Sunday, January 9, 2011

Colonel David Ireland - the Hero of Culp's Hill...Missing in Action

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I feel bad for Colonel David Ireland. Why you ask? Well...because you can't find a T-shirt with his image on it at any Gettysburg gift shop. And I think I know why.

You might even be wondering who David Ireland is. Born in Scotland (really?) Ireland was a tailor in New York City before the war. During the war he served as Captain for the 76th New York Infantry.* He saw action at the Battle of Chancellorsville as part of the XII corps.

But the fun didn't really start for Ireland until the second day at Gettysburg. Ireland's regiment was the extreme right of the Union line - positioned on Culp's Hill - the barbed section of the famous Union "fishhook." Loss of this hill would have been devastating to the Union at Gettysburg. It commanded both Cemetery Hill and the Baltimore Pike, and thus stood guard for supply lines and the road to Baltimore or even Washington City.

The XII corps had taken up position there on the morning of July 2. Meanwhile...Confederate General Lee had ordered a simultaneous attack on both ends of the Union line. Richard S. Ewell, commander of the Confederate II corps eventually got things going around 4 PM - when he heard the attack commence on the Union left. By 7 PM he sent in his main attack up the eastern slope of Culp's Hill. Three Rebel brigades from "Allegheny" Johnson's division hit Ireland's regiment hard - and were stopped in their tracks by the firmly entrenched New Yorkers.

The Union right held - against the better part of an attacking Confederate division.

But all the credit for saving the Union (and thus, the war) goes to our old friend, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, colonel of the 20th Maine - who held the extreme left of the Union line at Little Round Top.

What gives? Why no love for Ireland these days? seems that popular culture has taken over in this particular case. With Michael Shaara's Killer Angels, and subsequently the Burns Documentary The Civil War and finally the film Gettysburg, Ireland has been relegated to obscurity. People want more and more Chamberlain stories - poor Ireland just gets lost in the mix.

So Colonel David Ireland - who also held the line at all costs, doesn't get the accolades he deserves - or hardly even a mention in the popular treatment of the epic 1863 battle. So I am going to make my own T-shirt and wear it on the battlefield. Let's see if anybody recognizes the good colonel - let's just see....



* extra-special thanks to Cosmic America reader John Stoudt for reminding me that David Ireland originally served in the 79th NY, not the 76th...and that he commanded the 137th NY Infantry at Gettysburg. I always welcome correction when I make mistakes - thanks again!


  1. It is a bit strange - you do often hear about Ewell's failure to take Culp's Hill and see the "if Stonewall had been there" speculation, but you're right in that nothing is ever said of the men who made Ewell's attempt a failure.

    I admit I would not have recognized his name before reading this post.

  2. Richard - thanks for the comment - maybe we should spearhead a "lost heroes of Gettysburg" photo gallery or something!

  3. Keith:

    Not to be a stickler for details (and I could be mistaken), but I think that David Ireland served in the 79th NY, not the 76th NY, prior to commanding the 137th NY at Gettysburg.

    Per Wikipedia (so take your grain of salt with this), Ireland died in 1864 of dysentery. Not to take anything away from JLC, but living for a very long time -- and being an excellent writer -- can help to cement one's reputation.

    Good blog. Thanks for your time and effort.

  4. Thanks for the correction, John - you are absolutely right...just a oversight on my part. And I agree that JLC was an excellent writer - I have read his Passing of the Armies many times and referred to it often in my own writing - especially that dealing with the reconciliatory message. Strange though...he had been largely forgotten until Shaara came along. The 20th Maine's marker on the far left of the Union line was overgrown and rarely visited. After Shaara's book, and of course the film Gettysburg, the NPS had to carve a special trail to the marker to accommodate the onslaught of visitors! Thanks for commenting and reading my blog! I appreciate the kind words.

  5. Such a good point. You always hear about Chamberlain but never about Ireland. Chamberlain deserves credit but its strange how history has glorified him and ignored another hero.

  6. Thanks for the comment Adam - popular culture (and those who consume it) has a way of picking and choosing. I have to admit, Chamberlain is a compelling character, though. Who knows - maybe somebody will make a film about Culp's Hill and Ireland will get the credit he deserves!

  7. That would be interesting. Its time for some new perspectives

  8. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Harris, Keith Harris. Keith Harris said: Colonel David Ireland – the Hero of Culp’s Hill…Missing in Action [...]

  9. I think "The Killer Angels" and "Gettysburg" have a lot to do with. I've been going down to Gettysburg an excess of 20 years and since the early 2000s I've seen far less numbers at this spot and the first day. Back in the 90s everyone visited these spots (admittedly they probably still didn't know Greene or Ireland was). But they still visited it. Ireland just didn't live passed the war and get to publish his own memoirs like another familiarized person on the opposite flank.

  10. I have noticed that as well, Chris - the crowds flock to LRT.