Cornelius Callahan was an early enlistee in the Union cause. He was barely 18-years-old when he volunteered in Philadelphia. A founder by trade, he was described as having a light complexion, blue eyes and light hair. Knowing that Cornelius’s parents Timothy and Johanna (née Nagle) were married in Ireland during the late 1830s allows us the rare opportunity to precisely identify where Cornelius hailed from. Recourse to the Irish Catholic Parish Registers, recently made available online, reveal the young man’s baptism on 6th August 1843 in the village of Grenagh, Co. Cork (the site recently explored another family from Grenagh– see here). Cornelius marched off to the Civil War as a private in Company G of the 2nd Delaware Infantry.


The village of Grenagh, Co. Cork, where Cornelius Callahan of the 2nd Delaware Infantry was born. 

The baptism of Cornelius recorded in Grenah, Co. Cork (the final name in the section) (National Library of Ireland)

The baptism of Cornelius recorded in Grenagh, Co. Cork (Click to enlarge– his is the final name in the section) (National Library of Ireland)

At Antietam, on 17th September 1862, the 2nd Delaware were part of Brooke’s 3rd Brigade of Richardson’s Division, Second Corps. The 2nd Brigade of that division was Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade. Cornelius and his comrades had been in reserve while the Irishmen launched their assault towards the Bloody Lane, and afterwards crossed much of the same ground as part of their brigade’s initial drive towards the Piper Farm. Cornelius may well have seen some of his wounded and maimed countrymen as he and the Delawareans advanced towards the foe. At some point during that advance, Cornelius was struck by a shell, and himself severely wounded.


The site of General Hospital No. 3 in Frederick, Maryland, where Cornelius Callahan was treated for his Antietam injuries. 

We know little of what happened to Cornelius following his injury, but ultimately he ended up in General Hospital No. 3 in Frederick, Maryland, located in that town’s Presbyterian Church. At the time his parents were living at 1318 Carlton Street in Philadelphia. They appear to have heard about the wounding of their son relatively quickly, but did not know of his whereabouts, or if he was alive or dead. Then, on 1st October 1862, they received a telegraph from Frederick sent by “Jerry” who was clearly a family friend. It was brief in its message, but the few short words must have filled the Irish emigrant family with hope:

Corneal is alive. I am with him. Jerry.


The modern day Carlton Street in Philadelphia, much changed from when the Callahans of Grenagh made it their home. 

It is impossible to imagine what was going through the minds of Johanna and Timothy Callahan at the time, but they must have been comforted that Jerry stayed with their son through the following days. But the bombshell telegraph followed from him three days later, on 4th October:

Cornel[ius] is dead. I am taking him on. Jerry.

The 19-year-old Grenagh man was buried in St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick; his burial in a Catholic cemetery may have been the result of Jerry’s intercession. The two telegraphs from The American Telegraph Company did not spend long in the Callahan’s possession. Joanna submitted them both as part of her pension application to prove the fate of her son, in the process preserving them for us to see. The Callahan story is a yet another example of the double-trauma this site often revisits– a family who left Ireland in hope of a better life, only to suffer catastrophic loss during the American Civil War.

the first telegram sent to the Callahan family in Philadelphia, after "Jerry" had located their wounded son (NARA/Fold3)

the first telegraph sent to the Callahan family in Philadelphia, after “Jerry” had located their wounded son (NARA/Fold3)

The second telegraph sent to the Callahans. Three days after the first, it informs them that Cornelius is dead (NARA/Fold3)

The second telegraph sent to the Callahans. Three days after the first, it informs them that Cornelius is dead (NARA/Fold3)

Cornelius Callahan Grave

The headstone of Cornelius Callahan from Grenagh in Frederick (Jen Snoots/Find A Grave)

* 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

Widow’s Certificate 2068 of Joanna Callahan, Dependent Mother of Cornelius Callahan, 2nd Delaware Infantry.

Catholic Parish Register for Grenagh, Cloyne, Cork. National Library of Ireland.

Antietam National Battlefield.

Civil War Trust Battle of Antietam Page.

Cornelius Callahan Find A Grave Memorial.