The Irish Wolfhound of Gettysburg

Gettysburg coverIf ever you want to know something about the American Civil War, I can’t think of anyone better to ask than Iain C. Martin. Not only is Iain an expert in his field, but he has also produced a fascinating book on the seismic battle that was Gettysburg.

The need to make history more accessible is something I’ve always believed in, and Iain has done just that with his book, Gettysburg: The True Account of Two Young Heroes in the Greatest Battle of the Civil War, in which he takes the events surrounding the historic battle and writes about them with a younger audience in mind. Here, he gives an interesting insight into a memorial placed on the battlefield for one of the conflict’s most memorable brigades. I’m proud to say that they were Irish…

Faugh-a-Bellagh! — Clear the Way! — Irish Brigade battle cry

Gettysburg is one of America’s best-preserved battlefields of the Civil War. More than 1,200 monuments dot the landscape where the Army of the Potomac fought the Army of Northern Virginia on July 1-3, in 1863. Arguably the most beautiful of these statues is the one dedicated to the five regiments of the Union’s Irish Brigade. The five regiments, three from New York, and one from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, fought valiantly not only at Gettysburg but from the Peninsula campaign in 1862 all the way to Appomattox Courthouse in April, 1865.

The bronze Celtic cross is based on granite and stands over six meters tall, decorated with a 2nd Corps trefoil, the numbers of the three New York regiments, the Seal of the State of New York, and a harp flanked by eagles. At the foot of the cross lies an Irish wolfhound, the symbol of honor and fidelity. The monument was sculpted by William R. O’Donovan, a former Confederate soldier who fought at Gettysburg. [1]

The Monument to the Irish BrigadeI at Gettysburg Credit: Photo: R. G. Lubischer

The Monument to the Irish BrigadeI at Gettysburg Credit: Photo: R. G. Lubischer

Two wolfhounds were adopted by the brigade’s 69th New York Infantry Regiment as mascots during the war. Clad in green coats bearing the number “69” in gold letters they would parade behind the color guard. (Most Civil War units, north and south, adopted a mascot of some kind —- dogs, cats, birds, bears, raccoons, badgers, and in one case — a camel.) Appropriately, the Irish chose to immortalize their loyal hound in bronze, so that it now stands for all eternity, ready to answer its master’s call’.

Father William Corby, the brigade chaplain, dedicated the monument on July 2, 1888. “We have unveiled this pile, and it will stand to perpetuate the fame of those heroes. To keep their memory green in the American heart, this Celtic Cross has been erected. It is an emblem of Ireland, typical of faith and devotion, and the most appropriate that could be raised to hand down to posterity the bravery of our race in the great cause of American liberty.”

The Irish Wolfhound on the Irish Brigade monument Credit: Photo: R. G. Lubischer

The Irish Wolfhound on the Irish Brigade monument Credit: Photo: R. G. Lubischer

The monument at Gettysburg and two others – one at Antietam and at Fredericksburg – stand as a testament to the courage and loyalty of the Irish in America who volunteered for the Union cause. The Irish Brigade suffered the third-highest number of battlefield casualties of any Union brigade. Of the 7,715 men who served in its ranks, 961 were killed or mortally wounded, and approximately 3,000 were wounded. The number of casualties was more men than ever served in its ranks at any one time. As a testament to the Irishmen’s bravery, 11 of the unit’s members were awarded the Medal of Honor. [2]

Irish Brigade Monument at Fredericksburg (photo credit:

Irish Brigade Monument at Fredericksburg (photo credit:

You can discover more about the Gettysburg campaign in my book, Gettysburg: The True Account of Two Young Heroes in the Greatest Battle of the Civil War written for teens but a great read for anyone interested in the Civil War, Gettysburg and President Lincoln.

If you’d like to read more about Father William Corby and the Irish Brigade read my blog post Absolution Under Fire: A Moment of Grace a Gettysburg:

  1. Irish Brigade Monument at Gettysburg,
  2. Jones, Terry, L., “The Fighting Irish Brigade.” New York Times, December 11, 2012.

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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12 Responses to The Irish Wolfhound of Gettysburg

  1. dslincoln51 says:

    We bought notecards with the Celtic Cross and the wolfhound when we were in Gettysburg. It is very beautiful. I’ve studied the Irish Brigade quite a bit — Thomas Francis Meagher is a character in one of my works-in-progress. The Brigade was terrifyingly brave at Fredricksburg: so much so that the Confederates apparently applauded their final attack out of respect for their courage. Thanks, David, for showcasing this book. I need to add it to my CW library.


  2. You’re welcome, Deborah. Funny you should mention Meagher. I have him as a character in a book I’ve yet to publish – but it’s about him before he achieved fame in America.


  3. Beth says:

    Gettysburg is a few hours from where we live and although we’ve been there numerous times, never knew any of this. Yet another of the many extraordinary contributions that the Irish have made to the U.S. Thanks for the interesting read!


  4. My husband and I spent a day in Gettysburg. We toured with a guide so we saw and learned more than we’d have seen and discovered on our own. Yet, we only scratched the surface of the stories one can uncover there. It’s beautiful landscape with heartbreaking history. Thanks for sharing a story I’ll look for when I return.


  5. Enjoyed this post. At the time the Irish Brigade Monument was created, it was commonly believed that the Irish wolfhound had become extinct, adding to the poignancy of the monument’s majestic bronze hound. Happily, they are still with us today. May they continue to flourish.


    • Indeed, well said. In fact, my neighbour just got a wolfhound as a pet. I can see her arms get longer by the day as she struggles to take it for a walk! You might like my canine-related posts on the D-Day Dogs, The Tsarevich’s Dog and The Dogs of War

      Liked by 1 person

  6. jazzfeathers says:

    Beautiful monument. And very interesting article.


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