THE IRISH AT ANTIETAM
PART 4 of 6: CAPTAIN JOHN O'CONNELL JOYCE
The Irish American, October 18, 1862
I cannot give a connected and complete account of the great battle of the 17th in as much as owing to circumstances I witnessed only about the half of it, yet, can I speak of and do some small justice to a few of our Irish dead of the day. Many of them I knew personally, intimately and well. I have seen them in situations that tried of what stuff a man was made, and that having been discovered, tested it to the very utmost. I have known them through all the campaigns of McClellan, and even before the active labors of the Brigade began.
The best and the bravest seem to be carried away oftenest. Many will mourn him.
I remember them as connected with the bright days and jovial nights in Fort Schuyler. The first impression represents itself to me is that of a young man who was just twenty-one, with a fair complexion, bright, beaming blue eyes and hair of the color called auburn; he was so beautiful that I never looked at it -- and I have observed it millions of times with pleasure and delight -- without recalling immediately those fine lines of Ferguson --
"My own Dawn's hair is like a thread of gold spun
Daylight, without it's brown in the shadows and yellow in the sun."
His height was medium, his figure burly, his step firm and determined. (An) observing ... eye could discern a bearing and a carriage of the person which told as plainly as so many words that JOHN O'CONNELL JOYCE had a keen and true sense of his dignity as a man and as an officer, and that he was determined at all hazards to maintain it. You should have seen his steady, cool brave bearing on picket, his dashing, and dauntless courage in battle when he was ever within a heartbeat of eternity. I have known Jim intimately since the fighting before Richmond -- previously to that not, not so thoroughly.
Like a murmur, it waved up to the right of his company that one of his men -- Private Collins, I think, was mortally wounded, killed indeed. "Captain," said one of the men to Joyce, "poor Collins is dead." To which, in his full, strong voice, he replied: "God rest his soul. He died the death of a good soldier and never disgraced ourselves or one another." When the rebel flags planted on the brow of the hill up which we were marching first appeared in view, he yearned and longed and labored to take them. "Attention, Co. C, steady -- right dress -- forward -- march" and on they went, every man -- a terrible fire raining down the slope on them.
These were the last words I heard from him -- the last sight I had of him. Half an hour after I was looking at Dr. Reynolds dressing Lieutenant Mackey's wound down near the hospital, ... some one told me Captain Joyce was shot through the head. So it was. The news was as unexpected as it was grievous. The best and the bravest seem to be carried away oftenest. Many will mourn him. All said, God rest his soul.
Of, all who mourned, of all who prayed, none did so as, I am sure, with a keener grief, than General Meagher. Often and often has he been heard to say that Joyce and Clooney and O'Donoghue and the others were his children. They had been with him from the beginning. They had served with him in his old company in the 69th Regt. They were high-souled, high-toned young Irish patriots, who had imbibed from his lips their passionate love of Ireland, and the hope in which they died, that some day or another they would have an opportunity to draw their swords under him, and display their soldierly skill to some purpose in the ranks of men fighting for Fatherland.
The foundations upon which they rest have been cemented by the blood and the brains of so many young Celts from Ireland.
At least, let us be thankful for one thing. One of the great longings of their souls has been satisfied. I am convinced that they would rather have died where they did, sustaining and supporting the honor of the Green Flag, than have died full of years, and honors and riches, gained in a strange land under strange banners. They fought and died for and loved their adopted country -- but even on the red field of blood, so far away from home.
It is a favorite thought of ours, contemplating the majesty and grandeur of the republic, that the foundations upon which they rest have been cemented by the blood and the brains of so many young Celts from Ireland. And no grave of so young a man on this continent will emit tenderer or truer rays to guide you in life or death, than those which spring from the tomb of Calvary where they have laid John O'Connell Joyce; others may be more effulgent, but none more will be purer. He was a native of Fermoy, in the county of Cork, and has been in this country about two years. ... (To be continued.)
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