The “Washington-Erin Guards” in New Haven

Recently I discovered info about a militia , The Washington-Erina Guards, that was founded in New Haven over ten years before the Civil War broke out. As it turns out, one of my ancestors, James Bannon (Banning) was a founding member. Other names listed as founding members, Thomas Preston (married to Margaret Bannon) was James’ brother in law and the Shields brothers, were James’ brother in law’s siblings (Randall and Michael Shields were Cormick Shields’ brothers. Cormick married Rosa Bannon.)


The following is an excerpt from “History of the Ninth regiment, Connecticut volunteer infantry, “The Irish regiment,” in the war of the rebellion, 1861-65. The record of a gallant command on the march, in battle and in bivouac”

Glebe Building Photo Credit: Yale Univ Archives
Glebe Building Photo Credit: Yale Univ Archives

On July 31, 1849, a meeting of those interested in a projected Irish company was held in the Glebe building, corner of Church and Chapel streets, New Haven. Capt. James Quinn was chairman of the meeting, and John Duffy, secretary.
The organization was named the Washington-Erina Guards. Provision was made for drilling the men and the company made good progress. After drills had been in progress some time, Col. John Arnold, of the Second Regiment, requested the members of the company to petition Governor Trumbull for a charter and to have the organization taken into the service of the State as part of Col. Arnold’s regiment, as there was a vacancy for a company in the latter.
In accordance with Col. Arnold’s request, a petition to Governor Trumbull was drafted Feb. 8, 1850, and was signed by John Duffy, Thomas Newman, James Gallagher, William Geary, Francis McBryan, John Maher, Barney Galligan, Patrick Maher, James Brady, Patrick W. Kennefick, Daniel Crowley, James Banning, Michael Shields, Stephen Flynn, Geoffrey Ahearn, Rendles (Spelled elsewhere as Randal and Randall Shields) Sheilds, Edward Hamel, Thomas W. Cahill, Thomas Preston and John L. Duffy. This petition, however, was never forwarded to Governor Trumbull, as it was thought the incoming governor (Seymour) would be more likely to grant the desired recognition. Governor Seymour did so in March, 1852, the organization becoming officially known as Company E, of the Second Regiment. The officers commissioned were to take rank from March 17,that year, and comprised : Captain, John Duffy ; First Lieutenant, Thomas W. Cahill ; Second Lieutenant, Randal Shields; Third Lieutenant, Peter Hanley. The company established an armory at the corner of Water and Fleet streets, New Haven, purchased its own uniforms, and received flint-lock muskets from the State. These muskets it continued to use until an order came in August, 1854, from John C. Hollister, then AdjutantGeneral of the State, requesting the company to return the muskets to the arsenal, in Hartford, and stating that the command would be supplied with percussion-lock muskets instead. The old muskets were thereupon returned and the new ones received.
A strict rule for admission to the company was that the applicant must be a native, or a naturalized citizen, of the United States. The company paraded with the regiment, attended the regimental encampments, went to Hartford to attend Governor Seymour’s inauguration,
one year, and was hospitably entertained by the people of that city. The company became very popular through cut the State, and received many compliments on its drill and general soldierly bearing.
The organization of the Washington-Erina Guards took place, as has been stated, on July 31, 1849. Of the original members, the following were still living, Aug. 8, 1899, fifty years after: William Geary, Peter Sheridan, Thomas Preston, Michael McCarten, James Daly, Patrick Maher, John Cummisky, Thomas Layden, Michael Hughson, John Conlin, Jeremiah Donovan, James Wrinn, Daniel Carroll, Michael Gilhuly, Timothy Fogarty, Patrick Garvey, and Daniel J. Crowley, — seventeen in all. John Cummisky, one of these survivors, died in Chicago, 111., Jan. 8, 1900.

I’ve updated my “Irish in New Haven” website with a new “Military” page here:The Irish in New Haven: Military