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REGIMENTAL STORE

The Sixty-ninth New York Volunteer Infantry

At the Battle of Antietam

Provided by: Stephan D. O'Neill

 

‘With all the original officers and men of the Irish Brigade, Antietam was its great day, its crowning glory, though it brought no captured flags away. At Fredericksburg, the rallying cry of the officers was: "Come on boys, this is nothing to Antietam."

            Carman Manuscript, Antietam National Battlefield Library

 

Lieutenant Colonel James Kelly of the Sixty-ninth New York stood listening to the crashing roar of battle. Two miles away, across Antietam Creek, the Union First and Twelfth Corps were attacking Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. A misty drizzle blocked Kelly's view of the fighting, but the rattling musket fire and distant cheers heralded the Union attack. Behind Kelly heavy artillery opened fire on the Confederate positions over a mile away. The noise was deafening, but familiar. Kelly had been fighting the Rebels for over a year, first as a company commander with the old Sixty-ninth New York State Militia at the first Bull Run battle, then throughout the Peninsula Campaign, and now in front of Sharpsburg, Maryland.[1]

 

Kelly had commanded the Sixty-ninth New York State Volunteer Infantry regiment since August, when its regular commander, Colonel Robert Nugent, went home on sick leave. The Sixty-ninth New York Volunteer Regiment was just a year old. Formed by mustered out veterans of the Sixty-ninth Militia who felt that they had left a fight unfinished, the Sixty-ninth Volunteers was the senior regiment of the best-known brigade in the Union army: Meagher's Irish Brigade. From its founding in 1851, the Sixty-ninth Militia had always been an Irish regiment. The Volunteer regiment was joined in the brigade by two other New York Irish regiments - the Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth - as well as the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts, a hard-fighting but non-Irish regiment.[2]

 

Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, a brilliant speaker and a leading Irish figure in the United States, commanded the Irish Brigade. Meagher, who had no previous military experience, had distinguished himself with the Sixty-ninth Militia during the Bull Run battle. When he returned to New York, Meagher saw an opportunity for the Irish to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States: their refuge from famine and oppression in Ireland. Meagher, along with leading political and community leaders, decided to form an Irish Brigade, similar to those in the French and Spanish armies of the eighteenth century. Meagher was also an ambitious man, and saw an opportunity to further his own career as the commander of the Irish Brigade.[3]

 

Meagher’s brigade was assigned to General Israel Richardson's division of Major General Edwin Sumner’s Second Corps. The brigade quickly became the best-known unit in the Union Army of the Potomac. Distinguished by its beautiful green regimental colors, and its cockiness in camp and on the battlefield, the Irish Brigade had seen the hardest fighting of the Peninsula Campaign. Major General George McClellan came to rely on his "green flags" and used the brigade to stop Rebel attacks at Fair Oaks, Gaines Mill, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill. After the battle of Fair Oaks, McClellan added the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts to make up for the brigade’s battle and other losses.

 

The Sixty-ninth mustered about 320 men out of the more than one thousand who had enlisted in the last twelve months. The brigade as a whole numbered about 1400 officers and men: just a fraction of the nearly four thousand that had left New York and Massachusetts. Despite its diminished size, the Irish Brigade was in every respect a powerful fighting unit. Disciplined and tough, spoiling for a fight, the brigade was at the height of its combat strength. Many thought it was the best brigade in either army, Union or Confederate. Both armies knew of the Irishmen’s extraordinary fighting skills and impetuous courage. The Brigade posed a grave threat to any enemy it faced.

 

Recruits came from all walks of life, and from many states. Company D was made up of members from the Twenty-third Illinois, an Irish regiment that had fought in the recent campaign in Missouri. The regiment had been disbanded after the battle of Lexington and Captain Timothy Shanley, along with a hundred other Irish patriots, answered Meagher’s call to join the Irish Brigade. Shanley was recovering from a wound received during the Peninsula campaign and was looking for a chance to avenge his injury.[4]

 

The Sixty-ninth contained a number of close relatives. Newly promoted First Lieutenant Andrew Bermingham of Company A had been First Sergeant of the Militia Company A and had fought at First Bull Run. An aspiring lawyer in New York City, his brother Richard was a sergeant, and his cousin William, a miner from northwest New Jersey, was a private in the company. William was seriously wounded at Malvern Hill and was in hospital.[5]

 

Major James Cavanaugh was acting lieutenant colonel. Known as the "Little Major" due to his short stature, Cavanaugh was a lion in battle. Irascible Captain Felix Duffy of Company G was acting Major. Duffy, who was always ready to pick a fight, had missed the first battle of Bull Run after being sent home over some misunderstanding. Duffy liked to carry an Enfield rifle musket into battle in order to have a crack at the enemy. Lieutenant Patrick Kelly, a father of five, would command Company G in Duffy's stead.[6]

 

Forty-year-old First Lieutenant John Conway stood with his company. He had joined Company K of the Sixty-ninth, commanded by Captain James McMahon, the previous October. During the Peninsula battles McMahon served as a staff officer to General Meagher. In August McMahon transferred to General Richardson's staff. Conway commanded Company K throughout the Peninsula campaign. His young friend Lieutenant Peter Kelly served as his second in command.[7]

 

Captain James McGee commanded Company F, the Sixty-ninth's color company. A well known Irish patriot and a comrade of Meagher's during the Young Ireland revolt against England in 1848, McGee was a writer for the New York Irish American newspaper before joining the Sixty-ninth. A large, robust man, McGee was a tiger on the battlefield during the Peninsula campaign that summer.[8] His men would carry two flags into battle today - the National Color and the green Regimental color. The green flag had been presented to the regiment the previous November on its departure from New York. Its main devices were a sunburst, a golden harp resting on a bed of shamrocks, and an inscription in Gaelic from an ancient Irish epic poem "Riambh nar druid o sbairn lann", "They shall not retreat from the clash of spears". All three New York regiments carried green flags, and the soldiers on both sides recognized them: the Union men as a sign of salvation, the Confederates as a sign of trouble.[9]

 

Sumner assembled his hard-hitting Second Corps in the pre-dawn darkness. Its three divisions - commanded by Major Generals Israel Richardson and John Sedgwick and Brigadier General William French - were ready to launch the Union attack against the Confederate center. McClellan ordered Sumner to keep Richardson's division near his headquarters until relieved by Major General George Morell's division of the Fifth Corps. Sumner ordered his other two divisions to be ready to move at dawn. Sedgwick would cross Antietam Creek first, followed by French. Richardson would follow when McClellan released him.[10]

 

While Richardson's men waited for relief, the battle turned against the Union. The Rebels stopped the First and Twelfth Corps' attacks. McClellan immediately ordered Sumner's two available divisions across the Antietam to support the other Corps. Sedgwick's division was first across. Sensing how serious the situation was, Sumner sent Sedgwick forward without waiting for support from French's division. Sedgwick marched straight into an ambush, and his division was sent reeling north from the battlefield.

 

After crossing the Antietam, French's division advanced to support Sedgwick. Seeing some Twelfth Corps men fighting around the Roulette and the burning Mumma farmhouses, French led his troops toward them. After driving Rebel skirmishers out of the two farms, French's division advanced up a small rise. At the top of the rise his leading brigade, under the command of Max Weber, caught sight of the center of the Confederate line, strongly posted in a sunken road.[11]

 

The sunken road was a country lane connecting the Hagerstown and Boonsboro Pikes. It ran generally west to east below a small rise south of the Mumma and Roulette farms. Over the years, farmers' traffic had worn the road down between three to five feet below ground level. The road was bordered by snake rail fences. For much of its length, the road was set back some distance from the rise, providing a "reverse slope" position that protected the Confederates from long range Union artillery and rifle fire. A large plowed field fronted the road, and a cornfield and orchard bordered it behind.

 

The Confederates packed the road with men from D. H. Hill's and R. H. Anderson's divisions. As soon as Weber's brigade came over the crest, the Rebels opened fire, killing and wounding almost half of Weber's men. French's second brigade, commanded by Dwight Morris, pressed up behind Weber and was shot to pieces in turn. The survivors of the two brigades fell back behind the crest, out of action for the moment.

 

Nathan Kimball, commanding French's third brigade, saw the Confederates wreck the two leading brigades. He slid his brigade to the left of Morris and engaged the enemy much more cautiously. Both sides settled into a firefight, the Confederates behind the cover of the road and the Union men behind the cover of the crest. As each man loaded, he rose up to fire at his enemy, then dropped down to reload. Soon the survivors of all three federal brigades joined the fight. Although the Confederates had better cover, the Union musketry began to tell and the casualties in the Rebel ranks climbed steadily.[12]

 

Kimball's front did not extend the full length of the Confederate line. General G. B. Anderson, commanding the Confederates at the right of the sunken road, ordered his men to probe Kimball's left flank, which hung in the air. Then, in the distance behind the Roulette farm, General Hill saw Richardson's division hurrying to his front. Sensing the danger, he moved reinforcements into the sunken road and two small brigades into the cornfield behind it.[13]

 

Morell's division had arrived at McClellan's headquarters a half hour earlier, freeing Richardson's division. The Sixty-ninth led the march across the same ford that Sedgwick and French had used. The regiment moved straight across the Antietam, giving the veterans little time to fill their canteens. Once across, the Sixty-ninth marched a short distance west and halted in the hollow of a small brook. From the southwest they could hear the sounds of a desperate fight. Richardson ordered Meagher's men to drop their knapsacks and load their muskets. Meagher's brigade was soon ready and Richardson ordered it forward at the double quick.[14]

 

The Sixty-ninth rushed up to the lane leading to the Roulette farm. Lieutenant Colonel Kelly rode along with Meagher, Richardson and their staffs. Looking past the farm and up the sharp rise, they watched as French's men fired at the hidden Rebel line. Looking left, the senior officers spotted a strong force of Confederates moving out of the road beyond French's left flank. The inexperienced Union regiments would not be able to hold against a flank attack.

 

Although two of his brigades were not yet on the battlefield, Richardson acted immediately. He ordered Meagher to advance the Irish Brigade and extend Kimball's left flank. Meagher ordered his regiments into line of battle with the right flank on the Roulette farm lane. A large cornfield extended for a few hundred yards away from the lane and covered the brigade's deployment. Lieutenant Colonel Kelly posted his right guide on the Roulette lane and his left a hundred yards away. The rest of the brigade went into line next to the Sixty-ninth, the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts on the immediate left, then the Sixty-third and then the Eighty-eighth New York. The fourteen hundred men formed a line about four hundred yards wide facing the right of the Confederate's flank attack.

 

Once ready, the brigade moved through the cornfield and disappeared beneath the tall stalks. At the far edge of the field, a chest high split rail fence halted the brigade. The ground beyond the rail fence was wide open. A small part was covered by clover with large haystacks dotting the grassland. A hundred yards away another rail fence angled across the Brigade's path. A plowed field extended from this fence up to a rise. To their right on top of the rise the Sixty-ninth could see several regiments from Kimball's brigade engaging an unseen enemy. There were no Union troops in their immediate front, but a large force of Confederates was waving their flags and moving in open order to attack Kimball's left flank.

 

The Rebels were surprised to see the Irishmen emerge from the cornfield and changed direction to fire at Meagher's men. Soon minie balls began to zip through the corn and strike the Irish troops along the rail fence. Meagher's men quickly knocked the rails off of the fence and moved forward about fifty yards to dress their lines. Riding to the front with his staff, Meagher called for volunteers to tear down the next fence so it would not hold up the advance. Eighty men sprang from the ranks in what became a race against death. Confederate fire lashed into the volunteers - the fence rails danced from the impact of the Rebel bullets. The volunteers ripped the rails away from their supporting posts but lost half their number to the Confederate fire.

 

Meagher and his staff waited anxiously while the brave men cleared the brigade's path. In minutes two of his staff officers, Lieutenant Mackey and Captain Turner, were wounded. The brigade's chaplains, Fathers Thomas Ouellette of the Sixty-ninth, and William Corby of the Eighty-eighth, were mounted nearby. Seeing the danger the men faced, the chaplains galloped back along battle line calling out the Catholic prayer of absolution and forgiving the sins of every man who did his duty.[15]

 

All along the line, men were falling from the Confederate fire. As soon as the fence went down, Meagher ordered, "Irish Brigade! Three Cheers for General McClellan and the Army of the Potomac!" His men roared back their savage approval. Drawing his sword and standing in his stirrups, Meagher shouted, "Irish Brigade! Raise the Colors and Follow Me!"[16]

 

The Sixty-ninth, at the right of the brigade's line, set the pace. At Lieutenant Colonel Kelly's command, "Sixty-ninth! Forward March!" the three men of the color guard strode a half dozen paces in front of the line. Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, Major Cavanaugh and Captain Duffy took their positions behind the regiment's line. Moving as one, the Sixty-ninth stepped off towards the enemy. The men began to chant the Irish battle cry "Faugh-a-Ballagh!" its cadence setting the pace for the advance.[17]

 

Meagher rode back to Lieutenant Colonel Kelly. "It will be Fontenoy again, Colonel, Fontenoy!" Meagher yelled, "We shall march to the top, give them two volleys, and then go in with the bayonet."[18] Turning to Captain Miller and Lieutenant Gosson, the two unwounded officers of his staff, Meagher ordered, "Ride to Barnes, Burke and Kelly! (Commanders of the Twenty-ninth, Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth regiments) Tell them two volleys and then the bayonet!" The staff officers turned and galloped away.

 

The advance of the brigade saved Kimball's left flank. The Confederates changed direction and advanced firing to stop the Irish attack. Every Rebel shot seemed to find a target in the massed Irish ranks. The Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth returned fire as they advanced towards the crest. The Sixty-third suffered particularly heavy casualties from this Rebel fire, which continued until the brigade's advance forced the Confederates to retreat into the cover of the sunken road.

 

The brigade pressed on towards the top of the rise. The Sixty-ninth swept over one of Kimball's regiments lying prone on the ground that cheered the Irish as they marched by. As they passed Kimball's line, a fold in the crest gave the Sixty-ninth its first view of the sunken road. The Confederates hidden in the road spotted the Irish and opened fire, their bullets tearing into the Sixty-ninth's right. This fire struck down Captain Duffy, leaving the right wing without a field officer.[19]

 

Chanting "Faugh-a-Ballagh!" the Sixty-ninth surged over the last few yards to the crest. The Rebels hidden in the sunken road caught sight of the regiment's colors as they emerged over the top. First they saw the finials and streamers, then the flags themselves, emerald green and red, white and blue. Then the battle line appeared, as if on parade. The Rebels rose up, leveled muskets and fired.[20]

 

Death swept the Sixty-ninth's line. The color bearers were killed and their flags fell to the ground. Most of the men in the front rank fell. The regiment reeled back from the shock of the Rebel volley. In the distance, General McClellan and his staff watched the Irish Brigade's attack. Seeing the flags fall and the Irish line halt, a young staff lieutenant cried, "The day is lost, General! The Irish fly!" McClellan was silent for a moment and then said, "No, no, their flags are up! See, they are charging!"[21]

 

Captain McGee was shocked to see his two regimental flags fall to the ground. The survivors of the color guard immediately picked up the flags, while the Sixty-ninth's veterans quickly reformed their ranks to present a solid front to the enemy.  The company officers ordered their men to open fire. An Irish volley lashed into the Confederates' faces. Dozens of them fell while the surprised survivors ducked behind the road bank.


 

Even more surprising to the Confederates, the Sixty-ninth stood its ground. The New Yorkers poured a savage fire into the enemy. Their position on top of the rise gave the Sixty-ninth a slight height advantage. They could fire directly into the enemy's lines and up and down the sunken road.[22]

 

The Sixty-ninth's fire was terribly destructive. When he formed his brigade, Meagher had armed the New York regiments with .69 caliber smoothbore muskets. Most military men thought that the large caliber "Pumpkin Slinger" was obsolete. Not accurate at ranges above one hundred yards, the musket was designed for close-in fighting. It used a special "buck and ball" round consisting of a .64 caliber round lead ball and three .30 caliber buckshot. Every round fired a powerful shotgun-like blast of lead into the Confederates. The ranges at the sunken road were between thirty and fifty yards. At that distance the large caliber musket was a devastating weapon.[23]

 

Meagher rode slowly up and down the brigade line. His plan to repeat Fontenoy was shattered by the first Confederate volley, but he still hoped to make a bayonet charge. Confederate fire wounded Meagher's horse and several bullets pierced his clothes. Miraculously, he was unhurt and continued to encourage the men.[24]

 

After watching the Sixty-ninth fire several volleys into the enemy and witnessing the murderous effect of its fire, Meagher decided to order the charge. As he rode over to James Kelly, the lieutenant colonel was struck in the face by a Rebel bullet. Meagher turned to the men, "Raise the Colors, boys! Follow Me! Charge Bayonets! Forward March!" His orders were echoed up and down the ranks of the Sixty-ninth. Meagher guided his horse through the battle line towards the enemy.[25]

 

Captain McGee, who was standing nearby with the colors, shouted, "I'll follow you!" and grabbed the green flag, waving it at the Rebels. A Rebel bullet cut the flagstaff in two. As McGee reached down to pick up the flag, a bullet snatched off his cap. McGee draped the flag over his shoulders and strode towards the Rebel line.[26]

 

The frightened Confederates fired desperate volleys at the approaching Sixty-ninth. Lieutenant John Conway, leaning into the fire as if into a hailstorm, led Company K forward. A bullet smashed into his body and knocked him to the ground. Sergeant Richard Bermingham of Company A was shot in the chest. Captain Timothy Shanley of Company D felt a minie ball tear into his shoulder. The regiment seemed to melt away under the concentrated Confederate musketry. Seeing that it was impossible to go further, Meagher called off the attack and the Sixty-ninth fell back to the top of the rise.


 

When the bayonet charge faltered, some of the Confederates jumped out of the sunken road to counterattack the Sixty-ninth. They misjudged their enemy. The Irish veterans turned and delivered a volley into the exposed Rebels that left most of them dead or wounded.

 

The seesaw battle continued in this way for more than half an hour. During this time, Caldwell led his brigade to the Irish Brigade's left, but did not engage the enemy. At one point, Meagher rode over to Caldwell's brigade to get it to reinforce the Irish, but Caldwell could not be found. Meagher galloped back to his men, but as he reached the Irish line, his horse was killed and Meagher was knocked unconscious by the fall.

 

The Sixty-ninth's front was slowly shrinking. As the New York regiment was whittled away, the men moved to the center, dressing on the colors to protect them. Every time a regimental flag went down, another brave soul snatched it up. Gaps appeared between the regiments, which the enemy probed with sallies from the road, but every Rebel foray was crushed by Irish musket fire.

 

By now, the brigade's ammunition was running low. Muskets fouled by black powder residue could no longer be loaded. Officers and sergeants were down. The privates fought on. There was nothing fancy about this fight - it was a simple, bloody brawl. Conditions in the sunken road were equally bad. French's brigades broke at first contact, falling back and engaging in a long-range fight. But the Irish were different - they fought at close range. The Confederate commanders were forced to fight outside the cover of the road where most of the officers and NCOs were shot down. The sunken road was a charnel house, every square yard held a dead or wounded Confederate; no one could move without stepping on a body.[27]

 

General Richardson at last arrived on the field. He had been busy bringing up artillery and placing the batteries to support his men. He saw the Irish fighting while his other two brigades hung back below the crest. He immediately ordered Caldwell's brigade to attack in support of the Irish.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Barnes of the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts was deeply concerned. Meagher was injured and gone from the field. Now each regiment fought independently, with no guidance from a general officer. While Barnes' own regiment was in good shape, he could see that the New York regiments were in serious trouble. Ammunition was very low and the muskets were fouled and difficult to load. Survivors were scouring the cartridge boxes and pockets of the dead and wounded for their last rounds of ammunition. Barnes could not imagine why Richardson had let the Brigade fight so long without support. Although he could not see them, he was sure that Caldwell's men were only minutes away, with Brooke close behind. He placed Major Chipman in command of the Twenty-ninth and rode over to the Sixty-ninth's position.[28]

 

Major Cavanaugh stood in the center of the Sixty-ninth's line by the color bearers, encouraging his remaining men to keep up their fire. Suddenly, a Confederate shouted from the sunken road, "Bring them colors in here!" The Sixty-ninth men shouted back, "Come and get them, you damned rebels!" Infuriated, the two men carrying the Sixty-ninth's flags ran forward several yards and began to wave them in the Confederates' faces.

 

A sudden fear gripped Barnes. He did not think that the Sixty-ninth could stop another sally, yet here was the color guard inviting the Rebels to attack. Barnes could not stand the thought of the enemy capturing these famous flags. He galloped back to the Twenty-ninth and shouted to Major Chipman, "Major, three cheers and then we attack! Get the men ready!" Chipman rose in his saddle and shouted, "Twenty-ninth! Three cheers for the Irish Brigade!" His men shouted themselves hoarse. Barnes looked to the sunken road. A large number of Confederates were climbing out to seize the Sixty-ninth's colors. They stopped when they heard the Twenty-ninth's cheering. Barnes quickly called out, "Twenty-ninth! Rise Up! Charge Bayonets! Guide on the Colors! Forward March!" Color Sergeant Francis Kingman sprang in front of the battle line and the whole regiment moved forward. The Sixty-ninth watched their Bay State comrades move to the attack. A feeling of savage pride surged through their ranks. A furious roar burst from their throats, born of hatred, rage, blood lust and revenge. The Irishmen sprang to their feet and joined in the attack.[29]

 

Caldwell's line was halfway up the slope when the Irish Brigade began its new attack. Shouting wildly, Caldwell's men ran up the remaining distance to the top of the rise. They quickly caught up with their Irish comrades, pushed through their line, and charged into the sunken road.[30]The Confederates were astonished - they had fired cartridge box loads into the Irish, only to see them rise up to attack again with incredible arrogance. Then a fresh brigade appeared over the top of the rise, seemingly from out of the ground. It was too much. The Confederates broke and ran from the sunken road.[31] General McClellan, standing on the hill above the Boonsboro Pike, watched the Rebels streaming back. He slapped his hands together, "It is the most beautiful field I ever saw and the grandest battle!"[32]

 

Colonel Francis Barlow, commanding Caldwell's right flank regiment, the combined Sixty-first and Sixty-fourth New York, leaped into the road at the head of his men. To his right he saw that the Rebels facing Kimball's brigade were still in position. Barlow changed his regiment's front forward on the right company, facing his New Yorkers down the road, directly on the Confederates' flank. A volley flashed from their rifles. Most of the remaining Confederates broke, the others quickly surrendered and Kimball's men ran forward to join Barlow's in the road.[33]


 

The survivors of the Sixty-ninth remained standing at the top of the rise and watched the Confederates flee into the cornfield behind the sunken road. A few of the Irish charged forward with Barlow's men, but most watched Barlow and Kimball pursue the broken Rebels towards the Hagerstown Pike. Over one hundred dead and wounded marked the Sixty-ninth's battle line, while several dozen were already lying in the field hospital. Looking down into the now abandoned sunken road, the men saw that there was scarcely a square foot of road surface visible through the tangle of Confederate bodies.


 

Richardson galloped up the rise, leading an artillery battery that went into position on the crest. Riding over to the Irish Brigade, Richardson ordered it back to the Antietam to replenish its ammunition, and then to return to the front. Major Cavanaugh ordered his men to fall in. Then, with their tattered and blood stained flags proudly flying, the Sixty-ninth led the march down the rise and back to the cool waters of Antietam Creek.

 

That evening the Sixty-ninth returned to the sunken road. After some hours of confused fighting, the Union center was at the sunken road. A stalemate settled over the battlefield. The Twenty-ninth Massachusetts posted pickets in the cornfield, relieving men from Caldwell's brigade. The Confederate main line ran along the Hagerstown Pike, a few hundred yards in the distance. Pickets from both sides roamed the valley in front, occasionally sniping at each other. The sunken road was still filled with Rebel dead and wounded. Many on the Union side were calling it the Bloody Lane.


 

The Sixty-ninth lost 44 killed and 152 wounded during the battle at the sunken road, a loss of sixty –one percent of its number. The wounded were carried back to a field hospital set up near the cornfield where they were cared for on beds of straw. Lieutenant Andrew Bermingham of Company A sat comforting his brother Richard. Nearby lay Lieutenant Colonel Kelly with a terrible wound through his mouth. Captain Shanley, just returned after recovering from his Malvern Hill wound, sat wounded with a rifle ball in his shoulder. This wound would prove fatal.

 

Among the dead was First Lieutenant Patrick Kelly of Company G, Sixty-ninth New York, who lay near the crest. Captain Felix Duffy, the irascible commander of Company G, and one of the first to fall, lay eighty yards from the top of the rise. The body of Lieutenant John Conway, commanding Company K of the Sixty-ninth, lay there with almost a dozen of his men.

 

Three months later, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Sixty-ninth suffered heavily again, losing all but one of its officers to wounds and death. By the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the Sixty-ninth mustered less than one hundred men and was combined into a battalion with the equally reduced Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth. The New York regiments were reconstituted in 1864, but were virtually wiped out in the desperate fighting of the Overland campaign. In 1865, the Sixty-ninth was again reconstituted, and fought through to Appomattox. The New York regiments were mustered out of service in July 1865.



[1] Muster rolls and pension records of James Kelly, 69th NYSM and 69th NYSV.

 

[2] Remember Fontenoy! The 69th New York and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, Joseph G. Bilby, Longstreet House, 1995, page 40, hereafter cited as Bilby. Carman Manuscript, unpublished, U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pa., Hereafter cited as Carman. Carman notes in his manuscript, "It is doubtful if there was a regiment from Massachusetts with a larger percentage of Americans in its ranks." Given the great dislike that many native born Americans felt for Irish immigrants, it is surprising that the 29th Massachusetts was assigned to the Irish Brigade.

 

[3] My Sons Were Faithful and They Fought, the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Antietam, Joseph G. Bilby and Stephan D. O’Neill, editors, Longstreet House, 1997, hereafter cited as Bilby and O’Neill.

 

[4] Muster rolls and pension records of Timothy l. Shanley, 23rd Illinois and 69th NYSV.

 

[5] Muster rolls and pension records of Andrew Bermingham, Richard Bermingham and William Bermingham, 69th NYSV.

 

[6] Muster rolls and pension records of James Cavanaugh, Felix Duffy, and Patrick Kelly, 69th NYSM and 69th NYSV.

 

[7] The Irish Brigade, Capt. D. P. Conyngham, William McSorley & Co., 1867, page 561, hereafter cited as Conyngham, page 553. Conway became involved in a duel with another officer in August during the regiment's stay on the James River. Some two weeks after Antietam, Lieutenant Peter Kelly, his second in the duel, was court martialled and dismissed from the service for carrying the challenge. Kelly's court martial records show that Conway was killed in the duel. However, the muster rolls and casualty sheets for the regiment show that Conway was present at the battle of Antietam, weeks after his supposed death in the duel.

 

[8] Conyngham, page 548. Muster rolls and pension records of James McGee, 69th NYSV.

 

[9] Bilby and O’Neill, page 67

 

[10] Landscape Turned Red The Battle of Antietam, Stephen Sears, Ticknor and Fields, 1983,  hereafter cited as Sears, page 218. Morell's division was in Keedysville, one and a half miles from the Pry House. Clearly no one communicated any sense of urgency in ordering Morell to move to army headquarters. His veteran division took an hour and a half to march that short distance.

 

[11] ANTIETAM: The Soldiers' Battle, John M. Priest, White Mane Publishing Company, 1989, pages 139, 140, hereafter cited as Priest.

 

[12] Sears, page 240.

 

[13] Priest, page 157.

 

[14] Bilby, page 53.

 

[15] Memoirs of Chaplain Life, Three Years with the Irish Brigade in the Army of the Potomac, Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., reprint by Fordham University Press, 1992, page 112, hereafter cited as Corby.

 

[16] Official Records, Series I, Volume 19, reprint, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Hereafter cited as O.R., Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher, pages 293 - 295.

 

[17]  Faugh a Ballagh – (pr. fag a BAYluh) Irish for “Clear the Way,” a battle chant used by the Irish Brigade of the French army and adopted by Irish units in most European armies. The author saw a World War 2 British scout car in a Belgian military museum that has these words inscribed on its side.

 

[18] Bilby, page 55. At the Battle of Fontenoy, fought in 1745, the Irish Brigade of the French Army spearheaded an attack that defeated the British Army. The Irish Brigade marched up to within paces of the British line, delivered two volleys, and completed the rout with a spirited bayonet charge. George II of Britain said afterwards, "Curse the laws that deprive me of such subjects!"

 

[19] Gallowglass Letters, New York Irish American, James Turner, October 18, 1862, hereafter cited as Gallowglass. Turner was one of Meagher’s staff officers and a correspondent for the weekly Irish American newspaper. Turner was wounded at the start of the battle. He was killed in action during the Wilderness battle in 1864. Also, O. R., Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher, pages 293 - 295.

 

[20] Priest, page 160.

 

[21] Carman.

 

[22] Gallowglass, October 18, 1862.

 

[23] Bilby, pages 147 - 151. Most combat in the Civil War took place at ranges between 100 and 200 yards, where the supposed accuracy of the rifled musket made little difference. It is not surprising that many officers preferred the smoothbore musket for their men. See the reprint of Colonel George L. Willard's pamphlet, written during the Civil War, "Comparative Value of Rifled and Smooth-bored Arms," by Longstreet House, 1995. Meagher chose the smoothbore because it fit well with his sense of how the Irish would fight: at close range and with the bayonet.

 

[24] Bilby, page 55.

 

[25] Conyngham, page 305.

 

[26] O. R., Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher, pages 293 - 295.

 

[27] Reminiscences of the Civil War, John B. Gordon, reprint Morningside, 1993, page 88.

 

[28] History of the 29th Massachusetts, William H. Osborne, cited in Carman, hereafter cited as Osborne.

 

[29] Sears, page 245. Osborne.

 

[30] O. R., Report of Col. Francis C. Barlow, pages 289, 290.

 

[31] Osborne. Most histories state that the Irish Brigade was relieved in parade ground fashion, the Irish breaking by company to the rear while Caldwell's companies broke to the front. General Caldwell's and Colonel Barlow's reports do not support this, saying that the lines were passed quickly and in good order. Others, such as Priest, state that the Irish Brigade ran out of ammunition, formed up and marched off, leaving a large gap in the line that Barlow rushed in to fill. This also seems unlikely, since the Irish were renowned for their battle endurance. Sumner once said that if he saw an Irish Brigade soldier run, he would run too. Given the battle situation, Osborne's account, confirmed by Caldwell and Barlow, appears accurate.

 

[32] Priest, page 182.

 

[33] O. R., Report of Col. Francis C. Barlow, pages 289, 290.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

ANTIETAM: The Soldiers' Battle, John M. Priest, White Mane Publishing Company, 1989

 

Remember Fontenoy! The 69th New York and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, Joseph G. Bilby, Longstreet House, 1995

 

The Irish Brigade, Paul Jones, Robert B. Luce, Inc., 1969

 

The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns, Capt. D. P. Conyngham, William McSorley & Co., 1867

 

Landscape Turned Red The Battle of Antietam, Stephen Sears, Ticknor and Fields, 1983

 

Gallowglass Letters, New York Irish American, October 1862

 

History of the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac, Francis A. Walker, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886

 

Memoirs of Chaplain Life, Three Years with the Irish Brigade in the Army of the Potomac, Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., reprint by Fordham University Press, 1992

 

Official Records, Series I, Volume 19, reprint, Broadfoot Publishing Company

 

Comparative Value of Rifled and Smooth-bored Arms, pamphlet written by Colonel George L. Willard, reprinted by Longstreet House, 1995.

 

Reminiscences of the Civil War, John B. Gordon, reprint Morningside, 1993

 

History of the 29th Massachusetts, William H. Osborne, cited in Carman

 

My Sons Were Faithful and They Fought A History of the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Antietam, Joseph G. Bilby and Stephan D. O’Neill, Longstreet House, 1997

 

Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862,Joseph L. Harsh, The Kent State University Press, 1999

 

Carman Manuscript, Unpublished manuscript located at the Antietam National Battlefield Library

 





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