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.

The New York “Irish-American”

28 01 2012

A big thanks go out to FOBR (Friend of Bull Runnings) Damian Shiels, a professional archaeologist who specializes in military archaeology and who runs Irish in the American Civil War from, of all places, Ireland. He’s been feeding me clippings from the New York Irish-American, featuring letters primarily from the 69th New York State Militia on the battle. I hope you’re enjoying them. I think they’re great, especially in illustrating the limited perspective of most private soldiers during battle.

Just a word – you should keep in mind that the 69th NYSM is NOT the 69th New York Volunteers that would be a part of the famous Irish Brigade. That was a completely different organization, although some (and it’s hard to say how many) members of the 69th NYSM did join the 69th NYV. I’ve been informed that there was some division among the men of the militia units in their loyalty to its colonel, Michael Corcoran, and the captain of Co. K, Thomas Francis Meagher. The schism was perhaps rooted in the Fenian movement. While Meagher was recruiting up the new 69th NYV, some members of the militia unit, which had mustered out of US service when its 90 days were up shortly after Bull Run, joined him, some decided to stay with the militia, and some joined other units, including the 88th and 63rd NYV which also became part of the Irish Brigade, and the various regiments of Corcoran’s Irish Legion which was formed after Corcoran’s release from captivity and his promotion to brigadier-general. The 69th NYSM would operate through the war, being called back into emergency service once or twice more during the conflict, and in fact it survives to this very day and has an illustrious history including Father Duffy (as portrayed by Pat O’Brien, above with James Cagney, in The Fighting 69th; below is my 2004 snapshot of Duffy’s statue in Duffy Square in NYC). So, no, the Irish Brigade was not at Bull Run, and neither was the regiment that would be a part of that brigade and known as the 69th NYV.

Hope that makes sense!