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Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

September 29, 2012   View Discussion

Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

Patrick Young, Esq.

by Patrick Young, Esq. - Blogger

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Peter Welsh was a married carpenter from New York when he went to Boston in 1862 to try to settle a dispute among his relatives. A failure as a mediator, he went off on “a spree”, drinking himself poor in a few days time. Disgusted with himself, he joined the Union army without consulting his wife Margaret. For the rest of his life he would write her almost weekly explaining why he had done something which would affect her forever.1

Peter Welsh


Peter was an Irishman, but he was not born in Ireland. A Canadian by birth, his parents likely followed the path of many poverty-stricken Irish who took advantage of low cost travel from Ireland subsidized by the British Crown to its colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps, like many others, they slowly made their way south through Maine, New Hampshire, and then on to Boston and New York. The regions near the site of current United States Route 1 in northern New England bore a distinctly Irish cast for nearly a century as a result of this walking migration of immigrants from Canada.2

The regiment Peter joined, the 28th Massachusetts was an Irish one, and to his misfortune, it would suffer the seventh worst losses of the more than 2,000 regiments that fought for the Union.  Peter’s Company K would see more men die from battle wounds than any other company in the regiment.3

Company K of the 28th Massachusetts


The 28th Massachusetts was organized in 1861 and its recruits believed that they were destined to join Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade.  Meagher had participated in recruiting the regiment from among Boston’s Irish day laborers and artisans, and workers from factory towns in the state but instead of the 28th joining the famous brigade, it was sent on an expedition to the Carolinas. The 29th Mass., a non-Irish unit, was designated for the Irish Brigade instead. The 28th Mass. would spend its first year fighting at places like the Battles of the Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. While the 28th was but a few miles from the Irish Brigade during much of this time, it did not join the brigade until November of 1862.4

Welsh enlisted in the 28th as it was chasing Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army through Maryland. His first battle came at South Mountain after he had been in the army for only 10 days. The untrained new soldier was in combat again, just two weeks to the day after he enlisted, at the bloodiest battle in American history at Antietam. He would be fortunate. Many new recruits did not survive their first day of fighting.5

As Peter Welsh marched off towards this momentous combat, he felt called upon to assure his wife that the calamity that had helped land him in this dangerous situation need not worry her anymore. He wrote that “you need not be afraid for my drinking now for there is no liker allowed in the army.[sic]”The idea that she might be more afraid that her young husband might be killed by a rebel bullet seems not to have occurred to him.6

In November, 1862, Welsh would write to Margaret of the reassignment of the regiment. “We are now joined with the Irish Brigade,” he wrote her proudly, and “I am glad of the change.” The brigade was on its way to its bloodiest fight of the war.7


Video: Honest Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade



Although some Irish songs of the Civil War struck a heroic note, others, like “Pat Murphy” were more naturalistic. Death and the loneliness of fighting far from the land of their birth were recurrent topics in these songs. By the way, the shillelagh referred to in the song is a hard tree branch used as a fighting club in Ireland and by the Irish in America.


Lyrics:
Says Pat to his mother, “It looks strange to me
Brothers fighting in such a queer manner,
But I’ll fight till I die if I never get killed
For America’s bright starry banner.”

Far away in the East came a dashing young blade,
And the song he was singing so gayly,
‘Twas honest Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade
And the song of the splintered shillelagh.

The morning soon broke, and poor Paddy awoke,
He found rebels to give satisfaction,
And the drummer was beating the Devil’s tatoo,
They were calling the boys into action.

Far away in the East was a dashing young blade,
And the song he was singing so gayly,
Was honest Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade
And the song of the splintered shillelagh.

Sure, the day after battle, the dead lay in heaps,
And Pat Murphy lay bleeding and gory,
With a hole in his head by some enemy’s ball
That ended his passion for glory.

No more in the camp will his letters be read,
Or the song be heard singing so gayly,
For he died far away from the friends that he loved,
And far from the land of shillelagh.


Resources:

There is an excellent website devoted to the 28th Massachusetts.

Peter Welsh’s letters have been collected and published in Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986).

Sources:

1. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986).
2. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986).
3. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986).
4. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986).
5. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986).
6. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986) p. 17.
7. Irish Green and Union Blue: The Civil War Letters of Peter Welsh, Color Sergeant, 28th Massachusetts edited by Lawrence Kohl and Margaret Cosse Richard published by Fordham University Press; 2 edition (1986) p. 33.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that will examine the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear monthly between 2011 and 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War - Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America - Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist- A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. ...And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?- The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did new Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”- A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

Cultural

Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

Blog Posts

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War
New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Book Reviews

The Harp and the Eagle: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861 to 1865 by Susannah Ural Bruce

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader Edited by Jonathan Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn

Civil War Citizens edited by Susannah Ural Bruce

Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich

A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War By Amanda Foreman

Irish Green and Union Blue by Peter Welsh

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler- Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

 

 

 

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