How St. Patrick's Day Was Celebrated by The Irish Brigade in the Year 1863

Green Flag Productions
This limited edition art print by Bradley Schmehl, part of the artist's Irish Brigade series, depicts Lt. O'Connor on QM McCormick's bay "Sharpsburg," followed by Lt. Ryder on Capt. Hogan's "Napper Tandy," Capt. Gosson on Gen. Meagher's horse, "Jack Hinton," and Lt. Byron on Capt Langdon's horse "Bill."

By John Ryan

This excerpt is taken from "Campaigning With the Irish Brigade: John Ryan, 28th Massachusetts,.... Ryan's lengthy Army career began in late 1861 with his enlistment with the 28th Massachusetts Infantry, which was destined to become a part of the famed Irish Brigade, and extended to December 1876. Ryan served 10 years in the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment on the Plains under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

It appears after the disastrous battle of December 13, 1862, the Irish Brigade remained in winter quarters near Falmouth doing the usual guard and picket duty and along towards St. Patrick's Day preparations were made by the officers of the brigade at General Meagher's headquarters to celebrate it in a fitting way. On the morning of the 17th of March, the sports commenced on the division drill ground that laid between the Irish Brigade and General Hancock's headquarters, our division commander. They started in by horse-racing and hurdle jumping, for which there were prizes offered and for mule racing. In the mule race, the prize was for the one that came in last, as the mules are known to be very stubborn animals. They also had foot racing, sack racing, picking up stones, climbing the greased pole, which had a thirty-day furlough and thirty dollars in money attached to it. The man that climbed the pole received it. There were many other sports too numerous to mention, which the enlisted men and officers enjoyed very much.

Campaigning with the Irish Brigade: Pvt. John Ryan, 28th Massachusetts

Along towards evening, the troops and officers adjourned to their respective camps. At Gen. T.F. Meagher's headquarters, a large platform was erected and there were all kinds of jig dancing on this platform; also all kinds of refreshments and drinks served, such as the quartermaster of the brigade brought with him from Washington for the occasion, consisting of the side of an ox, thirty-five hams, two pigs stuffed with boiled chickens, and any amount of chickens, ducks and game. The drinks consisted of about eight baskets of champagne, eight gallons of rum, and twenty-five quarts of whiskey.

There were assembled at this time probably ten thousand men from the different corps and regiments in the Army of the Potomac. Among them were Generals Hancock, Slocum, Griffin, Sedgwick, Franklin and others. Among the officers present on the occasion were Lt. [John H.] Gleeson of the 63rd New York, supposed to be one of the jolliest and best officers of the Irish Brigade. He was the tallest officer in the Army of the Potomac. Also the brave and gallant Lt. Gosson better known as "Jack" Gosson, of the Irish Brigade. He was a fine looking soldier and always appeared in a very handsome uniform on all occasions. Also the brave and gallant Lt. [Richard Riker] Emmet. Gosson and Emmett were both staff officers on the brigade staff, Gosson being adjutant general.

While the sport was going on and the men and officers were enjoying themselves, all of a sudden we heard the booming of the cannons and we knew then that something was up and that put a stop to a good deal of the amusements, as the long roll sounded and the troops were all ordered into line in light marching order. We remained in line for sometime. Finally, we had orders to stack arms, which we did. This cannonading that we heard happened to be our cavalry and the Confederates having a sharp fight at Kelly's Ford a few miles up the Rappahannock River.

We broke ranks and had considerable amusements in the camps. The sports at brigade headquarters continued until late into the night when darkness set in. That finally wound up the sports and amusements on that date.

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