Patrick Henry O'Rorke (1836 -1863)

Patrick Henry O'Rorke was born on March 28, 1836 in Killeshandra, Co. Cavan, Ireland.  His parents, Patrick and Mary McGuire O'Rorke immigrated to the United States when Patrick was still an infant and settled in Rochester, New York in an Irish section of the city called Dublin.

Unlike other immigrant families who had family members or friends to meet them on arrival in the United States, the O'Rorke’s faced the unknown without the benefit of a familiar face to greet them and help them find shelter and a job. Yet they managed to overcome these obstacles, a testament to their belief that leaving Ireland, a forlorn place, would improve their lot and secure a better future for their children.

Shortly after settling in to their new lives, Patrick’s father, who had found work with the railroad, was killed in an accident leaving his mother and six siblings to fend for themselves. That tragedy, devastating as it was, was further exacerbated by prejudice and intolerance directed at emigrants, particularly, the Irish, by local ‘Nativists’ many of whom were descendants of the ‘Loyalists’ who supported the British during the Revolutionary War.  Notwithstanding these obstacles, the family managed to survive.

Insofar as young Patrick was concerned, he would not be deterred by anyone or anything in his determination to succeed.  That determination was first demonstrated in 1853 when he graduated first in his class from the Rochester public school system.

After graduating, he declined an offer of a scholarship to the University of Rochester, opting instead to accept employment as an apprentice marble cutter and mason at the Hibbard Marble Works. By the time he left the Marble Works in 1857 to accept an appointment to West Point Military Academy, O’Rourke was considered to be one of the best masons in Rochester. He was known for having a relentless quest for perfection, a quality that guided his life's work.

Patrick also had the distinction of being one of the first – if not the first - Irish-born Cadets to enter West Point.  Despite the fact that he never completed high school Patrick excelled in his studies, finishing first in the June graduating class of 1861. 

On graduating, O'Rorke was commissioned a second lieutenant in the elite Corps of Engineers. From June of 1861 through July of 1862 he participated in and completed a number of assignments including drilling volunteers at Washington, as a staff officer at the first Battle of Bull Run, as an engineer in the construction of defenses around Washington, DC and as the assistant engineer with the Port Royal Expeditionary Corps along the South Carolina coast. He also served as an aide to General Quincy Gillmore during the siege of Fort Pulaski and participated in the subsequent Confederate surrender proceedings.

During the battle of Bull Run a bullet passed through his coat and his horse was killed beneath him.  Otherwise, he escaped unharmed.

In July 1862, O’Rorke received a furlough and returned home to Rochester where he married his childhood girlfriend, Clara Wadsworth Bishop. Soon after his marriage, he was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the newly formed 140th New York Infantry Regiment made up mostly of Irish and German volunteers. He was the first member in his class to command an infantry regiment. Faced with a new set of challenges as colonel of a regiment of a thousand men, responsible for their training and welfare, O'Rorke rose to the challenge, winning the loyalty and admiration of his men.

The 140th, under the command of O'Rorke became one of the best regiments in the army of the Potomac. He led the regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg and  was placed in temporary command of the brigade  in which the 140th served during the battles of the Chancellorsville Campaign . After the Battle of Chancellorsville, O'Rorke returned to command his regiment in time for the Battle of Gettysburg.

On July 2nd 1863, Patrick Henry O'Rorke, age 27, in a gallant effort to hold the strategic Little Round Top, which if lost would had jeopardized the entire battle, was mortally wounded while leading his men in a charge over the crest of the Little Round Top from a bullet wound in the neck. Not to lessen the bravery and sacrifices of the many others who, on that day, faced the Confederates onslaught, O'Rorke’s bravery and that of his men contributed enormously to saving the day and the ensuing Union victory on July 3.

For a more detailed account of O'Rorke at Gettysburg click here

Colonel O'Rorke was posthumously promoted to brevet colonel, and cited by the U.S. Army for "gallant and meritous service, at all of the battles he was engaged in. He was given a full military funeral and buried in the Catholic cemetery on Pinnacle Hill. When that cemetery closed, he was moved to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester. His wife Clara, devastated by his death, later entered the Sisterhood of the Sacred Heart.

Contributed by;  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

Cemetery AND grave location

Name:   Holy Sepulchre Cemetery                             PHONE NO.  (585) 458-4110

ADDRESS:   2461 Lake Avenue, Rochester, NY 14612-5799



Back to Biographies                                                                                                                                                         Posted 12/ 29/09