George was born around 1845 in Dingle. He had been enrolled at Lynn, Massachusetts on 3rd December 1863, becoming a private in Company H of the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, a unit with a heavy Irish American contingent. At the time he was described as an 18-year-old laborer, who was 5 feet 5 inches tall with a fair complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair. George was among those sent to garrison Plymouth, North Carolina. Plymouth fell to Confederate forces in April 1864, and its defenders were sent to Andersonville. This large influx of prisoners came to be known as the “Plymouth Pilgrims” (you can find more about them here). George died of scurvy in the Andersonville Hospital on 31st August 1864.
While George’s headstone refers to him as George Sullivan “Jr.”, this would appear to be an error, as his father’s name was James. The appelation may have resulted from the fact that there was another Irish emigrant in his company who shared his name- Corporal George Sullivan from Cork- and it may be that he was called “Junior” to differentiate between them. The older George survived Andersonville, but not for long. The hardships he endured there put him in his grave in 1867.
George’s death caused his elderly father James, a widower, to apply for a pension based on his son’s service. James has been born in West Kerry around the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1866 his physician Michael Roberts described the shoemaker as “an old man in enfeebled health” who suffered from a number of debilitating ailments, and as a consequence was uanble to support himself by physical labour. The affidavits that James provided in order to secure his pension provide us with a number of insights into Irish emigration, Irish life in America, and Irish relationships in Andersonville.
The Sullivans were part of a tight knit Irish American community that was centred on Lawrence’s Fourth Ward. Many of the emigrants that the Sullivans were closest too were also from around the Dingle area, and bear testament to the story of chain migration and transplanted community that typified the 19th century Irish American experience. Among them were factory operative James Ashe and John Connors, both of whom were also originally from around Dingle. In January 1867 they provided the following statement:
for more than thirty years we have been acquainted with James Sullivan…and during all that time have been on intimate social relations with him and his family…we resided in the same town with him and his family for many years in Ireland, and also after his emigration to America…for more than twenty years (to our personal knowledge) both in Ireland and this Country…he lived and co-habited with Mary Sullivan (whose maiden name was Mary Murphy) as his wife and had several children by her…[they] were always reputed and believed in the community where they were born and resided up to the time of their emigration to America, fourteen years ago, as lawfully wedded husband and wife…
This statement indicates that the Sullivans were among the wave of emigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1850s. George was probably around seven or eight years old and James in his early fifties when they first arrived, hoping to carve out a new life in Massachusetts. James’s own statement in early 1868 provided a bit more context as to their Irish origins and subsequent movements in America:
I resided and cohabited with her as my wife in…Dingle from the time of my marriage to the time of my removal with her and the rest of my family to America, fourteen years ago…we cohabited and lived together there afterwards in Lowell Mass until her decease which took place in Lowell about nine years ago…the date of my marriage to the best of my knowledge and belief was the fourteenth (14th) day of May AD 1822…there is no public record of my marriage that I can discover…I am unable to procure the affidavits of any living witnesses who were present when the marriage ceremony was performed.
Not long afterwards, James added further detail to this statement:
I was married to my wife, Mary Murphy, at Kerry in Ireland more than 40 years ago by Rev. John O’Sullivan a Priest of the Roman Catholic Church…the said clergyman by whom the marriage ceremony was performed has since died and no one of the persons who were present at the marriage are now alive…
Mary may be the 40-year-old woman recorded as succumbing to a disease of the lungs in Lowell in May 1860. Her death and James’s failing health placed additional burdens on the children, which consisted of at least two sons and two daughters- the future soldier George was apparently the eldest boy. While he was around 15 when his mother died, his sister Mary was 17, Elizabeth was 13, and John 12. In 1866 Mary and Elizabeth defined George’s role within the family, and his contribution towards the household:
for years before his enlistment [George] was regularly employed and resided in Lawrence and his earnings were regularly paid over to his father for his said father’s control and benefit. That upon his enlistment he gave over the bounty received from the State of Massachusetts for his said father’s support and there was also paid over from the City of Lawrence up to the time of [George’s] death the sum of four dollars per month on account of said soldier for his fathers support.
It is apparent that George’s decision to enlist was at least partly motivated by economics, as it was for many Irish Americans (and other working-class men). He may well have also been keen to do his bit for the country where he had grown up. Ultimately, his time in active service could be counted in weeks. A final affidavit in his file was provided by two men who knew him in uniform, and here too we are provided with an insight into how Irish Americans interacted during the Civil War. Studies have demonstrated that Irish Americans tended to coalesce when serving in non-ethnic units, and they also did so within the confines of Andersonville. It is little surprise then that the two men who provided statements as to George’s fate in the stockade were fellow Irish Americans in the 2nd Massachusetts. They were Irish-born Patrick Quinn, also of Lawrence, and John Linehan, who though born in Salem, Massachusetts was almost certainly also Irish American. In 1866 they confirmed:
we were fellow prisoners with George…he died while a prisoner in the hands of the rebels at Andersonville, Georgia, on or about the 25th day of August 1864. of disease…we were then fellow prisoners of war with him confined at Andersonville and know the facts of his death of personal knowledge…
James eventually satisfied the requirements of the Bureau and received a pension from 1868. Though a long and arduous process, the steps he had to go through preserved much detail about his own life and that of his young son, whose emigrant journey–which began with a childood departure from West Kerry–ended a little more than a decade later in Georgia clay.
If you have any information on Irish Americans at Andersonville please contact us at the project via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Thanks to Ed Boots for his contributions of Irish Plymouth Pilgrims at Andersonville.
Compiled Military Service Records
Massachusetts Death Records