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Sgt. Edgar W. Irish
Co. "C " 85th NY Vol.
Andersonville survivor


Sgt. Edgar Walton Irish


Edgar W. Irish was born March 25, 1838 in Genesee township, Allegany county in the southwestern part of New York state. He grew to be 6 feet 3 inches tall with blue eyes and light hair. His father, George Irish, had come from Ashaway, Rhode Island, near Westerly in 1830 and his bride-to-be, Maria Edgerton Potter, joined him in 1837 and they were married there June 5, 1837.

Edgar was the eldest of the three surviving children of George & Maria when his mother died Oct. 10, 1844. His brother, George Hadwin Irish, was born March 19, 1841 and died Aug. 2, 1864 in Andersonville prison. His father remarried and later had seven more children.

Although there is a record showing that he attended the DeRuyter Institute in DeRuyter, NY in March 1857, we first get a glimpse of his life and times from his 1859 diary. He was attending school and going to Lyceum discussions where topics included "Resolved that the dissolution of the Union would be preferable to the perpetuity of slavery" and "Resolved that the Constitution of the U.S. is antislavery". In March he went by train and ferry to Ashaway, RI to grandfather, George Irish's, and celebrated his 21st birthday by having a bad cold which was being treated with "Clarks Cough Remedy". Upon recovery, he went to Waterford, CT to work on the farm of his uncle Daniel B. Irish. In July he went on his first sea voyage on a lobster boat to Cape Cod. Election day, Nov. 6, he cast his vote for "Abe". Later in the year he helped get the new school, Hopkinton Academy, at Hopkinton, RI ready for opening Dec. 7 and was one of the 45 scholars.

His 1861 diary was lost at the Battle of Fair Oaks, May 30, 1862 when the camps were ransacked by rebel troops. We know he was still in RI when the war began as he enlisted as a private in Co. I. of the 1st RI Detached Militia on April 17, 1861 and was discharged August 17, 1861. He then returned to Allegany county NY where he joined friends and family in enlisting in Co. C. 85th NY Volunteers at Elmira, NY October 4, 1861. He left Elmira on the evening of December 3rd for Washington via Harrisburg and Baltimore.

New Years Day 1862 finds the 85th camped on Meridian Hill, Washington D.C.

"Happy New Year! Yes a happy new year - happy because we are engaged in a great and glorious work and that work seems to be rapidly approaching a successful issue." Oh, how wrong he was!

Unhappy with the official accounts of the role of the 85th NY during the battle at Fair Oaks, Edgar wrote his own account on June 20, 1862 and mailed it to "The Narragansett Weekly" which published it July 3, 1862. In it he states that the object of this letter is to point out a few facts which go to show that the troops of General Casey's division are not such base cowards as it would seem they were from Gen. McClellan's statement. This lengthy article in graphic detail took up 55 inches of newspaper print. July 6, Edgar received a copy of "The Narragansett Weekly" and was very pleased that his entire report had been printed.

October 7, 1862 Edgar learned of his promotion to 1st Sergt. in place of S.B. Adams who had received a commission. He was the orderly and the initials O.S., Orderly Sergeant, stayed with him and appear next to his name on a cemetery monument in Obi cemetery, Allegany county, NY. On October 20th Edgar was drillmaster for Company drill, his first experience and not a happy one. He had written his sister, Sarah, to make him a pair of chevrons with the stripes to be in the form of a parabolic curve. Apparently she did a good job as he was quite pleased when they arrived, saying, "I shall be proud to wear them."

As the year 1863 came to a close Gen. McClellan was superseded by Gen. Burnside. Edgar wrote in his diary, "McClellan has gone home to Trenton, NJ. I and I think the people as a whole are well pleased by this change."

1863 New Years Day at Newbern, NC - "Happy Happy New Years Yes, as happy as a soldier in the field could well expect to be. Happy that life, health, and a disposition to persevere for the right is still spared to me. Happy that I still have friends in the distant Northland who are not forgetful of this soldier." On January 2nd he writes "The 92nd had $100.00 in oysters and whiskey last night and fairly succeeded in making the night hideous."

On May 22nd we read that Plymouth, NC is or was a town of about 200 houses, 50 of which were burned by the rebels last fall. They made a raid on the town early one morning and attempted to burn the whole town, but the gunboats made it too hot for them and they left about sunrise. By late July Edgar has become ill with a fever and notes that there are upward of 30 cases of fever in the regiment now. July 27th he was being dosed with Quinine by Dr. Lewis.

On July 30th he found his name on a list to go to Elmira, NY for recruits. He then commented that it was not a very desirable job. He and the rest of the detail sailed from Roanoak at 3 in the morning with no rations. The ship was the "Albany" with 150 passengers and poor accomodations, traveling about 8 knots. The engine had to be repaired several times during the voyage. They arrived at Long Island August 5th and on to Elmira August 6th. Edgar went directly into the hospital where quinine was still the medication of choice. Out of the hospital on August 12th, he attempted without success to get a furlough home. August 22nd he had his furlough and returned to Allegany county. The next several days were spent visiting relatives and on August 30th it was back to Elmira. His health improved some and he weighed 175 pounds.

On September 9th another furlough was granted and this time he went to visit family in Rhode Island. September 18th he went to 22 Bond street New York City and had a tooth drawn by the "new process", laughing gas. When he recovered from the stupor, the tooth was out with very little pain at a charge of $1.00. Afterward he visited the Institute for the Blind which was run by his cousin, Stephen Babcock. Stephen Babcock, legally blind since age 19, later became the author of The Babcock Genealogy. Then it was back to Elmira again.

October 5th he wrote "I attended a circus today for the first time in my life and probably for the last time. It was quite amusing, some remarkable horsemanship but the tumbling was 2nd class." October 8th, "I was pressed into the service of drilling the company in the bayonet exercise; will not consent again if it can be helped."

November 1st, another furlough, and home again in the company of Captain Langworthy, his cousin, Daniel A. Langworthy; back to Elmira on the 3rd with ill health setting in again. Twice he petitioned to be returned to the 85th at Plymouth and was refused; yet another furlough and declining health, chills, etc.. Quinine prescribed every hour. Late December he began recruiting duties at the office in Olean, NY.

As 1864 commenced Edgar was very sick with chills, fever, ague. By March he was somewhat better and returned to Elmira, NY. March 15, 1864: "I remained in camp all day writing letters, keeping warm and thinking whether I had really ought to reenlist. I shall have served 3 years by the middle of June next and and not much extra expense to the government and I hope no harm to myself." March 20th "I am getting tired of waiting to reenlist." March 22nd "commenced making out reenlistment papers." If only he had waited another month he would have been spared the upcoming tragedy, Andersonville. He arrived back at Plymouth, NC on April 3rd and was at Ft. Grey when it surrendered. On April 21st he wrote: "On the Road to Dixie". They marched at noon with 4 days rations, pork and hard bread. At Tarboro on the 25th they were allowed to wash and were given 1 days ration of bacon and saw meal or beans. The next day they were put in box cars, 40 prisoners and 5 guards in each. They arrived at Andersonville at 3.p.m. on April 30, 1864. He wrote that the Plymouth prisoners were especially fortunate as many of them had just received veteran bounties, and the customary stripping and robbing of the prisoners by the rebels was entirely omitted in their case. They were able to keep their blankets and a change of clothing.

Edgar was placed in charge of a group of 90 men called a "Mess". This meant he was responsible for the appearance of every individual in his mess at the morning roll call. He tented with his brother, Hadwin, and Frank Wight. He would march the sick to the gate in the morning and go for the medicine in the evening. On May 25th he tried unsuccessfully to get relieved as Sgt. of the Mess as he was sick with chills, fever, sore throat, etc; used cyanide of potash for a gargle. Hadwin was now suffering with diarrhea and dysentery. On June 5th Hadwin agreed to go to the hospital. A note was received from Hadwin on June 13th that he was getting better.

Edgar received a letter from Capt. Adams that contained $200.00 Confederate money to be used for the benefit of the Company. The money was kept by the Quarter Master and the men had to use it for goods from the sutler. The 200 confederate dollars were worth 50 greenbacks. Fifteen days later they still had no goods from the sutler, whose name was Silliman.

On July 12th Edgar wrote that he went into the restaurant business with Jones & Reath?, cakes, eggs and beer biscuits. The next day he said the pancake business was dull and his partners were getting sick of it already. About 5 days later he reported chartering a mud oven and baking lots of splendid corn bread. Finally, on July 20th Silliman, the sutler, gave Edgar 66 pounds of poor quality flour in exchange for the 200 confederate dollars. When it was divided among the 58 men, each one got about a quart.

On July 25, Edgar received word that Hadwin was getting worse. He tried to visit the hospital on the 30th but could not. Again on the 31st he could not get permission to go to the hospital. George Hadwin Irish died at 5:30 a.m. August 2, 1864. Edgar finally got assigned to the hospital as a nurse at noon but it was too late to see his brother.

By August 6th Edgar was regularly incorporated in the police force, called Kerrigan's squad. The work was sweeping and carrying off dirt, setting up tents etc. The next day he was lame from all his exercise with the broom and hand-barrow. He moved his quarters to live and work with Thomas Glenn in the police squad. They policed the same ground three times each day. The rebel guards began picking out all suspected of being officers to send them to Macon and Edgar was on their list but he managed to convince them otherwise.

Hospital attendants were not allowed to participate in the September Exchange. So on September 27th Edgar was detailed as clerk of the 2nd Division and immediately went to work in the office processing paper work for convalsecents being paroled. A month later the office work had decreased and death lists, admittance lists and morning reports were all that he had to do. He made another copy of these lists and took them home with him after the war. His routine at the Hospital took him to Anderson Station frequently where he was always searching for the Macon papers to keep up on the war news. He also walked the mile and a half to the Gilbert plantation to gather persimmons on several occasions. It is not clear why he had this freedom of movement. He wrote that when medicine was available it was used "freely" and "liberally" to treat the patients, but when it was gone it would be a long time before more came.

November 8, 1864 was an especially exciting day for Edgar Irish, he received several letters from family members living in Kansas and Rhode Island. These may have been the first letters from home that he received since arriving at Andersonville.

When 1864 came to a close, Edgar's diary was full and he did not have any more paper to use for a log. On Feb. 15, 1865 he commenced writing in the 1864 diary of his deceased brother, George Hadwin Irish.

By late February and early March the General Exchange was finally underway. March 18, 1865 he was told his unit was to pack up and be ready to travel to Vicksburg. Finally, Friday March 24th, the train arrived and Edgar was among the 65 hospital attendants who were on the list to go. They arrived at Columbus, GA the next day and were issued 3 days rations of pork and hard bread. Next stop was Selma, AL and 2 days rations. Then several days of marching with Rosser's Brigade of Texas cavalry as escort, arriving at Vicksburg March 31st where they were taken to Parole Camp. Plenty of food was now available; soft bread, fresh beef, port, bacon, potatoes, onions, sugar, coffee, soap, candles etc. His weight was now 181 lbs. on his 6' 3" frame.

On April 23rd Edgar was among the soldiers to go aboard the "Olive Branch" for St. Louis, the first leg of his journey home. They arrived at St. Louis on the 27th where his skills as a clerk were put to use again processing papers. On the 5th of May he was put in charge of a car load of sick soldiers and they departed St. Louis by train arriving at Cincinnati on the 7th, Harper's Ferry on the 11th and Parole Camp at Annapolis. Finally on the 16th he reached New York City and visited friends and relatives and reported to the Provost Marshal's office.

Discharge papers were started June 19th as well as attempts to collect $300.00 City Bounty. He was due U.S. Bounty from Feb. 29, 1864 to June 20, 1865. Collecting these bounties was a problem; but on June 27, 1865 he received his Discharge and $857.40 which was still short the total amount due him.

In early September, he took the train to Chicago, visited the Illinois State Fair and headed south to see relatives who were purchasing property in Woodford & Fayette counties. He decided to settle in Farina, IL where family members were already living. He took up farming and the nursery business. His health was poor from his military ordeal and he was unable to do a full day's work the rest of his life. He finally tired of the Illinois winters and relocated in Hammond, LA in 1886 where he died of cancer April 26, 1897. He was survived by his second wife, Helen Coon Irish, sons Ernest Maxson Irish and Harold Ray Irish and daughter, Bertha Potter. His first wife, Charlotte Maxson, died in Farina in 1877.