This five-part series on the 69th New York Irish Brigade at the 1st Battle of Bull Run is drawn from the book "The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns," by Tipperary native David P. Conyngham, published in 1866. Conyngham served during the Civil War, for a time with Meagher's Irish Brigade, and finally as a correspondent for the New York Herald. In Part 5 of 5 we hear of the Bravery of the Sixty-ninth.-Defeat of the Union forces.-Capture of Colonel Corcoran.

Part 1: The Call to Arms
Part 2: Encountering the Foe
Part 3: First Blood
Part 4: Baptism by Fire
Part 5: The 69th's Bravery Amid Defeat

Coutesy of Lt. Col. Ken Powers
The famous "Prince of Wales Flag" that led the 69th NYSM into battle at 1st Manassas.

The standard-bearer of the green flag of the Sixty-ninth was shot down, but the flag was instantly raised again. The second man was shot, and a rebel tore the flag from his grasp. Exerting himself, he shot down the rebel, rescuing the flag, and seized a rebel color; but he was soon overpowered by numbers, and the trophy taken from him, besides being taken prisoner with his own flag. He had a concealed revolver, and shot the two men in charge of him, and captured a captain's sword and a prisoner, which he brought in with him. His name was John D. Keefe, of Meagher's Zouaves.

The Sixty-ninth left the field in good order with colors flying. Colonel Corcoran formed the remnant of his forces into a kind of square to meet a charge of cavalry, which they repulsed. As they gained the road they were again charged on, and Colonel Corcoran was wounded through the leg. The crowd and pressure of fugitive troops rushing by was so great, and the confusion so general, that his men lost sight of him, and he fell into the enemy's hands along with Captain James McIvor, Lieutenant Edward Connolly, Color-Sergeant John Murphy, Sergeant William O'Donohue, and about thirty privates.

When lying in front of the enemy's batteries, before the charge, the raised flag was a prominent mark for the enemy. Colonel Corcoran ordered the man to lower it.

"Don't ask me, colonel," be replied; "I'll never lower it," and was instantly killed. Another sprang to it' and met the same fate. Colonel Corcoran was everywhere conspicuous, cheering on and rallying the troops: even when wounded he checked the rebel advance with his little band, and disdained to leave the field until he was captured at his post of honor.

Though many of the Sixty-ninth fell upholding the green flag and the Stars and Stripes, which were perforated with bullets, still they were triumphantly brought home in safety.

The losses in the battle were, all told, about two thousand Federals and one thousand five hundred Con-federates. The Federals lost most of their artillery, stores, and arms. The Sixty-ninth lost about one hundred and fifty men.

George Wilkes, who witnessed the battle, in his paper, The Spirit of the Times,' says: "The Sixty-ninth, which, with the Scotch regiment of Wisconsin men and the New York Thirteenth, had been wading through batteries since their arrival on the field, marched past in splendid order, their banners flying as if on review, and their faces sternly set."

Leslie's Pictorial History
The 69th NYSM rushes into battle at Manasas, as depicted in Leslie's Pictorial History of the war.

"They passed down the hill, obliquely to the right, on their road to support Griffin's battery, which was within two hundred yards of the artillery of the foe. Though silent as they passed, a shout rose in a few seconds afterwards from the direction they had taken, which every listener could mark for theirs, and the spiteful one which responded from the rebel battery was soon quelled by the volume of their musketry. Most prominent among them was Meagher, the Irish orator, who frequently, during the contest of that turbulent day, waved the green banner of his regiment up and down the hottest line of fire."

The Special Correspondent of 'The World,' writing, said:

"It was a brave fight-that rush of the Sixty-ninth to the death-struggle ! With such cheers as those which won the battles of the Peninsula, with a quick step at first, and then a double-quick, and at last a run, they dashed forward along the edge of the extended forest. Coats and knapsacks were thrown to either side, that nothing might impede their work; but we know that no guns would slip from the hands of those determined fellows, even if dying agonies were needed to close them with a firmer grasp. As the line swept along, Meagher galloped towards the head, crying, 'Come on, boys! you have got your chance at last.' I have not seen him, but heard that he fought magnificently."

The Southerners themselves spoke of the fighting of the Sixty-ninth in the highest terms. One journal said:

"No Southerner but feels that the Sixty-ninth maintained the old reputation of Irish valor-on the wrong side. * * * All honor to the Sixty-ninth, even in its errors."

Judge Holt, in addressing the volunteers in Ken-tucky, said: "Leonidas himself, while surveying the Persian host that like a troubled sea swept onward to the pass where he stood, would have been proud of the leadership of Irishmen (Sixty-ninth)."

The following amusing dialogue, which is stated to have taken place between an Irish United States cavalryman and his officer, will show how true was Pat's allegiance to the flag he had sworn to defend:

Officer:-Well, Pat, ain't you going to follow the General (Twiggs)?

Pat.-If Gineral Scott ordhers us to follow him, sir, begor Toby (Pat's horse) can gallop as well as the best of 'em.

0.-I mean, won't you leave the abolition army, and join the free South?

P.-Begor I never enlisted in the abolition army, and never will. I agreed to sarve Uncle Sam for five years, and the divil a pin-mark was made in the con-tract, with my consint, ever since. When my time is up, if the army isn't the same as it is now, I won't join it again.

0.-Pat, the "Second" (Cavalry) was only eighteen months old when you and I joined. The man who raised our gallant regiment is now the Southern President: the man who so lately commanded it is now a Southern general. Can you remain in it when they are gone?

P.-Well, you see the fact of the matter is, Lieu-tenant C., I ain't much of a scho1ar; I can't argue the question with you; but what would my mother say if I deserted my colors? Oh, the divil a give I'll over give in, now, that's the end of it. I tried to run away once, a few weeks after enlistin', but a man wouldn't be missed thin. It's quite different now, lieutenant, and I'm not going to disgrace either iv my countries.

0.-Do you know that you will have to fire on green Irish colors, in the Southern ranks?

P.-And won't you have to fire on them colors (pointing to the flag at Fort Bliss) that yerself and five of us licked nineteen Injins under? Sure it isn't a greater shame for an Irishman to fire on Irish colors than for an American to fire on American colors. An' th' oath '11 be on my side, you know, lieutenant.

O.-D-n the man that relies on Paddies, I say.

P.-The same compliments to desarters, yer honor.

Selected Bibliography:

  • Conyngham, Capt. D. P. The Irish Brigade , New York: 1866. Reprinted by Olde Soldier Books, Inc.

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

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

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Tags: 69th, American, Bull, Civil, Conyngham, DP, Run, War


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