Band of Brothers: The Day the Irish Brigade Saved the 9th Massachusetts, part 2

The green flag of the 9th MA. Over the eagle it says, "THY SONS BY ADOPTION - THY FIRM SUPPORTERS AND DEFENDERS - DUTY, AFFECTION AND CHOICE"

Read part 1

Part 2: Band of Brothers

By Robert J. Bateman

Of the 537 valiant Confederate warriors that started out, 81 lay dead and another 234 wounded. In the ensuing attack two color-bearers in the 7th North Carolina, from Branch's Fourth Brigade, were killed one after the other. Colonel Reuben Campbell, the 7th's Regimental Commander, then took up his regiment's colors. As he advanced to the front of his troops he too was killed instantly. When the 7th's flag was ultimately carried from the battlefield it had been pierced by thirty-two musket balls. It should be noted that during the battle the 62nd Pennsylvania Regiment had five of its color-bearers killed in action.

At 3:00 p.m. General Hill's Division attacked along the Federal left and center positions. As the fighting raged General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Corps of twenty thousand men arrived and went into action on the left of General A.P. Hill. The Confederates now outnumbered the Federal forces by better than two to one. By 5:30 p.m. General Fitz John Porter's weakened line began to break under the continued Confederate assault. By 7:00 p.m. the Federal troops were in a general retreat.

Courtesy of the United States Cavalry Museum, Department of the Army, Ft. Riley, Kansas. The charge of the 5th US Cavalry at Gaines Mill by William Trego (1858-1909).

In a heroic, but vain, attempt to stem the Rebel advance five companies of the 5th U.S. Cavalry made a fearless saber charge where both riders and horses were mercilessly cut to ribbons. A Confederate officer later described the battlefield's horrific aftermath where "hundreds of horses were laying around. Some dead, some with legs shot off, trying to get up, moaning and crying like children begging for help." Confusion was turning into pandemonium.

Almost without warning the 9th Massachusetts found itself at the rear of the retreat. The magnificent and unswerving heroism on the part of the gallant Irish regiment at this critical juncture of the battle was described by a reporter of the New York Herald who witnessed the action. "The 9th Massachusetts regiment was at the rear of the retreating column which had just passed over a hill onto a large open plain. To break and run was not for the men who had covered themselves with glory during the entire day. Colonel Guiney (now in command) decided to form a line of battle on his colors and resist the approach of the enemy until the advance of the retreat should have been far enough to leave ground sufficient to enable him to commence his retreat in good order. Colonel Guiney, with his standard-bearers, advanced upon the Rebels with the words, "Men follow your colors!" Before that small band of jaded heroes waved the Stars and Stripes and green flag of Erin and with loud huzzahs they rushed upon the Rebels driving them up a hill. Nine times did the remnant of the 9th drive with ball and buckshot, the advance of the Rebel army.

As the Irish 9th charged headlong into the enemy with its green battle flag to the front, word was being sent to General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson that the Irish Brigade had taken the field. The Confederates, seeing the 9th's green regimental color, misidentified the regiment as being the famed Irish Brigade. General Jackson then committed his reserves with orders to, as Captain Conyngham of the 69th New York notes in his History of the Irish Brigade, "Sweep away that damned brigade." The Irish 9th of Massachusetts withstood the murderous shock of Jackson's elite troops but at a heavy cost of dead and wounded.

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, October 1867.
Thomas Francis Meagher

As the 9th began to be driven back, fighting as they went, they could hear the sound of onrushing charging soldiers to their rear. The Irish Brigade, with General Thomas Francis Meagher ("Meagher of the Sword") at the head of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry, was advancing to reinforce their position. Cheers of joy and an Irish battle cry were given as the two gallant Irish forces merged. With both battle flags to the front and with the cries of "Fág an Bealach" and "Erin Go Bragh", the sons and soldiers of Ireland, those Bold Fenian Men, advanced upon the enemy before retiring in order from the battlefield. [A scene magnificently depicted by the noted Civil War artist Don Troiani in his print Brothers of Ireland.]

Throughout the day's conflict, as they did throughout each of the "Seven Days Battles", and for the remainder of their active service, these Irish, battle tested, veterans of the Irish 9th Regiment of Massachusetts were living proof of the motto that was inscribed on their Emerald Green Battle Flag made of silk. Just below its gold harp were two Irish Wolf Hounds and, in gold lettering the legends:

 

Gentle When Stroked But Fierce When Provoked

The Union, It Must Be Preserved

In all, there were 6,837 Federal casualties (dead, wounded, missing) and 8,750 Confederate losses at the Battle of Gaines' Mill. The Irish 9th of Massachusetts lost a total of 252 men, 40 of whom were from Company I.

The survivors of the 9th Massachusetts, especially those of Company I, would be forever grateful to their brothers of the Irish Brigade, especially their brothers of the New York 69th. General Fitz John Porter later personally expressed his gratitude to the men of the 9th Massachusetts. Lieutenant Daniel MacNamara, author of The History of the 9th Mass. Vols., details an article in Century Magazine written by General Porter, "At Gaines' Mill Colonel Cass's gallant 9th Massachusetts Volunteers of Griffin's brigade obstinately resisted A.P. Hill's crossing, and were so successful in delaying his advance, after crossing, as to compel him to employ large bodies to force the regiment back to the main line…This persistent and prolonged resistance gave to this battle one of the well known names" (Gaines' Mill). And in a letter written to Captain O'Leary from General Porter in May, 1866, "The services of the regiment 9th Massachusetts Volunteers during the seven days' fight were extraordinary and unsurpassed by gallantry and stubborn fighting, and the surviving members of those days might well claim a Medal of Honor for them." A truly remarkable tribute from their former Commanding General.

General Robert E. Lee would later write of A.P. Hill, "Next to Longstreet and Jackson, I consider A.P. Hill the best commander with me. He fights his troops well and takes good care of them."

It is worth noting the heroic and timely actions taken by the Irish 9th Massachusetts, and the 69th New York and the Irish Brigade, at the Battle of Gaines' Mill helped to save the Army of the Potomac from possible destruction. It most certainly was The Day the Irish Brigade Saved the 9th Massachusetts. WG

Robert J. Bateman is the great-grandson of Pvt. Cornelius Deasy and great-grand-nephew of Captain Timothy Deasy, 9th Massachusetts Volunteers. The Deasys immigrated from Clonakilty, County Cork. Bob was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and raised in Lawrence and York Harbor, Maine. He is a colonel, Army Division, New York Guard. Bateman is a former National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (AOH); a former director, Irish National Caucus; Past Commander-in-Chief, The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States; Past Chairman of the Board, The Military Association of New York; and a member of the National Guard Association of the United States; the New York Guard Association; the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA); the Irish Brigade Association; The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (Knights Templar); and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He is the founder and president of Alliance Defense Marketing Associates. Bob and his wife Camille reside in New York City.

Copyright © 2011 by Robert J. Bateman and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to permissions@garmedia.com.

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Tags: 9th Massachusetts, American Civil War, Diaspora History, Gaines Mill, Irish Brigade, Thomas Cass, Timothy Deasy, United States

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