To realize that the American Civil War (1861-1865) was a war within a family, you need look no further than the McDermotts. A roster of Civil War soldiers currently being published shows entries for over 700 McDermotts and the list is only partially complete. When the full roster of Civil War soldiers is published, the total number of McDermotts who served in either the Union or Confederate Armies may approach 1,000.
The Civil War rosters are being published by Broadfoot Publishing Company of Wilmington, North Carolina, Janet Hewett, editor. The entire Confederate roster, originally published as a consolidated roster for all seceded states, is now in print. The Union roster, on the other hand, is still being published state by state.
As of this writing, I have had the opportunity to study the Union rosters for only twelve Northern states including New York, as well as, the District of Columbia. Since many Union states are still unpublished including such large ones, as Ohio, it may be anticipated that a considerable number of McDermotts will be added to the list of Union veterans as new state rosters appear.
As you might expect, the largest number of McDermotts was from New York State with about 280 entries. Other Union MacDermotts by state totals were as follows: Pennsylvania 136, Massachusetts 61, New Jersey 32, Connecticut 22, Michigan 20, New Hampshire 16, Maryland 13, Rhode Island 11, Maine 9, Vermont 4 and the District of Columbia 3. The total includes variations on the McDermott name such as McDermit.
Surprisingly, the largest complement of Confederate McDermotts was from Louisiana with 35 soldiers. I assume that these McDermotts were famine emigrants who came to the great port of New Orleans. It would be very interesting to know why this destination was so popular for McDermotts.
Some of the Union state rosters appear to contain duplicate entries for soldiers who served in more than one unit. Thus, the final tally of McDermotts will probably be adjusted as more refined lists are published in the future.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the population of the North was 22 million while the free population of the South was only 5 1/2 million or a ratio of 4 to 1. When all the rosters of Civil War soldiers are published, there may be about 700-800 Union McDermotts as opposed to 150 Confederate McDermotts, a ratio of about 5 to 1. While the McDermotts were, thus, disproportionately Union, the Confederate representation was still impressive.
As between the military branches, the infantry was, by far, the specialty of the McDermotts. Given the Irish affinity for horses, there was, also, a sprinkling of McDermott cavalrymen. Among the 32 McDermotts serving in New Jersey regiments, for example, there were 29 infantrymen and 3 cavalrymen.
As one might expect, the McDermotts were well represented in the thinking man's combat arm, artillery. Among these were Mike and Pat McDermot who served with the famous Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Morton's Artillery (TN). Also, noteworthy was Confederate Thomas McDermott of Fraser's Battery (GA) who surrendered with General Robert E. Lee at Appomatox Court House in 1865.
The highest ranking McDermott in the Union Army was Colonel Peter McDermott of the 170th Infantry (NY). The highest ranking Confederate McDermott was Captain William P.H. McDermott, 19th Infantry, Co. H (TN). Other officers included William J. McDermott, Surgeon who served with New York regiments throughout all 4 years of the war and was breveted to Major, 1st Lieutenant William McDermott who served with the 54th Coloured Infantry (MA) and Captain John McDermott of the District of Columbia's 5th Infantry Battalion whose unit was known as "McDermott's Company".
There were several Canadian McDermotts who apparently couldn't bear the thought of being left out of a fight. Among these was the unfortunate seaman P. McDermott who was born in Nova Scotia. He served on the U.S.S. Montgomery and was captured and imprisoned in the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. He died at Andersonville in 1864 and was buried there.
In addition to the McDermott buried at Andersonville, a handful of other McDermotts joined the Union Navy. The highest ranking McDermott at sea was David A. McDermott. A professional naval officer, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1841 as a midshipman. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander (comparable to an army major) before being killed in action in 1863.
Thanks to the research of Civil War re-enactor Jeffrey Alderson of Wisconsin, we know in detail about the life and heroic death of Captain John McDermott of the 20th Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Born in Carrick, Ireland, John immigrated to Iowa County, Wisconsin. During the summer of 1862, he recruited a company that became part of the 20th Wisconsin.
At the battle of Prairie Grove , Arkansas on December 7, 1862, Captain John McDermott led his company in an attack on a Confederate artillery position. Despite heavy casualties sustained from point blank artillery fire, McDermott and his men captured the position and advanced another 50 yards where they were attacked by a vastly superior Confederate brigade. In the ensuing retreat, Captain McDermott retrieved the American flag from the fallen color guard. Later that day, he was found dead on the battlefield still clutching the Stars and Stripes.
The entries in the newly published rosters generally only provide unit and rank. However, this is all the information that you need to get the military and pension records for a Union soldier. To request them, obtain NATF Form 80 from the General Reference Branch (NNRG-P), National Archives and Records Administration, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20408. For a fee, you can get faster service from a private agency such as Sergeant Kirkland's Museum and Historical Society, 912 Lafayette Bvld., CWC, Fredericksburg, VA 22401-5617, tel. 703/899-5565, fax 703/899-7643.
I obtained the pension records of a Civil War ancestor and found that they contained important genealogical information. His discharge papers showed the name of his commander, his unit's post at the time of discharge and his physical condition. The post-war pension application provided his physical description, age, street address, occupation, the names of immediate family members, and details about his war related illness.
Broadfoot Publishing Co. can be reached at 1907 Buena Vista Circle, Wilmington, North Carolina 28411, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone 800/537-5243 (orders). Since the price for both Union and Confederate complete sets is $3,300, you may want to ask the price of the volume for the state in which you are interested. Alternatively, check your public library to see if it is acquiring these rosters.
An additional resource for researching Civil War soldiers is now being created by the National Park Service and an army of volunteers. The volunteers, mostly members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints/ Mormons, are compiling a database of 3.5 million Civil War soldiers and sailors. This database is expected to be available at National Park sites and on the internet in the future. I would suggest that anyone interested in more details on this project contact the nearest Mormon Family History Center.
I gratefully acknowledge the invaluable help of Tom Brooks, Civil War historian, re-enactor and newspaper columnist of Ontario, Canada for providing me with material for this article.
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