The 147th NY and a Letter to the Irish-American: Second Petersburg, June 18, 1864



in News and Notes

Damian Shiels, at Irish in the American Civil War, just posted a series of letters from Thomas W. Kearney, 147th New York, to the New York Irish-American over the course of the Overland Campaign, in 1864.  The last letter in the series covers June 18, 1864 at the Second Battle of Petersburg.  Damian leads with the following:

Between 11th June and 9th July 1864, the New York Irish American Weekly ran a series of letters from a young man to his brother back in New York. Taken together, they offer a highly detailed account of his experiences with the 147th New York Infantry during the Overland Campaign. Written on almost a day-by-day basis, they describe the campaign from its opening clash at the The Wilderness all the way through the 18th June assault at Petersburg.

The author of the letters was Irish-American Thomas W. Kearney. He enlisted in the 147th New York– an Oswego County regiment– at Richland on 26th March 1864 and mustered in as a private in Company K. The 20-year-old had been born in New York City, and was described as 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall with hazel eyes, black hair and a light complexion. In civilian life, Thomas had been a clerk, which goes some way towards explaining his degree of literacy. His account of the Overland Campaign appeared across three letters written to his brother from the front, which were published in the New York Irish American Weekly. Given his position within the army, Thomas seems to have had a lot to say with respect to wider army operations; perhaps his professional skills were put to use by some of the officers of the regiment, thereby giving him access to more information. The letters themselves slip in and out of diary form, suggesting Thomas was keeping daily notes, but was also returning to expand on specific areas of his text. Although he describes a number of actions, by far the most powerful account deals with the 147th New York’s participation in the assault at Petersburg on 18th June, which is to be found in his final letter. Much of Thomas’s life both before and after his time in the regiment remains unclear. He may have had prior military service, but he disappears from the records in January 1865. At some point during that month he took the decision to desert from the army while on furlough. Whether he did so because he had grown tired or disillusioned with the fight, or because of personal, family or some other reason is unknown. If any readers have any further detail to add to the picture of Thomas Kearney’s life I would be glad to hear from them.

Go check out the article to read the letters of Thomas W. Kearney to his brother…


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