The nature of the Widow’s and Dependent’s Pension Files means that the stories they tell are most usually ones of sorrow. The experiences they relate generally pertain specifically to the Civil War, but on occasions the information within them can be combined with a range of other sources to provide a much wider picture of one family’s 19th century emigrant experience. The file relating to the Carr family is a remarkable case in point, charting as it does their journey from poverty in Ulster to a life of hardship and separation in 1850s New York. It is a story that continues into the American Civil War, as an Irish soldier fights not only to reunite the Union, but also for the right to be reunited with his family. It then carries into the post-war period, as the family tried to forge a new life in the ‘Gateway to the West.’ If you read no other part of this post, read the transcribed letter dated 20th June 1864. Written under fire in Georgia, it is a striking expression of weariness– and hope– imparting something of what it must have been like to have endured the horrors of the Atlanta Campaign.
On 18th August 1860 the following advertisement ran in the ‘Information Wanted’ section of the Boston Pilot:
INFORMATION WANTED OF BERNARD (or Barney) CARR, who left Ireland and landed in New York in 1851, with his mother and her children. Being unable to support them she was obliged to send three of the boys to Ward’s Island, from which place a person named Fenton Goss, from New Jersey, took one of the boys (Bernard, or Barney) to West Liberty, Logan county, Ohio. The unfortunate and disconsolate mother, who is now in certain circumstances, offers a reward of $20 to any person who can give her any information of her son Bernard Carr. Address Mrs. Ann Carr, Walton, Delaware county, N.Y. (1)
There are hundreds of ads like this scattered across newspapers like the New York Irish-American and the Boston Pilot. They often provide tantalising glimpses into the hardships experienced by many Irish emigrants, but in reading them, we are often left with more questions than answers. Where in Ireland had they come from? Why had they emigrated? Was the advertisement successful? What became of them afterwards? Remarkably, in the case of Ann Carr and her son Barney, we are in a position to answer all of these questions. This has only been possible following analysis of a range of sources, and thanks to the efforts of followers of the site’s Facebook page and Twitter stream. For the first time we can give voice to the Carr family, representatives of Ireland’s poorest emigrant class, and hear from Ann and Barney in their own words.
The starting point for our investigation is an Irish place-name, phonetically transcribed in 1865 by a clerk in Hudson, New York. As he listened to Ann Carr recount details of her family’s past, the clerk did his best to capture where he thought Ann was from. This manifested itself in his notes as the word ‘Belmosgreen’, a location that does not exist in Ireland. In hope rather than expectation, I posted an image of this piece of text on the Irish in the American Civil War Facebook Page and Irish in the American Civil War Twitter Feed in order to get people’s thoughts as to what place he might have meant. Assistance flooded in, with a number of excellent suggestions as to the possible location provided– many of which were subsequently proved correct. Among those who went the extra mile to help with revealing the Carr story was Barbara Harvey Freeburn, who not only suggested a location, but actually discovered what is a likely the marriage record of Ann Carr. Thanks to Barbara and the other readers, we have a commencement point for the Carr’s journey. (2)
The Catholic Parish Registers record the marriage of Arthur Carr and Nancy Mulholland in Ballinascreen, Co. Derry on 10th November 1835. Given that Ballinascreen was the main candidate for ‘Belmosgreen’, that we know Ann’s husband was called Arthur, and that we also know that Ann was variously known as Ann or Nancy throughout her life (which was not uncommon), then there is a strong likelihood that Ballinascreen was the Carr family’s place of origin. Ann would have been around 22-years-old at the time of her marriage. The couple had at least five children prior to Arthur’s death around 1850. Although it is not known what caused Arthur’s death, what is apparent is that it left Ann and the children utterly destitute. They were so poor that they could not have contemplated passage to the United States were it not for the intervention of others. Ann later related that in 1851 ‘I and family were sent to America and our expenses paid by the local authorities in Ireland.’ The family clearly escaped penury in Ireland only to be faced with paupery in New York. The 1860 ad that Ann placed in the Boston Pilot demonstrates this, as she had been forced to place her sons in institutional care as she had been unable to afford their support. (3)
We know that Ann’s 1860 advertisement worked. By 1862 Barney, now 17-years-old, had moved from Ohio to Illinois, where he was working for William Gillis, a farmer in Embarrass, Edgar County. It was around this time that Ann re-established contact with Barney, though they had not yet been re-united face to face. The prospect of them doing so anytime soon seemed remote, particularly as by the end of 1862 Barney’s movements were no longer his own to dictate– he was now a private in the Union Army of the Cumberland. Having found himself with no money, Barney had enlisted in Paris, Illinois on 19th July and mustered into Company C of the 79th Illinois Infantry on 18th August 1862. He was variously described at this time as ‘under 18-years-of-age’ and ‘quite young.’ Nonetheless Barney seemed happy in his new role. He started to correspond with his mother, who was living with his younger brother and two sisters in the village of Walton, Delaware County, New York (there is no mention of his third brother after 1860). In one of his early letters, written in camp near Nashville, Tennessee, he asked his mother to ‘pray for me continually I hope that you and me and the rest of the folks at home…see each other once more before I die. If it is the will of God that he may spare my life to get home to embrace my mother as we haven’t seen each other for about 9 years or more.’ (4)
Barney became a regular correspondent with the mother he had not seen in so long, and his letters reveal much about his character. Despite the fact that he had not seen his family in years, he still managed to have an argument with his younger brother John via their letters. It seems that John (around 15-years-old by 1863) thought that it was not very ‘manly’ of Barney to be sending some of his money to a friend to mind it for him. In a letter written in the Murfressboro fortifications on 31st March 1863, Barney sent some money for his mother and sisters, but raged that ‘John can do very well without any money for what he said in his letter, Sis I want you to tell him that he can keep his pen and paper and I will do the same if he thinks that it don’t look very manly to send money home to a man. I would thank him to keep his mouth shut and I will send my money how I please and if he wants to know the reason of [it] I want to have some money when I get home…’ (5)
As with other Irish soldiers whose primary motivation for enlisting appears to have been economic, Barney nonetheless displayed considerable patriotism in his writings, demonstrating that preserving the Union was a strong motivator for him. However, life’s simple pleasures were important to Barney too- and absolutely nothing seems to have been more important in this regard than tobacco, as his letter to New York from Chattanooga, Tennessee on 14th November 1863 demonstrates. It was written at a time when Union forces in Chattanooga had faced shortages in supply: ‘…Mother I want you to send me by mail one round of fine cut chewing tobacco just as soon as you can send it to me, for that is the only way I can keep from spending my money and if you don’t send me plenty of tobacco, why then you will have to send me my money to buy it [he was sending home $30] for I can’t do without the article in no shape nor form…as for tobacco you can buy me a number one quality there and not cost near so much as it would here, I have to pay $1.00 for one plug of tobacco and it won’t weigh half a pound and it is musty after I get it so that I can’t chew it.’ Barney was also in need of a new uniform cap, and wanted to avoid drawing one from the army stores: ‘send a good soldiers cap…I am out of a hat and I will have to draw from Uncle Sam or else go and pay $7.00 for a hat and I would rather send you the money…the kind of cap that I wanted a soldiers cap one that the top leans over on the bill and the bill sticks straight out.’ Just in case his mother had forgotten his sustained appeals for tobacco, Barney signed of the letter with ‘please don’t forget what I told you and send them all right along.’ (6)
On 18th November Barney wrote a letter from Chattanooga that suggests he was keen (perhaps too keen?) on word play. In describing an early morning skirmish with the Confederates he equated the whole affair to a quest for breakfast, describing artillery fire in the following terms: ‘…this morning directly after I got up our boys and the Rebels had a knock down before breakfast and I think that our fellows gave them a breakfast of hot lead, just all that they could eat for I guess they have not had very much to eat for some time and it took a good deal to fill [?] them for they are big eaters. Any how when they have not had anything to eat for some time I guess that they were a trying to get back across the river to get at our cracker boxes and our fellows are a little hungry this morning and did not like to issue rations before they got what they wanted themselves, and Mister Rebs had to stand back until Yanks got his share for they feed our bull dogs double rations of canister and grape and the Rebs could not eat that when they throwed it across to them, and I guess it was [a] good deal of trouble for them to catch them kind of crackers throwed the distance that our boys had to throw them and that distance was across the river and when they got across they were pretty well scattered and it was a little cold and the Rebels thought that their fingers might [get] cold to pick them up and concluded they had better left that alone…’ (7)
Although the fighting experienced by Union and Confederate soldiers in the first years of the war was horrendous, it entered a new chapter in May 1864, when Grant’s strategy of applying sustained pressure was implemented. That summer the 79th Illinois marched with Sherman’s army in its long, painful advance towards Atlanta. The 79th took casualties at Rocky Face Ridge on 9th May, at Resaca on 14th May, at New Hope Church on 27th May and at Muddy Creek on 18th June. The Yankees had gradually been forcing the Rebels back towards Atlanta, but now they faced the Confederates most formidable defensive line yet– at Kennesaw Mountain. As the jostling for position around this daunting Confederate fortified line continued, Barney wrote the below letter to his mother on 20th June. It is a remarkable note, and is here reproduced in full. It was not only written under fire, but it expresses sentiments which demonstrate the mental toll that fighting of this nature took on the men:
Headquarters 79 Regt Ills Vols. Camp in the field in front of the enemys breastworks and they are a shooting at us all the time, this date June the 20th 1864.
Dear Parent, once more I take the pleasure [of] writing to you a few lines to let you know that I am still alive yet. As I suppose you are well aware that Shermans army has been a fighting ever since last May and that I am still in his army. So as I have not wrote to you in a good while I thought you would be uneasy about me and thought that I would write you a few and let…[the letter stops at this point, and continues as below]
Dear Mother I have had to stop writing, we are a lying on the line [of] battle and there are 12 pieces of cannons in front of us and they are a shelling the Rebs and that draws the Rebels fire and it is a horrible place to be in. Cannonballs are a flying thick around us and the shells are a screaming in the air and through the woods, cutting the timber and earth in all directions, but thank [God] Mother I am still safe and unhurt, but how long I may still remain so I can’t tell anything about that yet. God only knows how long it may last, I am sure I can’t tell anything about it now that by the grace [of] God I still live yet and am well and hearty in the bargain and I hope that when this few lines reaches you that [they] will find you all well and doing well.
Dear Mother these are hard times nothing but fighting every day and killing of men I am a getting tired of it but then I want to see them keep those Rebels a moving to Atlanta and I guess that it is the only way of putting down this Rebellion and the sooner it is down the better it is for them that lives to see it. But Mother pray for me that I may live to see it over and live to see you all, so Mother I want to see you before I die and I want to see all of the Carr family. (8)
Seven days after Barney wrote this letter, on 27th June 1864, Sherman ordered his men to assault the Confederate line at Kennesaw Mountain. Lieutenant-Colonel Terrence Clark of the 79th Illinois described how the regiment formed ‘in double column at half distance on the third line of battle, Capt. O. O. Bagley temporarily commanding. He advanced the regiment to the front line , when he, on account of the troops on the right falling back, was compelled to retire, losing, in commissioned officers, 1 wounded, 1 enlisted man killed, and 11 enlisted men wounded.’ The Union assault at Kennesaw ended in a bloody repulse. The following day Captain H.C. Beyls of Barney’s company sat down to compose the following letter:
Camp in Field
Near Marietta Geo
June 28 1864
Mrs Nancy Carr
I have to report the most painful and sorrowful duty to perform, to notify you that your son Barnard Carr of my company was killed while in the discharge of his duty. On the 27th inst our brigade was ordered in connection [with] others to charge the rebel works. Many were lost– but Barnard was the only one of my company– he [was] a noble, brave and patriotic soldier never flinching from duty but always on hand ever ready to lend a hand to assist me– I sympathize deeply [with] you and his friends
I am with respect
your obedient servant
H.C. Beyls Capt–
Co “C” “79” Ill Infty (9)
Ann Carr would never be reunited with her son. Barney was ultimately interred in Marietta National Cemetery, where his body lies in Plot I, Grave 9311. Back in New York Ann was comforted by her three surviving children, Mary Jane, Ann and John. She would go on to seek a pension based on her son’s service, citing his financial support of her and the fact that her advancing age (she was around 51 years old when Barney died) meant she could not carry out as much work as she used to (she was employed in housework and washing). As additional evidence, Ann included ‘eight letters rec’d from my said son while he was in the army and which will show his feelings towards me.’ She claimed that there had been no time since she had landed from Ireland that she needed the money as much as she did now. Ann had many more years to live. Her pension request granted, in 1865 she moved to Hudson City, New York, before going west and settling in Omaha, Nebraska in 1876 with her three children. The surviving members of the Carr family would all live out their days in the Gateway to the West. Ann’s death was recorded by the Omaha World-Herald on 17th March 1898: Died. CARR– Mrs. Anna Carr, age 90 years, at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Stephen Rice, 963 N. Twenty-fifth street. Funeral Friday, March 18, at 8.30 a.m. to St. John’s church; services at 9 a.m. She is buried near her three children in Omaha’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. (10)
*Barney’s original letters lack punctuation and have frequent mis-spelling. In addition he uses spelling common in 1860s letters (such as ‘they’ for ‘the’) which can confuse modern readers. I have added minor formatting and spelling corrections to his letters for the benefit of readers, but none of the content has been altered in any way. If you would like to read a transcript of the letter as it appears in the original please email me. 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) Harris et al 1989: 564 (2) Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (3) Catholic Parish Registers, Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (4) 1860 Census, Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (5) Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (6) Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File: (7) Ibid.; (8) Ibid.; (9) Official Records: 364, Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (10) Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File, Omaha World-Herald;
References & Further Reading
Barnard Carr Dependent Mother’s Pension File WC100612.
1860 Us Federal Census.
Omaha World-Herald 17th March 1898, Volume 33, Issue 168, Page 8.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 38 (Part 1). Report of Lieut. Col. Terrence Clark, Seventy-ninth Illinois Infantry.
Ruth Ann M. Harris, Donald M. Jacobs, B. Emer O’Keeffe (eds.) 1989. Searching for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in “The Boston Pilot 1831-1920.”