‘I Am Not Long For This World’: An Irish-American Soldier Says Goodbye to His Family

The last post on the site examined a mother’s desperate attempts to contact her wounded son. Equally poignant are those letters, occasionally included in the files, which impart a soldier’s final words to his family from his deathbed. On 23rd February 1864, George Carl of the 7th Ohio Infantry sat by the bed of William Brophy of the 29th Pennsylvania, in the Union General Hospital at Bridgeport, Alabama. William’s end was near, and both men knew it. The soldier was suffering from chronic diarrhea, a cause of death that was listed for thousands of soldiers during the war. Unable to write himself, William dictated a letter to George, addressing his last thoughts to his wife back home in Philadelphia. (1)

A hospital ward in a convalescent camp near Alexandria (Library of Congress)

A hospital ward in a convalescent camp near Alexandria (Library of Congress)

Although William Brophy is recorded as being born in England in the 1860 Census, there is little doubt that he was a member of the Irish-American community. Quite a number of pension files demonstrate earlier Irish emigration to England and Scotland prior to the ultimate move to the United States. William’s wife Bridget (née Mulhall) had been born in Ireland, and all the affidavits associated with the pension claim were provided by individuals bearing Irish surnames. The couple had been married at St. James Church, Philadelphia on 14th February 1858. It appears that William had been married previously, as he had two sons whose birth pre-dated the union; Andrew born on 13th July 1851 and Michael born on the 12th March 1854. Bridget gave birth to a daughter, Mary Ann, on the 3rd October 1861. Mary Ann had not yet arrived into the world when 32-year-old William marched off to war. He had enlisted in Company D of the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry on 8th July 1861. (2)

William saw long and arduous service with the regiment over the course of the next few years, surviving a number of engagements. But by February 1864 illness looked certain to have done for him. Here is the letter he dictated to George Carl in Bridgeport during those final days:

Bridgeport, Alabama

February 23th /64

Dear Wife

With a sad heart that I write you this morning as it may be the last you ever will hear from me as I feal that I am not long for this world. but it greaves me much that I am not at home whare I could see all your loving faces once more before I leave this troublesome world but as it is gods will to take me away from you I hope that I may be better of in the better land. I hope that god may spare me a little longer but I thaught that I would write so as to have them ready at any moment if any thing should happen

well Dear Wife in regard to that money that James McMinon [owed?] it will not be long before it is dew and I hope that it will be of youse to you as I dont never expect to be thare again but if not in this world I hope in the next whare we will part no more

Well in regard to my backpay and bounty you can get someone to collect it for you as it will be of some youse to you give my love to my children and tell them of their father and to my brother and all friends and that I did not forget them

But I must close for the presant and maby for the last time in this world but hope that god may spare me a little longer but if not I will bid you all fare well hoping to meat you all in heavan

From your

Dear Husband Wm Brophy (3)

George Carl added the following note to the letter three days later, indicated William’s fate, which had befallen him the previous day:

February the 26 1864

Mrs Brophy

Sory to relate that your husbond Wm Brophy died yesterday and is buried hear at Bridgeport

Any information you may want I will give frely as far as I can

No More

George K. Carl

Writer

If you wish to write to me direct to George K. Carl, Co. G. 7. Ohio Regiment, 1st brigade, 2nd Division, 12th Army Corps, Bridgeport Alabamy (4)

William Brophy's Gravestone (Photo: Rlturner53)

William Brophy’s Gravestone (Photo: Rlturner53)

When William died very few men from his unit were nearby. Those soldiers of the 29th Pennsylvania who had elected to re-enlist as veteran volunteers had left Bridgeport the previous December, heading home to enjoy their veteran furlough. As William lay dying in the General Hospital in Bridgeport, the majority of his comrades were back in Philadelphia with their loved ones. George Carl, the good Samaritan who wrote the letter for William and informed Bridget of his death, survived his war service. Bridget, who wasn’t yet 30-years-old when her husband died, re-married in 1867, wedding Irish laborer William Donnelly. William Brophy’s children would be unable to hold on to their father’s final words as a keepsake; the letter was submitted by Bridget to the Pension Office in order to claim a pension based on her husband’s service. After the war William’s body was moved to Chattanooga Military Cemetery, where he lies in Section H, Grave 11006. (5)

Chattanooga National Cemetery, where William Brophy is buried (Hal Jespersen)

Chattanooga National Cemetery, where William Brophy is buried (Hal Jespersen)

*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) William Brophy Widow’s Pension File; (2) 1860 US Census, William Brophy Widow’s Pension File, Bates 1869: 515; (3) William Brophy Widow’s Pension File; (4) Ibid.; (5) Bates 1869: 500, William Brophy Widow’s Pension File;

References

William Brophy Widow’s Pension File WC112561

1860 US Federal Census

Bates, Samuel P. 1869. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5

Hal Jespersen Images

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Categories: Pennsylvania

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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12 Comments on “‘I Am Not Long For This World’: An Irish-American Soldier Says Goodbye to His Family”

  1. John Murphy
    March 12, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    Much is written about battles but not enough about the human tragedy. Personal accounts, such as you are doing Damian, offer that insight that highlights the human side of war. It connects people to all the maneuvering, formations, charges, and shots fired that is typically depicted.
    Thanks again, your East Cork supporter. Jack

  2. March 12, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    It’s sad and unfortunate that families sometimes had to submit the final letter of their late loved ones in order to qualify for a pension. I suppose it was a different time and different era, but that seems an unnecessary additional loss.

    • March 23, 2015 at 10:26 am #

      It certainly is, thoguh I do wonder did they maybe view the letters differently to the way we do now- something I a do not know the answer to.

  3. Patty Murphy-Medlin
    March 12, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    How very sad. With each story you tell, you bring me closer to knowing what life was like for the soldiers and families.

  4. March 12, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    How poignant! Thanks for transcribing this.

  5. john f headen
    March 15, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    Both Brophy and Mulhall are names associated with Co Laois

  6. March 21, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

    Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

  7. March 24, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    Reblogged this on Eric Kingsland's Blog.

  8. John Murphy
    May 30, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

    Enjoyable but sad story.

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