Created in September 1861, the Irish Brigade contained 63rd New York, 69th New York, 88th New York, 28th Massachusetts, and the 116th Pennsylvania. The national spirit of the three core New York Irish regiments was tested when they refused to parade in New York City in honor of the Prince of Wales, whom many thought of as an oppressor. Michael Corcoran, the brigade commander was court-martialed for refusing orders as a result. The creation of the Irish brigade, which the Union had reluctantly embraced, fearing ethnic units could undermine the Union’s character, provided a strong incentive for Irish migrants to join the war effort, preserve the Union, and fight for independence. The brigade even had its own Catholic chaplain, overcoming some of the country’s animosity toward Catholicism.

The Irish Brigade quickly showed its ability in the field. Seeing first action with the Army of the Potomac in the Peninsula campaign in the summer of 1862, the brigade earned battled laurels during the Seven Days Battles. Instead of fighting the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Irish brigade was able to replenish some of its manpower. The new recruits arrived just in time for the bloodiest single day of the war, the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg. Unfortunately, the Irish Brigade was to charge the center of the Confederate line at an old sunken farm road, infamous today as the Bloody Lane. About 60% of the soldiers in the Irish Brigade were killed or wounded on September 17, 1862. Without a pause, the 1600 survivors were rushed into battle again on December 13, 1862 outside Fredericksburg, VA, attacking another sunken road with a stonewall on Marye’s Heights. Only 256 soldiers returned from the assault. A new request to replenish the diminished ranks was denied after the Battle of Chancellorsville and Thomas Francis Meagher, the commanding officer resigned in protest. Patrick Kelly replaced him and took about 600 men in his five regiments to Gettysburg. By the time of the Overland Campaign of 1864, army disbanded the Irish Brigade.

Image: Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society