From Immigrant Laborer to Respected Professor This image depicts the port of New Orleans during the Antebellum Era. John Carroll may have arrived in the United States by stepping foot on a dock such as these. The city was one of the largest ports in the country, with cotton being the biggest export at the time. Thousands of immigrants sailed into its port, some of whom would claim the city as their new home. Adrien. Port City of New Orleans. Accessed December 1, 2021. https://64parishes.org/entry/antebellum-louisiana.

John Carroll was born in Ireland between 1820 and 1821.  In 1849, he emigrated to New Orleans, Louisiana aboard either the Nuheite or the Courier, and eventually worked as a dance professor. Carroll was one of thousands of Irish immigrants who came through New Orleans, as well as other port cities, during this time, due to the Irish Potato Famine which occurred from 1845 to 1849.  Many of those who settled in New Orleans worked as laborers.  People of Irish descent comprised the lower rungs of the country’s social structure, and often competed with free African Americans and hired out slaves for poor paying and dangerous jobs, such as canal digging.  They still distinguished themselves, however, from both the enslaved and free African American “mudsill” class by virtue of their white skin and the basic socio-political privileges it accorded them.  

New Orleans played a crucial role in the domestic slave trade; as such, the city and surrounding area was home to many slaves.  These (often hired-out) slaves, along with free African Americans, competed for jobs against poor whites (who were often immigrants).  This competition may have had some influence on Carroll’s decision to enlist in the Confederate army, whose fledgling nation was deeply rooted in the institution of slavery.  The peculiar institution was one of the few things that separated the vast majority of African Americans from poor workers such as Carroll.  During the 1840s and 1850s, America’s social hierarchy placed people of Anglo-Saxon descent at the top, immigrants (who were mainly coming from Ireland and Germany) beneath them, then free African Americans, followed by enslaved African Americans below them. Upon arriving in the United States, John Carroll originally worked as a laborer before becoming a dance professor.  While he started almost at the bottom of society, he still had his skin color to keep him from the bottommost tier.  

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This sketch shows an antebellum ball, where dances such as those taught by Carroll may have been performed.

Hays, Tiffany. “Victorian Ball | How to Have a Victorian Ball | Dancing Drawings, Victorian Life, Victorian.” Accessed December 16, 2021. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/40884309089191261/.

The Dance Professor

Transitioning from a laborer to a dance professor would have been a huge leap up the social ladder, from just above the “mudsill” class to a distinguished and respected profession.  It is possible that Carroll knew someone in the Irish immigrant community who helped him to achieve this new status (there have not been any relatives of his found in the United States).  A professorship would pay much better than a laborer’s position.  As a specialized job, a dance professor would most likely instruct middle-to-upper class white girls from well-established families in proper dancing techniques, which in 1860 New Orleans would have included several styles from various cultures.  Perhaps he picked up the various dances through living in such a diverse city for over a decade, or it is possible that he was taught them by an acquaintance.  It is likely that someone helped him to gain his professorship, as this was a large societal leap up from his previous position.  

Music in New Orleans during the mid-nineteenth century blended traditions from several different cultures.  It had French, Latin, Caribbean, African, Irish, and German influences, as well as those from other parts of the United States.  The amalgamous nature of New Orleans’s music culture was due both to Louisiana’s multinational past as well as its function as a port city, through which scores of immigrants passed.  Traditional African dances also joined the mix as a result of the city’s heavy involvement in the slave trade.  It is likely then, that John Carroll taught a variety of different types of dance to his students.  It is possible that he taught European dances learned through his Irish heritage and interactions with other immigrants, traditional African dances learned from the city’s slave population, and other dances that gradually evolved in the United States.  

Because his pupils were most likely those middle-to-upper class white girls who were  preparing for joining official “society,” Carroll was certainly well connected to the patrician class and intimately familiar with its socio-political culture.  These connections, as well as the natural desire to aspire to his patrons’ elevated social ranking, may have convinced Carroll to adopt some of his patrons’ ideas regarding the institution of slavery, and in turn, impacted his decision to offer his services to the Confederacy.  He would have seen just how much his life changed by achieving a higher socio-economic status; and certainly would not have wanted to risk losing that status, his social connections, and economic stability if slavery were to crumble and the patrician class were to fall under the clenches of Republican rule and the perceived “overreach” of the federal government.  

In addition to racial and ethnic divisions, religious differences also defined one’s social status in mid-nineteenth century America, with predominantly Protestant Anglo-Saxons often outranking the largely Catholic community of Irish individuals.  Thus, ranking near the bottom of both the socio-economic and religious ladder, many Irish immigrants desired to prove their worth, achieve upward mobility, and earn the title of “Americans”.  Coming from an Irish Catholic background, Carroll likely experienced these societal divisions, particularly during his days as a laborer.  Once he broke through some of these socio-economic barriers, he was in a uniquely precarious position in society as someone who had managed to rise up through the ranks but still could not distance himself from his Irish Catholic background; thus, Carroll keenly felt the constant pressure to prove himself worthy of the title of “American” in the eyes of the patron class and take up arms in defense of their political cause in order to preserve both his adopted nation’s socio-political fabric in which he had finally found his niche as well as his own future livelihood.

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This reproduction of a nineteenth-century lithograph shows the encampment at Camp Moore. It is similar to what Carroll may have seen while living and training there.

Persac, Adrien Marie. “Camp Moore.” 64 Parishes, 1861. https://64parishes.org/entry/camp-moore.

Answering the Confederate Call to Arms

After the attack on Fort Sumter, in April of 1861, New Orleans’s Daily Picayune newspaper published a call to arms that was directed toward Irish immigrants living in the city, urging them to enlist in the Confederate army.  Thousands of immigrants answered that call, many in part because they were eager to prove that they, too, were Americans deserving of the rights and privileges of natives, and were willing to fight for the independence of their newly adopted country.  However, the notion of “country” was highly contested during the mid-nineteenth century, with northerners placing the union of collective states above any individual state loyalty (the latter of which applied in the South).  By June 2, 1861, ten companies of new recruits met at Camp Moore to form the 6th Louisiana Infantry.  On June 4, 1861, forty-year old John Carroll enlisted in Company F of the 6th Louisiana, in which 93 of the original 102 recruits were Irish immigrants.  Whether it was his desire to prove his commitment to his new country, to preserve his hard-earned socio-economic status by helping to protect the institution of slavery and the interests of the patrician class who employed him, John Carroll certainly also must have felt the pressure from his Irish Catholic community to cast his lot with the Confederate army.  It would be these fellow sons of Erin who would help him maintain his motivation to fight throughout the long, hard days of the war ahead.

Harrowing Experiences with the Tigers Camp Moore was the largest of the Confederate military’s training camps. It was named after Governor Thomas Overton Moore, and was the site of Carroll’s enlistment. The graves in the foreground of the photograph are of the hundreds of soldiers who passed away there due to disease before ever reaching the battlefield. Cynthia. “Camp Moore Confederate Cemetery in Tangipahoa, Louisiana - Find A Grave Cemetery.” Accessed December 16, 2021. https://images.findagrave.com/photos/2011/65/CEM47427941_129955553732.jpg.

When John Carroll enlisted in the 6th Louisiana Infantry, he mustered in as a private—a rank he would maintain until his death in 1863.  Due to its heavy Irish make-up, Company F was initially called the “Irish Brigade Company B” before it officially joined the 6th Louisiana.  In fact, immigrants (who were mostly Irish and German) comprised a full two thirds of the 6th Louisiana Infantry.  Company F was led by Captain William Monaghan.  Colonel Isaac G. Seymour played a key role in recruiting the regiment by posting notices in the Daily Picayune.  He was a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican-American Wars.  Even more so than Carroll, Seymour held a high socio-economic status at the beginning of the war; he was a Yale-educated editor of the Commercial Bulletin, which was the major business newspaper of New Orleans. Like Carroll, he was older (fifty-six) than most of his fellow soldiers   Seymour’s regiment served within Hays’s brigade, of Jubal Early’s division, which comprised part of the famous Louisiana Tigers.   The Louisiana Tigers were soldiers who were mainly Irish immigrants known both for their courage in battle as well as their rowdy behavior and proclivity towards drinking.  Originally the term referred to just Company B of the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion, whose nickname was the Tiger Rifles, due to their uniquely colorful Zouave uniforms.  The term eventually expanded to represent all of the Louisiana troops in that brigade.

The dynamic between John Carroll and his comrades of the 6th Louisiana’s Company F was complex.  Having worked for more than a decade as a laborer, he had the same socio-economic roots as many of them.  It was only within the last year that he had risen up into the middle class with his specialized job of instructing dance to upper class girls.  No sooner had he left behind his newly established life in the middle class, when Carroll once again found himself surrounded by his fellow immigrants from the laboring class.  He may have easily adjusted to the situation, as he had not been a dance professor for long and doubtless still had numerous connections with the Irish working class community, but if maintaining his newfound socio-economic status was important enough to influence his decision to enlist in the Confederate army, Carroll may have difficulty, socially, fitting into his new company.  It is possible, that at least initially, tensions arose between him and his fellow soldiers if he wished to distance himself from some of the vices and less savory behaviors of the rowdier members of the unit, and his comrades may have perceived him as aloof or putting on airs. However, after their baptism by fire, they likely became more closely knit around the shared traumas of battle and they helped each other maintain their motivation to continue marching and fighting on some of the most strenuous days.

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Carroll and the Tigers spent most of the Battle of First Manassas impatiently waiting, far from the fighting near Union Mills Ford.

Union Mills Homestead. “Photo Archives.” Accessed December 16, 2021. https://unionmills.org/photos/.

The First Glimpse of Battle

After undergoing training at Camp Moore, Carroll and the 6th Louisiana traveled to Manassas, Virginia via railways, where their responsibilities mainly included guarding supplies.  As supply guards, they were generally distanced from most of the fighting—a duty which many soldiers viewed as monotonous, boring, and disappointing.  Rather than winning glory on the battlefield and proving themselves loyal to their newly adopted country, they had the inglorious task of staying behind while their comrades got to charge into battle.  

However, their morale was surely boosted when the 6th Louisiana was posted in “the position of honor”—that closest to Federal troops.  This repositioning produced a blaze of excitement throughout the camp, as Carroll and his comrades thought that they would soon enter their first battle.  Carroll likely felt a combination of excited anticipation to prove himself in his first real battle, as well as some anxiety and fear of experiencing the unknown, as battle would surely be different from the monotonous drills that he had been practicing with the 6th Louisiana.  Carroll even participated in his first scouting mission with Company F which, alongside another predominately Irish company led by Captain Joseph Hanlon, probed beyond the Confederate skirmish lines to locate the main body of the enemy.  Early on July 18, the 6th Louisiana made a narrow escape from Fairfax Station where they were posted.  Their position was exposed to an attack from Federal forces led by General McDowell, causing them to quickly retreat towards General Beauregard’s troops, which covered their movements.  During this retreat, Sergeant Francis X. Demaign was caught in friendly fire from some Mississippi troops, and was the first of the 6th Louisiana to fall in battle.  His tragic death certainly exposed the grim and somber realities of warfare to Carroll and his fellow greenhorns within the regiment.  Throughout the rest of the day however, Carroll saw little action as his company spent most of the day marching miles away from the battle, near Union Mills Ford, due to miscommunication regarding General Beauregard’s orders.  This error deeply frustrated the 6th Louisiana, after the build-up of encamping so close to the enemy and embarking on scouting missions, only to spend the afternoon marching aimlessly about the countryside all day.  However, such was the fog of war.  Their disappointment was increased once they heard that other Louisiana regiments had been involved in the conflict (which would become known as the First Battle of Manassas), and could stake their claim in the first major Confederate victory of the war.  After the battle however, Carroll and his comrades undoubtedly would have seen the dead and wounded men and horses strewn across the battlefield; disappointment and zealous excitement for combat would have been tempered by somber reflections on the horrific destruction of war.

Despite their relative inactivity during their first battle, the unit would eventually see more than its fair share of combat, with Carroll himself serving in all of the major engagements in the eastern theatre of the war, starting with the Battle of First Manassas up through the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, when he was killed in action.   Those battles included Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Bristoe Station, Second Manassas, Chantilly, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Lee’s Heights, and Second Winchester . Carroll was almost always listed as “Present” on his Company Muster Roll Cards, with the exception of a thirty-day furlough between January and February of 1863. Carroll’s fellow soldiers would go on to see major action throughout the rest of the war, with some of them even present at Appomattox Courthouse when General Lee surrendered to General Grant. 

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The Tigers used the banks of Boatswain's Swamp for protection at Gaines' Mill. Pinned down in the creek for two hours, they missed the Confederate charge that won the battle.

Hamill, John. “The Seven Days.” Accessed December 16, 2021. http://johnsmilitaryhistory.com/seven.html.

The Seven Days Battles: A Devastating Blow at Gaines’ Mill and Confusion at Malvern Hill

Gaines’ Mill was a significant battle for John Carroll and the 6th Louisiana as it resulted in a change in their regiment’s leadership, having suffered heavy casualties during the fight.  This battle came soon after Union troops had taken control of New Orleans, which had been a major blow to the morale of the 6th Louisiana.  Many of them were fighting to protect their adopted home, so to hear that their city had fallen to the enemy, despite all of the battles they had thus far fought in would have been devastating.  Additionally, many men felt torn between duty to their fledgling nation and duty to their homes and families, who were now under enemy occupation, hundreds of miles away from them. Their fury over the situation back in their home city swelled their hearts with desire for revenge as they prepared to help drive McClellan’s massive Union army from the outskirts of the Confederate capital that June of 1862.

Prior to entering the battle at Gaines’ Mill, General Taylor, who was in command of the Louisiana Brigade, had fallen ill, so Colonel Seymour temporarily replaced him, as he held seniority over the Louisiana colonels.  Determined to take his men to glory, Seymour bravely led his troops from the front, where he was conspicuously mounted on his horse to help inspire his men’s courage.  The men advanced across open fields and down a muddy slope toward a creek known as Boatswain’s Swamp,  where Brigadier General Fitz John Porter’s Union troops waited, in three tiered lines, on the opposing hillside.  Seymour, Carroll, and the rest of the Louisiana troops waded through the waist-high creek as wave upon wave of intense volleys poured toward them.  The muddy creek sucked the shoes off of some of the men, while any semblance of line order fell apart in the mayhem of the fording.  Colonel Seymour was shot in the hand and in his body while rallying his troops, and fell from his horse in front of his men.  Confusion and panic broke out among the ranks as they were without a commander for some time before an officer by the name of Stafford took over to regroup the men and guide them to safety (Seymour’s second-in-command, Major Wheat was also killed early into the battle).  

While retreating, the men of the 6th Louisiana carried Seymour’s body back to the protection of the opposing bank of Boatswain’s Swamp, where they proceeded to watch over his body until the fighting had ended.  The Tigers remained pinned down in the mud along the creek for two hours as both enemy and Confederate bullets flew overhead.  In the evening, Brigadier General John B. Hood personally led his brigade in an assault that passed alongside the hiding Louisiana soldiers.  He, along with Major Generals D. H. Hill and James Longstreet, broke through the Federal lines, securing an important victory for the Confederacy.  

The Tigers had been devoted to their beloved Colonel who had initially recruited them, trained them, and fought beside them in their first battles.  His death dealt a significant blow to the morale of his troops.  Despite having taken part in a smashing Confederate victory and grand repulse of Porter’s Federal corps that would eventually result in McClellan’s retreat from Richmond back down the Peninsula after several more days of fighting, the cost of war was becoming increasingly shocking to Carroll and his fellow Louisianans.  Perhaps, like some soldiers, Carroll relied on his faith and maintained a belief that Providence would guide the righteous to victory, and that there was a higher meaning and purpose to his comrades’ suffering.  Or, the blood sacrifice of his comrades may have reaffirmed his dedication to his fellow soldiers, so that the dead’s losses would not have been in vain.  Intense combat experiences had the ability to strengthen unit camaraderie around shared suffering.  That sense of brotherhood was critical to maintaining cohesion and morale in the wake of such shocking scenes of bloodletting.  

After Gaines’ Mill, Captain William Monaghan was promoted to Major as officers were shuffled around to fill Seymour’s place.  Lieutenant Colonel Henry B. Strong was promoted to Colonel, although Monaghan had a closer relationship to the men.  Like Seymour, he had been with the men of Company F from the beginning of the war, as while Seymour was recruiting men for the 6th Louisiana in general, William Monaghan was working with him to recruit men specifically for Company F.  Because Carroll and the other soldiers in Company F already knew and respected Monaghan and had established a good working rapport with the Captain, the transition in leadership for them was likely easier, though they still would have missed their beloved colonel.  Upon Monaghan’s promotion to Major, he was already one of the most popular officers within the 6th Louisiana.  

After Gaines’ Mill, the Louisianans had three days to recuperate, as they did not fight in either the Battles of Savage’s Station or Frayser’s Farm.  However, those interim three days were hardly peaceful for Carroll and his comrades who were reeling from the 6th Louisiana’s losses at Gaines’ Mill and continuously on-edge as they heard the incessant roar of artillery on the nearby battlefields.  Three days after the soggy struggle at Gaines’ Mill, the Tigers faced more fighting, this time at Malvern Hill.  General George McClellan had gathered the Army of the Potomac in a defensive position atop the open, gently rolling hill, which was flanked by deep ravines and which stood less than a mile from the James River.  Any Confederate attack would expose the men in a bottlenecked position as they charged up the front of the hill.  The 6th Louisiana began the day trudging to the field, but the dry dust kicked up by their march drew the attention of Federal artillerists.  They quickly abandoned the road for some pine woods that provided slightly more cover.  Carroll and his comrades hunkered down under the trees for the next several hours as artillery shells exploded around them.  Their position likely reminded the men of being pinned down along the creek banks at Gaines’ Mill just days prior.  

By the late afternoon, Colonel Strong gathered them with orders to follow Colonel Stafford in an assault on the hill.  Due to miscommunication and confusion, the Confederate attack was disjointed, with not nearly enough artillery to support the vulnerable infantry assault.  Stafford did not fully understand his orders for the battle and commanded his troops to charge the hill.  Much to the Louisianans’ horror, their flank remained completely unguarded as they moved up the gentle slopes of the hill, unreinforced.  Due to the poor condition of the assault, they did not have the numbers in their sector of the field to take the hill and suffered heavy casualties as they slogged through the bottleneck.  Even amongst the Louisiana troops under Stafford, poor communication stymied the brigade’s attack—the 6th, 7th, and 8th Louisiana charged Malvern Hill as artillery fire rained down, while the 9th Louisiana remained behind.  

After thirty minutes, the assault had been repelled and the Tigers had retreated.  Nine of the 6th Louisiana soldiers had been killed during the futile charge.  Malvern Hill ended in a massive Confederate defeat, which significantly demoralized the Louisiana Tigers.  In an ironic twist, as the Tigers tried to battle their way to the summit of the hill, Irish troops bearing blue emerged from the crest to push back the Confederate line. It was a poignant moment that was not lost on many. That fellow Irish immigrants would find themselves clashing, head-to-head, on a blood-soaked Virginia battlefield after having collectively risked so much to pick up their lives in Ireland and start anew in America raised the question: What did it mean to them to be American.  Immigrants like Carroll on each side each fought for their adopted country and the hope of building a better life there.  However, being an American did not necessarily mean that they were loyal to the United States—instead it implied loyalty to their newly adopted country, whether they interpreted “country” to be at the state or national level.

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Carroll struggled through the cornfield at Antietam in a haphazard charge that left several of his officers killed or wounded.

“Cornfield Trail Guide - Antietam National Battlefield (U.S. National Park Service).” Accessed December 16, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/anti/planyourvisit/cornfield-trail-guide.htm.

Antietam: Chaos in the Cornfield

In September of 1862, the 6th Louisiana marched from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia through Boteler’s Ford, Maryland, and eventually arrived exhausted at Sharpsburg.  Despite the Tigers’ usual enthusiasm before entering battle, they were so worn out after long marches with few supplies that they went to sleep upon arriving in the area on the evening of September 16th; meanwhile, the foreboding sounds of occasional cannon firing in the distance drifted into the camp.  They encamped in the West Woods, located next to the Hagerstown Pike.  

The following morning, Hays’s Brigade crossed the turnpike to support Colonel Marcellus Douglass’s Georgian brigade.  Carroll and the 6th Louisiana laid exposed in a plowed field as heavy cannon fire began tearing through their ranks.  Unable to advance, but close enough to the fire he was in imminent danger of being hit by Federal artillery, Carroll surely felt frightened and frustrated, as he clung to the ground, exposed.  After thirty minutes, Colonel Strong, proudly sitting atop his white horse, led the Tigers into the melee at the edge of the now famous cornfield.  Like Seymour at Gaines’ Mill, Strong was a conspicuous target and both he and his horse were soon killed.  For the second time in less than three months, the Louisianans witnessed their colonel struck down in front of them.  The panicked Louisianans were then quickly thrown into the fighting by Brigadier General George Hartsuff.  Their visibility was limited due to the thick smoke of the fighting combined with that of a nearby burning house.  Yet somehow, amidst the chaos, bloodshed and uncertainty, Carroll and the 6th Louisianans held their position for thirty minutes.  Men were dropping seemingly all around Carroll, including the regimental color sergeant, John Heill.  Seeing their beloved flag fall to the ground, in danger of enemy capture, further chafed at the weary soldiers.  Hays soon ordered a retreat to the Dunkard German Church.  His decimated troops regrouped there and bound up any minor wounds before steeling their nerves to march back into the fray.  Captain H. Bain Ritchie from Company C filled Strong’s role as the most senior officer left in the regiment and rallied his men before leading them back into combat around noon. They reached the edge of the woods, but Ritchie was killed almost immediately, leaving the 6th Louisiana disorganized and frenzied.  Hays ordered his brigade to maintain their position despite exposure to enemy shelling, until 5:00 in the afternoon, when he ordered their final retreat of the day.

The 6th Louisiana was only in combat for about an hour that day, but 11 of its soldiers were killed and 41 of them were wounded.  Five of its officers were killed, and eight more were wounded.  The battle, which was named after the nearby Antietam Creek, was declared a Union strategic victory, which Lincoln used as justification for issuing the long-awaited Emancipation Proclamation.

Carroll and the 6th Louisiana had likely heard rumors of the Emancipation Proclamation even before Antietam, when news swirled around the Federals utilizing emancipation as a possible tool to weaken the Confederate war effort after the failed Union offensive on the Virginia Peninsula. Now, with confirmation of the official proclamation’s issuance, Carroll—a Confederate soldier who was fighting to preserve his precarious socio-economic position over an enslaved black “mudsill class” in his adopted country likely felt a combination of anger and nervousness upon hearing of the proclamation.  He had risen through the ranks of society just before the war broke out, so his socio-economic status was still new and could easily be threatened by the abolition of slavery and influx of African Americans into wage earning jobs.  He feared competition from a massive wave of new freedmen and refused to fall back into the impoverished white “mudsill” class that so many immigrants found themselves in. Yet, he also would have experienced the anxiety common to many southerners who feared that, once slaves also heard the rumors about emancipation, they might try to escape to freedom or incite a massive rebellion. Yet, like some southerners, he also likely wondered how mainstream northern society would react to the proclamation; would it further alienate the anti-war Copperheads and anti-emancipationist Democrats? Or would the proclamation actually work in the North’s favor, as Lincoln hoped? Numerous questions abounded as Carroll and his peers tended to their grief after the bloodiest day in American history and re-girded themselves for an even harder fight ahead.

After Colonel Strong was killed at Antietam, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel G. Offutt was promoted to replace him.  However, he held the post for only a few months before submitting his resignation to Hays.  Offutt resigned after some of the 6th Louisiana’s lower-ranking officers and privates wrote a letter to Hays, charging Offutt with cowardice in battle.  They cited three instances (at Port Republic, Gaines’ Mill, and Malvern Hill) where he either hid during battle or feigned serious injury to escape the field.  Offutt’s cowardice lost him the respect of his men, particularly as they must have compared him to the brave Colonel Seymour who conspicuously led them into battle on his horse. Failing to be reassigned elsewhere, and smarting from the sting to his personal honor, Offutt eventually resigned and was replaced by Major Monaghan, whom the Louisianans held in much higher regard.

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Running low on supplies, Carroll and the 6th Louisiana encamped at Hamilton's Crossing for the winter of 1862-1863. Ironically, they traded supplies with the Federal forces encamped across the Rappahannock River.

Stone Sentinels. “Hamilton’s Crossing Wayside Marker.” Accessed December 16, 2021. https://stonesentinels.com/fredericksburg/tour-battlefield/stop-six/hamiltons-crossing-wm/.

The Bitter Winter at Hamilton’s Crossing

The 6th Louisiana encamped at Skinker’s Neck along the Rappahannock River from December 1st until December 12th, when they marched through the night to Fredericksburg.  They were positioned at Hamilton’s Crossing, which was a train station, on the far right of the Confederate lines.  They climbed a hill near the railroad, created earthworks, and settled in, awaiting the fighting.   While they did not have much of an opportunity to fight that day, the Tigers suffered a few casualties from Federal artillery across the river on Stafford Heights.  The next day, Major General George Meade attacked Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops to the left of where Carroll and the 6th Louisiana were positioned.   Jackson’s lines temporarily broke and Hays’s Brigade began marching there to help repulse the attack, but Jackson had already counterattacked and repelled the Meade’s forces by the time they got there.  The 6th Louisiana spent the rest of the battle in reserves, which would have been disappointing to the Tigers, who had at that point narrowly missed the opportunity to fight Meade’s troops.  The Confederate victory at Fredericksburg would have been encouraging to Carroll and the Louisianans however, as they could celebrate the triumph of their fellow soldiers.  

The 6thLouisiana spent the cold winter of 1862-1863 near Hamilton’s Crossing, Virginia, with the rest of Hays’ Brigade.  Their pickets along the Rappahannock River were only about 100 yards away from Federal pickets, whose encampment was on the other side of the river.  Men on picket duty were close enough to shout across the river as they negotiated supply trades.  They hollowed out logs into boats, added small sails, and sent the items across the Rappahannock.  In an ironic twist of events, Carroll and the other Tigers received coffee and sugar from enemy soldiers whom their comrades had just previously faced over the barrel of a gun via these homemade crafts in exchange for tobacco and Richmond newspapers.  

Other than these trades, Hays’s Brigade spent much of the miserable winter in dire need of supplies.  The men barely subsisted on reduced rations.  Not only were they constantly hungry, but the Louisianans also braved below freezing temperatures without proper winter attire.  Overcoats were a rarity in the encampment and many of the soldiers went barefoot.  Company A recorded 13 men absent due to injuries sustained from marching to the encampment barefoot and walking about on icy terrain.  Many of the Tigers lived up to their reputation while there, seeking solace from the monotony and suffering of the winter camp in the odd bottle of whiskey.  Despite initial reluctance to partake in the vices of his comrades, Carroll may have ultimately joined them in taking comfort in the spirits and sharing in a key part of their Irish culture.  He, along with many of his fellow soldiers immigrated to the United States to seek a better life during the Irish Potato Famine, yet they found themselves once again starving in poor conditions trying to fight for this new life.  This harsh reality was not lost on many. However, to all of their relief, the brigade’s officers filed enough complaints that by the end of the winter, the men finally received new supplies (including shoes and clothing), much to the relief of the troops, from the Quartermaster General.

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The 6th Louisiana was positioned on Marye's Heights on May 2nd, only to be ordered back to Hamilton's Crossing where they entered the fighting. Later in the battle, the Tigers retreated back over Marye's Heights after the 13th and 17th Mississippians deceived them in a trick to learn their strength.

“Virtual Tour Stop, Marye’s Heights - Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (U.S. National Park Service),” 1866. https://www.nps.gov/frsp/learn/photosmultimedia/maryesh.htm.

The Charge at Chancellorsville

In the warmer Spring days prior to the Battle of Chancellorsville, the 6th Louisiana skirmished with the 6th Wisconsin and the 24th Michigan in an attempt to delay the Union troops from constructing a pontoon bridge across the Rappahannock River.  The Wisconsin and Michigan soldiers got into the boats, paddled across the river, and routed the surprised Louisianans.  Carroll and the other Tigers that managed to escape and regroup on the Richmond Stage Road, where they joined the 5th Louisiana.  From there, they spread out along the road anticipating a Federal assault.  They waited there until being relieved at dusk by the 21st Georgia.  Meanwhile, the Union forces dug in along their bridgehead.  

Carroll and his fellow comrades spent most of April 30th lying in entrenchments, still waiting for an enemy attack.  Late in the day, they moved to join the rest of Early’s Division in a thinly stretched defensive line along ridges that extended to Hamilton’s Crossing, where they had spent the long winter months.  Greatly outnumbered by the Federal forces below, the Confederate troops put on a false show of strength.  They constantly shuffled around units so that the moving men created an illusion of having more forces than they did.  Along the same theme, they cheered on imaginary reinforcements during the days and throughout the nights, they lit thousands of extra campfires.

On May 2nd, the 6th and 9th Louisiana marched to Marye’s Heights to join Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade.  They overlooked the town of Fredericksburg and Union forces below.  Carroll and the Tigers most likely waited there with boredom, as they did not see any action that day either.  They encamped on the hill, only to be roused at 2:00 in the morning with frustrating orders to march back to their original post near Hamilton’s Crossing, which took until dawn.  Shortly after their arrival, they heard gunfire from the direction of the town.  

While the Louisianans had been at Marye’s Heights the day before, Jackson launched a surprise attack at dusk through the Wilderness and around the right Federal flank.  He succeeded in throwing Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Eleventh Corps into disarray.  General Hooker responded by sending Major General Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps to Chancellorsville as reinforcements for Howard.  To get there, he had to first face the Confederate defenses around Fredericksburg.  Hays’s Brigade, including the recently arrived 6th and 9th Louisiana, marched back in the direction that the two regiments had just come from in order to counter the moving Federal forces.

On the left of the Confederate lines, the 6th Louisiana rejoined Barksdale’s Mississippians.  A battery of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans was also nearby.  The Tigers were ordered into trenches in front of the artillery, but upon entering them, found that their line was spread entirely too thinly along the works in order to cover such a wide expanse.  Sedgwick initially tested the Confederate line before sending in the rest of his troops.  Brigadier General Albion P. Howe’s division charged the Louisianans’ position in three columns.  Unnoticed by the occupied Tigers, the Mississippians to their right were being overrun, causing Barksdale to order the 6th Louisiana, the 13th and 17th Mississippians to retreat over the back of Marye’s Heights along the Telegraph Road, near Lee’s Hill.  

Several soldiers later wrote that they had been deceived by the Federal forces, who had sent a disguised officer with a flag of truce to speak with the Mississippians before the fighting broke out.  The Confederates claimed he then returned to his unit and reported the weakness of the Confederate line in that particular area, which was then fiercely attacked.

On the Telegraph Road, the 6th Louisiana formed the core of a new defensive line, which slowly retreated another two miles down the road.  The Federal forces halted their pursuit of the Confederates, which allowed them to escape.

The Tigers spent most of May 4th maneuvering into position for a large assault.  Befitting the battle-ready reputation of the Tigers, Hays reportedly volunteered his men to launch a charge up the heights around the town.  His brigade was positioned in a ravine formed by Hazel’s Run.  Hays put Colonel Forno of the 5th Louisiana in charge of the right side of the brigade, including the 5th, 6th, and 8th Louisiana.  Carroll and his comrades were ordered to prepare their bayonets and steel themselves for the charge.  Once the order was given to proceed, they finally managed to scale the steep slope with difficulty as the Federal forces on top of the hill blasted them with artillery fire.  Carroll was likely terrified, but stopping part of the way up the slope was not an option if he wanted to survive.  

Finally, the Louisianans stormed the summit and swamped the 5th Vermont, creating chaos on the right of the Federal line.  After the initial charge, the organization of Hays’s brigade broke down and turned into a “fighting mob”.  By the time they reached General Howe’s third, and last line of defense, the Tigers neared exhaustion.  The Green Mountain men of Vermont began fighting back from behind the cover of breastworks and trees.  In addition to the renewed Federal efforts, the Louisianans faced friendly fire from Colonel Hokes’ North Carolina brigade, who had mistaken them for Union forces.  The dazed Tigers began a stumbling retreat back down the hill, although some collapsed from exhaustion and were captured.  While Chancellorsville was a stunning Confederate victory, the 6th Louisiana once again suffered heavy losses, likely resulting in mixed reactions amongst the men in the ranks.  

After having suffered heavy losses from the 1862 Peninsula Campaign through Antietam and then again at Chancellorsville, Colonel Monaghan (and others in the rotating door of regimental leaders) faced the continuous need to rebuild the regiment.  Out of the regiments in the Louisiana Brigade, the 6th Louisiana often had the highest casualty rate (examples of which can be seen at Gaines’ Mill, Chancellorsville, and Second Winchester), so the rebuilding was never a small task.  After Fredericksburg, Monaghan’s first task had been to procure more supplies for his troops during the long winter at Hamilton’s Crossing.  Then after Chancellorsville, they regained almost 100 men through a prisoner exchange.  Morale improved as the Tigers received more supplies and the repatriated prisoners.  Even though they had been captured, these men had formed close bonds with the other Louisianans both in camp and after surviving battle together, in addition to coming from similar cultural backgrounds. The 6th Louisiana happily welcomed them back as they looked to the summer campaign season.  Monaghan also attempted to boost unit morale by reminding his men of their stunning victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville—victories that had been won at a dear cost to the Louisianans but which advanced the cause of the Confederacy greatly.

Pushing North: Carroll’s First Experiences in Pennsylvania The battle flag of the 6th Louisiana showcases their fervent religious faith and belief in the righteousness of the Confederate cause (many of them were Catholic). “Tigers in the Cornfield: Hays’ Louisiana Brigade at Antietam.” Antietam’s Cornfield (blog), April 13, 2020. https://antietamscornfield.com/2020/04/13/tigers-in-the-cornfield/.

For Carroll, the Pennsylvania Campaign began five miles south of Fredericksburg, where the 6th Louisiana was encamped in the late Spring of 1863.  Much to mixed reviews from the soldiers, General Lee appointed General Ewell to command the 2nd Corps, of which the 6th Louisiana was a part.  On May 31, 1863, all of General Early’s division (which was a part of Ewell’s corps) received new supplies, including clothing, shoes, and cartridges.  These preparations were the first indicators that a large battle loomed on the horizon.  Despite the nerves that many of the soldiers, including Carroll, most likely felt, their spirits were momentarily lifted on June 3, 1863, by the arrival of fifty extra soldiers from a prisoner exchange.  The regiment departed the next evening and marched all night towards Spotsylvania Court House.  

A week later, the regiment arrived in the Shenandoah Valley, where Carroll saw action at the Battle of Second Winchester and where the Louisiana Tigers routed the Union troops.  This victory came at a steep price for the 6th Louisiana—the regiment lost forty three men while under intense fire unleashed from Federals who were conveniently protected behind earthworks.  One of these soldiers was Corporal Robert Cahill, who like Carroll, was an Irish dance professor who lived in New Orleans.  They would have shared many of the same socio-economic aspirations and shared the same precarious socio-economic position.  Cahill mustered in as a private at Camp Moore on June 4, 1861 with John Carroll.  During the Battle of First Winchester in 1862, Cahill was shot in the right arm.  He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Second Winchester on June 14, 1863, and passed away June 20, 1863.  Due to their commonalities, it is likely that John Carroll and Robert Cahill knew each other well, and it is possible that they were friends or colleagues from before the war.  If this was the case, then the Battle of Second Winchester would likely have crushed Carroll as he tried to cope with the loss of his companion.  He may have tried to justify Cahill’s death as part of Providence’s plan for the Confederates as a whole, or perhaps used Cahill’s death as motivation to continue fighting in order to avenge his friend and make his sacrifice meaningful.  However, the personal blow of losing a comrade and possible friend and colleague whose life journey so uncannily resembled his own must have haunted Carroll as he continued the march northward.  

After the battle, the 6th Louisiana camped in the area until June 17th, when they continued their march into West Virginia.  They stayed a few nights near Harpers Ferry before marching to Shepherdstown, where they hoped to cross Boteler’s Ford, on the Potomac River, and enter into Maryland.  However, heavy rains delayed the crossing for four days, so the army set up camp once again.  The men were likely growing frustrated, as their march north was continuously delayed and now seemed interminable.  Adding rain and mud to low morale from the heavy casualties at Second Winchester and an exhausting march tested the men’s patience and endurance.  However, the men of the 6th Louisiana were seasoned veterans who were preparing to invade the enemy territory after several decisive victories over the enemy. The excitement over another such possible victory, on northern soil no less, fueled their bodies and spirits to keep marching. Additionally, having fought in so many battles together, a strong sense of camaraderie connected them and served as motivation to continue fighting.  If they were to desert, they would likely be ashamed of having left these companions in a moment of need.  

Many of the soldiers were zealous to invade the north, whose bountiful fields and farms had yet been spared the war time ravages of Virginia.  They referred to Pennsylvania as the “land of milk and honey,” expecting it to boast plenty of resources that would allow them to comfortably live off of the land.  Yet simultaneously, some soldiers like Carroll after the loss of so many comrades like Cahill, may have been contemplating whether the war and the subsequent loss of lives was worth it.  While Carroll had likely enlisted to secure his precarious new socio-economic position and prove his loyalty to his adopted new country, he may have continued fighting for amended reasons.  While socio-economic and political ideals may have helped convince him to enlist, he probably continued fighting in large part out of loyalty to the tight knit Louisiana Tigers, with whom he had spent the past few years living and fighting side by side.  Surely he still felt a strong commitment to his initial social and political ideals, but it would have been difficult to continue fighting solely based on ideals given the carnage that the soldiers witnessed, which proved much different than sentimentalist views of battle that were prominent at the time.  Sentimentalism portrayed war as a way for young men to prove their courage, morality, and manliness in battle by heroically and single-handedly determining the course of battles.

Throughout the trials and the long Pennsylvania campaign and other campaigns, Carroll and his fellow Louisianans found ways to entertain or distract themselves.  Company F, in particular, was known to be fond of drinking, as well as for their subsequent rowdiness, which contributed to their reputation as the Louisiana Tigers.  Sometimes they tried local whiskeys that the army seized.  Most of them were Irish immigrants, so drinking was a part of their culture.  As Carroll had spent a significant amount of his life in Ireland, he was probably well-familiar with the custom.  Colonel Seymour had effectively discouraged drinking and disorderliness in the encampment when the regiment was first mustered.  This discipline had worn off in the face of heavy casualties and constant delays in muddy camps.  After the Battle of Fredericksburg, Hays attempted to restore order to his brigade, but to no avail and to the displeasure of Early.  After their success in the Second Battle of Fredericksburg in May of 1863, Early decided to leave them to it, as long as they continued fighting well.  Drinking made it more difficult to control the unit, as it broke the pattern of discipline that was so important to military life, yet the men surprisingly were still able to perform when it came to battle. 

Drinking and gambling were vices in which soldiers often engaged not only to distract from boredom, but to relieve the stresses of military life and battle, and were not limited solely to the Irish units (although drinking was prevalent among them in particular).  While it is unknown as to whether Carroll partook in these vices, he may have felt torn about their prevalence in camp; on the one hand, he did not wish to be associated with stereotypical drunken Irish rowdiness if he wanted to maintain his precarious social status at home, yet on the other hand, he too would have felt the temptation to drown his stress and grief for fallen comrades in alcohol and card games. Furthermore, such activities were a critical means of bonding and proving one’s “martial manhood” amidst such a cohort of “roughs.” Still delayed at the crossing, many Confederate troops began raiding the surrounding area for supplies and celebrating the victory at the Battle of Second Winchester.  The increase in supplies probably helped to boost morale.  

Both the Union and Confederate armies conducted raids during the course of the war.  Southerners likely saw these raids conducted on Union soil as justifiable given that so many of their own crops were destroyed over the course of the war-particularly those in Virginia.  However, they likely disapproved of raids conducted on Southern soil, because while the spoils would be feeding their soldiers, they would hurt the farm or business owners’ financial situations.  With a large number of men off fighting in the war, these raids were even more problematic, as there were fewer people to help cultivate and protect the farm fields.  Such raids were not always encouraged by officers, yet those in the ranks still found ways to enact them furtively.  Meanwhile, as the hungry men set their bellies on the promise of northern bounty, their commanders set their eyes on Harrisburg, the Pennsylvanian capital.

On June 22, 1863, the 6th Louisiana finally crossed the Potomac River.  They carried all of their supplies (which weighed many pounds) above their heads to keep them dry.  Early’s Division marched through Keedysville, Maryland, adjacent to Sharpsburg, without damaging civilian property or taking alcohol from local taverns.  They were accompanied by Colonel William French’s regiment from Jenkins’ Brigade of the 17th Virginia Cavalry.  Many of the men in the 6th Louisiana had fought in that region the year before at Antietam, and several of them had been wounded and since returned to the ranks.  Their return to the grim battle ground brought back haunting memories of the extreme bloodshed of that day, where they lost nearly half of the men that went into combat that day (eleven were killed and forty one were wounded).  Passing by the still visible destruction surrounding the Antietam battlefield likely tempered the men’s zealous excitement over their imminent battle, reminding John Carroll  and his comrades of the many fallen friends of battles past—and the sobering reality of imminently more in the battle to come.  Nevertheless, reflecting on Antietam also would have reminded the men of just how far they had come since that devastating day, and how close a definitive Confederate victory now seemed on the horizon.  

The 6th Louisiana continued the march north and crossed into Pennsylvania by June 23rd.  Early’s Division followed the Black Gap Road through Waynesboro until they were eight miles from Chambersburg.  Foraging parties collected crops and livestock from local farms, but the regular troops were forbidden to raid the local farms and homes, so it is likely that John Carroll would have stayed in the ranks, marching steadily northeast at a tiring pace.  Early’s strict orders to resist any raiding of the bountiful countryside again demonstrates that there were limits on the destructiveness of 19th-century American warfare.  Soldiers were generally not permitted to pillage as they pleased, and could be disciplined for doing so without permission.  Pillaging contradicted the ethics of 19th-century warfare, which stated that civilian property should only be seized if actively being used to support the enemy war effort, and that any items seized from private property otherwise must be compensated (albeit with somewhat useless Confederate script).  Thus, officers maintained a general rule that they would not directly interfere with the lives of civilians by destroying their crops.  This practice was at odds with the idea of total warfare that emerged in full during the 20th century, but whose predecessor, “hard war” began to take root in the later part of the Civil War, when the war was extended off of the battlefields and soldiers were encouraged to (systematically) plunder and destroy crops in hotbed secessionist areas which were actively supplying the Confederate war effort.   

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This is a replication of Thaddeus Stevens' blacksmith shop, as the Tigers burned the original structure during their march to Gettysburg.

Gettysburg Daily. “Thaddeus Stevens’ Iron Works Part 1 With Licensed Battlefield Guide Dave Weaver,” August 13, 2009. https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/thaddeus-stevens-ironworks-part-1-with-licensed-battlefield-guide-dave-weaver/.

The foraging parties that were actually permitted to raid the countryside (in exchange for Confederate script) were likely jubilant at exacting revenge upon the northerners after so many crops and properties had been destroyed in the South.  Early granted an exception to the “no pillaging” rule when his troops came upon the iron mine and forge of Thaddeus Stevens.  Stevens was a prominent and outspoken abolitionist and congressman who had been in frequent collaboration with Massachusetts Congressman, Charles Sumner, whom Preston Brooks famously caned on the Capitol floor for his radical Republican views.  Hays’s adjutant, Captain William Seymour, who was the son of Colonel Isaac Seymour, wrote that Stevens was, “one of the vilest, most unprincipled and most fanatical of Yankee Abolitionist Congressmen”.  The Louisianans burned Stevens’s iron forge and mills, and stole whatever food they could find on his lands.  It is likely that Carroll participated in the raid upon the iron forge, which would have brought a welcome change of pace and emotional outlet after long, hot days of marching.  

The ethics that the troops had previously been held to were relaxed in this instance, as the victim of the raid was a prominent political figure that threatened the foundations of the Southern economy and whom the commanding officers personally detested.  During and after the raid, Carroll likely felt torn between over he was doing the right thing.  On the one hand, he was obeying the orders of his commanding officer and participating in an act of politically motivated violence against an individual whose policies indeed threatened Carroll’s way of life; but on the other, he was destroying a man’s hard-earned livelihood, something Carroll could personally relate to through his own life’s journey, regardless of what Stevens’s political views were. 

By June 30, 1863, many of the commanding officers were expecting a major clash on northern soil in the near future, although (due to General J.E.B. Stuart’s missing cavalry), they did not know the exact location or strength of the Army of the Potomac.  While on a diversion to York, the excited Louisiana Tigers began raiding the town, despite orders to the contrary.  They also frequented several local taverns.  After they finally departed, several townspeople reported damaged property and missing goods.  

On June 30th, Early’s division was recalled, and the 6th Louisiana began marching back towards Gettysburg, which they had passed on their way to York, and encamped near Heidlersburg.  Carroll and his comrades were on high alert that their long awaited clash on northern soil was imminent. 

On July 1, 1863 Early’s Division began marching on a roundabout farm road toward Gettysburg, where reports circulated that they would soon see combat.  Not only had their officers been speculating about it for days, but they were now returning to Gettysburg, a town that they already passed through on their way to York.  Carroll’s nerves were likely rivaled by his excitement over the possibility of participating in what could be a possibly decisive battle.  However, as at Sharpsburg, this battle would be fought on northern soil; would this be to the Confederates’ benefit or detriment?  By the time Company F arrived in Gettysburg, the battle had already begun.  The deafening roar of artillery and infantry fire loomed on the horizon as they approached the fighting.  The air was hazy due to the thick smoke of cannon which limited their view of the combatants and made the scene increasingly ominous and chaotic.  The acrid smell of gunpowder and blood likely filled Carroll’s nose as he approached the battlefield.   Per their reputation for zealous combat, the 6th Louisiana’s officers could barely maintain order in the ranks the closer they got to the town, as many of the soldiers were so eager to rush into the fray.

Their road of entry, the Harrisburg Road, ultimately intersected with several others leading into the town, resulting in a massive convergence of troops on Gettysburg from all directions.  Despite the rumors of a major battle and their excitement over entering combat, many of Early’s men still did not anticipate that their division would be engaged in heavy fighting that day.  Previous encounters with state militias, which had quickly retreated upon seeing them, caused them to believe the battle would also be short.  Their recent victories at Second Winchester and victory at Chancellorsville convinced them that, regardless of which enemy troops they were about to confront, they could surely recreate the success.   However, the men were soon proven wrong.  

Francis Barlow’s First Division of the Eleventh Corps blocked the advance of Early’s troops by extending the original Eleventh Corps line dangerously thin to an outcropping known as Blocher’s Knoll, just west of the Harrisburg Road.  Hays’s Brigade had arrived in Gettysburg around 2:30 PM and proceeded to split in half to cover both sides of the Harrisburg Road.  John Carroll and the 6th Louisiana were stationed to the west of Harrisburg Road, in the woods behind Rock Creek, directly in front of Blocher’s Knoll.  Around 3:05 PM, Early ordered all of Hays’s Brigade to advance and try to roll up the Federal right flank in concert with Gordon’s and Doles’s brigades to their right, while A.P. Hill’s corps continued to press the Federal left and center atop Seminary Ridge and Oak Ridge.  Carroll and his comrades marched through Josiah Benner’s farm, supporting Gordon’s Brigade, which had just crossed Rock Creek. The combined half of Hays’s Brigade and Gordon’s Brigade shattered the Union line near the Adams County Almshouse.  While Gordon’s men stopped there, the troops from Hays’s Brigade continued to press south, towards town.  They quickly pushed the Union Eleventh Corps’ panicked First Division to the town’s outskirts and towards the Gettysburg Railroad.  Some members of Hays’s Brigade took up sharpshooter positions within the houses that lay on the path to the town, and fired at the retreating Union soldiers.  Carroll may have been one of these sharpshooters, or he may have continued the pursuit of the Federals further through the streets of town.  The role of sharpshooters is often romanticized, but it was nerve-racking, dangerous, and often sinister work.  Officially designated sharpshooting units would advance beyond the regular lines in small groups of three or four men, where they would take up hidden positions to incessantly harass the enemy.  While shooting, they had to be careful not to become targets of enemy sharpshooters, perhaps just peeking over window frames before firing and ducking back down.  Some units were specifically dedicated to acting as sharpshooters, so they would have more accurate weapons, but many like Carroll and his comrades, merely found themselves in sharpshooter positions in the midst of battle and were forced into the unfamiliar and unsettling role.  He likely felt uneasy about his dangerous new role, as it was much more sinister and personal than his typical style of fighting.  If he and his comrades succeeded, he could not only take out critical numbers of the enemy, but could also spread confusion and terror among the Union ranks; but if he made even one mistake, he risked being hit by a retaliating volley from the enemy.  Carroll was also probably fearful of taking up the role, as sharpshooters often had to crawl through fields, alleyways, and other unusual places to get to their positions.  If he were wounded,  reinforcements would likely have a difficult time getting to him.  Additionally, fighting in the close quarters of town was terrifying, as battles were not usually fought in actual towns; there might be an occasional barn or house on a battlefield, but soldiers were not usually running through town streets en masse, firing at will and subjecting themselves to the fire of enemies hiding in the buildings and alleys, waiting to pick them off.  Carroll was exposed to terrifying hand to hand combat, or the discomforting feeling of looking straight into the eyes of the man he was shooting.  This experience was disorienting, unsettling, and frightening as it was so different from the type of more traditional, open-field combat Carroll would have been used to and would have been different than most of his experiences in battle prior to Gettysburg.  

After pushing the 11th corps in through town, Hays then reformed his brigade at the railroad and turned them to face Schimmelfennig’s retreating Third Division.  The Confederate volleys dispersed the Union troops.  By the end of the day, five soldiers were missing from the 6th Louisiana, though surprisingly, none had been wounded or killed.  As the sun set over the battered town, Carroll may have contemplated the fates of those five missing men.  They could have been friends, neighbors, or people he had bonded with over their experiences during the war.  

The 6th Louisiana originally set up camp in the streets of the town, west of Cemetery Hill (which they were facing).  From there, they could hear digging coming from Cemetery Hill, where Union soldiers were busy creating earthworks.  Carroll likely had trouble falling asleep while his mind kept circling back to the events that he had witnessed that day.  He had seen bloodshed before, and had lost people close to him but fighting in the streets and sharpshooting took a heavy toll, as it was more personal, than firing at a group of men clustered in a distanced line of more than a hundred yards away.  Surely the chaotic events of the day both thrilled and unsettled him—the gleeful crack of the Federal line, the terror of the street fighting, the faces of the men he shot at close range in the town.  Like many of his comrades, Carroll likely spent the evening contemplating the next day’s fight, and what the nature of that combat might be like.

Carroll probably worried about what the future had in store for him and his fellow soldiers.  Some of the men in his company who had been wounded in previous battles had recently rejoined the ranks after recovering from their injuries, so Carroll certainly was familiar with the stories about the pain and infection that could accompany wounds.  Becoming a prisoner was also a concern as Carroll had heard stories about Union Prisoner of War camps, where soldiers could expect disease and malnutrition.  At midnight, probably around the time Carroll was drifting off to a troubled sleep, Hays received orders from Early to survey the area between his troops and the enemy on Cemetery Hill.  By 2:00 AM, Hays had roused his troops from their positions in the streets to move closer to the enemy, to an open field to the east, where a low ridge would protect them from enemy fire on Cemetery Hill.   Hays’s exhausted brigade decamped from the German Reformed Church on High Street, crossed open fields, and marched as far east as the Culp Farm.  After an already physically and emotionally taxing day, this furtive middle-of-the-night shift was exhausting.  While Carroll likely wondered what this shift would mean, he tried to lull himself to sleep to prepare for the next day’s fight.

John Carroll was originally listed as missing after the second day of fighting, and then was later declared killed in action.  His death could have occurred in any number of ways and at any number of times on July 2.  July 2, 1863, opened with most of Hays’s men southeast of Gettysburg along Winebrennner’s Run, facing towards the artillery of the Army of the Potomac’s Eleventh Corps located atop Cemetery Hill.  Hays had also sent some of his men into the southern parts of the town to act as skirmishers.  There, they barricaded Baltimore Street and hid in buildings, from which they could maintain a continuous fire upon  the artillerists on top of Cemetery Hill; it was the hope that this incessant sharpshooting and skirmishing action might help to silence some of those threatening guns which were directed right at Hays’s and Isaac Avery’s troops.  The Louisiana skirmish line began firing at the Union forces from the flank to cause confusion, similar to the tactics employed by the sharpshooters the day before.  Skirmishers were generally in larger groups than sharpshooters, however.  

Both the 5th and 6th Louisiana were among the former group of Hays’s men who were stationed along Winebrenner’s Run.   Comprising the end of Hays’ line, Carroll and his fellow soldiers found themselves exposed in the tall grass along the creek, as the low ridge that protected the rest of their brigade ended before their position.  Lying in the grass, Carroll must have been terrified, knowing that he would make an easy target without its protection if he were to stand up.  He and his comrades slowly crawled around Cemetery Hill, to the side opposite Hays’ skirmishers in the town, where they again served as sharpshooters, thus attacking the Eleventh Corps from both sides.  There at least, they could hide behind fences and thickets in the fields.  Some of the Louisiana Tigers began to draw enemy fire by raising their hats on sticks into the air above them, as if they were emerging from their hiding spots.  They would then watch to see where the enemy fire came from, and proceed to pick off the enemy skirmishers.  It is possible that Carroll was killed there by Union skirmishers, east of Cemetery Hill, as Hays had recorded losing a whopping forty five men there.  While Louisiana sharpshooters and skirmishers were attacking the Eleventh Corps artillery, the rest of Hays’s men, who were more protected by the ridge near Winebrenner’s Run, exchanged artillery fire with the Union troops atop the hill.

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The Louisiana Tigers are charging through heavy enemy fire up Cemetery Hill on the night of July 2nd. They would temporarily take the hill and the artillery on top of it before being pushed back by Union reinforcements.

Orton, Cassandra. “Cemetery Hill | The Saturday Evening Post,” 2013. https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2013/07/where-the-civil-war-was-won/charge-on-cemetary-hill/.

By late afternoon, the 5th and 6th Louisiana troops regrouped on the northern side of Cemetery Hill, in the streets of Gettysburg, to prepare for an assault on the hill.  The artillery fire ceased around 6:00 PM, although Hays did not receive the order from Early to advance until just before sunset at 7:41 PM.  Hays would attack with Isaac Avery’s North Carolina brigade to his left. Ramseur’s brigade of Rodes’s division was supposed to attack the eastern slope of Cemetery Hill concurrently, while Johnson’s division was slated to attack Culp’s Hill, to Avery’s left. However, the plan was difficult to coordinate with so many different angles of attack, Ramseur hardly advanced forward, and Johnson’s attack was delayed.  Again the 5th and 6th Louisiana were positioned along Hays’s flank.  Hays’s brigade charged up the hill, through a line of Union infantry, only to be bombarded at the top by Union artillery positioned from adjacent Steven’s Knoll.  If Carroll was still fighting, he would have been reminded of the brigade’s similar charge up the steep heights at Chancellorsville, where they overwhelmed the stunned 5th Vermont.  During the assault, the ridge along Winebrenner’s Run provided the 6th Louisiana with some cover, allowing them to engage Colonel Harris’s brigade in close combat, where they fought with their bayonets and viciously used their muskets as clubs.  If Carroll had made it to the crest of Cemetery Hill, he likely would have had flashbacks to the street fighting from the day before, where soldiers locked in hand-to-hand combat and could see the faces of the men they were attacking.  The 6th Louisiana’s color bearer, Sergeant Phillip Bolger was wounded along with several other men who were injured or killed.  It is possible that Carroll survived the earlier sharpshooting conflict and was killed here, in brutal hand-to-hand fighting on top of Cemetery Hill.

Confederates swarmed the Union guns and attempted to turn them for use against the fleeing Federals.  Other Confederates chased some Federals to the very gates of Evergreen Cemetery.  At last, Major General Schurz took two regiments from Krzyzanowski’s Brigade to serve as reinforcements for the struggling Eleventh Corps.  The arrival of these Union troops surprised the Louisiana Tigers and pushed them back to a stone wall at the base of the hill.  The 5th and 6th Louisiana soldiers became isolated during this retreat and were pinned down by canister from Stewart’s regular battery.  It is possible that Carroll had survived throughout most of the day’s fighting and was struck down there, during the retreat from Cemetery Hill.  The two regiments took shelter behind a small knoll along the northern slope of the hill, where they remained isolated from the rest of the brigade as they continued to take merciless rifled fire from the enemy.  Eventually, the two regiments managed to escape and rejoin their comrades as the Union forces that held the hill did not have the strength both to hold the hill and send out troops to pursue the battered Louisianans.  Soon afterwards, the sounds of gunfire ceased and the smoke began to clear as the battle halted for the night.

We will never know exactly where or how Carroll died on July 2nd.  Carroll’s burial location is unknown, meaning that he was likely buried on the battlefield near where he fell, then exhumed in the early 1870s, along with many other dead Confederates, and sent southward to either Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia or another such southern cemetery.  The 6th Louisiana brought 218 men into battle on July 2nd, and by the end of the day, twenty eight percent of the regiment, including John Carroll, had been killed, wounded, or were missing.

The End of a More than 8,000 Mile Journey Constructed in 1971, the Louisiana State Monument in Gettysburg depicts a mortally wounded Washington Artillerist and the avenging Spirit of the Confederacy. The Louisiana Tigers embodied this spirit when charging into battle. Photo by Emily Jumba

John Carroll did not have a will, but one of his officers signed a form stating that Carroll had $316.00 with his possessions when he died.  His final paycheck for his service amounted to $22.00 and covered December 31, 1862 until July 25, 1863.  This sum was a lot of money to carry into battle with him.  Many soldiers would have sent the majority of their wages to family or friends back on the homefront.  Perhaps there was no one back in New Orleans that Carroll trusted enough to take care of it for him, or maybe he was saving it up to bring some of his family members from Ireland to the United States.  This goal would have been much more attainable with a professor’s wages than a laborer’s, which supports why he had so much money on him at his death.  If this were true, then his death would also have had an enormous impact on his family back in Ireland, who would have been anticipating a reunion with him in the United States.  The quantity of money that Carroll had in his possession at his death is also a testament to his desire to rise up the socio-economic ladder.  He had worked his way up from the bottom of society as a poor Irish Catholic immigrant who fled the Potato Famine, to become a respected member of society who could afford to have over $300.00 literally sitting in his pocket in the heat of battle.  Sadly, he had just achieved his new status shortly before enlisting, so he did not even have much time to enjoy it.  As he had no will, he could not even pass the profits of his socio-economic climb on in the form of money to his relatives, which makes his death even more tragic.  In fighting to preserve the society into which he had so proudly assimilated and risen through hard work, and to protect his precarious socio-economic position that was rooted in the political economy ruled by his patrons, John Carroll had lost everything.  

The Memory of a Fallen Tiger

Carroll’s death had far-reaching impacts both upon his fellow soldiers and on his acquaintances in New Orleans.  Having served for two full years alongside his fellow Louisianans, through all of the major engagements of the eastern theatre of the war, he undoubtedly had formed close bonds with at least some of them.  Furthermore, those men had come from the same residential and ethno-religious community, where personal ties were that much stronger , not to mention that the famed Louisiana Tigers prided themselves on their strong unit cohesion.  Even though Carroll may have had a difficult time initially adjusting to living amongst his rather rowdy fellow Irishmen due to his new-found socio-economic status that he sought so desperately to protect, as an original member of the regiment with strong roots in the city’s Irish Catholic laboring class, his death and those of so many of his comrades likely dealt a major blow to the unit and their morale.  Some may have felt survivor’s guilt, particularly if they were fighting near those men who were killed during the battle.  Regardless of the specifics of Carroll’s death—whether from a sharpshooter’s bullet, a bullet taken while ascending the hill, a deadly blow in hand-to-hand combat, or an iron fragment from an exploding cannon shell—the chances are that his death was graphic and shocking for comrades to see, and it was likely not the quintessential “Good Death” that so many soldiers had once romantically envisioned their final moments to be. Additionally, that he had died during one of the Confederates’ closest chances to a victory on July 2 or 3—a chance deprived by poor communication and coordination—made his death that much more frustrating.

Additionally, Carroll’s acquaintances back in New Orleans also felt the impact of his death. These individuals included even more members of the Irish immigrant community, among whom he had worked for several years as a laborer before embarking on his short-lived career as a dance professor, as well as his former dance students and their wealthy families.  His death would have had a rippling effect across socio-economic lines throughout New Orleans due to his close ties both with the laboring Irish community and the wealthier class.  He had fought for two years alongside predominantly working-class Irish immigrants, with whom he would have established close relationships (in addition to the bonds formed during his years as a laborer).  Carroll had embodied what many of them hoped for regarding their own futures—he had fled devastation and ruin in the Old Country and successfully rose up through the ranks of society into the middle class and established himself among the patrons of the upper classes, despite his humble, Irish-Catholic background.  Some very well may have looked up to him as an example to emulate.  

In addition, the wealthy class that he became acquainted with through his professorship would have felt the ramifications of his loss, as he was fighting primarily to protect their way of life and his new found niche within it.  If slavery were to be abolished, the influx of wage laborers into the job market would have upset his precarious societal position and his relationship with his patrons.  By fighting to preserve status, he also fought for that of his wealthy patrons, and eventually died for that cause.  He also died fighting to prove that he was a true “American” who was loyal to his adopted state and its new country.  He would never know whether he had fully achieved that respect or appreciation of his patrons’ class.

Enlarge

LA-monument-reverse
Another view of the Louisiana State Monument

Photo by: Emily Jumba

Interestingly, Louisiana did not erect a monument to its soldiers and their sacrifices at Gettysburg until 1971—109 years after John Carroll and the Tigers made their night-time charge up Cemetery Hill.  The Louisiana State monument is located on West Confederate Avenue, near the Longstreet Observation Tower.  The monument’s required placement along West Confederate Ave obscures the fighting of the Hays’s brigade and the other Louisianans who fought at Gettysburg as it focuses visitors’ attention instead upon the central portion of the battlefield most often associated with the famed “Pickett’s Charge;” however, no Louisiana troops fought in the Pickett-Pettigrew assault, and only a few Louisiana artillery batteries were engaged on West Confederate Ave on July 2. Rather, the bulk of their action was far to the northwest of where the state monument stands, and receives far less attention and visitation than do other sections of the battlefield, and particularly the main Cemetery Ridge-Seminary Ridge lines.  Additionally, there is very limited signage of any kind interpreting the Louisianans’ actions on Cemetery Hill on July 2nd, are hardly any to speak of in the town itself that interprets their role in the street fighting. The monument depicts a dying Louisiana artillerist of the famed Washington Artillery (who fought near the monument) clutching a Confederate battle flag to his heart.  Standing above the fallen soldier is a man representing the spirit of the Confederacy, who is blowing a bugle and holding a flaming cannonball.  The monument strangely emphasizes the “glorious” role of the Washington Artillery above all else, perhaps due to their fame and respect, and that they fought near the monument, even though far more Louisiana infantry fought at Gettysburg (and fought more famously there) than did the artillery. Nevertheless, the monument showcases Louisianans’ enduring claims to their soldiers’ sacred valor on the battlefield and their dedication to remembering and glorifying their sacrifices. 

The spirit blows his bugle to rally other soldiers to the fight in order to avenge the fallen man  and prepares to lead them into battle himself with his flaming cannonball.  The monument sentimentalizes battle as it glorifies death in battle—a tragic but necessary part of the greater Confederate cause.   The romanticization and justification of the soldier’s death is showcased through the dramatic pose of the dying soldier clutching the flag to his heart.  A unit’s flag was one of its most important symbols during a battle.  Not only did the flag symbolically represent a unit’s home state, but it was often actually made by loved ones from the home community, such as the wives, sisters, and mothers of soldiers.  A piece of home was then ever present with the soldiers on the battlefield and was a material reminder of the loved ones that they had left behind.  That this soldier is gripping the flag to his heart suggests that he has died willingly for cause and comrades, in defense of home and nation; his death, then, is just, it is sacred, and it is righteous.   This overly glorified, hyper-dramatized, and sentimental portrayal of Louisianans’ deaths and the ultimate meaning of their sacrifices at Gettysburg is discordant with the actual experiences of many Louisianans such as Carroll who actually fought at Gettysburg.  Nowhere can be found any allusion to the sinister street fighting and sharpshooting, the viciousness of the hand-to-hand combat, or the brutality of body-splitting artillery shells that formed the bulk of John Carroll’s and his comrades’ Gettysburg experiences. Additionally, Hays’s Louisiana Tigers were hardly the clean-cut, sharp-looking, wealthy and refined men of the Washington Artillery here depicted; both their appearance and their reputation diverge dramatically from the narrative conveyed by the state monument of the “average” Louisiana soldier.

That being said, one wonders whether Carroll could have been able to see himself in the image of the dead man on the monument, grasping his adopted country’s battle flag to his heart, willing to die for a cause, a new nation, and an adopted home in which he had finally, though precariously, established a progressive foothold? Would he have recognized himself as the soldier clinging to the flag as proof that he was, indeed, worthy to be called “American,” as he was willing to die for the Confederacy’s interpretation of what it meant to be truly American? Or would he have seen his sacrifice as in vain, erasing his hard-earned successes, and robbing him of life and his family back in Ireland literally of his life savings in his pocket that might have been used to better their fortunes?

Certainly, Carroll would not have recognized the pristine and orderly battle and death scene depicted on the monument, as his reality was far more chaotic and grisly, and he had seen far too many men writhe in agony from their wounds and infection to be convinced by the stoic grasping of the battle flag to the heart. He also might have rankled over the choice of a Washington Artillerist to represent Louisiana’s experience at Gettysburg.  Nevertheless, Carroll very well may have recognized in the Spirit of the Confederacy the proud spirit of the unit he had fought with the previous two years.  The avenging spirit who hovers above the fallen soldier with the flaming cannonball encapsulates the vengeful martial aggression upon which the Tigers prided themselves—even if the actual appearance of the Tigers proved far different from that of the hovering Spirit.  The Tigers were known for their ferocity and courage and battle, similar to the spirit who is ready to launch a flaming cannonball at the enemy.  

In reality, it is difficult to imagine a monument that might more fully capture the complexities of someone like John Carroll—a man with a multinational past whose roots in the Irish-Catholic laboring class and aspirational ties with the southern patrician class made for precarious, liminal position between the past he sought to advance from, and the future he had not quite fully or stably attained. Ultimately, at Gettysburg, Carroll sacrificed everything for a personal dream he would never achieve—a dream which joined those of thousands of other diverse Confederates, who fell trying to make those dreams, for better or worse, a reality.

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Narrative and Map by Emily Jumba