Over 25 Irish born officers commanded New York regiments during the American Civil War. The most well known led units in the Irish Brigade and Corcoran’s Irish Legion, but the majority of Irishmen did not serve in specific ethnic formations. Among these men was Dubliner Howard Carroll. He was appointed Colonel of the 105th New York Infantry dating from 2nd August 1862, and quickly had the unenviable task of leading his men into the carnage of the Battle of Antietam, Maryland on 17th September. He would not lead them out. (1)

The Dunker Church on the Antietam Battlefield. The Cornfield where the 105th New York fought is not far from this position (Library of Congress)

Howard Carroll had been born in Dublin, most probably in 1827. He was from a well to do family, with his mother being related to the Earl of Effingham. Having studied at Dublin University he emigrated to New York around 1855. Carroll worked as a Civil Engineer before the war and from soon after his arrival until 1861 he was employed by the New York Central Railroad. From 17th October 1861 the Irishman served as a Quartermaster for the 2nd Battalion, New York Light Artillery, which had initially been raised to provide artillery support directly for Meagher’s Irish Brigade. However, Carroll was keen to have a senior regimental role in the field. By early 1862 he was recruiting men in Rochester to this end, and on 27th March 1862 was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the 105th New York Infantry. (2)

The 105th New York had a large Irish contingent- companies G, H and I were dominated by Irishmen. They left New York for service in the field on 4th April, 1862. As part of Major-General Irvin McDowell’s III Corps in Major-General John Pope’s Army of Virginia they fought at Cedar Mountain and Second Bull Run. When the 105th’s original Colonel, James Fuller, resigned shortly after Cedar Mountain Carroll took over command of the regiment. Following the disastrous conclusion to the campaign, the 105th New York and it’s division joined the Army of the Potomac, and were now part of Major-General Joseph Hooker’s I Corps. It was as a part of this formation that Howard Carroll and his men crossed Antietam Creek on 16th September 1862, ready to strike the left flank of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at first light the next day. (3)

On 17th September the 105th New York formed up with their brigade under the command of Brigadier-General Abram Duryea, part of Brigadier-General James B. Ricketts’ division. Ricketts positioned his three brigades to form the left wing of the I Corps assault on the Rebel positions; Duryea’s brigade with Colonel Carroll were to take the lead. As they began to advance at daybreak and cleared a patch of woodland (now called the North Woods) they began to come under Confederate artillery fire, and sustained their first casualties. The men deployed in line of battle on the northern edge of a cornfield, a position which during the course of the morning’s fighting would become carpeted with the dead and wounded of both sides, and go down in history as the scene of one of the bloodiest encounters in the Civil War. At 6 a.m. Colonel Howard Carroll and the 105th New York began to advance through the corn, eventually emerging with their brigade on the other side. Here they were greeted with a devastating volley which brought their line to a shuddering halt. Georgians under the command of Colonel Marcellus Douglass had risen to their feet to unleash a hail of lead at the Yankees as they emerged from the corn. The two sides blazed away at each other at a distance of only 250 yards, before both lines lay down to seek cover and continue the fight. As the minutes dragged by it became clear that there would be no support for Carroll and the other regiments of his brigade, and with Rebels now threatening his flank Duryea ordered a retreat back through the cornfield. In 30 minutes of fighting almost a third of the brigade had become casualties. Among them was thirty- five year old Colonel Howard Carroll. (4)

Carroll had entered the action on his horse, and during the fight was struck with a minie ball in the left calf. The wound was severe enough that the officer was carried from the field, but it was not thought mortal. After the injury was dressed the Irishman was sent via ambulance to Washington, an arduous journey which aggravated his condition. By the time he arrived in the capital his leg had become inflamed and he was suffering from a fever from which he would not recover. Howard Carroll died on 29th September 1862, one of the thousands of victims of the bloodiest day in American history. He is buried in Rural Cemetery, Albany, New York (Section 33, Lot 2). (5)

(1) Hunt 2003: 67; (2) Hunt 2003: 67, Clark 1867: 236- 237, New York State Military Museum: 2nd Battalion of Artillery (Light), New York State Military Museum: 105th Infantry Regiment; (3) New York State Military Museum: 105th Infantry Regiment, Clark 1867: 236-238, Hough 1864: 43, Hunt 2003: 67; (4) Sears 2003: 185-187, Clark 1867: 236; (5) Clark 1867: 238-239; Hunt 2003: 67;

References & Further Reading

Clark, Rufus W. 1867. The Heroes of Albany

Hough, Franklin B. 1864. History of Duryee’s Brigade

Hunt, Roger D. 2003. Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War- New York

Sears, Stephen W. 2003. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam (first published 1983)

New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center

Antietam National Battlefield Park

Civil War Trust Battle of Antietam Page