Battlefield Markers & Monuments: Antietam’s New Jersey Monument

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Antietam’s New Jersey Monument

Of the cluster of monuments dotting the southwest corner of Antietam’s bloody Cornfield, one seems to stand out among the rest. Its height is certainly not unique, nor is the fact that a bronze soldier adorns it (one can find many lifesize soldiers atop Civil War monuments). The inscriptions running along its base are commonplace, similar to those found on other monuments. No, instead, it is the man on top of the monument that draws my eye upward towards him, reminding me that battlefield monuments symbolize the sacrifice of so many men on fields far from their homes. And this soldier has a story. The soldier standing atop the granite shaft of Antietam’s New Jersey Monument is not, like other stone soldiers across the battlefield, an unnamed, carbon copy of a soldier. It is a real man, who died very near that spot of ground.

Captain Hugh Irish of the 13th New Jersey led a successful life before the Civil War. He held numerous government positions, helped operate a New Jersey newspaper, and married his childhood love, with whom, by the start of the war, he had multiple children. Irish closed up his grocery business to go off to war, against the urging of his worried wife, Betty. “What will I do if you will never come back?” she asked. “It would be better for the boys to be without a father than be without a government under which to live,” came Hugh’s response.

Utilizing his now empty grocery store as a recruiting site, Irish raised troops for the 13th New Jersey Infantry and became the Captain of Company K. The New Jerseyans’ first fight came on that bloody Wednesday, September 17, 1862. During intense fighting along the Hagerstown Pike, Irish attempted to rally his green soldiers, conspicuously vaulting to the top of the pike’s fence rails, waving his sword above his head. His bravery did not keep Confederate lead away from him, and at least one ball knocked him from his perch on the fence. A friend rushed to the fallen Captain’s side. “Heber I am killed,” Irish muttered before passing. His wife’s worry came true, but so did Hugh’s words to her. He died to preserve that government, which he believed to be so crucial to mankind so that his children might have a better life.

Hugh Irish

Captain Hugh Irish, 13th New Jersey Infantry

Hugh’s bravery did not go unnoticed, nor was it forgotten in the postwar years. On the 41st anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, a large crowd gathered at the base of the 40 foot tall New Jersey Monument. Gray whiskered veterans escorted the dedicating party, including New Jersey’s governor and President Theodore Roosevelt, to the speaker’s platform. The usual pageantries of such a ceremony commenced before President Roosevelt stepped up to accept the monument for the American people.

“It was because you, the men who wear the button of the Grand Army, triumphed in those dark years, that every American now holds his head high, proud in the knowledge that he belongs to a nation whose glorious past and great present will be succeeded by an even mightier future,” the President stated emphatically to the scores of veterans in the crowd.

Roosevelt

An image of President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the dedication ceremony of the New Jersey Monument on September 17, 1903

When the American flag draped over the sword waving bronze figure of Hugh Irish descended to the ground to reveal the representation of New Jersey’s only killed officer at Antietam, Roosevelt’s words could not have rung truer for why Irish signed up to fight, and why he implored his men to go forward heedless of the enemy in their front. The 30 year old Irish sought to create a better nation for his children. President Roosevelt might as well have been looking up towards the bronze veteran above him than the living ones beneath him when he discussed the “mightier future” those men fought to preserve and create. Hugh Irish could rest well knowing that his sons would never have to live without a government thanks to his sacrifice.

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2 Responses to Battlefield Markers & Monuments: Antietam’s New Jersey Monument

  1. Scott Shuster says:

    Thank you. I’ve been to the Antietam battlefield on several occasions and stood at the foot of this monument. Until now, I never knew the story behind it.
    Captain Irish is a true American Hero.

  2. Walter Giersbach says:

    Very nice, and thank you for reminding me of those trying times. As I read this, I was editing a piece on my great-grandfather Luman Ballou, Vermont’s 7th Regiment.

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