The First Irish Regiment at Stones River
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Boys, this is a new year; many of you will never see the sun go down today; I desire to say to you a few words. You are an Irish regiment. Your countrymen have already proved their devotion to the flag of the nation by their courage and stamina on the field of battle. The eyes of the division are upon you — you must not disappoint them. Now, then, many of you have not been to your duties. All of you make a good act of contrition, sincerely ask God to forgive you, and I will pronounce absolution.
-Father Peter P. Cooney at Stones River
While the Irish Brigade receives much notoriety and acclaim for their role during the Civil War, there were plenty of other Irishmen fighting within the ranks of the Federal and Confederate western armies. Just look at the Tenth Tennessee (CSA) and the Tenth Ohio (USA), both being called the "Bloody Tinth" as examples of the Irish involvement in the western theater. There was a full regiment of Irish raised (mostly) in Indiana as well.
The Thirty-Fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment (also known as the First Irish) was mustered into service on December 11th, 1861, in Indianapolis. While most of the men were Irish, a smattering of German names appear on the roster as well. And, not all the men were from Indiana - Company H was filled with men from southwestern Ohio, with residences in such places as Dayton and Middletown. The regiment would join Buell's army at Bowling Green, and at Nashville the Thirty-Fifth received recruits from the partially organized Sixty-First Indiana (the Second Irish Regiment) who had difficulty recruiting enough men to form a second Irish unit. Many of these men from the Sixty-First were issued a chasseur-style uniform trimmed in green. Early in its enlistment the Thirty-Fifth Indiana was issued a distinctive green kepi manufactured by Bamburgers (a hatter in Indianapolis) as well as trousers trimmed with a green stripe on the outside seam. The Thirty-Fifth Regiment would go on to see its first major action at the battle of Stones River where they held a crucial position on the extreme left of the Union line and suffered severe casualties while facing off against the Orphan Brigade. The Irishmen would continue to be involved at almost every major action in the Western theater including Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Ringgold Gap, the Atlanta Campaign, Franklin and Nashville. According to The Union Army Volume III the regiment's original strength was 871, recruits 806, reenlistments 192, for a total of 1,869. Loss by death 244, desertion 269, unaccounted for 51. That desertion number is very high for a Federal regiment.
Since we are on a Stones River kick of late, here is the report of the Thirty-Fifth from that battle:
Report of Col. Bernard F. Mullen, Thirty-fifth Indiana Infantry.
HDQRS. (FIRST IRISH) THIRTY-FIFTH REGT. INDIANA VOLS., In the Field, near Murfreesborough, Tenn., January 5, 1863.
COL.: In obedience to orders, I have the honor to report officially to brigade headquarters the part my regiment took in the battles since December 31, 1862.
On the morning of December 31 last, my regiment moved with our brigade (the Third) across Stone's River, and took position on the extreme left of the brigade, fronting east. We remained but a short time, when orders came to recross the river and establish my line, the right resting upon the Fifty-first Ohio. When the line was thus established, my left rested upon the bank of the river. When in this position the action commenced on our right, and in an incredibly short space of time I found hundreds of fugitives and numerous wagons and ambulances fleeing in confusion, and attempting to cross the river. Orders came from you to arrest the flight of these fugitives, and to this end I directed my men to fix bayonets and halt the panic-stricken soldiers. To Capt. John P. Dufficy, acting major, and Adjutant Scully I am much indebted, as well as the company officers, for energetic efforts to form the recusants into line. Two small battalions were formed, and under an officer sent back to the right of the line. The confusion was very great, and I feel as if it was due to my officers and men to mention particularly the cool and determined manner [in which] they brought order out of confusion.
A short time after the subsidence of the panic on the west side of the river, I discovered a stampede arising among the teamsters who had crossed on the east side. An officer rode up and informed me that a battalion of the enemy's cavalry was about to charge upon and capture the wagons-among them were two wagons belonging to the general-in-chief-and requesting me, if possible, to save them. I instantly put the regiment in march to the ford, in order to meet the cavalry force. On my road to the ford I was ordered by Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen. Clark to form line again on the Fifty-first Ohio. I did so, and saw the cavalry coming in full charge on the train. At this juncture I threw the left wing of the regiment back, and opened a severe fire on the enemy, the battery on our right shelling him handsomely at the same time. The result was, the enemy remained but a little while, and managed to get but a few of the rear wagons away with him.
On the morning of January 1, our division (Third) recrossed to the east side of the river. The lines were formed in the following order: First line of our brigade consisted of the Fifty-first Ohio, Eighth Kentucky, and Thirty-fifth Indiana, the latter regiment being posted on the extreme left of the brigade, and just behind a curtain of woodland. In the rear of my regiment was the Ninety-ninth Ohio; on the left was the Seventy-ninth Indiana. In the course of the day I furnished three companies of skirmishers, G, I, and E, under Capt.'s Prosser and McKim. Skirmishing was kept up all day. In the evening I relieved Companies E, I, and G by sending out the other seven companies, under command of Capt. Dufficy.
At midnight the enemy undertook to drive in my skirmishers by a vigorous assault. I am proud to report that in this they signally failed. The line of skirmishers never gave an inch. On the contrary, in the gallant ardor of the moment, they drove the enemy beyond his own line and established the Thirty-fifth upon it. In this affair I lost 1 man killed and 2 wounded. Capt. Dufficy on the right, and Capt. Crowe upon the left of skirmishers, behaved with distinguished gallantry.
At daylight I found it necessary to relieve the line of skirmishers, as they had been all night and part of the preceding day without rest or nourishment. An order came from brigade headquarters for every regiment to throw out in front of their own line two companies of skirmishers. The skirmishers from my regiment were under command of Capt. James McKim, a cool and daring officer.
All day of the 2d instant, skirmishing kept up heavy in the entire front. About 2 p. m. a rebel battery opened upon us and threw solid shot and shell until 4 p. m., when the enemy, in force, advanced upon us. I had directed my men to lie down and fix bayonets, and in no case to fire until I gave the word. The skirmishing became very brisk, and my skirmishers came in, fell into line with the regiment, reporting to me the approach of an immense force. The enemy advanced steadily in column by regiment, en echelon.
When within a short distance of the line of the Fifty-first Ohio and Eighth Kentucky, the first brigade of the enemy came into line, and both parties opened a crashing fire of musketry. The enemy's second brigade came up to the work, yelling-they were immediately in my front. I considered it best to let them advance to within 30 or 40 paces of my line, as I believed they had no knowledge of my position, before I opened my fire. When their right flank was immediately opposite my line, I gave the order to rise and fire. With a deafening cheer the order was gallantly obeyed. A plunging volley staggered the advancing columns, and before the enemy could recover his surprise my regiment had reloaded and commenced a well-aimed and telling file fire. The flash and rattle of my musketry gave information to the battery in my front, which opened furiously upon me. The close proximity of the belligerent lines obliged the gunners to throw their shell to my rear and solid shot to my extreme left. This accounts for the left wing suffering so much more than the right. After twenty minutes of a murderous fire from the enemy, and seeing that he was steadily advancing upon the regiments on my right and left, I called for the Ninety-ninth Ohio to come forward and support me. I intended to have tried the virtue of the bayonet, according to the instructions of our much-respected general-in-chief. I regret very much to say, after two appeals to the Ninety-ninth Ohio, that regiment failed to come forward. The right wing of the Seventy-ninth Indiana was now engaged, and the whole of our brigade line on our right. Through all this terrible fire of musketry and shell, I am proud to say not a single officer or man flinched.
The enemy soon pressed forward. In my rear the Ninety-ninth Ohio had gone from the field. The Seventy-ninth Indiana then gave way under this terrific pressure. The regiments on my right, the Fifty-first Ohio and Eighth Kentucky, were slowly retiring, and fighting heroically. At the end of forty-three minutes of a desperate and unequal contest, I found the enemy completely around my flanks. To prevent a useless destruction of life, or entire capture of my regiment, I gave the order to retire. I was obliged to repeat it, and even then the brave fellows complied reluctantly-many refused, and they were either killed or captured.
On reaching the river, in our rear some 400 yards, I rallied the torn ranks of my regiment. Here were the remaining fragments of the Fifty-first Ohio, Eighth and Twenty-first Kentucky, with some other regiments that I cannot now designate. A bold and determined fire was opened by this new-formed line. The enemy paused, fought, and then at last broke and fled, our men pursuing them with cheers and a heavy straggling fire. So deafening was the musketry, I did not hear or know a single piece of artillery was giving us any aid until I reached the crest of the hill in the wood upon our right. The enemy made one stand more on this hill; it was but momentary, for our brave lads were upon them, and they fled, never again to rally.
In my efforts, agreeably to your orders, to ascertain what officer or man particularly distinguished himself for gallantry, or disgraced himself by cowardice, I asked a special report from officers commanding companies. I received but one report: They commanded a body of heroes. My own observation goes to indorse the truthfulness of these officers' reports. In the rush for the advance, portions of the Thirty-fifth Indiana, Fifty-first Ohio, Eighth and Twenty-first Kentucky reached the enemy's battery. The boys of the Fifty-first claim one piece, their comrades of the Thirty-fifth another. To do justice, I think your entire brigade was freely represented in the capture of these pieces. Where 272 men stand unflinchingly, for forty-three minutes, a combined fire of musketry and artillery at close range, it is certainly hard to give to any one a pre-eminence for gallantry. I had but few officers with me; each and every one had some peculiar tact of excellence, some one splendid soldierly virtue.
In conclusion, I feel obliged to call attention to the splendid conduct of my adjutant, John Scully. His escape was a miracle, freely exposing himself, and cheering the men throughout the action to deeds of valor. Serg. Maj. Robert Stockdale fought desperately, but coolly; he deserves particular mention, not only for his conduct on this field, but for the faithful and cheerful manner he has ever performed his duties. To Dr. Averdick, my surgeon, I must acknowledge valuable services; brave and defiant on the field, he is kind and attentive in the hospital wards. Quartermaster Igoe was on the field, attentive to the wounded, using every effort to have them carefully transported to the rear. By 10 o'clock that night not a wounded man of the Thirty-fifth could be found on the field. To Father Cooney, our chaplain, too much praise cannot be given. Indifferent as to himself, he was deeply solicitous for the temporal comfort and spiritual welfare of us all. On the field he was cool and indifferent to danger, and in the name of the regiment I thank him for his kindness and laborious attention to the dead and dying.
B. F. MULLEN,
Col. Thirty-fifth Indiana.
Col. S. W. PRICE,
Cmdg. Third Brigade.
American Civil War Research Database
Official Records, Volume XXXII.