By the Hush
DESCRIPTION: The singer calls on his listeners not to go to America; "there is nothing here but war." Unable to make a living in Ireland, he emigrates, is shoved straight into the army, joins the Irish Brigade, loses a leg, and is left without his promised pension
EARLIEST DATE: 1957 (recording, O. J. Abbott); there is a nineteenth century broadside
KEYWORDS: poverty emigration soldier injury war Civilwar disability
FOUND IN: Canada(Ont,Que) Ireland
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Fowke/MacMillan 6, "By the Hush, me Boys" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-Ontario 20, "By the Hush, Me Boys" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Derek Warfield, Irish Songster of the American Civil War (Kilcock, 1999), #6 p. 18, "By the Hush, Me Boys"
O. J. Abbott, "By the Hush, Me Boys" (on Abbott1)
Roisin White, "By the Hush" (on IRRWhite01)
cf. "Farewell to Slieve Gallen" (plot)
cf. "Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade" (subject)
NOTES [3438 words]: There is much historical truth in this song. There were indeed new Irish immigrants in the northern armies in the Civil War: "According to one account, some of the 88th's recruits [soldiers in the 88 NY Regiment, one of the regiments of the Irish Brigade] enlisted shortly after they had exited the immigrant landing point at Castle Garden, and spoke no English, only the Irish Gaelic of the landless Catholic tenant farmer" (Bilby, p. 27). And the unit they joined, the Irish Brigade of Thomas Francis Meagher (pronounced "Marr"), had a horrendous loss rate even by Civil War standards.
In the first two years of the war, the brigade -- originally 63 NY, 69 NY, 88 NY; 28 Mass, another Irish unit, added before Fredericksburg (Bilby, p. 63) and the not-so-Irish 116 PA added in October 1862 (Bilby, p. 61) -- had the highest casualty rate of any comparable unit in the Army of the Potomac. According to Bilby, p. ix, "In its four year history, the brigade lost over 4,000 men, more than were ever in it at any one time, killed and wounded. [p. 239 calculates that, in all, 7715 men served in the brigade.] The Irish Brigade's loss of 961 soldiers killed or mortally wounded in action was exceeded by only two other brigades in the Union army."
The unit suffered in many battles. In the Seven Days' Battles, for instance, the 69 NY alone had 155 casualties (Bilby, p. 45), although other regiments of the brigade suffered less. At the end of the Peninsular Campaign, the 69th had only 295 men with the colors (Bilby, p. 49) -- meaning that it had already suffered 60% casualties. Meagher did manage to drum up a few recruits that summer, but not enough to offset the brigade's losses (Bilby, p. 50).
At the Battle of Antietam, the first division of the Second Corps, which contained the Irish Brigade, suffered 212 killed, 900 wounded, and 24 missing (Murfin, p. 375); the Irish Brigade alone is said to have lost 506 of 2944 men (Beller, p, 74). At the start that battle, the four regiments of the brigade were commanded by one colonel and three lieutenant colonels; at the end, they were commanded by two lieutenant colonels, one major, and one captain (Murfin, p. 347). Sears-Antietam, p. 243, says that the 63rd and 69th New York both suffered casualties on the order of 60%. Craughwell, p. 98, says that one company had every man killed or wounded, and on p. 105 says that the thousand-man-strong brigade suffered 540 casualties. Since the brigade started with roughly 3000 men, it had lost two-thirds of them prior to Antietam, and by the end of that battle, five out of six were killed, wounded, captured, victims of disease, or had deserted.
(Given the casualty rates, I find it highly ironic that, when General McClellan was removed as commander of the Army of the Potomac, General Meagher had his brigade throw its flags in the dirt in protest; Sears-Antietam, pp. 342-343. This even though McClellan had been ultimately responsible for the brigade's slaughter. And it is hard to believe that the fire-breathing Meagher and McClellan the pro-Slavery Democrat really had anything in common -- had McClellan been British, he would surely have opposed Irish independence with a passion.)
Even with all its reinforcements, the Brigade had only about 1200 men at Fredericksburg (Bilby, p. 65), or a mere 30 percent of what it should have had, making it one of the most attenuated units in the Union army. Meagher's own summary, in his report, was that "Of the one thousand two hundred I led into action the day before, two hundred and eighty only appeared" (Beller, p. 76). Even this may be a little high; one report is that in the immediate aftermath of the battle, only 263 men were still in ranks (Bilby, p. 70), and at least one company had only one man, a private (Bilby, p. 71). That is perhaps a little exaggerated -- some of the men were lost or needed more time to sneak away from proximity to Confederate soldiers. But the final numbers were bad enough. Boatner, p. 594, notes that the 69th New York at Fredericksburg had 18 officers and 210 men, and 16 of the officers and 112 men were casualties. In the 28 Mass (transferred to the Irish Brigade after Antietam), losses at Fredericksburg were 158 out of 416 (Boater, p. 518). For the whole brigade, losses were 545, or almost half the unit's strength -- in terms of total casualties, if not percentage casualties, the worst day of the war for the Irish (Craughwell, p. 122, who adds that this led to a feeling that the Union command was anti-Irish, which in turn made it harder to recruit Irishmen).
The brigade's losses at Chancellorsville were lighter -- just 92 if we believe Craughwell, p. 141, or 64 according to Beller, p. 82. That was still enough to get Meagher to resign a few weeks later on the grounds that the brigade was too much weakened to be effective (Boatner, p. 540); he wanted to leave the army to try to bring in recruits, but his requests were ignored by Secretary of War Stanton. Although 59 of his brigade's officers (which must have been the large majority of them) signed testimonials to his leadership, the resignation was blandly accepted (Craughwell, p. 142). This may have been because of the rumors about his drinking. His resignation would be rescinded later, but he would not serve with the Irish Brigade at or after Gettysburg; the unit was led by Col. Patrick Kelly of the 88 NY (one of only two colonels left with the brigade, and commissioned only in October 1862 -- NYReport, volume III, p. 75 -- which again shows the high rate of casualties in the unit); the 69 NY was led by Captain Richard Maroney.
Meagher would later help try to get more recruits for the brigade, declaring that commanding it was the highest distinction he had ever achieved (Bilby, p. 96; Craughwell, p. 162). But the brigade had almost gone out of existence by then.
By Gettysburg, the brigade had only 530 men (Sears-Gettysburg, p. 289) out of over 4000 originally enrolled, and the three New York regiments had fewer than a hundred men each -- a casualty rate in excess of 90%. (I do not have a source for this data; I copied it some decades ago out of an unknown book). The 69th New York -- which, as an independent regiment should theoretically have been commanded by a colonel -- was under a captain at Gettysburg, and by the end of the battle, it was under the command of a lieutenant! (Sears-Gettysburg, p. 519).
Craughwell, p. 8, declares "The Brigade suffered 4,000 casualties, arguably the highest of any brigade in the Civil War" (there can be no definitive statement about which brigade had the highest casualties because brigades weren't permanent organizations, and regiments were swapped in and out regularly; also there is the question of men wounded more than once, and of men missing -- are they casualties or deserters? Still, given that it lost as many men as it initially numbered, it is obvious that the Irish Brigade is a serious candidate for most losses).
It should be noted that some sources have written very inaccurately about Meagher and the Irish Brigade -- particularly about the 69 NY. Meagher himself (1823-1876) was quite a character; an Irish patriot, he was transported to Tasmania in 1849, and escaped to the U. S. in 1852.
When the Civil War began, he reasoned that British sympathy would be with the Confederacy, and so joined the Union army. (In this he was not entirely correct; while many in the British aristocracy sympathized with the Confederate planters, the British people were anti-slavery, and so anti-south, and the government wasn't going to commit to either side.) Meagher quickly raised a company for the three-month unit known as the 69th New York Militia (a unit which still exists, in a sense -- it fought in both World Wars and even through the Iraq War; cf. Bilby, p. xi -- but which wasn't, properly speaking, part of the Irish Brigade). Hasty recruitment at the start of the war took this demi-battalion (245 men) up to regimental strength (1040 soldiers; Bilby, p. 5), although the more experienced men weren't really used as a cadre for the rest of the regiment; Meagher's Company K, for instance, didn't join the 69th Militia until the day they crossed the Potomac into Virginia (Bilby, p. 7).
As part of this militia unit -- which he did *not* command; its leader was another famous Irish exile, Michael Corcoran, while Meagher led his company -- Meagher fought at First Bull Run, where his bravery proved conspicuous (McDonald, p. 144); "Meagher of the Sword" finally got to use his stupid pig-sticker for something: he used it to rally his troops as they fled (Craughwell, p. 59). The unit had substantial casualties -- although some of those "missing" are rather suspicious (McDonald, p. 192, lists the 69th NY with 38 killed, 59 wounded, and 95 missing; the 2nd Wisconsin of the same brigade -- which would become one of the best regiments in the Union army -- had 24 killed, 65 wounded, but only 23 missing.)
Meagher's account of First Bull Run can be found in Colum, pp. 326-331, under the title "The 69th in Virginia."
After Bull Run, the 69th militia was mustered out; its three months were up. Meagher then set out to raise an Irish *brigade* (Craughwell, p. 63), starting with the rebuilt 69th New York (which was not the same as the militia unit, despite Meagher's association with both); he initially hoped to also include regiments from Pennsylvania and Massachussetts. He succeeded in getting the 63rd New York (which was already organizing) to join his force, and raised the 69th and 88th New York, with many of the officers having been part of the 69th militia (Beller, p. 32, says that 500 men of the Irish Brigade game from the 69th militia) and most of the most of the men from New York City although Meagher took Irishmen from all over the state and even the nation (Craughwell, p. 65). His plans to unite the Irish regiments into a brigade failed, however; he didn't manage to bring the 69th Pennsylvania (for which see "The Irish Sixty-Ninth") or the Massachusetts unit into his force (Bilby, p. 20); the Irish Brigade initially consisted of just the three New York regiments at a time when four was normal for a brigade (and some brigades had five or six). The 69th New York, which was the first to reach its enlistment quota, was known as the "First Regiment, Irish Brigade"; the 88th, which was given its colors by Mrs. Meagher, was "Mrs. Meagher's Own" or, sometimes, the "Connaught Rangers," after a famous 88th Regiment of the British Army (Bilby, p. 22).
Although he had helped recruit up the new unit, Meagher was never the colonel of the 69 NY (which had only one colonel, Robert Nugent, in its entire existence; NYReport, volume III, p. 8. Nugent had been lieutenant colonel of the 69 NY Militia -- Bilby, p. 9 -- so Meagher had been promoted over his head. But Nugent, unlike Meagher, was willing to stick with the brigade; he "fought with the Irish Brigade in every one of its battles except Antietam, when he was ill"; Beller, p. 38). Meagher had originally proposed James Shields to command the brigade, but Shields aspired to higher command, and the officers endorsed him, so Meagher got the brigade (Bilby, p. 23). Just as well, perhaps, that Shields wasn't in charge; given command of a division in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862, Shields had the uncomfortable experience of learning that Stonewall Jackson was a far better soldier than he. But the side effect was that Meagher was made a brigadier as of February 3, 1862 (Phisterer, p. 273) -- giving him much too much seniority; if he had still been with the army at Gettysburg, he would have been in command of the first division, II corps, at the start of the battle, and ended it in command of the corps. He would have been, by my count, the #6 brigadier in the army, and about #20 in the army as a whole. Much too much seniority for a man who went on week-long binges!
Meagher perhaps had an ulterior motive for forming the brigade; he wanted to train Irishmen to be good soldiers so they could help overthrow the British (Beller, p. 21). This would probably have worked better if Meagher hadn't done such an effective job of killing off his own men. Romantic that he was, he claimed that "the last thought that left their hearts was for the liberty of Ireland" (Beller, p. 28). I strongly suspect that their last though was "this hurts!"
Meagher's obsession with swords may have contributed to the brigade's heavy losses; he never really figured out the tactics required by rifled muskets. To be sure, his own troops were long stuck with smoothbore (un-rifled) muskets, which couldn't be aimed with any accuracy. But even that was likely the general's own choice (Bilby, p. 33): the musket "was General Meagher's preferred weapon because it was deadly at close range, especially when loaded with buck-and-ball, cartridges that contained a .64-caliber lead ball and three .30 caliber buckshot pellets. Meagher envisioned his Brigade attacking the enemy head-on, discharging a deadly volley of buck-and-ball, then charging in with bayonets" (Craughwell, p. 69). Napoleon, who lived before rifle muskets became practical due to the invention of the Minie Ball, would have loved it. So would anyone who faced the Irishmen and got to tear them to shreds. It is even reported (although I don't trust the report) that at one battle the Irishmen were actually ruining their muskets by smashing them over their enemies heads! (Bilby, p. 45).
Apparently this bit of stupidity was an example of Meagher's Irish romanticism. The (European) Irish Brigade had succeeded at Fontenoy with smoothbore muskets and a bayonet charge, so Meagher wanted to do that again. Problem is, Fontenoy was before rifle muskets came into use, when bayonet charges still worked. At Antietam, they didn't, and the Irish paid for Meagher's folly (Bilby, p. 55).
Nor was this the only way in which Meagher's failings cost his men. He didn't do much to maintain their camps (Bilby, p. 136), and even in an army of amateurs, he seems to have been noteworthy for his failure to try to learn military theory (Bilby, p. 137). One of his non-commissioned officers said that Meagher "wanted to gain so much praise that he would not spare his men" (Bilby, p. 136). It is not a good record. Little wonder if some of his soldiers became bitter.
Some sources say the Irish Brigade was shattered at Gettysburg. As the statistics above show, it was shattered well before Gettysburg, although it lost third of its remaining men in Pennsylvania (Craughwell, p. 154) -- the 69th lost 25 of its 75 remaining troops, and the 28th Mass was said to have lost more than half its soldiers (Bilby, p. 91). Twice in 1863, the units had been reorganized, with the 116th Pennsylvania reduced to a battalion in January (and its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mulholland, having to take a demotion to major), and the New York regiments were reduced to two companies after Meagher quit, and a number of officers forced to retire as a result (Bilby, p. 81).
And it's hard to justify the claim that it was somehow singled out; the entire first division of the second corps, which contained the Irish Brigade, was in awful shape by then. The table of organization on page 386 of Pfanz shows this. At Gettysburg, the division had four brigades; nominally, such an organization should have been commanded by a major general, with brigadiers in command of the brigades and colonels in command of the regiments. At Gettysburg, the division was commanded by a brigadier, and the brigades were initially led by one brigadier and three colonels. At the end of the battle, three of the brigades were led by colonels and one by a lieutenant colonel. The division contained eighteen regiments. At the start of the battle, just seven were commanded by colonels, eight by lieutenant colonels, one by a major, and two by captains; at the end, only ONE was commanded by a colonel (five of the six other colonelss were casualties; one had risen to command his brigade), six by lieutenant colonels, five by majors, five by captains, and one by a lieutenant! According to Bilby, p. ix, "The II Corps' First Division lost more men killed in action than any other Federal division, and the Irish Brigade lost more men than any other brigade in that division."
The brigade had managed to recruit itself back up to about two thousand men by early 1864 (Craughwell, p. 164), partly by getting injured men back in the ranks and partly by bringing in new ones, but that didn't change the fact that the brigade had been slaughtered; it just gave them a new batch of cannon fodder -- and not even cannon fodder with a few veterans to guide them; most of the 1864 recruits went into new companies (Bilby, p. 98), so the three New York regiments weren't even very homogenous any more.
The brigade's losses in later campaigns remained heavy. At the Battle of the Wilderness, the reinforced brigade suffered about 25% casualties (Craughwell, p. 180), and more than a thousand total in the campaigns of 1864; the units ended up being completely reorganized twice (Craughwell, pp. 192-193). By June, the brigade was temporarily being commanded by Major Richard Moroney (Bilby, p. 114) -- a brigade properly should have been led by a man ranked three grades higher! But all units in the Army of the Potomac suffered horribly in this period.
At the end of June, the three New York regiments were, in effect, combined into one, and the 28 Massachussetts and 116 Pennsylvania split off; the Irish Brigade, as an independent entity, had ceased to exist (Bilby, p. 115). Which doesn't mean it was done taking casualties.... Oddly enough, it was reconstituted in November 1864 (Bilby, p. 119), but the new troops were mostly worthless and suffered many casualties due to capture and desertion (Bilby, pp. 120-121).
The history of the Irish Brigade's commanders is another indication of the high casualties the unit suffered. Four officers followed Meagher in the official command of the brigade. Col. Kelly was killed at Petersburg. Temporary commander Thomas Smyth was killed after transfer to another brigade. Col. Richard Byrnes was killed at Cold Harbor. Brig. Gen. Richard Nugent then commanded the brigade to the end of the war (Boatner, p. 427).
Meagher himself had a difficult time after giving up his command (Craughwell, pp.165-166): Shortly after Gettysburg, he tried to get his resignation rescinded. Secretary of War Stanton ignored him. Although reinstated in 1864, he was not given a command. In August of that year, he went on a week-long drinking binge and was ordered off the army base where he was staying. He was eventually given a command in Tennessee -- over untrained troops. At one stage, he lost track of several thousand of his troops while they were being transported by rail. Since this came at a time when he was again found to be under the influence, he was relieved of duty in early 1865 and never served again. With the war over, he resigned again on May 12, 1865, and the resignation was accepted May 15 (Bilby, p. 140). Frankly, given his record, I think the Union showed remarkable patience with him.
For Meagher's career before and after the Civil War, see the notes to "The Escape of Meagher."
For the various Irish Sixty-Ninth regiments, see "The Irish Sixty-Ninth."
The notes to Margaret Christl and Ian Robb's recording of this song make the curious observation that, although this song is about an Irishman in America, it seems to be known only in Canada!
There were some attempts in Ireland to prevent Irishmen from going to America to serve in the Union armies -- priests, for instance, didn't like seeing all their congregants (read: the people who earned them their livings) depart for America (Bilby, pp. 96-97). Is it possible that this is the source of this song?
Several people on the Ballad-L mailing list recently attempted to trace the history of this song. Relatively little was found. There is a broadside, "Pat in America," beginning "Arragh, bidenhust my boys, Sure and that is hold your noise," with the tune listed as "Happy Land of Erin." But it cannot be dated precisely, and there is little evidence of the song in tradition in the century after that.
I also find a broadside, "The Tipperary Boys" (broadside Murray, Mu23-y1:061, "The Tipperary Boys," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 19C), which seems built on the same pattern and formula.
Williams, p. 43, claims that there were "dozens of ballads relating to the exploits of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment," but few were traditional; I do not know if he would include this song among the list. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
- Beller: Susan Provost Beller, Never Were Men So Brave: The Irish Brigade During the Civil War, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1998
- Bilby: Joseph G. Bilby, The Irish Brigade in the Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of the Army of the Potomac, Combined Publishing, 1998 (originally published 1995 as Remember Fontenoy)
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Colum: Padraic Colum, A Treasury of Irish Folklore, 1954; revised edition 1967 (I use the 1992 Wings Books edition)
- Craughwell: Thomas J. Craughwell, The Greatest Brigade: How the Irish Brigade Cleared the Way to Victory in the American Civil War, 2011(I use the 2013 Crestline illustrated paperback)
- McDonald, JoAnna M. McDonald, We Shall Meet Again: The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) July 18-21, 1861, Oxford, 1999
- Murfin: James B. Murfin, The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and Robert E. Lee's Maryland Campaign, September 1862, 1965 (I use the 1985 Louisiana State University Press edition)
- NYReport: (no author listed), State of New York Annual Report of the Adjutant General 1868, 3 volumes, Charles van Benthuysen & Sons, 1868
- Pfanz: Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1993
- Sears-Antietam: Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Ticknor & Fields, 1983
- Sears-Gettysburg: Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
- Williams: Alfred M. Williams, Studies in Folk-Song and Popular Poetry, Houghton Mifflin, 1894
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