Emigrant Irish Badgers: With the Second Wisconsin in Herbst’s Woods

A focus of my recent trip to the Gettysburg battlefield was to look at some of the stories of Irishmen who were among that majority who undertook their war service in non-ethnic Irish units. A number of them were to be found in the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry– part of the famed Iron Brigade– who on the first day at Gettysburg were engaged in the vicious fighting in Herbst Woods on McPherson Ridge and in the brief stand near the Lutheran Seminary. In this post I look at three of those Badger State Irish-Americans, explore their experiences, and examine their fates.

Second Wisconsin Infantry Memorial in the Herbst Woods, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Second Wisconsin Infantry Memorial in the Herbst Woods, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

During the see-saw struggle in Herbst Woods on 1st July 1863, Private Patrick Maloney of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry spotted an opportunity. His regiment had just charged the Tennessean Confederates that opposed them, driving their foe back across the stream known as Willoughby Run from whence they had come. Continuing the pursuit, Maloney, “a brave patriotic, and fervent young Irishman”, identified amongst the Rebels none other than Brigadier-General James J. Archer, whose men the Black Hats were up against. Seemingly without hesitating, Maloney plunged into the Southerners and apprehended Archer, who initially tried to resist but was soon overwhelmed. Maloney brought his captive back to his commanding officer, Major John Mansfield, who in turn placed Archer in the hands of another Irishman in the 2nd Wisconsin, Galwegian Lieutenant Dennis Dailey. According to Dailey, so shaken was Archer by his encounter that the General appealed “for protection from Moloney.” Patrick Maloney’s actions had resulted in the first capture of an Army of Northern Virginia General since Robert E. Lee had taken command over a year before. His are probably the best known actions of any Irishman who served in the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg, though he would not live to reap any reward from them. Somewhere between the fighting in the Herbst Woods and the Brigade’s stand at the Seminary later in the day, Patrick Maloney was killed. The import of his contribution was enough to merit note in his commanding officer’s Official Report on the engagement at Gettysburg. Major Mansfield penned the account on 15 November 1863:

I ordered a charge upon this last position of the enemy, which was gallantly made at the double-quick, the enemy breaking in confusion to the rear, escaping from the timber into the open fields beyond. In this charge we captured a large number of prisoners, including several officers, among them General Archer, who was taken by Private Patrick Maloney, of Company G, of our regiment, and brought to me, to whom he surrendered his sword, which I passed over with the prisoners to Lieut. D.B. Dailey, acting aide-de-camp on the brigade staff. I regret to say that this gallant soldier (Private Maloney) was killed in action later in the day. (1)

The Herbst Woods, the terrain through which the Second Wisconsin fought on the first day at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

The Herbst Woods, the terrain through which the Second Wisconsin fought on the first day at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Willoughby Run, across which Patrick Maloney and other members of the Second Wisconsin advanced on their way to capturing Brigadier-General Archer (Damian Shiels)

Willoughby Run, across which Patrick Maloney and other members of the Second Wisconsin advanced on their way to capturing Brigadier-General Archer (Damian Shiels)

Today, beyond his heroics on the field, we know very little about the origins, emigration or life of Patrick Maloney and his family. We know somewhat more about his compatriot Dennis Dailey, who had taken charge of Archer’s sword. He would be involved in more trials and tribulations on 1st July, as the survivors of the 2nd Wisconsin retreated through the town of Gettysburg towards Cemetery Hill. He was among those men, who included Colonel Morrow of the Iron Brigade’s 24th Michigan, who took refuge in the home of Mary McAllister near the Christ Lutheran Church. She remembered the Galway man in her home:

There was a young Irishman in there, too. His name was Dennis Burke Dailey, 2nd Wisconsin. He was so mad when he found what a trap they were in. He leaned out of the kitchen window and saw the bayonets of the rebels bristling in the alley and in the garden. I said, “There is no escape there.” I opened the kitchen door and they were tearing the fence down with their bayonets. This young Irishman says “I am not going to be taken prisoner, Colonel!” and he says to me “Where can I hide?” I said, “I don’t know, but you can go upstairs.” “No,” he said, “but I will go up the chimney.” “You will not,” said the Colonel. “You must not endanger this family.” So he came back. He was so mad he gritted his teeth. Then he says to me “Take this sword, and keep it at all hazards. This is Gen. Archer’s sword. He surrendered it to me. I will come back for it.” I ran to the kitchen, got some wood and threw some sticks on top of it…Col. Morrow says to me “Take my diary. I do not want them to get it.” I did not know where to put it, so I opened my dress and put it in my dress. He said, “That’s the place, they will not get it there.” Then all those wounded men crowded around and gave me their addresses. Then this Irishman, he belonged to the 2nd Wisconsin, said, “Here is my pocketbook, I wish you would keep it.” Afterward I did not remember what I did with it, but what I did was to pull the little red cupboard away and put it back of that… Then there came a pounding on the door. Col. Morrow said, “You must open the door. They know we are in here and they will break it.”…That Irishman, he was so stubborn…He stood back so very solemn. Then they took him prisoner. He asked them to let him come back into the house. Then he said to us “Give me apiece of bread.” Martha said, “I have just one piece and that is not good.” He said, “It don’t make any difference. I must have it. I have not had anything to eat for 24 hours.” Then the rebels took him. (2)

The monument marking the deathspot of Major-General John Reynolds, Commander of the First Corps at Gettysburg. He fell at the edge of Herbst Woods, as the Second Wisconsin and others plunged towards the Confederates (Damian Shiels)

The monument marking the deathspot of Major-General John Reynolds, Commander of the First Corps at Gettysburg. He fell at the edge of Herbst’s Woods, as the Second Wisconsin and others plunged towards the Confederates (Damian Shiels)

The marker to Archer's Confederate Brigade in the Herbst Woods at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

The marker to Archer’s Confederate Brigade in the Herbst Woods at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Born around 1840, Dennis Dailey and his family had emigrated when he was six-years-old, settling in Ohio where he was educated at Antioch College. The Galwegian survived his Gettysburg captivity and later went on to serve in the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, performing notable service at engagements such as the Weldon Railroad, where he was wounded. He ended the conflict a brevet Lieutenant-Colonel. He had an active and successful post-war career; in 1867 he settled in Council Bluffs, Iowa where he became a criminal lawyer and served as District Attorney. He passed away in Council Bluffs in 1898 where he is buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery (you can read his obituary here and see his grave here). (3)

Looking west from the cupola of the Lutheran Seminary towards Herbst Woods, the ground on which the Second Wisconsin fought on Gettysburg's first day (Damian Shiels)

Looking west from the cupola of the Lutheran Seminary towards Herbst Woods, the ground on which the Second Wisconsin fought on Gettysburg’s first day (Damian Shiels)

As with nearly every unit in the Army of the Potomac, there were Irish-American families at home who waited anxiously for news of the 2nd Wisconsin. One were the Brennans in Vermont. Mary Brennan’s son Michael had worked on a farm in Rutland County, Vermont during much of the 1850s, before striking out west in the winter of 1856-7 with some friends. He was still there when war came, and he enlisted in Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry in La Crosse on 13th February 1862. He continued to financially support his mother. One of the letters he wrote home (addressed to his brother) came on 18th March 1863, just over three-months before Gettysburg. The patriotic soldier was optimistic about the future despite the low numbers of men left in the unit:

Camp near Bellplain VA

March 18th 63

Dear Brother and mother i take this oppertunity of writing these few lines to you and let you know that i have changed my location since i last wrote you and am now with my reg. i came hear yesterday and am well thank god as i expected to be at this time the boyes are all in good fiting trim never better what their is of them.

we had 80 men when i left the reg officers and all now their is only 25 their is 12 deserted this winter the rest have been shot died of wounds and sickness and so on but we have comfortable quarters and good grube and things look livley and active hear instead of the army being demorlised it is quite the reverse if i have my health i had rather be hear than any place i have been in hospitall but we will have active times before long i expect

i wrote severil letters to you from the convalsent camp and recived no answer but that was very bad about the maills coming regalar

William Obrin told me[he] heard from you regalar i have not got one dollar of my regelar pay since i got a few dollars extra pay for work but not anough hardly to keep me in tobaco at the prices we have to pay now. i am in hopes that i will get it by the first of next month if the reg is paid by that time which i hope in god it will. But it may be so that i cant get it when i was not hear to be mustered the last of febuary if i was hear and mustered for the roll their would be no troble when the reg is paid but i supose the paymaster can do as he feels about it. But i shall do the best i can to get it and when i do you shall get the most of it with the help of god. I know that you must stand in need of it all winter but god knows i could not helpe it i tride my best to get it but could not.

i want you to write to me as soon as you get this and direct as you did when i was with the reg before and then i shall be purty shure to get it give my love to mother and all frinds

I got a letter from philip the other day he is well and down at [illegible]

No more at present

from yours truley

Michael Brennan

Michael did eventually get paid, and sent his mother $30 via Adams Express on 27th April. A little over two-months afterwards he was with the 2nd Wisconsin on Gettysburg’s first day’s battlefield, where he was destined to be among the dead. His mother would include proof of his last remittance to her in a pension application as she sought to secure support based on his service. (4)

The Adams Express recipt from April 1863, the last remittance Michael Brennan sent to his mother prior to his death at Gettysburg (NARA/Fold3)

The Adams Express receipt from April 1863, the last remittance Michael Brennan sent to his mother prior to his death at Gettysburg (NARA/Fold3)

The 2nd Wisconsin Infantry is another example of a unit that can be examined to learn something of the Irish experience of the American Civil War (for the story of another Irishmen in this regiment, who beat the odds to survive First Bull Run, see here). I hope to look at other elements of Irish participation in the Iron Brigade (particularly that of the 24th Michigan) and other non-ethnic Irish units at Gettysburg in future posts, incorporating some of the images I took on my recent visit to the battlefield.

The Lutheran Seminary as seen from Herbst Woods, ground traversed and fought over by the Second Wisconsin at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

The Lutheran Seminary as seen from neat the edge of Herbst Woods, ground traversed and fought over by the Second Wisconsin on the first day at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

* None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3. A team from NARA supported by volunteers are consistently adding to this treasure trove of historical information. To learn more about their work you can watch a video by clicking here.

(1) Hartwig 2005: 169, Official Records: 274; Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers: 366; (2) Mary McAllister Memoir; (3) Wisconsin Historical Society; (4) Michael Brennan Mother’s Pension File;

References & Further Reading

WC34622 Widow’s Certificate of Mary Brennan, Dependent Mother of Michael Brennan, Company B, Second Wisconsin Infantry.

Hartwig, D. Scott 2005. “I Have Never Seen the Like Before” Herbst Woods, July 1, 1863.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 27, Part 1. Report of Maj. John Mansfield, Second Wisconsin Infantry, 273-275.

Wisconsin State Legislature 1886. Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume 1.

Adams County Historical Society. Mary McAllister Memoir. Transcription by Ginny Gage accessed via the Gettysburg Discussion Group.

Wisconsin Historical Society. Dailey, Lt. Col. Dennis B. (1840-1898).

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Categories: Battle of Gettysburg, Galway, Wisconsin

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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2 Comments on “Emigrant Irish Badgers: With the Second Wisconsin in Herbst’s Woods”

  1. November 9, 2016 at 9:49 pm #

    I knew this family of Brennans. They were part of the same pre famine group that settled in Castleton late 20s early 30s.along with Peter Donnelly’s family whom you featured in a previous post. I think the Brennans were outof Laois or Offaly. The father’s name was Geoffrey. As luck would have it this Michael Brennan’s brother James was the Castleton correspondent for a local newspaper and frequently mentioned his family and other Irish families in an era which paid little attention to them in the press. He evenwrotean article on how the Irish were overlooked in the local Memorial Day Commemorations, as the speakers droned on about how the heroic Anglo Saxon Yankee stock saved the Republic against the Condederacy. .

    • February 18, 2017 at 10:16 am #

      Hey Peter,

      Brilliant stuff as always! The amount of information you have on these people is incredible.

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