Colonel Corcoran in what is believed to be his 69th New York State Militia uniform.
It being St Patrick's Day this month I thought I would look at it's predecessor for while such a fabled organisation wasn't at First Bull Run there is a definite link to the battle.
This is of course the 90 day men of the 69th New York State Militia. (Originally New York's 2nd Regiment of Irish Volunteers)
Many (possibly most?) of whom will reenlist in the fabled 69th New York Volunteers of The Irish Brigade and which will (eventually) go on to become a regiment in the current New York National Guard.
So, the 69th New York State Militia is mustered in to Federal Service on the 4th May 1861 in direct response to President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15th for the regiment had been already begun to form over two weeks earlier with all but one of the individual companies (and the 'Corps Engineers') forming in to State Service on the 20th April. The last remaining company (K) forms on the 22nd. Of these three have a distinct identity with Company A being the Irish Fusiliers (Sometimes known as the National Cadets), Company G being the Mechanics Guards and Company K being The Irish or Meagher's Zouaves.
Its commander is the colorful Colonel Michael Corcoran who had taken charge in August 1859. Born in County Sligo, Ireland initially he appears loyal to the British but this quickly changes after some service in the Revenue Police. Certainly by the time he has arrived in New York City (as a tavern clerk) he is involved in Irish Nationalism and soon becomes deeply involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. Interestingly he was at the outbreak of war facing a court martial for refusing to parade the regiment for the Prince of Wales' visit in 1859. These charges are quickly dropped and eventually he will become a Brigadier General (mostly due to the number of Irish men he will recruit) before his untimely demise in 1863.
Its Lieutenant Colonel will initially be Robert Nugent formerly of County Down, Ireland. However he misses the battle due to having broken his shoulder when he fell off his horse in June. He does however once he recovers go on to command the later 69th New York Volunteers and indeed The Irish Brigade and will later become a Brigadier General.
In the immediate run up to the battle Captain J Haggerty formerly of Company A is appointed acting Lieutenant Colonel and Captain. He does not survive the battle.
Its Major is A. J. Bagley but according to one source he remains in New York (reason not stated). Alternatively is this the same as Lieutenant Bagley (no first name given in Sherman's OR) who is on W. T. Sherman's staff during the battle. Sherman is their future brigade commander and perhaps Major is only a Militia rank. If not that then they are related I would guess. Whatever, according to Sherman this Lieutenant Bagley requests and receives permission to fight with his company in the 69th and was lightly wounded and captured. [As possible supporting evidence I have found a special order ordering the Major to accompany the 69th to Washington DC. Whether he does or not is another matter]
Similarly during or in the immediate run up to the battle Captain Thomas Francis Meagher of Company K (born in County Waterford) is appointed acting Major and Captain. This ardent nationalist will rise to the rank of Brigadier General though there are (unsubstantiated) allegations that at First Bull Run he was drunk. For more information on Meagher I suggest the excellent: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/irish-revolutionist-–-thomas-francis-meagher.155618/
The Company Commanders will be:
A: (Irish Fusiliers) Captain J Haggerty and then Lieutenant T. Kelly is appointed Lieutenant and acting Captain upon the promotion of Captain Haggerty.
B: Officially Captain T. Lynch but during the battle it will actually be commanded by Lieutenant and acting Captain W. M. Giles. (I have not been able to determine why Captain Lynch was not in command)
C: Captain J Cavanagh. From Tipperary. Later Major in the 69th New York Volunteers.
D: Captain T. Clarke.
E: Captain P. Kelly (Possibly this is the future commander of the Irish Brigade Colonel Patrick Kelly but it is a common name in the regiment and I have no corroborative evidence)
F: Captain J. Breslin until 4 days before the battle when he is accidentally severely wounded in the right shoulder (method of injury unknown). Lieutenant and acting Captain P. Duffy will command during the battle.
G: (Mechanics Guard) Certainly initially commanded by Captain Felix Duffy (A highly thought of Mexican War veteran). Reports then differ. One suggests that by the battle Lieutenant and acting Captain W. Butler was in command of the company for while the regiment was in Washington DC Duffy resigned his commission. The other suggests Duffy commanded the company and was wounded in the right hand during the battle. As yet I have been unable to divine the truth though I would tentatively suggest that he did not resign his commission. Whatever, he seems to have later commanded Company G of the 69th New York Volunteers until he was killed at Antietam where he was acting Major of the Regiment.
H: Captain James Kelly. He takes command after the battle and writes the regiment's Official Report after the battle. Will later command the Regiment though there is a question about him. Some reports suggest that technically he is still an officer of the 16th US Infantry and that either he hasn't resigned or that he tried but it was not accepted. Whatever, he seems to be AWOL from the 16th US during the battle. This won't hurt his later career (due to W. T. Sherman's intervention) and he will rise to at least the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
EDIT - see below for details of Company I!
J EDIT - That should be a K: (Irish or Meagher's Zouaves – names seemingly used interchangeably) Initially Captain Thomas F Meagher but after his promotion Lieutenant and acting Captain E.K Butler.
'Corps Engineers': Captain J Quinlan (apparently with Captain J. B Kirker as supernumary Captain)
The Regiments strength will be variously stated.
Supposedly on the 12th April (prior to Lincoln's call) the various parts of the regiment had only 245 men on its muster rolls. This quickly swells to 1,000 almost entirely Irish men within a few days (according to one source).
However newspaper reports beg to differ. One dated 1st May suggest they are 1,250 strong while two both dated 4th May suggest 1,450 or 1,100 men. This is while the Regiment is in DC.
Kelly in his OR again states they had '1000 muskets' during the battle which seems a rather 'convenient' number but gives us some idea of their sizable pre battle strength.
To the battle itself:
The 69th will be one of the first regiments sent to Washington DC (in response to the panic about Confederate invasion and possibly minus Company K – who may not arrive until early May – reports differ). They will travel on the steamer James Adger, the 8th and 13th New York accompanying them on other vessels and they arrived either late on the 25th or early on the 26th April. In Washington DC they will initially be billeted in the grounds of Georgetown College. From there they move to Georgetown Heights. After that they will go on to create Camp (Later Fort) Corcoran (named after their Colonel) in Arlington to guard the southern end of the Aqueduct Bridge.
Initially assigned to Colonel Hunter's command they will then find themselves in a brigade commanded by none other than then Colonel William T. Sherman. The rest of the brigade is the 13th New York (Brooklyn) and 79th New York (Highlanders) as well as the 2nd Wisconsin who will go on to fame and legend as part of The Iron Brigade.
This Brigade will be the third of four in Daniel Tyler's 1st Division and on the 21st July 1861 (The day of battle) the brigade leaves camp at Centreville at 2.30 A.M and a deeply confused march follows with an average speed of at most one mile an hour. Finally in position near the Stone Bridge by 10 A.M it is then that Sherman spots troops moving to his right. To counter this the 69th are shifted to the right of the brigade though he does nothing else until Hunter's Division crosses at Suddley Springs. Then when he hears firing as ordered he crosses at a ford that he alone has observed and that is not defended with the 69th in the lead of the brigade.
It is as they are advancing cautiously that they encounter a group of retreating enemy (in some reports said to be Louisiana Zouaves – in other words Wheat's First Louisiana Special Battalion), a brief firefight ensued and it was then that acting Lieutenant Colonel Haggarty is killed. Sometime around then there is something that does not make the Official Report. Apparently the 69th somehow gets confused and almost opens up on the gray clad 13th New York of their own brigade. Then after this the brigade sorts itself out and takes position initially behind Porter's brigade of Hunter's Division. This does not appear to last long and the 69th will soon find itself tangling with the 4th Alabama of Bee's Brigade. This is a hard fight but the 69th appear to prevail amidst much confusion. However they will be unable to do much else for it looks like Imboden's well placed 4 x 6pdr smoothbores take a horrible toll on the regiment when it attempts to advance. Then the rest of the army collapses.
Corcoran claims they made it off the field pretty much as a formed unit (before he is captured by Confederate Cavalry) but this seems... unlikely.
Indeed it looks like it would be more accurate to say that it is the following day back at Camp Corcoran before the regiment re-forms for the battle will not have been a good one for the 69th.
Colonel Corcoran was lightly wounded and captured. Acting Lieutenant Colonel Haggerty was one of the first to fall (as per both the OR and private correspondence from Colonel Corcoran).
These are far from the only casualties.
37 more men are killed as well as 58 more wounded while 2 more officers and 93 men will be missing. All told they will lose very nearly 200 of their number as well as one of their two battle flags (Their National Colors). Oddly now Acting Colonel and Captain James Kelly will be the man to actually take command of the regiment and make the Official Report for the 69th rather than acting Major Meagher who is the senior surviving officer. Then again Kelly is (was?) a Regular Officer therefore perhaps he understands better what is desired by Headquarters. Alternatively maybe there are truth to the rumors that Meagher really was drunk...
The regiment was in the immediate aftermath of the battle whisked back to New York City so it could after a 'heroic' march through the streets by apparently half naked troops be mustered out on the 25th (This is but 4 days after the battle).
It says something about them that a sizable number immediately reform as the fabled 69th New York Volunteers.
SOURCES: Primarily as follows: William T. Sherman's long and tortuous Official Report (crystal clear in places, as clear as particularly dense mud in others and with curious omissions), Captain Kelly's concise and easily comprehensible Official Report, www.firstbullrun.co.uk mostly for newspaper reports, http://www.69thnewyork.co.uk/69history1861.htm mostly for information on the officers and https://bullrunnings.wordpress.com for a couple of Personal Accounts from the Regiment.
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