Friday, November 29, 2013

A Treasure Trove of New York City Battle Flags and Medals

116 infantry regiments and artillery batteries, with over 150,000 soldiers, were organized at New York City during the Civil War, not including dozens of militia units mobilized to defend Washington during the war's early days and Harrisburg during Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania.  These are the battle and regimental flags for some of the New York City units: source New York State Military Museum.

16th New York Cavalry
Led by Capt. Edward Doherty
Hunted down and killed John Wilkes Booth

69th NY - Irish Brigade
The Fighting Irish
Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Appomattox, where Grant sent the first demand for Lee to surrender through its lines.
At Antietam's Bloody Lane, eight of its color bearers were successively shot down during the assault that broke the Confederate center.

71st New York - Excelsior Brigade

73rd NY - Excelsior Brigade
“Over four hundred voted for a Catholic priest, one hundred and fifty-four, for any kind of a protestant minister; eleven, for a Mormon elder; and three hundred and thirty-five said they could find their way to hell without the assistance of clergy.”
-- Father Joseph O'Hagan, SJ on how he was chosen regimental chaplain

 74th NY - Fifth Excelsior Brigade

NYC's DeKalb German Regiment

37th NY
Irish Rifles
63rd NY
Irish Brigade

Irish Brigade Battle Flag
Suffered casualties so severe throughout the war that the brigade had to be resurrected twice with new recruits and men who had recovered from their wounds.


Army Medal of Honor - NYC 120+

Navy Medal of Honor -  NYC 80+

 40th NY - Mozart Hall
formed around a cadre of Irishmen who weren't allowed to enlist in Boston

42nd NY - Tammany Hall
Led by Irish-American Col. James Mallon, the 42nd led the repulse of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg  
1st NY Cavalry
Dickel's German Mounted Rifles
Organized at New York by Carl Schurz
The 1st NY led the breakout of Milroy's survivors from Winchester. Harried and monitored Lee's vanguard as it marched into Pennsylvania in 1863, providing invaluable intelligence to the Union high command.
5th NY Cavalry
"Burning all the buildings within 5 miles of Dayton [Shenandoah Valley].  Burning in retaliation for Lieut. Shot last Evg. by a bushwhacker.  Terrible sorry sight see to all buildings burning & women crying." -- Van Dusen Diary
 6th NY Cavalry
Fought with Buford's Division on the morning of the first day at Gettysburg.
5th NY Infantry
 Duryee's Zouves
Organized by the scion of NYC French soldier who fought with Washington in the Revolution
31st Infantry, US Colored Troops
The 31st was one of three "colored" regiments organized at New York City (along with the 20th and 26th).  It was part of the powerful African-American XXV Corps, which closed the trap on Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Mozart (40th NY) and Scott Life Guard (38th NY)
Taking Possession of the Red Redoubt at Petersburg

39th NY
Garibaldi Guard: Italian, Dutch, Polish and Hungarian Legion
46th NY
Fremont [German] Rifles 
Fought at Antietam and the sieges of Vicksburg and Petersburg
48th NY
Continental Guards
Severe casualties at Ft. Wagner, SC, and Olustee, Florida
51st NY
Shepard Rifles
Led by Italian and French New Yorkers: Edward Ferrero and Charles Legendre
Fought at Antietam, Vicksburg, Wilderness, Petersburg

52nd NY
Sigel's Rifles
In the fighting at Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle, the 52nd lost the Prussians Count Van Haake and Baron Von Stueben.

59th NY
Union Guards

61st Regiment
Astor Rifles

65th NY
United States Chasseurs

"In reply to the circular [of 1/21/1863], I have addressed the Adjutant-General of the State or New-York, and informed him that the tattered flag of my regiment -- mere rags -- under which my command has so often, so gallantly and so successfully fought -- within sight of which, and cheered and animated by it, hundreds have fallen -- is not the property of the State of New-York; it belongs to the City of New-York. It was given to us by her Common Council, and cannot be disposed of without their consent and approval. "
-- J. Egbert Farnham, Col. 70th NY, Excelsior Brigade

72nd NY - Excelsior Brigade
 79th NY
New York's Scots regiment.  Probably the source for the nickname the baseball Yankees used before deciding on a more ecumenical one.

 82nd NY
Organized initially as the 2nd Militia, the 82nd suffered severe losses at Antietam and Gettysburg.

83rd NY
The 9th NYS Militia was mustered into service as the 83rd NY Volunteers.  It suffered heavy casualties at Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania.

84th NY
The 14th NYS Militia from Brooklyn was mustered into Union service as the 84th NY Volunteers after hard fighting at First Bull Run and became part of the Eastern Iron Brigade.  It is the only regiment with three Gettysburg monuments: at the Railroad Cut, McPherson's Ridge and Culp's hill.  The 14th, as it liked to be known, carried General Reynolds body from the field during the retreat on the first day at Gettysburg.

 88th Infantry - Irish Brigade
Chaplain William Corby took the "Fighting Irish" nickname back to Notre Dame University where he became president.

"Absolution Under Fire"
Father William Corby at Gettysburg
Notre Dame Permanent Collection

131 NY
First Regiment, Metropolitan Guard
Fought in Louisiana and the Seige of Port Hudson

155 NY
Corcoran's Irish Legion
Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Appomattox

159th NY
"On Sunday the 15th an attack was made at three different [points], one under Genl. Payne [Charles J. Paine] on the right, Col. Gerard in the centre & I do not know who had the left. We were repulsed with severe loss on our side & very small loss to the rebels. We were drawn off under cover of the night. They have now called for a storming party of one thousand men, each of whom is to receive a gold medal & promotion. They have got more men than the number called for. When the charge is to be made I cannot say."  -- Letter, Frank Tiemann to father, Port Hudson, June 26/63.

164th NY
Corcoran's Irish Legion
Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Appomattox

The Death of Colonel McMahon, Cold Harbor:
“Leading his men to assault the enemy’s works he daringly dashed ahead, and foremost, fighting with the National colors in one hand, was in the act of planting them upon the earthworks which entrenched the foe, when his body was pierced with six bullets by the Rebel sharpshooters.”

Yesterday afternoon the famous Corcoran Legion was formally received by their fellow-countrymen, and by the great mass of the citizens of New-York, as well as by several of the crack regiments of the New-York State National Guard.
To say that the entire reception was a grand success is simply to say what is ever said of the ceremonies of a similar character gotten up by our enthusiastic Irish citizens. The history of the Corcoran Legion was a noble one, not far behind its fellow, the Irish Brigade, and only differing from it by reason of its entering the field at a later period of the war's history; and it was but right that the Irishmen should manifest their appreciation of the services of the Legion, representing as they did the natives of the "green isle beyond the seas."
The Irish Legion assembled at the Centre Market Armory at 1 o'clock P.M. yesterday, and after forming, marched down to Grand-street, where they formed in line, right resting on Broadway, as follows:
The One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Regiment, Col. BYRNE.
The One Hundred and Seventieth Regiment, Major HAGAN.
The One Hundred and Sixty-fourth Regiment, Col. WM. DELACY.
The Sixty-ninth Regiment, Col. COONAN.
The brigade was under command of Brevet Brig. Gen. JAMES P. MCIVOR.
An escort of police, from the Fourteenth Precinct, was present, under Sergeant BROOKS...
As the procession passed down Broadway, it attracted great attention from those assembled, and the gallant legion was received all along the entire route of march with the greatest enthusiasm, and loud and continuous cheering.
-- New York Times, July 26/65


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Field Fortifications: 69th Pennsylvania and Tammany Hall

The Union position on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg could have been taken out of a military textbook.  In fact it was: Dennis Hart Mahan's A Treatise on Field Fortifications.  It is a misconception that a steep slope like the one held by the Confederates at Missionary Ridge a few months later is the most defensible.   On the right, troops on Cemetery Ridge were protected from dangerous enfilading artillery fire by Cemetery Hill.   The gently sloping ground in front of the ridge would disrupt direct artillery fire from the Confederate side, with troops behind the ridge almost completely protected from enemy fire.   For the Union artillery, the opposite was true.  The gentle sloop in front of the ridge provided clear fields of fire, and as the enemy drew close their lines were enfiladed by Union artillery and musket fire on both flanks.  It was a stronger position than Wellington held at Waterloo.

It was a miracle that any Confederates in Pickett's charge were able to cross the killing ground in front of Cemetery Ridge.  Yet many did and surged over the stonewall in front a copse of trees that was the focus of the Confederate attack.   As other Union regiments fell back,  Pennsylvania's Irish 69th Regiment held on in front of the copse of trees.   When Confederate General Lewis  Armistead led his men over the wall and began turning abandoned artillery on the Union troops, the Irish boys in the 69th shot him down.   Soon reinforcements arrived led by Irish-American Colonel James Mallon's 42nd NY "Tammany Hall" Regiment, the Confederates were overwhelmed and threw down their weapons.  

No one from the 69th Pennsylvania was awarded a Medal of Honor for valor at Gettysburg.   Later the Irish boys remarked: "If we'd have known they were giving awards for capturing Confederate flags, we'd have picked up a few.  They were all around us.   We were completely exhausted and sat and watched while other boys picked them up."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Union's Irish Soldiers and Sailors

Over 400,000 Irish soldiers, sailors and marines fought to preserve the Union.   Using the standard typically applied by the New York Times, for example, when reporting on racial tensions in South Boston or on Boston crime families, anyone with an Irish ancestor is Irish regardless of where they were born. 

The number of people born in Ireland who served in the Union army and navy was about 200,000 and may have been as high as 250,000.

The number of native-born Irish serving the Union is often misreported by careless historians as 144,221.  The source for this is the Sanitary Commission report, "Military and Anthropological Statistics of American Soldiers" (SCR), estimate of the nativities of the soldiers who served in the states' volunteer regiments.   SCR did not include the soldiers serving in Regular army regiments, nor the Navy's sailors and marines.   SCR also did not count 92,000 volunteers from California and the territories, and the militia mobilized during war's early years culminating in the battle at Bull Run and the Pennsylvania invasion crisis of 1863 (The Great Militia Mobilization of June, 1863). 

Moreover, as the SCR report notes,   the Union army did not record place of birth in its records for 43 percent of the soldiers.   Not surprisingly, the highest levels of failure to record were in states with the highest concentration of immigrants: Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Adjusting for all the SCR's omissions brings the Irish-born total to over 200,000.

A more rigorously scientific approach is to use the Medal of Honor sample.  The 1500 Medal Honor recipients provide a good sampling of the Union's soldiers, sailors and marines.  This statistic is very highly correlated with enlistments and combat mortalities for a place of origin.   The statistic indicates 10 percent of the enlisted soldiers were Irish-born, 5 percent of the army officers, and 15 percent of the sailors, giving a total of 210,000.

The biases in the Medal of Honor sample suggest that it might understate the Irish-born total somewhat.   1)   There is award "clustering" in some of the predominantly native-born units that when eliminated raises the Irish percentage somewhat.   2)  Possibly due to prejudices at the time some Irish-born soldiers may have claimed that they were American-born.  A special case of this is the "Anchor Baby" effect.   Specifically,  individuals like Sheridan and Dennis Hart Mahan claimed to be American-born.  However, they were baptized relatively shortly after their parents arrived in America.  No one knows exactly where they were born.

Colonel Patrick Henry O'Rorke led the West Point class in which George Armstrong Custer graduated last.  The Irish-born O'Rorke also led the 140th New York in the charge that saved the Union position at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg, although American historians have chosen to credit a Puritan college professor and a Maine regiment with the feat.   O'Rorke was killed during the charge he led and did not receive a Medal of Honor.

Individuals born in America with Irish families include generals Grant, Sherman, Meade, Reynolds, and Sheridan (if he was born in America and not Ireland).  

The Generals and a Small Catholic Church in Ohio

Sherman is an interesting case because he was the foster child of a devout Irish Catholic family and grew up to marry the daughter in a Catholic wedding.   His in-laws played an important role in the early years of Notre Dame University.

The North's Greatest Hispanic General

Meade was the child of Irish refugees who fled the British Isles' sectarian Civil Wars in the 17th century.  His grandfather became a prominent Philadelphia merchant who bankrolled Washington's starving army at Valley Forge.  The British may have run the Meades out of Ireland, but the Meade's had the last laugh, helping Washington run the British out of America.

Canada's Irish

Many of the Union army soldiers credited to England, Scotland and Canada by the SCR, were in fact Irish.   One of the most notable soldiers in this category was Edward Doherty who was born in Canada.  Doherty fought at Bull Run and was captured while the 71st New York Militia covered Burnside's retreat.  He made a daring escape from captivity,  joined New York City's other Irish Brigade, Corcoran's Legion, and was appointed Lieutenant in the 16th New York Cavalry in 1863.  Doherty led the 16th New York when it hunted down and killed John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assassination.

In the Navy

Among the many Irish who joined the Navy in the great harbor cities of New York, Philadelphia and Boston:  Alfred Thayer Mahan and Michael Healy.

Alfred Thayer Mahan was the son of West Point faculty leader Dennis Hart Mahan.  He graduated from Annapolis in 1859 and joined the Navy in 1861.   He was at Savannah and greeted Sherman at the sea in 1864 to which Sherman replied: "So you're old Dennis's boy."   Mahan's first published work reflected his Civil War service: The Gulf and Inland Waters.  Mahan was president of the Naval War College in the 1880s and 90s and completed his great and widely influential works on Sea Power then.   Theodore Roosevelt was a lecturer at the War College for Mahan and that relationship culminated in the birth of the modern, oceangoing U.S. Navy, Europe's lifeline to freedom in the Atlantic and America's shield against fascism in the Pacific during World War II

Michael Healy is renown as the captain of the Revenue Cutter Bear, legendary defender of native Alaskans and inspiration for Michener's Alaska and London's The Sea Wolf.  Much less well-known is the fact that Healy was one of the first officers of African descent commissioned to defend the Union by Abraham Lincoln.

Gettysburg and Field Fortifications

Pennsylvania's 69th Irish Regimen and James Mallon's 42nd New York "Tammany Hall" Irish Regiment played a crucial role in repulsing the Pickett's Charge on the third day at Gettysburg.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sheridan, Grant and Missionary Ridge

Grant and Sherman became joined at the hip during the Vicksburg Campaign. As far as "cementing" Sheridan in the equation, what connected him to Grant and Sheridan?   Sheridan was part of the Army of the Cumberland, hadn't served with Grant, and was subordinate to Thomas and Granger during the Chattanooga campaign. What was it about Sheridan that caught Grant's eye?

Who should get credit for taking Missionary Ridge during the Battle of Chattanooga?

"Looking to the left I saw a single regiment far over in Wood's line dash up the hill and lay down below the crest. Gen. Hazen's men also commenced the ascent. Capt. Avery, of Gen. Granger's staff, here came up and informed me that the original order was to carry the first line of pits, but that if, in my judgment, the ridge could be taken, to do so. My judgment was that it could be carried, and orders were given accordingly, obeyed with a cheer, and the ridge was carried. The right and right center reached the summit first, being nearest to the crest, crossing it to the right of Gen. Bragg's headquarters," wrote Sheridan in his official report.

Sheridan said two of his brigades went to the aid of Wood's men, who were "clinging to the face of the hill." Troops from his division, the 26th Ohio and 15th Indiana, carried the crest first, he said.

Sheridan gave credit to a young officer from the 24th Wisconsin for leading the Union troops up Missionary Ridge: Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mexico's American Legion of Honor

The American Civil War didn't end in 1865.  It wasn't over until Mexican national forces threw out the French and their puppet Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I, in 1867.

While the United States was preoccupied with a southern states rebellion,  France's Napoleon III invaded Mexico and installed a puppet emperor supported by the French Foreign Legion.   When the Union finished putting down its rebellion, it turned its attention to the French in Mexico.   General Phil Sheridan, the fierce little Irishman, was sent with a vast naval armada to the Rio Grand, including thousands of troops and the powerful African-American XXV Corps, which had played a critical role in trapping Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Sheridan merrily started leaving huge quantities of arms and ammunition at the border for Juarez and his Mexican national army to retrieve.   Then Sheridan told his soldiers that they'd be allowed to leave the army before their enlistments were up if they joined the Mexicans.   The Mexicans were offering generous bonuses for new recruits with military experience.  Before long the French were on the run.

Intriguing that Mexicans, blacks and a fierce little Irishman joined forces to preserve Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, n'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Assassination of Dr. James Hagan

The Adams family was well known in Mississippi. Dan’s father, George, had been active in politics and was appointed a federal judge by President Andrew Jackson. During a highly charged investigation of the state treasurer in 1843, Dr. James Hagan, editor of The Vicksburg Sentinel, published a piece that called into question the judge’s own conduct. On the afternoon of June 7, the 22-year-old Dan took it upon himself to defend his father’s honor. Adams confronted Hagan near his boardinghouse, and a scuffle ensued in which Adams pulled out a pistol and fatally shot Hagan in the head.

A reporter for The New Orleans Courier claimed Adams walked up behind Hagan and hit him with his cane without provocation. The two men then grappled and fell to the ground, with Hagan on top. According to the reporter, “Adams drew a pistol from his pocket while down, and placed it at the back of Hagan’s head; the ball, entering the spine, caused instant death. Dr. Hagan was unarmed, and [there was] no person near to offer assistance.”

The Washington [Mississippi] Globe claimed “Young Mr. Adams was, not long since, a student in this District. His manners and his countenance are kind and prepossessing. We know his father well, and his race on the mother’s side. On both sides he comes of a brave, generous, enthusiastic, honorable parentage, utterly incapable of a cowardly act.”

Despite the conflicting accounts, authorities charged Adams with murder, but he was quickly released on a $6,000 bond. At his trial, the jury accepted the claim of self-defense and acquitted him.

James O'Hagan was born in County Derry, Ireland

The Assassination of Father James Coyle

Father James Edwin Coyle, an Irish immigrant priest, was assissinated in 1921 in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was as rabidly Nativist and anti-Catholic as it was racist.

Coyle had committed the sin of marrying a white woman to a black man (in fact a dark-skinned Hispanic).   The assassin was freed by a temporary insanity defense:  wouldn't having your daughter married to a black man drive anyone crazy.

The incident is particularly notable because then Ku Klux Klan member Hugo Black used his successful defense of assassin E.R. Stephenson, a Methodist preacher, as a stepping stone to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although Black later regretted his Klan membership,  he never apologized for his anti-Catholicism and his involvement with the Coyle assassination.

Not until 2012 did Alabama Protestants apologize for the acts of Stephenson.

The Assassination of Roddy A. Small

The Small murder trial was just one of many hundreds during the Civil War, but it perfectly encapsulates an emerging theme in American jurisprudence, one that remains powerfully resonant today. Sutherland had ventured out carrying a concealed revolver prepared to “confront” his antagonist. Once met, he drew his weapon to kill Small and did so, shooting down a fleeing man. But Fishback skillfully appealed to American masculinity couched in partisan language to trump centuries of legal precedent. His invocation of the “natural right” to seek out and destroy a threat joined a chorus of case law that later transformed American jurisprudence to form what the historian Richard Maxwell Brown has called the “no duty to retreat” doctrine. After the verdict, the Democratic Sentinel observed that “in civilized States, every safeguard is provided for the protection of human life, but if murder is justified upon the grounds assumed in this trial, all the restraints of law will be loosened, and the passions of men, not justice or Christian principles, will judge their fellows.”

The dead man was named Roddy A. Small, the foreman of the blacksmith’s shop of the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad. He was a middle-aged Irish Catholic with a wife and children, and a Democrat. The man who shot him dead was James Sutherland, a hand in Small’s shop, a young Protestant man with a wife and three young children, and a Republican. The men had quarreled in the past, most likely over a workplace rivalry. But as the trial showed, wartime politics stoked the heat of their animosity to the point of murderous hatred.

Testimony showed that wartime politics entered into their dispute. Sometime before the shooting military authorities in the city had arrested and tried Small, the Democrat, for “traitorous sympathies.” Records (not introduced in the murder trial) show that in the summer of 1863 military authorities in Indiana circulated a list of people to be arrested by the Army for disloyalty.
Was Roddy Small on that arrest list? We don’t know. But testimony in the murder trial showed that Sutherland had informed on Small to Brig. Gen. Orlando B. Willcox, commander of the district of Indiana and Michigan, who released Small on $1,000 bond. Afterward, an angry Small loudly accused Sutherland of joining the Republican political secret society, the Union League, to spy and inform on him.
In the 1920s anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment became so extreme that the KKK took over the Indiana government, a phenomena not unrelated to the Small assassination.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stalking General Sherman

The New York Times and the Catholic Church, particularly the Irish Catholics of New York, never had a cozy relationship.   Perhaps the last straw was when The Times stationed a reporter outside of the Sherman residence in New York City, hoping to reveal the big scandal that a Catholic priest had administered the last rites of the Catholic Church to the great general.   The general as an adult was never a practicing Catholic, but his Irish and devoutly Catholic foster family had seen to it that he was baptized and had a proper Catholic upbringing.  When he married their daughter it was in a Catholic ceremony.   It was extremely important to his children that their father leave the world in a state of grace and rest beside their mother.

Published: February 14, 1891