The latest instalment of the series focuses on Alexandria National Cemetery, which I visited on my recent trip to the United States. The majority of burials relate to men who died of illness or injuries in one of Alexandria’s many Union hospitals between 1862 and 1864. As usual, I wandered among the headstones to capture images of the headstones of those with Irish names, with the intent of researching some of their stories afterwards. This post presents just a handful of them, providing some indication of the number of Irish dead interred here. For many, the immigrant journey that set them on the road to Alexandria National Cemetery began with the Great Famine a decade previously. Their varied stories and experiences help to paint a picture of the sheer breadth of Irish service in the Union military.
John Stack, 13th Massachusetts Infantry
John was born in Ireland around 1842. His work career was typical of many Irish, being both varied and volatile. In the two years prior to enlistment he had spent time as a plumber, in the bread baking business, and employed at the Boston Navy Yard. He also enlisted in Boston, becoming a member of Company D of the 13th Massachusetts on 6th July 1861, where he served as a wagoner. Two of his brothers also served in the military. John succumbed to typhoid fever in Alexandria on 23rd July 1862. His father Garrett, whose personal property was “not worth a shilling”, successfully applied for a pension to help support John’s younger sister Catherine after his death.
Jeremiah Coughlan, 27th New York Infantry
Jeremiah was born in Kilcrohane, in the west of Co. Cork around 1841. His parents had married in Durrus in 1833. The entire family emigrated to New York state in 1845. A laborer before enlisting, Jeremiah was described as being 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall with auburn hair, blue eyes and a sandy complexion. On 21st September 1861 he enlisted in Mount Morris, Livingston County, and was mustered in as a Private in Company H of the 27th New York at Elmira. He died of Typhoid Fever in Alexandria on 19th May 1862, leaving behind his elderly parents Daniel and Mary.
Thomas Hickey, 73rd Pennsylvania Infantry
Thomas was born in Ireland around 1812. He was not a young man when he enlisted, being at least 49-years-old when he mustered into service in Company G of the 73rd in August 1861. At home he left his Irish wife Eliza, whom he had married in St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia in 1844. Prior to his service the couple had lived in Philadelphia’s Tenth Ward, where John worked as a tailor to support Eliza and their seven children. Their youngest, Francis, was still a toddler when his father went to war. Thomas was struck in the thigh during the fighting at the Battle Second Bull Run, and died from his injuries in Alexandria’s Fairfax Street Hospital on 29th September 1862.
Anthony Corbit, 12th New York Infantry
Anthony was born in “Tallman Road”, Kilkee, Co. Clare, and had just turned 18-years-old when he enlisted in December 1861. He became a Private in Company I of the 12th New York. Anthony’s parents had married in Clare in 1836, where his father Thomas had died during the Famine in 1848 or 1849. Thomas’s widow Margret and Anthony emigrated to America in 1851. Prior to joining the army Anthony had worked as a farm laborer around Onondaga County. He died of Typhoid Fever in the U.S. General Hospital, 3rd Division, Alexandria on 24th May 1862. His mother Margaret, who worked as a domestic, received a pension after his death.
Thomas McAvoy, 10th New York Infantry
Thomas was just over 19-years-old when he enlisted in Company F of the regiment in December 1861. He had been born in Co. Galway, where his parents had married in 1842. Mortally wounded at the Battle of Second Bull Run, when his regiment was overrun by a massive Confederate assault, Thomas died in the U.S. General Hospital on Prince St., Alexandria on 24th October 1862.
Mike Brady, 75th Ohio Infantry
Mike Brady was a Famine-era emigrant from Ireland. His parents had been married in the “Priest House in County Cavan near Old Castle” in 1829. Mike was born around 1840; he emigrated with his father to America sometime after his mother’s death during the Famine in 1848. In the United States Mike took up the blacksmithing trade, before joining Company A of the 75th Ohio in Cincinnati in December 1861. His battlefield performances earned him the honour of carrying the 75th’s National Flag, and he was shot down while bearing it aloft at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He died of his injuries at Alexandria’s Prince Street Hospital on 9th September 1862. Mike was long remembered by his comrades in arms, and his story has been the subject of a detailed post on the site, which you can read here.
Barney Brady, 36th New York Infantry
Although Barney claimed to be 39-years-old when he enlisted into Company D in New York on 17 June 1861, he was actually 45. The laborer was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, with blue eyes, sandy hair and a fair complexion. Barney had married his wife Catherine Meehan in Co. Cavan at the height of the Famine in 1848. When Barney went to war, he left behind two children- his youngest son William was not yet four-years-old. Barney died on 12th December 1862 of Chronic Diarrhoea.
Michael Collins, 6th New Jersey Infantry
Michael, a native of Co. Wexford, was 50-years-old when he enlisted in Company E in August 1861. A tailor by profession, he was described as five feet four inches tall, with grey eyes, a fair complexion and grey hair. In 1848 he had married Mary Lyon in New York’s famous Transfiguration Church; the couple’s daughter Catherine was born in 1852. Michael fell ill in late 1862, and was discharged from the service on 5th December from Fairfax Seminary Hospital suffering from chronic diarrhoea. He was immediately admitted to Alexandria’s Mansion House hospital (recently made famous by the television series Mercy Street), where he died on 10th December 1862.
Daniel Murphy, 36th New York Infantry
In 1862 Daniel lived at No.3 Mission Place in New York with his wife Honora and their children John (10), Michael (4) and Dennis (1). At least one of their other children appears to have died during the war. The couple had married in Ireland in 1845 before their emigration. Daniel was enrolled in Company K of the 36th on 7th October 1862, but fell ill as he made his way to the regiment. He was left in hospital in Alexandria, where he died on 9th December.
Thomas Scully, 69th New York Infantry
Born in Ireland, Thomas was 25-years-old when he enlisted in Company H of the 69th New York, Irish Brigade, on 17th September 1861. He was quickly appointed First Sergeant. Thomas had only recently married, having wed Elizabeth Aherne in St. Stephen’s Church, New York on 9th March 1860. His son John was born on 1st February 1861. Thomas’s service did not last long. He died of ascites (a build up of fluid in the abdomen) in Alexandria on 14th April 1862.
Thomas Lane, 6th New York Heavy Artillery
Thomas was yet another who lied about his age to enlist. When he joined up with Company F in Yonkers on 18th August 1862 he claimed to be 30-years-old, but was actually around 47. The Irish-born laborer left behind his wife Mary–who he had married in Westchester County in 1855–and their two daughters Mary, who was around 7, and Kate, who was 5. Thomas was shot at Spotsylvania Court House on 19th May 1864, and died of his injuries in Alexandria on 28th May.
Joseph Dougherty, 69th New York Infantry
Joseph Dougherty was the epitome of a dedicated Irish Brigade veteran. The Nobber, Co. Meath native had enlisted as a Company A Corporal in the 69th in September 1861, when he was 26-years-old. Prior to enlisting Joseph had worked as a stone cutter in New York, living with and supporting his widowed mother Elizabeth. The family appear to have emigrated around the time of the Famine, as Joseph’s father had died in New York in 1853. The Meathman witnessed all the trials of the Irish Brigade during the war, and was clearly an excellent soldier. He was promoted to First Sergeant in Company B, in which capacity he was wounded in Gettysburg’s Wheatfield on 2nd July 1863. He recovered and re-enlisted in time for the Overland Campaign. Joseph’s luck ran out near the Po River on 10th May 1864, when he was struck by shell fragments. The veteran volunteer died of his wounds at the 3rd Division Hospital in Alexandria on 26th May.
Garrett Sheehan, 164th New York Infantry
The 164th New York were the zouave regiment in Corcoran’s Irish Legion. Garrett Sheehan was at most 21-years-old when he enlisted in Potsdam, becoming a member of Company A on 3rd September 1862. He had been working on his parents recently acquired family farm in Stockholm, Saint Lawrence County prior to joining up– the birthplaces of Garrett’s younger siblings indicating that the family had left Ireland between 1852 and 1855. The young man was described as being 5 feet 9 inches in height with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion. He was wounded in the left foot around the 24th May 1864 and died at Alexandria’s 3rd Division Hospital on 6th June.
William J. McCracken, 28th New York Infantry
Thousands of Irish Americans who served in the Union forces were born in Britain, Canada or the United States. One of them was William McCracken from Alabama, Genesee County. Before his enlistment he lived at home on his Irish emigrant father John’s farm, where he was described as a cooper laborer. On 22nd May 1861 the 21-year-old enlisted in Albany, becoming a member of Company F. He was described as five feet 6 inches tall, with hazel eyes, dark hair and a fair complexion. William fell sick at Aikens Landing in September 1862, and died at Fairfax Seminary Hospital of chronic diarrhoea on 17th November.
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