Colonel William Howard Irwin commanded a brigade in the Federal 6th Corps at Antietam, and is perhaps best known as the man who, possibly under the influence of alcohol, ordered a reckless charge by the 7th Maine Infantry there on Confederates on the Piper Farm.

He was wounded, sick, and “exhausted” when he resigned his commission in October 1863. He had hoped the President would appoint him Brigadier General, but that never happened …

… prior to the battle of Antietam Genl. Hancock officially recommended me for Brigadier Genl. + this was followed by the special recommendation of Major Genl. McClellan himself … My friends in the Army + Penna believe that my name has been studiously kept back from the President, or that some malignant enemy has poisoned his mind against me. You know my Dear McKean what my reputation as a soldier + a gentleman is + I know you will gladly bring my claim before the President. My military record is without a stain + altho’ I am no saint yet no dishonor or disreputable practice can be laid to my charge. Will you ask the President at once to write to me at Lewiston Pennsylvania?

He returned to the practice of law in his hometown of Lewiston, then, by 1873, moved his practice to Louisville, KY, where he married a society belle and had a son. Sadly, by 1885 his mental condition had deteriorated.

He died at the asylum in Anchorage, KY not long after at about 68 years old.


The news clip is from the New York Times of 15 October 1885.

The quotes here from a letter of his of 26 December 1862, from Baltimore, to Colonel J.B. [James Bedell] McKean, 77th New York, in Washington. It’s now at the National Archives among Letters received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1863-1870, online via fold3 (touch to enlarge):

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