Cleansing Fire

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Gettysburg: Part I – Colonel Patrick O’Rourke

April 23rd, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

I have been in Gettysburg for the greater part of this week, and have been enjoying every minute of it as a prelude to the sure-to-be transcendent Mass tomorrow. As I promised, I will be posting many bits and pieces of my trip, all of which contain a clear tie to us and our faith.

The first part does both – it is both Catholic and local.

Born in Ireland, O’Rourke soon came to Rochester to start a new life. He was offered a full scholarship to the University of Rochester, but he refused. Why? Because his Catholic faith was not respected by Methodist institution. Not much has changed in that respect, save that there is now no semblance of any Christian affiliation at that university.

The following is taken from an online biography of O’Rourke:

Patrick Henry O’Rourke, a hero for the Union forces at the Battle of Gettysburg, was born in Drumbess, Cornafean on March 25, 1837. He became a highly decorated soldier of the Union Army in the American Civil War. In his infancy, his parents emigrated to America and settled in the upstate New York city of Rochester.  Their house, at 19 Emmitt St. was located in an Irish section of the city called ‘Dublin’. Patrick excelled in his education, and graduated from  Rochester’s public schools in the mid-1850s, and was universally acclaimed as the city’s finest student.

He was offered a scholarship to the University of Rochester, but instead accepted an apprenticeship as a marble cutter and mason at the Hibbard Marble Works. He soon was regarded as the best mason in Rochester but he abandoned this career at the age of 20, when he was accepted as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. He was the only member of his class born outside of the United States.  
In June 1861, he graduated first in his class. Interestingly, General George A. Custer, later remembered for his role in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, was one of O?Rourke?s classmates. On his graduation, O?Rourke was assigned to the elite Corps of Engineers, and became immediately involved in the Civil War. He was a staff officer at the first battle of the war, Bull Run, where the horse he was riding was killed.
He then took part in several key assignments, designing and building the defenses for several cities, and was selected to accept the Confederate surrender at Fort Pulaski, Georgia in April 1862.  That summer, he took leave and returned to Rochester to marry his childhood sweetheart on July 9th. Shortly after his wedding, he was promoted to Colonel and given command of the newly formed 140th N.Y. Infantry Regiment.
He led the 140th at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the later Battle of Chancellorsville, he was in charge of the brigade in which the 140th served. O’Rourke was temporarily promoted to brigade command from Jan. 1863 to June 1863. However, his life was to end tragically on July 2, 1863 at the famed Battle of Gettysburg. In an effort to defend the strategic Little Round Top, which if lost would had jeopardized the entire battle, O’Rourke led his 500 men in a charge over the crest of the hill and was killed after sustaining a bullet wound in the throat. He was 27 years old.
Ironically, his forces were successful in defending the position, without which the Union forces would have been defeated in that important battle.  The United Stated Military War Collage has rated that day’s action on Little Round Top as the single most significant small unit action of the entire Civil War.
Colonel O’Rourke was posthumously given another promotion, to brevet colonel, and cited by the U.S. Army for “gallant and meritous service, at all of the battles he was engaged in. was given a full military funeral and buried in the Catholic cemetery on Pinnacle Hill. When that cemetery closed, he was moved to Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Rochester. His wife Clara was devastated by his death and later entered the Sisterhood of the Sacred Heart.(She became a nun.)

Here is the monument erected in his honor on Little Round Top, very near to the spot whereupon he was shot through the throat defending liberty.

This is the view from the position he defended atop that hill, south of Gettysburg. One can plainly see how and why it was such a strong position.
More posts to come.

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2 Responses to “Gettysburg: Part I – Colonel Patrick O’Rourke”

  1. avatar VCS says:

    Great story Gen! Can't wait to hear more from your trip! We can truly be proud of our Catholic faith and its influence on our country!
    May Col O'Rorke rest in peace! God Bless him and his wife!

  2. avatar Richard J Russette says:

    just returned from Gettysburg with my family, stood where Patrick o’Rorke died and Strong Vincent fell.What a experience to stand where those great men stood 148 years ago. we had a great guide named Ellan. She showed and explained everything about the 3 days battle.


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