The 13th December was one of the bloodiest days in Irish military history as Irish fought Irish at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The Union’s Irish Brigade (the Fighting 69th) is decimated by Confederate forces in multiple efforts to take the Marye’s Heights. In his official report Meagher wrote: “Of the one thousand and two hundred I led into action, only two hundred and eighty appeared on parade next morning.”
Repulsing the Irish Brigade was the 24th Georgia Regiment led by Antrim born Robert McMillan. One of his officers later said: “At least three fourths of my command was composed of men of Irish descent and knew that the gallant dead in our front were our kindred of the land beyond the sea. When, one by one, the stars came out that night, many tears were shed by Southern eyes for the heroic Irish dead.”
General George Pickett wrote his fiancée, “Your soldier’s heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to their death. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. Why, my darling, we forgot they were fighting us and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines.”
The actions of the Irish Brigade elicited similar emotions from another Confederate officer General James Longstreet.
“The manner in which Meagher’s Irish Brigade breasted the death storm from Marye’s Heights of Fredericksburg, was the handsomest thing in the whole war. Six times in the face of a withering fire, before which whole ranks were mowed down as corn before the sickle, did the Irish Brigade run up that hill—rush to inevitable death.”
Robert E. Lee provided a fascinating insight into the Irish fighting man of both sides of the Civil war. ”The Irish soldier fights not so much for lucre as through the reckless love of adventure, and, moreover, with a chivalrous devotion to the cause he espouses for the time being. Cleburne, on our side, inherited the intrepidity of his race. On a field of battle he shone like a meteor on a clouded sky! As a dashing military man he was all virtue; a single vice does not stain him as a warrior. His generosity and benevolence had no limits. The care which he took of the fortunes of his officers and soldiers, from the greatest to the least, was incessant. His integrity was proverbial, and his modesty was an equally conspicuous trait in his character.
“Meagher, on your side, though not Cleburne’s equal in military genius, rivaled him in bravery and in the affections of his soldiers. The gallant stand which his 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. Though totally routed, they reaped harvests of glory. Their brilliant, though hopeless, assaults on our lines excited the hearty applause of my officers and soldiers, and General Hill exclaimed: ‘There are those green flags again’“