The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Own Destruction at Fredericksburg

0
2497

Fredericksburg-thumb

Fredericksburg suffered intensive bombardment during the second week of December 1862 from both Union and Confederate artillery. Thousands of civilians were forced to flee.

Join The Immigrants’ Civil War on Facebook

The removal of George B. McClellan in November, 1862 from command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac had shaken the men of the Irish Brigade.  They had little confidence in their new commander Ambrose Burnside. They saw him as a creature of the politicians in Washington, more interested in satisfying the Republicans call for a quick movement against the Confederates than in conserving the lives of the soldiers in the ranks. 1

Soon after taking over, Burnside began a rapid movement towards the Virginia city of Fredericksburg which he hoped would provide a jumping off site for a push against Richmond, the Confederate capital. Normally armies did not campaign in the cold weather of late November and December. This was because most troops movements were accomplished by men walking from place to place exposed to the elements. Freezing rains and icy nights without shelter could leave soldiers sick or even kill them. Burnside, however, was under heavy political pressure to do something both dramatic and soon. McClellan had been deposed because he, as Lincoln once said, had “the slows.” Burnside too could be replaced if he did not show sufficient zeal for combat to please Republican Congressmen.2

When the Irish Brigade was ordered to begin its movement towards its own doom at Fredericksburg, its quick marches soon outran its supplies. Veterans would later lighten their memories of this time of hunger in the ranks by recalling with nostalgia a raid one Irish regiment made on a field of Virginia turnips. They stuffed their pockets and packs with turnips with the green stalks sticking out of their clothes and bags. A member of the Brigade later recalled that the regiment looked like “one huge moving evergreen.” The men were caught in the act by their division commander General Winfield Scott Hancock. The general was most enraged by the fact that the enlisted men were not along in stealing the food, the regiment’s colonel and its priest had also stuffed themselves.3

By November 17, the advanced elements of the Union army had made it to a site across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg catching the Confederates by surprise. For a variety of reasons, Burnside did not attack immediately, giving away the advantage his men had gained by hard marching and setting the stage for tragedy nearly four weeks later. As an Irish Brigade veteran wrote later; “Burnside gave them near a month’s notice before he began the slaughter of the 13th of December, and [the Confederates] were consequently well prepared.”4

Over the next few weeks, Confederate General Robert E. Lee would move most of his army to Fredericksburg where they would fortify a long ridge behind the city and create killing zones for artillery that could cut down any Union troops advancing against them. Seeing the preparations the Confederates were making, one Irish private confessed his fears to his chaplain that he would be killed attacking such a well defended site. His priest reassured him that his commanders were reasonable men who would not ask that of him.5

The Irish Brigade and thousands of other Union troops would soon march into this trap set by Lee, a trap the common soldiers could see and stood in awe of before the battle even began.

fredericksburg-campaign-map-thumb

The opening movements of the Fredericksburg campaign. The Irish Brigade was in the II Corps under Gen. Sumner.wikimedia

Resource Video:

John Hennessy is the chief historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He spoke recently about the complexity of interpreting the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Sources:

1. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996); The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns by David Power Conygham published by Fordham University Press (1994).
2. The Antietam and Fredericksburg by Francis W. Palfrey (1882); The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock edited by Gary Gallegher published by the University of North Carolina Press (1995); Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable published by the University of North Carolina Press (2002).
3. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996); The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns by David Power Conygham published by Fordham University Press (1994).
4. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996); The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns by David Power Conygham published by Fordham University Press (1994); Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1 Vol. 21; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1 Vol. 19 pts. 1-2; The Antietam and Fredericksburg by Francis W. Palfrey (1882); The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock edited by Gary Gallegher published by the University of North Carolina Press (1995); Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable published by the University of North Carolina Press (2002); The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg by Jay Luvis and Harold W. Nelson (1988).
5. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996); The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns by David Power Conygham published by Fordham University Press (1994); Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1 Vol. 21; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1 Vol. 19 pts. 1-2; The Antietam and Fredericksburg by Francis W. Palfrey (1882); The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock edited by Gary Gallegher published by the University of North Carolina Press (1995); Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable published by the University of North Carolina Press (2002); The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg by Jay Luvis and Harold W. Nelson (1988); The Crossing of the Rappahannock by the 19th Massachusetts by H.G.O. Weymouth in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol III p. 121; Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher published by University of North Carolina Press (1989); From Manassas to Appomattox: A Memoir of the Civil War in America by James Longstreet published by Lippincott (1896); Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command Vol. 2 by Douglas Southall Freeman published by Scribner (1942-44); Defeating Lee: A History of the Second Corps Army of the Potomac by Lawrence Kreiser published by University of Indiana Press (2011) Kindle Location 881-1021.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

 

Cultural

Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

Blog Posts

The Real Story Behind The Immigrants’ Civil War Photo

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

The Five Meanings of “The Immigrants’ Civil War”

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Civil War Blogs I Read Every Week

First Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award Goes to Joe Reinhart

Damian Shiels Wins Second Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award

Mother Jones: Civil War Era Immigrant and Labor Leader

Juneteenth for Immigrants

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler-Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

SHARE
Previous articleWe Want to Do More, But We Need Your Help
Next articleCall Cuomo to Support NY DREAM Act
Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is Director of Legal Services at CARECEN and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra University. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/longisl2/public_html/wp-content/themes/Newspaper/includes/wp_booster/td_block.php on line 326

LEAVE A REPLY