James Gray, John Doonan, Edward Clinton, Patrick Higgins, John Faughnan - their names may not be familiar to us but, thanks to the concerted efforts of a handful of historians, they are finally taking their rightful place in history of their adopted homeland, America.
These men are just a handful of those Co Leitrim emigrants who not only sought a new life in America, but also fought for their homeland in the American Civil War.
Fighting in both the Union and Confederate armies, these men were witness to some of the most brutal fighting of the war and for many, their dreams of a new life away from the famine and poverty still impacting Ireland, ended there, on the battlefields of Gettysburg, Chattanooga and Petersburg.
John Kelly is listed as hailing from Banagher, Co Leitrim. He served as a private in the 155th New York Infantry led, incidentally, by Sligo born General, Michael Corcoran. John died from wounds sustained at a battle in Petersburg, Virginia. During the American Civil War, because of the railroad network, Petersburg was key to Union plans to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. The city saw nine months of trench warfare during the 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg and it was during this time that John lost his life, far from the Northern States and even further from his home in Leitrim.
Patrick Hoey, aged just 20, also lost his life in one of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles, Gettysburg. Records show that Patrick served in Company A of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry “Gordon’s Regulars” - so named after their leader, Col. George H Gordon.
One of the first regiments raised during the Civil War, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry became renowned for its discipline and reliability in every command in which it served, from its early “unlucky” associations with Patterson and Banks, then as part of Slocum’s 12th Corps in the Army of the Potomac, and finally under Sherman during his march through Georgia and the March to the Sea.
Patrick had been a carder, a worker who prepared wool for use in the textile industry, prior to enlisting. He was made a Corporal in the Union Army on May 1863 and died just a few weeks later at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
Patrick Higgins, who hailed from Drumkeerin some time during the early years of the Famine in the 1840s died in the battle of Chattanooga, Tennesse in 1863. We do not know if he died in the earlier battles around the city in August or in the later, even bloodier battles in November when Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant defeated Confederate General Braxton Brag.
Some Co Leitrim men, however survived the Civil War. Men like Philip Owens. Although it is not known exactly where Philip hailed from in the county we do know that he served in Company B of the First Missouri Cavalry and he fought from 1861 to 1865 before settling in Carlinville, Illinois.
Others, like Henry Kelly were mustered out (discharged) from the Union Army, Company H; 2nd Massachusetts Infantry otherwise known as Gordon’s Regulars. We know that Henry not only survived the Civil War, mustering out on May 28, 1864, he remained in America living in the State of Rhode Island.
Henry and Patrick Hoey weren’t the only Co Leitrim men to serve in Gordon’s Regulars. Records also show that John Gillaney, aged 19, served in Company K of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry before being mustered out on May 28, 1864. In fact, at one point recruits born in Ireland, accounted for 16 percent of the foreign born members of Gordon’s Regulars.
James Gray, a laborer from Leitrim also survived the American Civil War. By standards of the day, James was much older at 50 years of age, than many of the recruits joining the Union and Confederate Armies. He joined Company K of the 23rd Illinois US Infantry on February 27 in Chicago but was discharged for an unlisted reason just one year later in 1863.
The Leitrim Observer will be looking at the individual stories of some of, not only our own men who fought in the American Civil War, but who also fought in other world conflicts including the oft forgotten men who enlisted for World War I almost a century ago in the coming weeks.