Looking into the Face of a Dying Irish Soldier

Around late April or early May of 1865 a photographer in Harewood Hospital, Washington D.C. exposed a photograph of a wounded Union soldier. The man, who still wore the beard he favoured on campaign, had been shot through the left shoulder during the fighting around Petersburg. His name was John Ruddy, an Irish farmer and sometime laborer who had been in the army for less than a month when he was hit. The images of Ruddy are testament to the realities of combat in the American Civil War. The effect of wounds such as these could also be long-lasting; the damage caused by the Minié ball that shattered Ruddy’s arm in 1865 would eventually kill him- three years later. (1)

Photograph of John Ruddy taken at Harewood Hospital following his wounding at the South Side Railroad on 2nd April 1865 (National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Photograph of John Ruddy taken at Harewood Hospital following his wounding at the South Side Railroad on 2nd April 1865 (National Museum of Health and Medicine)

John Ruddy lived in Albany’s First Ward, making his home at 20 Clinton Street. He lived there with his wife Ann; she had also been born in Ireland and was already once widowed, having been married to Hugh Quinn with whom she had two sons. John and Ann married at St. John’s Catholic Church, Albany on the 6th October 1857. A daughter, Alice, followed on 5th November 1859. The 1860 Census records the family under the name ‘Rhody’. John, at that time working as a laborer, is listed with Ann, her two boys Bernard (10) and Thomas (8), and Alice (2). (2)

Photograph of John Ruddy taken following his operation at Harewood Hospital in 1865 (National Museum of Health and Medicine)

Photograph of John Ruddy taken following his operation at Harewood Hospital in 1865 (National Museum of Health and Medicine)

John enlisted in the Union army on 7th March 1865, perhaps motivated by economic factors and the large bounty then available for signing up. In his early thirties, he was a man of above average height, described as being a 6 foot tall former farmer with a light complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He became a Private in Company A of the 63rd New York Infantry, Irish Brigade, and joined the regiment for the latter stages of the Petersburg Campaign. He was with the 63rd when it was ordered forward as part of the general Union assault of 2nd April 1865. The attack, which ultimately led to the capture of Petersburg and fall of Richmond, required the 63rd New York to advance against the South Side Railroad and capture it. Captain William Terwilliger, who commanded the regiment that day, describing their movements:

At 1 a.m. April 2 moved to left some three miles to join Sheridan’s cavalry. At 7 a.m. resumed the march, moving to the right to White Oak road, where we formed line of battle and moved upon the enemy’s works, finding them evacuated; continuing the march by the flank two miles and a half, reformed line of battle, and participated with the brigade in three charges upon the enemy’s defenses of the South Side Railroad. The losses in this engagement were, 1 commissioned officer killed, 1 commissioned officer and 6 enlisted men wounded, and 2 enlisted men missing in action. (3)

Surgeons and Hospital Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington D.C. (Library of Congress)

Surgeons and Hospital Stewards at Harewood Hospital, Washington D.C. (Library of Congress)

One of the six enlisted men wounded was John Ruddy. During one of the charges a rebel bullet had struck him in the left shoulder, completely shattering the head of his humerus before passing through his body and exiting his back through the scapula. He was quickly taken to Harewood Hospital in Washington D.C. where an operation removed a portion of his humerus but saved his arm, an achievement that was recorded photographically. He remained at Harewood until he was discharged from the service on 30th July, 1865. (4)

A General view of Harewood Hospital in Washington D.C. where John Ruddy was treated (Library of Congress)

A General view of Harewood Hospital in Washington D.C. where John Ruddy was treated (Library of Congress)

John returned home to Albany, having seemingly come through his brush with death. Although he kept his arm, it was completely useless and he was forced to rely on a modest pension. Given the extent of his disability he decided to seek an increase; he was even able to produce one of the photographs of his wound taken in Harewood, an image that remains part of his pension file to this day. (5)

The image of John Ruddy that he provided when seeking an increase in his pension (Fold3)

The image of John Ruddy that he provided when seeking an increase in his pension (Fold3)

Little did John realise that the bullet that struck him in the closing days of the war would ultimately prove fatal. It transpired that the ball had also passed through the upper part of his left lung on its passage through his body. As the months passed he began a long deterioration in health, which his doctor described as the ‘wasting away of his system’. On the 3rd June 1868 John Ruddy died, widowing his wife Ann for the second time and leaving behind an eight-year-old daughter. The photos of him taken in 1865, with what would prove to be his mortal wound, offer a rare opportunity to look into the face of one of the thousands of Irish emigrants who died in the American Civil War. (6)

John Ruddy, like many other Irish emigrants, was illiterate. Here is his mark on one of his pension applications (Fold3)

John Ruddy, like many other Irish emigrants, was illiterate. Here is his mark on one of his pension applications (Fold3)

* Special thanks to Brendan Hamilton for his assistance in tracking down the source for the John Ruddy images.

(1) Widow’s Pension File; (2) Ibid., 1860 Federal Census; (3) Widow’s Pension File, Official Records: 728; (4) Widow’s Pension File; (5) Ibid.; (6) Ibid.;

References

1860 Us Federal Census

John Ruddy Civil War Widow’s Pension File WC117333

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

Official Records of the War of Rebellion Series 1, Volume 46 (Part 1). Report of Capt. William H. Terwilliger, Sixty-third New York Infantry. 

National Museum of Health and Medicine Flickr Page

www.fold3.com

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Categories: 63rd New York, Battle of Petersburg, Irish Brigade, New York

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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10 Comments on “Looking into the Face of a Dying Irish Soldier”

  1. January 17, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Damian, is that a photograph of Ruddy in the hospital or a medical drawing?

  2. January 17, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

    Damian, I’m referring to the image that I get when I click on the link on your website, not the photograph on Facebook.

  3. Brendan
    January 17, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    The top two images of Ruddy are both photographs, but when you look at the high res versions it appears that someone’s touched it up by hand with a pen or pencil.

  4. January 18, 2014 at 2:47 am #

    Nice job Damian. I’m going to share this with The Immigrants’ Civil War Community on facebook.

  5. Joe Maghe
    January 18, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Your efforts are amazing… you must be tireless. Once again I will share this with our viewers on The Irish Memorial page. Thank you. Well done!

    • January 19, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Thanks Joe- I would happily spend all my time researching these men and their families if I could, particularly as I feel those of us here in Ireland have not spent enough time doing so. The stories of the Irish in 19th century America (and indeed the 19th century Irish diaspora generally) really are fascinating.

  6. Dennis Scannell
    February 19, 2014 at 3:49 am #

    Damian, I have been studying the Irish in the Civil War since I researched the involvement of my great grandfathers brothers. Their parents came to America during the Famine and the boys were young. My greatgrandfather started a boiler manufacturing facility that My brother and I run today. Patrick Scannell was killed on July 3 rd during the hand to hand combat on Picketts Charge. He is buried at Gettysburg. His brother Mike made it thru the war but was held captive at Andersonville. They were in the Massachusetts 19 th. We have a large family still based in Lowell , Mass. We think they left via County Cork thru Canada. My Villanova classmate was an Irish runner named Eamond Cogland, he is now a senator in Ireland. How do I go about trying to find a photo of Patrick and Mike Scannell. Thanks…..

    • February 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      Hi Dennis,

      Many thanks for the email. Fascinating history, what regiment was Patrick in? Eamonn Coghlan is really famous over here, quite a guy to have been a classmate of! It can be very difficult to track down images of ordinary soldiers and for the most part they don’t exist. However you have a chance if you know his unit, it may just have been captured by a photographer at some point, although names are often not identified sadly.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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