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18611863 | 1864 | 1865

Regimental History: 1862

s the 28th Massachusetts concluded its initial training at Camp Cameron in January, Col. Monteith and his assembled men received their first flags – national and state regimental colors – at a stirring ceremony presided over by Gov. Andrew, Boston Mayor Joseph Wightman, and members of the Boston City Council. Eight days later, the 28th received a third flag, featuring patriotic and Irish slogans and symbolism on a field of green, that Col. Monteith decided the unit would carry in place of the standard-issue state flag carried by other Massachusetts volunteer regiments.

Leaving Boston, the regiment traveled first to New York harbor for an additional month of drill and training at Fort Columbus on Governor’s Island. From there, the 28th embarked on February 14 for Hilton Head, South Carolina, where it joined Gen. T.W. Sherman's Expeditionary Corps on February 23.

The 28th Massachusetts moved on April 7 to a position on Daufuskie Island, opposite Fort Pulaski, to serve by detachments in support of siege operations for the next two months. Cos. A and K were sent to Jones and Bird Islands from April 18 to May 6. Six days after they returned to Daufuskie, Cos. A, C, D, F, and K were moved to Tybee Island, Georgia, and remained detached from the regiment for about two and a half weeks.

While away from the main body of the 28th, the men of these detached companies had their hands full establishing a formidable series of artillery positions, laying platforms of plank and long timbers, and then hauling the heavy guns by hand from nearby flat boats. They worked chiefly at night to avoid enemy fire. It was hard and perilous work, as the men were often up to their middles in water and ordered to move quietly.

The islands were largely composed of marshy ground; so soft that a man could easily sink out of sight and either drown or suffocate. There were mosquitoes and rank mud everywhere, accidents and injuries were common, and soon dozens of soldiers who had been hurt or fallen ill with malaria or other maladies were in army hospitals instead of with the regiment. At least 22 died of disease before the end of July, and many others were so weakened that they would be discharged from service in the months ahead.

On May 30, the 28th Massachusetts was sent to James Island as part of the Col. William Fenton's 1st Brigade of Maj. Gen. Isaac Stevens' Division. Numbering some 520 men of all ranks, the regiment came under hostile fire for the first time during skirmishes on June 1 and 2, losing five men wounded.

More severe combat lay ahead for the 28th in the June 16 assault on Fort Johnson, known as the Battle of Secessionville. Bogged down in an impassable swamp during the charge, the regiment suffered 67 casualties, including Sgt. John J. McDonald, who was killed carrying the colors. Returning to Hilton Head after this inconclusive engagement, the Irish were commended for their poise and bravery under fire.

The 28th Massachusetts performed well during its first several months in the field despite internal dissension and inadequate leadership. Part of the problem was an ongoing conflict between two Irish factions: Col. Monteith’s New Yorkers and locals from Boston. Beyond that, even though the regiment was touted as an ethnic unit, it was never 100 percent Irish, so there was also tension between the immigrant and American-born soldiers in its ranks.

On May 20, Monteith was separated from his command for “excessive drinking and numerous violations of army regulations.” Placed under arrest by Gen. David Hunter, Monteith resigned effective August 3, was court-martialed at Newport News, Virginia, and on August 12, was discharged from the army.

Gov. Andrew named Lt. Col. MacLelland Moore to replace Monteith, but it wasn’t long before Moore resigned, too, unable to cope with his feuding officers. At that point, command of the regiment fell temporarily to Maj. George W. Cartwright, a capable officer who would serve in the 28th for another two years.

Even before this, Gen. Isaac Stevens tried to persuade Gov. Andrew to appoint Stevens’ son to command the 28th Massachusetts, arguing that an American was needed to exercise proper control over an Irish regiment. But the question of permanent leadership would be answered definitively before the end of the year, with a smart but controversial choice.

Meanwhile, the regiment was on the move. On July 16, the 28th Massachusetts left South Carolina and proceeded via water transports back to Virginia, landing at Newport News two days later. On July 20, the Irishmen were re-designated as part of the newly formed 9th Corps under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. On August 3, the men of the 28th were transported to Aquia Creek. From there, they proceeded to Fredericksburg and established camp on August 6.

With Maj. Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia facing the threat of Lee's combined Confederate forces to the east, the 9th Corps was ordered to march through northern Virginia, finally joining Pope's army in its fallback position along the Rappahannock River near Bealton. In the days that followed, the 28th Massachusetts marched and counter-marched until arriving at Centerville, where it remained through August 29 in support of an artillery battery.

The next day, the Irishmen were placed in the line of battle along the federal right flank and participated in the Battle of Second Bull Run. Through the confusing action that followed, the 28th was heavily engaged in the Union attack on Confederate positions, and later came under heavy musket and artillery fire while providing battery support.

By day's end, the regiment was in retreat with the rest of the Union army, having suffered 135 casualties, including Lt. William Flynn, who was killed, and now Lt. Col. Cartwright, wounded. Command of the 28th Massachusetts passed to Capt. Andrew Caraher of Co. A, who would lead the regiment for several months and earn a promotion to major.

On September 1, with the right flank and rear of the Union army facing the imminent threat of being turned by Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson's Confederate forces at Chantilly, the 28th Massachusetts was again ordered into the fight. Against enormous odds, the Irishmen joined the Cameron Highlanders of the 79th New York in a desperate charge across a cornfield.

About two-thirds of the way, Hay's and Field's concealed rebel brigades fired shattering volleys from the woods ahead. The Irish and Scots staggered, wavered, and then let go a cheer as Gen. Isaac Stevens rode to the front and urged them forward just as the skies opened up with a blinding thunderstorm.

Within minutes, the rain had turned the cornfield into a quagmire and many men could no longer fire their wet rifles. Despite the drenching storm and hail of bullets, the renewed Union attack carried forward, with confused hand-to-hand fighting taking place in the dark woods. Just as the rebel front line gave way, Gen. Stevens fell from his mount, killed instantly by a bullet through the head.

Disheartened, low on ammunition, and facing heavy Confederate reinforcements, the 28th Massachusetts withdrew from the isolated foothold it had won. That night, another 99 men failed to answer the roll call, including the mortally wounded Lt. Alexander Barrett.

In the days that followed, the 9th Corps joined in the retreat back toward Washington and Pope's army was absorbed into the Army of the Potomac, now again under the overall command of Maj. Gen. George McClellan.

Continued >

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