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Patrick H. O'Rorke
Irishman---Emigrant---Soldier--- Gentleman

The graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in June 1861, included an individual who would go down in history as a great leader of the American Civil War, George Armstrong Custer. However, his record at the Point and subsequent class listing left a lot to be desired. In a class of 34 cadets, Custer finished last. At the opposite end of the list, in first place, was an Irish emigrant by the name of Patrick H. O'Rorke. The class graduated on June 17th, 1861. Patrick H O'Rorke was born March 28th, 1836, in County Cavan, Ireland. When Pat was one year old, his parents emigrated to the United States. After living for short periods of time in Oswego, New York and Montreal, Canada, the family settled in Rochester, New York around 1842. The section of Rochester where they lived was known as "Dublin". Patrick's parents raised four sons ( Patrick, Thomas, Miles and Bernard ) and three daughters (Bertie, Mary and Annie).

Patrick was educated in the public school system of Rochester, New York. He was graduated from high school in 1855. Because of his high intellect, he was awarded one of three scholarships to the Rochester University. The scholarship was granted through open examination given to graduates of the city's public schools. However, his mother objected to the denominational control of the college, and thus the scholarship was declined. With his scholastic education complete, or so he thought so, Patrick began an apprenticeship to learn the trade of a marble cutter. He would have been quite content in the trade, however his destiny did not lie in cutting stone.

In the spring of 1857, then Congressman John Williams of Rochester had the right to nominate a candidate from his constituents for the United States Military Academy, at West Point. It was not easy for the congressman to come up with a candidate. None of the local lads could pass the entrance exams. Congressman Williams went to the school commissioner and sought his advise. The school commissioner suggested Patrick O'Rorke and after passing all the required exams Pat entered the Academy on July 1st, 1857. He was the oldest plebe in his class and one of the first Irishmen to be given the opportunity of a West Point education. At the end of his first year, O'Rorke ranked third in his class of 68; in his second year, he earned corporal's stripes in the corps of cadets. And by the conclusion of his third year he was ranked first in his class and had climbed to the rank of sergeant in the corps. O'Rorke's class at the academy had originally been scheduled to graduate in 1862.

The beginning of hostilities as they related to the Civil War, shortened the five-year course of study to four years. Two classes graduated from the Point in 1861; O'Rorke and his 33 classmates would be known as the second class of 1861.

At the time of his graduation in June, 1861, Pat stood first in his class and held the rank of first captain of the corps of cadets. He was, asserted one West Point historian, " the best- loved man in the academy".

It was customary for the highest ranking graduates to enter the corps of engineers, with the rank of brevet second lieutenant. And because of the developing situation in Virginia, O'Rorke immediately shipped out to Washington. He was assigned to Brigadier General Daniel Tyler's staff. Tyler's division was part of the Federal force that marched on Manassas, Virginia , in the summer of 1861.

On July 18th, Tyler's force made a "demonstration" at Blackburn's Ford and Pat O'Rorke and members of Tyler's Division found themselves in a hasty retreat. O'Rorke was present three days later at the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). He was to survive Bull Run and service in South Carlonia, and Georgia. His duty kept him in the South through the summer of 1862 and it was during that period that he took a leave and returned to Rochester, where he married his childhood sweetheart, Clara Wadsworth Bishop, on July 9, 1862. Lincoln's call for more troops led to the formation of two infantry regiments from Rochester and Monroe County. Patrick O'Rorke was offered the colonelcy of the second regiment of the 140th New York. He joined the regiment in October, 1862, at Harpers Ferry and was well received by his officers and men. The 140th was assigned to the V Corps. The 140th NY saw limited action at Fredericksburg, however the Regiment did distinguish themselves at Chancellorsville. O'Rorke held the rank of Brigade Commander during the Chancellorsville campaign, May 1-2, 1863, however it did end shortly thereafter, only because others were ahead of him on the promotion list.

Two months after Chancellorsville and on the morning of July 2nd 1863, the 140th New York was traveling north towards a little town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. The regiment sat in reserve for most of the day, but as the afternoon approached so did a major crisis. The problem was on the left flank of the Union line and the entire V Corps was called up as reinforcements. The problem existed on a little rise in the terrain known as Little Round Top. Confederates had broken the Federal line and were swarming up the incline. O'Rorke dismounted and drew his sword and gave the unmilitary order, "down this way boys," and ran down the slope towards the oncoming enemy. Closing on the enemy, O'Rorke , leading the charge, turned to his men and said "here they are men, commence firing." At that instance, a Confederate bullet ripped through O'Rorke's neck and he fell dead among the rocks of Little Round Top. The 140th drove on and "skedaddled" the Confederates. O'Rorke's death was not announced until after the fighting was over and one man recalled that the news "fell like a weight on our men, and many a tear was shed for the young hero. He was the idol of our regiment and the pride of our brigade."

Patrick O'Rorke was originally buried on the field but his widow claimed the body and took it home to Rochester. The remains were interred in the Catholic cemetery on Pinnacle Hill, however in 1870 when Pinnacle Hill closed, O'Rorke's remains were moved to the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery Rochester , New York. Clara Wadsworth Bishop O'Rorke, the Colonel's wife never remarried, instead she entered a religious order, devoting the remainder of her life to a career as a teacher and administrator.
In 1899, the veterans of the 140th New York Regiment dedicated the regiment's monument at Gettysburg. They placed a marker near the spot where O'Rorke fell and on the stone is a bronze likeness of the fallen emigrant and gentleman by act of Congress.
 

 

 

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