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The Irish Brigade

With the denigration of our Tea Parties by Democrat Politicians and their ilk, I thought it fitting to make a bit of a comparison to some moving military history.

The Irish Brigade of the Union Army during the Civil War was comprised of the 63rd Regiment, the 69th Regiment, and the 88th Regiment, all New York Volunteers. The 10th Regiment, New York Volunteers, was partially organized and then folded into the existing Irish units. They were later augmented by the 29th Massachusetts Regiment, the 28th Massachusetts, and then the 116th Pennsylvania. The Irish Brigade first saw action at the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas and served as the rear-guard of the Union Army following that initial defeat.

At Antietam the Brigade was sent against Confederate General Dan H. Hill, holding the Confederate Center, a small portion of that brutal day known as “Bloody Lane”. 8 Color Bearers, successively, carried the Brigades Colors that day. Brevet Brigadier General Ezra Carman, 13th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, recalls this scene at Antietam:

“The ranks of [Thomas] Meagher’s [Irish] Brigade had been greatly thinned. The 69th New York had nearly melted away but a few [troopers] were left, huddling about its two colors, when one of the enemy shouted from the Sunken Road: ‘Bring them colors in here,’ upon which the two color bearers instantly advanced a few steps, shook their colors in the very face of the enemy and replied: ‘Come and take them you damned rebels.’

The Irish Brigade suffered over 30% losses at Antietam but they did take the Bloody Lane. That was nothing compared to Fredricksburg.

For those of you not familiar with Civil War history Joseph Gannon describes the battlefield…

Unlike so many other more fluid early battles of the war, where the armies marched and maneuvered over large areas, Fredericksburg, especially the famous portion of it fought on the slope of Marye’s Heights, was a mainly linear affair for the Federals, straight up, and then straight back, while it was a nearly static one for the Confederates. It is likely that not one field officer in ten of those observing and participating in the forming up of the troops for this battle on either side had any doubts about its final outcome.

Colonel St. Clair A. Mulholland, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry describes the Irish Brigade on that day of December 15, 1862…

“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.”

The Brigade stood on the Federal side of the canal and watched as Regiment after Regiment attempted to climb the steep hill to Marye’s Heights and the dug in Confederates. And were smashed. Finally the order came, “Irish Brigade, forward at the double-quick, guide center, MARCH!” The smallest unit thus far to make the attempt, the Irish Brigade stepped off as one man. Only 87 days after Antietam, the Irish Brigade was again advancing on Confederate General Dan H. Hill’s Division. Upon seeing their advance Hill is reported to have said…

Here come those damnable green flags again.”


The Brigade marched forward at right shoulder shift. Artillery fire blew holes into the Brigade’s ranks. As they neared the stone wall behind which the enemy was safely ensconced the Confederates opened fire. The Brigade made it to within 5 paces of the stonewall, but could advance no farther. Refusing to give up the ground they had taken the Irishmen laid down on the ground and returned fire. I’ll ask Joseph Gannon to describe the scene again…

They had done all that men could do, so they lay down where they were, and began to fire buck and ball from their smoothbore muskets in the direction of the well-protected Confederates. Some would find a way down the hill while it was still light, others would remain on the slopes into the night.

There has been controversy ever since over what unit got closest to the wall. It may have been members of the Irish Brigade, but in truth it matters little. More than 540 of the approximately 1,200 men of the Irish Brigade were dead or wounded.

That night the men of the Irish Brigade were in shame, not because of their heroic but fruitless efforts but because their Colors, the bright green flags that identified their Regiments had not made it down the hill.

The next day while recovering their dead the Confederates had found the body of the Irish Brigade’s Color Bearer, the broken staff lay beside his bullet riddled body, but there were no Colors. The Sergeant’s arms were clasped about him, as if he shielded something precious. Upon unclasping his arms it was found that a bullet had pierced both the Colors he held close to his chest and the Sergeant’s heart.

An Irish Soldier in the Confederate ranks found this to be more than he could bear. His unit would win great acclaim for capturing a set of Colors, the first Medal Of Honor was awarded for the same feat. But that would not do for this young Irishman.

“Around midnight on the 19th, there was a sound of heavy firing from the Rebel shore (of the Rappahannock), followed by the splash of a man diving into the river and swimming towards the Union lines.
“When he staggered through the shallows to dry land, the picket took him prisoner…Speaking with a thick brogue, he said he had important, confidential business with the brigade commander, he asked to be taken to General Meagher for a private interview.
“Michael Sullivan had been one of the men who had held the stone wall against the repeated charges of the Second Corps. When the Irish Brigade came up the slope in its gallant attack, Sullivan had seen one colour-bearer shot down, and marked the spot where he fell. After dark, he told Meagher, he had crawled out and taken the green flag from beneath the sergeant’s dead body.
“He unbuttoned his chances, and from his waist he unwound the harp and sunburst green colours of the 28th Massachusetts, which he handed to Meagher. He then said; “I request permission, sir, to return to my own regiment.”

69th New York History

We cannot display the same level of heroism the Irish Brigade did at Fredricksburg but we can make Nancy Pelosi, Harry Ried and Obama cry “Here come those damnable yellow flags again” at least until January 2013.

Retired Paratrooper, Biker, Tattoo Artist


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