'Gallowglass' at Antietam: The Irish Brigade's Fight PART 1 of 6: OUT OF THE MIST


'Gallowglass' at Antietam:
 The Irish Brigade's Fight


The Irish American, October 11, 1862 

Wednesday morning the mists rolled slowly away from the hills behind us, leaving our position and that of the enemy, which was in the front, still enveloped and enwreathed as with a cloud,through which there was no sun to pierce. At last, however, the fog rolled itself up into huge voluminous, cloudlike folds, and floated away from us. I do not know where, yet, leaving the enemy enwrapped as it were, in stillness, mystery, darkness..

James Turner: Seanchaí
of the Irish Brigade

James Turner, who used the nom de plume Gallowglass, was an attorney from Jersey City, N.J. He was the second son of James S. Turner, born in Ardee, County Louth. His early education was in County Cavan, where he lived with extended family. He came to the United States in 1849. He graduated from New York University with honors, read law and was admitted to the bar in November 1859.

Turner was a member of the 2nd New Jersey Militia, a 90-day unit, during the early days of America's Civil War. While in the 2nd, he wrote articles for The Irish American under the pen name of "Jersey Blue."

On formation of Thomas Francis Meagher's Irish Brigade, Turner was commissioned a lieutenant in F Company, 88th New York. He was promoted to adjutant of the 88th in August 1862, and to brigade staff the following month.

It was as a lieutenant in the 88th that he would gain fame writing of the brigade's exploits for The Irish American under the pen name of "Gallowglass."

Turner was wounded at Antietam, by which he had become a captain, and was away from the Brigade until he recovered in the spring 1864. He was shot in the head and killed at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. He was buried in Jersey City, leaving a wife and small child behind.

The word Gallowglass comes from the Irish, gallóglaich, meaning "foreign warrior." Gallowglass were mercenary warriors who first came to Ireland from Scotland and the Western Isles in the 13th century. Eventually they assimilated. From the 13th century until the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, Gallowglass made up a large part of almost all Irish armies. English writers of the time said the Gallowglass were, "valiant and hardy ... burly of body, well and strongly timbered."

From the heights whereon Richardson's Division was, a fine view of the salient points of the battlefield was had. On our right where Hooker was stationed, a point of the woods of much importance, jutted out, an open space mostly cornfield, intervened, and a corresponding piece of timber, opposite to the one first mentioned, was occupied by the Confederates.


Between our point of observation and the hills held by the enemy, a clear open country, great fields of corn, grassy slopes, rich bottom-lands extended. At many places and in all directions were comfortable homesteads with well-filled outhouses, and many evidences of comfort and contentment.

On the right as early as five o'clock, Hooker opened the game; the 20-pounder Parrotts at the centre, which we were supporting, also began their fire, and kept it up with force and fury. On the left there was an ominous and dead silence. The fire of the artillery is tremendous--advances are made through the fields under the shells from our guns, the farmhouse take fire, and the fierce red flames licking and spreading over all the buildings and fences, burn brightly and blaze steadily while the fight goes on. Flocks of skirmishers advance and retire; move to the right and to the left with varying fortune, and with some speed, accelerated by the enthusiastic cannoneers who watch with intense emotion the effect of the fire and give vent to their feelings by an occasional cheer and increased activity.

There goes from the point in the woods mentioned above, toward the corresponding point held by us, a brigade of the rebels in line. Out into the open field they march with precision and steadiness, the shot and shell flying around them; steadily onward they move, they gain the woods, they disappear within the trees. There goes the thundering and thrilling fire of musketry; for minutes the dark woods sway to and fro in the dull gray morning light, with the detonation and discharges. Then out of the woods, at precisely the place they entered, come two or three bearing a wounded comrade or commander; then some few cowardly scoundrels fly from their ranks back to their old shelter beyond the hills.

While you are looking, the musketry increases for a moment, dies away, and then pell-mell, at full speed, without order, without steadiness, without precision, broken, scattered, no two of them together, flying go the remains of the rebel brigade, that just now advanced, retreating toward their own lines. Two or three mounted officers gallop desperately about the field; in vain they wave their swords; in vain they shout or try to stop the rout. Hooker is driving them like sheep before him. This, remember, is away on the right, the guns from the centre playing upon the broken battalions, the left still preserving an unbroken dead silence. It is a pity it is so early in the day, else that success might have affected materially the fortunes of the day, and made them more speedily decisive.

Many who are now advancing with bounding and buoyant steps to the hot conflict will have solved the mystery of life and death, and of the vast and wonderful spaces, which be beyond the boundaries of sight and sense, which we always call eternity.

In a few minutes after the first symptoms of the rebels' panic, Capt. McMahon, of General Richardson's staff rides up with orders and confirmatory intelligence of Hooker's success toward the right. The Division moves off by the rear to the right, the Irish Brigade leading.

Today we shall form the first line of the Division and long before night many a strange story will have been told. Many who are now advancing with bounding and buoyant steps, to the hot conflict, will have solved the mystery of life and death, and of the vast and wonderful spaces, which be beyond the boundaries of sight and sense, which we always call eternity. We march some distance than turn to the left, cross the small stream, the regiments are forming in line, ready to move off the flank-halt between the hollows of two hills. The advance is made once more, this time coming nearer and nearer to the dreadful and deafening discharges of musketry ahead. ... (To be continued.)


EDITOR'S NOTE: This series was compiled and edited by WGT Contributing Editor Mike Kane, e-mail: mkane@thewildgeese.com, from microfilm and produced by Ger Regan and Joe Gannon. The text was occasionally broken into paragraphs not indicated in the original columns of The Irish American, and punctuation added, for ease of reading. The headline on the story of October 11, 1862 was "ANTIETAM," while the reporting of "Gallowglass" in the October 18th issue reads "ANTIETAM-THE DEAD OF THE BRIGADE": "BY OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT". Both accounts ran on Page 2. Part 6 ran on Page 2 of The Irish American's Nov. 1, 1862 edition, headlined "The Irish Brigade and Its Losses."


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