Medal of Honor: Private Patrick Ginley, 1st New York Light Artillery

The 25th November 1890 was undoubtedly one of the proudest days in the life of ‘Paddy The Horse.’ That evening the man from the west of Ireland was a guest at an Irish Brigade reunion being held at the Riccadonna Hotel, 42 Union Square, New York. The main event was to be the presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Ginley, for actions he had undertaken on 25th August 26 years previously, at the Battle of Ream’s Station, Virginia in 1864. (1)

Patrick Ginley was ‘proud of being a Connaught man.’ He was born around 1822, and it may be that he is the ‘Patricius Ganly’ recorded as being baptised in Aghanagh, Co. Sligo on 10th October 1823. Patrick did not make his way to the United States until he well into his thirties, but by then he had already made many forays into the world. In 1883, he remembered:

Before I came to this country I saw active service in the Crimean war. Among the engagements I participated in were Balaklava, Inkerman and Sebastapol. At the breaking out of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, I volunteered with the 18th Royal Irish Infantry and served through the insurrection, being at the storming of Lucknow and Delhi. I was discharged at Aldershot in 1858 and in 1859 I came to this country. (2)

After his arrival in the United States Patrick gained employment with Dr. Pierre Van Wyck, with whom he remained until the outbreak of war. With the arrival of the conflict and the need for experienced martial men, Ginley enlisted for three months in Company K of the 69th New York State Militia, fighting at the Battle of Bull Run. He then decided to join the 14th New York Independent Battery, enlisting for a period of three years. It was as an artilleryman that he spent the rest of his war service, fighting in fourty-four engagements involving the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps. It was on 25th August 1864 that Patrick Ginley performed the actions that earned him the Medal of Honor. (3)

The Battle of Ream’s Station was the worst day in what was a long war for the Second Corps. Winfield Hancock’s men had been sent south by Grant from the Petersburg siege lines in order to tear up track along the Weldon railroad. Unwilling to allow the destruction to proceed unopposed, Robert E. Lee ordered a Rebel force under A.P. Hill to take a force and engage the Yankees. With Hill feeling unwell, Major-General Henry Heth led the decisive Confederate charge on 25th August which smashed into Hancock’s ill-prepared position, and sent many of the Second Corps to flight. There was little denying that the Second Corps had not been properly prepared to face the onslaught; although Hancock desperately tried to recover the situation, he was eventually forced to retreat.

By the time of Ream’s Station, Private Patrick Ginley was serving as an orderly with the 1st New York Light Artillery. When the Rebels struck, his Captain ordered him to seek out General Hancock and bear him a message. Mounting up, Ginley rode through the railroad cut and first encountered division commander General Miles, to whom he delivered the message. As Miles reached for the note, he was struck and slightly wounded by a bullet. Ginley remembered: ‘Well. I never saw such a face as he made when he was struck by that bullet.’ Returning to his unit, the Irishman would soon be sent on another errand, but with the Rebels beginning to break through around him, his task would become even more perilous. (4)

This time Ginley was told to accompany a Colonel on a mission to discover the nature of the Confederate dispositions around them. Ginley again found himself heading for the railroad cut, but by this time the Rebels had forced the Federals to retreat from their breastworks, exposing both men to capture. Ginley was riding some yards behind the officer:

‘He had just got into the cut and almost out of sight when I saw his leg lifted over the saddle. I knew that he had been taken prisoner. The confederates had gained the spot. I just wheeled around, but had ridden only a short distance, when my horse was shot from under me. I lay there thinking that my leg was broken. My sabre handle was sticking into my ribs and my revolver was jammed in my back. While I lay there between the two lines I could hear every order given on both sides. Finally I cut the strap and extricated myself, when I discovered I did not have a scratch on me.’ (5)

Patrick Ginley took in his situation. The abandoned breastworks were now swarming with Confederates, with Yankees streaming back across the cut. Crawling along the breastworks he came across another Union solder:

‘I motioned him to follow me. We reached one of our guns, I threw in more than an average charge of canister and told him to put his finger on the vent. I don’t know whether he was shot through the heart, or where. At any rate he fell dead without saying a word. I pulled the lanyard and ran. Why, do you know that that gun recoiled so much that I found it right at my heels while I was running at my best speed, and I could run, too. As I ran I saw the color-bearer of a Massachusetts regiment wave the standard, when the staff was struck and broken off and the man struck down. I picked up the colors, gave them one wave and shouted, ‘Follow me, boys.’ A large number followed and rallied to the attack. ‘ (6)

Private Patrick Ginley fires at advancing Confederates, Battle of Ream's Station (Story of American Heroism)

Private Patrick Ginley fires at advancing Confederates, Battle of Ream’s Station (Story of American Heroism)

The Confederate who had shot Ginley’s makeshift assistant had been close enough to roar ‘Come out of that, you blasted Yankee’ before firing. When Ginley returned fire with the cannon, the effect of The Irishman’s shot was devastating- mowing down a swathe of the enemy along the breastwork. Having run the gauntlet back to his own troops, his subsequent rallying cry and dash towards the enemy with the Massachusetts regiment colors was, according to the New York Herald ‘…the perfect representation of a wild Irishman. He appeared to think that it was himself alone that the enemy was fighting and he conducted himself accordingly.’  (7)

Patrick Ginley’s actions were immediately noted by his superiors. Even Ulysses S. Grant was impressed. Speaking of Ginley, the Lieutenant-General in command of all Union forces had the following to say:

‘Private Ginley, it is not to-day nor to-morrow that you and every man undergoing the hardships of this war will be remembered by the country for his services. But every hero sooner or later receives his just reward. In this day of history making, when the deeds of individual valor are taking their places in the record of the War of Rebellion, when the records are in the hands of those at Washington who helped to make them, each individual act of heroism of which there is a record will be recognized.’ (8)

Captain A. Judson Clark, the commander of the artillery brigade also remembered Ginley in his official report. Writing on 18th October 1864, he remarked that at Ream’s Station ‘individual acts of gallantry were numerous, but when all were brave it were almost an injustice to speak of individual cases. I will only mention one, Private Ginley, G, First New York Artillery, who was acting as mounted orderly on the field. When the line was giving way he drew his saber and riding gallantly among the men succeeded in rallying a large number and taking them back into the fight. (9)

Given the recognition his actions received at the time, it is perhaps unsurprising that Patrick Ginley received the Medal of Honor in 1890. The citation for the award presented to him at the Riccadonna Hotel was as follows:

‘The command having been driven from the works, he, having been left alone between the opposing lines, crept back into the works, put 3 charges of canister in one of the guns, and fired the piece directly into a body of the enemy about to seize the works; he then rejoined his command, took the colors, and ran toward the enemy, followed by the command, which recaptured the works and guns.’ (10)

After the war, Patrick Ginley spent two years as a watchmman at the United States public stores, before taking a job as a keeper in the notorious Sing Sing Prison. He eventually resigned this position to join the New York Police Department in 1869, where he was universally known around the streets of the city by his nickname, ‘Paddy The Horse’. He remained a man of courage, such as when he engaged in a desperate struggle with one Patrick Leary, who was attempting to kill his family at 629 East Ninth Street. Ginley eventually overcame Leary, who was sent to Utica Insane Asylum. Ginley received a gold watch and chain from citizens of the neighbourhood as a token of their appreciation. Perhaps his most famous arrest was a group of thieves who were robbing jewelry stores and gagging the occupants. The story was recounted by the New York Truth:

‘Ginley saw them [the thieves] going into the “Burnt Rag,” at No. 50 Bleecker Street, kept by Bill McGlory. He sent a boy to the 14th Precinct Station for a section of men and went inside. He knew them all and was invited to take something to drink. All were standing in front of the bar. On the next round one of the cranks said: “I am treating; what’ll you have?” At that moment the sergeant, who was at the head of the men, entered the place. “I’ll have you,” said Ginley, “and if you attempt to move I’ll blow your head off.” Everyone in the room was taken in, including McGlory. The cracksmen were each sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.’ (11)

Paddy was a no-nonsense individual. On 16th June 1875, a young man shouted out as Ginley went by, ‘There goes Paddy The Horse’. He clearly didn’t like the smart bystanders tone, as Paddy grabbed the young man and dragged him into custody, although he was soon released. The man, who turned out to be a lawyer, subsequently complained about the episode. It was his problem with alcohol that eventually led to the end of his police career. In January 1883 Paddy was charged with intoxication by Captain McCullough of the 17th Precinct. Although he fought the decision to remove him from the force, by 1890 he was in a new job, working as a messenger in the Custom House. (12)

The incredible career of Patrick Ginley took him through the Crimean War, Indian Mutiny, American Civil War and service with the New York Police Department. His life was not an easy one; even in later years he had to endure suffering, when his daughter died while only in her mid-twenties. He remained fiercely proud of his wartime career, and kept newspaper clippings which related to both his actions at Ream’s Station and his service with the Police Department. The Connacht man who had seen so much of the world eventually passed away on 5th April 1917. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queen’s County, New York.

(1) New York Irish American 25th November 1890; (2) Ireland Births and Baptisms 1620–1911, New York Truth 23rd February 1883; (3) Jones 1897: 483, New York Truth 23rd February 1883; (4) Ibid; (5) Ibid; (6) New York Truth 23rd February 1883; (7) Jones 1897:484-5, New York Truth 23rd February 1883; (8) Jones 1897: 483; (9) Official Records: 409; (10) Proft 2002:867; (11) New York Truth 23rd February 1883; (12) New York Herald 2nd July 1875, New York Truth 23rd February 1883, Daily Inter Ocean 9th November 1890;

References & Further Reading

Chicago Daily Inter Ocean 9th November 1890. “Paddy The Horse”

Jones, J. W. 1897. The Story of American Heroism: Thrilling Narratives of Personal Adventures During the Civil War

New York Herald 2nd July 1875. Trials of Policemen, Encounters between Officers and Young Lawyers- “Paddy The Horse” on His Dignity

New York Irish American 25th November 1890. Irish Brigade Reunion

New York Truth 23rd February 1883. “Paddy, The Horse.” An Ex-Policeman and Soldier Fights His Battles O’er Again

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series 1, Volume 42, Part 1, Chapter 55. Report of Capt. A. Judson Clark, Battery B, First New Jersey Light Artillery, commanding Artillery Brigade, of operations August 12-26

Proft, R.J. (ed.), 2002. United States of America’s Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and their Official Citations, Fourth Edition

Ireland Births and Baptisms 1620–1911

Patrick Ginley Find A Grave Memorial

Civil War Trust Battle of Ream’s Station Page

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Categories: Battle of Ream's Station, Medal of Honor, Sligo

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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3 Comments on “Medal of Honor: Private Patrick Ginley, 1st New York Light Artillery”

  1. January 9, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Wow, that is some call of duty for one man. It is no wonder why they called him Paddy the Horse.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Paddy the Horse” Ginley Wins a Medal of Honor at Reams Station — The Siege of Petersburg Online - January 11, 2013

    [...] at Irish in the American Civil War is on a Petersburg Campaign roll lately.  His latest blog entry focuses on Medal of Honor winner Irishman Patrick “Paddy the Horse” Ginley, who served in the Crimean War and the 1857 Indian Mutiny before emigrating to America and [...]

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