Antietam: Long Journey for Four Irishmen
In the quiet western Maryland town of Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, more Americans died in battle than on any other single day in U.S. history. Over thirty-six hundred were killed during that Civil War battle, including 113 members of the famous Irish Brigade.
Left: A burial party on the Miller Farm in Sharpsburg. Library of Congress
Some bodies got back to the home towns of the soldiers later, and some were interred in the cemetery on the hill overlooking the town of Sharpsburg, which would later become a National Cemetery. Not all the bodies, most of which had been placed in shallow temporary grave just after the battle, were found later and moved.
Four men who probably served in the Irish brigade would have to wait over a hundred and twenty years to reach the National Cemetery in Sharpsburg. Back in 1988 their remains were discovered on the William Roulette farm, near “The Sunken Road,” which had been assaulted by the Irish Brigade. Relic hunters searching the farm land, which was off the National Park at the time – it has bought by the Park since then - found the forgotten remains. Because of the location of the bodies, along with clues consisting of rosary beads, New York state buttons and “buck and ball” ammunition of the type carried by them, it was determined that the four soldiers were probably members of the Irish Brigade. One of them was between 40 and 50 years old. That allowed the researchers to speculate that he was probably been Private James Gallagher, Company C, 63rd New York Infantry.
On September 17, 1989, one hundred and twenty seven years after they died, these four probable members of the Irish Brigade were re-interred in the National Cemetery in Sharpsburg along side the comrades with whom they had fought and died.
Now, thanks to George Rees of Medina, Ohio, visitors to the Sharpsburg area will be reminded sacrifice of the four soldiers who spent those lonely hundred and twenty seven years far from their other fallen comrades. Mr. Rees has donated many of the artifacts that were found with Pvt. Gallagher and his comrades to two exhibits in western Maryland. One case of these relics is at the Patrick Street location of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in the Frederick, and the other is at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum is in Sharpsburg. If you are going be in the area, be sure to check them out.