Troops of the Irish Brigade were recruited from major centers of immigration in the Northeast and many more from the ranks of the working classes, the dock laborers and canal diggers to serve in the Union Army during the American Revolution. The troops were issued weapons that were outdated by the time the war began. Smoothbore 1842 Springfield muskets whose hundred yard range was dwarfed by that of the new rifled muskets. This did not deter the Irish, who would march into battle under their green silk flags, emblazoned with the harp of Ireland, and fire volleys at close range against their Confederate opponents. While their musket, firing a .69 caliber ball and buckshot, was deadly, the Irish Brigade would suffer heavy casualties.
The Irish Brigade was composed of the 63rd, 69th, and 88th New York Infantry regiments, as well as the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry and 28th Massachusetts Infantry. These Irishmen fought in the Army of the Potomac throughout the entire war. During the Battle of Antietam, they were sent against an entrenched Confederate position at the Bloody Lane, losing 60% of their strength.
Months later, the remnants of the brigade was ordered against the Confederate position at Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. There, in during an assault marked by ferocious Confederate resistance, they earned the praise of their enemies and comrades alike. Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet thought the charge of the Irishmen "was the handsomest thing in the whole war." General Robert E. Lee declared, "Never were men so brave." Brig. Gen. George Pickett, who would make his own legendary charge within a year, thought "the brilliant assault....was beyond description....we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our line." Their division commander, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock remarked, "I have never seen anything so splendid."
So to our Irish friends and families who fought so bravely to secure our freedom, we say thank you, and Happy St. Patrick's Day.
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