Thoughts of the 69th New York State Militia’s leadership at Bull Run immediately conjures images of Michael Corcoran and Thomas Francis Meagher. Yet there were many others who held important command positions in the regiment on that fateful day in 1861. As the long anticipated date of our 69th New York Bull Run Battlefield Tour approaches (you can check out more details of that free event over at Harry’s site by clicking here), I decided to break down the leadership of the 69th by company. The post that follows explores the backgrounds and fates of these senior 69th officers, whose responsibility it was to urge their fellow Irishmen onwards during the desperate struggle for Henry Hill on 21st July 1861.

The regimental color of the 69th New York State Militia presented by the Common Council of New York in 1857. The colors were created by Mrs. Hand of 59 Vandam Street (New York Irish American Weekly 31st October 1857)

When the 69th crossed Bull Run creek on the day of battle in 1861, they did so without a number of their regimental officers. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Nugent (who would later lead the Irish Brigade) had been incapacitated by a fall from his horse and could not march with the unit. Major James Bagley, then an Alderman of New York and later a sachem of Tammany Hall, was likewise absent. In addition the 69th’s Adjutant, John McKeon, had been detailed to stay behind at Fort Corcoran in Arlington. Colonel Michael Corcoran, an individual who we have often discussed on the site, would be slightly wounded and captured during the regiment’s retreat from the field. But what of the men responsible for leading the 69th’s companies into the fray?

The order in which the 69th New York State Militia marched during the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1861. Robert Nugent led them off due to the ongoing Court Martial proceedings then in train against Michael Corcoran for refusing to parade the regiment during the visit of the Prince of Wales. Four months later they would be on the Bull Run battlefield (New York Irish American Weekly 23rd March 1861).


Company A, Michael Corcoran’s former command, was led into Virginia by Glenswilly, Co. Donegal native Captain James Haggerty. The absence of Robert Nugent meant that Haggerty was Acting Lieutenant Colonel of the 69th on the day of battle, and he famously became the first member of the regiment to be killed in action. You can read more about James Haggerty and his fate in this post. Haggerty’s new role meant that command of Company A at Bull Run devolved on Lieutenant Theodore Kelly. Born in Co. Mayo around 1820, he had emigrated to the United States when he was 18-years-old. For the next forty years Kelly made his living in the poultry trade at New York’s Clinton Market. He had previously been a member of the 9th New York State Militia before its consolidation with the 69th. After Bull Run Kelly maintained his association with the regiment and went with it into Corcoran’s Legion, where he held the rank of Major in the 182nd New York Infantry (as the 69th New York National Guard Artillery was designated). He died at his home at 488 Greenwich Street on 25th May 1888 of congestion of the lungs. (1)

Advertisement for the Annual Excursion of the “Irish Fusiliers” in 1857, when Michael Corcoran had Captained the Company (New York Irish American 18 July 1857)


Originally the Engineer Company of the 69th, the company was named for Irish patriot Robert Emmet, who led the abortive 1803 Rising. Its original Captain, Thomas Lynch, had led it out of New York but had resigned shortly before the battle. At Bull Run its men were commanded by Lieutenant William M. Giles. After the engagement Giles put himself forward as candidate for coroner in the November state elections. In 1863 he was appointed Medical Storekeeper to the U.S. Army, a role that required him to select and purchase medical supplies for the military. After the Civil War he made his home in Eastchester, New York where he worked as a druggist. (2)

Advertisement for the Emmet Life Guard drills at 22 White Street from 1856 (New York Irish American Weekly 31 May 1856)


The company took its appellation from John O’Mahony, a founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood. They were led onto the field at Bull Run by Captain James Cavanagh, who had been born in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary in 1831. He had been involved in the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 and emigrated to New York in 1852. Following his arrived he entered the carpentry trade and ultimately set up a shop on Thomas Street. Cavanagh joined the 69th almost as soon as he arrived in America, and had come through the ranks to command Company C. After Bull Run he joined Thomas Francis Meagher in the Irish Brigade, becoming the Major of the 69th New York Volunteers–he soon became known as “the little Major”. Cavanagh was severely wounded through the hip at Fredericksburg, and was discharged for disability. He became Colonel of the 69th New York National Guard in 1867 and was breveted a National Guard Brigadier-General in 1892. Retiring from the Militia in 1893, he died at his home at 44 Third Place in Brooklyn on 7th January 1901, and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery. (3)

Pictorial tribute to James Cavanagh, who commanded Company C of the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run, which appeared in the New York Irish American in 1911 (New York Irish American Weekly 22nd April 1911)


Most likely named for Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the 1798 United Irishman leader in 1798. Thomas Clarke had been elected the Company Captain in 1860, having previously being a member of the Montgomery Guard. Reportedly wounded at Bull Run, he did not see front line service again during the conflict, but served as Major of the 69th New York National Guard after the war. He died at his home at 110 Chatham Street on 27th July 1868 at the age of 54 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery. (4)

Notification of the successful ball of the Fitzgerald Guard held in 1859 (New York Irish American Weekly 26th March 1859)


The company designation Fàg An Bealach, an Irish war cry meaning “Clear the Way”, is one that remains associated with the 69th. Company E was led at Bull Run by Captain Patrick Kelly, a former farmer from Castlehackett, Co. Galway. Born in 1822, Kelly had emigrated to America in the 1840s, and had risen through the ranks of the 69th. After Bull Run he was commissioned in the U.S. Regulars, but joined Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 88th New York Volunteers in December 1861. Promoted to Colonel in September 1862, he commanded the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. While again leading the Brigade at Petersburg on 16th June 1864 the 42-year-old was struck in the head by a bullet and killed. One of the enclosing forts in the Petersburg line was subsequently named for him. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery. (5)

Patrick Kelly, who led Company E of the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run (Find A Grave)


Named for James Shields, the noted Irish military hero of the Mexican War, Illinois politician and later a Civil War General. Captain John Breslin from Co. Longford had led Company F into Virginia, but was injured when a stand of muskets collapsed on him during a halt in the march. Severely wounded in the shoulder, he was sent to the rear (the handling of his injury caused significant bad blood between the regiment and their brigade commander, a certain William Tecumseh Sherman). Breslin maintained his association with the 69th after Bull Run and following the war commanded it’s Veteran Corps. He died at his home in 113 Albany Avenue, Brooklyn on 10th January 1908 at the age of 76. With Breslin out of action, on the Bull Run battlefield it fell to Lieutenant Patrick Duffy to command Company F for the duration. Duffy also maintained his association with the 69th after Bull Run. He was elected the regiment’s Secretary in early 1862 following the departure of Robert Nugent for the Irish Brigade. (6)

The 69th New York State Militia’s assembly orders prior to their departure from New York, issued by Colonel Michael Corcoran and afterwards printed in the New York Irish American (New York Irish American Weekly 27th April 1861)


Captain Felix Duffy led Company G into the campaign. Born in Co. Monaghan, he had emigrated to America at the age of 14 in 1840. He was a valuable asset to the 69th, having served in the 4th U.S. Artillery during the Mexican War, a conflict in which he was wounded. His adventures continued when he joined the California Gold Rush in 1850, and apparently he met with some success before returning to New York in 1853. Originally a member of the 9th New York State Militia, he was another who came over to the 69th following the amalgamation. Despite his pedigree, Duffy did not command Company G on the battlefield. He had resigned along with Thomas Lynch of Company B while the the 69th were stationed in Georgetown. Duffy later joined the 69th New York Volunteers of the Irish Brigade as Captain of their Company G, and was killed in action at the Battle of Antietam. On 21st July 1861 command of the Irish Grenadiers was in the hands of Lieutenant William Butler. Butler had been born in Newcastle, Co. Tipperary in 1831 and had emigrated to the United States in 1848. He stayed with the 69th Militia until it volunteered for service as part of Corcoran’s Legion (becoming the 182nd New York), serving first as Captain of Company H and then as the unit’s Major. Struck in the hip during the assault on Petersburg on 16th June 1864, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel four days before he succumbed to his injuries at Annapolis on 16th August 1864. He lay in state at New York’s City Hall before his burial in Calvary Cemetery. (7)

Drill notification placed by Felix Duffy for the Irish Grenadiers of the 9th New York State Militia in 1855 (New York Irish American Weekly 12th May 1855)


Captain James Kelly was a native of Co. Monaghan. The red hand was (and continues to be) the principal symbol of Kelly’s home province of Ulster. Following his service at Bull Run Kelly was appointed a Captain in the U.S. Regulars, but joined the Irish Brigade as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 69th New York Volunteers. He led that regiment at the Battle of Antietam where he was struck in the face and shoulder. While he recuperated the regiment was consolidated, and he departed for the Regulars and service at a recruiting depot in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He briefly returned to the 69th and for a short time commanded the Brigade before rejoining the 16th United States Infantry and finishing the war with Sherman’s army. He died during a yellow fever epidemic while on service in Jackson, Mississippi in 1871. (8)

Advertisement for the Ball of Company H of the 69th in 1859 (New York Irish American Weekly 12th November 1859)


Captain John Nugent of Company I was Acting Adjutant of the 69th at Bull Run and so was not in charge of his men on 21st July 1861. Captain James P. MacIvor, who had been elected a Captain at Georgetown College and would later lead Company I was present on the field and captured, but he appears to have had no role in leading the Company at Bull Run. The Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh native went on to serve as Lieutenant-Colonel and later Colonel of the 170th New York Infantry, Corcoran’s Legion, rose to brigade command at Petersburg, and concluded the war a Brevet Brigadier-General. He died in 1904. All near contemporary accounts appear to agree that on the Bull Run battlefield it fell to Lieutenant John Coonan to exercise command of Company I. Born in Ireland around 1830, after Bull Run Coonan remained with the 69th National Guard and ultimately joined Corcoran’s Legion with them. Initially commissioned a Captain in what was now designated the 182nd New York, he rose to Lieutenant-Colonelcy in September 1864 and ultimately commanded the regiment. After the war he spent a number of years as Deputy Superintendent of the immigration center at Castle Garden, and later held the position of foreman in New York’s Street Cleaning Department. He maintained his associations with the 69th throughout, and died on 4th June 1898 in Mount Sinai Hospital. (9)

The plan and company layout of Fort Corcoran, which the regiment built in Arlington, and from where they departed en-route to Bull Run (New York Irish American Weekly 13th July 1861)


Company K were not part of the 69th New York State Militia, but were formed by Thomas Francis Meagher for service with them when the war commenced. They joined the regiment in Virginia and served as part of the unit at Bull Run. The legendary orator would go on to establish the Irish Brigade, serving as its Brigadier-General. You can explore an image of Captain Meagher with his zouaves in this post.

Thomas Francis Meagher’s advertisement for the Irish Zouaves, which served as Company K of the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run (New York Irish American Weekly 27th April 1861)


Slightly more than 30 men in the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run were in the regiment’s engineer corps. The corps was commanded by American-born Captain James B. Kirker, the Catholic publisher whose premises became a key location in the efforts to aid the families of the 69th’s soldiery. A close friend of Michael Corcoran, it was to Kirker’s offices that many of the Colonel’s letters were sent while Corcoran was a Confederate prisoner. Kirker remained at Fort Corcoran during the Manassas Campaign, and so was not on the field at Bull Run. In his absence Lieutenant James Quinlan commanded the Engineers in battle. Born in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary in 1833, Quinlan emigrated to America at the age of 17. He was appointed a Lieutenant in the 69th in 1854. After Bull Run he joined Meagher’s Irish Brigade as a Major in the 88th New York Volunteers. He commanded that regiment during the Seven Days, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in September 1862. Discharged for disability after the Battle of Fredericksburg, he went on to become President of the Irish Brigade Veteran’s Association. In 1891 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while in command of the 88th New York at Savage Station in 1862. Quinlan passed away at his home at 104 East Ninty-Sixth Street on 29th August 1906, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery. (10)

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James Quinlan in later life with his Medal of Honor. He commanded the 69th’s Engineers on the field at Bull Run (Deeds of Valor)

If readers have any information to add (or suggested corrections) on any of the individuals featured in this post I would be very grateful to hear from you.


(1) New York Irish American Weekly 14th May 1855, New York Herald 26th May 1888; (2) New York Irish American Weekly 19th October 1861, Letters Received by the Commission Branch, New York Irish American Weekly 21st April 1888; (3) New York Irish World 12th January 1901, New York Irish American Weekly 22nd April 1911; (4) New York Irish American Weekly 8th August 1868, New York Herald 28th July 1868; (5) New York Irish American Weekly 2nd July 1864; (6) New York Irish American Weekly 3rd August 1861, New York Irish American Weekly 10th June 1876, Brooklyn Daily Eagle 13th January 1908, New York Irish American 8th February 1862; (7) New York Irish American Weekly 15th November 1862, New York Irish American Weekly 27th August 1864; (8) New York Irish American Weekly 7th October 1871; (9) New York Sun 5th June 1898; (10) New York Gaelic American 8th September 1906;