SATURDAY | One of the enduring associations of the Civil War in pop history is that of General George B. McClellan and the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac.
One of the more successful literary careerists in that brigade was a junior officer, Charles Graham Halpine, who wrote verse under the pen name of Private Miles O'Reilly. O'Reilly's poems appear in Harper's and such before being collected into book form in 1864: the Life and Adventures, Songs, Services, and Speeches of Private Miles O’Reilly. His life's work is still in print and can be purchased for a mere $450.
Halpine was a McClellan partisan. In his poem, "Soon We'll Have the Union Back" he offers,
A million swords to back our words
Beneath M'Clellan gleaming,
And soon, you know, Jeff D. and Co.,
For France they would be steaming.
Note that this cultivated man has assumed the voice of an Irish-American private. His views of Lincoln are what we would expect:
A ruined land that once was grand
Is not a joking matter,
Though Abe, we know, the more our woe,
The more his jokes he'll chatter;
Georgie B. M'Clellan,
Shall we have the Union back?
Tell us "Mac" -- M'Clellan.
Today I wanted to share a more restrained O'Reilly poem from 1862, one that is simple but less like the usual war doggerel. This is dignified and carries some force.
The thing that interests me most about this poem is that it so well represents the vocabulary and sentimentality of McClellan's daily, personal interactions with his privates - Irish or not.
Song of the Soldiers
By PRIVATE MILES O'REILLY
Comrades known in marches many,
Comrades, tried in dangers many,
Comrades, bound by memories many,
Brothers ever let us be.
Wounds or sickness may divide us,
Marching order; may divide us,
But, whatever fate betide us,
Brothers of the heart are we.
Comrades, known by faith the clearest,
Tried when death was near and nearest,
Bound we are by ties the dearest,
Brothers evermore to be.
And, if spared, and growing older,
Shoulder still in line with shoulder,
And with hearts no thrill the colder,
Brothers ever we shall be.
By communion of the banner,
Crimson, white, and starry banner,
By the baptism of the banner,
Children of one Church are we.
Creed nor faction can divide us,
Race nor language can divide us,
Still, whatever fate betide us,
Children of the Flag are we!