Today marks one hundred and fifty years since shots were first fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and the Civil War began. President Lincoln called for volunteers to protect the Union, and my great-grandfather Patrick Gaffney was one who heeded this call. He enlisted with the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an Irish regiment of over one thousand men. He was a gardener by trade, and I often wonder what it was like for this forty year old husband and father to march off to war to defend his new country. I know some of what it was like because I have a copy of the History of the 9th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry by Daniel Macnamara who was a sergeant in Company E, the same company in which my ancestor served. This wonderfully rich text recounts the formation of the regiment and its fighting history.
Many years ago I obtained copies of my great grandfather's military and pension records from the National Archives which gave me further insight into this man. His first wife had died while he was away fighting, and a few months later, he was mustered out due to disability incurred from the long marches and hours of sentry duty along the Potomac as he had developed serious leg problems and bronchial asthma. When he was fifty, he married Rosanna Dailey (my great grandmother) who was twenty-three years his junior, and he started a second family.
I wouldn't be a former English teacher if I didn't close by recommending a related book, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle ever fought on North American soil which involved General Robert E. Lee's Army Of Northern Virginia of 75,000 men and the 97,000 man Union Army Of The Potomac. If you enjoy history as I do, you will find this a fascinating read.