The main focus of attention when it comes to Irish service in the American Civil War is understandably on ethnic Irish regiments and brigades. However, as has been highlighted many times on this site, the vast majority of Irish servicemen experienced the conflict outside such formations. But in the army there was one group of non-ethnic units where it was extremely common to find large numbers of Irishmen– the Regulars. Service in the regular United States Army had long been traditional for the Irish. Indeed, when the Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter to commence the war in April 1861, there were more Irish-born than American-born soldiers inside the fort. The prevalence of Irishmen in the Regulars can be demonstrated in a number of ways, such as wartime contributions to the Irish Relief Fund. I wanted to take a look at some  of these Regulars through the pension files, focusing on a specific engagement– the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee.

Sunset on the Stones River battlefield during my visit in November 2014 (Damian Shiels)

Sunset on the Stones River battlefield during my visit in November 2014 (Damian Shiels)

I decided on Stones River for a number of reasons. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the battlefield in late 2014 by Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West. One of the standout memories was walking through the fading winter’s light of Stones River National Cemetery with Van, looking for men with Irish surnames. As fate would have it, that visit led to an archaeological connection with the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation in Murfreesboro, and I was delighted to meet MTSU (and Murfreesboro native) Michael Fletcher in Cork, in advance of him coming to work with us in Ireland for a few months later this year. As an Irishman who has developed something of a link with Murfreesboro, I found myself wondering anew what it was like for those Irish who were there as 1862 had turned to 1863, fighting over the ground I had visited. The specific focus of this brief examination is on Irish in the Regular Brigade of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. Shepherd, part of Major-General Lovell H. Rousseau’s division of Major-General George Henry Thomas’s Center Wing, Army of the Cumberland. Shepherd’s charges included battalions of the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th United States Regulars.

The first of these men we meet is Co. Donegal native Barney Haggerty, a 36-year-old former laborer who had become a private in Company F of the 19th United States Infantry, 1st Battalion. Barney was originally from the parish of Drumhome (or Drumholm) in south Donegal. He had buried his mother there in 1842, before emigrating to the United States as an adult, with his already elderly father John and at least one sister. Ten days before the Battle of Stones River commenced, Barney took an opportunity to write home to his 83-year-old dad in Newark, New Jersey.

Camp Near Nashvill Tenn

Dec 21st 1862

Dear Father I take my pen in hand to answer your kind letter and I was very mutch surprised to hear how my sister Briget used you & am glad you have done as you have if you had done it at the first it would have been better I think. I am tolerable well at present. When I get payed off I will send you a present of something please let James Fitz patrick’s brother know that James is well, he is the same Co. with me. Let me know if you get any word from N. York from cousin James Mullen and if Mr Fisher is there yet let me know how McGonigals are getting along and if Dan Tinney wife and family are well. I would have written sooner but we have been moveing our camp and not time to write sooner Every thing that we have to buy, such as tobaco & c is about three prices here. I send my respects to all friends and will remain your son till death

Barnard Hagerty

Co F. 1st Batt 19th

U.S. Infantry

Nashville Tennessee (1)

The U.S. Regulars Memorial at Stones River National Cemetery (Damian Shiels)

The U.S. Regulars Memorial at Stones River National Cemetery (Damian Shiels)

It is unclear what Bridget had done, but clearly there had been some sort of family incident or dispute. John was quite reliant on his soldier son, who helped him with his rent, clothes, board and household expenses. The McGonigals (McGonigles) Barney refers to were clearly very close friends of the family– Tim McGonigal had known them for 60 years and was also from Drumhome– indeed he had attended John’s wedding there all the way back in 1806. Their continued connection is another demonstration of how immigrants from the same Irish communities gravitated towards each other in the United States. James Fitzpatrick was a Dubliner in Barney’s company, who would survive his service and muster out a Corporal. But Barney and James were far from the only Irish in Company F. Another was 26-year-old Edward Cunningham from Co. Limerick, who had worked as a stonemason before embarking on his army career. His mother Alice had died in 1851, leaving Edward’s 66-year-old father John back in Aurora, Illinois partially reliant on his son for support. (2)

Outside of the 18th’s Company F, Irishmen were everywhere in Shepherd’s brigade. In Company E of the 15th United States Infantry, 1st Battalion there was 23-year-old Peter Gilooly, who was helping to support his widowed mother Sarah back in Cleveland, Ohio. 36-year-old Dubliner Corporal Thomas O’Neil was serving over in the Company E of the 16th United States Infantry, 1st Battalion. In 1860 he had been working as a laborer in Janesville, Wisconsin, with his wife Mary (née Fitzgerald) and their three children Patrick (13), Jane (11) and Thomas (5). The O’Neils story had been one of ever-westward motion; the couple had married in Burlington, Vermont, but had since moved on to Ohio and ultimately Wisconsin, losing one of their children, John, along the way. In Company B of the 19th United States Infantry, 1st Battalion was Private Thomas Brennan from Co. Galway. Like Thomas O’Neil he had a family depending on him back home. The 30-year-old had a wife Bridget (née Joyce) and two young children in Madison, Indiana. In December 1862 his son Patrick had just turned 4, while his daughter Bridget had just celebrated her 2nd birthday. The futures of dozens of Irish immigrants across the northern United States hung on the fate of Shepherd’s brigade. Unfortunately for them, a day of reckoning was in the offing. (3)

A few days after Barney Haggerty wrote his letter home the Army of the Cumberland marched away from Nashville, intent on confronting the Confederate Army of Tennessee then based around Murfreesboro. The two forces met outside the town on the evening of 30th December, but it would be the Confederates who struck first. At dawn on 31st December 1862, the Rebels smashed into the Army of the Cumberland’s right wing, sending it reeling. The Regulars were not among those to feel the initial shock of the assault, but it would not be long before they were called into action. Though they had started the day behind the Union Center, it was the sound of firing off to their right that served as the harbinger of battle. The Confederate attack had bent the Union right back upon the rest of the army, threatening to completely shatter the Union position. The Regulars were among those ordered towards the maelstrom in a desperate effort to stem the tide. Oliver Shepherd duly gave orders to his 1500 officers and men. Among those who stepped off to face the coming storm were Barney Haggerty, James Fitzpatrick, Edward Cunningham, Peter Gilooly, Thomas O’Neil and Thomas Brennan– together with dozens of other Irish Regulars. (4)

Rousseau’s division was brought into line to the north of the Wilkinson Turnpike, deploying among dense cedars to the right of Phil Sheridan’s division, which had already seen hard fighting that morning. The time was around 9.30am. The Union troops hoped to halt the assault before it could reach the Nashville Turnpike, but the Regulars had only been partially placed before the Rebels came on. The 15th and 16th United States took the brunt of the attack, and having taken around 50 casualties the brigade forced to retreat. The time was now around 11.00am. As the Union commanders urgently sought to consolidate a defensive line along the Nashville Turnpike, a decision was made to sacrifice the Regulars in order to buy the requisite time. At midday Shepherd and his men were ordered back towards the Cedar forest with the instructions to go ‘in there and stop the rebels.’ They duly complied, and soon met an overwhelming enemy force. The Regulars opened up on the Confederates, pouring a ‘terrifying and destructive’ fire by file into their ranks. However, the Confederates more than responded. With the Southerners line extended beyond both flanks of the Regular brigade, they unleashed a stream of lead into them from the front, left and right. For the next few minutes, Shepherd’s men were forced to endure the full fury that it was possible for a Civil War battlefield to unleash. (5)

A detail of the Middleton, Strobridge & Co lithograph from c. 1900, showing the position where the Regular Brigade faced the Confederate onslaught near the Cedar break (Library of Congress)

A detail of the Middleton, Strobridge & Co lithograph from c. 1900, showing the position where the Regular Brigade faced the Confederate onslaught near the Cedar break, numbered 29, 30 and 31 at the top of the image (Library of Congress)

After holding for as long as possible, the Regulars retired towards the Union line, having bought valuable moments for the consolidation of the Nashville Turnpike defence. The casualties they had suffered were staggering. One doesn’t have to look very far for the impact on Irish immigrants. A sample of the Irishmen of the 18th United States Infantry left dead before the Cedar break were James Harrison (33), Frank Kelly (22), Francis Masterson (29) and Peter Murphy (21). They were joined in death by 26-year-old Kerry native Michael Gallivan, and 35-year-old Patrick Savage of Co. Down. It was a similar story in the other regiments. In the 19th United States 22-year-old Edward Gorman from Co. Longford fell dead. So too did Galwegian Thomas Brennan, making his wife Bridget a widow, and leaving his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter fatherless. Oliver Shepherd’s brigade took 641 casualties at Stones River on 31st December 1862, the vast majority in this second action of the day. It represented well in excess of 40% of their strength. (6)

Another of the lifeless Irishmen on the field at Stones River was Donegal man Barney Haggerty. A few days after the battle, his comrade Daniel Martin, a 25-year-old former hatter from New York, penned the following letter to Barney’s aged father:

Camp near Murfressboro

Jan 9th /63

Mr Hagerty

I now take my pen in hand to writ you a few lines wich is painfull for one to do but wich I think is my duty and all of our duty we had a large battel here last week and in it brave Barney Hagerty your son was killed on the last day of the old year Barney lost his life while fighting with the Rebels Barney was loved by all that knew him in the Regt we buried him in a grave yard 5 miles from Murfreesboro and I put a head board at the lead of his grave with his name and when he died

No more at present

from a friend of Barney

Daniel Martin. (7)

Fortunately Daniel Martin made it through the war. Many of the Irish Regulars also survived the engagement of 31st December, but hadn’t done so unscathed. Union victory was ultimately secured on the second day of fighting on 2nd January 1863, and the thoughts of many turned to the wounded. Hospitals sprung up around Murfreesboro and many men were sent back to Nashville. The true cost of the Regulars action on 31st December would take many days to be realised. Dubliner Thomas O’Neil lost his battle for life in Nashville on 8th January 1863. His three children Patrick, Jane and Thomas would be left orphans in little over a year, when their mother Mary followed him to the grave on 29th April 1864. Limerickman William Cunningham received word that his son Edward succumbed to his wounds on 22nd January. In Cleveland, Sarah Gilooly discovered that her 23-year-old son Peter passed in Nashville’s Hospital No. 12 on 18th February. (8)

The grave of Peter Gilooly in Nashville National Cemetery (Kathleen Fleury Bilbrey, Find A Grave)

The grave of Peter Gilooly in Nashville National Cemetery (Kathleen Fleury Bilbrey, Find A Grave)

Danger lurked even for men who had come through the fighting without serious injury. Private Daniel Divine of Company F, 18th United States Infantry, 2nd Battalion was one of them. The Donegal native was immensely popular with the men of his unit, who looked on the former farm-hand as a father figure. Though he claimed to be 34-year-old when he enlisted in 1861, the 1860 Census shows him to have been at least 44 by the time of Stones River. Daniel had gone to war leaving behind his wife Catherine (née McGarry) and their children in Nashport, Ohio (they had married in Zanesville, Ohio on 8th May 1842). The couple had at least two adult children by 1862, together with George (12 at the time of Stones River) and John (1o at the time of the battle). Perhaps unsurprisingly given his reputation, Daniel was eager to help his wounded comrades after Stones River, and was serving as a hospital attendant. However, the conditions got the better of him; in February 1863 his comrade, 26-year-old Welsh farmer David Jones (who would survive the war) wrote the following to one of Daniel’s adult sons:

Murfressboro Tenn

February 16th 1863


It becomes my painful duty to inform you that your beloved father is no more He died in Hospital at Murfreesboro Tenn after two days sickness He had been attending on the sick and wounded since the Battle of Stone River, where he was slightly wounded. Write back soon with your mothers home and her residence his accounts will be settled with war department and she will receive the money. all of us feels the loss of your father he was the oldest man we had in the Company and was looked at as a father to all of us He was a brave soldier and true to his Country

I am Sir

Yours & your fathers friend

David Jones

1st Sergt Co F 2nd Batt 18th Inf (9)

Daniel’s distraught family would write back to Sergeant Jones to ask about their father’s burial spot, perhaps hoping to take his body home, or at least visit his grave. They learned that he had been laid to rest beside some of the men who he had been attempting to help after the battle:

Murfreesboro Tenn
March 8th 1863
Mr Thomas Devine


Yours of the 2nd inst came safely to hand and in answer to your inquiry I will state that your father Daniel Devine died on the 10th day of February 1863 and was buried by the side of his friends from the same Company, and the same Regiment, five of them is buried on the Battle Field of Stone River 2 miles from Murfreesboro on the turnpike towards Nashville, and is called the Regular Grave Yard, all the Regulars are buried here, those killed in Battle, and them that died since, and a HeadBoard to each one with his name company battalion and regiment.

Yours Respectfully

David Jones (10)

The experience of the Regulars at Stones River was one repeated on many battlefields of the American Civil War. Whenever a Regular unit suffered serious casualties was sure to be a bad day for many Irish immigrants families, as this small sample demonstrates. There is no doubt that there were many more Irish dead and wounded among Shepherd’s Regular brigade at Stones River than have been identified in the cursory review above. Telling the story of these Regulars is something I hope to do significantly more of in the future of the site, as they remain one of the least-studied of the Irishmen who experienced the American Civil War.

The grave of Edward Gorman from Co. Longford in Stones River National Cemetery (Kimshockey, Find A Grave)

The grave of Edward Gorman from Co. Longford in Stones River National Cemetery (Kimshockey, Find A Grave)

(1) Bernard Haggerty Dependent Fathers Pension File; (2) Bernard Haggerty Dependent Fathers Pension File, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, Edward Cunningham Dependent Fathers Pension File; (3) Peter Gilooly Dependent Mothers Pension File, Thomas O’Neil Widow’s Pension File, Thomas Brennan Widows Pension File, 1860 U.S. Federal Census; (4) Official Records: 398; Kolakowski 2012; (5) Official Records: 393- 395, Kolakowski 2012; (6) Register of Deaths in the Regular Army, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, Thomas Brennan Widows Pension File, Official Records: 210; (7) Bernard Haggerty Dependent Fathers Pension File, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments; (8) U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, Thomas O’Neil Widow’s Pension File, Edward Cunningham Dependent Fathers Pension File, Peter Gilooly Dependent Mothers Pension File; (9) Daniel Divine Widows Pension File, 1860 U.S. Federal Census, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments; (10) Daniel Divine Widows Pension File;

* 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.

References & Further Reading

Bernard Haggerty Dependent Fathers Pension File WC120199.

Edward Cunningham Dependent Fathers Pension File WC113532.

Peter Gilooly Dependent Mothers Pension File WC140886.

Thomas O’Neil Widows Pension File WC115554.

Thomas Brennan Widows Pension File WC140487.

Daniel Divine Widows Pension File WC43721.

1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration.[Original scans accessed via]

Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls); Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C. [Original scans accessed via]

Registers of Deaths in the Regular Army, compiled 1860–1889. 18 volumes. ARC ID: 1226156. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. Record Group 94. National Archives at Washington, D.C. [Original scans accessed via]

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 20, Part 1. Consolidated Report on Casualties in Brigade U.S. Regular Troops, Third Division, Center, Fourteenth Army Corps, in the Five Days’ Battles Before Murfreesborough, Tenn., Commencing December 31, 1862 and Ending January 4, 1863.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 20, Part 1. Return of the Casualties in the Union Forces & c.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 20, Part 1. Reports of Lieut. Col. Oliver L. Shepherd, Eighteenth U.S. Infantry, Commanding Fourth (Regular) Brigade.

Cozzens, Peter 1991. No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River.

Kolakowski, Christopher L. 2012. I Will Die Right Here: The Army of the Cumberland at Stones River. Hallowed Ground Magazine, Winter 2012.

McDonough, James Lee 1980. Stones River: Bloody winter in Tennessee.

Civil War Trust Battle of Stones River Page.

Stones River National Battlefield.

Peter Gilooly Find A Grave Memorial.

Edward Gorman Find A Grave Memorial.