The Devotedness of the Irish Soldier

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (14) start of chapter

What wonderful devotion to a brave officer by a brave Irish soldier does not the following present! I give it in the words it was told to me —

My brother, Brevet Lieut.-Col. James F. M'Elhone, Regular Army, at Gaines' Mills, Va., while commanding the colour company, 14 Inf. U.S.A., then 1st Lieut., 17 years of age, was wounded late in the day with a Minié ball in the side, at the time supposed to be mortal. His 'striker,' Michael M'Grath by name, who had brought to the 'leftinint' a pot of hot tea during a warm lire from the enemy, had no harsher expression, when a bullet spilled the regretted beverage upon the ground, than 'Damn ye! ye didn't know what a divil's own time I had to get the hot wather, or ye wouldn't have done it.' This noble fellow remained with his officer upon the field, went with him to Savage's Station hospital, was a faithful attendant during the battle that raged there during the ensuing Sunday, accompanied him as prisoner to Richmond, feigning to be wounded so as to prevent separation, built a covering of blankets in the railroad depôt to save him from rain, successfully exerted in every way a fertile ingenuity to get the best in a town crowded to suffocation with wounded of both armies after the seven days' battles: and finally, when my brother was brought on parole to Baltimore by sea, and located in a private house used as a hospital, this Irish soldier I found sitting by his bedside, fanning his fevered brow, and as gentle a nurse almost as any woman could be.

Late in the afternoon of Sunday, 29th June 1862, as I have already said, the battle raged fiercely around the hospital, some being killed and wounded near the building. My brother and M'Grath saw with anxiety the increasing chances of their falling into the hands of the enemy. Up came the 69th New York (an Irish Regiment), to the last charge. My brother, now no more, has related often that, for the time, he forgot his own sad plight and acute suffering. There was a ringing hurrah as the hot Irish closed with the foe. Now the Union flag and the green flag of Ireland are seen to pulsate madly forward; there is a temporary check; the colours stagger, disappear, soon they are again lifted, and sweep onward till they mark a position gained and a battle won. But as the regiment was going into the very 'jaws of death,' one man in the rear rank cried out to the other, 'Toomey, man, step out, and don't he afraid,' to which instantly came the angry reply, 'What, sir! wait till this battle is over, and I'll smash your darn mug for you.'

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America