It Happened in July

Many things happened in the month of July which have a significant meaning to those of Irish descent. Among the many are the Irish and Irish Americans who contributed to the American Revolution that created this great nation and those who subsequently defended it. Among the latter are many familiar names, but there are also some who are not that familiar, but should be. One example of the latter is Patrick Henry O’Rorke. Who? Exactly!

Patrick Henry O’Rorke was born in County Cavan on March 28, 1836. His parents brought him to America as a child and settled in the section of Rochester, NY known as Little Dublin. After High School, despite winning 3 scholarships, young Patrick had to work to help support his family. Years later, his scholastic ability was recalled however, and he was offered an appointment to West Point. On July 1, 1857 he became the oldest plebe in his class and one of the first Irish to attend that citadel of military might. When the Civil War broke out, he graduated first in his class and was assigned to Washington DC. He saw action at Manassas and Bull Run before being assigned to the Corps of Engineers to design and construct defenses for the Capital. On July 9, 1862, he returned to Rochester and married his childhood sweetheart, Clara Bishop.

Meanwhile, Lincoln’s call for more troops was answered by the formation of two regiments from Rochester and Monroe County, and O’Rorke was asked to lead the new 140th NY, assigned to the Army of the Potomac’s V Corps. Colonel O’Rorke led the 140th NY in action at Fredericksburg and gained a promotion to Major for gallant and meritorious service. After Fredericksburg, he became acting Brigade Commander at Chancellorsville. Later, he and the 140th NY found themselves at a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg in one of the war’s most crucial confrontations.

During the battle, on July 2, 1863, a crisis arose on the Union left as Confederate troops broke through the flank of the Federal forces on a hill known as Little Round Top. The 140th was ordered to their relief. As O’Rorke reached the crest of the hill, he saw rebels swarming up the wooded incline. With no time to deploy his men, O’Rorke jumped from his horse, drew his sword and shouted Down this way, boys and led his men down the slope toward the enemy. After fierce fighting, the rebels were driven back, the breach was sealed, and the Union forces were saved from an outflanking maneuver that would have cost them the battle. Sadly, during the charge, O’Rorke was shot through the neck and fell dead among the rocks of Little Round Top. He was only 27 years old, and just 7 days short of his first wedding anniversary. His wife never remarried, but instead entered a religious order.

In 1889, the Veterans of the 140th NY dedicated a stone marker with a bronze likeness of their fallen colonel on Little Round Top, and in April, 2000, the City of Rochester dedicated the new Colonel Patrick O’Rorke Memorial Bridge in his honor. And why would we remember this Irish immigrant who contributed so much to the greatness of America in the month of July? Well, that is the month in which he entered West Point, the month in which he married his sweetheart, and the month in which he went home to his God.

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