An Encounter With the Foe Part 2 of 5: The 69th New York marches out of Fort Corcoran and faces a Confederate line of battle.

This five-part series on the 69th New York at the 1st Battle of Bull Run is drawn from the book "The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns," by Tipperary native David P. Conyngham, published in 1866. Conyngham served during the Civil War, for a time with Meagher's Irish Brigade, and finally as a correspondent for the New York Herald.

Part 1: The Call to Arms
Part 2: Encountering the Foe
Part 3: First Blood
Part 4: Baptism by Fire
Part 5: The 69th's Bravery Amid Defeat

An Encounter With the Foe

Part 2 of 5: The 69th New York marches out of Fort Corcoran and faces a Confederate line of battle.

Library of Congress
Capt. D. P. Conyngham author of "The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns"

ABOUT the 12th of July, 1861, Colonel Corcoran received orders from General McDowell to hold himself in readiness to march at a moment's notice; and on the 15th the order to march at 2 pm the next day was read to the regiment while on parade. The ensuing night was, accordingly, spent in various avocations by officers and men. Many went to confession, nearly all wrote home to their friends the exciting news, sending large sums of money which had been just received, while many others gave loose rein to fun and jollification, as numberless empty bottles and kegs could amply testify. Very little sleep was enjoyed by any one.

The morning of the 16th dawned, and the preparations for a general advance of the army were witnessed on all sides; blankets were rolled up, haversacks filled with three days' rations, guns and equipments brightly polished, and cartridge-boxes crammed with buck and ball ammunition. Finally, about twelve o'clock noon, under the full blaze of a scorching sun, the right wing of the army commenced to move. But on this day very little progress was made, owing to a want of proper organization everywhere apparent.

The Sixty-ninth, exclusive of the officers, numbered over a thousand men, and presented as fine an appearance as many regular regiments.

The line of march was taken up about noon. The corps of engineers led the van, under the command of Captain Quinlan, Lieutenants D'Hommergue and M'Quade, followed by an improvised drum-corps, playing the old familiar inspiriting airs. After these came Colonel Corcoran and staff-officers, including Captain T. F. Meagher, acting as major in place of Major Bagley, who had remained in New York; Captain Haggerty, acting as lieutenant-colonel in place of Colonel Nugent, who had been injured some days previously by a fall from his horse; and Captain J. H. Nugent, acting as adjutant. The surgeons, chaplain, quartermasters, and non-commissioned officers, including the color-guard, followed immediately after.

Gen. William T. Sherman

On the march the Sixty Ninth was ordered to join the brigade commanded by Colonel W. T. Sherman (who subsequently attained to such enviable distinction), and so continued until after the engagement. The brigade encamped on the first night near the village of Vienna, at which place Adjutant McKeon and Paymaster Keogh rejoined the regiment after a business trip to Washington.

After a comfortless night spent amid the foul exhalations of a swamp, a regiment again started on the march early on the morning of the 17th, and about 10 o'clock A. M. came in sight of Fairfax Courthouse. Here the regiment made a flank movement for the purpose of cutting off the retreat of the enemy's forces, and while executing it were soon confronted by a force of more than one thousand men, drawn up in line of battle and apparently prepared to fight. The order to halt and form was instantly given. The right wing of the Sixty-ninth was thrown into the fields to the left, where it joined the Second New York, and the line moved rapidly down on the enemy. The latter, however, turned and fled into the village, and thence towards Centreville, being considerably hastened in their flight by a few shots from the guns of the Eighth New York Artillery and Ayres's Battery.

In the village were found the camp equipments, arms, stores, etc. of General Bonham's division, the sight of which caused many to think that surely the rebellion would be soon and easily subdued. Major Sullivan, of the Second Rhode Island, was the first to enter the entrenchments, while Corporal McMahon, of tbe same regiment, secured the Confederate flag, which had been left flying.

Library of Congress
Weary Federal soldiers fall out by the hundreds heading to battle at Manassas.

During the march the roads were so much obstructed by felled trees that considerable delay was occasioned by their removal, and several halts had thus to be made. In one of these Captain Breslin was severely wounded in the shoulder by the accidental discharge of a musket that had fallen from the stack. He was placed in an ambulance, in which he was carried to Centreville.

Again the line of march was taken up towards Centreville, and in a short time the news was brought that Germantown also was abandoned by the enemy, which fact added considerably to the previous excitement. Fatigue, hunger, thirst, were all forgotten when the green banner and the national flag were placed on the ramparts of the abandoned fortifications, while between both the Sixty-ninth passed in triumph, "hats and caps waving on the bayonet points, and an Irish cheer, such as never before shook the woods of old Virginia, swelling and rolling far and wide into the gleaming air."

Next morning (18th), Centreville, too, was found evacuated. The positions of the army at this juncture were as follows: General Tyler's division lay between Ger-mantown and Centreville, Colonel Hunter's at Fairfax, on its line of march to Centreville; Colonel Miles's at Braddock's Cross Roads, and Heintzelman's around Fairfax. In this latter division was the Thirty-seventh New York (Irish Rifles), which, though not actually engaged at the battle of Bull Run, performed good service during tbe retreat, in guarding the stores and ammunition accumulated at Fairfax Station.

Part 3: First Blood


Selected Bibliography:

  • Conyngham, Capt. D. P. The Irish Brigade , New York: 1866. Reprinted by Olde Soldier Books, Inc.


More on The Wild Geese During the America's Civil War

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Tags: 69th, American, Civil, Corcoran, Fort, New, War, York

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