The 69th New York, Not the 69th New York

18 09 2016

The flag of the 69th NYSM, which commemorates a great moment in Fenian history, in which Col. Corcoran refused to march the unit in review before the Prince of Wales


The flag of the 69th NYVI, a different regiment altogether, likely much more different than many assume


Flag of the 69th NYNGA (182nd NYVI) – Rightful CW heir to the 69th NYSM?

Many “fans” of the Irish Brigade, and in particular the 69th New York State Militia and the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, labor under the assumption that the two units are related, the latter somehow descended from the former. I’ve met with some resistance, and once outright anger,  when I’ve suggested that the relationship is tenuous at best. I received the following note from Christopher M. Garcia in comment form on a Facebook status of Damian Shiels, host of Irish in the American Civil War. Mr. Garcia has researched New York Irish troops extensively, and did his master’s thesis on another 69th, the 69th New York National Guard Artillery. When I looked at the Old Dominion University thesis and saw Timothy Orr’s name listed as Director, I realized that he and I had briefly discussed Christopher’s work back in 2011. You can read a little more about Christopher and find a link to his thesis on Damian’s site here. Pay particular attention to Chapter 2, on page ten, and the opening sentence:

The 69th New York National Guard Artillery (NYNGA) considered itself to be the old 69th New York State Militia (NYSM) in federal service. 

Later he writes:

Although thousands of New York’s Irish joined the ranks of the Union Army at the war’s outset, most Fenians chose to stay out. After their return from Bull Run, most of the members of the 69th NYSM did not answer the Federal Government’s call for three-year volunteers… The 69th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard (as the 69th NYSM was designated after the Civil War), received the battle honors for the 69th NYV. Over time, the Irish Brigade tradition became the dominant regimental tradition, as if the 69th NYV was the 69th. The differentiation was lost sometime in the early twentieth-century when first hand knowledge disappeared…Regimental tradition holds that the 69th NYSM was the primary cadre for both the 69th NYV and the Irish Brigade, but this is untrue. The Irish Brigade was a non-Fenian entity.


Michael Corcoran

The basis of the 69th NYSM was political, strongly rooted in the Irish nationalist Fenian movement. There was a lot of infighting among Fenians, with allegiances to different heads. Michael Corcoran, a prominent Fenian, was colonel of the 69th NYSM, and not affiliated in any way with the 69th NYVI or the Irish Brigade. Captured at First Bull Run, he returned after a year in captivity and formed Corcoran’s Irish Legion, which included the 69th NYNGA.

Here is Christopher’s original comment:

[F]ewer than 80 members of the 69th NYSM volunteered with the 69th NYV. The post war histories do not correlate with the records. The 69th NYSM was the mother Fenian regiment. All 3 founders of the F[enian] B[rotherhood] in America were members of the 69th [-] Doheny, O’Mahoney, and Corcoran. The Fenians purged the unit of differing factions in 1858-9. The core 69th NYSM was not its Bull Run strength but normally in the 200-300 person range. The Irish Legion is a different kettle of fish from the Irish Brigade, both class and ideological. Almost all the 69th NYNGA officers were up from the ranks and there were no “Big men” with pedigrees as men like Conyngham were so quick to point out. The Irish Brigade Fenians while getting a lot of attention were insignificant compared to the Legion. To the point the IB never even had its own Circle (which the Legion did) nor anyone on the ruling council of the FB which the 69th NYNGA did (2). Unfortunately most of the Legion Fenians were killed off between Spotsylvania and Petersburg, becoming the vanguard when the Irish Brigade was at its lowest ebb…

Christopher’s thesis is very interesting, and worth your time. Check it out.

Rowland Ward

23 11 2009

A while back I ran this article explaining my tag line to the right (Dulce Bellum Inexpertis).  Today I received a message from Charles Mills, a descendant of the man pictured in that article.

Rowland Ward was my great-great-grandfather. Born in 1818 in Lincolnshire, England, he came to America as a young man and settled in Hunts Hollow, NY. This is just south of Letchworth State Park. He raised a family there. He enlisted in the NY 4th Heavy Artillery. Some of his early training took place on the Parade Grounds that still exist in the park. Assigned to Fort Ethan Allen, he helped man the heavy guns which protected Washington, DC. Grant reassigned many of these units to combat duty in the Spring of 1864. He was at the Battle of the Wilderness. After his massive injury at Reams Station, the Confederates initially captured him but gave him back to the Union medical people. He spent a year at Lincoln General Hospital before returning home. Remarkably, he lived until 1898 in Hunts Hollow. On a government pension, he outlived his first wife and remarried. Apparently he had some celebrity status in the area. We have photos of the reconstructive process. He grew a beard to cover the injury. I believe his food intake was limited to soft and liquid foods for the rest of his life. My grandfather had fond memories of him from his youth. He was able to verbally communicate to some extent. He had a lot of heart problems after the injury. He is buried in Hunts Hollow.

Thanks for the background on Rowland Ward.  One of the really gratifying things about writing this blog is hearing from kin of the folks discussed here. It’s nice to know that Ward’s story had a not so unhappy ending.   From page 150 of Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries, here are some images of Ward’s surgical progress (click on the image for a larger version – click the larger image for a ginormous one):

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McDougall on Wartime Production

25 02 2009

Let me preface this by pointing out that this blog does not discuss modern politics.  While some may see this as an opportunity to comment on current events, please don’t try it.

Last night, the President gave a televised speech that included the following:

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry.

As you may have noticed, I love to match narrative with numbers.  How many of you have been left scratching your heads when you compare the tables I post to the narratives of the Official Reports?  How many times have we all read of a field covered with dead cavalrymen, only to find the action produced a casualty rate of 2%?  I got that same tingly feeling when I read the President’s words, because I recently read words to the contrary in Walter A. McDougall’s Throes of Democracy (a pretty good book, by the way, but he got some operational stuff about the Civil War flat out wrong).  Here’s what he has to say about the Civil War years and industrialization (pp. 494-495):

Did the Civil War at least stimulate industrialization?  Historians of both Marxist and liberal bents once took this for granted, and it must be said that progressive optimism is a wonderful asset for a people to have.  In retrospect, the Union’s national mobilization and distribution of resources doubtless taught American business powerful lessons in how to achieve economies of scale, a phenomenon to be discussed in due course.  But professionals in the dismal science of economics are not surprised when their numbers reveal civil war to be a very ill wind that blows good to some firms, industries, and regions, while it slams like a hurricane into everyone else.  Americans pioneered no major civilian technologies between 1861-1865 and ceased doing pure science.  They invented no new models of management and paid a huge cost in lost opportunities.  To be sure, hot-air balloons for artillery spotting, the Gatling gun, submarines, and ironclad warships debuted in the Civil War, but only the ironclad had a significant impact on combat.  Railroads and telegraphs, by contrast, made a huge impact, but they were mature technologies before the war.  So the Union’s impressive war effort really absorbed the energies of an industrial machine already in place.  Production of pig iron had grown by 17 percent between 1855 and 1860 and would grow 100 percent from 1865-1870.  During the war it grew 1 percent.  Railroads had spread 8,700 new miles in the five years before the war and would spread 16,200 miles in the five years after.  During the war just 4,000 miles of track were laid.  Data on river and harbor improvements, overall manufacturing, commodity production, and exports tell similar stories. 

While I’ve read about railway destruction and repair during the war, I can’t recall reading anyting about new rail lines appearing during the conflict, reaching previously remote areas and thus impacting operations.  What do you think about what McDougall says here?  Does it jive with your impression of wartime production and innovation?

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Getting Right with Lincoln – Part I

31 08 2008

The phrase “Getting Right with Lincoln”  was coined by David Donald in this article from 1956, and it has over the years been used to describe attempts to manipulate the record of Abraham Lincoln to justify the correctness of one’s actions or beliefs.  But I’m using it here to describe my ever-evolving image of the man who many, including myself, consider our greatest president.  But like that big mole on his face, the man had warts that were equally apparent but often ignored.  For instance, it’s been asserted by some who praise AL’s management style that he never let how an individual treated him affect his decision making process.  While I’ve got many and bigger problems with anyone extolling the virtues of Lincoln’s management style (I’ve worked for people who managed like him – CHAOS!), I think people like Winfield Scott would take issue with this particular assertion.  So from time to time here I’ll use this heading to discuss my developing understanding of POTUS16.

I recently finished reading Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell McClintock, which I found a much more useful analysis of the period than Nelson Lankford’s look at 1861,  Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 (reviewed here).  McClintock’s book reveals a Lincoln who was, first and foremost, a party politician.  He was keenly aware of his dependence on his fellow Republicans, and his moves were governed with this dependence in mind.  As a party new to power, it took awhile for things to develop, during which time Lincoln’s administration, both before and after the inauguration, adopted a policy not dissimilar to that of its predecessor, described as “masterly inactivity”.  While I’ve always thought of Lincoln as a product of the machine – and at the same time as one who helped design and build it – I haven’t always considered how Party considerations influenced his decision making.  It’s something I’m going to try to keep in the front part of my brain from now on, or at least until I’m shown the error of my ways.

Bill Christen on Pauline Cushman

22 05 2008

Author Bill Christen

Spy of the CumberlandLast night I heard friend Bill Christen speak at the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Round Table.  His PowerPoint presentation was on Miss “Major” Pauline Cushman, who is also the subject of Bill’s book, Pauline Cushman: Spy of the Cumberland.  The program was superb, and held the attention of the sixty or so folks in attendance for a good hour or more.  I don’t get to see Bill very often, and didn’t have time to really speak with him last night, but it was a pleasure to see his presentation and to finally meet his lovely wife, Glenna Jo.  Check out Bill’s Cushman site here.

Lee’s Real Plan Update

24 04 2008

Gettysburg NMP Ranger Scott Hartwig had this to say about my post from Tuesday and the comments that followed:

I’ll have to let my seminar essay present my argument.  This will be available next year when we publish the seminar proceedings.  I know there are several theories out there but I am quite certain that the July 3 assault struck the Union line exactly where Lee intended it to.

Until next year, then: unless anyone who attended Scott’s presentation wants to weigh in.

I’ll be posting a few ORs next.  Then I’ll have more on the fascinating family ties of Hugh Judson Kilpatrick; some developments concerning the history of the 30 pounder Parrott rifle that opened the First Battle of Bull Run; and hopefully a bit on Cadet John Rodgers Meigs.  The interview with Jake Pierro is on hold.  He’s a little under the weather; I wish him a speedy recovery and hope you will do the same.  Look for a little something about a new book on the Army of Northern Virginia, and also an update on the continuing saga of the naming of the Black Horse Troop (here and here).

Lee’s Real Plan

22 04 2008

In this post over at Civil War Librarian, Rea Redd recapped his weekend at the 12th Annual Gettysburg National Military Park seminar, The Fate of a Nation: The Third Day at Gettysburg.  I found this snippet interesting:

Scott Hartwig: Heroes, Myth and Memory at the High Water Mark

Three major Confederate generals who participated in the assault said in the late 1880’s that Cemetery Hill was the objective.  Zeigler’s Grove was cut down immediately after the battle: John Batchelder [sic] mistook The Copse of Trees which had added ten feet of height in the 20 years since the battle for Zeigler’s Grove.

For anyone who has been following this story since the publication of NPS ranger Troy Harman’s books on Lee’s plan for the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble assault on July 3 (here is the most recent edition), the above synopsis of the comments of the highly respected and far from controversial Scott Hartwig is not insignificant.  Harman’s theory, which challenges the conventional wisdom of the famous Clump (or Copse) of Trees as the focal point of the assault, has been raked over the coals in the Gettysburg cyber-community over the years, with its outnumbered, or at least less discreet, defenders being shouted down like minority members of Parliament, only much more rudely.

If you were present at this seminar, please tell me more!  I’ve toured and corresponded many times with Ranger Hartwig, and if there is anything to this perhaps I can entice him to expand a bit here.

See here for an UPDATE.

My photos of the Copse above, Scott Hartwig below top, and Troy Harman below bottom.