As the new Andersonville Irish Project gathers steam, the site will be sharing stories and information about some of the Irish American men who died there, as well as news on the database and map as they are updated. In the first of these “spotlight” posts, we are taking a look at the man interred in Grave 9102 at Andersonville National Cemetery, Michael Rooney. A look into his death reveals that his tragic end was only one element of what were a deeply traumatic few months for his children.
Michael Rooney’s military enlistment recorded his birth as in Co. Sligo, but he was married in nearby Rossinver, Co. Leitrim. He had wed Ann Clinton there on on 14th January 1849, and by the end of that year that had celebrated the birth of their first child, Thomas. In a cycle repeated again and again across Ireland during the Famine-era, the young family soon headed for the emigrant boat. They arrived in New York sometime between 1850 and the summer of 1853, when their second son, James, was born. A daughter Mary was next to arrive, in March 1858. BY 1860 they were making their home in the 1st District of the city’s 16th Ward, where Michael was working as a labourer.
Although Michael was recorded as 31-years-old in 1860, his 4th August 1862 enlistment stated he was 36. At that juncture he was described as being 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, with grey eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. The Irish immigrant’s age and family situation strongly suggest that economics was a major driver for his enlistment, and he may well have been in dire need of the finances that military service could provide. Whatever his reasons, he duly became a private in Company F of the 132nd New York Infantry.
Michael left his wife and children behind in late September 1862, when the regiment left the state. In May of 1863 the 132nd travelled to New Bern, North Carolina where they took up garrison duty. Michael was still there later that year, when terrible news arrived from New York. On 27th November 1863, his wife Ann died at 114 West 19th Street, having been suffering from Consumption. As she was taken to Calvary Cemetery for interrment, Michael had to try and look to his young children’s welfare. Fortunately like many Irish Americans he had a family network in New York, and it seems that they agreed to take the youngsters in until his return.
Michael was probably thankful that up to that point his regiment had escaped the worst of the American Civil War. That changed a little over two months after his wife’s death. By early 1864, the Confederates had decided to try and retake New Bern from the Union, and the 132nd New York would find itself at the epicenter of that effort. The regiment bore the brunt of the opening phase of that engagement at Bachelor’s Creek on 1st February 1864, and Michael was among the captured.
Michael Rooney died in Andersonville on 18th September 1864. Within the space of just ten months his children had lost both their mother and father. Indeed, they may well have never seen Michael after the death of their mother. Ultimately Thomas Rooney, who may well have been their uncle, took on the role of guardian. There is little doubt that the Civil War and Andersonville loomed large in their memory for the rest of their lives.
Michael Rooney’s story is just one among hundreds from Andersonville National Cemetery. If you know of any Irish Americans who died at Andersonville, or have stories to share about Irish Americans imprisoned there, please get in touch with us at the Andersonville Irish Project via andersonvilleirish[at]gmail.com.