County Donegal native Lieutenant James McKay Rorty was Ordnance Officer of the First Division, 2nd Army Corps (Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson) at Antietam. He was heroically and famously killed at Gettysburg in July 1862 while in command 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 in 1861.

Equally famously, as a Private in the 69th New York Militia he’d been wounded and captured at First Bull Run on 21 July 1861 and held in a warehouse in Richmond, VA. On 18 September he and two other men, 1Sgt. William O’Donohue and Pvt. Peter Kelly, disguised themselves in civilian clothes and escaped. A week later they made it to the Potomac River and rafted out to Federal gunboats.

That’s the scene in the illustration above, from Frank Leslie’s Pictorial History of The War of 1861, posted online in company with a piece about Rorty from The Wild Geese.

The escapees are (probably) seen in the photograph below – left to right, Kelly, Rorty, O’Donohue – taken later, after all three were commissioned officers. It’s from owner Matt Regan and is online from Harry Smeltzer.

[updated February 2021]

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