Although Michael Corcoran had lived in the United States for over a decade by 1860, his heart still belonged to his native Ireland. That year, Corcoran was a Colonel in the 69th New York Militia, and he refused to march in a parade honoring the visiting Prince of Wales in New York City. The feisty Irishman’s refusal, due to his opposition of British treatment of his homeland, made him a bit of a minor celebrity in New York. Before grabbing headlines, Corcoran was born in County Sligo in 1827, the son of a British Army officer.
He settled in the U.S. in 1849 and worked at a tavern in New York City. Corcoran enlisted as a private in the 69th New York Militia, and was a Colonel by 1859. The famed 69th went on to become known as “The Irish Brigade.” Corcoran became involved in local politics during the 1850s. Democratic leaders in New York knew that the influential Corcoran could help deliver the important Irish vote in elections, and his services were relied upon.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, Corcoran was named General and he led his regiment to Washington, D.C. to help protect the capital. Although Corcoran had great admiration for his native Ireland, he also dearly loved America. He was quoted as saying, “One half of my heart is Erin’s, and the other half is America’s. God bless America, and ever preserve her the asylum of all the oppressed on the Earth, is the sincere prayer of my heart.”
Corcoran was captured during the First Battle of Bull Run, and was held prisoner until an exchange in August 1862. He recruited many more Irish soldiers into his unit and other New York regiments, which became known as the Corcoran Legion. Corcoran led his men at the Siege of Suffolk, Virginia and at the Battle of Deserted House, also in Virginia. On December 22, 1863, General Corcoran was thrown from his horse near Fairfax, Virginia. He sustained a fractured skull and died at the age of 36.