Many of you who know the history of the 69th Pa will no doubt have looked at how the regiment was formed up in pre-war
from the various militia units mostly named after well known Irish men of note or well known Irish soldiers of
high rank.Fine but I find in many cases little is known of where they actually came from, what was the countryside like
they grew up, what was the circumstances of their going to America? Most information and books on these men
are written in America
by Americans and however well intentioned maybe they just get it a little wrong. Not all were down at heel typical
Irish immigrants desperate to make it good in America. Shields left Ireland with a spirit of adventure and Patterson's
There is much information available in both records and books about the various Union and Confederate generals of the Civil War. The ones connected to Ireland have on the whole Ulster Scots backgrounds ie their ancestors came from Scotland then to Ireland and eventually for many reasons settled in America. Not too much is known or indeed written about the generals of Irish birth and of the Catholic faith. America was not in the pre Civil War days a place generally welcoming to the Catholic Irish.The attitudes of the Americans of the time was set by the massive influx of Catholic Irish circa 1847 famine times. Many of the newly arriving Irish with their different religion and indeed language would set the American perception. Coupled with being poorly educated and mostly very poor left them at the bottom of the American pile.
However in this case we are talking of great numbers and it should be remembered that prior to the mid 19th century there was a steady flow of Irish immigrants arriving into the newly opening up America.Yes there would be poor Irish seeking a better life but amongst these there were many who simply looked for a better life though perhaps back in Ireland many came from reasonably well off families. In amongst these would be a young James J. Shields from a very well off family, well educated, adventurous and entreprenurial having traits found in Tyrone people to this day.
James Shields was the eldest of three brothers Charles, Daniel and Patrick born in the early part of the 19th
century to Charles Shields an extensive landowner from Altmore Cappagh Co. Tyrone and his wife Katherine McDonnell from
the small townland of Skenahergny by The Rock (Tullyodonnell) close to the now Cookstown to Pomeroy road Co.Tyrone.
To understand his life history it is firstly necessary to understand where he was coming from and indeed a little of his family history.
Living here and researching the Irish Tyrone and Derry soldiers of the 69th. and often driving through the Sperrin hills and the small rolling hills of south, east and central Tyrone is to drive through the history of many of the Irish soldiers of the 69th.Pa. Vols. and other Civil War regiments. One sees the descendants of people who in earlier centuries were displaced by war and civil strife, a society in which the wives became the predominate family member. Families decimated by the early famines in the mid 19th century by death and emigration. Education would in many cases be something secondary to existence. Survival was the quest. These were areas almost 100% Catholic and still are.
Were there many well to do Catholic families?. Yes some but not too many. Wealth was in most cases due the quality of land and the area of land the family owned. Like everywhere else irrespective of nationality and religion the ones aquiring the most land and property invariably came to the top of the pile. In amongst these families were ones who by land deals or subservient attitudes to the landed Anglo Irish settlers managed to hold on to or even aquire land or perhaps reclaim their former lands back from the forfitures. By whatever means the Shields family were substantial landowners probably the largest in that area of Co. Tyrone owning about 2,000 acres. Not prime land by any means but good enough for a good subsistence. Above all the the family recognised that education was a major factor for success in life. Family history states that a young James Shields received a good education. Probably firstly by a related family member his uncle a Catholic priest a Father McDonnell who would appear to have taught a young James the three R's and also taught him to speak fluent French. Later he would be sent local Church of Ireland school where he was taught the Greek and Latin classics. Here he would also meet up with Protestant students which would help his understanding of predominately Protestant America to which he was later going.
However we know the exact dates of the lifetime of General Shield's father Charles from his headstone at nearby Donaghmore cemetery. He died 14.3.1812 aged 60. He had lived 1752-1812.
As a matter of interest Generals Shields mother (nee Katherine McDonnell) is buried at the nearby Catholic cemetery of Galbally. She died 13.2.1847 aged 68.She had lived 1779-1847. From the dates she would to have been some 27 years younger than the General's father. Their three sons James, Daniel and Patrick were born 1806 1808 and 1810 only a few years before their father died.
The above images would be of a well do to farmer's house of the late 18th - early 19th century. The room were he was born is on the far left top window. In his years growing here 1806-1826 the roof of the house would probably have been of thatch.
I will leave the viewer to read up the many books written about Shields in America. If one reads of the men who became
generals or high ranking
officers few ever came up through the ranks
in the Civil War few ever rose from the lower ranks to much above Colonel. No doubt there were exceptions but
not too many.
Wealth, social standing and family ties played a major part in the officer core of the armies of the Civil War.
Anyway here are a few images that a young James Shields would be familiar with in his beloved Co. Tyrone and of interest to those of you who read and wonder about where he was coming from.
The above chaple was built in 1870 on land donated by the Shields family. The grave's of Shields brothers and family members to the centre right of the above image.
Research on Shields always concentrates on him where he was from, little on his parents and then that is mostly focussed on his paternal line. We know his mother Katherine McDonnell was from the townland of Skenahergny close to the Rock indeed only about a mile to the north of the Rock Chaple. The Rock chaple would have been the McDonnell church and many of the old McDonnell families are buried there no doubt some of them her relatives. Here is a view across this lovely townland in the rolling hills and winding roads of rural Tyrone.
As now it is not known just who Hugh O'Neill was. O'Neil lived 1738-1771. Shields would have been aged 19 when O'Niell
died aged 33. It is interesting to note that when this headstone was being erected at Donaghmore in 1771 for Hugh O'Neill America was still
a British colony. The War of Independence was still a few years away.
General Shields mother Catherine McDonnell Shields is buried in the cemetery at the Catholic church at Galbally near Donaghmore Co. Tyrone. She died 13.2.1847 aged 68.
Townland and parish names in Ireland tend to repeat especially if the name is associated with the nature and terrain
of the area. In this case we know for certain Shields was
from the Cappagh close to Dungannon whilst research so far suggests that the Cappagh associated with Patterson's
birthplace may well be the Cappagh in the Omagh/Strabane area. This to be established (Jan 2009).
The family of Francis Patterson living in the Cappagh parish circa 1796 would most certainly be the descendants of Plantation Scots settlers and Presbyterian. I would be of the opinion that they were quite well of farmers. In many cases if well off Presbyterians were convicted or suspected of having sympathy towards the aspirations of the United Irish movement of 1798 "deals" would be done and the suspects were simply allowed to seek their future in another land, N. America being a favourite destination. If one reads the history of Co.Tyrone it will soon be realised that it is a political mine field right up to the present day. In the era prior to 1798 it was a melting pot of confrontation between Catholics and Protestants, liberal Presbyterians and all the usual melange of political factions that come out of civil strife. There was much confrontation between the United Irishmen and the Orange Order and the army of the State. Whatever the circumstances the Patterson family would find the option was departure to America either forced or as a deal or perhaps under the circumstances of having to flee. From their subsequent political alliances in Philadelphia I feel they left Ireland embittered by what happened to them. They would arrive Philadelphia circa 1798. They would do very well there. Francis Patterson's young son Robert would have been aged about 6 or 7 years of age when he left Cappagh. He would no doubt take his Irish memories with him and no doubt later his father would recount the family history to him.
It should be noted that General Patterson also had two sons who also became Union Army generals General Francis Emmet Patterson and General Robert Emmet Patterson. Both are buried beside their father at Laurel Hill cemetery. Now that we have an appreciation of where he was coming from I leave it to the reader to investigate his life in America and there is much in the public domain.
James Hagan was born in Co. Tyrone June 17th 1822 according to date he provided on his records. Where in Co Tyrone we do not know exactly but it would be a fair guess that probably in east Tyrone or along the Sperrin hills between counties Derry and Tyrone. The name is common in the area as now. A couple of sources suggest around the town of Dungannon or around the town of Gortin. However as now no definitively accurate area.
Hagan's path to the rank of general and a general in the Confederacy is interesting. If we look at the history of the 69th the higher ranked officers were generally better educated and came from families of note in the society in which they lived. Generally the rank and file Irish soldiers were drawn from the Irish immmigrant poor into America and in the case the 69th into the greater Philadelphia area. Men who came with basic reading and writing skills made ranks above private quickly or in some cases immediately. What could also allow a nominally lower rank soldier gain a higher rank (and this a limited number) was prowess on the battlefield. What do we know about Hagan's background to enable him to achieve such a high rank? Why the Confederacy? Let us look at what information is available.
We know little about his life in Ireland. His family either emigrated via New York to Philadelphia or to near Philadelphia where his family are said to have farmed. It is also noted that he received his early education at Clenmont College or sometimes called Clermont Seminary. This college was one that seemed to cater for the upper classes of the Philadelphia of the time. It taught subjects such as English and the Classics and some languages such as Greek. A place very suitable for the children of families of the American upper classes. This begs the question as to Hagan's background. I am of the opinion that he or his family were in no way famine poor or poor Irish immigrants. Looking a little further at his background we see that his rich well to do uncle John in New Orleans may well have played a major part in subsidising his education and who knows setting up his parents in farming near the city.
As to how his uncle John and another uncle found their way from Tyrone to New Orleans and set up their businesses I have little knowledge. However it should be noted that there was substantial Irish immigration into New Orleans from Ireland way long before the Civil war era as there was a large trade exchange between Ireland and the Gulf area in that era. With trade comes emigration and it was probable that is how his uncles found their way there, worked hard and subsequently prospered. One proof of this trade is a family called McCloskey who went to New Orleans from Dungiven Co. Derry around the same time, established themselves in the commerce and social structure of the city and became massively wealthy. However they never forgot their roots and erected a fairly massive monument to their dead in the Catholic cemetery at Dungiven Co Derry. Also the Irish found themselves in quite some numbers in cities such as Savannahs Ga, which to this day has Irish links. In the case of Savannah the trading route between the southeast coast ports of Ireland eg Wexford and Savannah meant that the Irish formed about 20% of the European population in the city in 1860 just before the Civil war. Now we can see where some of the Irish born Confederate soldiers came and serving in the ranks of the men in grey.
Were the Hagan's Irish Catholic migrants as both their name and emigrant path suggest? I cannot really say for sure. What we know is that most certainly James Hagan and his relatives were of the Episcopalian faith. There are a couple of known scenarios here. Generally Irish migrants if Catholic stayed Catholic at least until they married into the great social mix that is America. In amongst these would be a smaller number who looked around and decided that there would be more opportunities if they were to take on the religion of the society they were now in. This was a method in which many Jews and other nationalities with unpronounceable names with numerous "Z"'s "Y"'s even a Cyrillic alphabet into an America whose fundamental language was English had to embrace in many cases a name that sounded as like as possible to their native name. Needless to say a young man meeting someone called Bridget Murphy on a blind date would expect to meet up with a blue eyed red haired colleen only to meet up with a dark haired senorita! Another possibility and in the case of the Hagans was that here in Ireland they came from a Protestant branch of the name grouping most likely Church of Ireland. It is of interest to note that in a biograpahy of James by one of his sons stated that James Hagan (the soldier) was the son of a William Hagan and Sarah Holden. William would not in Co Tyrone have been seen in those far off days as a name much used by Catholic parents for a son and the name Sarah Holden was highly unlikely to have been a "real" Irish family name, more likely English stock into Tyrone (and there were many from an earlier era).
Moving on. After receiving a good all round education at Clermont College a young James Hagan was in a position where he could no doubt find suitable employment in the Philadelphia area or further afield. What to do?
The next turn of James Hagan's history was when his rich uncle John with his business in New Orleans probably made James an offer he could not resist. James was now educated though very young about 15 or 16 when he headed south to New Orleans. Now doubt he was soon learning his business skills in his uncles quite extensive businesses. His uncle soon established James in an extension of the the Hagan business in Mobile Alabama. James would have been in he mid 20's. He would be settled for life?. However things would turn out slightly different for him.
Some time before the outbreak of the Mexican- American war 1845-48 a fight primarily for Texas independence from Mexico James Hagan decided to join the American army of the time possibly leaving his uncles business venture on hold. He was about 23 years of age. The impending war with Mexico for Texas independence obviously inspired him and he joined the ranks of the American army. He enlisted with Lieut. rank in Hays's Texas cavalry regiment in Major General Zachary Taylors army. (The image to the left is of him as a Lieut in the America - Mexico war 1845-48). He distinguised himself for his gallantry especially in the battle of Monterrey. Further promotion secured a ranking of captain in the 3rd U.S. Dragoons in 1848. However his war service ended with American victory in 1848 and his army days were over at that juncture of his life and he was discharged July 31st 1848. He would appear not to have gone back to employment in his uncles business in either New Orleans or Mobile opting to manage a plantation instead. Socially he was obviously held up as a young man of standing. He also carried the title of Capt. Hagan. No doubt he was a young man that attracted ladies of standing and in 1854 he married Bettie Oliver the daughter of Samuel White Oliver who was politically active representing Conecuh Co.in the Alabama House of Representatives for many terms, six of some eleven terms as speaker of the House. Some 5 or 6 years later his life would change forever with the commencment of the American Civil war. He had a choice as many had but circumstances and no doubt belief in the cause of the South ensured that he would use his military expertise in the service of the Confederates.
Because of his cavalry expertise he naturally enlisted in a cavalry unit in the Confederate army. He joined a cavalry corps of the army of Tennessee intially as a colonel and served in the newly formed 3rd Alabama Cavalry unit which he joined July 1st 1862 and fought in the Army of Tennessee. A year later in July 1863 he was promoted to command Brigade 1 of Brigadier General William T Martin's division of the the cavalry corps of the army of Tennessee. For his service with General Braxton Bragg, Major General Joseph Wheeler who had previous knowledge of Hagans ability recommended Hagan be promoted to Brigadier general but Bragg blocked the promotion because of his perceiving Hagan to have some social problems. Moving on Hagan was wounded in the winter of 1862 near Franklin Tennessee and again at Kingston Tennessee in November of the same year. He resigned his commission and returned to Mobile to allow his wounds to heal and no doubt reflect on his disappointment in not gaining promotion.
Not a man to shirk duty to the South after he recovered he had his resignation revoked and returned to his regiment in time for the Atlanta campaign where the regiment swopped from a cavalry function to trench warfare. Promotion was again achieved and he was given a permanent post in commanded of a brigade consisting of five regiments and a battalion of cavalry. He would now see service in the latter period of the war. Hagans brigade was part of General Wheelers force which had to face Generals Sherman and his troops on their march through Georgia. Hagan was again wounded at the battle of Monroe's Crossroads near Kinston N. Carolina on March 10 1865. He was wounded yet again at Fayetteville N. Carolina the very next day.
However the war would soon end and the South lost. Their Confederate money was basically useless and Hagan returned home to Alabama his riches now depleted. He worked as a plantation manager on estates on the Alabama river in the 1870's and 1880's. President Grover Cleveland appointed him crier of the United States District Court in Alabama in 1885.
James Hagan died on Nov. 6th 1901 at Mobile Alabama. He is buried in the Magnolia cemetery in Mobile Alabama.
Notes and thanks to: Information on Clermont College obtained from The Casket and American magazine offering "flowers of literature wit and sentiment"published in Philadelphia in the early 19th century. Issue No. 4 April 1830.
Obituary notice info from N.Y.Times Nov 8th 1901.