Private William McCarter of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, Irish Brigade, is best known for his memoirs My Life in the Irish Brigade. The Irishman’s account of the Battle of Fredericksburg, in which he was wounded, is amongst the most vivid of that engagement (for an account of the 116th Pennsylvania’s experiences on that day see a previous post here). McCarter also told the story of the brigade’s fateful charge in the July 29th 1886 edition of The National Tribune. The piece was illustrated by the paper’s artist ‘Klem’, and includes a number of portrayals of the Irishmen on the day of battle that may be of interest to readers.
All the regiments of the brigade are now in line on Sophia street (the first street running parallel to the river), anxiously awaiting further orders. The enemy’s shells are flying thick, dropping and exploding in every part of the city with telling effect among our troops. Gen. Meagher again rides up, this time accompanied by two Orderlies carrying quantities of green boxwood. By his orders each officer is handed a bunch, with the request to present to each man in the ranks a green sprig to place on his cap before going into battle, as an emblem of the Emerald Isle. Few, perhaps none, of the surviving members of the brigade kept, or thought of preserving, the little green sprig; but the one given to myself I can show to-day, or rather the remains of it, sealed up in a bottle, as a relic of that bloody day.
It was now evident that this assault, like the preceding one, would be a failure; yet our shattered and bleeding ranks held their ground, determined to fight to the last. Our cause was just, and “Irish blood was up.”
Next came my own turn. When in the act of ramming another cartridge home, to send it where I had sent several others- into the ranks of Cobb’s brigade, a ball struck me in the right arm near the shoulder. A stream of warm blood rushed out of the wound, saturating my clothing down to my feet, the shattered arm dropping powerless by my side, and my musket on the ground. Dizziness and partial loss of sight followed, and I fell unconcious on the field, while my more fortunate comrades as yet continued to blaze away at the foe.
References & Further Reading
McCarter William 1886. ‘Fredericksburg: As Seen by One of Meagher’s Brigade’ in The National Tribune July 29th 1886.
McCarter, William (edited by Kevin E. O’Brien) 2003. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry