Irish in the American Civil War on Tour

Despite writing this blog for a number of years now, it may surprise some readers to know that I have never had the opportunity to visit any of the American Civil War battlefields. Fortunately (and after a few false starts) I am finally in a position to rectify this, and hopefully catch some sesquicentennial events as well. I will be travelling to Washington D.C. in early May, and hope to be on the Wilderness battlefield for 5th May and Spotsylvania on the 12th. I intend to visit a number of other Civil War battlefields and take in some of the sights around Virginia and the capital. If any readers have suggestions as to what I should add to my itinerary I would love to hear from you!


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Events, General

Author:Damian Shiels

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

Follow Irish in the American Civil War

Follow Irish in the American Civil War via Social Media

28 Comments on “Irish in the American Civil War on Tour”

  1. Cameron W. Robinson
    August 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Book yourself into the B&B at Antietam it was used as Longstreet’s Headquarters and the Sunken road is just over the hill. It is also very close to Battlefield Centre.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Hi Cameron,

      Thanks for that suggestion- that sounds like a great idea, I am most certainly going to try and do that!

      Kind Regards,


  2. August 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Hi Damian, if you have time, Lexington is a really nice town. You can visit the Stonewall Jackson house, as well as Jackson’s grave site in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. Robert E Lee’s grave is also in Lexington in the Lee Chapel and Museum at Washington and Lee University. There is a nice downtown area, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is nearby if you would like see some outstanding views. If you can get to Appomattox Court House you will see where Lee surrendered to Grant in a very well-preserved setting. Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia is not far, nor is the Antietam Battlefield. Good luck on your visit!

  3. Richard Traeger
    August 23, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    The Antietam battlefield and nearby Harper’s Ferry is a “must see.” Since most of the battle sites are in a small geographic area between Washington D.C. and Richmond & Petersburg VA you can cover quite a few battlefields in a short time. I suggest you include Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania/Salem Church and suggest a trip out to Hampton Roads to see Fortress Monroe and the Monitor at the nearby Mariners Museum. A good map of Civil War sites is available at Virginia Trails Information ( If your time is limited, I would not bother traveling West to see Appomattox CH as there is not much to see compared to the Richmond area. I would suggest a trip North to Gettysburg PA instead. Enjoy your visit. Thanks for your blog I find it fascinating.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the suggestions and the kind words! I must try to get to Harper’s Ferry, the photos I have seen of it look incredible. I have a couple of weeks but I imagine they will be action packed, I am going to have to get planning!

      Kind Regards,


  4. August 23, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    Hi Damian, I agree, if you have a chance visit Harper’s Ferry. I haven’t been to many sites myself but VA and WV were very interesting. Good time of year to visit too, very scenic destinations.

  5. August 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Lovely time to go! We talked abt Jamestowne Island before so I’m pretty sure you’ll want to visit that. Hallowed ground! That’s where the archaeological dig is taking place and you’ll see a lot of things related to that in the museum. You might even get to see the first skeletons if they’re not being shown elsewhere. There is a second Jamestown where there are replicas of the ships and too many displays for me to remember – and a museum I believe. It’s very close to Jamestowne Island. Breaking free from British control was huge! ;) Colonial Williamsburg is very close to Jamestown (both). It’s an incredible outdoor living history museum. It’s a town. It has costumed interpreters – like Thomas Jefferson & Washington. Many of them! This is where a number of the founding fathers hung out. Virginians had a lot to do with the formation of the Declaration of Independence. Then there’s Yorktown – the actual battlefield, the home where the British surrendered, Surrender Field, etc. We used to drive the battlefield just for pleasure. It’s beautiful. Historical signs identify special places. There is a second Yorktown (Yup – two again) very close & it has demonstrations and other things. All three historical places plus the two non original places are accessed from the Colonial Parkway. That’s another place we drove for pleasure. These places are located on what is referred to as the Peninsula. I should be fairly accurate (or close) in describing it as being 10 miles wide & 30 miles long – situated between the York River & the James River. That area with the historic places is referred to as the Historic Triangle. So in that small area you have the first colony that survived – started by the British for the benefit of the British – the place where a lot of the sharing of thoughts that led to breaking with the British & the place where the British surrendered and we became America. I highly recommend this place to eat at:

    We eat there however many nights we’re there – every night. There is such an enormous variety of food to eat that you should find something to please any taste buds.

    I don’t eat fish but you should probably try the blue crabs from Chesapeake Bay. I hear they’re great. ;)

    If I were to choose a second Hallowed Ground place for me it would be Appomattox Court House. I agree with George. It’s an amazing place. Being where Lee surrendered to Grant is very moving. Very much worth going to!

    My personal choice for the mountains is Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. There are markers related to the Civil War there as well but it’s an incredible drive and great views with pullouts to stop at. If you want to spend the night or nights up there Big Meadows Lodge (personal favorite) and Skyline have lodges & eating.

    Virginia is so packed with historical places I think you could live a lifetime there and never be able to see it all.

    As I understand it Celtic music is the foundation of the Appalachian music. That’s just another sidenote abt the mountains.

    It’s not far at all to visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina and that’s pretty awesome too with at least two lighthouses you can climb – Cape Hatteras & Corolla. When hurricanes hit the whole country gets to hear abt the Outer Banks usually. You can also see the ocean of course. lol

    Favorite place in Virginia Beach is the Marine Science Museum.

    I don’t know if it’s accessible but Fort Monroe is very interesting as well. Jefferson Davis was held there as a prisoner.

    You can also drive the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel just for the fun of it.

    We’re going to be back there in a couple of weeks so if I think of more I’ll post. Also, I have albums of pictures of Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg & Yorktown online here:

    Shenandoah pics are there as well. Click on the thumbnails to open other albums. Hope that makes sense. :)

    Really glad you’re coming!

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Thanks so much for all the suggestions! Yorktown is a really good idea too I will have to swing by there- it should be a packed couple of weeks :-)

  6. August 24, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    I just got back from Richmond and Petersburg. Obviously there was an immense amount of activity around both cities for a good part of the war. And many of the battle sites are very close to one another; for example, the 1862 Battle of Gaines’s Mill was fought just a mile or so from the 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor. I’m sure whatever sites you choose, it’ll be enjoyable and educational.

  7. Joe Maghe
    August 24, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    The entire exhibit of “An American Turning Point, The Civil War in Virginia” will be on display in its entirity during that time at the History Museum of Western Virginia which is located at 1 Market Square SE, Roanoke, Virginia. This display has some fine exhibits (USCT ID discs were some of my favorites) and inscludes the Frock coat, green cockade and sword of Denis F Burke commander of the 88th NY of the Irish Brigade. It also has the drum of the 88th’s George Funk.I am planning on being out that way during that time. I hope to arrange a face to face.

  8. Joe Maghe
    August 24, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    As for battlefields to visit, my favorites are Antietam (so pristine) and Fredericksburg (so memorable).

  9. August 24, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Antietam and Harpers Ferry are impressive Damian, but since you’re at Spotsylvania (Check out the SC memorial there, near where Irish Volunteers of Charleston fought at the Bloody Angle) Richmond is so close, you have to go. The Museum of the Confederacy has some great artefacts including some from Irish Confederates. Civil War Center at the old Tredegar Iron Works is there too. With a car though you can do the Seven Days sites following Lee’s Army’s march. Start on the Mechanicsville (where Mike Nolan earned his chops) to Gaines’s Mill. There you can go along Boatswain creek where Dominick Spelman picked up the flag of the 1st SC. On then to Glendale and finishing at Malvern Hill, pretty much as it looked in 1862. A buddy of mine did a few years ago in the late afternoon and had all these places pretty much to ourselves. You pick the guide up at the Center. Richmond has some great pubs and restaurants too. I have some good recs if you decide to take it in! David.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the tips! That sounds like a good plan- I am really keen to see the Seven Days battlefields and Richmond too- I have done a bit of work on the 9th Mass at Gaines’ Mill so that is a must. I hope to be at the Bloody Angle 150 years on so I will certainly go to the SC memorial. I think I will have to stock up on memory cards for the camera!

      Kind Regards,


  10. August 24, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    You can visit the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg in two days. There’s not much to see at the Wilderness but Chancellorsville has a great Visitor’s center for the three locations. The Fredericksburg Visitor’s Center is separated from the others. About an hour and a half is the Manassas battlefield, very well done. The Richmond-Petersburg battlefields shouldn’t be missed. The Petersburg National Battlefield is done by driving. It’s about 35 miles long.

    Make sure to visit the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. The New Market battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley is well preserved and run by the state of Virginia and the Virginia Military Institute. It was at this battle that the VMI cadets were used in the line of battle. Ten died on what VMI considers a Field of Honor. Every May 15th there is a special parade where the dead cadets names are called and a designated cadet responds “Died on the field of honor, sir.” Next year will be the 150th Anniversary.

    If you need a guide, call me at 434-296-4002 or 434-960-4298. No charge. I live in Charlottesville between Richmond and the Valley.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the tips! I will most certainly be trying to fit in some if not all of those sites! Also deepest thanks for your kind offer I am deeply appreciative- I will be finalising all the itinerary in the next couple of months so will let you know what the plans are!

      Kind Regards,


  11. Jim Creed
    August 24, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    If you have some time, take a ride to the Shenandoah Valley. Many Irish volunteers fought and died there. After walking several battlefields and riding up the Valley Pike, I was struck with how much the Valley reminded men of Ireland, as I am sure it did those men150 years ago.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:21 am #

      Hi Jim,

      I really do hope I can get to the Shenandoah I will have to see can I make that happen. Having read so much about the campaigns there it would be interesting to see if it matches the image of it I have in my mind’s eye!

      Kind Regards,


  12. Steve Reilly
    August 24, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    If you land & take off from Dullas, you are only a few hours drive from the Antietam Battlefield. Gettysburg is only about 2 hours drive north from Antietam. Antietam is very much as it was, Gettysburg is Disney outside of the National Battlefield Park, with people everywhere. My son (1st Lt. 69th New York National Guard & I been to mostly all the Civil War Battlefields, from Atlanta north, we find the Antietam area, very much as it was, rolling country and farms. Not even one hotel, motel or gas station near the battlefield and almost no homes within sight.
    Steve Reilly
    Sons Of Union Veterans, 9th NY, 51st NY, 170NY (KIA) 1st Mass Cav.

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      Hi Steve,

      Many thanks for the suggestions! I have a couple of weeks, so Arlington will be a must. I am coming into Dullas alright so hopefully pretty central for everything, I really can’t wait for it!

      Kind Regards,


      • Steve Reilly
        August 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

        Let’s talk hotels, I been the top of the Hilton program since 1988 & have 1,300,000 miles on Delta. You can pick up a nice Hilton just outside of DC in Arlington for around $100, if you have a gov’t ID. Look at the doubletree in Arlington VA. 1 block from the subway. Also look at Hampton Inn all over Va & Maryland, also around $100 or less. You don’t want a car while in DC, the subway is great. I never use Dullas because is not easy to get into DC, but I think they have a bus, then use the subway. Don’t pickup your rental car at the airport, you will pay more. I fly in and out of DC a lot. I’m flying to Dublin this Nov. & my paying in Advance, all my Hilton’s are under $100. You don’t need to pay like that in DC, once Congress goes home, the rooms drop. Every hotel will have a subway map at the desk. To keep your cost down, you don’t have to stay at the same hotel every night, check the rates on the internet. Another hotel to stay in, is the Hilton Garden Inn, behind Union Station, not the best of area’s, but safe enough and right on the subway. I’m a former deputy US Marshal & retired State Trooper, DC is very safe if you stay in the main tourist area’s. and don’t walk the streets at 3 AM

  13. Steve Reilly
    August 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    I almost forgot to add, Arlington. You can walk in via a small gate across the street from the Marine Corps war Memorial (Iwo). In that gate, turn right and you will see row after row of the Irish you write about. My G G uncle Bernard O’Reilly (Cavan) is there, WIA @ Spot then shot in the head at the North Anna River, 170th NY Corcoran’s. I hope you booked a week or more, a lot to see, when you are a kid in the toy store.

  14. Leo Carney
    August 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    I am also planning to go down to Saunders field @ the 150 th of the Battle of the Wilderness.
    Where my beloved Massachusetts 9th vol irish infantry fought so bravely.
    It was just 2 days ago I was at the gravesites of Lt. Flaherty, Capt Macnamara and Col. Guiney, the graves are in site of each other.Buried near my father.
    All of which who where killed or wounded May 5, 1864. Buried here in Holyhood Cemetery, Brookline Ma. Hope we may meet you there!

    • August 26, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Hi Leo,

      That is great hopefully we can meet- I hope to be at Saunders Field on the day as well as I also have a soft spot for the 9th Mass (one of the chapters in my book deals with their attack at Saunders Field). Do you have any pics of those gravesites that you would be willing to share on the site?

      Kind Regards,


      • Leo Carney
        August 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

        I do have picture I will try to find it I took last winter.Holyhood Cemetery
        is also the resting spot of the parents of president John Kennedy.
        If you Google ” find a grave” web site and enter the names mentioned you will
        find them there already posted.I also came across a picture of the the 9th at Camp “Cass” in Washington at a field Catholic Mass with a priest. I have been trying to verify who the the men are. I think one is Col. Guiney there are what appears to be officers and NCOs all posing in the picture.I will try to get that over to you.
        Take Care,
        Leo C

      • August 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

        Hi Leo,

        That is fantastic many thanks for that! I know the photo of the 9th you are talking about- Guiney is in it alright he is one of the men seated on the right hand-side (as you look at the photo) if memory serves. It is a really superb photograph!

        Kind Regards,


  15. August 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Hi Damien – so glad you’re making this trip. You need about a year to do it justice, but this is good for a beginning :)
    Virginia is the place to start. Beginning with Bull Run – the very large site is beautifully preserved with expert tour/park guides. They will be interested in what you’re working on. Also, Fredericksburg is such an important battle and emotive place where so many Irish lost their lives. The remaining site of the battle field is quite small, but again, there is an excellent guide. The cemetery alone is worth seeing. And having the town (and the Potomac) beside it with much of its history preserved gives you a sense of how the whole thing progressed. There’s been recent digs in the town with interesting finds. Good B&B there is the Richard Johnson Inn (circa 1700’s) located right in the old town section of Fredericksburg. You can follow the Union soldier’s march from the river up to Marye’s Hill and the stone wall; see the effect of the war on the town itself, and easily recreate it in your mind. The town is immersed in history, from Revolutionary War through the Civil war.
    This will be an excellent trip. Hope it’s just the beginning of many for you.

  16. Belinda Evangelista
    May 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    Bon Voyage. Will you be in NY? You should contact Ryan Mahoney at the link above for the Albany area and Gerry Regan if you plan to be in NYC. :)

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      Thanks Belinda!

      Wish I was still Stateside it was a great experience! I didn’t make it to New York this time but I certainly hope to in the near future!

      Talk to you soon,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: