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IRISH BRIGADE HISTORY

 

As the threat of civil war loomed over the nation, Thomas Francis Meagher, joined the 69th New York State Militia. This was a ninety-day regiment that first saw action at First Bull Run and was under the command of Colonel Michael Cocoran. The colonel was captured and spent more than a year in a Confederate prison. When the ninety-day enlistment expired, Captain Meagher returned, with his regiment to New York.

Shortly after his return, Meagher began raising a unit of Irish volunteers to serve for a term of three years. This unit would eventually become the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York Voluntary Infantry Regiments. The 69th and 88th regiments were organized at Throgs Neck, New York and enlistments primarily occurred between early September through mid-November, 1861. The 63rd New York was organized at Staten Island, New York. Meagher was appointed brigadier general and took command of the Irish Brigade on February 5, 1862. During the spring of 1862 a non-Irish regiment, the 29th Massachusetts was added to strengthen the Brigade during the Peninsula Campaign.

In October, 1862, the men of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment joined the ranks of the brigade. Composed primarily of Irishmen from Philadelphia they were organized at Camp Emitt and joined the brigade at Harper's Ferry. One month later, in November, 1862, the 29th Massachusetts was traded for another Irish regiment, the 28th Massachusetts. This regiment was organized at Cambridge, Massachusetts, December 13, 1861.

The brigade was assigned to General Edwin V. Sumner's Division, Army of the Potomac. In March of 1862, the brigade became the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps.

Throughout its life in the Army of the Potomac, the Irish Brigade was almost always at the foremost position and suffered high casualties as a result. Such was the case at the "Bloody Lane" at Antietem, below Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, the battle in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg and at Chancellorsville. Efforts were made after the Chancellorsville battle to disband the brigade. General Meagher protested this action and resigned his commission on May 14, 1863. Though his resignation was later cancelled, he never again served in the field with the Irish Brigade.

Though the brigade continued to distinguish itself on the battlefields, increasing casualties forced changes within the brigade. By June, 1864, the brigade had been reduced to that of nearly regimental size. The brigade was officially disbanded in June, 1864, with the 116th Pennsylvania being made part of the 2nd Corps, 1st Division, 4th Brigade, in July. The three New York regiments now comprised the 3rd Brigade. Later in the year, the Second Irish Brigade was created, comprising of the 63rd, 69th, 88th New York, the 28th Massachusetts and the 7th New York Heavy Artillery. The 7th New York was then replaced by the 4th New York Heavy Artillery in the early part of 1865. During its almost four years of service, the Irish Brigade lost more than 4,000 officers and men, more than which served within the brigade at any one time. Though Richard Byrnes, Richard Duryes, Patrick Kelly, Robert Nugent and Thomas Smyth held temporary commands at various times through the brigades existence, Thomas Francis Meagher served as the brigade's only commanding general.

 

The background music is "The Bonnie Lass of Fenario"

 

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