When we think and examine the Irish of the American Civil War, we often consider first and foremost ethnic units; formations such as the Irish Brigade, Corcoran’s Legion or regimental level contingents such as the 9th Massachusetts and 69th Pennsylvania. Such units have undeniably been the focus of attention for both scholars and enthusiasts (this site included) when discussing the “Irish” of the Civil War. This is perfectly understandable- the ethnic identity of these units meant that veterans tended to highlight this “Irishness” in post-war writings, which in turn caused them to dominate the historical record. Unsurprisingly, as a result, they also dominate Civil War scholarship on the Irish. However, it is increasingly my view that these units, and what was written about them in the post-war decades by members of the Irish community, are skewing the realities of the broader Irish experience of the conflict. What was in reality an exceptional experience for the Irish of the conflict has become the central theme of how we explore, examine and remember Irish participation today.

Memorial to the New York Regiments of the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Memorial to the New York Regiments of the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

The reality of the American Civil War was that the vast majority of Irish who served in the conflict did not serve in ethnic Irish units. As regular readers are aware, over recent years I have been using the Widows and Dependents Pension Files to identify the letters of Irish-American soldiers, which illustrate that the Irish served in large numbers throughout the majority of Northern units. How did the experience of this majority differ (or not) from that of the Irish in the ethnic regiments? Were they fighting for the same reasons, and with the same goals? How did they view their Irish identity, and how did they view their American identity? How did they relate to the Irish at home, and were they drawn from the same communities and groupings as those who chose to serve in ethnic units? These are questions we need to explore in further detail. In many ways, the experience of this majority of Civil War Irish remains hidden from us, though I suspect they have much to teach us not only about Irish motivations during the conflict, but also Irish communities in 1860s America.

New York State Memorial, Gettysburg National Cemetery (Damian Shiels)

New York State Memorial, Gettysburg National Cemetery (Damian Shiels)

Of late I have been examining in some detail the New York Irish who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. There is perhaps no clearer example of how ethnic Irish units have come to centrally dominate what we perceive to be the Irish experience of the conflict than this engagement. The Irish Brigade and it’s actions in the Wheatfield utterly dominate the perception of the Irish experience at this most famous of battlefield sites. Even during the conflict, the Irish-American press (particularly the New York Irish-American Weekly) looked to the Irish Brigade to be representative of Irish participation. This continued into the post war period, with the publication by David Power Conyngham of the Irish Brigade history only two years after war’s end, and with later writings by veterans such as St. Clair A. Mulholland. Irish Brigade veterans and the Irish-American community made sure they were remembered on the field as well, through memorials such as the Irish Brigade Monument and Father Corby statue. These are overtly connected to the Irish experience, and serve as permanent markers to Irish participation. The Irish Brigade as representative of the major Irish experience at Gettysburg (and in the wider war) continues today– for example it is often a focus of National Park Service interpretation with respect to the Irish. This is in no way a criticism of focus on the Irish Brigade. They are one of the most famed formations of the Civil War, and visiting sites associated with them and learning about their experiences is extremely popular (and something which I also greatly enjoy). The brigade’s history also serves as the most logical educational vehicle to explain the story of Irish participation in the conflict. But to what extent does the Irish Brigade actually come close to representing the entirety of the Irish experience at Gettysburg?

An excellent presentation by NPS Ranger Angie Atkinson on the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg. The experiences of the brigade dominate modern perception of the Irish at the battlefield, and is among the most popular stories of any relating to the engagement.

The Irish Brigade was a shadow of its former self at Gettysburg, taking into action some 530 men. They suffered a total of 198 casualties, heavily concentrated among members of the 28th Massachusetts, who alone lost 100. The three founding New York regiments lost 17 men killed and 50 wounded. There is no doubt this is an extremely high casualty rate given the proportion of men the Irish Brigade took into the fight. But from an ethnic Irish unit perspective, the experience of the 69th Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg fighting was significantly worse– they alone sustained 149 casualties, including 43 killed outright out of a strength of some 258.  I am currently examining all the New York unit fatalities as a result of Gettysburg in an effort to gain some insight into the impact of the battle on the New York Irish community as a whole, the largest Irish community represented on the field. I am a particularly interested in those regiments and brigades that were not ethnic Irish but nonetheless contained large numbers of Irish troops, such as those which had strong Democratic Party ties. For example, an examination of those who men who died in the 42nd New York, the Tammany Regiment, shows a potential 16 men who may have been Irish-born or Irish-American, almost the same number of men who were killed outright in the entire Irish Brigade. (1)

Barrett, DanielPrivate42 New York InfantryC
Barron, ThomasPrivate42 New York InfantryD
Byrne, WilliamCorporal42 New York InfantryK
Cuddy, MichaelSergeant42 New York InfantryI
Cullen, JamesPrivate42 New York InfantryF
Curley, ThomasPrivate42 New York InfantryC
Flynn, WilliamSergeant42 New York InfantryH
McGrann, FelixPrivate42 New York InfantryF
McLear, NealPrivate42 New York InfantryA
McMara, PatrickPrivate42 New York InfantryE
Moore, CharlesSergeant42 New York InfantryD
Murphy, HughPrivate42 New York InfantryG
O’Shea, DanielPrivate42 New York InfantryE
Riley, MichaelPrivate42 New York InfantryG
Smith, JohnPrivate42 New York InfantryD
West, PeterPrivate42 New York InfantryK

Table 1. 42nd New York Infantry Gettysburg Fatalities of Potential Irish Ethnicity (After Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg)

Memorial to the 42nd New York Infantry, the Tammany Regiment, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Memorial to the 42nd New York Infantry, the Tammany Regiment, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Another regiment with ties to the Democratic Party was the 40th New York Infantry, the Mozart Regiment. An examination of their Gettysburg related deaths reveals the names of 8 men who may have been Irish or Irish-American, comparable to all but one of the New York Irish Brigade regiments.

Fleming, GeorgePrivate40 New York InfantryB
Harding, MichaelPrivate40 New York InfantryC
Horrgian, TimothyPrivate40 New York InfantryF
Kelly, TimothyPrivate40 New York InfantryD
O’Brien, ThomasPrivate40 New York InfantryC
O’Harra, DanielPrivate40 New York InfantryG
Slattery, Jeremiah DSergeant40 New York InfantryC
Sweeny, FrancisPrivate40 New York InfantryD

Table 2. 40th New York Infantry Gettysburg Fatalities of Potential Irish Ethnicity (After Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg)

Above the regimental level, there is one brigade level New York unit whose losses in all likelihood had a significantly greater impact on the Irish and Irish-American community in New York in real terms than those of the Irish Brigade. The Excelsior Brigade consisted of the 70th, 71st, 72nd, 73rd and 74th New York (the 120th New York also formed part of the brigade at Gettysburg). They had been formed in New York and were initially led by Dan Sickles, who by Gettysburg commanded the Third Corps. The regiments had a strong Irish flavour. Joseph Hopkins Twichell, Chaplain of the 71st New York, wrote in a letter to his brother that “at least half, I might say two thirds, of my men are Irish Catholics alone.” On 2nd July the regiments were heavily engaged in the vicinity of the Peach Orchard, sustaining significant casualties. An assessment of the brigade deaths (excluding the 120th New York) identifies as many as 50 men who fell who may have been Irish or Irish-American. It would be reasonable to assume that in the case of the vast majority (certainly in excess of 40) they were ethnically Irish.

Detail of the New York State Monument at Gettysburg National Cemetery (Damian Shiels)

Detail of the New York State Memorial at Gettysburg National Cemetery (Damian Shiels)

NAMERANKUNITCOMPANY
Crowley, PatrickPrivate70 New York InfantryG
Higgins, JohnPrivate70 New York InfantryG
McGraw, MatthewCorporal70 New York InfantryE
McKenna, JohnPrivate70 New York InfantryC
Massey, JosephPrivate70 New York InfantryH
Nolan, JohnPrivate70 New York InfantryK
O’Connor, RobertPrivate70 New York InfantryG
Robb, JohnPrivate70 New York InfantryK
Ryan, Michael L.Private70 New York InfantryC
Smith, ThomasPrivate70 New York InfantryK
Tommy, JohnCorporal70 New York InfantryD
Brady, JamesPrivate71 New York InfantryA
Canty, DanielPrivate71 New York InfantryC
Holland, DavidPrivate71 New York InfantryF
Kearns, TimothyPrivate71 New York InfantryA
King, ThomasSergeant71 New York InfantryE
Olvaney, PatrickPrivate71 New York InfantryA
Burke, Daniel LSergeant72 New York InfantryE
Colyer, JohnPrivate72 New York InfantryK
Gormelly, MichaelPrivate72 New York InfantryE
Holland, ThomasPrivate72 New York InfantryE
Coniff, John JSergeant73 New York InfantryK
Cowney, JohnPrivate73 New York InfantryB
Devlin, EdwardPrivate73 New York InfantryA
Duane, PatrickPrivate73 New York InfantryC
Flanigan, PatrickPrivate73 New York InfantryB
Gallagher, MichaelPrivate73 New York InfantryG
Higgins, Martin ELieutenant73 New York InfantryE
Holmes, EdwardPrivate73 New York InfantryF
Keegan, Thomas FPrivate73 New York InfantryB
Lacy, WilliamPrivate73 New York InfantryH
Lally, ThomasSergeant73 New York InfantryK
Lynch, PatrickPrivate73 New York InfantryD
Malloy, Wilson MPrivate73 New York InfantryC
McAdam, JohnPrivate73 New York InfantryG
McAvoy, jamesPrivate73 New York InfantryG
McCormick, AndrewPrivate73 New York InfantryH
McGlare, GeorgeSergeant73 New York InfantryF
McIntyre. James DPrivate73 New York InfantryG
Murphy, JohnSergeant73 New York InfantryB
O’Neil, JamesPrivate73 New York InfantryG
Renton, JohnSergeant73 New York InfantryC
Shine, Eugene CCaptain73 New York InfantryF
Trainor, JamesPrivate73 New York InfantryD
Trainor, PeterPrivate73 New York InfantryD
Trihy, EdmundPrivate73 New York InfantryC
Burke, HenryCorporal74 New York InfantryB
Casey, JohnPrivate74 New York InfantryH
McLaughlin, JohnCorporal74 New York InfantryA
McMullen, John WCorporal74 New York InfantryA

Table 3. Excelsior Brigade Gettysburg Fatalities of Potential Irish Ethnicity (After Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg)

Excelsior Brigade Memorial, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Excelsior Brigade Memorial, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

Based on the available evidence, it is reasonable to put forward that the Irish losses in the Excelsior Brigade at Gettysburg were almost certainly significantly greater than those in the Irish Brigade. There is little doubt in my mind that the fame of the Irish Brigade has masked an awareness (particularly in Ireland) of the sheer extent of Irish participation through Northern forces, and is one of a number of factors that has led to an under appreciation of just how much the war impacted large swathes of the Irish community both in America and Ireland. The experiences, social circumstances, motivations for service, and impact of fatalities on the Irish community relating to those who served outside of ethnic units are certainly worthy of more detailed attention by those of us engaged in the study of the Irish in the Civil War. To further this work, I hope in the coming weeks to produce a full list of the probable/possible Irish and Irish-American deaths associated with New York units at Gettysburg, in order to highlight this issue still further. I am in the process of examining a range of sources in order to establish ethnicity and origin, and would be grateful to any readers who can provide documentation to assist with the addition and subtraction of names to the list of New York Irish dead at Gettysburg.

73rd New York (2nd Fire Zouaves) Memorial, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

73rd New York (2nd Fire Zouaves) Memorial, Gettysburg (Damian Shiels)

(1) OR: 175, OR: 431; (2) Butler 2012: 4;

References

New York Monuments Commission 1902. Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Volume 1.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 27, Part 1.

Butler, Francis 2012. To Bleed for a Higher Cause: The Excelsior Brigade and the Civil War.