Gen. Michael Corcoran recognized in Fairfax County Sesquicentennial event

Fairfax County recognized the fallen general with the placing of a historical marker. Photo: Gen. Corcoran and marker/ Ed Trexler

VIENNA, Va ., October 31, 2013 — An article in this column in late August told the story of Union General Michael Corcoran, head of the 69th Regiment, New York National Guard, known as Corcoran’s Irish Legion. Corcoran was a strong-willed yet a favorite among the Union forces, and was known, upon occasion, for his high jinks and more than occasional imbibing of strong spirits, as it was referred to back then.

An unofficial quick horse race with another Army buddy led to his unfortunate demise near here in Fairfax City on December 22, 1863 when he either fell off his horse or was thrown or bumped off in the impromptu contest and sustained a serious head injury from which he died, in the Joshua Gunnell house across the street.

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This local death of a Union officer has recently been recognized by the Fairfax County Sesquicentennial Committee when a historic marker was unveiled on North Street near Main, on October 19, 2013 with all of the pomp and circumstance possible on a fairly busy Saturday in Fairfax.

Representatives of both sides’ descendants appeared in support and tribute, Past Camp Cmdr. Keith Young of the Sons of Union Veterans and his Confederate counterpart, Cmdr. James Becker of the Sons of Confederate Veterans were on hand and took part.

The official program of the event stated that he was “Thrown from a runaway horse on Ox Road, a quarter mile to the South” and it will probably never be accurately known how the fall occurred – some sources maintain he died of a stroke, but the horse race encounter and subsequent fall is by far the more prevalent version.

At the time of his death, Corcoran headed all area Washington Defense Department Forces at the request of President Lincoln. He is also credited with organizing and leading the Union’s eponymous “Irish Legion” as well as commanding the “Fenian Brotherhood” of New York, which had been formed in pursuit of Irish Independence.

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The sound of Steve Cochrane’s bagpipes filled the air with “Forward the Colors” and a brief talk was given by Colin Owens, Professor Emeritus, at George Mason University.

At the conclusion, Rev. Coleman Tyler of Truro Anglican Church gave the Benediction. 

It would have been to the great approval of Gen. Corcoran that a reception was held at the Auld Shebeen Irish Pub a block away, featuring testimonies by many of those attending, and accompanied by such Irish dishes as Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, potato leek soup, fish and chips and Guinness beef stew!   Plenty of Irish beer and other potables were also available.

Though the morning had been characteristically misty, the skies cleared when the Irish music filled the air; one thinks General Corcoran would have been mighty pleased, faith and begorrah!

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Read more of Martha’s columns at The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow her on Face Book or LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email at   

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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