Formed in November, 1861, the 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 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments. The Brigade fought in all of the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. It lost over 4,000 men during the war. This total is larger than the number of soldiers who served in the Brigade at any single time. Eleven Brigade members were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Of the five officers who commanded the Brigade, three were killed or mortally wounded. Colonel Richard Brynes (Cold Harbor), Colonel Patrick Kelly (Petersburg), and Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth (Farmville). The Brigade was mustered out in June 1865.
Irish Brigade at Antietam
Second Brigade, First Division
Second Corps, Army of the Potomac
On 17 September 1862, the Brigade crossed Antietam Creek (9:30 a.m.) at Pry's Ford. As it formed at the edge of a cornfield, Father William Corby, Chaplain, rode along the line giving absolution to the soldiers. The 69th New York occupied the right, then the 29th Massachusetts, the 63rd and 88th New York. Crossing the cornfield, the command encountered a rail fence which was torn down under severe fire. An opposing Confederate column advanced within 300 paces of the Brigade. After several volleys, the Irish Brigade charged with fixed bayonets. At 30 paces it poured buck and ball into General George B. Anderson's Brigade (2nd, 4th, 14th, and 30th North Carolina Infantry Regiments) which fell back to "Bloody Lane." After fierce combat, its ammunition exhausted, the Irish Brigade was relieved.
The Irish Brigade's losses were.
69th New York - Officers [Killed] 4, [Wounded] 6, [Missing] 0, [Total] 10
Enlisted [Killed] 40, [Wounded] 146, [Missing] 0, [Total] 186
88th New York - officers [Killed] 2, [Wounded] 2, [Missing] 0, [Total] 4
Enlisted [Killed] 25, [Wounded] 73, [Missing] 0, [Total] 98
63rd New York - Officers [Killed] 4, [Wounded] 5, [Missing] 0, [Total] 9
Enlisted [Killed] 31, [Wounded] 160, [Missing] 2, [Total] 193
29th Mass - Officers [Killed] 0, [Wounded] 0, [Missing] 0, [Total] 0
Enlisted [Killed] 7, [Wounded] 29, [Missing] 3, [Total] 39
Staff Officers [Wounded] 1
Totals [Killed] 113, [Wounded] 422, [Missing] 5, [Total] 540
Thomas Francis Meager
The Irish Brigade commander was born in Waterford City, Ireland on 23 August 1823. A well-educated orator, he joined the Young Ireland Movement to liberate his nation. This led to his exile to a British penal colony in Tasmania, Australia in 1849. He escaped to the United States in 1852 and became an American citizen. When the Civil War broke out he raised Company K, "Irish Zouaves" for the 69th New York State Milita Regiment, which fought at First Bull Run under Colonel Michael Gorgoran. Subsequently Meagher raised the Irish Brigade and commanded it from 3 February 1862 to 14 May 1863. He later commanded a military district in Tennessee. After the war Meagher became secretary and acting Governor of the Montana Territory. He drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton on 1 July 1867. His body was never recovered.
Granite from County Wicklow, Ireland