From Cappincur to Corinth, and Back: An Irish Artilleryman Comes Home

The photograph below shows Battery M of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery during Sherman’s Meridian Campaign of February 1864. One of the men in this image is Sergeant Peter Cavanagh, from near Tullamore in Co. Offaly. Peter had a remarkable career; not only did he serve through some of the toughest campaigns of the Western Theater, but highly unusually he also managed to return to Ireland after the war. As a result his Great-Grandson Michael MacNamara was born in Ireland rather than the United States, and is one of the few descendants of Irish American Civil War soldiers who travels west rather than east across the Atlantic when exploring his ancestor’s past.

Battery M of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery during the 1864 Meridian Campaign (Photographic History of the Civil War)

Battery M of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery during the 1864 Meridian Campaign (Photographic History of the Civil War)

The average visitor to the small rural cemetery of Cappincur, 2km outside of Tullamore in Co. Offaly, is unlikely to notice the unassuming headstone of the Cavanagh family. The inscription commemorates three of its members, and reads as follows:

IHS

LORD HAVE MERCY ON THE SOUL OF

NICHOLAS KAVANAGH

DIED AUGUST 9 1859 AGED 72 YEARS

AND HIS WIFE

MARY

DIED NOVEMBER 17 1871 AGED 82 YEARS

AND THEIR SON PETER

DIED MARCH 10 1871 AGED 45 YEARS

RIP

ERECTED BY THEIR SONS JOHN AND PAUL CAPPINCUR

The Cavanagh Family Headstone, Cappincur, Co. Offaly (Michael MacNamara)

The Cavanagh Family Headstone, Cappincur, Co. Offaly (Michael MacNamara)

This epitaph belies Peter Cavanagh’s extraordinary journey, which took him from Offaly to the United States and back again. Peter’s Great-Grandson Michael has painstakingly pieced together his ancestor’s life. Born in 1824, the family still posess Peter’s exercise book from his time in an Offaly Hedge School between 1844 and 1848. At some point after this he decided to try his luck in America. His port of embarkation was most likely Cork, as that county is erroneously listed as his birthplace on his enlistment papers.

Peter next appears in 1860, when he took the fateful step of joining the regular army on the eve of the American Civil War. His place of enlistment was given as Newport, Kentucky, where he joined Battery F of the 2nd U.S. Light Artillery. He was one of a group of soldiers transferred to the Missouri Union forces following the Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek in 1861, with the new unit becoming Battery M of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery. It was with the 1st Missouri Light that Peter would serve for much of the war, travelling all over the South. Just prior to the Battle of Atlanta in 1864, Peter, now a Sergeant, petitioned along with a number of his regular comrades to be transferred back to the 2nd U.S. Light Artillery, a request which was granted. He remained in the military after the Confederate surrender, seeing service on the west coast at Fort Point in San Francisco and in Fort Vancouver in Washington, from where he returned to Ireland in July 1867.

The petition signed by Peter and his comrades in 1864 requesting a return to the regular service (Michael MacNamara)

The petition signed by Peter and his comrades in 1864 requesting a return to the regular service (Michael MacNamara)

Why did Peter choose to return home? Michael’s research has discovered that the Irishman fell ill with ‘miasmatic fever’ in 1863, contracted while on campaign in Mississippi. He recovered aboard the hospital ship Woodford, but it seems likely that he was sickly from this point forward. Apart from failing health Peter had at least one more pressing engagement at home in Ireland- having departed the United States in July of 1867 he was married to Offaly girl Margaret Tiernan that September. The marriage to Margaret may well have been the driving force behind his decision to return to his native land.

Peter and Margaret were not destined to enjoy their life together for long; Peter died of tuberculosis on 10th March 1871, to be followed to the grave only eight months later by his mother. Margaret long outlived her husband, claiming a pension for her husband’s military service which she received until her own death nearly sixty years later, in 1930. Peter Cavanagh brought home to rural Offaly memories of some of the hardest fighting of the American Civil War. His discharge prior to his 1864 re-enlistment in the 2nd U.S. Light noted the staggering array of engagements he had participated in up to that point:

1861: Capture of Camp Jackson, Battle of Boonville, Skirmish at Forsyth, Battle of Dug Springs, Battle of Wilson’s Creek;

1862: Battle of New Madrid/Island No. 10, Siege of Corinth, Skirmish at Farmington, Skirmish at Blackland, Battle of Iuka, Battle of Corinth, Skirmish at Hatchie River, Skirmish at Jonesboro, Skirmish at Tallahatchie;

1863: Battle of Fort Pemberton, Fight at Forty Hills, Battle of Raymond, Battle of Jackson, Battle of Champion Hill, Siege of Vicksburg, Siege of Jackson;

1864: Meridian Campaign, Red River Campaign, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain;

Peter's 1864 discharge paper, charting the impressive list of actions he had up to that point being engaged in (Michael MacNamara)

Peter’s 1864 discharge paper, charting the impressive list of actions he had been in engaged in up to that point (Michael MacNamara)

Peter served through the remainder of the Atlanta Campaign, and later fought with the ‘Rock of Chickamauga’, General George Thomas, in Tennessee. His last major battle of the war was fought at Nashville in December 1864, when he and his comrades destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee. It seems incongruous that someone who had survived so much hardship would enjoy such a short life back at home in Co. Offaly, but such was Peter’s lot. Thanks to the efforts of his Great-Great Grandson Michael MacNamara his remarkable service is remembered, as is his position as one of the very few Irish-born American Civil War soldiers who spent their final years in the land of their birth.

The Pension Certificate of Peter Cavanagh, claimed by his wife Mary until her death in 1930 (Michael MacNamara)

The Pension Certificate of Peter Cavanagh, claimed by his wife Margaret until her death in 1930 (Michael MacNamara)

*Many thanks to Michael MacNamara for providing both the images and the history that relates to the remarkable career of his Great-Grandfather. If anyone has any additional information that they think may add to Peter’s story Michael would be eager to hear from you.

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Categories: Irish in the American Civil War, Missouri, Offaly

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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11 Comments on “From Cappincur to Corinth, and Back: An Irish Artilleryman Comes Home”

  1. Patty MM
    December 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Interesting! Most of us want to travel back to Ireland to find more about our ancestors who fought in the war.
    Is it snowing on this page, or is my computer acting funny?

  2. December 12, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Hi Patty,

    Glad you enjoyed it! You are right it is snowing on the page- just for Christmas though!

    Kind Regards,

    Damian.

  3. Michael Mac Namara
    January 10, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    I found the picture at the beginning in the 1912 Book, The photographic History of the Civil War. I have searched to try and locate the original but I have had no luck. If anybody has a suggestion I would be very grateful.
    Mick Mac Namara

  4. Chuck Real
    May 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Damien and Michael, when I toured the Vicksburg battlefield, I was able to locate the marker for Capt. Real’s Irish Legion (90th Illinois). His unit’s position would have been just south of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery. And since he had originally been with the 7th Missouri, it is possible that he may have visited the Missourian’s bivouacking area.

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for the comment! That is really interesting- it is hard to believe given Captain Real’s connections he didnt visit- I imagine a few of them must have known each other!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  5. Jean Brandwood
    March 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Hi Michael, I am researching my husband’s Kavanagh/ Cavanagh family and have found his great grandfather to be Edward Kavanagh, son of Charles and Mary, living in Cappincur, Offaly at the time of his baptism in 1832. I was just wondering if you know of any connection between your ancestors and these.
    Very interesting story. Thank you
    Regards
    Jean

    • michael macnamara
      March 18, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Jean,
      I’m pretty certain that they are of the same family. I am away at the moment but I will mail you very soon with more details. But I’d be pretty sure.

      • Jean Brandwood
        March 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

        Thank you very much Michael. That’s very exciting!

      • michael macnamara
        March 18, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

        Jean,

        I have a few documents that may interest you. Can you give me an email address, please so I can send them.. There were three C(K)avanagh families in Cappincur and all seem related.
        Beware of spellings; things hadn’t really settled down by this time so you have Cavanagh and Kavanagh and Cappincur and Cappancur.

      • Jean Brandwood
        March 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

        Thank you very much Michael. My email address is jeanbrand60@gmail.com

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  1. The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – January 27-February 2, 1864 « Clear Sight - January 27, 2014

    […] Some of the men who followed Sherman to Meridian. (Source) […]

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