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Campaigning With the Irish Brigade: John Ryan

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Campaigning With the Irish Brigade: John Ryan, 28th Massachusetts

By Sandy Barnard

In late 1861, 16-year-old John Ryan of West Newton, Mass., enlisted for three years in the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, thus beginning a lengthy Army career that extended to December 1876 and included 10 years in the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment on the Plains under the legendary Lt. Col. George A. Custer .

But first came four years of Civil War service, starting with his years in the 28th Massachusetts, much of it while the hard-fighting unit was assigned to the Irish Brigade of Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher. Another seven months followed late in the war in the 61st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. 

Between his Civil War service in the Massachusetts regiments and the 7th Cavalry, Ryan saw many "hard sights" on some 45 battlefields. In the Civil War, he fought at Secessionville, South Carolina; Manassas and Chantilly, Virginia; Antietam, Maryland; Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Virginia; and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In his last battle with the 28th on August 25, 1864, at Reams Station, Virginia, he was seriously wounded. Yet he survived the carnage of the Civil War as well as on the Plains against Indians at the Washita and Little Bighorn rivers.

In 1876, he returned to his home in West Newton, where he lived for 50 more years. More important for history, he wrote a 600-page memoir of his military career that included 475 pages on his experiences in the Indian wars. 

Another 125 pages dealt with his Civil War career and provide an extraordinary look into the life of an enlisted man in the 28th Massachusetts, one of the hardest- fighting regiments in the Union Army. Despite its sterling record, little has been published about the 28th's unique role in the Union effort against the Confederacy. That's why Ryan's chronicling of his years in the 28th is so important. 

224 pages. 83 illustrations and map. Softcover 

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