‘Friend Patt theres only 8 of us that left…’: An Irish Brigade Soldier’s Letter at War’s End

For a number of weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia thousands of Union troops remained in the field in Virginia. During this period men often reflected on the past and the many comrades they had lost and looked forward to returning home. Meanwhile officers tried to keep the men occupied with drill and parade, something often resented by veteran troops. I recently came across a fascinating letter dealing with this period from a member of the Irish Brigade. In it Private John Hall demonstrates the close bond felt between recruits who joined the Brigade in January 1864 and discusses how few of that group emerged unscathed. 

Officers of the 63rd New York Infantry in June 1865 (Library of Congress)

Officers of the 63rd New York Infantry (mainly Company A) in June 1865 (Library of Congress)

Camp near Burkesville [sic.] Va.

April 30th 1865

Friend Patrick,

Yours came to hand this morning in which I am glad to find you in good health as this leaves me thanks to God. Friend Patrick I see by yours you are sorry you cannot come to your regiment. You are better remain on Hart Island NY than come here either in peace or war. It is true we have peace with the South but our Brigade Colonel Robert Nugent does not give us much peace. Roll call at 5 am, drill from 9-11 am, drill from 2 to 4 pm, dress parade 5 am [sic.], Taps at 8 pm with plenty of fatigue guards and picquets. Friend Patrick, we are 4 miles outside the above station in camp in a wood convenient to the Danville rail road where we picquet to prevent persons from leaving said road and do not know what hour we may be sent to [illegible] parts of the country to guard. But as for home we hear nothing about it as for Colonel Gleason he is under arrest this long time and is of opinion he will be cashiered. His brother Joe is well and holds the rank of Captain. Friend Patt theres only 8 of us that left Hart Island NY here at present out of our fine company. But Corporal Christopher McClellan was exchanged from Rebel prison and is gone on to Annoppolis [sic.] Md. Also there are 6 of our men from our regiment made their escape from Salisbury North Carolina and joined us a few days ago they tell us that our Dear friend John Wallace died on our about they [sic.] 21st day of October 64 at Salisbury North Carolina from starvation. May God in his mercy have mercy on his soul and may heaven be his reward for his many sufferings from August 25th to October 21st 64 while in Rebel prison. Friend Patt you can tell his poor wife Mary Wallace of her husbands death, may God comfort her and she can apply to the State Agent to forward her claims to the War Department as we announced her husband [sic.] death on the muster rolls of the 30th April 65 this days muster rolls for the last 2 months we also will forward his final statements on tomorrow to the War Department by consent of Joseph Gleason Captain Comdg. D. Co. This friend Patrick is all we can do in memory of our beloved countryman and most particular friend may his soul rest in peace. Amen.

Friend Patrick if you can remain in New York or on Hart Island as we are opinion our Brigade will be kept for our term of service. Hoping you will remain in good health until the expiration of our service until we unite happily as we did before. I close by sending to poor Mrs. Wallace my sympathy in her sorrow, hoping the Lord will comfort her as he see fit to call her dear husband to himself. I join in sending you and friend Gleason my best respects,

I remain your friend and brother soldier

John Hall, D Company, 63d Regt NY V. Vols

Washington D.C.

P.S. Dear Patrick, if you write again to me omit the word Seargent, if you please- your friend, John Hall. (1)

Colonel Robert Nugent and staff in June 1865 (Library of Congress)

Colonel Robert Nugent and staff in June 1865 (Library of Congress)

Individuals Mentioned in the Letter

The letter writer, John Hall, mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York on the 20th January 1864 at the age of 23. He had been wounded in action at Petersburg on 16th June 1864. John mustered out with the regiment at Alexandria two months after he wrote this letter, on 30th June 1865. (2)

The recipient is not identified beyond his first name ‘Patrick’, but is almost certainly Patrick Slattery. He mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York on the 21st January 1864 at the age of 20 and mustered out on 9th May 1865 at Hart’s Island, New York. (3)

John Wallace mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York on the 21st January 1864 at the age of 24. He had not been in the United States for long when he enlisted, having married his wife Mary O’Connor in Killarney, Co. Kerry on 15th November 1862. Captured at the Battle of Ream’s Station on 25th August 1864, he is recorded as having died of pneumonia at Salisbury, North Carolina on 8th November 1864. (4)

Joseph Gleason mustered in as Second Lieutenant in Company D of the 63rd New York on 5th April 1864 at the age of 19. He was promoted to Captain of the Company on 5th April 1864 and was discharged on 27th April 1865. (5)

Christopher McClellan mustered into Company D of the 63rd New York as a Private on 25th January 1864. Promoted to Corporal, he was captured at the Battle of Ream’s Station on 25th August 1864. He was recorded as having escaped from prison in Salisbury North Carolina and rejoined his Company 17th May 1865. He mustered out with the regiment on 20th June 1865 in Alexandria, Virginia. (6)

John Hasset Gleason from Borrisoleigh in Co. Tipperary was Joseph’s older brother. He had served in the Papal Wars of 1860. He fought with the 69th New York State Militia at Bull Run before becoming an officer in the 63rd New York in 1861 at the age of 21. He rose to become Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment on 19th September 1864. Brevetted a Major-General on 13th March 1865 he was also heavily involved in the Fenian movement. The reason for his arrest is unclear, but he was dismissed on 18th May 1865. (7)

Robert Nugent from Kilkeel in Co. Down was Lieutenant-Colonel of the 69th New York State Militia and later became the Colonel of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry. Wounded at Fredericksburg, he was Provost Marshal for the southern district of New York during the 1863 draft riots. He helped to rebuild the Irish Brigade and eventually led it. He was brevetted a Brigadier-General on 13th March 1865. He returned to service in the regular army after the conclusion of the Civil War. (8)

(1) John Wallace Widow’s Pension File; (2) New York AG 1901: 73; (3) New York AG 1901: 173; (4) New York AG 1901: 189, John Wallace Widow’s Pension File; (5) New York AG 1901: 66; (6) New York AG 1901: 116; (7) New York AG 1901: 65, Hunt & Brown 1990: 233; (8) Hunt & Brown 1990: 451;


John Wallace Widow’s Pension File WC77334

Hunt, Roger D. and Brown, Jack R. 1990. Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue

New York Adjutant-General 1901. Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1901.


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Categories: 63rd New York, Irish Brigade

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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10 Comments on “‘Friend Patt theres only 8 of us that left…’: An Irish Brigade Soldier’s Letter at War’s End”

  1. March 3, 2014 at 4:12 am #

    Thank you for bringing this letter to us. And thank you also for your interpretation.

  2. Robin Heaney
    March 3, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    Thanks for this …I really enjoy all your stories…the human interest stories are my favorite part of history, and you really have some wonderful stories….

    • March 8, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

      Hi Robin,

      Thanks for reading, really glad you are enjoying it!

      Kind Regards,


  3. September 1, 2014 at 4:40 am #

    John Hasset Gleason’s arrest in the homeland, Ireland, was for “Complicity in disturbing the peace of her Majesty’s Government” (1) His association with Meagher and the Young Irelanders (2) was probably enough justification to receive this charge. Then, of course, there’s that other matter of fighting for another country.

    1) NYTimes 29 Oct 1888
    2) P Vaticano/Univ. Richmond 2008

    • September 1, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      Hi Ed,

      Many thanks for the comment. Gleason was a committed Fenian by all accounts, there is an excellent photograph of him after his arrest in Mountjoy which is well worth a look!

      Kind Regards,


      • edguy3
        September 1, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

        do you have a link?

      • September 2, 2014 at 10:22 am #

        Hi Ed,

        Having gone looking for the link I realise it was not Gleason but Denis Burke I was thinking of regarding that image- apologies for that. It would not surprise me if there are some photos of him in the Fenian files in Dublin though, something I must check out.


  4. William Rose
    April 27, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    The simple answer for the reason of Gleason arrest and Court Martial is jealousy over rank. The longer story involves a personal feud between future colonels of the 63rd NY James D. Brady and John Hassett Gleason.
    I wrote a rebuttal to North and South magazine in regards to the Vol. 7 Number 4 June 2004 article by Thomas P. Lowry on the subject of Gleason’s arrest and being cashiered, but he left out important information and didn’t tell the whole story. The editor welcomed my rebuttal at first then turned it down, which was a shame because many individuals that read Lowry’s article were left with a very negative view of the very brave and heroic Gleason.
    I probably don’t need to state here of the actions and bravery of John Hassett Gleason, but to say he was actively involved in the formation of the Third Independent Irish Regiment (to become the 63rd NY) after leaving the 69th NYSM and became 1st Lt. of Co. H.
    While the 63rd had outstanding officers and men, they were plagued at the position of colonel. The co-founder of the regiment Lt. Col. P. D. Kelly was disposed of and replaced by Col Enright by his political friends. Col. Enright blundered on the “drunken party” of the 63rd on leaving David’s Island and tried to place the blame on his junior officers, which backfired on him and eventually with other problems leading to his discharge.
    The replacement for Col. Enright was Col. John Burke of the 37th NY, another Irish Regiment, and Burke was an old friend of Gen. Meagher and also a Fenian. I believe this may not have set well with officers in the 63rd NY not to promote from within, but to make matters worse, Col. Burke brought over private James D.Brady from his old his company and made him 1st Lieutenant and then Adjutant in the 63rd NY.
    Col. Burke did not lead his men into battle at Antietam and was found cowering behind a haystack, while so many of the brave officers and me of the 63rd NY were decimated, among them killed was Capt. Kavanagh, the famous Fenian, probably a close friend of Gleason. So this gives Gleason has more reason to hate Burke and Brady. After Burke is discharged he becomes a sutler, and now it’s clear why Burke had Brady transferred and promoted as they were personal friends and business partners, if I remember from a letter I have Brady was involved in purchases of whiskey for Burke, and I have documentation that after the war they started a business together in Petersburg, Virginia.
    The issue of rank between the feuding Brady and Gleason continued through the war…Gleason is promoted captain after Antietam ahead of Brady, but in the consolidation of June 12, 1863, Gleason is discharged and Brady is kept as captain of Co. B (although he’s on staff as Inspector).
    Gleason could not rest being away from the field and immediately recruits a new Co. D for the 63rd NY, returning to the regiment as captain on 4/5/1864. Then although being Court Martialed he remained with his command and was promoted over the senior captain Brady to major on 8/1864 , to Lt. Col. on 11/2/1864.
    The original Court Martial was held in June 1864 and Mr. Lowry erred in that article when he puts…”at the end of the trial in 1865…some court members added..” This letter from the court members to Maj. Gen. Hancock is dated June 12, 1864! Then there is almost nothing for a year, why probably, because I know Gleason was a favorite of Hancock. So what does Brady do? He must sit on the paperwork as Inspector, then waits for Hancock to leave, then prefers charges again almost a year later. This time Gleason is Court Martialed and Cashiered, but wait, Gleason writes a letter to President Andrew Johnson on June 7, 1865, in which he provides evidence of this conspiracy. One thing is the delay from the original Court Martial to the next one of almost a year, that he had served with distinction all during this time in between, that the court was ended prior to allowing his witnesses for his defense, and “Captain Brady had in his hands for several months prior to my trial and dismissal a commission as Lt. Col.of the 63rd NY and at the time held the same position in the regiment.
    Mr Lowry was correct in the Judge Advocate General opined that the sentence could not be revoked, but left out three very important pieces after this.
    1. Due to Gleason’s letter to President Andrew Johnson on June 23, 1865, the President wrote “In accordance with the recommendation of the Judge Advocate General the disability to reappointment resting on the officer named John H. Gleason is hereby removed.”
    2. On July 16, 1867 Lt. Col John Hassett Gleason was promoted to Brevet Major General to date March 13, 1865 by the War Department for gallant and meritorious service during the Civil War.
    3. Last and most important in the reason of Gleason’s Court Martial is in John Hassett Gleason’s pension record, in which Lt. Col. James D. Brady testified on March 7, 1882. He (Brady) was asked “What was your motives for preferring charges against him (Gleason) and when did you prefer them?” Brady answered under oath “sometime in 1864, and the motive was that he was holding rank I did not think he was entitled and I regarded him as a worthless officer.” What Brady didn’t say was that by preferring charges against Gleason and having him dismissed, Brady could now finally hold rank over Gleason with the commission he held in his hands while Gleason held the same rank. Gleason had the last laugh in the end with being promoted over Brady to Brevet Major General.


  1. ‘Our Pickets Were Gobbled’: Assessing the Mass Capture of the 69th New York, Petersburg, 1864 | Irish in the American Civil War - December 10, 2015

    […] just how much the 69th had been impacted by 1864. As we have seen before on the site (for example here) many 1864 recruits who had joined the Irish Brigade before the Overland Campaign developed their […]

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