I am fascinating by the physical remnants of the past that survive in the contemporary landscape. When we think of landscapes of the American Civil War, the images conjured in our minds are often of vast battlefields, such as the monument encrusted fields and hills of Gettysburg. But they also encompass many other areas– places like the towns, cities and countryside that once made up the Union and Confederate home fronts, or the rivers and seas where ironclads and blockade runners once cut the waves. The beauty of viewing the past through landscapes is that they are multi-layered, offering us an opportunity to read their story from different perspectives, and from different points in history. It also allows us to engage with landscapes in unconventional ways, including one of my favourite pastimes–examining Irish landscapes of the American Civil War. 

The narrative of the men and women who were involved in the American Civil War were much more than their experiences between 1861 and 1865. Their life-tale stretched many years before Fort Sumter, and–if they were fortunate–often many years after Appomattox. Their personal narratives extended beyond themselves as individuals, encompassing a web of friends and relatives on both sides of the Atlantic, all of whom were impacted by their experiences. As such, it becomes possible to extend our view of what constitutes an “American Civil War” landscape, looking beyond the great battlefields of the war and even beyond the United States itself to examine the physical remains that played a role in these peoples’ lives. The photographs in this post relate to sites in North Donegal (where I have family connections) which I visited specifically because of their links to individuals impacted by the conflagration between North and South. They serve as an added reminder of how the course of pre-1861 Irish history impacted those in America, and how the course of post-1861 American history impacted those still in Ireland. 


Brigadier-General Michael Corcoran was one of the most famed Irish leaders of the American Civil War. A dedicated Fenian, as Colonel of the 69th New York State Militia he had refused to parade the regiment on the visit of the Prince of Wales to New York in 1860. Captured at First Bull Run, his national fame increased as he was held under threat of reciprocal execution by the Confederate Government. Released to great fanfare, he formed Corcoran’s Irish Legion, one of only two brigade-level ethnic Irish formations to serve in the American Civil War. His brigade were decimated in 1864, but Corcoran did not live to see it- he had died in a fall from his horse in late 1863. A young Michael Corcoran had served in the Revenue Police in Creeslough, Co. Donegal, a force that was largely charged with clamping down on illegal distilling. His experiences during his time in the police are believed to have been partially responsible for his radicalisation.



In 1839 Joe L. Campbell was born into an Ulster-Scots Presbyterian family in Drumaboden House near Ramelton, Co. Donegal. Shortly before the war his family had left their home to join relatives in Tennessee, making their home in Franklin. During the Civil War Joe enlisted in the 1st Tennessee Infantry, and was severely wounded and captured at the Battle of Stones River. He was exchanged and promoted to Sergeant in time to take part in the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga, where he carried the regimental colors. He was shot in the face and killed during the unit’s attack of 19th September 1863– his brothers later erected a monument to him near the spot where he fell (a more detailed post on Joe Campbell will follow in the future).



On 3rd December 1850 James McFadden married Anna Duffy at Massmount on the Fanad Peninsula. They later emigrated to Philadelphia, where in 1861 James became a member of the 23rd Pennsylvania Infantry, a Zouave unit. He marched through Virginia and Pennsylvania over the next three years, being wounded at Cold Harbor. When the 23rd mustered out, James transferred to the 82nd Pennsylvania Infantry. He was with them on 6th April 1865 when they helped to win the major Union victory at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, but he did not live through the engagement. You can read more about James’s story here.



In the late summer of 1863 news arrived in the townland of Corcreggan to the home of Ann and Thomas McKinley. It brought devastating tidings. Their son James had emigrated to America in 1859, joining others from his local area in Pennsylvania. Initially working in an iron foundry, James regularly remitted money home to his ageing parents in Ireland. In Pittsburgh on 25th July 1861 he enlisted into what became the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Two years later, on Gettysburg’s Second Day he was involved in the savage fighting around the Wheatfield, where he received a gunshot wound to the right thigh. The following day James was taken to a local field hospital, where he died on 15th July. The devastating news came back to Corcreggan, where his mother received a military pension based on her son’s service into the 1880s.



Irish immigrant communities in the mid-nineteenth century United States were extremely tight-knit. The Irish usually married among their own, and it was not unknown for women to travel to America to wed someone from their local area who was already there. Fanad peninsula native William Sweeney had emigrated prior to the Civil War, and during the conflict served in the Navy as a First-Class Boy and later a Landsman aboard USS Juanita, USS Rhode Island, USS Powhatan and USS Nereus. After the conflict he married a fellow Fanad native, Hannah Sweeney of Arryheernabin, born and raised in the shadow of Fanad Lighthouse. Hannah will be the subject of a more detailed post at a later date, but remarkably we are able to identify the very houses which were once home to her family in Donegal. After her emigration, Hannah lived out her days in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she died in the early twentieth century (Special thanks to the Friel family for permission to visit the Sweeney houses).



Charly Gallagher emigrated from Donegal and enlisted in the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in 1861. Through the years that followed he fought at some of the most famous engagements of the war, including the repulse of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Charly also served in the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, and the 16th, 18th and 25th United States Infantry. He spent time after the war in the National Home, but eventually returned to Ireland, where he was included in the 1901 Census living in Glenineeny townland, part of Glen, Co. Donegal. When he passed away he would have been buried in Old Carrigart Cemetery, Umlagh.



Hugh Coyle enlisted in the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry on 1 October 1861. While he and his comrades fell upon retreating Confederates at Monterey Pass, Pennsylvania on 4 July 1863 Hugh was captured. Sent to Andersonville, he died there on 24 June 1864 and is interred in Grave 2399. Hugh may well have been born in the townland of Tully, where his father or one of his close relatives once held land. By the time of his death his parents John and Eunice were living in Muineagh townland. When Eunice applied for a pension, she included an eviction notice from her landlord, the Third Earl of Leitrim. Leitrim wanted their land “to graze black cattle.” A few years after Eunice sent this letter, three Fanad men rowed across the Mulroy and assassinated Leitrim in retribution for his treatment of his tenants. A monument was erected to them from where they began their journey in Fanad.



Perhaps the best known soldier from North Donegal was Michael Dougherty from Falcarragh. Michael received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the conflict, and afterwards wrote a memoir of his time both at the front and while a prisoner of war at Andersonville. You can read about him in posts on the site here and hereMichael is remembered with a small display in Falcarragh Visitor Centre (the former RIC Barracks). Nearby is Droichead na nDeor, the “Bridge of Tears”, where traditionally emigrants from the area parted from their families for the last time before heading to Derry and their departure. Michael Dougherty may well have been one of those to say their final farewells there.


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