The latest guest post comes from Joe Maghe, one of the longest running friends of the Irish in the American Civil War website. Joe has gathered together and curates one of the most important collections of artefacts relating to the Irish experience of the war anywhere in existence. He has consistently made elements of that collection available for use (and interpretation) on this site over the years, and also generously allowed me to use some of his images in my first book. We have also enjoyed trapsing around a few Civil War battlefields together! I am delighted that Joe has agreed to contribute a guest post on the site focused on four individuals on whom he has conducted much research. All four had first served in the Papal War, before going on to become Union officers. Here Joe takes us through each of their stories, in a post richly illustrated with images-some extremely rare-drawn from his own collection.
… with freedom’s watch word on your lips
you draw the rebel glaive
against the church that ransomed home
the captive and the slave.
Written in high heaven our oath,
to fall if not defend her.
In such a cause an Irishman
can die, but not surrender…
Excerpt from “The siege of Spoleto; a camp-tale of Arlington Heights” by Michael J. A. McCaffery
In 1860 Guiseppe Garibaldi began to organize the states on the Italian peninsula into a unified country. His efforts were not to the liking of Pope Pius IX, and the Pope organized a volunteer army to resist Garibaldi and his Piedmontese Army.
The Papal Army was a force of fewer than 18,000 officers and soldiers and was composed of men from his loyal Italian states as well as Austrians, French, Belgians, Swiss, Irish, Germans, Spaniards, Poles and Czechs. The Irish force was designated as the Irish Battalion of Saint Patrick. The original group of Irishmen totaled 1,400, but more than 300 of them left due to broken promises over arms and uniforms that were to be provided. By the time the hostilities began, there were 1,040 Irish in the Pope’s forces. The Battalion of Saint Patrick was divided into eight companies and those companies were stationed at different sites in the Papal States as follows: One company of fewer than 150 Irish at Perugia, more than 300 more Irish were at Spoleto, another 105 Irish fought at Castelfidardo, and more than 490 Irish were garrisoned at Ancona.
Patrick F. Clooney of Ballybricken (County Waterford) was 20 years old when he left Ireland to enlist in the service of the Pope in 1860. He was part of Company Number 1 which numbered fewer than 150 men and was stationed at Perugia as part of a 1,500 man Papal force. On 12th September they faced off against Garibaldi’s attackers that numbered more than 12,000. The Papal effort was futile, and Perugia fell in less than a day. Much of the fighting was a delaying action of fire and fall back. Clooney was mentioned as being one of 20 men in his company that were assigned to defend the St. Angelo gate of Perugia. His small group of 20 men, having no cover, were pushed back, until Clooney led 12 of them into a last ditch defense inside an empty house. After a firefight from that small stronghold, they were surrounded and were compelled to surrender. The remainder of the 1,500 man force in and around Perugia’s Rocca Paolina fortress surrendered shortly afterward.
Papal Lieutenant and Adjutant John D. Mulhall (who was born in Boyle, County Roscommon about 1839) left his home when he was 18-years-old and enlisted in a British Lancer regiment. His well-to-do family did not approve. They paid for his release from the British regiment and brought him home after only three months of service. He did not remain a civilian for long because he enlisted in the Papal army two years later. He was among the two companies of more than 300 Irish that were stationed south of Florence at Spoleto along with another 500 men of other nationalities to defend that town and the fortress of Rocca Albornoziana. Mulhall and the defenders were attacked on 17 September by more than 2,500 Piedmontese. When he was first asked to surrender the Spoleto garrison, Major Myles O’Reilly answered, “Return, and tell your commander that we are Irishmen, that we hold this citadel for God and the Pope. The Irish who serve the Pope are ready to die but not to surrender.” Eventually however, he was compelled to surrender due to a lack of ammunition after a bloody 14 hours of fighting. After the battle, Major O’Reilly wrote that his Adjutant (Mulhall) was present and active wherever the danger was greatest.
Both John H. Gleason (age 22) of Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary, and the 31-year-old Daniel J. Keily of Newtonville (near Waterford City), County Waterford were stationed with the Irish contingent at the port of Ancona. A siege of Ancona had begun on 12th September, and attacks upon the city were made several times before it fell on 29th September after it had been heavily shelled. Gleason was wounded three times during the defense and also received a battlefield promotion from Sergeant to Lieutenant for his action while leading a band of skirmishers at Moratta. The Irish were singled out for their bravery because of a bayonet charge during which they repelled the attackers in the fighting at Ancona.
The governor of Ancona, Le Comte de Quatrebarbes, was amazed by the actions and demeanor of the Irish in Ancona. He wrote (to the best of my translating ability of French) in his “Souvenirs d’Ancone, Siège de 1860” … “When they were under fire they sang the old ballads of their mountains in chorus, or loudly challenged the Piedmontese and that their officers had great difficulty in restraining them from constantly leaping over the battlements to hurl defiance at the infidel or to applaud the work of the Papal artillery.” More than 6,300 men were taken prisoner at Ancona and sent to Genoa along with those previously captured at Perugia, Spoleto, and Castelfidardo. In fact, Keily, who had previously served as a midshipman in the British Navy, was credited with saving the ship which held him and his fellow officers. The ship ran aground on the voyage to confine them in Genoa. The ship’s captain and crew could not free the craft and they feared that the ship was going to capsize. Keily was instructed to take charge, and through his actions and orders it was set it free.
Within three weeks the active service of these four Irish soldiers had ended. They were released from imprisonment about a month later, and each of them received the Pro Petri Sede medal for their service to the Seat of Peter. Clooney also received the order of Saint Sylvester while Gleason, Keily and Mulhall all received the order of St Gregory due to their being officers. Keily was one of those released who decided to stay in Rome in service with the company of St Patrick of the Papal Guard. Three months later he was joined by John Mulhall who returned from Ireland to do his part for his faith. War erupted in America in the following April.
Colonel Michael Corcoran and the 69th New York State Militia mustered into the Federal service on 9th May, 1861. Shortly afterwards the first of these four “Papal Irishmen” arrived in the United States in order to serve in the Union’s cause. He was John Hassett Gleason. He had a dignified bearing and was a giant of a man…standing nearly 6 feet 6 inches tall. In addition to that he was said to be quite outspoken. He enlisted on 17th May, 1861 which happened to be his 23rd birthday. Gleason was quickly made a sergeant in Thomas F. Meagher’s Company which became a part of Colonel Michael Corcoran’s 69th New York State Militia just a few days later, and he was with them during the 21st July, 1861 Battle at Bull Run (Manassas) Virginia where he claimed to have carried the colors in the fight. When the 69th was released from federal service after this battle, Gleason joined Company H of the 63rd New York as a first lieutenant. He fought at Fair Oaks, the Seven Days (he was cited for his bravery at Malvern Hill), and Antietam where he was in command of the color company. Thirty-five of the color company were either killed or wounded in that battle. Gleason wrote that he personally raised the colors nine times. He also fought at Fredericksburg where he was mentioned in General Meagher’s report as “one of the bravest and most reliable officers of the brigade”, and at Chancellorsville before being released in June as a supernumerary officer. As the regiment regained its strength, he rejoined the 63rd as a lieutenant of Company D in February of 1864. Two months later he was once again their Captain, and by June of 64 he was their Major. He was promoted once again and commanded the regiment as a Lieutenant Colonel from 19th September, 1864 through the end of hostilities.
The 63rd was one of the three New York regiments of the Irish Brigade, and Gleason was with them through thirty-five of those engagements. He emerged unharmed even though he saw much hard fighting-but he was not at Gettysburg. He was discharged in May of 1865 and received two brevet General appointments, one being a Brigadier appointment and the other as a Major General. Both brevets were due to his gallant and meritorious services during the conflict. While on active service in the war, Gleason had become a member of the Potomac Circle of the Fenian movement and later went to Ireland as an insurgent in 1867. However, he returned to America before the arrests of his fellow Fenians were made. He died in Washington D.C. on 30th June 1889 and was buried in Section D of the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. He left behind his widow Mary Francis O’Conner and his son, Henry Jerome.
Patrick Clooney was the next of these four to arrive in America. He landed in New York during the summer of 1861. He came to America to fight, and so he quickly found Captain Thomas F. Meagher and joined his Company K as a private. Before they went into action with the 69th NYSM at Bull Run, Clooney had become a sergeant in his company. Two months after being discharged he enlisted as a captain in the 88th New York Volunteers. He fought with great valor in the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia and Antietam, Maryland. At Fair Oaks he went forward with the regiment’s colors as they advanced from the woods into an open field. At Antietam many of the color bearers had been shot down, and Clooney had already been wounded in the knee. In spite of that wound, he grabbed one of the color staffs, used it as a crutch and advanced and held it aloft. As he waved the flag and encouraged his men, he was hit twice more. This time he was killed instantly when one shot struck him in the head and the other pierced his heart. It was said that he fought “like one of the heroes of Grecian lore, sword in hand, his green plume waving in the wind” He was buried on the battlefield, and his wooden grave marker was inscribed “He like a soldier fell.”
Nearly a year after the war had begun in America, the New York Catholic Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes (who was born in County Tyrone) went to the Vatican during the Spring of 1862 on behalf of both the Church and President Lincoln. Lincoln was eager to have Hughes recruit men for the Union cause, and several of the Papal Guard Zouaves answered that call. Two of those men that responded to the Archbishop’s entreaty were Daniel Keily and John Mulhall. (unfortunately the Archbishop would not live to see the war end. He died in 1864.)
Daniel Keily came to the aid of the Union along with his friend and comrade-in-arms, Myles Keogh. They left their Irish homeland on St Patrick’s Day 1862 and arrived in New York on April Fool’s Day. They were both made Captains and Aides on the staff of the County Tyrone native General James Shields on April 9th- just eight days after their arrival in the States. Keily wasted no time joining in the fighting in the Valley of the Shenandoah- two months after attaching to Shield’s staff he was in the thick of the fray. On 8th June he led a small force of fewer than 200 men in a delaying action against Stonewall Jackson’s Army at Port Republic. A Colonel that was accompanying him was quoted as saying “I do not think I ever saw a more perfect piece of coolness and heroism.” On the next day a brigade in Shields’ army had abandoned seven cannons as they were being pushed back by Jackson’s forces. Captain Keily rallied a group of men from two Ohio infantry regiments and tried to recapture those guns. As Keily rode into the charge, his horse was killed, and he was shot in the head. The gunshot took away a small portion of his jaw and cut his palate and tongue before exiting through his cheek. He made it back to his lines before he lost consciousness. General Shields was quoted as saying that Keily was “the noblest soldier on that field…a glory to his country and race.” Colonel Samuel Carrol said to Keily, “when you and your horse were shot, you had to pass under a crossfire that a mounted man could hardly expect to live through, but made the attempt.” After a 10-month period of recuperation, Keily returned to active duty in Louisiana on the staff of General Charles Stone. Six months later he organized a Louisiana regiment and served as their Colonel. That regiment became the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry, but it would be consolidated with the 1st Louisiana Cavalry in September of 1864. Keily received a brevet Brigadier General appointment in 1865 for gallant and meritorious services. He remained in Louisiana after the war where he managed a plantation until his death in October of 1867. He died of yellow fever in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana at the age of 38. Where he was buried, no one knows.
Lastly, the 25 year old John Dillon Mulhall came to America in late 1862, and he enlisted in the 69th New York Volunteers on the 11th of December as a first lieutenant. Even though he had enlisted, he had not yet reported to his unit by mid-January when a Requiem Mass was held for the Irish killed in the December Battle of Fredericksburg. On 24th January 1863 the Irish American newspaper mentioned Mulhall (who was not in a Union uniform) as attending the 16th January Requiem Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The article stated: “In the congregation we also noticed a young officer in the uniform of the Pope’s Irish Brigade, whom we subsequently found to be Lieutenant Mulhall, a Chevalier of the Order of St. Gregory, the decoration of which, with those of the Battalion of Saint Patrick, he wore on his breast.” It was clear, however, that Mulhall was already a part of the Irish Brigade.
The 17th January New York Times article went on to give details of how Mulhall was esteemed by General Meagher:
After the religious ceremonies were concluded, a large number of the military gentlemen present collected at Delmonico’s Fifth-Avenue Restaurant, for the purpose of participating in certain amenities between the Irish Brigade and the Sixty-ninth National Guard. Brig.-Gen. MEAGHER played the host, and among the officers of his Brigade present were Col. Nugent, Capt. Marooney (Moroney), Adjutant Smith, Capt. Donovan, Capt. To[???]l (Toal), Capt. Carr, Dr. J.A. Reed, Lieut. Mulhall and others. There were also present Major Bagley, Quartermaster Tully, Alderman Farlev, Mr. [???]ennessy, Fathers O’Reilly and Ouellett, and later in the afternoon Judge Daly, about a hundred guests, all told, assembled…Gen. MEAGHER, in a humorous speech, paid a compliment to Lieut. MULHALL, Lieutenant of the Battalion of St. Patrick, and Chevalier of the Order of St. Gregory, having been decorated by His Holiness Pope Pius IX., whose name he coupled with the toast: …The highest fidelity to the highest principle.“
Mulhall had missed the debacle at Fredericksburg but was in time to serve with the 69th at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He contracted scurvy in August of 1864 but returned from the hospital to Company D in mid-February. A month after that he was wounded on 25th March of 1865 at Skinner’s Farm while leading his company against MacRae’s Sharpshooters. They had been sent out as skirmishers to probe the Confederate lines for weaknesses after the attack on Fort Stedman. He was left in a contested no-man’s-land for more than two hours while the fighting raged around him. Lt. Colonel James J. Smith reported:
About this time (4:00) part of the First brigade, then in our front, moved to the left and the enemy commenced to take demonstrations of an attack on our front and on our right flank; and, in obedience to orders from the brigade commander, I threw out my right and left flank companies as skirmishers – the left company covering our front, our skirmishers immediately in front were driven in slowly, fighting stubbornly every foot of the ground. Captain Mulhall, commanding at this point, received a severe wound, falling some distance in front of our line, when the skirmishers (the left company) approached within twenty paces of our line. In obedience to orders, I called them in, and they formed on our left; soon afterward, the enemy having approached within about 200 yards, we opened fire. The enemy soon afterward appeared to fall back, when the order to cease firing was given, and some four of our men went out and brought in Captain Mulhall, wounded, and who for over one hour had lain between the two fires. Captain Mulhall also acted with the greatest bravery, and kept his skirmishers well to the front, and fell back only when the only alternative was annihilation or capture. I regret to say that he was severely wounded.
Mulhall was discharged in May of 1865, and he was brevetted Lt. Colonel of New York Volunteers. He married Mary Kinsella in 1869, and they had a son named David, who died in 1900. Even though Mulhall was in his late fifties, he once again served in the U.S. military during the Spanish-American War. He died at his home in Harlem New York on 7th July, 1903 with his wife at his side. Mulhall was buried in the Old St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.
The New York Times.
The New York Irish-American Weekly.
The New York Herald.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.
U.S. National Archives Military Records.
National Park Service Troop Movement Maps by Ed Bearss (1959).
Le Comte de Qautrebarbes. Souvenirs d’Ancone, Siège de 1860.
Berkeley, George Fitz-Hardinge. 1929. The Irish Battalion in the Papal Army of 1860.
McCaffery, Michael J.A. The siege of Spoleto; a camp-tale of Arlington Heights.