The following is a guest post from Head of Acquisitions & Processing Denise Gallo.
Running past the Nation’s Capitol into Virginia, the Potomac River is fed by myriad tributaries, one of which is the Occoquan. Flowing into that river just south of Manassas, Virginia, is a creek called Bull Run. It was there on 21 July 1861 that the Union Army, badgered by the public to march south to attack Richmond, met Confederate forces for the first major battle of the Civil War (a second battle would be fought at Bull Run some 13 months later). Taking victory was the South, under the command of Brigadier Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston; the North was led by Brig. General Irvin McDowell. A major part of the action saw Union soldiers attempting to ford Bull Run and break through enemy lines. The Confederates, however, had bolstered their position; indeed one leader, Thomas J. Jackson, stood his ground so firmly that he earned his now-famous nickname: “Stonewall.”
Today’s sheet music pays tribute to lesser but equally noble fighters who fought at Bull Run. Regiments often were comprised of foreigners like Germans, Italians, Poles, and Scots who volunteered to fight for their new homeland. The potato famine that struck Ireland mid-century forced thousands to resettle in America, and the Irish, too, took up arms. One of the most famous Irish militias, the Fighting 69th from New York, was among the first to reach Bull Run that day. All told, 192 were killed, but their valiant actions won them the title of “The Fighting Irish.” One legend has it that when two of the regiment chaplains later moved to Indiana, they gave Notre Dame’s football team its nickname.
“Long Live the 69th,” the title page tells us, was performed as the musical highlight of a festival held August 29, 1861, to benefit “the WIDOWS & ORPHANS of those of the 69th Reg.t who fell at the BATTLE OF BULL RUN.” The song not only memorializes the regiment’s actions that day but also demonstrates how new world newcomers banded together to help each other survive the immigrant experience.