When You Lose All Your Buddies

Josh Brodesky wrote a column in the San Antonio Express-News in July, 2017, when the talk about the Confederate memorial in San Antonio was reaching a fever pitch. Mr. Brodesky mentioned several times that the Confederates were fighting for slavery. Certainly, the point of the Confederate States of America was to extend slavery and protect it as an institution. But, did the Confederate soldiers fight to maintain slavery?

I served 12 months in Iraq during the war. We lost a half dozen soldiers. One I knew well. The others I barely knew. The one was enough. It was not just losing 1SGT Saenz. It was the ripple effect on men and women I cared deeply about. Good friends of mine were devastated by the loss of Carlos Saenz. I felt this tremendous concern for the soldiers who blamed themselves for his loss. One death had all these ripple effects on the entire military unit.

What happens when you lose buddies and friends everyday? What happens when you lose all your buddies? In war, your buddies are your family. At the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Hood’s Division saw its first large scale action. At about 8:30 a.m., the Division, which included Gen. Hood’s former Texas Brigade was committed to an assault.

Casualties

The First Texas Regiment, all of 211 soldiers, went out too far. They were too aggressive. It was a rookie mistake, even if one motivated by the right reasons. The regiment on the right and left did not keep up with the Texans. The flanks of the First Texas was exposed. It was raked by fire from three sides, though their battle lasted only about 30 minutes. 182 members of the First Texas fell that morning. No one survived from Co. F. One man survived in Co. A. Co. C could claim two survivors. Co. E had a whopping three survivors. The First Texas endured an 86% casualty rate in those 30 minutes, the highest casualty rate of any regiment in a single battle during the Civil War. Andrew and Alexander Erskine, two brothers from near Seguin, Texas, were there. Andrew fell. Alexander wrote to Andrew’s wife, Ann about his sorrow, but he knew her sorrow was surely greater. Ann’s brother had been killed earlier that year at the Second Battle of Manassas. Ann was left a widow, with a ranch, a farm, a ferry and a cotton gin and six sons ranging in age from 9 months to 13 years.

Capt. William Gaston lost his brother in the same battle. He wrote his father that he would find Robert’s body, or die in the effort. Many men were wounded and left behind. He explained to his father sorrowfully that they had to withdraw, leaving many men on the battlefield. He talked about possibly resigning his commission and coming home to Texas. But, in the end, Alexander Erskine and William Gaston transferred to Confederate units back home in Texas. They could have simply gone home to the farm. But, instead they soldiered on.

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 130-131.

The Emancipation Proclamation

While in camp, when the men of the Texas Brigade had time to write home, they would ask about the slaves back home. They would ask their family member “to say hello to the Negroes.” If the soldier had a “Negro” with him, he would write home how the enslaved American was doing in camp. Many of the men or their family back home owned some slaves. So, the modern reader might expect some resentment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Pres. Lincoln issued the proclamation on January 1, 1863, he announced his intention to issue the proclamation soon after the Battle of Antietam in September, 1862.

In letters of the men and families of the Texas Brigade, they mentioned the Proclamation not much. To the extent they did, it was more about the war possibly ending soon. The men noted to the folks back home that the Union soldiers they talked to were not happy to learn they were now fighting for the “for the freedom of the black.” One soldier wrote home that Indiana and Illinois were considering seceding themselves because of the Proclamation. That belief was probably based on news reports of the time, which were not always accurate. In any event, we now know that no such secession ever happened in those two Northern states.

Union Generals

Brig-Gen. John Gibbon recorded in his memoirs that generals in the Union Army were usually picked for command positions based not on military ability, but based on their views of slavery. For much of the Civil War, the Union Army, he recalled decades after the war, preferred persons who viewed slavery favorably. That is probably less a reflection on slavery and more on generals preferring persons with less zealous personalities. Abolitionists tended to be very zealous. In the 1860’s, as today, senior officers avoid zealots.

Another Texas Brigade soldier reported to the folks back home in Texas that he had passed through Virginia and had spoken with a group of 60 Federal prisoners. They were not happy to hear about the Proclamation. They said they were still willing to fight for the union, but not for the black man. The Texas soldiers believed the Emancipation Proclamation would help bring the war to a close. One soldier optimistically predicted the war would not last another six months. They believed the western states would rebel at fighting to end slavery. At the time, states west of Pennsylvania were considered “western.” We now know there were some mutinies among Federal units. But, by and large, the Union soldiers fought on.  

What is missing from these letters, whether written by soldiers or by the family, was a concern or resentment about the Proclamation. Either the soldiers did not see the Presidential order as close enough to their daily lives, or more likely, while they cared for blacks on an individual basis, for the black man as a whole, they just did not give him much thought, for good or ill.

Sources:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 143-144

Allen C. Guelzo, “Meade’s Council of War,” Civil War Monitor, Winter, 2018, p. 75 (citing Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1928), p. 21-22, 242).

The Soldiers of Guadalupe County, Texas

Why did Confederate soldiers serve? Were they fighting for slavery? We cannot survey the Confederates from 1861-1865. But many letters and diaries remain. In some ways, letters and diaries are more accurate than an actual survey. One soldier, Andrew Erskine, was older than many soldiers. He was 36 years old when he enlisted in 1862. He joined long after the initial patriotic rush in 1861. But, he too felt a sense of patriotism. Andrew traveled all the way from Seguin, Texas (near San Antonio) to Richmond, Virginia to join the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment, part of the Texas Brigade (soon to become famous as “Hood’s Texas Brigade”). Andrew traveled with his brother, Alexander, who was 33 years old himself, and some two dozen others from Seguin, Texas. The two brothers traveled with neighbors and cousins to join the war effort. They paid their own way, simply so they could join the army in Virginia. They believed Virginia to be the likely scene of the significant battles. How right they were.

Not all in their party reached Richmond. One member of their group, R. R. Harriot, dropped off in New Orleans, apparently lured by the sights. How many soldiers today would travel at their own expense to Afghanistan or Iraq to enlist?

Guadalupe County Clerk

Why did the Erskine brothers come? They came from a middle class family in Seguin, Texas. Andrew was the County Clerk for Guadalupe County in 1860. His brother, Alexander, was a farmer in 1860. Neither man owned slaves. In 1860, there were some 1700 slaves in Guadalupe County. 202 persons owned other human beings. Of those 202, 28 percent owned one slave, while another 20 percent owned 2-4 slaves. Neither Erskine brother owned a slave. Alexander had owned slaves as recently as 1857, but he owned no slaves afterward. Ann, Andrew’s wife, would later inherit some eight slaves in 1863.

Patriotism

Andrew Erskine was motivated by patriotism. It would have shamed him to be drafted, and if he joined, he wanted to serve with his family and neighbors, with people he knew. Probably reflecting an extended discussion with his wife, he explained in a letter to Ann: “You know I left you and my sweet darling boys and my comfortable home because I deemed it my duty, and because I thought the public expected me to go. I was too proud to remain at home when everybody in the country able to bear arms had left to go in defense of the bleeding and suffering country.”

He added, “I am acting as all good patriots should act and that although it may seem to you hard that I should leave you and my little boys alone, remember that no one could say hereafter to my children, ‘Your father did not aid in gaining the independence of the Southern Confederacy.” Ann’s brother was also in Andrew’s Company D. Alexander was a graduate of the University of Virginia. Certainly, both brothers had choices other than to enlist. Ann had just given birth in January 1862. Their two year old son had recently drowned in the Guadalupe River. Yet, on they came, at their own expense.

Battle of Antietam Creek

In September, 1862, Andrew Erskine was killed in the days after the Battle of Antietam Creek. Alexander was wounded in his left arm and twice in his side. Alexander wrote home that Andrew was shot in the temple while making a “terrible” charge on the enemy. Alexander explained to Ann, Andrew’s wife, that he had been too wounded to procure Andrew’s body. But, their commander had assured him that Andrew would be buried. That was no small promise. In those days, many bodies were left on the battlefield due to the exigencies of war. The Southerners had no system by which to recover bodies, as the North did. Ann’s brother, Thomas I. Johnson, had also been killed in August, 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He too had served in Hood’s Texas Brigade among his friends and family. Andrew’s father had died back home in Guadalupe County in May, 1862, after a recent cattle drive to New Orleans.

Ann was mother to six sons, aged nine months to thirteen years old. She now had to operate a grist mill, a cotton gin, a ferry, an inn, a farm and a ranch largely on her own. After the war, Alexander remained in Seguin and was active in the Confederate soldier’s association.

Sources:

Hood’s Texas Brigade, Susannah J. Ural (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), p. 87, 130-131

Slave Transactions in Guadalupe County, Texas, Mark Gretchen (Janaway Publ., Inc. 2009) pp. 37, 38, 227, 241, 260.

Bleached Bones from Shiloh to Corinth

As the Civil War progressed, the Union army picked up a new innovation, burying the bodies after a battle. During prior wars, the European armies did what armies had done forever, they focused on the moment and left their dead behind. But, as the civil war commenced in 1861, the Federal government issued an order that each commander would be responsible for burying his dead. Even with this order, the Union forces often buried their dead quickly in graves which were quickly undone.

The Confederate Army issued no such order. Even if they had issued such an order, it is unlikely the Confederates had the resources to bury their dead. After the Battle of Antietam, Matthew Brady took pictures of the dead soldiers. Most of the dead soldiers we see today in his pictures are Confederates. The Northerners had already buried their dead by the time Brady took his pictures. Historian Katherine Jeffrey recounts the story that the retreating Confederate army had rescued the body of one young officer from behind enemy lines, only to leave it lying by the road along with other officers. This occurred during the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and the army was hastily pulling back to Virginia. They Confederate army lacked the wagons necessary to transport even the dead officers to a proper burial.

So, after the war, there were tens of thousands of Southern bones left lying beneath the sun unburied and unremembered. In the North, the federal government had started collecting and burying veterans in 1862. In that year, the federals set up the first veteran burial ground. Prior to 1861, fallen soldiers would have been buried at the post cemetery or in some quick grave on the prairie. But, by 1862, that simple system was quickly overwhelmed. The federal government responded by creating what we know today as national cemeteries for veterans. By 1865, there were some 30 national cemeteries for federal veterans. See National Park Service website here.

After the end of the war. The federal army started the pains-taking laborious process of re-burying the fallen in these new national cemeteries. They did not bury the Confederate dead. The Confederate dead served a different government.

Gettysburg Battlefield

At the Battle of Gettysburg, 5,500 Southern boys were killed or suffered mortal wounds. Some 16,000 were wounded. In the ensuing retreat, hundreds of the wounded were left behind to die a slow, lingering death. Many of the dead lay in the open, to be feasted on by maggots and hogs. Those who received a shallow burial were uncovered by the heavy rains that fell soon after the battle. Two weeks after the battle, Southern bodies could be seen lying all over the battlefield out in the open, under the gray skies. One correspondent wrote:

“Day and night, rain or shine, cold or hot, there they lie. Hour by hour they die off, are carried to the trenches, a foot or two deep, in which they are to lie … and to remain there in continually increasing groups until the parties whose duty it is to come around to tend to their internment. It is awful, it is terrible, it is horrible beyond expression”

The Confederate dead at Gettysburg received a shallow burial or burial in trenches. None were buried in the national cemetery at Gettysburg. See NPS blog entry here.

“In the spring of 1864, there had been scattered calls in the Gettysburg Sentinel to collect the “Rebel remains,” in the name of “a common humanity,” but the pressures and politics of war-time had forestalled such.”

In 1869, at a dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to the Federal dead, Gen. George Meade called for a more respectful burial for the Rebel dead.  As he said, it is usual after a battle to afford the dead, even the enemy dead, a respectful burial. In the end, the different Southern ladies groups managed to re-inter some 3,200 remains to four cemeteries in Southern states from the Gettysburg battle field.

And, what of the other battles? There were dozens of major battles from Virginia to the Red River in Texas to upper Missouri to Southwest Louisiana. Some 450,000 Confederate soldiers died during the war. See Ohio State University eHistory website here.

Wake County, North Carolina

There is no known figure for which or how many of the Confederate dead received a decent burial. Whatever burial the Confederate soldier received was ad hoc. For example, the ladies of Wake County, North Carolina first started making an effort to re-bury the Battle of Gettysburg dead Confederates in 1874. That means, nine years after the war, one group of women in one county made an effort to bury North Carolina bodies which had received a shallow burial at one battle. See University of North Carolina science website here.

Other groups from other states also started making an effort to bury the Gettysburg dead years after the war had ended. But, as the Park Service explains, many farmers did not maintain those shallow graves.  Doubtless, many of those shallow graves had washed away. And, that was just the Gettysburg dead.

Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell conveyed this profound longing in her book, Gone with the Wind. The women of Atlanta fussed vehemently about whether to remove the weeds form the graves of Yankee soldiers, as they did the Southern graves. The two groups were set to engage in open warfare over this issue. Until, the respected Melanie Wilkes spoke up. Melanie exhorted that many women in post-war Atlanta did not know where their boys were buried. Mitchell cited a few examples of one mother who had traveled to Gettysburg to search for her son’s grave and found nothing. Another mother knew nothing more than her son had died somewhere in Ohio. And other mothers who knew nothing other than their sons were listed as missing.

These mothers turned on the esteemed Melanie. They were cut to the core. Ms. Mitchell spoke for Southern mothers everywhere when she wrote, “[t]heir eyes said, “Why do you open these wounds again? These are the wounds that never heal – the wounds of not knowing where they lie.” Melanie won the day. The two groups agreed to beautify the graves of Union soldiers, as they did Confederate soldiers. Melanie reasoned that it was likely Yankee women up north were doing the same with the graves of Confederate soldiers.

Shiloh Battlefield

Confederate dead were left where they fell. The remains might be moved aside to gather the remains of a federal soldier, but not buried. So, advertisements appeared in the newspapers of the day seeking funds for recovering the bones of their deceased loved ones, like this ad:

“The Shiloh Burial Association, formed for the purpose of purchasing a portion of the field, where the gallant Johnson fell, for interring the Confederate dead, whose bones lie bleaching from Shiloh to Corinth, have issued an appeal to the people. The object is to obtain two hundred acres of this sacred soil, fell the timber, make a fence, and plant Osage Orange for a hedge. Contributions may be sent to S.D. Lee at Columbus, or Maj. Upshaw at Holly Springs.”

S.D. Lee was Stephen D. Lee, who served in the Confederate Army. He graduated from West Point. He was not related to Gen. Robert E. Lee. He lived in Columbus, Mississippi after the war. The statement about the bones refers to the thousands of dead from the many battles up and down the Mississippi River valley, from Shiloh, Tennessee down to Corinth, Mississippi and still further south. Mr. Lee helped create the Vicksburg National Park Association which later lead to the creation of the Vicksburg Battlefield Park. Stephen D. Lee died after giving a talk to Union veterans from Wisconsin and Iowa, regiments which he faced during the war. He was very active in planning and organizing veteran reunions.

Only in the early 1950’s, when the number of remaining Confederate veterans could be counted on one hand, were national cemeteries opened to Confederate veterans. Most Southern boys, especially in the western theater were simply left where they fell. So, in the South, those Confederate memorials took on added importance.

Sources:

West Baton Rouge Sugar Planter, Nov. 24, 1866, p. 2, col. 5

Katherine B. Jeffrey, First Chaplain of the Confederacy, (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 2020), p. 57, 75

The Soldiers of Guadalupe County, Texas

Why did Confederate soldiers serve? Were they fighting for slavery? We cannot survey the Confederates from 1861-1865. But many letters and diaries remain. In some ways, letters and diaries are more accurate than an actual survey. One soldier, Andrew Erskine, was older than many soldiers. He was 36 years old when he enlisted in 1862. He joined long after the initial patriotic rush in 1861. But, he too felt a sense of patriotism. Andrew traveled all the way from Seguin, Texas (Guadalupe County) to Richmond, Virginia to join the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment, part of the Texas Brigade (soon to become famous as “Hood’s Texas Brigade”). Andrew traveled with his brother, Alexander, who was 33 years old himself, and some two dozen others from Seguin, Texas. The two brothers traveled with neighbors and cousins to join the war effort. They paid their own way simply so they could join the army in Virginia. They believed Virginia to be the likely scene of the significant battles. How right they were.

Not all in their party reached Richmond. One member of their group, R. R. Harriot, dropped off in New Orleans, apparently lured by the sights. How many soldiers today would travel at their own expense to Afghanistan to enlist?

County Clerk

Why did the brothers come? They came from a middle class family in Seguin, Texas. Andrew was the County Clerk for Guadalupe County in 1860. His brother, Alexander, was a farmer in 1860. Neither man owned slaves. In 1860, there were some 1700 slaves in Guadalupe County. 202 persons owned other human beings. Of those 202, 28 percent owned one slave, while another 20 percent owned 2-4 slaves. Neither Erskine brother owned a slave. Alexander had owned slaves as recently as 1857, but he owned no slaves afterward. Ann, Andrew’s wife, would later inherit some eight slaves in 1863.

Patriotism

Andrew Erskine was motivated by patriotism. It would have shamed him to be drafted, and if he joined, he wanted to serve with his family and neighbors, with people he knew. Probably reflecting an extended discussion with his wife, he explained in a letter to Ann: “You know I left you and my sweet darling boys and my comfortable home because I deemed it my duty, and because I thought the public expected me to go. I was too proud to remain at home when everybody in the country able to bear arms had left to go in defense of the bleeding and suffering country.”

He added, “I am acting as all good patriots should act and that although it may seem to you hard that I should leave you and my little boys alone, remember that no one could say hereafter to my children, ‘Your father did not aid in gaining the independence of the Southern Confederacy.” Ann’s brother was also in Andrew’s Company D. Alexander was a graduate of the University of Virginia. Certainly, both brothers had choices other than to enlist. Ann had just given birth in January 1862. Their two year old son had recently drowned in the Guadalupe River. Yet, on they came, at their own expense.

Battle of Antietam Creek

In September, 1862, Andrew Erskine would later be killed in the days after the Battle of Antietam Creek. Alexander was wounded in his left arm and twice in his side. Alexander wrote home that Andrew was shot in the temple while making a “terrible” charge on the enemy. Alexander explained to Ann, Andrew’s wife, that he had been too wounded to procure Andrew’s body. But, their commander had assured him that Andrew would be buried. That was no small promise. In those days, many bodies were left on the battlefield due to the exigencies of war. A system to simply recover bodies had not yet been created. Ann’s brother, Thomas I. Johnson, had also been killed in August, 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He too had served in Hood’s Texas Brigade among his friends and family. Andrew’s father had died back home in Guadalupe County in May, 1862, after a recent cattle drive to New Orleans.

Ann was mother to six sons, aged nine months to thirteen years old. She now had to operate a grist mill, a cotton gin, a ferry, an inn, a farm and a ranch largely on her own. After the war, Alexander remained in Seguin and was active in the Confederate soldier’s association.

Sources:

Hood’s Texas Brigade, Susannah J. Ural (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), p. 87, 130-131

Slave Transactions in Guadalupe County, Texas, Mark Gretchen (Janaway Publ., Inc. 2009) pp. 37, 38, 227, 241, 260.

Bleached Bones from Shiloh to Corinth

As the Civil War progressed, the Union army picked up a new innovation, burying the bodies after a battle. During prior wars, the European armies did what armies had done forever, they focused on the moment and left their dead behind. But, as the civil war commenced in 1861, the Federal government issued an order that each commander would be responsible for burying his dead. Even with this order, the Union forces often buried their dead quickly in graves which were quickly undone.

The Confederate Army issued no such order. Even if they had issued such an order, it is unlikely the Confederates had the resources to bury their dead. After the Battle of Antietam, Matthew Brady took pictures of the dead soldiers. Most of the dead soldiers we see today in his pictures are Confederates. The Northerners had already buried their dead by the time Brady took his pictures. Historian Katherine Jeffrey recounts the story that the retreating Confederate army had rescued the body of one young officer from behind enemy lines, only to leave it lying by the road along with other officers. This occurred during the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and the army was hastily pulling back to Virginia. They Confederate army lacked the wagons necessary to transport even the dead officers to a proper burial.

So, after the war, there were tens of thousands of Southern bones left lying beneath the sun unburied and unremembered. In the North, the federal government had started collecting and burying veterans in 1862. In that year, the federals set up the first veteran burial ground. Prior to 1861, fallen soldiers would have been buried at the post cemetery or in some quick grave on the prairie. But, by 1862, that simple system was quickly overwhelmed. The federal government responded by creating what we know today as national cemeteries for veterans. By 1865, there were some 30 national cemeteries for federal veterans. See National Park Service website here.

Gettysburg Battlefield

At the Battle of Gettysburg, 5,500 Southern boys were killed or suffered mortal wounds. Some 16,000 were wounded. In the ensuing retreat, hundreds of the wounded were left behind to die a slow, lingering death. Many of the dead lay in the open, to be feasted on by maggots and hogs. Those who received a shallow burial were uncovered by the heavy rains that fell soon after the battle. Two weeks after the battle, Southern bodies could be seen lying all over the battlefield out in the open, under the gray skies. One correspondent wrote:

“Day and night, rain or shine, cold or hot, there they lie. Hour by hour they die off, are carried to the trenches, a foot or two deep, in which they are to lie … and to remain there in continually increasing groups until the parties whose duty it is to come around to tend to their internment. It is awful, it is terrible, it is horrible beyond expression”

The Confederate dead at Gettysburg received a shallow burial or burial in trenches. None were buried in the national cemetery at Gettysburg. See website here.

“In the spring of 1864, there had been scattered calls in the Gettysburg Sentinel to collect the “Rebel remains,” in the name of “a common humanity,” but the pressures and politics of war-time had forestalled such.” See website here. And, how many of those 450,000 were buried? Not many. 482 dead Confederates were buried at Arlington cemetery. Arlington burials started in late 1864.

Wake County, North Carolina

There is no known figure for which or how many of the Confederate dead received a decent burial. Whatever burial the Confederate soldier received was ad hoc. For example, the ladies of Wake County, North Carolina first started making an effort to re-bury the Battle of Gettysburg dead Confederates in 1874. That means, nine years after the war, one group of women in one county made an effort to bury North Carolina bodies which had received a shallow burial at one battle. See University of North Carolina science website here. Other groups from other states also started making an effort to bury the Gettysburg dead years after the war had ended. See NPS website here.

Shiloh Battlefield

Confederate dead were left where they fell. The remains might be moved aside to gather the remains of a federal soldier, but not buried. So, advertisements appeared in the newspapers of the day seeking funds for recovering the bones of their deceased loves ones, like this ad:

“The Shiloh Burial Association, formed for the purpose of purchasing a portion of the field, where the gallant Johnson fell, for interring the Confederate dead, whose bones lie bleaching from Shiloh to Corinth, have issued an appeal to the people. The object is to obtain two hundred acres of this sacred soil, fell the timber, make a fence, and plant Osage Orange for a hedge. Contributions may be sent to S.D. Lee at Columbus, or Maj. Upshaw at Holly Springs.”

S.D. Lee was Stephen D. Lee, who served in the Confederate Army. He graduated from West Point. He was not related to Gen. Robert E. Lee. He lived in Columbus, Mississippi after the war. The statement about the bones refers to the thousands of dead from the many battles up and down the Mississippi River valley, from Shiloh, Tennessee down to Corinth, Mississippi and still further south. Mr. Lee helped create the Vicksburg National Park Association which later lead to the creation of the Vicksburg Battlefield Park. Stephen D. Lee died after giving a talk to Union veterans from Wisconsin and Iowa, regiments which he faced during the war. He was very active in planning and organizing veteran reunions.

Only in the early 1950’s, when the number of remaining Confederate veterans could be counted on one hand, were national cemeteries opened to Confederate veterans. Most Southern boys, especially in the western theater were simply left where they fell. So, in the South, those Confederate memorials took on added importance.

Sources:

West Baton Rouge Sugar Planter, Nov. 24, 1866

Katherine B. Jeffrey, First Chaplain of the Confederacy, (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 2020), p. 57, 75

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.

Letters Home

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is essentially a regional archive. It contains voluminous records of Ireland and Irish history. It also includes countless letters home from Irish abroad in the U.S. Most Irish and Most Irish-Americans today expect the Irish immigrants surely condemned slavery. After all, the Irish had been subjugated by England for centuries. They had even been enslaved by the English on occasion. Yet, the letters home reflect a more mixed bag of sentiments.

One letter from William McElderry to relatives in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim advocated slavery. Mr. McElderry, writing from Lynchburg, Virginia, pointed to the Bible to justify slavery. After all, he noted, slavery existed in the time of Jesus Christ. Yet, Christ, who criticized all that was evil never criticized slavery. He supported John Mitchel, the Irish rebel who escaped from an Australian prison and landed in New York. In New York, the Irish firebrand Mitchel advocated slavery in a town filled with abolitionists. Mr. McElderry thought Mitchel was spot on.

Yet, from Georgia came a letter by R. Campbell to John Campbell in Belfast decrying slavery and pointing to the Bible for authority.

Ft. Sumter

Pvt. John Thompson, 1st US Artillery, wrote to his father, Robert Thompson of Articlave, Co. Londonerry, about the surrender at Ft. Sumter. The bombardment at Ft. Sumter started the U.S. Civil War. The young Pvt. Thompson loved the U.S. flag. But, he described the Confederates as the “rebel gentlemen.” The rebel gentlemen afforded the Union soldiers the honours of war. They were allowed to retain their personal weapons. They were allowed to salute their flag and would then be provided transportation to any destination north they desired. Brett Irwin, archivist at the PRONI, noted, the two sides generally respected one another, more than in most nineteenth century wars. He found a sense of respect and courtesy reflected in these letters home.

Battle of Antietam

William McFarland, born in Co. Antrim, wrote to his brother in Philadelphia about the Battle of Antietam. The young McFarland served in the union Army, commanded by Gen. McLelland [sic]. He served during the Battle of Antietam. He believed Gen. McLellan was not aggressive enough after the battle. He served at the siege of Richmond. He told his brother he “faiced [sic] death on the edge of all those battle fields.”

Brett Irwin, “Irish Voices from the American Civil War,” History Ireland, Vol. 23 *Nov/Dec, 2015)

When You Lose Your Family

Josh Brodesky wrote a column in the San Antonio Express-News in July, 2017, when the talk about the Confederate memorial in San Antonio was reaching a fever pitch. Mr. Brodesky mentioned several times that the Confederates were fighting for slavery. Certainly, the point of the Confederate States of America was to extend slavery and protect it as an institution. But, did the Confederate soldiers fight to maintain slavery?

I served 12 months in Iraq during the war. We lost a half dozen soldiers. One I knew well. The others I barely knew. The one was enough. It was not just losing 1SGT Saenz. It was the effect on men and women I cared deeply about. Good friends of mine were devastated by the loss of Carlos Saenz. I felt this tremendous concern for the ones who blamed themselves for his loss, or who were simply angry and fired up about his loss. One death had all these ripple effects on the entire military unit.

What happens when you lose buddies and friends everyday? What happens when you lose all your buddies? In war, your buddies are your family. Civilians may not appreciate how close soldiers become when they live with each other 24/7 for months and months. You know which buddy does the best impression of the commander. You know which buddy belches in the morning. You know which buddy will cry when a dog is accidentally killed. You know on whom you can count in times of stress. You would die for them and they will die for you. That is what family is. At the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Hood’s Division saw its first large scale action. At about 8:30 a.m., the Division, which included Gen. Hood’s former Texas Brigade was committed to an assault.

The First Texas Regiment, all of 211 soldiers, went out too far. They were too aggressive. It was a rookie mistake, even if one motivated by the right reasons. The regiment on the right and left did not keep up with them. The First Texas was exposed. It was raked by fire from three sides, though their battle lasted only about 30 minutes. 182 of the members of the First Texas fell that morning. No one survived from Co. F. One man survived in Co. A. Co. C could claim two survivors. Co. E had a whopping three survivors. The First Texas endured an 86% casualty rate in those 30 minutes, the highest casualty rate of any regiment in a single battle during the Civil War. Andrew and Alexander Erskine, two brothers from near Seguin, Texas, were there. Andrew fell. Alexander wrote to Andrew’s wife, Ann about his sorrow, but he knew her sorrow was surely greater. Ann’s brother had been killed earlier that year at the Second Battle of Manassas. Ann was left a widow, with a ranch, a farm, a ferry and a cotton gin and six sons ranging in age from 9 months to 13 years.

Capt. William Gaston lost his brother in the same battle. He wrote his father that he would find Robert, or die in the effort. Many men were wounded and left behind. He explained to his father sorrowfully that they had to withdraw, leaving many men on the battle field. He talked about possibly resigning his commission and coming home to Texas. But, in the end, Alexander Erskine and William Gaston transferred to Confederate units back home in Texas.

Why did they fight? Why didn’t Alexander Erskine and William Gaston quit when the worst that could happen did happen? Why did not every remaining soldier from the First Texas Infantry Regiment pack up and go home? It was not for slavery. No one endures that terror, grief and sorrow simply for material gain. And, this after all, was a battle that the Confederates lost.

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 130-131.