The Pope’s Irish Soldiers and the Civil War

The main function of this site is to provide a resource for those interested in the Irish experience of the American Civil War. It is hoped that this will include a number of contributions by researchers in the area, and to that end the second guest post on the blog examines those Irish veterans of the Papal Army who fought in the American Civil War. It has been written by Robert Doyle who runs the excellent Myles Walter Keogh- Three Wars; Two Continents: One Irish Solder site, dedicated to perhaps the most famous of the American Civil War’s Papal veterans.

Captain Clooney's Charge. Cpt. Patrick Clooney of Waterford, Company Commander in the 88th New York (2nd Regiment, Irish Brigade) is depicted hoisting the Brigade green flag moments before his death at Bloody Lane in the Battle of Antietam. Painting by Brad Schmehl.

While the vast majority of the Irish who fought in the Union ranks had no previous military experience, there were a handful of soldiers and officers who arrived on American shores already battle-hardened from a little known European war.  Exactly 150 years ago this year, over one thousand Irishmen answered a call to arms from Pope Pius IX and journeyed to Italy to fight in defence of his temporal lands – the Papal States. Garnering praise from friend and foe, the Irish Papal Brigade, christened the ‘Battalion of St. Patrick’, fought with bravery and aplomb alongside soldiers from Europe’s military superpowers. Although the conflict between the invading Piedmontese and Sardinian nationalists and the Pope’s multinational army lasted only a matter of weeks, there was sharp fighting in locations where the Irish were stationed such as Perugia, Spoleto, Castelfidardo and, finally, Ancona where the war finally ended following a ten day siege of that Adriatic port.

After a short time as prisoners of war, most of the Irish returned home with only a handful retained to serve in Rome as part of the greatly diminished papal army.  However, within a matter of months, Fort Sumter was fired upon and the American Civil War ignited across the Atlantic. Desperate for military experience in their reorganised Federal Army, Lincoln’s government dispatched envoys to Europe in the hope of enlisting adventurous or disenfranchised soldiers and officers. Agents of the Union such as Archbishop John Hughes and Archbishop John Purcell were brought in to assist in this recruitment process and both men travelled to Ireland and Rome recruiting veterans of the Papal War. They were highly successful in that mission as, according to the Rome correspondent of the Tablet, “the greater part of the Irish Brigade in the Papal service . . . passed into that of the Northern states, where they have greatly distinguished themselves.” Many of the men of the Pope’s Irish battalion did indeed go on to have remarkable military careers, particularly in the Union ranks.

For their service in the 1860 Papal War, each officer and enlisted man was awarded a commemorative service medal- Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede.

Patrick Clooney, who fought so doggedly in the streets of Perugia, died heroically while rallying the men of the Irish Brigade at Antietam. In an editorial mourning the death of Captain Patrick Clooney of Meagher’s Brigade at Antietam, the Tipperary Advocate published:  “In that disastrous retreat from Richmond, which was only saved from degeneration into a shameful flight by the valorous steadiness of Meagher’s command, one and twenty brave youths who had escaped the fire of Piedmontese artillerists unscathed, fell before the Southern rifle.” Clooney, the editorial mused, “with two other comrades of Perugia, Costello and Synan, left Waterford in the opening of ’61 for the express purpose of taking arms under his townsman Thomas Francis Meagher, whom he loved with all the fidelity and fullness of heart of a clansman for his chief.” Clooney “did not live long to wear his spurs and though he died the death he ambitioned, perhaps, most of all, we do not think he perished quite on the field he desired.” With his “indomitable Munster pluck,” he “risked his life once for Faith, and following the martial promptings of his breed, he devoted it the second time to Gratitude—a chivalrous, albeit some might deem it an erring, impulse.”

A Carte de Visite of Myles Keogh in the uniform of a 2nd Lieutenant, Company of St. Patrick, circa 1860. This image was recovered from a Sioux village at Slim Buttes weeks after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Keogh was so proud of his time in the Pontifical Army that he carried this picture into battle 16 years after the Papal War had ended.

Fellow Waterford man, Dan Keily (Ancona), was horrifically wounded at Port Republic in June of 1862 when he led a daring charge of Ohioan cavalry up a slope into a fusillade of Rebel artillery fire. J.J. Coppinger (Spoleto) established himself as one of the Union army’s most redoubtable fighters and eventually became a general. The commander of Company “H” of Meagher’s Irish Brigade at Antietam was Lieutenant John H. Gleeson, also formerly of the Irish Papal Brigade. Lieutenant Michael O’Connell of Ballybunion, who had won the Order of Pius IX while in the Battalion of St. Patrick was killed in battle fighting with the 155th New York (Corcoran’s Irish Legion) at the battle of Reams Station, Virginia. Probably the best known of the Pope’s Irishmen was Myles Walter Keogh (Ancona), whose impressive service in the Union ranks gained him a post-war captain’s commission in the famed 7th Cavalry. Keogh was killed along with General Custer and 200 hundred other troopers fighting Sioux and Cheyenne warriors at the iconic Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Although treated like heroes on their return to Ireland, and then choosing to offer their blood and sword in the service of another nation, the deeds of the Pope’s Irish soldiers have dissipated with the passing of time. Hopefully, an anniversary such as falls this year will provoke a renewed interest in the valiant Irishmen who fought in the Pope’s army. As American Civil War historian, Brian C. Pohanka, once insightfully remarked – “Without memory, we have no deeds.”

*Article and research by Robert Doyle,


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Categories: Guest Post, Papal Army

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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71 Comments on “The Pope’s Irish Soldiers and the Civil War”

  1. Kenneth Robison
    November 9, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    Ah but what of that most gallant member of the Battalion of St. Patrick who crossed the waters? John Joseph Coppinger who was a Captain in the Battalion of St. Patrick and who retired from the U.S. Army as a Major General following the Spanish American War in 1898. Buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

    • November 10, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

      I do mention Coppinger above. A remarkable character.

  2. Mike Kane
    November 10, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    Lieutenant Michael O’Connell was not killed while an officer in the Irish Brigade. O’Connell was KIA with the 155th NY (Corcoran’s Irish Legion). O’Connell was also a member of the Fenian Brotherhood of America. When killed, O’Connell’s death was reported to John O’Mahoney (the Head Centre of the FBA) and that letter was published in the Irish American newspaper. Corcoran’s Irish Legion and its formation is best described in an article in the Irish Sword written by the late John Garland–summer 1987 No.66.

    • November 10, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

      Mea culpa, Mike. It was my error and I’ll ask Damian to correct it.

      • November 12, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

        Chevalier Michael Augustine O’Connell 1839-1864 was stationed at Ancona when he was promoted from an NCO to Sub-Lieutenant August 1861. He received the Ordine de Piano (Order of Pius) in January 1861 after joining St. Patricks Brigade in the Papal Zouazes. This was seldom awarded to Subalterns being reserved for ranks of Captain or higher. He would have been recruited in Rome for the American Civil War along with others like Coppinger and Keogh and Enrolled, September 10, 1862, at New York city, to serve three years; mustered in as second lieutenant, Co. F , November 17, 1862; wounded in action (ankle) 1863; promoted as first lieutenant, Co. K, April 15, 1863; killed in action, June 16-22, 1864, at Petersburg, Va. Commissioned second lieutenant, December 5, 1862, with rank from November 8, 1862, original; first lieutenant, May 13, 1863, with rank from April 15, 1863, vice J. McAnally promoted.
        His battle-field grave was on the Ruffin Plantation near Harrison’s Landing on the north bank of the James River and I believe but haven’t proven that he was reinterred at City Point Nantional Cemetery possibly in a common grave with 5 other unknown US soldiers.

    • November 13, 2010 at 4:58 am #


      I’d really like to find a transcription of that letter to John O’Mahoney about Michaels death. His casualty sheet contradicts itself dating his death first as the 22nd June (first battle of Weldon RR) and then in the remarks as 25th August (Reams Station). There’s a grave recorded by the local christian association listing 39 graves on the Ruffin Plantation that has a Lien O’Connell, Co. K, 155th NY. If this is him it would place his death about the 16th-22nd and I’ve found most of the other names interred there in City Point National Cemetery. The letter you mentioned may settle the matter for us so you see why I really need to find it. If you could contact me at with any ideas how I might find a copy of the letter I’d very much appreciate it.

      Sean O’Connell
      Christchurch NZ.

  3. November 10, 2010 at 1:32 am #

    One other Papal War veteran that deserves a mention is Joseph O’Keeffe. As the nephew of the Bishop of Cork, it is unsurprising that he also volunteered to fight for Pope Pius IX in 1860. He saw action in Ancona alongside Dan Keily and Myles Keogh and subsequently left Rome in 1862 in the company of these two Irish comrades. O’Keeffe served on the staff of General John Buford alongside Myles Keogh; both captains being dubbed “Buford’s Irish Twins”. O’Keeffe was shot from his horse during the all-cavalry battle at Brandy Station and captured. After his release in 1864, O’Keeffe served as one of General Phil Sheridan’s closest aides and accompanied “Little Phil” on his famous night ride during the battle of Cedar Creek. Fate was to deal a cruel hand to O’Keeffe as he was mortally wounded at Five Forks, only days before the end of the Civil War. Joseph O’Keeffe died on June 1st, 1865 with his close friend Myles Keogh holding vigil at his hospital bedside.

  4. November 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Great job bringing this topic to light. I consider myself relatively well informed about the War but I never knew about the connection to the Papal Wars or the agents sent to recruit such men. Very interesting stuff. Thanks.

  5. Mike Kane
    November 10, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    Michael O’Connell was KIA at the battle of Reams Station, Virginia with the 155th 25 August 1864. Other interesting officers in the 155th included Captain Michael Doheny (son of the Young Irelander who died in NYC of natural causes April, 1862) and Captain Edward P. Doherty who resigned from the 155th and came back in active service with the 16th NY Cavalry. Doherty was the ranking officer of the twenty-five man detatchment
    of the 16th N.Y. Cavalry who cornered John Wilkes Booth at the Garrett farm. Sgt Boston Corbett shot JWB and Doherty wrapped Booth’s body intwo blankets that he sewed together. In the 1870’s Doherty told a New Orleans reporter that all stories of the wrong man being shot–and the real JWB surviving were false. Doherty had seen JWB in Washington at a tavern only two months before Booth’s death. Doherty also held a captain’s commission in the military arm of the Fenian Brotherhood of America.

  6. Mike Kane
    November 11, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Other Irish soldiers with papal service backgrounds:
    1) Colonel Daniel J. Kiely, 2nd USA Louisana Cavalry
    2) Captain John Dillon Mulhall, 69th NY, Irish Brigade (captured at Spoleto)–twice wounded with the 69th. He was a native of Boyle, county Roscommon.
    3)Lieutenant Michael Egan, 170th NY (Corcoran’s Irish Legion) KIA at Petersburg, Va. 16 June 1864. He was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood of America.
    4) Private Michael Luther, 165th NY.

  7. November 11, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Having left Italy together, both Myles Keogh and Dan Keily had their first experience of combat on American soil at the Battle of Port Republic in June of 1862. Keogh was unhurt but Dan Keily was seriously wounded, suffering severe facial injuries – gunshot wound to jaw, cheek and tongue – that required months of painful recuperation.

    By May of 1863, Keily was on the staff of General Charles P. Stone, who in turn was sent to New Orleans as chief of staff to Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks. Dan Keily never again saw action in combat as his role was primarily in the recruitment of cavalry troops from the occupied state of Louisiana. For someone who defended the port town of Ancona during that desperate siege on the Italian coast and who was lauded for his bravery in the bloody clash at Port Republic, this seemingly uneventful assignment must have been demoralising.

    Keily, now a colonel, maintained contact with Keogh and even accepted one of Myles’ errant cousins, Dan Keogh O’Sullivan, onto his staff for a period from late ’63 and into ’64. Despite a court-martial on the charge of “conduct unbecoming an officer”, Dan Keily proved his innocence and was eventually promoted to brevet brigadier general of the volunteers before war’s end.

    In the post-war years, Keily struggled to find a career outside of the army and tragically died of yellow yever in New Orleans sometime in 1868. Despite eforts by Myles Keogh to have his remains buried in Washington, Dan Keily’s final resting place is unknown.

    • November 12, 2010 at 9:53 am #

      Slight correction having checked my notes: Daniel J. Keily died at Oak Grove Plantation in Pointe Coupée, Louisiana in October 1867.

  8. Mike Kane
    November 12, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    I’m sure that if someone took the research time to compare the junior comissioned officers in Corcoran’s Irish Legion against the soldiers who fought in the papal battles one would find more men who served in the Union army. Remember CIL didn’t get fully organized until late 1862 and anyone straggling into the USA from Europe would certainly find slots available for commissions from Corcoran.

  9. November 13, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    I wonder if you were aware of Father John Bannon’s success in reducing Irish recruits for the Union army? I quote from
    Bannon left America on October 3, 1863 aboard the Robert E. Lee. After arriving in Liverpool, England, Bannon headed for Italy. While in the Vatican he was accorded several long audiences with Pope Pius IX, during which he argued the Confederate cause. Although formal recognition was not obtained, the Pope did speak warmly of the Confederacy. In early December, Pope Pius did send a letter addressed “to the Illustrious and Honorable Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.” This was taken as a defacto recognition by many and generated widespread outrage in the North. It would also be helpful in Bannon’s mission in Ireland.

    After the conclusion of the Vatican effort, Bannon returned to his native Isle in October, 1863. His first duty was to write long letters to the families of fifty or sixty Irish natives who had died while fighting for the First Missouri. Bannon them approached his diplomatic mission with zeal. He found that his mission to the Vatican increased his acceptance among the Irish dlergy to circulate handbills at the major ports of departure. The handbill reported that the Irish immigrant would be cajoled to join the union Army and be snet to be slaughtered in a “fight for a People that has the greatest antipathy to his birth and creed.”

    Besides the handbills, Bannon employed a series of large posters which were nailed up in major ports and on the Churches of Cublin. The most effective poster, employed in 1864 contained the exchange of letters between Pope Pius IX and President Davis and a letter from Bannon. After he had won over the upper and middle classes, Bannon made an effort to reach the common people, who provided the recruits. To do this he sent a copy of his poster to every parish priest in Ireland. The poster was entitled “remnant of Christian civilization was yet dominant in the South.” He concluded his statement with the assertion; “As a priest of the Catholic Church, I am anxious to see the desires of the Holy Father realized speedily, and therefore have taken this means to lay before you the expression of his sentiments on the subject of the American War, knowing that no Catholic will persevere in the advocacy of an aggression condemned by his Holiness.”

    The campaign by Bannon was highly effective. It is estimated the Irish recruits for the Union Army dropped two-thirds between December, 1863 and May, 1864. On May 28, 1864 Bannon reported to Secretary of State Benjamin that his money was exhausted and his mission complete. Benjamin had expressed his gratitude for the services provided by Bannon.

    Bannon never returned to America. After the war he was prohibited by law from preaching at St. John’s Church. He joined the Jesuit order, of which he was one of its most distinguished Irish members until his death on July 14, 1913. Although he is little remembered in America, his legacy lives on in St. John’s Church which continues to serve the people of downtown St. Louis.

    • November 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

      During the early years of the Civil War, Pope Pius IX was being heavily courted by both Union and Confederacy but maintained a neutral position, giving each side to understand that at heart he supported them, but stopping short of outright endorsement. The Vatican concentrated on acknowledging the needs of humanity and of ending the ongoing bloodshed. Directly or via the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli, Pope Pius IX put out a suggestion with regard to acting as mediator between the two sides. With what appeared to be a degree of wry humour, the Holy See, through Antonelli, made the point that any mediator had to be a country of absolutely no importance in the world; a power with no army to speak of, and one “so insignificant” that none of the Great Powers could suspect it of intervening for its own aggrandisement or territorial gain.

      What is of interest to this article is the letter that Secretary of State, William Seward wrote to E.M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Dated 4 April 1862, Seward writes on behalf of two newly arrived Irishmen, ex of the Pontifical Army – Daniel J. Keily and Myles Keogh – who “who are desirous of being appointed in the military service of the United States.” More crucially, Seward goes on to state: “As this wish on their part is understood to be favored by Cardinal Antonelli and by the Pope himself, the expediency of gratifying it is obvious on high political grounds.”

      The significance of the Seward letter on behalf of Myles Keogh and Daniel Keily is in the tone and content, not least the fact that Pope Pius IX and the Vatican’s Secretary of State were promoting the recruitment of ex-officers from their own army to fight for the Union cause. Such a revelation, had the letter been made public at that time, might have been politically explosive in some quarters.

      This letter, which I discovered by pure chance, has only come to light in the last year.

      • Mike Kane
        November 13, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

        The facet that you are missing here is Seward’s viewpoint. Seward is a career New York politician and the big gorilla in the room is the “Irish Vote.” Seward must keep throwing the Irish crumbs off the cake to keep the Irish on his side. This would be a small example of his hidden agenda.
        Also this places England on its toes. Ireland is England’s primary recruiting turf and the author of a book called THE BRITISH ARMY AT HOME found that recruiting in Ireland peaked in 1860 and fell off every year there after. Once the Civil War ended and a few Irish veterans returned home to spread the word about the U.S. Army, many Irishmen gain passage to the States and if they couldn’t find a job, enlist in the U.S. Army for only five years.

        There were ten men born in Ireland present at Rorke’s Drift–and how many born in Ireland killed with Custer—about 35 to 40???

    • Mike Kane
      November 13, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

      I have read the book on Father Bannon and his hidden agenda for refusing to join the Union army was the Nativist atmosphere in the North. One must remember the 1844 anti-catholic riots in Philadelphia. There Nativists burned two Irish Catholic churches down, walked by a German Catholic church untouched, and then went to burn St. Philip de Neri’s church down. This certainly has a peculiar facet to it. But Philly had many Ulsterman in its power structure.

      Then in 1855, several Nativist governers began disbanding Irish militia companies. This caused the Irish to completely meld behind the Democratic party for protection.

      Also the 1863 draft for Union soldiers kicked into effect and they wouldn’t have to recruit so far a field.

      Most Union soldiers were “Union men” and many Irish Soldiers as good Democrats voted for McCelland over Lincoln in the 1864 election.

      • November 13, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

        Good points, Mike. Off the subject a bit but you did ask:

        128 men or 15% of the total Seventh Cavalry’s roll were born in Ireland. Of the 268 soldiers killed during the Battle of the Little Big Horn, 34 were Irish.

  10. Mike Kane
    November 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    One of the most prevalent problems when dealing with Europeans trying to trace their ancesters in to the USA circa 1840-1880 is they don’t understand the social ramifications of American society. Without Royalty, the USA is a republic and politics is the only legitimate way to gain power. To get elected you need votes and American politicians were always currying to immigrant groups to try to influence their votes. If Seward were alive today and would tell the truth, I’m sure he would identify a political facet in going to bat for these former papal soldiers.

    • November 14, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

      Here’s the letter in full:

      Department of State
      Washington, 4th April 1862

      To the Honorable E.M. Stanton
      Secretary of War

      I am informed by Archbishop Hughes of New York who is now at Rome, that he has written to you in behalf of Messrs Keily and Keough, two gentlemen recently officers of the Papal army, who are desirous of being appointed in the military service of the United States. As this wish on their part is understood to be favored by Cardinal Antonelli and by the Pope himself, the expediency of gratifying it is obvious on high political grounds. I trust that it may be within your power to gratify it. The gentlemen are believed to be in this City.

      I have the honor to be, Sir,

      Your obedient servant,

      William H. Seward

      • November 15, 2010 at 5:23 am #

        Love the song behind the Tribute. What’s it called and who’s singing?

  11. Mike Kane
    November 14, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    Archbishop Hughes, born in County Tyrone, and the head of the diocese of NYC, is sent by Lincoln to curry moral favor from the Pope through his connections in the Catholic church. Hughes is one of the most visible Catholic clergymen in the North. “High political Ground”
    Gee Whiz, Lincoln’s gotten commissions for two of the Papal Brigade –he can’t be all bad–even if he is a Republican.

  12. November 15, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    Hi Sean. It’s ‘The Parting Glass’ sung acapella by The Voice Squad.

  13. James R. Creed
    November 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Does anyone know where I might find muster rolls or enlistment records in The Irish Papal Brigade? I am doing a book on Chicago’s Irish Brigade (Mulligan’s Irish Brigade, 23rd Regiment Illinois Infantry). Mulligan’s men were Irish born, several Crimean War Veterans and others from other British regiments. Although I’ve yet to find a connection, it seems as likely as not that some of Mulligan’s men may have served in Italy. He was an ardent Catholic, close friends with the Archbishop etc. If I can find the rosters, perhaps I can verify a connection.

    • November 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

      I have a copy of British intelligence’s list of men who left Ireland to enlist in the Papal forces. it’s in English. all the usual suspects are there–Keough, O’keefe, Coppinger I would willingly send you a copy. i have gone over the original 23rd Illinois roster and don’t recall anyone from the St. Patrick’s Battalion on it. Of course Lt. Cosgrove the Head centre of the Fenian Brotherhood in the 23rd was a former British soldier who had fought in the Crimea. Several
      23rd guys went back to Eire as Fenians: Captain Pat Foley, Major Wallace, a few more contact me by Email. I’ll help you out. I helped out Dr. Swan on the 90th Illinois and Colonel O’Meara.

      • Florry O'Driscoll
        March 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

        Hi Mike,

        I realise this thread is about a year and a half old and you may not still be following it but if you are I was hoping you might be able to email me that British Intelligence list of the men who left Ireland to fight. I am a mature student in Ireland and am currently working on my Masters Thesis on the men who went to Italy. I’ve been trying to find a list of the men everywhere, but I haven’t had any joy until I saw this discussion.


      • Sean O'Connell
        March 2, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

        Hi Florry,

        Mike was sent kind enough to send me a Hard copy of the list of about 1216 names printed in the “Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland”. It is Appendix IV on page 85 but I don’t know which edition it came from. I guess it would have been published in 1860. If you can find the relevent copy you may get a fuller list as some names on my photocopy were cut off. Barring that I could send you images of my copy via email.

        Sean O’Connell

      • Florry O'Driscoll
        March 3, 2013 at 10:38 am #

        Hi Sean,

        Thanks for your message. I’ve heard about that ‘Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland’ but so far I’ve been unable to locate a copy of it, either online or in any archive here in Ireland. I’m sure it’s there somewhere so I’ll keep looking but if I don’t find it I’ll get back to you about emailing me what you have if you don’t mind.

        As I understand it Michael O’Connell is an ancestor of yours? My MA Thesis will look at the entire body of men who went to Italy, but I intend to focus mostly on a small number of individuals. Michael O’Connell is one of these that I have a special interest in, as he was also a Kerryman – I was born and raised about 20 odd miles from Ballybunion. I am especially interested in his motives for going to Italy, which I’m guessing were religious, but may not have been, so any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

        One final question – do you happen to know of any other Kerrymen who fought in Italy AND in the American Civil War, as Michael did?


      • March 3, 2013 at 10:54 am #

        Hi Florry, If you need any help on this, you can also contact me at I’ve done a good bit of research & written an article for History Ireland on the Pope’s Irish soldiers.

      • Florry O'Driscoll
        March 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

        Hi Robbie,

        Thanks for that. I read your article in History Ireland at the time it was published, it was very interesting.

        I’ll definitely be in touch with you about this. I’m only really getting into researching it now but I haven’t found much in the way of primary sources so far. I’m very interested in examining the men’s sense of Irish nationalism, and how they reconciled this with their attempts to maintain the Papal States for Pius IX and thereby prevent the Italians from being unified.

        I would love to find some diaries or letters written by the soldiers, as this would allow me to get an idea of their personal sentiments.


      • Martin Molloy
        December 21, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

        Hi Mike, could you please send me the Papal Brigade list?

    • Sean O'Connell
      November 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      James, Mary Jane Cryan of Italy recently published a book on the Papal Brigade and would be your best bet for finding a roster if it exists.

  14. November 11, 2011 at 12:08 am #


    I have spent years going over Irish rosters looking for Fenians, former papal soldiers, Phoenix Zouaves (the secret regiment of Fenians in NYC) and my educated guess is there were no Papal soldiers in the 23rd Illinois. In fact, a couple of 23rd Illinois officers joined the 69th NY Irish Brigade (not the 69th NYNG). Lt. Scullly was one of them–present at Lexington, Mo. with Colonel Mulligan. NYC would be the place.

  15. Sean O'Connell
    November 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    My interest is in Michael O’Connell (Ancona) and I’d be very interested to see whatever lists you could send me. My Email is Michael was awarded the “Order of Pius” in January 1861 and appears to be the man standing second from the right in the photo of Papal Zuaves that appears in Keoghs book. He was killed in action at Petersburge and initially buried there but his name was lost when he was reinterred so we lost him. Mary Jane Cryan’s book lists officers in the company of St Patrick in ’61 but doesn’t list Michael so anything you have would be very welcome.

    • November 15, 2011 at 9:41 am #

      Hi Sean,

      I wrote the piece above & have done a fair bit of research on the Irish Battalion. I’ll check my resources to see if I can find any menion of O’Connell.

      By the way, there is a new book coming out about the Battion of St. Patrick. It’s written by an Italian journalist. I’ve seen the drafts & worked a bit with him on it. He’s a respected historian but I can’t guarantee what the English translation will be like. I’ll update here when it’s released.

      Best wishes & congrats on the WC!!


      • November 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

        Dear Robert,
        I’d be interested in contacting this Italian journalist…could you send me the contact info.
        Today a copy of my book “The Irish and English in Italy’s Risorgimento” was sent to the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano.
        Mary Jane Cryan

      • November 25, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

        Hi Mary Jane,

        If you can e-mail me at, I’ll exchange the contact details direct with you.

        Best wishes,


  16. November 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    O’Connell has living descendents in New Zealand. i contacted them about a year ago and was able to find a letter from Captain Michael Doheny that O’ Connell died and his body was interred in a church cemetery. Captain Doheny definitely identified O’Connell as a Fenian and the New Zealand family identified O’Connell as serving as a Papal soldier. Years ago the late Brian Pohanka shared his copy of the guys who left Ireland to fight for the Pope with me. (Clooney was on the list by the way.)

    I’ll have to see if I can dig up that list. The only problem is Phanka is dead–he found it while researching Myles Keough in Ireland. It’s my understanding that the Irish government has closed public access to the Keogh papers that Pohanka saw in the 1970’s or early ’80’s.

    I’ll dig around in my files this weekend but I hada diasterous house fire about 5 years ago which left my archives in a shambles. i shall get a hold of you about the 23rd anyway. Did you know that Captain Coffey was an immigrant private serving at West Point when the Mexican War broke out. He went there and saw action which later led to his commission in the 23rd.

    • Sean O'Connell
      November 12, 2011 at 2:31 am #

      I am the NZ O’Connell you contacted a year ago. That Doheny letter was a major break through as we hadn’t determined his exact date of death until then. Michael didn’t have any descendants but his medals, sword and diary were passed down through his brothers family to us. Unfortunately his diary was destroyed in a fire in the early 1900’s without it’s contents being passed on. Hence the search for details. We have slowly been piecing his story together for the past fifty years or so and anything you can add would be very much appreciated.

      • November 14, 2011 at 12:05 am #

        Sean :

        Can’t get it thru to you Email—somekind of a technical glitch. Send me your mailing address and I’ll airmail it to you in NZ…11 pages long

      • Sean O'Connell
        November 14, 2011 at 8:51 am #

        Hi Mike,

        My mailing address is Unit 51/868 Columbo Street, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8013. But I’d be happy to wait till you sort out whatever problems you’re having with your Email.


      • November 15, 2011 at 5:10 am #


        Several more Email attempts failed. I mailed you a photocopy today. The postal lady said you should get in NZ within the next two weeks….

      • Sean O'Connell
        November 23, 2011 at 3:06 am #

        Parcel received. Thanks Mike.

      • November 23, 2011 at 5:11 am #

        Good. Very interesting how the Irish police were tracking those guys, huh?

    • November 15, 2011 at 9:37 am #

      Hi Mike,

      I’d love a copy of that too if you can spare the time. My e-mail is Most of Keogh’s personal papers are in LA, believe it or not! They were donated to the Autry Museum where I visited them on a trip to the US in ’09. There’s little or nothing about his time in the Papal War.

      Most of his personal letters are copied and availbale from the National Library of Ireland along with three or four originals that have been donated by the person who co-edits the Keogh website with me.

      Thanks in advance.


    • David Coffey
      November 7, 2015 at 12:01 am #

      Hi Just read your piece in which you mention Captain Coffey,the Mexican War and West,he is a relative mine and I am trying to get some information on him.Could you let me know what you have.I know he was a Captain in H Company 23rd Illinois.I found out he died in Butler County Iowa.I did not know about West Point.Look forward to hearing from you.

  17. November 15, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    Sometime between August 15 and August 28, the commanders of the four companies in Ancona made recommendations for commissions from the men and NCOs that were in their ranks. Myles Keogh was one of the men commissioned a 2nd Lt. but I also found out a quirky story of how O’Connell the NCO became an officer. One of the companies required “an infelxible firmness in serious matters” according to Captain Francis O’Mahony, one of the Irish officers, late of the Austrian Army. O’Mahony recommended one of the his NCOs, Michael O’Connell, to General La Moriciére for the post of Second Lieutenant to enforce the required discipline. O’Connell had already impressed but many other men had been recommended for promotion too. What swung it for O’Connell was that O’Mahony, in his recommendation, observed that O’Connell was the nephew of Daniel O’Connell, “The Liberator.” La Morciere, on reading this, apparently exclaimed that any nephew of the Liberator must be given a commission. Of course, there was no connection between the two O’Connell’s but, nonetheless, Michael got his commission on August 20, 1860.

    Regarding his decorations, it appears that, again like Keogh, O’Connell remained with the Company of St. Patrick in Rome after the rest of the Irish had departed post-war. On January 17, 1861, O’Connell was made a Knight of the Order of Pius IX and at some later unknown date, he received the Cross of the Order of St Gregory, presumably for some gallant deed during the 1860 conflict. Along with his Pro Petri Sede campaign medal, O’Connell would have received three medals from his time serving Pope Pius IX, same as Keogh.

    • November 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      There is an excellent article in # 56 Journal of the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society “Under Two Flags–the military career of Captain Patrick F. Clooney, Ballybrickenman by P. McCarthy…..very good stuff….hard to get a hold of here in the States…

  18. Sean O'Connell
    November 16, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    If Michael O’Connell received the Cross of the Order of St Gregory then it has been lost because we only have the Order of Pius and his Pro Petri Sede medals. Where did you hear about the Cross of the Order of St Gregory.

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:07 am #

      I got the information from G. F. Berkeley’s landmark study of the Papal War – ‘The Irish battalion in the Papal army of 1860.” That said, in Appendix C, where the author does short bios, on the main characters in the Irish Battalion, he writes that in 1861, O’ Connell received the Cross of St. Gregory. However in a footnote below, Berkeley states that on January 17, 1861, O’Connell “was decorated with the Ordine Piano” at knight level.

      While researching my bio on Keogh, I was intriqued by the fact that Keogh was pictured in Papal uniform wearing the Order of Pius IX medal and yet, he never made mention of it. He did refer to the Cross of St. Gregory but was only pictured with it when he got to America. Could these St. Gregory crosses have been presented late when the Company of St. Patrick was disbanded on September 30, 1862? The Order of Pius IX was given for service and the Cross of St. Gregory (military as opposed to the civilian one still presented) for some act or deed in combat. Retrospective awards for combat in 1860?

      Forget about contacting the Vatican. Despite getting help from the Italian journalist, we had no joy in getting lists of awards from that period.

      • Sean O'Connell
        November 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

        Berkeley got a lot wrong. He said Michael O’Connell fought at Mentana but he died in the US in 1864. I always assumed the St Gregory medal was an error as well.

      • Sean O'Connell
        November 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

        Chevalier Michael Augustine O’Connell
        Beloved son, greetings and apostolic blessing. The splendid witness of faith, respect and devotion which you have shown to the seat of blessed Peter in such bitter times persuades us to offer you this glorious title to reward your acts of service. Therefore as a particular proof of our very favourably disposed attitude towards you, wishing to adorn you with honour, and absolving you by the grace of this decree from any excommunications and prohibitions and other ecclesiastical censures and penalties you may have incurred in any way or for any reason, and judging that you will be absolved by our apostolic authority, by the power of this letter, we elect, establish and declare you a knight of the order of Pius and enter you in that most distinguished order which was set up by us and was called after our name. Accordingly we permit you, beloved son, to wear the cloak appropriate to Knights of the Third class and also to wear freely and lawfully the correct medal which hangs on the left side of the breast on a silk ribbon with a double blue line set off by red at the edges. But that no difficulty may arise in the wearing of cloak and medal, we order the attached description to be handed over to you. Given at St Peter’s in Rome under the Fisherman’s Ring on the ninteenth day of January 1861 in the 15th year of our Pontificate.

      • November 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

        How did O’Connell and Egan hook up with General Michael Corcoran and Corcoran’s Irish Legion. I’ll bet the IRB and FBA connected them thru O’Mahony and the NYC Fenian Brotherhood of America. Corcoran wasn’t released from captivity until the summer of 1862. Most NYC Fenians landed in the 164th NY “Phoenix Regiment. The 182nd NY had Matthew Murphy and Captain Frank Whelpley. Whelpley was one of the official NYC pall bearers who accompanied McMannus’ body back to Ireland in 1861.

  19. Naig
    February 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    My curiosity: what flag might they have flown and what tunes might they have played on fifes and drums while serving in the Papal Army.

    • February 16, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      Hi, Thats a good question- Robert do you know the answer to this?


      • February 16, 2012 at 9:55 am #

        It is a good question. I haven’t seen any reference to a specific Irish banner within the Battalion of St. Patrick. They never fought or trained together as one unit so that probably didn’t help in terms of organising one. They didn’t even get the green and gold uniforms that they had been promised.

        The Papal Army did fight under the yellow and white flag that we know today as the Vatican colours. There are also plenty of references of the Irish soldiers singing songs and ballads particulary one the evening before the Battle of Spoleto and during the seige at Ancona.

    • August 16, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

      In my book “The Irish and English in Italy’s Risorgimento” there is the explanation of the banner the Irish fought under…it came from the city of Blackpool and saw a bit of action, then was destroyed by a fire in the Irish College, Rome in the early 1930s.

      • August 16, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

        Hi Mary,

        Many thanks for passing details of that on- looks like a great book!

        Kind Regards,


  20. Sean O'Connell
    February 17, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    There is a painting by Carlo Bossoli showing a general view of the Investment d’Ancona which Shows the Papal Flag. All the other images I’ve seen only show the Italian Flag which is strange as Italy didn’t exist yet.

  21. Naig
    February 17, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Sean, the Italian flag was created well before the Kingdom of Italy officially came into being in 1861. So it was present throughout the battles and uprisings of the unification wars. The effort of the Irish soldiers in the Papal brigade has gone mostly unrecognized, save for a book by P. Keyes O’Cleary on the unification of Italy. I think they feared ill-treatment at the hands of the Italians or their British allies, and most of them fled to the US which were desperate for experienced soldiers.

  22. December 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Wonder why I was never taught any of this at school in Scotland, utterly fascinating material! :mrgreen:

  23. Anne
    August 2, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    I’ve searched thru…what is the best wayto search for a relative who might have fought in the Civil War?
    John McCabe West Village, NYC, born 1827 in Ireland a longshoreman
    Too many John McCabe’s to pinpoint.
    Thank you for any suggestions

    • August 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Anne,

      The best way to try to do that is if you get a list of the New York units and see which ones men with the name John McCabe served in (you can do this through sites like Given that you know his year of birth, you could then look at the rosters of New Yorks to try and match up the year- at the very least it would narrow it down to only a few possibilities. You can access the rosters for free here:

      I hope this of some use and if I can be of any further help please dont hesitate to contact me!

      Kind Regards,


  24. September 15, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

  25. Geraldine Bevan
    December 11, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    My Grandmother’s father, Patrick O’Callaghan, fought with The Irish Brigade. I have documents relating to this, as well as his Warrant Papers from the American Army Corp of Engineers. He returned to Ireland and died in Cork, aged 91. I am trying to chase further information. I am amazed at the information above and will log on further as it becomes available

    • December 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Hi Geraldine,

      Many thanks for the comment. I would love to hear more about Patrick- are you currently based in Cork? Was it the city that he came from? I am extremely interested in those veterans who came back to Ireland.

      Kind Regards,


  26. David Coffey
    February 18, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    Hi Mick,

    Iwoullove to have a copy of the list could you email me copy.



  1. Captain Patrick Clooney Memorial Restoration Fund | Irish in the American Civil War - January 7, 2011

    […] Irish Brigade, at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. He had also previously served in the Papal Army. The site includes a link for donations to the restoration, and it is to be hoped that James will […]

  2. ‘A Deep Blow to Your Heart': Patrick Clooney’s Newly Uncovered Description of the Irish Brigade at Fair Oaks | Irish in the American Civil War - January 25, 2015

    […] was one of a group of Irish officers in the Union army who had also served in Italy during the Papal Wars. But it remains Clooney’s actions on 17th September 1862 at Antietam for which he is best […]

  3. Galvin | northkerry - July 5, 2017

    […] […]

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