He Served His Country Faithfully

Every successful army needs them, the dedicated few soldiers who will undergo any sacrifice to make the unit work. Audie Murphy said in his book, To Hell and Back, that every platoon needed three to four soldiers ready to kill without flinching. That is what he meant, that every military unit relied on those few who were very good at their craft and were ruthless in the execution of that craft.

Virginius “Jinny” Petty was one such soldier. At the Second Battle of Manassas, he was First Sergeant of Co. E, Fifth Texas Infantry Regiment. The Fifth Texas Infantry was known as  the “Bloody Fifth,” because of its high casualties at the Second Battle of Manassas. Jinny Petty was shot in the bowels and mortally wounded. Then as now, that was the worst wound, because death was certain and it would come slow. He was said to be the most dedicated man in Co. E. He had promised he would “go naked and eat dirt” before he would fall out of line on the march.

His messmate was W.H. McCalister. Mr. McCalister did not lie to 1SGT Petty’s family, as most soldiers did. He told the family that the First Sergeant died a slow death. “He suffered a great deal before he died,” W.H. wrote to the Petty’s family. But, his last request, wrote W.H., was to tell his friends that he “died for a good cause and that he was perfectly willing to die for he had served his country faithfully.” No soldier can hope for more than that.

Source:

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade, (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), p. 112.

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

Courting and Singing the “Bonnie Blue Flag”

A couple of weeks later, near the end of the Summer, Clara is still broken-hearted that her hero, “Robert” Wheat fell at the Battle of Manassas. She tries to tell herself that it was a dream, but she knows it was true.

Her spirits are lifted when her friend, Annie leads a visit to one of the Spanish warships. There were Spanish warships in the port, after a mission to Mexico. One of Clara’s neighbors, Zulma Vienne, was being courted by a Spanish naval officer. Clara was charmed by the three midshipmen on the ship. They played the piano and sang songs. Of course, they sang the “Bonnie Blue Flag.” They ladies wrote their names for the officers, and the officers did the same for the ladies. The three officers promised to visit the ladies.

At the end of her diary, her thoughts went back to her dear Robert. She prayed that he and Clara would meet in Heaven. Clara did not mention that Roberdeau Wheat was Christian and she was Jewish. She promised to find for him a robe. And, that remark drew her diary to an end in the late Summer of 1862.

Paper was short in 1862 New Orleans. Clara may have kept other journals, but they have not found their way into modern times. For decades, Clara’s fate was unknown. But, eventually, she was located. She married an older man – by twenty years – after the war. Two years later, her husband died. She re-married again and had four daughters. When Clara died in 1907, the New Orleans Picayune recorded that she left “grief-stricken friends and four inconsolable daughters.” Her friends, said the newspaper, would cherish the memory of her brilliant mind and gentle heart.

Her dear father would die in 1874 at the relatively young age of 58, in difficult financial circumstances. His time as sutler for the Confederate army did not result in the financial success he had hoped. But, we expect his family loved him all the same.

Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 12, 436-444.

 

 

Maj. Wheat Falls

The worst that could happen did happen. At the Second Battle of Manassas, Maj. Wheat fell. The worst thing for Clara would have been the loss of her father. But, losing her beloved Roberdeau Wheat was a close second. Maj. Wheat was a legendary figure. He was filibusterer, something like a mercenary soldier and the son of a minister. I previously wrote about Maj. Wheat here.

The major was a close friend of the family. More than that, he was a dashing, gallant man who genuinely cared for the two Solomon sisters, Clara and Alice. She adored the man for his kindness. On hearing the news, she was disbelieving. He was so brave, so impetuous, she knew. Clara speculated that he may have died thinking about his mother with his “affectionate” heart.

Maj. Wheat’s death meant the end of the Louisiana Tigers, the name given to Wheat’s Special Battalion. But, in one young woman’s heart, Maj. Wheat lived ever again.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 12, 432-433.