There were over 150,000 Irish born soldiers in the Union Army during the civil war with one-third of that total having come from New York State. Many served in regiments with soldiers of other nationalities while a number were regimented together. Some predominately Irish Regiments can be identified including the 9th Connecticut, 23rd Illinois, 15th Maine, 10th New Hampshire, 10th Ohio and the 11th and 17th Wisconsin to name a few. The most famous Irish Regiments however hailed from New York including, the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York Volunteer Infantry who were originally brigaded with the 29th Massachusetts (non-Irish) and later the 28th Massachusetts and 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to make up the Irish Brigade, one of the hardest fighting units in the federal army.
In the fall of 1861 the Federal Government authorized the formation of the Irish Brigade which originally consisted of the 3 New York Regiments mentioned above. Just before the Peninsula Campaign they were joined by the 29th Massachusetts. After Antietam, the 29th was replaced by the 28th Massachusetts and The 116 Pennsylvania was added.
The Irish Brigade saw action in all the major campaigns fought in the eastern theatre during the civil war. There losses were heavy at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) where they attacked Confederate forces in the sunken road and suffered 60% casualties (540 killed, wounded or missing). They suffered severely assaulting Marye’s Heights on December 13, 1862, during the Battle of Fredericksburg and again while engaged in the Wheatfield and Rose’s Woods at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). Their suffering and sacrifice is remembered however by beautiful monuments erected to the Irish Brigade at both the Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg National Military Park.
The Irish Brigade Monument at Antietam, is the newest monument on the battlefield, having been unveiled on October 25, 1997. It lies at the southern end of the sunken road (Bloody Lane) due north of the observation tower. The monument is made of granite from County Wicklow, Ireland upon which have been mounted two bas reliefs, the one on the obverse depicting the 69th New York Color Guard under fire and the one on the reverse of Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher.
The Irish Brigade Monument at Gettysburg was dedicated on July 2, 1888 the 25th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The bronze and granite monument depicts a Celtic Cross inscribed with the badge of the 2nd Corp, Army of the Potomac. A life sized Irish Wolfhound lies at the base of the cross. The Irish Brigade listed 530 men present for duty on July 2, 1863 and suffered losses of 40% in killed wounded and missing fighting in the Wheatfield and Rose’s Woods.
There is a second monument at Gettysburg honoring the Irish, that of Father William Corby. Corby, the chaplain of the Irish Brigade, is depicted giving absolution to the troops prior to their engaging in battle.
There were about 40,000 Irish who fought for the Confederacy and while there was at least one regiment that was predominately, Irish, the 6th Louisiana, the Irish units wearing the gray did not attain the notoriety of the Irish units wearing blue. One Irish born confederate officer stands out however and that is Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne who served conspicuously and gallantly in the western theater throughout the war only to be killed leading his men in a futile charge against entrenched union forces at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.This monument on Winstead Hill, adjacent to the Columbia Pike south of Franklin, honors Cleburne.