155th New York Volunteer Infantry
Reenactment Regiment, Inc.
S-4748 Hunters Creek Road
East Aurora, NY 14052-9510


Corcoran's Irish Zouaves: The 164th New York State Volunteers

155th New York Reenactment Regiment members display the Zouave uniform of the 164th New York.

Brother Regiment of the 155th New York
by Kevin O'Beirne

The early recruiting history of Corcoran's Legion is confusing, especially for Corcoran's Buffalo enlistees. The original "Buffalo Irish Regiment" recruited in the summer of 1862 by Colonel John McMahon never saw action as a single unit. Instead, in November,1862, General Corcoran was ordered by the State of New York to consolidate his eight under-strength battalions into "full-sized" regiments of 750 - 1,000 men each. A casualty of this consolidation was McMahon's "3rd Regiment"--the Buffalo boys.

Desertion had reduced the original Buffalo Irish Regiment from its initial enlistment of about 570 men to approximately 400 men, organized into a five-company battalion, by the time the regiment joined the Corcoran Legion in October, 1862. When the brigade was reorganized the following month, only two Buffalo companies, I and K, remained in the 155th New York. The other three companies: B from Lockport, NY, and C and D from Buffalo, were consolidated with Corcoran's 7th Regiment--recruited by John Burke in the New York City area, and a partial "8th Regiment".

The combined organization was mustered into the Federal army as the 164th New York State Volunteers. The 164th included the three companies from the Buffalo area, one company from Potsdam in northern New York, and six companies from New York City and Brooklyn. Buffalonian John McMahon was placed in command of the 164th.

Probably because the unit was made up of men from so many different towns, no locally-made regimental green (Irish) flag was presented to the unit and instead, this Irish regiment carried a standard blue regimental banner.

Colonel James McMahon of the 164th New York plays chess with his staff officers in the company of his visiting family. Note the regimental flag at the left side of the photo.

Throughout the Civil War, the Buffalo newspapers often reported on the Buffalo companies of the 164th and 155th New York as a single unit, because that was the way they had been recruited. Buffalo's sons of Erin in the 164th and 155th served beside each other in every battle fought by the Legion.

The 164th was arguably the hardest fighting unit of the Corcoran Legion. Of 766 men mustered into the regiment, 490 were lost. The only Irish Zouave regiment in the Union Army was led by the gallant James P. McMahon, brother of the late 155th's/164th's Colonel John McMahon. James, a pillar of strength on the battlefield, became legendary to the Irish; he sacrificed his life leading his men to the top of the rebel breastworks at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864.

Image of the 164th NY Vols shortly after the February 1863 issue of their Zouave uniforms

Perhaps recalling the romantic allure of Capt. Thomas F. Meagher's
Zouave company
in the old 69th New York Militia in 1861, General Corcoran wanted to have one regiment in his Irish Legion uniformed in the distinct attire of the North African French colonial soldier--the Zouaves.

On October 22, 1862 Corcoran requested from the Quartermaster at the New York City Depot that the "uniform of the 164th New York Vols...be
exactly similar to the Hawkin's [sic] Zouaves except for the...scull
[sic] cap."

The Hawkins's Zouave uniform worn by the 164th was dark blue wool with
red trim and tombeaux. The pants were an "Americanized" cut--less-baggy Chasseur-style trousers. The waist-sash worn by the 164th was most likely of red flannel, similar to the later issues of the Hawkins's Zouave uniform furnished to other regiments. While the Hawkins's Zouave uniform was "topped off" with a red fez with a blue tassel, the Irish Zouaves' headgear was somewhat different--a blue fez with a green tassel.

The 164th received their Zouave uniforms on February 20, 1863.

A blue regimental flag similar to the one carried by the 164th New York. The 164th was one of the few ethnic, Irish regiments in the Civil War that did not carry a green flag.

In May of 1864, the Corcoran Legion joined the Army of the Potomac from duty around Washington, DC where the Zouaves of the 164th, and the other Regiments of the Corcoran Legion would march into history.

Period letters from both the 164th and 155th NY indicate that there was no small amount of friction between the Western New York and New York City Irishmen of both regiments. The Buffalo Irish took comfort in the fact that their bonds with the neighbors with whom they had enlisted never broke. Today, the recreated 155th New York Reenactment Regiment Co. I looks back with pride upon its predecessor unit, as well as Companies B, C, and D of the 164th New York...Corcoran's Irish Zouaves.

James P. McMahonJames P. McMahon
Captain, 69th NY Co. K (Irish Brigade)
Lt. Col., 155th NYSV
Colonel, 164th NYSV (in this picture)
Killed June 3, 1864, Cold Harbor VA

The Death of Colonel James McMahon

Would you like to have me tell you,
Of how the young Colonel died?
God grant my memory may not fail,
Nor that my tongue be tied.

You can write it down and print it
In your biggest type of gold,
For sure no braver heart
A mortal breast could hold.

Twas the second weary night
Of that hot and bloody June;
We marched along the pickets,
We camped beneath the moon.

Behind us, sixty miles of death,
Virginia thickets lay;
Before us lay Cold Harbor,
The hell to come next day.

Sitting in the tent-door,
In the silvery dew,
We talked of old Buffalo,
And of the girls we knew.

Spread o'er the silent fields below
The mist lay like a pond;
We seemed to see the long dark streets,
And the white lake beyond.

The Colonel mused, then turned and said:
"I'm glad a moon so bright
Will hold her face to mine
As I lie dead tomorrow night!"

We charged at noon. The Colonel led
Green Erin's old Brigade,
While Longstreet's blazing cannon,
From behind their breastworks played.

We charged 'til full in front
They felt our fiery breakers swell,
Through a sea of rattling muskets
And a storm of grape and shell.

The Colonel led through fire and smoke,
His sword did wave and shine;
And still the brave sound of his voice
Drew on our struggling line.

As o'er the surf at Wicklow
I've heard the seagull cry,
His voice it rose above the storm
And sounded clear and high.

Then all at once our colors sank -
I saw them reel and nod;
And the Colonel sprang and caught them
Before they touched the sod.

Another leap, and with a shout -
The Rebs they mind it well -
He stood alone upon their works,
Waved the old flag . . . and fell.

I stayed to help the Colonel
And I crept to where he lay.
A smile came gently o'er his face,
And he motioned me away.

"I'm torn to pieces, George," said he,
"Go save yourself, Goodnight!"
I bent to wet his parched lips
and to shield him from the light.

Then as gently as my mother
That smile came up and shone,
Once more upon his marble lips
And the gallant soul was gone.

We left him at Cold Harbor,
The spot was bleak and bare;
I hate to think that I'm at home
And he's still lying there.

I know his sleep will not be sweet
Nor his gallant spirit still,
Til we lay him alone in the friendly dust
Of yonder slanting hill.

Where from the town he loved so well
Will come the daily hum,
And the lake's loud roar upon the beach
When quiet nights shall come.

Well might his city rear his tomb
In marble words to tell,
How the bravest of her blood was shed
When young McMahon fell!


155th New York Volunteers
Captain David Bertuca
S-4748 Hunters Creek Road
East Aurora, NY 14052-9510


Last modified: 22 January 2013
PURL: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~dbertuca/155/164thNYVols.html

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