Irish Sixty-Ninth, The

DESCRIPTION: A song telling the story of the 69th regiment, "The Irish Sixty-Ninth." The training of the regiment is described, then its long career in the Peninsula, at Antietam, Fair Oaks, Glendale, and perhaps Gettysburg
AUTHOR: M. Fay? (The Johnson broadside is "Dedicated to the Sixty-ninth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, by M. Fay")
EARLIEST DATE: 1941 (recorded from John Galusha)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar soldier
FOUND IN: US(MA)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Warner 14, "The Irish Sixty-Ninth" (1 text, 1 tune)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #705, p. 46, "Gallant Pennsylvania 69th, Irish Volunteers" (1 reference)
Spaeth-WeepMore, pp. 175-176, "The Gallant 69th" (1 text, 1 tune)

ST Wa014 (Full)
Roud #7455
RECORDINGS:
"Yankee" John Galusha, "The Irish 69th" [excerpt] (on USWarnerColl01)
BROADSIDES:
LOCSinging, (no number), "Gallant Pennsylvania 69th, Irish Volunteers ("To Erin's sons of hill and plain, come listen to my feeble strain"), J. H. Johnson (Philadelphia), 1863
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "McKenna's Dream" (tune)
NOTES: My initial notes on this song contained a great deal of sleuthing to determine what this song was about. Then I found what is clearly this song in WolfAmericanSongSheets, p. 46. The entry is titled "Gallant Pennsylvania 69th, Irish Volunteers," and begins "To Erin's sons of hill and plain, come listen to my feeble strain." The air is listed as "McKenney's Dream," which is surely "McKenna's Dream." That eliminates the need for much of the reasoning below, but I'll leave it anyway....
The very name "The Irish Sixty-Ninth" immediately brings to mind the 69th New York regiment, a famous unit of the equally famous "Irish Brigade" that saw service through the entire Civil War. (For more about that unit, see the notes to "By the Hush.") Williams, p. 43, reports that there were "dozens of ballads relating to the exploits of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment," although few of these became traditional, and Wolf has many songs about a "69th regiment" (more on this below), most of them probably about the 69th NY.
There was also an "Irish Ninth," the Massachusetts Ninth Regiment (Pfanz, p. 154), but apart from the fact that it would take a significant rewrite to get from a phrase such as "famous Irish Ninth" to "Irish Sixty-Ninth," this regiment doesn't seem to have gotten much press.
However, the unit in the song is said to have been commanded by "Colonel Owens," and the song refers several times to Philadelphia. Thus the 69th NY is not meant, nor the Massachusetts Ninth; we must look to the 69th Pennsylvania.
This regiment is not as famous (and it certainly didn't suffer the extreme -- 90% -- casualties faced by the 69th NY), but it was mustered in in August 1861 (as in the song; the 69th NY mustered in in September) and its original commander was Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Joshua T. Owen (Boatner, p. 614; HuntMidAtlantic, p. 14). It was very Irish -- "so much so that next to the national colors was displayed the emerald flag of Ireland rather than the usual regimental flag" (Sears, p. 448). And it was a Philadelphia regiment -- in fact it was a member of what later came to be called the "Philadelphia Brigade."
It is ironic to note that this Philadelphia formation was originally known as the "3rd California"; the Philadelphia Brigade had been raised at the instance of California Senator James MacDougal, who paid for the arms of the "1st California," later the 71st Pennsylvania, and was commanded by another Western Senator, Edward D. Baker, a friend of Abraham Lincoln's who had spent time in California and who now represented Oregon (and had turned down a general's commission so that he could stay in the Senate while still commanding his regiment as a Colonel! -- Foote, p. 105). But on October 21, 1861, Baker was killed at the battle of Ball's Bluff, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th California became the 71st, 72nd, 69th, and 106th Pennsylvania (HTIECivilWar, p. 580. There was no 4th California; it had been planned to be an artillery/cavalry unit, but was never formed; Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 13). The 69th Pennsylvania was the only Irish formation in the brigade.
It is not coincidence that it became the 69th regiment; the original plan was to renumber the 3rd California the 68th Pennsylvania. Colonel Owen, however, "formally requested it to be designated the 69th Pennsylvania as a way of linking 'the two Irish regiments of the Empire and Key-Stone States" -- i.e. the 69th New York and 69th Pennsylvania (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 42).
The 69th PA fought in most of the battles in the east, starting with the fiasco at Ball's Bluff (happily, it was not one of the regiments directly involved, and suffered no real casualties), and was hit hard at Antietam but went through Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville relatively unscathed (HTIECivilWar, pp. 580-581). It was one of the regiments that received Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg (Sears, pp. 436-437; possibly referred to in stanza 6, though this could refer to the Battle of Fair Oaks; Sears, p. 469, adds that the 69th took roughly 47% casualties in facing the charge, the highest loss rate of any of the regiment involved). That was the last great fight for the Philadelphia Brigade; some of the units mustered out in 1864, and the 69th was merged with other units although it officially remained on the books until the end of the war (HTIECivilWar, p. 581).
There are at least two books about the Philadelphia Brigade. The modern volume is Gottfried's. The older one is Charles H. Banes, History of the Philadelphia Brigade: Sixty-Ninth, Seventy-First, Seventy-Second, and One Hundred and Sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, J. B. Lippincott & Co, Philadelphia, 1876; the latter is available on Google Books, and includes (pp. 295-300) a depressingly long list of those killed in action. There is also a rather silly volume that the survivors of the brigade published long after the war, after a posthumous publication of Frank Haskell's notes on the Battle of Gettysburg, which roused the indignation of the brigade's survivors and inspired them to, quite frankly, protest too much. Gottfried-Brigades, p. 151, concludes:
"While the 69th Pennsylvania and the 106th Pennsylvania had performed superbly during the battle, the behavior of the brigade's other two regiments was suspect. The cloud of doubt about the brigade's effectiveness would follow it through the remainder of the war."
If there were only one version of this song, I might suggest that the name "Irish Sixty-Ninth" arose by confusion out of the World War I regiment with that nickname, in which Joyce Kilmer ("I think that I shall never see A poem as lovely as a tree") served and died. There was in fact a pop song about that regiment ("The Fighting Sixty-Ninth," by Anna L. Hamilton). However, with multiple versions, all clearly Civil War, this does not seem possible.
Among the other references in the song:
"It was in August, sixty-one, When Colonel Owens took command": The 2nd and 3rd California were indeed formed in August 1861, although the 3rd did not reach full strength until a couple of months later (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 13).
"In February, sixty-two... To Washington we went straight way, And sailed in steamers down the bay": In February and March, the Philadelphia Brigade marched around quite a bit as it prepared for the Peninsular Campaign. On March 28, the 69th boarded the Champion to head for the Peninsula. (Gottfried-Philadelphia, pp. 56-57).
"To land at Fort Monroe": Fort Monroe, at the end of the Virginia Peninsula, was starting point of the Peninsular Campaign.
"At Hampton then we camped around, Until brave Little Mac came down": "Little Mac" is Gen. George McClellan, who commanded the Army of the Potomac for most of 1862 and directed the Peninsula Campaign. Hampton is a plantation in the Peninsula about two miles from Fort Monroe (Map on p. 61 of Gottfried-Philadelphia). Around this time, the brigade saw General McClellan as they prepared to move out for Yorktown (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p 58).
Yorktown: besieged in the Peninsula Campaign (Apr. 5-May 4, 1862). The Confederates evacuated it just before the Federal assault was to begin (Boatner, p. 953).
"From Yorktown then we sailed away, And landed at West Point next day": After the Yorktown debacle, McClellan wanted to send troops by boat around the Confederate army. The Philadelphia Brigade was one of those sent up the York River to Eltham Landing (Gottfried-Philadelphia, pp. 68-69). Eltham Landing and West Point are both located around the place where the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers join to form the York River, a few dozen miles above Yorktown; West Point is more often mentioned in the histories, because McClellan made it a base, but they're really the same place.
"Then double quick away we went, Along the river we were sent To drive the rebels back we meant, No man fell out of line": As McClellan approached Richmond, he put part of his army on the left bank of the Chickahominy River and part on the right. The Chickahominy was a big enough river to form a major obstacle, and bridges were few. Joseph E. Johnston, the Confederate commander, knew that he was outnumbered heavily, and decided to attack the smaller half of the Federal army and defeat it in detail. The result was the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, the first major battle of the Peninsula Campaign (May 31-June 1, 1862).
Abominable staff work caused the attack to fail (with Johnston wounded in the fight, meaning that Robert E. Lee took charge of the Confederate army), but the two Federal corps that came under attack had a very bad time for a while. Sumner's II Corps, which contained the Philadelphia Brigade, was eventually sent across the river -- over a bridge that seemed in imminent danger of collapse -- to help rescue the beleaguered troops (Gottfried-Philadelphia, pp. 71-75). Happily, the brigade's losses at this time were light (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 78).
"Pickett's guns": One way or another, this is out of place; it looks to me as if the next three verses have been disordered. This is possibly a reference to Gettysburg, where the 69th faced Pickett's Charge, but even if you ignore the fact that this would be very much out of place, no other event in the song takes place after the end of 1862, so I think that likely out. Another possibility is the Battle of Williamsburg, after the Confederate retreat from Yorktown; where Pickett was actively involved (Freeman, vol. I, p. 178) and did well enough to be regarded as "distinctly promising" (Freeman, vol. I, p. 192). A third possibility is at Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, where Pickett "increased the reputation he had gained at Williamburg" (Freeman, vol. I, p. 243). But I think the most likely explanation is that the reference is to the fight at Glendale during the Seven Days (more on this below).
"Then on Antietam's field again, We boldly faced the iron rain. Some of our boys upon the plain They found a bloody grave": Antietam was fought in Maryland, Sept. 17, 1862, to repel Robert E. Lee's invasion of that state. The battle did indeed allow McClellan "to send the ragged rebels back Across Potomac's waves" -- but it was a terrible battle and the 69th's part of it neither particularly useful nor particularly glorious. Merely -- as the song implies -- bloody.
McClellan had already sent two corps, Hooker's I Corps and Mansfield's XII Corps, to attack the Confederate left. The Confederates had held, barely, injuring Hooker and killing Mansfield (Palfrey, pp. 72-82). That made it the turn of Sumner's II Corps, which included the Philadelphia Brigade. Sumner was given his order late, and had never seen the ground; he simply sent his divisions forward, without any preparation at all -- the first division into battle, Sedgwick's, wasn't even properly formed to attack (Palfrey, pp. 82-84). The Philadelphia Brigade was part of Sedgwick's division, and paid for it. The Confederates had not planned an ambush, but they could hardly have managed a better one had they tried. Sedgwick's three brigades found themselves in a pocket surrounded by ten Confederate brigades (Murfin, p. 231). Sedgwick's division was shot to pieces without accomplishing anything. The official reckoning is that Sedgwick lost 2255 men killed, wounded, or missing (Palfrey, p. 90) -- meaning that its casualties were on the order of 50%. Sedgwick himself was wounded three times. The Philadelphia Brigade suffered slightly less than the other brigades of the division, but it still took 568 casualties (Gotfried-Philadelphia, p. 120).
Sedgwick's injury affected the 69th. He was out for many months, and when he came back, it was as commander of the Sixth Corps, not of his old division. As a result, Oliver O. Howard, who had been leading the Philadelphia Brigade, was given command of the division (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 123.) And that meant the Philadelphia Brigade needed a commander. Colonel Owen of the 69th was promoted Brigadier General as a result, to date from November 29, 1863; the Senate did not confirm that appointment and it expired March 4, 1863, but he was reappointed on March 30, and this time, the Senate agreed (Phisterer, p. 281, although the name is misspelled "Owens"). As a result, Lt. Colonel Dennis O'Kane was promoted Colonel of the 69th as of December 1, 1862 (HuntMidAtlantic, pp. 14, 129).
O'Kane is clearly the officer referred to in the verse that begins "O'Keen, our colonel, nobly stood." This stanza offers more evidence that the song was written in late 1862 or early 1863, because O'Kane was mortally wounded on July 3 at Gettysburg and died the next day (HuntMidAtlantic, p. 129); there is no mention of this or of his successor.
"Fairoaks:" an inexplicable reference at this place in the song. If it points to Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, mentioned above, it is out of sequence, since Fair Oaks took place long before Antietan; if it refers to the Fair Oaks battle of October 1864, the 69th PA was not present and the results were in any case unfortunate for the Federals. The likely explanation is that the reference is to Fair Oaks, and this half-verse is out of place.
"Had picket fighting night and day": If we assume that this statement refers to the period immediately after the Battle of Fair Oaks, this is a good description of what happened in this period. From June 6 to June 27, the Philadelphia Brigade fought eight minor engagements with the Confederates (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 80), and the pickets were in conflict even more often.
"Where other regiments they fell back": "When the II Corps [which contained the 69th Pennsylvania] reached Savage Station [early in the Seven Days' Battles], General Heintzelman [commanding the III Corps] ordered his men to continue their retreat toward the White Oak Swamp. General Sumner [commanding II Corps] later bluntly described this movement... 'When the enemy appeared on the Williambsurg road I could not imagine why General Heintzelman did ot attack him, and not till some time afterward did I learn, to my utter amazement, that General Heintzelman had left the field and retreated with his whole corps'" (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 85). I'm not sure that this action is what the song refers to, because the Seven Days involved a lot of retrograde movements, but this is a reasonable fit.
"We stood as at Glendale." I'll speculate that this should be "We stood STILL at Glendale." Glendale (also known as White Oak Swamp) was one of the Seven Days' Battles, fought June 20, 1862 at the end of the Peninsula Campaign. Glendale was a road crossing that the Army of the Potomac needed to hold as it transferred its base from West Point to the James River, and the Confederates tried a converging attack to smash the Federals holding the position.
The Confederate attack was badly coordinated, but the Philadelphia Brigade was at the heart of the defence, and the 69th Pennsylvania was in direct conflict with Pickett's Brigade (the map on p. 92 of Gottfried-Philadelphia makes this clear); General Sumner of the II Corps at this time called the 69th "one of the best regiments in my corps" (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 93). The 69th fought against A. P. Hill's division, including notably Pickett's brigade, which is why I suspect the mention of "Pickett's guns" above is a reference to Glendale. Indeed, some of Pickett's troops had captured several Federal cannon, and were about to turn them on the Union forces, when a charge by the 69th drove them away (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 93), so the reference to "Pickett's guns" is particularly appropriate here.
The 69th, and the Federals, did manage to hold on at Glendale, but just barely (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 95); after holding the line, the Union forces continued their retreat. But the 69th's conduct was exemplary and deserves its mention.
"O'Keen, our colonel, nobly stood Where the grass was turning red with blood": O'Kane was colonel of the regiment at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The regiment was hit hard at both Fredericksburg and Gettysburg (it served at Chancellorsville but took no casualties; Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 146).
But there are two arguments for Fredericksburg. First, whichever battle it refers to, it's the last one in the song. If the song were written after Fredericksburg, it would make sense to refer only to that battle, whereas if it were written after one of the other battles, it would make sense that all the remaining battles would be mentioned. Plus Fredericksburg fits: The II Corps made a completely useless advance on the Confederates that accomplished nothing at all (Gottfried-Philadelphia pp. 130-134). The brigade took some unfair criticism, but Owen's report said that it took 265 casualties (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 135). That's less than other brigades in the division, but that merely means that they had the sense to go to ground sooner rather than be slaughtered.
After Fredericksburg, the regiment was the one at dead center of Pickett's Charge, although this seems to be after the song was written. It was hit so hard that it lost Colonel O'Kane killed, Lt. Colonel Tschudy mortally wounded, and Major Duffy wounded; Captain William Davis ended up commanding the regiment (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 174). A regiment was supposed to have at least 800 men (although few Union regiments had more than 400 when they went into Pennsylvania); the 69th had only 115 in the ranks after Gettysburg (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 115); the whole brigade had only 660, and was commanded by a lieutenant colonel rather than a brigadier. The four regiments, which would normally be commanded by colonels, were commanded by one lieutenant colonel, one major, and two captains (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 183).
The history of the 69th, and the Philadelphia Brigade, after Gettysburg was rather sad. It took part in the early phases of Grant's final campaign against Richmond, but mostly without much distinction. With so many of the officers dead or promoted, and most of the best of the enlisted men also gone, the brigade was no longer a very effective unit. Often the men showed a significant willingness to attack enemy entrenchments (which, to be sure, was simply smart). In 1864, division commander John Gibbon pressed charges against General Owen. No court was ever convened (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 218), but General Grant considered him ineffective enough that he recommended that Owen no longer serve. Lincoln approved (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 219), and Owen was mustered out of the service July 18, 1864 (Phisterer, p. 281).
The enlistments of the Philadelphia Brigade expired in 1864. The government at this time was making desperate attempts to get soldiers to re-enlist, but very few members of the 71st (Baker's old regiment) were willing; it was mustered out on July 2, 1864 (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 219). The rest of the brigade served until the army moved to attack Petersburg -- where it met disaster. Most of the 106th regiment, and four companies of the 69th, were captured there (Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 223; on p. 226, he notes that the 106th had only thirty men left with the colors), as were many individual soldiers from the 72nd. Although the brigade had been in an untenable position, its performance had been very bad, and on June 26, the brigade was broken up -- to the men's intense disatisfaction (Gottfried-Philadelphia, pp. 225-226). The terms of the 72nd and 106th expired soon after, and they were mustered out (Gottfried-Phladelphia, p. 226). That left the 69th as the last unit of the famous brigade still in service -- it had re-enlisted en masse, meaning that it was entitled to retain its regimental number and honors. (A few companies of the 106th were also retained, as a battalion rather than a regiment; the 69th and the 106th battalion served all the way to Appomattox, and were disbanded on July 1 and June 30, 1865, respectively; Gottfried-Philadelphia, p. 228).
Gottfried-Philadelphia's conclusion (p. 230) is that "Few can argue that the 69th['s] activities at Glendale and Gettysburg cause it to be considered the finest fighting unit in the brigade." On p. 234, Gottfried-Philadelphia lists the fate of the men of the unit: 7.1% were killed or mortally wounded. 7.2% died (presumably mostly of disease). 14% deserted. 22.5% were discharged before the end of their term. 9.1% were wounded at the time their term ended. 1.9% were in prison. 0.2% were missing. 3.1% were transferred to another unit. 9.9% had an "other" fate. Only 24.9% were around to be mustered out with the unit at the end of its term. This shows in the number of soldiers present over the years (listed on p. 232 of Gottfried-Philadelphia): 952 at the beginning of 1862. 726 at the time of Yorktown. 486 after Antietam. 408 after Fredericksburg. 344 were present at Gettysburg. There were only 324 present at the end of 1863. And it went downhill from there.
It will be evident that John Galusha's version of this song is disordered in the final verses. The broadside has six stanzas of eight long lines. Yankee John's version has stanzas of eight short lines. So one of the broadside's stanzas is equivalent to two of Galusha's. In other words, the broadside had twelve stanzas; Yankee John had nine. And Yankee John had scrambled the stanzas, and half-stanzas, that he remembered. My tentative conclusion was that Yankee John's text should be re-ordered 1A/1B, 2A/2B, 3A/3B, 4A/4B, 5A/7A, 5B/7B, 6A/6B, 8A/8B, 9A/9B. This is roughly correct when compared with the broadside, although I was wrong to reverse 7A and 5B (for reasons given below). The following list shows the correct order, along with the first part of each half-stanza. Half-stanzas that Galusha remembered are given their stanza numbers in his text (e.g. "1B" would be the second half of his first stanza); half-stanzas that Yankee John forgot are shown in [brackets] and not numbered.
[To Erin's sons of hill and plain, come listen to my feeble strain]
[I'll sing you of our long campaign, through Summer's sun and Winter's rain]
1A. It was in August sixty-one, that Colonel Owen took command
1B. He drilled us every day we rose, to learn us how to thresh our foes
2A. In February sixty-two, when passing in a grand review,
2B. To Washington we went straightway, and sailed in steamers down the Bay
3A. At Hampton then we camp'd around, until brave little Mac came down
3B. Where there we work'd both night and day, and drove the rebel hordes away
4A. From Yorktown then we sailed away, and landed at West Point next day
4B. And there we stopped three weeks or more, until we heard the cannons roar
5A. Then double quick away we went, across the river we were sent
5B. There Philadelphia's adopted sons, bravely supported Rickett's guns,
7A. At Fair Oaks then long weeks we lay, and Picket fighting night and day,
7B. And in the seven days going back, on bloody fields we left our track,
[Where horse and foot retreat that day, all bleeding from that dreadful fray]
[And when our bullets were all spent, three cheers we for the Union sent]
6A. And on Antietam field again we boldly faced the Iron rain
6B. Where our brave General, Little Mac, made boasting Lee to clear the track
[At Fredericksburg our old brigade, with Owens, who never was afraid]
[And though the bullets flew around, we drove the grey coats from the town]
8A. Next day upon the battle field, old veterans they were forced to yield,
8B. The cannons blazing shot and shell, 'twas like the gaping jaws of hell,
9A. O'Kane, our Colonel, nobly stood, where the grass was turning red with blood
9B. Though many got a bloody shroud, as Philadelphia's sons we are proud,
Note that Yankee John's stanza 5B had a major error, "Pickett's" for "Rickett's," which changes the meaning of the verse very much. Pickett was a Confederate general, James B. Ricketts (at the time of the song) a Union artillery captain. At First Bull Run, he commanded Company I of the 1st U.S. Artillery (McDonald, p. 194), where he was wounded and captured. He was not exchanged until 1862, when he was made a brigadier and given an infantry brigade; he later rose to division command (Boatner, p. 699). But since no regular army officer was promoted to replace him, Company I could still be called Ricketts' in the Peninsula, even though it was commanded by Lt. Edmund Kirby. And Company I was in the same division as the Philadelphia Brigade, so they fought together.
As outlined above, if "Pickett" had been meant by Yankee John's source, the reference was probably to Glendale -- but in the original, it's a reference to Fair Oaks.
Speath's song "The Gallant 69th," sung by Harrigan and Hart, has none of the historical references of the Warner song, and is presumably one of the separate piece mentioned by Williams (frankly, the two have nothing in common) -- but both are very obscure. Even if they are distinct, we might as well file them together.
For some reason, 69th Regiments seem to have been very popular in Civil War broadsides. Wolf, p. 31, includes "The Departure of the 69th Volunteers" (I'm not sure which regiment this refers to); p. 46 has "The Gallant Pennsylvania 69th, Irish Volunteers" and "The Galland 69th" by Harrigan and Braham; p. 47 offers "The Gallant 69th No. 8" and "The Gallant 69th" (not sure about the regiment in the latter three); p. 50 is "Glorious 69th!" (not clear which regiment this is, but it was printed at least five times); p. 79 gives "The Jolly 69th" (which we can only say is an Irish regiment); p. 89 is "Long Live the Sixty-Ninth" (which doesn't say if the regiment is Irish). Page 135 offers the "Return of the 69th" by John Flanagan. Page 142 gives us "69th Regiment, No. 4"; there is no way to tell which regiment is involved. On page 158 is "To the Glorious 69th!" ("These noble sons of Erin, who to this country came"); again, it's not clear which regiment is meant. On p. 168 are "War Song of the New-York 69th Regiment" and "War Song No 2 of the 69th Regiment." Page 171 has "Welcome Our Gallant 69th," which doesn't give a clue as the regiment but is to the interesting tune "Marshal Ney."
Pages 134-135 have the "Return of Gen. Corcoran of the Glorious 69th," referring to the 69th New York Militia, not the 69th Pennsylvania or the "regular" 69th New York, and popular enough to have been printed three times -- although some of that may have been due to Corcoran himself; an Irish exile with a record of fighting against the British in the 1840s; the 69th Militia had existed before the war, and Corcoran had gotten in trouble for refusing to take part in a salute to the Prince of Wales, but he was restored to his regiment at the start of the war because he was so popular (Craughwell, p. 9).
On p. 142, there is alo a song "The 69th Brigade," beginning "My true love, William, to the war he is gone." Civil War brigades weren't numbered (except as "first brigade, second division, third corps" or the like), so this is presumably another reference to a sixty-ninth regiment, although there is no clue which.- RBW
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