The 69th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was originally the Second Regiment (Irish Brigade), 2nd Division, Pennsylvania Militia. It was formed from several State Militia groups:The Irish Volunteers, Hibernian Greens, Emmett Guards, Jackson Guards, Meagher Guards, Shields Guards, Patterson Light Guards, and the United Guards. The vast majority of the Regiment were Irish Descendants and Immigrants from the city of Philadelphia, though some came from Schuylkill County. By the start of the war the Regiment would be assigned to the California Brigade and designated the 2nd California. The Commanding Officer of the Brigade was Col. (Senator) Edwin Baker of California, who felt that California would remain loyal to the union cause if it had some representation in the East. After Col. Bakers death at Balls Bluff the regiment was designated the 24th Pennsylvania, then a short time later the 68th Pennsylvania.
An effort was made by members of both the 68th Pennsylvania and the 69th NYNG to form an Irish Brigade out of New York. Governor Curtin of Pa. adamantly opposed the idea and threatened to withhold the pensions of anyone who defected to the Irish Brigade. The 68th reluctantly stayed in Pennsylvania. but requested to have their regimental designation changed to the 69th Pennsylvania in honor of the 69th NY, to which the Governor acceded. They were then assigned to the Philadelphia Brigade, the only brigade to be named after the city it came from. The other regiments of the brigade were the 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania. The 69th Pennsylvania., though not the only Irish regiment from the state, would be the only Pennsylvania regiment to carry Green Regimental Colors. Their first set of colors would carry the State Seal on one side and the Maid of Erin Harp wreathed in Shamrocks on the other. The second regimental colors would have the same state seal on one side, but on the other side were the Round Tower, Wolfhound, Harp, and Fenian Sunburst.
Though fighting anti-Irish and Nativist sentiment both in Philadelphia and in the Army of The Potomac the Irish Volunteers from Philadelphia would distinguish themselves in battle throughout the war. They never lost their colors, nor did they ever leave the field of battle unless ordered to do so. They would earn 45 battle ribbons throughout the duration of the war, serving until Lee's Surrender. Brig. Gen. Smyth, in command of the 69th at Appomattox, would be the last General Officer killed in the war, and distinguished themselves in every engagement they were involved in.
The 69th was credited by Gen. Jos. Hooker as having executed the first successful bayonet charge of the war at Glendale during the Peninsula campaign when they singlehandedly charged uphill against a Confederate brigade, chasing them from the hill.
They were heavily involved in the West Woods at Antietam, standing their ground though caught in a horseshoe by the Confederates (Including Stonewall's Brigade), taking extremely heavy losses until finally being ordered from the field.
At Gettysburg on the evening of July 2nd, they charged out against Wright's Brigade, who had taken the 2nd Rhode Island Artillery battery, and retook the guns. On the afternoon of the 3rd they were at the little stone wall in front of the copse of trees, the focal point for Pickett's Charge. Of the 250 men left in the 69th fit for duty not one man left his post. At one point they had become completely surrounded, and kept the fight going hand to hand until the charge was broken. They suffered 60 percent casualties in that charge, leaving only 100 men fit for duty.