Patrick Kelly emigrated from Co. Galway to Boston with his parents. In 1861 he enlisted in the 28th Massachusetts Infantry, an Irish regiment that ultimately served in the Irish Brigade. During his service he wrote frequently to his parents at home in Boston; the letters portray a young man who was a lover of music and reading, a volunteer soldier fiercely proud of his regiment and its Irish affiliations. Thanks to work currently underway at the National Archives to scan pension files*, it is now possible for us to hear the voice of this young Galwegian across 150 years of history. (1)
Martin and Mary Kelly were married in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway on 29th November 1840. Their son Patrick was born in Ireland soon afterwards, and was followed by at least one younger brother, John. The family made their home in Boston’s 7th Ward and in the 1860s lived at 3 Sturgis Place in the city. By 1860 Patrick had followed the path many of his countrymen had taken in Massachusetts, entering the leather working trade by becoming an apprentice shoemaker. His parents would come to rely on him for support; Patrick’s father Martin, a fruit dealer by trade, had suffered an injury that left him with a severe limp. Although only in his early forties by the outbreak of war, Martin was restricted to selling apples on the street during fine weather- pain in his leg brought on by inclement conditions drove him inside for much of the year. (2)
With the outbreak of war Patrick had his first opportunity to contribute a meaningful amount of money to his parents upkeep (having been an apprentice prior to 1861). He did this by enlisting in the army. Clearly he was also eager to do his bit to preserve the Union. Patrick enlisted in the army on 16th November 1861- although he was recorded as 22-years-of-age, he was undoubtedly somewhat younger. On 13th December 1861 Patrick Kelly mustered into Federal service as part of Company G, 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Less than a month later he was writing to his parents from the regiment’s training camp at Fort Columbus, New York. (3)
Head Quarters 28th Regim.
Fort Columbus Jan 15th ’61 [sic.]
I now take the opportunity off letting you know that I arrived safe at my port of destination and had as pleasant a pasage as circumstances allowed. We got payed off the day after coming to Fort Columbus. I got $19.50 cts. we did not get payed for this month at all. So I enclose $15 in this letter as that is as much as I can send now. Next I [will] send all my pay as I will not need it after this. This time I owed the sutler 1.25 and then we were asked to give as much as we pleased to the Captain and the Lieutenants to buy revolvers so I gave 1$ as well as the rest. We have easy times in our knew quarters but we are poorly accomadated as our quarters are too small but we expect to be better fixed by and by. The Colonel said when we came here and said he would bring his men back to Boston again so we expect better room, we are too crowded that[s] all the matter with us. We are in good has [health?] an appetite that would eat a horse. Jimy Naphin is the Corporal off our mess Jim has to do all the jawing for his mess. He is the best one in the place we have plenty and [in] our mess when others are fighting for theirs. Time is precious at present while I write I send my love to John and tell him I am a soger. Tell him I may be home before him. Send my best respects to Mr and Mrs Burns and the children and tell Lary O Gaff I will shoot Jeff Davis on a sour apple tell send my bests respects to Mrs [and] Mr Guinen and to Hubert and to all enquiring friends no more at present from your affectionate son,
Direct your letter to Patrick Kelly Compy G 28th Regiment
Fort Columbus NY (4)
‘Jimy Naphin’ was a close friend of Patrick’s in the company. Recorded as ‘James Naphan’, he enlisted as a 22-year-old shoemaker on 3rd October 1861, mustering in on 13th December 1861. He was discharged on 18th December 1864 and later served in the 2nd Battery Massachusetts Light Artillery where he is listed as ‘James Maphin.’ The Massachusetts State Census of 1865 shows that the Guinens lived beside the Kellys. In 1865 the family included Stephen, a 47-year-old tailor, his 40-year-old wife Mary and their children Hubert, a 17-year-old shoemaker and Elizabeth, a 20-year-old with no stated profession. It is unclear if ‘Larry O’Gaff’ refers to an actual individual or a song- it was the name of a popular comic tune at the time that charts Larry’s adventures working in England and during the Napoleonic Wars- for a sample of some of the lyrics see here. The reference to shooting ‘Jeff Davis on a sour apple’ refers to the lyrics ‘We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a Sour Apple Tree’ which were often sung as a verse in the famous song ‘John Brown’s Body’ (see the lyrics of that version here). (5)
Head Quarters 28th Regim,
Fort Columbus N.Y. Januy. 19 1862
I received the letter you wrote and it gave me great pleasure to know that you received it. I hope that you are better off that cold you had if not before now I hope you will be. I am still in good health at present you asked me how long we would be on the island, thats a thing I can’t say but I don’t think we will leave it before April so Pat Hoben says, he is one off our teamsters. You need not be in a wory about coming out to see me i’ll be back in Boston after the war with the help off God. So you need not [be] foolish spending money. The next time you write let me know if you receive any money from the State I don’t need much at present but you can send that box iff you want to and I should like you would [send] a guitar and some song books if you can get the guitar cheap. I will send $20 home the first off March iff we get payed. We have good easy times at present nothing to do and plenty to eat. I tell you what it is a fine thing to be a Faugh for they are bound to clear the way. Jeff Davis clear the way as the crazy sargent sung the other night. The fire that blazed from Emmets Patriotic eye shall lead us to our victory. So said the bard when Cass left for the seat off war. I can’t think off anything else only that [the] boys are all well. O’Brien and Kileen and Jimmy sends their best respects to you send my love to Mr and Mrs Gafney and to all the neigbors and tell Tom I won’t get shot in the back.
No more at present from your ever affectionate Son,
Just as I was writing this letter the Pilot you sent came in.
You do not direct the letter right our Company is not H it is G then direct it to Compy G. (6)
24-year-old Pat Hoben enlisted on 7th December 1861 when he was working as a teamster. Mustered into service on 13th December 1861, he was killed in action on 30th August 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Virginia. Patrick O’Brien was a 24-year-old shoemaker who enlisted on 1st October 1861 and mustered into service on 13th December 1861. He died of disease at Beaufort, South Carolina on 8th July 1862. Patrick Killian had enlisted as a 30-year-old shoemaker on 30th December 1861, he was discharged for disability on 29th June 1863. The reference to State aid is the financial support promised by Massachusetts to the dependent family’s of those who had enlisted. The reference to being a ‘Faugh’ relates to the motto ‘Faugh A Ballagh’ meaning ‘Clear the Way.’ Originally the motto of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, it was used in reference to numerous Irish regiments and was also adopted by the 28th Massachusetts Infantry. The song sung by the crazy Sergeant containing the lyrics ‘Jeff Davis Clear the Way’ and ‘The fire that blazed from Emmets Patriotic Eye’ is the song Fág an Bealac which was written for the 28th Massachusetts. You can listen to a version of this song below. The Cass referred to in the letter is Colonel Thomas Cass, commander of the first Irish Massachusetts regiment raised, the 9th Infantry. The Boston Pilot was the leading Irish-American newspaper in the city. (7)
A version of the song Fág an Bealac that Patrick Kelly remembered being sung in the camp of the 28th Massachusetts in early 1862.
Feb 26th 1862
I now take my pen in hand to let ye know that I am in good health and arrived safe at my port of destination we have good health and good weather, we were 8 days on the boat let me know if you get State aid and how much. I want for nothing we expect to get payed next week I have very little time to write, this this climate agrees with me. Farewell for a while no more at present from your Aff. Son,
Direct your letter to me Hilton Head, South Carolina, 28 Regt., Company G (8)
Hilton Head May 1st 1862
I now take the opportunity of writing to you hoping these few lines will find you in good health. I send home 15$ to you ,the State treasurer will notify you of it I have not much time to write now but I am in good health so is all the boys. I would like your likeness mother, remember me to all the neighbors. No more at present from your Aff. Son,
Patrick Kelly. (9)
July 18th 1862
New Port News Virginia
I received your letter which gave me great pleasure to hear from you. I got your likeness the same day I got the letter and I got the other things you sent. When we came to Hilton Head after the battle the Regt got payed on the way here and I went and put mine in a tin box I had in my packed [sic.]. I was waiting for the crowd to clear away so that I could give it to the Major to send home before any temptation might cross me on land. Well I went aloft on the ships mast and sat down their [sic.], well I was sitting their about 5 minits when I took out my pocket handkerchief to wipe my face never thinking of the box, when I suppose I puled it out and that was the last I seen of the $26 since then. I know no one I keep by myself. Let me know if you got the 15$ I sent home in a letter. I have no more time to write now. No more at present,
From your son,
Patrick Kelly. (10)
The battle that Patrick is referring to is Secessionville, South Carolina (you can read about it here). He wrote this on the day the 28th docked at Newport News on their return from the Deep South.
Camp 28th Regt. Mass. Vol. Irish Brigade near Falmouth Va. Nov. 27th 1862
I now take the opportunity of writing to you hoping to find you in good health as these few lines leaves me in at present thank God. I received your letter and although I am hard up for writing material I cannot send for them now, for I would never get them for we are always on the march. We now lay opposite Fredericksburg, the rebels hold the city and we are on the other side. We don’t know the minuet [sic.] we will be called on to cross the river or start off some way else. We joined the Irish Brigade about one week ago, the Brigade gets as much beef as the [w]hole corps. Faugh a Ballagh is the war cry and no turn back. Of course we will cross the river first but no mater trust to Irelands bold Brigade to clear the road. We did not get payed yet I think we soon will. To day is thanksgiving I hope we will be in winters quarters before Christmas so that you can send me a Christmas dinner. Patrick Killeen is tip top he is driving a team now and gets 25 cts a day extra but he will soon be back again, for we left the 9th army corps so all the detailed men had to come back. Me and him slept together and fought side by side and he never got a scratch. Mike Ney was taken prisoner at Bull Run. The first voley that was fired at us he ran away and hid in the woods so when the army left he was caught, I don’t know how true well thats what some of the boys said. He is now at Camp Chase Ohio. The last time we were here we left our knapsacks behind us so we never got one of them and I left Longfellows works in the knapsack. The government would not make the articles good except the overcoat. I want Father the next letter he writes to write off the song called Mary Le More I want to learn it. I have the same prayer book I carried from home I will carry that home safe. If their is any signs of going in to winter quarters I will let you know. Let me know how times is and how dear is things I will send home 45$ when I get payed that is 4 months pay if they dont pay us untill January I will send home 70$ let me know if you got the State aid yet.
Give my love to all the neighbors,
Direct your letter to me Compy G 28th Regt Mass Vol
2d Army Corps
No more at present from
Your Aff. Son,
Patrick Kelly. (11)
The 28th Massachusetts had originally been intended to form one of the Irish Brigade’s regiments from the outset, but in the end did not join Meagher’s formation until November 1862. Mike Ney had enlisted as a 30-year-old teamster on 4th November 1861 and was mustered into service on 13th December 1861. He was reported missing at the Battle of Chantilly, Virginia on 1st September 1862. Later he would be captured at Bristoe Station, Virginia on 14th October 1863, being exchanged on 26th November 1864. He mustered out of service on 19th December 1864. Soldiers were ordered to leave their knapsacks behind upon going into action, and often lost everything in them as a result. The book Patrick mourns was the works of famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The song ‘Mary Le More’ was an Irish eviction song about an encounter with a mad woman- you can read the lyrics of the song here. (12)
Camp near Falmouth Va Jan 24th 1863
I now take the opportunity of writing to you hopping to find ye in good health as this leaves me in at present thanks be to God for his mercy. I received the letter you sent me and I sent you $40 by the paymaster he will give it to the adams express and they will forward it to you. I did not pay the express as the paymaster would not take any it is in an envelope. I am very sory for Lizzie Murray the 37th N.Y. ain’t near us so me nor Terry Mitchell can’t see Kervan?. Terry wants to know if it was in Boston you seen Mike Murray. Well I have to write a letter to Maggie Burns so I will finish by sending all the neighbors my best respects.
No more at present,
From your Aff. Son,
Patrick Kelly. (13)
The Adams Express Company was a common way of sending money home during the Civil War. Terry Mitchell had enlisted and mustered on 5th January 1862 at the age of 38, he had been a carpenter before the war. He was promoted Corporal in May/June 1862, Sergeant on 1st January 1863 and was mustered out on 19th December 1864. The 37th New York were another Irish regiment, the ‘Irish Rifles’. It is unclear who is being referred to here. (14)
Falmouth Va. April 27th 1863
I received the letter which ye sent me I am glad to hear that ye are all well as these few lines leaves me in at present thanks be to God for his mercy to me. I sent $30 home by the priest you will get by Adams ex. you muse excuse me for not sending home as much as I did before, but our clothing money for the year was stopped. What was stoped from me was nothing in comparison to others and we raised a subscription for the relief of Ireland and sent it to Donahoe. Killeen is gone to the Lincoln hospital Washington. 4 Regts of the Brigade is gone to Kelly Ford to relieve some of the 5th Corps and our Regt is gone down to the river to do picket duty I think we will go to the rear yet but if we don’t we are able to do our duty in the field as we have always done it. Yes I get [got] the papers ye sent I hope this summer will end the war I will go see Mr Murphy in Co. I but he is on picket now. So I have no more at present only give my best respects to all the neighbors.
No more at present,
From your Aff. Son,
PS I sent my likeness yeasterday. (15)
The Mr. Murphy is possibly Martin Murphy, who enlisted as a 42-year-old teamster on 26th November 1861. Wounded at Fredericksburg he was discharged for wounds on 2nd May 1863. The Relief Fund efforts of 1863 have been the topic of numerous posts on the site and you can read more about them here.
Patrick Kelly was a Corporal at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and although he makes no mention of it in these letters he was reportedly wounded there. The young Galwegian presumably fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg with the 28th Massachusetts, but his promise to send his likeness to his family is the last letter in his file. A few months later, on 3rd December 1863, Patrick was on picket duty at Kelly’s Ford when he was shot and killed. Tragically it would appear that his brother John had predeceased him. These letters were included in his mother Mary’s pension application file in 1864, in order to prove that Patrick had regularly sent her money. She received a pension until her death in 1894- her husband Martin had predeceased her. The letters she saved now provide an insight into the character and experiences of her young son during the conflict.
Note re Letter Transcription: I have kept the spelling in the letters largely as it appears in the originals, with some slight adjustments to avoid any confusion on the part of the reader. Punctuation and paragraphs were largely absent from the originals and in most instances have been added for ease of reading by a modern audience.
*None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3. A team from NARA supported by volunteers are consistently adding to this treasure trove of historical information. To learn more about their work you can watch a video by clicking here.
(1) Patrick Kelly Widow’s Pension File; (2) Ibid.; (3) Ibid.; Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: 242; (4) Patrick Kelly’s Widow’s Pension File; (5) Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: 243, 1865 Massachusetts Census, Williams 1996: 73; (6) Patrick Kelly’s Widow’s Pension File, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: 241-43; (8) Patrick Kelly’s Widow’s Pension File; (9) Ibid.; (10) Ibid.; (11) Ibid.; (12) Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: 243; (13) Patrick Kelly’s Widow’s Pension File; (14) Patrick Kelly’s Widow’s Pension File; (15) (16) Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines: 257;
Patrick Kelley Widow’s Pension File WC22521
Massachusetts State Census 1865
Massachusetts Adjutant General’s Office 1932. Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War. Volume 3.
Williams, W.H.A. 1996. ‘Twas Only an Irishman’s Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in Popular American Song Lyrics, 1800-1920.