Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day Post


     First, a sincere thank you to all the soldiers we remember this day, from the revolution onward.  Secondly, I wanted to take a look at the subject of Irish Americans in the military, this being an Irish family blog after all. 

     The highest honor any soldier can receive in the American military, is the Medal of Honor.  This medal is voted by congress and awarded by the President himself to the recipient or in some cases, to his family.  It is given for, "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force".  In the history of the medal, over twice as many have been awarded to Irish Americans than to any other ethnic group.  Of the 19 men who have received 2 medals, 8 of that number were Irish!  If you visit the Medal of Honor Grove in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, you will find there an obelisk carved from Wicklow granite.  The monument was erected in 1985 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians to honor recipients of the medal who were not affiliated with any particular state.  Of the 150 soldiers named on the obelisk, 65 were born in Ireland, many recruited right off the boat, so without a home state.

     The first Irish American soldier to receive the medal was Civil War soldier Michael Madden, born in 1841 in County Limerick, Ireland.  He was a private in Company K of the 42nd New York Volunteer Infantry who on September 3, 1861 helped a wounded comrade to the bank of the Potomac River at Mason's Island in Maryland, and under "heavy fire" swam across the river with him to safety.  In May of 1897 Congressman Olmstead presented Michael Madden's application to congress, and on  April 14, 1898 the record states his medal was issued.

     One of the most remarkable Irishmen awarded the medal has to be another Civil War soldier, Micheal Dougherty from Donegal.  A private in the 13th
The amazing Michael Dougherty
Pennsylvania Cavalry,   Michael was given the medal for leading a charge against a hidden Confederate detachment in Virginia.  The report of the incident credits him with preventing the Confederates from flanking the Union forces and saving 2,500 lives.  Later in the war he was captured with 126 comrades and eventually wound up at the infamous Andersonville POW camp in Georgia. Of his group, Dougherty alone survived the camp, this excerpt from a diary he kept--  

July 20, 1864--One hundred and thirty prisoners died yesterday, it is so hot we are almost roasted.  There were 127 of my regiment captured the day I was and of that number eighty-one have since died and the rest are more dead than alive, exposure and long confinement is doing it's work among us.

     Though badly affected by his time at Andersonville, Michael was able to board the ship Sultana at war's end in 1865 and finally head for home.  The fourth night out, the Sultana's boilers exploded, scalding some passengers and pitching all into the Mississippi River.  Of the 2,000 on board only 900 survived, among them, Michael Dougherty.  Michael did finally make it back to his family in Buck's County Pennsylvania where he lived to the age of nearly 86. Today, the Ancient Order of Hibernians division there is named in his honor.

     There are many more stories to be told of Irish American soldiers, and many of non-Irish as well, all deserving of our gratitude.  Today's blog is dedicated to them and their memory.


  1. Sounds like Michael Dougherty had nine lives! Enjoy your holiday Ellie.

  2. Thank you Dara. I was pleased to read Michael's long-term health and his life wasn't shortened by his mistreatment.