Monday, January 20, 2014

Irish Brigade: The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame!

Famed Irish Brigade in the Civil War 

The Fighting Irish! of Notre Dame: A History


Notre Dame and the "Fighting Irish!"

While approximately 150,000 Irish served the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865), the most famous was its brigade, the Irish Brigade. When Union General Edwin Sumner prepared for battle he was known to ask: “Where are my green flags?” and that he once swore that “if the Irishmen ever ran from the field he would have to run as well.” Prior to battle, Father William Corby, later President of Notre Dame, would ride by the ranks of the Irish Brigade and give every man absolution. While charging into battle, the brigade shouted its battle cry, "Faugh a Ballagh!,” meaning “Clear the Way."

Notre Dame is known as the fighting Irish, but what is its origin? During the Civil War, the predominately all-Irish Brigade had a record unmatched in battle: 4,000 casualties, 11 recipients of the Medal of Honor, and 3 of its commanders killed in action. The Irish Brigade, known as the Fighting Irish because of its fighting prowess, was one of only ten "famous brigades" in the Union Army, according to the conflict's acclaimed statistician, William F. Fox. The following work is an introductory study about one of the finest unit's to ever engage in war.

The majority of the men that formed the Irish Brigade had recently arrived in New York, only to be frustrated by prejudice and elusive dreams. With boiling anxiousness to demonstrate their equality by way of bayonet and battlefield, Irishmen entered into the fray of the blue and gray. The sons of Erin donned the Union blue wool, and tramped from battle to battle without an ounce of concern. Although casualties were rising rapidly in their ranks, the Irish Brigade continued to fight like furies and they continued to fall without many worries.

Although 4,000 fell, many lived to tell, that the Irish had fought and it wasn't for naught. A nation once divided was now united, and though there was intolerance and indifference towards the Irish, President Lincoln believed that the Irish had made the difference, because, during the war, Lincoln once reached out and gently held the corner of the Irish colors, then kissed it and said, “God Bless the Irish Flag.” From antiquity perhaps we may still hear the Irish say, "Clear the Way," because we are here to stay. 


Nearly one-third of the total Irish population who joined the Union Army resided in New York.

Approximately 150,000 Irishmen, most of whom were recent immigrants and not yet  U.S.citizens, joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Some joined out of loyalty to their new found home, while others hoped that such a conspicuous display of patriotism might finally halt the discrimination against the Irish. As the war dragged on and Irish casualties mounted, however, their sympathy for the Union cause began to flounder, and by the end of the war many had abandoned the Northern cause altogether. The majority of the nation's Irish resided in New York City, the recruiting base for many of the Empire State's 42,000 plus Irishmen who joined the Union military. But the determined soldiers who fought in the all-Irish units that comprised the “Irish Brigade” were known for their courage, ferocity and tenacity in battle.

Formed in November 1861, the Irish Brigade was largely recruited in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Its initial regiments were the 69th, 88th and 63rd New York State Volunteers. Other units identified as part of the Brigade included the 29th Massachusetts, 116th Pennsylvania and 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments. The Brigade fought in all of the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. It lost more than 4,000 men during the war. This total is larger than the number of soldiers that the brigade had in the field at any given time. Eleven Brigade members were awarded the Medal of Honor, and of the five officers who commanded the brigade, three were killed or mortally wounded. Colonel Richard Byrnes was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor, Colonel  Patrick Kelly was killed at Petersburg, and Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth died at Farmville. Brigadier generals Robert Nugent and Thomas Meagher were both wounded, however. The brigade was mustered out in June 1865.

See also

Irish Brigade: A History
New York Civil War History
Excelsior Brigade
Iron Brigade

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