I receive regular requests from around Ireland to provide information on men from specific parts of the country who served during the American Civil War. Pinning veterans down to a locality of origin is a difficult challenge, but it is often possible to reveal some of their stories. Having recently conducted  research on one fascinating Roscrea man- Private Mathew Dooley- I decided to take the opportunity to share some of the techniques I employ to find out more about men like him. In Mathew’s case, this is a story which was intrinsically linked throughout his life to the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

Pension Index Card of Mathew Dooley (Fold3)

Pension Index Card of Mathew Dooley (Fold3)

I have had the occasion (and indeed privilege) this year to give a large number of talks about the Irish in the American Civil War in different parts of Ireland. I always try to give these presentations a local focus, highlighting those from the area who were caught up in the conflict. While it is usually possible to provide information on Generals and Officers, it is generally much more difficult to trace enlisted men back to the exact location of their birth. There are many reasons for this, among them the poor state of records from this period in Ireland, the lack of information on origins gathered at immigration ports, and the tendency for birth data to be recorded only as ‘Ireland’ in contemporary U.S. military records. As a result, despite the fact that we know thousands of men from each county in Ireland served between 1861 and 1865, we often know the precise localities of only a few dozen of them.

Given these difficulties, there are a couple of sources I tend to return to when I hope to find people from specific areas. One is the ‘Information Wanted’ advertisements of the New-York Irish American and Boston Pilot, which often reveal exactly where the subject of the advertisement was from. The ‘Information Wanted’ ads from the Irish American have been published in book form and are also accessible through subscription to the GenealogyBank site here. The ads from the Pilot are freely available through the database at Boston College here. Another resource is the List of Pensioners on the Roll, taken in 1883, which records the location of men, women and children who were receiving U.S. Military Pensions at that time. You can access this either through Ancestry or for free through archive.org. The Roll reveals that a number of individuals were having pensions delivered to local post offices in Ireland, and so it can be used as an an indicator of where they lived, and in the majority of cases where they were originally from. In advance of a recent talk for the Roscrea Heritage Society I decided to see was anyone in that Co. Tipperary town collecting a military pension in 1883. It transpired that there was- Mathew Dooley, Pension Certificate No. 135,213, who was in receipt of $3.00 per month for a wound he had sustained to his right leg. Short of ordering Dooley’s Pension File for additional information (with the associated cost), what more is there to be found out about Dooley? (1)

Men of Company K (Mathew's Company), 2nd new York Heavy Artillery at Fort C.F. Smith (Library of Congress)

Men of Company K, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery at Fort C.F. Smith (Library of Congress)

I tend to use Fold3 and Ancestry as a means of tracking men like this. Having Mathew’s Pension Certificate Number means it is possible to source his Pension Index Card (Fold3), which stated that he served as a Private in Company G of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery. He had enlisted on 11th October 1861 and was discharged on October 14th 1864. His card also indicates that he passed away on 2nd June 1917, in Washington D.C. A review of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery’s history (on a site such as the NPS Soldiers and Sailors Database) reveals that aside from it’s role in the Washington defences it was engaged at Second Bull Run and during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns, mustering out on 29th September 1865. If you want to find out more about the specific actions of regiments like this and reports relating to them, the best free resource are the digitized Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, which are available for free via Cornell University. The roster of regiment, available along will those of every New York unit through the New York State Military Museum here, provides additional information on Mathew, which is as follows:

Dooley Matthew.- Age, 20 years. Enlisted, October 11, 1861, at New York City; mustered in as private, Co. G, October 15, 1861, to serve three years; discharged, October 14, 1864. (2)

The most important revelation here is Mathew’s age. Armed now with an approximate birth date and known death date, it is possible to see what other documents there are relating to him. An 18-year-old man named Mathew Dooley arrived in New York on 11th April 1861 aboard the Cultivator which had sailed from Liverpool (Ancestry). Although we can’t be certain this is the same man, it seems likely that it is, indicating that when the Roscrea native enlisted he had only been in the country for a few months. Having made a life in the United States, Mathew decided to return to Roscrea sometime after the war’s end. The major question is why he chose to go back to Ireland, and having returned why did he subsequently return to the United States? The answers ultimately reveal much about the many struggles he endured in the years following the war. (3)

Officers of Companies K and L, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery at Fort C.F. Smith (Library of Congress)

Officers of Companies K and L, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery at Fort C.F. Smith (Library of Congress)

Mathew Dooley’s name occurs again and again in the records of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Ancestry). These homes were designed to give men who had served a refuge and somewhere to live. Although they were run according to military doctrine, veterans applied to enter and could apply to leave whenever they wished. The different entries for Mathew reveal much about both his service and his life in general. He is described as being 5 feet 9 inches in height, with a fair complexion, light coloured eyes and light hair. It was also noted he was unmarried, was a Catholic and could read and write. We further discover that the gunshot wound he had received to his right foot had occurred at the Battle of the Wilderness on 7th May 1864, and that he had left his regiment in 1864 from its position in front of Petersburg following the expiration of his term of service. After the war he had worked as a plumber in New York, but by 1877 had made the decision to enter one of the Homes. It was a pattern that would continue for the rest of his life- Mathew was admitted and re-admitted to different Homes around the United States a total of 21 times, spanning 39 years. He was last discharged only a few months prior to his death in 1917. (4)




Southern (Hampton, Virginia)

13th October 1877

1st March 1878

Eastern (Togus, Maine)

29th April 1887

16th March 1889

Central (Dayton, Ohio)

19th October 1892

12th January 1893

Central (Dayton, Ohio)

10th October 1899

26th February 1900

North-Western (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

26th October 1900

11th October 1901

Danville (Danville, Illinois)

14th January 1902

25th June 1903

North-Western (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

24th October 1903

27th April 1904

Mountain (Johnson City, Tennessee)

28th November 1904

17th May 1905

Central (Dayton, Ohio)

24th July 1906

3rd October 1906

Marion (Marion, Indiana)

13th October 1908

24th February 1909

Central (Dayton, Ohio)

1st September 1910

24th May 1911

Mountain (Johnson City, Tennessee)

22nd September 1911

13th February 1912

Danville (Danville, Illinois)

29th December 1912

28th March 1913

Eastern (Togus, Maine)

27th September 1913

20th January 1914

Western (Leavenworth, Kansas)

15th April 1914

18th June 1914

Southern (Hampton, Virginia)

15th August 1914

1st October 1914

Danville (Danville, Illinois)

27th December 1914

24th March 1915

Central (Dayton, Ohio)

15th July 1915

18th September 1915

Mountain (Johnson City, Tennessee)

25th January 1916

4th April 1916

North-Western (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

27th June 1916

19th September 1916

Southern (Hampton, Virginia)

4th October 1916

13th January 1917

Table 1. Admission and Discharge Records for Mathew Dooley at National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

Mathew’s time in the National Homes did not always go smoothly- at one point he was dishonorably discharged for ‘continued disobedience of orders and general bad conduct.’ It may have been this that led him to return to Ireland, sometime after his discharge from the Southern Branch of the Home in March 1878. While in the Home he had recorded his next as kin as his sister Johanna in Roscrea, and he must have hoped that he could put his difficulties behind him with the help of his family in Co. Tipperary. For whatever reason, be they personal or financial, Mathew spent only a few years in Roscrea before once again heading to the United States, and the support that the National Homes had to offer. He was readmitted on 29th April 1887 to the Eastern Branch. (5)

Eastern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Library of Congress)

Eastern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Library of Congress)

By the time of his return to America, at least some of Mathew’s family were making their home there; over the years he recorded as next of kin a sister Mrs. Julia Casey living in New York, and niece, Mrs. Ellen Gillen, who resided at 214 Little 12th Street in Manhattan. He got into trouble again for his conduct at the Home in 1893, but overall the majority of his discharges were voluntarily, no doubt as he sought to make his way successfully in different parts of the United States. However, as the years passed Mathew was beset by a variety of illnesses and disabilities that made him more and more reliant on the National Homes. Aside from his old gunshot wound, he was variously recorded as suffering from Chronic Bronchitis, Sciatica, Prostatic Hypertrophy, Cardiac Hypertrophy, Hemorrhoids, Arteriosclerosis, Chronic Rheumatism and difficulties with his eyes. (6)

The above sources are but a small selection of those that I generally use when attempting to discover more about Irish emigrants in the war- there are many others worth examining, for example the wealth of digitized newspapers freely available through the Library of Congress Chronicling America website or the wealth of online memoirs available at archive.org. Mathew Dooley’s story is also a demonstration of what can be revealed about one Irish soldier’s experience through the resources that are now being made available online. These resources offer us the potential to take a man like Mathew Dooley beyond a mere entry in a list of pensioners, revealing something more about his life and experiences.

Camp of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery and 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, Belle Plains, Virginia, 16th May 1864- 9 days after Mathew Dooley was wounded (Library of Congress)

Camp of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery and 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, Belle Plains, Virginia, 16th May 1864- 9 days after Mathew Dooley was wounded at The Wilderness (Library of Congress)

(1) Pensioners on the Roll 1883: 640; (2) Mathew Dooley Pension Index Card, New York Adjutant-General 1893: 621; (3) New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957; (4) U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers 1866-1938; (5) Ibid; (6) Ibid;

References & Further Reading





Chronicling America at the Library of Congress

National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database

New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion at Cornell University

Government Printing Office 1883. List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883. Volume 5

Mathew Dooley Pension Index Card Certificate No. 135,213

New York Adjutant General. Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York for the Year 1893

New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers 1866-1938 (Togus, Johnson City, Danville, Marion, Leavenworth, Bath)