For a number of weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia thousands of Union troops remained in the field in Virginia. During this period men often reflected on the past and the many comrades they had lost and looked forward to returning home. Meanwhile officers tried to keep the men occupied with drill and parade, something often resented by veteran troops. I recently came across a fascinating letter dealing with this period from a member of the Irish Brigade. In it Private John Hall demonstrates the close bond felt between recruits who joined the Brigade in January 1864 and discusses how few of that group emerged unscathed.
Camp near Burkesville [sic.] Va.
April 30th 1865
Yours came to hand this morning in which I am glad to find you in good health as this leaves me thanks to God. Friend Patrick I see by yours you are sorry you cannot come to your regiment. You are better remain on Hart Island NY than come here either in peace or war. It is true we have peace with the South but our Brigade Colonel Robert Nugent does not give us much peace. Roll call at 5 am, drill from 9-11 am, drill from 2 to 4 pm, dress parade 5 am [sic.], Taps at 8 pm with plenty of fatigue guards and picquets. Friend Patrick, we are 4 miles outside the above station in camp in a wood convenient to the Danville rail road where we picquet to prevent persons from leaving said road and do not know what hour we may be sent to [illegible] parts of the country to guard. But as for home we hear nothing about it as for Colonel Gleason he is under arrest this long time and is of opinion he will be cashiered. His brother Joe is well and holds the rank of Captain. Friend Patt theres only 8 of us that left Hart Island NY here at present out of our fine company. But Corporal Christopher McClellan was exchanged from Rebel prison and is gone on to Annoppolis [sic.] Md. Also there are 6 of our men from our regiment made their escape from Salisbury North Carolina and joined us a few days ago they tell us that our Dear friend John Wallace died on our about they [sic.] 21st day of October 64 at Salisbury North Carolina from starvation. May God in his mercy have mercy on his soul and may heaven be his reward for his many sufferings from August 25th to October 21st 64 while in Rebel prison. Friend Patt you can tell his poor wife Mary Wallace of her husbands death, may God comfort her and she can apply to the State Agent to forward her claims to the War Department as we announced her husband [sic.] death on the muster rolls of the 30th April 65 this days muster rolls for the last 2 months we also will forward his final statements on tomorrow to the War Department by consent of Joseph Gleason Captain Comdg. D. Co. This friend Patrick is all we can do in memory of our beloved countryman and most particular friend may his soul rest in peace. Amen.
Friend Patrick if you can remain in New York or on Hart Island as we are opinion our Brigade will be kept for our term of service. Hoping you will remain in good health until the expiration of our service until we unite happily as we did before. I close by sending to poor Mrs. Wallace my sympathy in her sorrow, hoping the Lord will comfort her as he see fit to call her dear husband to himself. I join in sending you and friend Gleason my best respects,
I remain your friend and brother soldier
John Hall, D Company, 63d Regt NY V. Vols
P.S. Dear Patrick, if you write again to me omit the word Seargent, if you please- your friend, John Hall. (1)
Individuals Mentioned in the Letter
The letter writer, John Hall, mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York on the 20th January 1864 at the age of 23. He had been wounded in action at Petersburg on 16th June 1864. John mustered out with the regiment at Alexandria two months after he wrote this letter, on 30th June 1865. (2)
The recipient is not identified beyond his first name ‘Patrick’, but is almost certainly Patrick Slattery. He mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York on the 21st January 1864 at the age of 20 and mustered out on 9th May 1865 at Hart’s Island, New York. (3)
John Wallace mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York on the 21st January 1864 at the age of 24. He had not been in the United States for long when he enlisted, having married his wife Mary O’Connor in Killarney, Co. Kerry on 15th November 1862. Captured at the Battle of Ream’s Station on 25th August 1864, he is recorded as having died of pneumonia at Salisbury, North Carolina on 8th November 1864. (4)
Joseph Gleason mustered in as Second Lieutenant in Company D of the 63rd New York on 5th April 1864 at the age of 19. He was promoted to Captain of the Company on 5th April 1864 and was discharged on 27th April 1865. (5)
Christopher McClellan mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York as a Private on 25th January 1864. Promoted to Corporal, he was captured at the Battle of Ream’s Station on 25th August 1864. He was recorded as having escaped from prison in Salisbury North Carolina and rejoined his Company 17th May 1865. He mustered out with the regiment on 20th June 1865 in Alexandria, Virginia. (6)
John Hasset Gleason from Borrisoleigh in Co. Tipperary was Joseph’s older brother. He had served in the Papal Wars of 1860. He fought with the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run before becoming an officer in the 63rd New York in 1861 at the age of 21. He rose to become Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment on 19th September 1864. Brevetted a Major-General on 13th March 1865 he was also heavily involved in the Fenian movement. The reason for his arrest is unclear, but he was dismissed on 18th May 1865. (7)
Robert Nugent from Kilkeel in Co. Down was Lieutenant-Colonel of the 69th New York State Militia and later became the Colonel of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry. Wounded at Fredericksburg, he was Provost Marshal for the southern district of New York during the 1863 draft riots. He helped to rebuild the Irish Brigade and eventually led it. He was brevetted a Brigadier-General on 13th March 1865. He returned to service in the regular army after the conclusion of the Civil War. (8)
(1) John Wallace Widow’s Pension File; (2) New York AG 1901: 73; (3) New York AG 1901: 173; (4) New York AG 1901: 189, John Wallace Widow’s Pension File; (5) New York AG 1901: 66; (6) New York AG 1901: 116; (7) New York AG 1901: 65, Hunt & Brown 1990: 233; (8) Hunt & Brown 1990: 451;
John Wallace Widow’s Pension File WC77334
Hunt, Roger D. and Brown, Jack R. 1990. Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue
New York Adjutant-General 1901. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901.