Officers & Enlisted Men

    Michael Corcoran  "A Controversial Figure"  September 21, 1827 - December 22, 1863

Michael Corcoran was embroiled in controversy throughout his short life. The native Irishman resigned his job in Ireland as a police officer and immigrated in 1849 to the United States, where he obtained a variety of clerical jobs in New York. He also became a member of the 69th New York Militia and rose to the rank of colonel in 1859. In 1860 he lost his position, received national publicity, and faced court-martial when he refused to parade the regiment to honor the visiting Prince of Wales. Since court proceedings were dropped when the Civil War began, however, Corcoran was able to fight for the Union and help raise Irish volunteers.

As a colonel with the 69th New York Militia in the Union army, Corcoran was captured on July 21, 1861, at the 1st Battle of Bull Run. When Yankees threatened to execute as pirates some captured Confederate privateers, Colonel Corcoran was held as a hostage by the Confederacy. In retaliation the Confederates vowed Corcoran would receive the same fate dealt Walter W. Smith, the captain of the Confederate privateering ship. Smith's death sentence was subsequently countermanded, and Corcoran was exchanged in August 1862. He was promoted to brigadier general retroactive to the day he was captured.

Undaunted, Corcoran returned to New York City and raised four regiments- made up mostly of Irishmen- known as both the Corcoran Legion or the Irish Legion. Commanding a division in the VII Corps Army of Virginia, he fought Longstreet around Suffolk, VA, in April 1863. Then on April 12 that same year, he shot and killed Union Lt. Col. Edgar Kimball when Kimball demanded the countersign be given when Corcoran and staff rode into camp at 2 AM. Corcoran went unpunished for the cold-blooded murder and went on to command a division in the XXII Corps in its defense of Washington. While riding near Fairfax Court House, VA, on December 22, 1863, Corcoran died when his horse fell and crushed him.

Fascinating Fact:  Ironically Corcoran was never court-martialed when his actions warranted it, yet he had faced execution as a pawn in a battle of wartime policy making.


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