The Holy Patrick (March 18, 1865)

Edwin Forbes sketched the Irish Brigade's St. Patrick races back in 1863. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

Edwin Forbes sketched the Irish Brigade’s St. Patrick races back in 1863. Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

What unit is better fitted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than the Irish Brigade? Theodore Lyman describes the festivities.

This morning I sent you a telegraph, which may be rather late, I fear, though I sent it at the earliest chance. It was to ask you to pay a day’s visit here, and see the army, as a curiosity. Mrs. Meade is coming with a party in a special boat from Washington. . . .

You probably are aware that yesterday was the nativity of the Holy Patrick, in whose honor the Irish Brigade, of the 2d Corps, got up a grand race, with a printed programme and every luxury. The weather, which had been most evil the night before, unexpectedly cleared up and the day was fine, exceedingly. We found the course laid out near the Cummings house, in rear of what you remember as the noted Peeble house. There was a judge’s stand, flaunting with trefoil flags, and a band beside the same, which had been accommodated with a couple of waggons, in lieu of orchestra. Then there were plenty of guards (there need be no lack of such) and a tent wherein were displayed plates of sandwiches. Alas! This was the weak point, the bitter drop in the Irish festa. The brigade, with an Irish generosity, had ordered a fine collation, but the steamer, bad luck to her, had gone and run herself aground somewhere, and poor Paddy was left to eat his feast the day after the fair. Nevertheless, we didn’t allow such things to stand in the way, and the races proceeded under the august auspices of General Humphreys, who didn’t look exactly like a turfman, and had a mild look of amusement, as he read out: “Captain Brady’s grey mare.”—Captain Brady bows. “Captain—, Hey? What is that name? I can’t read the writing.” “Murphy,” suggests General Miles. “Oh, dear me, of course, yes; Captain Murphy’s bay gelding.” “No! red,” suggests Miles. “Ah, yes, to be sure—red.” “Here,” says the long-expectant Murphy. Then a bugler blows at a great rate and the horses are brought to the line; the bugler blows at a great rate some more, and away they go. There were a good many different races, some of which were rather tiresome, by reason of the long waiting and the fact that none of the horses were really racers, but only swift officers’ steeds, which were not enough trained to go round regularly, but often would balk at the hurdles and refuse to go round at all. Wherefrom we had tragic consequences: for one, scared by the crowd and by the brush hurdle, bolted violently and knocked down a soldier; and Colonel von Schack, in another race, had his horse, which had overleaped, fall on him heavily. . . . Everything was extremely quiet and orderly, and no tipsy people about. . . .

[Mrs. Meade, with a large party, including Mrs. Lyman, arrived at City Point on the evening of March 22. The next two days were spent in visiting the front, and in excursions on the river. On the morning of the 25th, it was found that the Confederates had made an unexpected attack. The visitors were shipped back to Washington, and their hosts made for the front.]

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 321-2. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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