Thursday, December 20, 2012

Commemorating Battle of Irish Bend at Hartford's Arch

A band passes under Hartford's Soldiers And Sailors Memorial Arch on April 14, 1888,
the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Irish Bend. (Photo: Connecticut State Library archives)
On April 14, 1888, veterans of the 25th Connecticut marked the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Irish Bend with a reunion and a parade that passed through Hartford's Soldiers And Sailors Memorial Arch. Or, as it's better known to me, the stretch run of the annual Max O'Hartford 5K run held every spring.
Hartford's Soldiers And Sailors Arch today.

Fought in western Louisiana on April 14, 1863, Irish Bend didn't compare to higher-profile battles such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg or Drewry's Bluff. Even the Hartford Courant downplayed its significance in an article published the day of the reunion, noting "Irish Bend will never be regarded as one of the great events of the war."

"The Union troops which served in the Department of the Gulf during the war have had scant justice done them in war histories," the Courant reported. "They saw arduous service in a section of the country where disease was more to be dreaded than battle. They did their duty faithfully and well, but were often handicapped by the incompetency of their department commanders. It was not their good fortune to have much to do with events that will be regarded by historians as decisive of the war."

Union General Nathaniel Banks, one of the most incompetent generals of the war (and thankfully, no relation), won a strategic victory at Irish Bend, fought in the mosquito-filled backwoods and bayous of Louisiana. Union casualties were about 350; the 25th Connecticut suffered 95 killed and wounded in its first  battle of the Civil War.

"The 25th Connecticut, which bore the brunt of the first of the fight, was entitled to special credit and showed the stuff of which it was made," the Courant reported. "In less than twenty minutes it lost, killed and wounded, probably one-sixth of the men present for duty, but it stood up ... like a veteran regiment and was at no time demoralized or broken."

Judging from the photograph, April 14, 1888, wasn't a great day for a parade. Many in the large crowd clutched umbrellas as the band passed underneath the massive arch, the best Civil War memorial in Connecticut. Big victory or not, the Irish Bend anniversary apparently was worth commemorating to some.

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