‘Rum Racker’s Club': A Ballad of the 164th New York in the Field

Throughout the course of the war the New York Irish-American received regular correspondence from Irishmen serving in the field. These men usually wrote pieces under a pseudonym or using only their initials. Regular reports arrived from Corcoran’s Irish Legion via a correspondent called ‘Fenian’ of the 164th New York ‘Phoenix’ Regiment. On 1st January 1863 he forwarded a poem written in Virginia about the regiment, penned by First Lieutenant Richard Oulahan, a soldier-poet who was known to the men as “Our Dick.” (1)

The ballad was written in late 1862, before the regiment left their camp in Newport News,Virginia. It provides us with an insight into the mind of soldiers on campaign, and of the type of humour popular amongst them. It is entitled the ‘Rum Racker’s Club’ and was published in the Irish-Americanon 17th January, 1863.

Men of the 164th New York, Corcoran's Irish Legion (Library of Congress)

Men of the 164th New York, Corcoran's Irish Legion (Library of Congress)

RUM RACKER’S CLUB

Let the revellers carouse,

In the halls of Bleak House,

As a right jolly, boisterous crew,

While the veteran McQuade,

At his favorite trade,

Is enliv’ning “The Monks of the Screw.”

Here we’re tethered like asses,

Short of whiskey and passes,

From the “field” to the poor “second sub;”

And the rich gormandizers,

On their smuggling advisers,

Have baptized us “The Rum-Rackers’ Club.”

Faith, it’s whispered in camp,

That we’ll soon have to tramp,

Where the epicure died in a week;

Where the white mellow pork,

Makes you squat like a Turk,

And imprints its own blush to your cheek.

Then, it’s “how are you, muc?”

Banaight leath, goose and duck,

How those “Phoenix Boys” thrive on the grub!

The confounded Rum-Rackers,

They can grind navy crackers,

And they’ve whiskey galore in their Club.

They say Casey’s a brick,

But when Murphy was sick

With the fever and jaundice and chills,

The fat sutler but laughed,

When we asked for a draught,

And he gave us old Holloway’s Pills.

The Provost Marshal’s Guard

Are officiously hard,

And suspiciously soft with a few,

For just under the rose,

And the General’s nose,

Sit the privileged “Monks of the Screw.”

But the transports are here,

Off the rickety pier,

Round the gallant old Cumberland’s grave;

And the boys in their pride,

Bless their chieftain and guide,

For they know that he’s skillful and brave.

Let us proudly go forth,

With our backs to the North,

As a chivalrous brotherly band,

And let those who return,

Be the beacons that burn,

On the road to our own “Native Land.”

The final elements of the generally comic ballad have added poignancy, as it gives us a snapshot of the Legion preparing to leave Newport News for Suffolk, where they would shortly afterwards fight in their first engagement, and sustain their first battlefield casualties. The meaning of all the references in the piece are unclear, although it is possible to interpret some of Oulahan’s terms. The ‘veteran McQuade’ is most likely Thomas McQuade, a member of Corcoran’s staff who had lost a leg at Bull Run. The ‘Monks of the Screw’ was the Order of St. Patrick, a political and charitable group who gained their nickname as a result of their drinking activities. ‘Holloway’s Pills’ were a famous patent medicine in the 1860s, which claimed to cure a wide variety of ills. ‘Cumberland’s grave’ refers to the USS Cumberland, which was rammed and sunk by the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at Newport News on 8th March 1862.

As for the poet himself, Richard Oulahan was born in Co. Dublin and had emigrated to the United States around 1849. He mustered in as a First Lieutenant in the regiment’s Company A at the age of 35 on 19th December, 1862. He was destined not to serve long with the 164th, being wounded at the Battle of Suffolk on 24th April 1863; he was subsequently discharged due to disability on 4th September that year. Oulahan received a brevet-Major rank for his services. He was a committed Fenian both before and after the war, and was later an advocate of Home Rule- he carried out a correspondence with Charles Stewart Parnell on the issue.  His post-war career saw him working the Treasury Department, a position secured for him by noted newspaperman and politician Horace Greeley. Richard Oulahan died in Washington on 12th June, 1895, where his remains were interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery. (2)

(1) New York Irish-American 17th January 1863; (2) Roster of the 164th New York, New York Irish-American 17th June 1985, New York Herald 13th June 1895;

References

New York Irish-American 17th January 1863: Phoenix Regiment

New York Irish-American 17th June 1895: Obituary

New York Herald 13th June 1895: Obituary

New York A.G. 1902. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901

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Categories: 164th New York, Corcoran's Irish Legion, Dublin

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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8 Comments on “‘Rum Racker’s Club': A Ballad of the 164th New York in the Field”

  1. Brendan
    April 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    this is glorious

  2. June 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    The 164th drew many of its original officers from the Phoenix Zouaves in New York City. After Corcoran was exchanged, he was promoted to general by Lincoln, and returned to New York City to organize the unit. Many Phoenix Zouaves had already enlisted in the 37th Irish Rifles and irish Brigade. Many of those who remained behind enlisted or were commissioned by Corcoran in Corcoran’s Irish Legion on his return. Historically speaking, the most famous member of the 164th was Sgt. Edward O’Meagher Condon. He was among the five people arrested for the murder of Sergeant Brett (an English police officer) and during the trial shouted out “God Save Ireland!” This refrain was taken up by other defendents and Republican sympathizers in the courtroom. Once the phrase hit the papers it became a rallying call for many years in Ireland. Because of the intervention of the American ambassador, Condon avoided becoming one of the three Manchester Martyrs. His death sentence was changed to life and then he was later commuted. Returning to the States, Condon was active in the FBA and Clan-na-Gael for many years.

  3. Lucy Sanderson Carney
    January 21, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    I am so pleased to have found this! Major Richard Oulahan was my great, great grandfather. I’d read he was a poet, but this is the first poem of his I’ve found. Thank you.

    • January 22, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

      Hi Lucy,

      How to great to hear from you! I am delighted that you found the site and the poem given your connection! I hope to get a chance to post more about his unit in the future, so I will see can I dig out more on him for you!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

      • Lucy Sanderson Carney
        January 22, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

        Thank you! I’d love to see a photo of him – as far as I know, the family doesn’t have one. And of course, any other information would be welcomed.

  4. Ann Farmiga
    January 19, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Hi Lucy, I believe we are cousins. Oulahan is my Great-Great Grandfather too. We have a picture of him in his uniform and a picture of Mary Proud, our Great-great Grandmother. I may be able to get a scanned copy to you. take care, Ann Cardarelli Farmiga (Mother Carol is the Oulahan) P.S. There are lots of Oulahan relatives in the DC Area

    • Lucy Carney
      January 25, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

      Anna – what interesting exciting news. I have no pictures of either him or Mary proud but would love to.
      My ancestor is Alice Oulahan Sanderson. Her father is Richard. My brother lives in Maryland and is also interested in the family history – I’ll share photos with him.
      Which Oulahan is your relative?
      Thank you Lucy Sanderson Carney

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. ‘Transported to Fairyland’: Christmas With Corcoran’s Irish Legion,1862 | Irish in the American Civil War - December 23, 2012

    [...] for the General and his staff (another of these organisations within the Legion was known as the ‘Rum Racker’s Club’). The function of the ‘Monks of the Screw’ was described as [...]

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