Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Knight In Shining Armor at Little Round Top



The O’Rorke family immigrated to the United States from County Cavan, Ireland when Patrick Henry “Paddy” O’Rorke was still an infant. Settling in Upstate New York, the community of Rochester became Paddy O’Rorke’s hometown throughout his formative youth. His scholarly prowess was legendary and is still recalled with fond affection by Rochester-area educators. Paddy O’Rorke left Rochester in 1857 to accept a cadetship appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated West Point in June 1861—at the top of his class. First assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers, Second Lieutenant O’Rorke showed rare skill and brilliant talent as an Army engineering officer. Paddy O”Rorke saw considerable Civil War combat during the summer of 1861 and into 1862. Serving with General McDowell’s Army, his first combat occurred during the Manassas Campaign at the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford and the First Battle of Bull Run. Confederate fire killed his horse under him while riding into battle at Bull Run. Leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, Paddy O’Rorke was additionally recognized for gallant and meritorious service during the significant Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Colonel Patrick Henry O'Rorke was Commanding Officer of the noble 140th Infantry Regiment New York State Volunteers throughout the first half of 1863. The 140th New York became one of the best regiments in the Army of the Potomac––due largely to Colonel O’Rorke’s good discipline and training methods––military traits instilled and reinforced in the manly and good character of his Upstate New York Volunteers. In early afternoon of July 2, 1863, Colonel O’Rorke was leading the 140th New York to support heavy Gettysburg fighting near the Wheatfield––when he was spotted by General G. K. Warren--who urgently rode to his dear friend Paddy, requesting he instruct the 140th New York to turn-aside and defend Little Round Top. Colonel O’Rorke promptly understood the critical nature of General Warren’s pleading and ordered the 140th New York to the summit of lightly protected Little Round Top “on-the-double-quick”. This intelligent, articulate and promising twenty-six-year-old colonel was Killed-In-Action later in the afternoon of July 2, 1863, instantly slain by a Confederate sharpshooter with a shot through the neck. He had coolly jumped-up on a rock and shouted his last order…“Down this way, boys!” Colonel O’Rorke was at the front of his 140th New York Regiment, rushing downhill off Little Round Top summit in what some have called a charge. This critical 140th New York movement backed the heavily engaged and nearly overrun Union forces of the brave 16th Michigan Infantry Regiment––and ultimately reversed a nearly successful right flank break-through by the bold Texas 4th and 5th Regiments. A monument to Colonel O’Rorke is placed on the summit of Little Round Top where colonel fell. Some years later, members of the 140th Regiment of New York State Volunteers dedicated this monument in ceremonies to the memory of their beloved colonel.


Several written historical judgments state that Colonel Patrick Henry O’Rorke, among other leaders, were as vital to the successful Union Army defense of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top as was the notable Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. This statement is not in any way intended to diminish the very significant contribution of Colonel Chamberlain’s 20th Maine to the Union defense of Little Round Top. But Colonel O’Rorke died from wounds suffered in combat July 2, 1863 on Little Round Top. Obviously, Colonel O’Rorke did not have Colonel Chamberlain’s near 50-years post Gettysburg longevity to frequently write, speak, and even promote the courageous exploits of his regiment. Fighting men of the 20th Maine would have almost certainly been overrun by the tenacity and superior force of Texas 4th and 5th troops––from the high ground right flank on Little Round Top––had it not been for Colonel O’Rorke and his 140th New York’s quick and direct action to fight-back and repulse the Confederate advance on northwest incline of that rocky hill. Some observers––including General Ellis Spear––then second-in-command of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, accused Chamberlain of “historical dishonesty” in some of his early 20th century writings. There can be no doubt that Colonel Patrick Henry O’Rorke and Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain––among many other leaders––were each important liberators of Little Round Top. Brian A. Bennett concludes in his book The Beau Ideal of A Soldier and a Gentleman: The Life of Col. Patrick Henry O'Rorke from Ireland to Gettysburg “…the exploits of Patrick Henry O'Rorke have been overshadowed on the pages of history by the actions of others on that rocky slope.”

As the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg approaches, please remember that righteous and honorable Civil War hero Patrick Henry O’Rorke, Colonel of the courageous troops of the 140th Infantry Regiment, New York State Volunteers--men who each hailed from Rochester and Greater Monroe County of the State of New York.




Approches to Little Round Top, 1863



Other references:
Brian A. Bennett, "Sons of Old Monroe: A Regimental History of Patrick O'Rorke's 140th New York Volunteer Infantry"

Jeremiah E. Goulka, "The Grand Old Man of Maine––Selected Letters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain"

Garry E. Adelman, "The Myth of Little Round Top–Gettysburg, PA"

Ellis Spear, "The Civil War Recollections of General Ellis Spear"