My after-school Western Union messenger trips often included a detour to honor the long dead heroes buried in Philadelphia’s Old Saint Mary’s graveyard. These interludes brought back forgotten lessons about Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy, and General Steven Moylan, Commander of Washington’s Cavalry.
But it wasn’t until I had ePublished The Civil War’s Valiant Irish that I learned of another graveyard containing the remains of ancient warriors.
In 1845, the first year of Ireland’s deadly famine, the cornerstone for St. Anne’s Parish at Lehigh and Memphis was laid. My County Mayo grandmother raised her seven children on Memphis Street, which serves as the setting for The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell. I had often wandered past the Church’s two small cemeteries without giving them a second look.
A recent article in The Irish Edition Newspaper made me sit up and take notice. Father Brady, St. Anne‘s current pastor, and his Historical Committee began to explore the “Civil War Era Cemetery Register.” They learned that among those interred were volunteers of the Philadelphia Brigade’s 69th Regiment.
Few Civil War buffs, let alone the Irish-Americans among them, know anything about County Derry-born Colonel Dennis O’Kane. He, along with the 69th’s 258 officers and men, gallantly withstood Confederate General Armisteads’ desperate charge at Gettysburg’s Bloody Angle, an encounter during which O’Kane sacrificed his life. The Civil War’s Valiant Irish validates the achievements of these and other Union and Confederate Irish-American participants.
The terra firma, where these brave men lie, is indeed hallowed ground.