A recent post explored some of the American Civil War veterans buried around Newcastle Upon Tyne in England, where I am currently carrying out research on the Irish of the American Civil War at Northumbria University. I have continued to explore Civil War veterans from the area, work that has been greatly aided by a public response to an article in the Newcastle Chronicle covering my analysis (see here). One of those other veterans was a member of the Irish diaspora in England, a reminder that many “Irish-American” Civil War veterans were step-migrants whose families had often spent years or even decades in the United Kingdom prior to their departure for America.
John Pendergast (or Prendergast) was born in Ireland around 1836. He and his family reportedly emigrated to North-East England when he was young, possibly as a result of the Famine. They were far from alone; in 1851 some 8% of Newcastle’s population were Irish-born. John lived on Tyneside until adulthood, before electing to travel to the United States in the 1850s. I hope at a later date to examine his service record and pension file in detail, but suffice is to say that John was still in America by the time the American Civil War erupted, and he did not follow an orthodox path into the Union army. (1)
The regiment that John became a part of was the 13th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, which had been organised in New Haven in early 1862. The unit was assigned to the Department of the Gulf, but John had not travelled south with them. In fact, he only joined the men from the Nutmeg State after they had landed in Louisiana. He was one of a large group– many of whom were Irish– who entered service with the regiment in New Orleans. Since May 1862 the 13th Connecticut had been barracked in the city’s Custom House, which was also serving as the military headquarters. There many locals presented themselves to join up. As the regimental historian remembered:
“We took in about two hundred and twenty in all, filling the regiment to the maximum. Nearly all were of foreign birth, and most of them had lived in the northern states. For illustration: Company H received twenty four recruits in May. Of these twelve were born in Ireland, ten in Germany, one in New York, and one in Massachusetts. All but five had lived in the North. All but six had been in the Confederate service. These New Orleans men were a valuable accession to our ranks, many of them being brave men, experienced in war. They were credited to the quota of Connecticut, and few of them ever dishonored her name. They were well aware of the risk they incurred of being executed as deserters if recaptured by the Rebels. (2)
John was mustered in to the 13th Connecticut in New Orleans on 8th September 1862, becoming a private in Company G ( he would transfer to Company D on 12th August 1865 in Savannah, Georgia). Had John been a Confederate prior to his enlistment into the Union Army? It is entirely possible that he had, though only a detailed review of his surviving service record and pension file might reveal it. Either way, he proved extremely loyal to the Stars and Stripes, serving through some hard fighting at places like Port Hudson, along the Red River and in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign before the war concluded. (3)
After the war, John returned to the North-East of England, settling in North Shields. He is likely the John Pendergast on the 1871 Census who was living at 1 Union Stairs in the town and working as a labourer mason. Although he had come back to England, John remained a firm part of the Irish community on Tyneside, as evidenced by his wife Margaret who was also Irish-born. The couple appear to have had at least one daughter. By 1891 the only Pendergast to match our man was married to a different woman, Catherine– Margaret having presumably passed away in the interim. Catherine was fifteen years John’s junior, but notably she was also Irish-born. By then John and his wife were living at 4 Bell Street in North Shields, with the Irish immigrant still working as a labourer. Soon afterwards he took advantage of a change in American military pension law that made veterans eligible for payments in old age, and so from 1895 he received money from the U.S. Government for his Civil War service. By 1901 the couple were at 2 River Police Quay in North Shields (beside Liddell Street), and it was here that the Irishman passed away, later the same year. After his death Catherine successfully applied for an American widow’s pension based on his service. (4)
John Pendergast was buried in North Shields’ Preston Cemetery. For a number of years only his family visited his final resting place, but all that changed after the conclusion of the First World War. The deaths of Americans in that conflict had brought a new prominence to U.S. servicemen buried in Europe, and saw the formation of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association in 1920. Still in existence today, the AOMDA have a stated mission:
To decorate on the National Memorial Day and such other public and patriotic holidays as may be appropriate, the graves, tombs and monuments of all American Servicemen and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Auxiliary Services buried overseas. (5)
The American Overseas Memorial Day Association were fortunate that on Tyneside there was an American with a singular drive to see local men who had served in the American Civil War remembered. Ultimately it was he whom the Pendergast family and others had to thank for the recognition that was to come their way in the 1920s. His name was George Washington Scott, and remembering Tyneside’s American Civil War veterans was described as his “labour of love.” (6)
George was a native New Yorker who for many decades was a prominent American in the North-East. Born around 1850, the 1891 Census found him classified as a stationer and living at 67 Blandford Street in Newcastle’s Westgate area. He was enumerated with his 18-year-old Connecticut-born daughter Elizabeth, who served as his assistant, and his 12-year-old Newcastle-born son (also George W.) who was attending school. George cropped up periodically in the local newspapers, most notably in 1914, when he fell foul of the authorities for failing to register himself and his family as aliens following the outbreak of the First World War. By then George was running a newsagents on Westmorland Road. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle reported:
George Washington Scott, 64, his wife, Sarah Ann Scott, and his daughter, Lizzie Annie Scott were jointly charged with not having registered themselves as aliens, they being American subjects…Scott said he had lived in Newcastle for 25 years, with the exception of a short period that he had spent, three years ago, in a visit to America. His wife and daughter had not been out of the city for 25 years. When the war broke out the American Consul informed him that he had to sign a book, and as he signed a book at the Consulate, he thought that was the book referred to. (7)
George’s explanation did not go down well with the authorities, and he was fined 20 Shillings and costs. Still, he dosen’t seem to have harboured any ill feelings, and he remained a dedicated member of the community in the North-East for the remainder of his life. As the years past he was referred to as the “senior member of the American colony in the North of England” and by the late 1930s as the “oldest member of the American Colony on Tyneside.” It was George who coordinated with the American Consul in the North-East to arrange for ceremonies to take place in late May to mark Memorial Day (which started as Decoration Day), the occasion on which the United States remembers those who fell in service. (8)
Each year throughout the 1920s and 30s the Consul or one of his representatives travelled around with George to each of the identified Civil War graves in the area. Usually the ceremony would see the graves decorated with miniature American flags and Union Jacks, with wreathes laid and speeches delivered. Typical was Memorial Day 1931. Arriving at Preston Cemetery, wreaths and miniature flags (usually the Stars & Stripes and Union Jack) were placed on the grave of John Pendergast and another Civil War veteran (Robert Rennoldson, 7th New Hampshire Infantry) by their relatives. In the case of John that was his daughter, one Mrs. Stanton. After the decorations had been put on John’s grave, George gave an address:
…it was said of Lord Armstrong [the famed Newcastle industrialist] that he loved the place so much that he would fight for it. These men had fought for the same principles and he was proud of them and thought it only right that they should be remembered in that way.
He went on to comment that the ceremony was a token of the friendship of Britain and America and that sacrifices were worth while when made for peace and freedom. George commented that he had been moved to see recently that a British soldier who died in America had been buried with full military honours. Mr. H. Daglish, Preston Cemetery Superintendent, also said a few words, and a Consular representative (or the Consul himself) also usually spoke. A local newspaper reported that the Civil War soldier’s service:
…was a life time ago. but America wished to help those who had helped her and so a yearly visit is paid to the graves of these men in a quiet garden where the spirit of peace seems to dwell and there are few reminders of old, unhappy far off things and battles long ago. (9)
In 1932 the American Vice-Consul Merlin E. Smith and Scott were accompanied on their Memorial Day tour of Tyneside’s cemeteries by Cadet Major W.G. Finlay MBE, officer commanding the Armstrong Whitworth Cadet Detachment, Northumberland Fusiliers. This time round the Vice-Consul placed a flag on Pendergast’s grave and then read aloud Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, stating that these men had fought for freedom, but that the heroes of the future were those who would work for peace, and the task was given to the common people. (9)
George Washington Scott died in 1937, but the tradition he established survived him. It continued right into the years of the Second World War, though in much reduced form. In 1940 it was reported that “owing to the war the ceremony which has been observed for many years past on the occasion of this annual tribute was dispensed with.” In its place one of the American Consular staff, a Mr. R. Gibson from Whitley Bay, visited Preston Cemetery and placed a wreath and the miniature flags on each of the graves. In 1942 a “large spray of Flanders poppies” was placed on the burials, along with a card inscribed “American Memorial Day, May 30th 1942.” The following year this was still in place, along with the mini-flags, though they were reported as “sadly weather worn.” (10)
The realities of the most horrific conflict the world had ever seen and the absence of the ever-dedicated George Washington Scott seem to have brought an end to the annual remembrance around Tyneside’s Cemeteries. The story of the brief period when they flourished provide us a fascinating insight into how these graves became– for those years between the World Wars– a symbol of the new alliance between the United States and Britain forged during the First World War. George Washington Scott did leave a lasting legacy to many of Tyneside’s Civil War veterans, including John Pendergast. It is one that anyone who visits one of these graves today can see for themselves. Most, if not all, the headstones of American Civil War veterans in the area were ordered by George around 1930, and still serve to identify the last resting places of the men whose memory he worked so hard to preserve.
*Very special thanks to Michael Scott, who had carried out some research on the two veterans buried in Preston Cemetery and how they were remembered. Michael also visited the site to photograph the grave of Pendergast used in this post, and it would not have been possible without his assistance.
(1) The Evening Press 2 June 1941, Irish Migration to North-East England; (2) Sprague 1867: 51, 55-56; (3) Connecticut Adjutant-General 1869: 556; (4) 1871 Census, 1891 Census, 1901 Census, John Pendergast Pension Index Card, Evening News 31 May 1938; (5) AOMDA Website; (6) Shields Daily News 30 May 1932; (7) 1891 Census, Newcastle Evening Chronicle 29 October 1914; (8) Ibid; Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette 23 February 1933, Shields Daily News 1 June 1938; (9) Shields Daily News 1 June 1931; (10) Shields Daily News 30 May 1932, Shields Daily News 1 June 1938; (11) Shields Daily News 31 May 1940, Shields Daily News 31 May 1941, Shields Daily News 1 June 1943;
Newcastle Evening Chronicle 29 October 1914
Shields Daily News 1 June 1931
Shields Daily News 30 May 1932
Shields Daily News 31 May 1938
Shields Daily News 1 June 1938
Shields Daily News 31 May 1940
Shields Daily News 31 May 1941
Shields Daily News 2 June 1941
Shields Daily News 1 June 1943
Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette 23 February 1933
1871 England Census
1891 England Census
1901 England Census
John Penderast Pension Index Card
Connecticut Adjutant General 1869. Catalogue of Connecticut Volunteer Organizations, (Infantry, Cavalry & Artillery,) in the Service of the United States, 1861-65, with Additional Enlistments, Casualties, &c., &c.
Sprague, Homer B. 1867. History of the 13th Infantry Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers during the War of the Rebellion.
Newcastle University: Irish Migration to North-East England.