The Irishmen Who Fell in the Fetterman Fight, 21st December 1866

Although this site is dedicated to the Irish in the American Civil War, I recently came across some records pertaining to a number of Irishmen who died in 1866 that I thought worthy of inclusion. Footnote.com are currently in the process of adding Final Statements from 1862-1899 to their resources, a process that is currently just over 50% complete. These statements were issued when a soldier died in service, and can give details on the man’s appearance, place of birth, possessions at the time of death and any pay details or liabilities he had. While browsing those currently available I had a look at the documents relating to Corporal Patrick Gallagher, of Company C, 18th Infantry.

Fetterman Fight 1866

An 1867 imagining of the Fetterman Fight (Library of Congress)

The Irish laborer had enlisted in Cleveland, Ohio on 25th July 1865 for a period of three years. He was 5 feet 7 inches tall, with brown hair and brown eyes. On the 22nd December 1866 he was due over $16 in pay, and was entitled to a further $24 and 10 cents for clothing which he had not drawn down. He owed the laundress at his post, Fort Philip Kearney (then Dakota Territory, now Wyoming) $1 and 60 cents. These details are recorded because Patrick Gallagher had died, having been killed in action only the day before.

On 21st December 1866 Gallagher and 80 other men had ridden out of Fort Kearney under the command of Captain William Fetterman in order to protect a small wood-chopping party from the post who were under Native-American attack. As the column approached the scene the assailants fled, and Fetterman decided to cut them off.  He rode over the nearby ridge and straight into an ambush; he and his 80 men were confronted by between 1,500 and 2,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. This force, which included Red Cloud and a young Crazy Horse, surrounded  Fetterman’s command. The Cheyenne called the fight the ‘Battle of 100 In the Hands’ and remembered that they and the Arapaho were on the west side of the trap, with the Lakota emerging from behind the hills. The soldiers tried to move back up the ridge from whence they had come, firing as they went. As their horses went down they tried to use the animals for shelter, all the time being subjected to a storm of arrow fire. Within moments all the soldiers were surrounded, and as the warriors moved in hand to hand fighting ensued, as rifle butts and war clubs clashed. It was over almost as soon as it had begun- Fetterman and his entire command had been annihilated in a matter of minutes. Not one of the 81 men survived. It was the greatest disaster for the U.S. military on the plains up to that point, and would only be overshadowed by Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn in 1876.  (1)

It is probable that Fetterman’s command knew they were doomed only moments after the ambush was sprung. It is indeed poignant to think of a man emigrating from Ireland in the 19th century, enlisting, and being stationed in what must have seemed an alien landscape on the western frontier. For Gallagher and his comrades the Dakota Territory was destined to cut short their lives, leading them to a death which took place in terrifying circumstances. The men who marched with Fetterman felt the full wrath of Native American tribes who were desperately trying to protect their land and hunting grounds. The soldiers were shown no mercy and many of their bodies were mutilated after death- Colonel Henry Carrington of the 18th Infantry described the scene when he came upon it, describing ‘… eyes torn out and laid on the rocks; noses cut off; ears cut off; chins hewn off; teeth chopped out; joints of fingers; brains taken out and placed on rocks with other members of the body; entrails taken out and exposed; hands cut off; feet cut off; arms taken out from sockets; private parts severed and indecently placed on the person; eyes, ears, mouth and arms penetrated with spear-heads, sticks, and arrows; ribs slashed to separation with knives; skulls severed in every form, from chin to crown; muscles of calves, thighs, stomach, breast, back, arms, and cheek taken out…’. (2)

Having come across Corporal Gallagher I decided to take a look at how many of the force were Irish. The casualty list was taken from Carrington’s report on the incident. 52 of the 81 men who were killed were in the 18th Infantry, and I have started by looking at this group of men. What is immediately striking is the number of different nationalities represented. (3)

18th Infantry Casualties in the Fetterman Fight by Nationality

United States: 23 (including the three officers- a number of these men were of Irish-American descent)

England: 1

Switzerland: 1

Germany/Prussia: 7

Canada: 2

Sicily: 1

France: 1

Ireland: 13

Yet to be Confirmed: 3 (two of which bear Irish names)

The Irishmen from the 18th Infantry that I have thus far confirmed as dying in the Fetterman Fight are:

Company A, Second Battalion, 18th Infantry

Private Thomas Burke- a 25 year old, 5 foot 3 inches tall former laborer with a dark complexion, grey eyes and black hair. Enlisted 21st March 1866 in Brooklyn, New York. A Co. Cork native.

Private Patrick Shannon- a 26 year old, 5 foot 5 inches tall former laborer with a sandy complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Enlisted 25th July 1865 in Louisville, Kentucky. A Co. Roscommon native.

Corporal Robert H. Lennon- a 23 year old, 5 foot 5 3/4 inches tall soldier with a dark complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. Enlisted 10th March 1866 in Boston, Massachusetts. A Co. Down native.

Company C, Second Battalion, 18th Infantry

Corporal Patrick Gallagher- a 27 year old, 5 foot 7 inches tall former laborer with a fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. Enlisted 25th July 1865 in Cleveland, Ohio. A native of Ireland.

Sergeant Patrick Rooney- a 24 year old, 5 foot 7 inches tall former laborer with a dark complexion, grey eyes and black hair. Enlisted 11th April 1866 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A native of Ireland.

Private Frank P. Sullivan- a 24 year old, 5 foot 6 inches tall former laborer with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Enlisted 29th March 1866 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A Co. Kerry native.

Sergeant Francis Raymond- a 30 year old, 5 foot 10 1/4 inches tall soldier with a ruddy complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. Enlisted 8th March 1866 in Washington D.C. A Co. Meath native.

Private Patrick Smith- a 33 year old, 5 foot 3 1/4 inches tall former laborer with a  florid complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. Enlisted 13th March 1866 in Chicago, Illinois. A Co. Clare native.

(Private Michael O’Garra who died in Company C is also of probable Irish birth-a soldier of the same name served until early 1866 in the 1st Battalion Nevada Cavalry, with a birth place listed as Ireland.)

Company E, Second Battalion, 18th Infantry

Private Timothy Cullinane- an 18 year old, 5 foot 4 1/2 inches tall former laborer with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Enlisted 15th March 1866 in New York. A Co. Cork native.

Corporal John Quinn- a 27 year old, 5 foot 9 inches tall former laborer with a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Enlisted 23rd January 1865 in Indianapolis, Indiana. A native of Ireland.

Company H, Second Battalion, 18th Infantry

Private Perry F. Dolan (Doland)- a 22 year old, 5 foot, 6 1/2 inches tall former farmer with a fair complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair. Enlisted 10th April 1866 in St. Louis, Missouri. A native of Ireland.

Private James Kean- a 25 year old, 5 foot, 6 1/2 inches tall former laborer with a dark complexion, black eyes and dark hair. Enlisted 13th March 1866 in New York. A Co. Clare native.

Corporal Michael Sharkey- a 28 year old, 5 foot, 8 inches tall soldier with a ruddy complexion, grey eyes and auburn hair. Enlisted 29th March 1866 in Indianapolis, Indian. A native of Ireland.

(Private Michael Kinney who died with this Company may well also be of Irish birth, this is to be confirmed.)

It is striking how recently many of these men had joined up, and one wonders how much previous military experience they had. The 2nd Cavalry detachment also clearly had a number of Irishmen in the ranks, and I hope in the future to write a follow up post identifying not only the birthplaces of these men but also those yet to be confirmed from the 18th Infantry.

(1) Monnett 2010: 1, Bill Tall Bull 1988;  (2) US Congress 1887: 41; (3) US Congress 1887: 43;

References 

Bill Tall Bull 1988. We are the ancestors of those yet to be born

Congress of the United States 1887. Letter from the Acting Secretary of the Interior Concerning Indian Operations of the Plains.

Monnett, John H. 2010. The Falsehoods of Fetterman’s Fight (Historynet.com)

Fort Phil Kearney State Historic Site

Footnote.com

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Categories: Plains Wars, Post War, Research

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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5 Comments on “The Irishmen Who Fell in the Fetterman Fight, 21st December 1866”

  1. June 28, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    Damian, if you look at our military forces prior to the Civil War, as well as afterwards to which the above pertains, you will find the origins of soldiers to be very similar to those in your post. Partly this is because we are a nation of immigrants. But partly it is because military service provided a livelihood. Even today, if you look at our military forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq you will note that a significant portion of them are immigrants or first-generation citizens. Today military service provides one pathway to citizenship in this country.

    • June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Jim,

      Absolutely- I would be very interested in finding out how many of the immigrants in the immediate post-Civil War army had prior military experience- I imagine those men who had a profession listed as ‘soldier’ may have seen some action, while many of those who were listed as ‘laborers’ may not have. The amount of time some of the men had even been in the United States would also be interesting to discover- I wonder if some were literally ‘off the boat’ and all of a sudden found themselves in the west fighting the Native American tribes- it was a long way from rural Cork or Clare to the Dakota Territory. It must have been true for at least some of the men.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. June 28, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Nice article, Damian, I’m currently writing a three part series for TheWildGeese.com on the Irish who served in the 7th Cavalry. From my research, I found that close to 47% of the men recruited by the Regular Army in the ten years after the Civil War were foreign-born. The Irish provided the largest contingent of these with 38,649 or 21% of all enlistees. That certainly gives a green hue to the U.S. military serving on the western frontier!

    • June 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      Hi Robert, Thanks! That is a massive percentage. It is around this time that the Irish begin to have a bigger influence on the US military than the British- in the 1830s there were more Irish than English in the British Army, but this completely changed when mass immigration to America began in the 1840s. I’m looking forward to reading your series!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  3. Paul O'Brien
    April 27, 2013 at 2:11 am #

    William Hynes says a Tom Reynolds and a ‘Mac’ of the 2nd Cavalry died in the Fetterman fight-‘Sons of Colorado’ November 1906 p3-11

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