“Those Dirty, Ragged Rebs”

By 1863, the physical state of the Confederate soldier was poor. Food was scarce. Uniforms were in tatters. It was said at the time that one could tell a Confederate officer because his pants would have only one hole. The Confederate soldier was receiving only one quarter-pound of meat per day. For men engaged daily in hard, strenuous physical exercise, that was precious little protein. Tents and blankets were rare. Capt. Michael O’Connor, commander of Co. F, Sixth Regt. and a resident of New Orleans, said rations for the past two weeks included one-quarter pound of flour, one-quarter pound bacon, three ounces of sugar.  Some troops received sustenance from home. But, the Louisiana Sixth Regiment (aka “Irish Brigade”) could receive no help from New Orleans. It had been occupied by the Federal forces since April, 1862.

In winter quarters in 1862-183, the Irish Confederates shivered along with the other Confederates. Facing each other across the Rappahannock River, the soldiers from the opposing armies would still engage in trade and banter across the river. One member of the Sixth Regiment hailed from Albany, New York. He recognized voices from across the river and realized old neighbors from Albany. He crossed the river to ask about his aging father and mother. But, once on the Union side, the Federals tried to persuade him to desert. They assured him he need fight no longer. They promised him safe conduct to Albany. They told him of their food and supplies.

But, the Northern Confederate did not appreciate this tack.

 “The ragged, half-starved ‘Rebel’ drew himself proudly up, his eyes flashing and face all aglow with patriotic fervor, and contemptuously spurned the dishonorable offer. He told his tempters that he had oftentimes braved danger and death side by side with those dirty, ragged ‘Rebs’ over the River, had shared with them the exposure and sufferings of the march and the privations of the Camp  – was fully aware of the superior condition of the Federal troops. But that he would not desert his colors for all the gold that the Federal government could command. He declared that he had embarked on what he considered a righteous cause and if it should be the will of God, he would die fighting for it.”

Later, Col. Seymour, the commander of the Sixth Regiment, points out, the same Northern Rebel was on picket duty along the Rapidan River in the dead of winter with neither blanker nor overcoat to protect him.

Many members of the Sixth Regiment would desert or go AWOL as the war would go on. But, on this day, a Rebel from Albany, New York would not.

James P. Gannon,Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers(Boston: DaCapo Press 1998), pp. 149, 151-152.

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