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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
* 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.;
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.