For over 100 years, the Army designated the founding date of the 69th Regiment as 1851. Historians writing about the first 10 years of the Regiment discussed the Second Irish Regiment and its ties to the New York Irish community. However, late in the 20th century, the U.S. Army changed the lineage of some of the New York regiments giving the 69th an earlier organization date. This change provided the Regiment with a more colorful early history linking it much more closely to the Irish revolutionary movement in New York City. This was a significant change which immediately rendered all existing histories of the 69th Regiment incomplete. Furthermore, the change linked the 69th even more closely with attempts to form an “Irish Brigade” within the New York militia system. Since the change only affected the years between 1849 and 1858, the only shortfall in the existing Regimental histories was the new lineage link to the First Irish Regiment (Irish 9th) and the 4th Irish Regiment (75th) during those years prior to its consolidation with the 69th in 1858.
After the failed Young Irelanders Revolt in 1848, Irish revolutionary activity transferred from Ireland to New York City. Irish patriots in New York believed they needed to form an Irish Brigade composed of Irish regiments to free Ireland from British control. To that end, they began to organize independent military companies in New York City. In late 1848 and early 1849, the first companies were formed. Drills were conducted at the Center Market and by mid 1849 a skeleton of the First Irish Regiment had been formed. As can be seen in the Lineage and Honors Certificate, which is mounted on the wall in the front hall of the 69th Armory, it is to this regiment that the 69th traces its earliest history and lineage. The Lineage and Honors Certificate of the 69th Regiment can be found at: http://www.sixtyninth.net/lineage.html. Michael Doheny, a refugee from the failed 1848 Revolt was one of the Company Commanders of this Regiment. He was instrumental in the founding of all the early Irish Regiments.
In the summer of 1849 and continuing until the fall, Irish leaders in New York City began negotiations with the State to form an Irish regiment with the existing and future independent Irish companies. On December 21, 1849 the First Irish Regiment was adopted by the State. (This date is the officially recognized date of organization for the 69th Regiment.) Many of the Irish revolutionary leaders, including Michael Phelan, Michael Doheny, Richard O’Gorman, and James Huston, participated in the meetings. Doheny, O’Gorman, and Huston had participated in the failed Irish Revolt of 1848. Phelan was not in Ireland in 1848 but he also believed the Irish must train soldiers within the New York State Militia system to free Ireland. What is known about the meetings is that the “original Ninth Regiment” which had been formed in 1799, was disbanded on May 27, 1850 with its companies transferred to the Eight Regiment. Two days later, on May 29th 1850 the First Irish Regiment was mustered into the New York State Militia as the 9th Regiment with Colonel Benjamin Clinton Ferris, Commander.
Over a year later, the Second Regiment of the proposed Irish Brigade was organized on the 12th of October 1851. The Second Irish Regiment was mustered into the New York State Militia on November 1, 1851 as the 69th Regiment. This was the unit to which the 69th previously traced. Michael Doheny left the 9th and was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 69th. In May 1852, another Irish Regiment (Third Irish Regiment designated the 72d Regiment) was established on Long Island.
In 1852, Thomas Francis Meagher, another leader of the failed Rebellion of 1848, escaped to New York and took an active role in the Irish Republican movement in New York. Later that year, Doheny began to organize another Irish Regiment with Meagher as the Commander. Doheny left the 69th to become the Lieutenant Colonel of this new Irish Regiment designated the 75th Regiment (organized September-December 1852 at New York from new and existing companies of volunteers as the Republican Rifles (4th Irish Regiment)). Since Meagher was rarely in New York, Doheny was the actual Commander. The organization of the Irish Brigade was substantially in place by the summer of 1853.
Leaders from the three Irish regiments in New York City moved back and forth within the three regiments through out the 1850s. Captain James Huston left the 9th to join the 69th as did Michael Doheny. Meagher was elected Lieutenant Colonel by the 69th in 1855 but he turned the position down since he was not a citizen. The three Irish regiments in New York City co-existed until late 1858 when all three were rolled into the 69th. Thus the Irish Brigade went out of existence not to be resurrected until the Civil War. The 9th Regiment ceased to exist until later the next year when it was once again organized.
For over 100 years, the lineage of the First Irish Regiment (“Irish 9th) was awarded by the Army to the new 9th Regiment organized in 1859 but unlike the 69th other than the name, that regiment had nothing linking it to the First Irish Regiment (Irish 9th). The Army decided to award the lineage of the First Irish Regiment to the 69th rather than the new 9th and changed the date of organization of the 69th from 1851 to 1849. It is not uncommon for a regiment to trace back to two or more units. In fact, during the Civil War three “69th Regiments” co-existed and those three regiments (69th New York National Guard, 69th New York State Volunteers and the 182d Infantry Regiment) are all part of the 69th Regiment’s proud lineage and history. When the 9th Regiment was consolidated with the 75th in 1858, the 69th gained the history and lineage of the 4th Irish Regiment. The 69th therefore was now formed in 1849 and linked to the three Irish Regiments in New York City. (The 3d Irish Regiment was formed for a short time in Brooklyn but their lineage and history is not part of the 69th.
The formation of the Irish Regiments caused uneasiness among American “Nativists”. The Know Nothing Party was rising in power. In 1852, the Nativists were successful in forming a new regiment designated the 71st Regiment, the “American Guard” as a counterbalance to the 69th. It was commanded by Colonel Vosburg until he died in 1861. Although the 69th and the 71st represented opposite poles of political and religious thinking and had no contact during the 1850’s, they became extremely close in 1861 when both were stationed in Washington prior to the Battle of Bull Run. . .
Within the 9th Regiment, Captain James Houston commanded a secret organization known as the “SF”, which was comprised of Irish revolutionaries. The “SF” (referred to as “Silent Friends” by Patrick D. O’Flaherty in “The History of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment of the New York State Militia 1851 to 1861”) was called the “Sinn Feins” by J.C.P. Stokes the Historian of the 9th Regiment in his November 4, 1953 letter to BG Keys concerning the history of the Irish 9th.
In 1854 the Crimean War between England and Russia presented an opportunity for Irish Revolutionaries in New York but disputes between James Huston (leader of the SFs) and Michael Doheny resulted in crippling the movement. Huston eventually left the 69th but the conflicts between the Irish Revolutionary leaders continued. Although radical Irish societies were formed, all attempts to strike a blow for Ireland during the Crimean War failed. Conflicts between Archbishop Hughes and the Irish Revolutionary leaders further exacerbated the situation
1855 was a turbulent year in New York City and racial, religious, and political fever reached the highest pitch in the history of the City. In January, one of the most prominent gang leaders and champion of the Native American faction, Bill Poole, called “Bill the Butcher” was killed. Two Irishmen were arrested for the crime. The Know Nothings attempted to make political capital out of the affair and attempted to stir up anti-Catholic sentiments. There were several riots in the City and both the 69th and the 9th were called out to restore order. It was decided military units would not march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because of the strained conditions which existed. On St. Patrick’s Day 1855, the 9th, 69th, 7th and 12th Regiments were held at the regimental parade ground to await orders rather than march in the Parade. As soon as the 69th was released they marched with fixed bayonets down Broadway through the Park before they were dismissed. The other military units did not march.
In 1855, Irish military units in several states came under pressure. In Cincinnati, when it was believed the native American faction would not let foreign militia companies take part in the July 4th Parade, the Irish and German units decided to hold their own celebration. On hearing this, General Sargent, a Know Nothing politician ordered them to parade, The commander of the Sarsfield Light Artillery, Captain Dowd, refused to march claiming Sargent had no authority to order them out. The armory was broken open by the Sheriff and the arms of the Sarsfield Guard were seized. In 1856 Governor Minor of Connecticut dissolved the Irish companies in the state leaving the German companies intact. Irish militia companies in Massachusetts and Ohio were disbanded. Although there was no direct action taken against the Irish Regiments in New York, within three years the only Irish Regiment remaining would be the 69th and within five years the Commander of the 69th, Colonel Corcoran would be on trial by Courts Martial with the Nativists calling for the disbanding of the Regiment.
A new Irish secret society was formed and came to be called the Fenians. Although not powerful within the 9th they were extremely so within the 69th. After the consolidation with the 9th in 1858, the 69th adopted the name “National Cadets” which was formerly used by the 9th. The Fenians, as they were called, were founded as the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood in 1858 by one of the leaders of the 1848 Revolt, James Stephens. Michael Corcoran was the second in command. At the outbreak of the Civil War Corcoran commanded the 69th Regiment and since James
Stephens was away, Corcoran was also the head of the Fenians. As the leader of the Fenians, he advised the Fenian membership not to join the militia.
During the Civil War, Irish Republican leaders who were instrumental in the forming the Irish Brigade of the 1850’s were still active with Irish militia (even if they were not members). Michael Phalen (leader of the SF group within the 9th) and Richard O’Gorman, both of whom participated in the negotiation with the State in 1849, were raising funds for 69th family members wounded at Bull Run in 1861. Huston was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Meagher returned from Bull Run to form the Irish Brigade. Corcoran, who was captured at Bull Run, returned to New York and formed another Irish Brigade which was called Corcoran’s Legion. Doheny, who was the most tenacious of the Irish rebels, died in 1862. In the early 1850’s, he had stopped believing that Irish units should be organized within the militia system since it created a conflict of allegiances.