Face to Face with the Fenians: Mugshots of American Civil War Veterans, Part 1

The Fenian movement in America was extremely active before, during and immediately after the American Civil War. It recruited Irishmen with the aim of ‘striking a blow’ for Ireland when the opportunity arose. Many high profile Irish officers during the war were members, particularly in the Union ranks. Some returned to Ireland in 1866 to assist the movement in its aim of rising against British rule. Heavily infiltrated by spies, many of these men were arrested and eventually expelled from the country. During their incarceration they were photographed, and these early ‘mugshots’ provide us with a fascinating record of some of Ireland’s American Civil War veterans.

The National Archives of Ireland also hold a Fenian collection which contains images of prisoners, including some who were American Civil War veterans. However, the New York Public Library has now made a series of these mugshots available online. They were taken in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin in November 1866 and form part of the Thomas A. Larcom collection. At least 30 of the images are of Fenians who were, or claimed to be, American Civil War veterans. Thanks to the pioneering work of Michael H. Kane in his American Soldiers in Ireland, 1865-67, we have access to the histories of some of these individuals. This is what they looked like.

Michael Duffy, Lieutenant, 1st Illinois Light Artillery

Michael Duffy, Lieutenant, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. Born in Milford, Co. Donegal. Enlisted in Battery L in 1862 (attached to 23rd Illinois). Recruited into the Fenians in the field (Kane 2002:120)

John Whitehead Byron, Major, 88th New York, Irish Brigade

John Whitehead Byron, Major, 88th New York, Irish Brigade. Enlisted in 69th NYNG in 1861, wounded and captured at Ream's Station, Virginia. Prisoner at Libby and Danville (Kane 2002:117)

John Dunn, Regimental Quartermaster, 164th New York, Irish Legion

John Dunn, Regimental Quartermaster, 164th New York, Irish Legion. Enlisted 1862. Shot in right arm and shin, sabre blow to thigh at Cold Harbor. Captured and sent to Libby and later Charleston where he escaped (Kane 2002: 120)

John A. Comerford, Brevet Major, 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry. Born in Kells, Co. Kilkenny and commissioned in 1862 (Kane 2002: 118)

John A. Comerford, Brevet Major, 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry. Born in Kells, Co. Kilkenny and commissioned in 1862 (Kane 2002: 118)

Eneas Doherty, A.D.C. to General Joshua T. Owen

Eneas Doherty, A.D.C. to General Joshua T. Owen. Born Carndonagh, Co. Donegal. Served in 24th Pennsylvania and later 69th Pennsylvania. Mentioned in official report by Owen for carrying messages under fire at Fredericksburg. Honourably discharged December 1862 (Kane 2002:119)

Dennis F. Burke, Colonel, 88th New York, Irish Brigade.

Denis F. Burke, Colonel, 88th New York, Irish Brigade. Born in Limerick. Enlisted in 69th NYNG in 1861 and later in the 88th New York. Wounded at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Petersburg. Commanded regiment for much of 1863 and 1864 (Kane 2002: 115-6)

Daniel C. Moynihan, Acting Ordnance Officer, 2nd Division, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac.

Daniel C. Moynihan, Acting Ordnance Officer, 2nd Division, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac. Born Killarney, Co. Kerry, Enlisted in 164th New York in 1862. Wounded and captured at Cold Harbor. Prisoner at Libby until paroled and promoted to A.O.O. (Kane 2002: 128)

Daniel A. Mykins, Captain, 170th New York, Irish Legion.

Daniel A. Mykins, Captain, 170th New York, Irish Legion. Born in New York, and wounded in the head during the war. Sworn into the Fenians while in the field by Captain Francis Welpley (Kane 2002: 129)

Andrew J. Byrne, Lieutenant, 65th New York.

Andrew J. Byrne, Lieutenant, 65th New York. Born in Dublin, served in U.S. army before the war. Wounded at Malvern Hill and exchanged, wounded again at Cedar Creek. Wrote his memoirs, published in 2008 (reviewed on this site)

William Pope, Private, Confederate Army.

William Pope, Private, Confederate Army. Original caption notes his service with the Confederates (unit as yet not established) and states he was formerly a warden in Spike Island Prison, which lies in Cork Harbour

*With thanks to Joseph Maghe for additional information regarding Denis Burke


Kane, Michael H. 2002. ‘American Soldiers in Ireland, 1865-67’ in The Irish Sword: The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, Vol. 23, No. 91, pp. 103-140

Mountjoy Prison Portaits of Irish Independence: Photograph Albums in Thomas A. Larcom Collection

New York Public Library Digital Gallery


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Categories: 164th New York, 170th New York, 88th New York, Corcoran's Irish Legion, Fenians, Irish Brigade

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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19 Comments on “Face to Face with the Fenians: Mugshots of American Civil War Veterans, Part 1”

  1. December 13, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    You mentioned my article as a reference, but I have to tell you that I missed a few Irish-Americans when I published nine years ago.

    I always felt that the most important information I discovered was that one of the three Manchester Martyrs, Michael O’Brien was a former Union enlisted man. O’Brien served in a New Jersey Artillery battery—mostly during the seige of Petersburg. Secretary Seward wanted Charles Adams (the American ambassador) to intervene and save O’Brien’s life after he was condemned to death. However Adams demurred, stating he had already intervened and saved Edward O’Meagher Condon’s life. Condon was a sergeant in Corcoran’s Irish Legion, 164th NY. Adams also said had already saved O’Brien’s life when O’Brien was caught with Captain Ricard O’Sullivan Burke buying rifles in Liverpool in 1865. Seward wasn’t happy, but Adams had been told off the record that the British government would hang three—no matter what. Actually the court wanted to hang five men men. The British press saved a Royal Marine named Maguire who wasn’t a Fenian. The evidence was quite clear that Maguire was staying with his sister in Manchester on leave after a long spell in India. So the original five became only three, O’Brien, Allen, and Larkin.

    I established a wonderful relationship with Captain D.C. Moynihan’s descendent, Kathy Hanley-Little, originally from Queens, New York. It turns out that Captain Moynihan returned to the States, joined the NYPD and became a police captain in New York City.

    • December 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      Hi Michael,

      I have visited the Manchester Martyrs Memorial at Glasnevin while looking for Civil War related headstones, it is an impressive portion of the cemetery. I knew he had served but didnt know the details until now, so many thanks for that! The story of these Fenian veterans is intriguing- their willpower to get involved even after the horrors of the war tells much about their self belief. I am hoping soon to go through the Fenian files in the National Archives to have a more detailed look. It sounds like Moynihan did well for himself- the pictures of him and the others are fantastic- I particularly like the one of Burke, he has an expression on his face that says it all!

      Kind Regards,


    • Kathy Hanley-Little
      November 9, 2012 at 1:44 am #

      Hi, Mike. It’s been awhile. Thank you for the mention. Have you written anything else about my great great grandfather and/or other Fenians?

    • February 9, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

      Can you help? I seek any information you may have in reference to Lt. Thomas Henry O’Brien of the 2nd and 88th NY. I also seek picture of him. I notice in the “mug shots” from 66, there are (2) Thomas O’Brien’s?? Which one is the Thomas of the Irish Brigade? One with Beard, or without. You mention he was slightly wounded at Antietam? Do you have any letters you can share that mentions his exploits in the war and later in the Fenian Movement. Please tell me all you can about Thomas. Also do you have info on his brother? All help is greatly appreciated.

      Chris Carroll
      BA History NCWC

    • October 14, 2015 at 11:22 pm #

      Hello,do you have any further details of Michael O’Brien’s family,please?
      i.e parents names,siblings.My grandfather was from same area of Co.Cork
      and may be related.
      Thank you

      • October 30, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

        Hi Richard,

        I don’t have anything specific on him, but hopefully some readers may be able to help you out!

  2. December 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Interestingly enough Moynihan married the kid sister of Captain E,K.Butler 182nd NY & 69th NYNG. Butler was KIA in August,1864

  3. December 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Michael Kerwin and Dennis Burke ran all military operations for the Clan-na-Gael deep into the 1880’s. Burke was one of those guys from K company, 69thNYNG “Meagher’s Zouaves.” who received a commission in the 88thNY when the regiment was scrambling to organize –after the Pennsylvania and Massachusetts governers roadblocked organizing regiments in their states. Actually, Burke was an outspoken nationalist but didn’t join the FBA until 1865. Ditto for Kerwin. JW Byron was a very active member of the Potomac circle during the war and followed Captain J.McKay Rorty (KIA at Gettysburg) as recording secretary.

    • December 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Hi Michael,

      Burke is a guy I definitely want to look into more. Kerwin was actually the reason I came across the online version of these photos, as I am planning a piece on him for the ‘Irish Colonels’ section, and I knew he married Burke’s widow, which led me to the photos! The Fenian meetings in the Army of the Potomac are something that is gripping me more and more, it is something I would love to read more about!

      Kind Regards,


  4. December 15, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    Damian, in Christian Samito’s book Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era (Cornell University Press, 2009) he looks at the impact of the Fenian prisoners on the redefinition of naturalized citizenship under American law.

    • December 15, 2011 at 8:40 am #

      Hi Patrick,

      That book is high on my ‘to read’ list- I didn’t realise he covered the Fenian aspect as well. Being naturalized Americans certainly worked to the advantage of many of the men (and indeed being born in American would save the life of one Eamon de Valera by the time of 1916!).

      Kind Regards,


      • December 16, 2011 at 2:03 am #

        He devotes a chapter to the agitation in America to challenge the British concept that British subjects could not disclaim that status, even if they became naturalized American citizens. The fight influence modern American definitions equating naturalized citizenship with native born, something which did not always exist before 1867.

  5. December 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    In 1862, the U.S. legislature passed a law that if a foreign born Union soldier spent one year in the Union army that soldier was immediately eligible to become an American citizen. However certain bureaucratic paperwork had to be submitted and approved–which most Irish soldiers ignored. The British government’s official position was if you were born in the British empire you were a British citizen for lifetime. This had been the British policy for years and they first clashed with the U.S. government in the war of 1812. They removed Irish sailors from American ships and did not consider them American POW’s but deserters from the British Empire.

  6. December 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm #


    The memory of the “Manchester Martyrs” was recalled by a check drawn by the Fourth Auditor of the Treasury of the United States at Washington, and made payable at Youghhal, Ireland, to the sister of Michael O’Brien which was forwarded by Thursday’s mail. Michael O’Brien was a clerk in the store of Sir John Arnott in the city of Cork, Ireland, when the American Civil War began in 1860. He came to the United States in 1863 and was enrolled as a private in Battery E, First regiment, New Jersey Volunteer Artillery 8 September 1863. On March 8, 1864 he was promoted to corporal. The end of the war found him in Richmond, Virginia. He had become an ardent Fenian. He was with Allen and Larkin at Manchester, England and was hanged with themon 23 November 1867………..”

  7. Joseph Maghe
    January 10, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    Regarding the caption for Denis F Burke, according to his pension files, Burke was wounded a third time in the night attack on Fort Mahone at Petersburg.

    • January 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for that information, I will add that to the caption!

      Kind Regards,



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    […] after the war and was arrested on suspicion of plotting a rebellion (you can see his Fenian mugshot here). He was sent back to America, where he once again enlisted in the regular […]

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