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Separation. Many Irish families could not afford to emigrate together. For whatever reason, all three of these women's husbands left their family home for America, never to return (Library of Congress)

‘The Hard Industry of My Own Hands': Three American Civil War Widows in Ireland Struggle to Survive

On the face of things, Irishwomen Honora Cleary, Eleanor Hogg and Maria Sheppel had little in common. For a start, they were from different parts of Ireland; Honora hailed from Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, Eleanor lived in Boyle, Co. Roscommon and Maria had grown up in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. Neither did the women share the same religion; Honora and Eleanor were […]

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Provost Guard of the 9th New York Infantry in 1862 (Library of Congress)

The Civil War Letters of Captain James Fleming: Part 1

In 1832 James Fleming was born to Malcolm and Ann Jane Fleming in Islandbawn, Co. Antrim. The family would later move to nearby Larne when Malcolm established a nursery there, and it was here that James grew up. In 1857 the young man decided to leave Antrim to try his luck in North America. Arriving […]

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The Second Battle of Ream's Station as depicted in Frank Leslie's Scenes and Portraits of the Civil War (Frank Leslie)

‘The First Time the Old Corps was ever Whipped': A Letter from Ream’s Station

This year we are remembering the 150th anniversary of the 1864 campaigns of the American Civil War. 1864 looms large in many of the pension files relating to Irishmen and their families that I have examined. That year, thousands of Northern Irishmen died both on battlefields and in Confederate prisons. For Irish-America, as for much […]

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Gangs of New York: Recruiting the Irish ‘Straight Off the Boat’

One of the best known scenes in Martin Scorcese’s 2002 movie Gangs of New York is that which depicts the enlistment of Irish emigrants ‘straight off the boat’ into the Union army. The seemingly unsuspecting men are quickly dressed in uniform and packed off for the front, even as those unfortunates who have gone before are brought […]

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The Excelsior Brigade Monument at Gettysburg (Photo: Cory Hartman)

‘Your Likeness Was Buried With Him': A Letter to An Irish Soldier’s Wife After Gettysburg

The second day of the Battle of Gettysburg was a tough one for New York’s Excelsior Brigade. Although not an ethnic Irish formation, many of the brigade’s regiments- such as the 70th New York Infantry- had large contingents of Irishmen in their ranks. The 2nd July at Gettysburg left many of these men dead. In […]

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Felix's former comrades of Company D, 61st New York Infantry, as they appeared in the Spring of 1863 (Library of Congress)

‘If You Ever Want To See Him Alive…Come Immediately': A Race Against Time For An Irish Soldier’s Wife

Felix Mooney was 53-years-old when he enlisted in what became Company D of the 61st New York Infantry on 12th August 1861. Wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill on 1st July 1862, he was taken prisoner and sent to Richmond. By the time he was exchanged on 27th July he had to be sent straight […]

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A sketch of the USS Wabash (Library of Congress)

‘I Feel Very Lonely and Downhearted': Isolation, Idealism and Kindred in the Letters of an Irish Emigrant

Widow’s Pension Files are among the most remarkable records that survive relating to the American Civil War. Filled with fascinating social information, they often also contain primary sources from 1861-1865- such as wartime letters- that have lain unread for over a century. Many thousands of these files relate to Irish people, and contain important details […]

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Clara Barton's Missing Soldiers Office, Washington DC. She helped many families learn the fate of their loved ones following the Civil War, but unfortunately Alexander Scarff's parents were not among them. (Photo by E.L. Malvaney)

A 150 Year Old Missing Persons Case- In Search of a 19-Year-Old Irishman

On 5th November 1862 ‘Arthur Shaw’, a 19-year-old Dubliner, stepped off the decks of the Great Western and into the hustle and bustle of New York City. From that day forward, his family never heard from him again. I have spent considerable time trying to piece together some elements of this boy’s story, aiming to uncover just who […]

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'St. Patrick's Day in America, 1874' (Library of Congress)

‘Flags of Old Ireland for One Cent!’ and ‘All’s right- Dad’s Sober': New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, 1864

What was St. Patrick’s Day like 150 years ago? What type of groups marched in the Parade, and what types of imagery did they use? We are fortunate that the full line up of the 1864 New York Parade survives, together with detailed descriptions of the dress and banners of each Society. What emerges is […]

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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)

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 […]

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