The Battle of Gettysburg is by far the most famed clash of the American Civil War. It is also an engagement of significance for the Andersonville Irish Project, as it is among the earliest points of capture for men who would subsequently perish in the prison. Most men taken prisoner by the Confederates in July 1863 expected they would soon be on their way back to Union lines, benefiting from one of the prisoner exchanges that typified the war up to that point. But the breakdown of the exchange system just after Gettysburg (you can read about the causes and circumstances behind that here) sealed the fate of those still in Confederate custody. By the time Andersonville prison opened in 1864, many of these Gettysburg men had already endured months of incarceration in places like Belle Isle, Richmond. The fragile health they carried into Andersonville boded ill for their survival, and inevitably many succumbed. The Andersonville Irish Project has identified a number of Irish Americans who perished at Andersonville having been taken during the Gettysburg Campaign. On the occasion of the 158th anniversary of that battle, we decided to take a closer look at some of them- and examine what they can tell us about the relationships Irish Americans developed in the notorious prison.
John Daley, 28th Massachusetts Infantry, Irish Brigade, Born Ireland
Irish immigrant John Daley was 25-years-old when he had married fellow Irish native, 18-year-old Mary Gately, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. At the time John was working as a gunsmith. John enlisted in November 1861- the same month that the couple’s son, James, was born. By then he was being recorded as a laborer, an indication that he was likely not working at the trade for which he had trained, perhaps as a result of the recession the war created. On enlistment John became a private in Company F of the Irish 28th Massachusetts Infantry, seeing continual service with them through all their battles up to Gettysburg. He was captured on 2nd July, during the Irish Brigade’s fight in The Wheatfield. Taken south by the retreating Rebel army, he was initially incarcerated in Richmond before being shipped on to Andersonville in early 1864. He died there on 28th April, officially due to Chronic Diarrhoea. He was buried in Grave 787. In 1867 John’s young widow Mary remarried, wedding another Irish native, Patrick McGee, in Massachusetts.
John Eagan, 125th New York Infantry, Born Ferbane, Co. Offaly
John Eagan’s parents had married in Ferbane, Co. Offaly on 15th June 1835. John was born around 1843, and not long afterwards (possibly during the Famine) the family emigrated to Troy, New York. John’s father, John Senior, died there in 1849. They appear to have settled in and around Cohoes, where John went to work with the Ogden Cotton Mills through the 1850s. On 4th August 1862 John enlisted in Troy, and became a member of Company D, 125th New York Infantry. By the time of Gettysburg, he had already endured captivity once, having been taken (along with the entire regiment) at the surrender of Harper’s Ferry in 1862. Then he had been paroled, but he was not so lucky in 1863. At Gettysburg, the 125th had seen heavy fighting on the 2nd July, but John had survived unscathed. Then on the 3rd he and some of his comrades found themselves on the skirmish line just as the Confederates launched what has become known to history as “Pickett’s Charge”. Michael Larkins, another Irish immigrant in Company D- and the man who wrote John’s letters home- later recalled what happened:
Company D were on the skirmish line, and were driven back, but…John instead of falling back with the others, remained to fire his musket, and during the delay was captured…he did not see Eagan taken prisoner but…the above was taken from the statements of men who were paroled during the fight. He was for ten years prior to his enlistment acquainted with…John Eagan…he was with him when he received his advance bounty and pay upon muster into service…
One of the aims of the Andersonville Irish Project is to ascertain how Irish Americans interacted with each other as prisoners, and the case of John Eagan offers some important detail in that regard. Aside from his unit affiliation, what emerges from John’s case is the degree to which he identified not only with the Irish American community, but specifically with the Irish American community where he had grown up in America. One of the men who gave a statement on his widow’s behalf in 1866 was John Tierney, an Irish American who had served as a Corporal with the 5th New York Cavalry. His affidavit reveals the close bond that he and John developed in Confederate prison, borne out of their shared ethnicity, but importantly, also due to their shared home of Cohoes, New York:
…he [Tierney] was taken by the enemy at Culpepper Court House, VA on the 13th day of September 1863 and was taken thence to Libby Prison Richmond CA where he remained three days, was then removed to Belle Island, where he remained about five months and was then taken to Andersonville Prison, GA thence to Millen where he remained until released in November 1864…upon entering prison on Belle Island he met the said John Eagan…Eagan informed [Tierney] he was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, PA. [Tierney] and the said John Eagan were constant companions while on Belle Island, and were removed together to Andersonville…Eagan was taken sick about the month of May or June 1864 of Chronic Diarrhoea and Scorbutus [Scurvy]. [Tierney] was present with…John Eagan during his illness, and was also present when he died, and saw his dead body.
Yet another member of the Irish American community in Cohoes was John Mullen, who had served in the same Company as John Eagan in the 125th New York, and who also saw the inside of Andersonville Prison. He remembered:
…this deponent [Mullen] was taken prisoner by the enemy at Bristoe Station, VA on the 14th day of October 1863 and removed thence to Belle Island where he met the said Eagan when Eagan made known to him the circumstances connected with his capture July 3/63…Eagan and [Mullen] were removed from Belle Island on the 17th day of February 1864 and were taken thence to Andersonville, GA Prison, where this deponent remained until October 1864 when he was removed to Millen from which place he was paroled in November 1864….he was with the said Eagan from the time this deponent entered prison at Belle Isle until in June 1864. That in the month of June and between the 25th and 30th, he thinks the 28th or 29th, he with three others carried the said Eagan out of the prison Camp at Andersonville to the Hospital just outside. That Eagan had been sick about one month when he so assisted in carrying him to Hospital, and he thought at the time Eagan could live but a short time, and that that was the opinion entertained by the others who assisted…he did not see Eagan’s dead body but conscientiously believes he is dead…
John perished at Andersonville on 1 July 1864-one year to the day that the Battle of Gettysburg had begun. He is interred in Grave 2728.
Arthur Mullholland, 69th Pennsylvania Infantry, Born Ireland
When Pickett’s Charge smashed into the stone wall at Gettysburg on 3rd July, among those engulfed in the maelstrom were the Irishmen of the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry. Their actions in resisting the attack have become famed. But when the Rebel wave receded, an unlucky few of the regiment found themselves being carried back across the battlefield as prisoners, taken at the height of the battle. One of those reported missing was Arthur Mulholland of Company F.
Before his service, Arthur had lived in Philadelphia’s 8th Ward with his wife Mary Buckley, a fellow Irish immigrant whom he had married on 27th October 1842. He was not a young man when he had enlisted- Arthur was at least 43-years-old when he first donned a uniform on 19th April 1861. When he marched off to war he left Mary behind with four children- Mary (17), Tom (13), Kate (12) and Ellen (7). Had circumstances been different in July 1863, Arthur might well have been on his way home rather than facing Pickett’s Charge. An injury he received to his leg in June had caused measures to be taken to procure him a discharge, but by the time it came through the Battle of Gettysburg had already been fought. The Second Lieutenant of his Company, John Eagan, who was captured with him, later attested to the fact that Arthur had still been in uniform when the time came to defend the stone wall on 3rd July.
During his time in Andersonville, Arthur appears to have been another Irish American who developed close relationships with other Irish drawn from his locality. Among them were John Doyle of the 183rd Pennsylvania Infantry and Robert Torrey of the 90th Pennsylvania. Torrey had been captured in October 1863. He later stated that around November 1864 Arthur had died, and that “he placed his name, Company and Regiment on his breast and that he was buried in one of the pits dug for that purpose.” The lack of definitive evidence surrounding Arthur’s fate caused significant issues for Mary, as she struggled to prove her entitlement for a pension. In 1865 she had a letter written explaining the circumstances of Arthur’s death as she understood them:
I am about asking you to do a favor for me and oblige a poor widow woman who has lost her husband in this war. Arthur Mulholland…was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg he was there taken to Belle Island, Richmond, Virginia. The day before his capture he was hit on the leg by a piece of a flying rail when he got to Richmond his leg mortified from the effects of the wound and they wanted to amputate his leg but he would not let them they then removed him to Andersonville, Georgia, where after confinement for some time he died and was buried by some of his comrades…
The balance of evidence currently suggests that Arthur, who was certainly taken prisoner at Gettysburg, and who certainly seems to have been incarcerated at Andersonville, is among the small number of unknown graves at the National Cemetery.
Hugh Coyle, 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Clondavaddog, Fanad, Co. Donegal
Those of you who have read my book The Forgotten Irish will be familiar with the story of Hugh Coyle, whose family form the subject of one of the chapters. Hugh and his siblings had emigrated to Philadelphia from the rural Fanad Peninsula in Co. Donegal, where their parents continued to eke out a living during the American Civil War. Hugh had enlisted in the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry on 1st October 1861. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the regiment were assigned to protect the Army of the Potomac’s baggage trains at Manchester, Maryland. However, they became involved in the fighting on the 4th July, the day after the repulse of Pickett’s Charge. As Confederates under Richard Ewell retreated from Pennsylvania they were set upon by Union cavalry as they moved through Monterey Pass, Pennsylvania. The engagement was a success for U.S. forces, but a small number of men were captured, and Hugh was among them.
Like his fellow Gettysburg campaign prisoners, after a period around Richmond, Hugh was sent on to Andersonville. He died on 24 June 1864 and is interred in Grave 2399. By the time of his death his parents John and Eunice were living in Muineagh townland on the Fanad Peninsula, where times were hard. When Eunice applied for a pension, she included an eviction notice she had received from her Donegal landlord, the Third Earl of Leitrim. It informed them of the fact that Leitrim wanted their land “to graze black cattle.” A few years after Eunice sent this letter, three Fanad men rowed across the Mulroy, assassinating Leitrim in retribution for his treatment of his tenants. A monument erected to them from where they began their journey still stands in Fanad today.
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