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 3 of 5 drawn from D.P. Conyngham's account of the 69th at Bull Run, the regiment watches first blood drawn at Blackburn's Ford.

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

Library of Congress
1st. Lt. Edward K. Butler, Co. K , 69th NYSM. One of the men headed for his first combat in July 1861. He survived the war.

The battle of Bull Run was a series of minor engagements culminating in a general action at Manassas. At first the Federal Army was so far successful that a brilliant victory was anticipated; but Beauregard had made such a judicious disposal of his troops and artillery as to enable him to keep us in check, until the arrival of Jackson's and Johnston's re-enforcements enabled him to take up the offensive at several points, and thus throw our already exhausted army into confusion.

The respective forces under Beauregard and McDowell were nearly equal.

The Federal Army consisted of about forty-three thousand. Of these, several militia regiments from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and one New York regiment, and Captain Varian's light artillery battery, Eighth New York State Militia, left the field of battle and marched home, leaving the enemy in front, their time of service having expired on the the 20th. To the credit of the Sixty ninth New York and Thirteenth Brooklyn, two Irish regiments, be it said, that they volunteered to remain, though their time had also expired.

Beauregard had only about forty thousand troops around Centreville and Fairfax. He adroitly drew in his outer posts before the Federal advance, and occupied the woods and defiles leading through Bull Run to Manassas. This enabled him to contract his line so as to guard the most important passes and also to cover Manassas Junction, where he hourly expected Johnston's and Jackson's troops from the Shenandoah Valley.

Most of these reinforcements had arrived by the 19th, but Kirby Smith, Cooke, and Longstreet came up at the critical moment, when victory seemed in the hands of the Federals, and by a vigorous assault along the Federal lines soon routed them, their cavalry following up the advantage and throwing them into indescribable confusion. Though the forces were about equal, the Confederates had a decided advantage in artillery, in its commanding position, and the superior manner in which it was served.

Manassas plains are about thirty-five miles from Washington, extending from the foot of Centreville heights across Bull Run to Manassas Junction. Dark, gloomy woods, deep ravines, wood-covered runs, and elevated plateaus afforded excellent covering for the enemy's infantry and artillery.

The first engagement took place on the 18th at Bull Run, midway between Centreville and Manassas and about three miles from both points. General Tyler, who commanded the right wing of the Union army, ordered Colonel Richardson, commanding the Fourth Brigade, accompanied by Captain Ayres's battery and four companies of cavalry, to reconnoitre along the Run in the direction of Blackburn Ford.

A Civil War skirmish line, from a contemporary drawing.

Richardson had advanced about two miles along the Run, and had effected a crossing above Blackburn Ford, and commenced shelling the woods. The enemy's artillery replied, throwing shells among our cavalry, who were drawn up in line. Richardson threw forward heavy lines of skirmishers, who were met with a galling musketry file from concealed enemies.

The skirmishers on both sides soon fell back, formed, and advanced in line.

The Federal advance was met by the First Virginia Volunteers, who, after a few volleys, retreated in good order, the Federals following pell-mell until their lines 

Col. Patrick Moore, Galway-born commander of the 1st Virginia. Moore was severely wounded in the head during this skirmish on the 18th.

were exposed in front of the wood, when the Virginians turned round and poured a volley on them in front and flank. Colonel Richardson, finding that he had got into an ambuscade, hastily fell back. He was re-enforced by Sherman's brigade, the Sixty-ninth in advance, and resumed shelling the enemy's position, while they responding vigorously.

Richardson, finding his force insufficient to dislodge them, fell back towards Centreville. No other movement of importance took place until Sunday, 21st. The sun had risen with more than usual splendor on that fatal Sunday morning, lighting up the varied landscape with pleasing effect. From Centreville heights, Porter's artillery was deliberately shelling Blackburn's and McLean's fords, which were guarded by the enemy's batteries. Eight miles away, too, in the direction of Stone Bridge, smoke ascended from the woods; and the booming of artillery told that the work of death had commenced there.

The beautiful and ample woods, with their deep foliage of green, encircled the plains, concealing in their bosom innumerable batteries and columns of deadly enemies.

Such was the morning, and such the stirring scene that inaugurated the first real battle of one of the bloodiest wars on record.

Beauregard's line of battle extended from Union Mills, on the right, which was held by Ewell's brigade, to Stone Bridge, held by Colonel Evans, thus covering a front of nine miles from right to left. The right was much stronger than the left, both in position and numbers.

About two o'clock on Sunday morning, the Federal army broke camp around Centreville, and commenced taking up the different positions assigned them. Richardsou moved on the southern road leading to the Run, and Tyler on the northern. Colonel Hunter marched to the right, moving obliquely towards the Run, with tlie intention of gaining the enemy's flank.

Colonel Miles remained at Centreville, in command of the post and reserves.

Part 4: Baptism by Fire

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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