The first post relating to my work on the New York Irishmen who enlisted in the Union navy in July 1863 looked at their tattoos. However, the marks on their body that they had not chosen for themselves were far more prevalent. Of the 319 Irish recorded as signing on that month, at least 131 exhibited scars or signs of previous illness. Neither were these old men. Of the 131, almost 62% were 25-years-old or younger. Less than 15% were older than 30. The punishment their bodies had taken at such a young age graphically reveals the harsh realities of life for the working classes in major urban centres during the 1860s. (1)

The graphic below has been prepared based on the data from the Irishmen who enlisted at the New York Rendezvous in July 1863. It highlights the extent to which these 131 men were scarred. On some of the records the cause of scarring was also noted; these included burning and smallpox. Other medical conditions were also occasionally mentioned.

The scars recorded on New York Irishmen who enlisted in the Union Navy, July 1863- Click to Enlarge (Sara Nylund)

The scars recorded on New York Irishmen who enlisted in the Union Navy, July 1863 (Sara Nylund)

Although in the majority of cases the cause of individual scars was not recorded, it is likely that they resulted from a combination of illness, workplace accidents and interpersonal violence. The impact of smallpox on the population was apparent, with a number of men bearing the marks of the disease. 23-year-old Christopher Toole was described as being ‘pitted by smallpox’ while 27-year-old Richard Stretton had a ‘pockmarked face.’ It is probable that smallpox had caused much of the other scarring prevalent among the group, even when it was not specified.

Smallpox was finally eradicated in 1979, but was still a major killer in North America in the 1860s. An infectious virus that caused raised blistering about the body, it had a mortality rate of 15-45%. If you were fortunate enough to survive it, you were likely to be scarred in the areas where the blistering had occurred; 75% of all sufferers had to live with this permanent disfigurement. There had been a number of smallpox epidemics in the United States in the first half of the 19th century, and the disease had ravaged the Native-American population in the late 1830s. Despite the fact that a vaccine had been created, systematic inoculation was not in place during the 1860s. The disease caused 7,058 deaths in the Union army during the Civil War. Some of the July 1863 enlistees may have contracted the disease while children in Ireland- figures for the 1870s show that it remained a deadly illness, claiming the lives of over 7,500 people in Ireland during that decade. (2)

Undoubtedly some of the scarring was as a result of workplace mishaps. Sixteen of the men had worked as Firemen; 45-year-old James Morgan and 25-year-old Michael Rooney both had burn marks on their bodies as a result. Similarly it is possible that 33-year-old machinist Charles Smith lost the little finger of his left hand while operating equipment. However, inter-personal violence had also taken its toll. It is hard to imagine how 29-year-old painter John Browne could have lost part of his right ear on the job. By far the most dramatic cause of scarring among the group belonged to Richard Smith, a 21-year-old machinist. Incredibly he was recorded as having ‘gun shot scars’ on his cheek and his left temple. The fact that he was even alive to enlist in July 1863 seems something of a miracle. Violence was part of everyday reality in working-class New York, and it would have been a fortunate man who navigated his way through life without encountering it.

In a number of cases the recruiters also took the time to note medical ailments. The prospective mariners were stripped for examination before being accepted into the service, leading to the recording of conditions (such as phymosis/phimosis) which were present in even the most private of locations. 34-year-old Fireman Thomas Dalton was the only man in the group unfortunate enough to have his lack of hair recorded, with ‘bald headed’ being jotted into the notes. We also learn that Patrick Sheady, a 22-year-old laborer, was afflicted with varicose veins, 21-year-old laborer Daniel Morrison was flatfooted, while 22-year-old mason John Hennesey had a speech impediment. Each piece of information adds a little more to our picture of these Irishmen and the lives they led.

The scars of these men graphically illustrate the harsh realities of life during this period and serve to dispel any romantic notions we might have about life in the past. Even without the American Civil War, the population had to contend with the threat of disease, fatal accident or violent death, all of which were near-constant companions for many in the poorer areas of New York. Even before joining the naval war, these men had already overcome significant odds to make it as far as the New York Naval Rendezvous in July 1863.

Name Age Occupation Marks/Scars
Thompson, Fenton 17 None Scar on left shin and right thigh
Power, Michael 19 None Scar left cheek
O’Connor, Daniel 20 Clerk Scar left forearm and right groin
Flamming, Michael 20 Harness Maker Scar left shin
Morrison, Daniel 21 Laborer Flatfooted
Smith, Richard 21 Machinist Gun shot scars on cheek and left temple
Fitz, Patrick 21 Coast Pilot Has had smallpox
Picker, Michael 21 Laborer Has had smallpox
Riley, Hugh 21 Fireman Injury on nose, scar right shoulder and thigh
McKeever, Francis 21 Fireman Loss of index finger left hand, accepted by engineer
Flynn, James 21 Baker Pitted by smallpox
Meehan, Francis 21 Laborer Scar ball of left thumb
Donovan, Cornelius 21 Laborer Scar left groin
Kelly, Thomas 21 None Scar left hip
Holden, Thomas 21 None Scar left thumb
Davitt, Joseph 21 None Scar on back
McGuire, James 21 None Scar on forehead
McColgan, Edward 21 Clerk Scar on left arm
Love, William 21 Shoemaker Scar on left eye
Graham, Peter 21 Laborer Scar on left heel
Oliver, Thomas 21 Laborer Scar on left heel
Rogers, Edward 21 Barber Scar on left leg
Gibbons, Michael 21 Spinner Scar on left shoulder near neck
Fox, James 21 Hatter Scar on penis
Brennan, Patrick 21 Laborer Scar on right eyebrow
O’Connor, Hugh 21 Printer Scar on right eyebrow
Mouly, Daniel 21 Laborer Scar on right thigh
Mockler, Thomas 21 Carpenter Scar right cheek
McCormick, George 21 Bartender Scars between eyebrows
Drum, Peter 21 Laborer Scars on forehead
Carmady, Martin 21 None Several scars on the back
Galligan, Bernard 22 Boatman Burn on right arm and chest
Sheady, Patrick 22 Laborer Inequality in size of pupils of eyes. Varicose left side foot and toes
Morrisey, Frederick 22 Moulder Injury to 2nd finger of left hand
Grady, James 22 Bricklayer Scar left arm
Pentony, William 22 Carpenter Phymosis
Donnelly, Henry 22 Boatman Pitted by smallpox
Smith, James C. 22 Carpenter Scar left foot
Shaw, Henry 22 Riveter Scar left thigh and side
McCann, John 22 Boiler Maker Scar on breast
Herbert, James 22 Laborer Scar on forehead
Johnson, William 22 Seaman Scar on left breast
Fahey, John 22 Boatman Scar on right groin
Mahony, William O. 22 Leather Maker Scar on right groin
Stone, Thomas 22 Laborer Scar on right thigh
Carter, Alfred B. 22 Butcher Scar on the head
Garvey, Jeremiah 22 Laborer Scar on the right thigh
Newtown, Lewis 22 None Scar right cheek
Hines, Thomas 22 Boiler Maker Scar right forearm
Tatfield, William 22 Mariner Scar right knee
Hennesey, John 22 Mason Scar with depression above left brow. Impediment in speech
Cabb, William 22 Laborer Scars right leg
Brown, John 22 Laborer Several scars on left thigh
Whitty, Michael 22 Mariner Slight strabismus
Reilly, John 22 Laborer Small scar above right eyebrow
Sutton, Michael 23 Bootmaker Burn on chin, breast and right arm. Pitted by smallpox
Toole, Christopher 23 Porter Pitted by smallpox
Finnigan, Daniel 23 Plumber Scar left cheek
Hennessey, James 23 Laborer Scar left eyebrow
Rigby, William 23 Boiler Maker Scar on head
Kane, Joseph 23 Clerk Scar on left cheek
Oswald, William 23 Brass Finisher Scar on right forearm
Riley, Thomas 23 Laborer Scar on side of throat
Gibson, James 23 Seaman Scar on the back
Bradley, Peter 23 Laborer Scars on right thigh
Cautlon, Edward 23 None Small tumor left wirst
Allan, William 24 Laborer Cross right breast, heart left breast, scar left leg
Flynn, Patrick 24 Laborer Scar between eyebrows
Rodgers, Peter 24 None Scar left buttock
Cavanagh, James 24 Boatman Scar left groin
Ryan, John 24 Moulder Scar left leg
Minar, Frank 24 Seaman Scar on the abdomen
Campbell, John 24 Fireman Scar right groin
McIlwain, William 25 Painter Hairy noerus? on abdomen, scar on left groin
Vail, John 25 Hatter Injury on right leg
O’Rourke, Patrick 25 Mason Scar between eyebrows
Marron, Owen 25 Shoemaker Scar left groin
Sullivan, Jeremiah 25 Fireman Scar on forehead
May, James 25 Silk Weaver Scar on left arm (had smallpox)
Rooney, Michael 25 Fireman Scars from burns left elbow and forearm
Hoolihan, Patrick 25 Laborer Scars on forehead
Glass, Robert 26 Laborer Scar on left knee and Phymosis
Kearney, John 26 Laborer Scar on right
Conolly, John 26 Fireman Scar on right breast
Daly, John 26 Laborer Several small scars on the back
Kenney, Patrick 26 Laborer Slightly pitted by smallpox
Bradshaw, John 26 Laborer wound of left hand
Welsh, Michael 27 Fireman Lost portion of third finger, pitted by smallpox
McGuire, George 27 Plumber Phymosis, scars on both wrists
Stretton, Richard 27 Mariner Pockmarked face
Healy, John 27 Bootfitter Scar left groin
O’Brien, Martin 27 Laborer Scar left shin and right shoulder
Nolan, Patrick J. 27 Painter Scar on left wrist
McNamara, Edward 27 Laborer Scar on loins
Davison, William 27 Laborer Scar on right arm
Smith, James 27 Fireman Scar right breast
Caffray, George A. 28 Laborer ? left ankle
Butney, William 28 Fireman Injury of littlefinger on right hand
Murphy, Michael 28 Carpenter Lost ?, scars on left forearm
Smith, Peter 28 Morocco Dresser Scar above left thumb
Dowd, Murthy 28 None Scar on the right hip
Clark, James 28 None Scars right leg
Mordaunt, Michael 28 Machinist Slight ? and weakness both sides
Kane, Edward D 29 Laborer Has had smallpox
Browne, John 29 Painter Lost portion of right ear, scar on right thigh
Harkins, John 29 Bricklayer Scar on forehead and left arm
Hogan, Patrick 29 Laborer Scar on right leg
Fitzgerald, James 29 Coach Painter Various scars on the left leg
McCarthy, John 30 Laborer Scar left thigh
Phelan, Edward 30 Waiter Pitted by smallpox
McEvoy, James 30 Fireman Scar left leg
King, Daniel 30 Fireman Scar scalp and forehead
Burke, Patrick 31 Boatman Injury left thumb
McHugh, Peter 31 Laborer Scar on the right leg
Wise, Matthew 31 Laborer Scar right thigh
McGuire, Thomas 31 Fireman Scars arms, legs, body & c.
Connell, Timothy O. 32 Cooper Scar on left arm
Woods, Henry 32 Fireman Scar right ear
Smith, Charles 33 Machinist Lost little finger left hand
Hurley, John 33 Mariner Scar on skin of left eye
Mulcahey, Michael 33 Laborer Scar on the belly
Dalton, Thomas 34 Fireman Bald headed, scar on neck
Manning, Thomas 34 Laborer Little finger left hand crooked
Ritchey, John 36 Sailor Macula left leg
Gibson, John 36 Sailor Pitted by smallpox
Nimmo, George 37 Machinist Front upper teeth (lost)
Connor, William O. 37 Carpenter Scar on chest
Brooks, George 37 Seaman scar on left knee
Kennedy, John 38 Laborer Slight deformity left arm, pitted by small pox
Bannerman, Francis 40 Fireman Scar on left thigh
Morgan, James 45 Fireman Marks of burn by hot tin? about right elbow

Table 1. Marks and scars (excluding tattoos) of Irish enlistments in the New York Naval Rendezvous, July 1863 (3)

*I am indebted to illustrator Sara Nylund for producing the superb diagram of the scars that were present on these Irishmen.

(1) Naval Enlistment Returns; (2) Fenner et al. 1988: 240, Houghton & Kelleher 2002: 91, Behbehani 1983: 483, 485; (3) Naval Enlistment Returns;


Naval Enlistment Weekly Returns, New York Rendezvous, July 1863.

Behbehani Abbas M. 1983. ‘The Smallpox Story: Life and Death of an Old Disease’ in Microbiological Reviews December 1983, pp. 455-509.

Fenner Frank, Henderson Donald AInslie, Arita Isao, Jezek Zdenek, Ladnyi Ivan Danilovich 1988. Smallpox and Its Iradication.

Houghton Frank and Kelleher Kevin 2002. ‘Smallpox in Ireland- An Historical Note with Possible (and Unwlecome) Relevance For the Future’ in Irish Geography, Vol. 35(1), pp. 90-94.