Colonel Patrick O’Rorke, County Cavan
Little Roundtop, Gettysburg
Chamberlain’s irrefutable triumph on the Union’s left flank may never have come to pass if Colonel O’Rorke (pictured at left) and his 140th New Yorkers hadn’t appeared in the nick of time. Because of the stirring tale by Michael Shaara in the great saga The Killer Angels, the struggle for Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg will always be remembered as the day saved by the heroics of Colonel Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.
Arriving at Little Round Top just as the 16th Michigan’s right flank was disintegrating, O’Rorke visualized the gravity of the situation. Not allowing his men to halt even to load their weapons, decked out in his new Zouave uniform, he drew his sword and yelled his last words. “Down this way, boys!”
The 140th trailed after as O’Rorke fell with a minié ball through the neck. Following the battle, the curious counted 17 bullet holes in the Confederate sharpshooter.
Colonel Dennis O’Kane, County Derry
Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg
“Let your work this day be for victory or death. This crest will not be taken from us.” O’Kane shouted, while unsheathing his sword and unfurling the regiment’s green flag with the Pennsylvania arms on one side and an Irish wolfhound, sunburst, and round tower on the other.
By the Battle of Gettysburg’s third day, the 69th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Philadelphia Brigade numbered a scant 258 officers and men. This proud Irish regiment under the command of Colonel O’Kane, named after their heroes the New York 69th, lay behind a three-foot high stone wall in front of the copse of trees, yards away from where the wall angled to the right, and awaited the Confederate charge they knew was coming. The hours-long ordnance barrage had ceased and the silence enveloping Cemetery Ridge was deafening. Many looked longingly at the primed, twelve buckshot to the load, three to five guns to a man. Weapons retrieved from the dead after recapturing Brown’s artillery from Wright’s Second Georgia Battalion, during day two of this epic battle. O’Kane, knowing the clump of trees directly to the rear of his undermanned regiment was the target of Lee’s artillery, walked behind his prone troops, encouraging them to be true to their state and their heritage.
Stench from dead horses and men stagnating in the 90-degree heat made their position unbearable. Then, as the black artillery smoke cleared, 15,000 Butternuts, in parade fashion, left the shelter of the woods. After they crossed Emmitsburg Road, the Union artillery carved huge gaps in their lines. Others moved up, the holes were soon filled, and the Rebels kept coming. When they approached within 50 yards of the stone wall, the muskets of the well-armed Irish opened up. The next few minutes saw a slaughter unequaled in American History. Hays’s third division on the Union right and Stannard’s Vermont Brigade on the left moved forward to channel the attackers toward O’Kane.
O’Kane watched as his men on the left moved from the wall. They may have moved, but by God, they did not show their backs. Then to his disgust, the two companies of the Pennsylvania 71st, positioned between his men and “The Angle,” broke for the rear. He swiftly ordered I, A, and F companies to wheel right and fire enfilade at General Armistead and his men who’d crossed the wall where the 71st had deserted.
Armistead and 150 Confederates were inside the Union lines. But what had they to face? Rifles, bayonets, and clubbed muskets. Men on both sides fell. Hundreds rushed to assist the 69th. The struggle lasted mere minutes. After touching a Union gun for support, Armistead fell. The Confederate survivors threw down their arms and were sent without guard to the rear.
Pickett’s charge and the Battle of Gettysburg came to its end at Bloody Angle.
During the skirmish, a minié ball passed through O’Kane’s abdomen. He died in the early morning hours of July 4, 1863. O’Kane went to his maker without knowing, that while the remnants of his regiment tended to the prisoners and the wounded, others not on the wall were hastily gathering up the scattered battle flags and hence, the glory.
Not a single medal, let alone the Medal of Honor, was awarded to the men of the Pennsylvania 69th. It took until 1999 for the City of Philadelphia, and until 2005 for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to finally honor their Irish sons.