The Irish Brigade
(2d Brigade, 1st Division, 2d Corps)
at Battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines
63d New York Infantry
69th New York Infantry
88th New York Infantry
Returns of Casualties
Report of Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher, U. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade.
HEADQUARTERS MEAGHER'S BRIGADE,
RICHARDSON'S DIVISION, SUMNER'S CORPS, A. P.,
Camp Victory, June 4, 1862.
On Saturday, May 31, early in the forenoon, we of the Second Brigade, Richardson's division, Sumner's corps d'armée, being encamped at Tyler's farm, heard considerable firing in front. This firing continuing to increase in rapidity and loudness during the day, about 1 o'clock p.m. I took the liberty of ordering the several regiments of my command to place themselves under arms immediately, anticipating that an order would at any moment reach me from the headquarters of the division, directing me to proceed with all dispatch to the scene of action. This order had been issued not more than ten or fifteen minutes before Captain Norvell, the assistant adjutant-general of the division, arrived at my headquarters, and directed me, by order of Brigadier-General Richardson, commanding division, to get my brigade instantly under arms and march at a moment's notice. This order, as I have already stated, had been anticipated, and fifteen minutes after Captain Norvell communicated to me the order of the general commanding our division, I directed Captain McCoy, assistant adjutant-general of my brigade, to report that my brigade was in marching trim and awaiting his further orders. These orders, which mostly had reference to the peculiar line of march over the Chickahominy which we were to observe, and which directed a slight divergence from the line of march to be preserved by the brigades under the command of Generals Howard and French, the First and Third Brigades of our division-these orders returned with Captain McCoy, and my brigade was immediately put on the march.
The march, in strict compliance with special instructions, was executed in the lightest possible marching order, the men taking with them in their haversacks only two days' cooked rations, and being disencumbered of their overcoats, knapsacks, and blankets. The march was performed with unremitting celerity, ardor, and eager readiness for action. I mention this particularly from the fact that on the line of march we met several soldiers and other parties returning from the field of action, who informed us that the Federal arms had met with a severe reverse, and that as some New York troops were implicated it was specially incumbent on us to redeem the honor of our State and the fortunes of the day.
It was between 9 and 10 p.m. when the head of our brigade entered on the scene of that day's terrible conflict, and we were apprised of the fact and it was impressed upon us startlingly by the appearance of numbers of surgeons and chaplains with lanterns in hand searching over the ground to the right and left of our advance in column for the dead and wounded, who they said were scattered in every direction around. The surgeon of my brigade, two of the chaplains, and the quartermaster of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, First Lieutenant P. O'Hanlon, were here requested to give their services in the humane search after and relief of the victims of the battle-field. In half an hour after the brigade, having carefully looked to and secured their arms, laid down on the open field, the first time to rest for that day.
A little after daybreak Sunday morning, having learned that the enemy were in full force in the wood surrounding the field where we were bivouacked, I was on the alert, and with my staff was in the saddle by 4 o'clock a.m. The Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Robert Nugent, and the Eighty-eight New York Volunteers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kelly, temporarily commanding, were under arms and ready for action the same hour. The men had scarcely partaken of some hard biscuit and water when a brisk firing in front of our position informed us of the immediate presence of the enemy. General Richardson, commanding the division, at once directed my brigade to prepare for action. This order, as the march of the previous afternoon and night, was executed with the utmost alacrity and enthusiasm. Whilst in line of battle and awaiting further orders General Sumner, commanding the corps d'armée in which our brigade is incorporated, appeared on the ground, accompanied by his staff, and riding in front of our ranks addressed a few words of encouragement and confidence to our men, reminding them that they had been held back ever since they joined the service, but now their time had come.
In the mean while the firing in the woods fronting the field on which, in the midst of the dead and dying of the previous day's battle, we were drawn up for action, increased in volume and intensity, and it was at this moment that I received orders to throw the first regiment of my brigade (Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers) upon the railroad a little below where it was drawn up in line of battle. This order was executed promptly and dashingly, a pretty brisk fire opening on the regiment from the woods and one or two detached houses as they deployed to the left in line battle on the railroad. Shortly after this movement had been executed by the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers the Eighty-eight New York Volunteers was ordered to proceed by a flank movement to the left and occupy the railroad on the left of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, which regiment prolonged its line of occupation on the left of the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers. The Eighty-eight New York Volunteers had to push its march through a tangled under-wood, encumbered with fallen and decayed trees, interspersed with heavy patches of mire and swamp. The regiment was conduct to its position by Capt. J.P. McMahon, of my staff, who was specially detailed that morning on the staff of General Richardson, commanding division.
It appears from the report of Lieut. Col. Patrick Kelly, commanding the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, that a countermand was given to his regiment by some staff officer of the corps whilst it was forcing its way through the wood to take its position on the left of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers. This led to some slight confusion, and the two leading companies of the regiment, not having heard the countermand, deployed from the wood on the railroad, and gallantly sustained the fire of the enemy until, the countermand being recalled, they were vigorously supported by the other eight companies of the regiment. The two companies maintaining themselves so creditably until supported by the main body of the regiment were commanded respectively by Capts. William Horgan and Michael Eagan. Whilst the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, under command of Colonel Nugent, and the Eighty-eighth, under Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly, were thus deploying to the right and left on the railroad (the one through a field intercepted by stumps and exposed to a flanking fire from the enemy on the right and the other regiment forcing its way through the swampy woods on the left), the brigades of Generals Howard and French were splendidly maintaining the front of our position in advance of the railroad and holding the enemy in deck.
Thus it was that those two regiments of my brigade acted as a reserve and came to the support of those brave troops that had to stand the brunt of the battle of the 1st of June. The Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers had to display itself inn opening before they reached their position on the railroad which was exposed to the unobstructed fire of the enemy from the woods, forming a semicircle in front of the line on which the regiment was deploying. In other words, the line of battle of the Eightyeighth was the chord of resistance to the arc of the enemy's fire. At the central point of the chord there stood a farm-house, which during the action was used as a hospital for the wounded of the regiment specially detailed at this point any other of either army who were wounded in proximity to it and who could be brought in.
I regard the conduct of the Eighty-eighth, under the circumstances I have mentioned and in the position I have described, as being especially effective and entitled to distinctive commendation. Had the Eighty-eighth winced from this position; had they faltered or been thrown into confusion when proceeding to the railroad; had the two companies of this regiment, which were for some minutes isolated, not sustained the fire of the enemy, I believe the issue of the day adversely to the Army of the Potomac would have been materially influenced. The conduct of the Sixty-ninth was incomparably cool. The officers and men of the regiment stood and received the fire of the enemy whilst they delivered their own with an intelligent steadiness and composure which might have done credit to, and might perhaps have been looked for in, the mature troops of more than one campaign. The creditable and memorable conduct of the Sixty-ninth on this occasion was, in my opinion, owing in a great measure to the soldiery bearing and fearless tone and spirit of Colonel Nugent, who, standing close to the colors of his regiment, over and over again repeated the order to fire on the enemy. The fire of the two regiments, in a word, was so telling, that the enemy, although in considerable force and evidently bent on a desperate advance, were compelled to retire, leaving their dead and wounded piled in the woods and swampy ground in front of our line of battle.
Our succeeds was made manifest by the fact that the officers of the brigade engaged on the occasion were occupied soon after the cessation of the firing, and are still engaged, in the humane work of searching after the wounded and burying the dead.
For further particulars, of which I cannot pretend to be personally cognizant, I refer you with pleasure to the reports of the officers commanding the two regiments of my brigade engaged on the day in question. They themselves, it appears, find it difficult to particularize those of their respective commands who distinguished themselves by their coolness and fearlessness during the action. I myself refrain from any discrimination of the kind, lest I might do injustice to those who, equally brave and bold as those seemed to me most conspicuous, might have been no less deserving of notice and honorable commemoration, but whose claims escaped my observation in the excitement of the engagement. I cannot, however, close this report without mentioning in sincere terms of praise the conduct of the surgeons of my brigade (those of the Sixty-ninth and Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers), as also that of the brigade surgeon, J. H. Taylor; their attention to the wounded being unremitting even in the very heat of the conflict, and whilst it was dangerous for them to discharge their duties. It is a source to me of the greatest satisfaction that the brigade which I have the honor to command can reckon with confidence on the services of such skillful, daring, and intrepid surgeons.
Were it usual in such reports to speak of them, I would have more than sufficient reason to acknowledge the courage and the heart with which the chaplains to the brigade stood by their charge in the hour of danger and consoled those who fell.
In making this report I find but one circumstance which diminishes the pleasure I feel in speaking so laudably of those whom I have the honor to command, and this circumstance is the withdrawal of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, commanded by Colonel John Burke, which regiment, between 11 and 12 o'clock p.m. of the 31st of May, on our march from the camp at Tyler's farm, were ordered by General Richardson, commanding division, to fall back and defend the batteries of the division that were impeded in the mud and could not be brought to the front without assistance. These orders were executed by the Sixty-third New York Volunteers with promptness and full efficiency, and I but imperfectly convey the conviction of its comrade regiments of the brigade in saying that the participation of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers in the dangers of the day would have added to whatever credit the rest of the brigade has had the fortune to acquire.
I am happy to inform you that in killed and wounded the brigade has only lost 2 officers (Lieutenants King and O'Connor, Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, of whom the former died yesterday morning and the latter lies severely though not mortally wounded) and something less than 50 men.*
The list of casualties, however, is at present necessarily imperfect Every step will be taken to render a correct one as speedily as possible.
I have the honor to be, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade.
Report of Col. John Burke, Sixty-third New York Infantry.
HDQRS. SIXTY-THIRD REG. NEW YORK STATE VOLS.,
Battlefield Fair Oaks Station, Va., June 2, 1862.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that, in accordance with orders received from the commanding general of this brigade, my regiment took up the line of march at 3.30 o'clock p.m. of the 31st ultimo. My command continued to march with the brigade until about 11.30 o'clock p.m. of the same date, when Capt. J.M. Norvell, the assistant adjutant-general of Richardson's division, informed me that General Richardson, commanding division, directed that I return with my regiment to the bridge this side of the Chickahominy, and endeavor to have the batteries of the division sent to the front without delay.
In accordance with these orders I returned with my command by the same road by which the brigade came, arriving at Dr. Trent's house about 2 o'clock a.m. of the 1st instant, where I halted my regiment for the purpose of resting. The regiment remained resting in this place about thirty minutes, when I was ordered by General Sumner, through General Burns, to proceed with my regiment to the brow of the hill opposite the main bridge crossing the Chickahominy, and there to remain and protect the ammunition trains and batteries until further orders, it being anticipated by General Sumner that the enemy would attack this position.
About 9 o'clock a.m. of this date an order came from General Sumner, through General Burns, for us to proceed with every available man to the front and re-enforce his command. Upon our arrival at the place of engagement I was informed by General Sumner that the rebels had been repulsed, and I was ordered by him to return with my regiment to its former position, where I remained until 6 o'clock p.m. of yesterday (the 1st), when General Burns ordered me to report my command to General Richardson for duty. In accordance with this order I reported my regiment to General Richardson for duty about 7 o'clock last night, and it was assigned by him to support Captain Pettit's battery, which, position it continues to occupy. The conduct of the officers and men under my command during all the hardships which they endured is deserving of praise, each performing his duty willingly, cheerfully, and promptly. Their only regret was that they were deprived of the honor of fighting with their own brigade.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Sixty-third Regiment N. Y. S. Vols.
Capt. JOSEPH S. McCOY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Meagher's Brigade.
Report of Colonel Robert Nugent, Sixty-ninth New York Infantry.
HDQRS. SIXTY-NINTH REG. NEW YORK STATE VOLS.,
Fair Oaks, Va., June 2, 1862.
CAPTAIN: In compliance with orders just received I have the honor to report that on Saturday last, May 31, my regiment left camp near Cold Harbor, and about midnight arrived in this neighborhood, and encamped on the scene of the battle of that day. After allowing my men a short repose, permitting them to sleep for two hours on their arms, I formed them in line of battle, awaiting for daylight and further instruction to proceed against the enemy, then supposed to be masked by the woods surrounding us. Early on that morning (about 7 o'clock a.m.) under orders from the brigadier-general, we formed in column of division at some distance from the woods, deployed, and at double quick time advanced in line of battle to the immediate vicinity of the wood, where I halted my command and awaited future events. As my regiment was selected by General Richardson as the reserve of his division we were the last brought into action, and we were moved (about 8 o'clock) we marched by the left flank and took position on the line of railroad on the extreme right of the other infantry regiments engaged.
For nearly five minutes the Sixty-ninth remained in occupation of the railroad unmolested, when suddenly the enemy's left wing opened a heavy fire from the woods, when I ordered them to fire, and the coolness and celerity with which the order was executed deserved great commendation. Our fire was sustained with fearful consistency until the enemy was silenced, and by checking the advance of the rebels had, I am inclined to believe, a marked effect on the fortunes of the day. Our firing only ceased with the retreat of the enemy, leaving us in undisputed possession of the railroad, which we still hold.
Our casualties, considering the dangers to which we were exposed, are very few1 killed, 7 severely wounded, 5 slightly wounded, and 1 missing. Every officer and man present performed his duty on the eventful 1st of June with cheerfulness and pleasure, and where men only seemed desirous of emulating each other in bravery I find it impossible to name any one as more courageous or prompt than another.
I have the honor to be, captain, your obedient servant,
Colonel Sixty-ninth Regiment.
Capt. JOSEPH S. McCoy,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Irish Brigade.
Report of Lieut. Col. Patrick Kelly, Eighty-eighth New York Infantry.
FAIR OAKS STATION, VA.,
June 2, 1862.
CAPTAIN: Having the honor of commanding the Eighty-eighth Regiment New York State Volunteers since 23rd of March last, and commanding them in the field at the battle of Fair Oaks Station on the 1st instant, it becomes my duty to report to you the action of the regiment since leaving our late camp near Cold Harbor, which we left about 3 o'clock p.m. on Saturday, 31st of May last, and arrived about 3 o'clock a.m. at Fair Oaks Station on the following morning, where the regiment slept under arms until daylight, when the regiment was again formed in line of battle ready to receive the enemy. By order of General Richardson, conveyed to me by one of his aides, I took the regiment across a belt of wood for the purpose of re-enforcing the ( I believe) Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, who were reported nearly out of ammunition, and if not immediately relieved the result might be serious. On emerging from the wood I found I had only two companies, in consequence of the regiment having been halted while in the wood by a staff officer who did not convey the order to me, who was then marching at the head of my regiment. I with the two companies continued forward to the open space now occupied by Hazzard's battery, and advanced them in line of battle toward the railroad under a heavy fire. Shortly after the rest of the regiment came up; and here I would thank Captain McMahon, of General Meagher's staff, for the assistance he rendered where they were much needed.
What was done by the Eighty-eight on the occasion above referred to they leave to others to say. With regard to the conduct of the officers and men during the engagement there can be no distinction made in either, each and all having discharged their duties to my entire satisfaction. I should mention the surgeons of the regiment did most nobly. In the hottest of the action they were to be found in the field attending to the wounded. Nor should I forget to mention a drummer-boy named George Funk, who acted most heroically during the engagement, and who followed closely on the track of the retreating rebels, bringing in a prisoner, whom he delivered to General Sumner. Annexed will be found a list of the killed and wounded, amongst whom I sincerely regret to mention the same of Lieut. T. King, than whom no braver soldier stood on that field. He survived his wounds some thirty-six hours. Also Lieut. Edward P. O'Connor dangerously wounded, and for whose recovery there is every hope.
Commissioned officers killed, 1; wounded, 1; non-commissioned officers and privates killed, 5; wounded, 18. Total killed, 6; wounded, 19; aggregate, 25.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
I am, captain, respectfully, yours,
Lieut. Col., Comdg. 88th Regiment N. Y. S. Vols., Irish Brig.
Capt. JOSEPH S. McCoy
Last updated 3 October 2003