At the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the Union Army, one of the first to answer the call was the 69th New York State Militia Regiment. Founded in 1851 by Irish Immigrants, the 69th was augmented in May 1861 by a company of Irish Zouaves commanded by Thomas Francis Meagher, one of the leaders of the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848. Meagher had escaped from the British Penal colony in Australia and made his way to New York where he became a successful lawyer, editor, and businessman. The 69th moved south to Virginia and saw its first action at Bull Run. They acquitted themselves with valor and distinction, losing 38 killed, 59 wounded and 95 missing in action. Four days after the defeat at Bull Run the Volunteers' enlistments expired and the 69th returned to New York to muster out, following a heroe's welcome.
Meagher, however, had conceived the idea of an Irish Brigade in which the spirit of Fontenoy would live again. At a huge public meeting on August 29th, 1861 in Jones' Wood, on the Upper East Side of New York, he initiated a recruiting drive for what was to be the First Regiment of the Irish Brigade, the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry. Over 200 battle veterans from the 69th Militia joined the new regiment. They were quartered at Fort Schuyler in the Bronx and the next regiment to join them was the newly formed 88th New York, with contained a number of the Former Irish Zouaves.
Soon the 63rd New York Regiment was added and in October Meagher was confirmed as acting Brigade Commander. In November the Irish Brigade departed for Washington and the war. The Brigade, with the 69th New York in the lead, fought in all the major battles of the war, including Yorktown, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spottsylvania and Petersburg and they were present at Appomattox Court House when Lee and his army surrendered in April 1865. They quickly gained a reputation for courage, discipline, and ferocity in the face of the enemy. An English war correspondent, who had little use for the Irish, wrote; "Whenever anything absurd, forlorn or desperate was to be attempted, the Irish Brigade was called upon". Even the Confederates acknowledged their bravery. It was General Lee who christened the First Regiment "The Fighting 69th". At the Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862, when a Confederate officer saw the 69th advancing against him, he remarked in frustration; "Here come those damned green flags again!"
After the Civil War, the 69th Regiment continued on, serving in the Spanish-American War and both World Wars. It exists today as the 69th Infantry, (Mechanized) New York Army National Guard, with headquarters on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.
We in Company B of the 69th New York Regiment are a reenactment group located in Northern California. We seek to study and understand the lives and experiences of the original men of the 69th and share that knowledge with other interested persons. We hope to honor the memory of those brave men
who fought and fell under the Stars and Stripes of their adopted country and the Green Flag of the "Old Country" that was always close to their hearts.
We always have openings for new members, adults, teens, families and youngsters who share our interests and who would like to participate in re-enacting the camp life, camaraderie and battle drills of "The Fighting 69th!"