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.
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;
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