Editor’s Note: The majority of this article appeared on Damian Shiels’ Irish in the American Civil War Blog on August 3, 2014. I have access to articles from the New York Irish American, so I decided to also post this article here at The Siege of Petersburg Online, on the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Reams Station. If you haven’t already, go check out Damian’s work. His articles never fail to be fascinating and thought provoking.
From the Army of the Potomac the latest news is that all is quiet, though there are indications manifested of Lee’s making another desperate effort to regain his footing on the Weldon railway. Grant, it is said, is now disposed to remain on the defensive till Sherman has reorganized his army and comes with a large part of it towards Richmond, to assist in operations tending towards its capture. The late battle on the Weldon railway is said by lookers-on to have been terribly destructive to the rebel army.1 Old officers who have been in nearly every battle fought in Virginia say that the fury with which the rebels again and again charged was never before equalled and could only have been inspired by some fell fanaticism or drunkenness. No wonder that such desperation proved disastrous to the old Second Corps, which was vastly outnumbered till the relief came from the Fifth Corps; and no wonder, too, that the Irish Brigade and Legion2 lost heavily, though performing prodigies of valor. The remnant of the Brigade3, led by Major [John W.] Byron [of the 88th New York], is said to have fought magnificently, and though other troops lost their colors and broke, our poor lads were the last to leave their rifle pits. Major Byron and other officers were, we regret to say, captured. The correspondent of the New York Tribune says, under date 5th inst. :–
The Irish Brigade held High Mass, and other public ceremonies, yesterday. The appearance an deportment of the troops were consistent with their well-known soldierly qualities, and with the proverbial integrity of the Roman Church to the formal observance of her religious rites. The presence of Gens. Hanocock, Birney, Meagher, Gibbons, Mott, Miles, and Detrobriand [sic, De Trobriand], and their participation, by well-timed words of praise to this Brigade, made the occasion worthy of the brave men who formed the nucleus of the gathering.
Of the disasters which occurred in the Corcoran Irish Legion, in the same battle, the following letter dated Sunday, August 28, which appeared in the Buffalo Sentinel, gives the best description we have seen. It was addressed to Mr. Mathew Byrne, of that city, brother of Lieut. Col. Byrne, 155th N[ew]. Y[ork]. Vol[unteer]s. :–
Friend Mathew,–I now undertake the painful duty of informing you of the severe loss our Brigade met with on Thursday, 25th: that day the 1st and 2d Division of our Corps lay at Reams Station on the Weldon R.R.; about 5,500 muskets, the Division (Gibbon’s) being very small, and 12 pieces of artillery, with some Cavalry, under Gen. Gregg, Gen Hancock commanding the whole. Early in the morning our pickets were driven in at all points, and the rebel sharpshooters annoyed our batteries considerably; then commenced the fight in reality: we lay on the right angle of the 1st Division; they charged six times on our right and were repulsed with slaughter, but they brought up their batteries, I should say 20 or 25 pieces, and opened on us simultaneously; they were in such force they overlapped our lines in the right and left and came up in our rear; then commenced the slaughter. From front and rear they came swarming in with their yells, and seizing the artillery turned it immediately on our men; the Lieut. Col. was captured while endeavoring to get the men to stand by the guns. Capt. McConvey was wounded severely and carried about a mile, then the men that were carrying him had to leave him as the rebels were in our rear and right on top of us; he gave his money to the Adjutant of the 152d N.Y., who was captured with it afterwards, and Capt. McC., also, taken prisoner. Captains Doran, Pagee, Peluz, Quintz, Flynn, Hartford and Davis were captured. Lieut. Quinn was wounded in the arm and got off. We lost 41 men out of 75. Co. I lost James Clark, P. Donohugh and David Smith missing. J. Ryan and George Harry wounded, but got off the field. Co. K lost Sergt. McGowan, P. Kiennan, Amengo Bogert, James Cotter, P. Dolan, Louis Katrick missing; Sergt. Seymour was captured but got away again. The 164th [New York] has only one officer left- Capt. Burke. Thomas Cantwell was wounded and got off; the Brigade loss was 500 men; the 170th [New York] has one officer and about 30 men out of 150. We saved our Colors, so did the 69th [New York National Guard Artillery, i.e. the 182nd New York] and 170th [New York]; the 164th lost theirs; so did the 8th N[ew].Y[ork].H[eavy].A[rtillery]., who are in our Brigade. Prisoners taken told our officers that we were fighting Hill’s whole corps and two Divisions of Beauregard’s Command, I hope and trust that my comrades and your friends will not be let rot in a Confederate prison; they captured from us 8 or 10 pieces of artillery and 1,700 prisoners.
Many of our troops would not leave the pits at all, preferring capture and imprisonment to running the chances of getting out from under the destructive artillery fire that was concentrated on us from all points front and rear, right and left. Gen. Hancock led a charge in person on the right, and Gen. Gibbon exposed himself fearlessly, but the day was gone against the noble 2d corps. Capt. Emblee, of Gen. Gibbons staff, led the 164th [New York] and the 8th N[ew].Y[ork].H[eavy].A[rtillery]., on the charge; but it was useless, as at that time the enemy were swinging in our rear; their artillery checked their rear from capturing more of us as they mowed down their own men with the artillery they captured and turned on us. I hope, dear friend, that I will never get in such another “tight place,” Gen. Gibbon cried; Hancock to-day and yesterday will let no one approach him; this is the first time the old corps was ever whipped; but the odds were three to one in artillery and men. I have tried to give you as true a statement as possible. Charley Priest is safe; also, the following men of Company I and K:- Sergeant P. Kelly, Sergeant Opping, — Seymour, John Donohue, William Heffernan, Allan Gray, James Griffin, John Monahan, Dan Frawley, and John Gallaher; we have four officers and thirty-eight men left. Please show this letter to Captain McNally, when you get through. Dr. Hasbrouck of the 164th, was ordered to take charge of the wounded when he comes back I may find something more definite in relation to the Lieutenant-Colonel and the men; if so, I will let you know at the earliest opportunity. Hoping you will have patience and take the brightest side of the picture,
I remain, your friend,
2d Lieutenant, 155th N[ew.Y[ork].S[tate].V[olunteers].
Capt. Emblee above alluded to is a gallant Irish officer, who has served in the 82nd Regiment, N. Y. Vols. Since the letter was put in type we received the following official statement as to the casualties among the officers of the Legion on the above-named battle-field: –
One Hundred and Seventieth N[ew].Y[ork]. Vol[unteer]s.– Major J.B. Donnelly, wounded and prisoner; Capt. James H. Keely, Capt. Turner, Adjt. Dunne, Lieuts. Quigley and Whelan, also wounded and prisoners. The command went into the fight some 70 strong, and lost more than half.
Sixty-Ninth, N[ew].Y[ork].S[tate].M[ilitia]. [i.e. the 182nd New York]– Capt. Welpley, killed; Lieut. D. Sweeney, killed; Capt. Canton and Lieut. O’Farrell, wounded; Lieut. E. Kelly, captured.
One Hundred and Fifty-Fifth N[ew].Y[ork]. Vol[unteer]s– Major Byrne, Capts. Page, Doran, Pelouze and Lieut. O’Flynn, captured.
One Hundred and Sixty-Fourth, N[ew].Y[ork]. Vol[unteer]s.- Major Beatty, Capts. Kelly, Hearne, O’Reilly and others, captured.
The Legion now numbers about 200 men.418640917IrishAmericanP3C3to4CorcoranLegionReamsStation
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This refers to the Second Battle of Ream’s Station, fought on August 25, 1864. Though the Confederate attack that day drove Hancock’s Second Corps into headlong retreat, they were unable to push Warren’s Fifth Corps off of the railroad further north at Globe Tavern. The end result of the Fourth Offensive was the loss of the Weldon Railroad south to Stony Creek for the Confederates, a real blow to their supply line. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Corcoran’s Irish Legion was officially the Second Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac, and consisted of the 155th NY, the 164th NY, the 170th NY, 182nd NY, and the 8th NY Heavy Artillery. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Irish Brigade was by this time folded into the Consolidated Brigade of the Second Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac. The regiments of the brigade were from the former Second and Third Brigades of the division. They had taken such heavy losses in the Overland Campaign and early on at Petersburg that the move had been made. It was, needless to say, VERY unpopular in the ranks of the Irish Brigade. This consolidation would later be reversed. The Irish Brigade was composed of the 63rd NY, the 69th NY, and the 88th NY. ↩
- “War News.” Irish-American (NY). September 17, 1864, p. 3 col. 3 to 4 ↩