THE IRISH BRIGADE

A BRIEF HISTORY BY D. KINCAID


Col. Michael Corcoran's 69th New York State Militia
The Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861
Currier and Ives Print, 1860's

N JULY 21st, 1861, Captain Thomas Francis Meagher of the 69th New York State Militia had his horse shot from under him by a round of cannon-fire. Meagher, that day acting as major for the regiment, sprang to his feet and shouted, "Boys! look at that flag--remember Ireland and Fontenoy."

This was the battle of Bull Run, and the first major engagement of the American Civil War. The Federal army was badly beaten and routed but the Irish Sixty-ninth, an old pre-war militia regiment, had charged bravely, and stubbornly held its ground. Even after its commander, Colonel Michael Corcoran, was wounded and captured, the Sixty-ninth as part of the rear guard retreated in good order while panicked Union soldiers swarmed around them. Union commander General Irvin McDowell personally thanked them for their gallantry.

Captain Meagher evoked the name of Fontenoy that day to inspire his men, a name of deep significance to every Irish soldier. At that place, in 1745, French General Maurice de Saxe triumphed over the British, a victory owed to an unstoppable bayonet charge by the French army's brigade of Irish exiles. Throughout its long history this brigade performed many such feats of courage, and though its beginnings date back to a time of more than one hundred-seventy years before Bull Run, its deeds were fresh in the minds of the men of the 69th New York.

 IT was the year 1685, James II had come to the throne of England and the governorship of Ireland, bringing with him many changes that would fill his English subjects and Puritan settlers in Ireland with horror. His first act was to suspend the Penal Laws against Catholics and Dissenters. Furthermore, he decided to effect a reform in the government of Ireland. To accomplish this he sent over Richard Talbot, an Irishman and a Catholic, placing him in command of the army in Ireland and appointing him to the Lord Lieutenancy. Talbot, later known as the Duke of Tyrconnell, made radical changes in the army. The Puritan element was removed from the ranks, regiments were recruited from Irish Catholics and the Cromwellian officers were replaced by Irishmen. "I have placed the sword in your hands", he is reported to have said to the Irish Privy Council. Three thousand of these Irish soldiers were sent to England to reinforce James' army.


William of Orange

 The arrival of Irish soldiers on English soil was regarded with horror by the English people. In this same way the English settlers in Ireland received the numerous political changes that had been effected by Tyrconnell. All this was being watched from the Hague by the King's son in law, William of Orange. King James was warned by Louis XIV of France against William of Orange, a warning that was only resented. Then in 1688, William landed in England, and James' army melted away. Deserted by relations and friends, James ordered his army to be disbanded, and fled to France. The disbanded Irish soldiers made their way home the best they could, but it was clear that the issues between James and William would be decided in Ireland. To some of the Irish, complete independence, with James for King, seemed a not impossible hope.

 The Irish nation declared for James, the English settlers in Ireland for William. Tyrconnell at once set about strengthening his army, and in two month's time fifty thousand Irishmen had enlisted. These men became known as "Tyrconnell's blackguards" to the Williamites. Many in their ranks were barely clothed and shoeless. Wisps of hay or straw bands on their heads were worn instead of hats. They were, however, "the material which, later, drilled and armed, was to form the Irish Brigade in the service of France, and prove the best fighters in Europe".

 War was declared and James soon arrived from France, to be greeted with foolish enthusiasm by the Irish people, who saw him as the deliverer of the country. James, whose only real desire was the recovery of the English crown, saw Ireland only as a pawn. William sent his army to Ireland and prepared for his campaign. Louis sent seven thousand French regulars to James in exchange for five thousand Irish soldiers that had been sent to France. James then assumed command of his forces, with the direct command being given to various French generals. The French officers varied in quality, and French commitment to the war was sporadic. James would prove a poor military leader and would eventually desert his Irish army. They would gallantly fight it out without him until October 5th, 1691, when, being out-numbered and out-gunned, they were forced to surrender.


Banners of the Irish Brigades
in the service of France, 1692-1792
(Irish state Heraldic Museum)

 William's terms were favorable, and the Irish army was allowed to leave in possession of its colors, arms and equipment, and was brought to France by its commander, Patrick Sarsfield. James' army was eventually dissolved by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1698, but the brigade of Irishmen that had originally been sent in 1688, kept separate from Sarsfield's men, became an integral part of the French army and remained in its service. The brigade's numerous casualties were replaced by a steady stream of volunteers from Erin. Recruiters slipped into the island and had little problem enticing poor country lads, who under the harsh Penal Laws had been reduced to virtual serfdom, to enlist. Since it was illegal for the Irish, considered British citizens by the Crown, to join foreign armies, the recruits for the French service were listed as "Wild Geese" on ship manifests. Heavy with unspoken symbolism, these men would be known forever after by that name.

 For a hundred years this Irish Brigade served the French army. Names like Fontenoy, and the names of many other of the great battle-fields of Europe fill their list of battle-honors. They won glory and the highest honors for themselves and for Ireland, and the undying respect of friend and foe alike. The Brigade was dissolved in 1791 by the revolution. In 1792 the Count de Provence (afterwards Louie XVIII) presented the remnant of the Brigade with a "farewell banner," bearing the device of an Irish Harp embroidered with shamrocks and fluer-de-lis. The gift was accompanied by the following address:

 "Gentlemen, we acknowledge the inappreciable services that France has received from the Irish Brigade, in the course of the last 100 years; services that we shall never forget, though under an impossibility on requiting them. Receive this Standard as a pledge of our remembrance, a monument of our admiration, and our respect, and in future, generous Irishmen, this shall be the motto of your spotless flag:--

1692-1792
Semper et ubique Fidelis"
(Always and Everywhere Faithful)

 Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, the ninety-day enlistments of the men of the 69th New York State Militia ran out. The regiment was re-enlisted and re-formed as the 69th New York State Volunteers, with Meagher being offered its colonelcy. Although he never accepted the position as the Sixty-ninth's commander, Meagher was commissioned colonel, and the War Department in Washington authorized him "to arrange with the colonels commanding of four other regiments to be raised to form a brigade, the brigadier-general for which will be designated hereafter by the proper authority of Government."


Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher

 Colonel Meagher resolved to form the Irish Brigade. The name was not chosen merely to describe the nationality of the men who would comprise this body of men, it was also chosen in honor and remembrance of the men who had gained such a stainless reputation for Irish valor in the preceding century, and to serve as a reminder of the standard to be upheld. From the onset he intended the brigade to be an elite "legion," to be made up of two New York, one Boston, and one Philadelphia infantry regiments, with cavalry and artillery battalions forming the fifth regiment. Due to the quotas imposed on the states by the Federal Government, the governors of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, however, were unwilling to give credit for their soldiers to New York and their Irish regiments, the 28th Massachusetts and the 69th Pennsylvania, were initially refused. Though the cavalry never materialized, four small companies of artillery were raised and mustered in as the 2nd New York Light Artillery Battalion. Thus the Irish Brigade originally consisted of the 69th and 88th New York regiments, the officers of both being mostly veterans of the 69th Militia, the 63rd New York, in the process of being raised when the brigade was being planned, and the 2nd New York Light Artillery Battalion.

 Most of the men of the brigade were from New York City, though a fair number came from outside of Manhattan Island. Part of the Sixty-ninth's Company F was from Brooklyn, and many of the men of Company K were from Buffalo. Company D came all the way came from Chicago. Two companies of the Sixty-third were from Boston, while another was from Albany.

Most of the Eighty-eighth's men enlisted in New York City, but Brooklyn contributed men to Companies D and I and a number of Jersey City men joined Company G. The men who filled the ranks of the Irish Brigade were from all walks of life and social classes. Attorneys served in the ranks alongside brick-layers. Some were landless tenant farmers from the old country, who were reported to have been recruited shortly after exiting the immigrant landing point at Castle Garden, and who spoke only Irish Gaelic. The majority of the rank and file were, however, urban workmen.

 A great many men of the pre-war 69th New York Militia were associated with the Fenians, an organization formed in 1858 dedicated to the armed overthrow of British rule in Ireland. These men fought to assist their adopted country, but also viewed the war as good training for a future campaign back in Ireland. Colonel Meagher saw the United States as the best hope to back eventual Irish freedom, and though not a Fenian himself, probably shared the view of some of these men of the formation of the Irish Brigade as a precursor to forming an army to liberate Ireland.


Engraving of Fort Schuyler, NY,
1st Headquaters and training ground
for the Irish Brigade

 It is not clear that all the post Bull Run volunteers of the Irish Brigade had that same motivation for enlisting. The majority were older, married men who were not likely to run off to fight the British, who in all probability shared the common view that the United States, despite occasional nativist outbursts, had welcomed Irish exiles and given them economic and political opportunities they would never have had at home.

 Many no doubt enlisted out of economic necessity. The economy had fallen sharply in 1861, and one Ulsterman living in the United States reported that "the times is miserable in this country". Some enlisted with a combination of all these things as motivation, one soldier stating that his reasons were the "gloomy appearance of business" and the potential to eventually use his military skills "in the sacred cause of my native land".

 A number of the brigade's officers and men were veterans of a variety of military forces, including the U.S. regular army, the Papal army of Pius IX and the Irish regiments of the British army. One officer had served in the Royal Light Marine Infantry, while another had soldiered in Syria and had served in a Hungarian regiment. Many had experienced desperate combat in many different countries such as Mexico, Italy, the Crimea and the Indian subcontinent. The collective military experience of these veterans played a major role in establishing the Irish Brigade's legendary fighting ability.

 Before Christmas 1861, the 63rd, 69th, and 88th New York regiments were encamped and engaged in brigade drill and picket-duty near Alexandria, Virginia. The 2nd New York Light Artillery Battalion would never fight with the Irish Brigade, its guns and men being assigned to two other units before the beginning of the spring campaign of 1862. It would not be until the fall of that year that the brigade would be joined by the 116th Pennsylvania and the 28th Massachusetts, giving it its desired compliment of five regiments.


2nd Irish Color, 69th NYSV
Made by Tiffany's of New York

 While the regiments were being raised, a group of patriotic ladies formed a committee to provide an embroidered stand of colors for each of the New York regiments of the Irish Brigade. On November 18th, 1861, amid much ceremony, these flags were presented to the men who would carry them into battle.


Regimental Color,
28th Massachusetts
Presented by the city of Boston,
Made by Tiffany's of New York

 The flags were made of the richest silk, executed in "Tiffany's best style." Each regiment received a national and a regimental flag, and a pair of guidons. The national colors were fringed with saffron silk, with the name of the regiment embroidered in the center on a crimson stripe. The regimental colors were "of a deep rich green, heavily fringed, having in the center a richly embroidered Irish harp, with a sunburst above it and a wreath of shamrock beneath. Underneath, on a crimson scroll, in Irish characters, was the motto, 'They shall never retreat from the charge of lances.' These regimental flags carried each regiment's brigade designation; the Sixty-ninth as the "1st Regt. Irish Brigade," the Eighty-eighth as the second, followed by the Sixty-third. The guidons were also embroidered with the state and brigade numbers.

The 28th Massachusetts, designated the 4th regiment Irish Brigade, also carried a national flag along with an Irish regimental flag. Three of these green flags were presented by the city of Boston, a fourth by General Meagher.

 Although modern historians have held that the 116th Pennsylvania never carried an green Irish regimental flag, this in fact has never been proven with documentation. It has merely been assumed, based on an incorrect interpretation of this statement in Col. Mulholland's regimental history:

"Whilst at Harper's Ferry the state and national colors were presented to the Regiment with great ceremony, the presentation being made on behalf of Pennsylvania, by Samuel P. Bates, deputy secretary of the Commonwealth, Sergeant William H. Tyrrell, of Company K, being selected to carry the flag."

Its very important to note here that Mulholland refers to only one man, Sgt. Tyrell, carrying "the"flag.

 That the unit received only one flag initially is also confirmed by William McCarter, a member of the One-sixteenth who made these statements in his book "My Life In The Irish Brigade,": a few days after our return to Bolivar Heights from Charles-town, the 116th Pennsylvania received a beautiful new silk regimental flag, heavily fringed with golden tinsel,"........"each man there and then renewed his pledge and determination to 'Stand by that Flag,' the glorious emblem of his country's nationality, to the last or to perish beneath its folds."


State and National Color,
116th Regiment P.V.

 What has been incorrectly assumed is that two flags were issued, when in fact what was meant by Col. Mulholland with "state and national colors" was one flag, the elegant national flag issued by the state of Pennsylvania, bearing the state seal in the canton. In Dr. Richard Saures' book on Pennsylvania flags "Advance the Colors!," it is explained that the terms "national" and "state" were often used interchangeably, referring to the same flag. There is no evidence that the 116th ever requisitioned or received either a blue "state" regimental flag, or the regulation blue "eagle" regimental flag, and most Pennsylvania regiments carried neither of these.

 Although Col. Mulholland never confirms nor denies the existence of an Irish green regimental flag belonging to the 116th, he does make several references to one in his regimental, such as this poem:

"That old green flag, that Irish flag, It is but now a tattered rag,
But India's store of precious ore, Hath not a gem worth that old flag,"


 or this passage: "the national color of the Emerald Isle blended in fair harmony with the red, white and blue of the Republic."

 The fact that the One-sixteenth received only one flag in the beginning does not preclude the likelihood that it may have received an Irish regimental flag at some point later on. Considering that the regiment was recruited as Irish, and that it was in the Irish Brigade for the majority of its combat service (nearly two years, or 73% of its U.S. combat service), it is more likely that the regiment would have been offered an Irish flag than not. The 29th Massachusetts, not Irish or recruited as such, was offered a green flag by General Meagher during its short stint with the Irish Brigade in 1862. It follows then that the 116th, recruited as Irish and considered a "green flag regiment" in contrast to the "Yankees of the 29th," would be offered a green flag as well. It is also likely that the unit may have been presented an Irish color by a civilian organization, such as the group of ladies that made the flags for the New York regiments, as was common during the war.

 Unfortunately, only documentation on the state/national colors has surfaced. In October, 1862 at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, Colonel Samuel B. Thomas presented the One-sixteenth with its first state color. The battered original color was returned to Harrisburg in the spring of 1864, and a replacement flag was provided by Evans & Hassall in April 1864. On April 2nd, 1865, Colonel Mulholland requested a new flag, which was to include the battle honors credited to the regiment by the Army of the Potomac's March 7th, 1865 order. This flag was completed by the Horstmann Brothers in mid-May and sent to the State Agency in Washington.


Brig. General
James Shields

 The command of the brigade was originally intended for and offered to General James Shields, an Irish-born officer who had served in both the Black Hawk and the Mexican Wars, in the latter having achieved the rank of brevet major-general. Shields declined the offer, saying that "no one was so well entitled to the command as Colonel Meagher himself, who had raised the brigade, and shared the honors and perils of the first battle of the war with the gallant Sixty-ninth."

 Thomas Meagher had enemies however, who endeavored to have an American officer placed in command. His officers sent a delegation to President Lincoln, who complimented Colonel Meagher for both his bravery, and his services in raising the brigade. The next day the appointment was sent before the Senate by the President. On February 3rd, 1862, by unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed the name of Thomas F. Meagher as brigadier-general in command of the Irish Brigade.


Thomas F. Meagher, ca. July 1861
as Captain of the "Irish Zouaves,"
(Co. K, 69th NYSM)

 Born in Waterford, Ireland on August 3rd, 1823, Meagher was the son of a wealthy merchant. He received a good education that was completed in England. Later, while studying law in Dublin, he joined the "Young Ireland" movement, an organization that preached the use of whatever means necessary, including violent opposition, to achieve independence from Britain. Meagher and the other leaders of the movement were implicated in the rebellion conspiracy of 1848, all of them being convicted and sentenced to death. Meagher's sentence was commuted and he was instead exiled to Tasmania, from there escaping to America in 1852.

 He would eventually land in New York City, where he became a U.S. citizen, attorney, lecturer, and political power among Irish immigrants. With the threat of southern secession in 1861, Meagher initially publicly sympathized with the South. After the firing on Fort Sumter, he quickly changed his opinion and raised a company of Irish Zouaves for the Union cause. That company was to become Company K, 69th New York State Militia.

 General Meagher commanded the Irish Brigade from early 1862 until his resignation on May 14th, 1863. His resignation was canceled on December 23rd, 1863, and he was sent west to serve under General William T. Sherman. He would never again, however, command front-line combat troops, and again resigned on May 12th, 1865. He was appointed to the position of Territorial Secretary of Montana later that year, and served in that position until his mysterious drowning in the Missouri River on July 1st, 1867.

 The Irish Brigade was originally armed with U.S. .69 caliber smoothbore muskets. Considered by many to be obsolete, these guns were specifically requested by General Meagher because of their effectiveness at close range, and this was the style of fighting he had in mind for the Irish Brigade. Close fighting had won the day at Fontenoy, and the general intended to follow this tradition. These tactics would make the Irish Brigade famous on both the Union and Confederate sides, but would also produce heavy casualties within its ranks.

 General George B. McClellan was placed in command of the Union army after the defeat at Bull Run. With his reorganizing of the army, the Irish Brigade was placed as the 2nd brigade, 1st division, II Corps, Army of the Potomac.


Gen. Meagher At The Battle Of Fair Oaks, VA,
June 1st, 1862, Currier and Ives Print

 In March, 1862 began the Peninsular Campaign, the first of the Army of the Potomac, and the Irish Brigade quickly gained a reputation as an aggressive fighting unit. That they won in a short time the respect and admiration of the rest of the army there can be no doubt, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from the regimental history of the 63rd Pennsylvania (1st Division, III Corps), which was part of the rear-guard as the Army of the Potomac was in retreat from the peninsula. This is what they saw as they lay waiting for the pursuing rebel army to attack:

"a large body of infantry advance around our right and take up position in an open field. While we were wondering what troops they were, a breeze blew open the folds of a flag and we saw the green flag of Ireland. Then we knew it was Meagher's fighting Irish brigade, and we felt that not a man in that brigade would yield while life lasted, and where that green flag would lead it would be followed by every true son of Erin, even into the very jaws of death."

 It was during this campaign that the brigade was reinforced by the 29th Massachusetts, a regiment of New England Protestants. Although not an Irish regiment, they were welcomed by General Meagher and the brigade and were even offered a green flag. The Colonel of the Twenty-ninth, though honored to be associated with the Irish Brigade, declined the offer, not wishing for his regiment to be branded as Fenians. The Irish Brigade fought in every campaign of the Army of the Potomac, from the Peninsular Campaign in the early half of 1862 to the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865. At various points throughout these campaigns the brigade's ranks became so depleted that its very existence was threatened.

 Following the battle of Antietam the 116th Pennsylvania joined the Irish Brigade on October 10th, 1862, at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Though predominantly Irish and originally characterized as the "Brian Boru United Irish Legion," the One-sixteenth also had in its ranks a number of men with "Pennsylvania Dutch" surnames, and men of other ethnic backgrounds. Principally from Philadelphia, they were armed, much to General Meagher's satisfaction, with .69 caliber smoothbores, and were welcomed to the brigade's sadly depleted ranks. They would soon become one of the core regiments of the Irish Brigade. A month later the 29th Massachusetts, which had fought with the brigade from the Peninsular Campaign through the battle of Antietam, was amicably traded to the IX Corps for the veteran 28th Massachusetts, a solidly Irish regiment from the Boston area that had been raised for the Irish Brigade. They were armed with .58 caliber Enfield rifle muskets, the only ones of this type in the brigade.


The Irish Brigade, Marye's Heights,
Fredericksburg, VA, Dec. 13th, 1862
Painting by Don Troiani A.S.H.A.

 On December 2nd, 1862, after many months of hard fighting, the New York regiments turned in their ragged regimental flags. These were to be replaced by a new stand of Tiffany's colors that were donated by group of grateful native born New Yorkers. The presentation ceremony was to take place on December 13th, 1862, but on that day the brigade was instead ordered by General Ambrose Burnside into the battle of Fredericksburg, and the tragic assault on Marye's Heights. From these heights and from behind the protection of a sunken road, the rebels would pack their men four ranks deep, and pour a withering fire into the faces of their attackers. This was the first real battle for the One-sixteenth, and the deadliest and most futile action in which the Irish Brigade would take part.

 The New York regiments went into battle that day without their green flags. In their stead, General Meagher and his staff gave a sprig of boxwood to every man to wear in his hat to identify them as members of the Irish Brigade. The 28th Massachusetts, the only regiment carrying a green flag that day, was placed in the center of the brigade as it made the assault. The rebels knew the Irish were coming, for they could see the Twenty-eighth's "green flag with the golden harp of old Ireland."

 The results of the attack were devastating; the Irish Brigade that had gone into battle 1200 men strong, came out with only 263 standing between its five regiments. One company of the Eighty-eighth was reduced to only eight men and another could only muster one man. The men of the brigade felt that their incredible sacrifices were for naught, as one wounded officer bitterly recalled that "nothing of any good was obtained." Their courage did not go unnoticed, however, and even the London Times, an unlikely advocate of the Irish, reported that "Never at Fontenoy, Albuera, or at Waterloo, was more undaunted courage displayed by the sons of Erin."

 The battles of 1862 left the Irish Brigade sadly diminished in numbers. After Fredericksburg, the One-sixteenth was consolidated into a battalion of four companies. The three New York regiments, down to less than a quarter of their original numbers, would soon be consolidated into three small battalions, each containing only two companies (a regiment at full strength would have had ten companies). In February 1863, during a lull in military activities, General Meagher petitioned to have his New York regiments sent home to recruit. The request was denied and following the battle of Chancellorsville in May, General Meagher, in frustration and fearing that his Irish Brigade would cease to exist, tendered his resignation as its commander.

 On May 19th, 1863, the men of the Irish Brigade formed a hollow square to bid farewell to their commander. General Meagher shook the hand of every man in the brigade, saying "Good-bye, God bless you." The men he had led on so many battle-fields returned the compliment with a rousing cheer. He was the only brigadier-general to ever command the brigade, and it would always be associated with his name.


Col. Patrick Kelly, 88th NYSV

 Colonel Patrick Kelly of the 88th New York, "a brave, gentle, splendid soldier", assumed command of the Irish Brigade at this time and there remained until early 1864. He would command the brigade through the battle of Gettysburg, the scene of heavy fighting that would cost the brigade dearly, and the remaining hard marches and campaigns of 1863.

 During the winter of 1863-1864, to encourage re-enlistment, the Federal Government offered bounties and furloughs to the veterans of '61 whose enlistments were to run out in 1864. These enticements worked and large numbers of the three New York regiments and the 28th Massachusetts re-enlisted. New recruits were also offered a sizable bounty and that, combined with the recruiting efforts of some of the veterans, helped to get these regiments back up to strength. Some of these bounties were as high as $700, ten years' wages to many back in Ireland, some were even higher. New recruit Thomas McManus wrote home that he was not "forced to list up," but, "by 'Gor' the bounty was very tempting and I enlisted the first day I came here."


Col. Thomas A. Smyth

 Although the men of the 116th Pennsylvania, having enlisted in 1862, weren't entitled to re-enlistment privileges, they were sent six new companies by their home state. Major St. Clair Mulholland, demoted from the rank of Lt. Colonel when the regiment was consolidated, was now commissioned colonel of the One-sixteenth.

 A native of County Cork and the former commander of the 1st Delaware, Colonel Thomas A. Smyth was temporarily assigned to command the brigade in February 1864. Though eighty percent of its men were now new recruits, the Irish Brigade under Colonel Smyth was well drilled and ready when it broke camp for the spring campaign on May 3rd 1864.


Col. Richard Byrnes,
28th Massachusetts

 Colonel Richard Byrnes of the 28th Massachusetts, having just returned from recruiting duty and the brigade's senior colonel, took over command of the brigade from mid-May until June 3rd, 1864, when he was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor. Prior to the war, Colonel Byrnes had risen through the ranks of the regular army to become Sergeant Major in the 1st U.S. Cavalry, and though his popularity with the Twenty-eighth had its ups and downs, his integrity and military abilities were never challenged.

 Colonel Patrick Kelly resumed command after the death of Colonel Byrnes, but was killed leading the brigade at Petersburg, Virginia on June 16th, 1864. Kelly, a Galway man who had served as captain with the 69th Militia at Bull Run, was a well loved commander and "strong old veteran soldiers wept like children, and wrung their hands in frenzy." The Irish Brigade once more had more dead on its rolls than living, and one veteran despaired the unit "was a Brigade no longer". The command then passed to Major Richard Maroney of the 69th New York and remained under him until the end of June.

 The continual combat under General Grant quickly left the Irish Brigade and much of the II Corps in a decimated state. At this time the Irish Brigade, along with other II Corps brigades, was broken up in order to balance brigade strength within\ the corps. The Irish greeted this change with righteous indignation, with some even threatening to desert.

 The three New York regiments remained together under Major Maroney, later under Major John W. Byron of the Eighty-eighth, and together with six other New York regiments of the 1st Division became the new "Consolidated Brigade." The 116th Pennsylvania was transferred to the 4th Brigade of the 1st Division. Although not purely Irish, the men of the One-sixteenth deeply regretted leaving the Irish Brigade and were proud of their association with it. For them, the only benefit of the change was that at this time they were rearmed with .58 caliber Springfield rifle muskets, which they felt were far superior to the old .69 caliber smoothbores. The 28th Massachusetts was assigned to the 1st brigade of the 2nd division.

 This was not, however, to be the end of the Irish Brigade. During the next few months of grueling campaigning, even despite the II Corps's disaster at Reams Station, Virginia on August 25th, replacements continued to arrive from New York and the regiments were again revitalized. On October 22nd, 1864, the request was made by General Miles, commander of the 1st Division, to have the Consolidated Brigade disbanded and its regiments restored to their original brigades.

 On November 1st, 1864, the three New York regiments of the old Irish Brigade would again become the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division of the II Corps, to be joined a week later by the 28th Massachusetts. Command of the brigade was assumed by Colonel Robert Nugent of the 69th New York. Colonel Nugent, also a veteran officer of the old 69th Militia and a captain in the U.S. regular army at the outbreak of the war, told his men that "never has a regimental color of the Irish Brigade graced the halls of its enemies. Let the spirit that animates the officers and men of the present be that which shall strive to emulate the deeds of the old brigade." By early December the 7th New York Heavy Artillery had joined the brigade, and was replaced by the 4th New York Heavy Artillery in the early part of 1865.

 Throughout the siege of Petersburg and the following pursuit of the Rebel army towards Appomattox Court House, the Irish Brigade continued to live up to its honored reputation, though not without much difficulty. Many of the new recruits were untrained draftees and substitutes, or men of a lesser caliber than those who had volunteered in 1861. Some even deserted to the enemy. This was made worse by the fact that the 88th and 63rd New York regiments were considerably under strength, and the 28th Massachusetts had been reduced to a battalion of five companies. Despite these facts, the fighting spirit and dedication that were the heart and soul of the original brigade were kept alive by a small core of devoted officers and men, and the Irish Brigade held its own until the surrender of Lee's army on April 9th, 1865.


Commanding officers of the Irish Brigade in 1865.
Standing, l. to r.: Maj. Seward F. Gould, 4th NY Heavy Artillery, Lt. Col. James J. Smith, 69th NY; Maj. W. H. Terwilliger, 63rd NY.
Seated, 1. to r.: Col. Denis F. Burke, 88th N Y; Brevet Brig. Gen. Robert Nugent, Irish Brigade; Lt .Col. James Flemming, 28th Massachusetts.

 Their duty now done, the II corps and the Irish Brigade began their long march home on May 2nd, 1865. Once back in Alexandria, Virginia, the men cleaned their weapons and uniforms for the Army of the Potomac's last review. On May 22nd, 1865, they marched up Pennsylvania Avenue for the "Grand Review" in Washington, D.C.


Return of the Flags
by Thomas Waterman Wood
Veteran color bearers
in the Irish Brigade
ariive with their charges
in New York harbor.

 At 2:00 p.m. Colonel Nugent, astride a smartly prancing black horse, led the Irish Brigade past the reviewing stand. Amid thunderous applause and cheering, the men followed their green flags and stars and stripes, proudly wearing sprigs of boxwood in their hats as had been done at Fredericksburg.

 The remnant of the Irish Brigade, 700 men strong, was then shipped to New York and on July 4th escorted through the city by the 1st Division of the New York National Guard to the wild cheers of the local citizenry. After the parade the 28th Massachusetts went home to Boston, where they were mustered out later in the week.

 The core of the old Irish Brigade, 400 veterans of the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York regiments marched into Irving Hall. The men gave three cheers for their commanders and three for General Meagher, the man who raised the brigade. In a heartfelt address to the survivors of the brigade, General Meagher spoke reverently of their dead, and called for "a round tower with a cathedral, like that of former times, to commemorate what they have done".


Faugh A Ballagh!
(Clear The Way!)

Bibliography

  • Bates, Samuel P,.History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers,1861-5 B. Singerly, State Printer, Harrisburg, PA. 1870
  • Bilby, Joseph G. ,Remember Fontenoy! The 69th New York And The Irish Brigade in the Civil War,ISBN: 0-944413-37-4, Longstreet House, P.O. Box 730, Highstown, NJ. 08520, 1995
  • Boatner, Mark M. III,The Civil War Dictionary,ISBN: 0-67950013-8, David McKay Company, Inc. New York 1959
  • Conyngham, Capt. D.P.,The Irish Brigade,ISBN: 0-942211-39-1, Olde Soldier Books, Inc. 18779 B North Fredrick RD., Gaithersburg, MD 20879 1866
  • Dyer, Frederick H,.Compendium Of The War Of The Rebellion,ISBN: 0-89029-046-X, Morningside Bookshop, P.O. Box 336, Forest Park Station, Dayton, Ohio 45405 1978
  • The Editors of Time-Life Books,Echoes of Glory, Arms And Equipment Of The Union,ISBN: 0-8094-8854-X, Time Life Books, P.O. Box C-32068, Richmond, VA 23261-2068 1991
  • Faust, Patricia L.,Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia Of The Civil War,ISBN: 0-06-181261-7, Harper & Row, New York 1986
  • Hays, Gilbert Adam,Under the Red Patch, Story of The Sixty Third Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers,Market Review Publishing Co., Pittsburgh, PA. 1908
  • McCormack, Jack,The Fighting Irish,Article from Civil War, The Magazine of the Civil War Society Volume IX No. 2, Mar-April 1991, Issue XXVIII, Cool Spring Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 770, Berryville, VA. 22611
  • MacManus, Seamus,The Story of the Irish Race,ISBN: 0-517-06408-1, The Devin-Adair Company, Old Greenwich, CT. 1992
  • O'Brien, Kevin,My Life In The Irish Brigade, The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry,ISBN 1-882810-07-4, Savas Publishing Co., 1996, 1475 S. Bascom Avenue, Suite 204, Campbell, California 95008, (800)848-6585
  • Saures, Dr. Richard,Advance the Colors!,ISBN: 0-8182-0090-1, Capitol Preservation Committee, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1987