The Rough Side of War

August 6, 2018

IMG_0282As promised, here is the first of a series of books I feel are critical to understanding the armies that fought at Chickamauga.

Arnold Gates, ed., The Rough Side of War, The Civil War Journal of Chesley A. Mosman. Garden City, NY: The Basin Publishing Co., 1987.

Lieutenant Chesley Mosman served in the 59th Illinois Infantry. He enlisted in Marine Prairie, Illinois, in 1861; in a regiment first designated the 9th Missouri Infantry. He served in Thomas Wood’s Division of the 21st and 4th Corps. Though his first two journals for 1861 have been lost, his surviving journals begin in January, 1862, and run all the way to December 31, 1865.

Along the way, Mosman writes wonderfully detailed journal entries describing both his immediate circumstances (weather, camp life, etc.) and his thoughts on everything from questions of the day to military affairs. At 448 pages, this book is no quick read, but it is rewarding.

I have come to rely on it heavily, and cite it often.

Here is a snippet from his entry for September 2, 1863 – which runs to a full page of text.

It seems queer for Rosecrans to move his men down in rear of the Rebel Army and thus invite an attack, but such is war. They call it flanking the enemy out of his position, but one is reminded of old General Willich, who when informed by a frightened staff officer that the enemy had passed round his flank and got in rear of him, replied “Vell, vell, vat of dat? When he is in my rear aint I in his rear?” We must always remember that there are two rears – one for each army – in War, but I’ll let old Rosey boss the job.

Mosman’s journal is a vital resource for anyone studying the Army of the Cumberland, fully equal to Sam Watkins’ famous work from the Confederate perspective, “Company Aitch.”

Spend some time with Mosman.


Some worthy causes

August 5, 2018

Hello, fellow Chickamaugites. Or Chickamaugans. (I’m not sure which is more correct. Pick one.)


First, some business to conduct. Every year in March, we raise a substantial sum over and above our costs, which can be put towards worthy causes. I made a $500 donation to the American Battlefield Trust (formerly the Civil War Trust) back in the spring, but I usually wait several months to donate all the available money, in case a late-breaking opportunity comes along.

American Battlefields Trust

Since August has rolled around, I feel the need to live up to my responsibilities and finish the donations. I decided to give another $500 to the Battlefield Trust, since there was an opportunity to support a nearly 5 to 1 match for some ground at Shiloh, and as has become customary I have also sent $500 of the group’s money to the Jewell Monument Fund, administered by the Friends of the Parks at Chickamauga – now also rebranded as NPP: National Parks Partners, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Moccasin Bend.

National Parks Partners

The monument fund reserves money for restoration and the maintenance of the park’s hundreds of monuments, markers, and interpretive signs. Acquiring new sites is wonderful, but we also need to keep up the sites we have.

This leaves us $135 left in the group fund, to cover any incidentals that arise as we get ready for next March’s tours. Info on those tours (March 8-9, 2019) will be forthcoming next month.

Second, I want to alert you that I will be soon start posting an irregular series on books that pertain to this blog’s subject – specifically, memoirs, correspondence and diaries written by the men of both the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of Tennessee.

I don’t intend to review new books, but rather, alert readers to some of the better older volumes to see the light of publication over the years.

Confederate Memorial Hall New Orleans

May 25, 2018

It has been a while since I posted. Books, speaking engagements, and a series of sudden changes at work have all contributed to that hiatus. Sorry for that.

So let’s resume operations, shall we?

I recently completed a road trip to New Orleans and Austin Texas, speaking to those round tables. Along the way, I visited a great many Civil War sites: Fort Pillow in Tennessee; Vicksburg, Raymond and Champion Hill in Mississippi; Port Hudson, etc. I finished at Prairie Grove, Pea Ridge, and Wilson’s Creek.

One of the best afternoons came at the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans; which as you might know is under some modern-day political pressure. It stands near Lee Circle, where the statue of Robert E. Lee was recently removed. While I don’t want to get into a lot of back-and-forth about memory, removals, and the like; I would like to spend some time highlighting Confederate Memorial Hall because – highly relevant to this blog – the place is chock-full of Chickamauga-related artifacts.

For example:

IMG_0096This flag was carried up Hill 1 on September 20 1863 by the Second Battalion, Hilliard’s Alabama Legion. That flag was pierced by 83 Federal bullets during that fight, and yes, this is THAT FLAG. you can see the patched places in the cloth.


Here is a close-up.

No Chickamauga-themed museum post would be complete without an example of a “Chickamauga Log,” brought back from the battlefield in the 1890s as a momento. I find these all over the place, and the Hall did not disappoint.


Here’s one, with a close up of the tag.


Flag of Austin’s Battalion Sharpshooters – 14th Louisiana Sharpshooter Battalion.


The flag of the 5th Company, Washington Artillery


Braxton Bragg’s dress uniform and sword…


Brigade commander Daniel W. Adams’s uniform…


And the bullet that wounded him on Sept 20 1863…

There were plenty more things that just blew me away. What a place.

So there you go. I was overwhelmed.  Make the effort to stop in some time.

Seminar 2018 revisited: newly renamed as “Seminar for those not bright enough to come in out of the rain, 2018”

March 19, 2018

Well, another successful Seminar in the Woods concluded on Saturday, March 10, 2018. We have now been doing this for more than 15 years, but not quite 20 – making this the moody teenage years of the Seminar. Perhaps that explains our recent weather.:)

On Friday we finished our exploration of the Battle of Resaca, focusing on the action east of I-75. We stopped in Dalton, visiting Johnston’s Headquarters (now owned by the county historical association) and also took the time to view the Joseph E. Johnston Statue in Dalton.

Johnston Statue

From there, we traveled to Resaca, visiting the Civil War Trust properties (as best we could – some of those properties have only easements) but we were able, after lunch, to dismount and spend an hour and a half emulating Ward’s Brigade of Butterfield’s Division, 20th Corps, as we stormed the Confederate outwork defended by Max Van Den Corput’s Cherokee Artillery Battery.

Battle of Resaca, Ga.

Friday was cool but not wet.


That was not true on Saturday.:)

On Saturday morning we followed Hans Heg’s brigade of Davis’ Division, the Union 20 Corps, into the timber east of the LaFayette Road and just north of Viniard Field. We emulated the advance of Heg’s small brigade as it encountered the two divisions of Hood’s Confederate Corps – Bushrod Johnson and Evander Law. The underbrush, especially the dreaded and hated privet, was already a bit of a tangle, but we departed from the 15th Wisconsin and 8th Kansas Monuments, reached the 8th Kansas advanced position marker, and then entered the Confederate lines of Gregg’s Brigade.

We also spent much of the morning enduring a steady, soaking rain.

DAvis Division 19th (noon)

we finished the day on Saturday atop Horseshoe Ridge, following the 21st Ohio, first on Hill One, then Hill Two, and finally; Hill Three. There they were joined by two more regiments, the 22nd Michigan and 89th Ohio, and discussed how they came to grief at the end of the day on September 20, in the dark and confusion of the Federal retreat.

At least the rain abated, and we were marginally more dry in the afternoon.

It was a fine weekend. We had 50 folks sign up for the bus, of which about 43 were able to attend (an unusual number of cancellations this time) and we had 42 or 43 people for each of the walks on Saturday.

Next year we intend to return to McLemore’s Cove on Friday, with Saturday’s walks to be finalized at a later date.

I have already contributed $500 in the group’s name to the Civil War Trust, and expect to contribute another $1000 to the Jewel Monument Repair Fund via the Friends of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Parks.

Thanks to all who participated.



Seminar update: March 2018

February 17, 2018

Van Den Corput Resaca


We have filled the bus for Friday March 9. This means I am not accepting any new checks for reservations. Thank you all for your responses.

Two things to note:

First, the Chickamauga National Military Park has requested that we find some way to reduce the number of cars left in their lot on Friday – they are worried that we fill up the lower lot. Thanks to Jim Ogden’s help, I think we have a solution.

Please park in the History Company Parking Lot, using the spaces on the south side of that building. For those who don’t know, the History Company is located on the east side of LaFayette Road, just north of the park, and just south of the Sav-a-Lot grocery store.  It is within walking distance of the CCNMP visitor’s center. The owner, Louis Varnell, has graciously allowed us to use his space.

I will coordinate with the bus to make sure we check both the History Company Lot and the CCNMP lower parking lot ensure no one gets left behind, but please remember to use the History Company Lot. 

Our Bus is from Royal Charter. We will depart at 8:30 a.m. Friday, March 9. 

Second, The Civil War Trust is currently raising funds to purchase land at three sites in Tennessee – including another parcel of land at Brown’s Ferry. I believe strongly that monies raised by this group should go to land acquisition in the Chattanooga-Chickamauga area, and so I intend to make a donation of $500 towards this project, on behalf of the CCNMP Study Group. Normally I wait until we have a consensus, based on our trip, but in this case I think that acting now is the best course.

Thank you for all your contributions and participation. See you next month.

If you sent a check, and it HAS NOT cleared your bank, contact me.  If you have not yet sent a check, or if you have sent a check but not otherwise contacted me about attending, please send me an email at, or via Facebook. There are usually a couple of cancellations, and I will see what I can do about finding space.

Note that this year, due to some of the places we are visiting, it will be difficult if not impossible to follow us in your own vehicle.


That Bloody Hill: Hilliard’s Legion at Chickamauga book review

February 7, 2018

That Bloody Hill: Hilliard’s Legion at Chickamauga, by Lee Elder. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2017. 239 pages, $35.00 paper) Endnotes, Bibliography, maps and photographs., 800-253-2187

Review by David A. Powell (this review also appears on Emerging Civil War)

It wasn’t that long ago that single-volume overviews of the battle of Chickamauga – let alone individual unit micro-studies -were a rarity. Thankfully, that particular gap in Civil War Studies is closing. This most recent contribution to that body of work, penned by author Lee Elder, focuses on one of the more unusual formations to fight in that battle.

Hilliard’s Legion was an Alabama unit, raised in 1862, with a muster strength of nearly 3,000 men. As envisioned by its first commander, Henry W. Hilliard, the Legion consisted of three infantry battalions, one artillery battalion, and a cavalry battalion; essentially a combined-arms brigade structured to mirror similar organizations raised in the American Revolution. Several such were raised across the South. By 1863 the formations were deemed unwieldy however, their battalions broken up and assigned to cavalry or infantry brigades. Hilliard, frustrated at the dissolution and seeing his hopes of a brigadier generalship dashed, resigned in December 1862. At Chickamauga the Legion consisted of four independent infantry battalions (all but one company of the artillery having been converted to foot soldiers) with the cavalry battalion merged, along with the 19th Georgia Cavalry Battalion, into the 10th Confederate Cavalry Regiment.

The Legion served mainly in East Tennessee and Kentucky, seeing much marching but little fighting. They were brigaded under Brigadier General Archibald Gracie III, in Brigadier General William Preston’s Division of Simon B. Buckner’s Infantry Corps. Chickamauga would be their first major engagement, with their commitment to action coming at the very end of the last day, September 20, sent to attack Federal defenders on what history now knows as Horseshoe Ridge.

Though the battle lasted three days, with the heaviest action coming on September 19 and 20; the men of the Legion were seriously engaged for only about 2 – 3 hours, from 4:00 p.m. until perhaps 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. on the 20th. Despite this, they faced a terrifically stubborn defense, mounted by Union defenders under George Thomas, and suffered among the heaviest Confederate casualties of the entire battle. Gracie’s brigade, which included the 43rd Alabama and 63rd Tennessee as well as the four battalions of legionnaires, suffered 725 losses out of 1927 engaged, 38%; with the Legion’s 1st Battalion losing 59% of their men. Given the duration, it was a brutal engagement; centered largely on Hill One of the Horseshoe Ridge complex, near to the Snodgrass farm.

Like many similar works, the author’s interest in this project was generated by a family connection. That inspiration has clearly led to a deeply researched and well-developed story. Elder briefly sketches the Legion’s origins and outlines, but the heart of the work is devoted to their experiences at Chickamauga. Fortunately for the telling, several members left letters and memoirs concerning their epic fight on that September Sunday afternoon, sources which Elder uses well.

I should add a note here about style. Elder writes in a conversational, often casual tone; I confess that at first, I was put off by that choice. In the past, I have found this technique tends to override and obscure the writings of the veterans, introducing a jarring modernity that contrasts negatively with the period letters and other writings of the men who where there. As I read farther, however, I found myself enjoying Elder’s flair, which proved witty without being overbearing. His subjects’ voices were not drowned out at all. The writing flows along at an enjoyable pace.

Organizationally, That Bloody Hill includes thirteen chapters, ten appendices, and rosters for all five battalions of the legion, drawn from service records. Frankly, some of the chapters could have been appendices, and vice-versa. Chapter 13, for example, titled “The end of the story,” consists of summary biographies of some of the men quoted in the text; a nice touch, but contrast that with Appendix 1, detailing the Legion’s subsequent service in East Tennessee and Virginia after Chickamauga. These two items seem better off reversed. Additionally, Appendix 5 examines whether the Confederate Army of Tennessee should have pursued the Federals on September 21. It is preceded by appendices detailing the death of General Gracie in 1864, two affidavits from members of the legion detailing their experiences on September 20, and a short examination of Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s supply woes during the campaign. In another example, chapter 9, “Was there a fake surrender?” delves minutely into the question of an incident where each side, Union and Confederate, accused each other of falsifying a white flag of surrender to trick the other into an ambush – to me, this chapter also should have been set aside as an appendix. In places the book’s structure is choppy and disruptive, the focus uneven. A heavier editing hand could have been used here.

However, the good news is that Elder’s work is concise. Extraneous information is limited. Some additional background on the Legion’s composition could have been useful (how many were slave-owners? How did they feel about the war?) but Elder’s focus in the battle and the Legion’s engagement is laudatory. The book reads quickly and to the point.

This reviewer is no stranger to Chickamauga, having written several books on the subject, and so I would be remiss in not mentioning that my own works get some scrutiny from Elder. In Appendix 8, “The charge of disloyalty,” Elder disputes my own finding; namely that charges of treason and excessive desertion were later leveled against some in the Legion. Elder presents convincing evidence to suggest that these charges were unwarranted, or at least overblown. I found this section especially interesting and would like to know more. Perhaps some future work will provide a more systematic social history of the Legion, such as a modern regimental history.

In sum, I enjoyed This Bloody Hill, and recommend it. Spend some time with the Legion at Chickamauga.

Seminar in the Woods 2018 update

January 27, 2018


Just to let you all know, we now have 38 pre-registered attendees for Friday, March 9; leaving only about fourteen spots left on the bus. If you are interested in attending, please reserve your seat now. Last year we sold out, and this year we look to be doing the same.


Don’t be left hauling the cannon!

Send your checks ASAP, and please, provide an email address for confirmation purposes.

details for the Seminar can be found here


On a final note: if you have not received an email confirmation from me, please check to see if your check cleared your bank. I didn’t have emails for some attendees.


Thanks and see you all in March!

“Well, I hardly know where to begin.”

January 9, 2018
22nd Michigan monument

22nd Michigan Monument on Horseshoe Ridge

Sergeant Marvin Boget of Company I, the 22nd Michigan Infantry, penned the above opening in a letter to his home town of Novi some few days after the battle of Chickamauga.

Though Sergeant Boget and the rest of his Wolverine comrades had been in service for just over one year, Up until September 1863 the extent of that service was garrison duty at Lexington Kentucky or Nashville Tennessee; interspersed with periodic forays into the countryside to chase Rebel Raiders. The 22nd was well-trained and competently led, but so far, the only deaths in their ranks had come from disease.

That all changed on September 20, 1863. Part of the Union Reserve Corps stationed at Rossville Georgia, on that Sunday afternoon the 22nd was rapidly marched from that location to the relief of other Federals fighting under the direction of Major General George Thomas. They went into action at about 2:00 p.m., Sunday, September 20, 1863.


Let’s let Sergeant Bogart describe the scene:

The battle commenced on Saturday with a skirmish with the johnies and our advanced pickets but nothing serious till Sunday morning about 8 o’clock. While we were camped in the woods a few miles from the rebs, an order came to our general that the enemy was advansing and drove our army back. So the 22nd was hustled into line and started for the front through woods and open fields, and a slashing of timber, that had been cut down to hinder our progress.

Comment: Boget is mistaken here. Many soldiers (of both sides) mistook the large numbers of felled trees they encountered as efforts by other troops to create abatis or defenses, but in fact, most of the slashings they ran into were either the result of civilian timber operations or farmers clearing additional acreage for planting. 

While we were advansing the rebel batterys was throwing shells and solid shot at us but their aim was a little too high and the shot passed over our line and struck the ground somewhere beyond. I don’t know where and didn’t care either as long as they did us no harm. But say Glen, you aught to see how polite we were and how nicely every man bowed his head and ducked every time he heard one of those screaching things coming through the air.

Comment: That aritllery fire was from the guns of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s horse artillery, augmented by part of a battery from D. H. Hill’s Confederate infantry corps. The Confederate cannon were firing from a ridgeline 600 yards east of the LaFayette Road, east of the modern-day Chickamauga Park Visitor’s Center. 

But on we went over fences and logs and through the brush and at a ridge in the woods with bayonets fixed for the charge, for the Johnies were coming up on the opposite side just as fast as we were, shooting and yelling at every jump. But when they met us at the brow of the hill they broke and back they went pell mell through the woods and brush. But not all of them poor fellows, the same as our own boys. Many of them [were] left on t he field dead or wounded.

Comment: Here Boget is describing the initial charge of Brig. Gen. Whitaker’s Brigade, up the northern face of Horseshoe Ridge at and just west of Hill 3. The opposing Confederates belonged to Bushrod Johnson’s Division, mostly Tennesseans, of Cyrus Sugg’s and John Fulton’s brigades. Johnson was poised to outflank the 21st Ohio, defending Hill 3, when Boget and his fellow Reserve Corps Federals reached the scene. 

22nd Michigan close up

A close up of the 22nd’s monument, depicting the fight at the brow of the ridge.

Well we had orders to hold that ridge no matter what the sacrifice, for it was a very important point. And there we held on from about Noon till dark and every time the rebs attempted to advance we would drive them back till just at dusk our ammunition gave out and the Johnies had advanced on our right and left as we could tell by the yelling. Finally they closed in on us with guns pointing us in the face and a command to ‘throw down your guns and lie down on the ground’ and I tell you I wasn’t long in obeying.

Comment: The 22nd Michigan took 455 officers and men into the fight. Over the course of the day’s fighting, they lost 32 killed and 96 wounded. At dusk, General Thomas ordered the Union lines to fall back, but the 22nd, along with the 21st and 89th Ohio, failed to receive that command. As a result, another 261 Wolverines, Boget and his surviving comrades, were taken prisoner – a loss rate of 85%. The 89th Ohio lost 171 captured; the 21st, 131 – for a total of 563 men captured. 

Well that was Sunday Eve and they marched us back a few miles and guarded us there till the next day when we were marched to the station and took the cars for Richmond. They were not palace cars but box cars that they crammed as many in as possible and give us [no] room to lie down on the floor. The cars were so crowded and warm that I rode 5 days and nights on top of the cars before we got to Richmond. The boys would lie with their heads together and feet at out edge of the car and tie their arms to each other so as not to slip off the car as we slept.

Boget would spend the next few months at Belle Isle, in Richmond; then he was transferred to Andersonville. He was freed on April 26, 1865, and discharged at Nashville. In that, he was fortunate; by leaving the army at Nashville he was not sent on farther north via the Sultana. Marvin lived to the ripe old age of 98, passing away in 1938.

After the war Marvin married Sarah Kimmis, a cousin of Henry Ford, and it was said that on his 83rd Birthday, Mr. Ford gave him a new car – which forced him to learn how to drive.

This letter appears to be a combination of contemporary writing and memoir; as the last few paragraphs summarize his time in captivity.

“At the crisis I fell” – James E. Love, 8th Kansas

December 8, 2017

Col. Hans Heg’s Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland is one of the more interesting units to fight at Chickamauga: containing as it did the only Kansas unit (the 8th) in the Army of the Cumberland and the only all-Scandanavian regiment (the 15th Wisconsin) in the Union army. It also has the dubious distinction of being among the hardest-hit of all the brigades  engaged in that battle, suffering nearly 65% casualties.

Irish-born, Love emigrated to America, and then spent time in Australia – where he prospered. When he returned to the states, he brought with him $6,000 in gold; he was a man of considerable means, settling in St. Louis.

When war came he did not gravitate towards one of the many Irish regiments recruiting across the nation. Instead, he apparently had an abolitionist bent, and began recruiting men for what was intended to be a brigade commanded by Kansas Jayhawker Jim Lane. Eventually, Love’s contingent was organized as part of the 8th Kansas.

Originally a member of Company K, James was promoted to Regimental Adjutant on November 17, 1862. The 8th Kansas Regiment saw split service  – half of it serving in the Trans-Mississippi and half in Tennessee – until February 1863, when the whole command was united at Nashville. From there it served in the Army of the Cumberland, 20th Corps.

Fortunately for history, James was a man in love, as well – because he recorded his wartime experiences in a series of very detailed letters to his fiance, Eliza Wilson – “Molly.”

The 8th Kansas went into action at Chickamauga between 1 and 2 p.m., September 19. Heg’s brigade, formed on the right of Union General Jefferson C. Davis’s division, entered the woods just north of Viniard Field, looking to find and turn the flank of Confederate troops engaged farther north, around Brock Field. Instead they ran smack into Bushrod Johnson’s Confederate division, deployed in that same timber about 600 yards east of the LaFayette Road.

Charge of the 15th Wisconsin at Chickamauga: the mortal wounding of Col. Heg

That fight surged back and  forth through the afternoon, with Heg’s men being driven back to the road. Here is how Love described that action in a postwar recollection:

At 8 o’clock . . . we marched 8 miles to the Widow Glens house, Genl. Rosencran’s Head Quarters, washed our feet and filled our canteens at Crawfish Springs, and then were rushed into the woods and into the battle under a terrible roar of musketry and artillery. We got on the double quick two miles from Widow Glens, our men falling, when line after line of Longstreets Corps [Johnson’s division, though not from Virginia, was part of Hood’s (Longstreet’s) Corps at Chickamauga] charged us, but we drove them for some time. they advanc[ed] again and again in Superior numbers, found several gaps in the line of the army, and flanking us we had to fall back after losing 5 Captains 3 Lieutenants and 150 men killed and wounded – I fell on the extreme front.

Love, badly wounded, remained on the field. He fell into Confederate hands. On September 23rd, he described the action in a letter to Mollie:

Mollie Dear,

I am laying out in a cotton field & doing well. I am at present within Bragg’s lines but hope to be exchanged at once as thousands of others are today and yesterday. We have just got some rations sent by Rosecrans, the first since the fight. When I closed this note [He means a letter written on the morning of the 19th] we started and marched rapidly 8 miles or more, and all at once got into a most terrific fight. I was under fire several hours, and rallied the men of my company and of other several times. I brought the flag back more than once when we were driven – but it was of no avail. The enemy overpowered us and drove us back.

At the Crisis I fell headlong among them, shot through the thigh in two places, and my clothes riddled besides. I am doing well, and I am I assure you in good spirits and suffered no pain – neither when wounded or since – I am weak as it bled freely – and the sinews are cut and the bone jarred very much – I expect to forward this from Chattanooga. I will write whenever I can; believe me I will suffer less from pain then you will from pity.

Love’s letter made it home, but he did not. Instead of being exchanged in the field hospital, Love was sent to Libby Prison in Richmond once he was able to travel; He spent the rest of the war in Rebel hands, until in March, 1865 he saw his moment to escape. He and several fellow officers slipped away from their guards in North Carolina, and after several weeks winding their way through the mountains of North Carolina, reached Knoxville. From there things went smootly – he was soon back in St. Louis, where he married Mollie on May 2, 1865.

All of Love’s letters to Mollie are online at the Missouri Historical Society, and have also been published in book form.

In March 2018, the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Study Group will explore Heg’s attack.

“Colonel Timothy O’Meara: An Unknown Hero of the War.”

November 25, 2017

Those words title a memorial volume to Col. O’Meara, published in Brooklyn, in 1914. That title seems as fitting today as it did a century ago, for you don’t hear much about O’Meara in modern Civil War discourse.



Which is a bit surprising, given how Irish-centric we are these days. The Irish story is at once both romantic and tragic, a story of exile; but thanks to that exile, America is chock-full of Irish descendants. Once despised as immigrants, now St. Patrick’s Day parades are celebrated in cities across the country.

The Civil War community is no exception. We do love our Irishmen, in both blue and gray. The Irish Brigade, Philip Sheridan, or – arguably one of the two most famous Confederates outside of Virginia – Patrick Cleburne; all draw tremendous attention. And, as Cleburne’s story suggests, we love them even more when they are tragically struck down in battle. Colonel Patrick O’Rorke (or O’Rourke, it seems to be spelled both ways) of the 140th New York, whose shiny-nosed monument crowns Little Round Top at Gettysburg, is further proof.

A portrait of Colonel Timothy J. O’Meara, below:

So who is Colonel O’Meara?

The short answer is: he was the commanding officer of the 90th Illinois Infantry – Chicago’s Irish Legion – and he was mortally wounded at the foot of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. He died early in the morning of November 26th.

He was only 27 at the time of his end. Born in County Tipperary, Ireland on August 15, 1836, he left Ireland at age 17, emigrating to New York City. Shortly thereafter he enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, which was on active service in New Mexico. In 1860, O’Meara translated those martial skills into a commission with Benito Juarez’s Liberal Army, in Mexico; which was in the throes of a civil war since 1857. O’Meara served as a major of cavalry.

His service under Juarez suggests something of his politics, since Juarez’s liberal reform government was fiercely opposed by the existing conservative aristocracy, the Catholic Church, and the Mexican Army – all of whom saw their influence waning under Juarez’s reforms. That struggle ended in December 1860, with Juarez successful; just in time for O’Meara to head back to New York. Another civil war was brewing.

He enlisted as a Private in the Tammany Regiment – 42nd New York Infantry – but by dint of his professional experience, soon rose to captain of Company E. He was involved in the disaster at Ball’s Bluff, where he distinguished himself, but where he was also captured. He would spend the next ten months in Rebel prison camps.

Exchanged in August 1862, he traveled to Chicago, where a number of fellow Irishmen hoped he would take command of the then-forming 90th Illinois Infantry. Though he was an outsider, his combat experience and the recommendation of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran – one of the most influential Irishmen then serving – won him a Colonel’s Eagles and command of the Irish Legion.

Once equipped and sworn into Federal Service, the 90th was sent to join Grant’s army in Mississippi, where they participated in the Vicksburg Campaign and fighting around Jackson. In the fall of 1863, their division was one of the four selected by Grant to be sent to Chattanooga. They and their fellows toiled across Northern Alabama. On November 22, the 90th reached Chattanooga, going into a concealed camp on the north bank of the Tennessee River opposite the city.

Though the “siege” of Chattanooga had already been broken at the end of October with the opening of the Cracker Line, Braxton Bragg’s Confederate army still occupied the surrounding heights of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Determined to smash Bragg, Grant intended a full-scale assault. His chosen troops? The four divisions from his own Army of the Tennessee, of course, now commanded by William Sherman. The Chicago Irish would play a lead role in that fight.

O’Meara and the 90th belonged to Colonel John M. Loomis’s 1st Brigade, 4th Division, XV Army Corps; commanded by Sherman’s brother-in-law, Brigadier General Hugh Ewing. Grant originally intended to attack on November 23, but complications delayed the assault to the next day.

At dawn on November 24, Sherman initiated a surprise crossing of the Tennessee, debauching at the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek, catching Bragg unawares. What should have developed into an attack on the north end of Bragg’s position on Missionary Ridge, however, came to naught. Sherman, overly cautious, stumbled badly; never even reaching Missionary Ridge. Late in the day he was shocked to discover that he was atop another hill, well short of his intended objective, and he had barely come to grips with any Confederates. Only Joe Hooker, leading a scratch force assaulting Lookout Mountain, and very much an afterthought, achieved anything approaching success, in a fight that became known – inaccurately – as the Battle Above the Clouds.

Still, Grant persevered. Sherman would continue his attack – everyone else remained secondary. By taking Tunnel Hill (so named for the railroad tunnel that pierced Missionary Ridge here) Sherman would turn Bragg’s position, threaten Bragg’s rail connection to James Longstreet, besieging Knoxville, and drive the Rebels back into Georgia.

Again, Sherman stumbled. He commanded 4 divisions of some 20,000 men; and could call on the support of the Union XI Corps, another 5,000 or so troops. Of this force, his first attack was launched by part of one brigade – less than 1,000 bayonets. When it failed, Sherman sent another brigade in.

Sherman’s entire effort that day came to naught, a series of halfhearted probes by individual regiments and brigades that accomplished nothing but add to the Union casualty figures.

The 90th Illlinois and 100th Indiana assaulting Missionary Ridge



the 90th’s turn came at about 10:30 a.m., when Sherman, via General Ewing, sent Loomis’s men to support another assault on the ridge from the west. With the 90th leading, Loomis’s brigade moved in an arc around to the western face, reaching the Glass farmstead, some 200 yards north of the railroad tunnel.

O”Meara certainly drew the eye. He wore his best uniform, as well as an officer’s sash, which everyone else believed made him a conspicuous target. Despite his service in Mexico under Juarez, he remained faithful to the church: When Loomis urged O’Meara to at least rid himself of the sash, O’Meara indicated an image of the Virgin Mary which he wore on a chain around his neck. “They cannot hurt me while I have this.”


The regiment had to cross near half a mile of open ground before reaching the Glass farm. Lieutenant Colonel Owen Stuart was hit while crossing this expanse, and then, near the farmyard, O”Meara’s horse was shot out from under him. He grabbed a musket and kept going, but not for long. “Whilst in the act of charging up the ridge in front of the heaviest fire . . . our brave Colonel fell, mortally wounded.” Waving off help, O’Meara lay exposed for the rest of the day’s action.

Loomis’s attack faltered badly here. Suffering heavy losses, the brigade went to cover and spent most of the rest of the day pinned down by Rebel fire. The 90th suffered 94 casualties, including four of ten company commanders and the regimental Sergeant Major. Only the subsequent successful storming of Missionary Ridge by George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland redeemed the day, forcing the Rebels holding Tunnel Hill to retreat and allowing the battered 90th to recover their dead and wounded comrades. O’Meara was still breathing, but died in the early hours of the morning.

In death, O’Meara was praised by Loomis, by Ewing, and even by Grant, who arranged that the Colonel’s body be transported as far as Nashville at army expense, and from where family & friends in New York could bring him the rest of the way home. Tributes appeared in the Chicago newspapers, as well as other cities with large Irish populations, such as Boston and New York. Private Hugh O’Neal of Company C was detailed to escort the coffin, O’Meara’s personal effects, and his surviving horses. The entourage arrived in New York on December 15, where after a requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Church he was buried at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, on December 19.

Colonel Loomis wrote that O’Meara’s death was “a severe loss to his country, to his companions, and to his command. The illuminated memory of a brave man and gallant soldier remains.”