BLUE FOR THE UNION & GREEN FOR IRELAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1862 — ANTIETAM, MARYLAND|
The 63rd New York suffered its greatest loss in battle on September 17, 1862, when it charged the Confederates as they stood protected in a sunken road at Antietam. That road immediately took on the name Bloody Lane. The regiment entered the field with 341 officers and men; over 200 became casualties that afternoon, nearly one-third of them making the ultimate sacrifice. Among the wounded survivors was Corporal John Dillon, a member of the color guard. When Dillon applied for a pension years after the war, Lieutenant Colonel Terwilliger recounted his heroics that day. Though Terwilliger was not a witness to Dillon's actions, he nonetheless gave quite a detailed account:
John Dillon enlisted in the war Sept. 15th, 1861 and on Dec. 15th, 1861 was appointed Corporal and on March 1st, 1862 was appointed as one of the color guards of my regiment. . . . He held that rank until the battle of Antietam Sept. 17th 1862.
During the severe battle there were eight Corporals and three Sergeants, one carrying the national, one the state, and one the green flag of the Irish brigade.
The first color that fell was the green, which fell by the side of Corporal John Dillon who immediately dropped his musket and picked up [the] colors and flung them to the breeze; The next color that fell was the stars and stripes. He also picked them up, but two (2) being too much for him to handle, he gave the green flag to one of the other guards by the name of Ratican; he asked for the stars and stripes instead of the green, but Dillon told him it was [an] American day, and that to keep a good look out for him, and if he fell to take up the American flag. All of the color guards, and the three sergeants were killed or badly wounded except Dillon. A half hour before they [the regiment] were relieved a bullet passed through his canteen, a little later a bullet or piece of shell struck the staff of the American flag breaking it into pieces; he doubled it up together with the cords attached to the flag. A few minutes later the eagle was shot off the end of the staff. . . .
I forgot to state before that Dillon was badly wounded in the leg. With the loss of blood and all he bound it up with a blouse and would not leave the colors to any one, until the regiment was relieved, then he gave them to Captain John H. Gleason of Co. H, then two comrades assisted him to the rear, and he was sent to the hospital. . . . After his return from the hospital he was promoted to Color Sergeant in which position he done great to his country, his regiment, and himself. No more courageous or faithful soldier was in the 63 regiment, N. Y. Vol. With pleasure I subscribe myself
Col. W. H. Terwilliger
Sergeant Patrick H. Riordan was one of the 63rd's three color bearers at the start of the battle. Afterward he wrote to the New York Irish American:
. . . Corporal Dillon, of Co. F, after being badly wounded, carried the “Stars and Stripes” off the field, and had to leave them to get his wounds dressed. Sergeant Sheridan of Co. B, carried the State flag off the field, and your humble servant carried the “green flag,” as you know that the 63d had three flags to defend on that eventful day. There are not many other regiments that would stand as the 63d did on that day. About 46 men, officers and all, stayed on the field until they were regularly relieved, and brought their colors through, tattered and torn, off that bloody arena, and slept on that field that night within two hundred yards of the enemy. . . .
But it was Lieutenant Colonel Fowler's official report that gave the most succinct account of the carnage among the color guard:
. . . Our colors, although in ribbons, and staff shot through, were still there, sustained at a bloody sacrifice, 16 men having fallen while carrying them. . . .
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