Editor's Note: The 8th Ohio Vol. Infantry was mustered into service as a 90 day regiment in 1861. Company B of the 8th was an Irish company known as the Hibernian Guards. At the end of their 90 days service in June of '61, the 8th mustered in as a 3 year regiment. They saw their first action in West Virginia in Sept. They were transferred to Shenandoah Valley where they fought during Jackson's Valley Campaign in the spring of '62 and then were transferred to McCellan's Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula in July of '62. They fought in almost every battle of the Army of the Potomac through Petersburg in July of 1864, when their 3 year term of enlistment expired and they mustered out. Perhaps their most famous action came during Pickett's Charge on the 3rd day of the Battle of Gettysburg. While posted in advance of the Union line, they single handedly attacked Mayo's Brigade on the left flank of that famous charge. Though they were heavily outnumbered, their bold action threw the Confederates left flank into disorder. The contribution of the 8th OVI to the Federal victory that day was out of all proportion to their small size. Below is the story of one of the officers of the Hibernian Guards, Capt. James K. O'Reilly. Text and photos courtesy of J.C. Sullivan and the 8th OVI hompage.
AN IRISHMAN IN THE
8TH OHIO VOLUNTEERS
-- by J. C. Sullivan
James K. O'Reilly was returning from Sunday Mass at Cleveland's St. Edward Church on Woodland Avenue when news posters announced the assault on Ft. Sumter, South Carolina. America's Civil War began on that April day. O'Reilly, born in County Cork in 1838, came to Cleveland in 1858 via New York City. He and his Irish friends James Butler and Thomas Galwey were anxious to join Union forces before the fight was over. They hurried to the armory of the Hibernian Guards and enlisted for three months, officially becoming Co. B, 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. When it was all over, almost five years later, the 8th Ohio would have 97 men present for muster-out out of a total 990 that began the unit.
The honorable Kenneth R. Callahan, Common Pleas Court Judge in Cuyahoga County, is a direct descendent of Captain O'Reilly, his maternal grandfather's father. He honors the spirit of his colorful and gallant forebear by insuring Americans don't forget the deeds and valor of the 8th Ohio, a unit that fought fiercely in most of the major battles of the Potomac Army. He also wants to insure that history accurately reflects the role they played in turning the famous 'Pickett's Charge' at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863.
By June, General Robert E. Lee's rag-tag forces had moved into the farmlands of Pennsylvania, rich in the much-needed resources of food, material and steed. The march to Gettysburg was brutally hot. Unlike modern armies, neither side at Gettysburg had winter and summer uniforms - only heavy wool. Some were lucky to have shoes. During the march it was frightfully hot. O'Reilly suffered sunstroke and went by horse-drawn ambulance to Gettysburg. "When he found out the 8th was positioned outside the Emmitsburg Road," said Callahan, "he left the hospital and ran out and joined the company there."
Col. William Carroll, the 8th's Brigade commander at Gettysburg
O'Reilly, deathly ill, arrived at Gettysburg on July 2nd, after the first day of battle. Colonel William Carroll (of the Maryland Carrolls) ordered the Hibernians immediately into a cornfield between the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge and Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge, with orders were to push rebel sharpshooters back. With this advanced picket line established, O'Reilly's Hibernians spent the night there while the rest of the brigade was pulled out by General Hancock to support other areas. Confederate sharpshooters reminded them of their closeness throughout the evening by shooting at them.
On the morning of the 3rd, General Lee, believing the center of the Union line to be weakened, opened up his attack with a two hour artillery barrage. "Nothing more terrific than this story of artillery can be imagined," said Colonel Franklyn Sawyer. "The missiles of both armies passed over our heads. The roar of the guns was deafening, the air was soon clouded with smoke, and the shrieks and the startling crack of the exploding shells above, a round and in our midst; the blowing up of our caissons in our rear; the driving through the air of the fence rails, posts and limbs of trees; the groans of dying men, the neighing of frantic and wounded horses, created a scene of absolute horror."
General Lee followed this up by sending fifteen thousand graybacks into the fray. The 15O - 18O men of the 8th Ohio poured rifle fire into the left flank of James J. Pettigrew's division. "They moved up splendidly," Sawyer wrote, "deploying into column as they crossed the long, sloping interval between us and their base. At first it looked like they would sweep our position, but as they advanced, their direction lay to our left." "A moan went up from the battlefield distinctly to be heard amid the storm of battle," related survivor Galwey. The surprised Southerners, led by gallant officers on horseback, broke and retreated. "...the first sign of faltering came from Colonel J.M. Brockenbrough's brigade of Virginians who, under Pettigrew, were stationed in the extreme left of the advance, that is, directly in front of the 8th Ohio," Callahan related.
Franklin Sawyer, commander of the 8th Ohio at Gettysburg
With Sawyer admitting their 'blood was up', he then turned his men ninety degrees and fired into the flank of Joseph Davis' brigade. When Union commanders saw this development, they sent reinforcements down to turn the attack. The 8th advanced, cutting off three regiments, capturing their colors and many soldiers. Afterwards, an attempt was made to discharge Colonel Sawyer from the service for it was believed he was drunk...one would think that no commander in his right mind would attempt such a maneuver with such a small force.
Later that summer, after the battle of Gettysburg, the 8th Ohio was sent to New York City for riot duty. When the draft was instituted, provisions were made for purchasing one's way out through the process of buying a substitute. Naturally, many Irish and other immigrants could not afford to do so and objected to the practice.
While there, O'Reilly met his future bride, Susan O'Brien. "The whole thing was a drinking expedition," Callahan said. "Commander Sawyer was telling everybody not to get drunk but about an hour later he was arrested for drunkenness. I think they had a good time in New York City."
In August, 1865, at the war's end, O'Reilly returned to New York City and married Susan O'Brien at St. Stephen's Parish. The couple came to Cleveland and resided at 189 Quincy Ave., where they raised seven children. Part of the time he worked for Thomas Jones & Sons Monument Co., which was located at E. 28th & Prospect Ave. Because of his disability from his Gettysburg sunstroke, however, he was never able to work for long periods of time. He tried to get a pension the rest of his life in a protracted struggle with the War Department. His widow was finally awarded one thirty years after his death, in 1930. In 1900, after a funeral Mass at St. Edward's Church, O'Reilly was laid to rest in St. John's cemetery, next to the church. His stone, erected by his daughter, says simply, "Captain J.K. O'Reilly."
Judge Callahan met Captain O'Reilly's daughter, Isabelle, in 1952. She blamed her father for the fact that she never married. "She claimed every time somebody came over to see her he pulled them into the parlor and kept them up until midnight telling stories about the Civil War."
Additional information on the 8th Ohio, including an image of Captain O'Reilly, can be found at their website,http://www.cwreenactors.com/8thovi.htm.
Below are two letters from Thomas Galway, a Fenian and an officer in the Hibernian Guards of the 8th Ohio. The first is his brief account of the 8th's actions at Gettysburg and the second was written on the occasion of Captain J.K. O'Reilly's death.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer shortly after the battle of Gettsysburg.
From the 8th Ohio Infantry.
The following is from a member of Co. B, Hibernian Guards, (8th O.V) to his father in this city. It will be persued with much interest:
Battlefield of Gettysburg, PA., July 5th, 1863
My Dear Father - We have met the enemy and have given him the most decisive defeat that he has gotten in this war. It was the most hotly contested battle of the rebellion. Both armies were composed of veteran soldiers, who had been in many engagements, and, accordingly, it was only after the utmost amount of valor and resistance had been used on both sides that we succeeded in compelling them to relinquish the field, of which we are in undisputed possession, the enemy having entirely withdrawn, leaving us all of his dead and most of his wounded, besides thousands of prisoners.
Our regiment took three stand of rebel colors, being those of the 14th Virginia, 34th North Carolina and 16th North Carolina regiments. Corporal Joseph Evans took two lieutenants and several privates prisoner. The 8th numbered about 216 men. Small as that number was, we alone charged into three brigades, of Pender's division of General Hill's corps, and took 1,854 prisoners. This is no "blow," but the plain truth. But what did it cost us? Out of 216 men that took the field, we had 103 killed and wounded. I do not count those who were only slightly wounded. I myself twice hit by pieces of iron shell from the enemy's artillery, and once the day before by cannister. I was not hurt, although struck three times.
The great fighting of which I speak was on the 3d, although we were engaged on the 2d and 3d. There was a small battle fought on the 1st, but our corps did not get up to the front till the morning of the 2d, and we were sent up to the front at once. Our position was in the centre. You must look to the papers for an account of the three days' battle.
At St. John's Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio, next to the rectory of St. Edward's Church, Karen Sullivan decorates the grave of Sergeant James Kelly, Co. B, 8th OVI, killed at Gettysburg. - Photo by J.C. Sullivan
Bang! Bang! There is booming of our field artillery, which, with the cavalry, is pursuing the enemy. I will close by giving you a list of killed and wounded in our company:
Killed - Private George R. Wilson and Wm. Brown. Wounded - 1st Sargeant John G. Fairchild, and Sargeant Kelly.
I think Fairchild will have to lose his leg, and I am afraid Kelly is mortally wounded (Ed. note: see photo). We had six others wounded, whose names I have not furnished.
New York, May 22nd, 1900
Editor of the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer
I desire as a comrade officer of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry to say through the Plain Dealer (sic) a few words upon the military career of the late Captain J.K. O'Reilly, the news of whose recent death at 189 Quincy Street, Cleveland, has just reached us.
During the twenty campaigns and more than sixty engagements in which the 8th Infantry gained its fame in the Civil War, O'Reilly's influence and example, first among its non-commissioned officers and afterwards among its commissioned officers, contributed greatly to its fighting spirit, conduct and methods. He was fearless and quick-witted in the moment of danger or other emergency.
The two bravest and most brilliant among the many brave and brilliant acts of that regiment were its bayonet charge across the Sunken or Bloody Lane at Antietam at the end of five hours close fighting, and its wheel to the left at Gettysburg by which it struck the left flank of Pickett's confederate column, and put it into disorder at that point, at the very moment when the front of that column had crossed the Emmittsburg Road and was shaking its battle flags at the "high water mark of the rebellion."
In both of those splendid manoeuvres O'Reilly was very conspicuous, if he was not to some extent the real author of each. He was at first a man of fine physique, and like many others who constantly exposed themselves, escaped almost unharmed by the enemy, but he suffered to the last from a sunstroke that befell him during fearful hot day on the march to Gettysburg, and I understand that this was the chief cause of his death.
Cleveland is not today the quiet little city it was on the 16th of April, 1861, when, in defence of the Union, O'Reilly enlisted as a private in the Hibernian Guards, which became Company B of the 8th Ohio Infantry. But big and bustling as Cleveland has become, it will not, I imagine, forget the honor done to its name in the Civil War by such a man as O'Reilly.
Thos. F. Galwey
15 West 123rd St.,
New York City
GALWEY, THOMAS FRANCIS, The Valiant Hours, Narrative of "Captain Brevet," an Irish-American in the Army of the Potomac. - Harrisburg PA., Stackpole Co., 1961. Col. William S. Nye, Editor
DOWNES, CAPTAIN THOMAS M.F., Co. B. 8th Ohio Infantry (Reenactment)from a speech to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Boland-Berry Division, Cleveland, Ohio 1989.
CALLAHAN, KENNETH, conversations, 1993-4..
Judge Callahan is a graduate of Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School and received his undergraduate degree from Cleveland's John Carroll University. He received his law degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Additionally, he's studied art, history, anthropology and literature at both Trinity and University Colleges, Dublin. Callahan is a published author and a military historian. He and his spouse Martha are parents of Casey and Eoin.
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