Who Were the Montgomery Guards?

I talked about the Montgomery Guards getting ready to deploy in 1861 here. We talked about their first commander, Michael Nolan. But, how about the other Montgomery Guards? Who were they? They did not leave a diary or memoir, that I can find. But, we can glean some clues about these early Irish immigrants to the port city of New Orleans. Many were members before the war began.

Dennis Callahan/Callihan started with the Montgomery Guards from the beginning. He enlisted on April 24,1861, suggesting he was a member prior to the start of the war fever. He started as the First Sergeant. But, by November, 1861, he had been promoted to 2d Lieutenant. He was 31 years old in 1861 and was a clerk before the war. He does not appear in the 1860 census or the 1861 City Directory. As a clerk, he was doing well for an Irish immigrant. But, he still remained invisible in greater New Orleans. Dennis was the Drill Master in camp. That role afforded him extra pay. Doubtless, he developed those drill skills during his militia days.

John Dunlap joined the Montgomery Guards at the outset on April 28, 1861. He left in February, 1862 to join the Confederate Navy. There was one John “Dunlop” in the 11th Ward. That John was 27 years old in 1860 and was born in Ireland. He was a laborer. He owned no real state and claimed the paltry sum of $90 in personal possessions.

James M. McDonald/McDonnell enlisted on April 28, 1861, suggesting he was a probably a member of the Montgomery Guards before the war fever started. James went AWOL in April, 1862 and did not return until he was arrested. He was court martialed. He was released from arrest by Gen. Jackson and lost $30 pay. He died July 28, 1863 at a Richmond hospital due to double pneumonia. His death reflects the reality that in camp, illness was a deadly killer. He started as a private and died as a private.

Most of the service returns use the name “McDonald.” There are several James McDonalds in the New Orleans census for 1860. All of them live within the Third, Second, and Eleventh Ward area. That area was not just the home of the Montgomery Guards. It was also the center of the Irish community. One James McDonald lived in a boarding house and coffee house. It appears his family ran the boarding house and coffee house. This James had no specified occupation, suggesting he helped with the family business. A second James McDonald of military age was a laborer and married. Neither James McDonald claimed any personal estate. In the 1860 census

John R. Maskew was literate. He started as a private and ended up s 1st Lt. by 1865. Then, as now, it was an extraordinary achievement to be commissioned as an officer from the enlisted ranks. 1stLieut. Maskew commanded the Montgomery Guards, now Co. E by the end of the war. He enlisted on April 28, 1861 in New Orleans. He was apparently a member of the Montgomery Guards before the war. He was wounded and captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was retired from active service in March, 1865 due to some unspecified impairment.

No Maskew appears in the 1860 census. But, there is a James Maskey who lives at 177 Tchoupitoulas, which was near the wharves. James Maskey was a track driver, according to the 1861 City Directory. That meant he rode horses in the races. New Orleans had a vibrant horse and mule track. In 1865 John Maskew married Mary Hickey. In the 1868 City Directory, which generally reflects 1867 information, John was Constable for the First Justice Court. He also worked at a coffee house in the same building as the Justice Court. He lived at 197 Magazine, somewhat close to the future Irish Channel neighborhood. John Maskew died in 1867. He was 27 years old. He was said to be a native of Ireland. His widow, Mary Hickey Maskew, 45 years old, died in 1885. She was a native of County Tipperary.

James McClaughery and Andrew M. McClaughery both enlisted in the Montgomery Guards on April 28, 1861. Andrew was enlisted by Capt. Nolan himself. They lived in the Second ward, close to the Armory. Andrew and probably James were enlisted by Capt. Nolan himself, suggesting they were prior embers of the Guards. The 1860 census records James McClaughery as “John,” but that is such an unusual name. It appears the census taker made a mistake. James/John was a tinner or tinsmith. Andrew was a “C.P.” C.P. perhaps represented colporteurs, or seller of books and newspapers. Both McClaugherys were skilled workers Both were born in Ireland.

Andrew was promoted to Sergeant in 1862. He later wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and left in the “hands of the enemy.” Eventually, he was paroled back to a Confederate hospital. Andrew was found to be unqualified for further duty.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Picayune, Oct. 13, 1867, p. 3, obituary available at the New Orleans Public Library (Maskew)

New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 29, 1885, p. 4, obituary available at the New Orleans Public Library (hickey)

1868 Gardner’s New Orleans City Directory

Confederate Service records, available at http://www.fold3

The Montgomery Guards Go to War

The city of New Orleans had militia units, mandatory and volunteer since its founding in 1718. Several militia units helped defend the city against the British in 1815. The Irish immigrants formed their own militia units. The oldest Irish militia and the most prestigious was the Montgomery Guards. I previously spoke about the Montgomery Guards and Emmet Guards here. As the drum beats of war sounded in early 1861, the Montgomery Guards ramped up their activity, as did the other New Orleans militias. They elected as their commander, Michael Nolan, a grocer with a shop on Common street. This was the heart of the third and fourth wards, the working class areas of the Crescent City.

The Fenian

And, who was Mike Nolan? Unlike most of the newly arrived Irish, Mike owned real estate./ He claimed $30,000 in real estate and $10,000 in personal estate in the 1860 census. Small groceries were used frequently by the Irish as a means to a white collar life. And, it worked well for Mike Nolan. He was married to Ellen. They had no children, but had three persons, probably employees, at their home.

Michael was born in County Tipperary about 1819. In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. He left his shop in New Orleans, bought a rifle, and sailed to his homeland. But, he was arrested as soon as he landed. He spent nine months in jail. He was released only after he agreed to leave the country. He was said to be a leader of the Fenian Brotherhood in ante-bellum New Orleans.

Fr. Hubert

Mike Nolan was also a close friend of the esteemed Father Darius Hubert. Fr. Hubert would become the chaplain of the First Louisiana Regiment and Mike Nolan would become their commander. But, before the war, Fr. Hubert was serving in Baton Rouge. So, it is not clear how the two met.

Lt.-Col. Nolan achieved some fame at the Battle of Manassas for his quick thinking. At  particularly bitter fighting at the Deep Cut, his men ran out of ammunition. Nolan quickly rallied his men to hurl stones and rocks at the Yankees, then literally just a stone’s throw away. The Mostly Irish Confederates did indeed hurl the works over a railroad embankment, holding their position until reinforcements arrived. Fr. Sheeran, another chaplain from New Orleans, would record in his diary that after the battle, many Union soldiers were found with broken skulls.

Lt.-Col. Nolan was badly wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). He was evacuated to a Richmond hospital and from there, he was sent on recruiting duty to Mobile. Many refugees from New Orleans and Baton Rouge had evacuated to Mobile at the time. His wife, Ellen, joined him in Mobile. He rejoined the First Louisiana Infantry Regiment just before the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863. Bravely, he lead his men in an attack on Culp’s Hill. Almost immediately, he was cut down by a 12 pound artillery shell. He was killed within 24 hours of his return to his unit. What was left of his body was buried in a nearby orchard in a shallow grave. Soon afterward, through the kindness of a local Catholic woman, Isabella “Belle” Gubernator, and aided by the estimable Regimental chaplain, Fr. Hubert, Lt.-Col. Nolan was re-buried in consecrated ground at the nearby Conewago Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. LTC Nolan received the a Catholic, marked burial, rare for a Confederate soldier or officer.

It was said that the death of Lt.-Col. Nolan was a blow to the kindly priest, Fr. Hubert. Another chaplain remarked upon hearing of Nolan’s death, “it was a great loss for Fr. Hubert!”

Later, , after Gen. Lee’s surrender, Fr. Hubert remained in Virginia long enough to coordinate with Federal authorities the future removal of Lt.-Col. Nolan’s body to New Orleans. See here for a picture of Micheal Nolan, but notice the web site states erroneously that Nolan was buried in Richmond.

Re-Burial

After the war, Michael Nolan’s body was indeed returned to New Orleans for re-burial. The logistics of removing a body in 1866 were enormous. He was accorded a large funeral. The funeral cortege was said to be more than two miles long. Fr. Hubert and Fr. Sheeran presided.

After his death, his widow, Ellen apparently sank into poverty. In the 1870 census she was living with the William and Kate Behan family. Ellen claims no property and is listed as “Domestic Servant.” Michael and Ellen did not have any children. Ellen was among hundreds of others who were cited for failure to pay taxes in 1870, 1872, 1874, 1876, and 1878. She sold her property at a sheriff’s sale in 1879.

And so passed a patriotic Fenian and his family.

Sources:

Kathrine B. Jeffrey, First Chaplain of the Confederacy (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 2020), p. 50, 53, 73.

Gardner’s 1861 New Orleans City Directory

Michael Dan Jones, The Fighting First Louisiana Infantry Regiment (Michael Dan Jones 2016), p. 15.

New Orleans Daily Crescent, Aug. 20, 1866, p. 1

Who Were the Emmet Guards?

Who were the Emmet Guards? I first wrote about the Emmet Guards here. They were an Irish militia started in 1850. It appears James Nelligan’s father, David Nelligan helped start the Emmet Guards. Their captain at the outset of the war was James Nelligan. Who were the other members and what were their backgrounds? They did not leave memoirs. They did not leave a unit history. But, from public records, we can glean some hints about who they were and what they were. The Confederate service records tells us who they were. Some public records then help describe their background.

The Emmet Guards, as the name suggests, were overwhelmingly Irish. Some of their members included:

Thomas Long enlisted in the Emmet Guards on July 1, 1861. He was probably new to the Guards. He was sworn in by Capt. Nelligan himself. Thomas Long was a laborer, according to the 1860 census. He was born in Ireland. He was 36 years old in 1861. He claimed $100 in personal possessions. He and his wife, Bridget, lived in a boarding home. They were married by Fr. J. Monahan (St. Anthony of Padua Catholic church) in 1858. Thomas signed his own name, as did his witness and best man, P. Bourke.

Roger McKeown started as corporal when he enlisted on April 28, 1861. He was sworn in by Capt. Nelligan himself, suggesting he was a member of the Guards before the war fever started. Cpl. McKeown was promoted to First Sergeant in October, 1861, very early in the war. He was killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). He was a steward before the war, according to his service record. Born in Belfast, he was 27 years old in 1861.

There is no Roger McKeown in the 1860 census for New Orleans or for Louisiana. Indeed, the 1861 City Directory lists no McKeown at all. The 1855 City Directory also lists no McKeowns. He appears to have been one of the many, faceless, almost nameless Irish immigrants in the sixth largest city in the country.

George M. Morgan was elected First Lieutenant of the Emmet Guards. He was a lawyer. He lived at 13 Commercial Place, near the wharves. He also lived in the 11th ward and had attained modest financial success. He was born in Louisiana.

John McMullen served in the Emmet Guards through 1861, when they became Co. D. First Louisiana Infantry Regiment. There was one John McMullen listed in the 1861 City Directory. He lived at 431 S. Charles, close to the Irish part of the city. He drove a cab. He enlisted on April 28 1861, when the Emmet Guards were transferred into the Confederate army. He was promoted several times, eventually becoming First Sergeant. He died in 1864. His service record mentions that he was a “faithful, dutiful and gallant” soldier, who participated in every battle in which the regiment was engaged.

William L. Doyle served in Co. D of the First Louisiana Regiment. He also served in other companies within the same regiment. He enlisted on April 28, 1861, likely as a pre-war member of the Emmet Guards. He was a clerk, aged 22 years when he enlisted. As a clerk, William was at the top of the food chain for Irish immigrants. He was wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). This William Doyle appears to be the person known as “M. Doyle” in the 1860 census. This M. Doyle lived in the Third Ward, very close to the Emmet Guards Armory. He was born in Louisiana and was not married. He lived in a boarding house before the war.

During the war, William participated in several battles. He was captured and returned to active service with the First Louisiana Regiment. He was detailed by Gen. Lee himself to support Jackson Hospital in Richmond.

Thomas O’Neil enlisted on April 28, 1861., probably as a member of the pre-war Emmet Guards. He was enlisted by Capt. James Nelligan. He was 25 when he joined. Thomas was a “light laborer” before the war. He lived in a boarding house at the time. He was born in Ireland and was unmarried. He was wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill. Thomas was captured by the Federals at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He took the oath of allegiance and was then released. Later, Thomas found his way to St Louis, Missouri. In St. Louis, he was accused of talking “disloyal language” at the supper table of a boarding home. His language was accused of being disloyal to the USA. He was described by the proprietor of the boarding house as a deserter. The landlady was named Mary O’Neill.

Thomas was described as a member of a militia in New Orleans prior to the war. In St. Louis, he worked at his trade, carpentry. He was arrested in 1864 as a deserter from the rebel army. His statement at the supper table was supportive of Bill Anderson, the bushwacker, who killed Union soldiers at Centralia, Missouri. Thomas said the Federal soldiers had previously killed and scalped professed rebels. He also stated support of the Confederacy. Thomas was described by a witness as a “rebel and a dangerous man.” There is no record explaining what became of Thomas O’Neil. But, it appears he was a committed rebel, despite his desertion.

The Emmet Guards Go to War

After the election of Abe Lincoln, expectations of war rose in New Orleans, as in most Southern cities. New Orleans had always had militias, as did most large cities. The Emmet Guards were established in 1850. They were the new Irish militia in the city, after the older and more prestigious Montgomery Guards. I previously wrote about the Emmet Guards here. After Pres. Lincoln levied the states for 75,000 troops in April, 1862, it was clear the U.S. would invade.

The Emmet Guards elected James Nelligan as their captain. Capt. Nelligan was born in Jamaica, apparently as part of the Irish diaspora. The Emmet Guards was a prominent Irish militia unit in New Orleans. Before the war, Mr. Nelligan was a “speculator.” Speculators were merchants who traded goods up and down the Mississippi river. He traded in horses. He also bought and sold horses. Capt. Nelligan had done relatively well for himself, for an Irish immigrant. James Nelligan lived at 482 Carondolet in 1861. He was firmly in the 11th ward. That part of town was heavily Irish and German.

James was the son of David and Ann Nelligan, both natives of Ireland. David was a grocer in the Second Ward, home to many Irish and German immigrants. Theirs was a blended family, Nelligan and Lane. Judging by the birth dates of their children, it appears the Lanes came to New Orleans sometime before 1838. There is no indication when David came to the U.S. In 1850, the David Nelligan family had their own apartment.

David was very active in the city. He was a member and officer in the Jackson Fire Company. David served in the Mexican War and upon his return, he likely helped start the Emmet Guards militia. David and Ann Lane Nelligan were doing better than many Irish immigrants.

James was married to Mary Jane Harris, a native of County Kerry. Before the war, James claimed $2,000 in personal property and none in real estate. He was also doing well, compared to most Irish immigrants.

The Emmet Guards were deployed early in the war. They became Co. D of the First Louisiana Infantry Regiment. They served in the Army of Northern Virginia until the bitter end. Capt. Nelligan became the commander of the 1st Regiment early in the war. He survived the war to return to New Orleans.

After the war, James became port warden for a time. He acquired real estate after the war, and owned two valuable race horses at his death. “Col. Nelligan,” as he was known, generally supported he Republican party during Reconstruction New Orleans. He died in 1871 due to cancer, after a long illness. His wife died two years later. They left no children.

St. Patrick’s Day in the South

How did the early Irish immigrant share his ethnic identity? The earliest Irish immigrants came in the 1820’s and 1830’s. They were generally more prosperous than the famine immigrants. Many were refugees from the 1798 rebellion. From early on, the Irish in the Old South celebrated both their Irish identify and St. Patrick’s Day. In Charleston, the Irish formed the Charleston Hibernian Society. The members met every fourth Thursday for “sentiment, song and supper.” Reflecting an ecumenical approach, they rotated the presidency with a Protestant president one year and a Catholic president the next year. In 1833, the Society toasted both to the king’s health as well as and the death of the Irish patriot, Robert Emmet. By 1841, the Charleston Hibernian Society had built a magnificent “Hibernia Hall” on Meeting Street.

In 1831, the Louisville Irish met and toasted St. Patrick’s Day. The toasts of James Price, Clement Kennedy and others were published in the Louisville Courier.

In New Orleans and Savannah, the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew larger each year. The Catholics and Protestants joined in the same celebrations. In 1824, the Savannah Hibernian Society followed a requiem Mass with a parade to the City Hotel lead by Father Robert Browne and the pastors of the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. At four p.m., the mayor of the city, along with the Spanish and British consuls awarded Charleston Bishop John England, an Irish native, with honorary membership. Then the crowd retired for dinner and watched the unveiling of a “transparency:” a female figure clothed in green with a wreath of shamrocks, intended to represent the “genius of Ireland.” Then came tunes and toasts honoring Ireland, Georgia and the United States.

The Natchez Hibernian Society had its annual celebration in a local hotel. The members enjoyed an evening of “song, sentiment, wit, and sociability.” Some less prosperous laborers collected near the market house on St. Patrick’s Day and enjoyed liquid refreshment. The became inebriated and fought any passerby. The local sheriff came and arrested two or three of the miscreants.

The more well-off Irish formed the Hibernian societies. These societies charged dues that tended to deter the laborers from joining. But, the middle class Irish set a different sort of example and encouraged the working class to avoid trouble.

Louisville Courier, March 21, 2831, p. 2

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 60-63.

Who were the Sarsfield Guards?

I wrote about the Sarsfield Guards here. They were a newly formed militia, created in New Orleans for the expected war with the United States. Their captain was James O’Hara, a painter. He apparently had a difficult life after the war. The Sarsfield Guards changed their name a few times, finally entering the civil war as the Pelican Guards. With a name like “Sarsfield,” their allegiance to Ireland is apparent. The Guards included many Irish immigrants. Who were those new U.S., now C.S.A. citizens? They did not leave any memoirs or letters. But, we can find some hints about them from public records. Their Confederate States of American service record provides some clues. The rest of the information comes form various sources.

The Pelican Guards were not assigned to a regiment. That was unusual. They were an independent company. That may explain why they were posted to a floating barge at the Battle of Island No. 10 in April,1862. The Confederates lost a quick battle that day The Federals managed to get behind the Confederates and cut them off. As will be seen below, a few of the Pelican Guards evaded capture, but most ended up as Federal prisoners. See more about the Battle of Island No. 10 here. For the Pelican Guards, the real story may be more about what they did after the battle than what they did during the battle.

Peter O’Neil

Peter O’Neil enlisted Oct. 26, 1861 in New Orleans. He was court martialed for assault and battery. He struck a hospital steward. He was sentenced to ten days guard duty. He was also required to walk up and down to the upper deck of their ship for four hours with a placard on his chest and back that said “drunk.” Like the rest of the Pelican Guards (Co. B, apparently not assigned to a regiment) was captured at the Battle of Island No. 10 in Kentucky on April 8, 1862. He managed to escape from his captors. The Pelican Guards were assigned to a barge mounted with artillery guns. It was known as the “floating battery.”

There were two Peter O’Neils before the war, both 31 years old and both living in the Third Ward, close to where Capt. O’Hara likely recruited his company. One Peter O’Neill was married with three children. The married Peter was a laborer who claimed $150 in personal possessions. The mother or aunt of the married Peter lived with the family. The small family lived in their own apartment. The unmarried Peter worked as an “Ostler, “usually spelled as “Hostler” in the U.S. A hostler was a stable groom. The unmarried Peter lived and worked at the Jacob M. French livery located at 98 Dryades. The unmarried Peter O’Neill lived with a dozen other Hostlers, of all nationalities. The Hostler Peter claimed no real estate or personal estate in the 1860 census.

James O’Rourke

James O’Rourke enlisted in New Orleans, but transferred to the 11th La. Regt of Infantry December 31, 1861. There were only two James O’Rourkes in the 1860 census who were of military age. And, only one was near the part of town where Capt. O’Hara raised his company. That James O’Rourke lived in a boarding house in the Third Ward. The boarding house James O’Rourke was a laborer, 22 years old in 1861. He claimed no personal estate and no real estate. The 15 other boarders were also largely Irish. James was one of thousands of nameless, unknown Irish in the largest city on the South.

Patrick McGovern

Patrick McGovern also lived in New Orleans’ Third Ward. Patrick lived at Poydras and Preyer when he enlisted. His service record is also very brief, indicating he did not serve after the capture in 1862. Pat McGovern was 31 in 1861. He lived in the Third Ward. Pat was a cab driver with a wife and two little girls. He was born in Ireland. In New Orleans, the Irish immigrants had largely taken over the cab driving work from the free blacks. Pat had done relatively well compared to other immigrants. He and his family lived in their own apartment and claimed $500 in personal possessions.

R. Downey

R. Downey was a Sergeant in Capt. O’Hara’s company. He enlisted on Oct. 26, 1861, well after the initial war euphoria. Sgt. Downey may have been Robert Downey, a bricklayer before the war, who lived at 211 Common Street. He was born in Ireland in 1835.

James and Thomas Kennedy

One pair brothers or cousins joined the Pelican Guards. James and Thomas Kennedy, living at the corner of Circus (changed to Rampart in 1852) and Girod Streets joined on Oct. 26, 1861. There was a James Kennedy, a screwman, who lived in the First Ward. The 1860 census does not show a brother named Thomas. In the 1861 City Directory, James the screwman was living on Rampart Street in the Third Ward. This James was the only James Kennedy who lived close enough to Capt. O’Hara to have been involved in his company. James, the screwman, was 23 in 1861 and had been born in Ireland. A screwman was considered a skilled trade at the time. It was the screwman’s job to screw down the cotton bales, so the shippers could squeeze as many bales as possible in the cargo hold. That was very desirable blue collar job in 1861. Thomas Kennedy may have been a recent arrival. There is no Thomas Kennedy living close enough to Capt. O’Hara to be involved in the Sarsfield Guards.

            For 90% of the Irish immigrants before 1860, the skilled trades were the top of the food chain. Screwmen, bricklayers and painters represented Irish immigrant success. One or two were laborers, but the rest worked as skilled tradesmen. None of the Sarsfield Guards appear to have continued their service after the battle in April, 1862. Perhaps they had enough. Or, perhaps, the strain of acting as an independent company, with minimal support, dissuaded then from further military service.

Half a Hundred Tipperary Throats

The Union Army had its famed 69th Regiment, all Irish. The South too had its Irish Brigade. The Sixth Louisiana Infantry Regiment was largely Irish. A key component of that Regiment was a company sized unit known as the Louisiana Tigers. They were commanded by the remarkable Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. Traveling from New Orleans to Virginia at the outset of the war, the Tigers and the Fourteenth Louisiana Regiment, mostly Irish, started a riot in Grand Junction, Tennessee. The commander had to shoot seven soldiers, killing them and wounding another nineteen to stop the riot.

I previously wrote about the Sixth Louisiana Regiment here and wrote about Roberdeau Wheat here.

But, in the heat of the action, the Irish always distinguished themselves. Gen. Richard Taylor commanded the Sixth Regiment for some time during the Shenandoah campaign under Stonewall Jackson. Taylor was a former Know-Nothing. In Louisiana, the Know Nothings caused riots that killed a few Irish immigrants. At least initially, Gen. Taylor was skeptical about his Irish charges. But, during the Shenandoah campaign they performed exceedingly well. In that campaign, Gen. Jackson had to march his “foot cavalry” over dozens of miles over several days. The Irish always responded. Even today, Infantry would not be expected to march more than 12-15 miles in one day. During the Valley Campaign, they marched 20 miles in one day and 30 the next.

In May, 1862, the Louisiana Brigade, which included the 6th Regiment, made an exhausting march to Strasbourg, Virginia in the oppressive May heat. Union cavalry pressed them and caused them to panic. The Irish provided a rear guard, which helped restore order. Retreat is one of the most complicated military maneuvers. Even the most experienced units can collapse. But, the Irish then refused to be relieved throughout the night, insisting they would protect the rear. The weather poured that night, dropping hail the size of “hen’s eggs.” Occasional artillery fire would not dissuade them from their duty. They cried out, “We are the boys to see it out!” This loud assurance “from half a hundred Tipperary throats”prompted Gen. Taylor, the former Know-Nothing, to comment years later that ever since, his heart “warmed to an Irishman since that night.”

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 144-145.

Searching for the Bodies

After the Civil War, thousands of mostly Southern boys remained unburied. Edmund T. Corley, a farmer in East Texas (Shelby County), contributed four of his five of his sons to the cause. Two sons did not return home. He was 51 years old when the Civil War broke out. His means were modest. He owned one slave, a black girl, aged 13 years. One of the four brothers wrote a poem to his mother a few months before he was killed:

O, Mother, twas hate to leave you in age,

When the winds of winter were chilling your veins,

But, my country, it called me – I hasten away,

From my own native state and its fair verdant plan,

…….

But, O, if we meet not this side of the tomb,

God grant that we meet on the radiant shore,

Where the bells of the great city joyously boom,

A welcome for soldiers where warfare is o’er.

Winslow Corley

Winslow Corley was killed a few months later in 1864 at the Battle of Atlanta. After the war ended, at the age of 56, Edmund went in search of his sons’ bodies. He traveled by horse back for several months. All he found was waste and destruction, and the starving, wounded and maimed of the war. Most Southern boys were not buried. Burying bodies after a battle was a relatively new innovation. In the Civil War, only Northern armies took the time to bury bodies of the fallen. And, even that, the Federals did not do well. Countless Southern families did exactly what Edmund did, they searched the battle fields for the remains of their sons, usually in vain.

PBS, “Finding Your Roots: County Roots,” originally aired Feb. 23, 2021

The Sarsfield Guards Go to War

In the 1861, there were few Irish heroes more well known than Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan. He lead the Wild Geese into France in 1692. He died in France, after being injured in battle. As he lay dying, he said, “Oh, that this was for Ireland.” See more about Patrick Sarsfield here. He was a great Irish hero.

So, it is not surprising that the Irish in New Orleans named their newly formed militia after the famous Irish general. As the Sarsfield Guards, the company acted with other militia companies in New Orleans to accept the surrender of federal property from Gen. Twiggs on Jan. 10, 1861. This surrender occurred just a couple of weeks before the state seceded. The company reported a strength of 16 men that day on Jan. 10. Their commander was James O’Hara, a resident of the Third Ward. The cream of New Orleans militias accepted the surrender. The Washington Artillery participated. As did the Louisiana Guards, the Orleans Cadets, The Crescent City Rifles, and the Second Company of the Chasseurs-á-Pied. The Sarsfield Guards/Rifles were a working class militia, formed specifically for the coming war. For a new militia, they had found themselves among some high-flying company. I previously talked about the militia tradition in New Orleans here.

James O’Hara

Capt. James O’Hara and his wife, Johanna McCarthy, were married at St. John Baptist Catholic church. St. John Baptist served a working class area, composed of many Irish and German immigrants. James and Johanna were both 31 in 1861. But, James could have been 41, depending on which census is accurate. 41 is much older for a soldier about to embark on a major campaign.

Johanna was born in Ireland. The census says James was born in Maine, but a later census will say he was born in Ireland. James and Johanna had two sons, and two daughters. It appears they were living in a boarding house before the war. In 1860, he was a painter, living at 119 Carondelet. James and Johanna had modest means.

The Sarsfield Guards/Rifles apparently became the “Pelican Guards” before deploying to active combat. In fact, the newspaper accounts of the day use either Sarsfield Guards or Sarsfield Rifles, as if they could not decide on a name. Regardless of the name, they had many Irish members.

As the Pelican Guards, the company was assigned to a floating barge on the Mississippi River. Most were captured at the Battle of Island No. 10 in April, 1862. See more here about the Battle of Island No. 10. Capt. O’Hara made his way back to New Orleans that same month, April. In his service record, he claimed he was “recruiting” a new company in the Crescent City. But, of course, by the end of April, 1862, New Orleans was occupied by Federal troops. Whatever recruiting he might have attempted had to be very discreet. And, generally, recruiting was very public affair, with daily ads in the newspapers.

Back Home

Things did not go well for the O’Haras. After the war, he returned to painting. He died sometime between 1880 and 1904. He may indeed have been 41 when he went to war. In 1904, Johanna applied for a Confederate service pension from the state of Louisiana. The Confederate pensions were small. A person had to be quite poor for those small pensions to hold value. The Southern state governments had little money. They would scrutinize applications for pensions. In her letter, Johanna mentioned that when James returned to New Orleans, some personal enemy reported him to the Federal authorities. He was sent to prison in Florida. But, soon after, he was released.

The Board of Confederate Pensions was not impressed. Capt. O’Hara had twice been released by the Federals. He had surely taken the oath of allegiance to the United States. Johanna insisted, no, James had never taken the oath. Gen. Benjamin Butler had released him from the Florida prison because a friend interceded. The Board believed he could only have remained in New Orleans as a Confederate officer if he had taken the oath of allegiance. The Board did not mention Capt. O’Hara’s claim to be “recruiting.” But, it is exceedingly unlikely he was recruiting. This unnecessary lie may have been too much for them. And, after all, he was just a painter. The two other captains of well-known Irish militias had successful businesses. Even if those two other militia captains were Irish, they were a step above the working class Irish. The Board could have been motivated by simple snobbery.

The Little Sisters of the Poor

The Board turned Johanna down. She was then living at the Little Sisters of the Poor on Prytania street.  In 1910, she was still living with the good sisters. She gave her age as 87, meaning she was actually 37 in 1860. That does suggest Capt. O’Hara went to war at the advanced age of 41. He and his wife had come a long way from that day in January, 1861 when they mingled with the City’s elite. Capt. O’Hara may have brought home some injury which limited his ability to work. We will never know. He was, after all, just another working class Irishman.

Sources:

1861 Gardner’s New Orleans City Directory

Confederate Service records, available at http://www.fold3.com

New Orleans Daily Delta, Jan. 9, 1861, p. 6, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 6, 1861, p. 5, col. 4

New Orleans Daily Crescent, Jan. 15, 1861, p. 1, col. 6

The Montgomery Guards, Blessing of the Flag

Before the War, the New Orleans Daily Delta was not a pro-Irish immigrant newspaper. The Delta had published a series of articles condemning the Irish for causing all sorts of ills in the city. They were forever “kicking up rows and breaking heads,” said the newspaper. Yet, the Daily Delta reported the consecration of the Irish Flag to be borne by the Montgomery Guards. The Montgomery Guards were named for Gen. Richard Montgomery, Irish born, who served in the Continental army during the American Revolution. He had risen through the ranks of the British army, but took up the patriot cause. He fell at Quebec. For the Irish in the 1850’s, he was a great Irish-American hero.       

War Drums

By March, 1861, Louisiana had already seceded. Ft. Sumter and Lincoln’s levy of 75,000 troops had not yet occurred. But, war looked very likely by St. Patrick’s Day, 1861. The Montgomery Guards were the oldest Irish militia in New Orleans. In the 1800’s, militias were more than martial organizations. They served a prominent social role, as well. And, the Montgomery Guards were at the top of the Irish social ladder. Indeed, they had been criticized over the years for the expense of their uniforms. That large expense limited their membership to only the most successful Irish immigrants.

In times like war, the Irish trusted the social norms they had always known. In 1861, the Montgomery Guards celebrated St. Patrick’s Day be seeking the blessing of the church on their flag. The flag was beautiful. It was green with fringe. On one side, there was a wreath of cotton plants, with the words, “Montgomery Guards, organized 8th January, 1861.” On the other side, there was a wreath of cotton plants, with the words, “Louisiana, our home: her cause is ours.”

St. Patrick’s Day

On St. Patrick’s Day, the Guards marched with their flag from their armory in what is now downtown New Orleans to St. Alphonsus church.  St. Alphonsus is uptown in the area now known as the Irish channel. At the church, the esteemed Fr. Duffy blessed their flag. Representatives from other militia units attended. The commander of the Louisiana Greys, Capt. Dean, attended. Sponsors of the flag included two Misses Redmond, Ann Farrell, two Misses O’Neil, Miss O’Shea, Gen. E.L. Tracy, Gen. Denis Cronan, Capt. C.D. Dreux (Orleans Cadets), Capt. C.E. Girardey (Louisiana Guards), and Capt. Dean. Fr. John B. Duffy exhorted the Montgomery Guards that defending their country with the spirit of a Christian soldier was to serve God.

After the blessing, the Guards marched around town and returned to their armory. They held a celebration with including food and drink. The Daily Delta said this was the only St. Patrick’s Day celebration that year.

New Orleans Daily Delta, March 19, 1861, p. 2, col. 6

New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 19, 1861, p. 4, col. 6