Jeremiah O’Brien: The Last Irish Veteran of the American Civil War?

In 1950 Harry S. Truman was the President of the United States. The greatest conflict the world had ever seen had drawn to a conclusion over five years previously, and the Korean War was about to begin. By 1950 the American Civil War had been over for 89 years- by the end of the decade there would be nobody left who could claim to have fought in the greatest conflict to engulf the United States. Of the c.180,000 Irishmen who served North and South between 1861 and 1865, it is not known who survived the longest. One contender must surely be Limerick native Jeremiah Patrick O’Brien, who claimed to be a 105-year-old Confederate Cavalry veteran when he passed away on 28th June, 1950. 

Jeremiah O'Brien- the last Irish born veteran of the American Civil War? (Photo: Shan Murphy, Find A Grave)

Jeremiah O’Brien- is this the face of the last Irish-born veteran of the American Civil War? (Photo: Shan Murphy, Find A Grave)

The Dallas Morning News ran a headline on 29th June 1950 that carried news of the Irishman’s death. Entitled ‘3 Confederates Left in Texas as J.P. O’Brien Dies’ the obituary read as follows:

Buna, Texas, June 28

Jeremiah P.O’Brien, 105, was buried Wednesday, leaving only three Confederate veterans in Texas. The aged veteran of the Civil War died Tuesday night. Services were held in Kirbyville, his home. He had spent much of his time in recent years at Buna. Born in Ireland, O’Brien came to the United States on July 18, 1861, landing at New Orleans, La. He immediately joined the Confederate Army. He often told of being with Robert E. Lee when the Confederate General surrendered at Appomattox. He was a retired section foreman. His widow, five children by a previous marriage, seventeen grandchildren and twenty-five great-grandchildren survive. Texas’ three surviving Confederate veterans are Thomas E. Riddle of the Austin Confederate Home, J.H. Whitsett of Bonham and Walter W. Williams of Franklin. (1)

A memorial obituary published in the The Beaumont Enterprise on 29th June 1950 carries a photograph of the Irishman, and names his second wife as Mrs. Artie O’Brien, daughters as Mrs. H.T. Martin and Mrs. Frank Jones and sons as Paul, John and Henry of Kirbyville. Jeremiah’s gravestone at Trout Creek Cemetery in Newton County, Texas records that he was born on 17th November 1844. He is recorded as having enlisted on 15th May 1864 in Company K of the 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment* although this does not explain how he supposedly served in the Confederate Army from the day after his arrival in the country. Interestingly however a Jeremiah O’Brien is listed as having served in Company B of Louisiana’s Lewis Regiment in 1861, and it may be that he did serve in this unit for a short time. (2)

If Jeremiah did fight with the 1st Virginia Cavalry from 1864 than he would have participated in the Overland Campaign, as well as Early’s operations in the Shenandoah Valley, the defence of Petersburg and the final days of Robert E. Lee’s army before Appomattox. Further research work is necessary to tease out all the facts regarding Jeremiah O’Brien’s life and service during the 1860s, but if verified, he must surely be a contender for the last Irishman then alive who had fought in the American Civil War. (3)

*A search for Jeremiah on the Confederate Services Records for Virginia on Fold 3 produces no results; However ancestry.com cite The Virginia Regimental History Series and the U.S. Civil War Soldiers Records and Profiles as sources for his 1864 enlistment in the First Virginia Cavalry.

(1) Dallas Morning News; (2) The Beaumont Enterprise, Find A Grave, Ancestry.com, Fold 3; (3) Soldiers and Sailors Database;

References

Beaumont Enterprise 29th June 1950. Honored Veteran Passes

Dallas Morning News 29th June 1950. 3 Confederates Left in Texas as J.P. O’Brien Dies

Jeremiah Patrick O’Brien Find A Grave Record

Ancestry.com

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

Fold3.com

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Categories: Limerick, Texas

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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6 Comments on “Jeremiah O’Brien: The Last Irish Veteran of the American Civil War?”

  1. August 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Hi Damien,
    If we could find some information on Jeremiah’s parents from records in the U.S., I could search all of Limerick for a possible baptismal record for Jeremiah and confirm when and where he was born. Jeremiah’s death or marriage record could offer this information.
    Catriona Crowe
    Limerick Genealogy

    • August 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Hi Catriona,

      Great to hear from you! That sounds like an excellent idea- I have come across a couple more of his military records and I will see about getting his death and/or marriage cert as well, it would be great to pin him down!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. Ava Hayes
    June 6, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Jeremiah Patrick O’Brien was my great grandfather. His mother’s name was Mary O’Conner. He was born in Limerick and came to the US around age 17. Mary also moved to the US. I believe she and at least one daughter (Margaret) lived in the Chicago area.

    • June 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Ava,

      Great to hear from you! What a fantastic man to be descended from! Do you have any more details in the family about him? I would be keen to discover where in Limerick he was from (being from the same county myself). Many thanks for getting in touch.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Last Union Irish Veterans of the American Civil War | Irish in the American Civil War - September 8, 2013

    […] site has previously looked at Limerick man Jeremiah O’Brien, the last known Irish veteran of the American Civil War who died in 1950. He had served as a […]

  2. Michael Casey: The Dublin Emigrant & Civil War Veteran Who Met President Roosevelt | Irish in the American Civil War - October 15, 2014

    […] looked at Irish veterans of the American Civil War in the 20th century (see for example here and here). As their numbers dwindled, many newspapers ran stories about local old soldiers, who were […]

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