Irish Regiment at the Beginning of the End of the Confederacy at Five Forks

The final desperate struggle to capture Petersburg came at Five Forks.

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The warming weather of early spring told the men of the Union Army of the Potomac that aggressive warfare was about to resume. They had lain in cold damp trenches surrounding Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond for 10 months. They had lived in “bomb-proof” rooms carved into the dirt, and slept with the awareness that a sudden barrage of shells might end their dreams forever. But their forces had grown stronger over the winter and their enemies had begun to melt away through death and desertion. 1
five-forks-pre-battle(A) The Confederate attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865 was easily defeated after some initial success. 600 Confederates were killed, while fewer than 100 Union soldiers lost their lives. It marked the last offensive operation of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army. (B) The Irish 116th Pennsylvania was part of the II Corps and at the beginning of Grant’s final Petersburg offensive it was east of Hatcher’s Run. (C) From March 28 to April 1 the 116th would be part of a large offensive spearheaded by General Phil Sheridan’s cavalry corps to move south and west of the Confederate lines and capture the Southside Railroad, the last rail link of Richmond to the rest of the Confederacy.

The Second Corps left the siege lines around Petersburg and moved across Hatcher’s Run on March 28 and 29. The Irish 116th Pennsylvania from Philadelphia was among the former Irish Brigade units involved in this sweep designed to cut Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his men off from support from the South. The Irishmen knew that this was the offensive that their commander Ulysses Grant hoped would end the war. 2

Torrential downpours turned the ground the men marched over into muddy swamps. A veteran of the regiment recalled that by March 30 “the fighting and skirmishing was continuous and the fire seemed to come from all sides.” Between the rain and the fighting, he wrote, there “was no chance to cook, eat, or sleep” and the “rain extinguished most of the fires” the men set to warm themselves.3

The regiment’s men knew that the war would be over in a matter of days, and so they felt the losses of the final battles even more acutely than those of men who had died before. During the final days at Petersburg, the regimental history says, the 116th “lost some of the best men…”4

Lieutenant Eugene Brady, who was killed in fighting on March 31, had the familiar soldier’s premonition of death when he had been home on a brief leave of absence. He had “bade his friends good-bye and told them that he would not see them again.”5

Sergeant Edward Kline was with Eugene Brady when he was killed. Kline wrote to a friend that “after wading across a creek…the enemy had some rifle pits on a hill in a field and Lieutenant Brady said, ‘Let us go for that pit.’” A small group of four or five men joined Brady and captured the rifle pit. But the Confederates opened fire on Brady and his men. Kline wrote that:

“Lieutenant Brady was killed first. He made some remark about a Confederate color-bearer shaking his flag at us from behind a tree…when he was hit in the forehead. He fell against me and died instantly. The rest of my comrades were all silent, and I think all dead…” 6

“I think I was the only survivor,” Kline added. 7


The 116th Pennsylvania preserved this image of Eugene Brady, one of the last men in the regiment to die in battle.

On April 1, the 116th participated in the fighting in support of General Phil Sheridan’s push at Five Forks to take the Southside Railroad and block supplies for the Confederates.8

five-forks-paintingUnion cavalry under Major General Phil Sheridan blocked the Southside Railroad after their victory at Five Forks. Sheridan was the Albany-born son of Irish immigrants.

The next day, Sergeant Kline would help to rally the men of the regiment during the final fighting around Petersburg at Sutherland Station. When Color Sergeant Peter Kelly fell wounded, Kline “rushed forward and quickly raised the flag and carried it to the end of the fight,” according to the regiment’s commander. By the time Kline put his flag down, the last rail link between Lee and the rest of the Confederacy had been captured by the Union army. 9

The outnumbered Confederates were now cut-off from resupply by railroad. “The end was near at hand,” wrote General Mulholland of the 116th, “the whole Union line had advanced and captured all the works around Petersburg and Richmond.”  The way lay open to capture the capital of the Confederacy and as Lee’s army began its final retreat, the war’s end loomed large in the minds of these Irish from Philadelphia.10

Video: Five Fork Battlefield:

Video: Cemetery for Petersburg Dead


The Regimental History of the 116th Pennsylvania is available here.

A great source of materials on all aspects of the campaign can be found at The Siege of Petersburg Online.


1. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903); In the Trenches at Petersburg by Earl Hess; The Petersburg Camapaign Vol. I by Edwin Bearss published by Savas Beatie (2014); In the Trenches at Petersburg by Earl Hess
2. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903)
3. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p 335.
4. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p. 336
5. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p. 336
6. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p. 337
7. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p 337
8. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903); In the Trenches at Petersburg by Earl Hess
9. The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p. 338
10.  The Story of the 116th Regiment: Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of Rebellion by St. Clair A. Mulholland (1903) p. 338

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

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings

108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence

109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General

110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”

111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address

112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation

113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery

114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal

115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga

116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga

117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga

118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle

119. Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga

120. German Immigrants Pinned Down at Chickamauga

121. Hans Heg: To Die for His Adopted Country at Chickamauga

122. Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness

123. Immigrants March Out of The Wilderness and Into a Wicked Hail of Gunfire

124. Peter Welsh in the Irish Brigade’s Purgatory at Spotsylvania

125. Peter Welsh: What Sacrifice Must the Immigrant Make for His Adopted Land?

126. A Second Irish Brigade’s Catastrophe at a Forgotten Fight Near Fredericksburg

127. An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

128. Two Irish Brigades Swept Away by a Hurricane from Hell at Cold Harbor

129. Petersburg: The Start of a Ten Month Siege that Devoured Men and Disabled the Irish Brigade

130. A Volcano in Virginia: The Battle of the Crater

131. 1864 Election: The Immigrant Voter & Abraham Lincoln

132. August Belmont: The German Jewish Immigrant Who Led the Opposition to Lincoln’s 1864 Reelection

133. Lincoln and the Superiority of the “Negro” over the Irish

134. Lincoln’s Germans and the Election of 1864

135. Lincoln’s German Lawyer Comes Out Swinging in the Election of 1864

136. Lincoln Wins the Election of 1864 With Immigrant Votes

137. American Refugee Camp in Civil War Kentucky Destroyed by Union Soldiers

138. Kentucky Civil War Refugee Camp Reborn and Reconstructed After Expulsions

139. Immigrant German “Hamburgers” Tormented and Captured at Petersburg

140. German General Weitzel and His African Canadians at Petersburg

141. Irish Regiment at the Beginning of the End of the Confederacy at Five Forks


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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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