‘I Have Heard No News From Him': Catherine Mullen’s Search for her Husband

For women whose husbands went to war, it could often be long months before they heard news of their loved ones. For many the only means they had of gauging the well-being of their men was through the regularity of the letters they received. Of course some soldiers were not good at writing home, while others could not. When letters stopped, wives and mothers were left to agonize over the reasons why, and to wonder if the worst had happened. Sometimes it took years to find out the answer. Such was the fate of Catherine Walsh.

On 30th July 1857 in Holy Cross Church, Brooklyn, Catherine Walsh married Daniel Mullen. They were both in their early twenties at the time. We know little of their pre-war life and occupation, but what is clear is that when war engulfed the United States Daniel was quick to enlist. At the age of 26 he joined what became Company B of the 47th New York Infantry, signing up on 15th July 1861. (1)

Unlike many New York regiments the path of the 47th, also known as the ‘Washington Grays’, did not lead to the Army of the Potomac. Instead they spent much of their war in South Carolina and Florida. Daniel was with his comrades as they fought at the Battle of Secessionville and took part in siege operations such as those on Morris Island. By 1864 the men of the 47th New York, Daniel included, were veterans. It would not be long until their three-year term would expire, and they could decide whether to go home or continue the fight. It was also around this time that Catherine stopped hearing from her husband. (2)

It is unclear when Catherine first realised something was amiss. She may well have been alerted to the fact that something was wrong by Daniel’s failure to answer her letters. As the months passed, Catherine’s desperation grew. Eventually in late 1864 or early 1865 she decided to write to the commanding officer of Daniel’s company, in the hope that he might be able to shed some light on her husband’s whereabouts. Writing from the regiment’s base in North Carolina on 30th March 1865, Lieutenant Crawford T. Newell responded to Catherine’s pleas for information:

Mrs. Catherine Mullen,

Dear Madam,

Your letter of inquiry in regard to your husband, I received this day. I am sorry to say that all the information in my possession in regard to him is that he was wounded and afterwards taken prisoner during the Battle of Olustee, Florida, fought February 20th 1864, since which time I have heard no news from him. I am truly sorry that I cannot give you further intelligence but we have no means of gaining information of the condition or whereabouts of our captured comrades. A general exchange of prisoners has been declared and I hope you will soon again have the proud satisfaction of welcoming Mr. Mullen home again after the long separation endured. With many well wishes for your further happiness,

I remain Madam sincerely yours,

Lieut. Crawford T. Newell,

Commanding Co. “B”, 47 N.Y.Vols. (3)

Federal troops go into action at the Battle of Olustee, 20th February 1864 (History of the 8th USCT)

Federal troops go into action at the Battle of Olustee, 20th February 1864 (History of the 8th USCT)

Whether Catherine knew Daniel had been captured over a year previously is unknown. Regardless, she was still no closer to finding out if her husband was alive or dead; at least Lieutenant Newell’s letter appeared to offer hope. If his words offered her any solace, they would not last long. Soon after this letter, and most probably after the prisoner exchange had taken place, Catherine learned the truth- Daniel had died in captivity. She was aware of his death by May or June of 1865, some 15 months after his initial capture. We know this as it was at this time that she began preparing documentation to apply for a widow’s pension. Still, she was unable to discover where, when or how Daniel had died- some reports said it had been in the notorious Andersonville POW Camp in Georgia, but there was nothing definitive. Without this information her claim for financial aid went unapproved- a situation that was to drag on for years. (4)

The struggle for information on her husband’s death must have kept fresh the pain and heartache Catherine felt. Finally, in May 1867- over three years after her husband had been captured at Olustee- Catherine got the information she needed. A former comrade of Daniel’s in Company B, Patrick Dougherty, agreed to make a statement about his fate. Patrick appears to have been captured with Daniel at Olustee and knew of the circumstances of his death. On 28th May 1867 he said that:

He was late private in Co. B 47 Reg. N.Y. Vols.- That he was well acquainted with Daniel Mullen of the same Co. and Reg. That he was with said Mullen at the Battle of Olustee, Fla on the 20th day of Feb. 1864. That he was wounded by bullets in the hip, in the leg below the knee and in the shoulder. and was with this [illegible] captured by the Rebels and confined at Jackson, Fla. where the said Mullen died of his wounds two or three days after their capture, and that he has no interest in this claim.

Patrick Dougherty. (5)

It seems more probable that Daniel was confined at Lake City, Florida- this is the location that was ultimately stated as his place of death. The examining board dated his passing to August 1864, which contradicts Patrick Dougherty’s information suggesting he died in late February. Either way, Catherine finally had the information she required, both from an emotional and financial perspective. She was granted a pension of $8 a month from 23rd September 1867, back-dated to August 1864. Over 43 months had elapsed since her husband had been riddled with bullets, mortally wounded and made a prisoner of war. It is probable that the $8 per month was scant consolation for the woman who would never, as Lieutenant Newell had earnestly hoped, be ‘welcoming Mr. Mullen home again.'(6)

(1) Widow’s Pension File, AG Report: 800; (2) New York State Military Museum; (3) Widow’s Pension File; (4) Ibid.; (5) Ibid.; (6) ibid.;

References and Further Reading

Adjutant-General 1901. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1893

Daniel Mullen Widow’s Pension File WC100483

New York State Military Museum 47th New York Infantry Page

Civil War Trust Battle of Olustee Page

Olustee Battlefield Historic Site

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Categories: Battle of Olustee, New York

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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4 Comments on “‘I Have Heard No News From Him': Catherine Mullen’s Search for her Husband”

  1. John Guss
    September 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    I wonder where this poor American soldier was buried.

    • September 13, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      Hi John,

      I have not found that out as yet- I suspect he may well be in an unmarked grave given the difficulty they had in identifying his time and place of death. Hopefully not, but I imagine he makes up one of the many marked as ‘unknown’.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. September 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Damien,
    Are you familiar with Drew Gilpen Faust’s book, “This Republic of Suffering”?
    Thinking of it after reading your post. It’s an excellent and extraordinary book.
    Here’s the review by NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/books/review/Ward-t.html
    Thanks as always for your blog posts and for your continued focus on Irish in the US Civil War.
    Lois

    • September 16, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      Hi Lois,

      Thanks for the kind words! I am familiar with it, it is an exceptional book and should be on everybody’s ‘must read’ list regarding the affect and impact of the Civil War. It is certainly among the very best that I have read.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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