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Blue, Gray, and Green

St. Patrick's Day

The Army of the Potomac's Irish Brigade is a popular Civil War unit in the Central Virginia area, especially connected to the Battle of Fredericksburg's history. (But did you know they fought "Rebel Irish"?)

Since it's a day to give a salute to Irish-American history, we thought sharing themed accounts and history would add some luck to your day!

Did you know the Irish Brigade hosted a St. Patrick's Day party that was the talk of the camps? We've got details...


The Irish Brigade

Famed on many eastern Civil War battlefields, the Army of the Potomac's Irish Brigade fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. Approximately 1,200 soldiers moved from the town, across the millrace, and up the sloping ground toward Marye's Heights (and Willis Hill). The brigade had the distinction of getting closest to the Confederate position but took massive losses. Commanded by General Thomas F. Meagher, the following regiments comprised the brigade at Fredericksburg: 28th Massachusetts, 63rd New York, 69th New York, 88th New York, 116th Pennsylvania. The emerald green banners traditionally carried by the Irish Brigade reflected the traditional color used by Catholic Ireland. Usually decorated with a harp – another heraldic symbol of Ireland – and other symbolic features from the original homeland, the flags made powerful statements on Civil War battlefields. By choosing to carry unique flags, the Irish Brigade created a way for both friend and enemy to know they were on the field. They also ensured that they would be recognized as Irish-Americans and win respect.

"Clear the Way" courtesy of Don Troiani


24th Georgia Infantry

The 24th Georgia Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Robert McMillian, had many Irish-Americans within its ranks. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, the unit formed part of General Cobb's brigade, holding the Sunken Road against attacks from the Federal Irish Brigade in a tragic case of kinsmen against kinsmen.

"Cobb & Kershaw's troops behind the stonewall."

On December 26, 1862, the Richmond Whig published an account of Colonel McMillian, who took command of Cobb's brigade after that general's mortal wounding:

"A fixed resolution seemed at once to possess every heart, to avenge the death-wound given to their General, and it devolved upon Col. Robert McMillan, of the 24th Georgia Regiment, to lead them in the effort. An opportunity now offered. A column, stronger and heavier than the first, was seen to advance. Flash after flash was seen upon the opposite river bank. Shell after shell fell around us, which were responded to from the heights in our rear. Colonel McMillan directed the small arms to cease until the enemy should come within musket range. The artillery continued its thunder, the musketry remaining silent, till the enemy came within fire of our shortest range guns. Soon leaden hail commenced pouring from the clouds of smoke before us. The Colonel passed along the lines surveying the movements of the enemy, when suddenly, at his command, the brigade rose and sent a volley into the ranks of the foe, which carried ruin in its way. Again and again was the assault renewed, and again and again was it repulsed, with tremendous slaughter. For the troops, the position chosen was an admirable one, but on the part of the officer who did his duty, there was required the utmost coolness and courage. This, Colonel McMillan certainly manifested. While he was passing along the line, waving his sword, and encouraging his men, they seemed to catch the spirit of their leader, and redouble their efforts, while his own regiment turned, in the thickest of the fight, and gave him three hearty cheers. He possesses the confidence of his troops. They love him, and, if need be, will follow him to the death. . . ."


The Party of the Month

On March 17, 1863, General Meagher—commander of the Union Irish Brigade—hosted a St. Patrick's Day gathering, complete with rigorous games, music, prizes, and, of course, Irish whiskey!

"St. Patrick's Day in the army--The grand stand" by Edwin Forbes, Library of Congress.

The New York Tribune published an account, including this excerpt:

To the left, in a small grove, were Gen. Meagher's quarters, variously festooned, and decked with Irish and American dags. Adjoining was a large platform, occupied through the day by invited guests, who could look over the white tents of the Sixty-ninth and other regiments comprising the Irish Brigade, scattered about in various directions, and upon the play-ground beyond. At an early hour in the forenoon officers and soldiers of every grade began to repair to this spot, to participate in or witness the sport. Among others we saw Gen. Hooker, Gen. Sickles, Gen. Sedgewick, Gen. Butterfield, and any number of Brigadiers. Speech-making, horse-racing, leaping, vaulting, &c., comprised the amusements of the forenoon. About 1 o'clock Gen. Meagher mounted the platform near his tent, and announced that the day's sports were not over "by a long shot," but that among other things to follow would be a foot-race, all privates and non-commissioned officers being permitted to enter the lists, the winner to receive $5; a wheelbarrow-race, the competitors to be bound hand and foot, the one first reaching the goal to receive $7; a wrestling match, the contestants to be inclosed in sacks: and as a finale, a chase for a greased pig, the one succeeding in holding him to be declared the lawful owner and possessor. (Read the full account here.)


Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.

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