At least 150,000 Irish-born men fought for the Union during the American Civil War. However this figure does not include those first-generation Irish, born in Canada and the United States, who considered themselves just as Irish as anyone born on the Emerald Isle. In an antebellum society where Know-Nothingism and anti-Catholic sentiment were widespread, ethnicity and religion bound Irish-Americans together in a tight-knit community. Tens of thousands of these Irish-Americans laid down their lives during the war, men like James A. Mulligan of ‘Mulligan’s Irish Brigade’ and the oft-quoted Peter Welsh of the 28th Massachusetts, Irish Brigade. Another was Colonel James Edward Mallon, who died 150 years ago this October at the Battle of Bristoe Station.
James E. Mallon was born on 12th September 1836 in Brooklyn to Hugh and Ann Mallon. His parents had emigrated from Co. Armagh to the United States in 1822. When James was eight years old his father died, passing away on 9th July 1845. He got his first job at fifteen, working in the Wholesale Commission Business for Wright, Gillet & Rawson and later Holcomb & Harvey. Before long he decided to set up for himself and procured positions on the floor of the Corn Exchange and Produce Exchange. James was doing well for himself, quickly becoming a well-respected member of New York’s merchant class. He was described as ‘a most intelligent, energetic and upright business man, faithful in the performance of all his duties, and scrupulously exact in all his mercantile transactions.’ (1)
Life in the pre-war years was good for James. He became a Private in Captain Roblet’s Company of the 7th New York State Militia before the war, often called the ‘Silk Stocking’ regiment, as many of its members were involved in business and represented the upper levels of New York society. On the 1st September 1859 he married Anna E. McCormick at the Church of the Assumption in Brooklyn; they celebrated the birth of their first child, James Edward, less than a year later on 16th August 1860. With the outbreak of the American Civil War Private Mallon marched off to war with the 7th New York State Militia on the 19th April 1861, bound for Washington, D.C. (2)
The 7th did not spend long in Washington, being released from their duties at the capital on 31st May. James was eager to get back to the front, and enlisted in the 40th New York Infantry Regiment, becoming a Second Lieutenant in Company K on 6th August 1861. The 40th was known as the ‘Mozart’ Regiment, as it had received assistance from the Democratic General Committee of Mozart Hall in New York when it was forming. There were more personal reasons for James’s choice, however- his sister Teresa was married to the regiment’s Colonel, Edward Johns Riley. (3)
James became a First Lieutenant in September 1861. The start of 1862 brought more good news for him and his family, as his second child Anna was born on 4th January 1862. He clearly impressed his superiors in the Army of the Potomac, as Major-General Phil Kearny appointed him as an aide; he also acted as Assistant-Adjutant-General on Kearny’s staff. In August 1862 Mallon was on the move again, when he was appointed Major in the strongly Irish 42nd New York Infantry. This was another formation with strong Democratic Party links, and was known as the Tammany Regiment. His younger brother Thomas kept it a family affair, following his sibling into the unit as a Second Lieutenant. (4)
Major Mallon’s organisational talents meant that he initially spent little time with his new regiment. He was appointed Acting-Assistant Provost Marshal of Hooker’s Grand Division of the Army of the Potomac and later performed the same role for the Second Corps. On St. Patrick’s Day 1863 James Mallon was appointed to the command of the 42nd New York Infantry. One of his first acts was raising funds within the regiment for the relief of the Poor in Ireland, a cause to which he personally contributed $25. The 42nd’s contribution of $493.50 was sent to the Head of the Fenian Brotherhood in New York, John O’ Mahony, together with the attached sentiment:
We, of the Tammany Regiment, aware of the present distress existing in Ireland, beg you to transmit to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Keane, Bishop of Cloyne, the following amount. We hope it may contribute, if only in a small degree, to stop the stream of Irish emigration, and to keep our friends from starvation, so that, this war in which we are engaged being ended, there may be some of our race left at home whom we can aid in placing beyond fear of recurrence both the miseries of famine and the horrors of landlordism. (5)
Colonel Mallon commanded his regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg in July, when it played an important role in the repulse of Pickett’s Charge on the final day of the engagement. During the same battle his brother Thomas was seriously wounded, an incident which must have greatly disturbed James. With victory secured and Lee on the retreat, Mallon was detached to New York in the aftermath of the Draft Riots to bring conscripts back to the Army. He remained there during the months of August and September, undoubtedly taking the opportunity to spend time with his wife, three-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. He departed New York telling his friends that he was leaving ‘for the next fight.’ (6)
When A.P. Hill launched his attack against the Union Second Corps at Bristoe Station on 14th October 1863, Colonel James Mallon was in command of the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division at the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. One of the members of Mallon’s 42nd New York described the fighting:
We had a sharp fight with the enemy at Bristow Station on the 14th inst. Our brigade, having been posted along the side of the railroad, which was an admirable position, did good service. Besides shattering a column of rebels that essayed to dislodge us, we captured five pieces of artillery and two stands of colors, and took a number of prisoners. While the battle lasted, it was one of the most desperate ever witnessed by those engaged. Our pickets, posted about one hundred yards in front of the line of the railroad, were driven in by the enemy’s skirmishers; and quickly after the rebel column steadily advanced across the field. Their front line was remarkably well dressed, and with colors flying they presented a good appearance. Our men preserved their fire until this line was quite close, when volley after volley was poured into them. Their advance was checked; their line was broken into pieces, and hundreds of them slain. Our loss is as follows:- one officer and three enlisted men killed, thirty-one men wounded, and twenty-three men missing. These are the entire casualties of our brigade. (7)
The one officer killed was Colonel James Mallon, struck down at the age of just 27. He was reported variously as having been struck by a bullet in the stomach or right breast, dying on the field within an hour of receiving his wound. It appears that Mallon received his mortal wound while rallying a part of of the 42nd New York’s line that was giving way. Lieutenant-Colonel Ansel Wass remembered that:
During the advance of the enemy, and while the fire was hottest, a part of the line of the Forty-second New York, composed principally of conscripts, and much exposed where a road crossed the track, gave way. In attempting to rally them Colonel Mallon, commanding the brigade, was shot through the body and died in an hour afterward.
Mallon’s actions had helped to preserve the integrity of the line. One of his men remembered:
He was fully competent to take command of not only a brigade, but a division, or even a corps; as a gallant and dashing field officer, Col. James E. Mallon was equaled by few- surpassed by none. The bullet that pierced him, struck down for ever one of the brightest stars in our Irish military horizon- one to whom we, Irish soldiers, used to point with proud feelings, for his dashing bravery on the field of battle. In camp and bivouac he was a strict disciplinarian- strict, perhaps, to a fault in the opinion of some; but whatever may be or have been the opinions of a few on this point, none will deny that in Col Mallon were combined the qualities of a true soldier. He was an accomplished scholar, and that, combined with military genius, caused his society to be courted by those within his sphere. In his death the army has sustained an irreparable loss, and old Ireland a true friend and enthusiastic lover. I will not attempt to describe what must have been the feelings of another of Ireland’s valiant and faithful sons , Captain William O’Shea, as he took the dying Colonel from where he had fallen, and had him placed in the rear. Such feelings may be imagined, but cannot be penned. Over the grave of the heroic Mallon let there be an Irish shamrock planted, and let it be strewn with the choicest flowers that will bloom each springtime, in token of the Irish ashes that under them moulders. (8)
James Mallon’s remains were removed to his home on Little-Water Street in Brooklyn, from where he was taken for burial on 21st October 1863. He lies in Range 2, Plot 16 of Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. His widow Anna never remarried. She died at 5am on 14th January 1913 following a long illness, almost 50 years after her husband. She was buried with him in Holy Cross Cemetery. (9)
(1) Irish American Weekly 14th July 1888, New York Death Newspaper Extracts, New York Times 21st October 1863; (2) New York Times 21st October 1863, James E. Mallon Widow’s Pension File; (3) New York Adjutant General Report, Irish American Weekly 14th July 1888; (4) New York Adjutant General Report, James E. Mallon Widow’s Pension File, New York Times 21st October 1863; (5) New York Times 21st October 1863, Irish American Weekly 9th May 1863; (6) New York Times 21st October 1863; (7) Hunt 2003: 184, Irish American Weekly 31st October 1863; (8) Official Records: 283-4, Irish American Weekly 31st October 1863; (9) Hunt 2003: 184, James E, Mallon Widow’s Pension File;
References & Further Reading
Hunt, Roger D. 2003. Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War: New York.
New York Irish-American Weekly 9th May 1863. Relief from the Tammany Regiment.
New York Irish-American Weekly 31st October 1863. The Battle of Bristow Station: From The Tammany Regt.- 42d N.Y. Vols.
New York Irish-American Weekly 14th July 1888. Brooklyn Echoes.
New York Times 21st October 1863. Acting Brig.-Gen. James E. Mallon.
New York, Death Newspaper Extracts, 1801-1890 (Barber Collection) for Hugh Mallon.
Official Records of the War of Rebellion Series 1, Volume 29 (Part 1). Report of Lieut. Col. Ansel D. Wass, Nineteenth Massachusetts Infantry, Commanding Third Brigade.
James E. Mallon Widow’s Pension File (WC25436).
New York Adjutant-General Report 40th New York Infantry.
New York Adjutant-General Report 42nd New York Infantry.