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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Sinn Féin USA

The Battle of Fredericksburg - Brother Against Brother.

This week marks the anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg A few months ago a supporter of Friends of Sinn Fein visited the National Battlefield Park at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

He sent along some pictures from the site. Fredericksburg was the location of a famous US Civil War battle. It is known as a Confederate victory and the statistics of the dead and wounded are for the history books. Less famous however is the story of the Irishmen who fought during that day. Some wore blue, and some wore gray. This is that story.

December 1862, the Union Army was making its way across the Rappahannock River towards the small town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Waiting for them was Robert E Lee and the Confederate Army.

1862 had been a bad year for the Union commanders and their men, having been beaten by Lee at every turn, they were desperate for a victory. President Abraham Lincoln was becoming impatient and after relieving General George B McClellan of his command gave his new Union Commander Ambrose Burnside a simple order; find the Confederate Army and destroy it.

By the morning of December 13th the Union Army had found Lee, he was entrenched in the hills just beyond the little town of Fredericksburg known at Mayre’s heights.

All morning and afternoon the Union ranks attacked the Confederate positions and each time was repelled by the rebels who enjoyed superior ground. Burnside, desperate, turned to a young Brigadier General named Thomas Francis Meagher and his Brigade to carry out the next assault.

Meagher was an Irishman, born in Waterford in 1823. He joined the Young Irelanders during the failed rebellion of 1848 against the British. Arrested for treason he was exiled to Tasmania. Meagher dreamed of a new life in America and escaped in 1852 to New York where he worked as a journalist. Meagher joined the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and was rapidly promoted.

He commanded what became known as the Irish Brigade, a force made up of immigrants from Ireland that would fight not just under the American flag but also a flag of green emblazoned with a golden harp. An ode to the old country.

As Meagher and his men charged the Confederate positions on December 13th they faced off against another force who fought under a green flag, the 24th Irish Regiment of Georgia under the command of another Irishman, Colonel Robert McMillan.

The 24th Georgia Regiment was made up mostly of Irish volunteers who also had fled the famine on immigrant ships, but instead of coming ashore in New York or Boston, they landed in Savannah, Georgia. These men, like their countrymen who landed in the north, were hungry and desperate. They joined the confederate army not out of ideology but because of the promise of 3 hots and a cot.

The terrain that day was too much for General Meagher and his men to overcome and the Irish Regiment also broke under the vicious Confederate counterattack. The Union Irish Brigade suffered over fifty percent casualties and lost almost all of its officers.

As Meagher ordered his men to retreat, the Confederate Irish Regiment stood up from behind the stone wall and cheered their countrymen’s bravery. Men that would have been comrades back home had slaughtered each other on a wintry day half a world away.

The worst kind of war is civil war, brother against brother. Fredericksburg was the clearest example of that in the entire US Civil War.

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