could easily be defended.  Supplying McClellan’s massive 100,000+ man army would require significant military outposts to guard the long supply line.  McClellan’s proposed “Urbanna Plan” which would use ships to carry his entire army to Urbanna, Virginia, at the confluence of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, would allow the Federal army to quickly flank Joseph Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia.  Lincoln had serious reservations about this plan, as it would leave Washington uncovered and open to attack by the Confederate army.  However, the Urbanna Plan allowed the Federal Army to use the inland waterways to supply their men.  The plan would finally be approved by Lincoln, when on March 8, McClellan and eleven other generals met with Lincoln at the White House.  III Corps commander, US Brigadier General Samuel Heintzelman noted in his diary that day, “He (Lincoln) urged us all to go in heartily for this plan.”(x)  Lincoln, however, placed certain restrictions on McClellan.  No more than two corps would be sailed from Annapolis until all enemy batteries, on the upper Potomac, were cleared.  Additionally, the capital must be left entirely secure and the army must begin their movements by March 18.

About this same time, the Federal government had learned that Joe Johnston had pulled his troops from the Centreville-Leesburg line and had moved to a position south of the Rappahannock River.  This made the Urbanna Plan unworkable as Johnston’s army would be on their flank at Urbanna.  McClellan changed his plans and opted to use Fort Monroe, on the Virginia peninsula, as his staging point.  From their the Army of the Potomac would push up the peninsula towards Richmond.  This change created what would become the Peninsula Campaign.

On March 17, the II, III and IV Army Corps began leaving Annapolis.  Huge amounts of ships were used to transport McClellan’s infantry, artillery, cavalry and baggage trains.  On April 4, with his three army corps, McClellan pushed up the Virginia peninsula.  Over the coming weeks, the Army of the Potomac, would be further reinforced by the V and VI Army Corps.  They would fight battles at Yorktown (siege), Williamsburg, Eltham’s Landing, Drewry’s Bluff, Hanover Court House and Seven Pines, pushing within sight of the city of Richmond.  Prior to leaving Annapolis, The Irish Brigade, along with the 69th New York Infantry, were assigned to US Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson’s First Division, of US Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner’s II Army Corps.  Arriving before Yorktown, the 69th was used to corduroy roads (covering muddy roads with large logs) and digging gun emplacements.  As Yorktown turned into a siege, the Irishmen did not see significant action at there.  Pushing west, the Army of the Potomac would next encounter the Confederate forces at Williamsburg.  The Irish Brigade would arrive too late to participate in the fighting here.  Sent back to Yorktown, the Irish Brigade would board transport ships and move to West Point, on the York River.  Moving further inland, the Army of the Potomac’s next significant battle took place at Seven Pines (also called Fair Oaks) from May 31 – June 1.  With US Brigadier General Erasmus Keyes’ IV Corps bearing the brunt of the Confederate attack, it would be virtually Irish Brigade at Fair Oakswrecked.  With word of the battle, reaching West Point, the Irish Brigade would quickly be put into motion crossing the rickety Grapevine Bridge and marching through the night to reach the battlefield.  Meagher would leave the 63d New York behind, to guard the bridge, in the event they needed it for further movements.  The rest of the brigade would arrive, to the sound of sporadic musketry, at 9:00 p.m., on May 31.  Exhausted, they would have little sleep before being awakened at 4:00 a.m.(xi)  Meagher, already on his horse, was able to view the grisly remnants on the previous day’s fight.  The Irish Brigade’s chaplain, Father William Corby described the scene, “Many a poor soldier lay cold in death just where he fell in the battle of the previous evening, and we saw the ghastly appearance of their bodies, which had been, as it were, our bed-fellows, and a shudder passed through our hearts…. Taking a hasty look over the locality, I saw on every side dead men, dead horses, broken muskets, caissons smashed to pieces, and the general destruction of life and property.(xii)

With the Army of the Potomac, now forming a right angle, with the right arm posted along Hanover Road, and the left arm positioned above the Richmond and York River Railroad, east of Fair Oaks Station, the battle lines were drawn for the second day of fighting at Seven Pines.  Meagher’s two regiments (88th and 69th) were positioned in the center of the left arm, above Orchard Station.  After receiving orders from Richardson, Meagher pushed the 69th into action, ordering them down the hill, to the railroad tracks.  They quickly encountered fire from CSA Brigadier General Lewis Armistead’s Brigade, which was well hidden in the woods, and buildings, above the railroad cut.  With the 69th heavily engaged, Richardson ordered the 88th New York to the left flank of the 69th.  However, the order would be countermanded before the entire 88th could push through the underbrush, to the railroad.  Unfortunately, this left the 69th and two companies of the 88th, to fend for themselves.  They would be quickly overwhelmed and forced to retreat, leaving dead and wounded where they had fallen.  Meagher led his troops bravely with a staff member recalling, “(Meagher was) indefatigable, riding from line to line, cheering on the men.  The general was all the time under fire.”(xiii)  All told, during the Battle of Fair Oaks, which was inconclusive, with both armies holding their original position, the Army of the Potomac would suffer 5,700 casualties.  The Confederates would suffer nearly 8,000, including their commander, Joseph E. Johnston, who left the battlefield seriously wounded.  He would spend months recovering, while CSA General Robert E. Lee would permanently take over command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The Irish Brigade would receive reinforcements, after the Battle of Fair Oaks, when the 29th Massachusetts was assigned to Meagher’s command.  While not an “Irish” regiment, they were welcomed into the depleted brigade by the Irishmen.

Irish Brigade at Gaines' MillOn June 27, with just Brigadier General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, north of the Chickahominy River, Lee would assault the lone Federal corps at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill – the opening salvo of the Seven Days.  Struggling through the day, Porter’s Corps fought bravely.  Meagher’s Irish Brigade and US Brigadier General William French’s brigade were sent north to reinforce Porter.  With the “Fighting 69th” leading the way, the Irish Brigade was able to stem the quickly developing V Corps rout, and join the battle at Gaines’ Mill.  They would march to the right flank, allowing the Federals to hold their position until they were able to cross the Chickahominy and rejoin the rest of the Army of the Potomac.  The Irishmen acted as a rear guard, crossing the river early the next morning.(xiv)  Fortunately, the Confederates did not follow up their victory, letting the Federals retreat unmolested after suffering nearly 7,000 casualties.

McClellan, already having planned a change of base, to the York River, quickly began moving his massive army south.  On June 29, Sumner’s II Corps would be attacked while maintaining the army’s rear guard, at Savage’s Station.  Again, the Irish Brigade was thrown into the fight.  Sumner, being harassed by artillery fire, would send the 88th New York to silence an artillery battery that blocked their path on the Williamsburg Road.  US Major James Quinlan would lead the charge, with the regiment receiving a blast of cannister before the Confederate artillery limbered up retreating to their lines.  Quinlan would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions at Savage’s Station.  Meanwhile, the 69th New York would repel a Confederate probe against their lines.  Once again, the Irish Brigade performed nobly.  The Army of the Potomac would continue its retreat, this time to White Oak Swamp, after leaving nearly 2,500 wounded soldiers at a field hospital.  At White Oak Swamp (also called Glendale or Frayser’s Farm), on June 30, the Irish Brigade would once again be in the rear guard.  Pulling up, on the far side of the swamp, Meagher would deploy his line, protecting the retreating Army of the Potomac.  With Confederate artillery pounding them, they would hold them in place, until they could pull back and join the rest of the army at Malvern Hill.

Malvern Hill, a readily defensible plateau, became the new Federal defensive line, allowing the Army of the Potomac to continue its retreat to Harrison’s Landing.  Manned by Porter’s V Corps, and significant Federal artillery, Malvern Hill proved too much for the Confederates.  On July 1, at the Battle of Malvern Hill, Lee would throw successive waves of infantry assaults against the V Corps, and would be repulsed each time.  Late in the day, while the Irish Brigade was preparing to eat dinner, they would be called upon to support the V Corps, whose left flank was beginning to crumble under a massive assault by CSA Major General John Magruder’s Reserve divisions.  Quickly forming and pushing towards Porter’s left flank, the 63d New York and 29th Massachusetts were detailed to support an artillery Irish Brigade at Malvern Hillbattery.  The veteran 69th and 88th New York were sent into a woodlot, on the left, where Porter believed he may be flanked.  Within moments, they received heavy fire from the rapidly approaching 10th Louisiana “Fighting Tigers” Infantry.  While suffering numerous casualties, the 69th not only held their position, but charged the Confederate force.  They would move to the right, allowing the 88th to move on their left flank.  The two regiments would continue to fight until dark, nearly running out of ammunition and with their muskets so hot and fouled that they were forced to fight hand-to-hand.  A staff officer, describing the charge of the 69th and 88th New York against the Louisiana Tigers stated, “(what a) grand sight!  These two regiments side by side like brothers in a fight, moving in and out, the one to relieve the other when their weapons became almost impossible to work.”(xv)  With their strong stand, on the left flank, the Irish Brigade was able to help hold the Federal left flank, leading to Federal victory at Malvern Hill.  The 69th would bear the brunt of the casualties with 155 total, while the 88th would suffer a total of 33 casualties.  Once again, Meagher’s Irish Brigade performed admirably.  Finally, joining the rest of the army at Harrison’s Landing, the Seven Days battles were over.  The Peninsula Campaign and Seven Days battles decimated the ranks of the proud Irish Brigade.  All told, the three New York regiments suffered 460 casualties in their nearly three month “baptism of fire.”  On July 16, McClellan ordered Meagher to return to New York, to recruit reinforcements for his shattered brigade.

With their general in New York City, the Irish Brigade stayed at Harrison’s Landing with the rest of the Army of the Potomac.  The Army of the Potomac would begin boarding transport ships around the middle of August.  No longer announcing “On To Richmond,” the newspapers were now writing about a gathering storm in Northern Virginia.  After pulling back from Malvern Hill, Lee returned to the fortifications near Richmond.  With the newly constituted Army of Virginia, commanded by US Major General John Pope, threatening central Virginia, Lee dispatched a large portion of his army, under the command of Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson north, to prevent the Army of Virginia from combining with the Army of the Potomac.  Jackson, and the Army of Northern Virginia, would win successive battles, first at Cedar Mountain on August 9, and then at Second Manassas where Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would totally rout Pope’s Army of Virginia, August 28–30.  With McClellan’s troops in transit to Alexandria, only Porter’s V Corps would reach the field in time to reinforce Pope.  Accused of holding reinforcements from Pope, McClellan would nearly be removed from command.  Once Pope’s shattered army reached Washington, parts of it would be consolidated into the Army of the Potomac, with McClellan placed in command of an even larger army.  In the meantime, Lee started north, embarking on what would be known as the Maryland Campaign.

Meagher’s recruiting trip, to New York City, was not nearly as successful as previous recruiting trips.  Speaking at the 7th Regiment Armory, Meagher encouraged the Irish with a dazzling speech, “I here this night call upon my countrymen…to throw themselves forward, and pledging themselves in life and death to it, to stand to the last by that noble little brigade.”(xvi)  Hoping to bring in 1,000 new recruits, Meagher left to rejoin the Army of the Potomac with little more than 300.

With Lee crossing the Potomac River, into Maryland, on September 4, 1862, McClellan pushed his huge army northwest to Frederick, Maryland.  On September 14, with US Major General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps engaged at South Mountain, the Irish Brigade was ordered from Frederick to support him.  By the time they were able to reach South Mountain, the Confederates were already retreating west.  The Irish Brigade, leading the Federal pursuit from South Mountain pushed through Boonsborough and Keedysville before it was posted on the east side of Antietam Creek, in support of Federal artillery.  It was September 16.

On the morning of September 17, the Army of the Potomac attacked Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which was posted on the west side of the creek.  Initiated by an early morning attack through the Corn Field, by Hooker’s I Corps, the battle quickly heated up.  After several hours of fighting on Hooker’s front, Sumner’s II Corps was pushed into action around 10:00 a.m.  With Major General William French’s Third Division on the left, and Major General Israel Richardson’s First Division on the right, they pushed onto the battlefield.  However, instead of pushing west to reinforce Hooker, they began to veer to the left, pushing towards a sunken road, baptized in blood as Bloody Lane.  Pushing up a hill, near the Roulette Farm, the Irish Brigade was ordered into line of battle, with 69th New York on the right, followed by the 29th Massachusetts, 63d New York and the 88th New York on the brigade’s left flank.  Ordered to lead the division towards the growing sounds of battle, the Irish Brigade pushed up the hill, followed by US Brigadier General John Caldwell’s First Brigade.  As the brigade reached the crest of the hill, silhouetted from behind, they became an easy target for the Confederates in the sunken road.  Meagher ordered his brigade to fire into the Confederates below them.  Equipped with smooth bore muskets, firing buck-and-ball (like a shotgun), many of the Confederates would fall under this first volley.  With a yell, from Meagher, “Boys, raise the colors and follow me!” the Irish Brigade rushed towards the Bloody Lane.(xvii)

Irish Brigade at AntietamFacing them, on the Confederate side, were Confederate brigades commanded by CSA Brigadier Generals George B. Anderson and Ambrose R. Wright.  With the Federal forces reeling from the withering Rebel fire, Wright sent his brigade headlong into the Irish Brigade’s left flank, the 88th and 63d New York bearing the brunt of the assault.  The buck-and-ball melted them away, and they returned to the main Confederate line.  By this time, the Irish Brigade was the only brigade of Richardson’s division in the fight.  The battle at the sunken road would rage for over two hours.  Richardson would send in John Caldwell’s First Brigade to support the Irish Brigade.  With support at hand, the Irish Brigade pushed to the rear.  With Caldwell’s fresh brigade in the action, the Confederates were forced to pull back to the high ground of the Piper Farm, beyond the sunken road.  After the Battle of Antietam, Meagher stated, “Never were men in higher spirits.  Never did men with such alacrity and generosity of heart press forward and encounter the perils of the battle-field.”(xviii)  During the fighting at the Bloody Lane, the Irish Brigade would suffer a casualty rate approaching 60%.  The Fighting 69th New York would sustain the most casualties of any of the Irish Brigade regiments with 196 total casualties – 44 killed.  Included in this number were a total of eight color bearers who fell carrying the green Irish Brigade flag.  The 63d New York would suffer nearly as many with 192 total casualties.  The 88th New York, on the brigade’s left flank would incur 102 casualties.  The Irish Brigade continued to enhance its reputation as one of the hardest fighting brigades in the Army of the Potomac.  Unfortunately, Meagher was shrouded in controversy after Antietam.  According to a soldier in the 132d Pennsylvania volunteers, “…the Irish Brigade came up, under the command of General Thomas Francis Meagher.  Meagher rode a beautiful white horse, but made a show of himself by tumbling off just as he reached our line.  The boys said he was drunk, and he certainly looked and acted like a drunken man.”(ixx)  The rumors would circulate in the press, and amongst the soldiers, that Meagher was intoxicated during the battle.  McClellan’s official report of Antietam did not mention Meagher’s reported drunkenness, but the controversy would haunt Meagher for the remainder of his short life.

After the battle of Antietam, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia retreated across the Potomac.  McClellan would remain in the vicinity of Antietam for an extended period.  Abraham Lincoln would use the quasi victory, which history has deemed a draw, as a occasion to issue his Emancipation Proclamation – effectively changing the war aim from saving the Union to freeing the slaves.  Over the coming weeks, McClellan would finally begin his pursuit of Lee.  However, it was not quickly enough for Lincoln who, on November 7, 1862, placed US Major General Ambrose E. Burnside in command of the Army of the Potomac.  McClellan was told to remove himself to his home state of New Jersey to await further orders – orders that never came.  His army career was over even though he remained on the active army rolls.

Shortly after taking command, Burnside organized his Army of the Potomac into three Grand Divisions, commanded by Major Generals Edwin V. Sumner, Joseph Hooker and William B. Franklin.  The Irish Brigade was assigned to Sumner’s Right Grand Division.  Major General Darius Couch would command his II Corps while Brigadier General Winfield S. Hancock commanded the First Division of which the Irish Brigade was designated the Second Brigade.  After its mauling at Antietam, the Irish Brigade was under strength.  The 116th Pennsylvania would be added to the brigade to supplement the brigade’s losses.  Commanded by Colonel Dennis Heenan, the regiment’s Hibernian roots did not extend below its officers.  Most of the non-commissioned soldiers had Pennsylvania Dutch surnames.  Regardless, the brigade welcomed the men.

Burnside wasted no time making plans to thwart Lee.  With his army bivouacked near Warrenton, Virginia, he planned to feint a movement towards Culpeper – freezing the Army of the Potomac in place.  With Lee defending the Culpeper-Gordonsville line, he planned to quickly move towards Falmouth, crossing into Fredericksburg where the route to Richmond would be open along Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.  Leaving the Warrenton area, on November 15, the lead elements of Burnside’s 114,000 man army arrived in Falmouth on November 17.  Expecting to have his pontoon bridges waiting for him, Burnside learned that there was a mixup at the War Department that caused them to be delayed.  Lee was initially confused by Burnside’s movement and did not get his Army of Northern Virginia into motion for several days.  By November 21, CSA Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps had arrived in Fredericksburg, digging in along Marye’s Heights, above the town.  It was not until December 11 that Burnside’s engineers began constructing six pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River.  By then, Lee had ordered Lieutenant General Thomas Jackson’s 2d Corps back to Fredericksburg, from a river crossing south of Fredericksburg.  On December 13, 1862, with Lee’s entire army entrenched beyond Fredericksburg, Franklin’s Left Grand Division opened the Battle of Fredericksburg by attacking the Confederate right flank, commanded by Jackson, at Prospect Hill.  With the initial assault by US Major General George Meade’s division taking place at 8:30 a.m., the Federal army experienced some early success.  Unfortunately, Franklin sent his I Corps in, one division at a time, with little coordination between the forces.  The attack would grind to a halt, during the early afternoon, with neither side gaining any ground.

On the other side of the battlefield, Sumner’s Right Grand Division began its attack around 11:00 a.m.  Sending the II Corps division of William French through the town of Fredericksburg, they moved across the open ground to attack Longstreet’s 1st Corps.  Longstreet had established an extremely strong position above town, on Marye’s Heights.  With CSA Colonel John B. Walton’s Washington (Louisiana) Artillery arrayed near the top of the heights, and three infantry brigades below the artillery, Longstreet was confident of his defensive position.  The defining feature of his position was a sunken road that ran along the base of the hill, with a stone wall between the road and the Federal approach path.  CSA Colonel Edward Porter Alexander described the situation, “A chicken could not live upon that field when we open upon it.”(xx)  Earlier in the day, Walton had issued orders to his Washington Artillery, “As soon as the enemy’s infantry comes in range of your long-range guns General Longstreet wishes you to open upon them with effect.  Be particular in acquiring the bearing and range of the streets of town.  The enemy passing through them will give you an opportunity to rake him, which you of course will take.”(xxi)  Walton’s artillerists did not disappoint.  With French’s division pushing through town, they immediately began receiving fire from the Washington Artillery.  The artillery was well aimed, with the correct range, and opened large gaps in French’s division that would be immediately closed, before being opened again by additional artillery shells.  As they began to cross the field, below Marye’s Heights, the Confederate artillery would start firing canister into the approaching troops.  Again, closing ranks, they would continue to push up the hill.  Meanwhile, CSA Brigadier General Thomas R.R. Cobb admonished his troops, in the sunken road, to hold their fire until, “you can count the Yankee buttons.”  They did not have to wait long.  Once French’s division had approached within range, Cobb’s infantry opened fire, the musketry creating, “a perfect sheet of flame…from behind the stone wall.”(xxii)  The fire was more than the Federal infantry could endure.  Those soldiers that had survived the trek through town, and up the hill, laid down to avoid the fire.  Others hid behind buildings.

Following French, was Hancock’s First Division, which included the Irish Brigade.  Being able to watch the battle above them, Meagher distributed sprigs of green box elder to each Irishman to allow them to identify members of the brigade, that were not near the colors, as they pushed through the other II Corps troops engaged along the approach to Marye’s Heights.  With US Colonel Samuel Zook’s First Brigade leading the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburgway, the Irish Brigade fell in behind them.  With Zook’s brigade vaporizing before them, the Irish Brigade began to move at the double quick.  After crossing a mill race, under heavy fire, Meagher stopped his brigade and dressed ranks forming in line of battle.  With the 69th New York on the right flank, the rest of the brigade formed on their left - 88th New York, 29th Massachusetts, 63d New York and 116th Pennsylvania.  With all of the brigade’s field officers on foot, they immediately pushed forward to the stone wall - and the sheet of flame emanating from the Confederate muskets.  The Confederates knew the Irish were coming when they saw the 29th Massachusetts “green flag with the golden harp of old Ireland.”  With artillery canister tearing huge gaps in their ranks the Irish Brigade continued to move towards the wall, stepping over, and around, soldiers who had previously been injured, or killed, trying to reach the wall.  After moving across a fence, the infantry opened on the brigade, decimating its ranks.  A few lone soldiers, including Major William Horgan and adjutant John Young, of the 88th New York, continued to push forward alone, before they were killed within a few feet of the wall.  One Confederate officer recalled that the Irish “pushed on beyond all former charges, and fought and left their dead between five and twenty paces of the sunken road.”(xxiii)  The brigade’s survivors dropped to the ground, in a small depression, to escape the storm of lead.

Following the Irish Brigade was Caldwell’s First Brigade, which suffered the same fate as all the other brigades thrown against the Confederates on Marye’s Heights.  Burnside, still not satisfied that the Confederate position was unassailable pushed another division into the grinder.  With most of the entire II Corps dead, wounded, retreating or laying prone on the field, US Brigadier General Andrew Humphreys’ V Corps division pushed up Marye’s Heights.  Their fate was the same as each division, brigade and regiment engaged against the Confederates on Marye’s Heights – they were slaughtered.  Thus ended the debacle of Fredericksburg.  With most of the soldiers still strewn across the fields in front of Marye’s Heights, nightfall would end all but sporadic fighting.  Since the weather had been unseasonably warm, most of the soldiers had left behind their coats and blankets.  Unfortunately for the shattered humanity exposed to the elements, in front of Longstreet’s 1st Corps, the weather turned bitterly cold.  Many men, near death, would die from exposure.  Others would try to stay warm by huddling with other soldiers, all the while under sniper fire.  The 69th would lose sixteen of its commissioned officers – all that had charged Marye’s Heights.  Amongst the non-commissioned officers, it was just as grim as only 61 of the 173 enlisted men would survive unscathed.  After the battle of Fredericksburg, only 263 men, of the five Irish Brigade regiments, answered roll call.  A London Times reporter with the Confederate army summed it up best, “…never was more undoubted courage displayed by the sons of Erin than during those six frantic dashes which they directed against an almost impregnable position of their foe.”(xxiv)

In the spring of 1863, the Army of the Potomac had another new commander.  Center Grand Division commander Joseph Hooker took command of the army after Ambrose Burnside offered his resignation to Lincoln.  Burnside thinking Lincoln would refuse his resignation found out otherwise.  Unlike his predecessor, George B. McClellan, Burnside would stay in the army, commanding the IX Corps, assigned to the Department of the Ohio in east Tennessee.  Meagher petitioned to return to New York, with the 69th, 63d and 88th regiments, to re-fit and fill the ranks.  He would be turned down.  The Irish Brigade celebrated St. Patrick’s Day 1863 in style.  Even Joe Hooker came to the celebration.

With the campaign season nearing, Hooker planned his offensive.  Ever aggressive, he planned to hold “Bobby” Lee’s army in Fredericksburg, with US Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps, while he marched his other six army corps west, along the Rappahannock River, ultimately flanking Lee and falling on his rear, between Fredericksburg and Richmond.  Beginning on April 27, he put his plans in motion marching west along the Rappahannock with Meade’s V Corps, US Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps and US Major General Henry Slocum’s XII Corps.  Crossing the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford, they would push south to Ely’s Ford to cross the Rapidan River.  From there they pushed east towards Chancellorsville.  Darius Couch’s II Corps, led by Meagher’s small Irish Brigade, less the 88th New York, pushed north crossing the Rappahannock River at U.S. Ford, arriving from the north near the Chancellor Tavern.

Early on May 1, Lee determined what Hooker’s true intentions were and quickly sent CSA Major General Lafayette McLaw’s 1st Corps Division to meet the growing threat on his left flank.  They would run into portions of Couch’s II Corps, and Meade’s V Corps, along the Orange Turnpike east of Chancellorsville.  Jackson’s 2d Corps would be sent a short time later, and would meet Slocum’s XII Corps along the Orange Plank Road.  Overnight, Lee and Jackson held their last meeting, behind the Confederate lines.  Learning that Howard’s XI Corps was on the far right Federal flank, and unprepared for an attack from the west, they determined that Jackson would take his entire corps on a long flanking march early on May 2.  Starting later than planned, Jackson would pulverize Howard’s XI Corps around 5:30 p.m.  This turned into a rout, with the XI Corps retreating east, towards the Chancellor Tavern.  Hooker, being injured by an artillery shell, turned the Federal position at Chancellorsville over to Couch.  Shortening their lines, and consolidating their position near the Chancellor Tavern, the two sides would fight until darkness ended the fighting for the day.  Meagher’s Irish Brigade, hearing the fighting, organized their lines.  Overnight, while scouting ahead of his lines, Stonewall Jackson, and CSA Major General A.P. Hill, would be injured by friendly fire.  Jackson would die on May 10 from pneumonia, caused by his weakened condition.  This would be a tremendous loss for Lee, who put CSA Major General J.E.B. Stuart in charge of Jackson’s 2d Corps.

On May 3, the battle around the Chancellor Inn would start again.  The Irish Brigade, held in reserve, would be pushed into action by 8:00 a.m., to attempt to shore up the deteriorating Federal lines, on the east side of the Federal salient.  The Irish Brigade would again fight bravely, helping hold the Union position throughout the day.  The 88th New York would also be called up to support Caldwell’s First Brigade.  Overnight, Couch determined to retreat north of the Rappahannock, using U.S. Ford, ending the Battle of Chancellorsville – another terrible Federal defeat – and Robert E. Lee’s most brilliant victory.  While the total casualty count for the Irish Brigade was only 56, it was a high casualty rate for such a small brigade.  The 116th Pennsylvania was so depleted it would be reorganized into a four company battalion.  Meagher would resign his commission while the three New York regiments would be consolidated into three two-company battalions.  On June 14, US Colonel Patrick Kelly would lead the remnants of the Irish Brigade north from the Rappahannock River line.

Robert E. Lee, again wanting to take the war north of the Mason-Dixon Line, pushed through the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and Pennsylvania, arriving in late June.  Hooker, pursuing Lee’s army east of South Mountain, would be relieved of command on June 28.  Replacing Hooker was George Meade, who had to determine Lee’s intent.  On July 1, an advanced U.S. Cavalry division, commanded by US Brigadier General John Buford, engaged Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  During the first day’s battle, Buford’s cavalry, reinforced by US Major General John F. Reynolds’ I Corps, and Oliver O. Howard’s XI Corps, would hold their position, northwest of Gettysburg, until they were finally pushed south of town, to Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge.  II Corps’ commander, Winfield S. Hancock, would take command of the Federal position and await the arrival of his II Corps, overnight.

On the morning of July 2, the Federal line resembled a “fish hook,” stretching from Culp’s Hill, on the north, to Little Round Top on the south.  That afternoon, Lee ordered James Longstreet’s 1st Corps to attack the Federal left flank.  By then, US Major General Daniel E. Sickles’ III Corps had Father Corby at Gettysburgmoved over a mile forward of the Union lines, creating a huge salient.  Two of Longstreet’s Divisions, commanded by Major Generals Lafayette McLaw’s and John Bell Hood, slammed into Sickles’ exposed left flank.  With US Major General George Sykes’ V Corps defending Little Round Top, Sickles’ III Corps engaged Longstreet’s divisions at the Devil’s Den, and the Wheatfield.  Meade, after surveying Sickles’ forward position, ordered Hancock to send reinforcements from his II Corps.  Hancock chose US Brigadier General John Caldwell’s First Division, which included Patrick Kelly’s Irish Brigade, and three additional brigades commanded by US Brigadier General Samuel Zook and Colonels Edward Cross and John Brooke.  Before their march towards the Wheat Field, the Irish Brigade’s chaplain, Father William Corby, performed the surreal act of providing the soldiers with conditional absolution.  Standing on a rock, with his right hand outstretched over his flock, he performed the quick service.  His general absolution was, “intended for all – in quantum possum – not only for our brigade, but for all, North and South, who were susceptible of it and who were about to appear before their Judge.”  The ever profane Hancock, sitting on his horse, removed his hat in an act of reverence.(xxv)  Immediately afterwards, Cross’ brigade, followed by the Irish Brigade, Brooke’s brigade and Zook’s brigade marched south off of Cemetery Ridge.

With Cross’ brigade pushing directly into Rose’s Wheat Field, Zook and Kelly pushed their brigades towards Stoney Hill, just north of the Wheat Field.  Awaiting the Irish Brigade was the 7th South Carolina, hidden by the trees on the hill.  Neither knew the other was there until the Irish Brigade reached the bottom of the hill.  The South Carolinians unleashed a volley of musketry, overshooting most of the Irishmen.  With their smooth bore muskets, the Irish Brigade was in a perfect position for some retribution.  Their first volley found its mark, followed by several other volleys that pushed the Rebels off the hill.  The 29th Massachusetts would follow the fleeing Confederates a short distance, before turning back.  Unfortunately, Irish Brigade at Gettysburgthe battle for the Wheat Field quickly turned against the Federals, with Zook and Cross being mortally wounded.  Pressed on both flanks, Caldwell determined he needed “to fall back or have my command taken prisoner.”(xxvi)

Sickles’ forward position crumbled.  Falling back to the Cemetery Ridge line, they would be out of action during the third day of Gettysburg.  Sickles himself, would be seriously wounded, near the Trostle Farm, and taken from the field on a stretcher.  Overnight, he would have his right leg amputated at a field hospital.  The Irish Brigade would again suffer.  Entering the battle at Stoney Hill, they would have approximately 530 troops.  They would end the day suffering nearly 200 casualties.  The Fighting 69th would suffer 25 casualties of the 75 men that received Corby’s absolution, just hours before.  The largest Irish Brigade regiment, the 29th Massachusetts, would endure 100 casualties out of 228 that went into battle – nearly 50%.  On the third day of battle, the brigade would be held in a reserve position, behind the II Corps on Cemetery Ridge.  The Federal Army of the Potomac won the battle of Gettysburg, but at a very high price, suffering over 22,000 casualties.  Lee’s plans to weaken the North’s will to continue fighting failed miserably, ending with his ragged retreat back to Virginia.

Over the coming winter months the 116th Pennsylvania was able to reach regimental strength, recruiting from as far away as Pittsburgh.  General Meagher again gave rousing speeches to fill the ranks of the 63d, 69th and 88th New York regiments.  Likewise, the 29th was able to recruit men to fill their ranks.  Many veterans, enticed by furloughs and bounties, would re-enlist when their three year terms expired.  In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted lieutenant general, commanding all Federal ground forces.

In early May, Grant launched his Overland Campaign.  The Irish Brigade had a new commander, US Colonel Thomas Smyth.  Finally back up to full strength, the Irish Brigade would fight bravely with Hancock’s II Corps, during the Battle of the Wilderness.  Now part of US Major General Francis Barlow’s division, they would fight thirteen brigades of Lee’s army near the Brock Road, on the evening of May 6.  The Irish brigade, positioned in the woods 300 yards south of the Orange Plank Road, would fight bravely against CSA Brigadier General James Lane’s North Carolina brigade.  However, the pressure of the Confederate attack would finally push Hancock’s II Corps to the Brock Road, where they threw up rudimentary works in the evening.  Grant would sustain over 18,000 casualties during the battle of The Wilderness.  Fought to a draw, he would use the Brock Road, that Hancock’s Corps fought so bravely to hold, to push south in an attempt to turn Lee’s right flank.  Holding their position on May 8, the II Corps would serve as the rear guard for the Army of the Potomac.  The Irish Brigade would be one of the last to pull out, once again proving their fighting elan was second to none.  Hancock, recalling the fighting on the Orange Plank Road, stated that the “Irish Brigade behaved with great steadiness and gallantry.”(xxvii)

The II Corps would follow the Army of the Potomac to Spotsylvania Court House.  After the Wilderness, Grant had attempted to push around Robert E. Lee’s right flank.  J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate Cavalry quickly engaged Grant’s lead elements before his entire army had vacated The Wilderness.  Lee quickly sent CSA Major General Richard Anderson’s 1st Corps (Anderson took over after Longstreet was seriously wounded at The Wilderness) to slow the progress of the Federal Army.  Reaching the area of Laurel Hill, just north Spotsylvania Court House, Anderson was able to engage US Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps, on May 8.  With the II Corps acting as a rear guard, for the Army of the Potomac, they were attacked by CSA Major General William Mahone’s three brigade division along the Brock Road, at Todd’s Tavern.

II Corps at SpotsylvaniaBy the morning of May 9, Lee had entrenched his position north of Spotsylvania Court House.  The prominent feature of his line was a large salient, later dubbed the Mule Shoe, which was on his right flank.  From there his line extended west past Laurel Hill, ending on the Po River.  Grant’s line extended in an arc, from the Shady Grove Church Road, on his right, to the Ny River on his left.  Joining the Army of the Potomac, at Spotsylvania, was Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps, which pushed down the Court House Road towards the east side of the Mule Shoe.  Hancock’s II Corps formed the right flank, followed by Warren’s V Corps, Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Burnside’s IX Corps on the left flank.  The Federal army would suffer the loss of VI Corps commander, John Sedgwick, on May 9.  Sedgwick would be the highest ranking Federal officer killed during the Civil War, when a sniper’s bullet instantly killed him.  US Brigadier General Horatio Wright, the senior division commander in the VI Corps, would take over corps command.

On the afternoon of May 10, CSA Major General Henry Heth’s 3d Corps division would attack Barlow’s Division, of the II Corps, below the Po River.  Grant had planned to attempt a flanking move on the Confederate left before he realized they had been flanked by Heth.  Prior to the engagement, Hancock had ordered Barlow to pull across the Po, as he recognized Barlow’s division was vulnerable to being defeated piecemeal while separated from the rest of the his II Corps.  While moving his division across the Po River, Heth slammed into the rear elements of his command.  His two right brigades, commanded by colonels Paul Frank and John Brooke, received the brunt of the attack, leaving many Federal casualties on the field controlled by Heth.  Smyth’s Irish Brigade, which had pulled back to the Po River, established a defensive position to allow the rest of the division to cross the river.  This position saved the division from destruction.  Colonel Nelson Miles’ brigade, on the division’s left flank, would be the last to cross as they were guarding against an assault by CSA Brigadier General William Mahone’s Division, across the Block House Bridge.  Meanwhile, further to their left, Warren’s V Corps was launching an attack against Laurel Hill.  Hancock would be ordered up, in support of Warren, but arrived too late to have a significant impact.  Warren’s attack was repulsed handily by CSA Major General Charles Fields’ 1st Corps division.  This attack was part of a larger simultaneous attack against the entire left side of the Mule Shoe Salient.  While Grant’s army wide attack was unsuccessful in penetrating the Confederate position, Grant had some success against the north tip of the salient.  This would weigh heavily on his upcoming battle plans.

On May 11, Grant ordered Hancock’s II Corps to march around Warren’s V Corps, and Wright’s VI Corps, and position itself in a position near the Landrum Farm.  After the marginal success against the north face of the Mule Shoe, on May 10, Grant believed a larger scale attack would offer a better chance for success.  The II Corps would lead this attack, ordered to take place at 4:30 a.m. on May 12.  Again, part of larger army wide attack, the V and VI Corps would assault the left side of the salient while Burnside’s IX Corps would attack from the right side of the salient.  Their attack was to commence once Hancock’s infantry engaged CSA Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s 2d Corps.  At 4:30 a.m., on May 12, Hancock pushed his Corps forward.  Ordered to double quick across the open ground, they were to hold their fire until they reached the salient.  On the right flank of the forward attacking line were Brigadier General Gershom Mott’s Fourth Division and Major General David Birney’s Third Division, with Barlow’s Fourth Division, including the Irish Brigade, on the left flank.  Brigadier General John Gibbon’s Second Division would be in the reserve line – ordered to follow the forward line and support it where necessary.  Crossing the open ground, they encountered only sporadic fire as Confederate pickets raced back to their fortified line.  CSA Major General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division held the unenviable position at the tip of the Mule Shoe Salient.  While most of his division were in position, muskets cocked, Hancock’s three lead divisions slammed into Johnson, catching them unprepared for such a large assault.  Barlow had compacted his lines, and had veered left, slamming into the salient head-on.  Smyth’s Irish Brigade would reach the salient first as the rest of the division was working their way through abatis the Confederates had placed for just such an emergency.  Private Henry Bell, of the 116th Pennsylvania, upon scaling the Confederate works yelled, “We run this machine now!”(xxviii)  With the onslaught of the II Corps, most of Johnson’s Division were captured, including Johnson who was captured by a private in the 29th Massachusetts.  The Federal attack, to this point, had been a success, with hundreds of prisoners captured and many Rebel flags taken.  As Birney’s last II Corps division entered the fray, they continued to push into the salient, through a gap nearly a half mile wide.  Unfortunately, they would run into a second Confederate line that was more prepared.  Receiving a heavy rain of artillery and musketry, their forward momentum faltered.

In an attempting a coordinated army wide assault, Burnside’s IX Corps pushed off with much enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, they would run into CSA Major General Cadmus Wilcox’s Division of Confederates.  This would slow Burnside’s corps to a crawl as they fought to take advantage of the opportunity Hancock’s II Corps success had created.  Meanwhile, around 7:30 a.m., portions of Wright’s VI Corps slammed into an area known as the Angle.  In their front were two of CSA Major General Robert Rodes’ brigades, commanded by brigadier generals Stephen D. Ramseur and Junius Daniel.  The fighting became chaotic, with hand-to-hand combat taking place along the Mule Shoe.  The musketry became so intense, that a large tree was literally cut in two.  A Federal soldier in Wright’s VI Corps aptly described the action at the Angle, “The battle was now at white heat.  There was one steady stream of iron and lead.  It seemed impossible that troops could stand such a severe fire.”(ixxx)

Late in the day, with darkness shrouding the battlefield, the true carnage of the day became apparent.  Men were strewn over the battlefield in contortive shapes, some alive, but many dead.  The fighting would continue long after the last light faded from the western sky.  All along the lines the struggle had turned to personal hand-to-hand combat, with clubbed muskets and bayonets the primary offensive tools.  Men having fallen wounded, in the trenches, would be trampled to death as other men came forward to take there place.  Through a continual rain, the trenches became a quagmire with the wounded soldiers pressed deeper into the mud.  After 3:00 a.m., on May 13, Robert E. Lee ordered his Army of Northern Virginia back to a new line, eliminating the salient, and creating a stronger defensive position.  In the morning, as the soldiers were waking up, their eyes took in the terror around them.  A Federal section of guns, within 100 yards of the Bloody Angle, stood motionless.  The horses were still hitched, but dead in the deep mud.  The team’s drivers were in their saddles, also dead.  A Federal officer summed of this ghastly scene, “The one exclamation of every man who looks on the spectacle is, ‘God forbid that I should ever gaze upon such a sight again.’”(xxx)  The Irish Brigade, along with the rest of both armies, would suffer terrible losses at Spotsylvania.  The most carnage occurred in the II and VI Corps, as they were involved in the melee around the Bloody Angle.

The two opposing armies would hold their ground at Spotsylvania for nearly a week.  On May 18, the Irish Brigade would take part in a II Corps action against the new Rebel line.  Before 6:00 a.m., the II Corps would begin their attack on Richard Ewell’s 2d Corps.  Moving right up to the new Rebel fortifications, they would run into a wall of flame from the Confederate musketry.  They were essentially pinned to their positions, as to lift their heads over the works would be deadly.  After 2 1/2 hours, Meade called off the attack.  The retreating Federals would gather near the Landrum house, with the 69th New York and 116th Pennsylvania, of the Irish Brigade, left behind as pickets.  At 650, casualties in the II Corps were quite high for the short battle on May 18.  The majority of these casualties, 400, were in Barlow’s division, which included the Irish Brigade.(xxxi)

Starting on May 21, Meade began pulling his Army of the Potomac from the works at Spotsylvania.  Grant had ordered this move, pushing the army southeastward around Lee’s right flank.  Once again, Lee would anticipate this action and have his Army of Northern Virginia placed in an inverted “V” position, on the south bank of the North Anna River.  On May 23, the II Corps would be part of the Federal attacking force on Henagan’s Redoubt, which guarded Chesterfield Bridge over the North Anna River.  On May 24, the Federal army would use Chesterfield Bridge and Jericho Mills to cross the North Anna River.  There they would battle Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  The Irish Brigade would be involved in the fighting, attacking the right flank of Lee’s army, which was manned by Ewell’s 2d Corps.  With the Confederate flank refused, and a strong secondary line, their position was extremely defensible.  The Irish Brigade would be repulsed, with significant loss, by Ramseur’s Confederate brigade.  With daylight fading, Grant would realize the futility of attacking Lee’s entrenched line at the North Anna.  Executing one of his most brilliant disengagements, he would have his entire army pulled from their trenches by the morning on May 25.  Once again, Grant pushed south around Lee’s right flank hoping to catch the Confederates outside their field works.  For the next two days the Irish Brigade would tear up track on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, before pushing south to join the rest of the Army of the Potomac.

Starting on June 1, 1864, U.S. Grant would battle Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Cold Harbor.  Near the Gaines’ Mill battlefield, many of the veteran soldiers of the Irish Brigade recalled the ground over which they fought to extricate General Fitz John Porter’s V Corps, from its lone position, north of the Chickahominy River, in June 1862.  Two years later, they were back, within sight of Richmond, on what would be one of the bloodiest battlefields of the Civil War.  On June 2, the II Corps would arrive at Cold Harbor.  Placed on the right flank of the long Federal line, they Federal Assault at Cold Harborwould be repositioned over night so that on the morning of June 3, they would be holding the left flank of the army.  At 3:30 a.m., Barlow’s division was awakened in their protected position, in the trees, east of Dispatch Road.  The Irish Brigade was in a reserve position, in Brigadier General Francis Barlow’s II Corps Division, with the brigades of John Brooke and Nelson Miles leading the attack.  It was Grant’s plan, on June 3, to attack across his entire line, uncovering weak spots, and throwing his forces through them – ultimately rolling up Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and uncovering the road to Richmond, Virginia.  At 4:30 a.m., the 10th Massachusetts Light Battery fired a shot, signaling the infantry to move forward.  The lead brigades stepped off, with Colonel Richard Byrne’s Irish Brigade moving behind Miles, and Brooke.  Their objective, 500 yards distant, was a salient in CSA Major General John C. Breckinridge’s line.  Barlow’s division quickly began to take casualties.  Breckinridge’s line included troops from Virginia and North Carolina: the 26th Virginia Battalion held the salient, with the 66th North Carolina on its left.  On its right, arrayed towards the south, were the 22d Virginia, 23d Virginia Battalion, 30th Virginia Battalion, 51st Virginia and 62d Virginia.  These regiments were supported by Caskie’s Maryland Battery, which opened on Barlow’s soldiers as soon as they were seen through the mist.  A member of the 66th North Carolina recalled the opening salvo of the day’s battle, “The fire ran down our lines from left to right like keys on a piano, and to the sharp crack of our rifles was added the roar of artillery as it joined them in the wild music of the hour – the carnival of death.”(xxxii)  Through this storm of lead, Miles’ brigade was able to capture a portion of the Confederate line at Edgar’s Salient.

Byrnes’ Irish Brigade advanced behind Miles’ mixed brigade of troops from Michigan, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania.  While pushing forward, the Irish Brigade encountered a withering fire from CSA Brigadier General Gabriel C. Wharton’s Virginia regiments (30th Battalion, 51st and 62d).  Stopping in a cut near the Dispatch Road, the Irish Brigade had some cover as Miles continued to push forward.  Unfortunately, they still received significant infantry fire, from the Virginians, and enfilade fire from CSA Lieutenant Colonel William Pegram’s 3d Corps artillery.  The Irish Brigade would lose their commander when Richard Byrne was mortally wounded by a minie ball that had passed through Captain James D. Brady, of the 63d New York.(xxxii)  Senior regimental commander, Colonel Patrick Kelly, would take command after Byrne was killed.  CSA Brigadier General Joseph Finegan’s all Florida brigade would charge Barlow’s division, and the Confederates would recapture all of their line taken by Miles’ brigade.  The fight for Edgar’s Salient was brief, but very costly, especially for the Miles’ 7th New York Heavy Artillery and the 5th New Hampshire which penetrated the salient.  After being pushed back, by Finegan’s Brigade, the fighting on the Federal left flank sputtered out.  The results were no different along the entire Union line, with the attacking formations pushed back after suffering tremendous losses.  After June 3, Grant would take a defensive position at Cold Harbor.  Determining it would be a waste of life, with no chance of success, Grant determined to withdraw from Cold Harbor.  On June 12, Grant once again set his army in motion around Lee’s right flank.  On June 13, pushing across the James River on a 2,100 foot pontoon bridge (the longest ever constructed during the Civil War), Hancock’s II Corps would follow Warren’s V Corps, reaching the south bank of the James at 5:30 p.m.(xxxiv)

On June 15, US Major General William “Baldy” Smith’s XVIII Corps launched an attack against the small Confederate garrison at Petersburg, Virginia.  Commanding the fortifications was CSA General P.G.T. Beauregard.  He made good use of his 2,200 men, marching them back-and-forth, to appear much stronger than he was.  Grant believed the XVIII Corps could capture the garrison and move into Petersburg, disrupting the Southside Railroad – and the Confederate supplies it carried.  Smith, with roughly 16,000 men in his corps, was overly cautious and delayed the assault until 7 p.m.  Sending forth his skirmishers, he quickly pushed the Confederate back into their trenches.  Beauregard, knowing he was seriously out gunned, would pull his line back to Harrison Creek.  After his initial success, Smith would call off the attack until the next day.  On June 16, Grant, Meade and Hancock’s II Corps were south of the James.  Grant put Hancock in charge of an attacking force – the II Corps and two divisions of the IX Corps – and ordered them to attack.  Barlow’s Division, including the Irish Brigade, were to attack on the left.  The IX Corps divisions were to attack on the right.  Barlow pushed his division forward at 6:00 p.m.  Initially successful, they would capture two artillery positions before being repulsed.(xxxv)  The Irish Brigade would again suffer badly.  Colonel Patrick Kelly would be killed during the assault.  A member of the Irish Brigade summed it up well, “…strong old veteran soldiers wept like children, and wrung their hands in the frenzy….(the Irish Brigade) was a brigade no longer….(the only thing remaining was) the recollection of its services and suffering.”(xxxvi)  Over the coming weeks the brigade would work on building fortifications and their camps.

On June 22, the II Corps was in an advance position along the Jerusalem Plank Road.  They would be attacked there by CSA Brigadier General William Mahone’s Division.  Mahone violently attacked Barlow’s II Corps’ division, catching them by surprise and forcing them to fall back to the division’s trenches.  They would again battle on June 23, holding their advanced position.  All told, the Irish Brigade would suffer terribly in the initial offensive moves around Petersburg.  After their drubbing on June 22 the Irish Brigade was badly depleted.  The three New York regiments (63d, 69th and 88th) would be assigned to a consolidated brigade with six other New York regiments.  They would be commanded by Major Richard Maroney.  On July 28, this consolidated brigade would participate in the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, north of the James River.  Barlow would lead two divisions, including the Irish Brigade’s First Division, in an attack at Fussell’s Mill.  This attack drove away Confederate cavalry, but Barlow would be repulsed when CSA Brigadier General George “Tige” Anderson’s brigade arrived.  The fighting in this sector allowed the Federals to gain an advanced position north of the James River.

In August, the II Corps would move back south of the James.  U.S. Grant, never pleased with inaction, ordered Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps to secure a position along the Weldon Railroad, south of Petersburg.  Digging in at Globe Tavern, Warren was successful in gaining a good defensive position and was able to turn away attacks by General A.P. Hill’s 3d Corps, on August 18.  Warren would be reinforced by US Major General John Parke’s IX Corps (Burnside had been relieved of command), and would continue to fight for this key section of the Weldon Railroad, over the coming two days.  In an effort to relieve the growing pressure on Warren, Battle of Ream's StationGeorge Meade would send Hancock’s II Corps on a raid further south on the Weldon Railroad.  Reaching Ream’s Station, Hancock hastily erected field works.  On August 25, Federal cavalry under US Brigadier General David McM. Gregg would be pushed back towards Ream’s Station by CSA Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry.  By 5:00 p.m., two divisions of Hill’s 3d Corps arrived on the field to supplement Hampton’s Cavalry.  Commanded by CSA Major Generals Henry Heth and William Mahone, these two divisions attacked the northern sector of Hancock’s lines, which contained the Irish Brigade.  Overwhelming two Federal regiments, Heth’s Division poured through the opening, scattering regiments and brigades.  With US Brigadier General Nelson Miles’ division (Miles had replaced Francis Barlow who was on leave) collapsing to the north, Hampton’s cavaliers pounded into US Major General John Gibbon’s division on the Federal left flank, causing many regiments to retreat  Many other soldiers would be captured.  Hancock was able to order a counterattack that would buy his corps enough time to withdraw to the Petersburg defenses.  Between Globe Tavern, and Second Ream’s Station, the Federals suffered nearly 7,000 casualties, of which nearly 5,000 were listed as missing, or captured.  While Ream’s Station was a sad defeat for the proud II Corps, Globe Tavern became a solid foothold for Grant, allowing him to continue extending his lines.

Over the coming months, Grant would continue to lengthen his lines and build fortifications.  He knew that he would win a war of attrition, as new recruits continued to come into his army, while Robert E. Lee was losing more to desertion than the few new recruits could offset.  The Irish Brigade also received recruits and were once again bouncing back.  On September 4, 1864, Father William Corby would conduct mass for the Irish Brigade, the third anniversary of the formation of the proud brigade.  Joining in the celebration was the 29th Massachusetts and special guest, Brigadier General Thomas Meagher.  Speaking to the assembled brigade, Meagher would commend the men, “Every battlefield, from Bull Run to Ream’s Station, but added another laurel to the wreath which the war would transfer for them to posterity.”(xxxvii)  On November 1, after the New York regiments were reinforced, General Miles ordered that the consolidated brigade be disbanded and the New York regiments be returned as the Second Brigade of the First Division.  Within a week, the 29th Massachusetts rejoined the Irish Brigade, once again restoring the original brigade structure.  Commanding the brigade was Colonel Robert Nugent, who had been with the 69th New York when it was still a militia unit.  Prior to the end of the Civil War Nugent would receive brevet promotion to brigadier general.

Over the next several months the Irish Brigade would not be engaged in any serious battles.  They would maintain a position in the trenches of Petersburg, and take part in normal camp life.  There was, however, the constant threat of being killed by a sniper, so soldiers were careful about keeping their heads down.  In the fall, with the three year term of enlistment expiring, those that had not re-enlisted as veterans were mustered out and returned north.  The brigade would receive new recruits to replace those who left.

On the night of October 29, 1864, the 69th New York was posted in trenches between the opposing forces.  Rebel soldiers would infiltrate the picket line on the left flank of the New Yorkers.  Rolling up the line, they would capture close to 170 men from the 69th, while the 111th New York, next in line, would lose almost 250 men.  It was an embarrassing time for the proud “Fighting 69th” but they would ultimately rebound.  In an after action investigation, Brigadier General Miles determined that many of the new recruits in the 69th New York had deserted from the lines, leaving it open to incursion by the Rebels.  A few of the deserters would be caught, suffering the ultimate punishment – execution.

On February 5, the Irish Brigade took part in an action to capture the fords over Hatcher’s Run.  These points were of strategic importance, as they secured passage for the Federal army to the west, and ultimately to the Southside Railroad.  Throwing up works to protect the crossing points, the Federals had secure access to points further west.  On March 17, the Irish Brigade would celebrate its last St. Patrick’s Day in the Army of the Potomac.  Farther Corby once again held a high mass for the Irishmen, followed by the traditional “steeple chase” and “flat race.”  Attended by Army of the Potomac commander, George Meade, and a dozen other corps and division commanders, it was a welcome respite to life in the trenches.  Unfortunately, Second Lieutenant Michael McConville, of the 69th New York, after surviving nearly four years of combat, would be thrown form his horse, suffering a fractured skull.  He would die little more than a week later - another casualty of the fratricidal war between the states.(xxviii)

On March 25, the Confederacy taking one of its final gasps, launched an assault on Fort Stedman.  While the II Corps were not active in this operation, the Rebels were able to capture the fort, holding it temporarily until a sledgehammer assault by the Union forces pushed them back to their own lines.  This would be the last major offensive action by Robert E. Lee’s proud Army of Northern Virginia.  While this action was taking place, near the center of the lines, Meade ordered the Irish Brigade and portions of the II Corps to advance from their Hatcher’s Run defenses and push towards Skinner’s Farm, where they would have a stand-up fight for several hours.  The Irish Brigade once again demonstrated their elan, “(with a) splendid spectacle of unflinching bravery.”  The 69th’s Captain John D. Mulhall, who had just returned to duty from a Cold Harbor wound, while leading his men in a oblique movement, to blunt an assault on his flank, was struck by a minie ball in his leg.  He would lay on the field for several hours before receiving medical care.  The 29th Massachusetts, with only enough men to fill five companies, would run out of ammunition. They would suffer terribly, with their regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Flemming, suffering a wound to his shoulder.(xxxix)

On March 29, the II Corps, with the famed Irish Brigade, were pushed to the offensive again.  With Major General Philip Sheridan in overall command, the detached unit began a push around the Confederates’ right flank, once again trying to take command of their supply line.  Due to a misunderstanding of orders, the II Corps would not participate in Sheridan’s victory over CSA Major General George Pickett’s forces at Five Forks, on April 1.  However, they would be heavily engaged in the fighting at Sutherland’s Station on April 2 – the same day that Robert E. Lee vacated the trenches surrounding Petersburg and Richmond.  The II Corps, now commanded by US Major General Andrew A. Humphreys, would attack CSA Major General Henry Heth’s entrenchments, running from Hatcher’s Run to White Oak Road.  What they found were abandoned trenches.  With Humphreys receiving Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattoxorders to turn towards Petersburg, Nelson Miles’ division, including the Irish Brigade, pushed after Heth’s retreating column.  They would find them behind entrenchments at Sutherland’s Station, on the Southside Railroad.  Miles launched his assault at 12:30 p.m. and would suffer several repulses before he would send for reinforcements.  Humphreys, in an effort to support Miles, would turn his division around.  Miles determined to push Heth aside, would attack a third time.  The Irish Brigade, supported by US Colonel John Ramsey’s Fourth Brigade, would launch a frontal assault on the Confederate lines, after Captain A. Judson Clark’s Battery B, 1st New Jersey Light Artillery, opened a withering fire on Rebel defenses.  Heth’s line finally crumbled and began a retreat.  The victorious Union troops quickly pushed after Heth, capturing over 1,000 prisoners.(xl)  During the fighting at Sutherland’s Station, the Irish Brigade would suffer another 130 casualties – but they recognized that this would be their last campaign and continued to push forward.  Humphrey’s II Corps would arrive at Appomattox Court House on April 9.  Ordering his men into battle lines, he would learn at 4:00 p.m. that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his proud Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant.

The last formal action of the Irish Brigade was participating in the Grand Review in Washington City, on May 22, 1865.  By then Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated and President Andrew Johnson sat next to Ulysses S. Grant on the reviewing stand.  At 2:00 p.m., Colonel Robert Nugent, on his black horse, marched his proud brigade past the stand.  Besides their green battle flags, each member of the brigade had a sprig of boxwood in their hats, identifying them as proud members of the Irish Brigade.

On June 25, 1865, the 63d, 69th and 88th New York regiments returned to New York to be mustered out of Federal service.  They would be escorted through New York City on July 4 – Independence Day.  The Irish Brigade’s 700 men were aptly described in an article in the Irish American, “…every one of whom looked strong and hearty; their faces, bronzed by the exposures of the field were, along the march, wreathed with smiles, as cheer after cheer rent the air, welcoming them back to citizenship and their former homes.”(xli)  The 29th Massachusetts would be mustered out of Federal service on June 29, while the 116th Pennsylvania would muster out on July 14.  They would each receive warm welcomes as they returned home.

The Civil War was a fight between brothers, cousins, fathers and sons.  Its tolls were especially harsh on many families – but none as much as the famed Irish Brigade, and its flagship regiment the “Fighting 69th.”  Below is a regimental breakdown of the casualties the brigade endured.

63d New York = 249 (killed, wounded, missing or dying of illness)
69th New York = 401 (killed, wounded, missing or dying of illness)
88th New York = 223 (killed, wounded, missing or dying of illness)
29th Massachusetts = 387 (killed, wounded, missing or dying of illness)
116th Pennsylvania = 234 (killed, wounded, missing or dying of illness)

Total brigade casualties were an astounding 1,494.(xlii)

Irish Brigade Commanders

Michael Corcoran
Colonel Michael Corcoran
Born: September 21, 1827
Place of Birth: County Sligo, Ireland
Death: December 22, 1863
Place of Death: Suffolk, Virginia

Thomas F. Meagher
Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher
Born: August 3, 1823
Place of Birth: Waterford, Ireland
Death: July 1, 1867
Place of Death: Missouri River, Montana Territory

Thomas A Smyth
Major General Thomas A. Smyth
Born: December 25, 1832
Place of Birth: County Cork, Ireland
Death: April 9, 1865
Place of Death: Farmville, Virginia

Richard Byrnes
Colonel Richard Byrne
Born: 1832
Place of Birth: County Cavan, Ireland
Death: June 10, 1864
Place of Death: Cold Harbor, Virginia

Patrick Kelly
Colonel Patrick Kelly
Born: 1822
Place of Birth: County Galway, Ireland
Death: June 14, 1864
Place of Death: Petersburg, Virginia

Robert Nugent
Brigadier General Robert Nugent
Born: June 27, 1824
Place of Birth: Kilkeel County Down, Ireland
Death: June 20, 1901
Place of Death: Brooklyn, New York

Additional Resources
Maps of Significant Battles of the Irish Brigade*

Siege of Yorktown
Seven Pines (Fair Oaks)
Gaines’ Mill
Glendale (Frayser’s Farm)
Malvern Hill
The Wilderness
First Deep Bottom
Second Deep Bottom
Second Battle of Ream’s Station
Hatcher’s Run
White Oak Road

* These maps are used courtesy of the Civil War Preservation Trust – Please support their efforts by becoming a member.

(i) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 119.
(ii) Gottfried, Bradley M., The Maps of First Bull Run, published by Savas Beatie, LLC in 2009, Pg. 2.
(iii) Eicher, David J., The Longest Night, published by Simon & Schuster, September 2001, Pg. 79.
(iv) Gottfried, Bradley M., The Maps of First Bull Run, published by Savas Beatie, LLC in 2009, Pg. 22.
(v) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pgs. 15–17.
(vi) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 17.
(vii) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 22.
(viii) The
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System was used to research this article.
(ix) Warner, Ezra J., Generals In Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, published by the Louisiana State Press in 1999, Pgs. 317–318.
(x) Sears, Stephen W., To The Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, published by Ticknor & Fields in 1992, Pg. 8.
(xi) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 39.
(xii) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 147.
(xiii) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 149.
(xiv) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 42.
(xv) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 45.
(xvi) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 159.
(xvii) Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, published by Ticknor & Fields in 1983, Pg. 243.
(xviii) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 164.
(ixx) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 166.
(xx) Battle of Fredericksburg, at
(xxi) Rable, George C., Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2002, Pg. 222.
(xxii) Rable, George C., Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2002, Pg. 226.
(xxiii) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pgs. 66–67.
(xxiv) Wylie, Paul R., The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher, published by The University of Oklahoma Press in 2007, Pg. 178.
(xxv) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 87.
(xxvi) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pgs. 90–91.
(xxvii) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 105.
(xxviii) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 106.
(ixxx) Rhea, Gordon C., The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7–12, 1864, published by Louisiana State Press in 1997, Pg. 279.
(xxx) Rhea, Gordon C., The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7–12, 1864, published by Louisiana State Press in 1997, Pg. 308.
(xxxi) Rhea, Gordon C., To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1865, published by Louisiana State Press in 2000, Pg. 154.
(xxxii) Rhea, Gordon C., Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26–June 3, 1864, published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2002, Pg. 322.
(xxxiii) Rhea, Gordon C., Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26–June 3, 1864, published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2002, Pg. 328.
(xxxiv) Jordan, David M., Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life, published by Indiana University Press in 1995, Pg. 141.
(xxxv) Hess, Earl J., In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2009, Pg. 24.
(xxxvi) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 114.
(xxxvii) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 119.
(xxxviii) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 123.
(xxxix) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pgs. 123–124.
(xl) Greene, A. Wilson, The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion, published by The University of Tennessee Press in 2008, Pg. 327.
(xli) Bilby, Joseph G., The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, published by Da Capo Press in 1997, Pg. 127.
(xlii) The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System was used to research this article.

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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13 Responses to The Fighting 69th New York Infantry Regiment and the Irish Brigade

  1. Myles Keogh says:

    As always, a wonderfully written and researched article.

    “To charge the enemy or enter a battle when one knows that there is no hope of success, requires courage of a much higher order than when the soldier is sustained by the enthusiasm born of hope.”
    Colonel St. Clair A. Mulholland, 116th Penn. Infantry, Irish Brigade, Fredericksburg

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  6. Noel Kennedy says:

    Really enjoy reading this article

  7. Thank you, Noel. I appreciate you reading my blog.

  8. James Bourke says:

    Hi Michael, many thanks for your most informative article, I enjoyed reading it. Just a little bit of information which might be of interest. The flag which hangs over the enterance to Dail Eireann, (the Irish Parliament) debating chamber in Dublin, is one of the Fighting 69th replacement regimental flags presented to the 69th in the fall of 1862 and carried into battle at Fredericksburg (the originals flags were torn to shreds in previous battles). President John F. Kennedy presented the flag to the Irish people when he addressed the parliament during his visit to Ireland in June, 1963. The links between Ireland and the USA surely run deep. Best wishes from Ireland.

  9. James,

    Thank you for your kind comments. I am aware of the history of the Irish Brigade flag which Kennedy presented to Ireland. You are correct, Ireland and the U.S. have much in common. Thanks for reading my blog.

  10. Pretty section of content. I simply stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to say that I get in fact loved account your weblog posts. Any way I will be subscribing on your augment and even I fulfillment you get admission to consistently fast.

  11. Jay Rarick says:

    An excellent, thorough article. One minor quibble, however. Col. Samuel Zook commanded the 3rd Brigade (not the 1st) of Hancock’s Division at the Battle of Fredericksburg, that preceded the 2nd (Irish) Brigade in the battle. I have an ancestor, Pvt. George W. Getz, of Co. E, 53rd Penn. Vol. Inf., 3rd Brigade, who was mortally wounded before the stone wall at Marye’s Heights.

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