Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Meet Francis Finnegan

Francis Finnegan was born February 28th 1837 in Ballintemple, Co. Armagh, Ireland. He was the 9th of 10 born to Peter Finnegan and Margaret Vallely.

My grandfather always told the story that Peter Finnegan died falling off his donkey, my grandfather liked to say ass, while coming home from the pub. Subsequently the family emigrated to North America. My Aunt always said that they arrived in Canada and then illegally entered the U.S. to settle in Hyde Park, Vermont.

Francis Finnegan c. 1860

He mustered in to Union service on June 20th 1861 with the 2nd Vermont Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company D. This regiment was part of the 1st Vermont Brigade (Old Brigade) and took part in most of the major battles of the Eastern theater as part of the Army of the Potomac,VI Corp, 2nd Division, 2nd Brigade.

The following is the list of battles from the regiment's wikipedia page

July 21, 1861
Battle of Warwick Creek
April 6, 1862
April 16, 1862
June 26, 1862
June 29, 1862
June 30, 1862
September 14, 1862
September 17, 1862
December 13, 1862
May 3, 1863
May 4, 1863
June 5, 1863
July 3, 1863
Battle of Funkstown
July 10, 1863
November 7, 1863
May 5–10, 1864
May 10–18, 1864
June 1–12, 1864
June 18, 1864
Battle of Charlestown
August 21, 1864
Battle of Opequon (Gilbert's Ford)
September 13, 1864
Battle of Winchester (Opequon)
September 19, 1864
September 21, 1864
Battle of Mount Jackson
September 24, 1864
October 19, 1864
March 25, 1865
April 2, 1865
April 6, 1865

The website Civil War in the East gives a nice table showing the Regiments movements and involvement here and there are synopses of the regiment on Vermont in the Civil War here and Antietam on the Web here.

My grandfather always told two stories about his grandfather's experience in the Civil War. The first was about how he lost his toenails after retreating from the battle of Bull Run and the other was how he was wounded in the arm while reloading his musket at the battle of Gettysburg. In my research it became clear that he was not injured at Gettysburg as the regiment appeared to see very light action until then and was held in reserve with no casualties during that battle. In fact I could not find Francis Finnegan listed as a casualty in any of the online resources I found. So I began to question the whole story. After consultation with my 1st cousin once removed I found out that the end results (ie lost toe nails and musket injury) were true, just the timing and battles were incorrect. He said it was the Wilderness campaign and the battle of Spotsylvania where these things occurred. Over the 4th of July holiday I had some time on my hands during the 6 hour drive to San Diego, so I found and ordered a book on the 2nd Vermont Volunteer Infantry from Amazon. In it I found written confirmation that he had in fact been injured on May 12th 1864 ( Zeller 271). This corresponds with the units involvement in the assault on the Bloody Angle.

So there you have it. This now gives me a template for fighting a campaign using various rules sets. I'm mostly thinking of using it as a way to link skirmishes using Rifles & Rebels from THW.

So no glory here. Just a guy who did his bit, humped his gear around the theater, and didn't get killed. The story of many a participant I think.

Francis Finnegan and Jane Smith wedding photo c. 1870
Finnegan Family August 6th 1917. Francis is the white beard on the right, my grandfather is the boy with the tie on the left.
Works cited:

Zeller, Paul G. The Second Vermont Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1861 - 1865 Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2002. Print.

Welcome to Captain Richard of Captain Richard's Miniature Civil War. He has an impressive collection of ACW memorabilia and a fantastic setup. The detail of his table is mind boggling.


  1. great research, it make you feel great when you can confirm something.
    Peace James

    1. Thanks James. I had a few more things to add, but then I realized I wasn't writing a research paper or dissertation so I just tried to relax and get the basics of what I know out there.

  2. Excellent bit of history and photos...and thank you very much for the kind words

    1. Thank you Cpt. Richard, and you're welcome.

  3. I think it's important to know where you come from Sean and to know the stories of the people who came before you. Now getting the truth about the past out of an Irish person is difficult under the best of circumstances and you've done a great job of filling in the pieces. You should visit Ireland one day and walk the soil your ancestors walked. 20 years ago you couldn't have gone to Armagh and been safe, but you can go now.

    Lovely photo's and a great post.

    1. Hi Anne, I agree. My grandfather liked to tell stories and they were always true in spirit, if not detail. I do hope to visit Ireland one day. I have been to Hyde Park Vermont and rooted around a bit.

  4. What a great dive in the past, man. You've seriously done a nice work here and I always feelmoved when I read stories and names of such people on old photos.
    I happen to have polish origins and really get what you must have felt. I also live in a region of France known for its great resistance during WWII which gives me a very strong empathy with those who stand and fight for others.
    Anyway this is about Francis right now and I definitely agree with Anne about you going to Ireland. I've had the chance of working there a bit and spent some genuinely great days there.


    1. Thanks Asslessman. I also have ancestors from Poland. It always amazes me how people react in times of strife. I suspect Francis wanted to do his bit to support the country he'd come to think of as home.

  5. There is something quite magical when you manage to bring the past to life like this, especially when it involves a family member.

    1. Thanks Michael, I agree. I hope to bring out more as time goes on. I also have a relative who served in the Western theater on my fathers side.

  6. Damn good story Sean, the Irish who also came off the ships were signed up and given citizenship and straight off to the war I believe.

    1. Thanks Fran. My understanding of how and when they came to the US is nebulous at best. Perhaps I'll be able to piece it together now.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...