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The Return of the 69th New York, 1861 by Louis Lang. Thomas Madigan had been anticipating such a homecoming before Bull Run (New York Historical Society)

The Madigans: Famine Survival, Emigration & Obligation in 19th Century Ireland & America

Each pension file contains fragments of one Irish family’s story. They are rarely complete, but nonetheless they often offer us rare insight into aspects of the 19th century Irish emigrant experience. Few match the breadth of the story told in the Madigan pension file. That family’s words and letters take us from the Great Famine […]

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Irish emigrants sending money back to Ireland from the Emigrants Savings Bank in 1880 (Library of Congress)

‘As Good A Chance to Escape As Any Other': A Cork Soldier’s Aid to His Family in Ireland, 1864

Occasionally, I am asked why any Irish impacted by the American Civil War should be remembered in Ireland. After all, the argument goes, these people left our shores, and they weren’t fighting for ‘Ireland.’ In response, I usually point out that many were Famine-era emigrants, who often felt they had little choice but to leave. […]

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Lieutenant-Colonel James J. Smith and officers of the 69th New York, an image exposed just a few weeks after the Battle of Skinner's Farm (Library of Congress)

‘I Trust the Almighty Will Spare Me My Life': Charles Traynor & the Battle of Skinner’s Farm, 25th March 1865

In March 1865, Charles Traynor wrote home to his mother Catharine in New York. A veteran of some of the most famed Irish Brigade actions of the war, he was still at the front as the conflict began to enter its final days. ‘I trust the Almythy will spear me my life’ he confided to […]

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Antietam Battlefield. The Confederates held the Sunken Lane to the left of the image, with the Irish Brigade advancing from right to left across the field. It was in the vicinity of this field that John Conway died (Damian Shiels)

Speaking Ill Of The Dead: Eulogies & Enmity For An Irish Brigade Soldier

On 18th October 1862 the New York Irish-American published an article on the ‘gallant fellows’ of the Irish Brigade who had recently given their lives at the carnage of Antietam. One of them was Tullamore native Lieutenant John Conway, who had fallen in the ranks of the 69th New York Infantry. The paper described Conway […]

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The Battle of Fair Oaks by Currier & Ives (Library of Congress)

‘A Deep Blow to Your Heart': Patrick Clooney’s Newly Uncovered Description of the Irish Brigade at Fair Oaks

On 16th September 1862, 33-year-old Ann Dunnigan appeared before an Albany judge to begin the process of claiming a widow’s pension. Her husband Patrick had been mortally wounded in the Irish Brigade’s first major engagement- the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia- on 1st June 1862. As part of her evidence, Ann handed over a detailed […]

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Parliament Street in Dublin, looking towards City Hall. This is where First Sergeant O'Driscoll's letter from Petersburg arrived to the newspaper offices in 1864 (Wikipedia)

Reporting the War in Irish Newspapers: Correspondence from the Petersburg Front

A constant stream of information about the American Civil War made its way to Ireland between 1861 and 1865. This came in forms such as family letters home, but it was also a hot topic for Irish newspapers. Some, such as James Roche’s strongly pro-Union Galway-American (later printed in Dublin as the United Irishman and […]

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The Stone Wall at the base of Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg, the target of the Irish Brigade Assault (Library of Congress)

‘In Account Of We Being Irish': A New Irish Brigade Letter After Fredericksburg

As some readers will be aware I am currently working on a long-term project identifying and transcribing the letters of Irish and Irish-American soldiers contained within the Civil War Widows & Dependents Pension Files. This work has already identified large numbers of previously unpublished letters of Irish soldiers, which I intend to prepare for ultimate […]

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The William Higgins Pendant. Obverse to left, Reverse to right (Arrangement by Sara Nylund after original photograph by Cathy Nicholls)

Witnesses to History: A Memento of a Missing Man

The Witnesses to History series aims to connect an object or document which still exists today with the story of the people behind the item. Following the first post, which featured the 170th New York Bounty List, I was contacted by reader Cathy Nicholls in England. Some 40 years ago in Brooklyn, Cathy had purchased […]

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Jefferson Davis shown hanging from a 'Sour Apple Tree' in Harper's Weekly (Library of Congress)

‘Tell Him I Am A Soger': Lyrics, Loyalty and Family in the Letters of an Irish Brigade Faugh

Patrick Kelly emigrated from Co. Galway to Boston with his parents. In 1861 he enlisted in the 28th Massachusetts Infantry, an Irish regiment that ultimately served in the Irish Brigade. During his service he wrote frequently to his parents at home in Boston; the letters portray a young man who was a lover of music […]

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Officers of the 63rd New York Infantry in June 1865 (Library of Congress)

‘Friend Patt theres only 8 of us that left…': An Irish Brigade Soldier’s Letter at War’s End

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 […]

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