Shortly before 9pm on 2nd July 1887 a group of Confederate veterans disembarked from their train cars at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There to greet them were some of their former foe, nearly 500 men of the old Union Philadelphia Brigade. Illuminated under red and green lights, roman candles were fired into the night sky as the band played ‘Dixie’ and the Stars and Stripes were unfurled. The next day would see a series of addresses to the men of both sides- the Rebels who had taken part in what became known as ‘Pickett’s Charge’ and the Federals who had turned them back. Amongst the Union veterans present that day were a body of men from an Irish regiment who had played a key role in that repulse – the 69th Pennsylvania. (1)

Clump of Trees Gettysburg

The Clump of Trees at Gettysburg with the 69th Pennsylvania Monument at the Stone Wall in front (Brief History of the 69th)

24 years previously such a scene would have been unimaginable to the men of both sides. The 69th Pennsylvania and their comrades had arrived on the field at Gettysburg on the evening of the first days fighting, 1st July. Shortly after sunrise on the morning of the 2nd the 258 men of the regiment took position in the centre of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. They were placed ‘a little below the crest on the decline facing the enemy and behind a low stone wall, the right resting within about thirty paces of what is now designated as the “Bloody Angle,” the left extending about the same distance below, or south of a clump of trees of umbrella shape’. This clump of trees was soon to become perhaps the most famous natural landmark in the Civil War, as it became the objective point for ‘Pickett’s Charge’. That advance was a still a day away, however. The Irishmen’s position was attacked on the evening of 2nd July, when a Rebel brigade was driven back with great loss by the combined weight of infantry and artillery fire, though not without casualties among the Irishmen. (2)

Survivors of the 69th Pennsylvania at their old position in Gettysburg in 1887 (Brief History of the 69th)

Aside from picket firing, all was relatively quiet on the 69th’s front on the morning of 3rd July. Then, around 1pm, a single Confederate artillery piece discharged across the battlefield. Suddenly all hell broke loose as volley after volley of Rebel artillery arced between the lines, with over 150 guns concentrated on Cemetery Ridge. The Irishmen lay flat on the ground behind their stone wall to escape the blasts. The air filled with the ‘whirring, shrieking, hissing sounds of  the solid shot and the bursting shell… striking the ground in front and ricochetting over us, to be imbedded in some object to the rear; others strike the wall, scattering the stones around.’ After over an hour the barrage finally lifted, but now the men faced a new threat. Out in front, somewhere between 12-15,000 Confederates in divisions under the command of James Pettigrew, George Pickett and Isaac Trimble began their purposeful advance towards Union lines and the 69th Pennsylvania’s position. (3)

Picketts Charge Veterans

Confederate Veterans of Pickett’s Charge shake hands across the Stone Wall with Veterans of the 69th in 1887 (Brief History of the 69th)

The Rebels took heavy artillery fire as they advanced in two lines towards their objective. Colonel Dennis O’Kane was in command of the 69th that day, and he ordered his men to hold their fire until they could see the whites of their enemies eyes. He reminded them that they were fighting on Pennsylvania soil, telling the men ‘let your work this day be for victory or to the death’. By now the Confederates had crossed the Emmitsburg Pike in front, where they obliqued to the left, continuing to advance through a storm of fire. The 69th waited until the Rebels were only 30 paces from their position before firing a devastating volley into their ranks. Still the enemy came on. The Irishmen’s position was overlapped on their right, and men of Confederate Brigadier-General Lewis Armistead’s brigade sought to exploit this gap. Companies I, A and F of the 69th were ordered to change front to face this threat. The latter two companies executed the move, but the commander of Company F, Captain George Thompson, had fallen before the instruction could be given- his men stayed at the wall. This created a gap through which the Confederate’s poured, and which threatened the entire regiment. Company F was consumed by Rebel attackers, and almost all of their number were forced to surrender. (4)

Colonel Dennis O'Kane

Colonel Dennis O’Kane, 69th Pennsylvania, Mortally Wounded at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863

Fighting became hand to hand as the desperate struggle intensified, with men used their weapons as clubs. Hugh Bradley of Company D went down, his skull crushed by a Rebel musket. Corporal McKeever of the 69th admitted that ‘we thought we were all gone’. Robert Whittick of Company C described how ‘a fellow was taken in with me and I knocked him over and took him prisoner, and took him in over the stone wall. We were fighting both sides on the front and rear of us at that time.’  For a moment it seemed the men would be forced to give up their position, but eventually the Confederates began to pull back. Armistead had fallen mortally wounded to the 69th’s right, and the entire Confederate advance had been enfiladed on both the left and right flanks, dooming it to failure. The Irishmen had held on. In time the charge would become legendary, and would retrospectively be termed the ‘High-water mark of the Confederacy’ in the war. (5)

Lieutenant-Colonel Tschudy

Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Tschudy, 69th Pennsylvania, killed at Gettysburg July 3rd 1863

The cost the 69th paid for participating in this historic struggle was severe. Colonel O’Kane fell mortally wounded, and Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Tschudy went down while rallying the right. Four line officers were killed, six wounded and two captured. 39 of the other ranks were killed, with 80 wounded and 16 made prisoners. (6)

69th veteran Anthony McDermott in A Brief History of the 69th Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers documents those of his comrades who fell at Gettysburg. They are:

Field and Staff: Colonel Dennis O’Kane (July 3), Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Tschudy (July 3)

Company A: Corporal William Donovan (July 3), Corporal F.J. McGovern (July 3), Private Frederick Beavenstead (of wounds received July 2), Private John Harvey Jr. (July 3), Private Robert Morrison (July 3), Private Patrick O’Brien (July 3), Private William O’Brien (of wounded received July 3)

Company B: Sergeant Jas. F. Shea (July 3), Private Timothy Gallagher (July 2), Private Andrew McGuckin (July 3), Private Jas. O’Neill (July 3)

Company C: Sergeant William Coogan (of wounds received July 3), Private Jas. McNulty (of wounds received July 2)

Company D: Sergeant James McCabe (July 3), Sergeant Jerry Gallagher (July 3), Sergeant James Hand (July 3), Corporal Patrick Kearney (July 3), Corporal James McCann (July 3), Private Hugh Bradley (July 3), Private Chas. Jenkins (July 3), Private John McWilliams (July 3)

Company F: Captain George C. Thompson (July 3), Corporal Thomas Henry (of wounds received July 3), Private Neal McCaffery (July 3), Corporal Henry Thomas (of wounds received July 3)

Company G: Second Lieutenant Michael Mullin (July 3), Sergeant Hugh Kelly (July 3), Sergeant John O’Connor (July 3), Corporal John Wogan (July 3), Private James Clay (July 3), Private James Coyle (July 3), Private Samuel Fike (July 3), Private James McIntire (July 3), Private Richard McErlane (July 3), Private James Rice (July 3)

Company H: Second Lieutenant Charles F. Kelly (July 3), Sergeant Jerry Boyle (July 3), Private John Cassidy (July 3), Private John Hurley (July 2), Private Daniel Miles (of wounds received July 3)

Company I: Captain Michael Duffy (July 2), Private John F. Boyle (July 3), Private Thomas C. Diver (July 3), Private Edward Head (July 3), Private Francis Kelly (of wounds received July 3), Private Michael Logan (July 3), Private Chris Rohlfing (July 3), Private Henry Souders (July 3)

Company K: Private Frank P. Gleason (of wounds received July 3), Private John Harrington (July 3), Private Patrick O’Conner (July 3), Private James H. Todd (July 2)

The 69th Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg as it appears today (Photo by Jen Goellnitz

(1) McDermott 1889: 53;  (2) McDermott 1889: 28, 29, 33; (3) McDermott 1889: 29, 30, Bicheno 2001: 167; (4) McDermott 1889: 31; (5) McDermott 1889: 32, Boyle 1996: 289; (6) McDermott 1889: 33;

References & Further Reading

Bicheno, Hugh 2001. Gettysburg

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

Ernsberger, Don 2006. At the Wall: The 69th Pennsylvania at Gettysburg

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

Civil War Trust Gettysburg Page

Gettysburg National Military Park