By John J. Concannon

By a stroke of good fortune, I became involved in an Irish/Irish American book writing project that is dear to my heart.

(Left: "Brothers of Ireland" by Don Troiani depicts the 69th New York and 9th Massachusetts Infantry regiments in battle at Gaines Mill, Virginia, during America's Civil War. At nearby Malvern Hill four days later, Pvt. Peter Rafferty of the 69th and Lt. John Tobin of the 9th, both Irish-born, would win Medals of Honor.)

Since I was a youngster, I have been fascinated by heroes, men who have risked life and limb to save another human, or defied death to accomplish a perilous mission.

Photos below are courtesy of Home of Heroes
John King
Dan Daly
John McCloy
John Joseph Kelly

A colleague, the late Gerard F. White of Lindenhurst, N.Y., and I worked on an unfinished book that would, for the first time, tell the full story of Irishmen who have "won," that is, been awarded the Medal of Honor. The honor, bestowed in the name of Congress, is the top award that "a grateful nation can bestow" to recognize valorous acts in battle "above and beyond the call of duty."

White, who labored in the Medal of Honor vineyard for more than 36 years, was a military historian and former secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. In 1995, White and associates George Lang (a Medal of Honor recipient) and Raymond Collins compiled the premier book on the subject, a two-volume, 1,334-page history titled "Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1994."

The books list the 3,401 men who had received the Medal through 1994, presenting the information in several categories. A "birthplace" listing provides the state and town of birth for those medalists born in the United States and the country of birth for those born abroad. Thirty-three countries are listed as birthplaces of medal recipients. And I don't have to tell you that Ireland is the country with the largest number of medal winners — by far — with 258. Germany/Prussia is second with 128 recipients.

Of the 258 immigrants who noted on their enlistment papers that they were born in Ireland, 134 also provided their county, town or townland of birth. Cork leads the honor list with 19 medalists, followed by Dublin and Tipperary with 11 each. Limerick has 10; Kerry eight; Galway seven; Antrim and Tyrone tied with six; Kilkenny and Sligo each have five.

We Irish can proudly note that five of the 19 fighting men who won a second Medal of Honor were born in Ireland. They are Henry Hogan from County Clare; John Laverty from Tyrone; Dublin's John Cooper, whose name at birth was John Laver Mather; John King; and Patrick Mullen. Three double winners of the Medal were Irish-Americans: the indomitable Marine, Daniel Daly; the U.S. Navy's John McCloy; and the fighting Marine from Chicago, John Joseph Kelly.

Over the years, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has had strong associations with the Medal. At least two AOH divisions have been named after Medal recipients, including Colonel James Quinlan Division #3 of Warwick, in Orange County, N.Y. Quinlan, a native of Clonmel, County Tipperary, was awarded the Medal for gallantry "against overwhelming numbers" while leading the Irish Brigade's 88th New York in the battle of Savage Station, Virginia, during the American Civil War.

Then there's the remarkable "super survivor," Michael Dougherty, from Falcarragh, County Donegal. Dougherty, a private in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Union Army, won the Medal for leading a group of comrades against a hidden Confederate detachment at Jefferson, Virginia, ultimately routing it. The official report noted that "Dougherty's action prevented the Confederates from flanking the Union forces and saved 2,500 lives." Later, Dougherty and 126 members of his regiment were captured and spent 23 months in various Southern prisons, finally arriving in Georgia at the notorious Andersonville death-camp.

Of the 127, Dougherty alone survived the ordeal, "a mere skelton," barely able to walk. But he walked aboard the homeward-bound steamship "Sultana," crowded with more than 2,000 passengers, six times its designated capacity. The crammed steamship was slowly moving up the Mississippi River toward St. Louis, when, on the fourth night out, the boilers exploded, cracking the ship in two and tossing Dougherty and the other passengers into the Mississippi. Only 900 survived, including Dougherty, who somehow found the strength to swim to a small island, where he was rescued the next morning.

Finally, after an absence of four years, 21-year-old Union veteran reached his hometown, Bristol, Pennsylvania. That's why AOH Division #1 of Bristol, in Bucks County, is known as the Michael Dougherty Division.

Although this book is out of print, it is available through Powells Books. Volume I covers the Civil War through the 2nd Nicaraguan Campaign. Volume II covers World War II through Somalia. To buy it now, click here: "Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1994."


Citations of the Irish and Irish-American double MOH winners,
from Home of Heroes
.

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Tags: American, Civil, States, United, War

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