During the height of the 1880 Presidential Election Campaign, a reporter from the Democratic Cincinnati Daily Enquirer visited the Central Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Veterans in Dayton, Ohio, to find out “What the veterans think about General Hancock.” The legendary former commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Second Corps was the 1880 Democratic Presidential candidate. The majority of the men interviewed were Irish, and unsurprisingly– given the newspapers leanings– were all strongly pro-Hancock. One of the men the Enquirer spoke to was Francis J. Fox, a native of Athlone, Co. Westmeath. Francis, who in 1880 was approaching his 60th year, had known Winfield Scott Hancock personally, and had a letter from the great man to prove it. Their acquaintance had come years before the Civil War, when the United States had turned its gaze on Mexico. The accessibility of records allow us to trace Francis’s military career, an extended story of service that was far from unique for many career Irish soldiers. That service encompassed almost 25 years of American military efforts in the west, covering two major wars, numerous campaigns, and time as an officer in the first Native-American Union volunteer regiment formed during the Civil War.
The year Francis– who often went by Frank– left Athlone for America is unknown. He makes his appearance in the historical record on 18th October 1845, when he enlisted in the United States Regulars for the first time at Albany, New York. A laborer by trade, he was described as 24-years-old with hazel eyes, black hair and a ruddy complexion. Relatively tall at 5 feet 9 3/4 inches in height, the Irishman began his quarter century association with the military with the 6th United States Infantry, having signed up for a five-year term. (1)
Francis spent his first five years in the army in Company K and F of the 6th U.S. In these early days of service Francis rubbed shoulders with many officers who would subsequently achieve fame; his first Colonel was Zachary Taylor, later hero of the Mexican War and President, and among the junior officers were his later correspondent Winfield Scott Hancock, and future Confederate Generals Lewis Armistead, Richard Garnett, Simon Bolivar Buckner and W.H.T. Walker. It wasn’t long into his service before Francis got his first taste of the west, the region that would dominate his military career. January 1846 found him at Fort Towson, Oklahoma, where he clearly impressed his superiors as a natural-born soldier. By June 1846 he was serving at Fort Smith in Arkansas, but by now he was serving as a Sergeant. The outbreak of the Mexican-American War saw Francis and his comrades move south. By August 1847 they had become fully engaged, fighting at locations such as Contreras, Churubusco and Molino del Rey before the Battle of Chapultepec, where Francis was shot in the left thigh while the regiment stormed the Mexican works. It would be to prove this service and wounding that caused Francis to write to Winfield Scott Hancock all those years later. (2)
Francis recovered to return to his unit, and mustered out on 18th October 1850 while on the Oregon Trail at Fort Kearny in Nebraska. Within three months he had returned to what he knew best, rejoining the 6th United States at St. Louis, Missouri on 22nd December, this time mustering into Company E. On this occasion he never advanced beyond the rank of private, and after five years left the army once more at Fort Riley, Kansas. Sometime in the previous years Francis had married, interestingly wedding a fellow Irish emigrant, Mariah. Francis Junior was born in Iowa around 1852, William in Minnesota in 1855, and Mary around 1859 in Kansas Territory. The later 1850s had seen Francis seek to carve out his future in civilian life, but he stayed in the west, the area most familiar to him. He and his family were in Ogden, Kansas in 1860, where Francis worked as a freighter near where he had left the army, an occupation that would have seen him travel widely around the frontier. Aside from his family, Francis also had another Irish emigrant, James Welsh, living with him– another indication of how he retained his Irish identity and connections despite his commitment to the United States. Francis stayed away from the army for five years, until the coming of the American Civil War, when he answered a call that was irresistible for an old soldier. (3)
Francis enlisted as a volunteer in the Union army at Leavenworth, Kansas on 7th August 1861. He ultimately mustered in to Company G of the 10th Kansas Infantry. The 10th spent their early service in Indian Territory, as part of the “Indian Expedition,” aimed first against Cherokees allied with the Confederacy and later Missouri rebels. Francis’s active service with the 10th Kansas proved brief. Over the years he had accumulated a vast amount of experience, both in military and civilian life, in dealing with Native Americans. As a direct result of this, he was offered an opportunity in September 1862 that he couldn’t refuse. (4)
The formation that became known as the 1st Indian Home Guards were raised in Kansas from among Creek and Seminole refugees. The organisation of this fascinating unit began in April 1862, the first officially authorised Native-American Union regiment of the war. They officially mustered into Federal service that May with over 1,000 troops. Though largely composed of Creeks, there were also Seminole and Yuchi companies, with other tribes including Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw also represented in the ranks. Many of the interpreters in the unit were African-Americans who had learnt the native languages. The Indians were allowed to select their own officers, including company Captains. However, in September 1862 the Federal commander in Kansas, General James Gilpatrick Blunt, ordered the First Lieutenants of each company to resign in order to replace them with white officers who could complete the unit paperwork. One of the white men selected to replace one of the unfortunate First Lieutenants was Francis Fox, who on 10th September 1862 took up his new role as an officer in Company E at Fort Scott, Kansas. (5)
Before long a 2nd and 3rd Indian Home Guards were formed; the 1st would serve for much of the war as one of the units who made up the Union Indian Brigade. Francis first went into action with his new comrades at the Battle of Newtonia, Missouri on 30th September 1862 and was also engaged at the notable engagement of Prairie Grove, Arkansas that December. Through the following years the 1st spent much of their time serving in Indian Territory, playing a major role in preserving Union interested there. Francis served throughout, although he did not always see eye to eye with his Native American Captain. In March 1865, while stationed at the Tallahassee Mission in the Creek Nation, he put forward charges against Captain No-ko-so-lo-chee claiming that he had been mocking him as he drilled the company. However, within a couple of days the matter had been resolved, with Francis reporting “All is well at the mission. Captain No-ko-so-lo-chee is getting good. I got him to head his company at dress-parade yesterday evening for the first [time]; also to super-intend his roll calls…” A report that Francis wrote of operations that March provide a window into something of his and the 1st Home Guards service at this time:
HEADQUARTERS TALLAHASSEE MISSION, CREEK NATION, March 16, 1865
Col. WILLIAM A. PHILLIPS,
Comdg. Third Brigade, Third Division, Seventh Army Corps:
I have the honor to inform the brigade commander that I have on this instant, at 11 a.m., received intelligence that a band of Osages, supposed to be led by white scoundrels, for the purpose of robbery, to gather up the stock of the nation and drive it off, are now operating in or about Conchanty. Two refugee men, who were on the way to Conchanty Town, about twenty-five miles from here, discovered the marauders encamped about sunset yesterday, the 15th instant, on this bank of the Arkansas, Conchanty being on the other side opposite their camp. The refugee men say that they were much scared when they came in sight of the camp, but they dismounted for a few minutes, lay down and took a good sight, and think there are white men amongst them. The band, altogether, about fifty or sixty strong. The shortest route in pursuit would be this way by the Mission. Pardon the suggestion. I remain your obedient and humble servant,
FRANCIS J. FOX,
First Lieutenant. (6)
Francis mustered out with the 1st Indian Home Guards on 31st May 1865. Around the time of his volunteer enlistment in 1861 his wife had given birth to another daughter, Lucy, in Kansas. When Francis came home, he first went back to his life as a freighter around Fort Riley. A year of civilian life followed, but perhaps unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before the Athlone man was once again drawn towards the military. On 3rd February 1866 Francis, now recorded as 42-years-old, went into Fort Riley and enlisted in Company A of the 13th United States Infantry. He spent the next four years doing what he did best, serving as a soldier on the frontier. His final stint in the military came to a close on 3rd February 1869 at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, when Francis, now in his late 40s, mustered out as a private. (7)
Soon after his discharge Francis was living in Ward 7 of Covington, Kentucky. Within months he was a widower, when Mariah died in childbirth in 1870. The baby she gave birth to, Annie, appears to have followed her to the grave at the age of just 2 months. The 1870 Census recorded Francis with his 15-year-old son William and 9-year-old daughter Lucy in Covington. It was apparent the old soldier was finding it hard to make money, finding employment only as a day laborer. He struggled on for a few years, but in 1876, at the age of 56, the Westmeath man presented himself to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio. Aside from the gunshot wound he had suffered at Chapultepec, his years of service had also brought on chronic rheumatism. At his admission on 13th April Francis recorded his residence as Covington, Kentucky and noted that he had two boys and two girls still living, with his next-of-kin being William, then living in Sciotoville, Ohio. He was still there four years later when the reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer came to do his piece on Hancock’s Presidential campaign. Francis was described as “an old, broken-down veteran of the Mexican War, poor and paupered in all but his honor as a man and his glorious record as a soldier.” The reporter somewhat doubtfully claimed that he didn’t inquire as to Francis’s politics, but he was told “the old man never tired of singing Hancock’s praises.” During their meeting, Francis presented the letter he had received from General Hancock penned on 19th May 1870, when the Irishman was seeking a pension. The Enquirer reproduced the correspondence in full:
NEW YORK, MAY 19, 1870
MY DEAR SERGEANT- Your letter of the 16th inst., from Dayton (Ohio) National Home, has been received. I was very glad to here that you were living and that you were at least comfortable, if not prosperous. You recall to my recollection many things of the Mexican War which I had ceased to recollect. Some of the things you quoted I have not forgotten, and especially what you say of Cherubusco. I was young and ambitious, and was proud of being in command of my company, which fell to me when the First Lieutenant and Commander Hendrickson had his elbow-joint shot away at the commencement of the action. The Captain was absent, and I believe I was the junior Second Lieutenant in the regiment, and twenty-three years of age.
My recollection is that you were wounded in one of the later battles– I think Chepultepec. The nature of your wound is not now recalled, but I have a recollection of meeting you in the hospital of our regiment when we were in the City of Mexico while you were being treated for your wound.
I hope you may receive all the advantages you are entitled to for your wound, and yet that it may have ceased to trouble you.
Better than my recollection is the official record as taken from the muster-roll of the time, and here it is:
“Francis Fox, Sergeant Company K, Sixth United States Infantry, enlisted October 18, 1845,” &c. [Here follows the full copy of the record in the General’s own hand.]
I am very truly yours,
W.S. HANCOCK. (8)
Despite the support of old soldiers like Francis Fox, Hancock was defeated in the 1880 election by James Garfield. The following year, on 21st May 1881, Francis died in the Home. The official cause was given as erysipelas (St. Anthony’s Fire), an acute bacterial infection. He was buried in Dayton National Cemetery, where he rests in Plot B2, Grave 7. The records that survive relating to his service allow us to build a partial picture of his life, one of the many ordinary Irishmen who embraced a career in the United States Regular service. The juxtaposition between his early life in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, and his later years of sustained service in the west, where he developed an intimate knowledge of Native-Americans and life on the frontier, could not be more stark. It is this type of juxtaposition that is one of the most fascinating aspects of exploring the emigrant experience in America. (9)
(1) Army Register of Enlistments 1845; (2) Byrne 1896, U.S. Returns from Military Posts, Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers; (3) Army Register of Enlistments 1850, 1860 Census; (4) Kansas Adjutant General: 289-91; (5) Rein 2013: 5-8, 12, Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers; (6) Rein 2013: 8, Official Records: 1193; (7) Kansas State Census, Army Register of Enlistments; (8) 1870 Census, U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Cincinnati Enquirer; (9) Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Find A Grave;
References & Further Reading
Army Register of Enlistments 1845, 1850, 1865.
U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule 1870 fo Kenton, Kentucky.
U.S. Federal Census 1860 for Ogden, Riley, Kansas Territory.
U.S. Federal Census 1870 for Covington Ward 7, Kenton, Kentucky.
Kansas State Census, 1865.
U.S. National Archives. Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 48, Part 1.
The Cincinnati Enquirer 13th August 1880. What the Veterans Think About General Hancock.
Britton, Wiley 1922. The Union Indian Brigade in the Civil War.
Byrne, Charles 1896. The Sixth Regiment of Infantry.
Rein, Chris 2013. “The U.S. Army, Indian Agency, and the Path to Assimilation: The First Indian Home Guards in the American Civil War” in Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 36, Spring 2013.
Kansas Adjutant General 1870.Official military history of Kansas regiments: during the War for the Suppression of the Great Rebellion.