An Irish Soldier’s Wartime Letter

The November 18th 1863 issue of the Huntingdon Globe carried on its front page an article entitled ‘An Irish Soldier’s Letter’, written by a young Irish volunteer in a New York Regiment to a friend in that part of Pennsylvania. Despite the numerous battles he had been engaged in and the horrors he had witnessed, he was still clearly dedicated to the cause of the Union, as the letter indicates:

Near Warrenton, September 1863

I know well that you will do your part for the poor wounded soldiers. Oh, what sights I have seen these last two years! I have seen the soldiers of the Union drop by my side, and their last dying words were:- ‘Fight on boys, and yours will be the victory;’ and again I have seen the head knocked off many a brave man who never knew what hit him. I have seen some of the best and truest Union men in the country lying on the battlefield for hours, and could not go to give them a drink of water to cool their fainting hearts; and many a time we have run over the dead bodies of our men.

Oh, what sights! And I am happy to tell you that I have never seen one man that was wounded no matter how severe, that ever rued or was sorry for standing up in defence of his country. No, they all take it in good part, and glory in fighting for the Union; and it must be charming to those poor young and old men to have the noble hearted women of the best country on earth to minister to their wants.

I have received some of the prettiest letters from my wounded comrades, telling me how the kind ladies do take them those nourishing things that are fitting for a sick man, and again many things are given them for their use alone, and, alas! they never receive any of it; but I will detain you no longer for I am tormented with the flies, for they are around by the thousand. I was writing to Mr.—–, the other day, and I really thought they would carry me off.

If I die it is a glorious death if I am called away under the flag of the Union. If I fall, I shall fall under a banner of honor, for on our flag is written Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Seven days before Richmond, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg the first and Fredericksburg the second. The corps was commanded by General Sedgwick, a brave, a good and true soldier; under him we captured and carried Mary’s heights, the strongest place the rebels had. That is on the banner of the Sixty-second and all of the Sixth corps. Then followed Fredericksburg the third, and then Gettysburg. So that you can see that I have been through many battles, and by the grace of God am safe, camping between Warrenton and Suffern Springs, awaiting the time when we shall be led to meet that arch-traitor General Lee of the rebels. Let it be the prayer of all the North that God may be our general and commander, and all will yet be well. When they do that there need be no fear for alarm, for the Union will be safe with God on our side, it matters not who is against us, and our enemies are many at the present time. England and France, I know, are both our enemies and would side with the rebels if they were not afraid. Let me come to a close by saying to you that I am happy, contented, rejoicing in being a soldier of your country, and if I live to be in the next battle I shall give the rebels a shot for every one in your family, and these five shots may kill five rebels, but it will pay if they only kill one rebel.

The identity and fate of this Irish soldier are unknown, though it is clear he served in the 62nd New York Infantry. They had been mustered into the service in June 1861, and following this letter they were to see further action at infamous locations such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. During the war a total of 172 members of the regiment died.

References

Pennsylvania Civil War Era Newspaper Collection

Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System

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Categories: Pennsylvania, Research

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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