Taken from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg (New York at Gettysburg) by the New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1902.
BY COL. JAMES J. SMITH.
The Sixty-ninth Regiment New York Volunteers, of the Irish Brigade, First Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac, was organized in New York City in accordance with orders from the War Department, August 30, 1861. It was formed by the officers and men of the Sixty-ninth Regiment New York State Militia who were members of that regiment, and who served with it in the three months' campaign, and who, in a spirit of patriotism, desired to serve their country during the war. This action became necessary as the Sixty-ninth Militia at a meeting of its officers had voted against tendering the services of that organization to the government for three years or during the war. The defeat of the motion was mainly owing to the large number of officers present who were commissioned by the State, and who remained at home during the three months'campaign. This was made possible, under the circumstances, by reason of our casualties at First Bull Run, many of our officers being still held as prisoners by the enemy, among whom was our commanding officer, Colonel Corcoran.
The regiment was recruited in a very short time, whereupon it was ordered to Fort Schuyler, in New York Harbor, as its depot. It remained there until November 18, 1861, when it left for Washington, D. C, passing through New York City, where it was presented with a stand of colors. The colors were of the finest silk, one the National American Flag, and the other a green flag with Irish emblems. The original field officers of the regiment were. Colonel, Robert Nugent (Captain, Thirteenth U. S. Infantry); Lieutenant Colonel, James Kelly (Captain, Tenth U. S. Infantry); Major, James Cavanagh.
The officers of the regiment were so successful in the organization of the Sixty-ninth that they determined to form a brigade. The other regiments were the Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth Volunteers from New York State, Twenty-eighth Massachusetts from Boston, and the One hundred and sixteenth Pennsylvania from Philadelphia. There were also two batteries of artillery organized — Hogan's and McMahon's — that served to the end of the war. The numerical designation assigned to the Sixty-ninth was given in order to indicate its identity with the militia regiment from which it orginated, and which had won distinction at the battle of Bull Run.
The regiment passed through Philadelphia and Baltimore on its way to Washington, where it encamped for a short time on Meridian Hill. It was then assigned to the division of Maj. Gen. E. V. Sumner, which was stationed at Camp California, on the Little River Turnpike, a short distance west of Alexandria, Va. The regiment was joined soon after by the Eighty-eighth New York, and, later, by the Sixty-third.
The brigade was commanded by Col. Robert Nugent, of the Sixty-ninth, up to March, 1862, when Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher was assigned to its command. It was engaged in drilling, guard duty in camp, and picket duty at Edsall's Hill, up to about March 10, 1862, when we broke camp and marched to Union Mills, Centreville, Manassas, and to the Rappahannock River, where, after a skirmish with the enemy, we returned to Camp California. We then marched to Alexandria, where we embarked on the steamer Ocean Queen, and were taken to Fortress Monroe, arriving there the night after the attack of the Rebel ram Merrimac on the frigates Cumberland and Congress. Early in the morning our steamer proceeded to Pohick Creek, or Ship Point, where we disembarked and marched to Yorktown.
The regiment was assigned to duty with the Engineer Brigade, General Woodbury, and was employed in the construction of a mortar battery, in making gabions, fascines, etc.; also on guard and picket duty. After the evacuation of Yorktown we moved with the division up the Peninsula, passing York-town, Williamsburg, White House Landing and St. Peter's Church. We crossed the Chickahominy River at Grapevine Bridge on the afternoon of May 31, 1862, and marched to the battlefield of Seven Pines. Were engaged at the Battle of Fair Oaks, June I, 1862.
June 1st to 26th we were on picket, guard, and other duties. On June 26th, in the afternoon, the brigade moved on the double-quick to Games' Mill, to the relief of General Porter. June 27th, recrossed the Chickahominy, and back to camp at Fair Oaks. June 28th, the army marched towards the James River, leaving the Sixty-ninth Regiment, under command of Col. Robert Nugent, as an advanced picket in extended order to occupy and hold the position while the army was retiring. Colonel Nugent, with his regiment, held this position until long after the last of our troops had retired, and then, when the ruse was discovered by the enemy, successfully withdrew his men in time to escape capture and rejoined the brigade.
Engaged in actions at Peach Orchard, Savage Station, and other points; crossed White Oak Swamp at night, and halted at Nelson's Farm next morning; during the day was in line of battle, under fire, supporting the artillery who were resisting the attempts of the enemy to cross the Chickahominy River; in the afternoon marched to Charles City Cross Roads, and engaged the enemy; marched to Malvern Hill, arriving there July 1st; engaged in the battle at that place, the fighting extending into the night; our losses there were very severe; marched to* Harrison's Landing and went into camp in a very heavy rain; troops all drenched; encamped here with usual drills, guard, and picket duty.
August 5th. Went on a reconnoissance to near Malvern Hill; skirmished with the enemy and returned to camp. August nth. Broke camp and marched southeast, passing through Charles City Court House to the Chickahominy River, where we crossed on a pontoon bridge; passed through Williamsburg' to Newport News, where we embarked on transports; were landed at Aquia Creek on the Potomac River; marched to Falmouth, Va.; received orders within one hour after arrival, and marched to Alexandria; thence to Arlington Heights, Falls Church, Fairfax Court House, and Centreville.
Marched with the rear guard on the retirement of the army to Washington, crossing the Potomac at Chain Bridge; marched to Tennallytown, Rockville and Frederick City, Md., alternately in line of battle, and advancing westerly; in the advance with the cavalry, crossing South Mountain at South Pass the morning after General Reno was killed; skirmished through Boonsboro and up to a point near Antietarn Creek; assigned to support the battery of twenty-four-pounder howitzers on a hill, on the west side of the Sharpsburg Road and near Antietam Creek.
September 17th. Left knapsacks in camp and marched to and crossed the Antietam at a farm ford. Took position on a hill on the southwest side of the creek, in line of battle; were moved to the left and put into action in front of the sunken road. General Richardson, commanding our division, was mortally wounded in the line near the regiment; Gen. W. S. Hancock succeeded to the command of the division. The losses in the brigade were very heavy. In the regiment 201 were killed and wounded out of 320 officers and men taken into action; no men missing.
September 2Oth. Marched to and crossed the Potomac at Harper's Ferry; marched to Bolivar Heights and encamped; drill and picket duty; marched with the division on a reconnoissance to Halltown and Charlestown, Va., and returned to our camp on Bolivar Heights. Broke camp November 5, 1862; marched to Falmouth, Va., passing through Warrenton, Rectortown and Manassas Gap; arrived at Falmouth November 17th, and went into camp, as we supposed, for the winter. Many officers were here detailed to go North for recruits.
Preparations being made for an advance, we crossed the Rappahannock in front of Fredericksburg on pontoons under fire. On December I2th the regiment was presented with a beautiful stand of colors, in the opera-house in Fredericksburg. December I3th engaged in the battle and assault on Marye's Heights, where the loss in the brigade was very heavy. The men of the Irish Brigade wore sprigs of boxwood in their hats; during a flag of truce, ordered to enable both parties to bury the dead, with which the entire field was covered,— the Union details being under command of Gen. John R. Brooke,— the dead found nearest the stone wall and in the advance were those who wore the boxwood in their hats. One of the color bearers of the Sixty-ninth was found dead, and near by the staff of the regimental color. On examination the flag was found buttoned up inside of the dead color bearer's blouse, and, with its staff, was recovered. Back to camp at Falmouth, with picketing on the river, guard duty, and drilling through the winter.
April 30, 1863. Marched to Banks' Ford; May 1st, marched to United States Ford and crossed the river there; engaged in the battle of Chancellors-ville; returned to camp at Falmouth, and resumed picket -duty on the river. Here occurred the resignation of our brigade commander, Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher.
Owing to the small number of men present for duty in the three New York regiments of the brigade (Sixty-ninth, Sixty-third and Eighty-eighth), the result of casualties in the field, each of these regiments was consolidated into a battalion of two companies, each to have but one field officer, with the proper proportion of staff and company officers; all supernumerary officers were mustered out and sent home by order of the War Department.
Broke camp in the latter part of June, 1863; marched with the division to and crossed the Potomac River; thence to Monocacy Junction, Md., and then in one continuous march to Gettysburg, Pa., arriving there in the night of July 1st; engaged in battle at the Wheatfield, near the foot of Little Round Top, on July 2d; when formed in line of battle, the left of the regiment was joined by the right of the Fourth United States Infantry; after this action we returned to the position first occupied, which we held during Pickett's charge on July 3d.
Marched with the army to and recrossed the Potomac River; through Loudoun Valley, Culpeper Court House, Cedar Mountain, Rapidan Station, and other points; in action at Auburn Ford and Bristoe Station; participated in the Mine Run campaign, and then recrossed the Rapidan and went into camp near Brandy Station, under orders received from the War Department, relative to Veteran Enlistment Act. The regiment re-enlisted under that act for three years or the war, and it is believed that it was among the first, if not the first regiment in the army to do so. In accordance with orders the Sixty-ninth received a thirty-days' furlough and proceeded to New York City, arriving there January 2, 1864. The regiment returned to the field largely recruited by new members and convalescents. It resumed camp duties, new recruits being constantly received, owing to the interest in the regiment taken by our late colonel, Robert Nugent, then captain, U. S. A., and mustering officer in New York City.
On May 4, 1864, we crossed the Rapidan at Germanna Ford; May 6th, and afterwards, marching, battles and skirmishing with the enemy every day; May nth, night march in front of the enemy's intrenched position at Spotsylvania, which was assaulted at daybreak, May I2th, and carried with great slaughter, the brigade participating; many thousands of prisoners and twenty guns captured; continually engaged in advanced and close range picket duty, so severe that the men could be relieved only after night. May 18th, stormed and carried another line of the enemy's intrenchments in rear of the one carried on the I2th instant. Moved to North Anna River, May 22d; engaged at Totopotomoy Creek, May 27th; on June 3d the Battle of Cold Harbor, with severe losses;
crossed the James River on pontoon bridge, and engaged in the battles and assaults on the enemy's works at Petersburg, June 16th and 17th; many casualties occurred in carrying the works; Col. Patrick Kelly, commanding brigade, and many officers and men killed and wounded; continually advancing and skirmishing with the enemy; engaged June 22d, afterwards intrenching, with usual picket and guard duty; participated with the division in all its marches and engagements, including the battles at Strawberry Plains and Deep Bottom, on the north side of the James River; August 25th, engaged at Reams' Station on the Weldon Railroad; losses very heavy. More recruits arriving, the regiment was entitled to its full complement of companies and officers.
Capt. James E. McGee was promoted to be lieutenant colonel, but resigned soon afterwards on account of disability. Capt. Richard Moroney was promoted major. Capt. Robert Nugent, of the Thirteenth United States Infantry, our former colonel, was recommissioned colonel and placed in command of the brigade, and many other old officers returned and were recommissioned. James J. Smith, formerly adjutant of the regiment, was commissioned as lieutenant colonel. Returning to duty he was mustered February 16, 1865, and assumed command of the regiment. The Sixty-ninth was engaged at Skinner's Farm, March 25, 1865, and participated also with the division in all its marches and battles at Hatcher's Run, Five Forks, Sutherland's Station, South Side Railroad, Amelia Springs, Farmville, and Appomattox. It was present at the surrender of General Lee and the Confederate forces, comprising the Army of Northern Virginia. It participated with the corps and division in the march to Washington, and in the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac. Returning to New York it was mustered out at Hart's Island, New York Harbor, July 2, 1865.
The writer looks back to the days of the war with feelings of profound regret for the loss of the noble soldiers whose names are on the rolls of this grand old regiment; but this feeling is softened by the knowledge that their sacrifice was made for their country, and that at no time did the regiment, either in camp or field, fail to deserve the confidence or merit the approbation of their commanding general, or the friendship and esteem of their fellow soldiers of the army.