Illustrations of the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

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.

Officers distributing the green boxwood sprigs to the Irish Brigade at Fredicksburg (Klem, The National Tribune)

Officers distributing the green boxwood sprigs to the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg (Klem, The National Tribune)

 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.

One of the Irish Brigade, replete with boxwood sprig (Klem, The National Tribune)

One of the Irish Brigade, replete with boxwood sprig (Klem, The National Tribune)

The Irish Brigade advance on Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg (Klem, The National Tribune)

The Irish Brigade advance on Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg (Klem, The National Tribune)

 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.”

Private McCarter wounded on the field at Fredericksburg (Klem, The National Tribune)

Private McCarter wounded on the field at Fredericksburg (Klem, The National Tribune)

 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

Library of Congress: Chronicling America

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Categories: 116th Pennsylvania, Battle of Fredericksburg, Irish Brigade

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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5 Comments on “Illustrations of the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg”

  1. November 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    When the 69th Pennsylvania reached the base of Mary’s Heights, General Owen sent I company, under the command of Captain Michael Duffy, to clear out CSA snipers in a small house. While Duffy worked his way over, Owen told O’Kane to lay the men of the 69th down to avoid casualties. This caused General Hancock to go into one of the furious–epithet filled tirades that he was famous for. The attack had lost its momentum. This was one of the first nails in Owen’s military coffin that caused his removal, by Hancock, before Gettysburg. Captain Michael Duffy, a former member of McMullen’s Independent Rangers, was KIA 2 July 1963 at Gettysburg.

  2. December 1, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    I was unaware of these illustrations. Thanks for posting.

    • December 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

      Hi Patrick,

      They were new to me as well, the newspapers still hold a few little known images I think, this is the second set I have come across recently relating to the Irish Brigade, hopefully there are more out there!

      Damian.

  3. Susannah Ural
    November 28, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    Damian, I’m just coming across these images now–thanks so much for posting. Wonderful images and McCarter’s story … it never loses its power.

    • December 3, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      Hi Susannah,

      Glad you enjoyed them and thanks for reading! You are right about McCarter, he brings that day alive, and it so clearly was the dominant experience of his life- it is nice to get a look of how some of it originally appeared!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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