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.

Thompson, Fenton17NoneScar on left shin and right thigh
Power, Michael19NoneScar left cheek
O’Connor, Daniel20ClerkScar left forearm and right groin
Flamming, Michael20Harness MakerScar left shin
Morrison, Daniel21LaborerFlatfooted
Smith, Richard21MachinistGun shot scars on cheek and left temple
Fitz, Patrick21Coast PilotHas had smallpox
Picker, Michael21LaborerHas had smallpox
Riley, Hugh21FiremanInjury on nose, scar right shoulder and thigh
McKeever, Francis21FiremanLoss of index finger left hand, accepted by engineer
Flynn, James21BakerPitted by smallpox
Meehan, Francis21LaborerScar ball of left thumb
Donovan, Cornelius21LaborerScar left groin
Kelly, Thomas21NoneScar left hip
Holden, Thomas21NoneScar left thumb
Davitt, Joseph21NoneScar on back
McGuire, James21NoneScar on forehead
McColgan, Edward21ClerkScar on left arm
Love, William21ShoemakerScar on left eye
Graham, Peter21LaborerScar on left heel
Oliver, Thomas21LaborerScar on left heel
Rogers, Edward21BarberScar on left leg
Gibbons, Michael21SpinnerScar on left shoulder near neck
Fox, James21HatterScar on penis
Brennan, Patrick21LaborerScar on right eyebrow
O’Connor, Hugh21PrinterScar on right eyebrow
Mouly, Daniel21LaborerScar on right thigh
Mockler, Thomas21CarpenterScar right cheek
McCormick, George21BartenderScars between eyebrows
Drum, Peter21LaborerScars on forehead
Carmady, Martin21NoneSeveral scars on the back
Galligan, Bernard22BoatmanBurn on right arm and chest
Sheady, Patrick22LaborerInequality in size of pupils of eyes. Varicose left side foot and toes
Morrisey, Frederick22MoulderInjury to 2nd finger of left hand
Grady, James22BricklayerScar left arm
Pentony, William22CarpenterPhymosis
Donnelly, Henry22BoatmanPitted by smallpox
Smith, James C.22CarpenterScar left foot
Shaw, Henry22RiveterScar left thigh and side
McCann, John22Boiler MakerScar on breast
Herbert, James22LaborerScar on forehead
Johnson, William22SeamanScar on left breast
Fahey, John22BoatmanScar on right groin
Mahony, William O.22Leather MakerScar on right groin
Stone, Thomas22LaborerScar on right thigh
Carter, Alfred B.22ButcherScar on the head
Garvey, Jeremiah22LaborerScar on the right thigh
Newtown, Lewis22NoneScar right cheek
Hines, Thomas22Boiler MakerScar right forearm
Tatfield, William22MarinerScar right knee
Hennesey, John22MasonScar with depression above left brow. Impediment in speech
Cabb, William22LaborerScars right leg
Brown, John22LaborerSeveral scars on left thigh
Whitty, Michael22MarinerSlight strabismus
Reilly, John22LaborerSmall scar above right eyebrow
Sutton, Michael23BootmakerBurn on chin, breast and right arm. Pitted by smallpox
Toole, Christopher23PorterPitted by smallpox
Finnigan, Daniel23PlumberScar left cheek
Hennessey, James23LaborerScar left eyebrow
Rigby, William23Boiler MakerScar on head
Kane, Joseph23ClerkScar on left cheek
Oswald, William23Brass FinisherScar on right forearm
Riley, Thomas23LaborerScar on side of throat
Gibson, James23SeamanScar on the back
Bradley, Peter23LaborerScars on right thigh
Cautlon, Edward23NoneSmall tumor left wirst
Allan, William24LaborerCross right breast, heart left breast, scar left leg
Flynn, Patrick24LaborerScar between eyebrows
Rodgers, Peter24NoneScar left buttock
Cavanagh, James24BoatmanScar left groin
Ryan, John24MoulderScar left leg
Minar, Frank24SeamanScar on the abdomen
Campbell, John24FiremanScar right groin
McIlwain, William25PainterHairy noerus? on abdomen, scar on left groin
Vail, John25HatterInjury on right leg
O’Rourke, Patrick25MasonScar between eyebrows
Marron, Owen25ShoemakerScar left groin
Sullivan, Jeremiah25FiremanScar on forehead
May, James25Silk WeaverScar on left arm (had smallpox)
Rooney, Michael25FiremanScars from burns left elbow and forearm
Hoolihan, Patrick25LaborerScars on forehead
Glass, Robert26LaborerScar on left knee and Phymosis
Kearney, John26LaborerScar on right
Conolly, John26FiremanScar on right breast
Daly, John26LaborerSeveral small scars on the back
Kenney, Patrick26LaborerSlightly pitted by smallpox
Bradshaw, John26Laborerwound of left hand
Welsh, Michael27FiremanLost portion of third finger, pitted by smallpox
McGuire, George27PlumberPhymosis, scars on both wrists
Stretton, Richard27MarinerPockmarked face
Healy, John27BootfitterScar left groin
O’Brien, Martin27LaborerScar left shin and right shoulder
Nolan, Patrick J.27PainterScar on left wrist
McNamara, Edward27LaborerScar on loins
Davison, William27LaborerScar on right arm
Smith, James27FiremanScar right breast
Caffray, George A.28Laborer? left ankle
Butney, William28FiremanInjury of littlefinger on right hand
Murphy, Michael28CarpenterLost ?, scars on left forearm
Smith, Peter28Morocco DresserScar above left thumb
Dowd, Murthy28NoneScar on the right hip
Clark, James28NoneScars right leg
Mordaunt, Michael28MachinistSlight ? and weakness both sides
Kane, Edward D29LaborerHas had smallpox
Browne, John29PainterLost portion of right ear, scar on right thigh
Harkins, John29BricklayerScar on forehead and left arm
Hogan, Patrick29LaborerScar on right leg
Fitzgerald, James29Coach PainterVarious scars on the left leg
McCarthy, John30LaborerScar left thigh
Phelan, Edward30WaiterPitted by smallpox
McEvoy, James30FiremanScar left leg
King, Daniel30FiremanScar scalp and forehead
Burke, Patrick31BoatmanInjury left thumb
McHugh, Peter31LaborerScar on the right leg
Wise, Matthew31LaborerScar right thigh
McGuire, Thomas31FiremanScars arms, legs, body & c.
Connell, Timothy O.32CooperScar on left arm
Woods, Henry32FiremanScar right ear
Smith, Charles33MachinistLost little finger left hand
Hurley, John33MarinerScar on skin of left eye
Mulcahey, Michael33LaborerScar on the belly
Dalton, Thomas34FiremanBald headed, scar on neck
Manning, Thomas34LaborerLittle finger left hand crooked
Ritchey, John36SailorMacula left leg
Gibson, John36SailorPitted by smallpox
Nimmo, George37MachinistFront upper teeth (lost)
Connor, William O.37CarpenterScar on chest
Brooks, George37Seamanscar on left knee
Kennedy, John38LaborerSlight deformity left arm, pitted by small pox
Bannerman, Francis40FiremanScar on left thigh
Morgan, James45FiremanMarks 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.