Heading Overseas to Remember the Overland

On Saturday I will be heading to the U.S. for two weeks, so in that period things may be a bit quiet on the blog. For much of the trip I will be based in Fredericksburg as I attend the 150th commemorations at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields. Despite the time I have spent working on the Irish experience of the American Civil War, this trip represents my first opportunity to visit some of the conflict’s battlefields. I am greatly looking forward to participating in some of the NPS events, particularly the walking tours. Having spent a lot of time with American Civil War pension files of late, it is striking just how often Irish deaths in combat occurred during the carnage of 1864’s summer. The horrendous experience of the 9th Massachusetts over just a few minutes in Saunder’s Field on 5th May 1864 is one of the stories I concentrate on in my book, and I now have a privileged opportunity to stand on the same ground 150 years later. This will be just one of what I hope will be a number of highlights of my time in America, during which I hope to amass significant blog post material!

Apart from The Wilderness and Spotsylvania I will also be visiting (at a minimum) the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Seven Days battlefields, as well as spending some time in Willliamsburg, Jamestown, Harper’s Ferry and Washington D.C. If any of you are attending any of the events, and happen across an out-of-place Irishman, be sure to come and say hello! The National Park Service have produced an excellent booklet on their 150th Overland events which you can view here and you can check out the Spotsylvania, Virginia- Crossroads of the Civil War events here.


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Categories: Update

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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12 Comments on “Heading Overseas to Remember the Overland”

  1. Steve Reilly
    April 30, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Enjoy your first visit to the toy store, weather looks good, fields will be dry. I agree its more interesting, walking the field with a Regiment and name in your mind. My boys & I have done that, with a number of our family. The last one, Bernard O’Reilly from Cavan, wounded at Spotsylvania with the 170th NY then KIA at the North Anna River, just east of Interstate 95, now a tree farm. Placed in Arlington, under the wrong spelling O’Riley across from the Marine Corps Memorial. They didn’t have him on the list as being in Arlington, General Grant was killing them off so fast, they counldn’t keep up with who’s who. Word of advise, do Williamsburg on a weekend, a lot more life and have a mint julip. And, look for the large Confederate Flag, flying on the west side of I-95, north of Richmond.

    • May 1, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      Thanks Steve! There is no better Cavan name than O’Reilly! I see he was in the Legion, did he leave any family behind when he was killed at the North Anna? I have a lot to pack in, I think I will have to make a number of trips back :-)

      Kind Regards,


  2. Don Humphreys
    April 30, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

    Hi Damien,

    You will be visitng several battlefields that my Kerry born great grandfather, Patrick Breen, a career soldier, fought on as a member of Co. C,, 2d U.S. Infantry Regiment (he was one of the “regulars.”)

    Many years ago I had occasion to visit Gettysburg (without knowing that Patrick Breen also fought in that battle) and found it to be a very moving experience.

    That you will enjoy your trip goes without saying.

    Kind regards.


    • May 1, 2014 at 11:34 am #

      Hi Don,

      Sent you a follow up email there- it certainly was a regiment with a lot of Irish in it- the regulars attracted large numbers both before, during and after the conflict and also gave substantially to things like the Relief of Ireland fund. It must be quite a thing to walk in your ancestors footsteps at a battlefield like Gettysburg. I am really looking forward to experiencing those fields myself.

      Kind Regards,


  3. May 1, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I probably just missed you, Damian. I’ll be on a flight to DC on Sunday. Oh well. We have to meet someday.

    I was in Spotsylvania a number of years ago. The problem was the weather. It was too hot for my Irish family and for me. It was in the 90s. It’s great that you’re going in May.

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      Hi John,

      Just saw this now, that is unfortunate! We are going to have to meet sometime soon! I absolutely loved my time there, can’t wait to go back!

      Talk soon,


  4. jcunard
    May 1, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    I hope you will take time to stop in Prince William County, VA, home of the Manassas National Battlefield — location of the first major land battle of the Civil War– the 1st Battle of Bull Run. My ancestor, FLORENCE SULLIVAN, of Glenflesk, Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland (b abt 1839-d. July 21, 1861) fought with the 27th Regiment, New York Infantry Volunteers, Co. H, and apparently was one of the first few to die (on July 21, 1861) as the 27th was the regimental company that first made their way to the “Stone House”.

    Florence’s death is mentioned in the Introduction to Vol. 5 of the series of books which were compiled from the “Search for Missing Friends” column in the Boston Pilot newspaper. Then on March 8, 1862, his brother, JOHN JAMES SULLIVAN (my great grandfather) placed an ad trying to locate his brother, Florence, who was supposed to have been in Massachusetts in 1858, but may have moved to New York State, as well as his brother, CORNELIUS, who was mentioned as living in Dakota Co., MN. He noted that they were from Glenflesk, Killarney, Co. Kerry. John (J.J.) was living in Newburyport, Essex Co., Mass at that time.

    On May 10, 1862, he placed another ad noting that Florence had been in Northhampton or Amherst, Mass in 1858, and Cornelius was in Empire City, Dakota Co, MN.

    It wasn’t until more than two years later, on Aug 6, 1864, after J.J. had also moved to Dakota Co., MN, that he placed the third and final ad. It noted that Florence had gone from Amherst to Mt. Morris, NY, where he had enlisted in a NY Regiment and had been killed at Bull Run. He sought information on what company and regiment Florence had been in at the time of his death and he was willing to pay a reward.

    Upon arrival in 1851, or shortly after, the three brothers went in separate directions — J. J. to Hampden Co, MA and then to Newburyport, MA; Cornelius went to MN in the late 1850’s; and Florence went to Northhampton and/or Amherst, MA in 1857/8 and then to Mt. Morris prior to 1860. Cornelius (a colorful figure who was aka “Yankee Sullivan”) apparently served in the 2nd Regiment MN Cavalry Volunteers, Co. F as he was mustered in on Feb 14, 1865 from St. Paul, MN and out on Dec 2, 1865. He and the Regiment were sent to Missouri to fight the Indians, which caused him and his comrades to feel that they had been erroneously “used”. In July, the unit voted to “not vote in any election” until they were released. Apparently it wasn’t taken seriously, so in October 1865 they burned Ft. Ridgely in MN “in the presence of the men, who, not being allowed to know anything except what their officers tell them, did not interfere with the fire because they might be accused of acting without orders!” He then became a well digger and died when the rope holding him broke in 1889 in St. Paul.

    I found J.J.’s baptismal certificate from Glenflesk saying he was born on 8 Sept 1832 and lived in Annibuge, but haven’t yet located one for Florence and Cornelius. On his marriage certificate, it lists his parents as JAMES SULLIVAN and JOHANNA DONNOGHUE, (she apparently was from Gortdromakerry as I have a letter from J.J.’s uncle DENIS DONOGHUE and cousin PATRICK DONOGHUE.) But on his death certificate, his parents were listed as James and ELLEN DONAHUE. He supposedly had a sister who died young in IRE, but no name has been given to me. I don’t have the birth, marriage, or death dates for James and Johanna, nor have I been able to find Johanna and her parents living in Gortdromakerry.

    Now here is the teaser — if you can help me locate my ancestors in Co. Kerry, I will be willing to see about setting up a private tour for you of the Bull Run/Manassas Battlefield. (I have friends in high places, LOL as I am on the Prince William County Historical Commission and on the Board of Directors of our tourism bureau, Discover Prince William/Manassas.) If you can’t stop here, (I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t) you should go to the Tomb of the Unknown Civil War Soldier at the Custis-Lee House in Arlington, adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery. It holds many of the bones recovered several years after the Battles of Bull Run. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, Jan Cunard — jcunard@verizon.net. Have a great trip!

    • May 20, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      Hi Jan,

      Thanks so much for all the information! I didn’t make it this time but hope to on the next trip. I will certainly see if I can find out any information on them, although as you know our records from that period can be terribly sparse. You have amassed an amazing amount of information thus far, it is an incredible story and one I might look at including on the site in the future if you are agreeable. Do you know if he left a widow behind? I visited the tomb at Arlington while I was there, an incredibly moving location. I take it you have looked through Florence’s service record? Thanks again for getting in touch,

      Kind Regards,


      • jcunard
        June 2, 2014 at 4:15 am #

        Oh, how much easier life would be if either Florence or Cornelius had married. I have read through Florence’s service record, which is extremely sparse since he was killed after having been in the military for only two months. I have had to rely on other sources for much of the information I have gathered on those two brothers. I would be more than agreeable to have you include their story on your site. I have always referred to Florence as “The Forgotten Soldier”.

        I know you said you went to Arlington Cemetery — but if you were at the site where the soldier marches 24/7 past the Tomb, then that is NOT the one that contains the remains of the Civil War dead. The Tomb of the UNKNOWN CIVIL WAR Soldier is in the garden of the Custis Lee Mansion (aka Arlington House) which is adjacent to the better known Arlington Cemetery.


        They started this burial area in 1863 when they removed what remained of the bodies that were slain during the 1st and 2nd Battles of Bull Run (Manassas). They specifically buried bodies in the garden of the Mansion in the hopes of discouraging Robert E. Lee from returning to his home there in Arlington after the war. Lee had trained at West Point, NY and became a US officer, but when Virginia ceded from the Union at the time the Civil War broke out, he felt he had to leave the US military in order to lead the Confederate troops. Needless to say, this greatly irritated government officials and thus, as a “gotcha” move, they picked Lee’s garden to bury what was left of the remains of 2,111 bodies (most of which were Union soldiers, although there were some Confederate soldiers’ remains that were also found on the battlefield. They had deteriorated so badly that they couldn’t determine which side the soldiers had fought on.) If there is any way I can help you, please let me know. jcunard@verizon.net

  5. Pat Sullivan
    May 2, 2014 at 12:48 am #


    If you get the chance go to Gettysburg for at least a few hours. It is within easy driving distance of Harpers Ferry and Antietam. It really is incredible. I’m glad you are going on the NPS walks. The guides are superb. I took the family to Gettysburg last August and took full advantage of the NPS programs.

    It’s been awhile since I was at Jamestown. The archeological site was fascinating to a layman like me so a person with your background will really enjoy it. There is a second park at Jamestown but it’s not worth the visit for someone with limited time. Stick with the actual site. Just down the park road is Yorktown. It’s about a 10 minute drive. There are very impressive restored entrenchments there. It’s definitely worth seeing. You can do Yorktown in an hour including the drive.

    I had planned on taking my sons to the Wilderness and Spottsylvania this month. I got completely wrapped up in work and forgot about it. This weekend I’ll be the New York tour guide for relatives coming in from Kerry.

    Enjoy the trip!

    Kind Regards,


  6. Pat Sullivan
    May 2, 2014 at 10:25 pm #


    Make sure you leave a bit of time for Gettysburg. It is an easy drive from Antietam and shouldn’t be missed. I’m glad you are going to take advantage of the National Park Service. Their guides are superb. I was at Gettysburg last August and the NPS battlefield walks and events were a highlight.

    The archeological site at Jamestown is really interesting. If a layman like me found it fascinating you will really appreciate it. A very short drive down a park road takes you to Yorktown. There are extensive restored entrenchments there from both the Revolution and the Civil War. The whole Yorktown excursion including the drive can be done in an hour while you are at Jamestown.

    I had planned on dragging my sons down to the Wilderness and Spottsylvania this May but got wrapped up at work and forgot!

    Have a terrific time.

    Kind Regards,


    • May 20, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      Hi Pat,

      I didn’t make it this time but am going to go there for a couple of days specifically when I can, I want to make sure I can make the most of it when I am there. Jamestown and Yorktown were magnificent, as was Williamsburg- in fact I fell in love with the whole place so can’t wait to go back, I am hopeful that it will not be very far away in the future!

      Kind Regards,


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