St. Patrick’s Day, 1863

On March 17, 1863, Irish Brigade commander Thomas Francis Meagher hosted elaborate festivities to mark St. Patrick’s Day. The celebration featured a number of races and prizes—and, as one Union soldier in attendance, Josiah Marshall Favill, noted, “the strongest punch I ever tasted.” Among those in attendance was Edwin Forbes, special artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Forbes made six sketches to record the day, which are below. The day was a great success, as Favill noted. “All were invited to partake and such a gathering of jolly, handsomely dressed fellows, I never saw before. The Irish brigade was in its glory. It understood the situation, was master of it, and quite immortalized itself.” (All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Only commissioned officers from the Irish Brigade’s division were eligible to participate in the horse races. Shown here: soldiers attempt to jump a ditch while on horseback.

Another event that day was a mule race, which, from Forbes’ sketch of it, looked rather dangerous. As Favill noted, “[T]here … were many falls, many horses injured and a lot of riders.”

Participants jump a five-foot-tall hurdle as part of the competition. Before the contest began, another rider used the hurdle to show off her riding skills. According to Favill, “Amongst many notables riding in the train of the commander-in-chief, was the Princess Salm Salm, a beautiful and fearless horse woman. When she first came on the ground, she rode her horse up to a five foot hurdle and nonchalantly took a standing jump, clearing it handsomely.”

Crowds of soldiers and civilians cheer on the participants in the steeplechase. As Favill noted, “The course was surrounded by thousands, kept in order by guards posted entirely around the field.”

Riders pass by the grandstand, which contained a number of prominent Union generals and their wives.

General Meagher hands out prizes at the end of the festivities. The Irish-born general, noted Favill, was “glorious in [a] fancy undress uniform liberally covered with gold braid.”

Leave a Reply

MARTEN & JANNEY (eds.): Buying & Selling Civil War Memory in Gilded Age America (2021)

Buying & Selling Civil War Memory in Gilded Age America edited by James Marten and Caroline E. Janney. University of Georgia Press, 2021. Paper, ISBN: 978-0-8203-5965-6. $36.95. In the two decades…