The Massachusetts Sacrifice

In 1861 in answer to President Lincoln’s call, Boston Irishman Thomas Cass began recruiting Irish immigrants to form the Massachusetts 9th regiment.  The volunteers came largely from Boston and the nearby towns of Salem, Milford, Marlboro and Stoughton. A total of 1,727 men enlisted. They came to be called the “Fighting Ninth” serving for three years in campaigns in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and in forty two engagements.

Massachusetts Union Soldiers Credit: Library of Congress
Massachusetts Union Soldiers Credit: Library of Congress

The Irish volunteers encamped on Long Island in Boston Harbor through May, and on June 11, 1861 the Regiment was mustered into service. On 30 June 1861, the unit arrived in the Washington, D.C. vicinity and was welcomed by President Lincoln. They remained in the vicinity of Arlington, Virginia performing picket duty and built a fort on the Potomac River called Fort Cass after their commanding officer.

Irish American 9th regiment with their chaplain celebrating mass. Credit: Library of Congress
Irish American 9th regiment with their chaplain celebrating mass. Credit: Library of Congress

Colonel Cass fell in the Battle of Malvern Hill near the city of Richmond. The unit’s casualties were very heavy; along with losing their two top commanders, roughly half the regiment was put out of action, totaling 166 men. Colonel Cass died in Boston Massachusetts on 12 July 1862 and was buried with full military honors at Mt Auburn cemetery. A statue of Colonel Cass shown below stands on the south side of the Boston Public Garden.

Statue by Richard Edwin Brooks. Photo by Pmcyclist
Statue by Richard Edwin Brooks. Photo by Pmcyclist

The Ninth took its place in the newly formed Army of Virginia under the command of General John Pope participating in the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, Antietam Creek, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Union soldiers flying Irish Brigade Flag – Civil War print by Don Trolani
Union soldiers flying Irish Brigade Flag – Civil War print by Don Trolani

It was at the Battle of Gettysburg that the 9th was assigned to hold the strategically important position of Big Round Top until additional Union reinforcement arrived. With the help of substantial stone breastworks, the regiment successfully withstood several assaults by the Confederate Army, taking casualties of 26 killed, wounded, or missing.

Gettysburg monument to the 9th Massachusetts Volunteers who brought 474 men to the field.
Gettysburg monument to the 9th Massachusetts Volunteers who brought 474 men to the field.

The 9th also participated in the Battle of the Wilderness suffering casualties of 138 men. After three years of service the 9th returned to Boston. Following a welcoming parade and banquet at Faneuil Hall, the men mustered out in a ceremony on Boston Common in 1864 and the regiment was disbanded.

 

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