More Irish born men reached the rank of general in the American Civil War than any other foreign nationality. However, there were many more Irishmen who achieved the rank of Colonel without advancing to a more exalted rank. In the first in a new series on Irish in the American Civil War we will be exploring these men, who often remain in the shadows of their more famous countrymen. The first is Colonel Michael Magevney Jr., Colonel of the 154th (Senior) Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A.
Michael Magevney was born around the year 1835 in Co. Fermanagh. He was a schoolteacher in Ireland and emigrated to the United States in 1854, settling in Memphis Tennessee. He was perhaps influenced in his choice of location by his uncle, Eugene Magevney, who had become a well known teacher in that city having himself settled there in the 1830s. Prior to the war Michael had worked as a book-keeper, marrying Ellen Murphy. He was involved in the volunteer militia before the war, and on 14th May 1861 became a Captain in the 154th (Senior) Tennessee Infantry on that units organisation. He commanded the regiment’s largely Irish Company C, ‘The Jackson Guards’. The 154th Tennessee had an unusual history in that it had originally been the 154th Tennessee Militia Regiment, with its origins in 1842. They retained this number when they mustered into service at the outbreak of war. As it had a significantly longer history than those Tennessee regiments with lower numbers, it was granted permission to include ’senior’ in its title to distinguish itself from them. (1)
The regiment had 802 men under arms at Fort Wright in July 1861. They first tasted action at the Battle of Belmont, Missouri on 7th November of that year where they lost one man killed and 12 wounded. At the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 both Colonel Preston Smith and Lieutenant-Colonel Marcus J. Wright were wounded as the regiment lost 25 men dead, 163 wounded and 11 missing. The injuries to the senior commanders resulted in Magevney’s promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel. He rose to command the regiment following the death of Colonel Edward Fitzgerald at Richmond, Kentucky on 30th August 1862 when the 154th were serving under Corkman Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. Lieutenant-Colonel Magevney led what was by late 1862 a battalion of 245 men into the Battle of Murfreesboro, seeing action on 30th and 31st December 1862. They lost 14 killed, 83 wounded and 3 missing during the fight. By 1st March 1863 what was left of his regiment was consolidated with the 13th Tennessee, becoming the 13th/154th Tennessee with Colonel Vaughan of the 13th assuming command. Magevney commanded the post of Okolona, Mississippi with the rank of Colonel in 1863, and by the time of the Atlanta Campaign in 1864 he was leading the 13th/154th. During this period the regiment saw heavy fighting at locations such as the Dead Angle at Kennesaw Mountain. The Irishman rose to temporary brigade command for the period from 10th July 1864 to 31st August 1864. He was wounded in the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee on 30th November 1864, and was captured at the disastrous Battle of Nashville on 16th December 1864. (2)
Michael Magevney Jr. was held as a prisoner at Johnson’s Island, Ohio for the remainder of the war, eventually being released on 22nd May 1865. He returned to Memphis where he became a merchant, and although he became initially successful and wealthy he lost his fortune, perhaps a result of the alcoholism which was given as his cause of death on 21st September 1883. He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis but was re interred at Calvary Cemetery in the same city in 1887. His obituary remarked that he was ‘a man of remarkable coolness and courage…of extensive reading, fine culture, and delicate sensibilities.’ (3)
(1) Allardice 2008: 249, Brady 1986: 26, O’Brien 2007: 127, Turley 1886: 596-597, Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964: 308-309; (2) Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964:308-309, OR Series 1, Volume 20: 748-749, OR Series 4, Volume 2: 964, Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964:310, Allardice 2008: 249; (3) Allardice 2008:249;
Allardice, Bruce S. 2008. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register
Brady, Joe. 1986. ‘The Irish Community in Antebellum Memphis’ in West Tennessee Historical Society Papers, Volume 40, pp. 24- 44
O’Brien, Sean Michael 2007. Irish Americans in the Confederate Army
Turley, Thomas B. 1886. ‘One Hundred and Fifty-Fourth Tennessee Infantry’ in Lindsley, John Berrien (ed.) The Military Annals of Tennessee: Confederate
Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964. Tennesseans in the Civil War. Part 1.
Official Records Series 1, Volume 20, Part 1, Chapter 32. Report of Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Magevney Jr., One Hundred and Fifty Fourth Tennessee Infantry, Senior Regiment
Official Records Series 4, Volume 2. Report of Volunteer and Conscript Bureau for month of October 1863