The first time I ever heard of this member of the O’Kane clan, (the O'Cathain's of the Roe valley in Co. Derry a subsept of the O'Neills of Ulster) was
in late 2003.
Subsequent research has proven to be fascinating and is on going.
This web page
simply tries to put together information on his life in Ireland, America and an extract on his war service as Colonel commanding the 69th. Pa. Inf. of Philadelphia in the American Civil War 1861-1865.
The hills and valleys of the Sperrin hills of Co. Derry and Co. Tyrone are beautiful. In all honesty the landscape has changed but little from the era in which O'Kane lived in the Learmount - Upper Cumber parishes. The roads and housing have changed for the better but the population density will be little changed indeed it may be lower than the mid 19th century. Indeed the ruins of his ancestral home still stand in remarkably good condition (2013).The large Catholic population in these parishes are mainly the descendants of the lowland Catholic farmers dispossessed in Penal and Plantation times mainly in the 17th. and 18th. century. These are the townlands inhabitated by names such as O'Kane, McCluskey, Mullan, McAnally.Conway,Stinson, Boyle, Devlin, Diamond, Doyle, McAleer, McLarnon, McErlain, McGlinchy, McNamee, McPeake, McQuillan, Mulholland, Mullen, O'Neill names that immediately catch the eye on looking at the soldiers names in the companies of the regiment. There are others.
Let me try and give some flavour of O'Kane's life in Ireland prior to his emigration.
Most people in America who have read about and have
knowledge of O'Kane read that he was from Learmount - Upper Cumber
parish in Co. Derry. These few details are in the public domain
in America. The statement Learmount and Upper Cumber parish was
the vital clue when I started looking at this man's history.
To the stranger and indeed to the local populace it is still very difficult to sort out just where townlands and parishes are. It is also difficult to pinpoint the whereabouts of the local chapels which may well be known by "local" names and not necessarily as named in maps or survey records. In Dennis O’Kane’s case we know that from information on hand that he was from Learmount - Upper Cumber parishes in Co. Derry. Sounds as if there would be no problem in pinpointing just where he was from. Well maybe. My investigation as to the geography of the parishes led to the following initial information. In this as O'Kane was of the Catholic faith we are talking about Catholic parishes only. The Protestant ones though they may have the same name will in many cases have different physical boundaries to the Catholic ones. It really depends on the catchment area density of the two religious groups. There are two chapels in this parish St. Patricks in Claudy village and St. Josephs at Craigbane which is close to but west of Park village Claudy chapel covers the Upper Cumber area while Craigbane covers the Learmount area. Altinure chapel is now in the Banagher parish though in Dennis O'Kane's time it would have been in Learmount parish. There is also a chapel referred to as Banagher which is also in the Banagher parish. You understand?. Well if you were a clerk in the local post office you would have to know that Park village is in Banagher parish but its postal address is Claudy. Feeny village and Foreglen township are also in Banager parish but they have a Dungiven postal address!. If you as an American have spent years trying to suss out where your ancestors came from in Ireland and got confused don't let it worry you. We ourselves don't really know the system.This is compounded it appears that the local Parish priest seems to be empowered to change the boundaries as he sees fit.
For the purpose of this research we shall look closer at the chapel of St Mary's at Altinure beside Park village, Craigbane chapel a few miles to the west of the village and the main chapel at Claudy village. These collectively making up as now Learmount and Upper Cumber parish.
Park is a smallish village on the north eastern slopes of the Sperrin hills of Co. Derry. It is approx 12 miles from Dungiven. It is quite remote and in the early 19th century would have been served with poor roads and negligible services. Things would however start to improve towards the middle of the 19th century.
The name of the village Park is derived from the Irish word "Pairc" meaning a meadow or field.The village was developed by the local landlords the Beresfords who circa 1830 were developing their properties in Park notably Learmount castle which like so many such buildings evolved into the current Tudor Gothic building. It is situated on a steep terraced ridge above the river Faughan which runs through the village. At about the same time the Beresfords donated land for a new parish church (Anglican - C.O.I) which was consecrated on 13th Dec. 1831. Also a dispensary was built and subsequently in later years a post office and millers house. The Beresfords also donated land for the erection of the current Catholic Chapel at Altinure which opened in 1871. Previous to this and close by there was what would be a post penal chapel. This was probably a long barn style thatched building. This Altinure Mass house was built around 1730 for worship by the local Catholic population. By the year 1822 records state that the building was so unsound that upright pillars had to be placed within the building to support the roof. By 1800 a slate roof was added but over all the building was just a ramshackle one until the 1870's when money was raised to build the current chapel. As well as from local sources money was also sourced from America.
This was penal Ireland and there was some movement by some landlords to shown a more benine face to their Catholic workers. Because of this land was also donated earlier by the Beresfords of land to the west of Park to build a chaple at Craigbane. The Beresfords donated £20 and another landlord the Ogilbys donated £10 towards the cost of its erection. This chaple would like the one at Altinure be of its time a long thatched barn like building of poor quality. There would be few seats and the better off parishioners perhaps had slates to kneel on. Others had either straw or the hard soil floor to kneel on. In many cases the alter would be along the side wall axis of the building.
Now did O'Kane attend this chapel or Altinure? Even now 2013 there seems to be a situation that parts of the village attends Craigbane and others Altinure. Some attend and pay tithes to Craigbane and chose to be buried in Altinure. I will leave this for the good folks of Park to sort out!!
Now which chaple did O'Kane attend?. Which one did he marry in?. As He married a girl called Hannah O'Kane. which parish was she from?. Perhaps from far distant Banagher in which case she could have I suppose made him marry in her parish?. On the balance of probabilities I kind of think his family aligned to Craigbane and the married there. Around 1830 things were improving and the village of Park was described as a well slated village of about 20 families. There was a facility for changing horses in the village as the coach road ran from Derry to Cookstown through the Sperrin hills. There was also a Post Office and a Police station. There was a local school (now the Learmount Center) run by the Church of Ireland and nominally had all denominations as pupils. The headmaster noted in the 1830 census was a Mr. Hugh McLaughlin.
There was also another school at the time at Shanagalwilly which had about 60 pupils and the headmaster was a Mr. Nicholas.
Did Dennis O'kane attend this school. I cannot say for certain. He would have been 11 or 12 years old when the C.O.I school built so I would be fairly certain that he would have attended the small Catholic schools not too far distant. Basically any Catholic with enough education could set up a school in his own home or an available building and with the blessing of the local population and needless to say the local parish priest. Many of these schools did excellent work. O'Kane was in fact reasonable educated in the three "R's" when he went America.
I have circled on the above current map the approx position of the
two Catholic parishes of Upper Cumber, centered on Claudy village- and the lower
section being Learmount parish bordering on Park village and close
chapel. Be aware that to this day Catholic communities basically
all have a focal point within their
parish or group of town lands and this is the
As a matter of interest if you look at the above map slightly to the right of the name Burnfoot are the townlands of Straw and Camnish. It was from Straw townland on the banks of the river Roe that Colonel John Haslet came, one of George Washington's better commanders in the War of Independence. He was a close friend of Caesar Rodney of Delaware The First State. Haslet was killed at the battle of Princeton and is buried at Dover Delaware. On the adjacent townland of Camnish bordering on Straw John Mitchel the radical Young Ireland politician was born. His three sons later joined the Confederate forces in the American Civil War. His eldest son Capt John C. Mitchel of the S. Carolina Artillery was one time commander at Fort Sumter and was involved in the initial shelling of Sumter which kicked off the Civil War.John was killed in the subsequent shelling of Sumter. He is buried in the Magnolia cemetery at Charleston. Another son Captain James Mitchel of the S. Carolina Infantry survived the war went north to New York city married and his son Purroy Mitchel was Lord Mayor of N.Y.C. in 1914. John Mitchel's youngest son Private Willie Mitchel was killed in Pickett's charge at Gettysburg on that fateful day of July 3rd 1863. He was killed probably by shelling close to the Cadori house. He was just 17 years of age. He has no known grave. It is recorded that a note was pinned on his coat saying that he was "the son of John Mitchel". However we shall never know exactly what happened to him. Would he have have been aware that he was that day facing fellow Irishmen of the 69th.Pa. under the command of Dennis O'Kane?. Unlikely. Such is war.
On a lighter note the town of Limavady is the town where a Miss Jane Ross in 1861 noted down a tune being played by an old Irish travelling musician playing in the town. The tune was the The Derry Air or Danny Boy a tune that resonates in the Irish psyche to this day. Miss Ross is buried in the Anglican church graveyard at Limavady. Also note the town of Strabane on the left of the image. Strabane is where John Dunlap served his time to the printing trade. The old print workshops are still there. John emigrated to America and set up business in his trade. He was the printer of the Declaration of Independence at the end of the War of Independence.
The story of most Irish emigrants in the early-middle 19th century is
a story of poverty, emigration, success and indeed failure. American
has had two main wars on its own territory which had major
connections with Ireland though there would to this day be few
units in the American Army, Air Force or Navy who did not have
an Irish connection or Irish Americans with major rankings.
These two wars were the Revolutionary War or War of Independence and
the Civil War also known as the War between the States. All wars have
all sorts of complicated reasons
for their happening but I shall simply give very basic reasons.
In the case of the War of Independence or as the new
American immigrants saw it as independence from
London and being allowed to run their own affairs or as a Revolutionary
war as seen through government eyes in London, a revolution by
the colonies against London rule.
The causes of American Civil War are many but basically
as we have seen so often
when a country throws off a colonial power there is after a period of peace political
forces looking for control under various guises in this
case the freeing of African slaves, the break up of the Union, etc. leading to confrontations.
How do we link the American Civil war (1861-1865) in this case to the good folk of the Learmount - Upper Cumber - Dungiven area.? We will go back a little in history. From 1600 onwards there were a great number of incoming settlers coming into the N.E. area of Ireland primarily from Scotland. This "settlement" was basically an enforced one and the "native" Irish had little choice but to leave their good land to the newly arriving settlers and make as good an existence as they could in the poor areas of, in the case of Co. Derry in the hills of the Sperrin range. The history is complex and was greatly compounded by the religious upheavel in England reflecting back to the Reformation and subsequent power struggles and Henry VII's dissolution of the monasteries and declaring himself head of the Church in England. The Catholic faith was to be suppressed by all means possible including confiscation of church lands and wealth which was considerable. Subsequent Penal laws were applied ruthlessly in Ireland. It should not be forgotten that the English Catholic church was also affected by the Reformation when the Catholic monasteries were destroyed and their lands confiscated. Ireland did not benefit in the power struggles by the Kings and Queens of the era endeavouring to play out their title claims by war. The main players affecting Ireland being King James I, Queen Elizabeth I and King William III
By 1600 the end was in sight for the old northern Irish chiefs. Instead of closing ranks they continued their internecine wars. Not a good idea against a very powerful local enemy. By 1607 settlers to N.E. Ireland mainly from Scotland were arriving in large numbers into N.E. Ireland. Many were in many cases leaving their own country in search of a better living having themselves been under political and religious pressure. However not all were fleeing persecution and benefited by cheap and good land.Many government officers of the Crown mostly from landed gentry English stock or officers in the Army were well paid off in Irish land. This is a complex subject and I will leave the reader to investigate further though I have given a brief outline on my page on Irish history. This event of incoming settlers is commonly and loosely referred to as “The Plantation of Ulster”. For those of you who have perhaps struggled to see where the political changes took place in the N.E part of Ireland basically the province of Ulster six or nine county version it should be noted that so called "modern Irish history" really starts circa 1600 when the chiefs of the leading families of Ulster the O'Neills, O'Donnells, Maguires, O'Cathains and a few lesser families decided that there were better times in Continental Europe, the so called "Flight of the Earls" by boat from the small port of Rathmullan Co. Donegal in 1607. The exodus of the chiefs of the O'Neills, O'Donnells, Maguires in particular.
Though many thousands of these predominately Presbyterian Scottish settlers decided to stay on in Ireland and their descendants are still with us. However many thousands decided later on to move to the newly opening nation to the west, the newly forming British North America later to become the United States. These emigrants would go on to become know as the Scots-Irish ie from Scotland to America via Ireland. Hundreds of these families predominantly Presbyterian would leave the Dungiven/Park/Claudy area in the pre and post Revolutionary war period. From the N.W. of Ulster emigration would be primarily through Derry to the newly opening up east coast cities such as Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Catholicism had not reached the United States until after the War of Independence. The number of Catholics at this stage emigrating from Ireland would be small in number. However subsequent famines in Ireland changed all this. Prior to the 1847 famine Presbyterians of the Protestant faith arriving in America would have no problem in identifying themselves as Irish and were proud to do so. This would all change after about 1840 when thousands and thousands of poor and mostly illiterate or indeed perceived illiterate Catholic Irish would flock to the east coast cities. This is the time when the terms Scots-Irish, "nativist" ie original Protestant Anglo stock and Catholic-Irish would appear. Each side now identifying from whence they came. Attitudes towards the incoming Catholic Irish would soon change. Attitudes in the developing and expanding city of Philadelphia would also change.
There were numerous famines in Ireland in the early 1800’s none too terrible as they were short in duration and after say a bad year there could be two good years with good harvests. However the Great Famine of 1847 would see things change dramatically. The emigration from all over Ireland increased massively. Due to the social structure and land ownership in Ireland meant that the Catholic population suffered greatly. They owned little land and were basically at best tenant farmers on the large estates owned by the landed gentry, mostly English and a lesser number of Scots stock. Due to the great reliance of the native Irish on the potato for subsistence any loss of this source of food would be disasterous and it was. Coupled with poor basic schooling and reliance on the Irish language, still a major active language the famine migrants arriving in such developing towns like Philadelphia would not be well received. This was the era in east coast America when “no Negro’s or Irish need apply” notices were seen in newspapers billboards etc. This was the era in Philadelphia when a young Dennis O’Kane would have arrived. This was the time when the Irishmen in and around the city joined the local city militias primarily for protection. Later as the Civil War loomed some of these men went on to join the forming up 69th Pa. Volunteer Inf. They had something to prove, something to give back to the country that had accepted them.
Was Dennis O'Kane an ignorant non English speaking Irishman of the type that the citizens of Philadelphia would take pleasure in berating and throwing bricks and stones at as his regiment marched off to war?. Not for a moment do I see this.
The school system in and around the area from which O'Kane came from in Ireland was exceedingly good. Though speaking Irish was something he could probably do reasonably well he would no doubt have spoken English with the quaint Scots softness of his Presbyterian neighbours he was in contact with back home.
If one looks at the trades of the Irish immigrants into America the greatest percentage will be noted as being "from Ireland and their trade as labourer". Had he a profession?. Unlikely this was something that only the much better off Catholics could afford as all higher education had to be paid for and there would be few openings except perhaps to becoming a cleric or a doctor. It is known that O'Kanes parents had a typicel tenant farmers holding of about 10-12 acres on the outskirts of the village and his earnings from labouring locally perhaps on Beresfords projects would no doubt supplement what they were able to earn. He was well enough off to marry before he left for America with his wife and two children.
Dennis O'Kane emigrated to Philadelphia in the era when the Irish in the city and nearby towns ran taverns, sold coal. worked in the steel mills and scraped a living in a fairly anti-Irish society. However it should be kept in mind that not all the emigrants were "famine poor".There were small numbers in amongst the emigrants who were people of substance and who perhaps sold their farms and businesses in Ireland and went looking for a better life in America.
O'Kane was 45 years old when he was
killed at the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. This would have him
being born in 1818.
Did all his family emigrate together or did some of them
stay at home? Again we can only speculate at this stage.
In 1818 Ireland was recovering from the troubles associated
with the 1798 rebellion, landlordism was at its height.
The Protestant Anglican landlords in the area where he was born
would have been in total control.
The pecking order of society in the area
would have been the landed Anglican linked gentry, the Presbyterian
tenant farmers and the “native Irish” dispossessed in earlier times.
The O'Kane family farmed 10 - 12 acres in what is seen as high bogland slopes of the Sperrins would have scraped a living and no more.At least one of the family would have had to look for work elsewhere to subsidise their income. Even as late as 1940 the generation of his descendants James, Bridget and Michael O'Kane lived on the farm but relied on James farming, Bridget doing dressmaking and Michael as the local postman, the latter being seen as a very steady reasonably paid job. Another sister Margaret is known to hav headaed to Scotland for employment. Only a few Catholics would own
large farms or businesses. This is basically true to this day
as the greater percentage of the
small farmers in the parishes of the area both farm
and work as tradesmen or labourers away from Park.Education in later years especially after World War 2 meant that all professions were open to all with ability and many did and still do take advantage of this. However others had and still have very entrepreneurial abilities.
In the mid 19th. century the greater percentage of the Catholic
population would have been living at
subsistence level. This was the era when the local
landlord could be
ruthless and if anyone fell behind in rents then
the bailiff would soon arrive and eviction would be
the result. Some landlords choose a slightly
different method of what was a "benine" eviction
by paying the passage of a family or perhaps a
group of people in a townland he wanted cleared
to graze extra sheep on to go off to America, Australia or
wherever they could reach.
Growing up in the townlands and parishes of Learmount and Upper Cumber O'Kane's close friends would most certainly have been nearly 100% Catholic.
There would be little contact except perhaps in some of the "mixed" National schools
with the smaller Protestant population
in this area.
To receive education however minimal it had to be paid for and parents were expected to help with the funding. Though by today’s standards these
schools could be seen as very basic they achieved incredible results
and the ability to teach the students to do arithmetic, read and write would be their
main achievement. However if the parents of the children were so poor
that they could not give support money to the schools or if the
children were needed to work to help the family survive then that
was a different story and many children never did get a good basic
education. The image above left is of what was Learmount National school built about 1831 probably under the patronage of the Beresford family. It was erected just outside the main gates of the Learmount church itself erected by the Beresford family. It catered for both Catholic and non-Catholic students. O'Kane was born 1818 as accurately as can be established so by 1830-31 he would have been aged 11 or 12 years of age by 1830. It would be reasonable to assume that there must have been an earlier school perhaps on the site or another site in the village. O'Kane however did not emigrate until he was about 22 and a married man with two children. He may well have worked as a labourer on local farms or on the building of Learmount castle or a mix of farming and labouring but it had to be local there was no transport as we know it now. Did he when he arrived in Philadelphia with his wife and two children opt for extra education? Possibly but I don't really think so life was about getting established with his tavern business. So again we go back to the exceptional ability of the school system in the Ireland of his time.
A young Dennis O’Kane growing up between 1818 and 1840 when he emigrated would see an Ireland of grinding poverty. He would have seen scores of his neighbours emigrating mostly to America and particularly to Philadelphia. Emigration would be mostly through the nearby port of Derry though some went to America via Belfast and Liverpool. This would be the era when “the letter from Amerikay” was eagerly awaited bringing news of previous emigrants and perhaps more importantly money and perhaps the fare to the New World and a chance of a better future. It was fairly common for a member of a family to go to America or perhaps Australia or New Zealand and establish themselves and then start funding their family back home sending their passage-out money. This was the era when after the American and N. Atlantic winter the Spring sailing to Philadelphia from Derry was eagerly awaited. The fare would have been about £4. In 1834 some 123 families emigrated from the area he lived in to America, and this was before the 1847 famine! In 1847 the year of the Great famine "An Gorta Mor" some 12,000 families emigrated from Co. Derry. Not all made it to America or Canada and thousands died in Ireland. Very few graveyards in the old chapels of Co. Derry would not have areas dedicated to burial areas for the famine dead.
The famine memorial on the left is to those who did not make it in one small part of Co. Derry. It has been erected in the graveyard of Glen chaple close to Maghera in Co. Derry on the site of the burial pit of the famine victims.
The memorial in the shape of a large Celtic Cross was erected by the local branch of the Glen A.O.H. Div 367 in 1995.
If he contemplated migration O'Kane would probably contact the local emigrant agent in nearby Dungiven run by a Mr. Mitchel who was agent for the firm of Cooks in Derry. Many ships sailing from Derry were owned by a company called McCorkells. An example of such a vessel on the N. American passenger trade in this era was the Hannah Crooker which sailed from Derry to Philadelphia on May 6th 1853. She was 499 tons and carried 250 passengers! Perhaps this illustrates the awfullness of the journey across the N. Atlantic and why so few came back!.
Dennis is noted as being married before he left and had two girls Mary and Sarah born in Ireland and a third daughter Hannah born in Philadelphia. He probably would have married circa 1835. His wife named as Hannah Kane. Because there were so many people of the same name surname in the area is was very common for an O'Kane or Kane to marry an O'Kane or Kane. This is the case to this day. Because of the related history over the generations this has in many cases caused problems due to intermarriage with close blood relatives. In many cases unknowlingly.
Derry port apart from acting as the "funnel" port of emigration to America from Co. Derry also catered for emigrants from Co. Donegal and Tyrone and this is a point to remember when tracing your ancestral paths.
When did he arrive in America?. It is known that the O'Kane family were members of St Pauls Church in Philadelphia by 1844. The Phikladelphia he was arriving in had many problems that so resembled some of the religious-political ones that he was familiar with back home. The history of Philadelphia is one of confrontation between the "original" American immigrants of the Protestant faith seeing themselves as the "real" Americans or "native" Americans and the incoming Irish Catholic immigrants flooding into the city.There could be trouble and there was. Many confrotations would take place in the years from 1823 onwards.Some of the better recorded would be the Railroad and Weaver riots. Perhaps one of the most notable riots having their source in the use of the school bibles. The King James bible (Protestant) and the Douay bible the Catholic version. The city fathers insisting that the King James version be used in Catholic schools. It was into this maelstrom that a young Dennis O'Kane arrived to seek his fortune.
Dennis O'Kanes daughter Hannah was born 17th March 1844 and baptised in St Pauls on March 29th 1844 by Father Sheridan and the baptismal sponsores were a John O'Neill and a Sarah O'Kane. O'Kane would have been in Philadelphia during the 1847 famine and witnessed the thousands of Irish streaming into Philadelphia and the other east coast ports and also into Quebec in Canada. The name of Grosse Isle would soon be known to the Irish. What he would have been hearing from Ireland was very distressing. No doubt money was being despatched by him and his brother to relatives back home for their survival. It is known that Dennis O'Kane is named as Dennis O. Kane in the Philadelphia Public Ledger in 1850.
In the Federal 1860 census for Penn. it shows the following.
Dennis O'Kane m. aged 41 born in Ireland. Tavern keeper.He was recorded as being worth $300.
Hannah f. (his wife) aged 37 born in Ireland.
Mary f. aged 19 born in Ireland. Milliner.
Sarah f. aged 18 born in Ireland. Saleswoman.
Hannah f. aged 14 born in Penn. 17th March 1844. Baptised St Pauls church 29th March 1844.
It is very interesting to note that he is named as a tavern keeper.
The above 1860 Federal census throws up some very interesting information on the situation Dennis O'Kane and his wife were in before they left Ireland. Mary his 1st child aged 19 in 1860 would have been born in Ireland in 1841. His next child Sarah aged 18 was born in Ireland in 1842. The third child Hannah was born in Philadelphia March 14th 1844. The circumstances of their departure are put into perspective by these dates. Dennis and Hannah O'Kane left Ireland with two children aged 1 and 2 and possible his wife pregnant to take the perilious journey from their home at Park Co. Derry to Philadelphia. Firstly by coach to Derry to join a sailing ship for the perilious voyage to America with five or six weeks on the N. Atlantic. The window year seems to be 1843 from an Ireland in dire circumstances and the infamous "Black 47" famine just around the corner. This looks like the family in very bad circumstances their escape was America. They would never return like so many others. However in Philadelphia their quality of life would soon improve and in 1844 their new daughter Hannah was born in March 17th 1844.
There is also another very interesting entry is found in the 1860 records.
In Philadelphia's 8 Ward. microfilm Series M653 Roll 1158 Page 188 there is an entry:
John O'Kane m. 38 b. Ireland, Occ. bottler b. Ireland. He is recorded as being worth $2,000. He was the the well off member of the extended family.
Margaret f. 39 b Ireland.
Mary A .f 14 b Penna. John m. 12 b Penna.
Margaret f. 10 b Penna.
Henry m. 9 b Penna.
Charlotte f. 6 b Penna.
Joseph m. 5 mths b Penna.
Michael Maroney m. 28 b Ireland.
Henry O'Kane m. 22 bottler b Ireland.
This is a very interesting entry. John is listed as a bottler. John would have been born in 1822 in Ireland. He was therefore 2 years younger than brother Dennis. All his children were born in Philadelphia. The oldest is Mary aged 14 in 1860. Thus we know John was in Philadelphia by 1846 aged 24. As to who Henry was we do not know what we do know that Henry is a name used by the O'Kanes a lot. He could have been a nephew of the family from back home and brought to the States with the two brothers. As to who Michael Maroney was it is likely he was perhaps a bar tender who lived with the family. This is not a typical Co. Derry surname. Looking at the above information one scenario was that both Dennis and his Irish born children left along with John and his wife Margaret as yet without a family together or shortly after each other. Personally I feel all together.
In the 1861 McElroy's Guide to Philadelphia there are the following entries:
O'Kane Dennis Restaurant 226 S. 10th.
O'Kane John Tavern 615 6th.
O'Kane John Bottler 215 Quince St.
It is noted that in the old city center in the Philadelphia of the mid 19th. century 615 6th. and 215 Quince St. were within blocks of each other and 226 S. 10th. was a block away from 215 Quince St. What are the deductions from the above information. Quite a lot really. Lets assume that both brothers were in Philadelphia circa 1846. It is just possible they already had relatives there to get them " started" in their new lives. What we do know however that in the period between about 1846 and 1860 Dennis and John had got themselves well established. Dennis with his tavern and John with his bottling business. I would not differentiate too much between a tavern and a bottling business. It is known that John and Dennis each had their own distinctive glass ale bottles with their initials on them.
Not too long after they arrived I feel that Dennis and John to a lesser extent got involved in the political scenario of the time. To me it suggests that joining up in Irish militias springing up in the city could reap rewards, not too much financial award but kudos and contacts and no doubt militia men would find their way to share a few whiskies in the O'Kane taverns. Politics would be the order of the day especially the incessant news coming in from famine and post famine Ireland. From reports on the events back home there would be a lot of anger and bitterness. This was a very politically aware society and news from and about Ireland was probably coming in in the main to the Irish taverns in the city. Finding Dennis in a local militia is understandable. Again as to why he took this line I don't really fully understand. He would be powerless to do much directly about Ireland but there could just be political clout against British rule in Ireland which could reflect through such organisations as the Fenian movement very active at the time. Dennis's joining an "Irish" ethos local militia unit would also help protect against the anti Irish "Nativist" Americans. There were also advantages in the O'Kane brothers trading circumstances possible having Irish based political groups meeting in their taverns and that could boost their trade. A couple of others in the 69th like O'Kane would go on to become officers in the 69th. were tavern keepers in Philadelphia. Major Duffy also of the 69th Pa comes to mind. Men such as Major Duffy and Lieut. Lovett of the 69th Pa had been tavern keepers before the war. Lovett ( from Omagh Co. Tyrone) became notable more for his exploits after his service in the 69th. as a Lieut. Wounded badly on the 30th. June 1862 he ended up in a VCR unit. As a member of this group he arrested Dr. Samuel Mudd who had set the broken leg of J. W. Booth after he Booth had killed President Lincoln.
Back home in Ireland the emigration posters in the shop windows of Park and Dungiven would have been a common sight to O'Kane. In Philadelphia similar posters would be seen but with very different agendas, the recruiting posters for the various units for the upcoming Civil War. They promised a lot, pay and rations when enrolled. Serving with units in which there were many Irishmen and many Irishmen in the officer ranks. No doubt many young Irishmen arriving in Philadelphia were influenced by them. Records show O'Kane as being in the Irish Volunteers by 1850 rising to Lieut rank and by 1855 being Captain of his Company. It is known that the business that Dennis was running in Quince St. ( the name of ownership seems to vary so I assume the brother were joint owners of both the tavern, restaurant and bottling businesses ).Dennis transferred his business share to his brother John in 1859 as the Civil War threatened. Whether on a managerial basis or a full ownership we cannot be sure. However this most certainly flags up that Dennis was making a full time committment to soldiering. However did he realise in 1859 that he might be required to do a little more serious soldiering that than expected in the local Militias?. The Civil War was not too far down the line.
In the newspaper The Irish American of 4th Dec. 1852 we see an entry which states.
"The Second Regiment of Philadelphia Volunteers consists of six companies five of which are Irish. The 1st. Company which has amongst it members Capt. P. W. Conroy, Lieuts. D. O'Keane, M. O'Keane, and Orderly Sergeant John O'Keane.....etc." The name would most certainly be O'Kane.
In 1860 O'Kane was elected as a major in the 2nd. Regiment of the Philadelphia County Militia. He was elected unopposed to the rank. He was moving up the ranks.
Dennis left the Irish Volunteers in 1860 having handed over company to James Duffy and moved on to Captain the Emmett Guards. He helped reorganise the two new militia companies.
By April 1861 he was a major in the 24th Pa and by Aug. 1861 was Lt. Colonel being promoted full colonel by Dec 1862. Dennis would appear to have developed a liking for soldiering for whatever reason either with the high principle of giving something back to his adopted country or perhaps for the pecuniary award or perhaps he liked the life style. However things were getting more serious and recruiting " patriotic" adverts such as the example shown above would soon be appearing. This one by no less a person than Joshua Owen of the 24th Regt. who would later command the forming up 69th. This notice in the Irish American31st Aug. 1861.
I am aware that any Irish tavern owners in the Philadelphia area would in those days have had political clout and be heavily supportive of the Democratic Party. If any of these tavern owners were young enough, well enough educated and enthusastic for military service they could no doubt get enough votes to get officer rank fairly quickly. It was a slightly different system to that of the British Army of that period when commissions could be bought.
O'Kane was never a wealthy man and is noted in the 1860 census as being worth $300. I am not sure of this is the assets of Dennis or John or was it their combined wealth. Be aware that Dennis have passed his business to John in 1859. Was it Dennis's wealth as then minus his own assets?. I feel it might just have been. I think John was by this time the one who was financially much stronger. However we will never really know.
At a time the O'Kanes were bottling their own liquor having bottles manufactured with the name O'Kane embossed on the bottles. The image on the left is very interesting. It is a bottle marked: J. O. KANE and the line underneath PHILAD. Dennis also had his own bottles manufactured with D.O'Kane embossed on them. As a matter of interest this was a practice in Ireland even up to the mid 1950's for a pub owner to have bottles embossed with their names. A lot of the more successful pub owners would have taken great pride in their embossed bottles. It had a kind of status up to the late 1940's. Later as costs rose they simply used their own stick on labels. The image to the right is of a label used by a well known watering hole on the Derry - Donegal border in 1951, McGurk's bar in Carrigans. The brand of the brew will be well known to many of you! I digress!!
Dennis O'Kane was soon to be involved in the Civil War ending up as Colonel of the 69th. Pa. Volunteers. I will leave the reader to follow the numerous accounts of this regiment. Colonel O'Kane was noted as being a hard nosed military man who probably treated his men fairly but did expect discipline and bravery in battle. A very proud unit that gave great service to the Union Army. But war is a dangerous business.
Colonel Dennis O'Kane was shot on the morning of July 3rd 1863 defending the Union Lines on Cemetery Hill against the famous Picketts charge. He died the following morning 4th July 1863. Willie Mitchel son of the Young Irelander John Mitchel was killed in Picketts charge on the 3rd. Willie was just 17 years of age a Confederate soldier and a standard bearer in the S. Carolina Infantry.
Colonel O'Kane was buried in a corner of The Old Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia on 9th. July 1863. A Father Michael Fox Martin who came from Beragh Co. Tyrone said the funeral Mass for Colonel Dennis O'Kane. Father Martin had been chaplain to the 69th Pa. and had joined the regiment on the same day as O'Kane and had just returned from serving with the 69th - he had been discharged on a surgeons certificate on June 19th. 1862. He most certainly was known to Colonel O’Kane.
Col.Dennis O'Kane's grave lay unmarked until 1991 when a young U.S. Navy man called Bill Rose who was interested in re-enacting mainly Irish units and their history got involved. Noticing the 69th Pa Infantry plinth at Gettysburg on a visit there he got interested in their history. This subsequently led him to be in contact with both Mike Kane and Brian Pohanka both established Irish and Civil War historians. Needles to say this led him try and find out where the old officers and soldiers were buried. One of his most important initial find was that Col. Dennis O'Kane lay in an ummarked grave in the Old Cathedral cemetery in Philadelphia. This was quickly rectified and sometime mid 1991 Bill Rose and his now fellow re-enactors of the 28th Pa Infantry laid a stone marker on his grave and fired a volley of shots over his grave to his memory. Subesquently Bill moved on and the current 69th Pa. group evolved and do an excellent job both in re-enacting but also and very importantly linking into historical research of the regiment.
Colonel Dennis O'Kane's funeral was recorded in the Catholic Herald Visitor of
18th. July 1863. Here is a transcript of the article.
The funeral of Col. Dennis O'Kane, of the 69th regiment,
who fell at Gettysburg, took place on Thursday morning,
9th. Inst. from his late residence, No. 575 Florida Street.
It was attended by many officers of the First Division P. V.
and a large concourse of friends, preceded by Beck's Brass Band.
The following named officers officiated as pallbearers.
General John D. Miles.
Colonels W. D. Lewisand Turner G. Morehead.
Lieutenant Colonel James Harvey.
Captains Furey, Holbrook, Moran, Dillon, Rodgers, McCuen and Doyle; Lieutenants>.
Ashe, Taggert, Dougherty, Woods, and McIlwayne.
The funeral cortege was directed by Mr. Simon Gartland, undertaker, and slowly moved to St. James Church, West Philadelphia, where a High Mass was celebrated, and an appropriate discourse subsequently delivered by the pastor, Rev. Michael F. Martin. The service was solemnly sung by the choir. Miss Ashe presiding at the organ and at the Offertorium A solo was sung by Mr. Harkins of St. John's choir, entitled "Ecce! Deus Salvator Meus". The interment took place in the Cathedral cemetery.
The image to the left is of the old St James church west Philadelphia from which O'Kane was buried.It was built in 1850 and the nearby St. Agatha's was built in 1865. In 1976 the both parishes were amalgamated. The original St. James was demolished in 1881. There would have been three or four churches built on the spot since the original 1850 church. The new St. James and St. Agatha is about two miles from the Old City Cemetery. Florida St. as it was named in 1863 was then named South Marvine St. The Church is as now at 38th. and Chestnut. It is possible that St. James church was chosen for the funeral Mass because the Rev. Michael F. Martin named above had been recently appointed to that church and he already knew O'Kane well from his army days. Martin from Beragh Co. Tyrone an adjacent county to Derry and O'Kane both Irish born would have known each other's history very well and were probably very well known to each other in Philadelphia before the war.
Colonel O'Kanes would be the largest military funeral to take place in Philadelphia during the duration of the Civil War.
Here is a list of the pallbearers at Colonel
O'Kane's funeral. Also shown their rank and regimental background.
Miles Brig. General of the Militia.
Lewis Colonel of the 18th and later 110th Pa.
Moorehead Colonel of the 106th Pa.
Harvey James Lt. Colonel. Co. D. 27th Pa. and later the 69th. Pa.
Furey Thomas Capt. Co. B. Hibernia Greens then the 24th later the 69th Pa.
Holbrook Capt.of the 99th. Pa.
Moran Patrick 1st. Lieut. Co. A. 69th.Pa.
Dillon Capt. Hibernia Greens, 24th and later the 115th.
Rodgers. Shields Guards,24th and later the 115th.
McCuen Capt. 72nd Pa. Fire Zouaves.
Doyle Lieutenant of the 99th. Pa.
Ashe Capt. of the Patterson Light Guards then the 24th. and later the 115th.
Taggart. J. J. 2nd. Lieut. Co. E. Meagher Guards, 24th and 69th. Pa.
Woods Thomas Capt. Co. E. Meagher Guards. 24th and 69th. Pa.
McIlvane John 1st. Lieut Co. B. Shields Guards, 69th. Pa.
His brother John back home in Philadelphia at the time of Dennis's
death was running the family business. It is noted that John was running
a business as late as
1876 at Vine St. Philadelphia. John's young family were all American
born and I have no doubt that there
are O'Kane descendants from this man in the Philadelphia area as now.
It would appear that when Dennis O'Kane was killed 3rd.July 1863 at Gettysburg there was no family grave available in the Old Cathedral Cemetery so he was interred in plot F. 2. Lot 27 along with a small child Mary E Byrne or Byrnes aged 1 year. The circumstances of this burial unknown but the Byrnes may have offered a burial place in the sudden circumstances of O'Kanes death. Sometime between the 9th July 1863 the day that O'Kanes was buried and May 20th 1874 Hannah Colonel O'Kanes wife decided to purchase a family plot in the Old Cathedral Cemetery. She purchased a suitable family plot in Section U Range 3 Lot 27.
The first people buried there are Colonel O'Kane moved from F. 2. Lot 27 and Mary E. Byrnes. O'Kane had been in a temporary grave some 11 years. He is buried in position 2N in the plot. This happened on May 20th 1874.
Next buried in the plot is a child Lizzie Lynham aged 9 months Jan 18th 1876. Noting known about this child.
The next buried in the plot was Hannah O'Kane aged 57 interred March 10th. 1876. Grave 2S. This is Colonel O' Kanes wife. She had died 6th March 1876. She is interred in position 2S.
The next buried in the plot was Hannah Donnelly aged 30 interred June 7th 1878 in position 2S.
The next buried in the plot was Joseph Burrows aged 16 Oct 10th 1891.This is a young son of Mary O'Kane Colonel O'Kanes daughter and Israell Burrows.
The next buried in the plot was Israell Burrows aged 70 buried Jan. 7th 1908. Israell was the Colonels son in law.
The next buried in the plot was Mary Burrows (Colonel O'Kanes daughter) aged 59 buried Feb 9th 1909.
The next buried in the plot was Mary E Burrows the daughter of Mary O'Kane and Israell Burrows aged 75 buried May 5th 1948. She did not marry and was Colonel O'Kanes grandaughter. Buried in position 2S. She lived at 4804 Springfield Ave Philadelphia
Though this website looks primarily at the 69th. Pa. Vol. Regt. is should
not be overlooked that there were other
regiments in the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac
nor should the fact be overlooked that there were thousands
of other Irish soldiers in the many other
regiments of the Union Army or indeed in the Confederate units.
The main Irish Brigade regiments apart from the 69th Pa. Vols. were:
The 9th. and 28th Mass. Regts.
The 37th. 63rd. 69th. 88th. 155th. 164th. 170th. 182nd. Regts.
The 116th Penn. Regt.
With military heros in some cases myths can grown up
as the years go by. Not a bad thing but sometimes the real
story behind the man or men can be more revealing. War is generally
glorified as gallant warriors
marching to war, drums, fifes and bugles playing all portrayed as having
a wonderful time. This is an image that
has been portrayed by the recruiting sergeant, the pied piper of armies throughout the ages. It appeals to the
the young men who flock to join. It is not like that as millions would find out.
In Colonel O'Kane I suppose we have a good example of the reality of it all.
Looking at his war records from the archives
is most revealing and answers many questions.
We know that the Civil War started in April 1861 when Fort Sumter South Carolina was fired on from Fort Moultrie, the secession of the South had started, the union of the United States was in peril. Men flocked to take sides. Many of the highest ranking officers on each side would had been at West Point Military Academy together and been personal friends but idealogies are funny things. Soon many would face each other in war. As in all wars the "troops" would be be recruited from many sources. Many recruited for each side would be newly arriving or lately arrived Irishmen fleeing or having fled earlier an Ireland in dire straits.
Now let us look at "O'Kanes" Civil War. I do not propose to start looking at the various skirmishes and battles the unit was involved - that has already been well documented, but at some background events that would affect his personal life. It should be remembered that we tend to think of our heroes as men of steel who are beyond human and physical frailities kind of modern day supermen. No so. They are very ordinary human beings. What does of course make them stand out is their absolute committment to the cause they follow and the persuit of a just cause even leading to their demise. Such a man was O'Kane. Let us look the highs and lows of his war. Denis O'Kane joined the 69th Regt. Pa. Infantry at Philadelphia on Aug. 19th 1861 for a three year enlistment. (See P.A. Card record on left). He was already a Lieut. Colonel and aged 43 which confirms his birth date of 1818 in Ireland. He had already been heavily involved in the various militias that had sprung up in and around Philadelphia and indeed Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War so he has knowledge of soldering and especially the leadership of men. He was educated and a man of standing in the extended Irish community in Philadelphia. In the Field and Staff muster roll call for Aug. 19th 1861 to Oct. 31st 1861 he is named but it is not stated whether he was present or absent. One assumes present as he had just joined the unit.
In a Field and Staff muster-in roll on Oct. 31st 1861 he is noted as being at Camp Observation Maryland. He had moved on from Philadelphia. Camp Observation was near Poolsville Maryland.
In the Field and Staff the muster roll for Nov. and Dec. 1861 he is shown as present after "recapitulation" and present for duty.
In the Field and Staff muster roll for Jan. 1862 to Feb. 1862 he is again marked as present after "recapitulation" shows him present for duty". However in a medical report written at Philadelphia by David P. Boyer M.D. of 926 South 6th Street Philadelphia on Jan. 8th 1862 O'Kane is certified that "in consideration of the exhausted state of his system" his leave of absence should be extended another 20 days. This would leave him unfit for duty until 28th Jan. 1862 basically all of January 1862. Also is states that this is to extend his leave of illness thus we know that he probably took ill around 18th Dec. 1861.
We see that O'Kane's health would appear to have been satisfactory from the date he joined the unit on August 19th 1861 until it started to cause him problems in mid/late December of 1861 some four months later with the onset of the N. American winter. Here is a transcript of the medical certificate issued about O'Kanes state of health in Jan 1862.
This is to certify that I am professionally attending Lieut. Col. Dennis O'Kane and deem it advisable in consideration of the exhausted state of his system to extend his leave of absence twenty days longer.
David P. Boyer M.D.
926 South St.
It is also interesting to note that the doctor provided two copies of the document probably necessary for the regimental surgeon and his superior officer. I assume that Dr. Boyer was O'Kane's private physician and perhaps 926 South 6th St. was not too far from where O'Kane lived.
In the Field and Staff muster roll dated April 30th 1862 he is named but not stated whether he was present or absent. This would appear to have been the yearly muster roll as it is specifically dated April 30th.
In the Field and Staff muster roll for May and June 1862 he is marked as present.
In the Field and Staff muster roll for for July and Aug. 1862 he is marked as present.
In the Field and Staff Special muster roll on Aug.18th 1862 and he is marked present. This looks to be a special yearly muster roll call. He still holds the position of Lieut. Colonel.
In the Field and Staff muster roll for Sept. and Oct. 1862 he is marked as present.
However things started to go wrong for O'Kane in early Oct. 1862. On Special Order No.109 from Headquarters at Harpers Ferry dated Oct. 23rd 1862 a court martial is ordered for O'Kane on several charges. Here is a transcript of the charge sheet.
Head Qrtrs 2nd Corps. I. Before a general court martial of which Brig. Genrl. W. S. Hancock
is president convened by virtue of service Order No. 22
from these headquarters of Oct.7th 1862 was arraigned and tried
Lt. Col. Dennis O'Kane by the Penna. Regt on the following charges.Viz
Charge 1st. Violation of the 50th article of War.
Specification: In this that Lt. Colonel Dennis O'Kane 69th Pa. Vols. did
remain absent from his regiment
while it was on pickett duty without
sufficient authority in all this at or near Harpers Ferry Va. on or about the
4th of Oct 1862.
Charge 2nd. Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.
Specification: In this that Lieut. Col. O'Kane 69th Regt. Pa. Vols.
was much under
the influence of liquor and did enter into a personal alteration with his
Colonel J.O. Owen 69th. Penn Vols. using violent words
and demonstrations all this at or near Harpers Ferry on or about the
1862 and which charges and specifications the accused pleaded
After mature deliberation upon the evidence addressed the
court found him Lt. Co. Dennis O'Kane
of the 69th Penna. regt as follows.
Harpers Ferry Oct. 23rd 1862.
Of the 1st specification of the 1st charge "not guilty".
Of the 1st charge "not guilty"
Of the specification 2nd charge "guilty" except the words "was under the influence of liquor and" but attach no criminality threat and of the 2nd charge "not guilty" and the court therefore aquits him.
II. The proceedings in the case of Lieut Col. Dennis O'Kane by the Penna. Vols are confirmed.
He will resume his sword and his duties.
By command of Major Gen. Couch.
Signed J. A Walker aaJ.
Official Geo. A. Hicks aaJ.
I. Before a general court martial of which Brig. Genrl. W. S. Hancock Volunteer Service is president convened by virtue of service Order No. 22 from these headquarters of Oct.7th 1862 was arraigned and tried Lt. Col. Dennis O'Kane by the Penna. Regt on the following charges.Viz
Charge 1st. Violation of the 50th article of War.
Specification: In this that Lt. Colonel Dennis O'Kane 69th Pa. Vols. did remain absent from his regiment while it was on pickett duty without sufficient authority in all this at or near Harpers Ferry Va. on or about the 4th of Oct 1862.
Charge 2nd. Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.
Specification: In this that Lieut. Col. O'Kane 69th Regt. Pa. Vols. was much under the influence of liquor and did enter into a personal alteration with his Colonel J.O. Owen 69th. Penn Vols. using violent words and demonstrations all this at or near Harpers Ferry on or about the 4th of October 1862 and which charges and specifications the accused pleaded "not guilty"
After mature deliberation upon the evidence addressed the
court found him Lt. Co. Dennis O'Kane
of the 69th Penna. regt as follows.
What was this all about?. I feel that without doubt this was simply bad
blood between Owen and O'Kane, I am aware of the story that Owen
was said to have offended
O'Kane's wife. Circumstantially probably as Mrs. O'Kane would be back in
their children and hardly at Harpers Ferry in the middle of winter
at an army encampment. Probably both men did not hit it off to well
in general and
with liquor around it probably all ended up in a slanging match.
Owen possibly hung around waiting to be offended, kept baiting a
drunken O'Kane and he reacted.
I feel it's as simple as that. It is fine to see that "mature reflection"
maintained and all charges dismissed probably flagging up to O'Kane
to modify his drinking habits and Owens to get his act together not to
was a war to be fought.
I should think that Owens would feel rather sheepish
about his actions. I feel that he was probably the instigator
of the court martial. I note that he chose to place two charges
against O'Kane one about
not doing his pickett duty properly along with the 2nd about
being insulted etc. The 1st to deflect the 2nd as being seen as
personal!. To further sort the problem
Owen a Welshman was promoted in what appears to be to be a
classic "sideways" promotion away from O'Kane.
I have noted that in a few cases of court martials being instigated in the Civil War the actual written charges bore little resemblance as to what actually happened. I feel that this one of O'Kane versus Owens was a classic example of bad blood aided by beer but that would not sit well with the Army court so better to make it a disciplinary type of charge. Enough said.
However all did not go too badly for O'Kane. He was promoted as Colonel of the Regiment on 1st Dec.1862.
In the Field and Staff muster for Nov. and Dec. 1862 he is noted as being absent and a note made on the muster roll "Absent on sick leave for 20 days from Dec. 24th 1862".
The unit was at this time
encamped near Falmouth Virg. It would appear
that towards the end of Dec.1862 O'Kane's health had deteoriated
A medical report on O'Kane dated 20th. Dec.1862 by surgeon McNeil is interesting.
Lt. Col D. O'Kane of the 69th Regt. P.V. having applied
for a certificate
on which to
ground an application for leave of absence I do hereby certify that I have
examined this officer and find that he is suffering from a severe attack
of bilious dysentry- the result
of exposure in the recent move to Fredericksburg and that in consequence
thereof he is in my opinion, unfit for duty. I further declare my belief
that he will not be able
to resume his duties in a less period twenty days and further that
a change is necessary to his recovery.
Doug M. Neil
Asst Surgeon 69th P.V.
Dated at camp near Falmouth this 20th day of Dec. 1862.
One point of interest is that it is suggested that to improve O'Kane's
lot "a change is necessary". I assume
to a unit perhaps in a better weather zone that around Falmouth in
the winter!. It would appear not to have happened.
I have a copy of a beautifully written letter probably written on O'Kane's
behalf by an appointed soldier skilled in the art. I have no doubt this
directly by O'Kane as I see too many expressions in the letter that
only a Co. Derry man would use even to this day.
O'Kane writes from
Capt. E. Whittlery the adjutant of the 2nd Div. 2nd Corps asking that he
20 days leave on account of ill health. He states that he had
not been absent a day from the Regiment from last winter
and the recent exposure to cold had affected his health.
He enclosed a surgeons report on him about his illness.
He then states that he requires more comfort and attention for
his recovery that he could
obtain here. He then asks for early attention to his application.
The letter is very interesting. O'Kane's signature at the end of the letter is clear and in a well formed hand. The schools in and around Learmount and Upper Cumber did a very good job or was it extra education in his early years in Philadelphia. Just possible. Reading this letter is fascinating. The expression " I have not been absent from my regiment a day since last winter". This is typical of the turn of expression still heard in the Sperrin hills ie " not a day since" is used to amplify just how long a time a person has been in continous favour, doing good or if used negatively just how long the long was!. The letter flags up to me that O'Kane at this time was very worried about his position due to his health and also coming so shortly after the courtmartial even though he was cleared he had his wrist smacked for drinking too much liquor!.
Head Qrts 69th Reg P.V.
Camp near Falmouth Va Dec. 20/62
Capt E Whitterly
2nd Div. 2nd Corps
I respectfully ask for leave of absense for twenty days on account of ill health. I have not been absent from my regiment a day since last winter, and the recent exposure to cold has affected my health to such an extent, as appears by the enclosed surgeons certificate, as to require more comfort & attention for my recovery than I can obtain here.
Your early attention to this application will much oblidge.
Your Obd, servt.
Lt. Col. c'ming 69th P.V's
On Dec 24 1862 Christmas eve by Special Order No. 84 from the headquarters of the Right Grand Division near Falmouth Virg. a cover note to the surgeons on behalf of Major General Sumner is signed by Adjutant J. H.Taylor Chief of Staff and Adjutant. It is countersigned by 2nd brigade official Chas. H. Banis Capt. and Adjutant. On the document it states and signed by D.Taylor the paymaster that O'Kane had been paid to Dec. 31st 1862. The medical certificate is interesting in that it states that O'Kane was "suffering from an attack of billious dysentry as a result of exposure on the recent move to Fredericksburg". He grants him 20 days leave on account of his sickness. The letter dated 20th Dec.1862.
In the Field and Staff Muster roll for Jan. Feb 1863 at Falmouth Va. he is marked at present it is noted that he was "Promoted from Lt. Colonel to be Col Dec 1st 1862. Vice. Owen promoted".
However O'Kanes health again causes him problems. He is obviously incapacited again. Here is a medical certificate dated Jan.18th 1863.
This is to certify that I have fully examined Lieut. Col. O'Kane of the
69th Pa Vol. and
find him suffering from an exhausted condition of the nervous and muscular
I further certify that he will not be fit for duty under a shorter a period than
U.S.A. General Hospital
Jan 18th 1863
O'Kane would appear not to have recovered
by early February 1863 and another
medical certificate is obtained on the 2nd Feb. This one states.
This is to certify that Lieut Co. O'Kane
of the 69th Pa. Vol. is not able to do military
duty in consequence of a severe catarrh and
irritation of the bronchia which entirely unfits
active service at present.
David P. Boyer M.D.
926 South 6th St.
David D. Boyer may well have been O'Kanes private physician. On the same date he obtained another medical certificate from the U.S.A. General hospital at Chestnutt Hill Philadelphia. This would appear to O'Kane's having to provide two certificates from independent sources. This certificate states.
This is to certify that I have carefully examined
Lieut. Col. O'Kane
of the 69th Pa.Vol. and find him
still suffering from great debility with severe catarrh and
bronchial disturbance renderng him unfit
for active service. I further certify that he will not be fit for duty
under a less period
than twenty days.
U.S.A. Gen'l Hospital.
Feb 2nd 1863.
In and Individual Muster-out roll from near Falmouth Va and dated March 27th 1863 it states that the "Muster-out to date Dec 1st 1862" and O'Kane was last paid Dec. 31st 1862. It remarks that O'Kane mustered out as Lt. Col. and promoted Col. Vice. Owen promoted M.O. to take effect this date Dec 1st 1862. Owen has been promoted to Brigadier General. Both men seem to have done well out of their altercation!. Martin Tschudy who joined the regiment the same day as O'Kane would also be promoted. To Adjutant to Major Jan 1st 1863 and to Colonel March 31st 1863. He would die at Gettysburg like O'Kane 3rd July 1863.
In an Individual Muster-in roll also of March 27th 1863 also from near Falmouth Va. it records that his Muster-in date was Dec.1st 1862 and he joined for duty and enrolled Dec 1st 1862. It remarks that he was promoted from Lt. Col. to be Colonel (Vice Owen promoted). Commissioned from Dec.1st 1862.
In a Field and Staff Special Muster Roll dated April 10th 1863 probably at Falmouth Va. he is named as being present and it is remarked that he was Promoted Col. 31st. Dec 1862 commissioned and mustered as such on March 27th 1863 by Lt. Rufus King 4th U.S.Art.
In a Field and Staff Muster for March and April 1863 at Falmouth Va. he is noted as being present.
In a Field and Staff Muster for May and June 1863 at Uniontown Maryland he is noted as being present.
In a Field and Staff Muster for July and August 1863 it is remarked that he was killed in action at Gettysburg July 3rd 1863.
However the saddest roll to read is that dated July 1st 1865 from Munsons Hill Va. at or towards the end of the war when in a Field and Staff Muster-out states that he was promoted Col. Dec. 1st 1862. Killed in action at Gettysburg Pa. July 3rd 1863.
The above image was taken off a Carte de Visite (CDV) of Colonel Dennis O'Kane and very kindly given to me by a descendant relative of O'Kane. The CDV is nearly 150 years old. This type of CDV was one of the most popular forms of imaging at the time and was exceptionally popular. It was the businessman's card of the time except that it had its owners image and mostly name and business mostly written on the front below the person's image. Along the bottom there would be enough space for a short greeting or perhaps a message. The most popular size would be 54mm (2.125") by 89mm (3.5"). This photo imag was taken by the firm of J.E.McClees Artist, 910 Chestnut Street Philadelphia probably just before O'Kane went into active service in 1861. Here is some additional information kindly sent me by the Curator of Print and Photographs Library Co. of Philadelphia and thanks is given.
James Earles McClees (1821-1887) had his photographic studio at 910 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia from 1861-1865. He was a well-known photographer having been in business in the city since 1846. The photograph of Col. Dennis O’Kane is in the format of a carte-de-visite which was very popular during the American Civil War (and later) as a relatively inexpensive form of photography. Both famous people and ordinary citizens had their portraits taken as cartes de visite. The portraits of celebrities were undoubtedly sold to admirers, while the less famous shared their small photos with family and friends. Photographers usually printed their name and address on the back of the carte de visite as a form of advertisement. It was most likely a family member who added the handwritten notes identifying Col. O’Kane’s and relaying information about his fate.
It would appear it was posted back to relatives in Ireland by perhaps his brother John or his wife Hannah. It was only small and would easily fit into an envelope with a letter. The signature and information as regards Regiment is most certainly that of O'Kane however the writing below ie "KILLED at Gettysburgh July 3rd 1863" has most definately been added. As a matter of interest the name and address of the firm which took the CDV is in fact on the back of the original as stated by the above information ie J.E.McClees Artist 910 Chestnut Street Philadelphia.
When Dennis died at Gettysburg his widow Hannah lost no time in applying for a pension. She had three young children to support. To satisfy the authorities she would as part of her application need provide proof of her marriage to Dennis. The document below is quite fascinating.
Here is a transcript.
Londonderry 8th Aug.1863
I certify the Rev'd Neil Devine who has given the annexed certificate of the marriage of Dennis and Hannah O'Kane Parish Priest of Learmount in parish of Upper Cumber Co. Londonderry Ireland and that where acts and deals in that capacity full faith and credit is due and ought to be paid.
J.B.Beresford J.P. D.L.(John Barre Beresford (1815-1895).
This document hand written by the local landlord Beresford who lived at
Learmount Castle and was landowner and gentry
farmer in the area was also a Justice of the Peace and a barrister.
He like most landed gentry families had massive sway
over his tenants and small farmers from whom he drew his rents.
The Beresford family in this part of Co. Derry had acquired about 8,000 acres of land during the Plantation period. The Beresfords were involved in the initial plantation of Coleraine area post 1600. No doubt the O'Kane family paid rent like everyone else to them or an adjacent landlord such as the McCauslands.
What appears to have happened is that Hannah applied to the United States government immediatley after Dennis's death
for a pension.
The government would look and find out just who was the local J.P.in O'Kanes former homeland. No doubt they had
lists of landed gentry, barristers and J.P.'s.
The States authority seemed to have sent the request for a marriage certificate to Beresford. Beresford then contacted
the local priest Father Neil Devine who supplied the document. However Beresford had to authenticate just who Father
was. The above document basically states that yes, he Father Devine is trustworthy and thus the marriage certificate is
authentic and he Beresford would appear to be annexing (enclosing) the said marriage certificate in some sort of official
holder or perhaps a kind of diplomatic bag.
This document is interesting as it shows just how far the power of the landlord extended. If for instance O'Kane had
or had been involved in anti landlord or State activities then Beresfords reply may not have been so benine. However he
be careful this was an era where the local priest basically controlled his flock and Beresford relied heavily on the
local populace mainly Catholic in this case, to service his estate. A kind of balance of power.It is however interesting to note that Father Neal Devine was the Parish Priest of the Claudy parish which was in two sections Upper Cumber an Learmont and as such would have lived in Claudy village. He would have been the senior cleric of the parish and be of superior statue to the curate in Learmont's Altinure chapel. At the time Neal Devine was in the Upper Cumber section of the grouping and in Altinure church in the year 1863 the local curate was Fr. Neal McCrossan. However the parish priest Fr.Neal Devine as senior cleric would be the person that Beresford would have been in contact with. Both men probably met from time to time at social events mutually beneficial to both parties. Fr. Devine served in the Claudy parish as parish priest 1859-1884. He died 7th Sept.1884 in office. He is buried inside the walls of Claudy old chapel. John Barre Beresford one of the landlords of the area was buried at Learmount Church (see above) when he died in 1895. This was the church he had
completed circa 1830 after he took over the building of the church from his father Henry Barre Beresford and was basically his private church just outside Park village. The Beresford were originally from Staffordshire in England and given their land by the Skinners Company of London during the Plantation of Co. Londonderry. The Skinners were one of the Trades Guilds of London charged with land distribution in this particular area.
The image of Beresfords home above left shows that it was a very prestigious mock Gothic building. Now in private ownership. This building was erected circa 1830. No doubt O'Kane watched it being erected and just possibly he laboured in and around the site little thinking its future landlord would play some part in his later life.
The shell of the house above is the original family home of Dennis O'Kane. It would be the typical home of small tenant farmers in and around the hills of Co.Derry and Tyrone. In his day the roof would have been thatched with wheat or corn straw. The windows would have been much smaller and in most cases not much attention was paid to the nicities of alignment or the vertical or horizontal. The windows were simply glass frames of various sizes. However after World War 2 and when things started to pick up the farmers started to use the newly available corruguated sheets developed as a quick roofing material for temporary WW2 army barracks. Obviously it would be much better that straw. It was the thing to have a metal roof, also a noisy one.Some farmers chose to place the metal sheets over the existing straw. Not a great idea as there were many disasterous fires as well as a great place for all sorts of birds,mice and rats. At the same time with the dismantling of all the old WW2 army barracks metal framed windows became available and these were seized upon as replacement for the old original wooden ones probably dating way back to pre famine times. Looking at the building it is seen there are two chimneys. To the right of the right side chimney is a section of the building that is in itself an independent section with what can been seen as a seperate door at the extreme right hand sideof the front wall. This would be the family's meal store, milk house etc for general farmyard use. There are still wallsteads around the dwelling which would have been their cattle byre, hen houses, pig sty and stable.
' I have talked about the house above as it was post WW2. WW2 resulted in many changes in the lives of the Sperrin farmers. A descendant member of the O'Kane family member recently gave me a copy of some of the family photographed outside the old home probably in the early 1940's when WW2 was at its height a much better appreciation of the house as it was in Dennis O'Kanes time is seem below.
The thatched roof, the original windows, the clearer distinction between the store house on the right of the building and the main house is clearly seen, As well the dress would be so typical of the 1940's in rural Co. Derry. No doubt this is a posed photo. The men with their caps, the lady with her best smock on and the obligatory family dog. It is known that James was the farmer of the family, Bridget ran the family home and also did dress making and Michael on the right was the local postman. Note his postman's badge of office.
Turning to Hannah's pension application it is interesting to look at the actual marriage proof document that the Rev. Neal Devine supplies to Beresford and which Beresford talks of annexing to be forwarded to the the legal authorities in America.
From the Testimony of reliable people it is clear that Denis O’Kane and Honor O’Kane (Hannah O'Kane) have been legitimately joined in Matrimony According to the rites of Holy Mother Church Around 1835.
Francis O’Kane and Sara O’Kane
Given at Claudy 4th August 1865
Signed : Nigellus Devin (Neal Devine)
Parish of Cumber Upper Learmount In the Diocese of Derry
Salutations of peace to all from my heart.
Records of births marriages and deaths in Catholic parishes were generally recorded in Latin as in the above document.
the quality of the recording Irish births, marriages and deaths is a very vexed question. The keeping of the records
generally left up to the local priest. Not a great idea and numerous records were simply not kept, lost or destroyed.
improve dramatically when the State took control of all records in the late 19th century. However it must also be
stated that not
all clerics were lax in their duty in this respect.
The above record is a scan of the original in O'Kanes civil war records held in the States.
In looking through the documents associated with Hanna O'Kane's pension application it is sad to see that she was apparently unable to sign her own name and simply put an X in the classic "her mark" statement seen so often as the signature of the Irish in Famine time documents.
When looking at the old pension applications for soldiers and their next of kin in the Civil War one never ceases to see just' how many documents had to be produced. The system was not a benine one!. In Hannah O'Kanes case it might be thought because of her husbands rank and his performance at the decisive battle of Gettysburg she would have access to her pension fairly quickly. Not so. She had the added problem of having to get proof of marriage from Ireland and in this she was very lucky to have a parish priest back in the Upper Cumber-Learmont parish who took the trouble to provide it and a landlord who was so minded as to facilitate a quick despatch of the documents to the States. However though Hannah applied for her pension very soon after her husband was killed 3rd July 1863 she only received her $30 dollar a month pension on March 17th.1864. However it would have been back dated. O'Kane had actually been shot on July 3rd and died early on the 4th. of July. (Image of Col. Dennis O'Kanes death cert to the left.)
Dennis O'Kane's war was over. His beloved Union Army would go on to win the War between the States. His name would live on in America but sadly like so many Irish soldiers who fought for the Union and indeed the Confederacy their memory would go into oblivion in Ireland. This is still the case. They deserve better.
Observations: Reading the documents on Dennis O'Kane I obtained from the Archives have to someone on this side of the Atlantic been revealing. Perhaps the first notable entries were about O'Kane's health and would be expected. The history of the people from which he comes in the Sperrin hills of Derry and Tyrone is such that due to poor diet over decades the Irish of the Sperrin hills were left with great chest and lung weaknesses and tuberculosis was rampant in the mid 19th century and indeed this problem was not really solved until well into the 1950's. I have researched quite a few families from the area and it is common to find in perhaps a family of six as many as three, four or even five would die at a young age or as teenagers from T.B. I feel it is possible that though O'Kane was putting forward the fact that it was the weather that caused his ill health in the move to Fredericksburg he was aware that he had inherent chest and lung problems. Yes the bad weather did not help but not all the regiment went sick. I think his writing a letter asking for a period of medical dispensation in Dec. 1862 saying that he had not missed being away from his regiment for the past year says a lot. He was concerned about the reaction of the regiment surgeons to his career. There may well have been a lot of chest and lung problems in the Irish soldiers in the regiment from Co. Derry and Co. Tyrone.
The quality of the letters he wrote are also remarkable. They are exceptionally well written. I have looked at signatures of other private soldiers of the regiment and see in many cases examples of those who had a very basic education, they could just about scrawl down their name at the end of a document.
As regards O'Kane's letters being in a very good hand and well constructed one must keep in mind that though O'Kane would compose them, many may well have been written by a soldier in the regiment who was assigned to these tasks and O'Kane would simply dictate read and sign them. It would also save him time for his normal duties running the unit.
This paticular report was written May 2nd 1863 from an encampment near Banks Ford Spotsylvania Co. Va. during the period of what was termed the Battle of Banks Ford or Salem Mill May 2nd and 3rd. 1863 during the Chancellorville campaign. From the content of the report even in the circumstances he had to do his paperwork in this case endeavouring to sort out problems with what would appear to be ego's and pay problems amongst some of his officers. Priorities!!
From a very old faded pay document detailing his pay, servants pay and allowances, also horse fodder allowance the following information is noted.The document is for the period May 1st 1862 until the end of August 1862 a period of four months we see that on 14th Oct. 1862 he signed for the monies received. We see that he was given allowances for two servants, clothing for the two servants, forage for three horses and subsistence for himself and the two servants. It is noted that his two servants were named James McLaughlin and John Casey. In total he collected $757.58 cents. O'Kanes basic pay was $80 dollars per month. It is interesting to see that the physical attributes of both McLaughlin and Casey noted. The usual height, complexion and eye and hair colour. From the names they were probably Irishmen.
Click on the icon below to see some images of O'Kanes old home in Ireland. Still standing. Build probably in famine times. Some images relating to his life in Ireland.
Though O'Kane was buried in the old Cathedral cemetery in Philadelphia soon after his death at Gettysburg in July 1863 with much pomp and circumstance it would appear that though other family members were later buried in the same grave position no permanent memorial had ever been placed on the graves. In the passage of time and with descendants moving on his memory was soon lost forever.
However and thankfully this was not the case. Fate would have it that due to a remarkable interest shown by Bill Rose an ex U.S.Navyman O'Kane's memory would be maintained and by some incredible recent coincidences and with information provided by some descendant relatives in the U.K. we basically have brought his memory back from oblivion. Bill has very kindly let me have a small concise bio of how it all came about and I present it below.
My interest in the Irish regiments of the Civil War came from my links to my ancestral Rhatigan and Gaffney families of Ireland . I had previously co-founded the Irish 9th Massachusetts reenactment group in 1988 while stationed in the U.S. Navy at Boston. I founded the 69th Pennsylvania reenactment group in July 1990 after being transferred to Philadelphia. To my recollection some of my fondest among many memories were:
1. My research trip to Harrisburg to decide which Irish regiment to portray, picking the 69th Pa. The next morning I went to the High Water Mark at Gettysburg, and watched the sunrise over the harp on the 69th Pa monument, and couldn't believe no one else had picked this regiment to portray and research.
2. My locating the unmarked grave of Colonel Dennis O'Kane in the Old Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia. Paying my respects, and thinking to myself that I was probably the first visitor to his grave since the last of his family passed away and buried there. Then later having the marker for his grave placed and a ceremony in his honor.
3. My working with Brian Pohanka, historical consultant for the movie "Gettysburg," to get as much credit as I could for the 69th Pa in the film, and my portrayal in it as Color Sergeant Michael Brady. We were only about 5 members at the time, but everyone wanted to be 69th Pa for the filming at the wall. Brian told me that from my research is how he came about coining the term in describing the 69th Pa as the "Rock of Erin" for the TV show "Civil War Journal."
4. My working with artists Dale Gallon for "Hancock's Ride," and Don Troaini for "Rock of Erin," and their inclusion of the 69th Pa.
5. I later wrote numerous newspaper articles on the 69th Pa following the release of the movie "Gettysburg," and had dynamic response to our recruiting which swelled the ranks of the 69th PA reenactors by 1994, the same year of my retirement from the U.S. Navy and 69th Pa.
6. Perhaps my greatest find in my research on the 69th Pa. was finding a letter from General Webb to his father following the battle of Gettysburg which stated that to a man he could count on the 69th Pa in the fight but as he disliked the Irish not to disclose anything about this letter.= Bill Rose
Communication established with the descendent members of the 69th Pa reenactors mostly based in the greater Philadelphia area and from my contacts with a few O'Kane descendent family members in the U.K. and their having some handed down artifracts primarily an O'Kanes signed CDV enabled me to put a more accurate webpage together on his life. Money raised by the 69th Pa reenactor group in the States enabled a very handsome plaque to be purchased. Subsequent contact with the Committee of the Learmount Community Development Group in Park village Claudy Co. Derry and their willingness to allow the plaque to be erected was most welcome. It is noted that this centre is no more than 400 meters from his original home the ruins of which still stand.
With thanks in no particular order to the management and staff of the Learmount Community Dev.Group for facilitating erection of plaque. Also to the descendant members of the O'Kane family for vital information on finalising O'Kanes story, to Bill Rose for resurrecting O'Kanes memory and to the current 69th Pa reenactors. All inputs much appreciated
With thanks to descendant members of the O'Kane family who kindly let me have copies of old photos in their possession and information on the O'Kane family history. This is much appreciated.
With thanks for images of the old O'Kane homestead as now and Learmount church to a descendant relative of James McPeake of Co. D. Much appreciated.
With thanks to the present owner of the old O'Kane homestead for allowing me accesss and allowing me take images of. Much appreciated.
Last but not least. The name lives on in the service of the United States.