The Call to Arms Part 1: The 69th New York departs triumphantly for Washington and prepares for war.

This five-part series on the 69th New York 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.

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

Courtesy of Historical Art Prints
Soldiers from Co. K, 69th New York, a company of Zouaves led by Thomas Francis Meagher at First Manassas, portrayed in painstaking detail by artist Don Troiani.

EARLY in the spring of 1861, in response to the call of President Lincoln for the first levy of troops to quell the incipient rebellion, the New York militia promptly and with enthusiastic ardor volunteered their services. Foremost among them, the Sixty-ninth, under the command of Col. Michael Corcoran, threw themselves into the ranks of the national army in defense of their adopted country, its glory, and integrity. The courtmartial of Colonel Corcoran for disobedience of orders in refusing to parade his regiment in honor of the Prince of Wales was summarily dissolved, and the charge dismissed, to the intense satisfaction of the community at large.

Colonel Corcoran immediately promulgated the following orders to his regiment, which had already nearly completed its arrangements to start in defense of the national capital:

Colonel Corcoran will embark his regiment tomorrow, viz, between ten and eleven o'clock, on board the James Adger, Pier No. 4 North River, not exceeding one thousand men all told.

By order of
Major-General Charles W. Sandford

This order provided but for the transportation of one thousand; and as the regiment numbered eight hundred more, those who were compelled to remain behind felt bitterly disappointed, but their patriotic zeal was soon fully gratified.

In Colonel Corcoran's general order to the regiment before starting, the following patriotic sentence occurs:

"The commandant feels proud that his first duty, after being relieved from a long arrest, is to have the honor of promulgating an order to the regiment to rally to the support of the Constitution and laws of the United States."

On the day of departure, after the regiment had formed into line in Great Jones street, they were presented with a splendid silk United States flag by the wife of Judge Daly. This appropriate present was re-ceived with cheers for the fair donor, and Colonel Corcoran requested Judge Daly to inform his lady that her flag should never suffer a stain of dishonor while a man of the Sixty-ninth remained alive to defend it.

About three o'clock the order of march was given. The regiment moved into Broadway amid deafening cheers; flags and banners streamed from the windows and house-tops; ladies waved their handkerchiefs from the balconies, and flung bouquets on the marching column.

Courtesy of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral
Departure of the 69th Regiment for the seat of war, Prince and Mott streets, Manhattan, April 23, 1861, for D.T. Valentine's Manual, 1862

At the head of the procession was a decorated wagon, drawn by four horses, and bearing the inscription, "Sixty-ninth, remember Fontenoy," and "No North, no South, no East, no West, but the whole Union."

During the night the James Adger and the Harriet Lane, with other transports, dropped down the bay, carrying the Sixty-Ninth, the Eighth Regiment, and the Thirteenth Brooklyn. After a pleasant voyage, the fleet reached Annapolis, and the Sixty-ninth were placed guarding the line of railroad from Annapolis to Washington.

Their next destination was Arlington Heights, a beautiful and picturesque situation, forming one of the lovely range of wooded hills stretching along the southern side of the Potomac River. From it was a magnificent view of the river, Georgetown, and Washington. The troops were soon busily em-ployed throwing up a fort, which, in honor of their colonel, was named Fort Corcoran, over which they raised the first flag of the war hoisted on a Federal fort.

The occasion was a joyous and festive one in camp. Speeches were made by Colonel Hunter (in whose brigade the Sixty-ninth was serving), Captain Thomas F. Meagher, and other officers. Mr. John Savage, who was acting on Colonel Corcoran's staff with the rank of captain, sung to the air of "Dixie's Land" a beauti-ful and appropriate song, composed by him for the occasion, entitled "The Starry Flag." Mr. Savage first wrote and sang this on the transport Marion, on her perilous route up the Potomac, through the masked batteries of the enemy. It was suggested by an incident that occurred on the voyage.

Library of Congress
The regiment's officers pose at Fort Corcoran. Michael Corcoran is at left.

In the darkness of the night a rebel boat, with muffled oars, ran alongside the gunboat, but seeing the troops on guard, one of them exclaimed, as they shot away, "D-n the rag! we cannot pull it down tonight."

Mr. John Savage, in espousing the Union cause, sacrificed flattering inducements for principle. While editing 'The States" in Washington, he had formed the acquaintance of the leading men in the South; and when war was imminent they offered him the greatest inducements if he would espouse their cause, but nothing could tempt him from the path of principle and honor.

The remainder of the regiment and Meagher's company of Zouaves soon joined them at Arlington Heights. The Fifth and Twenty-eighth New York were also in the same brigade.

While the regiment was thus progressing in drill and efficiency, their patriotic friends at home were ex-erting themselves to raise funds for the support of their families. Prominent among those who labored on the oc-casion was Daniel Devlin, the faithful and unflinching friend of the Brigade and the national cause for which they fought, Honorable James T. Brady, Judge Daly, John Savage, Eugene Kelly, &C. This committee was subsequently increased, for the purpose of aiding and assisting the enrollment and equipment of tile Irish Brigade.

At this period, McDowell was steadily and cautiously pushing his lines towards Fairfax Courthouse, which place had been occupied by the enemy under General Bonham. Frequent skirmishes occurred between the advanced posts and scouting parties, and it was quite evident from every indication that a battle was imminent.

Part 2: Encountering the Foe


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

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Tags: 69th, American, Civil, New, The, War, Washington, York

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