An Irish Catholic Civil War hero from Rochester who was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg will be remembered on the 150th anniversary of his death during a July 2 ceremony.
The event will be held at 5:10 p.m. at the All Souls Chapel at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 2461 Lake Ave., Rochester.
Col. Patrick O’Rorke led the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment to successfully defend Little Round Top during a pivotal time in the battle, which itself was a turning point for Union forces during the Civil War.
Locally, O’Rorke has been honored with the bascule-style O’Rorke Bridge in Rochester, which connects the town of Irondequoit with the Rochester neighborhood of Charlotte. Members of the Col. Patrick O’Rorke Memorial Society, who led the bridge-naming effort, also are attempting to get Col. O’Rorke awarded a posthumous medal of honor and have organized the Holy Sepulchre ceremony, said Chris Shalvoy, communications director with the Col. Patrick O’Rorke Memorial Society.
The event will include participation of the Gates Keystone Pipe Band, Father Leo Hetzler, the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, re-enactors, dignitaries and musician Peg Dolan, who will perform an original song about O’Rorke.
Though the details of his birth have been contested, according to a biography provided by the Col. Patrick O’Rorke Memorial Society and another by society member J.T. Ambrosi, O’Rorke was born March 25, 1837, in County Cavan, Ireland, and emigrated to the United States when he was 1 year old. He graduated first in his class from West Point in June 1861, and in September 1862, at age 25, he was appointed colonel of the predominantly Irish-American 140th New York regiment, which he led during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of that year. During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he temporarily commanded the Third Brigade, Second Division V Corps, which included the 140th New York.
At Gettysburg, the young colonel again commanded the 140th New York, arriving on July 2 in time for the second day of fighting. O’Rorke’s men were charged with occupying Little Round Top — a rocky crest that proved to be a crucial link in Union defenses. As Confederate attackers scaled the front of Little Round Top and sought cover behind boulders, O’Rorke spontaneously directed his men to charge the Confederates.
"With sword drawn, Paddy showed them the way," wrote J.T. Ambrosi in a Dec. 7, 2012, biography of O’Rorke. "Before he had a chance to control his troops and form them into line of battle, a Confederate minie ball penetrated his neck and cut young O’Rorke’s life short. Regardless, the overwhelming press of blue troops on the hill broke the Confederate advance."
The Count of Paris, who had observed the battle, wrote, "He had been destined, in the judgment of all his comrades, for the most elevated positions of the Army," quoted Father Robert F. McNamara in the history book The Diocese of Rochester in America 1868-1993.
On July 9, 1863, his widow, the former Clara Bishop, traveled to retrieve his body, and it was returned by train to Rochester. A funeral July 15, 1863, drew hundreds of attendees, and Col. O’Rorke was interred in a Catholic cemetery on Pinnacle Hill, before being reinterred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. He and his wife had grown up in Rochester’s St. Bridget Parish.
"After Patrick’s death, a scant twelve months later, Mrs. O’Rorke became a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, and as a teaching nun spent the rest of her days in the cloister," Father McNamara wrote.
Today a monument to the valor of the 140th New York regiment sits at the crest of Little Round Top and bears a relief of O’Rorke’s upper body. Tourists over the years have shined his nose by rubbing it, in an act that is said to bring good luck. The story of his life and death have drawn great interest over the years, Shalvoy said.
"He still has relatives over in Ireland in County Cavan, and they will be watching the ceremony through the Internet," he added.