The north-eastern portion of Washington D.C. is home to a cemetery with strong ties to the nineteenth century Irish Diaspora. Indeed, this is perhaps the most significant–and least well known– site with Irish American links in the entire District of Columbia. It’s origins lie in the summer of 1861, when a six-acre site plot of land beside the city’s Soldiers’ Home was donated for the burial of Federal troops. Over the following three years, thousands of men were interred in these grounds. In his nearby cottage, President Abraham Lincoln looked on as more and more dead filled this National Cemetery, which is now named for the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home. Today it is the final resting place for 14,000 veterans, more than 5,500 dating from the American Civil War. Large numbers of these men–likely hundreds of them–were Irish American. They were some of the unlucky number among the c. 250,000 ethnic Irish who donned Union blue during the American Civil War not to see the end of 1865.
As with each post in the “Walk Among Storied Tombstone” series, I began my research by walking randomly through the National Cemetery, photographing men whose names indicated they may have Irish connections. I later researched these soldiers and their families, seeking to uncover something of their stories. As will become apparent below, the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery is by far the most extensive piece of work I have conducted in the series. The reason for that is the sheer number of Irish emigrants interred here. Below you will find something of the stories of almost 40 men and their families, representing just a small sample of the Irish Americans for whom the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s National Cemetery is their final resting place.
I know of no other location in Washington D.C. which so incapsulates the impact of the Great Irish Famine and mass emigration on both Ireland and the United States. The men buried here were part of the exodus that travelled to the United States in hope of a better life for themselves, their families and their communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Their story ended fighting in defence of the nation that had offered them that opportunity. Given their sacrifice for the United States–a sacrifice that has contributed towards the lasting bond Ireland enjoys with America today–this cemetery deserves to become a location of regular pilgrimage for Irish politicians and representatives during their visits to Washington D.C. I hope that in telling some of their stories, and by raising awareness of their presence, just such an opportunity will be taken in the not too distant future.
Michael Ryan, 95th New York Infantry
Michael was born in Co. Tipperary around 1842, the son of William and Ellen Ryan. William died in Ireland around 1859, followed not long afterwards by Michael’s only brother. Michael was the last of the children still at home with his mother, and in early 1862 he emigrated to America in an effort to better provide for his mother. He first found work as a “helper” in a blacksmith’s shop before being drafted into the army in September 1863. Assigned to Company E of the 95th New York Infantry, he shorty afterwards contracted Typhoid Fever and was admitted to Emory Square Hospital in D.C. on 22nd November 1863. Michael died there on 4th January 1864. The money he obtained in the military allowed his elderly mother to emigrate a few months later, where she joined one of Michael’s sisters in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Thomas Hurley, 28th Massachusetts Infantry
Irishman Thomas Hurley had made his American home in Roxbury, Massachusetts, where many of his siblings and his elderly parents also lived. Thomas enlisted in the Irish 28th Massachusetts in December 1861, and became a member of Company F. He rose to Sergeant, and was wounded in that capacity at the Battle of Chantilly in 1862. He had taken a bullet in the groin, an injury that often heralded a slow, painful death. Removed to Ryland Chapel Hospital in Washington D.C., Thomas died there on 15th September 1862.
Michael Cavanaugh, 28th Massachusetts Infantry
Another member of the 28th Massachusetts Infantry, Michael was a native of Co. Kerry. He was a 22-year-old stone mason when he enlisted in the regiment on 27th September 1861. Assigned to Company C, he was described as 5 feet 11 inches tall, with hazel eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. Severely wounded at the Battle of Chantilly on 1st September 1862, he passed away nine days later in Cliffburne Hospital, Washington D.C.
Arthur Cosgrove, 14th United States Infantry
Arthur was a career soldier. He had re-enlisted into the Regulars at Buffalo, New York on 23rd April 1862 at the age of 29 years and 8 months. The Irish-born emigrant was 5 feet 8 and a half inches tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a florid complexion. A member of Company H, he died from wounds (most likely received during the Second Bull Run campaign) at Ecklington Hospital in Washington on 9th September 1862.
Michael Spencer, 28th Massachusetts Infantry
Michael was an emigrant from Co. Clare. A laborer who made his home in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, he was not a young soldier. The 5 feet 4 inches tall Irishman was described as 44-years-old with blue eyes, black hair and a light complexion when he joined the 28th in December 1861. He had married fellow Irish emigrant Mary Duggan in Worcester, Massachusetts back in 1847, in the midst of the Great Famine exodus. In 1850 they celebrated the birth of a daughter, Caroline. Wounded in the arm at the Battle of Chantilly, Michael was captured by the Confederates. The severity of his injury led to his almost instantaneous parole. Removed to Armory Square Hospital, Michael died there on 9th September 1862.
Thomas Donahue, 28th Massachusetts Infantry
Thomas Donahue was yet another member of the ill-fated 28th Massachusetts wounded at the Battle of Chantilly. Born in Co. Wexford, Thomas enlisted in Company A at the age of 39 on 16th November 1861. The Waterhill Street, Lynn shoemaker was described as 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall, with red hair, grey eyes and a dark complexion. Shot in the thorax during the engagement, he suffered a secondary haemorrhage in Casparus hospital and died on 9th September 1862.
Thomas Dailey, 5th Connecticut Infantry
Thomas married Ann Lennon in “Caldrey” in their native Co. Westmeath in July 1840. The couple had three children who survived to adulthood. They were Thomas Junior, born around 1845, who later became a member of the 12th Connecticut Infantry during the war; Margaret, born around 1847, and Kate, born in 1850. Thomas had to care for his children on his own after Ann’s death in Hartford, Connecticut in 1859. Ultimately, he decided the best way of providing for his youngest, Kate, was to enlist in the army. He joined the 5th Connecticut Infantry on 24th July 1861, becoming a member of Company G. Shot in the side of the head at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on 9th August 1862, Thomas died at Douglas Hospital on 17th September. His death left Kate a minor orphan.
Patrick Branagan, 104th New York Infantry
Irish-born emigrant Patrick Branagan was a 35-year-old farmer when he enlisted at Genesee, New York on 18th October 1861 in the 104th New York Infantry. The 5 foot 6 inch soldier didn’t have an impeccable military record, having been arrested and charged as a deserter early in his military career. But he was back in the ranks of Company D for the Second Bull Run Campaign, during which he was mortally wounded on 30th August 1862. He died in Washington D.C.’s Carver General Hospital on 12th September.
Michael Burns, 36th New York Infantry
Michael was born in Ireland around 1835. He lived at 139 West 30th Street in New York City, but he enlisted from Buffalo in May 1861. A member of Company A, Michael contracted disease and was confined to Columbia General Hospital in D.C., where he died on 17th April 1862.
Michael Harty, 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery
As a boy, Michael worked as a farm labourer to support his ageing parents in Ireland. He emigrated at the age of 16, and earned enough money to bring his mother, father and two of his siblings over to America. The reunited Harty’s made their home in Milford, Worcester, Massachusetts. Unfortunately Michael’s father Michael Senior suffered from epileptic fits, which sometimes struck him numerous times a day and left his son partially responsible for he and his wife Mary’s support. Michael decided to enlist in Cambridge on 20th March 1862, and became a Private in Company M. The 20-year-old was described as a 5 feet 6 inch tall bootmaker, with brown hair, grey eyes and a freckled complexion. On 1st May 1862 Michael and his comrades were encamped near Alexandria, Virginia, when he was ordered to retrieve water from a nearby well. While in the process of doing so the curbing at the side of the well collapsed, causing him to fall in and drown.
Hugh Donohue, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery
Hugh, a laborer, married fellow Irish emigrant Bridget Conley in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Providence in 1857. They had two children: John, born in July 1858, and Arthur, born in September 1860. On 25th August 1861 Hugh became a Private in Company C of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery. When in camp at Miners Hill, Virginia, he contracted what was first described as a “bad cold”, but which developed into a serious fever. Ultimately he was sent to the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown, where he died on 22nd March 1862 of “acute bronchitis”. When he died, his newly widowed wife was still in her mid-20s, his children aged three and 18 months.
Michael Sweeny, 69th New York Infantry
Michael was 25-years-old when he enlisted in the Irish Brigade on 27th September 1861, becoming a Private in Company E. At 14 Mulberry Street back in the Five Points he left behind his 33-year-old wife Mary, together with his stepson Jeremiah (McNamara) who was 10, stepdaughter Hester aged 8, and his daughter Mary Ann aged 3. Michael had married Mary O’Brien in New York’s Transfiguration Church on 1st January 1857. Shortly after Michael went off to war, Hester passed away, in what would prove a heartbreaking few months for the family. Michael developed a “severe cold” soon afterwards while on picket duty, and when he was removed to Douglas Hospital in D.C. he was diagnosed with Typhoid Fever. He died on 12th March 1862. Mary followed him to the grave on 4th March 1879.
Thomas Mack, 20th Massachusetts Infantry
Mayo native Thomas Mack was a 35-year-old painter when he enlisted in what became the Harvard Regiment on 22nd July 1861. Assigned to Company H, he was described as 5 feet 7 and a half inches tall with brown hair, grey eyes and a light complexion. Promoted to Sergeant, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on 21st October 1861 and confined in Richmond from 24th October. By the time he was exchanged at the James River on 20th February 1862 his health had been compromised. Diagnosed with pneumonia, he was confined to Columbian College Hospital in D.C., where he died on 8th March 1862.
Dennis Hogan, 2nd United States Infantry
Dennis was born in Co. Cork. The 29-year-old carpenter enlisted in the Regulars in Philadelphia on 20th July 1861. He was 5 feet 8 and a half inches tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion. Assigned to Company K of the 2nd, Dennis appears to have struggled with an alcohol addiction. He was admitted to the Circle Hospital in Washington D.C. in early 1862, where he passed away on 15th February from “Delirium Tremens”.
Thomas Brennan, 69th New York Infantry
Little is known about Thomas prior to his enlistment in the Irish Brigade. He was 21-years-old when he joined up on 9th November 1861, becoming a Private in Company F. Not long afterwards he contracted Typhoid Fever and was confined in Washington’s Douglas Hospital, where he passed away on 24th March 1862.
Patrick Fitzsimmons, 71st New York Infantry
Born in Ireland around 1823, Patrick married fellow Irish emigrant Mary McGurren at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Harlem, in January 1845. In the years that followed, the couple went on to have at least four daughters. The 1850 Census found Patrick and Mary living in New York’s 17th Ward, with children Mary (5), Catharine (2) and Margaret (2 months). Elizabeth would follow in 1853. Patrick made his living as a shoemaker before the war, but on 25th April 1861 he took the decision to enlist in the army. He became a private in Company F of the 71st New York, part of the Excelsior Brigade. Promoted to Corporal, Patrick was wounded in action at the Battle of Bristoe Station on 27th August 1862, and succumbed to his injuries at Washington’s Armory Square Hospital on 16th September 1862. His wife Mary apparently followed him to the grave on the very same day, leaving their children orphans.
James Fitzgerald, 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry
Irish-born James was a main support for his ageing parents both prior to and during his military service. They made their home in Carbon County, in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region. The 21-year-old laborer had enlisted at Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe), mustering into Company E of the 53rd in September 1861. He was described as 6 feet tall with grey eyes, dark hair and a fair complexion. James fell ill in February 1862, and made sure to send a note to his parents about sending them money (below). Unfortunately he would not improve– he was suffering from Typhoid Fever and passed away in Douglas General Hospital on 11th March 1862. His father died the following year.
James Hayes, 33rd New York Infantry
Born in Ireland around 1833, James enlisted at Seneca Falls on 18th May 1861, in what became Company K of the 33rd New York, the “Irish Volunteers”. Wounded on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862, he had to undergo amputation, from which he did not recover. He died at Carver General Hospital on 12th July 1862.
John Murphy, 31st New York Infantry
John was not a young man when he was in service. Back in November 1843 he had wed his wife Honora in Mallow. Co. Cork. When they emigrated to New York they lived on Cherry Street in Manhattan. By the time John marched off to war with Company B in May 1861 the couple had three children under 16– John (14), Ellen (13) and Mary (10). Not all were left behind though, as young John went to war with his father, serving as a drummer boy in the 31st. They were likely together on the march as the Army of the Potomac pursued Lee’s army into Maryland during the Autumn of 1862. During this punishing campaign John was ordered to fall out of the ranks by the regimental doctor. While his young son continued on towards the Antietam battlefield and the bloodiest day of the Civil War, John senior was sent to the Patent Office Hospital in Washington D.C. He died there on 25th September 1862, suffering from dysentery.
Patrick Tracy, 5th United States Cavalry
Patrick was a 28-year-old laborer when he enlisted in the Regulars at Louisville, Kentucky on 13th February 1861. The Co. Wicklow native was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall with grey eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion. Assigned to Company G of the 5th Cavalry, he died in early June 1862 at Columbian Hospital in D.C.
Patrick Boylan, 9th Massachusetts Infantry
Irish emigrant Patrick mustered into Company E of the famed ethnic unit at Boston on 11th June 1861. He was 22-years-old. His regiment were heavily engaged at the Battle of Malvern Hill on 1st July 1862, and Patrick went down when a bullet struck him in the left knee joint. Removed to Cliffburne Hospital in D.C. for treatment, he died there at 11am on 13th July.
Patrick Glennon, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery
Patrick Glennon had married his wife Margaret Hughes in Castlejordan, Co. Meath in 1841. By the time of the Civil War they were living in Philadelphia, where they had six children under 16: Patrick Junior (b. 1849), Mary Ann (b. 1851), James (b. 1853), Michael (b. 1855), Ellen (b. 1857) and William (b. 1859). Patrick enrolled in Battery D of the 1st Pennsylvania Light on 1st June 1861. As his unit fell back to Harrison’s Landing during the Peninsula Campaign Patrick fell ill, and was evacuated to hospital in Washington D.C. There he was confirmed as having contracted Typhoid Fever, from which he died on 6th July.
Patrick Murphy, 20th Connecticut Infantry
In 1860 there was little sign of the tragedy that lay in the Murphy family’s immediate future. The census found Irish emigrant painter Patrick (25) and his wife Julia (30) living in Derby, New Haven, Connecticut, making their home with their young children Mary (3) and Thomas (9 months). The couple, who had married in Bridgeport in 1856, were soon welcoming another addition to the family with Michael being born in October 1861. Almost a year later Patrick decided to enlist, joining Company F of the 20th Connecticut on 8th September 1862. His military career lasted just a few months, as he fell victim to disease while in camp at Stafford Court House, Virginia on 29th May 1863, not long after the regiment had their baptism of fire at Chancellorsville. Unfortunately more tragedy was on the horizon, as Julia died the following year, on 24th November 1864. The young couple’s death left their three children orphaned– the eldest of whom had just turned 7-years-old.
Thomas Halpin, 140th New York Infantry
Thomas was an Irish emigrant farmer who made his home in Brighton, Monroe County, New York. He had married American-born Harriett Dewey in 1853, and by 1860 they had four children– Ann Matilda (6), David (4), Isaac (2) and Sophia (9 months). Also living with the couple were laborer Daniel O’Connell and servant Mary Parnell. Although the circumstances of her death are unknown, baby Sophia passed away at some point in the early 1860s. Whether Thomas and his family fell upon hard times is impossible to know, but when he enlisted on 25th August 1862 the 37-year-old was no longer recorded as a farmer, but as a teamster. He became a member of Company I, but shortly afterwards contracted Typhoid Fever, dying at Harewood Hospital around the 9th January 1863.
Christopher Conners, 8th New York Cavalry
Christopher was born in Ireland around 1830. After his emigration to the United States he made his home in Brighton, Monroe County, New York. He married fellow Irish emigrant Julia Carroll in Rochester in November 1846. The couple had no surviving children. Christopher enlisted on 27th October 1861 in what became Company B of the 8th. He survived their early campaigns but was struck down by illness in late 1863. Christopher passed away at Camp Stoneman Hospital in D.C. on 23rd November 1863 of “Chronic Diarrhoea”.
John Clark, 15th New York Cavalry
Born in Ireland around 1823, John was another of the older recruits into the Federal military. He joined Company G of the 15th New York Cavalry on 26th August 1863, and was later transferred to Company H. He was wounded by a bullet very shortly after joining up, probably at the engagement at Green Springs, Virginia on 1st November 1863. John died five days later at Camp Stoneman Hospital.
John Connor, 28th Massachusetts Infantry
John was 33-years-old when he entered Company B of the Irish regiment on 28th July 1863. The emigrant laborer had elected to serve as a substitute for one William Rich. John was 5 feet 5 and a quarter inches tall with blue eyes, light hair and a dark complexion. Taken sick on the march on 10th October 1863, he was sent to the rear. In the days that followed he was reported absent without leave and eventually marked as a deserter, but in fact he had been hospitalised due to the seriousness of his condition. Confined in Lincoln Military Hospital with acute bronchitis, John Connor died at 3.50pm on 8th November 1863.
Patrick McGuire, 6th New York Cavalry
Patrick was born in Killurcan, Co. Roscommon around 1842. His parents Patrick Senior and Bridget McGreedy had married there in 1831. After his father had died in Ireland in 1845, Patrick and his widowed mother departed for a new life in Newark, New Jersey. The Irish emigrant enlisted in Company A of the regiment on 6th September 1861. On 14th October 1863 at Oak Hill, Virginia he was shot in the back of the neck, a wound that paralysed him. He died in Judiciary Square General Hospital on 19th October 1863– the letter the hospital Chaplain sent to his family regarding his death is reproduced below.
Hugh Donnelly, 2nd New York State Militia (82nd New York Infantry)
Hugh was a 40-year-old Irish emigrant porter when he entered Federal service as First Sergeant of Company E, 2nd New York State Militia. He and his wife Mary (née Martin) lived at 567 Third Avenue in Manhattan. She was some ten years Hugh’s senior, the couple having wed in the Transfiguration Church on 4th November 1855. They had no children. Hugh was a Color Sergeant for the regiment at the Battle of Antietam on 17th September 1862, where he was gunned down with wounds in the arm and leg. These brought an end to his life at Carver General Hospital in Washington D.C. on 10th October.
Edward Kelley, 76th New York Infantry
In 1860 Edward, a laborer, was making his home in Dundee, Yates County, New York. The 34-year-old and his wife Catharine had married in Ireland before they started a family, but as war loomed on the horizon they had four American-born children: Julia (10), Ella (8), Rena (4) and James (1). Edward enlisted at Dundee on 8th November 1861, becoming a private in Company E. His regiment were heavily engaged in the opening exchange of what would develop into the Second Battle of Bull Run, at Brawner’s Farm on 28th August 1862. Marcellus Finch, who served alongside Edward, remembered what happened there:
[Kelley was] shot through the lower limbs…[I] saw him on the ground immediately after he was so wounded…he was unable to walk…[I] assisted him in getting into a ditch out of the way…[I] never saw…Kelly afterwards…
Another comrade described Edward’s fate:
…he laid on the field unable to move for three days after his wounding and was then taken to hospital…he had suffered amputation of one of his lower limbs [his leg]…
Edward Kelley died as a result of his wounds at the Waters Warehouse General Hospital in Georgetown on 16th September 1862.
John Rorty, 1st United States Cavalry
John was from Co. Galway. The 21-year-old was described as a farmer when he enlisted in Indianapolis, Indiana on 6th November 1862. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall with grey eyes, dark hair and a ruddy complexion. Assigned to Company A of the 1st Cavalry, he survived more than a year of war before he fell foul of disease. John passed away at Camp Stoneman, Maryland on 26th January 1864 from “Chronic Diarrhoea”.
Michael Doherty, 10th Massachusetts Infantry
Michael, an Irish-born table-cutter, mustered in as a member of Company H on 21st June 1861. In 1860 the 25-year-old had been living in Buckland, Franklin County, Massachusetts with his 23-year-old Irish emigrant wife Honora and their 2-year-old Massachusetts-born son Thomas James. Their family grew the following year, with the addition of baby daughter Margaret Cecilia. Michael and Honora (née Egan) had been married in Holyoke, Massachusetts on 20th June 1857. Michael was admitted to Columbia College Hospital on 24th August 1861 suffering from an intermitted fever that was ultimately diagnosed as Typhoid. He passed away on 17th September 1861. Honora’s pension is significant, as it was the first resulting from the 1862 act to be supplied to an Irish emigrant. Her Certificate number was five– she was the first of tens of thousands of Irish emigrants to be assigned such a number.
John Dulenty, 30th New York Infantry
Born in Ireland, John Dulenty was a 20-year-old laborer when he opted to join up, enlisting in Troy on 10th May 1861. Mustering into service as a member of Company H, John was described as having grey eyes, black hair and a light complexion. He was 5 feet 9 and a half inches tall. John was wounded in action at the Second Battle of Bull Run on 30th August 1862, and was removed to Eckington General Hospital, where he died on 19th September.
James Dunlap, 6th United States Infantry
James was born in Co. Armagh, and was a career soldier. His last enlistment came on 5th April 1858, when he was 34-years-old. Signing on in St. Louis, Missouri, he was described as 5 feet 10 inches tall with grey eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. He served in Companies A and H of the 6th Infantry. He died only a few months short of the end of his term, having suffered a gunshot wound, most probably at the Battle of Fredericksburg. His end came at Finley Hospital in Washington D.C. on 19th December 1862.
Stephen Hogan, 108th New York Infantry
Stephen had married fellow Irish emigrant Catherine Moran in St. Mary’s Church, Rochester in the summer of 1859. On 6th July 1861 their first child, baby Edward, arrived. A coachman by occupation, Stephen was 29-years-old when he chose to enlist. He mustered into Company D of the regiment on 27th July 1862, and was described as 5 feet 4 and a half inches tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a florid complexion. Stephen died in Armory Square Hospital, Washington D.C. on 5th January 1863 suffering from Chronic Diarrhoea. Like many poor widows, it was not long before Catherine remarried, wedding another Irishman in 1866.
Patrick Rogan, 23rd United States Infantry
Patrick was a native of Co. Leitrim. He was a 20-year-old bartender when he entered the army in New York City on 6th October 1865. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall with hazel eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. Initially assigned to the 14th U.S., he moved to Company A of the 23rd, rising to the rank of Corporal along the way. He was discharged at Camp Three Forks in Indian Territory on 6th October 1868. He was not interred in the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery until his death more than 50 years later, where he was laid to rest beside many of his countrymen who had been placed in their graves during the early 1860s. Patrick is not the only Irish veteran of the wars against the Native Americans buried here– the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery is the final resting place of a number of Irishmen who received the Medal of Honor for their actions during this bloody period.
Patrick Haughey, United States Army
Not all the Irish in the cemetery enlisted in the 1860s. One example is Patrick Haughey, who was born in Meigh, Co. Armagh in February 1861. He emigrated to the United States in August 1882, settling first in Chicago before joining the army. He was naturalised in Washington D.C. in January 1892. Patrick served with the Hospital Corps in Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and was assigned to duties in France during 1920-21. A resident of the Soldiers’ Home, he passed away there on 16th June 1935.
Michael O’Connor, Medical Department
There are even Irish-born emigrant veterans of the Second World War at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. There are few available details regarding Michael’s life and service. His birthdate suggests he may be the Michael O’Connor from Kilmanihan near Knocknagoshel, Co. Kerry who arrived in the United States in 1921, and who petitioned for naturalisation in 1927. As with Patrick Rogan, Michael rests within yards of many of his countrymen–most of whom pre-deceased him by more than 100 years.