HARTFORD, Conn. –
HARTFORD, Conn — A blue banner defiantly flies high and proudly, weathering the unwelcoming wind coming from deep within the Gulf of Mexico as it is carried along the coast of Ship Island, Mississippi. Resting below a mighty bald eagle is a golden harp adorned with an emerald green field, followed by the words, “Erin go bragh”. Connecticut’s fighting Irish have arrived.
Waves of Irish immigrants came to Connecticut throughout the 1840s and 1850s, escaping their famished homeland. The Irish were not always welcomed or treated with respect, whether they were naturalized citizens or not. Many Irish Americans faced discrimination due to their religious beliefs, being Roman Catholic compared to the majority Protestant population. Even Irish American service members faced these hardships, notably when Governor William T. Minor disbanded six predominantly Irish American regiments of the militia due to them being “foreign born” and “detrimental to the military interests of our state,” in 1855.
This attitude would begin to change however in April of 1861, following the beginning of the American Civil War. Approximately 8,000 Irish Americans from across Connecticut would volunteer to fight for the Union. Of the 8,000, approximately 1,600 would serve before war’s end in the Ninth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, also known as the Ninth Regiment, “Irish Volunteers”, formed under the orders of Governor William A. Buckingham.
The unit was made up of Irish Americans hailing from New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwich as well as other towns with high Irish populations. New Haven alone would contribute almost 400 men to the regiment. They would be first quartered in Hartford, then moved to New Haven in September and lastly moved by train to Camp Chase, Lowell, Massachusetts on November 4th. From here, they would be integrated into the “New England Brigade” under the command of Brig. Gen. Benjamin Butler and set sail for the South before the end of the month.
Their first stop after departing New England on the steamer “Constitution” would be Ship Island, a small stretch of land about seven miles long, approximately little more than an eighth of a mile wide, 12.7 miles off the coast from what is now present day Mississippi City, on December 3rd. The island had previously been abandoned by Confederate forces following an engagement with the U.S. Navy and since then became an offshore hub of logistics and quarters for soldiers and sailors of the Republic alike. The Ninth would garrison here until April 1862.
In April of 1862, a year after being called up and organized, the Ninth would finally partake in combat operations. The regiment would land at Pass Christian, which had been hastily abandoned by the majority of its residents and Confederate forces. Here, the regiment would capture its first colors, the regimental flag of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry, which was left behind during the Confederates’ withdrawal.
Following the capture of these colors, the regiment would participate in some smaller actions, such as the operations against Fort St. Philip and Jackson and would eventually be moved to New Orleans by the end of the month. In May, the unit moved once again, this time to Baton Rouge. From here the unit occupied the city until moving on to Vicksburg in late June.
Vicksburg became hell on Earth for the soldiers of the Ninth. The Union did not have enough men to capture Vicksburg outright and instead chose to commit the men of the regiment to work on what became known as Grant’s Canal (also known as Williams’ Canal). Here, 153 Connecticut Volunteers would succumb to disease and the southern heat in an attempt to open a passageway for U.S. Navy gunboats to travel around Vicksburg and further down the Mississippi River. The operation would be abandoned by July 24th and the Ninth moved to positions in defense of Baton Rouge.
On August 5th, Confederate forces attempted to recapture Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During this engagement, John Curtis, the regiment’s Sergeant Major, would earn the highest award for military gallantry the United States had, the Medal of Honor. Curtis, “voluntarily sought the line of battle and alone and unaided captured two prisoners, driving them before him to regimental headquarters at the point of the bayonet”. At the time of this battle, Curtis was 17 years old.
Following the engagement, the Ninth defended New Orleans until April 1864. During this time, the regiment simultaneously sent out detachments for expeditions such as the expedition to Ponchatoula between March 21 and March 30, 1863. The Ninth’s next major action would not be until September 19, 1864, when the regiment fought in the battle of Winchester, also known as the battle of Opequon.
This battle was a major offensive action by the Union against Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early and his Army of the Valley. It would become the first defeat for a Confederate general in the Shenandoah Valley and one of the most costly battles of the war. Here, the Union Army delivered a major blow to the Confederate Army, killing two of their generals, at the loss of one of their own, capturing approximately 1,700 prisoners of war, numerous artillery pieces, and by inflicting approximately 4,000 casualties on Confederate forces.
On September 27, 1864, during the battle, the Ninth supported Brigadier General Henry W. Birge’s First Brigade, fighting alongside the 12th and 14th Infantry Regiments from Maine and the 75th Infantry Regiment from New York. Their role was to protect the flanks of the Union attack.
“...the Ninth Connecticut, Colonel Cahill, deployed 400 yards on the right on a line perpendicular to the line of battle, with skirmishers in advance, '' wrote Birge in an after action report. “Colonel Cahill was instructed to connect the left of his skirmish line with the right of the advanced skirmishers, and to conform to the movements of the brigade and main-rain his relative position by moving by a flank as the line advanced.”
The other regiments broke though the Confederate lines and caused them to retreat. Due to the frantic retreat of the Confederate forces, Union troops pushed their advance too far forward, far too quickly, and began receiving intense rifle and artillery fire from their flanks. The call was made for the Union soldiers to fall back to their original positions. Later that day, Union forces advanced once more, this time breaking the Confederate lines on all fronts with support from other regiments, including a larger supporting artillery force. The Ninth would remain in their original position and not take part in this advance.
Following this engagement, the soldiers of the Ninth participated in the Battle of Cedar Creek. However, in the days before the battle, the Ninth Connecticut Infantry Regiment would no longer exist. On October 12, 1864, under Special Order No. 59 signed by Brevet Maj. Gen. Emory Upton, the Ninth would be reorganized into four companies and recognized as a battalion, thereby known as the Ninth Battalion, C.V., or Connecticut Volunteers.
The battle of Cedar Creek would be the last engagement fought by the Ninth. Lt. Col. John G. Healy, then Captain, commander of the Ninth, states an account of the battle in his reports, citing how his soldiers were at the forefront of the counterattack.
“I desire to make particular mention of Sergeant W. Perry, and Private John T. Morrow, who, after the color-sergeant had been wounded, seized the colors and pushed forward. These men were always in the advance, few, if any, color-bearers being able to keep up with them. The colors of my battalion were the first on the recaptured works from where the corps had been driven in the morning.”
The battalion would spend the rest of their campaign on occupation duty in the Shenandoah Valley until January 1865 and thereafter resided in Savannah, Georgia until May. The American Civil War would effectively end on April 9, 1865, a little less than four years after the Ninth was organized, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union forces at Appomattox Court House. The Ninth would suffer a total of 253 men killed over the duration of the war, mostly from disease. Connecticut’s volunteers departed for home on August 3, 1865.
Connecticut’s Volunteers received a hearty welcome upon their return. On August 8, the battalion marched through New Haven down to the old State House and the soldiers were welcomed back by Mayor Erastus Scranton. The men would return to their lives as best they could, with many keeping in touch and attending reunions in the years that followed. The battalion’s regimental flag would be presented in the Hall of Flags, located in the newly built Capitol building in Hartford, following the January 1879 session of the General Assembly. The flag resides there to this day, preserved, with other battle flags of Connecticut regiments; a tribute to the valor, courage and sacrifices made by the men of the regiment.