Robert McMillan, 24th Georgia Infantry: ‘A Gallant Irishman at Fredericksburg’

The Battle of Fredericksburg is best known from an Irish perspective for the doomed advance of the Irish Brigade. But a number of Irishmen faced their more famous countrymen from behind the stone wall at Marye’s Heights, dressed in Confederate grey. Chief among them was Colonel Robert McMillan of the 24th Georgia Infantry, who played a key role in repelling the Union assault. 

Robert McMillan was not a young man at Fredericksburg, having been born in Antrim on 7th January 1805. Prior to the conflict he had worked as a grocer and dry goods merchant in Elbert County, Georgia, and had served as a State Senator between 1855-56. He had been appointed Colonel of the 24th on 30th August 1861; his son also went to war with him, acting as the unit’s Major. After Fredericksburg McMillan unsuccessfully ran for Confederate Congress, and would eventually resign his commission on 9th January 1864. His military career wasn’t finished, however. He was later to serve as Colonel of the 4th Georgia Militia during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. The Antrim native died on 6th May 1868 in Clarkesville, Georgia, where he is buried in the Old Cemetery. (1)

Cobb's and Kershaw's Troops Behind the Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, by Allen Christian Redwood c. 1894 (Library of Congress)

Cobb’s and Kershaw’s Troops Behind the Stone Wall at Fredericksburg, by Allen Christian Redwood c. 1894 (Library of Congress)

Fredericksburg had been Robert McMillan’s finest hour. The Southern Press were quick to identify his performance in the battle, his Irish nativity and his role in repelling the Union assault. Less than two weeks after the engagement, on 26th December 1862, the Richmond Whig ran the following story about his performance in the fight:

A GALLANT IRISHMAN AT FREDERICKSBURG

The following extract from a private letter will show that Meagher met his match at Fredericksburg in a gallant son of the Emerald Isle, Colonel Robert McMillan, of the 24th Georgia. We should like to see McMillan at the head of the lamented Cobb’s brigade, pitted against Meagher or Corcoran in an open field:

“But the rejoicing ceased for a time, and mourning sat on every countenance, as four grief-stricken litter bearers passed down the lines, bearing the heroic Cobb, who had fallen in the first charge of the enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Cook, commanding Phillip’s Georgia Legion, was killed at this period of the action. A fixed resolution seemed at once to possess every heart, to avenge the death-wound given to their General, and it devolved upon Col. Robert McMillan, of the 24th Georgia Regiment, to lead them in the effort. An opportunity now offered. A column, stronger and heavier than the first, was seen to advance. Flash after flash was seen upon the opposite river bank. Shell after shell fell around us, which were responded to from the heights in our rear. Colonel McMillan directed the small arms to cease until the enemy should come within musket range. The artillery continued its thunder, the musketry remaining silent, till the enemy came within fire of our shortest range guns. Soon leaden hail commenced pouring from the clouds of smoke before us. The Colonel passed along the lines surveying the movements of the enemy, when suddenly, at his command, the brigade rose and sent a volley into the ranks of the foe, which carried ruin in its way. Again and again was the assault renewed, and again and again was it repulsed, with tremendous slaughter. For the troops, the position chosen was an admirable one, but on the part of the officer who did his duty, there was required the utmost coolness and courage. This, Colonel McMillan certainly manifested. While he was passing along the line, waving his sword, and encouraging his men, they seemed to catch the spirit of their leader, and redouble their efforts, while his own regiment turned, in the thickest of the fight, and gave him three hearty cheers. He possesses the confidence of his troops. They love him, and, if need be, will follow him to the death. In the battle of Fredericksburg, he won a laurel wreath, to which fresh leaves will doubtless be added, when the tocsin shall again summon him to the field.” (2)

(1) Allardice 2008: 269; (2) Richmond Whig 26th December 1862;

References & Further Reading

Allardice, Bruce 2008. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register

Richmond Whig 26th December 1862: A Gallant Irishman at Fredericksburg

Civil War Trust Battle of Fredericksburg Page

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

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Categories: 24th Georgia, Antrim, Battle of Fredericksburg

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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11 Comments on “Robert McMillan, 24th Georgia Infantry: ‘A Gallant Irishman at Fredericksburg’”

  1. December 14, 2012 at 5:07 am #

    It’s hard to imagine a 57-year-old literally leading men into battle, or even being involved in the actual battle at all, rather than standing in the back and directing the action. It had to be an inspiration to his troops.

    • December 17, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      Absolutely he seems to have been quite an inspirational man!

  2. Joseph Maghe
    December 15, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    Thanks once again, the Georgians are often overlooked at Marye’s Heights. Well done!

  3. Marvin Poe
    August 26, 2013 at 3:17 am #

    Good article……… my Great Grandfather was among those 24th Ga men behind that wall. He was from Habersham County Ga and survived the war.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      Hi Marvin,

      Many thanks for getting in touch! What was your Great-Grandfather’s name? Did he make it through the war?

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  4. Pam
    April 4, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    I am ealted through marriage to Robert McMillan and his sisters that were married to Haddocks. They and my direct line the Murphy’s and Hunters were related to them. They all lived in Habersham county at the time. My direct line James H Murphy died at the battle of New Hope in Georgia, his home was close enough that his wife and children could hear the cannons and fighting. Thanks for bring up Robert and his Guards, I don’t believe near enough has brought them the recogniton to all of the battles they were in during the Civil War.

    • April 8, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      Hi Pam,

      Many thanks for your comment. A fascinating group of people to have family links to! Was James H Murphy Irish-born as well? I would love to know which Georgia regiment he served in and if you have nay other information on him.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

      • Pam
        April 13, 2014 at 12:17 am #

        James Harvery Murphy father was Joseph Dobson Murphy Hannah Matilda Hunter, grandson of William John Murphy and Catherine Dobson. William was born in North Carolina in 1760 and we haven’t been able to tie to his father yet. James Harvey was a private in the 40th Georgia Infantry Company K. His and wife Sabre Denman gggreatson Thomas Bailey Murphy was the speaker of the House in Georgia for many years.

  5. Ian M. Shipp
    April 20, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Conas ta tu, Damian?

    Great site! Keep up the great work and many thanks for your help in keeping the heritage and memory of many o’great men alive!
    I have several family members from the 24th and 19th Georgia and also a Ga. Cav. unit (some of whom died in yankee prison camps). I am also of the Pickett clan (Battle of Pickett’s Mill, New Hope Ga.-*Gen. Pat Cleburne Co. Cork, Ireland*. And not so distant relative of Gen George Pickett / Pickett’s Charge)
    Presently in the process of digging up the information on them. I had muster lists, but, info was lost in a computer crash. SO, MANY THANKS for sites such as this one and the countless others, that such info isnt lost forever!!
    Its great to see such interest from our brethren over across the pond.
    It goes without saying that the Celtic heritage (primarily ‘Scotch-Irish or Ulster Scots’) of most ALL Southerners at that time made us the best guerrilla fighters and thus gave us the ability to stand our ground against a force more logistically advantaged.
    Very Proud, we are!

    Maith an’fear Damian, augus Go raibh maith agat!

    Sincerely,
    Ian McLennon Shipp

    • April 22, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      Hi Ian,

      Many thanks for the comment and kind words! There are a lot of really interesting Irish connections with some of the Georgia units, something I hope to explore further in the future- I am glad you have found the site useful and if I can be of any assistance please don’t hesitate to let me know.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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