Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Fighting 69th AKA The Irish Brigade

Joyce Kilmer, best known for his poem Trees, fought in WWI as a Sargent in the 69th Regiment (165th Infantry). He was killed during a reconnaissance mission July 30, 1918 during the Battle of Ourcq - three months and eleven days before the Armistice (11-11-18 at 11:00 a.m.) - what is now known as Veterans Day, the day we remember and honor those who sacrificed in every war.
Before his death he wrote many poems about the Regiment including these lines from When the 69th Comes Back:
"The Sixty-ninth is on its way - France heard it long ago,
And the Germans know we're coming, to give them blow for blow.
We've taken on the contract, and when the job is through
We'll let them hear a Yankee cheer and an Irish ballad too.

The Harp that once through Tara's Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back.

We brought back from the Border our Flag - 'twas never lost;
We left behind the land we love, the stormy sea we crossed.
We heard the cry of Belgium, and France the free and fair,
For where there's work for fighting-men, the Sixty-ninth is there.

The Harp that once through Tara's Halls shall fill the air with song,
And the Shamrock be cheered as the port is neared by our triumphant throng.
With the Potsdam Palace on a truck and the Kaiser in a sack,
New York will be seen one Irish green when the Sixty-ninth comes back."

During the Civil War the 69th Infantry New York State Volunteers was one component of what became known as The Irish Brigade. It is said that General Robert E. Lee gave them the nickname The Fighting 69th after The Battle of Fredericksburg.

On September 17, 1862 during the Battle of Antietam, The Irish Brigade faced the center of the Confederate Line which was entrenched in a sunken farm road. The brigade lost 60% of its force during the assault. They were able to hold the position until reinforcements arrived and broke the Confederate position. This battle location became known as "Bloody Lane".

The monument to the Irish Brigade at Antietam is at the base of the Observation Tower at the end of the Sunken Road (Bloody Lane). (Photo of me at the monument was taken in October, 2008.)

In December, 1862, the brigade fought at Marye's Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. They lost all but 256 of the more than 1600 who went into battle.

At the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863, the Irish Brigade numbered around 530. They were ordered into the thick of the fight at The Wheatfield and Devil's Den. Again, their losses were heavy. (One site says 320 of the remaining 530 were killed.)
Between 1861 and 1863, the soldiers who fought in the all Irish units that made up the Irish Brigade were known for their courage, ferocity and toughness in battle.

The Irish Brigade Monument at Gettysburg. (Photo taken in October, 2015) When the monument was dedicated in 1888, Father William Corby, who had been with the brigade at the Gettysburg battle, blessed the monument and its Celtic Cross, noting: "It is an emblem of Ireland, typical of faith and devotion, and the most appropriate that could be raised to hand down to posterity the bravery of our race in the great cause of American liberty."

Diminished greatly in size, the Irish Brigade disbanded in 1864. The Fighting 69th served in both World War I and WWII. It is now a part of the New York Army National Guard and has seen service in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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