It was just after 3 o’clock in the afternoon on 30th June, 1862 near Glendale, Virginia. Brigadier-General Joseph Hooker looked anxiously to his division’s right flank, where the Pennsylvania Reserve division under Brigadier-General George McCall had been ferociously attacked by Confederate troops. It was becoming apparent that McCall’s men might not be able to hold, and so Major-General Edwin Sumner gave Hooker another regiment to bolster his position. These were the Irish of the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers; as Sumner left them he told the men to wait until they could see the whites of their enemies eyes, and to aim low. The 69th gave their Corps commander three cheers as he rode off- they would not have long to wait.(1)

The bayonet charge of the 69th Pennsylvania at Glendale, as portrayed in McDermott's 'Brief History' of the Regiment

The 69th Pennsylvania had its genesis in the pre-war Second Regiment, Philadelphia County Militia, a largely Irish unit. The militiamen recruited additional numbers and under the command of Welshman Colonel Joshua T. Owen of Philadelphia, mustered into service for three months as the 24th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers on 15th April 1861. On the expiration of their term, the regiment was reorganised for a period of three years, mustering into service dating from 19th August 1861. They were initially designated the 2nd California, but before long became the 69th Pennsylvania, the name under which they would fight in the Army of the Potomac. The 69th Pennsylvania would never achieve the fame that was enjoyed by their namesakes in the 69th New York, the first regiment of the Irish Brigade. Despite this, they quickly earned a fighting reputation that was the equal of any of the units under Meagher’s command. (2)

The Battle of Glendale was fought as one of Seven Days’ Battles during Major-General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. On 30th June the Army of the Potomac was on the retreat, as McClellan attempted to redeploy his forces from around the Chickahominy River southwards to the James River. Confederate General Robert E. Lee planned to smash portions of his Army of Northern Virginia through the Army of the Potomac at Glendale while McClellan’s forces were still on the march, with the aim of splitting the Union force in two. George McCall’s Pennsylvania Reserves were now facing this onslaught, and elements of his force were about to collapse under its weight.

Colonel Owen’s Irishmen were positioned in a ravine at the base of a hill, where they formed line of battle. To their front two Union batteries under the command of Captain Otto Diederichs and Captain John Knieriem were engaged, and the soldiers of the 69th lay down to avoid enemy artillery fire. As McCall’s men succumbed to the pressure of the attack they began streaming to the rear, dashing past the Union batteries which were also forced to retreat, abandoning some of their guns. The broken regiments passed through the lines of the 69th, who now knew they had nothing to their front but victorious Rebel troops. The Confederates were on the heels of the routed men, and made attempts to turn the abandoned artillery pieces on the Irishmen’s line. The 69th laid down a galling fire to prevent this, and decided that it was necessary to retake the cannon. 69th veteran Anthony W. McDermott takes up the story: ‘…taking advantage of the position that the rise of ground gave to us, the regiment instinctively jumped to their feet and advancing in wedge shape, charged up the hill with a cheer, met the enemy at close quarters, drove them from the captured guns and hurled them back on their supporting lines, changing what had been but a short time before seemed to be a disastrous defeat to a glorious victory.’ (3)

The Civil War Trails / Civil War Trust marker describing the charge of the 69th Pennsylvania at Glendale (Photo by Rob Shenk

The bayonet charge of the 69th Pennsylvania in combination with heavy fire from a number of other regiments helped to force back the Confederate attack. Brigadier-General Hooker noted that as the enemy gave way ‘the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Regiment, heroically led by Owen, advanced in the open field on their flank with almost reckless daring.’ Hooker’s gratitude for the actions of the 69th is made clear in his after action report, in which he thanked Colonel Owen by expressing a ‘high appreciation of his services, and my acknowledgements to his chief for having tendered me so gallant a regiment.’ According to McDermott, Hooker approached the 69th on the field and told them that they had made the ‘first successful bayonet charge of the war, and saved the Army of the Potomac from probable disaster.’ The 69th’s brigade commander Brigadier-General Burns was equally impressed with the Irishmen’s performance: ‘Colonel Owen, Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, unsupported, pursued the victorious rebels back over the ground through which they were passing and crowned the crest of the hill where McCall had lost his artillery. Gallant Sixty-ninth! The line followed this noble example, and McCall’s position was held and the enemy discomfited.’ (4)

The 69th Pennsylvania had begun to build the reputation they would enjoy throughout the war, and future actions by the Irishmen, perhaps most notably at Gettysburg, would add to their laurels. However, their success at Glendale came at a price. 13 men of the regiment were listed as killed, with 36 wounded and 5 missing. McDermott lists 8 of the fallen in his Brief History of the 69th Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. They are as follows:

Company B: Corporal Arthur McFadden, Private John Gallagher, Private Charles Ledger

Company C: Sergeant Bernard Waters, Corporal William Toner

Company H: Private James Devin, Private Tim McNamara

Company I: Private William Gartman

In 2010, 148 years after the Battle of Glendale, the bayonet charge of the Irishmen was honoured by the 69th Pennsylvania ‘Irish Volunteer’ Civil War Reenactors Organisation, which sponsored a historical marker that was placed on a portion of the battlefield acquired by the Civil War Trust. (5)

(1) Official Records Series 1, Volume 11 (Part 2): 111, McDermott 1889: 15; (2) McDermott 1889: 5-7, Boyle 1996: 75- 76; (3) McDermott 1889: 14-15; (4) Official Records Series 1, Volume 11 (Part 2): 111, 112, McDermott 1889: 15; Official Records Series 1, Volume 11 (Part 2): 92; (5) McDermott 1889: 15-16, 89-97;

References & Further Reading

Boyle, Frank 1996. A Party of Mad Fellows: The Story of the Irish Regiments in the Army of the Potomac

Ernsberger, Don 2004 (2 Vols.). Paddy Owen’s Regulars: A History of the 69th Pennsylvania “Irish Volunteers”

McDermottAnthony W. 1889. A Brief History of the 69th Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers

Official Records Series 1, Volume 11 (Part 2), Chapter 23. Report of Brig. Gen. William W. Burns, U.S. Army, commanding Second Brigade, of engagement at Peach Orchard, or Allen’s Farm, and battles of Savage Station, Glendale, or Nelson’s Farm (Frazier’s Farm), and Malvern Hill

Official Records Series 1, Volume 11 (Part 2), Chapter 23. Report of Brig. Gen. Joseph Hooker, U.S. Army, commanding Second Division, of the engagement at Oak Grove, or King’s School-House, and battles of Glendale, or Nelson’s Farm (Frazier’s Farm), with resulting correspondence, and Malvern Hill

69th Pennsylvania ‘Irish Volunteer’ Civil War Reenactors Organisation

Civil War Trust Battle of Glendale Page