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The 69th Pennsylvania Monument as it appears today (Photo by Jen Goellnitz www.goellnitz.org)

‘I Am Confused': The Emotional Shock of Pickett’s Charge as Experienced by a Family & Friend

At 1319 North 16th Street, Philadelphia on the 3rd of July 1863, Irish mother Jane Hand would have been going about her daily routine. Her two daughters were likely proving a handful; with her eldest Lucy Ann just 5 and her youngest Mary Jane 3, they were exactly the right age to get stuck under […]

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'Wanted A Substitute' A Wartime Sheet Music Cover (Library of Congress)

‘Induced to Enlist': The Last Letter Home of an Irish Draft Substitute in 1864

There is sometimes a perception that large numbers of Union troops– particularly in the latter months of the war– had been drafted into the Federal military. This was not the case. Of the c. 776,829 men whose names were drawn during the four Civil War drafts, only about 46,347 men (a little under 6%)  ever […]

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A girl in mourning clothes holds an image of her father during the Civil War (Library of Congress)

Bonds Between Women & Daguerreotypes of A Dying Man in 1862

Families often relied on volunteer nurses to keep them informed of a loved one’s condition in hospital. Over time, bonds could develop between these caregivers and the soldier’s wives far away. The correspondence below, written by Emma Smith from St. Elizabeth Hospital, Washington D.C. to Sarah Welsh in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, are a case in point. This poignant collection of […]

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Massmount, Fanad, Co. Donegal, where James McFadden was married (Google)

‘Killed At The Surrender': The Journey of Two Irishmen to Their Deaths at Sailor’s Creek

There is something particularly poignant about those who lose their lives in the final throes of a conflict– deaths that come when the soldiers themselves are aware the end is in sight. In many cases, the timing of such deaths must have made it even more difficult for those at home to accept. 150 years […]

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Mining coal three miles underground in Pennsylvania, c. 1895 (Library of Congress)

Coal Mining, Draft Rioting & The Molly Maguires: From Laois to Schuylkill with the Delaney Family

The Widow’s Pension Files often offer us the opportunity to explore the wider Irish emigrant experience through the lense of a single family. Such is the case with Private Thomas Delaney of the 19th Pennsylvania Cavalry. His family’s story allows us to travel with them, as they journeyed from the coalfields of pre-Famine Laois to […]

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A hospital ward in a convalescent camp near Alexandria (Library of Congress)

‘I Am Not Long For This World': An Irish-American Soldier Says Goodbye to His Family

The last post on the site examined a mother’s desperate attempts to contact her wounded son. Equally poignant are those letters, occasionally included in the files, which impart a soldier’s final words to his family from his deathbed. On 23rd February 1864, George Carl of the 7th Ohio Infantry sat by the bed of William […]

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Boatswain's Mate Patrick Murphy (Erie Maritime Museum)

Medal of Honor: Boatswain’s Mate Patrick Murphy, U.S.S. Metacomet

It has been a while since the site has looked at one of the Irish-born Medal of Honor recipients from the American Civil War. Issues regarding recording of nativity means there is, as yet, no definitive total number for Irish-born men who earned this award during the conflict. Each time I investigate the figure evidence […]

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Woollen Factories in Richmond, Virginia in 1865 (Library of Congress)

Little Donegal in Pennsylvania: Chain Emigration and Ireland’s Great Untapped 19th Century Historical Resource

The thousands of American Civil War pension files relating to Irishmen represent one of the greatest available resources for uncovering the social history of the 19th century emigrant experience. It is a resource that is almost completely unrecognised in Ireland, a scholarly neglect that is symptomatic of the lack of awareness of the scale of […]

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The first page of the letter written by Richey Cochran to Sarah Jane in June 1862, stamped with June 1880 when it was received by the Pension Bureau (Fold3)

‘Remember me to all the folks': The Last Letter to a Limavady Woman from her Husband

Widow’s Pension Files often contain extremely poignant information. As women sought to prove their connections to their deceased spouse, they sometimes had to submit what must have been extremely treasured possessions to the Pension Agency. For Sarah Jane Cochran of Limavady, Co. Londonderry, this meant handing over the last letter ever written to her by […]

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The Pennsylvania Reserves in Action on the Peninsula in June 1862 by Waud (Library of Congress)

A Long Lived Dubliner Who Witnessed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

In April 1938 the New York Times and Gettysburg Times brought news of the death of a 96-year-old veteran of the American Civil War. Michael Gaffney’s passing was newsworthy in itself as the numbers of veterans were dwindling, but it was also claimed that the Irishman had been present when Abraham Lincoln gave his famous […]

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