THE IRISH AT ANTIETAM
PART 2 of 6: 'NO RETREAT'
The Irish American, October 18, 1862
CALDWELL'S BRIGADE was to form the second line behind us, and the third was to be held by French's old Brigade, now commanded by Colonel Brooke. After crossing the creek, the country was rolling hills succeeding hill in rapid succession. We moved by the flank for considerable distance, then, on approaching the enemy, the advance was made in line, the four regiments of the Brigade forming one continuous serried and strong prolongation. The 69th regiment under the command of Colonel James Kelly was on the right, Major Cavanaugh, acting lieutenant colonel and Captain Duffy, acting major. Next to them came the 29th Mass Vol., commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Barnes, then the 63rd, Colonel Burke, and on the left of the 63rd was the 88th led by Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, Major Quinlan, acting lieutenant colonel, and Captain Horgan, acting major.
|Time and again are the color bearers of the 63rd and 88th shot down, and the colors on the point of touching the ground are caught up and borne bravely by the fellows near them.
Moving along, the shot and shell of the enemy poured over our heads and crashed in the hollow to the rear, or among the occasional trees behind; on the right the sound of musketry was deafening, and the Brigade soon came within the range of the enemy small arms. The advance, however, was uninterrupted, unbroken, although it had to be made under many difficulties. The chief of which was the close, compact, and strong fences, which impeded the progress of the men, and the crossing of which caused momentary derangement of the dressings. All the time the bullets are whirring about, an occasional wounded man falling down and is borne to the rear but we have not yet commenced to fire.
Suddenly, as if planted there in defiance, the flags of the rebel regiments, on the rising ground, are waving within easy distance -- ours float as proudly as steadily in line. The fire as we mount the slope is terrific, but the advance never falters or wavers. Time and again are the color bearers of the 63rd and 88th shot down, and the colors on the point of touching the ground are caught up and borne bravely by the fellows near them. On the right of the line, the 69th are going through a similar shower of death; their color-bearers are shot down, but before the standards touch the ground they are caught up by Captain McGee and carried in front of the regiment. Lieutenant-Colonel James Kelly is in command today; pressing ahead he receives two wounds to the face, one immediately under the eye, the other in the jaw. He remains at his post until it is impossible to do so any longer. Major Cavanaugh, who seems to bear a charmed life, takes command. Captain Felix Duffy, acting major, is shot dead; and still the fight goes on--the Brigade pushing up the hill slowly, steadily, surely, pouring into the ranks of the enemy a deadly and telling fire.
On the left, the 88th are marching along with their characteristic gallantry -- the only difficulty the officers have is to restrain the men from going individually ahead to fight the battle on their own responsibilities. There is a cluster of trees, not more than three or four, on the top of the hill opposite the center of the regimental line. The rebels have taken shelter there and pour into our ranks a continuous fire that is galling and fatal. Several of the 'FAUGH-A-BALLAGHS" rush ahead to take the rebels at close quarters. And it requires all the determination and firmness of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Kelly to keep them in line. I know Sergeant Granger and others were almost at the brow of the hill, carried away with their enthusiasm, before the voice of the colonel, calling them by their names caused them to halt and rejoin their companies.
As comrade after comrade fell and was passed over, you could still (hear) our boys say "On our banners are inscribed 'no retreat.'
The rebel bullets do not spare the 88th. Lieutenant Egan, commanding Co. G, is shot down, receiving a musket ball in the ankle that breaks the bone of the leg, instantly disabling him from further duty. Lieutenant Gallagher immediately took command of the company, which he headed through all the engagements from Savage Station to Harrison's Landing, gaining for himself the almost unbounded esteem of his commanding officers and comrades. Writing to the Subscriber, he regrets his absence and says -- "The leaden hail fell thick and fast, and never before were the horrors of war so strongly impressed on my mind. As comrade after comrade fell and was passed over, you could still (hear) our boys say "On our banners are inscribed 'no retreat' and the motto shall never be falsified." I heard one enthusiastic youth say "Come on Jackson: Shields whipped you at Winchester and Meagher will thrash you at Sharpsburg." Our boys thought that Jackson was pitted against them and fought with double daring. They never came up to my style of fight until that day at Antietam.' Remember this is from the pen of a cool, cautious, competent officer, who never exaggerates, but is always on the moderate side. ... To be continued.
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