New York before 1861

New York City's large community of Irish immigrants organized volunteer militia companies such as Brooklyn's Napper Tandy Light Artillery, described in the New York Times of March 18, 1854, in their shakos, green jackets trimmed with yellow braid, and sky-blue pants with scarlet stripes.

Until 1859 the dress uniform of the 9th Regiment, New York State Militia ("1st Irish Regiment" - reorganized as the 83rd New York Volunteer Infantry in 1861) was a black felt shako with white pompon (white plume for officers): a green coatee with white turnbacks and gold lace trim, and green epaulettes with white fringe; sky-blue pants with a white stripe, and black belts. In 1859 the regiment adopted a dark blue leather-bound shako with a red pompon, a dark blue frock coat with sky-blue collar and red epaulettes, and dark blue pants with a red stripe. The fatigue uniform was a dark blue nine-button shell jacket with shoulder straps, red slash cufls and trim on the collar and shoulder straps, a dark blue forage cap with gold braid, and dark blue pants with a red stripe (changed to sky-blue pants in 1862). Overcoats were dark blue, and the unit had Springfield rifled muskets.

New York City's celebrated 69th Regiment NYSM was actually organized in 1851 (with three other Irish volunteer militia regiments) as part of a covert operation to train Irish immigrants to fight for the liberation of their homeland. The plan was discovered and the three other regiments were disbanded. The 69th's uniform until 1859 was a regulation blue dress cap with a red plume, a green coatee trimmed with crimson and gold, medium blue pants with a yellow stripe (white pants in summer), and black belts; officers wore a green-and-red plume. Prescribed blue coats were worn as a fatigue uniform. The 69th shed its traditional green coats in 1859, and adopted the dark blue caps and frock coats and sky-blue pants

US Army Mil Hist Inst)

Usmc Uniform 1859

of the New York State Militia. The coats were trimmed with red - the artillery color - because the 69th was classed as "Artillery doing duty as Light Infantry." For dress occasions red epaulettes were added to the coat, and a regulation shako with a brass plate and a green-over-red pompon w-as worn. The issue weapon was the .69cal M1842 Springfield musket.

When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, the 69th New York, led by Col Michael Corcoran, became the second regiment to leave the city for Washington; it fought with distinction at First Bull Run on July 21, when Corcoran was taken prisoner by the Confederates. (Ironically, the first Rebel soldiers that the 69th encountered on the battlefield at Manassas were Irishmen of Maj C. Roberdeau Wheat's 1st Louisiana Special Battalion - the Louisiana "Tigers"). The (lag carried by the 69th at Bull Run was a gift from Irish citizens of New York City - green, with a yellow sunburst, and red ribands commemorating the occasion in I860 when Cxjrcoran and his men refused to parade in honor of a visit to New York by the Prince of Wales: consequently, this came to be known as the "Prince of Wales flag."

The 69th mustered out after 90 days' service, but was reorganized as the 69th New York State Volunteers, which became the core regiment of the Army of the Potomac's Irish Brigade. This 2nd Bde. 1st Div of II Corps included four other Irish units - the 63rd and 88th New York, 28th Massachusetts and 116th Pennsylvania - and was commanded by BrigCen Thomas Francis Meagher. Formed in the fall of

1861, the brigade earned distinction as a hard-fighting command, and the 69th NYSV sustained the highest casualty rate of any regiment from New York. The three New York regiments were now wearing regulation US infantry uniform.

The Irish Brigade saw some of the bloodiest combat of the Civil War in

1862. At Antietam on September 17 the 63rd New York's colors were reportedly shot down 16 limes, and both the 63rd and 69th NY suffered 60 percent casualties. At Fredericksburg, Cen Meagher gave instnictions for the soldiers to wear sprigs of green box leaves on their caps to signify' their Gaelic heritage. His brigade suffered enormous casualties in the failed second assault on the Rebel position behind the stone wall on Marye's Heights - 545 killed, wounded or missing out of 1,300 men engaged. Major William H. Horgan of the 88th New York was shot down at the head of his regiment just raids short of the stone wall. In yet another twist of fate, a number of the defenders in Thomas R.R. (x>bb's Georgia brigade were Irish Americans, and the officer who commanded it, Col Robert McMillan of the 24th Georgia, w-as a native of County Antrim. When he spotted the green flag of the advancing 28th Massachusetts (the only one

Robert Mcmillan 24th Georgia

carried that day), McMillan is said to have brightened: "That's Meagher's Brigade." he told his troops; "Give it to them now, boys! Now's the time - give it to them!" The wounded lay out among their dead comrades all through the brutally cold night of December 13/14.

When Michael Corcoran returned to New York after being released from nearly a year of captivity, he was reluctant to share command with Meagher in the new Irish Brigade, so in October 1862 he formed his own Irish Legion. The nucleus was the 182nd New York Infantry (formed in part from the old 69th NYSM), joined by four other Irish units: the 155th ("Wild Irish Regiment"). 164th ("Corcoran Guard" or "Buffalo Irish Regiment"), 170th and 175th New York Volunteer Infantry. Seeing little action in 1863. Corcoran's Irish Legion was heavily engaged at Cold Harbor in June 1864. during Grant's advance from the Wilderness to Richmond. The 164th New York's Col James P. McMahon died while leading his men in a charge on the Rebel works on the first day of the battle, June 3; in these attacks the Union force lost some 7,000 men in an hour.

In 1862 Corcoran's Irish Legion was issued US regulation clothing and Enfield rifles, but in February 1863 the 164th New York received a distinctive uniform - that of "Hawkins' Zouaves," as worn by the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry. This unique uniform included a dark blue kepi or a fez with the numeral "164" and a green tassel, a dark bluejacket and trousers all with red trim, and white leggings. Officers wore dark blue

Officers of the 69th New York, Fort Corcoran, spring 1861. They are dressed In US regulation dark blue frock coats, a mixture of dark and sky-blue pants with red welts or stripes of varied appearance, and dark blue kepis. Colonel Corcoran (far left) and a few others sport chasseur-type kepis trimmed with gold lace and a wreathed "69". (Library of Congress)

37th New York Infantry

kepis, jacket1! and pants all trimmed with gold lace.

The 37th New York Infantry Regiment ("Irish Rifles") originated in the defunct 75th Regiment NYSM, an Irish unit that had been disbanded in 1856 but was reorganized in April 1861 and commanded by Oil John H. McCunn. The regiment was originally issued the state Ml861 blue fatigue uniform - dark blue forage caps, eight-button shell jackets, and light blue pants - and M1842 muskets (replaced by Austrian rifled muskets in 1862). The Irish Rifles also carried a green flag with a harp in the center, surrounded by a WTeath of shamrocks, all in gold. A riband above the harp proclaimed "37th REGIMENT IRISH RIFLES", while one below read "N.Y. VOLUNTEERS". The 37th New York earned an excellent combat record in the battles of Fair Oaks, Fredericksburg (in 3rd Bde, 1st Divof III Corps) and Chancellorsville.

The 20th NYSM, later 80th New York Volunteer Infantry (Ulster Guard), fought in every major batüe of the Army of the Potomac with the exception of Chancellorsville; at Gettysburg it was part of 1st Bde, 3rd Div of I Corps. The regiment was recruited in Ulster County, a coal and iron district north of New York City. One of the older component companies was the Jackson Rifles, an Irish unit formed in 1853 as a flank company of artillery, and uniformed in green coats (at first with buff facings and later with red). A regimental uniform was adopted in 1858: shakos with white pompons, dark blue frock coats with sky-blue piping on collar and cuffs, gray pants and black belts.

The 20th NYSM served as a 90-day regiment in the spring of 1861 under the command of Col George Watson Pratt. TTiis officer would be mortally wounded at Second Bull Run in August 1862, bv which time the regiment was serving as a three-year Federal unit. Company F was overwhelmingly Irish as, to a lesser degree, was Co I, but every other company also contained 30 or so Irish names on roll. The 1858 regimental uniform was worn as a campaign uniform in 1861. An image of Pvt Benjamin J. Havenor of Co K, taken in spring 1861, shows him wearing what appears to be a dark blue eight-button NY state shell jacket with a standing collar and shoulder straps, and holding a dark blue forage cap. As a three-year regiment the unit was issued regulation uniforms and Enfield rifles.

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  • jali
    Did the irish brigade have shamrocks on their caps in 1861?
    9 years ago

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