Vermont’s Irish Rebel

Captain John Lonergan – Civil War Hero


Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Afternoon of July 2, 1863

     “Boys, lie down or you’ll surely be hit!” shouted First Lieutenant John Sinnott, rising up from the sheltering breastworks of fence rails as the fierce Confederate bombardment began to subside. Soldiers jumping to their feet for a better view of the battlefield were exposing themselves to enemy fire. Just as he warned the men to take cover, a fragment from a bursting shell struck Sinnott in the head and he himself fell, severely wounded. The Rutland schoolteacher had given his last order to the members of Vermont’s “Irish Company.”

His commander and close friend, Captain John Lonergan, had moved Company A, 13th Vermont Volunteer Infantry Regiment, forward with the other units of the Second Vermont Brigade when the rebel cannon had opened fire two hours earlier. The three Vermont regiments had found some shelter behind hastily built defenses along the small stream called Plum Run. The Green Mountain boys, with the 13th Regiment on the right, now hugged the ground a hundred yards in advance of the main Union battle line on Cemetery Ridge, the target of the enemy artillery barrage. Lonergan’s men, mostly Irishmen, held the position of honor on the extreme right, the senior company in the oldest Vermont regiment present.


      Join the soliders of Vermont’s “Irish Company” as they serve out most of their enlistment guarding the outer defenses of Washington, only to be thrown into the pursuit of Lee as he headed north. An epic forced march brought them to the battlefield on July 2, when the company fought with distinction. Lonergan and his men the next day spearheaded the charge against the rebel forces assaulting Cemetery Ridge, shattering the right flank of Pickett’s Division.

    The complex origins of the struggle to overhthrow British rule of Ireland are clearly explained in Part I of the book, which ends with the failure of the 1848 rebellion. A renewed effort by exiles in America brought Lonergan into a key position in the Fenian Brotherhood. Part II describes that organization and the harsh impact of the Civil War. Lonergan’s status as a war hero placed him in the forefront of the Irish community in Vermont. Part III narrates the failed attempts of the Fenians to invade Canada in 1866 and 1870.

“A well-researched work telling the interesting story of Captain John Lonergan, Medal of Honor receipient for action at the Battle of Gettysburg and leader of the Irish revolutionary movement in Vermont.” Andy Ward, Licensed Battlefield Guide, Gettysburg National Military Park

“Historian Bill McKone brings to light the life of John Lonergan, the single most important Vermont Irishman of his generation. Lonergan’s life weaves through the great events of the mid-nineteenth century Irish-American experience.” Vincent E. Feeney, author of Finnigans, Slaters and Stonepeggers: A History of the Irish in Vermont.