Thomas Francis Meagher was from Ireland. He is probably
one of the most well known commanders of the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Before coming to America, Meagher was a leader in the Young Irelanders during the Rebellion of 1848. Their goal was to free Ireland from British rule. After being convicted of sedition by the British court, he was sentenced to death. He was later commuted to life in prison at Van Diemen's Land in Australia. in 1852 he managed to escape Australia and made his way to the United States where he settled in New York City.New York City had a large Irish immigrant population and he soon put his life together. Meagher studied Law and was also a journalist. He also traveled giving lectures on the Irish cause.
At the beginning of the American Civil War Meagher joined the U.S. Army as a Captain. He organized K company of the 69th new York Infantry.During the course of the war he rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He is well known for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade. The Brigade was made up of the 69th, 63rd and the 88th New York Infantry Regiments. These units where composed in whole of Irish Immigrants. Later the Brigade was expanded and the 28th Massachusetts and the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments, also made of Irishmen, where added. This brought the Brigade up to five regiments.
Several of the officers were allowed to purchase non-regulation model 1850 staff officers swords bearing a large four-leaf clover pierced into the hand guard. The brigade also contained a group of paid chaplains. having Catholic Chaplains in the brigade implied a social acceptance for Irish Catholics which had eluded them during the antebellum period. The head chaplain, Father William Corby gave mass before the Battle of Gettysburg. He gave "conditional absolution" to the troops before the battle. After the war, William Corby would go on to be the President of Notre Dame University. The regimental flags of the Irish Brigade were green in color and decorated with a white cloud with rays of sunshine beaming down on an Irish Harp. The Brigade motto was "Faugh a Ballaugh" which is Gaelic for "Clear the Way."
The brigade was mostly armed with old Springfield Model 1842 smooth bore muskets. The officers believed that the fighting would be up close and the old muskets loaded with "buck and ball" would do the trick. Buck and Ball shot was a combination of a .69 caliber musket ball and four smaller balls. This effectively gave the musket a "shotgun effect." Only the original New York Regiments used Buck and Ball. The 28th Mass and 116 Penn Infantry used newer Springfields and Enfields.
The Brigade served in the Army of the Potomac starting with the Peninsula Campaign at the Battle of Fair Oaks. They were also engaged at Battle of Gaines Mill, Savage Station, and Malvern Hill during the Seven Days. Later they fought at Antietam were they attacked the Sunken Road. They were immortalized by their charge up Marye's Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
In 1863, the brigade participated in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Later in the war it saw service at The Siege of Petersburg and finally the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse in April of 1865.
Notable members of the Irish Brigade also include St. Clair Mulholland who was a Lt Col. in the 116th Pennsylvania. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor at Chancellorsville for Gallantry in Action. The Award citation reads. "In command of a picket line held the enemy in check all night to cover the retreat of the army." After the war he returned to Philadelphia and became Chief of Police.
Michael Corcoran, close personal friend of Abraham Lincoln and the first commander of the 69th New York Infantry Regiment. He gained notoriety for refusing to parade the regiment in new York City during the Prince of Wales visit. He was in Court Martial proceedings for "Disobeying a Direct Order" when the American Civil War started. His experience as a leader and the general lack of commanding officers in the peacetime army ensured that the charges were dropped and he returned to duty. He was captured at the First battle of Manassas but later was part of prisoner exchange.