Among the Irishmen at Gettysburg

I sent the following to both the National Park Service and the Blue-Gray Alliance who are holding re-enactments of Gettysburg.
The following is from my eBook The Irish-American Chronicle available on Kindle for 99-cents. In Genaro Armas’ article, was a quote, “This is our one chance to do it right.” It won’t be right unless the following Irishmen are included:

 

 

 

Colonel Patrick O’Rorke  

County Cavan

 

Little Roundtop, Gettysburg  

Chamberlain’s irrefutable triumph on the Union’s left flank may never have come to pass if Colonel O’Rorke and his 140th New Yorkers hadn’t appeared in the nick of time.

 

Because of the stirring tale by Michael Shaara in the great saga The Killer Angels, the struggle for Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg will always be remembered as the day saved by the heroics of Colonel Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.

Arriving at Little Round Top just as the 16th Michigan’s right flank was disintegrating, O’Rorke visualized the gravity of the situation. Not allowing his men to halt even to load their weapons, decked out in his new Zouave uniform, he drew his sword and yelled his last words. “Down this way, boys!”

The 140th trailed after as O’Rorke fell with a minié ball through the neck. Following the battle, the curious counted 17 bullet holes in the Confederate sharpshooter.

 

Colonel Dennis O’Kane  

County Derry

 

Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg– “Let your work this day be for victory or death. This crest will not be taken from us.” O’Kane shouted, while unsheathing his sword and unfurling the regiment’s green flag with the Pennsylvania arms on one side and an Irish wolfhound, sunburst, and round tower on the other.

By the Battle of Gettysburg’s third day, the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Philadelphia Brigade numbered a scant 258 officers and men. This proud Irish regiment under the command of Colonel O’Kane, named after their heroes the New York 69th, lay behind a three-foot high stone wall in front of the copse of trees, yards away from where the wall angled to the right, and awaited the Confederate charge they knew was coming. The hours-long ordnance barrage had ceased and the silence enveloping Cemetery Ridge was deafening. Many looked longingly at the primed, twelve buckshot to the load, three to five guns to a man. Weapons retrieved from the dead after recapturing Brown’s artillery from Wright’s Second Georgia Battalion, during day two of this epic battle. O’Kane, knowing the clump of trees directly to the rear of his undermanned regiment was the target of Lee’s artillery, walked behind his prone troops, encouraging them to be true to their state and their heritage.

Stench from dead horses and men stagnating in the 90-degree heat made their position unbearable. Then, as the black artillery smoke cleared, 15,000 Butternuts, in parade fashion, left the shelter of the woods. After they crossed Emmitsburg Road, the Union artillery carved huge gaps in their lines. Others moved up, the holes were soon filled, and the Rebels kept coming. When they approached within 50 yards of the stone wall, the muskets of the well-armed Irish opened up. The next few minutes saw a slaughter unequaled in American History. Hays’s third division on the Union right and Stannard’s Vermont Brigade on the left moved forward to channel the attackers toward O’Kane.

O’Kane watched as his men on the left moved from the wall. They may have moved, but by God, they did not show their backs.

Then to his disgust, the two companies of the Pennsylvania 71st, positioned between his men and “The Angle,” broke for the rear. He swiftly ordered I, A, and F companies to wheel right and fire enfilade at General Armistead and his men who’d crossed the wall where the 71st had deserted.

Armistead and 150 Confederates were inside the Union lines. But what had they to face? Rifles, bayonets, and clubbed muskets. Men on both sides fell. Hundreds rushed to assist the 69th. The struggle lasted mere minutes. After touching a Union gun for support, Armistead fell. The Confederate survivors threw down their arms and were sent without guard to the rear.

Pickett’s charge and the Battle of Gettysburg came to its end at Bloody Angle.

During the skirmish, a minié ball passed through O’Kane’s abdomen. He died in the early morning hours of July 4, 1863. O’Kane went to his maker without knowing, that while the remnants of his regiment tended to the prisoners and the wounded, others not on the wall were hastily gathering up the scattered battle flags and hence, the glory.

 

Author’s Comments:

Not a single medal, let alone the Medal of Honor, was awarded to the men of the Pennsylvania 69th. It took until 1999 for the City of Philadelphia, and until 2005 for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to finally honor their Irish sons.

 

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My Reply to Gerry Regan www.thenewwildgeese.com

 

Regarding your request to describe the Civil War sites I visited. I’d like to help you out Gerry, but I rank among the least observant people on the planet … likely due to my years as an accountant, investigating abnormalities in numbers. I believe research, and not detail description, is my strength, and I apply this technique to my writing.

The following are examples of how it separates The Civil War’s Valiant Irish (Available for $6.99 on:        Kindle         Nook ) from other books on the subject.

  • When researching the Battle of Shiloh, I Goggled Matthew Martin’s name, and came across a publication from a well-known Civil War publication, claiming Martin had not fought at Shiloh. The critic was incorrect for Martin did participate, and was wounded there. We know this because General Cleburne mentioned him, by name, in his official report. Then there’s the George Pickett Society who had Rooney Lee at Pickett’s Shad Bake instead of Fitz Hugh Lee.

 

Research isn’t done for the sake of correcting errors. It should highlight people and events overlooked by conventional historians.  For example:

  • The deeds of the Pennsylvania 69th Volunteers at Gettysburg have long been overlooked. If these 258 Philadelphia Irishmen hadn’t secured, loaded, and kept at the ready three to six guns each, General Armistead may have broken through at Cemetery Ridge.
  • Nor, do I believe that Cavan’s Patrick O’Rorke received his just due for his heroic charge at Little Round Top.

 

My books are unique in another way. To be more realistic, they’re written in the Third Party Limited Point-Of-View. Just like normal people, each character can only reveal what they know, have experienced, or have been told. This puts the added stress on the author to find a way to bring additional facts into the story. For example: Lincoln made the following exclamation about Phil Sheridan’s short stature, “He’s the only man I know who can stand up straight and scratch his ankle.” Because I had to get Lincoln into my tale, and I knew he visited the wounded in D.C.’s hospitals, I added two characters. Named after my wife’s aunts from Skibbereen, Molly and Nellie McCarthy immigrated, and became nurses. Of course they served other functions, but their main purpose was to enable me to bring Lincoln into my tale.

I believe, as a member of The Blue, Gray and Green, I can add much to our knowledge about the Irish in the Civil War and throughout history, but describing battlefields isn’t one of them.

Black with a Tinge of Green

Portions of which were originally published during 2012

on Gerry Regan’s, “Hell’s Kitchen Blog”

 

As February’s Black History Month fades into memory and March’s Irish History Month begins its ascendancy, there’s a brief moment where the black takes on a tinge of green. 

Few realize that these two ethnic groups, African-Americans and Irish-Americans, who together make up one-quarter of the U.S. population, have an historical connection that dates back to the Boston Massacre. During which, Cyprus Attucks, a free Black, and Patrick Carr, an Irish immigrant, both lost their lives. These ethnic groups also met historically, during the Civil War. 

 

At this point in our tale, we could venture off in great detail about the heroics of the Irish Brigade under the fervent prayers of Notre Dame’s Father William Corby at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. Or bring up Patrick O’Rorke and the 140th New York Infantry regiment for saving the Union right on Gettysburg’s Little Round Top; enabling the 20th Maine to survive on the Union left. Then there’s Dennis O’Kane and his 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the renowned Philadelphia Brigade preventing Lewis Armistead from taking Bloody Angle on Cemetery Ridge. For the complete story, order The Civil War’s Valiant Irish from Kindle, Nook, etc.

 

It’s important to note that, for the 150,000 Irish-born who wore the Federal blue, the cause, by and large, was not freedom of the slave, but rather preservation of the Union.

 

I’d like to highlight here, heroism of a different kind, exhibited by an Irishman who also distinguished himself with his intrepidness on many Civil War battlefields. I’m speaking of Confederate Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, born in Ovens, County Cork.

 

Cleburne recognized that the Southern soldier was “sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters,” and proposed a dramatic solution. In January 1864, he led 13-officers to petition the Confederate Congress to offer emancipation to any slave who would volunteer to serve in the Confederate military. It would emancipate the slave’s wife and children, as well.

 

Cleburne’s proposal would’ve eliminated the one moral issue used to justify slavery; and may have gained the Confederacy … their long sought-after recognition by England and France. Southern whites, however, would’ve had to accept the black man as their equal—one culturally advanced enough to serve in the army.

 

This request was considered a sacrilege by the Confederate leadership. And as a result, Cleburne sacrificed his here-to-fore unlimited prospects for advancement into the highest echelon of the army.

 

Irish-born Cleburne, an attorney in Helena, Arkansas, never owned a slave, but volunteered to preserve the right of a state to determine the laws for its people. A brilliant commander, christened “Stonewall of the West,” Cleburne gave his life at Franklin, Kentucky, on November 30, 1864. His farseeing, controversial proposal remained publicly unacknowledged for decades.

The Civil War’s Neglected Irish

 

It’s often cited that 150,000 Irish fought for the Union and 40,000 for the Confederacy. These statistics are further substantiated by the 123 Irish-born, who were awarded our nation’s highest distinction, “The Medal of Honor.

Hopefully the day will come when the following four Irishmen and their deeds will be as equally prominent as those of The Irish Brigade:

                     

Major General Phillip Sheridan – Cavan

Appomattox – Lee to Grant: “I telegraphed to Lynchburg, directing several train loads of rations to be sent….” There was a stir among the listeners, and they looked at Sheridan, for, unknown to Lee, he had captured the rations that had come down from Lynchburg.  Sheridan maintained his silence so as not to further add to Lee’s distress.

One of the great Union generals, Sheridan had designs on running for President.  To be elected, however, he had to be native born.  In his memoirs, he stated his birthplace as Albany, NY. Conversely, his Irish mother claimed he’d been born on the boat coming over.  Boston, Sandusky, Canada, and New York were other birthplaces mentioned. Matthew Smith, the author’s great-grandfather and Sheridan’s close neighbor in Beagh Upper, County Cavan, avowed he had witnessed the infant Phillip being carried to the quay in his mother’s arms. 

Regardless of his debatable place of birth, Sheridan’s accomplishments exceeded those of any other Civil War battlefield commander. Grant credited Sheridan for saving Rosecran’s Army at Stones River. Sheridan made a name for himself at Missionary Ridge, cleared the Shenandoah Valley of Jubal Early’s Army, defeated JEB Stuart at Yellow Tavern, and ran Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to ground at Appomattox. 

 

Major General Patrick Cleburne – Cork

In December 1864, Confederate General Cleburne, to his credit, petitioned President Jefferson Davis to free any slave, and their family, if they would enlist in the Confederate Army. The petition was denied.

Cleburne’s valor in battle earned him the nickname, “Stonewall of the West.”

Putting to good use the experience gained while serving in the British Army as an enlisted man with the 41st Regiment of foot, Cleburne knew how to command the ordinary soldier, and they returned his respect many times over. Like numerous others, his port of entry determined which side of the War Between the States he’d serve. The Arkansas lawyer and businessman, owning no slaves, held to the belief: “… that all government derives its validity from the consent of the governed. They are about to invade our peaceful homes. We only ask to be left alone.”

Although the two were in the same battles several times, Cleburne clashed only once directly with fellow Irishman, Phillip Sheridan, and that at Stones River. Twice, once at Shiloh, and then again at Missionary Ridge, Cleburne defeated the renowned Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

A horseless Cleburne, with drawn sword, used his hat to encourage his men forward at Franklin, Tennessee.  His last recorded words before participating in Hood’s senseless frontal assault, were: “Well, Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men.”

Colonel Patrick O’Rorke – Cavan

Little Roundtop, Gettysburg – Chamberlain’s irrefutable triumph on the Union’s left flank may never have come to pass if Colonel O’Rorke and his 140th New Yorkers hadn’t appeared in the nick of time.

Because of the stirring tale by Michael Shaara in the great saga The Killer Angels, the struggle for Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg will always be remembered as the day saved by the heroics of Colonel Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.

Arriving at Little Round Top just as the 16th Michigan’s right flank was disintegrating, O’Rorke visualized the gravity of the situation. Not allowing his men to halt even to load their weapons, decked out in his new Zouave uniform, he drew his sword and yelled his last words. “Down this way, boys!”

The 140th trailed after as O’Rorke fell with a minié ball through the neck. Following the battle, the curious counted 17 bullet holes in the Confederate sharpshooter.

 Colonel Dennis O’Kane – Derry

Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg – “This crest will not be taken from us.”  Unsheathing his sword and unfurling the regiment’s green flag with the Pennsylvania arms on one side and an Irish wolfhound, sunburst, and round tower on the other, O’Kane shouted: “Let your work this day be for victory or death.”

           By the Battle of Gettysburg’s third day, the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Philadelphia Brigade numbered a scant 258 officers and men.  This proud Irish regiment under the command of Colonel O’Kane, named after their heroes the New York 69th, lay behind a three-foot high stone wall in front of The Copse of Trees, yards away from where the wall angled to the right, and awaited the Confederate charge they knew was coming.  The hours-long ordnance barrage had ceased and the silence enveloping Cemetery Ridge was deafening.  Many looked longingly at their primed twelve buckshot to the load, three to five guns to a man, retrieved from the dead after they had recaptured Brown’s artillery from Wright’s Second Georgia Battalion, during day two of this epic battle.   O’Kane, knowing the clump of trees directly to the rear of his undermanned regiment was the target of Lee’s artillery, walked behind his prone troops, encouraging them to be true to their state and their heritage.

Stench from dead horses and men stagnating in the 90-degree heat, made their position unbearable.  Then, as the black artillery smoke cleared, 15,000 Butternuts, in parade fashion, left the shelter of the woods.  After they crossed Emmitsburg Road, the Union artillery carved huge gaps in their lines. But the holes were soon filled, and the Rebels kept coming.  Hays’s Third Division on the Union right and Stannard’s Vermont Brigade on the left moved forward to channel the attackers toward O’Kane. When the Rebels approached to within 50-yards of the stone wall, the muskets of the Irish cut loose. The next few minutes saw a slaughter unequaled in American History. 

O’Kane watched as his men on the left moved from the wall. They may have moved, but by God, they did not show their backs.  Then to his disgust, the two companies of the Pennsylvania 71st, positioned between his men and The Angle, broke for the rear. He swiftly ordered Companies I, A, and F to wheel right and fire enfilade at General Armistead and his men who’d crossed the wall where the 71st had deserted. 

Armistead and 150 Confederates were inside the Union lines. But what had they to meet? Rifles, bayonets, and clubbed muskets.  Men on both sides rapidly fell. Hundreds rushed to assist the 69th.  The struggle lasted but minutes.  After touching a Union gun for support, Armistead fell. The Confederate survivors threw down their arms and were sent without guard to the rear.

Pickett’s charge and the Battle of Gettysburg came to its end at Bloody Angle.

During the skirmish, a minié ball passed through O’Kane’s abdomen. He died in the early morning hours of July 4, 1863.  O’Kane went to his maker without knowing that while the remnants of his regiment tended to the prisoners and the wounded, others not on the wall were hastily gathering up the scattered battle flags and hence, the glory.

Not a single medal, let alone the medal of Honor, was awarded to the men of the Pennsylvania 69th. It took until 1999 for the City of Philadelphia, and until 2005 for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to finally honor their Irish sons.

Pickett’s Shad Bake

When writing fantasy or pure fiction, authors are free to let their imaginations run wild. Not so … when writing historically based novels. A mistake will turn off a Civil War buff instantly. In 2004, during a tour of the Five Forks Battlefield, the Pickett Society stated that Confederate General Rooney Lee attended General Rosser’s infamous Shad Bake. However, Shelby Foote’s Book Civil War claimed it was General Fitz Hugh Lee who had attended.

Why is attendance at a meal, particularly shad, a member of the herring family, such a big deal? I enjoy shad as well as the next fellow.The name disparity of the two Lee’s, however, left my research with a dilemma. My latest book, The Civil War’s Valiant Irish, was almost ready for release. Initially, I felt certain the tour folks had to have it right. After all, they visited the site of the battle. But then I had second thoughts, applying the old carpenter’s rule “measure twice and cut once,” I emailed my concern to the Society who admitted they were incorrect. WOW! Once again Will Rogers’ sage advice came to mind. “It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble. It’s what we do know that ain’t so.”

Next came to mind that childhood rhyme, “For the want of a nail?”
For the want of a nail, the horse was lost
For the want of a horse, the battle was lost
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.
During wartime, little mistakes often determine the winner.  If the French had brought horseshoe nails and spiked the captured English guns at Waterloo, Napoleon likely would have defeated Wellington.

But for now, back to how the shad bake effects my book. As the Civil War drew to a close, Lee’s only available railroad ran past Five Forks, if he lost that location, he would lose Richmond. General Pickett was ordered to hold that intersection at all hazards.
But where was Pickett when the tenacious County Cavan-born, Irishman, Phil Sheridan, attacked? He was miles away devouring shad with Generals Fitz Hugh Lee and Rosser.

How badly did Pickett lose? Consider this! On that day alone, over 10% of Lee’s army fell captive to Sheridan. Would the presence of Pickett and the other generals have made a difference? Not likely in the final outcome, but perhaps thousands of Confederates might have survived to fight another day.

“All for the want of baked shad.”