New Yorker Marshall Bailey’s moment in the sun came late in life. The summer of 1910 found the elderly American Civil War veteran in dire straits, consigned to life as a pauper far from the country of his birth. His desperate circumstances made the events that momentarily propelled him into the spotlight all the more remarkable. As they unfolded, telegraphs clacked Marshall’s story across the Atlantic so that both Irish and American newspapers could cover it simultaneously. It would eventually be run in publications from Cork to Chicago, appearing under imaginative headlines such as “Cupid in the Workhouse” and “Pension and Bride All in One Bunch.” What good fortune had befallen Marshall Bailey to warrant such international coverage?

Men from Oneida County, New York outside Petersburg during the American Civil War (Library of Congress)

Men from Oneida County, New York outside Petersburg during the American Civil War (Library of Congress)

Records suggest that Marshall Bailey was born around 1848 in Taberg, a hamlet in Oneida County, upstate New York. He was the eldest child of illiterate Irish emigrants John and Mary Bailey, who by 1860 were making their homes in the small hamlet of North Bay, near the shore of Oneida Lake. John was employed as a blacksmith, while Mary cared for Marshall and his four younger brothers and two younger sisters. It was when Marshall was just 16-years-old that he decided to go to war. He became a musician in Company K of the 81st New York Infantry at Annsville, New York on 21st April 1864. Assigned to the Army of the James, he served during the Bermuda Hundred campaign and was a witness to the horrors of Cold Harbor, the regiment’s worst experience of the war. He was wounded at the Second Battle of Petersburg on 15 June 1864, but recovered to muster out with his company in Virginia on 31st August 1865. (1)

Marshall Bailey wasn’t even 18-years-old by the time he left the army. Returning to Oneida, he moved back in with his parents, who were now residing in Annsville itself. During the conflict the family had grown; two new sisters brought the number of Marshall’s siblings to eight. to help support the family Marshall and his younger brother John became Canal Boatmen, probably serving the nearby Erie Canal. After 1870 Marshall’s trail goes cold, but it seems that he chose to use his canal experience to pursue a new career at sea. Decades later he found himself in the land of his parents, where his advancing years contributed to his hard times. Eventually he could no longer support himself– on 1st June 1906 he presented himself for indoor relief at the South Dublin Union Workhouse. Situated on the city’s southside, the Workhouse was then the largest in the country, covering 50 acres with thousands of inmates. A decade later it would become one of the rebel garrisons during the 1916 Rising. In the register Marshall was listed as a seaman with “no residence” while in the observations column it was remarked that he “belongs to U.S.A.”. Marshall’s first stint in the Workhouse ended on 18th May 1907, but unfortunately it would not be his last. By 1910 he had been back in the Workhouse for 723 days, seemingly destined to end his days a pauper. It was then that he received the news that changed not only his own fortunes, but also that of one of his fellow inmates. (2)

The South Dublin Union Workhouse (Bureau of Military Archives)

The South Dublin Union Workhouse (Bureau of Military Archives)

Marshall Bailey was entitled to a United States pension. Though the South Dublin Union recorded it as being for his time as a seaman, it was actually for his wartime service in the 81st New York. Marshall had been well aware of this; in fact he first claimed a pension in 1871, presumably on the basis of his wartime wound. He likely thought that when he went to sea and ultimately to Ireland he could no longer draw those monies. If so, he was wrong. In 1910, Marshall learned that he was entitled to a lump sum payment, estimated by Irish newspapers as being worth £350 and by those in the United States as between $1500 and $1750. In a stroke, his circumstances had radically altered. Leaving the Workhouse, he moved into a house at 5 Prospect Terrace in Kilmainham, Dublin. He didn’t tarry in making his next move. While in the Union Workhouse he had fallen for a fellow inmate, and immediately set about making her his bride. It was this combination of windfall and marriage that so caught the imagination of newspapermen in Ireland and the United States. Typical of the reporting was that of the Irish Independent:


Marshall Bailey, aged 70 [he was around 62], a veteran of the American Army, on returning from the land of the Stars and Stripes a few years ago [he had been born in America] entered the South Dublin Union Workhouse, and while there became enamoured of an inmate who is aged 35. Three months ago he discovered that his pension had accumulated to the extent of £350, and that it would continue during his lifetime. He accordingly offered his hand in marriage to the object of his affection, and the couple were married yesterday in the Catholic Church, James’s Street, by Father McGough. A large number of persons attended the wedding, and rice was liberally showered on the bridal party as they left the church. The happy bridegroom acknowledged the felicitations by throwing a large quantity of silver from the carriage window as he drove away, with his bride, and there was an exciting scramble for money in the street. (3)

The fact that Marshall threw money to those on the street was one of the details most enthusiastically communicated by the American papers. The Omaha Daily Bee in Nebraska further reported that the best man and bridesmaid at the ceremony were also Workhouse inmates. The woman that Marshall married was Elizabeth Noonan, a bootmaker’s daughter from Limerick. Elizabeth is likely the inmate recorded as entering South Dublin Union Workhouse on 14th January 1908. She was then recorded as a single, 30-year-old servant. When Elizabeth entered the Workhouse she was pregnant, likely a contributing factor in her inability to obtain employment, if not the primary reason she found herself destitute. When Marshall Bailey married Elizabeth in July 1910, he also became a stepfather to her young daughter, Mary. (4)

Typical of the type of headlines Marshall's story elicited was this in the Omaha Daily Bee, Nebraska. (Omaha Daily Bee)

Typical of the type of headlines Marshall’s story elicited was this in the Omaha Daily Bee, Nebraska. (Omaha Daily Bee)

For two months Marshall’s story was told and retold on both sides of the Atlantic. But what became of the unlikely family after 1910? The key to uncovering that lies with the family dog. In 1913 Marshall Bailey registered a female brown terrier for a dog licence. He did so in the townland of Allenagh, Co. Longford. That this is the same Marshall is confirmed by the 1911 Census of Ireland, which records 69-year-old Marshall Bailey, an ‘American Pensioner” in Feraghfad, Co. Longford living with his 39-year-old wife Elizabeth Bailey and 3-year-old stepdaughter Mary Noonan-Bailey. The couple had been married for one year. Why Longford? The most likely explanation is that Marshall’s family originally hailed from this part of the country, and as a result he had a connection (and possibly family) there. Marshall was able to enjoy his good fortune, both financial and familial, for some six years. The veteran of Cold Harbor and Petersburg passed away in Co. Longford on 18th March 1916, having led a life that had taken him on a remarkable journey from his childhood home near the shores of Oneida Lake in New York. It had been filled with highs and undoubtedly many lows, but in the end the service he had offered when he was still no more than a child helped to secure for him a measure of comfort and prosperity in rural Ireland during his final years. (5)

(1) New York Muster Roll Abstracts, 1850 Federal Census, 1860 Federal Census, Registers of Officers and Enlisted Mustered into Federal Military, 81st New York Infantry Roster; (2) 1865 New York State Census, 1870 Federal Census, South Dublin Union Admission Register, Gibney: Sites of 1916, South Dublin Union Board of Guardians Minute Book; (3) South Dublin Union Board of Guardians Minute Book, Marshall Bailey Pension Index Card, Irish Independent 12th July 1910; (4) Omaha Daily Bee 7th August 1910, 1911 Census, Irish Civil Marriage Index, South Dublin Union Admission Register; (5) Irish Dog Licence Registers, 1911 Irish Census, Marshall Bailey Pension Index Card;


Asbury Park Evening Press (New Jersey), 12th July 1910.

Buffalo Courier (New York), 31st July 1910.

Freeman’s Journal, 12th July 1910.

Irish Independent, 12th July 1910.

Omaha Daily Bee (Nebraska), 7th August 1910.

Skibbereen Eagle, 30th July 1910.

The Harrisburg Telegraph (Pennsylvania), 12th July 1910.

The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania), 12th July 1910.

The Pittston Gazette (Pennsylvania), 12th July 1910.

The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12th July 1910.

1850 Federal Census, Annsville, Oneida, New York.

1860 Federal Census, Annsville, Oneida, New York.

1865 New York State Census, Annsville, Oneida, New York.

1870 Federal Census, Annsville, Oneida, New York.

1911 Census of Ireland, Feraghfad, Longford Rural, Longford.

Irish Dog Licence Registers.

National Archives. NARA T289: Pension applications for service in the US Army between 1861 and 1900.

New York State Archives.Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts of New York State Volunteers, United States Sharpshooters, and United States Colored Troops.

New York State Archives. Registers of Officers and Enlisted Men Mustered into Federal Military or Naval Service during the Civil War.

New York Adjutant General 1901. Roster of the 81st New York Infantry

South Dublin Union Admission Registers.

South Dublin Union Board of Guardians Minute Books.

GIbney, John n.d. Sites of 1916: South Dublin Union