“The Irish Sixty-Ninth”


A song telling the story of the 69th regiment, "The Irish Sixty-Ninth." The training of the regiment is described, then its long career in the Peninsula, at Antietam, Fair Oaks, Glendale, and perhaps Gettysburg

Supplemental text

Irish Sixty-Ninth, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne &
Frank Warner Collection, #14, pp, 71-73. From the singing of
"Yankee" John Galusha of New York State. Collected 1941.

Ye Erin sons of hill and plain,
Come listen to my feeble strain,
Perhaps you'll think it all a dream,
Though ev'ry line is true.
I'll sing to you of our long campaign
Through summer sun and winter's rain,
To Richmond's gates and back again,
I will relate to you.

It was in August, sixty-one,
When Colonel Owens took command,
And brought us into Maryland
Where let it rain or shine.
He drilled us -- every day we rose
To learn us how to thrash our foes,
And more than once they felt the blows
Of the Irish Sixty-ninth.

In February, sixty-two,
While passing in a grand review,
We were told our foes we would pursue
And Richmond overthrow.
To Washington we went straight way,
And sailed in steamers down the bay
Until we were forced next day
To land at Fort Monroe.

At Hampton then we camped around,
Until brave Little Mac came down
And ordered us up to Yorktown
Our strength there to combine.
And there we worked both night and day,
And drove the rebel hordes away,
And marching through the town next day
Went the gallant sixty-ninth.

From Yorktown then we sailed away,
And landed at West Point next day,
And gaily marched along the way,
And camped among the pines.
And there we stayed three weeks or more,
Until we heard the cannons roar
And musketry come like a shower
Along the rebel lines.

Then double quick away we went,
Along the river we were sent
To drive the rebels back we meant,
No man fell out of line.
When Philadelphia's noble sons
Had nobly spotted Pickett's guns,
And when away the Rebels run,
Cheered the gallant Sixty-ninth.

Then on Antietam's field again
We boldly faced the iron rain.
Some of our boys upon the plain
They found a bloody grave,
Where our brave general, Little Mac,
Made boastingly to clear the track
And to send the ragged rebels back
Across Potomac's waves.

At Fairoaks* then long weeks we lay,
Had picket fighting night and day,
I've seen our brave boys borne away
And some in death grow pale.
And in that seven days' fight, going back,
Over bloody fields we left our track
Where other regiments they fell back,
We stood as at Glendale.**

Next day out on the battle field,
Old veterans they were forced to yield,
For the rebels had a stone wall shield
Protecting front and rear.
[They gave us constant] shot and shell.
It was like the gaping jaws of hell,
And many's the brave man round us fell.
We boldly did our share.

O'Keen, our colonel, nobly stood
Where the grass was turning red with blood,
And growing to a crimson flood.
We still kept to our line,
And many got a bloody shroud,
Though Philadelphia's sons were proud
And sang of deeds in praises loud
Of the gallant Sixty-ninth.

* Sic. Probably should be "Fair Oaks."

** This verse and the one before have probably been
swapped; only by reversing them does the song make
chronological sense. This is one of the few indications
of actual oral transmission in this song.


Determining which regiment this song is about takes some research. The very name "The Irish Sixty-Ninth" immediately brings to mind the 69th New York regiment, a famous unit of the equally famous "Irish Brigade" that saw service through the entire Civil War. (For more about that unit, see the notes to "By the Hush.")

However, the unit in the song is said to have been commanded by "Colonel Owens," and the song refers several times to Philadelphia. Thus the 69th NY is not meant; we must look to the 69th Pennsylvania.

This regiment is not famous (and it certainly didn't suffer the extreme -- 90% -- casualties faced by the 69th NY), but it was mustered in in August 1861 (as in the song; the 69th NY mustered in in September) and its original commander was Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Joshua T. Owen. It is reported to have been mostly Irish. And it was a Philadelphia regiment -- in fact it was a member of what later came to be called the "Philadelphia Brigade."

The 69th PA fought in most of the battles in the east, starting with the 1861 fiasco at Ball's Bluff, and was one of the regiments that received Pickett's Charge on July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg (possibly referred to in stanza 6, though this could refer to the Battle of Fair Oaks).

If there were only one version of this song, I might suggest that the name "Irish Sixty-Ninth" arose by confusion out of the World War I regiment with that nickname, in which Joyce Kilmer ("I think that I shall never see A poem as lovely as a tree") served and died. However, with multiple versions, all clearly Civil War, this does not seem possible.

Among the other references in the song:

"Little Mac": Gen. George McClellan, who commanded the Army of the Potomac for most of 1862 and directed the Peninsula Campaign.

Fort Monroe: The starting point of the Peninsular Campaign. Yorktown: besieged in the Peninsula Campaign (Apr. 5-May 4, 1862).

Pickett's guns: possibly a reference to Gettysburg, but this would be out of sequence; I think it more likely to refer to the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines (first major battle of the Peninsula Campaign, May 31-June 1, 1862), where Pickett faced a heavy Union attack.

Antietam: battle fought in Maryland, Sept. 17, 1862.

Fair Oaks: an inexplicable reference. If it points to Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, mentioned above, it is out of sequence; if it refers to the Fair Oaks battle of October 1864, the 69th PA was not present and the results were in any case unfortunate for the Federals. Probably this is an errant reference to some part of the Peninsula campaign.

Glendale (also known as White Oak Swamp): one of the Seven Days' Battles, fought June 20, 1862 at the end of the Peninsula Campaign. The 69th PA had a prominent part in this battle.

Speath's song "The Gallant 69th," sung by Harrigan and Hart, has none of the historical references of the Warner song, and may be a separate piece (frankly, the two have nothing in common) -- but what are the odds of two Civil War songs about an Irish 69th regiment? Even if they are distinct, we might as well file them together. - RBW


  • "Yankee" John Galusha, "The Irish 69th" [excerpt] (on USWarnerColl01)


  1. Warner 14, "The Irish Sixty-Ninth" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Spaeth-WeepMore, pp. 175-176, "The Gallant 69th" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. ST Wa014 (Full)
  4. Roud #7455
  5. BI, Wa014


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1941 (recorded from John Galusha)
Keywords: Civilwar soldier
Found in: US(MA)