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The Irish Brigade at Antietam

The Irish Brigade
(2d Brigade, 1st Division, 2d Corps)
at Antietam

63d New York Infantry
69th New York Infantry
88th New York Infantry
Returns of Casualties

Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher

Report of Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher, U.S. Army, commanding Second Brigade, of the battle of Antietam.

In Camp on Bolivar Heights, Va., September 30, 1862

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following statement of the part which the brigade under my command performed in the battle of the Antietam:

Being encamped 1 mile outside Frederick City, on this side, on the morning of the 14th of September the brigade received orders immediately to proceed to the support of General Hooker, who was at the time hotly engaged in the passes of the South Mountain with the enemy. Being halted for an hour or so, owing to the favorable reports from the headquarters of General Hooker, the brigade had an hour or so to take rest and refreshment, the first opportunity they had of doing so after a rapid and exhausting march over the rocky hills and through the tangled woods from their encampment outside Frederick City.

The Irish Brigade had the honor of leading the pursuit of the rebels from South Mountain through Boonsborough and Keedysville. Along this road and through these villages, in this pursuit, the brigade passed with the utmost alacrity and enthusiasm, Major-General Richardson, commanding the division, riding prominently at the head of the column and directing all its movements.

Early in the afternoon the enemy were discovered in full force, drawn up in line of battle on the heights near Sharpsburg and overlooking the Antietam. The brigade was halted and deployed in line of battle to the right and left of the Sharpsburg turnpike, the Eighty­eighth and Sixty-third Regiments New York Volunteers being on the left of the road and the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers and the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers being on the right.

Whilst in this position, though greatly protected by the hill on the slope of which they lay, the regiments forming the right of my command were constantly annoyed by the well directed artillery of the enemy. The Eighty-eighth and Sixty-third Regiments were also annoyed in a similar way, and the brigade lost several good men even in this comparatively safe position. In this position, however, we remained until the morning of the 17th, when, the men having breakfasted, a sudden order came for the brigade to fall in under arms, and take up the line of march, which Major-General Richardson would indicate. Filing by the right and proceeding at a rapid pace, the brigade crossed the ford of the Antietam a mile or so to the right of the bivouac of that morning, and as hastily, in compact order, following the lead of Major-General Richardson, who conducted the brigade to the field of battle, under cover of the rising ground and depressions which intervened between us and the enemy, we arrived at a corn-field, where Major-General Richardson ordered that everything but cartouch-boxes should be thrown off. The men of the Irish Brigade instantly obeyed this order with a heartiness and enthusiasm which it was rare to expect from men who had been wearied and worn by the unremitting labors of a nine months' campaign.

Deploying from column into line of battle on the edge of this cornfield, they marched through it steadily and displayed themselves in admirable regularity at the fence, a few hundred paces from which the enemy were drawn up in close column, exhibiting a double front, with their battle-flags defiantly displayed. Crossing this fence, which was a work slow and embarrassed, owing to the pioneer corps of the several regiments of the brigade having been reduced by their previous labors on the Peninsula, I had the misfortune to lose the services of many good officers and brave men.

Lieutenant James E. Mackey, of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, whom I had appointed on my staff in place of Lieutenant Temple Emmert, whose death from typhoid fever the whole brigade affectionately and sincerely deplore, fell while the brigade was deploying into line of battle at this fence.

The enemy's column, with their battle-flag advanced and defiantly flying in front, was at this time within 300 paces of our line. A clover field of about two acres interposed. Then came the plowed field in which this column of the enemy was drawn up, and from which from their double front they had delivered and sustained a fire before which Sedgwick's forces on the right and French's on the left were reported at the time momentarily to have given way. The fact is, owing to some reason which as yet has not been explained, the Irish Brigade had to occupy and hold a gap in the line of the Union army, which the enemy perceiving had flung a formidable column to break through, and so take the two divisions last named on their flank and rear. This movement was suddenly checked by the impetuous advance of the Irish Brigade, which in a great measure filling up the gap through which the rebel column was descending to the rear of the Federal lines, drew up in line of battle within 50 paces of the enemy, the Sixty-ninth and Twenty-ninth being on the right of the line, and the Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth Regiments on the left. On coming into this close and fatal contact with the enemy, the officers and men of the brigade waved their swords and hats and gave the heartiest cheers for their general, George B. McClellan, and the Army of the Potomac. Never were men in higher spirits. Never did men with such alacrity and generosity of heart press forward and encounter the perils of the battle-field.

My orders were, that, after the first and second volleys delivered in line of battle by the brigade, the brigade should charge with fixed bayonets on the enemy. Seated on my horse, close to the Sixty-ninth Regiment, I permitted them to deliver their five or six volleys, and then personally ordered them to charge upon the rebel columns, while at the very same moment I ordered Captain Miller, assistant adjutant general of the Brigade, and Lieutenant Gosson, first aide on my staff, to bring up the Eighty-eighth and Sixty­third immediately to the charge. It was my design, under the general orders I received, to push the enemy on both their fronts as they displayed themselves to us, and, relying on the impetuosity and recklessness of Irish soldiers in a charge, felt confident that before such a charge the rebel column would give way and be dispersed.

Advancing on the right and left obliquely from the center, the brigade poured in an effective and powerful fire upon the column, which it was their special duty to dislodge. Despite a fire of musketry, which literally cut lanes through our approaching line, the brigade advanced under my personal command within 30 paces of the enemy, and at this point, Lieutenant Colonel James Kelly having been shot through the face and Captain Felix Duffy having fallen dead in front of his command, the regiment halted. At the same time Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler and Maj. Richard Bentley, of the Sixty-third, on the left of our line, having been seriously wounded and compelled to retire to the rear, the charge of bayonets I had ordered on the left was arrested, and thus the brigade, instead of advancing and dispersing the column with the bayonet, stood and delivered its fire, persistently and effectually maintaining every inch of the ground they occupied, until Brigadier-General Caldwell, bringing up his brigade, enabled my brigade, after having been reduced to 500 men, to retire to the second line of defense.

Of other transactions on the battlefield in connection with the Irish Brigade I will not presume to speak. My horse having been shot under me as the engagement was about ending, and from the shock which I myself sustained, I was obliged to be carried off the field. It was my good fortune, however, to be able to resume my command early next morning.

For what occurred subsequently to my being carried away from the field I refer you, with proud confidence, not alone to my regimental officers, who remained on the field, but also to many eye-witnesses of superior rank who noticed the opportune action of the Irish Brigade on that day. But I cannot close this communication without specially mentioning the names of Captain Felix Fuffy, of the Sixty-ninth; Captains Clooney and Joyse, of the Eighty-eighth, who, after distinguishing themselves by unremitting assiduity in the discharge of their duties in their commands throughout a very long and very exhausting campaign, fell with their feet to the rebels, with a glow of loyalty and true soldiership upon their dying features.

I have the honor to be, Captain, yours truly and respectfully,

Brigadier-General, Commanding the Irish Brigade.

Captain HANCOCK,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Division Headquarters.

Report of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Fowler, Sixty-third New York Infantry,
of the battle of Antietam.

Permit me, at this late day and in this apparently informal manner, to submit the following report of the action and conduct of the Sixty-third Regiment New York Volunteers in the late severe fight at Antietam on the 17th instant:

The official list of killed and wounded has, I understand, already been forwarded, but I deem it to be justice to the living and the dead that mention should be made of their heroism and bravery upon that fearful day. After the first advance from the meadow upon the plowed field, the colonel not being present, as a necessity I, without orders, assumed command.

It is now a solace to my mind, while suffering from my wound, to testify how gallantly and promptly each officer in his place and each company moved forward and delivered their fire in the face of the most destructive storm of leaden hail, that in an instant killed or wounded every officer but one and more than one-half the rank and file of the right wing. For a moment they staggered, but the scattered few quickly rallied upon the left, closing on the colors, where they nobly fought, bled, and died, protecting their own loved banner and their country's flag, until the brigade was relieved.

In the early part of the action Captain P. J. Condon and Lieutenant Thomas W. Cartwright, both of Company G, fell wounded while gallantly cheering on their men bravely at their post, as also Captain M. O'Sullivan, Company F, while Lieutenant P. W. Lydon, commanding Company D, Lieutenant Cadwalader Smith, Company C, and Lieutenant McConnell, of Company K, bravely rallying the gallant remaining few, fell pierced by bullets, instantly fatal.

As the right wing had fallen before me, I hastened to the left, where I found the major (Bentley) close upon the line, and Captain Joseph O'Neill, Company A, whose company had all fallen around him on the right, now assisting the major on the left. Here also was the stalwart Lieutenant Gleason, Company H, raising and supporting the repeatedly falling colors, with Lieut. John Sullivan commanding and pushing forward Company K; and here lay the slender form of Captain Kavanagh, Company I, cold in death; the brave and enthusiastic Lieut. R. P. Moore, Company E, passing from right to left, boldly urging his men to stand firm, and the gallant Lieut. George Lynch, second lieutenant Company G, bravely pressing on until he too fell, mortally wounded. The killed died as brave men, sword in hand, and amid the thickest of the fight. Major Bentley was now wounded, and retired to have his wound dressed. Our number now left was less than 50 men; our colors, although in ribbons, and staff shot through, were still there, sustained at a bloody sacrifice, 16 men having fallen while carrying them. I now received a severe wound, and was compelled to retire just as the lines of the enemy were breaking.

The officers and men all acted with a coolness and heroism worthy of honorable mention, yet I cannot close this meager report without recommending to your special notice Maj. Richard C. Bentley and Capt. J. O'Neill, whose cool and gallant conduct upon this trying and painful occasion merits the warmest commendation.

In conclusion, permit me to congratulate you that your gallant little brigade has once more crowned itself with fresh laurels, and given additional and bloody proofs of its devotion to the Constitution and the flag of our beloved country.

Very respectfully,

Lieutenant-Colonel Sixty-third Regiment, Irish Brigade.

Commanding Irish Brigade.

Report of Major James Cavanagh, Sixty-ninth New York Infantry,
of the battle of Antietam.

Camp on the Field, near Sharpsburg, Md., September 21, 1862.

GENERAL: Agreeably to request, I herewith transmit to you the following report of our participation in the late battle of the 17th instant:

As you are aware, Lieut. Col. James Kelly had command of our regiment up to the time he was wounded and borne from the field, which I deeply regret happened to so brave an officer, the fight being yet, so far as our regiment was concerned, only a short time in progress. The command thus devolving upon your humble servant, the control of the regiment was in the hands of myself, ably assisted by the adjutant, Lieut. James J. Smith. I may here mention the sorrow I felt, which extended to the whole of my command, when I heard that our acting major, Capt. Felix Duffy, had been mortally wounded in the early part of the engagement. Ably assisted by such of my line officers as had been spared me, we used our best endeavors to maintain our reputation and uphold the prestige of our flag. We remained upon the field in the front line until we had expended the last round of cartridges, and only left it when the fire of the enemy had ceased and the brigade was relieved by that of General Caldwell.

I hardly know in what terms to express my appreciation of our regiment, both officers and men, and in making any particular mention of bravery on the field, I speak of those who actually came under my own observation. Capt. James E. McGee, of Company F, most particularly distinguished himself by his coolness and bravery during the whole engagement, and while in the heat of battle, after his command had been almost entirely decimated, picking up the green flag, the bearer of which had been carried from the field wounded, and bearing its folds aloft throughout the battle. Capt. James Saunders, of Company A, and Capt. Richard Moroney, Company I, I am proud to say, acted most bravely, cheering on their men, and encouraging them throughout the battle. Lieut. Terrance Duffey, of Company G, and First Lieut. John T. Toal, of Company H, I am also happy to say, throughout that trying hour did all that could be expected in rallying their commands, which had become so greatly reduced in numbers. Of the many officers who entered the field, the above whom I have mentioned are all that were left me, the remainder having been either killed or wounded during the engagement.

I cannot forbear mentioning the deep sorrow that has been cast over our regiment by our great loss in officers and men. Those that were of us, and who are now numbered among the gallant dead, I can speak of as having been good soldiers, and an honor to our race - Capt. Felix Duffy, Lieut. Patrick J. Kelly, Lieut. Charles Williams, and Lieut. John Conway. I feel that our regiment has sustained a great loss, and one the recollection of which will be ever green in my memory. For those officers who have been wounded, and are for a time prevented from rejoining their commands, I can only speak as I have of the few that are left with me. Good soldiers, brave men, I cheerfully recommend for your consideration all of them, who in this fight stood nobly up for their country, and only left the field when borne away wounded. Among them I will mention the brave Captains Shanley and Whitty, both disabled for the second time, and Lieutenants Nagle and Patrick Kearney, who, until wounded, did the regiment good service by their gallant conduct.

Among the non-commissioned officers who particularly distinguished themselves on the field, I take occasion to mention the following as being most worthy of your consideration for promotion to a commission, viz: First Sergts. Murtha Murphy, Company C; Michael Brennan, Company B; Bernard O'Neil, Company C, and Soucoth Mansergh, Company H. Among the privates who also distinguished themselves during the action, I also recommend Patrick O'Neil, of Company C, and John Kelly, of Company - ; and of the noncommissioned staff, Sergt. Major Patrick Callahan, who on the field behaved with great gallantry.

In conclusion, I beg to call your attention to the fact that we had with us in the battle some forty-odd new recruits, who, considering all things, behaved well, and were of great assistance to us.

Congratulating you on your many narrow escapes from time to time during that memorable day, I have the honor to be, respectfully, yours,

Major, Commanding Sixty-ninth Regt. New York State Vols.

Commanding Irish Brigade, Sumner's Corps.

Report of Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kelly, Eighty-eighth New York Infantry,
of the battle of Antietam.

Camp on Bolivar Heights, near Harper's Ferry, October 5, 1862.

GENERAL: On the morning of the 17th of September the Irish Brigade, of which my regiment formed a part, crossed the Antietam Creek, and advanced in column until within sight almost of the enemy. The brigade then formed line of battle, and, after tearing down a fence, got into action at once. Shortly after this, General Meagher rode up along the line, encouraging the men, until his horse was killed and he himself got a severe fall.

During the engagement an aide rode up and ordered the Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth to charge and take the enemy's colors if possible. I at once gave the order, and my regiment advanced about 20 or 30 paces; but seeing that I had no support, I halted, and inquired for Colonel Burke, and asked why he did not advance. Captain O'Neill, of the Sixty-third, said he would advance with me if he had any one to command the regiment, but not knowing who was in command he did not wish to do so.

I know not exactly how long we were in action, but we were long enough there to lose, in killed and wounded, one-third of our men (bringing in 302 and losing 104).* When relieved by the Fifth New Hampshire, I reported to General Richardson by order of one of his aides. On approaching the general, he said, "Bravo, Eighty-eighth; I shall never forget you." The rank and file responded by giving him three hearty cheers.

He (the general) then placed me in command of the One hundred and eighth New York, and ordered us to support a battery a little in advance of where we were previously engaged, and remained there during the night and next day.

With regard to the conduct of the officers of the Eighty-eighth on that occasion, I must say that they acted to my entire satisfaction - so much so that I cannot say one is braver than another. I have the same to say of the rank and file.

Wishing I had a little more time, I am, general, most respectfully, yours,

Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Eighty-eighth New York Vols.


*See revised statement