The 69th Regiment of the American Civil War

Flag of the 69th Brigade -'Fighting Irish'
Flag of the 69th Brigade -'Fighting Irish' | Source

The 69th Brigade - The Fighting Irish


"They shall never retreat from the charge of lances!

Ruins of Henry House, first battle of Bull Run,This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.
Ruins of Henry House, first battle of Bull Run,This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties. | Source
Return of the 69th from the Seat of War - Louis Lang.  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
Return of the 69th from the Seat of War - Louis Lang. This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. | Source

The Bravest Irish Infantrymen - Battle of Bull Run

All told, the 69th Brigade were engaged in 8 battles of the American Civil War.

  • Mannassass , VA 1861
  • Yorktown, VA 1862
  • Antietam, MA 1862
  • Fredericksburg, VA 1862
  • Gettysburg, PA 1863
  • Chancellorville, VA 1863
  • Petersburg VA, 1864
  • Appomattox, VA 1865

The 69th Brigade was formed out of three units - New York 69th Infantry, the 182nd Infantry New York State Volunteers and the 69th National Guard Infantry State Militia.

In spite of the federal governments reluctance to form military units on ethnic grounds, the 69th Regiment was formed in the main by those of Irish descent living in New York State and surrounding areas.

Indeed, many of them were Irish born and bred, including their illustrious leader Colonel Michael Corcoran. The Civil War occurred within 20 years of the Irish Famine and many of those who emigrated were active in the military in the Civil War.

Corcoron was under court-martial when the Civil War began and was drafted into action immediately after the attack of Fort Sumter, his misdemeanors overlooked in this, the Union's hour of need.

The 69th Brigade's first action of the civil was in the Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of Manassass) when they were part of Colonel Sherman's brigade. In spite of some gains against the 4th Alabama Regiment, the 69th Brigade were left high and dry by others in the batallion.

Sherman panicked under heavy fire and his men disbanded in all directions; most of them fleeing north in the direction of Washington DC.

The Fighting Irish retreated later than the others and Corcoron was captured by the Confederates and imprisoned. The 69th Regiment thereafter came under the command of Colonel Burnside.

Bull Run was a wake up call for the Union who realised that the quick call to arms following the attack of Fort Sumter had left them ill prepared for the battles to come. It is fair to say that both sides left the bloody Battle of Bull Run under no illusions of the fight ahead.

The Fighting Irish, unlike some of the other brigades, retreated still fighting towards the north.

The Federal government under Lincoln went back to the drawing board and reconsidered their plans for their advance South and the defeat of the Confederate Army.

Robert E. Lee at age 31, then a young Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army, 1838.  This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
Robert E. Lee at age 31, then a young Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army, 1838. This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. | Source
Ambrose Everett Burnside - This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.
Ambrose Everett Burnside - This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years. | Source
Fredericksburg in 1863- 'Havoc' This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.
Fredericksburg in 1863- 'Havoc' This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years. | Source

"Strange, is it not, that battles, martyrs, blood, even assassination should so condense - perhaps only really lastingly condense - a Nationality."

Walt Whitman


"The pageant has passed. That day is over. But we linger, loath to think we shall see them no more - these men, these horses, these colours afield."

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain



Yorktown, Antietam and Fredericksburg - 1862

The 69th Regiment fought as part of a more unified force, the Army of the Potomac, with Captain Thomas Meagher in charge.

Meagher was certainly an Irishman with an interesting past. He was exiled in New York after escaping from Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania) when he was transported there by the British after his rebellion in Ireland during the 1840s.

The regiment were engaged in an engineering role at Yorktown, preparing roads, paths and camps for advancing Union troops. Their own camp was well organised too with lots of shamrocks and harps on display to show their roots.

Amazingly, they even had time to organise a horse race for amusement, the Chickahominy River Steeplechase where officers rode their horses over open land, hurdles and fences. The prize of a tigerskin was won by Major Cavanagh.

In July 1862, Meagher returned north to undertake more recruitment and returned with 250 troops to strengthen the 69th Regiment. He had had a tough time though with Corcoran also recruiting Irish men to his own 'Legion'. Meagher had hoped to return with several hundred troops but competition for Irish troops was too hot and 250 was the best he could manage.

The Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest battle of the Civil War with over 22,000 men dead or wounded. The 69th Regiment saw most of the men fall dead or wounded at that battle but their acts of bravery astonished the Confederates.

Colour bearers (flag bearers) all fell dead or wounded and their commanding officer tried to drive on those remaining without their flags. Other soldiers took the flags from fallen comrades and advanced anew, the flags full of bullet holes and covered in their comrades blood.

Meagher's new recruitment drive was wiped out in one fell swoop as almost all of those new 250 troops were killed in this one battle. Still the 69th Regiment returned to camps and held aloft their symbols and colours, their flags emblazoned with harps and shamrocks - beaten but unbowed.

After Antietam, the Regiment lost its commanding officer, George McClellan who was replaced by General Ambrose Burnside.

Many of the men considered leaving the army because they respected McClellan but the 69th Regiment were talked around by Captain Meagher who reminded them that they were 'American' and fighting for their new country.

After a winter encamped in Virginia, Burnside readied his men for perhaps their greatest test at Fredericksburg. In spite of reinforcing the Irish Brigade with additions to the 69th Regiment the Irishmen were always fighting a losing battle.

Burnside was let down as a result of logistics. Pontoon bridges meant to cross rivers for the advance towards Richmond did not arrive in time and Burnside moved too slowly, allowing Lee to take the initiative; effectively moving the battle to Fredericksburg.

The 69th Regiment were honoured by Lee after their battling display on Zook's flank. Lee, thereafter caling them 'the fighting Irish'.

Fredericksburg was a battle involving over 200,000 men, a long and bloody affair in which the union were beaten back. not by any lack of bravery but in failures in the chain of supply to troops at the front line. Lee took full advantage of the union's inability to press forward.

Battle of Gettysburg © -Adam Cuerden.
Battle of Gettysburg © -Adam Cuerden. | Source
Irish Memorial, Gettysburg
Irish Memorial, Gettysburg | Source

Gettysburg - 1863

Gettysburg is often described as the turning point of the Civil War.

The 69th Regiment, whose numbers were much depleted after Frederickburg and Meagher's failed attempts to bolster the Irish Brigade marched all night along Taneytown Road and advanced into Rose's Wheatfield in pursuit of Confederates hiding in woods beyond the wheatfield.

The Regiment were by this time a tiny force yet their contribution was very telling. They were lined up facing westwards, bolstering the advance of the 116th Pennsylvania and 28th Massachusteetes Regiment. Other infantrymen were provided by the 88th, 63rd and 69th New York Regiments(New York again well represented).

In spite of being small in numbers, the 69th Regiment overcame the 7th South Carolina, taking prisoners along the way.

On 1st July they advanced on Gettysburg, only 75 men strong. By the end of the campaign at Gettysburg a further 25 men had died leaving the 69th Regiment a quarter of its original complement of men.

After some minor skirmishes at the end of the war, the 69th Regiment finally began their return to New York, marching home to a city grateful for their efforts.

They were marched down Pennsylvania Avenue waving their flags; being loudly cheered by the crowds.

Each man had a small sprig of boxwood in his hat; the same one which was given to them before the Battle of Fredericksburg by their commanding officer - meant as a sort of good luck charm for the fighting Irish who wore it.

So many of their comrades had fallen, it must have been a day of mixed emotions.

Donovan and the 165th passing under the Victory Bridge -his image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the pu
Donovan and the 165th passing under the Victory Bridge -his image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the pu | Source

69th Regiment Since The Civil War

The 69th Regiment were mustered out of Federal service on 30th June 1865 having served full war service for the union cause.

The 69th regiment has served in one configuration or another in 5 wars -

  1. Civil War
  2. World War 1
  3. World War 2
  4. Iraq War
  5. Afghanistan War

During World War 1, it was renamed the 165th Regiment but retained its Irish heritage. The regiment saw a lot of action in World War 1, 60 men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Once again, they returned to their native New York to huge gratitude and celebration.

During World War 2 the 69th Regiment served in the Pacific in the fight against the Japanese.

They have also served in the more recent war on terror campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 69th Regiment's heart is an Irish heart - not all of its men are of Irish descent but each of them understands the history of the 69th regiment and that it was formed, in the main, from a group of immigrants only too eager to prove that their new country meant everything to them.

The Irish had left their homeland during a famine for a new opportunity on the American east coast and within 20 years, they and their sons were engaged in a civil war.

They carried their Celtic flag into each battle with hearts bursting with pride. They took a priest with them to grant absolution before they went into battle - the story of the 69th Regiment is a truly human story - men showing their mettle and fighting for their new nation with their old nation's pride.

Irish Americans one and all.

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Comments 17 comments

Lee Cloak 20 months ago

Very very interesting, a really enjoyable hub, if your ever in Dublin , Collins Barracks museum has some Irish-American Civil War pieces, many confederate uniforms were made here in Ireland and shipped across on small fast blockade runner boats, great hub, voted up, thanks , Lee


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Dianna, thanks for reading- how great to have lived in Virginia; clearly their history means a lot to them. I met a lovely guy from Virginia when I visited the USA in 1985, he used to talk about growing up in the countryside and sometimes going to school on a horse - I think he may have been pulling my leg though :o)


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I remember learning about the battles in Virginia when I lived there. So many of our friends had history around them. You have done another excellent job in teaching us history not to be forgotten. Thanks much.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Thanks somuch; glad you liked it :o)


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Very interesting and such a learning experience for me.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Torri, people over here see American history as quite 'short' but boy is it packed with events!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Xstatic, many thanks for your comment - it was an interesting subject to research.


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

Hi Jools99,

thanks for historical viewpoint and facts about the American Civil War

im always willing to learn about new and interesting things

thanks again and Voted up


xstatic profile image

xstatic 3 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Fascinating bit of Irish-American history! Well done!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Jackie, many thanks for your comment. I'm finding American history very interesting.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

I love writings of the civil war too, an outstanding time in this country and so many brave men.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, thanks so much - yes, I would really love to read more and it would be a change from a Gone With the Wind type take on the war! Many thanks. Kindle at the ready.....


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, how great! I think America is unique in its appreciation of its cosmopolitan mix of ethnicity. I recently discovered that my great great grandfather immigrated to America in the 1860s. Two of his daughters were born in Pennsylvania, I am delving further to find out why her went there. He was a miner (like most of my male ancestors) so Pennsylvania would make sense, job wise but he was also a Methodist Preacher! They returned to the UK in the 1870s.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Julie, if you are really into it, read Bruce Catton's trilogy about the Civil War....he writes in a style that makes it seem like a novel. I think the first in the series is "Mr. Lincoln's Army"...the last is "A Stillness At Appomatox"....I can't remember the middle installment.


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

The Civil War is an interesting part of history. I don't think schools teach the subject as much as in the past.

I'm an Irish American and full of that spirit the 69th. Regiment had!

Great Hub. Voted UP, and shared.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bill, it is such an interesting subject but this took a lot of research - I am sick of my local library! They hide the American history books away, I had to do a lot of digging. I am going to try to watch Gods and Generals to really give me more of a visual sense of the war. Thanks, as always, for your comment.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

That is an impressive list of battles they participated in. If you want me to read a hub, write it about the Civil War. Love it and loved this hub. Good job, Julie!

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