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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Death of Charles G. Halpine, Journalist, Author & Soldier

Charles Graham Halpine (Halpin), Irish journalist, author and soldier during the American Civil War, dies on August 3, 1868, in New York City.

Born at Oldcastle, County Meath, on November 20, 1829, Halpine is the son of the Rev. Nicholas John Halpin. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, until 1846, with original intentions for the medical profession, but ultimately prefers the law. In his leisure time he writes for the press. The sudden death of his father and his own early marriage compel him to adopt journalism as a profession.

In 1851 he emigrates to the United States, and takes up residence in Boston, where he becomes assistant editor of The Boston Post, and, with Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, commences a humorous journal called The Carpet Bag, which is unsuccessful. Afterwards he resides in Washington, D.C., where he acts as the correspondent of The New York Times.

After moving back to New York he secures employment with the New York Herald, and in a few months establishes relations with several periodicals. He undertakes a great variety of literary work, most of which is entirely ephemeral. He next becomes associate editor of The New York Times, for which he writes in 1855 and 1856 the Nicaragua correspondence at the time of William Walker‘s filibustering expedition. In 1857 he becomes principal editor and part proprietor of the New York Leader, which under his management rapidly increases in circulation.

At the beginning of the American Civil War in April 1861, he enlists in the 69th New York Infantry, in which he is soon elected a lieutenant, and serves during the three months for which he has volunteered. He is then transferred to the staff of General David Hunter as assistant-adjutant-general with the rank of major, and soon afterwards goes with him to Missouri to relieve General John Charles Frémont. He accompanies General Hunter to Hilton Head, and while there writes a series of burlesque poems in the assumed character of an Irish private. Several of them are contributed to the New York Herald in 1862 under the pseudonym of “Miles O’Reilly,” and with additional articles are issued in two volumes entitled Life and Adventures, Songs, Services, and Speeches of Private Miles O’Reilly, 47th Regiment New York Volunteers (1864), and Baked Meats of the Funeral, a Collection of Essays, Poems, Speeches, and Banquets, by Private Miles O’Reilly, late of the 47th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry, 10th Army Corps. Collected, revised, and edited, with the requisite corrections of punctuation, spelling, and grammar, by an Ex-Colonel of the Adjutant-General’s Department, with whom the Private formerly served as Lance-Corporal of Orderlies (1866).

Halpine is subsequently assistant-adjutant-general on General Henry W. Halleck‘s staff with the rank of colonel in 1862, and accompanies General David Hunter as a staff-officer on his expedition up the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1864. On his return to New York he resigns his commission in consequence of his bad eyesight, receiving the brevet of brigadier-general of volunteers.

He then makes New York his home and resumes his literary work. He becomes editor and, later, proprietor of the Citizen, a newspaper issued by the citizens’ association to advocate reforms in the civil administration of New York City. In 1867 he is elected registrar of the county of New York by a coalition of republicans and democrats. Incessant labour brings on insomnia. He has recourse to opiates, and his death in New York City on August 3, 1868 is caused by an undiluted dose of chloroform.