150 years ago today, Captain Michael Magevney Jr. and his company were positioned near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The Fermanagh native commanded the ‘Jackson Guards’, a largely Irish unit which formed Company C of the 154th (Senior) Tennessee Infantry. Nearby, 25-year-old James Real from Oola, Co. Limerick, proudly gripped the flag of the regiment. The previous day had seen the 154th engaged in hard fighting, having taken part in the largely successful Confederate assault against Federal positions around the Landing. However, the second-day of the Battle of Shiloh was now about to commence, and the scales had tipped against Magevney, Real and their comrades.
James Real had travelled a long way from his original home in Limerick to be on the battlefield of Shiloh that 7th April. He had arrived from Ireland as a 13-year-old, journeying aboard the John O’Toole from Dublin. James first set foot in his new home on 23rd January 1851, when he and nine of his family disembarked at New Orleans. The exotic and cosmopolitan city must have amazed the young Limerick boy and his siblings. The family eventually settled in Illinois, but at the approach of war in 1861 the now adult James found himself living in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite his family links in the North, he decided to throw in his lot with his neighbours, and on 8th June of that year he enrolled for a period of one year in Magevney’s Company C. (1)
By the time of Shiloh James Real and his company had already seen action, most notably at Belmont, Missouri on 7th November 1861. However, nothing they had previously witnessed could have prepared them for the bloodbath they were engulfed by on the banks of the Tennessee River. Their 6th April attack had caught the Yankees by surprise, but it had come at a fearsome price. Worse still for the Confederates, Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee had begun to receive reinforcements from Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio from late on the 6th. By the morning of 7th April these fresh troops were ready to lead a counter-attack against the exhausted Rebels. At 6.00 am the Federals threw themselves against the Confederate right, near where James Real and the Jackson Guards were positioned. (2)
Lieutenant-Colonel Marcus J. Wright was in command of 154th Tennessee that day. The regiment’s line of battle was formed in an open field, supporting a Confederate artillery battery. The Rebel commander General P.G.T. Beauregard decided to respond to the Federal thrust by launching a counter-attack of his own. As Beauregard’s orders came down Wright ordered the 154th forward, and together with the 2nd Tennessee and portions of Blythe’s Mississippi regiment they advanced. Together with another Confederate brigade, they surged obliquely to right across the Sarah Bell field and towards the advancing Union troops. James Real was to the fore, carrying the regimental flag of the 154th which he had held since the original color-bearer party had fallen during the previous day’s fighting. (3)
As the Confederates advanced the Federals quickly sought to respond. They repositioned Terrill’s battery east of the Hamburg-Savannah road to meet the Rebel onslaught. Lieutenant-Colonel Wright recalled that the 154th became involved in a ‘desperate contest with the enemy’s artillery and musketry’, eventually becoming separated from the rest of their brigade. They remained exposed to the deadly fire of the battery for over an hour, before being forced to withdraw. Behind them and in front of the cannon lay ‘piles of mangled bodies.’ Amongst them was 25-year-old Limerick-man James Real. (4)
Few details of James Real’s final moments survive. It was reported that he advanced to within twenty paces of the enemy line before receiving the wound ‘through which his soul escaped to the bosom of his Maker.’ His service record notes that he was ‘killed at Battle of Shiloah while carrying the colors of the Rgt.’ Clearly a popular young man in Memphis, a remembrance of the Irish private was printed in the Memphis Appeal on 15th April. In it he was reported to have expressed his willingness to die for the cause of the South, which he believed to be just. ‘As a friend he was kind, uncalculating and sincere. He was known but to be loved. All he possessed was at the disposal of his friends- in fact, that was his weakness, if such it can be called. His memory will be forever embalmed in the hearts of his friends; many a tear wrang from manhood’s arid fountain and woman’s tender heart, have shown the depth of love and the sincerity of the sorrow of his bereaved friends.’ (5)
The Confederate army was driven back in defeat on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh, and the Federals were left in possession of the field. Pittsburg Landing remained an important concentration point for Union regiments, and soon after the fighting one such unit, the 7th Missouri Infantry, arrived to reinforce the position. Amongst its members was Patrick Real, Jame’s older brother who had arrived with him in New Orleans in 1851. It was reported that Patrick had travelled to Memphis prior to the war in an effort to bring his younger back to Illinois, but that James had insisted on staying to fight for his adoptive State. Now Patrick was camping on the very field of battle where his younger brother had fallen fighting for the South. Indeed when Patrick arrived James still lay there, buried in an unmarked grave. One can only imagine his feelings at the time. Unlike his sibling, Patrick would survive the war, spending its latter years as an officer in the 90th Illinois, Chicago’s Irish Legion. (6)
Shiloh is often seen as the first major battle of the American Civil War- the point at which both North and South began to realise the slaughter they had unleashed against each other. Whatever the truth of this, for the Real family of Oola, Co. Limerick, the battle would forever recall memories the personal family tragedy that befell them there, 150 years ago today.
*I am indebted to Jim Swan, who through his history of the 90th Illinois Infantry and personal correspondence first alerted me to the story of the Real family in the American Civil War.
(1) Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964: 309, Memphis Appeal 15th April 1862, Swan 2009: 67, Real: Personal Histories, New Orleans Passenger Lists 1820-1945; (2) Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964: 310; (3) Official Records: 452, Daniel 1997: 274, Memphis Appeal 15th April 1862; (4) Daniel 1997: 274, Official Records: 452; (5) Memphis Appeal 15th April 1862, James J. Reel [sic.] Service Record; (6) Real: Personal Histories, Swan 2009: 67;
References & Further Reading
Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee 1964. Tennesseans in the Civil War. Part 1.
Confederate Service Record for James J. Reel [sic.]
Daniel, Larry J. 1997. Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War
Memphis Daily Appeal 15th April 1862: Died
New Orleans Passenger Lists 1820-1945: John O’Toole
Official Records Series 1, Volume 10, Part 1. Report of Lieut. Col. Marcus J. Wright, One hundred and fifty-fourth Tennessee Infantry
Real, Chuck. Real Irish Soldiers and the American Civil War
Swan, James B. 2009. Chicago’s Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War