Although it is often possible to track Union veterans who returned to Ireland through resources such as pension files, this is not an avenue available when searching for former Confederates. One method of uncovering these men is through the pages of Irish newspapers, which occasionally make reference to American Civil War veterans. In 1915 the death of an Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick resident– Maurice O’Donnell– was deemed worthy of mention. Maurice was also recorded in the 1901 Census, as a 72-year-old farmer living in the town with his wife Hanora. By 1911, with his wife dead, he shared a home with his 14-year-old great granddaughter Elizabeth Doody. The census records that he was illiterate, and could speak both Irish and English. What it does not record is that decades earlier, Maurice had marched to war with the Army of Northern Virginia, experiencing the full horrors of battle with one of Louisiana’s most notorious regiments. (1)Maurice’s demise in 1915 was noted in at least two Irish newspapers. The Freemans Journal of 25th March 1915 recorded that he ‘took part in the American Civil War, having fought with the Southern armies, and became partially disabled for life in one of the closing battles.‘ A more detailed account of Maurice appeared in the Killarney Echo and South Kerry Chronicle of 27th March 1915:
DEATH OF A CIVIL WAR VETERAN– One of the few old natives of the town dropped off during the week in the person of Mr. Maurice O’Donnell of Chapel St., who died after a protracted illness in his 87th year. The deceased took part in the American Civil War in which he practically lost the use of one of his legs. He fought unfortunately on the Southern side and so was disentitled to a pension. This was all the more keenly calamitous as being forced in his latter days to see his interest in the house he lived in he was debarred from realising the purchase amount by the landlord’s trustees who reside in England and resisted his right to dispose of a yearly tenancy. The old veteran who was under notice to Quit at the time of his death deeply deplored his inability to see the matter out before his exit. Deceased belonged to the O’Donnells who were one of the oldest of the native families and who are said to have come from the north originally with Red Hugh O’Donnell, and settled down all over the south after the rout at Kinsale. (2)
An examination of Confederate Service Records has revealed only one soldier named Maurice O’Donnell whose experiences seem to match those of the Abbeyfeale man– a private in the 14th Louisiana Infantry. The 14th Louisiana were originally known as the 1st Regiment Polish Brigade and was mustered into service on 16th June 1861. It principally drew its men from New Orleans’s foreign-born, particularly the Germans, French and Irish. Many of these volunteers had previously worked as Mississippi River boatmen– Maurice was described as a laborer. The regiment was notorious for its disciplinary issues, and none more so than the Company of which Maurice was a member, the Franco (Rifle) Guards. Having enrolled in New Orleans on 27th May 1861 for the war, Maurice was present when the Louisianans stopped off at Grand Junction, Tennessee en-route to the front in Virginia. Many of them were drunk, and when their Colonel ordered the closure of liquor stores, the inebriated soldiers decided to take matters into their own hands. Breaking into various premises to access alcohol, the regiment descended into a mob of unruly rioters, with fighting breaking out between the drunken soldiers and the guards who attempted to restrain them. Some of them were felled by gunshots before they broke into a hotel ‘like a mob of infuriated devils.’ Eventually their Colonel waded into the mêlée, felling men with his pistols and ultimately clearing the rioters. Maurice’s company, the Franco Rifle Guards, were identified as the main instigators and were disbanded as a result. The Limerick man was reassigned to Company G. (3)Maurice went into action in Virginia with the 14th Louisiana in the spring of 1862, initially enduring sustained Federal bombardment in their trenches as McClellan’s forces began to move up the Peninsula that April. As the battles intensified the Louisianans took serious casualties at battles such as Williamsburg, Mechanicsville and Gaines’ Mill. Then on 30th June 1862 came the battle of Glendale or Frayser’s Farm. Among the regiments to throw themselves across an open field at the Federals that day were the 14th Louisiana, who endured a ferocious fire from artillery and infantry as they advanced towards the distant blue-clad line. During the charge their color bearer was killed, and although they showed extreme bravery their efforts ultimately failed. Of the 900 men who attacked on 30th June, 243 became casualties. One of them was Maurice O’Donnell, struck in the right leg by a minié ball (to see the impact of this battle on Irish fighting for the Union, see here). (4)
The bullet ended Maurice’s combat career, and matches the type of wound described by the Killarney Echo and South Kerry Chronicle. He was initially sent to Louisiana Hospital in Richmond to recuperate, and remained there for much of what was left of 1862. He was moved to the 4th Division General Hospital at Camp Winder around December, but his leg does not appear to have been healing properly. On 16th March 1863 he fell and dislocated his hip, an injury that ultimately became diseased; this mishap apparently ensured that he would be permanently disabled. In November 1863 Maurice was sent to Richmond’s Jackson Hospital where he recovered some mobility. It was decided that he should see out his service as a Hospital Guard, a detail to which he was appointed on 2nd February 1864. He returned to fill this position at Louisiana Hospital, and was still there on 6th April 1865, following the city’s fall to Union troops. (5)
It is not known when Maurice O’Donnell went back to Ireland, but it was likely the restricted prospects he faced as a result of his debilitating injury that caused him to go back to his rural West Limerick home. His 1860s experiences in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would remain with him for the rest of his days. Given his obituary half a century later, it seems likely that the old Confederate’s exploits were a well-known and oft-discussed aspect of his life for many who made their home in early 20th century Abbeyfeale.(1) Killarney Echo and South Kerry Chronicle, 1901 Census, 1911 Census, Maurice O’Donnell Service Record; (2) The Freemans Journal, Killarney Echo and South Kerry Chronicle; (3) Maurice O’Donnell Service Record, Jones 1987: 245-7, 18-9; (4) Jones 1987: 57, 61, 100; (5) Maurice O’Donnell Service Record.
Maurice O’Donnell Confederate Service Record, 14th Louisiana Infantry.
Freemans Journal 25th March 1915. American Civil War Veteran Dead.
Killarney Echo and South Kerry Chronicle 27th March 1915. Death of a Civil War Veteran.