Michael Casey: The Dublin Emigrant & Civil War Veteran Who Met President Roosevelt

Previous posts on the site have looked at Irish veterans of the American Civil War in the 20th century (see for example here and here). As their numbers dwindled, many newspapers ran stories about local old soldiers, who were transformed into cherished heroes with the passage of time. Many of these articles are factually flawed, but they serve as reminders of just how far into the 20th century living memory of the American Civil War survived. One such story was that of Dubliner Michael Casey, a Famine-era emigrant who sacrificed much for the Union cause during the 1860s. He lived long enough to become a 1930s guest at The White House, where he shared a few words with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Civil War Veterans on their way to meet President Hoover in 1931 (Library of Congress)

Civil War Veterans on their way to meet President Hoover in 1931 (Library of Congress)

CIVIL WAR SOLDIER DIES HERE AT 94

Michael Casey, Veteran of 33 Battles, Found Dead at Son’s Home

Michael Casey, 94, veteran of 33 Civil War engagements and sole survivor of the 32nd Illinois regiment which fought in the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain, died yesterday at his home, 622 Emerson street.

He was found by a maid in his home where he had lived with his son, Michael Casey, Jr., engineer in the Interior Department, when she went to call him for his breakfast.

Mr. Casey’s death came less that 24 hours after his election to the Board of Managers of the temporary Soldiers and Sailors Home at Ninth street and Pennsylvania avenue south-east. He had gone there Saturday night with his son.

Born in Ireland in 1840, he came to this country in 1848 with his mother to settle on a strip of farm land near Newton, Ill., which his father had located several years before.

REMEMBERED FAMOUS DEBATES

He marked the beginning of his affiliation with the Democratic party by one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, when Douglas told the crowds that Lincoln had on socks that he had worn all his life. The people, according to Mr. Casey, laughed and all but a few left before Douglas completed his talk and Lincoln began to speak.

Although he was not old enough to vote that year, he was an enthusiastic Democrat, and in 1864 he cast his first vote for the party and Gen. George McClellan.

Mr. Casey enlisted in the 32nd Illinois Regiment with his father in October, 1861, and fought alongside of him until the elder man died from an illness contracted at Shiloh. 

FOUGHT IN WESTERN AREA

From ’61 to ’65 he fought in battles at Lookout Mountain, Vicksburg, Birds Point, Jackson, Fort Henry and Pittsburgh Landing, where he was one of 80 men assigned to gunboat duty. 

When his enlistment expired in December, 1864, he returned home and re-enlisted, this time with his brother, who died and was buried at Nashville, Tenn.

After the war he became a construction engineer for various railroads in the West, subsequently becoming a rancher in Wyoming. He came to Washington about a year ago to live with his son.

A cane with a silver plate given him by the Maryland Sons of Civil War Veterans on his 93d birthday anniversary attracted the attention of President Roosevelt when he was at the White House recently. 

“It should have been a shillalah,” the Chief Executive said after looking at the stick. 

MEMBER OF G.A.R.

Mr. Casey was an honorary member of the Helen Spencer Mussey Tent of the Union Daughters, the Gen. Beck Circle of the Ladies of the G.A.R. and the Cushing Auxiliary of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He was a member of Lincoln Camp, No. 2, Sons of Union Veterans, and the G.A.R., Kit Carson Post.

He is survived by his son and three grandchildren, Patricia Day of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Mary and Theresa Casey of Washington.

Funeral services will be held at his home tomorrow, followed by requiem mass at St. Gabriel’s Church at 10, Burial will be in Olney, Ill., on Thursday. (1)

The National Cemetery at Shiloh, where Michael Casey and his Father saw Action (Library of Congress)

The National Cemetery at Shiloh, where Michael Casey and his Father Saw Action (Library of Congress)

Although newspaper articles regarding ageing Civil War veterans can be notoriously inaccurate, it is possible to verify much of what Michael relates about his life. Indeed we can even trace the arrival of the Dublin emigrant in the United States. As Michael outlined, his father Mathew paved the way for the rest of the family’s arrival in America. The remainder of the Caseys landed in New Orleans aboard the Independence from Liverpool on 15th May 1848. The passenger list records Catherine (40), her daughter Catherine (7) baby Mary (erroneously also recorded as Catherine on the ship’s register), Michael (5) and Mathew (3). They were listed as coming from Ireland with the intention of travelling to Illinois. The 1850 Census finds the reunited family in Newton, Jasper County, Illinois, where Mathew worked as a farmer. By 1860 they had moved on to St. Marie, also in Jasper County, where Mathew now worked as a laborer. By the eve of the Civil War the eldest two children, Catherine and Michael, had moved out of the family home. (2)

Michael did enlist with his father Mathew when war came. Both were recorded as natives of Dublin, with Mathew, at 5 feet 9 1/2 inches, standing somewhat taller than his son, who was 5 foot 3. They both became Privates in Company K of the 32nd Illinois Infantry, which saw action in a number of the major battles of the Western Theater. As Michael described in the 1930s, his father did not survive his service. Mathew died while at home on furlough on 5th May 1862. Michael stated that when his term of service expired he re-enlisted, this time with his younger brother. This was indeed the case- Michael (who was now recorded as 5 feet 5 inches!) once again donned Union blue on 15th February 1865, becoming a Corporal in Company B of the 155th Illinois Infantry. His younger brother Mathew Jr. enlisted on the same day, as a Private in the same company. The regiment served in garrisons along the line of Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, and all its fatalities were as a result of disease. Unfortunately one of them was Mathew Jr., who died 22nd March 1865 at Nashville. Having lost both his father and brother to the war, Michael mustered out with his regiment on 4th September 1865 at Murfressboro, Tennessee. (3)

From 1865 Michael’s mother Catherine received a pension based on her husband’s service during the war. She never strayed far from the place where she first put down roots in America; the 1880 Census finds the 65-year-old widow still living in St. Marie, now accompanied by 37-year-old Michael, who was working as a laborer. In 1883 Michael was granted a pension based on his own service in the Union army. (4)

By the time Michael Casey died in 1934 the Dubliner had been in the United States for more than 86 years. More than 69 years had passed since the war in which he had lost both his father and brother. The Famine-era emigrant had lived long enough to become one of the last cherished veterans of a war fast fading into memory. His story serves as a reminder of just how far into the 20th century the repercussions of the American Civil War could be felt.

(1) The Evening Star; (2) New Orleans Passenger Lists, 1850 Census, 1860 Census; (3) Illinois Muster Roll Database; (4) Pension Index Cards

References

U.S. Federal Census 1850

U.S. Federal Census 1860

Michael Casey Civil War Pension Index Card

Mathew Casey Civil War Pension Index Card

Washington D.C. The Evening Star 5th November 1934. Civil War Soldier Dies Here At 94.

National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1820-1902; National Archives Microfilm Publication: M259; Roll #: 28.

Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls

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Categories: Dublin, Illinois

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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