Ballymacoda & The American Civil War

The more research I do for the Ballymacoda History Project, the more I am amazed at where people from Ballymacoda turn up. Among these surprising discoveries, the American Civil War stands out as a topic I never envisioned writing about. Yet, here I find myself, uncovering the intriguing tales of individuals from Ballymacoda who became entwined in this pivotal moment of American history.

The American Civil War (1861-1865), was a complex conflict which stemmed primarily from the divisive issue of slavery and the contrasting economic and social systems of the Northern and Southern United States. Slavery had been a contentious issue since the founding of the United States. By the mid-19th century, the Northern states had largely moved away from slavery, embracing industrialization and a more diversified economy. In contrast, the Southern states relied heavily on agriculture, particularly the plantation system powered by slave labor, which they believed was vital to their economic prosperity. As the country expanded westward, tensions escalated over the question of whether new states would be admitted as free or slave states, thus affecting the balance of power in Congress. The issue reached boiling point with the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, a Republican opposed to the expansion of slavery. Southern states, fearing their way of life and economic system were under threat, began to secede from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America on February 8th, 1861. The war officially began in April 1861 when Confederate forces attacked Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Union side fought to preserve the union of states and embraced the goal of ending slavery, while the Confederacy side sought to establish an independent nation where slavery could continue.

The links between the American Civil War and the 1867 Fenian Rising in Ireland are also worthy of discussion. These conflicts shared a significant connection, rooted in the dynamics of Irish nationalism and the transatlantic support it garnered. The Civil War’s conclusion in 1865 made available experienced soldiers, some of whom turned their attention to supporting the Fenians. A local example of this of course is the involvement of Captain John McClure, an American born veteran of the Civil War, in the raid on coastguard station at Knockadoon during the 1867 rising. You can read more about that in the previous article located here – ‘Peter O’Neill Crowley and the 1867 Fenian Rising‘.

It is estimated that 150,000 Irishmen fought in the American Civil War. It is amazing to consider these individuals, driven by a range of motivations (and sometimes by circumstance), leaving their homeland of Ireland behind and embarking on a new journey to a foreign land – did they think they would end up fighting in a Civil War? Whether driven by economic aspirations, a sense of duty to their adopted country, or a desire to combat injustice, these individuals forged a lasting legacy.

The following are the people from Ballymacoda I am aware of who fought in the war.

Michael O’Brien

Known of course as one of the Manchester Martyrs, O’Brien was also a hardened Civil War Veteran, the experience of which was extremely useful to the Fenian cause. In August 1862, O’Brien, then living in the United States, joined a Union Army regiment from New Jersey. Records available from the 13th New Jersey Infantry Regiment (Company E), confirm that O’Brien enlisted on August 14th 1862 with the rank of Private, for a period of 3 years. The same record also shows that he was discharged at Eckington U.S. Army General Hospital in Washington, D.C. on February 5th 1863, with the discharge noting ‘Disability‘ as the reason, which one would assume meant he was recovering from some injury received in battle. This seems to be confirmed in October 1864, when O’Brien signed up for the Union Army once again – this time for a period of 1 years service in the 10th Regiment of the Ohio Infantry. The official soldier roster for the Ohio Infantry, confirms this service, and that he was discharged at San Antonio, Texas on October 17th 1865, having completed his service.

Read more about Michael O’Brien’s life in the previous article on the Ballymacoda History Project, The Manchester Martyrs.

Entry for Michael O’Brien in the Official Soldier Roster, Ohio Infantry

John Ahern

John Ahern also fought on the Union side, with the 119th Regiment, Illinois Infantry (Company A). Thirty one years of age at the time, he joined up on August 1st, 1862 at Quincy, Illinois (where he lived), and was mustered in on October 7th. He fought for 3 years before being discharged from service on August 26th, 1865 at Mobile, Alabama. His official record mentions that he had been sent to a convalescence camp in Memphis, Tennessee on June 25th, presumably due to some injury received in battle.

Interestingly, the ‘missing friends‘ column of the Boston Pilot (of which I have wrote about previously here), had an appeal for John’s whereabouts from his sister Nora in 1874.

Boston Pilot, Volume 37, Number 48, 28 November 1874

Pat Hennessy

Pat Hennessy was born in Ballymakeigh, Ballymacoda in 1837. After emigrating to Canada in 1860, he later ended up in the United States. He enlisted in 1862 in the Union Army, and served in the 22nd Regiment, Illinois Infantry (Company B).

You can read more about Pat Hennessy life after the war, and his sad ending in the previously published article on the Ballymacoda History Project – ‘The Story of Pat Hennessy‘.

David Costine

David Costine enlisted in the Union Army on June 15th, 1861 in Illinois with the rank of Private, and became part of the 23rd Regiment, Illinois Infantry (Company B). Born in Ballymacoda in 1837, he was aged just 24 at the time, and was a resident of Earlville, Illinois.

He remained with the Illinois Infantry for the entirety of the war, achieving numerous promotions along the way. By the time he was discharged from service on July 24th, 1865 at Richmond, Virginia, he had achieved the rank of First Lieutenant.

David Costine married twice after the war. He died on 28th October, 1922.

Record of David Costine’s Pension Application – filed in August 1887

It is very likely there will be a follow up to this article, based on the volume of records to research, I may find more stories to tell about the involvement of those from Ballymacoda in the American Civil War.

References & Further Information

Thanks to Kay Cullen for sharing her research notes with me

U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865

U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934

Illinois, U.S., Databases of Illinois Veterans Index, 1775-1995

Soldier Details, US National Park Service, David Costine

Soldier Details, US National Park Service, John Ahern

Soldier Details, US National Park Service, Michael O’Brien

Soldier Details, US National Park Service, Patrick M. Hennessy