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Irish Brigade Loyal Legion Badge - James J. Smith 69th NY.


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cylekostello

 

Posted this piece on a few other pages, though the folks here would appreciate it as well. 

 

James Joseph Smith was born in 1835 in Monaghan, Ireland. The island was wracked with both political turmoil and famine. As a result Smith's family emigrated to the United States in the mid/late 1840s. Eventually settling in New York City where he would be one of the founding members of the 69th New York State militia.

Early War Service
After Fort Sumter the 69th NYSM was called up for a 3 month term. Smith was commissioned Lieutenant and detailed as regimental adjutant. The 69th was famously comprised of Irishmen. Political exiles from the failed 1848 rebellion or regular farmers fleeing the famine. All came to the defense of their adopted countries flag.The 69th and Lt. Smith would cut their teeth at Bull Run. Forming the rearguard they would take heavy casualties. Returning to New York. The 69th NYSM would disband and the 69th New York Infantry Regiment would take its place. Lt. Smith would transfer to this new formation and continue to serve as adjutant.

Smith and the 69th would see heavy fighting on the Peninsula. Namely at Seven Pines, Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill. In the latter engagement the 69th sent the famed Louisiana Tigers reeling after a dogged bayonet charge.

Antietam:

After the bloodshed on the Peninsula Smith and the regiment would follow Lee's army into Virginia. Where the Irish Brigade would distinguish themselves in the slug fest along the Sunken Road. In charge after charge Smith was with the men of the regiment as second in command. Miraculously emerging unscathed. The same could not be said for the 69th, who would take 60% casualties that day.

After Antietam Smith was detached to recruit replacements from the Irish of New York. Perhaps for his sterling reputation but I've found some evidence to suggest a daughter was born around this time. Being detached he would miss Fredericksburg. Where the 69th would suffer their worst casualties of the war.

Chancellorsville and Gettysburg:

Returning to the now greatly diminished regiment. Smith would fight at Chancellorsville. Again finding himself second in command of the regiment.

By July of 1863 the 69th had been reduced to 75 men. These 75 men and the rest w their brigade would fight doggedly at Gettysburg. Slugging it out on the wheatfield, with the tenacity of 750 men.

It was during the fighting on July 2nd that the 69th's CO was wounded and command fell to none other than Smith. Who would oversee the regiment's fighting retreat from the wheatfield. The 69th was largely uninvolved in Pickett's charge but did manage to capture a few fleeing rebs. At Gettysburg the 69th would yet again suffer 30% casualties.

Overland and Petersburg:

Despite three years of bloodshed Smith and the 69th chose to re-enlist. Earning themselves the coveted title of "Veteran Volunteers".

Augmented by new recruits the 69th would see hard fighting in the overland campaign. Especially in the tangle of the Wilderness and at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. Crossing the James, Smith would fight in the opening battles of the Petersburg Campaign.

Notably at Deep Bottom where their division commander, Francis Barlow disdainfully declared the "dammed Irish brigade broken at last" only to have Adjutant Smith ride up "covered with sweat and black with the smoke of battle, promptly and manfully, almost disdainfully, replied, 'General, the Irish Brigade has taken the first line of the enemy's works, and I have come back for further orders.' The general was so confounded at the sudden contradiction of his spiteful slander, that for a considerable period he did not regain his self-possession"


Smith would also serve at the Battle of the Weldon Railroad where he would receive his only wound. A minie ball through the leg. This wound sent him home for the remainder of 1864. But upon his return in January of 1865 Smith would be promoted to Lt. Colonel. Leading the regiment through the Appomattox campaign and the grand review. Before finally mustering out in June of 1865


Postwar:
Post war Smith would return to New York. He would have four children who lived to adulthood with his wife Elizabeth. Eventually relocating to Cleveland. Smith would be a tireless advocate for the survivors of the Irish Brigade. Omnipresent at all events.
Smith would eventually pass away in 1913 after a life well lived.

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