The Irish Brigade’s first taste of active campaigning arrived in the summer of 1862, when Union forces advanced along the Peninsula towards Richmond. They had yet to experience serious action when they settled into ‘Camp Winfield Scott’, near Yorktown in April. Despite the absence of the enemy, death arrived in unexpected circumstances for one member of the 69th New York. He was to become one of the Brigade’s first fatalities, but even in death he sought to ensure that his family would learn of his fate. (1)
The unfortunate death which awaited the soldier arrived when a tree fell on him at Camp Winfield Scott. As his comrades examined the body, they came across a poignant note in his pocket. Clearly he had seen death as a possibility, and wanted to guard against the potential that the news might not reach home. The note read as follows:
“My name is Patrick Casey, Co. B, Sixty-ninth Regiment N.Y.S.V. Any one finding this note on my person when killed will please write a note to my wife, and direct it as follows: ‘Mrs. Mary Casey, No. 188 Rivington-street, New York.’ (2)
Casey’s death and the note on his body clearly had a profound effect on others in the regiment; even though there was almost unimaginable slaughter and suffering to come, Patrick Casey had been one of the first. This may explain why his story was retold in Conyngham’s 1867 history. Private Casey’s body was carefully buried and the note he requested was sent to his wife. What more can we discover about this man and his unfortunate spouse?
Private Patrick Casey was not a young man when he decided to fight with the Irish Brigade. He was 43 years of age when he enlisted on 15th September 1861. His motivations for joining up are unclear, and we may never know if it was an act of patriotism or necessity. At the outbreak of the war he was father to a daughter, Mary Eliza Casey, who had been born in New York on 5th March 1852. She was baptised in St. Peter and Paul Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where family friends Patrick Dowd and Rose Farrell had stood as sponsors.She was nine years old when her father left for war. The wife that Patrick referred to in the note found on his body was Mary’s step-mother, and it seems likely that Patrick’s first wife passed away in the 1850s. The woman who received news of his death in Virginia had been married to the Irishman for little more than a year when he enlisted. Her name was Mary McCormick, who had become Mary Casey on 30th April 1860 in St. Mary’s Church, Manhattan. (3)
Unlike her husband, Mary was unable to write, and so relied on intermediaries to assist her in obtaining the pension she needed to sustain herself. Among the evidence produced for her claim was a letter written by Captain Thomas Leddy of the 69th New York, who had himself been badly wounded at Malvern Hill and later Fredericksburg. While still recovering from the wounds he received at the latter battle, Leddy wrote to confirm the circumstances of Patrick’s death:
New York, January 20th 1863
I hereby certify that Patrick Casey late of Co. B 69th Regt. N.Y.V. came to his death by the falling of a tree whilst in the discharge of his duties on or about the 26th day of April 1862, in front of Yorktown, VA.
Thomas Leddy, Capt. Co. B 69th Regt.
N.Y. Vols. (4)
This combined with evidence of their marriage secured for Patrick Casey’s wife Mary a pension of $8 per month. By now she was no longer living on Rivington-Street, having moved to a nearby address at 223 Delancey Street, also in Manhattan. Mary decided to pursue an increase in her pension entitlements in 1866, when she claimed that she was supporting Patrick’s daughter Mary Eliza, who was still under the age of 16. However for reasons unknown this request was rejected. (5)
There is little further evidence for the family of Patrick Casey in the records. It is not clear when his wife stopped claiming her pension, and both Mary and Mary Eliza are difficult to trace in later censuses. It is hoped that more details regarding the later lives of Patrick Casey’s two dependants may be uncovered, to discover the fate of the people who clearly meant the most to this member of the 69th New York’s Company B, one of the first casualties of the Irish Brigade.
(1) Conyngham 1867:129; (2) Ibid; (3) Report of Adjutant General 1902:50, Patrick Casey Widow Pension File; (4) Conyngham 1867: 555, Patrick Casey Widow Pension File (5) Patrick Casey Widow Pension File;
Conyngham, David Power (edited by Lawrence Kohl) 1994. The Irish Brigade and its Campaigns (1st Edition 1867)
Patrick Casey Widow’s Pension File (Fold3)
New York A.G. 1902. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901