From a rise of land known as Chin Ridge, the men of the 75th Ohio saw a sight that must have made their blood run cold. They were part of Union General John Pope’s Army of Virginia (not to be confused with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia), which had in the Summer of 1862 been proceeding south in an attempt to capture Richmond and end the war. However, troops under the famed “Stonewall Jackson” had outmaneuvered Pope and reoccupied the old First Bull Run/Manassas battlefield where the American Civil war had started a year ago. Sensing an opportunity to crush the vaunted Jackson, Pope turned to engage him while ignoring reports that another Confederate force was approaching on his left flank. Now the men of the 75th were seeing that other Confederate force, led by John Bell Hood’s Texans, sweeping over the battlefield like a tidal wave, having already annihilated several other units in their path.
Knowing the overwhelming force they were about to be hit with, and realizing that they would need to hold the ground to buy time for the rest of the Union Army, Lt. George Fox turned to the Color Bearer holding the regiments Stars and Stripes and dryly stated that “They will get the Colors today.” The Color Bearer responded in an Irish brogue, “If they get the flag, they’ll get old Mike. Now mind that, Lieutenant.” “Old Mike” was 21 years old.
Michael Brady was born in Cavan in 1840 and was a youngster when the famine struck the land. His mother died in 1848, and young Michael and his father emigrated soon after. Not long after arriving, the older Brady fell ill, and Michael became the provider for the family. When war was declared in 1861, Michael arranged for a neighbor to care for his father for $4 a week, and he enlisted in the 75th Ohio (a Union private only received $13 a month).
During the Battle of McDowell on May 8, 1862, the regiment’s Color Sergeant was shot causing him to drop the national flag which began to roll down the hill towards the Rebels. Without hesitation, Brady broke from cover to retrieve the flag, which he began waiving defiantly at the enemy. For his act of courage, the men of the 75th regiment insisted that the young Irish immigrant be given the honor of carrying the National Flag despite the concerns of the 75th’s Colonel that at only 5 feet 4 inches Brady was too small.
Yet, the diminutive Brady was a giant on the field of Second Manassas. The Buckeyes were nearly overrun when Brady again rallied the men by running forward while waving the Stars and Stripes. His actions did not escape the attention of the Confederates, and within moments 90 bullet holes pierced the American flag, shattering the staff while another ball pierced the chest of the gallant Brady. Despite collapsing from his would, Brady manages to drag himself upright and raised the flag once more. Seeing Brady fall, Captain Andrew Harris and a few others ran back to retrieve the colors. Despite being mortally wounded, the young Irish immigrant gripped the flag so tight that Harris later said he had to pry each finger off the staff to free it. Comrades carried Brady from the field, but he died soon after. The Confederates had gotten “Old Mike”; they never got his flag.
After the battle, Lt. Fox, the man who wrongly predicted that the Confederates would capture the Colors only to be chided by Brady, wrote to Brady’s father, “Michael was loved by all who knew him. From our Colonel who commands this Brigade to the Private, he is known to be a good brave whole souled soldier…. I believe I can say of him something that I cannot of any other member of the Company. He never had a quarrelsome word with anybody– nor has he been at any time reprimanded for neglect or non-performance of duty.”
Let us always remember the sacrifices of Michael Brady and the scores of other Irish Americans who died under the flag of the United States, not for a piece of cloth, but for the values it calls us to follow.