Brigadier-General Thomas Sweeny from Dunmanway, Co. Cork is one of the best known Irish Generals of the American Civil War. His family emigrated to the United States around 1832 when Thomas was still a boy. He enjoyed a colorful career in the military; Sweeny lost an arm at the Battle of Churubusco during the Mexican war and later served in the West prior to 1861. The early part of the war saw him serving in St. Louis, Missouri, and he also participated in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. In January 1862 he became Colonel of the 52nd Illinois- he subsequently commanded a brigade at Shiloh and a division during the Atlanta Campaign. Arrested in 1864 for attacking his commanding officer, he was acquitted but never served at the front again. Thomas was heavily involved in the Fenian movement and was the commander of all Fenian troops during the ill-fated Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866. Placed on the army’s retired list in 1870, he died on 10th April 1892 at his home on Long Island and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. (1)
I recently delivered a lecture on Cork people and the American Civil War to the Cork Genealogical Society when I was handed a fascinating document by Pat McCarthy of Dunmanway. Pat had scanned the local Catholic baptismal records for November and December 1817, which have an intriguing entry on the last line. It records the baptism of ‘Thomas of William Sweeny [and] Honora Sweeny’, along with the name of two witnesses and where the family were from, the ‘Green.’ The Green remains a well-known part of Dunmanway. William and Honora are known to be the Generals parents- it was Honora who would take her children across the Atlantic some five years after her husband’s death.
What is most interesting about this document is its date. Thomas Sweeny’s date of birth is almost always recorded as 25th December 1820. This baptismal record suggests that Thomas may have been three years older than he said he was (or thought he was). Alternatively, could this be an older brother of the General who did not survive infancy, with the name being used again for a later son? Whatever the answer, Pat McCarthy’s discovery highlights the potential for revealing new detail about well-known Irish-American figures of the period through the close analysis of Irish records. I am deeply indebted to Pat for bringing this document to my attention and allowing me to reproduce it here.
Dunmanway Baptismal Records