Irish in the American Civil War Exploring Irish Emigration in the 19th Century United States Wed, 13 Jan 2021 11:53:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Irish in the American Civil War 32 32 133117992 From the Institution to the Infantry: The Enlistment of Three Underage Inmates from the St. Louis House of Refuge Tue, 12 Jan 2021 17:35:06 +0000 The new post comes from regular contributor Brendan Hamilton, who needs no introduction on the site. It brings another insight into Brendan’s fantastic and pioneering research on the boys from the North’s Houses of Refuge who found themselves in Union uniform during the Civil War. On this occasion he takes us through the lives of three young teenagers–two of them Irish American–who were sent to war from St. Louis, Missouri. Brendan takes up the story.

An unidentified youthful Union infantry private (Library of Congress)

The St. Louis House of Refuge in St. Louis was a county-run penal institution for juvenile offenders, established at the direction of the state of Missouri in 1855. While larger reformatories, like those in New York and Massachusetts, enlisted their inmates into the military during the Civil War by the dozens–or even the hundreds–St. Louis’s House of Refuge only recorded five direct enlistments from their institution. The stories of these five recruits from the Gateway to the West are not any less significant or insightful than those of their East Coast counterparts, however. In fact, the history of three of them in particular provides a striking illustration of inequality and privilege in Civil War era America–in 1864, a wealthy businessman, with the help of an ordained minister, used a position of public trust to claim guardianship over three minors, so that his own son could enlist them in the Union Army. Two of these three convicts-turned-recruits were Irish immigrants. While one was ultimately discharged due to his youth, the other two slipped through the recruiting depot unnoticed, and went from raising hell on the streets of St. Louis to “making Georgia howl” with General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee. (1)

The St. Louis House of Refuge photographed in 1894 (Missouri Historical Society)

The House of Refuge from which these boys hailed primarily imprisoned juveniles who were arrested or committed by family members in the city and county of St. Louis. Among them were many Irish and German immigrants, as well as children displaced and orphaned as a result of the Civil War, which had embroiled and divided the population of Missouri and led to an enormous refugee crisis as civilians fled war-torn regions to seek shelter in and around urban areas and military posts. Like many American reformatories, the St. Louis House employed its inmates as contract laborers caning chairs and making shoes. Its grounds also included a farm, where the boys could be employed and educated in growing fruits and vegetables. The verdant, idyllic exterior of the House concealed horrific conditions within its walls. An 1872 grand jury investigation laid bare a brutal system of punishments employed by the staff upon its boys. Numerous “coarsely dressed” and barefoot inmates testified to being routinely whipped. Several even stripped off their clothes to display scars and bruises for the grand jury to behold firsthand. In addition to the corporal punishments they were forced to endure, the witnesses also recounted being subjected to traumatic solitary confinement in the House’s four by nine foot, windowless, unlit, and poorly ventilated cells. One boy was confined in solitary for ten days, three of which were spent without anything to eat or drink. On the days he was actually fed, his diet was limited to bread and water. Outside of solitary, the food and drink was hardly much better, and included coffee “made out of burned bread” which frequently contained cockroaches. It is not difficult to imagine a chance to enlist the Union Army looking like an attractive opportunity to those inmates who could gain the approval of the House’s Board of Managers to do so. (2)

Headline from the 18th July 1872 issue of The Missouri Republican, regardng the grand jury investigation into the House of Refuge (Missouri Republican)

On 28th January 1864, two inmates, Patrick Dugan and Patrick O’Brien, were released for just that purpose, and accepted by the captain of the Provost Marshal as privates in the 27th Missouri Infantry. A native of County Tipperary, Patrick Dugan was committed to the House of Refuge in September 1863 after being convicted in a criminal court on charges of burglary and larceny. While his entry in the House’s commitment register suggests the Irish immigrant would have been sixteen years old at the time of both his imprisonment and release, his enlistment lists him as fifteen. Either age would have put Dugan well under the legal enlistment age of eighteen, but it appears that neither he nor the House staff made any effort to conceal that fact, and the recruiting officer and surgeon accepted him regardless. A consent form included in his enlistment papers was signed by House of Refuge President (and former St. Louis Mayor) John How, acting as the boy’s legal guardian. In addition to serving as president of the House, How was a successful leather dealer whose personal and real estate at the time of the 1860 US Census was valued at over $1 million, or nearly $37 million in today’s money.

House of Refuge President John How (Missouri Historical Society)
The consent portion of Patrick Dugan’s enlistment record, signed by John How (NARA)

Patrick Dugan, the immigrant boy for whom How claimed guardianship, did not lack living relatives. In fact, the 1860 US Census shows but one Patrick Dugan, born in Ireland circa 1848, in all of St. Louis County. He was living under the care of two older Dugans, most likely his parents, and one younger boy, presumably his brother. The head of household, John Dugan, was a forty-year-old Irish immigrant laborer. In striking contrast to John How, John Dugan claimed personal property worth just $5 in total, or about $160 today. The presence of parents was irrelevant to the House of Refuge’s staff, however; since Patrick Dugan was incarcerated there he was under the institution’s care, and they therefore had a legal claim of guardianship in loco parentis. Amazingly, the enlisting officer from the 27th Missouri was none other than John How’s son, Major James F. How. The witness signature on Dugan’s consent form was provided by the Reverend George S. Shaw, a Unitarian clergyman and former instructor at the House of Refuge who had himself enlisted in the same regiment less than a month prior. Dugan was examined and accepted by Surgeon L.D. Morse, who recorded that the young recruit was 5’5” tall, had gray eyes, sandy hair, and a light complexion. (3)

1860 U.S. Census entry for the family of John How (NARA)
1860 U.S. Census entry for the family of Patrick Dugan (NARA)

Dugan’s youthful appearance must have raised eyebrows at the Benton Barracks recruitment depot in St. Louis while the boy was stationed there awaiting transfer to his regiment. On 13th February 1864 the commander of the depot, Captain William Walker, along with Captain John A. Thompson, the post’s mustering and disbursement officer, penned a letter to the Acting Assistant Provost Marshal General, Colonel E.B. Alexander, pleading for Dugan to be released on account of his age. They reported that they “duly examined the recruit” and found him to be unfit for service due to his “extreme youth,” which rendered him ineligible by regulation, as well as their conclusion that he was “not physically developed sufficiently” for the duties of soldiering. Surgeon William Fritz examined Dugan and came to the same conclusion. If any of these officers were aware that Major How’s father–the former mayor of St. Louis–acted as guardian to provide consent for this would-be child soldier, they omitted that fact from their correspondence. It wasn’t until April that Dugan was finally discharged from the Army for disability. The order to do so finally came from Major General William S. Rosecrans, then commanding the Department of Missouri. The accompanying disability discharge noted that “with proper care and examination,” the boy’s eligibility “might have been discovered” and precluded his earlier acceptance into the Army. (4)

The Certificate of Disability “by reason of being under age” issued with respect to Patrick Dugan (NARA)

While Patrick Dugan faced additional scrutiny, two other underage House of Refuge recruits, Patrick O’Brien and James W. Bates slipped through the cracks apparently without incident. O’Brien, who, like Dugan, was an Irish native, had a long history with the House of Refuge. His sister had him committed to the institution in 1859 when he was twelve years old for the offense of “incorrigibility.” He was released eight months later, only to be returned in 1861 for the crime of larceny. This time, O’Brien served out a full year in the House, but it was only six months before he was caught stealing again and returned for a third time in May 1863. On 27th January 1864, O’Brien was released alongside Patrick Dugan to enlist in Company B of the 27th Missouri. O’Brien’s age is listed as eighteen on his enlistment, but in reality he was between sixteen and seventeen at the time. And while at 5’3” he was shorter than his younger comrade, the gray-eyed, black-haired recruit was likewise enlisted by Major How, the House of Refuge president’s son, accepted by the same examining surgeon, and made it through the recruiting depot without being called out by the officers there. O’Brien was eligible for a $60 bonus, for which he received a $13 advance payment. The teenage convict served with 27th Missouri in the Union Army of the Tennessee’s XV Corps through the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea, and the Carolinas Campaign, and at the war’s conclusion, marched with his comrades in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C. in May 1865. (5)

Unidentified Union soldiers in a captured Confederate fort during the Atlanta Campaign (Library of Congress)

James W. Bates was committed to the House of Refuge early in 1862 for the crime of larceny. He was released after a year in the custody of George S. Simms of Irondale, Missouri, in what was likely an indentured servitude, but he was sent back to the House a mere ten days’ later for another act of larceny. He spent the rest of 1863 incarcerated there. When the House’s Board of Managers released Bates on 2nd February 1864 to enlist as a private in Company A of the 66th Illinois Infantry, the teenager had spent most of the war to that point behind bars. His enlistment abstract indicates he was enlisted by a “Major Howe,” who was almost certainly the same James F. How who enlisted Dugan and O’Brien. Like Dugan, Bates’ enlistment record puts his age as just fifteen at the time of his enlistment. His legal ineligibility was apparently irrelevant. The Missouri native was recorded as 5’6” tall, with black hair, hazel eyes, and a light complexion. (6)

Member’s of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters (Digital Research Library of Illinois)

The regiment to which Bates was assigned was by then a veteran unit, better known under the moniker of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters. Conceived of in 1861 by John C. Fremont as a specialized force of marksmen, the Sharpshooters were recruited from all over the Western U.S. and initially armed with highly accurate Plains Rifles. In 1863, many members of the regiment opted to use their own money to purchase themselves 16-shot Henry Repeating Rifles. It is possible Bates put part of his enlistment bounty toward this purpose. The weapons gave the regiment a distinct advantage in firepower over the single shot muzzle-loaders used by most Confederate infantrymen, and they put them to extensive use serving with the Army of the Tennessee in the Atlanta Campaign. Like his fellow inmate O’Brien in the 27th Missouri, Bates survived the battles for Atlanta and accompanied his regiment through Sherman’s March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign before marching with the rest of Sherman’s veteran at the Grand Review. (7)

The Grand Review in 1865 (Library of Congress)

While O’Brien and Bates finished out their enlistment terms through the end of the war, Major James F. How, who enlisted them both from his father’s House of Refuge, did not. Unlike rank and file enlisted men, who risked facing public execution for desertion, officers had the choice to resign from the Army at their own discretion. How, who had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, did so in July 1864, at the height of the critical campaign for Atlanta. Citing unspecified “private interests” requiring his attention at home, he tendered his resignation and hurried back to civilian life in St. Louis. (8)


(1) 1861 Ordinances of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis House of Refuge Commitment Register (Missouri Historical Society Library and Research Center).

(2) “House of Refuge Infamy,” The Missouri Republican, 18 July 1872.

(3) Commitment Register, Compiled Military Service Records, 1860 US Federal Census, The Unitarian Register, Vol. 87.

(4) Compiled Military Service Records.

(5) Commitment Register, Compiled Military Service Records.

(6) Commitment Register, Databases of Illinois Veterans.

(7) Birge’s Western Sharpshooters in the Civil War: 1861-1865, Lorenzo A. Barker.

(8) Compiled Military Service Records.

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Andersonville Irish Spotlight: The Irish Relief Fund Donors who Died at Andersonville Mon, 04 Jan 2021 21:00:18 +0000 A great many of the men interred at Andersonville National Cemetery died of illnesses associated with starvation and exposure. For those Irish within the camp who had endured the Great Famine, many of the ailments they saw must have seemed brutally familiar. Among them were causes like dropsy, dysentery, diarrhoea. It is a sad irony that some of those who succumbed to symptoms such as dropsy, dysentery and diarrhoea had only months before sent money to Ireland- in order to prevent precisely those conditions from developing there.

In 1863 fears that Ireland was on the brink of Famine led to international appeals to the diaspora for funds. Poor harvests for three consecutive years had left many destitute, and apparent disaster loomed. In response to the threat, relief committees that had previously been established to channel funds to assist the worst afflicted areas were reactivated. Irish American men and women in the war-torn United States responded quickly, and generously. There was a particularly strong reaction from serving Irish Americans in the Union military. This is a topic I have previously explored in these posts:

Irish Relief Fund: The Remarkable Contribution of Union Soldiers & Sailors

Naming Over 800 Union Soldiers Who Supported the Poor of Ireland

Among those men whom I have identified as contributing to the 1863 Relief of Ireland fund, at least six later died at Andersonville. There were undoubtedly many more. There is a particular pathos to the fact that some of them succumbed to the very same illnesses they hoped their donations would prevent in Ireland. Indeed as children and young men, some of them likely saw others die from precisely the same ailments during the Famine. I hope the project will identify more of the Andersonville victims who donated to the Irish fund, but some details about those currently identified follows below.

William Curran’s grave at Andersonville. He is buried under the name William Carroll, an alias he was recorded under in the regiment (Find A Grave)

William Curran, 42nd New York Infantry

William is interred in Andersonville under the name William Carroll, though Curran appears to have been his real name. He was among a host of men in the ranks of the 42nd New York (Tammany) Regiment that donated to the Relief of Ireland fund, a number of whom died at Andersonville. Born in Ireland around 1826, William would have been a young adult at the time of the Great Famine. He enlisted aged 35 on 10th June 1861, having been a shoemaker in New York’s 18th Ward. He was an experienced soldier and veteran volunteer when he was captured at Petersburg on 22nd June 1864. He died of scurvy at Andersonville on 15th November 1864, 18 months after he had donated to the relief fund.

Donor Garrett Hyde’s grave at Andersonville National Cemetery (Find A Grave)

Garrett Hyde, 42nd New York Infantry

There are few details about Garrett’s life. He was 23-years-old when he enlisted on 19th June 1861 at Long Island, and was another who was captured at Petersburg on 22nd June 1864. He died of scurvy at Andersonville on 18th October 1864.

The mark of Michael Kenny’s illiterate mother Bridget, made when she applied for a pension after her son’s death in Andersonville. She lived in Fairhill, Galway City (NARA)

Michael Kenny, 42nd New York Infantry

Michael was sometimes recorded under the alias William Smith. He had enlisted in June 1861, and was also captured at Petersburg on 22nd June 1864. He was 25-years-old when he joined up, and had certainly been in Ireland during the Famine. While he was fading away from scurvy in Georgia his mother Bridget was still back in Fairhill, Galway City, where Michael had grown up. His father had died there in 1854. A cooper by trade, Michael had saved his earnings in Galway to pay for his passage to America, and had been sending his mother money home from the army before his capture. He died in Andersonville on 27th October 1864.

The grave of Irish Relief donor William Mulcahy at Andersonville National Cemetery (Find A Grave)

William Mulcahy, 42nd New York Infantry

William was from Co. Cork, and had been there during the awful years of the Great Famine. He and his mother had emigrated to New York after his father Bartholomew’s death in Ireland in 1854. Once in America they made their home in New York’s Mott Street, where William worked as a carpenter. He was 26-years-old when he enlisted in September 1861. His cause of death on 28th October 1864 was recorded as chronic diorrhoea.

The grave of William Stripp, the young Bavarian who donated to the Relief of the Poor of Ireland, Andersonville National Cemetery (Find A Grave)

William Stripp/Stupp, 42nd New York Infantry

Not everyone who had sympathy for the plight of the Irish poor in 1863 was from Ireland. William Stripp served among many Irish Americans in the Tammany Regiment, and was one of those who gave towards the aid of those from a land he had never set foot in. He was a native of Rossbach in Bavaria. A jewwller before joining up, he lived with his mother Elizabetha and invalided father Michael in New York. William had enlisted on 22nd June 1861 and was captured at Petersburg on 22nd June 1864. He was 23-years-old when he died at Andersonville on 11th November 1864. His cause of death was variously given as dropsy and scurvy.

The grave of donor John Harris at Andersonville National Cemetery (Find A Grave)

John Harris, 63rd New York Infantry

John was from Co. Down, and was a 33-year-old labourer when he enlisted in the Irish Brigade in September 1861. He was captured at Bristoe Station, Virginia on 14th October 1863, and died at Andersonville on 13th August 1864.

If you have any information regarding Irish Americans interred at Andersonville, please contact us via the dedicated project email, andersonvilleirish[at]

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Andersonville Irish Spotlight: Grave 9102. Michael Rooney, Sligo & Rossinver, Leitrim Fri, 18 Dec 2020 13:19:28 +0000 As the new Andersonville Irish Project gathers steam, the site will be sharing stories and information about some of the Irish American men who died there, as well as news on the database and map as they are updated. In the first of these “spotlight” posts, we are taking a look at the man interred in Grave 9102 at Andersonville National Cemetery, Michael Rooney. A look into his death reveals that his tragic end was only one element of what were a deeply traumatic few months for his children.

Michael Rooney’s military enlistment recorded his birth as in Co. Sligo, but he was married in nearby Rossinver, Co. Leitrim. He had wed Ann Clinton there on on 14th January 1849, and by the end of that year that had celebrated the birth of their first child, Thomas. In a cycle repeated again and again across Ireland during the Famine-era, the young family soon headed for the emigrant boat. They arrived in New York sometime between 1850 and the summer of 1853, when their second son, James, was born. A daughter Mary was next to arrive, in March 1858. BY 1860 they were making their home in the 1st District of the city’s 16th Ward, where Michael was working as a labourer.

The Rooney family on the 1860 Feveral Census (NARA)

Although Michael was recorded as 31-years-old in 1860, his 4th August 1862 enlistment stated he was 36. At that juncture he was described as being 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, with grey eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. The Irish immigrant’s age and family situation strongly suggest that economics was a major driver for his enlistment, and he may well have been in dire need of the finances that military service could provide. Whatever his reasons, he duly became a private in Company F of the 132nd New York Infantry.

Michael left his wife and children behind in late September 1862, when the regiment left the state. In May of 1863 the 132nd travelled to New Bern, North Carolina where they took up garrison duty. Michael was still there later that year, when terrible news arrived from New York. On 27th November 1863, his wife Ann died at 114 West 19th Street, having been suffering from Consumption. As she was taken to Calvary Cemetery for interrment, Michael had to try and look to his young children’s welfare. Fortunately like many Irish Americans he had a family network in New York, and it seems that they agreed to take the youngsters in until his return.

A copy of Ann Rooney’s death certificate submitted as part of a minor dependent pension claim (NARA)

Michael was probably thankful that up to that point his regiment had escaped the worst of the American Civil War. That changed a little over two months after his wife’s death. By early 1864, the Confederates had decided to try and retake New Bern from the Union, and the 132nd New York would find itself at the epicenter of that effort. The regiment bore the brunt of the opening phase of that engagement at Bachelor’s Creek on 1st February 1864, and Michael was among the captured.

Michael Rooney died in Andersonville on 18th September 1864. Within the space of just ten months his children had lost both their mother and father. Indeed, they may well have never seen Michael after the death of their mother. Ultimately Thomas Rooney, who may well have been their uncle, took on the role of guardian. There is little doubt that the Civil War and Andersonville loomed large in their memory for the rest of their lives.

Michael Rooney’s story is just one among hundreds from Andersonville National Cemetery. If you know of any Irish Americans who died at Andersonville, or have stories to share about Irish Americans imprisoned there, please get in touch with us at the Andersonville Irish Project via andersonvilleirish[at]

Michael Rooney’s grave at Andersonville National Cemetery (Kevin Frye via Find A Grave)
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The Andersonville Irish Project Fri, 11 Dec 2020 11:34:16 +0000 I’m pleased to let readers know of the official launch the Andersonville Irish Project here on Irish in the American Civil War. We’re seeking public help to ID Irish interred at Andersonville, the cemetery that likely contains more Irish casualties from the American Civil War than any other. I’ve teamed up with Nicholas Allen, Director of the Willson Center at the University of Georgia to try to tell the story and remember the hundreds of Irish Americans buried at the notorious Georgia POW camp. We’ve already received great encouragement and support from the Irish Consulate in Atlanta, and the amazing National Park Service staff at Andersonville.

You can explore the project page here. On it, you will find three main elements. The interactive Ireland Map records known locations in Ireland where men who died at Andersonville were from. It provides their details and includes and image of their grave.

The interactive database records the names and more specific detail on the almost 170 Irish Americans who died at Andersonville that we have identified thus far, with hopefully with many more to come.

The blog sections gathers together current and future posts that examine the Irish experience of Andersonville and tell the stories of some of these emigrant families.

Details of how people can contribute info on individuals can be found on the project page- if you have anything of relevance to any of the Irishmen buried at Andersonville National Cemetery (or their families), you can contact us at andersonvilleirish[at] Please share news of this project far and wide, as we are keen to add as many men as possible to the database!

“The Best Anti-War Song Ever Made”: On the Trail of Paddy’s Lament Fri, 13 Nov 2020 15:34:51 +0000 Sinead O’Connor has called Paddy’s Lament the “best anti-war song ever made”. Along with the 2002 blockbuster Gangs of New York, this evocative and powerful ballad has arguably had more influence on popular perceptions of Irish involvement in the American Civil War than anything else in recent decades. As someone who works on Irish participation in the Civil War, barely a week passes without the song or the sentiments expressed within it being shared with me–a mark of its almost unique position as an influencer of opinion on this topic. But just how true and widespread were those sentiments? And what direct connection does Paddy’s Lament have with the American Civil War? In order to find out, I decided to see could I find out more about the origins and history of this compelling song.

Sinead O’Connor – Paddy’s Lament

Sinead O’Connor – Paddy’s Lament

Sinead O’Connor sings her 2002 version of Paddy’s Lament

Paddy’s Lament/Paddy’s Lamentation/By the Hush, Me Boys tells the story of an Irishman who, having emigrated to the United States to make his fortune, is forced into the Union army and service with Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade. In the battles which follow, the song’s hero/victim Paddy loses his leg, an experience which causes him to curse America and warn his fellow Irishmen off travelling there. The picture the song paints is of a poor emigrant forced to leave his homeland, before being at best duped, at worst forced into Federal service. Though there are often subtle lyrical differences between modern versions of the song, most follow the format of the version sung by Sinead O’Connor, reproduced below:


Well it’s by the hush, me boys
And that’s to mind your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s sad narration
I was by hunger stressed
And in poverty distressed
So I took a thought I’d leave
The Irish nation

Well I sold me horse and cow
My little pigs and sow
My father’s farm of land
I then departed
And me sweetheart Bid McGee
I’m afraid I’ll never see
For I left her there that morning

Here ye boys
Now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye
Not be coming
There is nothing here but war
Where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home
In dear old Dublin

Well meself and a hundred more
To America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be making
We were thinkin’
When we got to yankee land
They put guns into our hands
Saying “Paddy, you must go
And fight for Lincoln”

Here ye boys
Now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye
Not be coming
There is nothing here but war
Where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home
In dear old Dublin

General Meagher to us he said
If you get shot or lose your head
Every mother’s son of youse
Will get a pension
Well in the war I lost me leg
And all I’ve now’s a wooden peg
And by soul it is the truth
To you I mention

Here ye boys
Now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye
Not be coming
There is nothing here but war
Where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home
In dear old Dublin

Well I think meself in luck
If I get fed on Indian buck
And old Ireland is the country
I delight in
To the devil I would say
God curse Americay
For in truth I’ve had enough
Of your hard fightin’

Here ye boys
Now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye
Not be going
There is nothing here but war
Where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home
In dear old Dublin

The growth in the song’s popularity in recent decades has been marked, with versions of it widely recorded by a multitude of artists. When she spoke about the song in 2002, Sinead O’Connor recounted that she had first heard it while she was living in Los Angeles in 1990, during the First Gulf War. It was being recorded by other groups in the years before that, such as De Dannan (below) who did their version during the 1980s.

De Dannan’s 1985 version of Paddy’s Lamentation

The message about the war Paddy’s Lament delivers was reinforced in the popular imagination by Martin Scorcese’s 2002 epic Gangs of New York. The movie depicts the scene that Paddy narrates, appropriately setting it to the strains of a Linda Thompson version of Paddy’s Lamentation (below). Numerous articles on the site have explored the veracity of this image of Irish recruitment into the Union military, but suffice is to say here that the majority experience did not match that of Paddy. Very few men left Ireland for America during the Civil War without a very good idea of what was occurring there, and while some were coerced and duped into service, it was far more common for them to arrive with the specific intention of enlisting–keen to reap the benefits of the once-in-a-lifetime sums on offer. While Paddy’s Lament victimises Paddy as a largely helpless individual swept along by circumstance, this majority experience was one where men excerised their own agency, making a concious choice both to leave Ireland and to enlist. The song also leaves the impression that the conflict was a foreign struggle of little interest to the Irish, while simultaneously placing Paddy in the early war Irish Brigade led by Thomas Francis Meagher. While that formation had its share of economic recruits, in reality many of them were extremely invested in fighting to preserve the American Union. Given the song’s influence on perceptions of the conflict and the somewhat misleading impression it leaves (combined with the fact that I am a big fan of the tune), I was keen to find out more about its origins, and to discover if it had any direct connections with the men who fought for the United States during the Civil War.

Paddy’s Lamentation – Gangs of New York (6/12) Movie CLIP (2002) HD

Gangs of New York movie clips: THE MOVIE:’t miss the HOTTEST NEW TRAILERS: DESCRIPT…

The scene from Gangs of New York (2002) that depicts Irish recruitment “straight off the boat”, set to the strains of Paddy’s Lamentation

Songs and poems entitled Paddy’s Lament and Paddy’s Lamentation can be found dating back to the 18th century. Some, such as the 1798 example reproduced below also espouse the cost of war, though in this case it was for political purposes, as it sought to demonstrate the perceived folly of the United Irishmen. Others share no similarities with the Paddy’s Lament we know today beyond their title, which was used for a variety of 19th century poems and ballads focused on everything from difficult relationships to the outcome of the 1860 U.S. Presidential election.

A 1798 ballad “Paddy’s Lamentation” published in 1798, intended to demonstrate the cost of supporting the United Irishmen (Evening Mail)

The first ballad entitled Paddy’s Lament that appears to have taken the American Civil War as its theme was published in 1864 by John Ross Dix, an English writer and poet who was living in the United States. It is a very different version to that which we now know. While the general premise of the song is familiar–featuring a wounded Irish Union soldier pining for Ireland–that is where the similarities end. For starters, Dix’s Paddy was from Killybegs, Co. Donegal, not Dublin. But more importantly, the message imparted by the lyrics is not one dominated by anti-war sentiment. In Dix’s version, Paddy talks of having supported Daniel O’Connell in his efforts to repeal the Act of Union in Ireland, and how he now found himself fighting to preserve a different Union. In Dix’s version, Paddy places the blame for his wounds at the door of the “savage” Confederates, not the men who put a gun into his hands when he arrived in America.

Paddy’s Lament by John Ross Dix, published in 1864 (Library of Congress)

Whether Dix’s version is the root song for today’s Paddy’s Lament is open to debate. The Library of Congress holds a number of other 19th century ballads that bear the title, including a number that post-date the Dix version, but while these take emigration as their central theme, none focus specifically on the war itself. But what is certain is that the lyrics as we know them were set down in the 19th century. As folk singer Andy Turner notes, the evidence for this is preserved within the English-printed ballad sheet collection at the University of Oxford’s Bodleain Library, available via Broadside Ballads Online. Two copies of the song can be found there, under the title “Pat in America”. One of them was printed in London’s Spitalfields by Taylor Printers sometime between the Civil War and 1899, though unfortunately neither version is precisely dated beyond that. It seems most probable that they post-date both the conflict and Dix’s version, though likely not by much.

Pat in America, the earliest version of the lyrics to Paddy’s Lament that we know today (BOD21649, Roud Number V7332, Bodleian Libraries)

After the Bodelian sheets, the trail of Paddy’s Lament as an American Civil War song runs cold for more than half a century. When it re-emerged, it was once again not in the United States, but Canada. In 1957 noted Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke travelled to Ottawa, where she met with 85-year-old Oliver John (O.J.) Abbott. O.J. had been born in Enfield, England, but had emigrated to Canada when he was 12-years-old. There he and his brother had spent some years working among Irish farms in the Ottawa Valley in South March and Marchhurst, as well as in the lumber camps of northern Ontario. During that time he had learned a range of Irish folk-songs. He seems to have picked up most of them during the 1880s and 1890s, many from a farmer’s wife called “Mrs. O’Malley”, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland. One of the songs that O.J. sung for Edith in that summer of 1957 was a ballad he called By the Hush, Me Boys.

The noted Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke (Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame)

Edith’s time with O.J. led to the 1961 album Irish and British Songs from the Ottawa Valley. This contains the earliest known recording of the song we today know as Paddy’s Lament (below). In her analysis of the song, Edith noted that “this unusual ballad seems to be unknown in the United States”. Its combination of two themes common to Irish songs–emigration and becoming involved in other countries’ wars–recalled for her the song known as The Kerry Recruit, which tells the tale of an Irish boy who enlisted in the British Army and ends up in the Crimea.

O.J. Abbott sings By the Hush, Me Boys in 1957, the first known recording of the song today commonly known as Paddy’s Lament/Paddy’s Lamentation

It seems clear that this recording represents the main origin point for today’s song. But the trajectory of Paddy’s Lament also raises interesting questions. The earliest version of the lyrics thus far identified are from Britain, not North America, while the first recording occured in Canada, not the United States. Indeed, Edith Fowke could not find it in the oral tradition of the U.S. at all. This raises the possiblity that the song was taken to Canada from Ireland or Britain. Indeed, this would make significantly more sense than if had arisen from amongst the Irish American community.

The Kerry Recruit

Another video that seems to have gone missing from Youtube. I don’t know what’s wrong with the endy bit, but I’ll try to have it fixed soon. Until then, I ho…

Ronnie Drew sings The Kerry Recruit, the song that Edith Fowke felt was related to By the Hush, Me Boys.

How then might we seek to understand its potential origin? If it came from within the Irish community in Ireland or Britain, we might view it in the context of the anguish they felt about losing so many loved ones during the conflict, just as they had during the Crimean War. They had suffered this loss at a remove from Irish America, and at a remove from the opinion–widely held among Irish Americans–that the Civil War was a just fight, and one whose positive outcome was vital for the Irish people. Like many other Irish songs, it may have been developed from a nationalist perspective, bemoaning the loss of more men to a foreign war, when there was fighting to be done at home. But based on the current evidence, it is possible to offer another potential origin. Might it have been developed in Britain or Ireland during the war years in an effort to supress the numbers of Irishmen leaving to cross the Atlantic and serve in the United States military? In such a context, the potential benefits of its message for those with Confederate sympathies are self-evident.

Lumiere – “PADDY’S LAMENT” – An Spailpín Fánach, Cork Folk Festival. Cork Ireland. 10.10.2013

Lumiere – An Spailpín Fánach, Cork Folk Festival. Cork Ireland. 10.10.2013PLEASE VISIT THE LINK for the latest information:…

Paddy’s Lament has become a staple of the Irish folk circuit. Here Lumiere perform it at the Cork Folk Festival in An Spailpín Fánach in 2013

While many American ballads of the Civil War originated in the United States, as Edith Fowke established, Paddy’s Lament does not appear to be one of them. When we consider the story it tells, this is hardly surprising. There were undoubtedly those within Irish America for whom Paddy’s Lament represented an accurate portrayal of Civil War service, but the number who held a contrary opinion would surely have stifled any potential popularity the song may have developed in the 19th century United States. Neither was Paddy’s Lament an image of Irish American service that was particularly useful for that community in the decades that followed the war, when their efforts were centred around highlighting the sacrifice they had made for their adopted country. In the United States, as with most of Britain and Ireland, the time for this evocative piece of music would come a century and more into the future, when Paddy’s Lament took up its position as the pre-eminent ballad of remembrance to recall the cost the American Civil War exacted on Irish emigrants.

The research and cost-of-running of the Irish American Civil War website is self-financed. If you would like to support the work and upkeep of this site you can do so via my Patreon site for as little as $1 a month at, or by making a one-off donation to the site’s running costs via the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar.


Evening Mail 16 April 1798.

Irish Independent 22 September 2002.

Bodleain Library.

Library of Congress.

Irish and British Songs of the Ottawa Valley Sung by O.J. Abbott, Recorded by Edith Fowkes. Sleeve Notes.

Edith Fowke. “American Civil War Songs in Canada” in Midwest Folklore, 1963 13:1.

Andy Turner. A Folk Song a Week. Week 254: By the Hush.

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Video: International Pensioners of the American Civil War Mon, 02 Nov 2020 18:26:12 +0000 I had great fun last week rejoining the guys from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine for one of their lunchtime talks. This time the topic was international pensioners of the American Civil War, where we took a particular focus on some of the working-class widows I have been exploring in my Widows in the Atlantic World Project. The discussion is now available on YouTube, so you can check it out at the Museum’s YouTube page here, or via the link below. I hope you enjoy it!

International Pensioners of the American Civil War with Damian Shiels

Education Coordinator John Lustrea talks with historian Damian Shiels about the experience of international pensioners. Mr. Shiels has done extensive researc…

Document Focus: The Tyrells & their Family Register Sun, 18 Oct 2020 15:30:41 +0000 Very occasionally Irish American pension files contain beautiful documents that were created as a record of the family’s origins and growth (for a previous examination of one, see here). The adoption of Family Registers to note down births, marriages and deaths seems to have been something that immigrants did after their arrival in the United States, rather than one they necessarily brought with them from Ireland. One family who did so were the Tyrells, who owed their roots to both Westmeath and Carlow. An exploration of their Family Register not only reveals something of their lives, it uncovers a story that highlights the ethnic cohesiveness of Irish Americans in this period, and the extent to which they were willing to commit to their new country.

The Tyrell Family Register (NARA)

The Register reveals the head of the household as Edward Tyrell. He was born in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in April 1819 to Nicholas Tyrell and Ann Highland. The family emigrated to North America in 1825, when Edward was six-years-old, and first settled in Lower Canada. Like many others, they eventually crossed into the United States, and Edward grew up in Albany County, New York. The other parent recorded on the Register is Elizabeth Worthington. She was born Elizabeth Kennedy in Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow in December 1820, and had likewise left Ireland as a child. Her father’s premature death seems to have prompted her departure with her maternal uncle John Worthington (whose surname she adopted). They settled in Rensselaer County, New York. Elizabeth’s uncle and Edward’s father shared a trade- both were stonemasons- and it may well have been this that first brought the couple together. Indeed Edward, who followed his father’s profession, may well have apprenticed with Elizabeth’s uncle. Regardless of the precise circumstances, it is testament to the cohesiveness of Irish America that despite the fact that both had grown to adulthood in the United States, they nonetheless chose to marry within their own ethnic community. As their Register records, Edward and Elizabeth tied the knot in Rochester, New York on 14th August 1839. They briefly settled in Mount Morris, Livingston County, where their first child-Francis (Frank)-was born. However, it wasn’t long before they decided to up sticks and head west.

Edward, Elizabeth and Francis made their first home “out west” in McHenry County, Illinois. In Illinois their family grew, with the additions of Jane Ann (b. 1842), George Edward (b. 1845), William Henry (b. 1848) and Clarence Montgomery (b. 1851). It seems that for most of their time in Illinois the family farmed land at Pleasant Grove. Still, they took opportunity where they could find it; in 1850 the family were in Seneca Township, McHenry County, where Edward was listed as a mason working in construction. Living with the family at the time were Elizabeth’s aunt Ann and uncle John, who was likewise was working as a stonemason. Evidently, when the Tyrells left to pursue new opportunities in Illinois, the Worthingtons had followed them. They weren’t alone-Edward’s parents had also made the move. Evidently, Edward and Elizabeth had blazed the western trail with the intent of facilitating the relocation of all their close relatives and in-laws. No doubt all hoped that by doing so they could maintain their close-sense of family and community, and gain mutual benefit from the support and skills each could offer the other.

Lieutenant Edward Tyrell (Ancestry)

Edward and Elizabeth Tyrell made their final move in 1854, going still further west, this time to Bremer County, Iowa, where they settled in Waverly. The 1860 census reveals that-as before- the older generation of Tyrells and Worthingtons followed them. In Iowa two new babies arrived, Charles Worthington Tyrell (b. 1854) and Effie Elizabeth Tyrell (b. 1859). While the Worthingtons likely followed Edward and Elizabeth directly, Edward’s parents spent three more years in Illinois before heading to Bremer. Nicholas Tyrell was 72-years-old when he bought a farm in Washington, Bremer County as a home for himself, his wife Ann (who was 62) and two of their youngest children, Edward’s sister Ann Jr (22) and Nicholas Jr (21). Others among Edward’s siblings also relocated to Iowa, notably his brother John. Before long, all were making their mark in the local community.

Waverly, Iowa as it appears today, where the Tyrells settled in 1854 (Billwhittaker)

As well as being stonemasons, the family were also members of the Masonic Lodge. Nicholas Tyrell had become one shortly after his arrival in the United States. When a lodge was established in their new Iowa community, it was named in honour of Nicholas, as the Westmeath man was its oldest member. His son Edward had followed in his footsteps in the lodge, and had also begun to carve out a role for himself as a community leader. In 1860 he was elected as Waverly’s Justice of the Peace, a position he held when the Civil War erupted. As might be expected, he was quick to answer the call of the country which had given his so much. Despite his standing in the community, he entered the 9th Iowa Infantry as an enlisted man, becoming a Corporal in Company G during the war’s first summer. Edward’s eldest son Frank also joined up as a private in Company K of the 3rd Iowa Infantry; he was afterwards credited as being one of the first boys from the entire county to go to the defence of the Union. Edward’s brother John would also see service, marching to war with the 28th Iowa Infantry. The Tyrells were clearly determined to do their bit for the preservation of the United States.

Nicholas Tyrell, Edward’s father (History of Butler & Bremer Counties)

Not surprisingly, Edward did not spend long in the ranks. His unit were heavily engaged at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862, after which he was promoted to the officer corps. By September 1862, the 44-year-old was a First Lieutenant in Company G. Shortly after his Pea Ridge experience, Edward learned that his son Frank had been wounded and captured at Shiloh, something that must have caused considerable worry both to him and to Elizabeth back in Iowa. Unfortunately, worse was to come for Elizabeth in 1863. That year saw Edward and the 9th Iowa forming part of Grant’s army that was taking the war to the gates of Vicksburg, Mississippi. They were one of the regiments who participated in the ill-fated assault of that place on 22 May 1863. As Edward led his men forward he was “wounded through the head and also through the bowels…while charging on the defences”, dying a few hours afterwards. The Mullingar man was sorely missed by his comrades as well as his family, as demonstrated by the newspaper articles and resolutions that were published following his death (you can read some of them on the Bremer County Veterans Affairs website here). Edward and Elizabeth’s son Frank was more fortunate, though he apparently spent considerable time in Rebel prison before managing to return home to his newly widowed mother. The wider-family sustained yet another blow just as the war seemed done. In June 1865 Edward’s brother John, by then a First Sergeant in the 28th Iowa, died on service in Augusta, Georgia.

Edward Tyrell’s monument at Harlington Cemetery, Waverly, Iowa (Find A Grave: Louis)

It was Elizabeth’s successful pursuit of a widow’s pension that caused her to hand over her family’s beautiful Register, proving in doing so her marriage to Edward. She would receive the pension payments until her own death in 1894. Frank later moved out to California, where he worked in farming and later in the printing trade. When he died in San Jose in 1909, his body was taken back to Waverly to rest with the remainder of his family, a small community of Irish Americans who had made the Iowan town the final stop on their immigrant journey. Among them were his grandparents Nicholas and Ann, who had journeyed from Ireland, to Canada, to New York, to Illinois and eventually to Iowa as they first led and then followed their children in pursuit of a better life. There too were the mortal remains of his mother Elizabeth and father Edward, the latter’s body brought back from the Vicksburg battlefield to be interred in his home of just seven years, but which had become the town, state and country for which he laid down his life.

The research and cost-of-running of the Irish American Civil War website is self-financed. If you would like to support the work and upkeep of this site you can do so via my Patreon site for as little as $1 a month at, or by making a one-off donation to the site’s running costs via the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar.

Frank Tyrell’s monument at Harlington Cemetery, Waverly, Iowa, the first child to be recorded on the Tyrell Family Register (Find A Grave: Louis)


Pension Files.

1850 Census.

1860 Census.

Find A Grave.

Register of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers.

Bremer County Veterans Affairs Website: Edward Tyrell.

History of Butler & Bremer Counties, Iowa.

Tracing them Home: How Catholic Bishops Helped Locate the Irish House of a Pre-Famine Emigrant Sat, 10 Oct 2020 11:52:17 +0000 Over the years I have come to realise how extremely rare it is to be able to identify precisely where in Ireland ordinary American Civil War servicemen originated. There are only a handful of times where sufficient information has survived that enables us to zoom into the very field or house that these men and their families called home before they made for the emigrant boat. As such, it is always a special moment when the surviving records make it possible. Today brought one such moment. It relates to the story of Charles McKenna, whose family had journeyed from Tyrone to Rhode Island, the state where he would ultimately become a corporal in the Rhode Island Cavalry. The key to uncovering their Irish farmstead were the post-war efforts of two Catholic Bishops located on different sides of the Atlantic.

The location of the pre-Famine McKenna homestead and farm outside Augher, Co. Tyrone, as marked by the red star. The buildings associated with the McKennas are no longer upstanding (Adapted from Bing Maps

The McKennas appear to have left for America around the early 1830s, where they made their home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Charles’s mother Catharine died in their new home in the summer of 1838. In the years afterwards, Charle’s father Patrick- a laborer- began to suffer increasingly from a severe ulceration on his leg. By the time of the Civil War age and infirmity meant he increasingly needed the support of his son in order to maintain the household. Charles McKenna had spent the seven years leading up to his enlistment as an employee of the Dunnell Print Works in Pawtucket. Each month he brought home between $18 and $25 a month, much of which he gave to his widower father. Charles helped out by putting money towards flour, pork, potatoes and rent, as well as the other necessities of life. Finally, he decided to don Union blue. His first taste of army life came in June 1862, when he enlisted in the three-month 7th Rhode Island Cavalry, serving in the Washington Defences and during the Maryland Campaign. Charles must have enjoyed the experience, as upon his muster out he was quickly back in uniform. In October 1862 he mustered in as a Corporal in Company B of the 2nd Rhode Island Cavalry, and immediately gave his father $375 in bounty money. He would continue to send large sums home throughout his time in the army.

Pawtucket 1850
Pawtucket Main Street in 1850, as the McKennas would have known it (Pawtucket Past and Present)

Charles spent the remainder of his war in the Department of the Gulf, serving in a number of campaigns in and around Louisiana, including the operations against Port Hudson. In January 1864 his much-reduced unit was transferred into the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry, based out of New Orleans. On 8th February 1864, Charles was out watering his horse when the animal became frightened and bolted. He was “violently thrown to the ground” and struck on the head, causing lacerations which proved fatal. His body was eventually taken to what is now Chalmette National Cemetery in Louisiana, where it remains today.

The grave of Charles McKenna in Chalmette National Cemetery, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana (Barbara Arceneaux via Find A Grave)

The key to unlocking the precise location of the McKenna homestead in Tyrone came in the post-war pension application of Charles’s father Patrick. Patrick revealed in his application that he had been married to Catharine McElroy “in the Parish Church of Clogher near Augher” by the Reverend Father McCaffery, a Roman Catholic Priest, in October 1823. But Patrick needed to prove it, and he had difficulty doing so. Such had been the degree of emigration from the area that those who had been present at the marriage were now all in America, and none of them could remember the exact date of the ceremony (a regular problem for illiterate people). In desparation, Patrick turned towards the Church for help.

The man Patrick McKenna asked to intercede was Francis Patrick McFarland, the Bishop of Hartford, Connecticut. Though he had been born in Pennsylvania, Bishop McFarland’s parents had emigrated from Co. Armagh, and so he would have had sympathy for the plight of the McKenna family. In an effort to glean some concrete evidence of the marriage, Bishop McFarland wrote to his counterpart, Bishop James Donnelly in Ireland. Donnelly was the Bishop of Clogher, the diocese in which the McKennas had been married.

Francis Patrick McFarland, Bishop of Hartford, who interced in the case of Patrick McKenna (Mary Borja via Find A Grave)

Bishop Donnelly in turn put Father Carolan onto the case. He was the parish priest of Clogher, and he set about investigating the matter. On 4th November 1868, Father Carolan sent in his report:

4th November 1868


Co. Tyrone

Most Revd Dr. Donnelly [Bishop of Clogher]

My Lord,

I was in such a hurry to catch the post yesterday that I had not time to allude to the marriage case which his Lordship, the Bishop of Hartford, inquires about.

I had public notice given about it in all the churches of the parish. I can find no person who was actually present at the marriage or can fix a precise date; but several trust worthy persons testify that they know the parties mentioned (Patrick McKenna and Catherine McElroy) to have been lawfully married and to have lived as man and wife in the immediate vicinity of this town.

Among others, Mr. Patrick Gartland and his wife remember them well. They purchased the farm (in a townland called Derries) on which McKenna and his wife had lived for some time. They (Mr and Mrs Gd) also state that they themselves were married in February 1819, and that the marriage of Patrick McKenna and Catherine McElroy took place about three or four years afterwrds, which corresponds with the date (1823) mention in Bp McF’s letter. Your Lordship is aware there was no marriage register kept in those days.

I remain Your Lordship’s Obedinet Servant

P. Carolan, P.P. Clogher

James Donnelly, Bishop of Clogher, who investigated the McKenna case in Ireland (Clogher Record/Gary Carville)

The levels to which Father Carolan had gone in order to prove the marriage of a long departed emigrant is testament to the power a request from a Bishop held. The priests letter served its purpose, and proved sufficient to secure the pension for Patrick. But more than 150 years later, it also allows us to trace precisely where the McKennas were from, and the land they had farmed prior to their pre-Famine emigration. Father Carolan had spoken with Patrick Gartland, who had purchased the farm that Patrick and Catharine McKenna had worked before their emigration. It was almost certainly the purchase of this land that financed the family’s emigration to Rhode Island.

In 1851, long after the McKennas had left for America, the assessment known as Griffith’s Valuation was undertaken in the Parish of Clogher. In Derries townland, outside the village of Augher, one of the seven tenants recorded was Patrick Gartland. He held a little over 17 acres of farmland, valued at £13 and 15 shillings, with a house valued at 5 shillings. It is this map that in turn allows us to position where the McKennas had orignated. The buildings that they and the Gartlands called home have long disappeared beneath the plough. Nevertheless, their identification allows us to imagine their lives here, in the fields and lanes that clung to the north bank of Tyrone’s River Blackwater, and to contemplate the impact of nineteenth century emigration on this landscape.

The research and cost-of-running of the Irish American Civil War website is self-financed. If you would like to support the work and upkeep of this site you can do so via my Patreon site for as little as $1 a month at, or by making a one-off donation to the site’s running costs via the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar.

The McKenna/Gartland holding as it appeared in 1851. The homestead is the building to the right of the number 1 (Griffith’s Valuation/Ask About Ireland)


Pension Files.

Griffith’s Valuation (

Find A Grave.

Bing Maps.

Gary Carville. 2012 “Bishop James Donnelly and the Catholic Electorate: The Monaghan Liberal Registration Society 1874-1885”, Clogher Record 21 (1), 2012, 43-64.

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“May God Spare You to Us Old Veterans of War”: An Inner City Dubliner’s Search for a Civil War Pension Sat, 19 Sep 2020 17:50:05 +0000 Though we tend not to associate Dublin with large-scale nineteenth century emigration, many thousands of people departed the city and county in the years before the American Civil War. Substantial numbers lost their lives during the conflict, as the widows and dependent pension files attest. The Dubliners I come across had often made their homes in the inner city, and some, particularly those who served in the Union Navy, came home. One of them was Thomas O’Sullivan. Thomas spent much of his life moving around different Dublin tenements. Along with a number of his fellow Civil War veterans in the city, he kept a keen on eye on America, and any legislative amendments that might increase his entitlements as an old serviceman. This caused Thomas to consistently communicate his circumstances to both the local U.S. Consul and to the Pension Bureau in Washington D.C., communications that provide us with a detailed glimpse into his life.

American Civil War veteran Thomas O’Sullivan and his family enumerated in their North Strand home on the 1911 Census (National Archives of Ireland)

Thomas O’Sullivan was born in Dublin on 13th June 1844. Like a lot of men around him, he decided to pursue a future on the sea, and joined a crew when he little more than a boy. He was at most 16 when he did so, and presumably plied the trans-Atlantic routes. By the time he was 18, in late 1862, the Dublin-youngster’s maritime adventures had landed him in the heart of New York City. The lodgings he took at Richard Caradine’s boarding house on Oliver Street were close to both the famed Five Points intersection and the busy Manhattan waterfront. He found himself in the Empire City at a time when his expertise was in demand, and on 17th September 1862 he decided to take advantage of that fact. Claiming he was 21, the 18-year-old presented himself at the New York Naval Rendezvous and enlisted in the Union Navy, where his previous experience led to him being rated an Ordinary Seaman. Thomas no doubt hoped that his decision to join up would be rewarded with prize money from captured Confederate vessels. On enlistment he was described as five feet five and a half inches tall, had a light complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair.

Manhattan and its waterfront in 1873, a landscape that Thomas O’Sullivan was very familiar with (George Schlegel)

When Thomas first started to seek a pension in the early 1900s, he wrote from Dublin to offer a description of his 12 months of wartime Union service:

I joined the US Navy in the year 1861 [actually 1862] at New York and was sent to the Receiving Ship North Carolina, from there to the Receiving Ship Princeton at Philadelphia and drafted to the gunboat Quaker City, took a small yacht, a prize with a gentlemen in her supposed to be J.C. Calhoon. Was on the Blockading Squadron till the rams came out of Charleston [where he later said the Confederates “drove us all off the Blockade, the large ships been at Port Royal coaling”] and got a slight wound then drafted to the frigate New Ironsides and was at the three engagements of Charleston and the taking of Fort Sumpter and I was sent on to Philadelphia and honourably discharged at the navy yard…

The USS Quaker City, which Thomas served on during the Civil War (Navy Art Collection)

Thomas was discharged from the navy on 7th October 1863. His initial recounting of his service after more than forty years was a bit patchy, and he got some details wrong, like his year of enlistment and the capture of Fort Sumter (and it seems in his identification of John C. Calhoun, a noted defender of slavery and had died in 1850). His reference to the “rams coming out of Charleston” was an engagement that occurred on 31 January 1863, when the Confederate ironclads CSS Chicora and Palmetto drove off the Quaker City and other vessels. After his transfer to the New Ironsides, he fought in the First Battle of Charleston Harbor, the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, and the Second Battle of Charleston Harbor, seeing extremely intensive service through to his discharge.

This remarkable image, taken from Morris Island, South Carolina on 7th September 1863, shows the USS New Ironsides (at right) in action against Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie. Thomas was almost certainly aboard, in the final days of his service (Library of Congress)

Thomas didn’t spend long in the United States after his Civil War service. He was back in Dublin by 1867, sporting souvenirs of his maritime service in the form of a Goddess of Liberty tattoo on his right arm, and a sailor and girl on his left arm. On 25th January that year he married Teresa Moy at St. Kevin’s Roman Catholic Church, and they would go on to have five children who survived to adulthood. From then on, Thomas always made his home in and around the inner city. His first address after his return from the Civil War was on Barrow Street beside Grand Canal Dock, but he soon moved on to 10 Kevin Street, and later to Jane Place.

Another depiction of USS New Ironsides, on which Thomas served (U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command)

Thomas secured an initial pension of $10 per month from the Federal government in 1907, based on rheumatism and an injury he suffered to his eye and leg. He explained that his “eye was injured off Charleston in the Quaker City and my leg crushed by a gun carriage in New Ironsides at Charleston”. Thomas also had a 15cm long scar on his trunk, which he claimed was caused by a splinter of wood that was sheared off from the bulwark of the Quaker City after she was struck by a shot. His application had not been straighfroward. He experienced an issue that afflicted many prospective Irish pensioners when he was seeking to prove his pension eligibility. Though his surname was “O’Sullivan”, he had been recorded in the military as “Sullivan”, and so the U.S. government had some doubts that he was the same man. Eventually he successfully convinced them he was who he claimed to be, but his response demonstrated the fluidity of nineteenth century surnames. Thomas explained it as follows:

my right name is Thomas O’Sullivan…as regards my name I have been signing my name these years as Sullivan and O’Sullivan and I did not think the “O” made such a difference and I am very sorry it did but I declare on my oath that all this writing is truth and also correct every particle Thomas O’Sullivan, my personal hand writing.

One of Thomas’s affidavits when he was seeking a pension (NARA)

You can read more about Irish emigrants “leaving off the ‘O'” here. In 1912, Thomas became aware that a pension increase had been authorised by the U.S. Government. This prompted him to write to America from his home at 4 Poplar Row on the North Strand, which by then had been his home of 24 years:

having seen that the Pensions of the Veterans of the Civil War is increased and passed as law, I take the liberty of sending these lines to you as the vice Consulate won’t give any information…I served in the navy for over twelve months and I can give a full account of my service. I am drawing a pension since 1907 first a ten dollars now at 12 dollars…I hope you will forgive any deficency in this as my eye sight is very bad I am sixty eight years of age…Dear Sir, I would wish to know if I will have to pay fees to the Consulate as I am very poor at present. Hoping in antispation of your kind answer, I remain your most humble servant and veteran,

Thomas O’Sullivan, 4 Poplar Row, North Strand, Dublin, Ireland

In a further note written a few weeks later, he added:

I hope you will forgive any errors that is in this form. I am getting old and my eye sight is getting very bad so I am deficient in a good many things. May God spare you to us Old Veterans of War.

Thomas became aware of the increase to pensioners through the newspapers. When he wrote from the North Strand, he included the relevant clipping with his letter (NARA)

By the following year, Thomas and his wife Teresa had left Poplar Row and moved into the Corporation Buildings off Foley Street. Shortly after they made the move, this working-class tenement flat complex was caught up in the unrest that engulfed the city during the 1913 Lockout (which you can read more about here), as police attempted to charge striking workers in and around the buildings. A month prior to that incident, on 29th July 1913, Thomas had written another letter to the United States:

I have made and sent to Washington application for increase of pension under the act of May 11th 1912 I am now 69 years of age and I got no answer as yet there is several veterans has got there papers for the increase of pension in this city, a man that served with me in the Old War in the navy Bishop by name has got his papers, and others…send me a line if there is anything the matter with my papers as I feel it greatly being in failing health, eye sight bad and I got all answers back satisfactory, so I feel as if I was condemned altogether…I have changed my residence on two occasions through my health…Dear Site I hope you will forgive any mistakes in this as I am not a perfect scholar, writing to a gentleman

Tenements in Foley Street, where Thomas O’Sullivan spent the final years of his life (Dublin City Council Photographic Collection)

This letter demonstrates that there was a network of old American Civil War veterans who kept in touch with each other in Dublin’s inner city (for the story of another of these men, see here). In fact, Thomas had initially been alerted to the increase in pension because one of them had brought him a copy of the Washington Tribune, which had carried news of it. When Teresa died on 9th February 1914, Thomas was left alone in Corporation Buildings. It seems that some of his former Union comrades were now among his closest confidants, as his now adult children had moved elsewhere. But it was to be the unfortunate case that over the last years of his life, Thomas’s situation degraded badly.

In December 1920 another of old American military pensioner, Edward Conway, called to 73 Corporation Buildings to see how Thomas was getting on. He found the old sailor “without fire or food”. Edward went to Thomas’s daughter Mary at 3 Fownes Street to tell her of her father’s condition. When Mary saw her father it was clear he was in a bad way, and she called on Dr. Molloy at the dispensary to see about treatment. Molloy-who accepted no payment for his care or the medicine he gave to Thomas-diagnosed him with bronchial pneumonia. Despite his best efforts, the old Civil War veteran died in his home at 10am on 15th December 1920. All that he had apparently left behind him was “one suit of clothing of no value”.

Thomas O’Sullivan’s Death Certificate (NARA)

Thomas appears to have had a difficult relationship with his children, some of the details of which emerged in the aftermath of his death. Aside from Mary (whose married name was Kenealy), there were John and Timothy, who lived a Nos. 9 and 48 Ballybough Road, Mora at 63 Summerhill Road, and Annie whose home was at 145 North Street in Belfast. According to the U.S. Consul, Thomas’s “daughters looked after him during his life while his sons neglected him”. When it came time for the veteran’s burial, the undertaker refused to take the body until the American Consul in Dublin, F.T.F. Dumont, would guarantee the funeral expenses, which amounted to £17. He did so, and Thomas O’Sullivan was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The story had a postscript. When clearing out his scant belongings Thomas’s daughter Annie found a sum of £41 that the pensioner had hidden away. Much to the Consul’s chagrin, rather than using some of it to over the undertaker bill (a sum the Federal Government would eventually recompense), she divided it equally among Thomas’s five children. In May 1921 the Consul wrote to the United States stating that he would keep his word to the undertaker and pay the bill out of his own pocket, but warned that if he was not repaid he would:

refuse in future to have anything to do with the burial of old pensioners and they will have to be buried at the expense of their relatives or of the public in the country in which they have resided- a rather disgraceful way to treat old pensioners

The building that housed Farrell’s undertakers who buried American Civil War veteran Thomas O’Sullivan in 1920 can be seen in this image taken during the Irish Civil War in 1922 (National Library of Ireland)

It doesn’t seem he ever carried out his threat, but it was a sad end to the story of Thomas O’Sullivan. He is one of many Dublin veterans of the American Civil War whose story has remains largely forgotten in the capital. His identification also adds another veteran to the growing list of Civil War dead buried in Glasnevin Cemetery (See here).

The research and cost-of-running of the Irish American Civil War website is self-financed. If you would like to support the work and upkeep of this site you can do so via my Patreon site for as little as $1 a month at, or by making a one-off donation to the site’s running costs via the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar.

The bill from Farrells for the burial of Thomas O’Sullivan in Glasnevin Cemetery, which forms part of his pension file in Washington D.C.’s National Archives (NARA)


Pension Files.

1911 Census.

Video: Recovering the Voices of the Union’s Midwest Irish Wed, 16 Sep 2020 14:26:27 +0000 On 14 August last I gave an online presentation to the Kenosha Civil War Museum in Wisconsin on the topic of the letters written by Irishmen who served in Midwest units during the American Civil War. Some of the research I shared in it was being aired for the first time. The guys at the museum have now made the talk available on their YouTube channel, which you can check out here. You can also catch the presentation below. I hope you enjoy it!

The research and cost-of-running of the Irish American Civil War website is self-financed. If you would like to support the work and upkeep of this site you can do so via my Patreon site for as little as $1 a month at, or by making a one-off donation to the site’s running costs via the “Donate” button in the right-hand sidebar.

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