Famous Units

    Irish Brigade  "Fearless Sons Of Erin"

More than 144,000 Irish-born soldiers served in the Union army during the Civil War. Of several brigades in the Army of the Potomac that were predominantly Irish, only the one commanded by Gen.. Thomas F. Meagher was known as the Irish Brigade. Made up of the 63rd, 69th, and 88th Massachusetts Regiment, and the 116th Pennsylvania Regiment, it was officially known as the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division II Corps. This brigade was made up primarily of Irish immigrants from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York who had a reputation of being fearless fighters. The Irish Brigade was engaged in nearly all of the major battles fought by the Army of the Potomac and was involved in some of the most renowned charges of the war.

In training camp at the beginning of the 1862, the brigade numbered 3,000 men. A year later, it could barely muster 300 men. During that year, the brigade had made a bloody bayonet charge at the Battle of Fair Oaks, lost 700 men during the Seven Days' battles, lost 540 men charging Bloody Lane in the Battle of Antietam, and lost another 545 men charging Marye's Heights in the Battle of Fredricksburg. After the Battle of Chancellorsville, Meagher wrote to division headquarters, "I beg most respectfully to tender you... my resignation as Brigadier General commanding what was once known as the Irish Brigade. That Brigade no longer exists."

But the brigade was not disbanded. With fewer than 600 men in five regiments, the brigade marched to the Battle of Gettysburg. Only 300 men remained in the entire brigade after the battle. New draft laws in the North refilled the ranks, and by the spring of 1864 the brigade was back up to full strength, though only 20 percent of the men were veterans. The brigade fought on through the last year of the war, losing heavily in the Wilderness and at Cold Harbor, but surviving to march triumphantly in the great victory parade in Washington at the end of the war.

Fascinating Fact:  Meagher's resignation of May 1863 was rejected by the War Department. He returned to duty in the western theater until the end of the war, holding only minor commands.

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