Michael Nolan, Part II: Young Irelander

I wrote about Michael Nolan’s background as a young man here. Now, let’s talk about his older years.

In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. The rebellion in 1848 was somewhat accidental and almost unplanned. But, Michael knew something. He left his business – probably a grocery store – took his rifle and boarded a ship bound for County Tipperary, Ireland.  The New Orleans newspaper says Michael was arrested upon his arrival. But, in reality, some time passed before he was arrested. He arrived in August, 1848 in County Tipperary. This was the same county in which occurred the well-known fire fight at the Widow McCormack’s house. This rebellion was almost accidental. Its leaders agonized over strategy. The rebels were quickly put down after the brief fight at the McCormack house on July 29, 1848.  The young Michael Nolan arrived in Tipperary just days later. Michael came to the town of Thurles, which was just 25 kilometers from the Widow McCormack’s house. Thurles was the large cross roads town near where Michael grew up.

Arrested

Michael was arrested in Thurles, a major cross-roads village in County Tipperary. He came under the observation of the British authorities and was watched. He arrived wearing a “large pair of whiskers.” He soon lost the whiskers. He was arrested during the evening of Aug. 8. He told the constable he had returned to Tipperary to visit family and friends. There were indeed many Nolans in County Tipperary. On his person was found a letter of introduction identifying Michael as a “real gentleman.”

Another “stranger” was arrested that same night. It is not clear if the second stranger had some connection to Nolan. The second person identified himself as Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick. He was a “good looking young man.”  He said he formerly worked for the Dublin firm of Tierney, McGrath and Co. at 3 Christchurch place, Dublin. There was indeed a drug company known as Tierney Brothers for many years at that address. The company was indeed known as Tierney, McGrath and Co. in 1848. But, whatever his real name, the second stranger must have had a sense of humor. Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick was a person known in political circles as a dedicated supporter of Daniel O’Connell since 1828. By 1848, the real Patrick V. Fitzpatrick would have been 56 years old, not a young man. It is not apparent from the news report whether the British authorities actually believed the “good looking young man” was truly Patrick Vincent Fitzgerald. Vincent was not a common name in 1840’s Ireland. The British must have known the name Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick.

Gun-running

Michael Nolan was charged with buying guns and distributing them in the Roscrea and Birr districts, apparently meaning the civil parish of Roscrea, which includes the Goldengrove townland.  The erstwhile rebel was released after three months in the Thurles jail, based on his promise to leave the country and return to New Orleans. In 1863, Michael will be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Dublin nationalist newspaper,  Irishman, will publish a touching tribute to Michael. He was clearly well-known to the Young Irelanders in Dublin.

Michael returned to New Orleans and re-married in October, 1850. He married Ellen Hackett, a native of King’s County, now known as County Offaly. Michael signed his own name, as did his surety and friend, Patrick McDonald.  It does not appear that Michael and Ellen had any children.

Insulted

On April 8, 1856, in New Orleans, about 11:30 a.m., Michael Nolan encountered a reporter for the Daily Delta. He ran into one David L. Crowley crossing Canal Street with a man named D.C. Jenkins, one of the editors of the Daily Delta. Nolan demanded an apology for an article Crowley had written about Nolan’s contract to provide supplies to the Marine Hospital. The Daily Delta article had described Nolan as “heartless” and questioned the quality of the goods he sold to the hospital.  Newspaper accounts differ. One says Crowley drew his pistol first, while others say Nolan attacked Crowley with his cane first. In any event, Nolan struck Crowley with his cane several times. Crowley fell to the banquette (sidewalk), and shot at Nolan several times while laying on the banquette. Michael wrenched the pistol from Crowley’s grasp and tossed it away.

Meanwhile, Michael’s brother, Thomas, came on the scene. He pulled out his own revolver and fired a few shots into the air, to keep bystanders away. Jenkins drew his pistol, but was arrested by a nearby citizen.  Jenkins was taken to jail and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. A passing policeman, who knew Thomas Nolan, rushed up to take away Thomas’ pistol. In so doing, Thomas accidentally shot the policeman, named Gustave Laferranderie. All the persons involved were arrested and then released on bail.

The U.S. Marine Hospitals were a system of hospitals set up to provide care to the merchant marine seamen. Eventually, that system evolved into the U.S. Public Health Service. The Daily True Delta article described Michael as a “well known resident of the seventh precinct,” meaning the Seventh Ward.

A couple of weeks later, a hearing was held regarding the charges against Michael Nolan,  Thomas Nolan and David L. Crowley. The Recorder (a criminal court judge) found Michael and Thomas should be committed to jail or pay a bail of $100 each. The two brothers paid the bail and were released. David Crowley was discharged. From then, Michael disappears from public record until April, 1862. In April, Michael is the elected captain of the Montgomery Guards, the most prestigious Irish militia in New Orleans. That year, he and the Guards go to war.

Sources:

Cork Examiner, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 30, 1879, p. 4, col. 5

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Laura Kelley, The Irish in New Orleans (Lafayette, La.: Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press 2014), p. 48, 51, 55.

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 20, 1847, p. 2, col. 6

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Jo Anne Corrigan, “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1853, Abstraction and Realities,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug, 1959), p. 342

New Orleans Daily Crescent, p. 1, col. 3

Brendan O’Cathaoir, “The Rising of 1848,” History Ireland, Issue 3 (Autumn 1998), Vol. 6

King’s County Chronicle, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 2, col. 2

Tipperary Vindicator, Sept. 6, 1848, p. 2, col. 4

Louisiana Marriages, 1816-1906, Orleans Parish, Oct. 17, 1850; La. Death Records, vol. 168, p. 777

New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 9, 1856, p. 1, col. 3

Plaquemines Southern Sentinel, April 12, 1856, p. 1, col. 2

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, April 10, 1856, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 24, 1856, p. 1, col. 7

Michael Nolan, Part I: Future Commander

I wrote a bit about the Montgomery Guards here. But, let’s talk more about their Civil War commander, Michael Nolan.

Son of a Tithe Defaulter

The Montgomery Guards elected their captain sometime in 1861. He was named Michael Nolan. Michael Nolan was born in County Tipperary about 1819. He was born in Goldengrove townland, Co. Tipperary.  Goldengrove was a small townland. In the 1823 Tithe Applotment books, there were eight families in Goldengrove. Each family farmed no more than five or ten acres. There is no Nolan family listed for Goldengrove in 1823. Yet, we know from brother Thomas Nolan’s death record, that Thomas was likely born in 1832. Thomas’ obituary describes him as a native of Goldengrove. Perhaps the Nolan family was sharing land with another family. Or perhaps, they moved around a bit. In any event, the leaseholds in Goldengrove were quite small. None of the individual leaseholds included more than five acres.

A review of Catholic births in 1819 or 1820 reveals just one Michael Nolan/Nowlan in the Thurles Roman Catholic parish. That was Michael Nowlan, born on 19 December 1820, with no townland identified. The other three Michael Nowlan/Nolan birth records include townlands other than Goldengrove. The Michael Nowlan born in 1820 to Patt Nowlan and Mary Maher Nowlan may reflect the birth of Michal Nolan, future citizen of New Orleans. The spelling of names in 1820’s Ireland was always problematic. The old country in the 1820’s still largely spoke Irish. The spelling of names in English was far from standardized.

Michael’s brother, Thomas, was born in 1832, according to his obituary. He was described as a native of Goldengrove. But, no such baptismal record appears among the parish registers. No parish register lists a Thomas Nolan born in Goldengrove in the early 1830’s.  But, there was a Thomas Nolan born on 20 Nov 1831 to Pat Nolan and Margaret Tuohy. That birth record omits the townland. But, the civil parish was in western County Tipperary. Those are the only sets of parents who mention a common father, Pat. It is possible Pat farmed in Goldengrove, but moved to a new townland by 1831. There were various quarries located in the Killaloe Roman Catholic parish area in the 1830’s.

In 1831, a Patrick Nowlan was recorded as farming in a townland identified as “Quarries.” He defaulted on his tithe payment. He was a tithe defaulter. This was part of a movement refusing to pay the tithe. In 1830 Ireland, farmers were asked to pay one-tenth of their income to support the Church of Ireland. This payment was bitterly resented by the Roman Catholic parishioners who also supported their own church. In 1831, a movement to refuse to pay the tithe commenced. It appears Patrick Nowlan was one such tithe defaulter. There is no townland recorded today for County Tipperary named “Quarries.” But, there were a couple of quarries in the Thurles area at the time.

Leaving Home

Mike Nolan left County Tipperary and lived in Dublin for a “few years.” He took the voyage to New Orleans in 1839.  The passage to New Orleans cost about the same as a fare to Boston or New York.  The Crescent City appealed to Irish immigrants, because it was generally a Catholic city. In an age and country where sectarian divisions were very pronounced, the Irish viewed a Catholic city as more welcoming and safer.

In 1840, the population of New Orleans was 101,193. By 1850, the population increased to 116,375. In 1860, it shot up to 168,675. The period 1840-1860 may have been the greatest period of growth in the City’s history. The port of New Orleans in the antebellum years was the fourth largest in the world and second in the U.S. By 1850, about 20% of the population was Irish.  New Orleans was a boom town and the Irish, including Michael Nolan, were riding that boom.

Death of His Family

Anna, wife of Mike Nolan, died in New Orleans on May 19, 1847. He also lost a child about this time. Anna was described as a native of County Tipperary. No cause of death is mentioned. Michael may have lost his family to yellow fever, a frequent scourge of the city throughout the nineteenth century. It was said that Michael tended the victims of the “yellow jack” by the hundreds. He provided the rites of sepulture to many victims of the yellow fever, or the rite of placing their bodies in the grave. The Dublin newspaper does not explain how or why he came to help bury so many Irish. But, certainly, 1847 saw one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the city. Over 2,000 New Orleanians, mostly Irish and German immigrants succumbed that year to the yellow jack.

In these days before government assistance, there were a very few organizations, such as the Howard Association. In fact, the Howard Association may have been the first of its kind in the country. The Howard Association would assign volunteers to certain neighborhoods to provide aid during the regular, recurring yellow fever epidemics. Perhaps, Michael was one of those volunteers. Mike Nolan’s family may have been among the victims.

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