‘For The Love of the Holy Mother, Blow Out My Brains’: An Irishman Dies at Third Winchester

John Hines was a Private in Company F of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry. He was described as a ‘rough, coarse, uneducated Irishman, with a keener nose for whisky than any other man living.’ He would be able to seek out the spirit even when it was thought there was none for miles, and often returned to camp drunk and quarrelsome- on such occasions the only person who could control him was his Captain, William S. Lincoln. When it mattered though, Hines was an invaluable soldier. He could be placed in any position of trust, and never shirked from battle. Thus it was that Captain Lincoln valued Hines as one of his best men as he urged his company forward at the Battle of Third Winchester, Virginia on 19th September 1864. (1)

Sheridan's Final Charge at the Battle of Third Winchester (Library of Congress)

Sheridan’s Final Charge at the Battle of Third Winchester (Library of Congress)

John Hines was entering his last battle. He was about to receive one of the most feared wounds inflicted during the Civil War- a bullet through his intestines. Captain Lincoln was beside John when he was struck; the agonies he witnessed Hines endure were to haunt the officer for the rest of his life.

At one of those movements when, while at a halt, we were under a sharp fire from the rebels, but a short distance in our front, I heard and almost felt, the zip and dull thud of a Minnié ball, which struck Hines of my company in the groin, – passed directly through his body, and lodged in the groin of his rear rank man, Burnham. Both fell without a word or a groan; – both laid still, as if dead, for a few moments; – when Burnham attempted to crawl away on his hands and knees. Sending a man to his aid, I moved up to, and laid down by the side of Hines. The whole line was down in obedience to such an order. As I laid my hand upon his head, Hines opened his eyes, and recognised me. “I’m kilt, Captain! clean kilt entirely! take care of my money, please.” I took it from his pocket, counted it, and told him the amount. “Yes, Captain! I know! fourteen dollars,”- and closing his eyes again, he laid still,- quiet and peaceful as a child; not a cry, not a groan escaped him. I had in my pocket a flask, with perhaps a half pint of whiskey, which, knowing what work was before us, I had kept for some occasion like this. How I did hate to spare it! Not that then I actually needed it, but that I never was more dry; and hardly ever would a drop have tasted better! But like a hero, I rose to the occasion, and with the spirit of a martyr, devoted it to Hines. Child-like, he sucked till he drew the last drop; and with a fervent “God bless you Captain!” and a smile like a cherub, laid back, to all appearance indifferent to all earthly things. No cheer of comrade,- no yell of defiant foe disturbed him: “But he lay like a warrior taking his rest”, With the roar of battle around him.

I don’t know how long he remained thus quiet and peaceful; but it seemed a long while, when, with no previous warning, he writhed and twisted in convulsive agony, and gave utterance to the most unearthly cries and groans. I tried to pacify him;- telling him that he would exhaust himself, and that his cries would have a bad effect on his comrades. I might as well have talked to a dead man. He would not be quieted; but, in the most heart-rending tones begged me to put him out of his misery! “I’ve been a good soldier, Capt.? Haven’t I?” “Yes, Hines!” “And never asked a favor.” “No, Hines!” “Then, Capt., dear! do me a favor now, and God forever bless you!” “Take your pistol, Capt.! and for the love of the holy mother, blow out my brains.”

The Bugles blew loud and shrilly the order to charge; and I had time only to lay him on a blanket, which was stretched over a couple of muskets, and send him to the rear. I never saw him afterwards, he died that night; but those yells of his ring upon my ears, at this distance of time, as loud, and piercing, as when uttered on the plains of Winchester. (2)

It is difficult to trace the history of this unfortunate Irishman. Lincoln noted that he had no known family and that his backpay could never be released. However his pension index card suggests that a widow sought to claim a pension in October 1882. What is known is that he lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he was enlisted and mustered in on 19th November 1863 at the age of 25. On the 1860 census three members of the Hines family are indicated as living in the city’s 5th Ward; Hannah Hines, aged 60, Dennis Hines, aged 25 and John Hines, aged 23. Presumably Hannah was either Dennis and John’s mother or a female relative. When did John leave Ireland? A John and Dennis Hines appear as passengers with a number of other family members aboard the Telassar, which arrived in Boston from Liverpool on 9th June 1848. There was no older male relative among the group, and it seems likely given the date that this was a family fleeing the Famine then raging in Ireland. If this is indeed the same John Hines, he was far from the only Irish boy to escape the ravages of starvation in his native land only to die a gruesome death on the battlefields of the American Civil War. (3)

(1) Lincoln 1879:363; (2) Ibid: 361-3 (3) Index to Pension Files of Veterans,  Adjutant General 1932:619, 1860 Census, Boston Passenger Crews and Lists 1820-1943;

References & Further Reading

Adjutant General, 1932. Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, Vol. 3

Lincoln, William S. 1879. Life with the Thirty-Fourth Mass. Infantry in the War of Rebellion

Wert, Jeffry D. 1997. From Winchester to Cedar Creek

Civil War Trust Third Battle of Winchester Page


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Categories: Massachusetts, Virginia

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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7 Comments on “‘For The Love of the Holy Mother, Blow Out My Brains’: An Irishman Dies at Third Winchester”

  1. Patty MM
    September 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    This was a really sad one. I am glad you took the time to share his story, so he isn’t forgotten.

    • September 13, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks Patty- it is an awful story, one no doubt replicated many times during the war years.

      Kind Regards,


  2. September 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    For those reader’s, who are interested in what happened next, after a Union Soldier was wounded, they may fine the following of some interest.
    My Great Great Great Uncle, Bernard O’Reilly Jr., was born someplace in County Cavan Ireland, around 1836. He came to America and settled with his family in Baltimore, Maryland. It had to before April 1848, because his brother Philip, was born April 1, 1848. Philip O’Reilly later was an Indian fighter with the 22nd U.S. Inf. at Fort Clark Texas and retired from the Army in 1884, at the National Armory in Springfield Mass. I can’t tell you how many times, I drove past the Armory, while a member of the Corps Of Cadets at Norwich University, founded 1819.
    Bernard O’Reilly Jr., joined the 170th New York under General Corcoran on September 20, 1862. From his records at the National Archives. We found that the 170th New York was part of the 2nd Army Corps under Hancock. He was wounded on May 18, 1864 at The Battle Of Spotsylvania Court House.
    However, we find him back with his Regiment on May 24th 1864, at the Battle Of The North Anna River. We learned from Gordon Rhea Book, TO THE NORTH ANNA RIVER, that the 170th held the far left of the union line. It ended with them. During the Battle, the 43rd North Carolina though the 170th New York was surrendering and lowered their weapons. The 170th though the 43rd North Carolina was surrendering and lowered their weapons. At some point, everyone realized no one was surrendering and the two regiments fought it out with clubbed muskets, bayonets and fists.
    Along the way, Uncle Bernard was wounded again, this time, to the left front of his head. He was transported back to Mount Pleasant Hospital on 14th Street in Washington D.C. He was placed in tent number 45 on May 29th 1864 and died at 3 P.M. May 31, 1864 having never woke up.
    The Army at that time, was paying $4.99 to outside contractors to put him in a box, transport him to Arlington, dig the hole and place him in it and was buried in grave number 411, on June 2, 1864, at 0830. A few hundred feet from what is today, The United States Marine Corps Memorial.
    In his pocket, was a letter from an Owen Riley from New York, dated Jan. 20, 1864 and another letter from his cousin, John Smith (maybe) Kilkelly P.O. ? County Derahory Ireland? along with $3.95.
    Respectfully submitted,
    1st Lt. Rich Reilly
    69th New York National Guard (Fighting69th)

    • September 14, 2012 at 8:57 am #


      Many thanks for sharing that incredibly poignant story with us. The fighting that Corcoran’s Legion experienced on the Overland Campaign was ferocious. Are the letters still in your family’s possession? I would love to look into maybe trying to locate where John Smith wrote to him from, do you have copies? There is a Kilkelly Post Office in Mayo, but that wouldn’t seem to fit with the county. In any event, fascinating stuff, thank you!

      Kind Regards,


  3. September 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Sorry to say, but we only know of the letters from the official reports. The medical reports are about 10 pages and if you are interested in reading them, we will make a copy and send them over. If you send your address off line to my dads e-mail address, we will have them in the mail today.
    How about the County, it looks like Derahary???

  4. Joseph Maghe
    October 24, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    A quite moving account… once again our thanks to you, Damian Shiels

  5. John Murphy
    February 24, 2016 at 10:08 pm #

    Truely sad !

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