“Our Ironclads on the James River”: The Collected Correspondence of “Garryowen”

Irish in the American Civil War

During the Civil War, newspapers frequently published correspondence written by soldiers and sailors at the front. Some servicemen took the opportunity to act as quasi-reporters for particular publications, ensuring that their views and opinions regularly appeared in print. In May 1864, letters from an Irishman who went by the pen name Garryowen began to appear in the pages of the New York Irish-American. Over the course of the months that followed, he wrote at least 25 letters that were made available to readersThough the identity of Garryowen is unknown, we know he served as a Fireman aboard the ironclad USS Onondaga, and was presumably (based upon his chosen nom de plume) a native of Limerick. His correspondence offers a detailed insight into Union naval operations on the James River in the last year of the war, particularly with respect to activity at the Dutch Gap Canal, an effort to…

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