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W.H. Irwin

W.H. Irwin

Federal (USV)


William Howard Irwin

(c. 1818 - 1886)

Home State: Pennsylvania

Education: Dickinson College

Command Billet: Brigade Commander

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 6th Corps


see his Battle Report

Before Antietam

After two years at Dickinson College (1836-38), he studied the law in Lewiston, PA and was admitted to the bar there in 1842. He practiced law until 9 April 1847, when he obtained a commission as Captain, Company D, 11th United States Infantry and served in Mexico. He was honored by brevet to Major for his bravery in action at Contreras and Churubusco in August and wounded at Molino del Rey on 8 September 1847. He mustered out with his Company on 16 August 1848 and continued his law practice to the outbreak of the Civil War. He was Adjutant General of Pennsylvania from 1848 to 1852.

He enlisted as a Private in Logan's (PA) Guard, but was commissioned Colonel of the 7th Pennsylvania Infantry on 23 April 1861 for 3 months' service. He mustered out with them on 23 July 1861, then was commissioned Colonel of the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry on 28 February 1862. He was tried by a court martial early that year for drunkenness and "conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline." He was acquitted on the first and only mildly punished for the second charge. He was appointed Brigade Commander just at the start of the Maryland Campaign.

On the Campaign

He commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division, 6th US Army Corps on the Maryland Campaign. Late in the day on 17 September he ordered the 7th Maine to attack Confederate troops on the Piper Farm with disastrous results.

The rest of the War

He expected a Brigadier's commission, but did not get it. He continued in Brigade command and was slightly wounded near Fredericksburg, VA on 29 April 1863. Due to that wound, illness, and "exhaustion," he resigned his commission on 24 October 1863. He was breveted Brigadier General of Volunteers in March 1865 for "gallant conduct" at Antietam.

After the War

By 1873 and to at least 1880 he practiced law in Louisville, KY. In September 1885 he became a founding director of the (prospective) Ohio Falls, French Lick & Terre Haute Railroad Company in Louisville, but on 14 October 1885 he was found "homicidally" insane, having reportedly tried to kill his wife and son, and was committed to the Central Kentucky Asylum at Anchorage, KY. He died there less than 3 months later in January 1886.

References & notes

His service from Bates1 and Heitman.2 Personal details from family genealogists, the US Census of 1880, the Indianapolis Journal of 15 September 1885, and a bio sketch from Dickinson. His "homicidal insanity" from a piece in the New York Times of 15 October 1885. His gravesite is on Findagrave. His picture from a c. 1865 portrait of unknown provenance.

He married the widow Mary Edmiston Mitchell (1804-1866) in 1843 in Lewiston and they had a daughter Mary Henrietta (1844-1920). He married again, Julia Cynthia Chamberlain (1837-1907) in June 1873 in Jefferson County, KY and they had a son Howard Chamberlin (1875-1937).


c. 1818 in PA


01/17/1886; Anchorage, KY; burial in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY


1   Bates, Samuel Penniman, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65, Harrisburg: State of Pennsylvania, 1868-1871  [AotW citation 29220]

2   Heitman, Francis Bernard, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army 1789-1903, 2 volumes, Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1903, Vol. 1, pg. 565  [AotW citation 29221]