A recent post told the story of Landsman Thomas E. Corcoran, a Dubliner who received the Congressional Medal of Honor having helped to save the lives of some of his crewmates aboard the stricken USS Cincinnati on 27th May 1863. The vessel had been disabled by fire from the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, having been repeatedly struck by enemy shells. Corcoran was not the only Irishman to be recognised for his gallantry on the Cincinnati that day. Seaman Martin McHugh was awarded his medal on 10th July 1863, with the following citation: ‘Serving on board the U.S.S. Cincinnati during the attack on the Vicksburg batteries and at the time of her sinking, 27 May 1863. Engaging the enemy in a fierce battle, the Cincinnati amidst an incessant fire of shot and shell, continued to fire her guns to the last, though so penetrated by shellfire that her fate was sealed. Serving bravely during this action, McHugh was conspicuously cool under the fire of the enemy, never ceasing to fire until this proud ship went down, “her colors nailed to the mast.”‘
I was recently contacted by a reader of the site, Paula Hurst, to let me know that Martin was going to be remembered in a ceremony at his gravesite in Danville, Illinois on 21st April last. Having lain in an unmarked grave for 117 years, the Irishman was finally to receive a marker befitting his wartime service. Martin’s grave was discovered following an enquiry by Medal of Honor Historical Society researcher Ray Johnston to Machelle Long of the Vermilion County Clerk’s Office. Ray is working to locate as many Medal of Honor burial sites as he can, and together with Machelle their efforts helped to identify Martin and his wife Catherine’s grave in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery. The Federal government supplied a marker for the site, and a ceremony was arranged to mark the occasion by Larry Weatherford. This consisted of a one hour memorial service at the Church, and a dedication at the graveside with speeches from the Mayor, County Board Chairman, State Senator and State Representative. The event drew to a close with a reception at the local war museum.
The efforts of individuals like Ray Johnston and Machelle Long, combined with the dedication of the people of Danville, have helped this forgotten Irishman to be appropriately recognised. It is humbling to see such efforts taking place in the United States, particularly when the majority of these men remain little-remembered in the country of their birth. It is to be hoped that over the coming years this will change, and the example of the people of Danville will be followed in Ireland.
*I am greatly indebted to Paula Hurst for alerting me to this ceremony and for supplying details of the event. Paula also kindly gave permission for her photographs of the dedication to be reproduced here.
Broadwater, Robert P. 2007. Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients
Proft, R.J.(ed.), 2002. United States of America’s Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and their Official Citations, Fourth Edition