The Irish Brigade went into action at Gettysburg on 2nd July 1863. They did their fighting in the Wheatfield, one of the most infamous sections of the battlefield. The already depleted brigade suffered some 200 casualties. One of the brigade’s regiments that fought at Gettysburg was the 63rd New York Infantry. On 6th July the 63rd’s Adjutant, Miles McDonald, wrote to the Irish-American newspaper in an effort to let those at home in New York know the human cost of the fighting in Pennsylvania.
The “Irish Brigade” at Gettysburg
Headquarters, 63d Battalion, N.Y.S.V.,
Near Two Taverns, Penn.,
July 6, 1863.
To the Editors of the Irish-American:
Enclosed I send you the list of casualties of the 63d Battalion, N.Y.S. Vols., during the late engagement with the enemy near Gettysburg, Pa., July, 2d and 3d, 1863, for publication. It is as correct as can at present be ascertained, although some of the men reported missing may yet be found.
The Battalion fought splendidly, driving the enemy from the position they had taken, and the “Irish Brigade” by their courage and bravery in the late fights, nobly sustained the honor of the land which gave them birth.
KILLED- Company A- Privates Charles Hogan, Patrick Kenny, John O’Brien. Company B- Privates William Moran, Edward Egan.
WOUNDED- Lieut. Col. R.C. Bentley, leg, slightly. Company A- Sergt. Thomas Murphy, abdomen, severely; James Crow, hand, slightly; Hugh Meehan, side, severely; Peter Walsh, side, severely. Company B- Corporal John O’Halloran, hand, severely; Privates John Graham, thigh, severely; Daniel Hickey, hip, slightly; John Hartigan, hand, slightly.
MISSING- Company A- Corporal Daniel E. Looney; Privates Timothy Manly, Patrick McGeehan, Thomas Kelley. Company B- Lieut. Dominick Connolly, Privates Michael Kelley, John Murphy, Michael Sheehan.
RECAPITULATION- Killed, 5; Wounded 10; Missing, 8- Total, 23.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
Miles McDonald. Adjutant, 63d N.Y.S. Vols. (1)
The rosters of the 63rd New York provide further detail on the regiment’s casualties at Gettysburg. The men who were listed as dead included those killed outright in the Wheatfield on July 2, such as 21-year-old Charles Hogan and 37-year-old Patrick Kenny. John O’Brien had lingered for a day before passing away from his wounds on 3rd July. These early reports from the field often contained mistakes- one can only imagine the impact such errors had on the families of the soldiers. Such was the case for William Moran, a 26-year-old listed as killed in action. He had in fact survived, captured on the 2nd. Paroled on 28th December 1863, he returned to the front and mustered out at the end of his term at Petersburg on 31st August 1864. The same also appears true of Edward Egan, listed as killed, but who also survived to muster out on 21st August 1864. (2)
What of those listed as wounded? Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Bentley survived and was discharged for disability in 1864. The severely wounded 20-year-old Sergeant Thomas Murphy managed to survive his Gettysburg wound and re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer. However, Thomas had clearly had enough of war; he deserted from the army during his veteran furlough in March 1864. James Crow who had been wounded in the hand was suffering his second battle injury, having been previously shot at Antietam. He also survived and was transferred to the Veteran Reserves in February 1864. Hugh Meehan pulled recovered from his severe wound and would fall to enemy fire again at the Wilderness. He also ended the war in the Veteran Reserves. Just as errors could be made in listing men as killed when they had in fact been wounded or captured, so too could early reports offer hope when there was none to be had. By the time Miles McDonald wrote his brief outline to the Irish-American on 6th July, 35-year-old Peter Walsh had already died of the wounds he had received in the Wheatfield. There was no further record of John O’Halloran after Gettysburg; he may have died from his wounds, been discharged due to wounds or deserted. John Graham survived his wound, as did Daniel Hickey. 20-year-old John Hartigan who was reported as slightly wounded was not so fortunate. He died from wounds at Satterlee Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 9th December 1863. (2)
The final category of men were those reported missing. Corporal Daniel Looney had already been captured at Malvern Hill and wounded at Antietam before being captured at Gettysburg on 2nd July. His luck had run out- Daniel died of disease in Hospital No.21, Richmond on 1st December 1863. There was no further record of Timothy Manly following his capture at Gettysburg, and he may well have been among the fallen. Patrick McGeehan succeeded in getting back to his regiment and reenlisted as a veteran volunteer. Like Thomas Murphy the 28-year-old deserted during his veteran furlough. Thomas Kelly had been captured in the Wheatfield, was exchanged and eventually mustered our before Petersburg in 1864. 25-year-old John Murphy had also been captured on 2nd July, and like Daniel Looney he would not survive. He died of disease in Richmond on 30th December 1863. Michael Sheehan was another man for whom there was no record beyond his disappearance at Gettysburg and his ultimate fate remains unknown. (3)
Given the confusion of the fighting it is unsurprising that Miles McDonald made some mistakes in his communication and that some men were not mentioned at all. These included soldiers like 19-year-old Dominick Connolly who was captured but survived; 35-year-old Laurence Cronin was wounded in the Wheatfield and was discharged from the service as a result the following August. Peter Flanaghan had seen enough at Gettysburg to make up his mind about his future. He deserted from the army on 4th July, the day after the fighting stopped. Peter Hannigan had the same idea- he went AWOL on 5th July. What of the adjutant who wrote to the Irish-American on 6th July? Miles McDonald had been just 23-years-old at Gettysburg. He was destined not to survive the war; he fell wounded at Petersburg on 16th June 1864, dying the following day. (4)
(1) New York Irish-American 25th July 1863; (2) New York Adjutant General Report; (3) Ibid.; (4) Ibid.;
References & Further Reading
New York Irish-American 25th July 1863. The “Irish Brigade” at Gettysburg
Adjutant-General 1901. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901