The 35th Indiana: Hoosier State's '1st Irish': Part 2 of 2: 'Fight On'

The Battle of Stones River (February 14, 1863 Harper's Weekly)

By Brian D. Henry

The battle of Stones River was fought from December 30, 1862, to January 3, 1863. Crittenden's Corps was assigned to the left flank, which was quiet on the 30th. The action that day was mainly skirmishing, with the Federals feeling out the rebel positions. On December 31st, the Federal right was under heavy attack by the Confederate Army. Some of the Union units were preparing breakfast, their rifles stacked and unloaded. Within an hour, five Union brigades were in full retreat. On January 1st, the Irish regiment was ordered with its brigade to cross Stones River and prepare to meet the enemy.

After crossing the river, while preparing to put out pickets and skirmishers, the men of the 35th turned to hear a message from Father Peter P. Cooney, the chaplain for the "1st Irish": Boys ... this is a new year; many of you will never see the sun go down today; I desire to say to you a few words. You are an Irish regiment. Your countrymen have already proved their devotion to the flag of the nation by their courage and stamina on the field of battle. The eyes of the division are upon you — you must not disappoint them. Now, then, many of you have not been to your (religious) duties. All of you make a good act of contrition, sincerely ask God to forgive you, and I will pronounce absolution. ..."

Mullen himself was wounded by a ricocheting round shot. His orderly, Johnny Kinsela, asked what to do as the enemy pressed them. "Fight On," replied Mullen."

On Jan. 2, Confederate General John Breckinridge busily massed his forces against the Union left. The First Irish were now in the brigade of Colonel Samuel W. Price. That evening, with only 45 minutes of hazy daylight left, the Confederate's (1st Kentucky) "Orphan" Brigade stepped off and attacked Price's 3rd Brigade. After a 43-minute fight, Price's brigade retreated in good order across the river, but the regiment lost 127 killed, wounded and missing. This included 7 officers.

One soldier of note was Sergeant Major Robert Stockdale, of Indianapolis, who was hit in the head. He is said to have refused to leave the field, though wiping blood from his eyes and spitting it from his lips. Mullen himself was wounded by a ricocheting round-shot. His orderly, Johnny Kinsela, asked what to do as the enemy pressed them. "Fight On," replied Mullen. The brave Kinsela turned to fire, and while reloading, was shot through the head.

The Confederates retreated, leaving claims of victory — and much of the fertile farmland of central Tennessee — to the Union Army. For months after, Rosecrans refused to move, waiting for what he felt was a significant amount of reinforcements to arrive. Pressed by President Abraham Lincoln, the general finally advanced on June 23. According to Cooney, the 35th Indiana's division was on the left flank of the advancing army, while the right was to move on the rebel stronghold at Tullahoma. The 35th Indiana was on the move or in action continuously from the end of August until the end of November, participating in the Battles of Chickamauga (September 19-20), where the regiment lost a third of its soldiers; the siege of Chattanooga (September-October), the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24) and the Battle of Missionary Ridge, on Nov. 25. In each battle, the 35th Indiana found itself heavily engaged, suffering extensive casualties.

General William S. Rosecrans

Back in camp in Chattanooga, the 35th Indiana was assigned to Whitaker's 2nd Brigade, Cruft's 1st Division of Granger's 4th Army Corps. In the new brigade, on Nov. 24, the regiment fought for Lookout Mountain, which towers 1,200 feet above Chattanooga. In his after-action report, Mullen described the terrain in which they advanced.

"The route across the spurs of the mountain was exceedingly rough, (with) deep gorges, rugged ascents, and sharp projecting rocks rendering the march toilsome and tedious. With (the) Green Flag flying next to the flag of their adopted homeland, the men of the "1st Irish" began to scale the side of the mountain. With chants of 'Faugh A Ballagh' echoing up and down the lines, the men of the 35th were fired on by a volley. Not stopping, the 35th Indiana was given the order by Colonel Mullen to charge forward and with cheers filling the air, the men of the 35th captured the first line of breastworks without firing a shot."

That night, the 35th was ordered to hold its position, and advanced the next morning down the east face of the mountain. Cruft's Division, including the 35th, encountered strong resistance, but began to roll up the flank of the Confederates. Mullen wrote, "... My officers and men without exception behaved gallantly." In Whitaker's report, he praised many men of the "1st Irish" for their gallantry and coolness under fire. The "First Irish" was the smallest regiment in the brigade during its every engagement. At Stones River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, the regiment only mustered 200 men. Although small, all reports show that they fought as well as units twice its size.

Confederate prisoners at Camp Morton, Ind.

After the year's heavy fighting, the 35th Indiana was asked to re-enlist as Veteran Volunteers. This re-enlistment was very successful and many men were furloughed home to help recruit. In a letter written to his brother in Michigan, Cooney wrote that he had met Mullen in Louisville, Kentucky, and returned to Indianapolis with him. The Colonel had a plan to bring more Irishmen into the ranks of the 35th Indiana. He would enlist 300 Confederate Irishmen held at Camp Morton to fill the ranks. This must have been a personal idea of Mullen's, because there is no documentation that this transpired.

The Indiana Irishmen were home until Feb. 1, 1864. There, the men did their fair share to see that "fighting Irish" was capitalized to read "Fighting Irish" inspired by the various hard-fighting Irish regiments that arose during the war. This new respect can still be seen today if you watch the University of Notre Dame play football. The name used on the playing field today was born from many bloody American battlefields in the 1860s.

Historical Art Prints
A Confederate battery in action at Kennesaw Mountain, from a print by Don Troiani.

After the furlough, the Hoosier Irishmen were again ready to take to the field. This time they were about to embark on a campaign that would thrust them into almost every skirmish and battle. The campaign, led by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, would be known as The Atlanta Campaign. From Resaca to the battles of Jonesboro and Atlanta, the Irishmen burnished their reputation. At the battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Whitaker reported that five companies on the right of the 35th Indiana were driven from their position by superior numbers, allowing a gap in the line. A bloody 30-minute, hand-to-hand fight occurred, and many men of the 35th were killed or wounded before the Confederates retreated. Among the killed was Major Dufficy. Adjutant Gallagher reported, "Our regiment lost heavily, Major Dufficy killed, the loss was 8 killed, 35 wounded and 7 missing."

Major Dufficy

Many more battles were to come for the "1st Irish" after the Atlanta campaign. After being reinforced by 300 recruits, they were sent back to Tennessee under General George Thomas to re-enforce Nashville. They were present at the battle of Franklin, Tenn., but were held in reserve. While awaiting orders to move, the regiment came under a heavy artillery fire that killed two men and mortally wounded two others. Two days later, the Regiment marched north to Nashville. The 35th Indiana fought at Nashville, and great praise was given to Cooney. Whitaker had this to say about Cooney: "... Of Father Cooney, chaplain of the Thirty-Fifth Indiana, I commend him as an example of the army chaplain; meek, pious and brave as a lion, he worked with his brave regiment in the valley of the shadow of death, affording the ministrations of his holy religion to the wounded and dying, and giving words of encouragement to his fellow soldiers."

The battle of Nashville was the last major action of the 35th. After pursuing Hood's Confederate Army to Alabama, the 4th Corps was ordered to Texas. On Sept. 16, 1865, the long-awaited Special Order #1 arrived, ordering the 35th Indiana mustered out of Federal service.

Through the course of the war, the 35th Indiana upheld its reputation as a hard-fighting unit. The regiment lost 251 men in the course of the war. The 35th lost 5 officers and 82 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded in battle, while 164 more died of disease. Seventeen of the 251 men who died were held at Andersonville prison in Georgia. The loss in disease was rather low for a Civil War regiment. The writer observed in researching records that nuns were appointed to the regiment. These sisters could have helped with sanitary conditions, as well as helped the men avoid disease by washing their clothes.

From the battlefields of Perryville and Nashville to the prison camp in Andersonville, these brave Irishmen fought and died to preserve a new found freedom that we all enjoy to this day. The men of the 35th Indiana were just, and feared not. Let us not forget their sacrifice.

PART 1: "Be Just and Fear Not"

Father Peter Paul Cooney: Faithful Servant

Brian Henry (right) is a military historian from Frankton, Ind., who has been studying the American Civil War since a child. He is currently finishing study for a bachelors degree in history at Indiana Wesleyan University. Brian is the captain and historian of the recreated 35th Indiana Infantry "1st Irish." In 2000, he discovered that his great grandfather George Carroll, from County Wicklow, Ireland, served as a corporal in the 35th Indiana's Company I. Inspired by this discovery, Brian has devoted much of his research to the regiment and its legacy. Anyone interested in learning more about the 35th Indiana can contact Henry via e-mail.


This feature was produced by Joe Gannon and edited by Gerry Regan.


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Tags: 35th, American, Brian, Civil, Diaspora, Henry, History, Indiana, Military, Mullen, More…Murfreesboro, States, United, War, battle of atlanta, bernard, father peter Cooney, indiana, reenactors, stones river


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