Irish patriots—Valiant at Gettysburg
By Karen Kiniry Hneleski with William F. Kiniry Jr.
My father, who would have been 106 years old this December, told how he shared a bed in the family home with his grandfather, David Kiniry, and would often awake to find small pieces of metal and shrapnel in the bed. It turns out that these items had finally made their way out of the body of that fine old gentleman who had been wounded six times during the Civil War.
David was a son of Ireland who, like thousands of others, came to America to find food and a future. On arrival, he was asked if he wanted to become a citizen, and if so, sign here. That signature, while not conveying immediate citizenship, did earn him enlistment in the Union Army and a long walk throughout the Middle Atlantic States during the bloodiest war in American history.
In July 1863, at age 25, now with the rank of full sergeant, my great-grandfather, David Kiniry, had the honor of carrying the regimental colors for the 69th Pennsylvania Regiment most notably during the Battle of Gettysburg, and in particular, during Pickett’s Charge. During the battle, the position of the “Copse of Trees” was held by the Pa. 69th. Company C was the Color Company in the center of the regiment. They were charged with anchoring the center of the battle line on Cemetery Ridge and protecting the national and green Irish battle flag of the 69th Pa, the only Pennsylvania regiment authorized to carry a green battle flag.
There may be a few readers who have not learned in school the horrors of Pickett’s Charge, and the gallantry displayed on both sides of the conflict. What may not be known is that the 69th Pennsylvania stood at the “high water” mark of that charge, a stand that General Lee considered to be the last true gasp at victory for the Southern cause.
At Gettysburg and thereafter, the national colors were carried by Sergeant Michael Brady. My great-grandfather and Sergeant Brady served in numerous battles throughout the war, and remained friends long after the war. David related many stories about these battles and the wounds each sustained.
His official record shows that he was wounded six times. During the fall of 1864, he was hospitalized for wounds and while recovering in Satterlee Hospital, he finally got what he signed up for — on November 7, 1864, David Kiniry became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He was discharged in July of 1865.
After the war, David returned to Philadelphia. He was a tailor and set up business in the city. That may explain my inexplicable ability to sew without ever being taught. It must be in the genes. David married my great-grandmother, Mary Downey, on May 12, 1867. She too was born in Ireland.
Family research came across a relative of Mary’s, Michael Downey, who served in Company F of the PA 69th. We like to think that Michael introduced our great- grandparents. David and Mary had six children, my grandfather was the youngest and namesake, David Joseph Kiniry.
My grandfather married Mary Torpey and they had six children, David, William (my father), Joseph, Mary, John and Catharine. Five of their children married and have families of their own. My brother and I are lucky to have grown up with 17 first cousins and second cousins too many to count.
In November 2012, the 69th Pa Irish Volunteers reenactors dedicated a grave marker at Old Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia, at the site of my great-grandfather’s grave. Over 50 members of the “Kiniry Klan” attended the ceremony. The acting Major of the Regiment reminded us that we are descendents of a “true American Hero.”
My nephew, Michael Kiniry, takes it a step further. He thinks his great-great-grandfather singlehandedly won the Battle of Gettysburg. After all, the men of the 69th followed the Irish Colors into battle and the man carrying that flag was his great-great-grandfather, David Kiniry.
(Battle of Gettysburg 150th Anniversary: The descendants of the 69th PA Infantry have been invited to attend an Irish Band Concert in honor of the 69th Volunteers and a Silent Vigil at the Wall and 69th Monument on July 3. The 69th has been granted one of the few permits to hold an activity on Gettysburg Park grounds on July 3.)