Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher, U. S. Army,
Commanding Second Brigade, of the
Battle of Antietam.
HDQRS.(IRISH BRIG.) 2D BRIG., SUMNER'S CORPS,
HANCOCK'S DIVISION, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
In Camp on Bolivar Heights, Va., September 30, 1862.
Assistant Adjutant-General, Division Headquarters.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following statement of the part which the brigade under my command performed in the battle of the Antietam:
Being encamped 1 mile outside Frederick City, on this side, on the morning of the 14th of September the brigade received orders immediately to proceed to the support of General Hooker, who was at the time hotly engaged in the passes of the South Mountain with the enemy. Being halted for an hour or so, owing to the favorable reports from the headquarters of General Hooker, the brigade had an hour or so to take rest and refreshment, the first opportunity they had of doing so after a rapid and exhausting march over the rocky hills and through the tangled woods from their encampment outside Frederick City.
The Irish Brigade had the honor of leading the pursuit of the rebels from South Mountain through Boonsborough and Keedysville. Along this road and through these villages, in this pursuit, the brigade passed with the utmost alacrity and enthusiasm, Major-General Richardson, commanding the division, riding prominently at the head of the column and directing all its movements.
Early in the afternoon the enemy were discovered in full force, drawn up in line of battle on the heights near Sharpsburg and overlooking the Antietam. The brigade was halted and deployed in line of battle to the right and left of the Sharpsburg turnpike, the Eighty-eighth and Sixty-third Regiments New York Volunteers being on the left of the road and the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers and the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers being on the right.
Whilst in this position, though greatly protected by the hill on the slope of which they lay, the regiments forming the right of my command were constantly annoyed by the well-directed artillery of the enemy. The Eighty-eighth and Sixty-third Regiments were also annoyed in a similar way, and the brigade lost several good men even in this comparatively safe position. In this position, however, we remained until the morning of the 17th, when, the men having breakfasted, a sudden order came for the brigade to fall in under arms, and take up the line of march, which Major-General Richardson would indicate. Filing by the right and proceeding at a rapid pace, the brigade crossed the ford of the Antietam a mile or so to the right of the bivouac of that morning, and as hastily, in compact order, following the lead of Major-General Richardson, who conducted the brigade to the field of battle, under cover of the rising ground and depressions which intervened between us and the enemy, we arrived at a cornfield, where Major-General Richardson ordered that everything but cartouch-boxes should be thrown off. The men of the Irish Brigade instantly obeyed this order with a heartiness and enthusiasm which it was rare to expect from men who had been wearied and worn by the unremitting labors of a nine months' campaign.
Deploying from column into line of battle on the edge of this cornfield, they marched through it steadily and displayed themselves in admirable regularity at the fence, a few hundred paces from which the enemy were drawn up in close column, exhibiting a double front, with their battle-flags defiantly displayed. Crossing this fence, which was a work slow and embarrassed, owing to the pioneer corps of the several regiments of the brigade having been reduced by their previous labors on the Peninsula, I had the misfortune to lose the services of many good officers and brave men.
Lieut. James E. Mackey, of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, whom I had appointed on my staff in place of Lieut. Temple Emmert, whose death from typhoid fever the whole brigade affectionately and sincerely deplore, fell while the brigade was deploying into line of battle at this fence.
The enemy's column, with their battle-flag advanced and deftantly flying in front, was at this time within 300 paces of our line. A clover field of about two acres interposed. Then came the plowed field in which this column of the enemy was drawn up, and from which from their double front they had delivered and sustained a fire before which Sedgwick's forces on the right and French's on the left were reported at the time momentarily to have given way. The fact is, owing to some reason which as yet has not been explained, the Irish Brigade had to occupy and hold a gap in the line of the Union army, which the enemy perceiving had flung a formidable column to break through, and so take the two divisions last named on their flank and rear. This movement was suddenly checked by the impetuous advance of the Irish Brigade, which in a great measure filling up the gap through which the rebel column was descending to the rear of the Federal lines, drew up in line of battle within 50 paces of the enemy, the Sixty-ninth and Twenty-ninth being on the right of the line, and the Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth Regiments on the left. On coming into this close and fatal contact with the enemy, the officers and men of the brigade waved their swords and hats and gave the heartiest cheers for their general, George B. McClellan, and the Army of the Potomac. Never were men in higher spirits. Never did men with such alacrity and generosity of heart press forward and encounter the perils of the battle-field.
My orders were, that, after the first and second volleys delivered in line of battle by the brigade, the brigade should charge with fixed bayonets on the enemy. Seated on my horse, close to the Sixty-ninth Regiment, I permitted them to deliver their five or six volleys, and then personally ordered them to charge upon the rebel columns, while at the very same moment I ordered Captain Miller, assistant adjutant-general of the brigade, and Lieutenant Gosson, first aide on my staff, to bring up the Eighty-eighth and Sixty-third immediately to the charge. It was my design, under the general orders I received, to push the enemy on both their fronts as they displayed themselves to us, and, relying on the impetuosity and recklessness of Irish soldiers in a charge, felt confident that before such a charge the rebel column would give way and be dispersed.
Advancing on the right and left obliquely from the center, the brigade poured in an effective and powerful fire upon the column, which it was their special duty to dislodge. Despite a fire of musketry, which literally cut lanes through our approaching line, the brigade advanced under my personal command within 30 paces of the enemy, and at this point, Lieut. Col. James Kelly having been shot through the face and Capt. Felix Duffy having fallen dead in front of his command, the regiment halted. At the same time Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler and Maj. Richard Bentley, of the Sixty-third, on the left of our line, having been <ar27_295> seriously wounded and compelled to retire to the rear, the charge of bayonets I had ordered on the left was arrested, and thus the brigade, instead of advancing and dispersing the column with the bayonet, stood and delivered its fire, persistently and effectually maintaining every inch of the ground they occupied, until Brigadier-General Caldwell, bringing up his brigade, enabled my brigade, after having been reduced to 500 men, to retire to the second line of defense.
Of other transactions on the battle-field in connection with the Irish Brigade I will not presume to speak. My horse having been shot under me as the engagement was about ending, and from the shock which I myself sustained, I was obliged to be carried off the field. It was my good fortune, however, to be able to resume my command early next morning.
For what occurred subsequently to my being carried away from the field I refer you, with proud confidence, not alone to my regimental officers, who remained on the field, but also to many eye-witnesses of superior rank who noticed the opportune action of the Irish Brigade on that day. But I cannot close this communication without specially mentioning the names of Capt. Felix Duffy, of the Sixty-ninth; Captains Clooney and Joyce, of the Eighty-eighth, who, after distinguishing themselves by unremitting assiduity in the discharge of their duties in their commands throughout a very long and very exhausting campaign, fell with their feet to the rebels, with a glow of loyalty and true soldiership upon their dying features.
I have the honor to be, captain, yours truly and respectfully,
THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER,
Brigadier-General, Commanding the Irish Brigade.
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