21.7.2014

Airbrushing, Misinformation, Begrudgery, Revisionism, the enemies of Truth.

I suppose many of you who come upon this wesbsite will focus immediately on the digits 69 and immediately think "Ah yes, the 69th. New York" which to this day marches up 5th Ave in New York City each St. Patricks day. However if you pay slightly more attention to the site content you will soon see that this site is not in fact about the 69th Regt New York but the 69th Pennsylvania Regt. Does this really matter? they were most certainly regiments in the Civil war associated with Irish America and the hundreds of Irish soldiers fought in both units. It most certainly did matter especially to the brave men of the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania Volunteers who fought so gallantly at Gettysburg on the 3rd of July 1863 at the famous "Angle" in the wall on which Picketts charge focussed. Take out the resistance at the "Angle" in the wall and the tide would turn. The tide did turn but against Pickett. Which regiment played the major part in the repluse of Pickett? It was the 69th Penn. Vols. Regt. They were prime defenders of the place. They played a major part in the defence of the "Angle". Where on the day were the 69th New York?. They were over a mile away fighting gallantly as expected.
So what's the big deal?. If one looks at the history of the formation of the 69th in Philadelphia from the pre war militias one sees an insight into the contempt that the Irish in the newly formed unit were held by a very large proportion of the citizens of Philadelphia. Why so?. Simple really. They were mainly newly arrived Irish immigrants, many were poorly educated, most were very poor, they were on the whole not Protestant in faith and not perceived as "real" Americans. If one reads the history of the regiment in detail they really formed up against all the odds. Setting off to fight they already had contended with one of their biggest obstacles, their own fellow Americans from earlier immigrations and Protestant in faith. Not all took the bigoted approach and the more enlightened citizens of Philadelphia men like Owens had little difficulty in attaching themselves to the regiment. The unit for all their bravery and success during the war had to contend post war with forces who could not tolerate the fact that a regiment such as the 69th Pa could be graciously honoured. They had to be airbrushed out of history. One subtle way as I see was to somehow acknowledge that it was the 69th New York who fought the decisive battle at the "Angle" on the 3rd July. 1863. This would be more palatable to the high society and gentry in post war Philadelphia. Let us see how this was achieved.
By 1904 with the memories of the Civil War fading into history and as the number of surviving soldiers of the 69th Pa. declining fairly rapidly an exchange took place in the U.S. Congress which rekindled old memories in the survivors. Memories of how their efforts and sacrifices had in essence been airbrushed out of history. If one reads the Congressional records for April 27th 1904 there was an exchange between several Republican members and a Democratic member which show up very clearly the attitude that existed even after some 40 years towards the 69th Pa. The exchanges between Congressmen Adams of Pennsylvania a Republican of Scots ancestry and Protestant, John Dalzell also a Pennsylvanian of Scots ancestry and Protestant background and John Williams of Mississippi a Southern Democrat having a much higher intellect than the two Republican congressmen is of interest. The three men seemed to get involved in a debate about loyalty. Who was more American and who was the most loyal?. The exchange centers around the state of Pennsylvania and its perceived loyalty!. Reading William's comments from the floor it is seen that he is trying to give a reasonably balanced overview of perceived American loyalty and brings to the fore his apparent distaste of remarks by Dazlell the day earlier and on Dalzell's thoughts on what he perceived to be a "real" American. What appeared to really annoy Williams was the attack by Dalzell on any person "not of American soil". He referred to them simply a hoodlums, a fairly derogatory statemen.
In the Congress on April 27th the day after Dalzells tirade Williams lost no time in castigating Dalzell's comments of the previous day. When he took the floor it was without the presence of Dalzell but Republican Congressman Adams was present. As Williams speech progressed it would appear that Williams fair minded comments were too much for Adams especially when Williams brought up the subject of the 69th Pa. a Philadelphia regiment led by Owens a man of Welsh blood like himself leading a unit formed up by Irishmen. Williams it would appear was giving too much credit to the 69th Pa. Regt. which he had just named. Adams would appear to have taken exception to Williams fair minded comments.
While Williams had the floor and referring to the 69th Regt. he was asked by Adams if he could interrupt. This was granted and Adams made the remark that would resonante for a very long time.The scenario beings.
Mr Adams of Pennsylvania:Will the gentleman (Mr Williams) permite me!
Mr.Williams of Mississippe: Certainly.
Mr Adams: Only for a correction. That was the Sixtyninth New York Regiment
What does a European reading these exchanges in 2008 make of all this?. A lot really. To me the scenario is fairly simple. Dalzell the Republican from Pennsylvania would appear to see anyone not American born as a lesser mortal. Foreign born immigrants seemed to quickly be low in his respect and some branded hoodlums. His fellow Republican and fellow Pennsylvanian Adams is all together more sophisticated. He simply assigns the achievements of the 69th Pa to the 69th New York. Williams from Mississippi probably did not realise this subtle move. Now the focus of success would be shifted away from the remaining old soldiers of the 69th. Pa living out their lives mostly in the Philadelphia area. The focus of pride by their families would also be shifted and weakened through the resultant confusion.
Did Dazlell and Adams succeed. Truthfully yes but for a period only. If one makes a close study of the background of the written history of the war,one immediately sees that there were other forces at play not all favourable to the "real" history. Revisionism would be rampant and indeed most newspapers at the time of Gettysburg (1863) were more concerned about defeats and victories being associated with the Generals in command on the day. If one reads newspaper accounts of the victory at Gettysburg it focusses on Lieut Alonso Cushing and ex West Point graduate as the man whose artillery action really ensured victory on the day!.
America had evolved post Revolutionary war into a society whose ruling class came in many cases from the old English or Anglo ethos. Yes they had rebelled against the Crown but nevertheless they shared a sympathy with their kith and kin forebears in England. They shared their religion. Sizeable numbers of them had not really wanted to rebel in any case. So a society operated post Revolutionary war until post Civil war whose ruling classes could be said to be White Anglo Saxon and Protestant. The Irish famine and wars in Continental Europe and the need for people to escape persecution and hardship would change America for ever.The mid 1840's would see millions of Irish Catholics and hundreds of thousands from other Catholic countries such as France and Spain also arrive. America would be changing for ever. A young Adams and Dalzell growing up in Philadelphia and New York would have their perceptions about the Irish formed from comments from their parents, peers and siblings. The Irish did not rank too highly with them, they were not "real" Americans. Fate decreed that both Adams and Dalzell would end up as Congressmen. There they would not lose any opportunity in begrudging the Irish any accolades for their part in the Union success at Gettysburg. The above is an example of how both men went about this.
The actions and comments of Adams and Dalzell on April 27th 1904 has left a legacy to this day and though many would not make malovent deductions or comments on either regiment they nevertheless end up not even knowing about the 69th Pa.
Were the post war soldiers aware of this?. They most certainly were. Are present reenactors aware of this. Most certainly.
One week later on May 4th 1904 stung by Adams comments in Congress many of the old soldiers of the 69th sought to put the facts straight. Let us look at an article carried by The Philadelphia Press on May 4th 1904. It is worth reading and the following is a transcript from and old print reproduced as accurately as possible from the old print copy.

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"Berties Ignorance Pains 69th Survivors" Men who repulsed Pickett at "The Bloody Angle" recall the facts for Congressman's benefit.

Old soldiers have resolved to enlighten misinformed congressman.
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Will send him history.

Refer him to Picketts men for the confirmstion of what they say.

Survivors of the Sixtyninth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers have informally handed themselves into a society for the discouragement of historical ignorance to Bertie Adams.
Their object which is admitted to be a most laudable one, is to remove the mote that has entered the eye of Congressman Adams and has beclouded his vision as to the accomplishments of the Sixtyninth Regiment in repulsing the charge of Pickett's men at the "Bloody Angle " on the field of Gettysburg.
If Congresssman Adams continues to labor under the misapprehension that it was as he told the House of Representatives the other day the Sixtyninth Regiment New York Volunteers which beat back Picketts dash and turned the tide in favor of the North at Gettysburg it will not be the fault of the veterans of the famous Keystone organisation.

Will send him copy of History.

In order that Congressman Adams may not be led to again dispute the assertion of John Sharp Williams the Democratic leader that it was the Sixtyninth of Pennsylvania that checked Pickett and endeavour to knock history sideways by giving the credit to the Sixtyninth of New York a copy of the history of the Pennsylvania Regiment will be sent him.
This book which shows among other things that the Sixtyninth was recruited within sight of Congressman Adams home contains numerous pictures taken on the Gettysburg field including one of the monument raised there in commeration of the gallantry of the soldiers of the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania when Pickett hurled his line upon the Union troops.

Survivors more sorry thank angry.

More in sorry than in anger the survivors of the Sixtyninth regards Congressman Adam's blunder. They feel that it was due to a lack of diligence on the Congressman's part in persuring the study of history in his school days. If he reads the book they do not doubt he will be convinced if he is not already that he erred in seeking to transfer the credit of the decisive incident at Gettysburg from the Pennsylvanians to the New Yorkers.
It has been suggested by some of the survivors that the enlightenment of Congressman Adams be further expedited by inviting him to go to Gettysburg at their expense and examine the incontroversible evidence that exists there.
Capt John R. Reilley who completed the history of the regiment said that he had prepared a copy to be forwarded to Mr. Adams.

Nobody else doubted it.

Every lecturer has given full credit to the Sixtyninth Pennsylvanian for checking Picketts charge said Capt. Reilley. "Many paintings are in existence which credit the victory to us. The Sixtyninth New York were a mile and a half away when the slaughter came. We were doing the skirmish work and were the first to meet the attack. Then we had 252 men left in the Regiment".
"Picketts men who have survived know we defeted them. We have since heard from them how they singled us out hoping to make rapid progress if we were cut down. It was easy to distinguish the Sixtyninth because we always carried the green flag sent to us by our Irish friends at home.The day of Picketts charge I carried the Stars and Stripes. I do not recall who carried the Irish flag but it was there".

Pickett's men new better

Peter McAnally who is a superintendent at the Midvale steel works enlisted in the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania after the engagements at Gettysburg But he has since met survivors from Picketts army who recited many incidents in connection with the memorable charge.
They were with us on the day we dedicated the monument he said. and praised our regiment for the work they did. They all credit the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania with having turned the tide and they ought to know. No wonder that there be much agitation when the work the regiment did is disputed by a Philadelphia Congressman.
Capt. William Francis McNamara of 322 New Street said.
"Congressmand Adams has made a fool of himself. Every schoolboy ought to know that the Sixtyninth the Irish Regiment of Phladelphia turned Picketts charge and drove back the superior force. This is too late in the day to try and rob the Sixtyninth of its glory. Picketts men never forgot the Irish flag we carried. The green was always there with the Stars and Stripes. Ask one of Picketts men who had licked them. They know."

Amazing Ignorance

James W. Whitecar of 2214 North Sixteenth Street another survivor said.
"I am amazed at the ignorance dislayed by that brilliant Philadelphia statesman Mr.Adams as to the accomplishments of the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania at Gettysburg. I suggest that he procure a copy of the work published by the State entitled "Pennsylvania at Gettysburg" and burn the midnight oil over it.This probably would save him from repeating the humilating blunder he made in the House of Representatives a few days ago".
"The Sixtyninth New York did participate in the battle and performed gallant service. They were not at The Angle however but considerably to the left of near the base of The Little Round Top. The position they occupied there is marked by an imposing bronz cross".
"I feel that Congressman Williams should receive our thanks for insisting that our old regiment be given due credit for the part it took in repulsing Picketts command especially when a representative from our own city where the regiment was recruited did not know any better than to dispute the facts of recorded history".

His History Much Mixed.

Michael Fay one of the members of the Sixtyninth was found basking in the sunshine in front of the Naval Home. He burned with indignation as he referred to Congressman Adams attempt to deprive his regiment of the glory it earned at Gettysburg.
"I think Adams has historical facts greatly mixed" he said. "He is not in touch with history if he says it was the New York men instead of our regiment that won the day at The Bloody Angle".
"Picketts man had shelled our stamping ground and the air was black with smoke. The first we knew we saw the rebs marching towards us just as though they were going to a dress parade. They must have thought they had annihilated us with shells otherwise they would'nt have come so boldly forward. We stood and faced them when a hand to toe conflict took place. Men went down all around me that day many of them to rise no more."

Must Have Dreamed It.

Thomas Furey another "Sixtyniner" lives in Marshall St. below Washington Ave. Like Mr Fay he too thought Congressman Adams must be dreaming. Furey has in his possession fragments of the Union and Irish flags carried in the bloody battle.
"Adams has made himself ridiculous " said Mr. Furey. "Why every school boy or girl knows it was the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania Regiment that drove General Pickett back. The 69th New York was also an Irish Regiment and carried an Irish flag but it was not within a mile of The Bloody Angle at the time Pickett was replused".
Sergeant David Kinary lives at Twelfth and Monroe Streets. He fought all through the war of the rebellion and was with O'Kane at Gettysburg.

Thinks Bertie befuddled

"Adams does'nt tell the truth" said Sergeant Kinnary indignantly; "either that or he is sadly befuddled. Why a shaft has been erected to commerate the bravery of the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania in replusling Picketts charge".
"Never was a more splendid charge made. We could not see the rebs approaching for the dense columns of smoke that issued forth from the infantry fire until they were almost upon us.Then we opened on them. By this time they had got closer that men were fighting each other hand to hand. We were at too close quarters to fire so at last we battered the rebs on the heads with our guns".

Off in His History.

Patrick Loan living at 542 North St expressed the belief that the Philadelphia statesman was "off on his history" ."Yes I was with the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania " said Loan. "It was an engagement that a person would hardly forget to his dieing day. Half of the Regiment was killed in the engagement with Picketts men, while a number were carried wounded from the battlefield. The Sixtyninth New York had nothing to do with repelling Picketts charge."
"Adams contention is outrageous" is the way Francis McClarren of 1523 Hamilton Street who with his two brothers Henry McClarren and James McClarren was a member of the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania. "Why anyone who is familiar with history knows it was the Pennsylvania and not the New York Regiment that met Picketts charge at Gettysburg."

Pity for his Ignorance.

James Duffy of 2943 Waverley street another "Sixtyniner" was also amazed at Congressman Adams lack of knowledge concerning the engagement of the regiments of his native state. "Why I have a history of the conflict Adams can have". said Duffy. "I am sorry he isn't better posted".
Harry W. Murray whose uncle bearing the same name was corporal of K Company Sixtyninth Regiment wrote to "The North American" that Mr Adams must have been misinformed when he contended in Congress that it was the Sixtyninth New York that bore the brunt of Picketts charge at Gettysburg.
"The fact that the Sixtyninth Pennsylvania was the regiment that did the work" says Mr Murray ""is vividly impressed upon my mind because of the fact that my uncle lost his eyesight during the fight at The Bloody Angle. Honor should be given to whom it is due and I hope Mr.Bertie Adams will not fail to do this after he has been set right as to the facts".

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The article is perhaps not a journalistic masterpiece but it does convey a lot of hurt still being held by the old soldiers after nearly 40 years. Who is this man Adams to which they constantly refer?. Let's look at some information on him.
Robert Adams also known as Bertie Adams was born in Philadelphia in 1849. He would have grown up in a Philadelphia that was changing forever. From about 1848 the Catholic Irish many very poor and uneducated would be flooding into a city whose ethos would have evolved from settlers mostly from countries associated with the Protestant ethos eg Dutch, northern German, Scots, and of course English. They were comfortable with each other in general religious belief. They would have a "common" nationality that of American. They had a regulated lifestyle and fair quality of life. However in the mid 1840's a potato famine in far off Ireland would cause consequences for the people of Philadelphia. The floodgates of Irish immigrants would open. By the mid 1860's the clouds of civil War were gathering. Sides were being taken. Even the officers at the prestigious West Point Academy were taking sides. Many of these men class mates at a time lined up againt each other either in the Confederate grey or the Union blue. By 1860 the country would be engulfed in Civil war.
A young Bertie Adams would be 11 years of age when the war broke out. He would be 16 when it ended. Would the events that he witnessed have influenced his thinking in later life. I feel most certainly. However I feel that it was what a young Adams heard from his parents and peers that left their indelible mark. A family with the name Adams most probably evolved from Scots Presbyterian stock. I feel that by 16 a young impressionable Adams had his mindset well formed. He would have to listen to the accolades that would be the talk of the Irish and more liberal Americans in the city to the 69th Pa. He probably found it difficulty that this small regiment formed up mainly from famine Irish emigrants, having many Irish officers,having an M.O.H awarded to one of its Irish born officers Capt Charles McAnally proud to call themselves Americans and above all play a major part at Gettysburg on the most important day of the Civil war July 3rd 1863 at the Bloody Angle the focal point of Picketts charge. This would be a difficult pill for both Adams and Dalzell to swallow.
Adams studied law and carved himself out a varied career. He was even a member of the State Militia 1881-1895.No doubt this would revive memories of the Civil War and the 69th Pa. He died by his own hand in Washington D.C.June 1st 1906. He is buried in the Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia.
Dalzell from New York and obviously from a similar background to Adams also carved himself a career in politics.
As the old surviving soldiers of the 69th died off in the early part of the 20th century their history and that of the 69th Pa. died with them. There would be few from the "Establishment" who would want to rekindle their memory. The Northern press did not want to waste too much ink on or give credit lines to successful Irish-American heros. However their history did disappear until post 1950's when Stewart's best selling book "Picketts Charge" gave them due credit.
And what of now in Philadelphia and its people?.Through my eyes as a European a city that has matured massively in size, importance but most importantly in the maturity of the citizens and governace. A city that in 1999 was big enough in mindset to award the Philadelphia Medal of Honor to the 69th. Pa. and in 2005 the City Assembly to pass a motion honouring the memory of the 69th Pa.
And maybe just maybe the next time you see the "Fighting 69th Regt" marching up Broadway in New York city on St. Patricks day you will step back a moment and think "Ah yes the 69th Regt of New York but Philadelphia also had its 69th. Regt. whose young men gave their all for the Union in a previous war. They deserve to be remembered equally".

Montage image along with the above article from The Philadelphia Press on May 4th 1904.

A sobering order. There would appear to have been a window of opportunity for grieving relatives to collect what remains there were of their loved ones and friends directly from the battlefield or pay for undertakers to do so. This period until the 31st of July. After that was not allowed. Would appear to be because of health risks associated with the Pennsylvanian summer heat. James Skinnider's fate was sealed along with many many others. He was now M.I.A. "Missing in Action".

"Fortes Fortuna Iuvat"