The Andersonville Irish Project continues apace; we have now identified almost 1,050 Irish Americans who perished at the prison. One of the men identified in recent days is Leitrim native Edward Carter, who was around 25-years-old when he died at Andersonville. Edward’s records are also one of the few that contain original letters written by the soldier himself. Reproduced below for the first time, these letters reveal not just Edward’s role in supporting his mother, but just how close he had come to death at the hands of his own side in 1863.

The correspondent that Edward directed his wartime letters to was his mother Ann. Born around 1796, Ann had lived most of her life in Ireland. The death of her husband John in Co. Leitrim on 14th February 1843 seems to have been what prompted the family move across the Atlantic. It is unclear whether they departed Ireland as a family group or as chain migrants, but at least some of them were established in the United States by 1851. The Carters ultimately reassembled around the village of West Troy (now Watervliet) in Albany County. Ann’s son Edward had been born in Leitrim around 1840. By the mid-1850s he was in steady employment as an apprentice shoemaker. He worked for a time in a shoe store in Schenectady, before finding similar employment closer to home in a Boot & Shoe store in West Troy. Like a lot of young Irishmen in this period, he boarded out with another Irish family, the Grattans, and is recorded with them on the 1860 Census. Another of the boarders was his older brother Patrick, also a shoemaker. In the United States Edward became an important financial support for his mother. Later his co-worker Jerry Galvin would recall how Edward would use much of his $15 a week wages to help her, and even the local grocer provided evidence of the groceries and provisions he bought for Ann. It was an obligation that Edward would continue into United States service.

West Troy in the 1860s (New York Public Library Digital Collections)

In 1862 Edward Carter left shoemaking behind to enlist. He joined up in Albany on 22nd July, becoming a member of the 113th New York Infantry— the Albany County Regiment. While Edward was probably keen to serve his country, financial considerations also played into his thinking. Just a couple of weeks after enlisting, while still undergoing initial training in Albany, he arranged to meet his friend Timothy Fitzpatrick (a 24-year-old Irish immigrant chair maker in West Troy) to give him $25 of his bounty money for his mother. In December 1862 Edward’s regiment changed its designation, and became the 7th New York Heavy Artillery. The coming months would see the regiment assigned to the defences of Washington D.C. It was from here that Edward’s first surviving letter was written:

Fort Pennsylvania 7th February 1863

Dear Mother,

I wish to inform you that I send you $20.00 twenty dollars out of two months pay which I received on this day. This is the only pay we received since we came out, they owe us six months and out of six months pay they gave us two out of which I send you the above.

The Colonel drew my pay and after all was paid he sent for me and gave my pay to me and he said he would get me out of prison if I would behave myself so I told him I would, so I think he will release me pretty soon. I hope he will and as soon as I am free I will write to you and let you know all particulars about it. You must go to the Express Office and you will get the twenty dollars it is a twenty dollar treasury note. I sent it the same day I wrote this letter. Look after this I will send you the receipt if you can’t get it without it. I have no more to say on that subject, but I send my best respects to you, Eliza, Andrew, John, Mary, Aunt and Bee and Sarah and the children and John Grattan, James and Mrs. Donnelly and Mary Cannon and all friends. I wrote to Eliza last Sunday and I wrote to you the week before and I got no answer.

Edward Carter.

An 1862 Map of Fort Pennsylvania (Library of Congress)

Fort Pennsylvania, later renamed Fort Reno, was located in what is now the Tenleytown neighbourhood of Washington D.C. (and is now the site of Fort Reno Park). As is common with Irish letters, Edward (by now a Corporal) makes mention of many of his immediate and extended family, together with family friends. His correspondence also demonstrates the constant issues Civil War soldiers faced when it came to the regularity of army pay, conditions that created financial uncertainties which were particularly difficult to navigate for Irish urban working-class families. In this letter Edward also took time to explain to his mother how to go about collecting payments made through the Express Office. This was a novel form of remitting money home, and the letters of Irish American servicemen are filled with careful explanations to parents and dependents about how to go about collecting it properly. But undoubtedly what is most interesting about Edward’s letter is that it is apparent he was writing while under arrest, presumably for having committed a military infraction. Whatever it was, the Colonel of the regiment, Lewis Morris, was clearly taking a deep personal interest in the case. A soldier with considerable pre-war military experience, Morris was described as “strong in will, yet gentle and winning in his manners,” qualities that helped to secure him “the respect and love of those under his command. He was most assiduous in the discipline of his men and unwearied in his efforts to make them good soldiers.” Patently, Morris wanted to give Edward a second chance, but what had been his offence? A letter of a few months later, in August 1863, provides further clues:

Fort Reno 10th August 1863

Dear Mother

As we received our pay this day I thought I would send you some of it. I now send you fifteen dollars by express it is all that I could send at this time, but perhaps the next time I will be able to send you more. I wrote a letter to Mary last week and I did not get an answer as yet. I had a letter from Jerry Galvin last week and I answered the day after I got it.

I [have] not much to say this time but the next letter that you get from me you may look out for good news as I expect it every day. Let you get the New York Tribune of August the eighth and you will see some good news in it.

I have not much time to write tonight, but I will let you know all the particulars in my next. My best respects to all friends.

Goodbye from your affection son, Edward Carter.

P.S. You must write soon and let me know when you get the money. E.C.

You must excuse my bad writing for my pen is bad and my hand trembles with joy.

Evidently, whatever news had been carried in the New York Tribune was momentous enough to make Edward’s hand “tremble with joy.” An exploration of that newspaper reveals exactly what it was. It reveals not only the reason why Edward had been under a cloud for so many months, but the extreme seriousness of the charge (and sentence) that he had been facing. The article from that 8th August 1863 edition, as read by Edward’s mother, is reproduced in full below:

The “good news” in the 8th August 1863 edition of the New York Tribune that Edward referenced in a letter to his mother (New York Tribune)

Further investigation reveals that the charge against Edward dated back to 4th October 1862, the early weeks of his service. He had stood accused of violating the “9th Article of War” which reads as follows:

Any officer or soldier who shall strike his superior officer, or draw or lift up any weapon, or offer any violence against him, being in the execution of his office, on any pretense whatsoever, or shall disobey any lawful command of his superior officer, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall, according to the nature of his offense, be inflicted upon him by the sentence of a court-martial.

Charged with shooting at his company Captain, Joseph M. Murphy, Edward had plead guilty during his Court Martial at Fort Pennsylvania on 8th October, and was duly found guilty of “discharging…a loaded musket, with intent to kill” his Captain. Two-thirds of the officers of the court found him guilty, sentencing Edward to be “shot to death on the Parade Ground, at Fort Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, between the hours of ten and eleven of the morning of November 14, 1862.” As we know, that sentence had not been carried out, but the charge had hung over Edward for almost a year before being dismissed, apparently on a technicality. But there must have been more to the story than meets the eye, given the willingness of Edward’s Colonel to intercede on his behalf, and the fact that Edward does not even appear to have been reduced to the ranks as a result of the incident (he retained his position as a Corporal in Company A). The episode is one we hope to explore further in the records relating to Edward’s military career.

Understandably, Edward was mightily relieved at his reprieve. It was behind him by the time he wrote the final letter contained within his file. It came from another of Washington D.C.’s defensive forts, Fort DeRussy, on 14th December 1863:

Fort DeRussy D.C. 14th December 1863.

Dear Mother,

You must excuse me for not writing before this. I would have written sooner but I was waiting to send you some money. So I went to Headquarters yesterday and expressed twenty dollars to you, which I expect you will get as soon as this reaches you. I paid the express on so you will have nothing to pay on it when you get it. I would have sent it before this only for we were removed from Fort Reno and sent to this fort. So I did feel [un]well for about a week I had the chills and fever and I got cold out of [it] so that’s what delayed me. So I am quite well again and I am getting very fat. I don’t think I can get home until after New Year’s. New Year’s Day is the day we will be mustered for pay so if every man ain’t there to answer their names they will not get any pay, so after New Year’s I think I will get home for ten days.

I am in first rate health and I hope this will find ye in the same. I heard that Roseanna Mullin was dead. Let me know in your next letter if it is so or not, I was very sorry when I heard about her. It is too bad. I will write to Eliza and Mary this week and to Andrew also. I wish ye a Happy Christmas and I hope that you and Aunt and Bee will drink my health and do not forget to do it for I know you will have the price of it. I have no more particulars to mention so I must bring my letter to a close by sending my best respects to you, Eliza, Andrew, John and Mary and to Aunt and Bee and John Grattan and to all that wishes me well and not forgetting Mr and Mrs Whelan.

So no more at present from your son Edward Carter.

Write soon. Direct to me, Co A, 7th NY Arty, Fort DeRussy, Washington DC.

P.S. Write as soon as you get the money.

It is not known if Edward got home to West Troy to see his family one last time. It is to be hoped that he did. In early 1864, the war changed dramatically for the men of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery, when they were assigned to the Army of the Potomac during the bloody Overland Campaign. There Edward bore witness to the horrors of engagements like Cold Harbor (below), where the regiment suffered terrible casualties, and where Colonel Morris was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter.

The 7th New York Heavy Artillery took horrendous casualties after they joined the Army of the Potomac in May 1864. This Harper’s Weekly sketch depicts them at Cold Harbor (Harper’s Weekly)

Edward made it through Cold Harbor, but was captured during the initial advance of the regiment on Petersburg, Virginia on 16th June 1864. He was not alone. The New York newspapers reported how the “rebels gobbled up a portion of the regiment on Thursday night [16th]” telling how “the whole skirmish line in front of Barlow’s position, and consisting of detachments from the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery regiment, which is now acting as infantry, were captured, together with their colors.—They were at the time in the rebel works, to which the skirmish line advanced. Barlow lost several hundred men prisoners.”

As a prisoner Edward was soon making his way towards the new horrors of Andersonville. Within days, he had fallen gravely ill. On 31st July 1864 Father Henry Clavreul, a French priest who was ministering to Catholics (and others) within the stockade, recorded in his diary that on that day he provided Edward with the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction in an effort to prepare the young Leitrim man for impending death. Edward lingered on for another ten days, finally dying on 10th August 1864. It was less than a month after his date of capture. The young Leitrim emigrant was buried in Grave 5212.

The grave of Leitrim emigrant Edward Carter at Andersonville National Cemetery (Kevin Frye via Find A Grave)

The regiment in which Edward Carter served was not an ethnic-Irish unit, but nevertheless, it was filled with Irish Americans. The degree to which this was the case has become apparent in examining the 7th New York Heavy Artillery men identified as part of the Andersonville Irish Project. To date, 26 Irish Americans who died or were reported to have died in the prison have been recorded. Like Edward Carter, each has their own story to tell. Their names are recorded below.

NAME COMPANY GRAVE DATE OF DEATH NATIVITY
Bird, Martin K 12831 14th April 1865 Ireland
Bird, Patrick K 4780 5th August 1864 Ireland
Bodles, David D 4401 31st July 1864 Islandmagee, Co. Antrim
Carter, Edward A 5212 10th August 1864 Co. Leitrim
Cusick, John I 10482 7th October 1864 Ireland
Doyle, Michael I 9142 18th September 1864 United States [Irish Parents]
Dwyer, Dennis E 10077 30th September 1864 Ireland
Dwyer, Stephen H 9716 25th September 1864 Ireland
Flanigan, Edward C 7452 1st September 1864 United States [Irish Parents]
Hammill, Hugh E 16th November 1864 Ireland
Hart, John K 11524 26th October 1864 Ireland
Hennessey, John C 8177 8th September 1864 Ireland
Jordan, Barney E 9582 22nd September 1864 Killoe, Co. Longford
Mangum, Michael I 2802 3rd July 1864 Ireland
McCourt, Hugh G 6012 17th August 1864 England [Irish Parents]
McEneany, Patrick G 9581 23rd September 1864 Ireland
McLean, Henry G 1st September 1864 Ireland
McNamara, William L 9969 28th September 1864 Ireland
Moffat, James C 4121 28th July 1864 Ireland
Morris, Edmund K 4686 4th August 1864 Ireland
Mullen, Charles I 12240 1st September 1864 Errigal, Co. Derry
Osborn, William F 10th November 1864 Ireland
Robinson, Alexander C 25th September 1864 Ireland
Scahill, John L 10488 7th October 1864 Kilcommock, Co. Longford
Waldron, John E 9889 27th September 1864 Ireland
Walsh, James C 31st August 1864 Ireland
Irish Americans in the 7th New York Heavy Artillery identified by the Andersonville Irish Project has having died or having been reported as having died at Andersonville.

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