Remembering The Fallen At Petersburg: Forts McMahon and Patrick Kelly

By September 1864 the Union forces at Petersburg had been facing their Confederate foe across a series of entrenchments and fortifications since mid-June. The Federals decided to commit to a strategy of continually extending their lines westward, seeking to exploit their advantages in manpower. With this stratagem they sought to stretch the Army of Northern Virginia to breaking point and bring the campaign to a decisive close. However, the Yankees were well aware of the threat they still faced from Rebel strikes around their flank and rear. With this in mind they decided to construct a new secondary line behind their forward positions, which faced south to counter any such Confederate movement. (1)

The interior of Fort Sedgwick, one of the principal Union forts at Petersburg (Library of Congress)

The interior of Fort Sedgwick, one of the principal Union forts at Petersburg (Library of Congress)

This secondary line effectively turned the Union positions into a giant fortified camp, protected by earthworks to both front and rear. The new line ran from a work designated Fort Dushane, just west of the Weldon & Petersburg railroad, eastwards towards the Jerusalem Plank Road. It contained five new enclosed works, and eventually connected to the pre-existing secondary line which had heretofore ended at Fort Prescott. The secondary line in its entirety now contained no fewer than 41 batteries and 20 redoubts- a formidable obstacle for any Confederate flanking force. (2)

With the extension of the secondary line that September,two of the Army of the Potomac’s Corps Commanders, Winfield Scott Hancock and Gouverneur Warren, suggested that each of the enclosed works be named and that a sign bearing the new designation be placed in a prominent position within the forts. The army commander George Gordon Meade agreed, and decided that these names should be selected from amongst the fallen. Meade therefore asked each Corps Commander to put forward the names of officers who had died since the commencement of the 1864 campaign and who were deserving of being honoured in such a fashion. (3)

Sketch showing portions of the Union secondary line at Petersburg, including Fort McMahon and Fort Patrick Kelly (Official Records Atlas)

Sketch showing portions of the Union secondary line at Petersburg, including Fort McMahon and Fort Patrick Kelly (Official Records Atlas)

Winfield Hancock looked back over the 1864 Overland Campaign as he decided on the names to be chosen from the Second Corps. As a result two of the forts on the Union secondary line came to be named for prominent Irish officers- Fort McMahon and Fort Patrick Kelly. Colonel James Power McMahon from Waterford had led the 164th New York Infantry, part of Corcoran’s Irish Legion, during the Overland Campaign. He had succeeded his brother John to command of the regiment when the latter had died in March 1863. When the 164th charged the Rebel positions at Cold Harbor on 3rd June 1864, James fell at the head of his regiment, while in the act of planting the regimental colors on the enemy works. He was in his late twenties at the time of his death. (4)

Colonel Patrick Kelly had been born in c.1822 at Castlehacket, near Tuam in Co. Galway. He had served in the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run before taking a commission in the 88th New York Infantry, Irish Brigade. He rose to regimental command and led the Irish Brigade into the Wheatfield at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. He was again at the head of the brigade during the assault of Petersburg of 16th June 1864, when he was struck in the head by a bullet and killed. (5)

Fort Patrick Kelly was designed to accommodate eight guns with a garrison of 200 men, while Fort McMahon could hold 12 guns and 150 men. They remained in use from September 1864 until the conclusion of the Petersburg Campaign in April 1865. Although since the war many of the miles of fortifications around Petersburg have disappeared, including Fort McMahon, the remains of Fort Patrick Kelly remain well-preserved, with the raised artillery places in the angles still visible. It is today located near the junction of US 301 and County 629, adjacent to the Belsches House- a long-lived tribute to one of the many Irishmen who fell in the Eastern Theater’s bloody fighting of 1864. (6)

Colonel James P. McMahon (seated, facing camera) plays chess at the headquarters of the 164th New York (Library of Congress)

Colonel James P. McMahon (seated, facing camera) plays chess at the headquarters of the 164th New York (Library of Congress)

(1) Hess 2009: 142-145, (2) Ibid: 144-146, (3) Ibid.; (4) Daily National Intelligencer 18th June 1864, Irish-American Weekly 22nd April 1911; (5) Murphy, 1998; (6) Official Records: 956, Hess 2009: 303-304, American Studies University of Virginia Tour 14;

References & Further Reading

Hess, Earl J. 2009. In The Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat

Murphy, T.L. 1998. “Faithful To Us Here…” A Remembrance of Colonel Patrick Kelly of the Irish Brigade

Official Records Series 1, Volume 42, Part 2, Chapter 54. List of Field-Works, Their Armaments and Garrisons

Washington Daily National Intelligencer 18th June 1864. Obituary

New York Irish-American 22nd April 1911. Colonel, 164th Regiment, New York Volunteers (Corcoran’s Irish Legion)

American Studies University of Virginia Tour 14

Civil War Trust Battle of Petersburg Page

Petersburg National Battlefield

Pamplin Historical Park

About these ads

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: 164th New York, 88th New York, Battle of Petersburg, Corcoran's Irish Legion, Galway, Irish Brigade, Waterford

Author:Damian Shiels

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

Follow Irish in the American Civil War

Follow Irish in the American Civil War via Social Media

5 Comments on “Remembering The Fallen At Petersburg: Forts McMahon and Patrick Kelly”

  1. Kevin Gorman
    January 1, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Fantastic article Damian. Bravo. More on McMahon here http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~dbertuca/g/164thNYVols.html

    • January 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      Hi Kevin,

      Many thanks, I am glad you liked it, and thanks for the excellent link! They were quite a family, and he is a fascinating individual.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. January 2, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    Interesting article Damien! I’ve asked my readers over at The Siege of Petersbug Online to come take a look.

    • January 4, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

      Many thanks Brett and thanks for sharing it! I have dropped you an email as well with a couple of newspaper extracts that might be of interest!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Irish in the American Civil War Remembers Patrick Kelly and James P. McMahon — The Siege of Petersburg Online - January 2, 2013

    [...] Shiels over at Irish in the American Civil War has a nice little article on the men For McMahon and Fort Patrick Kelly, two works on the Union lines at the Siege of PEtersburg,….  Patrick Kelly was of course the famous commander of the Irish Brigade, killed on June 16, 1864 [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,543 other followers

%d bloggers like this: