On 5th May 1862, Kerryman Lieutenant Patrick Henry Hayes led Company G of the 37th New York ‘Irish Rifles’ into action at Williamsburg, Virginia. As they charged toward the enemy, Patrick and his men also had to contend with nature; a severe rainstorm hampered their progress through a dense pine forest, which was littered with fallen trees. As they closed within 50 yards of the Rebel rifle pits a shower of lead flew towards them, and the 22-year-old Acting-Company Commander fell dead, shot through the heart. At home he left a distraught mother, a young widow and a daughter under two years of age- together with a pension saga that would continue for over 40 years. (1)

Battle of Williamsburg, 5th May 1862 (Kurz and Allison, 1893)

Battle of Williamsburg, 5th May 1862 (Kurz and Allison, 1893)

Patrick’s grieving mother wrote to the commanding officer of the regiment, Colonel Hayman, five days after the battle. She sought information on her son’s death and the fate of his remains. His beautifully written response of 13th May must have moved her greatly, as she submitted it to the New York Irish-American for publication:

Dear Madam,

I am just in receipt of yours of the 10th inst. Your son, Lieutenant P.H. Hayes, was buried near the road leading to Williamsburg, and his grave is carefully marked, so that his remains can, at some future time, be removed, but at present it would be impossible. I endeavored to purchase a metalic coffin in Williamsburg, but none could be had there. I am now moving to the front, but I shall do all in my power to further your wishes in regard to the remains of your son. Allow me to mingle my tears with yours, for while you have lost your only son, my regiment has been thereby deprived of one of its most gallant officers, whose name will be revered by all who knew him, and who fell while leading his men in the thickest of the fight. The gallantry of Lieutenant Hayes and the brave men who fell with him, of the 37th, together with the noble conduct of the 5th Michigan, turned the tide of battle, and his name should form a bright page in our country’s history.

That God may sustain you in your sore bereavement is the ardent desire of yours truly,


Colonel, 37th Regt., N.Y.V. (2)

Patrick Hayes had emigrated to New York from his home in Killarney, Co. Kerry with his parents when he was eight years old. On joining the 37th New York at the outbreak of war he expressed a desire that ‘some good for Ireland would arise out of it’. As the quote suggests, Hayes was a Fenian, and prior the war he had been a First Lieutenant in Welpley’s Company of the Phoenix Brigade, an organisation aimed at training Fenian soldiers. Just before his death Patrick had written to his mother, telling her that he was prepared for anything that might happen to him, having complied with all the duties of his religion and being resigned to whatever fate awaited him. Unfortunately for Patrick’s wife Dorcas and daughter Ellen, that fate had been death. (3)

Dorcas Monaghan and Patrick Hayes had been friends since childhood, and following the blossoming of their relationship they married in St. Mary’s Church, New York on 15th May 1859. Their daughter, Ellen, was born on the 14th July the following year, and baptised on 22nd July at St. Jame’s Church in the city. Now, less than three years after their marriage, 22-year-old Dorcas found herself a widow with a child under the age of two. She made steps to apply for a pension to support herself and her daughter, who were then living at 69 Oliver Street in New York. In June 1863 she was eventually granted $17 per month, backdated to the time of her husband’s death. However, there were to be many more twists and turns in the pension saga of Dorcas and Ellen. (4)

The 1859 Marriage Certificate of Patrick Hayes and Dorcas Monaghan

The 1859 Marriage Certificate of Patrick Hayes and Dorcas Monaghan

Dorcas Hayes’s pension was terminated dating from the end of 1865. The reason for this had its roots a few months before, when Dorcas met English-born John Marshall; they married on 31st December of that year, and her entitlement to a pension ended with the union. The name that was entered on the marriage certificate was destined to have unfortunate consequences for Dorcas on a number of occasions over the next 40 years. (5)

The immediate future saw the emergence of another claimant for the pension, one Bridget Kelly. In 1869 Bridget applied for a pension on behalf of Patrick’s then eight year old daughter Ellen, whom she had become the legal guardian of that year. The 30-year-old had been present at Ellen’s baptism, and knew Dorcas well. She became guardian under an 1862 Act which entitled minors to claim the pension in circumstances such as these (in this case the re-marriage of Dorcas). The claim was complicated by the fact that when Dorcas remarried, the certificate used her maiden name ‘Monaghan’, rather than her married name ‘Hayes’; now that she was Dorcas Marshall she had to try and prove that she was one in the same person as Dorcas Hayes. Deponents stepped forward to swear to the fact that they had known her most of her life, and that she was in fact the widow of Patrick and mother of Ellen. The application eventually succeeded, and in 1872 a minors pension of $15 per month was approved, increased to $17 the next year. The pension was paid until 1876, when Ellen turned 16. (6)

The Marriage Certificate of Dorcas Monaghan and John Marshall, 1865. The use of her maiden name, 'Monaghan' rather than her married name 'Hayes' would cause Dorcas difficulty in years to come.

The Marriage Certificate of Dorcas Monaghan and John Marshall, 1865. The use of her maiden name, 'Monaghan' rather than her married name 'Hayes' would cause Dorcas difficulty in years to come.

The family next appears in the 1880 census, living in Queens. John Marshall was at this juncture working as a Dock Master, and he and Dorcas had three children, Clarence (7), Dorcas (5) and George (2). Ellen was also living with the family, recorded as ‘Ella’ on the census document. Their fate over the next twenty years is unclear, until they re-emerge in early years of the twentieth century. John Marshall, by now working as a laborer, fell ill on 9th April 1902, suffering from myocarditis. He was admitted to the City Hospital, where he died eight days later on 17th April. Dorcas was at this time living at 744 Dean Street in Brooklyn. Facing into old age, the Irishwoman found herself struggling financially. She had little option but to turn once again towards the service of her first love, now dead some 40 years, in hope of support. (7)

In 1904 Dorcas applied for the reinstatement of her initial pension entitlements based on Patrick’s death, but was once again faced with difficulties resulting from the use of her maiden name on her 1865 marriage certificate with John Marshall. She explained that at the time of her second marriage the priest had been informed she was the widow of Patrick Hayes, but ‘through some inadvertence or mistake the name was omitted and the name of Monaghan only retained.’ She once again had to produce witnesses to testify that she was originally married to Patrick, and additionally was asked to show that her second husband John had not served in the war. This was to be no easy task, particularly as Dorcas could find no-one who was well acquainted with John Marshall prior to 1865. (8)

Dorcas once again surmounted the difficulties she faced, and the pension application was eventually successful. She again received the $17 a month that had first been granted in 1863. What became of Dorcas and Patrick’s daughter Ellen becomes unclear after 1880, although it is possible that she died, still unmarried, when in her thirties. As the fiftieth anniversary of the young mans death loomed, the wartime service of Patrick Hayes in the American Civil War was still providing for his now elderly wife. The pension was last paid to Dorcas on 7th February 1910. Almost 48 years after the Kerryman had fallen at Williamsburg the payments ceased; the reason Dorcas no longer needed it was explained in the file as follows: ‘Reported death. Date not given.’ (9)

The 1911 document which closes the Patrick Hayes pension claims

The 1911 document which closes the Patrick Hayes pension claims

(1) New York State Military Museum; (2) Irish American 24th May 1862; (3) Irish American 24th May 1862, Kane 2002: 104, 135; (4) Civil War Widows Pension WC3561; (5) Civil War Widows Pension WC3561; (6) Civil War Widows Pension WC3561; (7) 1880 Census, Civil War Widows Pension WC3561; (8) Civil War Widows Pension WC3561; (9) Civil War Widows Pension WC3561;

References & Further Reading

Civil War Widows Pension File WC3561: Patrick Henry Hayes

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

New York Irish American: 24th May 1862

New York State Military Museum: 37th Regiment New York Volunteers Civil War Newspaper Clippings: ‘Obituary: Lieutenant Patrick Henry Hayes, Thirty-Seventh Regiment New York Volunteers’

1880 United States Census

Civil War Trust Battle of Williamsburg Page