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Federal (USV)


James McKay Rorty

(1837 - 1863)

Home State: New York

Command Billet: Division Ordnance Officer

Branch of Service: Artillery

Unit: 1st Division, II Corps

Before Antietam

He came to America in 1857 and sold books and was in the dry goods business in New York City, and became a member of the Fenian Brotherhood there. He enlisted for 90 days in Company G, 69th New York State Militia on 20 April 1861. He was wounded in the arm and captured in action at First Bull Run on 21 July 1861. Held in a warehouse in Richmond, VA, he and two other men (1Sgt William O'Donohue and Pvt Peter Kelly, Co. K) disguised themselves in civilian clothes and escaped on 18 September 1861. A week later they made it to the Potomac River and rafted out to Federal gunboats. He then mustered out of the 69th.

Although he had promised his parents he would not reenlist, he changed his mind and accepted a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the new 5th Regiment, Irish Brigade, part of which became Company D, 2nd Battalion, New York Light Artillery. "D" merged with "B" in December 1861 to become Battery A. His 2-gun section was assigned to Battery C, 4th US Artillery on 26 May 1862, but he was appointed Acting Ordnance Officer of the Division by General Richardson on 28 May.

On the Campaign

He was Ordnance Officer, 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps on the Maryland Campaign.

The rest of the War

He continued as Division Ordnance Officer under General Hancock, was promoted to First Lieutenant on 9 December, and was wounded again, by gunshot to the left arm, in action at Fredericksburg, VA on 13 December 1862. He was in action again at Chancellorsville, VA, and promoted to Captain on 31 May 1863.

On the afternoon of 2 July 1863 at Gettysburg, PA he was appointed to his first field command, that of Battery B, 1st New York Light Artillery - a remnant of the old Irish Brigade/2nd Artillery Battalion in which he'd originally been commissioned. He was killed in action at Gettysburg the next day serving the remaining gun of his battery - after most of his men and the other three guns had been knocked out of action by enemy counter-battery and rifle fire.

After the War

His brother Richard travelled to Gettysburg and recovered his body from his original burial spot on the field about two weeks after the battle. He was then reinterred in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, NY.

References & notes

Service from the NY Adjutant General1. Biographical details from a monograph [PDF] by Brian Pohanka (1993). His gravesite is on Findagrave.


06/11/1837; Donegal, County Donegal, IRELAND


07/03/1863; Gettysburg, PA; burial in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queens, NY


1   State of New York, Adjutant-General, Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York [year]: Registers of the [units], 43 Volumes, Albany: James B. Lyon, State Printer, 1893-1905  [AotW citation 20752]