One of the notable outcomes of our ongoing Andersonville Irish Project is the identification of concentrations of Irish servicemen in non-ethnic regiments, including largely Irish companies. A lot more work is needed on such Irish company level formations, exploring how they formed and what they experienced during service. Indeed, we currently don’t even have sufficient data to identify just how many such companies existed across the U.S. military during the American Civil War. One particularly interesting example has come to light due to the nativity of Battle of Chickamauga POWs identified at Andersonville. It comes in the form of Company C of the 38th Illinois Infantry, ostensibly formed of men from Champaign and Fayette Counties. However, the makeup and origins of the company raises the possibility that some of its men may not have been permanent residents in that part of Illinois, but were instead there in 1861 for labouring work.
The 38th Illinois Infantry was organised at Camp Butler, Illinois in September 1861. The regiment’s first Colonel was William Passmore Carlin, who would rise to generalship and divisional command before war’s end. By the time the Battle of Chickamauga came round in September 1863 the regiment had already seen hard service, most particularly at Stones River, Tennessee, where they lost 177 casualties. They entered the Chickamauga battlefield reduced to a strength of just 301 men, a figure further reduced on 19th September when they were heavily engaged in the vicinity of the Viniard Field. The following day they were among those unfortunate units positioned south of the Brotherton Field who suffered significant losses following the Confederate breakthrough. It was during this fighting of the 20th that the majority of the men of the 38th who became prisoners fell into enemy hands. During their two days at Chickamauga the 38th Illinois lost 15 men killed, 87 wounded, and 78 missing.
Within Company C of the 38th Illinois, thirteen men lost their lives as a direct result of the Chickamauga fight. Five were killed or mortally wounded during the battle itself, while another eight subsequently perished as POWs at Andersonville and Danville. One of these men was born in England and another in the United States- the remaining eleven were all from Ireland. Added to this, all bar one of the enlisted fatalities of Company C had been recorded as a “laborer” at the the time of their enlistment. The strong Irish character and labouring background of these men prompts a closer look at Company C. Regular readers may be familiar with a previous foray into the story of one of it’s men- Paddy Nojeen Gallagher from Arranmore Island in Co. Donegal. Paddy was also taken prisoner at Chickamauga, surviving to eventually return home to his place of origin off the Irish coast (you can view a talk about Paddy and his experiences delivered on Arranmore Island here). Work on Paddy’s story revealed he had little connection with Fayette County, despite having enlisted in Vandalia. But what of the other men of Company C?
An analysis of Company C indicates that by September 1863 there were a little over 60 officers and men on the roster, though it seems probable as few as half of them were physically present at Chickamauga. The company were led into the engagement by Captain Thomas Cole. An Irish-born Saloon Keeper based out of Champaign City, Illinois, he had commanded the company for most of its existence, taking over from French-native Captain Theodore Rodrig at the beginning of November 1861. Thomas was an interesting character. Around 36-years-old at Chickamauga, after the war allegations would emerge that he had abandoned his family in Ireland in 1857, and that Elizabeth, the woman he claimed to be his wife on arrival in America, had in fact eloped with him. Worse, it was alleged the pair had stolen American remittances from a Co. Westmeath Post Office, where Elizabeth worked and where Thomas was the Mail Coach driver. It is difficult to determine the veracity of the allegations (although there is some compelling evidence to support it, Elizabeth appears to have won a case to maintain her pension against a rival claim from Ireland, despite an intervention against her by a Westmeath clergyman). The reason the issue came to the surface at all was due to Thomas’s fate at Chickamauga- he had been mortally wounded leading his men on 19th September, dying the same day. During the next day’s fight the company was commanded by 31-year-old James Mullen, who had been First Lieutenant coming into the engagement. Another Irishman, he had been a Section Boss based in Pulaski County when he first enlisted in 1861.
Outside the officers, it is apparent that labourers-and Irish labourers in particular- utterly dominated the outfit. The bulk had joined in Vandalia, Fayette County in August 1861, although some were also recorded as residing in Urbana, Champaign County. Of the 61 enlisted men still being formally listed as part of the Company in September 1863, 78.5% were labourers. More than 62% of the surviving enlisted men had been born in Ireland and more than 67% were immigrants. Although the Adjutant General’s report recorded a lot of the men as locally resident, very few of them are identifiable in Fayette or Champaign Counties in the 1860 Census. The potential that many of the men may have been transient residents in the company’s catchment area, or at least very new arrivals, is also reflected in some of the early pension claims made by the widows and families of Company C fatalities. Among them, only the pension for Captain Cole was claimed at an address within Fayette or Champaign Counties. The others were spread further afield through Illinois, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri. A lot of the men in Company C were single, despite the fact that their make-up was not especially young- by September 1863 there were more men over 30 than under it among their ranks (See Figure 1). All of this suggests the possibility that at least some of the men may have been part of labouring or works gangs who had happened to be employed in the Company’s recruitment area in 1861. If that was the case, it is tempting to think that Lieutenant Mullen’s connections as a Section Boss may have played a role in bringing so many labourers into the company.
Aside from raising questions about the men’s initial path into the military, the available information on Company C allows us an unusually detailed glimpse at the Irish origins of many of the soldier’s in September 1863. What emerges is the dominance of immigrants from Ireland’s southernmost province, Munster, where almost 50% of the Irish-born men came from. Tipperary, with five identified representatives, was the most represented county. Another 25% came from Ireland’s northernmost province, Ulster (Among them was the aforementioned Paddy Nojeen Gallagher, who had one other Donegal man in the ranks for company in late 1863, Edward Slaven).
I hope to carry out more detailed work on Company C of the 38th Illinois to reveal more about the men who served in its ranks. It also fits the bill to serve as a case study to explore the origins, experience and aftermath of an Irish company serving in a non-ethnic regiment, particularly given the potential labouring origins of many of its men. To that end I hope to begin pulling together some more primary source material to facilitate such an examination, potentially juxtaposing it with analysis of another more overtly “Irish” company in non-ethnic regimental service. In the meantime, I will keep you apprised of progress on that front, and in the meantime if any readers have insights into the Company’s formation (or indeed its men/service), I would be most eager to hear from you.
38th Illinois Infantry Company C Dead resulting from the Battle of Chickamauga
Captain Thomas Cole, Pass of Kilbride, Co. Westmeath, Mortally Wounded 19 September.
Corporal James Hayes, Bandon, Co. Cork, Killed in Action 20 September.
Private Arthur McCarthy, Co. Down, Killed in Action 20 September.
Private John Comfort, Co. Tipperary, Missing in Action 19/20 September.
Private John Holland, Co. Clare, Mortally Wounded in Action 19 September.
Corporal Patrick Kinney, Co. Galway, Died a POW.
Private John Hester, Ireland, Died a POW.
Private Michael Kennedy, Co. Kilkenny, Died a POW.
Private Michael Jordan, Co. Clare, Died a POW.
Private Patrick Fitzpatrick, Co. Cavan, Died a POW.
Private Peter Lynch, Co. Cavan, Died a POW.
Private Isaac Branch, England, Died a POW.
Private Finaldo Logan, Ohio, Died a POW.
Illinois Adjutant General’s Report, 38th Illinois Infantry.
Illinois Civil War Muster & Descriptive Rolls.
Civil War Widow’s & Dependent Pensions.
History of Fayette County, Illinois.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.