The Irish Brigade was not just another civil war unit. It's military reputation alone set it apart from the great mass of northern brigades. But what made it particularly distinctive was the Catholic and Irish identity that most of its members shared. Nearly 150,000 Irish-Americans eventually fought in the union army but most served in predominately "American" units where their achievement seldom redounded to the benefit of the Irish American community. The Irish Brigade was specifically created to preserve this special identity and to advertise the important contributions to the union cause that Irish Americans made. Its founders wanted to demonstrate to a skeptical America the devotion Irish-Americans felt for their adoptive land. But their motives were mixed and sorting out their allegiances was not easy. The story of the Irish Americans attitudes towards the issues of the civil war is a complex one and will be addressed at another meeting.
One of the most noted of the Irish American units was the 28th Massachusetts volunteer infantry regiment actuallu Companies, A, C and H. Fourth Regiment, Irish Brigade. The 28th was recruited in the fall of 1861 as the second regiment of Irish volunteers to be raised from the Bay State and mustered into service December 13, 1861. It served throughout the Civil War in the eastern theatre first being assigned to service in South Carolina, and then ordered northward in the fall of 1862 in time to participate in the second battle of Bull Run and Antietam as part of the ninty corps.
In November of 1862 it was transferred to the famous Irish Brigade (2nd Brigade) in the First Division of the Second Corps, then under the direct command of Brig. General Thomas Meagher. With this brigade of Irish-Americans regiments from New York and Pennsylvania, the 28th Massachusetts served faithfully throughout the remainder of the war, being in the thick of the fighting in virtually every battle of the Army of the Potamac until Appomatox.
Notable in the regiments long record of service was its participation in battles at Seccessionville, second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spottsylvania, Po River, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Deep Bottom, Hatchers Run and Sutherland Station. The regiment was repeatedly cited for its heroism and reckless courage under fire, and altoghether 257 men (25%) of the 1.79 who served in this regiment gave their lives in the service of their country. Another 444 or (44%) were discharged from the regiment due to wounds and other disabilities.