Image: Pvt. Hugh Francis O’Lone, Co. D, 69th New York State Militia

16 09 2022
Hugh Francis O’Lone, Co. D, 69th NYSM (Courtesy of Joseph Maghe)

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Pvt. John Stacom, Co. E, 69th New York State Militia, On the Battle (2)

19 03 2022

STATEMENT OF A RETURNED SOLDIER OF THE SIXTY-NINTH

John Stacom, residing at No. 72 Elm-street, says he was in the late engagement. He returned Tuesday morning, leaving Washington at 4 o’clock. He left the scene of action at 6 o’clock, P. M., Sunday. The Sixty-ninth left Fort Corcoran on Tuesday, at 3 o’clock P. M., and encamped that night at Fairfax Court-house. Wednesday night reached Germantown. On Thursday morning, the Division under Col. Sherman took up the line of march, led by the Twelfth New-York Volunteers. After marching a short distance, a masked battery opened on them. Our regiment were ordered by Gen. Tyler to advance. After a short time we received orders through Gen. McDowell to fall back, when we halted for the night. About 2 o’clock in the morning we passed to the right of the battery without any danger. Marche about three miles and formed into line of battle, with our battery firing a gun at intervals to get the enemy out, which at length we did, they having returned a few shots. Shortly after the action became general. We succeeded in forcing our way down into the Run, (like a ravine,) between two mountains, in doing which we had to march through mud and water knee-deep. We marched double-quick about a mile to a hill, where there was a small house, uninhabited, where we afterwards left our wounded. Here we engaged a large number of the enemy’s infantry, which we succeeded in driving back, the masked batteries plying on us. The other divisions of our Army engaged the enemy. The fight continued without intermission till 4 o’clock P. M., when we succeeded in silencing three or four batteries. The firing then ceased. We felt quite elated, seeing Gen. McDowell complimenting Col. Corcoran on the success of our victory. Suddenly a large reinforcement came up, and opened on us with terrific effect. We suffered terribly, but firmly kept our ground. Once our regimental flag was captured; but Capt. Thomas Francis Meagher, clutching the green flag, and shouting to the men, rushed after to capture it, which we eventually did. Capt. Wilder, of the Fire Zouaves, shot the rebel who held the flag. We ran up to the edge of the woods and fired at them. They were behind natural rocks with earthen works, with four guns or more in each battery. We captured four. We found them nearly all spiked. Each battery was at a distance averaging about two hundred yards; they looked like bee hives. The country round was full of brushwood and trees, which gave them an advantage. The width of the road was only about 12 feet, a slight descent to the fields on each side. The ravine on an average was about one-half mile wide, and masked batteries at each side. It was utterly impossible we could head out. We lost several of our officers, including Capt. Haggerty, Co. A, Acting Lieut.-Col. Dalton, Capt. Catahan, and a few others. It was melancholy to see the poor fellows lying all around dead. I contrasted it with the jo they felt only a few minutes before, and felt sad. However, one has no thought in battle; the noise and confusion is really awful. It completely crushes out all feeling. Among those who distinguished themselves, (that I saw,) was the Colonel, who was very cool and collected. Capt. Thomas Francis Meagher, who acted as aid to Col. Corcoran. He rode a splendid white horse. He lost his cap, and was remarkable in his bare head, urging the men forward. Lieutenant Coonan, of Company J, and private Maxwell Sullivan Company C, were remarkable in their attempt to rescue the regimental colors. We got orders to retreat, which we did in good order, forming a hollow square. We marched off the field on the road.

He thinks the stampede first occurred amongst the Western regiments. He got slightly wounded in the hand. He congratulates himself on being so fortunate as to find a rebel horse on the road, which he seized and rode to Alexandria. The roads presented a curious appearance. Numbers of sick and wounded, artists sketching, newspaper writers taking notes, wagons, &c. He was terribly fatigued, and says it was with great difficulty he reached his destination. He bring with him a very costly coat, belonging to a rebel Major – a present from Lieut. Wilsey, of the Ellsworth Zouaves, to Sergeant Jourdan, of the Sixth Ward police. Private Stacom intends returning to Washington to-morrow, and would be happy to give all information and assistance in his power to the friends of the Sixty-ninth.

The New York Times, 7/26/1861

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Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA

15 03 2022

This past Saturday, March 12, I gave a presentation on the 69th New York State Militia at First Bull Run to the good folks at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, PA. We had a bit of a blizzard the night before, and it was touch and go whether or not the library was even going to be open. But program honcho Jon-Erik Gilot made the decision to go forward and I was all for it – I find speaking into a camera with no one around difficult. I need to see faces. Due to the accumulation of snow and the fact that it was the morning of one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the nation in nearby Pittsburgh, turnout was relatively light. Between live and Zoom/Facebook Live I think we had about thirty people watching.

For a first-time presentation it went pretty well, although I once again ran way, way too long. There were a good number of questions, and all-in-all I was pleased. I have some work to do before I give this presentation again, this time for Civil War Talk (Zoom or Facebook Live only), on March 16. Needless to say, there will be changes. So, don’t beat me up too much.

Here is Saturday’s program on YouTube.





Capt. (Acting Maj.) Thomas Francis Meagher, Co. K, 69th New York State Militia, On the Campaign (Part 3)

6 03 2022

LAST DAYS OF THE 69TH IN VIRGINIA.

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A NARRATIVE IN THREE PARTS.

———-

PART THE THIRD.

Retiring, by order of General McDowell, from under fire, the 69th halted on the road side, a little above the village of Centreville. Those who had haversacks opened them and shared their contents with their comrades. Several of the men, in impatient anticipation of coming into close quarters with the enemy, had freed themselves of these encumbrances, as they dashed down to the scene of action. They had flung them off along with their blankets. It was not the fault of the Commissariat that many of the men went to bed supperless. At the same time, it is not in the nature of an Irishman to fight with four or five pounds of boiled port and biscuit banging at his hip.

During this halt, the 79th and 2nd New York swept by us, heading for the enemy, so as to compel the latter to keep at a respectful distance from us, within his lines. Both of these Regiments looked staunch and splendid at that moment. There was Col. Cameron, at the head of his Highlanders, riding erect and resolute, with his broad-leafed hat, shadowed with a superb black ostrich feather, softening the outline of the strong, massive features, which the consciousness of his being on a noble service seemed to illuminate. There was Col. Tompkins, of the 2nd New York – young, calm, unostentatious, full of intelligence and perfectly dauntless – leading as bright and hearty a body of men as any Colonel in the Union Army has reason to be proud of. As with a swinging step, in compact ranks, they swept by, it was with a delighted heart I recognised my friends, Captain Huston, De Courcey, and many other generous and gallant fellows, and hurriedly shook hands with them.

The two Ohio Regiments came next, Col. McCook, radiant and jovial as though it were a pic-nic he was going to, being in command of the First. Mounted on a magnificent horse – black, fiery, solid, full of blood and power and beauty – the Colonel waved his had to us as he passed along, and wishing us all good-bye, and in a few seconds vanished from us in the dust and twilight.

The Ohio Regiments had passed us a little more than a quarter of an hour, on their way to Blackburn’s Ford, where the fighting had been all day, when the order came for the 69th to fall in and march. In something less than half an hour we were in the village of Centreville, on our way to the bivouac or camping-ground for the night, a mile beyond the village.

I have already spoken of this village as a dingy, aged, miserable little handful of houses. It is the coldest picture conceivable of municipal smallness and decreptitude. Set down on certain military maps in flaming capitals as CENTREVILLE, one is astounded on entering it, to find that a mole-hill has been magnified into a mountain. Southerners may sneer at New England – toss off their inspiring cock-tails, and contemptuously air the tips of their sensitive noses as they give vent to their disdain, repudiation, and defiance of the North; but in all of New England – in all the North – I wager there is not a village of shabbier aspect and such reduced resources, as that of Centreville. It looks, for all the world, as though it had done its business, whatever it was, if it ever had any, full eighty years ago, and since then, had bolted its doors, put out its fires and gone to sleep. Harry Lorrequer has never chilled us with so dismal picture of a denuded village in Ireland.

Most of the houses in Centreville are built with stone – rugged grayish, gloomily specked and mottled stone – and you follow them up and down two or three little hills and hollows, over a road or through a street which has ruts and rocks, boulders and pit-falls in it, enough t shake the shoes from off a thousand horses, and more than enough to rattle to pieces and disable a thousand waggons. Some of these houses retreat a little from the road or street, behind a dingy fence and two or three leafless and colorless and dwarfed old trees. Others break in with an uncouth and bold protuberance upon the road or street; and thus with a violent intrusion destroy the symmetrical effect of their more modest sisterhood.

There was, as usual, a rush of the 69th for the pumps. Utterly regardless and defiant of every remonstrance and warning, the soldiers broke from the ranks, and made fiercely for every door or gate-way that promised them an alleviation of their thirst. This was the mischief of the day. This the mischief of the two preceding days. It was impossible to keep the men in the ranks whenever they thought there was the slightest chance to slake their thirst. True it is, the distance they marched each day was not much over twelve miles at most; but each day’s march was under a seething and blistering sun, over a broken and rugged road, through clouds of stifling dust, after a comfortless and noisome night in swamp and dripping meadow, without one full and wholesome meal; and hence, mischievous as were the irregularities of the advance, they are easily to be explained and generously forgiven. Many a brave poor fellow of the 69th, who would have thrown himself against a rebel battery at that moment, and never given a thought to what the consequences to himself or his lonesome wife or his little ones, might be, used to expostulate with me, when, acting as I did as Major, and in that capacity endeavoring to keep the Regiment full and close, I used to urge and bid back those who threw themselves, every now and then, in search of water, from the line of march.

“Heavens! we’d die for you, Captain,” they used to exclaim, with agony, “but we can’t stand this drought.”

Exclamations such as these could find no answer, and certainly no rebuke; and hence it was that many a time I gave way, and silently, though vexed and maddened almost, suffered these outbreaks for water along the road.

General McDowell, in his report of the battle of Bull Run, mentions the few miles the Union forces had to march each day – lays particular stress, it seems to me, upon the fact, that General Tyler’s Division, of which the 69th was the pioneer Regiment, had marched 6 miles only from their bivouac at Germantown, to the intersection of the road from that village to the road from Fairfax, and that from this intersection there were but six miles and a half more to Centreville – mentions that he himself rode on and urged the advance that night to Centreville, and that, despite of all he could say or do, it was impossible for him to get the column to advance further than withing four miles of Centreville. All this is true. True as an honest, intrepid soldier – a gentleman and a chevalier, as Gen. McDowell unquestionably is – could write it.

But the General, whilst he enumerates, by the surveyor’s chain, the few miles we had to march, overlooks the scorching and disabling heat, the preparations for attack we had to make on our approach to and out-flanking Fairfax, the rush the 69th made to cut off the retreating Southerners – the halts, under an exhausting and deadening sun, whilst their barricades of trees were cut through and thrown aside – the fierce exposure to the same fierce sun which, drawn up in line of battle, the 69th had to stand in the fields after they had passed the abandoned earth-works of the enemy at Germantown – and, last of all, the frenzying heat, and dust and ruggedness of the road beyond the intersection of the roads from Germantown and Fairfax – all this Gen. McDowell overlooks, or considers it unnecessary to allude to, in his report.

For my part, I must say, that no soldiers could have rushed to battle with heartier elasticity and daring than did the soldiers of the 69th, on the evening of the 18th of July; and my admiration of them and my confidence in them were increased and intensified by the fact, that they had had the worst of treatment for five days previous, and that their Brigadier, Colonel Sherman, had no sympathy whatever with them. Despite of all their hunger, thirst, and exhaustion – keenly feeling, as Irishmen alone can feel, that they had been, somehow or other, played and trifled with and defrauded – that they had been precipitated into action when their term of service to the United States had expired – the 69th, bearing the Green Flag presented to them in recognition of their refusal to participate in the reception of the Prince of Wales – still heartily and enthusiastically pressed on. The 69th would not abandon the Stars and Stripes whatever injustice was done the Three Month’s Volunteers, or however violently interested parties, high or low, ambitiously or fearfully excited, expected or exacted their continuance in the campaign beyond the 20th of July. Those who left that day, however, I contend, have right and honor, and citizenship on their side. Is it manly, is it honorable, is it soldierly to force men into a conflict – into a fierce, desperate fight – into a fight which upsets their homes and unroofs and makes them desolate for ever – when they marched for one grand project alone – to defend the Capital – as the 7th, the 8th, the 71st – the very flower of the New York State Militia did – without the slightest hesitancy, persuasion or demur? But this is deviating from my narrative, and I must resume.

Leaving the village of Centreville a mile and a half behind us, we passed down the Winchester road, straight on for Manassas, and then struck into the fields on the left, stacked our arms and bivouacked for the night. Again, as on the first and second night of out advance, and all through those blistering and stifling days, there was not the least provision for our horses. There were cocks of hay and stacks of corn, to the right and left of the Division, as it flung itself off by regiments to this and the other side of the road; but, by a strange propriety, Brigadier Sherman forbade them to be touched. Two or three hours afterwards a few sheaves and bundles of fodder were hustled to the ground. But for this not a horse would have been able to stir the next day. Gen. McDowell speaks of the rations dealt out adequately and liberally to the men. But there is not a word in his report about the horses; and of this there can be no questions, that the Cavalry of the Federal Army flung themselves into the conflict in a starved condition. My noble little horse had not had one good feed for three days, when a spherical ball from the Southern batteries tore him to pieces. Hundreds of horses were in like condition. Col. Corcoran’s was greedily eating newspapers, in front of his hut, before he mounted him, the morning of the 21st. Col. Burnside, of the Rhode Island Regiment, has truthfully and emphatically told the story. In his speech at the Fillmore House, at Newport, he says that he protested against the attack on the 21st of July, advising patience and a more effective concentration of forces before such an attack was made – advising, indeed, a delay of six months, rather than what appears to have been, with all its impediments and checks, a vain and headstrong precipitation.

After the toils and perils of the day – our exposure to a blistering sun and a fire still deadlier – we slept soundly that night of the 18th of July, stretched in the deep, coarse grass the other side of Centreville. Captain Carlisle’s battery occupied the field on our right, across the road, and was protected by the 2d New York, under Colonel Tompkins. The 79th, Highlanders, lay in advance of us, a little to the right – the Wisconsin being in our rear – the Thirteenth, Rochester, immediately in front. During the night a few shots were exchanged between the outposts of both armies. They failed, however, to provoke any general alarm; and those who heard them took them for granted – as inevitable indications of approximating hostilities on a magnificent scale – and, thus satisfied, fell off to sleep again.

Friday, the 19th, dawned. And Friday faded into twilight, and night came on and blotted it out altogether, and left us where we were the night before – in that sloping meadow, buried in that deep, coarse grass, lazily and stupidly waiting for some new and pleasanter development of events. Nothing, however, was done that day. It was a dense stagnation in every camp. There was the Blue Ridge glowing and melting on the horizon. There were the beautiful and ample woods, spreading themselves between us and Manassas, covering in their green depths lines of the deadliest batteries and legions of fierce enemies. There were deserted farm-houses, few and far between, breaking through the sylvan scene, and reminding every one of home. It was a wearisome, hot, drawling, idle day – just a day to relax the staunchest nerves and make dolts and cowards of us all. Just such a day plays more mischief – breeds deadlier discontent and insubordination – amongst soldiers, than hours of storm and havoc. And this day to have been repeated! Saturday to have been just as vacant, just as listless, just as deadening, just as dreamily and sluggishly exhausting as Friday was!

Were it not for the visit of Father Scully, the young and devoted chaplain of Col. Cass’ Irish Regt. from Boston, who, having heard of Thursday’s fighting, dashed across from Washington, over five-and-thirty miles, to see and learn all about us, it would, despite of the glaring sunshine, have been a gloomy day indeed. His hearty words and presence lit up afresh the life and fire of the 69th; and he came in good time, and most kindly staid long enough, to relieve our own beloved chaplain, Father O’Reilly, in his duties at the confessional. There were few of the 69th who failed to confess and ask forgiveness on that day. Every one, officers as well as privates, prepared for death. Sincerely and devoutly they made their peace with God. This is the secret of their courage, and the high, bright spirit with which they bore all the hardships, the privations, the terrors, and the chastisement of the battle. It was, in truth, an affecting sight – that of strong, stalwart, rugged men – all upon their knees, all with heads uncovered, all with hands clasped in prayer and eyes cast down, approaching, one by one, the good dear priest, who, seated at the foot of an old bare tree, against which some of our boys had spread for him an awning of green branches, heard the confessions of the poor fellows, and bid them be at ease and fearless. Long as I live, I shall never forget that scene. It was not less impressive than that of Father O’Reilly’s passing along our line, as we knelt within range of the enemy’s batteries on one knee, bayonets fixed, expecting every instant to be swept upon, and the final benediction was imparted. Father O’Reilly has told me since, that the earnestness and devotion with which poor Haggerty received that benediction, singularly struck him, and that the attitude and expression of this truly honest and heroic soldier, at that solemn moment, could never leave his memory.

Of subsequent incidents and events, the world, by this time, has heard enough. Concerning the advance from Centreville, the battle, the retreat, the alarm and confusion of the Federal troops, columns and volumes have been filled. I can add nothing to the history of the day but my testimony, that wherever the Federal troops had a fair chance – wherever, indeed, they had the slightest opening even – there and then they whipped the Confederate forces, utterly overwhelmed and confounded them. In every instance, where the Federal infantry came in contact with the Seceding States, did this occur. In no one instance, not for a second, did it happen that the Federal forces were driven back by, or received the slightest check from, the Southern infantry. We yielded to their batteries, and despite of every effort and determination were compelled to do so. It was impossible for men to override that tempest. Three times, having plunged head-foremost into its deadliest showers, was it hurled back. We beat their men – their batteries beat us. That is the story of the day.

Repulsed the last time from the enemy’s works, following the Regiment as it was fiercely driven out, I was knocked head over heels and fell senseless on the field. A private of the United States Cavalry, galloping by, grasped me by the back of the neck, jerked me across his saddle, and carried me a few hundred yards beyond the range of the batteries. When I got upon my feet, I found myself in a group of Fire Zouaves and a number of the 8th and 71st, New York, who very quietly, without the least flurry or trepidation, were retracing their steps to the camping-ground at Centreville, I walked with them until an artillery wagon came up, when, from that out, until we came to the stream which crosses the road between Centreville and the field of battle – half-way between these two points – I had as hard a jolting as any one could well endure.

Here I was pitched into the water, one of the horses of the wagon being shot by the Black Horse which dashed upon us from the woods on our left, and the wagon tumbling over. Here, too, it was that the panic took place. Up to this point, there was no fright, no alarm, no confusion, not the least apparent uneasiness. These fragments of Regiments were coolly and steadily returning to the fields from which they had set out – as coolly and unconcernedly as though they were strolling along the Bloomingdale road on a Sunday evening in the Fall – when, all of a sudden, down came Commisariat wagons, ambulances, hospital carts, artillery forges, and every description of vehicle, dashing and smashing against each other, and with one fearful wreck blocking up the river. A few yards off, there were two or three hundred of the Black Horse sweeping into us with their carbines. But for a couple of guns of Ayre’s battery, which, dashing up from the crowd, were thrown with the quickness of lightning into position, and which flung on the enemy a torrent of cannister, there would, I believe, have been a terrible havoc wrought at that bridge and ford. As it was, the only dark episode of the battle was written there.

Struggling through the river, however, I fell in again with the throng of retreating soldiers, and soon after reached the field where we had encamped the three previous nights. Here I found Dr. Smith and about fifty of the 69th. Learning that three or four hundred of the Regiment were on the road to Fairfax, I hurried after them to ascertain their intentions, Dr. Smith having insisted on my taking his horse for the purpose. They were bound for Fort Corcoran – the Colonel, wounded and exhausted, had passed ahead in an ambulance – Colonel Sherman had told them so – and wherever the Colonel of the 69th was, there the 69th should be. At 3 o’clock, the morning of the 22d July, weary and worn, famished and naked almost, the 69th passed through the familiar gates of their old quarters, and after a battle which lasted for eight hours and more, and a march of five and thirty miles, laid themselves down to sleep.

Last Days of the 69th in Virginia

Thomas Francis Meagher at Wikipedia

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Capt. (Acting Maj.) Thomas Francis Meagher, Co. K, 69th New York State Militia, On the Campaign (Part 2)

5 03 2022

LAST DAYS OF THE 69TH IN VIRGINIA.

———-

A NARRATIVE IN THREE PARTS.

———-

PART THE SECOND.

Defiling through the deserted earthworks at Germantown, our Brigade bore off to the left, taking position in line of battle in the open fields spreading northward from the village. Skirmishers were thrown forward, and the village also being found deserted, the march was renewed, the position of the Regiments being altered – the First Wisconsin taking the right and the 69th bringing up the rear of the Brigade.

Over the streaming bayonets, through the swaying colors and clouds of dust rolling densely upwards from the trampled earth, riding at the head of the 69th beside our Colonel, I saw a handful of little wooden houses, known as Germantown, rise up and dilate before us. One house, however, particularly struck me, even at the distance, and notwithstanding the dust, confusion and tumult through which I noticed it. A two-storied house, well proportioned, with a white, cheerful face, roses and woodbine, as I took them to be, coiling and clustering about the trelissed porch, young ornamental trees in front of it, a clear and handsome feature in the clouded picture against which we were moving – it was the first pleasant object, of the quieter and friendlier order of things, we had fallen in with since we pushed on that morning from Vienna.

“That house is on fire,” Father O’Reilly, our Chaplain, hurriedly observed as he whipped his horse up beside the Colonel.

The words had scarcely fallen from his lips when a round mass of black smoke rolled out of the windows of the house and buried it in darkness. Another moment, the red flames were leaping through the smoke, and the crackling of timbers, pieced and rifted with the fire, was heard distinctly above the tramp and tumult of the march. The only ornament of the village, in hot haste and fury, was plunging into ashes. In half an hour it would be, at best, a heap of smoldering charcoal. Whose was the scurvy and malignant hand that fired the deserted homestead? It is for the Regiments of the Brigade, in advance of the 69th, to answer. With them rests the responsibility of this savage riotousness and mischief. The house was doomed irrevocably when the 69th came up. The Irish Regiment swept by the blazing ruin, cursing the ruffians who had played the barbarous prank, and maddened with the thought of the disgrace it would bring upon the Federal Flag.

Nor did the wickedness of the moment content itself with the destruction of an unprotected dwelling. Pigs were shot down and cut to pieces, the dripping fragments being pounced upon and carried off in triumph by the butchers. Turkeys and chickens shared the same fate. Everything left behind them in the village by the retreating inhabitants, whether useful or otherwise, was seized and swept away. I saw a private of the Wisconsin Regiment stumbling along with a feather bed across his soldiers. I saw another with a sledge hammer taken from a vacant forge. A third had a large looking-glass under his arm. A fourth had a patched quilt or counterpane wrapped about him – a curious piece of needle-work, gaudy enough to please a Carib prince, and sufficiently heavy for a winter’s night in Nova Scotia. A frenzy of depredation seemed to have seized many of the soldiers in advance of us; and the wanton passion appeared to grasp at everything with an utter disregard of its usefulness or absurdity. In vain did the officers of the offending Regiments strive to check the lawlessness of the men. The raw levies looked on Germantown – the abandoned bantling of a village – as their lawful prey, and the flames of the burning house, widening rapidly and fiercely, alone compelled them to desist.

Hurrying past the scene – leaving the house a bursting pile of smoke and fire, for it was impossible for us to save it, and having assured two South Carolina soldiers, who lay in an adjoining shed, sweltering in the dirtiest of blankets and deadly sick with measles, that they should have our protection and whatever relief we could render them, and to fear no harm – the 69th in a few minutes gained the road from Fairfax to Centreville. It was now close on one o’clock – the sun was fierce – the dust blinding and stifling – we had been trampling it since a little after sunrise – tramping it on the paltriest allowance of biscuit and coffee – no time for any further refreshment had been allowed – and here, parched and blistered, most of their canteens empty, not a drop of water within reach, the men were ordered to close ranks and in double-quick time sweep ahead. The belief that the Confederates were not more than an hour, at most, the better of us, and that following them this rapidly and incessantly, we should soon be up with them, alone encouraged the soldiers in that headlong pursuit and held them to work. But for that belief, hundreds of them, at all events, must have staggered from the column and thrown themselves against the trees and fences, either side of the road, utterly baffled and overpowered. As it was, hundreds used to break from the ranks whenever a farm-house held out to them the promise that water was at hand, and not merely disregarding, but defying, every effort of their officers to restrain them, made fiercely for the spot where their agonies were to be assuaged. In many instances the poor fellows were ruthlessly doomed to disappointment, the retreating Southerners having cut the ropes which held the buckets in the wells, or broken the chains, as the case might be. It was enough to force hot tears from the sternest eye to see the sufferers, panting and breathless almost after their wild race, looking hopelessly down those dark, deep wells, the forbidden water glimmering sixty feet or more below, and the fevered and crusted lip quivering with a redoubled pang. Nevertheless, it was a splendid panorama, those four miles of armed men – the sun multiplying, it seemed to me, the lines of flashing steel, bringing out plume and epaulette and sword, and all the finery of war, into a keener radiance, and heightening the vision of that vast throng with all its glory. The sun which parched those quivering lips, which drew the sweat in streams from many and many a scorching brow, which drank the blood of thousands on that desperate march, and bred from van to rear a mutinous thirst – the same stood there above us steeping all those swaying banners and all those haughty arms in a flood of splendor, and blending in one long wonderous wave of dazzling light all the gay deceptions and the worst privations of a soldier’s life. Most of the Regiments were accompanied by their bands; and as the bold music sprang up at intervals along the line, many a drooping heart leaped up with it, and despite of the heat and dust and thirst, it was, after all, a cheerful crowd that sped along.

About five o’clock in the afternoon, the toils and troubles of the day were at an end. Before the sun went down, and army of 12,000 had stretched itself to rest in a wide, deep valley, in the shadow of lofty woods which held it in a perfect zone.

Batteries of flying artillery – troops of cavalry – huge weapons with white awnings – ambulances and hospital carts – a farm-house here and there – these, dispersed at different points throughout the valley, relieved the monotonous masses of infantry with which the ground was darkened. A cool and abundant stream flowed through the sloping meadows over which these masses were extended, to the right and left of the road to Centreville; and the long fresh, covering the meadows, furnished a luxurious bedding for the heated and harassed forces of the Union. The night, however, was not without its discomforts and alarms.

There was a very heavy dew, which, though not as dense and drenching as the one we had to sleep through in the marshes outside Vienna, was bad enough for the toughest soldier to endure. It was all the worse for us, inasmuch as many of the 69th had that morning, during the flanking movement upon Fairfax, which they went through with a rush, flung off their blankets, whilst several of them flung off their coats as well. How these poor fellows managed to keep their bones from aching, and how, with light hearts and lighter limbs they leaped into the ranks next morning, as though they had been comfortably housed instead of being wringing wet all night, it would be difficult for me to say. That two or three men were violently seized with cramps, and that the doctor had to be hunted up and the regimental medicine chest explored, just a little after midnight, and that there were moans and writhings mingled with the healthier snorings of that densely crowded and encumbered valley, from that out till sunrise – all this I know, for I myself felt sick and restless all that night, and failed to have one hour’s unbroken sleep.

It was, also, a little after midnight, that one of the horses belonging to a Commissariat waggon broke loose, and, dashing furiously through the camp, heedless of where he struck, sent hundreds of stacked muskets rattling and flying along the lanes or rows in which our soldiers lay. In an instant, five thousand men were on their feet, ready to grapple with the cavalry of the enemy, for that a dash of dragoons had been made against the federal camp, and that they were tearing and slashing through it, a thousand strong at least, was the conviction which at first flashed through the startled ranks. The jingling of the bayonets, as the stacked muskets tumbled one after another, confirmed for a few minutes this conviction, the sound was so like that of sabres slapping against the heels and spurs of charging troopers. The darkness of the hour, moreover, and the difficulty of discovering what to guard against or what to strike, heightened the alarm and threw the camp into the vaguest and wildest uproar. Several shots were fired at random – the trumpets of the artillery and cavalry rang out clear and piercingly through the agitated valley. It was fully half an hour before the alarm passed off – an hour, at least, before the disordered troops sank into deep sleep again.

The thick, gray vapor one always sees in lowlands in hot climates, was still sluggishly rising from the bed of the valley, and the air was still damp and raw, when a squadron of United States dragoons trotted out briskly on the road to Centreville, heading the division under General Tyler, of which the First Wisconsin, the 13th Rochester, the Sixty-Ninth and Seventy-Ninth Regiments formed the Second Brigade. In less than two hours – our march having been through those same interminable woods we had known the last two days – the column halted. To the right and left of our Regiment were marshy bottoms and coarse meadow-lands, flanked by lofty thickets and seamed with running waters, clear and sweet and plentiful; and sweeping right before us in a bold curve were the high hills, on the southern slope of which, looking towards Manassas, lay the dingy, aged little village of Centreville. To the left of the road stood what seemed to be a large and massive house. Between this house and the road – a space of three hundred yards – a formidable earth-work frowned upon the advancing troops. To the right, cresting the hills of Centreville, were the huts of the Confederate Camp; and just above these withered structures, but miles away, blending softly and glowingly with the richly-tinted sky, the loftier undulations of the Blue Ridge met the view. The Brigade, under Colonel Hunter, from Alexandria, pouring down the valley from the belt of woods behind us on the extreme left, with its varied uniforms and waving colors, suddenly threw a glittering stream of life into the solemn picture where it was needed most. Every part of it was now lit up – lit up with broad veins of bayonets – lit up with sacred ensigns studded with the symbolic Stars of the Republic – lit up with the glorious sun which seemed to turn everything in the vast landscape into gold – the green woods, the brown waters, the red hills, the yellowish wastes of wilted pasturage and meadow which formed the valley, in the heart of which we halted, awaiting the return of the dragoons who had galloped towards earth-works on the hill.

A shout, hearty and prolonged, soon told us that Centreville, also, had been vacated. The huts, creating the rising ground on the left, were stripped to the very leaves and branches of which they had been built. The redoubt between the house and the road was emptied, too, nothing falling into the possession of the Federal troops but a few ammunition boxes. It was a clean sweep the Confederates made, as they fell back, abandoning position after position, until they fiercely stood their ground in that fatal labyrinth bristling, four miles a-head, between us and Manassas. It was there they wanted us; and their abandoned positions – at Vienna, at Fairfax, at Germantown, at Centreville, wherever they had been grouped between Bull Run and Fall’s Church up to the evening of our advance – were but so many artifices, elaborately arranged along our line of march, to entice us headlong, breathless and breadless almost, to destruction.

At noon, the 18th of July, the Stars and Stripes were flying over Centreville. The regiments under Colonel Keyes, accompanied by Brigadier General Tyler, moved down the southern slope of the hills already mentioned and disappeared. Sherman’s Brigade broke into the fields to the right of where we halted on the road – arms were stacked – haversacks and canteens were brought into play – and the sore-footed volunteers, their blankets spread above them on rails and muskets, so as to shade them somewhat, enjoyed a lunch of biscuit and hot water, and four hours’ repose.

Little they seemed to heed the cannon which at long intervals – intervals of from ten to twenty minutes – when it first began to boom, off there in the hazy woods below, told them the enemy was found at last. One might have thought that every man of the 69th had been a hardened and callous veteran, so coolly, so indifferently, so lazily did they take those dread intimations that death had commenced his havoc amid the lightenings and with all the pomp of war. Not a pulse seemed to quicken – not an eye to flash – not a heart to quail – not a mirthful thought or word to falter – as those subdued thunders rolled upward from those enormous masses of foliage under which hill and valley, ravine and river, lay buried about four miles in advance of it, for a league at least. Nor was it that the fatigue, occasioned by those swealtering marches of the last three days, had deadened them so thoroughly that they had become insensible to the excitements and dangers of the conflict now actually begun, and were incapable of emotion or activity. Harrassed, indeed, they were. Weakened, too, they were for want of sufficient food, it being impossible for them, on such a stretch of road as they had to take with such rapidity, to carry their three days’ rations far – the more especially as once or twice upon the march they were ordered to prepare for action, and with the instinct of their race – as, for instance, when bearing down on Fairfax – they stripped themselves of everything but their muskets and cartridge boxes for the fight.

The fact is – what with constant alarms at Fort Corcoran, forced marches and precipitate expeditions two or three times a week, being under arms upon the ramparts every second night or so, lying in ambuscade at the Alexandria and Loudon railway from midnight until dawn, and undergoing all the hardships, violences, and most of the shocks of war – the men of the 69th had become familiarized by anticipation and analogy with the scent which, at that moment, was being played out with such terrible effect amid the beautiful green trees of Virginia, and on one of the oldest high-roads to her capital. Hence the strange coolness with which they heard those deep bellowings of the conflict, awaiting the summons that would fling them into its fierce currents, and whirl their banner into the blackest and wildest eddies of the storm.

At four o’clock in the afternoon that summons came. Sherman’s Brigade was ordered up to relieve the Regiments that had been under fire for five hours and more. The 69th led the way, and as they hurried up the hill, the elasticity and enthusiasm of their race seemed to pervade them thoroughly. Of those thousand men, sweeping on to battle, through choking clouds of dust and under that smiting sun, there was not one but carried himself right gallantly – not one who did not feel that the color of his race and its military character was staked that hour upon the conduct of the 69th, and who, feeling this and lifting his eyes in rapture to the Green Flag as it danced above the rushing column, did not swear to meet the thrusts of battle with a fearless heart. An hour’s rushing – for the marching of the 69th to Bull Run that evening cannot otherwise be described – brought the Regiment to the brow of the hill descending into the little meadow where the Federal troops, Regiment after Regiment, had faced and stood a tempestuous fire from batteries of rifled cannon – masked as well as naked batteries – the fire of rifle-pits – a downright torrent and whirlwind of balls and shot, all of the deadliest cunning and ripest pattern.

And here they encountered several of the 12th Regiment of New York Volunteers hurrying from the bloody arena in the woods below, some of them dragging dead or bleeding comrades along with them, others with bandaged heads or legs or arms, staggering through the dust and the vengeful storm from the rifled cannon which still pursued them. Here, too, they met the 14th Rochester on its retreat, this fine young Regiment having stood its ground until broken and overpowered. Seeing a body of men making through the woods from where the murderous hail was pouring in upon them thick and sharp and fast, and taking them to be the Southerners in pursuit of the 12th New York, the boys of the 69th instinctively brought their bayonets to the charge, and were on the point of plunging upon the 13th when Capt. Haggerty dashed along the line a struck the bayonets upward with his sword. It was the bold act of a cool. Strong, decisive brain, and in an instant it stayed the 69th with an iron hand, as it were, and held it in a masterly suspense. The next moment we were ordered to lie down in double file, in the wood overlooking the field of battle, with our faces and muskets to the road, and in that position, keeping perfectly silent and collected, to await further orders. For more than three-quarters of an hour did the Regiment keep its position there – without a word from the ranks – without a breath almost – whilst shot and shell, and every sort of hellish missile, swept and tore, whizzed and jarred, smashed and plunged through the trees all about and close to us, overheard in hurtling and deafening showers, on either flank, in front and rear.

In the meantime the troop of United States dragoons that had been sent down the hill to protect our battery, wept up the road back to Centreville at their top-most speed, and were quickly followed by the battery itself – that commanded by Captain Ayres – his ammunition having given out. For three hours did this gallant officer keep his guns hot upon the Southern batteries. For three hours did he sustain the heroic regiments, which in that deadly maze of forest relived each other, and swept on every side by the fiercest fire, held their footing against a foe, which visible nowhere, seemed to be thick as the very leaves that sheltered them. For us, it was fighting in the dark. Worse than this, it was fighting an enemy who had full view and command of us, whilst we had to strike at random, not knowing for a second even where he was. The battery lost two men, and had its flag shorn to a ribband with rifle shots. Captain Ayres’ Lieutenant was painfully wounded in the foot. I spoke to him as he quietly rode back to camp, the wounded foot dangling below the stirrup, stripped of its boot, bandaged and bleeding freely.

Whilst we lay under the torrent and hurricane of round-shot, spherical ball, shell and cannister, which rent and spilt the sturdiest trees all round, struck deep into the earth, and harrowed it far and wide, knocking over the Wisconsin men who were drawn up in line across the road at right angles with the left of the 69th, and shaving the ear clean off one of our own boys – whilst we patiently submitted to this butcherly rain, Captain Haggerty stood upon our extreme right, contemplating with undisguised satisfaction the perfect coolness and subordination of the men, the Colonel taking it just as coolly in the centre as though he had been dictating some unimportant order in his imarqueei at fort Corcoran, with a pitcher of ice water close at hand. On the left of the Regiment stood Paymaster Kehoe, Quarter-Master Tully and one or two other officers of the Staff, smilingly commenting upon the perplexities and chances of our situation. In the meantime, the Surgeons, Doctors Pascal Smith, Barron, and Nowlan, were to be seen at their post, a few yards in the wood, above the left of the Regiment – Father O’Reilly standing with them – the poor fellow who had lost his ear, moaning on a mattress in the rear of the ambulance, his wound dressed and every comfort possible at the moment given him – while adjutant McKeon, who had been all day completely disabled by an attack of gastric fever, was making the best of his way down the road to take his share of whatever was going. In the meantime, moreover, Gen. Tyler, accompanied by his Staff, used now and then leisurely ride past our line, and pulling up just about where poor Haggerty stood, bend in the saddle, raise his field glass to his eyes, pry into the raging woods, and then, grinning very curiously, as leisurely ride back. Colonel Sherman, too, used to take and observation at moderate intervals, and having satisfied himself – or rather having failed to satisfy himself – used to ride back up the road a-bit, grinning likewise, and apparently giving way to a private and exclusive snarl. Between six and seven o’clock, General McDowell came upon the ground with a brilliant escort, including the young and chivalrous soldier, Governor Sprague, of Rhode Island, and he, comprehending at a glance the situation of affairs, the sheer deadliness of the conflict and the utter fatuity of attacking the hidden enemy in his lair, ordered the 69th to return to the hill overlooking the little village of Centreville, and there await further orders, which would be forthwith issued.

Last Days of the 69th in Virginia

Thomas Francis Meagher at Wikipedia

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Capt. (Acting Maj.) Thomas Francis Meagher, Co. K, 69th New York State Militia, On the Campaign (Part 1)

4 03 2022

LAST DAYS OF THE 69TH IN VIRGINIA.

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A NARRATIVE IN THREE PARTS.

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PART THE FIRST.

As far back as the 12th of July, if I recollect rightly, the 69th received orders from General McDowell to hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment’s notice. Knapsacks were to be packed, as well as trunks, and together with the rest of the heavy baggage of the regiment, were to be marked with the name of the company, and so forth. These were to be sent to Alexandria and there stored until the return of the regiment. The men were to get themselves into light marching order, taking with them sixty rounds, at least, of buck-and-ball cartridge, and three days’ rations, whenever the order to march was given. Such were the general orders or instructions, and they served as notes of preparation, and as very ominous signs and admonitions of something war-like looming in the future, and that not far off.

The aspect of the Camp, within and without Fort Corcoran, all this time, though animated, full of exciting and picturesque life, such as one finds in a camp, and that on the eve of battle, was not without its mournfulness and solemnity. In every tent men might be seen – some seated on kegs, others on their knapsacks, others again on rude blocks, and two or three on drums – writing their last letters home. Hundreds were sending to their wives and families, through Father O’Reilly, their beloved Chaplain, the greater portion of their two month’s pay, which they had just received – and in this way $25,000 were sent to New York by the regiment – whilst morning and evening hundreds were slowly passing through the little chapel within the Fort, making their confession and receiving absolution. The men, too, had come to love the Fort, the huge walls of which they had cemented with their sweat. They had become familiar with it, and with all the deep ravines and beautiful woods and streams around it for a circuit of -three miles – their constant scoutings and out-post duties, generally speaking, being within that range – and hence it was with a prevailing gloominess of heart that they prepared to bid good-bye to it, perhaps for ever.

The evening of the 15th of July – the regiment being drawn up in close column on parade – Colonel Corcoran read the special order for the next day’s march. The regiment was to march at 2 o’clock, p.m., – blankets were to be rolled up close and slung over the left shoulder under the right arm – muskets were to be in the best order – cartridge-boxes full – each man to carry three days’ rations in his haversack – the rations to be delivered early next morning. All that evening up to tatoo, the brave fellows busied themselves with their preparations, and did so with laughing hearts; and long after that, when the lights were extinguished throughout the Camp, and the Stars and Stripes, damp with the heavy night dews swayed heavily on the tall flagstaff above the ramparts, and the lone sentinels paced to and fro in the clear full moon-light, many a suppressed voice came from the hushed crowd, laden with memories and hops and prayers sacred to the homes that were left forlorn and sorrowful far away; and yet again these voices, more than once gave way to cheerier ones, rudely musical with all the proverbial spirit of the Irish soldier, his pride, recklessness and love. Snatches of songs – mostly those that Davis wrote for us – broke at times through the subdued buzz and hum of those darkened ranks, and it was close on dawn when all was still.

The first news the morning ushered in, however, was that we were to march that day at 12 o’clock. This, of course, took the regiment by surprise, and the last preparations for the march were violently hurried. Nevertheless, at the appointed hour the 69th left the Fort by Companies, and assembled on the parade-ground – a fine rolling meadow fronting it – a thousand strong, not including officers. An hour after, the regiment was on the road towards Fairfax, the Corps of Engineers, under the command of Capt. Quinlan, being in advance. This splendid body of men – intelligent, muscular, active and thoroughly hardened to the roughest work – presented a very striking appearance, indeed, each man being uniformed in a reddish gray flannel blouse, and having a large forest axe slung over his back. Lieutenants D’Hommergue and M Quade accompanied the Engineers, both being officers in the Corps. Next came the drummers, ten in number, the eldest not more than twenty, and the youngest little more than eight years old. Two or three fifers – jovial, reckless-looking old fellows – preceded them, and both together rattled us out on the road, and for miles along it, as though it were to a fair or a dance, or something else of the sort they were leading us – so brisk and saucy and get-out of-the-way-Old-Dan-Tuckerish was the music. After the drummers and fifers acme the Colonel, the Rev. Father O’Reilly, the Chaplain of the 69tj; Doctors Smith and Barron, the accomplished Surgeons of the Regiment; and the writer of this narrative, who had been detailed as special aid to the Colonel. All these officers were mounted. The main body of the Regiment immediately followed, the several companies – ten in all, and numbering one hundred men each- being under the command of their respective officers – Captain Haggerty acting as Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain Nugent acting as Adjutant, both well mounted, bringing up the rear.

Striking the Fairfax turnpike, immediately on leaving the parade-ground, the Regiment moved on to the village of Fall’s Church – a mile from Fort Corcoran. The camps of the First Wisconsin and 13th of Rochester looked dreary enough – both these regiments having preceded us, leaving only a small guard behind them in charge of the tents and other regimental property – and beyond these again, at intervals of two, three, five and seven miles, the camps of the Second New York, of the two Ohio Regiments, of the two Connecticut and the First Maine, wore the same desolate look. These three latter Regiments had taken the lead under Acting-Brigadier Keyes, Colonel in the regular army.

Four miles this side of Fairfax, Sherman’s Brigade, t which the 69th Regiment were attached, turned off and leaving Fairfax well to the left, hastened on to Vienna, which village, after an exhausting march, they entered an hour and a half after sundown. A mile outside the village, we were delighted to find Acting-Major McKeon, and Paymaster Kehoe, galloping up to the Regiment. Under the misapprehension of the hour the Regiment was ordered to march, they had gone to Washington on business, but hearing there that the 69th had left the Fort, swept after us as fast as their horses could carry them. Passing through Vienna – a straggling dozen or two of cottages, with a church, a tavern, a store, a pump and a forge here and there – the Regiment, under the direction of Brigadier Sherman, struck into a swampy field to the left, and were ordered there to stack arms and bivouac for the night.

It was a damp, cloudy, mysterious night – the first night the 69th felt they were in for a bloody conflict, and yet knew not, nor could they in the least divine, where or how soon the impending blow would be struck. All round us was the deep hum of a camp of 10,000 men – for Schenck’s and Tyler’s forces had passed through Vienna in advance of us and bivouacked in the fields further up the road – and when one looked up from his reeking bed in the marsh, to which the 69th had been politely shown for the night, there were the bivouac fires burning luridly through the shifting darkness, and the dense exhalations of the sunken lands in which we lay. After such a night’s prostration in mud and fog, it was absolutely refreshing for us to hear the reveille, and be set upon the march again. Our poor fellows, as they rose from the long dripping grass and rushes, looked as though the blood in their veins had been turned to water, and their bones been frozen into stones. They had been assigned by Brigadier Sherman the very worst position for their bivouac – the dampest and the rankest – and that many of them did not suffer severely and immediately from this cruelty, is to me the vaguest wonder. Yet, as they rose, rolled up their blankets, unstacked their muskets, rubbed them dry, and then hastily partook of their rations of hard bread and coarse coffee, there was the rollicking laugh, the sharp joke, a hundred queer and humorsome sayings breaking and flashing in every direction in the ranks, just as if they, our boys, had had the driest and warmest of lodgings for the night, and had yawned up to the most satisfactory breakfast imaginable.

Taking me one side, while the men were at their bread and coffee, Father O’Reilly told me the 69th were to lead the Brigade on that day’s march, and that in two hours, perhaps, out work would begin in earnest as there was a formidable battery little more than two miles or so ahead, which it was imperative for us to take in our line of march. At this moment, the several regiments forming in the fields beyond us and all round – the trumpets of the cavalry ringing piercingly and thrillingly in the sunny air – the lifted colors at various points glowing through the crowded scene – the field batteries rattling and rumbling up the road – the bands striking up the “Star Spangled Banner,” and rousing every heart – the dark and towering woods frowning all along our left and beyond us, far as the eye could reach – contributed to form, on a bold and sweeping scale, a picture far more stricking and exciting than any I had ever seen. War, assuredly, has its fascinations as well as its horrors, and there is and enchantment in these brilliant and exhilarating preparations for the conflict which blinds one utterly to the ghastly penalties that have to follow them, and some emboldens and spurs the tamest into heroism.

It was fully 10 o’clock, the morning of the 17th of July, when the 69th came in sight of Fairfax Court House, the road along which the Regiment passed being obstructed, every half mile almost, with enormous heaps of fallen trees, which the Confederates had levelled and massed together, and which had to be cut through by our axe-men, before the slightest progress could be made. It this rough and dangerous pioneering, the Engineers of the 69th, under the command of their high-spirited young Captain, did quick and clear work, splendidly maintaining their character with the Regiment for usefulness, promptitude and boldness. Arriving in sight of Fairfax Court House, and within an easy cannon-shot of it, the 69th, leaving the Ohio and other Regiments drawn up in line of battle along the road, striking off at right angles to the left of the main line of march, passed on so as to flank the village and cut off the retreat of the Confederates.

Proceeding in the execution of this movement, we came in sight of a portion of the enemy, apparently from 1,000 to 1,500 strong, drawn up in line of battle outside the village in a field directly fronting our line of march. The order to halt was promptly given, the right wing of the 69th was thrown into the fields to the left, and uniting there with the 2d of New York – as vigorous and spirited a body of men as any one would wish to see – moved rapidly upon the enemy. As they neared him, however, he retreated into the village, and then out of it towards Centreville, leaving it to be peacefully entered, a short time after by the forces from Arlington House, and the encampments between that and Alexandria, and beyond it. The fine battery of the 8th, N. Y. S. M., sent three or four complimentary adieux, in the shape of shell and round-shot, upon the retreating Southerners, which, I learnt afterwards from ex Governor James Lynch, who modestly and manfully served with the battery as a private, seemed to quicken their departure from Fairfax. Two or three shots, also, were dropped into them from Ayer’s battery, which rattled up from the rear of our brigade, past our regiment, for the purpose: and the same splendid battery threw two or three more discharges of cannister and grape, right and left, into the woods ahead of us with the view of starting any skirmishers or pickets that might be lying low in so suspicious and entangling a quarter. Nothing, however, turned up, and the enemy having retreated from Fairfax, the line of march was resumed, a considerable deviation to the right and southward of this town being observed.

It was one of the short halts on this march that Captain Breslin was severely wounded in the right shoulder, a stack of muskets being accidentally overset, and the full charge of one of them striking him as he stood within a few feet of them. At first it was feared, from the dreadful appearance it made, that the wound was a fatal one; but the surgeons hurrying up from the right of the regiment as fast as their horses could carry them, allayed our fears, whilst they did all in their power for the sufferer. The wound being dressed, the ambulance was ordered up, and from that out until the evening preceding the last battle at Bull Run, poor Breslin was jolted along to Centreville in the rear of the regiment – an unnecessary torture, it seemed to us all, which he bore most patiently and bravely, and for which our Brigadier, Colonel Sherman, a rude and envenomed martinet, is alone responsible – he having, with the utmost spitefulness of tone and feature, forbidden the 69th more than one ambulance, and it being vitally necessary that this solitary one should follow the regiment, and keep close to it wherever it went. Had there been a second one allowed, Captain Breslin might have been easily taken back to Fairfax, and thus been spared the agonizing jolting he was forced to endure. Whatever his reasons for it were, in this and other instances, Col. Sherman exhibited the sourest malignity towards the 69th. Hence he was hated by the regiment just in the same degree his predecessor, Colonel Hunter, was loved – a gentle, high-bred, noble gentleman, in every respect the bright reverse of his successor.

About half an hour after this accident to Captain Breslin occurred, the march was resumed, our destination being Germantown. As in the earlier part of the day, the road ran through lofty woods, the spaces between the trees being thickly overgrown with shrubs and under-brush. Skirmishers were thrown out, flanking the regiment three or four hundred yards to the right and left. And, as in the earlier part of the day, also, enormous barricades of fallen trees frequently interfered with our progress, and rendered it exceedingly slow and tedious. The Confederates had this most effectively provided for their retreat, so much so, that not a gun or cartridge even fell into the hands of the Federal troops. What added to the wearisomeness and exhaustion of this obstructed march, was the intensity of the sun and the billows of red dust which the tramping masses, of cavalry as well as foot, incessantly rolled up; the soldiers were often in the agonies of thirst, and when a pool of stagnant water glimmered in the ditches either side of the road, or in some mud hole in the road itself, it was impossible to retain them in the ranks. Spite of every entreaty, remonstrance, or threat, they broke loose, and, throwing themselves flat upon their faces, lapped and gulped the seething draught with the fiercest eagerness. At last, a tremendous shout was heard ahead, and word passed down the column that the enemy had abandoned their fortifications at Germantown and had fled still further on. This news instantly revived the poor fellows, and with an elastic step and bounding heart they pushed forward, utterly heedless of the heat and thirst, and all the other pangs of that broiling march. At 12 o’clock the Green Flag was planted on the deserted ramparts of the Confederates at Germantown, and the Stars and Stripes were lifted opposite to it at a distance of fifteen paces, and between the two beautiful and inspiring symbols – the one of their old home and the other of their new country – the 69th passed in triumph, hats and caps waving on the bayonet points, and an Irish cheer, such as never shook the woods of old Virginia, swelling and rolling far and wide into the gleaming air.

Last Days of the 69th in Virginia

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Unit History – 69th New York State Militia

28 02 2022

Col., Michael Corcoran; Lieut.- Col., Robert Nugent; Maj., James Bagley. This was a New York city regiment, composed of Irishmen, which responded with alacrity to the first call to arms at the outbreak of the war. The subsequent career of this regiment was highly honorable and its services of the most valuable character. The 69th received orders on April 20,1861, to proceed to Washington. Col. Corcoran at once issued a call for volunteers for his regiment and 48 hours later 6,500 names had been enrolled. It left the state 1,050 strong, April 23, 1861, amid scenes of great enthusiasm, and on its arrival in the capital was first stationed at Georgetown college. On May 9, 1861, it was mustered into the U. S. service for three months. On May 21, Capt. Thomas F. Meagher, with a company of Zouaves and about 300 recruits started to join the regiment at Washington. On May 30 it moved to a new camp on Arlington Heights and raised the Stars and Stripes over the new Fort Corcoran. The 69th behaved with great gallantry at the battle of Bull Run, where it served in the 3d brigade (Sherman’s), 1st division (Tyler’s) , and made one of the most effective charges of that disastrous engagement. Its losses in killed, wounded and missing were 192, Col. Corcoran being captured. Shortly after the battle, its term of service having expired, the regiment returned to New York and was mustered out on Aug 3. Its total losses during the campaign were 1 officer and 37 enlisted men killed in action; 2 enlisted men mortally wounded; 5 enlisted men died of disease, a total of 45. The major portion of the regiment volunteered for three years on its return home, and formed the nucleus of the famous 69th volunteer infantry (q. v.). On May 29, 1862, the regiment again left the state for Washington and was mustered into the U. S. service for three months. Col. Corcoran being a prisoner at Richmond, the regiment went out under command of Maj. Bagley. It served its term in the defenses of Washington and was mustered out at New York city, Sept. 3, 1862. Once more on its return many of the members enlisted in a volunteer organization, known as the 69th national guard artillery and organized as the 1st regiment of the Corcoran brigade, later becoming the 182nd infantry. In the summer of 1863, at the time of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, the 69th left the state for active service a third time. On June 22 it started for Harrisburg, Pa., for 30 days’ service, commanded by Col. James Bagley, with James Cavanagh as lieutenant-colonel. The regiment served its term at Baltimore, attached to the 2nd separate brigade, 8th corps, Middle Department, and was mustered out at New York city on July 25. The regiment was mustered into the U. S. service for a fourth time in 1864: serving in the harbor of New York from July 6 to Oct. 6. During this term it lost 1 officer and 1enlisted man, who died of disease.

From The Union Army, Vol. 2, p. 245.

69th NYSM Roster





Lt. James Gannon, Co. H, 69th New York State Militia, On His Captivity

22 02 2022

LETTER FROM A PRISONER AT RICHMOND.

Lieut. James Gannon, of the New York 69th regiment, who is now a prisoner at Richmond, in a letter to his mother, says:

“Although I am confined, I enjoy excellent health and I am getting stronger every day. The Southern hospitality extended us is better than we expected, and we all feel happy at our lot, none having reason to complain of the treatment they receive. We get enough to eat and plenty of coffee to drink. *  *  We are confined in a tobacco warehouse, a clean, well ventilated and healthy building, 75 by 80 feet, four stories high, and overlooking James river and a vast extent of country. We receive the papers regularly every morning, but they are all greatly prejudiced and incensed against the North, caused chiefly by the articles inserted in the Tribune and Times, believing them to be the sentiments of the Northern people, which I deny.”

The Baltimore (MD) Sun, 8/20/1861

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69th NYSM Roster

James Gannon at Ancestry

James Gannon at Fold3





Pvt. Bernard Reynolds, Co. A, 69th New York State Militia, On the Battle and Captivity

20 02 2022

An Irish Prisoner.

A member of the 69th regiment, (Col. Corcoran’s) now a prisoner in Richmond, writes the following letter to his brother in Augusta, Georgia:

New Alms Hospital,
Richmond, Va., July 30, 1861.

Dear Pat: I wrote you a few lines last week, which a gentleman either posted or took with him, as he resided near Augusta. I know you were surprised to hear that I was in Richmond wounded; but if we had got our rights I would have been in New York the day the battle was fought, our term of service having expired the day the before, but old Abe or Scott would not let the regiment go home. Well, it served us right, when we were fools enough to fight in such a cause; but I hope the time will come when Irishmen will mind their own business.

Early in the fight I got a ball in the thigh, which broke the bone. I lay on the field 35 hours, a rain falling most of the time, and might have laid there since, if it was not for the kindness of the Southerners – enemies I cannot call them, for they have treated us more like brothers than anything else. I got a hard shaking on the railroad, but now, thank God! I am very comfortable here. I expect to have my leg set to-day. If it is, I hope to recover soon, when I will be a much wiser man.

Owing to the great number of wounded I could not be attended sooner; besides the doctor was afraid of mortification; but I think I am now safe, and that, with God’s help, I will have the use of my leg.

Dear Pat, you could not believe the way our soldiers were treated by Scott. There were eight regiments on the field whose time was up, but could not get home. – But, worse than all, they left the dead and wounded on the field, and never sent a flag of truce in to know how or what would become of us. It is Colonel Corcoran I blame for keeping us; he is now a prisoner here. Many is the heavy curse he got from wounded and dying men. I wish you could send a letter to my wife, poor creature; probably thinks me dead. She lives at 212, West 26th street. Direct, care of Thos. Kiernan. Tall her I hope to be with her soon; also, that I am well treated; get meat three times a day, and splendid soup at dinner time.

I remain, dear Pat, your affectionate brother,
B. R.*

Yorkville (SC) Enquirer, 8/15/1861

* Pvt. Bernard Reynolds is the only 69th NYSM POW found with these initials.

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69th NYSM Roster

Bernard Reynolds at Ancestry

Bernard Reynolds at Fold3





Lt. Henry Simpson, Co. B, 2nd New York State Militia, On the Battle

16 02 2022

Lieutenant Simpson’s Account of the Battle of Bull’s Run

The following very interesting statement of several unpublished facts concerning the battle of Bull’s Run has been very kindly furnished us by Lieutenant Simpson, and officer of the Union army, connected with the Second New York regiment, which took an important part in the battle.

The statement of Lieutenant Simpson is a plain, unvarnished tale of a portion of the hot action of the 21st inst. He says.

The Black Horse regiment made a fierce attack on the regimental colors of the Second regiment, the design being undoubtedly to capture them and carry them off as a trophy for their side. The Second regiment, both officers and men, saw at once what the enemy wished to do. But as much as the rebels had resolved to take our colors the men of the Second were determined that they should not be taken. – We well knew that they had an overwhelming force, but they did not intimidate us in the least. The fight was very smart but there was no one to sustain us. Had we had a few good and experienced generals, it is my opinion that the disastrous retreat which ensued would never have occurred. Not that I wish or could blame General McDowell. He is an excellent officer, but his force was entirely too small to cope with the enemy. But other officers were entirely behind what their county expected and hoped from them. There was only three of four wounded in Company B, to which I belonged. The orderly Sergeant of our company was shot through the shoulder, the same ball breaking the leg of the man next to him. Two men of company K, were killed. One man of company A, was also killed, whose name was Maxwell, and two or three of company I were severely wounded, who have since most probably died.

I saw the whole action myself, but although I cannot state that I saw all the facts that have been published, I believe the Union forces suffered very severely – Our regiment certainly lost in killed and wounded some forty or fifty men. The regiment stood its ground manfully, and if we had had an open field, and no favor, we would have made the rebels scamper in double quick time.

The Sixty-ninth Regiment New York State Militia, performed prodigies of valor. They stripped themselves and dashed into the enemy with the utmost fury. The difficulty was to keep them quiet. While the Second was engaging a rebel regiment they retreated into a thick hay field, to draw the Northerners into a trap. The Second continued firing into them, while the Sixty-ninth, by a flank movement, took them in the rear, and pouring a deadly fire into their ranks, and afterwards charged them with the bayonet. The slaughter was terrible, and the defeat complete, for not a man stirred of the whole five or six hundred. In this attack there were very few of the Sixty-ninth wounded.

The enemy fired very rapidly and very well. They were apparently well supplied with artillery, and were not sparing in its use. The balls flew about us very thickly. During the heat of the fire our men had to lay on the ground, and thus endeavor to escape the tremendous result of the enemy’s fire. We kept as silent as possible all the while. For more than an hour the fire of the rebels continued in the most furious manner. One man was shot in the head and his face injured in the most frightful manner. His suffering was most awfully severe. For an hour and a half the Second regiment was under a most galling fire, without once having an opportunity of returning a single discharge. Had it not been for the Colonel’s prudence, or whatever it might be called, every man would doubtless have been killed. In my opinion, the army is very badly officered; there are very few good generals in the service. We are not in want of men. – They are in abundance everywhere, but we want good commanders. I have frequently heard the men say that they would never again serve under such men as Schenck and Taylor. The statement concerning the gallant repulse of the Black Horse cavalry by the Zouaves is entirely wrong. Not a man of the Zouaves was in sight when the terrible regiment came up. They dashed right down on the Second regiment, and out gallant fellows had as much as they could do to keep their ground against them. They seemed to be wile with hate and rage, rushing right on use with drawn swords – Our men took deliberate aim, and firing killed nearly every one of them. Their splendid black horses went galloping over the field. Privates Gilmore and Perry behaved very bravely. They killed from eight to twelve men and thus saved our colors. The retreat was conducted under the Lieutenant-Colonel and Major. The Colonel was most hotly pursued by the enemy and was compelled to make a precipitous retreat. The second went into the action 850 strong and lost about fifty men in the fight. I lost a very valuable black servant, a most intelligent and excellent man. His name was Charles Gilmore, and perhaps he is in the hands of the rebels.

The reports concerning the atrocious conduct of the rebel troops are quite true. They acted worse than could be expected from the Fejee Islanders. They fired into our hospital and killed our surgeons while dressing the wounds of our soldiers. The whole army is intensely excited on account their barborous acts. They fired on the hospital while the flag was hoisted. Those surgeons whom they did not kill they made prisoners and carried off.

Wheeling (WV) Daily Intelligencer, 7/27/1861

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2nd NYSM (82nd NYVI) Roster

Henry Simpson at Ancestry

Henry Simpson at Fold3