Saturday, December 13, 2014



Fredericksburg, Virginia (JFK+50) 152 years ago today, December 13, 1862, the Union army launched an attack on Confederate positions on Marye's Heights near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Federals were led by General Ambrose E. Burnside while the Rebels were commanded by General Robert E. Lee

The Irish Brigade, led by Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, who had been one of the leaders in the Irish rebellion of 1848, implored his men to fight..."today to preserve America, tomorrow to liberate Ireland."

Meagher's men were volunteers from New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. Having fled Ireland 20 years before they now charged in the second Federal attack on  Mayre's Heights.  

According to one of their officers, the men marched out from town "in glorious style, their green sunbursts waving.  Every man (with) a sprig of green in his cap..."

The Irish Brigade was stopped just 30 yards from the Stone Wall.  

Of 12,300 Federal soldiers killed in the battle, two-thirds fell right there and  of the 1200 Irish soldiers who attacked, 545 were killed, wounded or missing. As the victorious General Lee surveyed the scene from the heights, he said:

"It is well war is so terrible else we should grow too fond of it."

The Flag of the Irish Brigade bears a golden sunburst over Erin's harp and a bank of shamrocks.

President John F. Kennedy was the first President of Irish descent.  He also was the first President to visit Ireland during his term of office. In his visit of June 1963, the President of the United States addressed the Irish Parliament and presented the flag of the Irish Brigade.  

JFK said...

"One of the most brilliant stories (of Irish history) was written by a band of 1,200 men who went into battle wearing a green sprig in their hats. They bore a proud heritage and a special courage, given to those who had long fought for the cause of freedom. I am referring, of course, to the Irish Brigade. 

General Robert E. Lee, the great military leader of the Southern Confederate forces, said of this group of men after the battle...

'The gallant stand which this bold brigade made on the heights of Fredericksburg is well known. Never were men so brave. They ennobled their race by their splendid gallantry on that desperate occasion. Their brilliant, though hopeless, assaults on our lines excited the hearty applause of our officers and soldiers.'"


"The Civil War: Rebels Resurgent," by William K. Goolrick, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1985.