America's Civil War comes at an ideal time for Michael Corcoran, a man of action. Facing a court-martial, the lanky Irishman volunteers the 69th for the defense of the Union, one of the first regiments to harken to President Lincoln's call. PART 2 OF 5.

By John J. Concannon

Harper's Illustrated Weekly
Michael Corcoran

President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers. Colonel Corcoran's court martial was summarily dissolved, and the charges were dismissed, to the intense satisfaction of the community at large." Corcoran was released from arrest and immediately issued a call for volunteers for his regiment.

The lanky Irishman went to work recruiting, and Irish Americans responded enthusiastically. The line of men seeking to enlist in the 69th extended for several blocks from the entrance door of the recruiting headquarters at Hibernian Hall on Prince Street.

Hibernian Hall, where hundreds of Irishmen lined up trying to enlist in the 69th in April 1861.

More than 1,800 men applied in person to serve in Corcoran's 69th Regiment, though the limit of membership for a regiment was 1,000 men. And letters and oral requests to join came from 3,000 others.

On April 23, 1861, the 69th, with full ranks and Colonel Corcoran at its head, attended mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral on Mott Street. Thousands lined the widewalks, hundreds tried to march with the soldiers, every window and doorway was thronged with people. On Great Jones Street, the regiment halted, and the wife of Judge Charles P. Daly, a famous jurist and Irish American patriot, presented colors to the regiment. With their new colors flying proudly, "the ideal regiment of New York" -- the 69th -- went away to war.

For a time, the regiment did "picket" duty at Annapolis, guarding the railroad line from there to Washington. Then the regiment moved to Arlington Heights, outside of Washington, where Corcoran put his men to work building and strengthening defenses for that city. The men of the regiment constructed a fort, which they named Fort Corcoran, in honor of their commander.

D.T. Valentine's Manual, 1862
The 69th NYSM leaves St. Patrick's Old Cathedral to travel to the seat of the war, April 23, 1861.

All was comparatively quiet on the Washington front for a while. The Union Army began a slow advance into the Confederate territory of Virginia, while a "small army of civilian spectators" followed and watched. The Union advance was almost effortless, with the Confederates retreating constantly and showing no sign of stubborn resistance.

The advance seemed like a parade and in Washington and Congress the belief grew that "it would be over quickly." Pressure also grew from Congress and the White House for the Army to "get on with it" and "get it over." There was a growing public outcry "to take Richmond and end the war."

Union Brigadier General Irvin McDowell asked for more time to organize and shape up his green (no pun intended), "untried and unbloodied " army. Time to give the hastily mobilized volunteers "the steel they will need in battle to face the fearsome reality of bullets, blood and bayonets, shot and shell." The White House reply: The other side is just as green and untried.

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An army of civilians still followed the uniformed army. Thousands of them, all blissfully watching "the show" from what they regarded as a "safe" distance, and even from up close, totally mindless of any real danger.

The first big battle of the war broke suddenly on "a hot Sunday," July 21, 1861. It started with a few minor skirmishes and then grew as more Confederate troops arrived, to reach a fighting force of 40,000 men. The Confederates, commanded by General Pierre Beauregard, faced a Union force of 35,000 men under MacDowell.


The face-off was near a Virginia town named Manassas. At a place between the towns of Manassas and Centreville, where there meandered a small stream, named "Bull Run."

The 69th was held in reserve for a time. but when the Confederate attacks turned vigorous and determined, the regiment was ordered forward to do battle, as part of General William Tecumseh Sherman's brigade. The 69th was soon in the heat of the fight, performing nobly. Captain James Haggerty (a native of Glenswilly, Donegal), an acting Lieutenant Colonel, was killed, one of the first to fall on "that awful day. "

Capt. (acting Lt. Col.) James Haggerty, the first man of the 69th NYSM to die at 1st Manassas.

A historian described the turning point of the battle: "The rout began when General Beauregard brought forward a charge of fresh, experienced troops into the ranks of raw Union volunteers. Teamsters, overcome with fear and the shock and scenes of the big battle, wildly fled with their wagons toward the rear (often through the ranks of the Union soldiers).

"The confusion was increased and multiplied by the presence among the fleeing of a multitude of panic-stricken picnickers, Congressmen, civilians of every sort, and lavishly dressed women, who had gone in carriages and carryalls to see the spectacle of a Federal army walking over the Confederates.

"The demoralizing exodus of so many affected regiment after regiment, until the Union army was almost in panic. The victory of the Confederates was complete. The Confederates fed fat for days upon the provisions that the picnickers abandoned in their flight. "

The 69th Regiment had fought gallantly and in good order. General Sherman attested to that in his "Memoirs. " Corcoran, as ordered, had succeeded in shepherding his regiment to safety. But, in the melee, he, Captain James McIvor, Lieutenant Edmond Connolly and some dozen men of the 69th Regiment were surrounded and captured.

©2001 John J. Concannon


About the Author: Flushing, N.Y., resident John J. Concannon,, is a former national historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This series is derived from a monograph he wrote for the unveiling of a new gravestone for Michael Corcoran in 1990.

You can have information about every man who wore a Union star at your fingertips when you own Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Together with his Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders it's an essential part of any good Civil War reference collection.

(A portion of your purchase price will help support "The Wild Geese Today.")

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

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Tags: 69th, American, Ballymote, Carrowkeel, Civil, Corcoran, County, Michael, Regiment, Sligo, More…War


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