The brigade, made up of Irish immigrants from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania was nicknamed, "the Sons of Erin". By war's end that had changed to, "the Fearless Sons of Erin". At their formation in 1862, the brigade, commanded by Thomas Francis Meagher, numbered 3,000 men. A year later only 300 were left. The battles of Fair Oaks, Antietam and Fredericksburg among others, had taken ghastly tolls. After the
At the start of the war, Notre Dame University, whose sports teams even today bear the name "Fighting Irish", sent many of it's priests to serve as Union chaplains. One of these was Father William Corby who was assigned to the Irish Brigade. Father Corby faithfully followed his brigade throughout their battles, and was there with them at Gettysburg. Many accounts survive of the moving moment that preceded the battle, as Father Corby stepped onto a boulder, and the entire brigade removed their hats and knelt around him as he offered them absolution. The statue of Father Corby at Gettysburg is said to grace that same boulder.
After their engagement at the Wheatfield, only around 300 soldiers remained in the battalion. They continued to serve their adopted country valiantly and were periodically reinforced, but never reached their original force size. Colonel Kelly was recommended by no less than Abraham Lincoln to receive a promotion to Brigadier General, but that promotion never came. Some maintain discrimination against Irish officers was the reason General Halleck refused to promote him. In June of 1864 Colonel Kelly was killed, shot in the head leading the Irish Brigade in an attack of Confederate earthworks at Petersburg.
Afterwards, the brigade was disbanded and incorporated into other brigades, only to be reformed in 1865. The only unit of the old brigade that is still active today is "the Fighting 69th", of the New York National Guard. They served with distinction in Iraq, securing parts of Baghdad and the airport road known as Route Irish, and also in Afghanistan.
To their memory and the memory of all soldiers who did their duty as they saw it, and paid a terrible price, a humble thank you.