Patrick DeLacy: Scranton’s Fighting Irishman
If any man in the 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry had the luck of the Irish, Patrick DeLacy certainly did. He needed it, too. The 143rd lost more than 300 men to disease and combat over the course of the Civil War.
Sergeant Patrick DeLacy of Company A, 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry.
Courtesy Scranton Times-Tribune Archives
Born to Irish immigrant parents in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, DeLacy’s luck not only kept him alive, it earned him a Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest award for valor—and catapulted him to prominence in Lackawanna County’s booming postwar years.
Born in 1835 in what was still Luzerne County (today Lackawanna), DeLacy grew up just as the anthracite coal mining industry began to boom in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The city of Scranton was still a small town known as Slocum Hollow when DeLacy’s family moved there in 1844. In 1853, at age 17, DeLacy apprenticed to a tanner in Monroe County. Five years later, he married Rebecca Wunder of Wyoming, Pennsylvania. The outbreak of the Civil War found him working as a foreman in a tannery in Pike County, where he tried to raise an independent company of volunteers before being told by authorities that no more men were needed. He and Rebecca moved again, back to Luzerne County, before DeLacy finally enlisted in August 1862 as a private in Company A, 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry.
The 143rd was organized at Wilkes-Barre and was commanded by Colonel Edmund L. Dana. Along with the 149th and 150th PA, the 143rd made up part of the famous “Bucktail Brigade,” so named because the men wore deer tails pinned to their caps, said to be a nod to their skill as sharpshooters. Avery Harris, a private in Company B, however, noted that the trademark tails were seldom worn by the 143rd men, and “as to sharpshooters, that always looked to me as an absurdity, as some of those men would have good luck to hit the side of a barn.”
After training at Camp Luzerne outside Wilkes-Barre and later at Harrisburg, the 143rd was sent south to man the defenses around Washington. Avery Harris noted that the regiment worked on finishing Fort Slocum for most of the late fall of 1862 into the early spring of 1863, before being ordered to join the Army of the Potomac in Virginia.
DeLacy after his promotion to Sergeant-Major in October 1864.
Courtesy of the Roche Family Collection.
Patrick DeLacy almost missed it. While in camp outside Washington, some of the men in Company A found an unexploded, small caliber artillery shell. As Harris related, “It was kept by the company for a day or two as a plaything and was kicked about the street. Finally someone kicked it into the fire trench and while the men were partaking of their rations standing about the fire it exploded, wounding one man quite bad…Sergeant P. DeLacy had just left a position of leaning on a pole just over where the shell lay when it exploded.”
His luck held when the men of the 143rd found themselves fighting for their lives at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, in their first engagement. The Bucktails, part of the First Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, were among the first units to arrive in the second wave of Federal infantry that afternoon to support the beleaguered Union cavalry trying to stop the Confederate advance west of Gettysburg. Ordered into action near the McPherson Farm along Chambersburg Pike, DeLacy was struck by a piece of shrapnel. He was knocked flat, but his cartridge box absorbed the blow. “The cartridge box and the Lord saved me this time,” he quipped to a comrade.
DeLacy’s ten-page memoir manuscript does not mention Gettysburg at all, let alone the prominent role he played in another famous part of that battle. As the Bucktail Brigade was forced back by the Confederate attack, Color Sgt. Benjamin Crippen of the 143rd was killed while shaking his fist in defiance at the charging rebels. As Crippen fell, it was DeLacy, along with Lt. Charles Riley, who recovered the colors and rallied the men.
DeLacy’s dangerous habit of being in the front rank and around the colors earned him the Medal of Honor during the Overland Campaign a year later. As the Army of the Potomac clashed with the Confederates in the tangled woods of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, the 143rd found itself defending the intersection of the Brock and Orange Plank roads, key routes through what was otherwise a dense and almost impenetrable tract of second-growth woodland. The men also found themselves on the receiving end of a devastating flank attack by Longstreet’s First Corps.
As the 143rd’s brigade gave way before the rushing Confederates, DeLacy came across fellow sergeant Herbert Nogle, lying wounded and unable to move himself. Rolling Nogle onto his blanket, DeLacy managed to drag him back through the brush to the reformed Union line. Returning to his company, DeLacy found himself acting commander of the unit, as the officers had all been killed or wounded. Ordered to retake the Union works, now occupied by Confederate soldiers from South Carolina, DeLacy led Company A into an intense fire until they were forced to take cover. Spying a Confederate color bearer waving the rebel flag defiantly, much as Crippen had done at Gettysburg, DeLacy ran forward between the lines. Reaching the Confederate works, he killed the color bearer and seized the flag, making his way back to the Union position.
The scene on the Brock Road earthworks on May 6, 1864 as Confederate forces overwhelmed Union defenders. DeLacy earned his Medal of Honor by shooting down a Confederate flag-bearer on these fortifications and seizing the battle flag.
Courtesy of Library of Congress
DeLacy’s own account of his heroism is somewhat laconic. He states merely that, “On the 6th of May in the Wilderness I captured a rebel battle-flag on the breast-works and led the charge that recaptured the line of works from Longstreet’s corps, which they had just previously taken from Hancock’s men.” His official Medal of Honor citation is equally sparse. It states: “Running ahead of the line, under a concentrated fire, he shot the color bearer of a Confederate regiment on the works, thus contributing to the success of the attack.”
DeLacy spent more time in his memoirs talking about a later incident during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. As Union troops were beaten back from their assault on Laurel Hill, sparks from the firing set the brush aflame. Seeing wounded men in the path of the fire, DeLacy led two comrades forward to within a hundred yards of the Confederate line. They lit a series of backfires that succeeded in stopping the flames and saving the wounded. Perhaps in his later years, he preferred to focus on the memory of saving lives, rather than taking them.
Like many Civil War veterans, DeLacy did not receive recognition for his actions until well after his service was over. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 24, 1894. Incredibly, he received the medal by registered mail from the War Department.
By that time, DeLacy had returned to Scranton and became a prominent member of the community. Initially he went back to the leather business, but his war record and his brevet promotions to lieutenant and then captain made him a prime candidate for public office.
Patrick DeLacy's original Medal of Honor issued in 1894.
Courtesy Roche Family Collection.
DeLacy, far left, wearing his Medal of Honor, stands with the surviving original color bearers of the 143rd in Harrisburg, sometime around 1900.
Courtesy of the Roche Family Collection.
In 1867 he was appointed US Deputy Marshal for western Pennsylvania, serving until 1871, when he was elected to the Pennsylvania State Assembly as a Democrat. After losing an election for state senate in 1874, he served as Deputy Sheriff for newly formed Lackawanna County in 1875. He served for eight years as Scranton’s chief of police, and several terms as city alderman. Through it all, he maintained his ties to the men with whom he’d served through membership and leadership roles in numerous veterans’ organizations, most prominently the Lieutenant Ezra S. Griffin GAR Post in Scranton.
DeLacy as alderman of the city of Scranton at his office on Capouse Avenue, sometime between 1900 and 1905. Courtesy Roche Family Collection.
When DeLacy’s medal finally arrived in 1894, it could be seen by many as an affirmation of what everyone familiar with him already knew: that Patrick DeLacy was a man who could be counted on to step up, take charge, and see things through to the finish. DeLacy continued to be one of the most public and prominent faces of the Civil War for residents of Scranton and Lackawanna County right up to his death at the age of 79 in 1915. He is buried in St. Catherine’s Cemetery, Moscow, PA, and honored by a monument on Lackawanna County’s Courthouse Square.
By Alex Barbolish - He is a writer and history teacher from Nicholson, PA. He blogs about historical topics at www.backroadhistorian.com.
 DeLacy, Patrick. Patrick DeLacy Memoirs: Out of the Wilderness. Manuscript. Scranton Public Library, Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives. http://content.lackawannadigitalarchives.org/cdm/ref/collection/outwild/id/1642. (accessed Feb. 13, 2020), 1-2. Harris, Avery, Avery Harris Civil War Journal. Peter Tomasak, ed. (Luzerne National Bank, 2000), 35. Ibid, 27; 31-32. Ibid, 25. “Captain DeLacy Describes Gettysburg Battle,” The Scranton Truth, July 1, 1913. Ibid. Drake, J. Madison. “The Heroism of Sergeant De Lacy.” New York Herald,Aug. 6, 1911. DeLacy. Memoirs, 2-3.  “DeLacy, Patrick.” Congressional Medal of Honor Society. http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/346/de-lacey-patrick.php. (accessed Feb. 15, 2020). DeLacy. Memoirs, 3-4.  US War Dept. Record & Pension Office to Mr. Patrick De Lacy, April 24, 1894.Patrick DeLacy – The Last Union Captain. http://www.patrickdelacy.com/acknowledgement_letter.shtml. (accessed Feb. 15, 2020). MacLachlan, David. “Post-War (1866 – 1915).” Patrick DeLacy – The Last Union Captain. http://www.patrickdelacy.com/timeline_post-war.shtml. (accessed Feb. 15, 2020).