Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody! I'm overdue for a blog post. I was thinking of blogging about the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, who was born on this day in 1777, but I decided to type up a brief commemorative post on the Irish Brigade instead.

Irish Brigade Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Andrew Tremel
Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish immigrant with a colorful past, got permission from the War Department in September 1861 to recruit a brigade of Irish units. Anchored by the 63rd New York, 69th New York, and the 88th New York, other regiments were part of the brigade at various times during the Civil War, including the 29th and 28th Massachusetts (the latter replacing the former early in the war) and the 116th Pennsylvania. The Irish Brigade fought at First Bull Run, Fair Oaks, and the Seven Days. The regiments were decimated in brutal frontal assaults at Antietam and Fredericksburg. The Irish Brigade's charge on the Sunken Road in Fredericksburg was one of the few well-done parts of the 2003 film Gods and Generals.

The brigade served in the Second Army Corps in the Union Army of the Potomac. When corps badges were introduced early in 1863, each soldier in the Second Corps wore a clover leaf, the emblem selected because of the Irish Brigade's service in that corps. After the depleted brigade fought at Chancellorsville, General Meagher requested permission to recruit throughout the North to bring the brigade back to full strength. His request denied, Meagher resigned. Further reduced in size at Gettysburg (fighting at the Angle and helping to repulse Pickett's Charge) and the Overland Campaign, the War Department disbanded the Irish Brigade in 1864. A second Irish Brigade formed with the same regiments early in 1865 and served through the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

Just on a side note, one of the several notables in the brigades ranks was the chaplain, Father William Corby, who granted general absolution to the soldiers before they charged into the Wheatfield at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Father Corby allegedly told the soldiers that if they didn't do their duty, they would be refused a Catholic burial. Corby later became president of Notre Dame. There are identical statues of the chaplain at Gettysburg and Notre Dame. Because of Notre Dame's love for football, the statue earned the nickname "Fair Catch Corby."

Statue of Father Corby blessing the troops at Gettysburg. Photo by Andrew Tremel

Again, this is just a short commemoration of one of the most battle-scarred units in the Civil War. As you tap your keg of Guinness today, offer a toast to the brave immigrants who fought to save the Union.