“Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle” (c. 1869) Source: Ohio Wesleyan University, Bayley Collection. Public Domain.

‘I Will Sing the Song of Companionship': Limerick’s Peter Doyle, the Former Confederate Who Became Walt Whitman’s Muse & Lover

I am very pleased today to have a guest post from historian Liam Hogan. Liam has spent many years exploring this history of Limerick City and County, research that has ...

The new Ballymote Monument

New Ballymote Monument to Irish of the American Civil War

Towards the end of April I received notification that a new monument dedicated to Irish soldiers of the American Civil War is being unveiled in Ballymote, Co. Sligo next weekend. ...

A soldier springs the trapdoor, with men looking on from the trees beyond (Library of Congress)

Edward Wellington Boate: The Andersonville POW Who Came to the Defence of Henry Wirz

Waterford’s Edward Wellington Boate belongs to the large cohort of Irish journalists who ended up fighting, or in someway participating, in the American Civil War. His story is undoubtedly one ...

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A girl in mourning clothes holds an image of her father during the Civil War (Library of Congress)

Bonds Between Women & Daguerreotypes of A Dying Man in 1862

Families often relied on volunteer nurses to keep them informed of a loved one’s condition ...
Members of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Charging in 1864 (Library of Congress)

Dying at the Death: Remembering the Dorcy Family at Appomattox Court House

On 9th April 1865– 150 years ago today– Robert E. Lee surrendered ...
Massmount, Fanad, Co. Donegal, where James McFadden was married (Google)

‘Killed At The Surrender': The Journey of Two Irishmen to Their Deaths at Sailor’s Creek

There is something particularly poignant about those who lose their lives in ...
'The Fenian Banner', 1866 (Library of Congress)

‘The Next War': The New York Irish-American Looks Towards John Bull, April 1865

150 years ago this month the American Civil War seemed on the verge of ending. The fall of Richmond on 3rd April appeared to have hammered a final nail in the coffin of the Confederate cause. When the New York Irish-American Weekly came out on Saturday 8th April, they printed a piece entitled ‘The End […]

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The Return of the 69th New York, 1861 by Louis Lang. Thomas Madigan had been anticipating such a homecoming before Bull Run (New York Historical Society)

The Madigans: Famine Survival, Emigration & Obligation in 19th Century Ireland & America

Each pension file contains fragments of one Irish family’s story. They are rarely complete, but nonetheless they often offer us rare insight into aspects of the 19th century Irish emigrant experience. Few match the breadth of the story told in the Madigan pension file. That family’s words and letters take us from the Great Famine […]

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Irish emigrants sending money back to Ireland from the Emigrants Savings Bank in 1880 (Library of Congress)

‘As Good A Chance to Escape As Any Other': A Cork Soldier’s Aid to His Family in Ireland, 1864

Occasionally, I am asked why any Irish impacted by the American Civil War should be remembered in Ireland. After all, the argument goes, these people left our shores, and they weren’t fighting for ‘Ireland.’ In response, I usually point out that many were Famine-era emigrants, who often felt they had little choice but to leave. […]

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Lieutenant-Colonel James J. Smith and officers of the 69th New York, an image exposed just a few weeks after the Battle of Skinner's Farm (Library of Congress)

‘I Trust the Almighty Will Spare Me My Life': Charles Traynor & the Battle of Skinner’s Farm, 25th March 1865

In March 1865, Charles Traynor wrote home to his mother Catharine in New York. A veteran of some of the most famed Irish Brigade actions of the war, he was still at the front as the conflict began to enter its final days. ‘I trust the Almythy will spear me my life’ he confided to […]

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Mining coal three miles underground in Pennsylvania, c. 1895 (Library of Congress)

Coal Mining, Draft Rioting & The Molly Maguires: From Laois to Schuylkill with the Delaney Family

The Widow’s Pension Files often offer us the opportunity to explore the wider Irish emigrant experience through the lense of a single family. Such is the case with Private Thomas Delaney of the 19th Pennsylvania Cavalry. His family’s story allows us to travel with them, as they journeyed from the coalfields of pre-Famine Laois to […]

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Antietam Battlefield. The Confederates held the Sunken Lane to the left of the image, with the Irish Brigade advancing from right to left across the field. It was in the vicinity of this field that John Conway died (Damian Shiels)

Speaking Ill Of The Dead: Eulogies & Enmity For An Irish Brigade Soldier

On 18th October 1862 the New York Irish-American published an article on the ‘gallant fellows’ of the Irish Brigade who had recently given their lives at the carnage of Antietam. One of them was Tullamore native Lieutenant John Conway, who had fallen in the ranks of the 69th New York Infantry. The paper described Conway […]

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An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with President Barack Obama in The White House (Wikipedia)

Selling ‘Ireland’ and Forgetting the ‘Irish’? Some Thoughts on the Taoiseach’s St. Patrick’s Day Speech

This week Ireland’s Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, visited America for St. Patrick’s Day. Each March, our small country enjoys exceptional treatment on the other side of the Atlantic, treatment which includes a meeting with the President of the United States at The White House. Ireland’s relationship with the U.S. is the envy of other small countries. […]

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Fairfax Seminary Hospital, Virginia (Library of Congress)

‘Quite A Merry Time': A Union Irish Soldier Describes His Last St. Patrick’s Day, 1863

On 17th March 1863 David O’Keefe, a cabinet-maker from Co. Cork, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Virginia. Some six months previously David had left his adopted home of Reading, Massachusetts, to join the Irish soldiers of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry at the front. He wasn’t a young man- by the time he enlisted he was […]

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A hospital ward in a convalescent camp near Alexandria (Library of Congress)

‘I Am Not Long For This World': An Irish-American Soldier Says Goodbye to His Family

The last post on the site examined a mother’s desperate attempts to contact her wounded son. Equally poignant are those letters, occasionally included in the files, which impart a soldier’s final words to his family from his deathbed. On 23rd February 1864, George Carl of the 7th Ohio Infantry sat by the bed of William […]

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An image exposed by Irish photographer Timothy O'Sullivan of Union troops entrenched on the northern side of the North Anna on 25th May 1864. The day before John Heron had been shot on the south side of the river (Library of Congress)

‘For God Sake Dear Son Write To Me': An Irish Mother’s Desperate Plea in the Summer of 1864

I have come across hundreds of letters written by Irish people during the American Civil War in the Widows and Dependents Pension Files. In reading each one, I always do so in the awareness that the story ultimately did not have a happy ending- in every case the soldier died as a result of his […]

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