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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.


This able and distinguished officer was Born in the county of Cork, Ireland, in the year 1820. He was the son of David Bryan and Mary Kirk Bryan, who emigrated to this country in the year 1827, and settled in Albany, N. Y., where the family has since resided.

The father of Col. Bryan died many years since, noted for his integrity and industry, but left only a good name to his children. His mother was the daughter of Capt. John Kirk, who owned and commanded a merchant vessel, and like most of his family, followed the sea. She still resides at Albany with her daughter-in-law, the widow of Col. Bryan, a most worthy and enterprising woman, who, upon the death of her husband, was left with four children.

Col. Bryan spent his boyhood in Albany, where he received a limited education in the schools of the city. He, however, greatly improved himself in after years by devoting his leisure hours to the cultivation of his mind. He entered into the employ of his cousin, Col. John McCardel, of Albany, as a clerk, at the age of fifteen, and remained most of the time with him in that capacity till 1853, when he, through the assistance of his late employer commenced business for himself. He became the proprietor of a restaurant and hotel in Albany, in which business he continued till his entrance into the service of the government in 1861.

From his youth, he was always a member of some military organization. About the year 1850, he was chosen Captain of the Albany Worth Guards, which company he commanded for several years. By his skill and perseverance, he brought them to a high state of discipline, when he was promoted to the office of Major of the Twenty-fifth Regiment New York Militia. Shortly after he was chosen to fill the office of Lientenant Colonel, and finally Colonel of this famous regiment, which, under his command, became the most efficient and best disciplined regiment of the State, outside of New York city.

When Fort Sumter was fired upon in April, 1861, he was at the head of this organization; and on the 21st of April, 1861, at eleven o'clock, p. m., the order reached him in his place of business, from Gov. Morgan, to at once proceed with his regiment to Washington, D. C. He summoned his officers to his quarters at midnight and issued his orders, and at eight o'clock a. m., the next morning, the regiment was in line, ready to take the Hudson River railroad cars to New York.

This memorable morning of the 22d of April, found many of the members of the regiment in the workshop. When the order reached them they rushed to the armory, put on their uniforms, and took their places in the ranks. A majority of them were laborers and mechanics; they were also husbands and fathers, with those as dear to them as life, and dependent upon them for support. Their wives and children only had time to bid them "good bye" at the armory of the regiment; many of them not having had time to go from their workshops to their homes, before the regiment was to move.

About one o'clock the Twenty-fifth Regiment, under command of Col. Bryan, left the armory and were escorted to the Hudson River ferry boat by the entire fire department of the city, under command of Chief Engineer McQuade, and Company B, Capt. Ainsworth. The march through Eagle, State street and Broadway was a complete ovation. The streets were densely packed with human beings, and the houses and house-tops were lined with our citizens. Cheer after cheer rent the air, and at times the wildest excitement pervaded the dense assemblage. From the windows the ladies waved their handkerchiefs, while from the tops of houses guns and pistols were fired, amid the vociferous cheers of the spectators. The regiment, on their march to the cars, halted in front of Stanwix Hall, on Broadway, for the purpose of receiving their flag from Mrs. Mayor Thacher. The street was densely crowded, and after quietness had been restored, Mayor Thacher came forward and spoke as follows:

"Col. Bryan, Officers and Soldiers of the 25th Regiment:

"Mrs. Thacher requests me to convey her compliments to the regiment, and to say to you, that she presents you this banner as a token of her appreciation of your high character as soldiers, and as an incitement to noble and heroic deeds. She bids you bear it to the war, to watch it in the hour of battle as the emblem of all that is dear to us as citizens and patriots. Never let it go down, as long as a single man in the regiment shall survive. Should a kind Providence spare you to return, we shall expect you to bring it with you. Bring it though it may be riddled with balls, but let it never come back to us polluted by the touch of a traitor's hand.

"Remember, soldiers, that the dear ones you leave at home—your wives, your children, your sisters, your brothers and friends are to share in your glory or disgrace. They weep at your departure. They will pray for you while absent; but should you turn your back upon that flag or allow it to trail in the dust through cowardice, they will spurn you forever.

"Farewell, then, noble patriots, farewell. God bless you. Should any of you fall in battle, we will revere your memory and testify our gratitude by caring for and comforting the dear ones who, above all, will mourn your loss. Again we say, farewell."

Upon Mrs. Thacher delivering the flag over into the hands of the standard-bearer, the band struck up the "Star-Spangled Banner," amid the vociferous cheers of the vast multitude. Colonel Bryan, in behalf of the regiment, accepted the flag and made the following reply:

''Mr. Mayor—When, on the 22d of February last, the regiment paraded in their new uniforms, with which the men had equipped themselves at their own expense, and which now enables them to promptly respond to their country's call, they may have expected to receive some such mark of esteem and regard from their friends. But little did they think that it would occur on such an occasion as this. The regiment was early in volunteering, but is called away with unexpected suddenness, and many are unprepared except at heart. It was only last night that the order for the departure of the regiment to-day was given, and it was received too late to make it generally known until this morning; and many left their workshops in their working clothes to respond.

"A number are without uniforms, but all have good muskets and stout hearts, and they will do whatever may become men in their country's service. In their behalf, I accept this beautiful flag, promising that wherever they go it shall go, whether on the battlefield or elsewhere; carried forward and upheld by the strong arms of men, who will feel that in preserving it untarnished by dishonor they will be doing good service in the most sacred cause.

"For the sake of their own reputation—for the sake of the esteem of their fellow-citizens—for the love of those nearest and dearest to them, and in the performance of that duty which every loyal citizen owes to the most glorious country in the world, the regiment will, to the utmost of their ability, and with all their hearts, protect these colors from insult and tarnish.

"And now permit me, your honor, to observe that the men under my command have been called away from their homes very suddenly. Many of them have families that are dependent on their daily labor for the comforts and necessaries of life. Thus suddenly ordered away, they have been unable to make such provision for them as the love of husband, father, brother, or son dictate. They are compelled to appeal to their fellow-citizens, those who will remain at home, to see to it that they are not permitted to want. It is not weakness to say that it is hard to part with our wives and our dear little ones; but an imperative duty calls, and much, indeed all, of sadness on our part will vanish, under the assurance that, although absent, those we love most dearly will have kind and generous-hearted friends ever ready to cheer and aid them.

"With this assurance, your honor, the Twenty-fifth will march at the tap of the drum, wherever duty calls, in the service off their country, with light hearts and a determination to win victory for themselves, peace for their country, and honor for the city of their homes.

"We venture our lives in this cause, and ask in return that you who have fortunes, will risk those fortunes in sustaining us and ours."

Immediately after the presentation of the flag, the regiment resumed their line of march, and as they flanked into Maiden Lane the wildest excitement ensued. Cheer after cheer reverberated through the street, and the soldiers left the city amid the booming of artillery. They proceeded, by railroad, to New York; thence by water to Annapolis, Md.; and thence to Washington by land. They arrived on the 27th day of April, 1861, the flfth militia regiment that reached the National Capital, after the breaking out of the rebellion.

Col. Bryan at once reported to General Scott, who assigned his regiment to duty. He was received with much favor and respect by President Lincoln, who visited every company in this command, and shook hands wiih every officer and private in the regiment. On the 23d of May, Col. Bryan was ordered to cross the Potomac into Virginia. At midnight he led his command across the long bridge at Washington, and marched to Arlington Heights. His regiment first took possession of the spot where Fort Albany now stands, on the morning of the 24th of May, 1861. There they built that structure, and named it for their own home.

Col. Bryan's command that morning captured a portion of the rebel pickets, the first prisoners taken in eastern Virginia after the breaking out of the war. Col. Bryan remained with his command at Fort Albany till the expiration of the term of three months, when, on the first of August, he returned to Albany and was mustered out of service with his regiment. During this short term of service he repeatedly received the highest commendations from his superior officers.

Again, in 1862, he was ordered, on the last of June, to proceed at once to Virginia with the Twenty-fifth Regiment New York Militia. He was stationed with his command during this three months' term of service, at Suffolk, Va., where he was assigned to the performance of outpost and picket duty in that Department. On the 1st of September, 1862, he left Suffolk, Va., with his command, and also with the Thirteenth New York Militia, who were on the way to New York city, he having been designated as commanding officer of the two regiments till they should reach Nev York.

At Norfolk he embarked with his command (the Twenty-fifth and Thirteenth New York Militia) on board the steamship Baltic, and started for New York. When the ship had proceeded about one hundred and fifty miles, she struck a shoal about four o'clock, p. m., and was stranded fast on the ground. She had fifteen hundred men on board, and was fifty-six miles from land, with night almost upon them. The position was one of great peril. All the efforts of the Captain of the ship and his crew to get the vessel off proved unavailing. When it was about dark, Captain Comstock, the commander of the vessel, announced to the Colonel that they were in great danger, and without hope of extricating the ship that night, and that the only course left was to try to get word to some other vessels to come and assist them and take off the men. The alarm gun was fired, and the signal of distress given, when, finally, a schooner came in sight, and took off as many men as she could carry, which was about five hundred.

The vessel and the rest of the command remained all night, without being able to obtain any further assistance. Everything was thrown overboard to lighten the vessel, and the pumps were worked all night, as the water was coming in fast. The next day, about noon, another vessel came in sight, and about eight hundred more of the troops were taken off the "Baltic." The Colonel and about fifty of his own men, with the Captain of the ship and crew, were all that were left on the ship. Night was coming on, and no more could be taken off by the second vessel that came to the rescue of the "Baltic." Col. Bryan, though urged to leave the ship, said: " No; I will not leave as long as one of my men is left on this ship!"

The reader can imagine the great difficulty of disembarking from one ship to another, without the least aceident, so many men, unaccustomed to the ocean, and thus suddenly thrown into the greatest excitement and peril. During all this time the Colonel was the commanding officer on board of all the troops, about fourteen hundred, and by his coolness and judgment he succeeded in maintaining the most perfect order and discipline among the men. All seemed to repose in him with entire confidence. After the ship had been lightened of all its freight and passengers, except the Captain, crew and about fifty of the troops, she was finally got off the shoal. The Captain of the ship gave to Col. Bryan the following letter of thanks, after the rescue of his ship and the men from the threatening danger:

Steamship "Baltic," Sept. 2, 1862.
Sir—I can not allow you to leave my ship without expressing to you my warmest thanks for the able and efficient services rendered by yourself, your officers and men, during the perilous condition of the ship the last twenty-four hours. The ready, quiet and prompt action with which my every wish was obeyed, and their coolness in the hour of danger, bespeaks the high state of discipline your regiments have attained.
With respect, I am your obedient servant,
To Col. Bryan, of the 25th N. Y. M., Commanding, &c.

In response to the above, Col. Bryan issued the following order:

Head Quarters on board the Steamship "Baltic,"
September 3, 1862.
General Orders No. 4. The commandant, in General Orders, desires to express to the ofiicers and men of the Thirteenth and Twenty-fifth Regiments New York Militia, his sincere and earnest thanks, for the noble manner in which they conducted themselves throughout the perilous hours while this splendid ship was cast, away and disabled on Winter Quarter Shoals. Such conduct is worthy of all praise.

The commandant also desires to express what he knows to be the feeling of every one of his command, the most earnest thanks to Capt. Jos. J. Comstock for the cool, able, and judicious management of his ship, that, under the mercy of an overruling Providence, saved his vessel and all the souls committed to his charge.

The commandant, trusting that all who were separated by this disaster may safely come back again, with a grateful heart takes leave of all outside of his immediate command, and will ever hold them in remembrance as officers and men worthy of his esteem, and the highest regard of their fellow-citizens.

By command of Col. M. K. Bryan.
J. M. KIMBALL, Adjutant.

In recording in this connection the name of Adjutant J. M. Kimball, we cannot suppress our strong desire to pay to him a passing tribute of our high esteem and warm gratitude for the services that he rendered in connection with this regiment, and during the perilous scenes through which it passed. We thank God that his life has been spared, and that he has returned to us to enjoy the blessing of that peace to which he, during the war, so patriotically and nobly contributed.

Gladly would we see a volume prepared and published to commemorate the lives and achievements of the living heroes whom a merciful God has spared to us; and in whose memories the details of their camp life, their battles and victories, are now fresh, and could be easily recorded.

To these men we owe a debt of gratitude as great as to those who have fallen—for they risked all for their country; and, equally with the departed, manifested the greatest bravery and the most enthusiastic devotion to the cause which they had espoused.

On Col. Bryan's discharge from service and return to Albany, he at once proceeded to raise the One Hundred and Seventy-fifth Regiment New York Volunteers, of which he was made Colonel.

In the early part of the winter of 1862 he was ordered to Louisiana, where he was engaged in several battles with the enemy on his march up throngh the State to Port Hudson. He was ordered to take part in an attack on Port Hudson, La., on the 14th of June, 1863, on which day, while leading his regiment to the assault, he was wounded in the leg. He continued on his march, after binding a handkerchief around the wound, till he was struck with a grape-shot, which mortally wounded him, and he died on the field at the head of his command.

Thus lived and died Col. Michael K. Bryan. In private life, he was a good father and husband, and an affectionate and dutiful son. He was a member of the Catholic Church, and died in its faith. The Republic will not soon forget the fidelity of him and her other adopted children, who have shed their blood for the maintenance of her honor and unity.

At the time of the death of this noble patriot, there appeared in one of our papers a notice of him, from which we make the following extracts:

"Our citizens were startled on Saturday at the announcement that Col. M. K. Bryan, Maj. James H. Bogart and Capt. Henry Hulbert, of this city, had fallen martyrs to the cause of the Union before Port Hudson, in the second attack on that stronghold on the 14th inst. Col. M. K. Bryan, in command of the One Hundred and Seventy-fifth Regiment N. Y. S. V., at the time of his death, was about forty years of age.

"Col. B. was one of the most accomplished military men we ever had in Albany. For twenty years past he devoted himself to the service with an energy and will, that won for him the respect and confidence of his fellow citizens. He held the position of private for several years, and went through all the noncommissioned ofiices, until he was elected to the command of the Worth Guards, which position he held with honor to himself and his command, until he was promoted to the Lieutenant Colonelcy of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, the lamented Col. Frisby being then in command. When Col. Frisby was appointed Brigadier General of militia, Col. B. was promoted to the Colonelcy of the regiment, and remained in command until his appointment to the Colonelcy of the One Hundred and Seventy-fifth Regiment.

"When the rebellion first broke out, and Washington was threatened, in response to the call of the General Government for immediate aid, Col. Bryan, with a patriotic ardor which all will remember, called his officers together, and the services of the Twenty-fifth were promptly tendered to Gov. Morgan, who gladly accepted them. Col. B. and his men had not time even to arrange their business matters before orders were received for their departure. But they did not hesitate. They abandoned business, families, friends, and all, and hastened to the defence of the Capital. Arriving in Washington, they were hurried across the river to Arlington Heights, being one of the first regiments to march over the long bridge. They were directed to take position on the heights, which, at that time, was threatened by the rebels, and immediately commenced the erection of the fortification now known as Fort Albany, one of the most formidable and best constructed earthworks in the vicinity of Washington. The regiment remained on the heights until the expiration of its term of service, and then returned home, not having been engaged in battle, but rendering most valuable services to the country during its three months absence.

"When Washington was a second time threatened, and Banks overpowered by superior numbers in the valley, another call was made for the militia of the State. The Twenty-fifth Regiment was in a disordered condition at the time, without uniforms, and with thinned ranks. Col. B. resolved in his own mind, after consultation with some of his officers, to again enter the field. He devoted his whole time and energies to filling up the ranks and placing the regiment on a war footing, and his indomitable perseverance was crowned with success, for in a few days after orders were received, he left town at the head of nearly six hundred men, and proceeded to Fortress Monroe, and from thence to Suffolk, Ya., where the regiment remained for three months, and for the services rendered by it, received the highest commendations of the General commanding.

"After returning home. Col. Bryan devoted himself to the reorganization of the regiment, and was engaged in this work, when Col. Corcoran announced his purpose to raise a brigade, having received the consent of the War Department to do so. Col. Bryan, deeming it his duty to again enter the service, having received a request from Gen. Corcoran to take command of a regiment, promptly accepted the proposition, and again gave himself up wholly to the patriotic work. Those who knew the man best, and how unceasingly he labored to fill up his command, will bear willing testimony to his zeal and energy in behalf of the great cause of the Union. After his regiment was fully organized, he received orders to report to Fortress Monroe, and from thence went to New Orleans, having been detached from the brigade. Of the services performed by him in command of his regiment, during the Louisiana campaign, it is not necessary we should speak in detail. It is sufficient to say, that he was always at his post, performing his duty to the satisfaction of his superior officers, and enjoying the entire confidence of his subordinates. The manner of his death is stated in the following letter, written by Surgeon O'Leary, of the One Hundred and Seventy-fiflh Regiment, to Reverend Father Wadhams, of this city:

"'New Orleans, June 18, 1863.
"'Reverend Sir—It becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of Col. M. K. Bryan. He was killed in the engagement before Port Hudson, on Sunday morning, 14th instant. He received two shots; the first supposed to be a round shot, grazing the skin and fracturing both bones of the lower left leg; the second, a grape shell, mangling the flesh and bones of the right leg, below the knee. As near as I can learn, he lived about an hour after receiving his wounds. He seemed to feel conscious of his approaching end, and died like one going to sleep. I have just arrived in this city with his remains, and shall send them home at the earliest opportunity. Connected as I have been, for the last two years, with the military career of the departed, it was a crushing blow to see him laid in the cold embrace of death. A nobler man never lived. A braver soldier never wielded a sword. A truer Christian never knelt before his Maker. He has left this earth of discord and strife, for the bright home of the saints and angels. Let us hope that his reward will be great in Heaven. * * * May God have mercy on his poor family, and support them in this their dark hour of trial.
"'Believe me, dear Father, to be
"'Your very humble servant,
"'C. B. O'Leary,
"'Surgeon, 175th Regt. N. Y. S. F.'

"Not one of those who were present at the residence of the gallant soldier, on the occasion of the presentation to him of his military outfit, on the eve of his departure for the seat of war, for a moment entertained the thought, that he would so soon surrender his life in battling for his adopted country, and its honor. They bade adieu to him with the full knowledge that wherever he might be assigned to duty he would distinguish himself. His devotion to the Union, and his willingness to fight for it, had been clearly demonstrated by the sacrifices he made when on two former occasions, he abandoned his family and his business and hurried to the scene of danger, to meet the foes of our distracted country and of liberty. If ever there was a pure patriot that man was Col. M. K. Bryan. He was actuated by no mercenary or sordid motives, and his works speak louder than any words we can utter. Like his lamented friend and associate, his tutor, Frisby, he felt that the country demanded his services, and he cheerfully gave them to aid in crushing out the accursed rebellion. Like the gallant Frisby, he will be mourned by every Albanian, and the unbidden tears, as they trickled down the cheek of youth and the furrows of age, when the sad news was announced Saturday, were silent but expressive messengers of the deep sorrow that it occasioned. He died as a hero. His last breath was the faint utterance of the departing spirit for his country. His memory will be cherished with reverence by all who honor the brave and fearless soldier, living or dead, and his name shall be inscribed on that immortal tablet which bears the record of patriotic devotion to country."

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