In the spring of 1862, a call was made by the Federal government for more troops. The Civil War had been in progress for more than a year, and the 116th Pennsylvania, recruited principally from Philadelphia, as one of the regiments then authorized. Tipperary born Dennis Heenan, a man of years of prewar militia experience who had also served as Lt. Col. of the Irish 24th Pennsylvania Militia in the early months of the war, was chosen as Colonel. Though a young man in his early twenties, Antrim native St. Clair A. Mulholland, also of militia experience and described as an "excellent drill instructor," had raised two companies for the regiment and was appointed Lt. Colonel. George H. Bardwell was selected as Major. Though originally recruited as an Irish regiment intended to be called the "Brian Boru United Irish Legion," pressures to fill the regiment in a timely manner made it difficult to maintain a purely Irish character, and a number of "Pennsylvania Dutch," who would by the end of the war account for roughly 18% of the regiment, were recruited to the ranks.
Toward the end of August of 1862, the One-sixteenth mustered approximately seven hundred men. Although still under-strength, the regiment was ordered, due to General Banks' defeat and hasty retreat down the Shenandoah Valley, to move to Washington without delay. For the next month the regiment was shuffled back and forth between Maryland, Washington and northern Virginia, engaged in drill, fatigue, guard and picket duties. The regiment was then ordered to report to Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and on October 10th, joined Brig. General Thomas F. Meagher's famed Irish Brigade. This was undoubtedly received favorably by the unit's commanders, as both Col. Heenan and Lt. Col. Mulholland had attempted to raise units for the Irish Brigade the year before, and Col. Heenan had been planning to offer the One-sixteenth to Corcoran's Irish Legion, being raised at this time.
Shortly afterward, and while at Harper's Ferry, the regiment received its first colors. By all accounts its clear that initially the 116th Pennsylvania received one flag, called the "state and national colors" by Col. Mulholland--that being the elegant national flag issued by the state of Pennsylvania, bearing the state seal in the canton. What is unclear, and what has been the subject of heated debate in recent times, is whether or not the regiment ever received a green Irish regimental flag, like those issued to the other regiments of the Irish Brigade. It is the opinion of this writer that compelling arguments can be mounted supporting either side, and until conclusive evidence surfaces, the question remains open and subject to interpretation.
The regiment's first engagements, Charlestown and Snicker's Gap, would be minor, producing no serious injuries or fatalities, and not in any way preparing the the men for their first taste of real war--the futile and tragic assault on Marye's Heights at the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862. At the close of the battle, most of the One-sixteenth's field and company officers were killed or wounded, with severe losses in the ranks. The new regiment never wavered and fought like veterans, establishing the reputation for courage and discipline that would be their hallmark throughout the war.
After Fredericksburg the decimated One-sixteenth was consolidated into a battalion of four companies, Mulholland accepting a demotion to major to remain in command. The unit bravely fought through the remaining battles of 1863 as a battalion, cited for gallantry for recovering the guns of the 5th Maine Battery at Chancellorsville, an action that earned Col. Mulholland the Medal of Honor. In his regimental history, Mulholland emphasizes the fact that most of the men of the 116th were from the city, often citing the "superiority of the city men over those who had come from the farm." Nowhere was this more apparent than on the long forced-march in late June of 1863 toward Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where very few men were missing when the roll-call was given at its end. Though fatigued from the march in the oppressive heat, arriving in their home state revitalized the men.
On the morning of July 1st, 1863 the men were marched and bivouacked within three miles of Gettysburg, to what Mulholland would call the "Battle of the Century." Arriving too late to participate in the first day's battle, the 116th PVI, along with the rest of the 2nd Corps, was moved on to the line of Cemetery Ridge on the morning of July 2nd, to the left of the "Umbrella Trees." From this vantage point, the men rested as they anxiously watched the advance of the 3rd Corps into the Peach Orchard. Spoiling for a fight, the order then to go to the aid of the recoiling Union troops was received with pleasure. The 1st Division, commanded by General John C. Caldwell, to which the Irish Brigade belonged, moved off by the left flank toward Little Round Top. Arriving at the foot of the hill little damaged by enemy artillery fire intended to stop the advance, the division formed in line of battle. The Irish Brigade, commanded by Col. Patrick Kelly, was deployed on the right of the line.
As the division advanced and fought, the One Hundred and Sixteenth held its extreme right flank. Advancing at "right shoulder shift" through hilly, rough ground strewed with trees and huge boulders, the regiment's alignment was well maintained as it approached the crest of a hill. A body of the enemy, having first reached the top from the other side, delivered a volley over the heads of the men of the 116th. The regiment rushed forward and delivered a volley of their own, having deadly effect on the enemy, and the lines were soon within a few feet of each other. The battle became hand-to-hand but the enemy, weary and demoralized, soon surrendered and were sent to the rear.
The brigade was halted and aligned where the monuments now stand. In a twist of irony, the 116th had fought the men of Kershaw's Brigade, the same who had poured deadly fire into their ranks at Fredericksburg. The enemy soon had troops advancing in the front and rear of the brigade, and orders were given for the division to retire. The Irish Brigade maintained relatively good order, although under a cross-fire, as it went at a run back through the Wheatfield to the foot of Little Round Top, where it remained until the fighting on the left was over for the day. At dusk the division reformed on its original position on Cemetery Ridge.
The next morning the 116th was placed in support of Sterling's 2nd Connecticut Battery by General Hancock, commander of the 2nd Corps. Here they waited until eleven o'clock, when the men joined in the glad cheer for the 12th Corps' victory on Culp's Hill. During the two hour artillery duel that followed, the men hugged the ground closely as they lay in front of Sterling's guns, with both his fire and that of the enemy's passing over them. The rebel gunners over shot, and the 116th's Company B, deployed in rear of the battle line as divisional Provost Guard, suffered more than the men in front.
Col. Mulholland's men were never happier than when watching the Confederate infantry advancing to sure destruction in the midst of "Pickett's Charge." "It was Fredericksburg reversed, never were the men of the Regiment so eager to rush into the fight." The enemy disappeared behind a knoll just as he came within firing range--the 116th was ordered "ready!" When the rebels reappeared it was not the Confederate battle flag that was seen, but the white flag of surrender, and within ten minutes most of Wilcox's Brigade were prisoners of war. The battle ended abruptly as "the firing suddenly ceased and Gettysburg became the victory that marked the beginning of the end of the war."
Of the 2nd Corps, Col. Mulholland states that "thirty-three battle flags, six thousand prisoners and thirteen thousand stands of small arms were truly a bountiful harvest to be gathered by the men who wore the trefoil." Of the men \ of his command, the Colonel reported that "every one of them did their duty in a manner that excited my warmest admiration and gratitude."
New recruits were finally received by the 116th in the spring of 1864, and six new companies: E, F and G from Philadelphia, H, I, and K from Pittsburgh and surrounding area, brought the regiment up to full strength for the first time. Though the majority of its men were now new recruits, the regiment fought with its characteristic steadiness and gallantry throughout the Spring Campaign of 1864. In July the Irish Brigade was broken up--the 116th Pennsylvania transferred to the 4th Brigade of the 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps, where it remained when the brigade was reinstated in November, 1864. The men deeply regretted leaving the Irish Brigade, having fought nearly two years and many a bloody battle along side them, being regarded a "core" regiment in their honored ranks. The regiment served out the remaining months of the war with great distinction, and Col. Mullholland, one of the most beloved and respected commanders in his division, was given command of the 4th Brigade by the end of the 1864. The 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry had spent 31-1/2 months in U.S. combat service in the American Civil War, 23 of those (73%) as members of the Irish Brigade. They would, through the mingling of their blood and spirit on many a terrible battlefield with that unit's other gallant regiments, be proudly, and forever after, an integral part of its history and hallowed name.
"The 116th Pennsylvania was no ordinary regiment. For two hard years it fought with Thomas Meagher's celebrated Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. Though only partially Irish itself, the 116th won an honored place in this famous unit's history by its faithful service in some of the bloodiest campaigns of the war."
"The mutual respect between the Irish and the 116th was certainly founded on their shared bravery and suffering during the campaigns from Fredericksburg to Petersburg, but it no doubt also owed something to the remarkable Irish colonel, St. Clair Mulholland, who commanded the 116th through most of its battles. Mulholland was a soldier's soldier: disciplined, courageous, caring, and dedicated to the men of the regiment. Wounded four times (once, it was though mortally), he time and again rose from his hospital bed to return to command. Winner of the congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancelorsville, he was later brevetted brigadier general and major general for service in the Wilderness and at Petersburg." (taken from the dust jacket)
William McCarter was with the 116th P.V.I. from the beginning in August of '62 through the Battle of Fredericksburg where he was wounded in December, 1862. He provides insightful observations of daily camp life through his position as clerk to Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher.
"A sweeping saga of his wartime service, this is the first full-length memoir ever published by an enlisted man in the Irish Brigade. Richly detailed with witty reminiscences, the book recounts McCarter's encounters with many influential leaders, including Ambose Burnside and Winfield Hancock. His candid assessments of these men, vivid accounts of encounters with the enemy, and anecdotes of daily life make for a truly classic Civil War tale." (taken from the back cover)
This book covers the last 15 months of the war from February, 1864, through April of 1865. The story is told through the diary entries of Samuel Clear and the letters of Daniel and Alex Chisolm, all with the 116th P.V.I..
"Daniel Chisolm left his home in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, to join the Union Army when he was 19, and he fought on the front lines with the Army of the Potomac in the final campaigns of the war. Though a humble and ordinary soldier, Chisolm had the foresight to collect the letters he had written to his parents during the War and to transcribe them into a notebook along with the detailed diary of his fellow soldier Samuel Clear. Together, the diary and the letters tell the story of the final battles of the Civil War from a haunting, personal perspective that sometimes differs dramatically from existing accounts."(taken from the back cover)
"Carrying a common spirit and sense of duty, Aaron and Allen Landis joined the Union Army in the summer of 1862 during the American Civil War. The experiences in a soldier's daily routine, the exhausting marches, the proximity to death, the exhilaration of battle, the camp frolic and fireside revelry, and camaraderie in a unique time of strife and struggle are the main themes of this story. Human emotion is the link between our lives and theirs. These personal reflections, mostly forgotten when discussing war are the elements that truly make this story worth reading and remembering. The letters progress over a two year period between Fredericksburg and Petersburg, Virginia, and unfold with a touching and clear voice that could be spoken by a neighbor, brother or friend. Their sarcastic matter-of-fact style resonates with our modern human experience. The teenage siblings tell their thoughts and feelings of the adventures of two young men involved in America's most prolific and epic struggle."(taken from the back cover) By our very own Andrew Vandall!