Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Antietam 146th Anniversary Commemoration, Part 2

After a short break, I joined Ranger Mike Gamble to explore the route of the Irish Brigade in its legendary assault on the Bloody Lane. Mike’s guided walks are notable because he always provides maps with major points of interest noted for his particular subject. We started off along the trace of a lane between the Mumma and Roulette farms. The Mumma Farm is almost entirely a reconstruction, as the rebels burned the original structure, but the Roulette house maintains much of its original appearance. Mike pointed out the “witness hinges” on the cellar door of the house, and the Cultural Resources staff detailed some of the recent restoration efforts on several of the outbuildings.

Continuing along the Roulette Lane, we filed off into the ravine where the Irish Brigade formed up. Here the officers ordered packs down, and the men prepared to assault the Sunken Road. As the brigade left the shelter of the ravine, fire from rebel skirmishers on the crest of the ridge north of the lane began to tell. All of the regiments of the brigade, with the exception of the 29th Massachusetts, were armed with smoothbore muskets. Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, leading his men from horseback, planned to deliver three volleys once he closed the distance to the road and then pitch in with the bayonet and trust to the impetuosity of Irish soldiers in close combat.

Soon Meagher was down – fallen from his horse. Neither Mike nor other historians I have questioned believe Meagher was drunk, as some have claimed. But the Irish fought on. The 29th Massachusetts, advancing on the right center of the brigade, approached on the reverse slope of the ridge north of the lane where the elevation shielded them from rebel musketry. This, and the superior range of their rifled muskets, combined to keep their casualties lower than the other regiments of the brigade. The 63rd, 69th, and 88th New York regiments were not so lucky. With most of the regimental commanders down and ammunition running low, the Irish brigade retired, and left the seizure of the Bloody Lane to Caldwell’s Brigade.

(Next Up: The Middle Bridge hike with Ranger Brian Baracz)

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