Civil War Ballads: The Fighting 69th

This song is dedicated to the Union Irish Brigade, which consisted of the 63rd New York Infantry, 69th New York Infantry, 28th Massachusetts Infantry, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, and 88th New York Infantry regiments. It was first commanded by Colonel Michael Corcoran, then Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, and finally Colonel Patrick Kelly. “The Fighting 69th” was recorded by the Dropkick Murphys for their album The Gang’s All Here (1999) and The Wolfe Tones for Across The Broad Atlantic (1993).

Regimental flag of the 69th NY Infantry

Come all you gallant heroes,
And along with me combined
I’ll sing a song, it won’t take long,
Of the Fighting Sixty Ninth
They’re a band of men brave, stout and bold,
From Ireland they came
And they have a leader to the fold,
And Cocoran was his name

It was in the month of April,
When the boys they sailed away
And they made a sight so glorious,
As they marched along Broadway
They marched right down Broadway, me boys,
Until they reached the shore
And from there they went to Washington,
And straight unto the war

So we gave them a hearty cheer, me boys,
It was greeted with a smile
Singing here’s to the boys who feared no noise,
We’re the Fighting Sixty Ninth

And when the war is said and done,
May heaven spare our lives
For its only then we can return,
To our loved ones and our wives
We’ll take them in our arms, me boys,
For a long night and a day
And we’ll hope that war will come no more,
To sweet America

Painting by Don Trojoiani depicting the 69th NY charging Confederate positions at the Battle of Frederickburg

So farewell unto you dear New York,
Will I e’er see you once more
For it fills my heart with sorrow,
To leave your sylvan shore
But the country now it is calling us,
And we must hasten fore
So here’s to the stars and stripes, me boys,
And to Ireland’s lovely shore

And here’s to Murphy and Devine,
Of honour and renown
Who did escort our heroes,
Unto the battleground
And said unto our colonel,
We must fight hand to hand
Until we plant the stars and stripes,
Way down in Dixieland

The 69th New York was a legendary regiment during and after the American Civil War. Its battle cry was “Faugh an Beallach,” or “Clear the Way.” Its motto was “Gentle when stroked; fierce when provoked.” One war correspondent noted, “When anything absurd, forlorn, or desperate was to be attempted, the Irish Brigade was called upon.” Between 1861 and 1863, they fought with the Army of the Potomac in nearly every major battle.

According to an apocryphal story, Confederate General Robert E. Lee coined the phrase “Fighting 69th” at the Battle of Fredericksburg, when he saw how bravely and tenaciously they charged the Confederate line. The 69th suffered 60 percent casualties at the Battle of Antietam, and all but ceased to exist after Fredericksburg.

Famously, at the Battle of Gettysburg, Chaplain Father William Corby blessed the remaining 530 men of the Irish Brigade, who were about to go into battle in the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. One hundred and ninety-eight were killed or wounded in that engagement.

It’s estimated between 175,000 and 200,830 Irish immigrants served during the American Civil War.

About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

Posted on June 1, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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