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Ayer's Pills were a popular medication for stomach complaints. This is a post Civil War advertisement for the product (East Carolina University DIgital Collections Image 12.1.23.13)

Meagher’s ‘Drunken Freaks’ & Old Abe ‘Astonished': The Last Letters of John Doherty, 63rd New York, Irish Brigade

Corporal John Doherty of the Irish Brigade wrote a series of letters home to his family from Virginia and Maryland in the summer of 1862. Transcribed here for the first time, the letters detail John’s pride in the Irish Brigade– ‘the envy of the rest of the army’– but likewise suggest that the realities of […]

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The Charge of Hawkins' Zouaves at Roanoke Island (Harper's Weekly)

The Civil War Letters of Captain James Fleming, Part 4: With Hawkins’ Zouaves at Roanoke

The fourth instalment of letters from James Fleming of Antrim (Find Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here) joins the 9th New York in North Carolina with the Burnside expedition of 1862. In the first letter, James provides a detailed description of his part in the Battle of Roanoke Island on 8th February that year. He also responds to […]

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A soldier springs the trapdoor, with men looking on from the trees beyond (Library of Congress)

Edward Wellington Boate: The Andersonville POW Who Came to the Defence of Henry Wirz

Waterford’s Edward Wellington Boate belongs to the large cohort of Irish journalists who ended up fighting, or in someway participating, in the American Civil War. His story is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating. A member of the Tammany regiment, the 42nd New York, his capture and incarceration as a POW set him on a path […]

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The Return of the 69th New York, 1861 by Louis Lang. Thomas Madigan had been anticipating such a homecoming before Bull Run (New York Historical Society)

The Madigans: Famine Survival, Emigration & Obligation in 19th Century Ireland & America

Each pension file contains fragments of one Irish family’s story. They are rarely complete, but nonetheless they often offer us rare insight into aspects of the 19th century Irish emigrant experience. Few match the breadth of the story told in the Madigan pension file. That family’s words and letters take us from the Great Famine […]

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Irish emigrants sending money back to Ireland from the Emigrants Savings Bank in 1880 (Library of Congress)

‘As Good A Chance to Escape As Any Other': A Cork Soldier’s Aid to His Family in Ireland, 1864

Occasionally, I am asked why any Irish impacted by the American Civil War should be remembered in Ireland. After all, the argument goes, these people left our shores, and they weren’t fighting for ‘Ireland.’ In response, I usually point out that many were Famine-era emigrants, who often felt they had little choice but to leave. […]

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Lieutenant-Colonel James J. Smith and officers of the 69th New York, an image exposed just a few weeks after the Battle of Skinner's Farm (Library of Congress)

‘I Trust the Almighty Will Spare Me My Life': Charles Traynor & the Battle of Skinner’s Farm, 25th March 1865

In March 1865, Charles Traynor wrote home to his mother Catharine in New York. A veteran of some of the most famed Irish Brigade actions of the war, he was still at the front as the conflict began to enter its final days. ‘I trust the Almythy will spear me my life’ he confided to […]

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Antietam Battlefield. The Confederates held the Sunken Lane to the left of the image, with the Irish Brigade advancing from right to left across the field. It was in the vicinity of this field that John Conway died (Damian Shiels)

Speaking Ill Of The Dead: Eulogies & Enmity For An Irish Brigade Soldier

On 18th October 1862 the New York Irish-American published an article on the ‘gallant fellows’ of the Irish Brigade who had recently given their lives at the carnage of Antietam. One of them was Tullamore native Lieutenant John Conway, who had fallen in the ranks of the 69th New York Infantry. The paper described Conway […]

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An image exposed by Irish photographer Timothy O'Sullivan of Union troops entrenched on the northern side of the North Anna on 25th May 1864. The day before John Heron had been shot on the south side of the river (Library of Congress)

‘For God Sake Dear Son Write To Me': An Irish Mother’s Desperate Plea in the Summer of 1864

I have come across hundreds of letters written by Irish people during the American Civil War in the Widows and Dependents Pension Files. In reading each one, I always do so in the awareness that the story ultimately did not have a happy ending- in every case the soldier died as a result of his […]

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Corporal William Kelleher displays his wound (National Museum of Health & Medicine)

‘One of Our Brave Men Twice Wounded': An Image of Corporal William Kelleher, 125th New York Infantry

In the first of a couple of guest posts coming up on the blog, friend of the site Brendan Hamilton brings us the story behind a fascinating image of a young wounded Irishman. Brendan has spent a lot of time looking at images of wounded Irish soldiers and also researching the 25th New York Infantry. […]

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The Battle of Fair Oaks by Currier & Ives (Library of Congress)

‘A Deep Blow to Your Heart': Patrick Clooney’s Newly Uncovered Description of the Irish Brigade at Fair Oaks

On 16th September 1862, 33-year-old Ann Dunnigan appeared before an Albany judge to begin the process of claiming a widow’s pension. Her husband Patrick had been mortally wounded in the Irish Brigade’s first major engagement- the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia- on 1st June 1862. As part of her evidence, Ann handed over a detailed […]

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