I have read the Widow’s Pension Files of many Irish families who were devastated by the American Civil War. The information contained in each reveals much about both the family behind the soldier and the long-term impact of the conflict on generations of Irish-Americans. However, when reading the application of Ann Scanlan, whose husband Patrick lost his life in the service of the Irish Brigade, I also came across the letter notifying her of her husband’s death. This remarkably emotive document related to Ann her husband’s last words to his family, and has to my knowledge not been read in 150 years.* It is reproduced below for the first time.
Ann Leskey married 22-year-old Patrick Scanlan when both were in their early twenties, on 29th April 1851. At the time they were both living in Charleston, South Carolina. Her husband, an Irish laborer, must have been a striking individual- he stood at an above average 6 feet in height, had blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion. Within a year the couple’s first child arrived- John, born on 26th March 1852. A daughter Catherine followed on 23rd February 1854, second son James on 7th November 1856. John and Catherine were baptised in St. Mary’s in Charleston while James was baptised at the Cathedral of Saint John and Saint Finbar in the city. Sometime after James’ birth the family decided to move to New York. A third son, Cornelius, was born there on 30th June 1860, but tragedy left its mark on the family when the baby died just a few months later on 17th January 1861. Within the year Patrick enlisted in what would become the 63rd New York Infantry, soon to be one of the famed regiments of the Irish Brigade. When he mustered in on 11th October 1861 Ann had recently become pregnant with their fifth child; Sarah Ann was born on 4th May 1862. Patrick would most likely not have seen his new daughter, as he was bound for the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia and the hard-fighting that was to be the Brigade’s lot throughout the summer of 1862. It appears he was wounded at Antietam that September, but recovered to be with his regiment for their next major battle, the ill-fated assault on Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg on 13th December 1862. The big Irishman went into the engagement holding the rank of Corporal, a highly reliable and well-respected member of the regiment. (1)
As the 63rd New York and the Irish Brigade advanced on 13th December, Patrick Scanlan’s luck ran out. A bullet struck him in the right knee, lodging in the joint. It appears that efforts may initially have been made to save his leg, but infection set in. Removed to Lincoln Hospital in Washington, D.C., he underwent surgery on 26th December- his right leg was removed at the thigh. The shock of the amputation must have been colossal. On 1st January 1863 Patrick’s wound haemorrhaged, weakening the already dangerously ill soldier. When his wound again haemorrhaged on 6th January he was operated on once more, in an attempt to try to stem the bleeding in his inner thigh, an area known as Scarpa’s triangle. The surgeon’s efforts ultimately proved in vain. Patrick Scanlan died in Ward 10 of Lincoln Hospital on the evening of 14th January 1863, a month after receiving what proved his fatal wound at Fredericksburg. Minutes after his death, a man called William Duffie sat down to write a letter to the newly widowed Ann. He informed her of her husband’s death, offered words of comfort, and communicated Patrick’s final words to his family. Ann later had to surrender the letter as proof of her relationship with Patrick; the fact that her marriage had taken place in what was now the Confederacy meant she did not have access to the records that would allow her to show the authorities her relationship with the Irish Brigade soldier. With four children to support, she was forced to give up what must have been a cherished document. It has rested in her Widow’s Pension File for 150 years, and is here transcribed for the first time (2):
Lincoln Hospital Washington D.C.
Jan. 14th 1863
Mrs. Ann Scanlan,
Dear Madam- its become my very painful duty to inform you that your husband has just breathed his last. He died at 25 minutes to seven o’clock this evening without pain. As quietly as the infant sinks to rest from the bosom of its mother so peacefully did he breathe out his last sigh and resign his spirit into the hands of the God who gave it. I know how great will be your grief upon reception of this sad news but it is the will of God that it should be so and you must try and bear the bereavement with resignation, knowing that is not for you to question His right to do with His own as He sees fit: “The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away: blessed be the name of the Lord!” Every heart knoweth its own sorrow; and there is a grief which cannot be expressed in word, God alone has power to comfort you and to bind up your wounded and bleeding heart, in this your season of great distress; turn then to Heaven and may He who is the refuge of the weary- the hope of the sorrowing of earth, be with you and sustain you in this hour of trial and throw the arms of His everlasting salvation around you! Mr. Scanlan received the last rights of his religion this morning- the Sister, who has charge of this ward, has been constant in her attendance upon your husband and has done all in her power to alleviate his sufferings. I am not myself a Catholic and do not therefore understand the peculiarities of that faith, but Sister told me that the Priest had administered all the last rites necessary in such cases provided. The Priest has seen him several times and was present last Sunday morning and the Sacrament was I believe administered. It will be a great satisfaction to you to know that it is, as it is in this respect I have thought of the difference between the case of your husband and of another poor fellow who died recently and belonging to a different faith. He passed away without so much as having a Minister of Religion near him to breathe a prayer for the peace of his departing soul – such is the difference between the two religions. It has set me to thinking and I shall do so seriously I assure you after this. Your last letter was received, and I offered to write an answer knowing that you would naturally feel anxious to hear from him, but he said he’d wait a day or two first to see if there would be any change for the better. He felt sensible, I think, that his end was approaching for he requested me to make a note of his feelings at that time- this was yesterday forenoon, I think. He did not talk a great deal as it hurt him to do so much. “After I am dead, write to my wife and tell her that I died a natural death in bed, having received the full benefits of my church.” “Say that I felt resigned to the will of God and that I am sorry I could not see her and the children once more. That I would have felt better in such a case before I died. It is the will of God that it should not be so, and I must be content to do without.” This was about the substance of what he said. I read it to him and he said it was all that would be necessary to write. His pay amounts to some 6 1/2 months not having received any since the 1st of July. This of course you are entitled to draw and you can do so by getting some friend to assist you, understands about it. The few things in this letter are all his personal effects. The rest of his things letters & c. he said to burn- which will be done. I will close for the present.
I remain very truly your well wishes, William Duffie. If you wish to answer this, please direct to me Lincoln Hospital, Washington, D.C., Ward 10. (3)
Ann would receive a pension for the service of her husband, and was also given aid for each of her surviving children until they reached the age of sixteen. Neither did Patrick’s comrades in the 63rd New York forget her. In a remarkable gesture the surviving men of the regiment held a collection to assist the widow and children of a man they had clearly been close to. Unusually the charitable effort was recorded in the New York Irish-American, along with the names of the men who gathered together a total of $100 for Ann and her children. Unfortunately her tribulations were not over. As so often seems to be the case, the spectre of death once again visited her family in 1863. On 6th August 1863 her youngest child Sarah Ann died, barely over a year old. It is unclear if the little girl had ever seen her father. One can only imagine the renewed anguish that this loss brought to Ann and her family. (4)
The charitable collection for Patrick Scanlan as recorded in the Irish-American is reproduced below, as is the ultimate fate of each of the men who contributed (recorded in parentheses after their donation):
GENEROSITY OF THE IRISH BRIGADE
New York, May 5th, 1863
To the Editors of the Irish-American: Your journal has often chronicled the deeds of the Irish Brigade on the battlefield. The fame of their daring and valor was spread and resounded over the whole extent of this continent, and even their very enemies have wafted it across the Atlantic and reechoed it throughout Europe. And what wonder? They have rendered every battle-field, where they have fought, memorable for some bold, unexpected, astonishing deed, won renown amidst disaster, and left the enemy, where they at least, happened to be, little cause for triumph or exultation. These things have often thrilled us through, and made us involuntarily speak a blessing and a prayer for the proud little cohort which shed such lustre on our race and land, and proved that the story of the prowess was no fiction. Such things as these excite our admiration and our pride. But the men of the Brigade do other things, which affect us to tears; they can prove themselves as kind-hearted and generous as they are brave. Standing again in the front, diminished in numbers, but not dismayed, and ready to interpose their bodies again between their country (for they have no other now) and the deadly thrusts of its destroyers, they rise above the tumult, the passion and horrors of war, and give way to the better impulses of their nature, the higher and nobler feelings of the heart. When at last, they receive their long looked for and much needed pay, their own wants alone are not uppermost in their minds; the memory of a dead comrade, and of his heroic deeds, comes back upon them, and they think of his widowed wife and orphan children. For them to conceive the generous deed, is to perform it, and as a proof of this, I enclose a note and a list of the names of the brave officers and men of the company of the deceased soldier, who contributed, it having accompanied the money remitted by Captain Condon, now commanding the 63d Regiment in front of the enemy. I know not whether I am doing exactly right in sending you the note and list of contributors for publication; but the amount sent (one hundred dollars) is so liberal, so generous, for so small a number of men, most of whom receive but a very small pittance in the way of pay, that I cannot help thinking that giving a place in your paper to so signal an act of generosity is as much due to the brave soldiers of the Brigade themselves, as it will be pleasing to your many readers to know about it. Patrick Barry [transferred to 24th Veteran Reserve Corps in 1864], another brave and generous soldier of Company A, 63d N.Y.V., sends to the “Limerick Fund” a contribution of two dollars, which I enclose, hoping you will be pleased to apply it, as you may deem fit, in accordance with the wish of the kind contributor.
Very respectfully yours, P.J.O. [Patrick J. O'Connor, First Lieutenant, Company E, discharged 28th May 1863]
ON PICKET NEAR SCOTT’S FORD, VA., April 2d, 1863
My Dear O.
You will please hand over the enclosed one hundred dollars to Mrs. Scanlan, widow of the late Patrick Scanlan, of my Company, who died from the effects of wounds received at the late battle of Fredericksburg. The generosity here displayed by the few remaining comrades of the gallant corporal towards his widow and orphans shows the estimation in which he was held by them, as also their own goodness of heart. He was beloved by all for his manliness and bravery. The officers whose names are attached were so well pleased with the action of the men in the affair that they have subscribed the sums set opposite to their names. In handing to Mrs. Scanlan the enclosed, please mention the honest and heartfelt expression of sympathy by the comrades of her husband in her bereavement.
I am, my dear O, very truly yours, P.J. Condon, Capt. [Captain Patrick J. Condon, Company G, mustered out 12th June 1863]
Sergeant Ed. Lynch, $5.00 [Mustered out with regiment, 30th June 1865]
Sergeant P.H. Vandewier $1.00 [Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Sergeant Wm. Hayden $5.00 [Mustered out 12th June 1863, later service Company I, 2nd Artillery]
Corporal James Cline $1.00 [Mustered out with regiment, 30th June 1865]
Corporal John Tinsley $1.00 [POW Chancellorsville, Mustered out 17th September 1864]
Corporal Hugh Hamilton $1.00 [Deserted on expiration of veteran furlough, January 1864]
Corporal Sam. Walsh $1.00 [Deserted on expiration of veteran furlough, January 1864]
Private Peter O’Neil $1.00 [Wounded at Spotsylvania, 18th May 1864, absent wounded at muster out in 1865]
Private James Smith $1.00 [Deserted 29th June 1863, Frederick, Maryland]
Private Charles Hogan $5.00 [Killed in Action, 2nd July 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania]
Private Michaely Byrns $1.00 [Died of Disease, 20th February 1864, Douglas Hospital, Washington D.C.]
Private Patrick Power $1.00 [Deserted on expiration of veteran furlough, January 1864]
Private James Riely $5.00 [Wounded Antietam, Maryland; Killed in Action 5th May 1864, Wilderness, Virginia]
Private Patrick Collins $5.00 [Mustered out with regiment 30th June 1865]
Private James Crowe $2.00 [Wounded Antietam, Maryland; Transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps 23rd February 1864]
Private Richd. Hourigan $1.00 [Wounded Antietam, Maryland; Mustered out 16th September 1864, Petersburg, Virginia]
Private P. Pendergast $1.00 [No record after 10th April 1863]
Private John McCarthy $1.00 [Mustered out with regiment 30th June 1865]
Private Patrick Harkin $1.00 [Mustered out 22nd September 1864, New York City]
Private Patrick Lucy $1.00 [Mustered out with regiment 30th June 1865]
Private Anthony Campbell $1.00 [Deserted on expiration of veteran furlough, January 1864]
Private P.J. Lynch $2.00 [Discharged for Disability 9th February 1863?]
Hospital Steward John J. Corridon $1.00 [Mustered out with regiment, 30th June 1865]
Private James Guiney Company F $1.00
Dr. Lawrence Reynolds 63rd N.Y.V. $5.00 [Mustered out with regiment, 30th June 1865]
Dr. Smart $5.00 [Discharged 29th March 1864 to become Assistant Surgeon in U.S. Army]
Major Geo. A. Fairlamb 148th P.V. $5.00
Mr. Coleman, Sutler 63rd N.Y.V. $5.00
Captain Dwyer $5.00 [Wounded Antietam, Maryland; Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Captain Quirk $5.00 [Wounded Fredericksburg, Virginia; Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Lieutenant Ryan $1.00 [Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Lieutenant Gallagher $3.00 [Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Lieutenant Maher $2.00 [Mustered out as Captain, Company D, 30th June 1865]
Lieutenant Murray $5.00 [Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Captain Condon $12.00 [Mustered out 12th June 1863]
Total $100.00. (5)
*Of course this and many more of the letters from the Pension Files are read by the diligent team in the National Archives that are working to scan these files and make them available to researchers such as myself. I hope to dedicate a future post to the tireless work they are engaged in, which make blogs such as mine possible.
(1) Widow’s Pension File, New York AAG Report; (2) Medical and Surgical History: 797, Widow’s Pension File; (3) Widow’s Pension File; (4) Widow’s Pension File, New York Irish-American; (5) New York Irish-American;
References & Further Reading
Adjutant-General 1901. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901.
Patrick Scanlan Widow’s Pension File WC83473.
New York Irish-American 23rd May 1863. Generosity of the Irish Brigade.
U.S. Army Surgeon General’s Office 1883. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Part 3, Volume 2 (3rd Surgical Volume).