A previous post on the site looked at the efforts in 2012 to honour Seaman Martin McHugh in Danville, Illinois. A Medal of Honor recipient for his actions aboard the USS Cincinnati at Vicksburg on 27th May 1863, Martin had lain in an unmarked grave for over 100 years. Machelle Long played a central role in having Martin remembered and has kindly written a guest post on her ongoing work on the Galwegian. She is now seeking assistance from readers of the site in an effort to track down a living relative of Martin. 

The grave of Medal of Honor recipient Martin McHugh (Machelle Long)

The grave of Medal of Honor recipient Martin McHugh in Danville, Illinois (Photo: Machelle Long)

As time draws near the 150th anniversary of the brave action for which Irish-born Martin McHugh was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor during the Civil War, I would like to thank Damian Shiels for inviting me to do this guest post.

I was honored to work with a great group of extremely knowledgeable researchers and historians in the research of Seaman Martin McHugh following initiation of the research in 2010 by the United States Medal of Honor Historical Society. Our research group and the Historical Society were intent on a common goal of preserving the honor of this brave man who, with his wife Catherine, lay in an unmarked grave in Danville, Illinois for 105 years. On April 21, 2012, that unfortunate situation was rectified with a ceremony honoring Seaman McHugh. The highlight of the ceremony was the unveiling of his newly set U.S. government issued Medal of Honor grave marker which also marks the grave of his wife, Catherine.

The grave of Catherine McCue (Machelle Long)

The grave of Catherine McCue, Danville, Illinois (Photo: Machelle Long)

Seaman McHugh was born in 1837 in County Galway, Ireland. He immigrated to the United States in the early part of the 1850s.  His mother (Bridget McHugh) and three sisters (Bridget, Sarah, and Catherine) immigrated at approximately the same time although we have not been able to determine the exact time of his arrival in the United States or if he and all of his family members arrived together or at various times.

Seaman McHugh came to Danville, Illinois as early as 1856 where he worked as a laborer before enlisting in the United States Navy in October of 1862. The climax of his Civil War service was during an engagement with the Vicksburg batteries when, after heavy Confederate fire, the ship on which he was serving sank. Seaman McHugh and four of his shipmates were awarded the Medal of Honor by President Abraham Lincoln on July 17, 1863 for their brave actions during that engagement. Those actions included saving the lives of shipmates and the ship captain who could not swim.

He served in the Navy until June of 1865 when he returned to Danville, Illinois and began a career working in the coal mines which spanned nearly three decades. In October of 1865, he married Catherine Griffin and subsequently had five children. One child died in infancy, however he and Catherine raised four daughters, Mary (b.1866), twin daughters Katherine and Margaret (b.1869), and Sarah (b.1871). Mary later married Ed Rabbeson and eventually moved to Chicago and then on to the state of New York, Margaret (who was also known as Maggie) married Daniel Beam and settled in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois, and Sarah (who was also known as Sallie) was first married to Walter McElhaney then to Perg Smith and remained in Danville, Illinois. Katherine (who was often called Kate) never married and returned to Danville, Illinois after her father’s death to care for her mother. In the 1940s, she was shown living in Peoria, Illinois. There were known children born to Maggie and Sallie however no further generations could be traced.

Martin McHugh Information Board in Danville, Illinois (Machelle Long)

Martin McHugh Information Board in Danville, Illinois (Photo: Machelle Long)

Seaman McHugh died at the National Soldier’s Home in Danville, Illinois on February 23, 1905. His funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Church in Danville (of which his sister Bridget and her husband John Flaherty were a founding family) and he was interred at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, now known as Resurrection Cemetery. Martin’s wife Catherine continued to live in Danville, Illinois until her death in December of 1910.

Our final goal and a hope that we have kept alive throughout the research of Seaman McHugh is to locate a living blood relative of Seaman Martin McHugh. Damian has been kind enough to allow me to reach out to his readers through this post in hopes that we might accomplish this. After more than a century of being forgotten, his honor and memory are now kept alive locally with speeches, remembrances, and memorial services. We think it fitting that his honor be shared with his family and we look forward to hearing from anyone who may have information on a family connection to Seaman McHugh.

If you have information that you feel may be of interest to Machelle in her efforts, please leave a comment on this post or email the site directly at irishamericancivilwar@gmail.com.