Archive for the ‘Abraham Lincoln’ Category

Irish Brigade’s Flags Add Green to the Blue

August 30, 2008

National and regimental flags represented prized symbols of honor and tradition for any Civil War military unit, Union or Confederate. However, knowledge about many of those military flags is limited, poorly documented or dependent on word-of-mouth histories or inaccurate museum notations.

Officially, according to regulations, regular Army units were authorized just three flags: two national flags and a state flag. The first U.S. flag was a huge 36-by-20-foot heavy-bunting flag intended to fly on a pole over camp or garrison. The Stars and Stripes that units carried into battle were 6-by-6 on a 19-foot staff.

According to Army regulations in 1861, “The second, or regimental color, to be blue, with the arms of the United States embroidered in silk on the center. The name of the regiment on a scroll, underneath the eagle.”Because largely ethnic units, such as Irish, German or Italian, usually were state volunteers, they freely deviated from these federal rules. Some carried no blue flag. Some of the Irish carried the Stars and Stripes, the blue New York flag and a green regimental flag. Other flags might be used as guidons at the end of regimental lines.


The original Irish Harp flag presented to the 28th Massachusetts Volunteers by the Mayor Joseph Wightman of Boston, and called the ‘Pilot’ flag because of this illustration from that Irish Catholic newspaper in Boston.  The publisher was a strong supporter of the raising of the regiment.

Among the most recognizable regimental flags were the green silk flags of the Irish Brigade. At least three regiments of the Irish Brigade officially carried green flags: the 63rd Regiment, New York Volunteers; the 69th Regiment, New York Volunteers; and the 88th Regiment, New York Volunteers.A final 10th Regiment, New York Volunteers, was partially organized and then folded into the existing Irish units.As casualties among the Irish mounted in 1862, the 29th Massachusetts Regiment was added to the brigade, but this unit was not Irish. The 29th was replaced by the 28th Massachusetts, and then the 116th Pennsylvania joined the Irish Brigade. These units were almost entirely composed of Irishmen.

Confusion sometimes exists concerning the very names of these units, as accounts often refer to the 63rd Volunteer Infantry or the 69th Militia. As if that weren’t enough, the first Irish unit formed, the 63rd, is called the 3rd Irish (Independent) Regiment.The 69th is called the 1st Irish Regiment, and the 37th New York Irish Rifles is called the 2nd Irish Regiment.To further add to the confusion, the 23rd Illinois Volunteers is sometimes referred to as the “Irish Brigade of the West.”As flags were damaged beyond repair in battle or otherwise replaced, the lineage of the flags is denoted by a number, such as “the first Irish colors” for the first green flag carried by the unit.Most is known about the green flags of the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York Volunteers. The 28th Massachusetts apparently also carried a green flag, but the 116th Pennsylvania did not. The green regimental colors were rich in symbolism.

Most featured the Brian Boru harp, the symbol of the only king of a united Ireland, who died in battle in 1014. The sunburst often is above the harp, a symbol of hope and good times common among the American Fenians.

Shamrocks appear on several flags, in reference to the green hills of Ireland and its Catholic heritage. Many flags have patriotic Irish mottos such as “Riamh Nar Druid O Spairn Iann’” – “Who never retreated from the clash of lances.”Many of the green flags were presented to the regiments by wealthy donors. The most costly and ornate green flags, meant for presentation and ceremonies but not battle, were made by Tiffany Co.

How important can these flags be?

During the war, their value was inestimable. Brevet Brig. Gen. Ezra Carman, 13th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, recalls this scene at Antietam: “The ranks of [Thomas] Meagher’s [Irish] Brigade had been greatly thinned. The 69th New York had nearly melted away but a few [troopers] were left, huddling about its two colors, when one of the enemy shouted from the Sunken Road: ‘Bring them colors in here,’ upon which the two color bearers instantly advanced a few steps, shook their colors in the very face of the enemy and replied: ‘Come and take them you damned rebels.'”Capt. D.P. Conyngham wrote about “the green flag” at Antietam. “[It] was completely riddled, and it appeared certain death to anyone to bear it, for eight color bearers had already fallen.”The flags of the Irish Brigade, like other brigade banners, made the units recognizable and represented the bravery of the men who fought beneath them. At Fredericksburg, Confederate Gen. George Pickett marveled at the bravery of the Irish.

“The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. … We forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines.”After Fredericksburg, though, some of the Irish feared they had lost their colors and shamed the brigade.

2nd Irish Color, 69th NYSV

Conyngham wrote: “Next day the color-sergeant was found sitting up against a tree, dead, and his hands clasped upon his chest, as if protecting something. Near him was the staff of the missing flag. When removing the body, the men found the flag wrapped around it, with a bullet hole right through it and his heart.”

Anyone with interest in the Irish Brigade will appreciate the historical memoirs and letters used, the carefully documented illustrations and the detailed endnotes and references in a recent book about the green flags: “Blue for the Union and Green for Ireland: The Civil War Flags of the 63rd New York Volunteers, Irish Brigade,” written by Peter J. Lysy and published by the Archives of the University of Notre Dame.

John E. Carey is descended from members of the Irish Brigade. He is a writer in Arlington, Virginia.

John Bachelder: Gettysburg’s Historian and Mapmaker

August 30, 2008

From the time of the battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863, John Bachelder (1825-1894) proved himself the leading historian of that historic battle. He made maps, hosted reunions, interviewed thousands of participants, and assisted in the placement of monuments. Without John Bachelder, the “open book” at “The Angle,” otherwise known as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” monument might not exist. In fact, the term “high water mark” was one of John Bachelder’s many contributions.

Bachelder was so thorough in his work, so detailed and exacting, and so convincing in his presentation that General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was seriously wounded at the “high water mark” during Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, sent Bachelder and his map to see President Lincoln.
John B. Bachelder and his wife Elizabeth at the Gettysburg battlefield in 1890.

Above: John B. Bachelder and his wife Elizabeth at the Gettysburg battlefield in 1890.

In a letter to John G. Nicolay, Lincoln’s secretary, dated February 20, 1865, Hancock wrote, “My Dear Sir, I think the President would like to see the great map of the battle field of Gettysburg and in order that he may have that opportunity I have sent the author, with a copy of the map to you: The Gentleman’s name is J. B. Bachelder of Boston Mass.”

Editions of the map from 1864, 1865, and 1866 are still on hand at the Library of Congress, which describes the map as: “Colored bird’s-eye view showing the topography of the battlefield by the perspective of the drawing, shading and coloring. Drainage, vegetation, roads and streets, railroads, bridges, houses and names of residents, fences, points of interest on the battlefield, including designations of places where officers were killed or wounded, are indicated. ….The locations of the corps, divisions, brigades, etc. of both armies, with the names of commanding officers, are given in detail. Badge symbols are used to identify the Federal corps.”

Additionally, the maps bear this inscription: “The positions of the troops of our respective commands represented upon this picture have been arranged under our immediate direction and may be relied upon as substantially correct.” The inscription appears above reproduced signatures of Union Generals Doubleday, John Newton, Winfield Hancock, David Birney, George Sykes, John Sedgwick, O. O. Howard, A. S. Williams, and Henry Slocum.

Although Bachelder missed the battle, he arrived within a week, and fervently began collecting information by interviewing wounded soldiers.

This, along with the proper placement of the right and left flanks of engaged units and the production of the detailed topographic sketches, became lifelong obsessions for Bachelder. As a result, he became, unquestionably the leading authority on the battle of Gettysburg almost from the time the smoke and rain cleared in July 1863 until his death in 1894.

Expertise Not Without Controversy

As the wounded made their way home from Gettysburg, Bachelder followed the Union Army. He set about to accomplish a goal that historians would thank him for: he interviewed officers from every Union regiment that fought at Gettysburg. In fact, he wound up interviewing every officer he could find who had been present at Gettysburg. From this work sprang his intriguing three-dimensional map showing the positions of the units.

Bachelder’s map proved such a sensation that news of his expertise, knowledge and desire to interview battle participants spread rapidly. He began to receive hundreds of unsolicited personal accounts of the battle: an avalanche of information that further expanded his knowledge and his reputation as the Gettysburg expert.

Bachelder even began to host reunions of veterans at Gettysburg. These events gave him ample opportunities to interview battle participants while they explored the ground they fought over.

He was also understood the benefits of making the battle come alive. In 1870, Bachelder commissioned artist James Walker to paint an account of Pickett’s Charge, entitled “The Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault at the Battle of Gettysburg,” a massive work that measured 7.5 by 20 feet. Bachelder wrote the accompanying guidebook and went on tour himself with the artwork, lecturing as he went.

By 1880, the Congress authorized the unheard of sum of $50,000 to be paid to Bachelder to produce the authoritative, written account of the battle. But by this time, Bachelder was embroiled in controversies from all sides. Men wanting to glorify and expand upon the importance of their unit’s contributions caused Bachelder to become uncooperative and even a might difficult. Failing memories clashed with his earlier eye-witness accounts.

When Bachelder completed his history of the Battle of Gettysburg, participants, generals, congressmen and an almost unanimous outcry of others expressed dismay. Perturbed by the disagreements and arguments with eye-witness participants, Bachelder elected to rely primarily upon the official records of commanders. Thus his eight volume tome largely neglected the treasure trove of eye-witness accounts that he had assembled over nearly twenty years. Less than 10 percent of the project reflected the work he had collected on his own.

The War Department was not pleased. Though Bachelder was paid his fee, his manuscript went unpublished.

Bachelder continued his work all through the 1880s at the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association which was charged with preserving select features of the battlefield. In 1893 the Secretary of War appointed Bachelder to a three-man commission responsible for marking and enlarging the Gettysburg battlefield—but Bachelder died the next year.

Bachelder died of pneumonia in Hyde Park, Mass, in 1894. His body was then transported the 79 miles to be buried in a family plot with his wife and daughter, on Stevens Hill Road in Nottingham, New Hampshire, close to the family home. His widow, Elizabeth, died in 1914. In 1921, her sisters, Amanda and Charlotte Butler Stevens, donated a large collection of Bachelder’s Gettysburg materials and personal papers to the New Hampshire Historical Society. There they sat, unmolested and almost entirely unexplored, until the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Historian Edwin B. Coddington stumbled upon Bachelder’s long-forgotten collection of correspondence from eye-witnesses: soldiers recollections and other letters. One letter, from Father William Corby, explained the background behind the chaplain of the Irish Brigade’s actions at Gettysburg.

But there were also letters from Longstreet, Meade, Humphreys, Early, Hunt, and Howard. Perhaps more significantly, there were hundreds of letters from sergeants, artillerymen and cavalry troopers. Bachelder’s wonderful archives cut across all ranks of both armies and many men had important details to offer that are found nowhere else.

Coddington poured over the Bachelder papers and ultimately created a priceless addition to Gettysburg’s historical record: The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. Civil War experts consider Coddington’s volume an indispensable reference work.

David L. and Audrey J. Ladd turned the Bachelder papers and eye-witness accounts into another book: The Bachelder Papers: Gettysburg in Their Own Words.

Although some of Bachelder’s works are now out of print, crafty internet surfers can find many relevant volumes and maps available for sale. The out of print books by Bachelder occasionally get reprinted when sufficient pre-publication orders exist.

University of Virginia Civil War Historian Gary Gallagher summed up Bachelder this way: “I have always had a high opinion of Bachelder and his work. His maps and the correspondence he collected are both very valuable. I can’t say as much for his own tedious history of the battle.”

John Bachelder’s obsession with the battle of Gettysburg is his gift to us and to the generations to follow. Bachelder contributed immeasurably through his maps and correspondence but his cumbersome history troubled his contemporaries so much that it became “lost to history” until it was resurrected by others decades later.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page. He can be reached at And his stories are on line at: Father Corby is his great-uncle.

Civil War History: Blair Family Was “Magnificent”

August 30, 2008

One family participated in many historic and breathtaking moments of the Civil War. Its members helped Abraham Lincoln get elected twice to the presidency. On behalf of Lincoln, the elder statesman of the family apparently offered command of the Union Army to Robert E. Lee in 1861.

In 1865, that same Washington elder statesman tried to negotiate a peace settlement with his longtime friend Jefferson Davis.

One son served in Lincoln’s Cabinet, had his house burned to the ground by Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate forces and resigned his high government post in a sort of political trade.
Another son served in Congress, became a general in the Union Army and then a senator after the war and led a life of brawling adventure.

Jubal Early

The family name still causes tourists to stop in awe and respect just one block from the White House, inside the nation’s Capitol and in front of a handsome bust in Vicksburg, Miss.

The Blairs of Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and the District of Columbia played a uniquely influential role in American politics from the time Francis P. Blair Sr. became involved in the financial Panic of 1819 until the end of son Frank Blair’s Senate term in 1873.
Francis P. Blair Sr.
Francis Preston Blair Sr. (1791-1876) began a long and distinguished career of semigovernment service and influence during the 1819 crisis. He led the Relief Party and became an influential writer of newspaper opinion pieces on politics.
Montgomery Blair

His articles and support for Andrew Jackson so impressed the new president that Jackson urged Blair to move from Kentucky to Washington to become a full-time newspaperman.

In 1830, Blair established the Washington Globe, a party organ, and also published the Congressional Globe. He gained national importance as a political journalist and ran the printing business for Congress. However, he is remembered best as the leader of Andrew Jackson’s “kitchen cabinet.

Blair’s business partner, John Rives, described Blair as 85 pounds of bones and 22 pounds of “gristle, nerve and brain.”

Blair continued to run and edit his newspaper throughout the presidencies of Jackson and Martin Van Buren. When James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, Blair excused himself from the newspaper business but not from his role as an influencer of government policy. He traveled all the way to Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, in Tennessee to visit the former president.

Blair supported John C. Fremont’s 1856 Republican presidential nomination even after he “retired” to his 20-room mansion, Silver Spring, in Maryland.
John C. Frémont 
John C Fremont

He aided Lincoln from the first days of the crisis between the states, offering a prestigious Union Army position to Robert E. Lee, apparently on the president’s behalf. (Controversy continues.)

He also crossed Union lines into the Confederacy more than once on peace missions, using a note Lincoln had written that read: “Allow the bearer; F.P. Blair, Sr., to pass our lines, go South, and return.”

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln was a frequent guest at Blair’s Maryland home, where Blair and his family entertained and persuaded the president.

Montgomery Blair

Montgomery Blair (1813-1883) graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1835. He saw action in the Seminole War, established himself as a lawyer and served as mayor of St. Louis (1842-1843).

He moved to the nation’s capital in 1852. His family established residence at the town home (now called Blair House) owned by his father on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.

He was U.S. solicitor in the Court of Claims from 1855 to 1858. He and associate George T. Curtis served as counsel for the plaintiff in the Dred Scott case of 1857. Scott and his wife sued in federal court for their freedom after their master moved them to Missouri, a free territory.

Blair and his partner represented Scott before the Supreme Court but lost the case when Justice Roger Taney ruled that a slave’s status did not change when he moved from territory to territory. Taney held that Dred Scott, a slave, was property. Thus, Scott was not a man and had no standing in federal court.

A fervent opponent of slavery, Montgomery Blair joined the new Republican Party. He became an ardent supporter of Abraham Lincoln for president.

In 1861, Lincoln appointed him postmaster general, but Blair’s influence far exceeded the standard definition of that office.

Modern observers would find it difficult to understand the importance of the postmaster in 1860. One line in Lincoln’s first inaugural address indicated the importance of the mail in those days. Faced with secession, Lincoln asserted: “The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union.”

Described as the most learned man in Lincoln’s Cabinet, Blair is credited by most with founding the Universal Postal Union, an international agreement that standardized postal rates and services. He also originated prepaid postage, free mail delivery in cities, money orders, and postal railroad cars.

House burned

Montgomery Blair became a key Lincoln confidant and leader of Lincoln’s kitchen cabinet. In 1861, he was the only Cabinet member who urged Lincoln to reinforce Fort Sumter, a subject far afield of his duties as postmaster. During the war, Montgomery Blair and his father frequently had the president’s ear.

When Gen. Jubal Early and his Confederate army invaded the North to pressure Washington in 1864, his troops sacked and burned Falkland, Montgomery Blair’s rural retreat in what is now Silver Spring.

Early recalled the day this way: “[W]hen in front of Washington some of my troops were very determined to destroy the house of Mr. Francis P. Blair and had actually removed some furniture, probably supposing it to belong to his son, a member of the Federal Cabinet. As soon as I came up, I immediately stopped the proceeding and compelled the men to return every article so far as I knew, and placed a guard to protect it. The house of his son, Montgomery Blair, a member of the Cabinet, was subjected to a different rule for obvious reasons.”

Letter from Lincoln

In May 1864, a convention of Radical Republicans selected John C. “Pathfinder” Fremont as their candidate for president. Fremont accepted the nomination and told the audience: “Today we have in this country the abuses of a military dictation without its unity of action and vigor of execution.” Lincoln wanted Fremont out of the race.

Fremont demanded the resignation of the man who had urged Lincoln to make Fremont a general earlier in the war, Montgomery Blair, who was disliked by Radical Republicans.

On Sept. 22, 1864, Fremont withdrew from the contest. On Sept. 23, 1864, President Lincoln sent the following letter to Montgomery Blair:

“My Dear Sir: You have generously said to me more than once, that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me, it was at my disposal. The time has come. You very well know that this proceeds from no dissatisfaction of mine with you personally or officially. Your uniform kindness has been unsurpassed by that of any friend; and, while it is true that the war does not so greatly add to the difficulties of your Department, as to those of some others, it is yet much to say, as I most truly can, that in the three years and a half during which you have administered the General Post-Office, I remember no single complaint against you in connection therewith.”

After the Civil War, Montgomery Blair rebuilt Falkland, which Early’s raiders had burned. He became active in Maryland politics and practiced law with his son, Woodbury. After Montgomery Blair died, Woodbury continued the law practice with his brothers Gist and Montgomery Jr.

Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring is named for him.

Frank Blair

Francis P. Blair Jr. (1821-1875), the younger of Francis P. Blair Sr.’s two sons, was commonly known as Frank.

A lawyer, Civil War general, attorney general of the Territory of New Mexico, member of the Missouri Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, he spent his final time in public life in the U.S. Senate.
Francis Preston Blair, Jr. 

He probably drank too much alcohol, used too much tobacco and too quickly let his anger get the best of him. Yet he was a Lincoln man, a dedicated Union man and perhaps the best of Lincoln’s politically appointed generals.

Frank Blair certainly earned the right to be called the most colorful of the amazing Blairs. He exhibited his rambunctious nature at college. A professor at Yale said Frank gave him more trouble than all the other scholars combined. Frank also attended the University of North Carolina before ending up at Princeton.


Although Frank, like the other Blairs, supported Lincoln and decried slavery, he was a bigot and owned slaves himself. When his brother Montgomery moved to Washington, taking Frank’s favorite slave, Nancy, Frank griped, “It is indispensable comfort to have a neat servant, particularly in this region of dirt and coal dust.”

As a member of the House of Representatives, Frank Blair generally defended Lincoln’s policies. Nevertheless, the Blairs and the president were not in complete agreement on the question of slavery. Every man in the Blair family, it seemed, favored separation of the races through the colonization of American blacks abroad.

On April 12, 1862, the day after slavery was abolished in Washington, Frank Blair said on the House floor that Liberia had “failed to attract the freed negro population in any considerable numbers” but stated his support for Negro colonization in Central America. “There is a vast difference,” he said, “between the idea of being colonized on our own continent, under our own flag, and being buried in Africa.”

Blair hoped colonization would serve to avoid present and future racial disharmony.

He also believed colonization might disrupt the political power of slaveholders in the South. Blair said, “We can make emancipation acceptable to the whole mass of non-slave-holders at the South by coupling it with the policy of colonization. The very prejudice of race which now makes the non-slaveholders give their aid to hold the slave in bondage will induce them to unite in a policy which will rid them of the presence of negroes.”

Blair pushed a bill through the House that authorized the president to spend $100,000 for colonizing the freedmen of the District.

A warrior

The Blair family made several efforts to persuade Lincoln to make Frank a general, but at first the president put them off. Finally, in the autumn of 1862, after Frank had raised five regiments of troops and said he hoped to raise two or three more, the president made Blair a general in the Union Army.

Despite much newspaper criticism, Frank Blair proved himself one of the better political generals. A very capable and fearless leader at Vicksburg, he gained Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s notice and praise. “There was no man braver than he,” Grant wrote of Blair. “No man obeyed all orders of his superiors in rank with more unquestioning alacrity.”

Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant

After a shaky start, Blair also established a lifelong mutual respect with Gen. William T. Sherman. The men served together during the campaigns for Vicksburg and Atlanta, and Blair commanded the 17th Corps during the March to the Sea. When newspapers criticized Blair as a political general, Sherman said Blair was “brave, cool and of ability.”

Franc B. Wilkie, a reporter for the New York Times, described Frank Blair this way: “He was a most interesting man in every respect. … He was versatile, doing everything well, from leading a charge to uncorking a bottle, and in all instances characterized by a calm, dispassionate manner. … Beneath all his outward calmness he had a tremendous force — a fact demonstrated by the momentum with which he threw his columns against the bristling, deadly heights of Chickasaw Bayou.”

A bust of Frank Blair causes visitors to marvel at Vicksburg. A statue of him campaigning in St. Louis entertains tourists in Missouri. Both were created with family money. In Statuary Hall within the U.S. Capitol, Frank Blair’s larger-than-life statue represents his state of Missouri along with a statue of Thomas Hart Benton.

The term “larger than life” perfectly describes the Blair family.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.